Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Right to Protect Civilians in Syria

Citing the Syrian Government’s “manifest” failure to protect its population, two senior United Nations officials have called on the international community to take immediate, decisive action to meet its responsibility to protect civilians in the country from further atrocities.  “With the increasing violence and deepening sectarian tensions, the risk of further mass atrocity crimes is high. The time for action is now,” the Special Advisers of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, Francis Deng and Edward Luck, respectively, said in a joint statement issued on Thursday.  They called on the international community to take action to meet its ‘responsibility to protect’ populations at risk of further atrocities in Syria, taking into consideration “the full range of tools available under the United Nations Charter.”

Agreed at a summit of world leaders in 2005 and sometimes known as ‘R2P,’ the principle of the responsibility to protect holds States responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and related crimes against humanity and requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met. 

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago. 

The two men said they were gravely alarmed by the widespread reports of mass killings in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on residential neighbourhoods, as well as alleged attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure by a pro-government militia and other armed groups, which may constitute crimes against humanity.  “These massacres underscore the Syrian Government’s manifest failure to protect its population,” they stated. 

The mass killings of civilians in Houla and Mazraat al-Qubeir, including the brutal assault and murder of women and children at close range, represent an alarming escalation in targeted attacks against civilians, they said, adding, “They must cease immediately.”

The Special Advisers underlined the importance of unimpeded access for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) to carry out its mandate, particularly in ascertaining the facts of such killings. They also called on all parties to immediately end all acts of violence and commit to implementing the six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the Arab League for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan. 

UNSMIS observers are charged with monitoring the cessation of violence, as well as monitoring and supporting the full implementation of the peace plan. 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 that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.

(adapted from a UN press release) (mew)

June 16, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

U.N. Observers Suspends its Mission in Syria

The United Nations announced today that it was suspending its observer mission in Syria.  The New York Times reported that the head of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, said that the bloodshed was posing significant risks to the observers and was impeding their ability to carry out its mandate. They will review that suspension on a daily basis.  


June 16, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Egypt's Constitutional Court

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the parliament must be immediately dissolved but that former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister can run for president. Read more in a story from the New York Times by clicking here. 


June 14, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

European Union Urged to Develop Mechanism to Promote Human Rights of Migrants from North Africa

A United Nations independent human rights expert has called on the European Union (EU) to develop a migration mechanism currently being negotiated with Tunisia by concentrating on the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants. “A large majority of regional migration initiatives coming from the EU continue to be focused on issues of border control, and do not consider important issues such as the facilitation of regular migration channels,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, in a news release published at the end of his first visit to the North African country.

“I encourage the European authorities to develop a more nuanced policy of migration cooperation with Tunisia, which moves beyond security issues to develop new initiatives in consultation and in real partnership with Tunisian authorities, which place at their core the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants,” he added. Mr. Crépeau was in Tunisia from June 3-8, as part of his year-long study of the management of the EU’s external borders, which will take him to key transit countries and entry points for the bloc.

Late last year, the EU presented a new immigration strategy that includes plans to attract more foreign workers in coming years to deal with skills shortages and make it easier for legal immigrants to enter the EU. According to the EU’s official website, the migration mechanism – known as Mobility Partnerships – are initially being offered to the EU's immediate neighbours, as well as Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. The Partnerships offer a concrete framework for dialogue and cooperation between the EU and non-EU countries, focussed on facilitating and organizing legal migration, effective and humane measures to address irregular migration, and concrete steps towards reinforcing the development outcomes of migration. 

The Special Rapporteur urged EU member states to take all necessary measures to rescue migrants in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, including rescuing ships and taking those on board to a safe port of disembarkation, and to intensify its efforts to search for the 300 Tunisians who are reported to have disappeared while crossing its waters. 

Noting that there is no adequate refugee status determination procedure in Tunisia, Mr. Crépeau also drew attention to the situation of migrants there, and expressed concern that irregular border crossing remains a criminal offence in the country, contravening fundamental principles of human rights including the right to leave one’s country. “Whilst the Tunisian authorities insist that this is not regularly applied against Tunisians, I learned of cases where it was in fact used, including against foreigners entering Tunisia irregularly, and who were subsequently imprisoned for the alleged offence,” he said. “I also met with an unaccompanied minor who had been charged with crossing the border into Tunisia illegally, and sentenced to nine days prison.”

During his six-day mission, the Special Rapporteur visited Tunis, the Port of Zarsis, the border point with Libya at Ras Jedir, places of migrant detention, including prisons and reception centres, and the Choucha Refugee camp. He met with Government, civil society and international organisations representatives, and with migrants from a range of countries residing in Tunisia. 

Mr. Crépeau’s year-long project on the human rights of migrants will result in a special thematic report, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013. Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release) 

June 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

U.N. Observers Blocked by Pro-Government Crowds

Following repeated efforts, UN observers were unable to reach the Syrian town of al-Haffeh yesterday as angry crowds surrounded their vehicles, stopping them from proceeding any further, after which they were shot at as they departed.

“The crowd, who appeared to be residents of the area, hurled stones and metal rods at the UN vehicles. The UN observers turned back,” the spokesperson for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), Sausan Ghosheh, said today. “As they were leaving the area, three vehicles heading towards Idlib were fired upon – the source of fire is still unclear,” she added in a statement, noting that observers had returned safely to their bases. 

UNSMIS staff members have been trying to reach al-Haffeh since June 7, but have been impeded by the ongoing violence in the area. The city is reportedly besieged, with heavy fighting going on.  “UNSMIS calls on the parties to grant the UN observers immediate and unfettered access to conflict zones,” Ms. Ghosheh said.

On Monday, UNSMIS observers reported heavy fighting in Rastan and Talbiseh, north of the city of Homs, with the use of artillery and mortar shelling, as well as firing from helicopters, machine guns and smaller arms.

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago. UNSMIS observers have been charged with monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitoring and supporting the full implementation of a six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan. The peace 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 that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

June 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

U.N. Security Council Resolution on Yemen

The United Nations Security Council has called on all sides in Yemen to reject violence to achieve political goals and to cease all actions aimed at undermining the Government of National Unity and the ongoing political transition.  In a unanimous resolution, the 15-member body expressed its readiness “to consider further measures,” including under Article 41 of the UN Charter, if actions such as attacks on oil, gas and electricity infrastructure continue, as well as interference with the decisions relating to the restructuring of the armed and security forces and obstruction of decrees on military and civilian appointments.

Article 41 falls under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, and deals with threats to peace, breaches of peace and acts of aggression. It states that the Council may decide what measures – not involving the use of armed force – are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call on Member States to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.

Yemen has been undergoing a democratic transition, under the leadership of President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, who came to power in February’s election. This followed an agreement signed by warring factions in November 2011 on a transitional settlement in the wake of widespread protests similar to those seen across the Middle East and North Africa, and the resignation of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

An important element of the transition is the all-inclusive dialogue, scheduled to take place later this year, and whose outcome will feed into the constitution-making process that is to conclude in late 2013, enabling general elections to take place in February 2014. 

In its resolution, the Council emphasized the importance of conducting a “fully-inclusive, participatory, transparent and meaningful” national dialogue conference, including with youth and women’s groups and called on all stakeholders to participate in this process. The Council also noted that the second phase of the transition process should also focus on restructuring the security and armed forces under a unified professional national leadership structure, and the ending of all armed conflicts; steps to address transitional justice and to support national reconciliation; and, constitutional and electoral reform and the holding of general elections by February 2014.

The Council also reminded the Yemeni Government and other actors of the need to release immediately those protesters unlawfully detained during the crisis, and urged the Government to pass legislation on transitional justice to support reconciliation, without further delay.

(adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)

June 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Political Affairs Chief at U.N.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Jeffrey D. Feltman of the United States as the top U.N. official dealing with political issues, as part of an ongoing series of changes to his senior management team initiated at the start of his second term in January.  Mr. Feltman will replace B. Lynn Pascoe, also a U.S. national, as the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, overseeing a department that plays a central role in U.N.efforts to prevent and resolve deadly conflict around the world. The new appointee recently served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs for the U.S. Government. 

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

June 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ICTR Transfers Fifth Case to Rwandan Authorities

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has transferred to Rwandan authorities the case of Bernard Munyagishari, a former Government official charged with crimes against humanity. He is accused of recruiting, training and leading Interahamwe militiamen in mass killings and rapes of Tutsi women in the Gisenyi prefecture and beyond between April and July 1994. His transfer to Rwanda is the fifth by the ICTR.  (The previous four cases transferred were those of Ladislas Ntagazwa, Jean Bosco Uwinkindi, Fulgence Kayishema, and Charles Sikubwabo.) 

In May 2011 Mr. Munyagishari was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He was transferred to the UN Detention Facility in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, where the ICTR is based, in June 2011. He made his initial appearance in June 2011 and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

In its ruling on Mr. Munyagishari’s referral, the three-judge panel ordered that the prosecution of the case be referred to the authorities of Rwanda, who will in turn hand over the case to the Rwandan High Court. The ruling also requested the appointment of an independent organization as monitor instead of, or in addition to, the ICTR legal staff, before the transfer of Mr. Munyagishari to Rwanda. The ICTR also asked that Rwanda provide the defense team with access to people, locations and documents throughout the country to effectively defend his case.

The ICTR was set up after the Rwandan genocide, when at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed during three months of bloodletting that followed the death of then-president Juvenal Habyarimana, when his plane was brought down over the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release)

June 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 11, 2012

US House of Representatives Advances Controversial Human Rights Bill

On Friday, the Foreign Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives approved a bill that would impose sanctions on Russians who violate human rights. The bill, known as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (HR 4405), is named after a Russian tax advisor who worked for an American law firm. When he attempted to expose corruption by Russian tax and police officials, he was charged with a crime and later died in pretrial detention in Russia. The bill would publicly name those who are believed to be responsible and impose sanctions on them and others who commit gross human rights violations as defined by the bill.

Normally, one would expect a human rights bill of this type to receive widespread support in the US. However, in this case, the Obama Administration does not support this proposed legislation. The Administration argues that it interferes with the president's ability to manage delicate foreign relations with Russia and that the president has more effective tools at his disposal to address the situation.

In particular, the matter threatens to jeopardize Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) later this summer. The US must grant Russia permanent normal trade relations status and repeal the Jackson-Vanik Amendment imposing sanctions on Russia for its Cold War-era human rights record before Russia will more fully open its markets to US trade and investment. The Russian parliament, the Duma, is currently to vote on ratification of the WTO Agreement on July 4 and, if approved, Russia will officially join the WTO 30 days later. Congress will therefore have to act quickly to repeal the Jackson-Vanik Amendment before its August recess if Russia is to join the WTO this summer.

Passage of the proposed bill will certainly complicate, if not derail, that process. It is possible that passage of the new bill could be linked to repeal of Jackson-Vanik. However, several actions must occur before the bill could become law. The next step will be a hearing on the bill by the House Ways and Means Committee scheduled for June 20.


June 11, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

WTO To Celebrate 30th Anniversary of Legal Affairs Division

On June 28, the World Trade Organization's Legal Affairs Division will celebrate 30 years of its work. It began as the Legal Affairs Office under the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The ceremony will be held in the WTO's new atrium and will include a tribute to Professor John Jackson for his contributions to international trade law as well as the release of the third analytical index.


June 11, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)