July 28, 2011
60th Anniversary of the Refugee Convention
Today, July 28, marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951. The Convention defines a refugee as a person who does not want to return to his or her country due to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Today, there are 15.4 million refugees worldwide, in addition to millions of other displaced persons . 80% of them are being hosted in developing countries. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Guterres, has used this anniversary to call attention to their plight and specifically to call on the members of the European Union to create common rules for asylum and to accept a greater share of refugees. More information can be found on the UNHCR website at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home.
UN Security Council Extends Mission in Iraq for Another Year
The United Nations Security Council today voted to extend the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year. The vote was unanimous.
UN Human Rights Committee on Freedom of Expression
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has issued a commentary on freedom of expression that says anti-blasphemy laws and restrictions on criticism of governments are incompatible with existing norms and that free expression is essential for the protection of human rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported today.
The committee also said counter-terrorism measures, including laws that outlaw acts that allegedly “encourage” or “justify” terrorism, “should be clearly defined to ensure that they do not lead to an unnecessary or disproportionate interference with freedom of expression;” and laws against defamation of public officials and heads of State “should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned.”
The committee’s report, entitled General Comment, is an interpretation of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which has 167 States parties. The UN Human Rights Committee is an independent body tasked with supervising compliance with the ICCPR. “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the covenant,” except in specific circumstances, it said, and States “should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”
The committee said that so-called “memory laws,” which it defined as “laws that penalize the expression of opinions about historical facts,” are also “ incompatible with the obligations that the covenant imposes on States parties in relation to the respect for freedom of opinion and expression.” “General Comment is a comprehensive response to numerous requests from lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, rights defenders and even journalists asking for clarification on many of the issues covered by the rights to freedom of expression and opinion,” said committee member Michael O’Flaherty, the principal drafter of the report. “It is a strong reaffirmation of the central importance for all human rights of the freedom of expression and sets out the very strict parameters within which the right can be restricted by States.”
“Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights,” the report said. “States parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)
July 27, 2011
HRC Accuses Belarus of Violating Human Rights Obligations
The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) has accused Belarus of violating its international agreements by executing two persons while their cases were still under review by the committee.
The HRC is charged with overseeing compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It expressed “dismay” that the executions were the second such breach by Belarus in two years.
According to a press statement issued by the HRC, Oleg Grishkovtsov and Andrei Burdyko had alleged that they were subjected to torture at the pre-trial investigation stage and did not receive a fair trial. Media reports indicated the two were found guilty of premeditated murder, armed assault, arson, kidnapping of a minor, theft and robbery.
The committee had asked authorities in Belarus not to carry out the executions while their cases were under consideration. The exact date of the executions remains unknown but it is presumed that they took place between 13 and 19 July.
The HRC sent a letter to Belarus calling the executions a grave breach of the ICCPR. The letter further stated that under the covenant: “It is imperative that a death sentence be imposed only in full respect of the right to a fair trial. The imposition of a death sentence after a trial that did not meet the requirements for a fair trial amounts to a violation of articles 14 and 6 of the covenant."
According to the HRC, last year, Belarus executed two other persons while their cases were also under review.
Adapted from UN Press Release (cgb)
July 26, 2011
US Suspends Entry of Noncitizens Subject to UN Travel Bans
US President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation yesterday suspending the entry into the United States of all immigrants or nonimmigrants who are subject to travel bans imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The ban applies to persons from Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Sudan, Lebanon, North Korea, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Afghanistan, and members of Al Qaeda.
July 24, 2011
The United Nations-backed commission set up to help Cameroon and Nigeria resolve their border dispute has called for swift agreement to resolve the remaining border areas that have not yet been fully demarcated. At a two-day meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, that wrapped up yesterday, the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission instructed its sub-commission on demarcation to find "effective and practical solutions on the remaining 350-kilometre land border areas that include the skipped areas, areas of disagreement and inaccessible areas," according to a press release issued by the commission.
The Mixed Commission -- which contains representatives of Cameroon, Nigeria, the United Nations -- was established by the world body at the request of the African neighbours to help implement a 2002 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision on the delineation of the border. It has already reached agreement on more than 1,600 kilometres of the border. In a communiqué issued at the end of this meeting, Cameroon and Nigeria reiterated their commitment to complete the demarcation by the end of next year.
The commission, chaired by Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for West Africa, also noted the progress made by the two nations regarding the confidence-building initiatives for the populations affected by the demarcation. The next session of the commission will be held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on 8-9 December 2011.
(mew) (Adapted from a UN Press Release)