Sunday, August 5, 2012
The United Nations human rights office has voiced concern about draft legislation currently being considered by Liberian lawmakers that would broadly criminalize homosexual behavior. The legislation has already been passed by the Liberian Senate but is still being considered by the House of Representatives. It makes homosexual behavior a second degree felony for which people can be fined and imprisoned for up to five years.
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the proposed legislation would impose penalties for a person who “seduces, encourages, or promotes another person of the same gender to engage into sexual activities.”
“We are also concerned about the atmosphere of intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian activists, as well as reports of attacks against them,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani. “Such harassment illustrates the difficult, discriminatory environment in which gay rights activists are operating.”
Sodomy, voluntary and involuntary, is already a criminal offence under Liberian law. However, Ms. Shamdasani stressed that the proposals under consideration, including one to explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage, could make an already bad situation for lesbian and gay people in Liberia even worse. “Legislation criminalising homosexuality can have a seriously negative impact, not only on gay and lesbian people, but also on the most vulnerable populations, such as people living with HIV, sex workers, refugees and internally displaced populations, who might be in need of special attention but will not come forward due to the high risk of stigmatisation, discrimination and possible violence,” she told a news conference in Geneva.
OHCHR called on Liberia to implement the international human rights treaties that it has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and warned that laws criminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults violate individuals’ rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The United Nations human rights office has voiced concern at reports of the ongoing persecution of bloggers and people who use the Internet and other means to freely express their opinions in Viet Nam.
“We are concerned by what appears to be increasingly limited space for freedom of expression in Viet Nam,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.
The office voiced particular concern that the upcoming trial of Nguyen Van Hai (also known as Dieu Cay), Pan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan for “conducting propaganda” against the State is directly linked to their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, including their online publications about social and human rights issues. Mr. Nguyen Van Hai and Mr. Pan Thanh Hai have been in detention since 2010 while Ms. Ta Phong Tan has been detained since September 2011. The three face charges under Article 88 of the Criminal Code and could face penalties ranging from seven to 16 years’ imprisonment.
“The trial, which was scheduled for 7 August and was just postponed indefinitely, will reportedly be closed and witnesses will not be called, raising concerns that the process will not comply with fair trial guarantees,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “A number of arrests and harsh convictions in recent years suggest a disturbing trend of curbing freedom of expression, opinion and association of bloggers, journalists and human rights activists who question Government policies in a peaceful manner,” she added.
OHCHR urged the Government to fulfil its commitments with respect to ensuring fair trial guarantees and to consider promptly releasing the accused for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, opinion and association.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Saturday, August 4, 2012
The Egyptian government formally requested the U.S. government to release the only Egyptian currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed al-Sawah. Mr. al-Sawah has been at Guantanamo Bay for 11 years. In 2008, he was charged with providing material support to terrorists. The U.S. government believes him to be a member of al Qaeda who specializes in explosives. The charges against al-Sawah were dropped in March of this year. He is still being detained despite the fact that no new charges have been filed since. The U.S. government did not comment on the matter in news reports.
Friday, August 3, 2012
News reports indicate that the United States Congress voted yesterday to authorize the extension of the U.S. sanctions program on Myanmar (Burma) for one year with the possibility of extension for up to three more years. The bill will now go to President Obama for signature. Congress will revisit the sanctions in one year's time to determine whether Myanmar has made sufficient progress towards democracy and respect for human rights. The bill also gives the President the ability to lift the sanctions earlier if Myanmar has made sufficient progress in those areas.
President Obama also announced two new sanctions on Iran yesterday to increase pressure on Iran to stop the development of its nuclear program. The sanctions are aimed at plugging gaps in the current sanctions program that Iran has exploited to sell its oil abroad. The sanctions make it more difficult for Iran to arrange payment mechanisms. They also target Chinese and Iraqi banks that allegedly facilitiated payments in violation of the sanctions program.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced the resignation of the United Nations-League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy for the Syrian crisis, Kofi Annan.
“Mr. Annan has informed me, and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Mr. Nabil El Araby, of his intention not to renew his mandate when it expires on 31 August 2012,” Mr. Ban said in a statement. “I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Mr. Annan for the determined and courageous efforts he has made as the Joint Special Envoy for Syria.”
Mr. Annan, a former UN Secretary-General, was appointed in late February to serve as the high-level representative of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian crisis, providing good offices aimed at bringing an end to all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.
Syria has been wracked by violence, with more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 17 months ago. Over recent days, there have been reports of an escalation in violence in many towns and villages, as well as the country’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.
As part of his efforts, Mr. Annan put forward a six-point peace plan to help end the Syrian crisis. The plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.
Despite initial signs of acceptance of the plan and repeated calls from UN officials, there has been little in the way of the plan’s implementation by the parties to the conflict.
“The hand extended to turn away from violence in favour of dialogue and diplomacy – as spelled out in the six-point plan – has not been not taken, even though it still remains the best hope for the people of Syria,” Mr. Ban said.
The UN chief noted that both the Syrian Government and the opposition forces continue to demonstrate their determination to rely on ever-increasing violence, and that, in addition, “persistent divisions” within the Security Council have themselves become an obstacle to diplomacy, making the work of any mediator vastly more difficult.
“Kofi Annan deserves our profound admiration for the selfless way in which he has put his formidable skills and prestige to this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments. He has worked within the mandate provided to him by the General Assembly and with the cooperation of various Member States,” Mr. Ban said.
He added, “We have worked closely together these past months, and I am indebted to him and his team for all they have tried to achieve. I will continue to draw on his wisdom and counsel, and on the work of the Office of the Joint Special Envoy.”
The UN Secretary-General is now consulting with his counterpart at the League of Arab States, in order to promptly appoint a successor “who can carry on [with] this crucial peacemaking effort.”
“I remain convinced that yet more bloodshed is not the answer; each day of it will only make the solution more difficult while bringing deeper suffering to the country and greater peril to the region,” Mr. Ban said.
The Security Council is due to hold consultations on Syria on Thursday afternoon, and the General Assembly is expected to hold a meeting on same issue on Friday.
(UN Press Release)
Two independent United Nations human rights experts today called on all countries, particularly those with Roma communities, to confront modern-day hatred, violence and discrimination against this group and find solutions to their persistent exclusion. Their comments come on Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day, or ‘Pharrajimos’ in the Romani language, which is observed each year on 2 August. Some 3,000 Roma and Sinti were murdered on the night of 2-3 August 1944, when the “Gypsy” camp in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex was liquidated by the Nazi regime.
The UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, who is herself of Hungarian Roma origin, said not enough was being done to challenge “a rising tide of hostility and discrimination against Roma in Europe that shames societies.” Ms. Izsák, whose personal experience with racism and discrimination has inspired her work for minority rights, urged States to take a zero-tolerance stance against acts of anti-Roma extremism, hatred and violence, according to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere, also called for increased awareness and action to tackle these issues. “The teaching in schools of the history of Roma, including the genocide they suffered during the Nazi regime, and awareness-raising measures to inform and sensitise populations about Roma identity and culture are essential to address the persistent prejudices that fuel racism and intolerance against them,” Mr. Ruteere said. “There must also be a stronger message that Roma are a valued part of societies – not only in words, but in concrete actions – to protect Roma and improve their living conditions and inclusion,” he added.
The experts, who report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in an independent and unpaid capacity, hailed efforts and initiatives under the 2011 European Union Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. Under the Framework, EU member countries have agreed to prepare national Roma inclusion strategies, or integrated sets of policy measures within their broader social inclusion policies for improving the situation of Roma.
Estimates suggest that up to 12 million Roma live in Europe, and other sizeable Roma populations live in Latin America and other regions, most of them on the margins of society.
(adapted from a UN Press Release)
United Nations officials yesterday praised the overwhelming approval of a Provisional Constitution for Somalia.
“The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption,” a spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York yesterday. “He congratulates the delegates and the Somali leadership for this historic achievement and their commitment to ending the transition and to establishing new, representative political institutions in the country.” The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), Augustine Mahiga, said in a statement that the day was one of "celebration." He added that "[t]he adoption of the Provisional Constitution is an historic achievement as it completes one of the most important milestones towards ending the current transitional period and ushering in a new political future.”
After decades of warfare, Somalia has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with the country’s Transitional Federal Institutions currently implementing the so-called Roadmap for the End of Transition in Somalia, devised in September last year, that spells out priority measures to be carried out before the current transitional governing arrangements end in 20 days’ time.
The Provisional Constitution was a key part of the process – it will provide a legal framework governing the workings of the new Somali Federal Institutions after August 20, 2012.
According to UNPOS, jubilant applause broke out at the National Constituent Assembly’s (NCA) meeting in the capital, Mogadishu, today, when the text for the document was approved by 621 delegates, with 13 votes against and 11 abstentions. The NCA, made up in total of 825 delegates drawn from all Somali clans, had spent the past eight days of deliberations.
“The Constituent Assembly embodied the diversity of Somali society around the traditional clan system, and ensured inclusiveness by bringing together elders, religious leaders, women, youth, business people, intellectuals and the Diaspora,” Mr. Mahiga said.
The voting took place despite suicide attacks on the NCA’s meeting venue earlier this morning, which resulted in the deaths of several people. According to media reports, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the venue, and the attempt follows a series of explosions in the capital, including roadside bombs and grenade attacks.
Mr. Mahiga noted that the Somali delegates “were not deterred” by the suicide bombings, which was foiled by security personnel consisting of Somali forces and the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). “I pay tribute to the Somali and AMISOM security personnel who ensured the safety of the delegates and the process,” he said.
In his remarks to reporters, Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said the UN chief condemned the suicide attacks, noting that “terrorism must not be allowed to roll back the important gains that have been made so far.”
Until last year, most of Mogadishu, was, for several years, riven by a fluid frontline dividing the two sides – fighters belonging to the Al Shabaab militant group and troops belonging to the Somalia Government, with the latter supported by AMISOM.
Since the Al Shabaab withdrawal from the capital in August last year, the frontlines have been pushed back to the city's surrounding area. However, the use of roadside bombs, grenades and suicide bombers still take place. In addition, Government forces have been on an offensive against the Al Shabaab, which still controls parts of Somalia, primarily in its south-central regions.
While praising the Somali delegates for the vote yesterday, both the Secretary-General and his envoy to Somalia emphasized that adoption of the Provisional Constitution is not the end of the process.
“It is an important step towards the creation of a better future for all Somalis,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said. “The Secretary-General encourages all stakeholders to undertake the last steps to end the transition peacefully, united, and with the best interest of the Somali people in mind.”
“The constitution must now be implemented to become a living reality,” Mr. Mahiga said. “For that to happen, the final steps to ending the transition must be taken including selecting a representative Parliament, and electing a Speaker, the President, and appointing an executive government.” In a statement released yesterday, the envoy said he looked forward to the emergence of the Parliament, but warned of “disturbing reports” of bribery and intimidation to secure seats in the new body. “We should not allow Parliamentary seats to become commodities for sale or items for auction to the highest bidders at a time when we are seeking to reclaim the true stature of a dignified and respected Somali nation,” he said.
(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release)
The American Bar Association Section of International Law is holding the second day of its Section Retreat in Chicago. More than 150 lawyers from around the world are attending the retreat, which is being held at the Union League Club of Chicago.
Laurel Bellows, the incoming President of the American Bar Association, addressed the section leadership yesterday. She shared some of her priority focus areas for the coming ABA year, including a focus on preventing human trafficking (internationally and within the United States) and cybersecurity.
The American Bar Association holds its annual meeting in Chicago from today until next Tuesday. There are many international activities of interest to lawyers and law students.
Mark Wojcik and Cindy Buys (who are both attending the ABA International Section Retreat)