Saturday, September 22, 2012

Algeria Should Reconsider Restrictions on Civil Society

The United Nations human rights chief has urged the Government of Algeria to reconsider restrictions and impediments being placed in the way of civil society organizations in the North African nation.  “While recognizing that the driving force behind this state of affairs is rooted in security concerns, I encourage the Government to review the laws and practices relating to civil society organizations and freedom of assembly, and also to order all security forces to refrain from violating internationally recognized instruments guaranteeing the right to freedom of association,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said at the end of a three-day visit. She cited Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a binding treaty that has been ratified by Algeria – as examples of those instruments. 

During her visit – the first ever by a UN Human Rights Commissioner – Ms. Pillay met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and a wide range of Government and judicial officials, parliamentarians and representatives of civil society organizations engaged in human rights work, as well as the head of Algeria’s national human rights institution, the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights. In her remarks, the human rights chief noted that freedom of expression in relation to the media has improved considerably in recent years, leading to a “feisty, probing and relatively fearless local press,” while emerging new political freedoms have been illustrated by the large number of political parties represented in Algeria’s Parliament since elections in May.  “However, the rights to freedom of association and freedom of assembly for various other sectors of society – such as civil society organizations, human rights defenders and trade unions – is cause for concern and may even have deteriorated over the past year, partly as a result of an apparent clampdown by security forces drawing on the controversial Article 100 of the Penal Code, and partly because of the widely criticized restrictions contained in the new Law on Associations adopted last December,” Ms. Pillay said..

She noted that civil society organizations are part of the “life-blood of a free, democratic society” where the human rights of all individuals are upheld in accordance with international standards set by States.

The human rights official particularly highlighted the role played by non-governmental organizations in providing “one of the essential checks and balances that helps create a better human rights environment,” such as through helping fight for the rights of the most vulnerable sections of society, as well as helping uphold the rule of law by exposing corruption and other abuses.  “To fulfil their potential, they must be allowed to operate without undue impediments,” Ms. Pillay said. “I have therefore been very concerned to hear that not only are they facing legal and bureaucratic restraints in Algeria, but some of their members are also being frequently harassed, intimidated and arbitrarily arrested by the security forces, and are not being offered sufficient protection against these abusive practices by the existing legal framework.”

In her remarks, the High Commissioner also welcomed Algeria’s ratification of almost all major international human rights treaties, and the fact that, during her visit, the Government had shown interest in ratifying two of the main treaties which it has not yet ratified – the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, with the latter being a mechanism which enables regular unannounced inspections by international and national bodies of places of detention. 

“By ratifying this protocol in addition to the parent Convention against Torture, which it ratified in 1989, Algeria would significantly strengthen its defences against any future return to the days when torture was commonplace,” Ms. Pillay said. She added, “Similarly, ratifying the Convention on Enforced Disappearances would signal that the State is equally determined never to see a repetition of the terrible situation in the 1990s when several thousand people were forcibly disappeared by both the rebel forces and state security apparatus.”

Ms. Pillay said she was encouraged to hear that the Algerian Government has decided to accept a long-standing request of the independent UN body of experts known as the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, to visit the country to provide advice on how to deal with the issue of enforced disappearances.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Next Week's Treaty Event is an Opportunity to Strengthen the Rule of Law

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today called on Member States to sign, ratify or accede to various international treaties during next week’s Treaty Event as part of the Organization’s continuing effort to strengthen the rule of law around the world.  “The Treaty Event provides a distinct opportunity for States to reaffirm their continuing commitment to strengthen the rule of law at the international level,” Mr. Ban said in his letter of invitation to Member States and their delegations while urging them “to join efforts to advance the universal application of the framework of internationally agreed upon norms and standards.” 

According to the United Nations, the rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, including the State itself, are held accountable to publicly promulgated laws which are equally and fairly enforced, independently adjudicated, and consistent with international human rights standards.

This year’s Treaty Event, entitled ‘Strengthening the Rule of Law,’ will be held from 24 to 26 September and from 1 to 2 October, to coincide with the General Assembly’s high level meeting on the Rule of Law.

“The Charter of the United Nations and other multilateral treaties developed under the auspices of the United Nations and deposited with me form a comprehensive legal framework of norms and standards regulating the conduct of nations, and also, indirectly, the conduct of people,” the Secretary-General’s letter continued. “They are one of the major successes of the United Nations since its founding.”

The annual treaty event, which was initiated in 2000, is an awareness-raising occasion by the UN Secretary-General, who is the depository of the 550 multilateral treaties that establish the rules of conduct for States. The event is intended promote participation in the treaty framework internationally and nationally. Since it was established, the Treaty Event has resulted in 1,679 treaty-related actions, including signatures, ratifications, and accessions. Only two treaties, however, have achieved 100 per cent participation while others have a broad participation but fall short of the goal of universal participation.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ABA at the United Nations

American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows will lead the association’s delegation to the U.N. High-level Meeting of the 67th Session of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels on Sept. 24. Additional members of the ABA delegation who will attend the meeting at the General Assembly Hall at U.N. headquarters in New York include ABA U.N. representative Helaine M. Barnett and chair of the ABA Section of International Law, Barton Legum. 

President Bellows also will provide awritten submission that underscores the ABA’s long-standing commitment to advancing the rule of law both in the United States and worldwide, including the fundamental need for an independent judiciary and the independence of lawyers.  The submission highlights the programs and projects that draw upon the expertise and experience found within the ABA and that contribute internationally to enhancing the rule of law. 

(mew) (from an ABA Press Release)

September 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Security Council Concerned Over Deteriorating Situation in Mali

United Nations Security Council LogoThe United Nations Security Council today reiterated its grave concern about the continuing deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in northern Mali, and urged rebel groups in the country to cut off all ties to terrorist elements, including Al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb and affiliated groups. In a press statement read by Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency for this month, the 15-member body voiced its concern about the “increasing entrenchment” of terrorist elements in the country and about the human rights violations perpetrated by rebel and extremist groups in the north. 

Earlier this week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the ongoing human rights violations in northern Mali, including cruel punishments such as amputations and the stoning to death of an unmarried couple, and called on the Government and the international community to urgently address the crisis.  “According to credible reports that my office has received, the various armed groups currently occupying northern Mali have been committing serious human rights violations and possibly war crimes,” Ms. Pillay said.

Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in northern Mali in January. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries, with 174,000 Malians estimated to be internally displaced. 

The Security Council, which was briefed on the situation by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, welcomed the appointment of a Government of National Unity in Mali, and voiced its support to the work of the Interim President, Dioncounda Traoré. The Council called on the transitional authorities “to continue ongoing efforts towards the strengthening of democratic institutions and the restoration of constitutional order” in Mali, through the holding of elections by the end of the transition. It also repeated its demand that all members of Malian armed forces cease immediately any interference in the work of the transitional authorities.

In his briefing, Mr. Feltman called on the Council and the wider international community to support efforts to develop an integrated strategy to tackle the challenges in the Sahel region of West Africa, which are not only political but also involve security, humanitarian resilience and human rights.  “The deep-seated fragilities stretching across the broad Sahel region of Africa are a matter of growing concern to the people and governments of the region, as well as to the broader international community and this Council,” he stated. “The threats and challenges cut across borders and disciplines and their solutions must be cooperative and comprehensive.”

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Prisoners of Conscience Released in Myanmar (Burma)

A United Nations independent expert welcomed the latest presidential amnesty releasing a number of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, and called on authorities to continue this systematic liberation without conditions, stressing this is key for the country's democratic transition and reconciliation process. "Bold steps are needed now to overcome the legacy of the past and to ensure that no prisoners of conscience are left behind," said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana. "This requires a concerted effort by the Government to engage with relevant stakeholders, such as political and civil society organizations, to clarify exactly how many prisoners are left and should include the establishment of a review mechanism which has access to prisons." 

Among those released was U Khaymar Sara, a Buddhist monk who had been detained since he to
ok part in demonstrations in September 2007, and whom Mr. Ojea Quintana had visited in prison during his visit to the country in August, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a news release.  

Mr. Ojea Quintana said he was encouraged by the continuing steps by the Government to release the remaining prisoners. However, he expressed concerns that conditions may again be attached to this latest release, such as the imposition of the remaining sentence if a crime were committed in the future.

Instead of imposing conditions, the Government should take measures to ensure the reintegration of released prisoners of conscience into society, Mr. Ojea Quintana said, adding that "adequate medical and psyco-social services should be provided to those released, particularly those who suffered ill-treatment or were subject to prolonged periods of solitary confinement."  In addition, the Government should take positive steps such as providing reparations to prisoners, removing restriction on applications for passports and removing obstacles to continue their education or regaining professional licenses, the Special Rapporteur said.

Mr. Ojea Quintana underlined that the release of prisoners of conscience should be at the forefront of Myanmar's reforms, and called on the Government to release all remaining prisoners of conscience without delay as part of the process of democratic transition and national reconciliation.  This includes people such as Myint Aye, the director of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Organization, and 36 year old Aung Naing, who has spent the past 16 years in prison and who was also visited by the Special Rapporteur during his previous visit. 

"Persons such as Myint Aye and Aung Naing may have been convicted of crimes under Myanmar's penal code, yet I believe that the reason for many convictions such as these was because of their opposition to the previous Government at the time or because they had no opportunity to def
end themselves in a fair trial," Mr. Ojea Quintana said.  "These people must not be forgotten and left languishing in prison."

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Mr. Ojea Quintana, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN General Assembly Session May be the Busiest Ever

“This year’s general debate will be among our busiest ever,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told a press conference at UN Headquarters, referring to the gathering of heads of State and government that kicks off the new session of the Assembly every year. “This reflects the tumultuous times in which we live – a time of turmoil and transition.” 

Over 120 world leaders are expected to take part in this year’s general debate, which takes place from 25 September to 1 October. In addition, Mr. Ban will host a number of meetings on the margins of the debate, including on the rule of law, polio eradication, disarmament, sustainable energy and nutrition. He will also launch a new initiative, entitled ‘Education First.’

The ongoing crisis in Syria, where over 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, will be high on the agenda. “The deteriorating situation in Syria will be foremost in our minds,” said Mr. Ban.  In addition, a series of mini-summits and special meetings will focus on the emergency in Africa’s Sahel region, progress in Somalia, the encouraging transitions in Myanmar and Yemen, instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and relations between Sudan and South Sudan.

Mr. Ban noted that the opening of the Assembly’s sixty-seventh session takes place against a backdrop of widespread violence linked to intolerance.   “I once again condemn those who deliberately provoke others with hatred and bigotry.  I also join with others in speaking out against those who, in response to such provocations, fan those flames further still,” he said. “It is time for calm, restraint and responsible political and community leadership.”

Earlier this year, the Secretary-General set out an action agenda that identified five generational imperatives: sustainable development, prevention, a more secure world, helping countries in transition and empowering women and youth. “Next week I will outline where we are and where I believe we need to go,” he stated.  That effort, he said, must include modernizing the UN through a series of reform initiatives. “But most of all, it will require greater ambition on the part of the world’s leaders. I intend to be frank with them about where we are falling short, why people around the world have a right to be impatient, and how we can do better,” said Mr. Ban. 

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

International Day of Peace

Intl Day of PeacePursuant to United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/36/67, September 21 has for several years been deemed the International Day of Peace.  This year's theme is "Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future."  More information about 2012 International Day of Peace may be found here.

(cgb)

September 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Friday Fun: A Bus Television Commercial from Denmark

Have a look at this television commercial from Denmark -- it shows you why taking the bus is cool!  The ad is in Danish but there are English subtitles.  The advertisement runs on TV 2 in Århus, Denmark's second-largest city, for Midttrafik, the regional public transit for the central part of the Jutland peninsula.

 

Hat tip to Rex Wockner

(mew)

September 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Program on New Sanctions Against Iran and Syria

On Friday, September 28, the Washington Foreign Law Society, the American Society of International Law, and cooperating committees of the ABA Section of International Law will present a special breakfast roundtable discussion with legal representatives from both the US Department of State and Department of the Treasury. The panelists will discuss the significant new sanctions imposed under Executive Order 13622 and under the Iran Threat Reduction and Syrian Human Rights Act of 2012 (ITRSHRA). In particular, the panel will discuss the issues associated with how these new sanctions will be implemented and enforced, with time set aside for questions from the audience. The program will be off the record. The program will include a light breakfast. Fees are $5.00 for members of any of the sponsoring organizations and $10.00 for those not members. Advance registration is required (e.g., ASIL members should register through ASIL). Guests should arrive at Holland & Knight, 800 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC by 8:15 a.m. as the program will start promptly at 8:30 a.m.

(cgb)




 

September 18, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Supporting Development in Haiti

A United Nations human rights official said yesterday that while Haiti shows encouraging signs of progress, it is still facing challenges such as justice reform and poverty, and called on the international community to support the country’s long-term development.  “Haiti is at a crossroads. If the right steps are taken on a number of key issues, there is potential for progress – but at the same time, there are risks of backsliding,” said the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, who just finished a four-day visit to the Caribbean nation on Saturday.

During his visit, Mr. Šimonovic met with senior Haitian officials and representatives of civil society to discuss the human rights challenges ahead of the Security Council’s revision of the mandate of the UN stabilization mission there, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH.  

Mr. Šimonovic visited the national penitentiary, where some 3,400 inmates live in precarious conditions. He noted that only 278 inmates have been convicted, while the rest are in prolonged pre-trial detention, and stressed that this calls for stronger rule-of-law institutions.  “Police reform is not enough,” he said. “A more independent, reliable and efficient justice system is necessary to resolve not only this situation but to ensure that the rights of the population are better protected, including land rights. The ongoing penal code reform must be concluded without delay and should enable prosecution of past grave human rights violations in line with Haiti’s international legal obligations.” 

Mr. Šimonovic noted that the planned recruitment of 5,000 police officers in the next four years has great potential for the country’s safety, but stated that they need to be recruited based on their merits and must receive adequate training. “The Haitian National Police will be strengthened and so will the confidence of the population. The role and independence of the Inspector General is key for ensuring that human rights violators are excluded from serving,” he said.

The international community must urgently increase its support to Haiti’s long-term development efforts as the massive humanitarian aid that came to the country in the wake of the 2010 earthquake declines, Mr. Šimonovic emphasized. “For too long, too many Haitians have been claiming their economic and social rights in vain, and have not even been reached by basic services. The new development efforts must be based on human rights and ensure that benefits are enjoyed by all, in particular the poorest.

“Many of the most vulnerable are still trapped in camps, on private lands and threatened by forced evictions. I have stressed the need for consultation with residents and respect for international human rights standards in the process of dismantling these remaining camps. A comprehensive housing and urban development policy is needed,” he added.  Strengthening the rule of law would also curb corruption, which would in turn attract investment and create new decent jobs, Mr. Šimonovic said.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 18, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Security Council Extends UN MIssion in Liberia, Authorizes Troop Reduction

United Nations Security Council LogoThe Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) for another year, reducing its military strength in three phases and authorizing the Secretary-General to implement the first phase of that reduction – 1,900 personnel – between October 2012 and September 2013.

In a resolution unanimously adopted yesterday, the 15-member body decided that UNMIL’s primary tasks are to continue to support the Government’s efforts to solidify peace and stability, and to protect civilians.  UNMIL will also support the Government in transitioning complete security responsibility to the Liberia National Police by strengthening the Police’s ability to manage personnel, improving training programmes to expedite their readiness and to coordinate those efforts with all partners.

In his recent report on UNMIL, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended that the Mission’s current military strength of seven infantry battalions should decrease by four battalions and related enablers, totalling about 4,200 personnel, in three phases between August 2012 and July 2015, subject to and consistent with conditions in the area of operations. UNMIL’s military strength would be left at three infantry battalions and related enablers, totalling about 3,750 personnel, by July 2015. 

In its resolution, the Council also decided to increase the number of UNMIL’s authorized formed police units by three units, totalling 420 personnel, from its current seven units, for a new authorized ceiling of 1,795 personnel. The additional units should be deployed to Liberia as soon as available, with the first deploying no later than January 2013.  “Future reconfigurations of UNMIL should be determined on the basis of the evolution of the situation on the ground and on the achievement of an improved capacity of the Government of Liberia to effectively protect the population through the establishment of sustainable and effective security forces with a view to progressively take over UNMIL’s security role,” the Council emphasized.

The UN has maintained a peacekeeping force in Liberia since 2003 to bolster a ceasefire agreement ending a decade of war that killed nearly 150,000 people, mostly civilians. UNMIL’s mandate includes helping to restore the rule of law and democratic processes as well as facilitating humanitarian assistance. Last week the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNMIL, Karin Landgren, told the Council that Liberia has made remarkable progress in rebuilding its institutions, economic recovery and consolidating its democratic processes since the end of its civil war, but it needs to focus on remaining challenges such as strengthening the rule of law, security sector reform and national reconciliation.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 18, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition

The compromis has been released for the 2013 Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.  You can see a copy of the compromis -- and get information about how to register your law school in the competition -- by clicking here.

(mew)

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wrapping Up the 66th United Nations General Assembly

The United Nations General Assembly has stood “strong, active and responsive” to the global challenges of the past year, its outgoing President said today, as he concluded the sixty-sixth session.  “There have been serious conflicts, but also renewed hope, as countries emerged from conflict to peace,” Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser told the 193-member body in his closing remarks, adding that it had been a “remarkable and momentous” year.   “Populations across the world have continued to call for freedom, dignity, peace and justice,” Mr. Al-Nasser continued, as he outlined some highlights, including the Assembly’s support for the wave of democratic protests which engulfed the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring.

The Assembly’s sixty-sixth session commenced last September with the question of Palestinian membership immediately at the forefront of the UN body’s agenda and Mr. Al-Nasser acknowledged that the issue was central to his tenure at the helm of Assembly.  “Although it has not yet been possible to welcome Palestine as a new member to our Organization during my mandate, I am still hopeful that this will happen in the near future,” he stated, urging the next Assembly session “to work collectively for the attainment of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”  Similarly, Mr. Al-Nasser noted the Assembly’s “key role” in recognizing the new Libyan authorities following the revolution in the North African country and the fall of Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s 41-year regime. He also underscored the Assembly’s ongoing “crucial role” in ensuring a quick end to the Syrian violence. 

Turning to the Assembly’s most salient achievements, however, the President highlighted the four key pillars of his tenure, which he defined as: the peaceful settlement of disputes; UN reform and revitalization; improving disaster prevention and response; and sustainable development and prosperity. Noting that the past year had been “very significant” for the role of mediation in the settlement of disputes, Mr. Al-Nasser emphasized the importance of the UN Alliance of Civilizations in addressing disputes emanating from cultural or religious differences. He further argued that the recent violent protests seen in parts of the Middle East and other areas serve as “a stark reminder of the urgent need for us to cultivate and promote tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue among civilizations.”  

On Security Council reform, the President recalled that the eighth round of intergovernmental negotiations had taken place during his tenure and said that Member States had acknowledged that new momentum and an increased level of “candour, interaction and engagement” had been made on the issue. 

Mr. Al-Nasser also drew attention to the growing need for greater disaster prevention and response, placing particular emphasis on the humanitarian crisis which overwhelmed the Horn of Africa earlier in the year. He noted that the international community “needs to be better equipped to respond to disasters, both natural and man-made.”  

Finally, on sustainable development and global prosperity, the President celebrated the past session’s “landmark year” on sustainable development issues, noting that the recent Rio+20 Summit in Brazil would “go down in history as the moment when the international community renewed its political will and commitment to tackling the inter-connected economic, social and environmental challenges we face.”  

In his address to the Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thanked Mr. Al-Nasser for his work, while underlining the President’s leadership during a year of global upheaval.  “The sixty-sixth session leaves a legacy of achievement, showing again the invaluable role and voice of the General Assembly as the Organization’s leading deliberative body,” Mr. Ban told the delegates. The Secretary-General spotlighted Mr. Al-Nasser’s “leadership and commitment throughout this period of dramatic developments and complex challenges,” but acknowledged that the UN body had “much work ahead.”

“Pressing ahead to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the agreed deadline of 2015; articulating a bold and inspirational post-2015 development agenda; sharpening the full range of our tools for peace and human rights; and strengthening this Organization – its effectiveness, its representativeness – to cope with an era of budgetary constraint and high expectations from the people of the world,” he concluded.   

The sixty-seventh session opens tomorrow and will be presided over by the incoming President, Vuk Jeremic of Serbia.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Security Council Condemns Attacks on Embassies and Consulates

United Nations Security Council LogoThe members of the Security Council have condemned "in the strongest terms" the series of violent attacks against embassies and consular premises of Member States in multiple locations on 13 and 14 September.

"The members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern at these attacks recalling that the very nature of diplomatic premises is peaceful and that diplomats have among their core functions the promotion of better understanding across countries and cultures," the 15-member body said in a statement issued to the press.  "The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that such acts are unjustifiable regardless of their motivations, whenever and by whomsoever committed."

At least seven people have reportedly been killed amid violent protests that have taken place outside the diplomatic premises of several Western countries across the Middle East in response to a film mad
e in the United States seen as insulting to Islam.

The Council called on all authorities to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel, and to respect fully their international obligations in this regard.

(UN Press Release)

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Human Rights Chief Urges Demonstrators to Deny Obnoxious Acts "the Oxygen of Publicity"

The United Nations human rights chief has urged religious and political leaders to do their utmost to restore calm in the wake of an anti-Islam film that has sparked protests in countries across the world. “The film is malicious and deliberately provocative and portrays a disgracefully distorted image of Muslims. I fully understand why people wish to protest strongly against it, and it is their right to do so peacefully,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a news release. “However, I utterly condemn the killings in Benghazi, and other violent and destructive reactions to the film and urge religious and political leaders to make a major effort to restore calm,” she added.

On Tuesday, the United States Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi came under attack, leading to the death of the US ambassador to the country, Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats, and left other people injured.  According to initial media reports, those responsible carried out the attack in protest against an anti-Islamic video produced by a US citizen in the state of California.

Demonstrations against the film first erupted in Egypt on Tuesday, when Islamist protesters scaled the US embassy walls in the capital, Cairo, and replaced the flag there with an Islamic one. The violence reportedly left more than 200 people injured. 

On Thursday, demonstrators in Yemen stormed the US embassy compound, but were unable to break into the main building. The incident led to one death and injured 15 others. Other protests have been reported today in Sudan, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.

Ms. Pillay emphasized that the best way to deal with such provocation was to ignore them. “Deliberate and obnoxious acts of this type should be deprived of the oxygen of publicity,” she said, adding that she welcomed the Libyan Government’s efforts to bring those responsible for the attack in Benghazi to justice.

The High Commissioner also noted that there is a legal framework – in particular Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which offers strong protective measures to all forms of expression, while at the same time giving States the possibility to impose restrictions that are provided by law and which are necessary for the respect of the rights and reputations of others.

Addressing a General Assembly forum on the promulgation of a ‘culture of peace’ at UN Headquarters in New York last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the “terrible attacks and unrest” of recent days in Libya and elsewhere, apparently sparked, he said, by a “hateful, disgusting film.” He also called it shameful to exploit the right to free expression to provoke bigotry and bloodshed, but deemed it equally wrong to exploit the resulting anger and feed “the cycle of recrimination and senseless violence.”

On Thursday night, a spokesperson for the Secretary-General said the UN chief was “deeply disturbed” by the violence in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East and called for calm and restraint to end hostilities. “[Mr. Ban] condemns the hateful film that appears to have been deliberately designed to sow bigotry and bloodshed,” the spokesperson said in a statement, which also stressed that at this time of tensions there is a need for “dialogue, mutual respect and understanding.”

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also issued a statement earlier on Thursday in which it deplored the film, describing it as “insulting and inflammatory,” and stressing that defamation of religion in all forms is unacceptable. The Mission called on all Afghans to exercise restraint and reject calls to violence or vicious behaviour.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ECCC Grants Provisional Release

A former Khmer Rouge leader found unfit to stand trial owing to medical reasons has been granted a provisional release by the United Nations-backed court in Cambodia that is trying those accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. 

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a mixed court set up under a 2003 agreement signed by the UN and the Government, ruled yesterday that Ieng Thirith be released, provided that she inform the Court of the address where she will reside and not change residence without prior authorization.  She must also surrender her passport and any other travel documents, and remain in the territory of Cambodia, as well as respond to any summons issued by the Court.

The Court stated that this is a provisional measure that will remain in effect until it decides on the merits of the appeal submitted by the Co-Prosecutors last week in which they requested that conditions be placed on Ms. Thirith's release.

Ms. Thirith, who formerly served as Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea -- as Cambodia was known during the Khmer Rouge regime's leadership of the country -- was on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with her husband and former foreign minister Ieng Sary, former so-called Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former head of State Khieu Samphan, all leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime during the late 1970s. 

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

(See related story immediately below)

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Prosecutors at Cambodia Tribunal Want Conditions on Release of Defendant

Prosecutors at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia ("ECCC") have appealed the decision to unconditionally release Ieng Thirith, a former senior member of the Khmer Rouge who was found unfit to stand trial, stating that certain restrictions should be placed on her freedom.   

The ECCC trial chamber eld that Ieng Thirith is unfit to stand trial for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.  The court issued a decision on Thursday to release her unconditionally.  Expert psychiatrists who examined Ms. Thirith last year diagnosed her with clinical dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, which would hinder her participation in court hearings.  

“The Co-Prosecutors fully agree with the Trial Chamber that Ieng Thirith should be released from detention based on the findings of national and international experts that she is currently unfit to stand trial,” stated a news release from the court. “However, the Co-Prosecutors are of the view that her release should not have been unconditional.”  

The Co-Prosecutors took note of the chamber’s holding that “there exists a possibility (albeit remote) of a change in the circumstances, and a resumption of the trial at a later point in time.”  Taking this into account, the Co-Prosecutors consider that the trial chamber has the legal authority to consider and apply “limited, reasonably necessary and proportionate” restrictions on Ms. Thirith’s liberty, the news release added.  

The purpose of these restrictions or conditions would be to ensure that the accused does not flee the jurisdiction of the court, to ensue that she does not interfere with witnesses or other accused giving evidence at trial, to ensure her safety and public order, and to ensure that her health is adequately monitored to enable the trial chamber to remain informed of her medical condition.  

Ms. Thirith, who formerly served as Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea – as Cambodia was known during the Khmer Rouge regime’s leadership of the country – was on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with her husband and former foreign minister Ieng Sary, former so-called Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former head of State Khieu Samphan, all leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime during the late 1970s.  

The ECCC is an independent court set up under an agreement signed in 2003 by the UN and the Government, and uses a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel.  

(Adapted from a UN Press Release) 

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Security Council Condemns Attacks in Yemen

United Nations Security Council LogoThe Security Council has strongly condemned the terrorist attack that occurred in the capital, Sana’a, on 11 September that caused numerous deaths and injuries, including among the security detail of Yemen’s defence minister.  A car bomb detonated as the motorcade of the minister, Major General Muhammad Nasir Ahmad, passed near government offices in central Sana’a, according to media reports. Eleven people were reportedly killed, including seven of the minister’s bodyguards. 

Council members expressed their deep sympathy and sincere condolences to the victims of these “heinous acts” and to their families, and to the people and Government Yemen, according to a statement issued to the press by Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency for this month.

“The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed,” the statement added.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Attack in Somalia on President's Hotel

The President of the United Nations General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, has condemned in the strongest possible terms last week's attack on the hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia where the country’s new President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was giving a press conference and which resulted in one death and several injuries. “President Al-Nasser expresses his deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and Governments of the victims of this attack,” according to a statement released by his spokesperson that stressed that the act violated international law.

Initial reports indicate that three suicide bombers dressed in Somali uniform attempted to enter the Jazeera Hotel, which reportedly also serves as Mr. Mohamud’s temporary residence, while he was speaking to the media and meeting with the Kenyan Foreign Minister, Samuel Ongeri. The insurgents were intercepted by security forces and were killed before they were able to enter the hotel, according to a news release issued by the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS). A number of Somali security personnel were injured in the attack, and one soldier serving with the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was killed and three more wounded.

In his statement today, recalling his joint visit with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Somalia in December 2011, Mr. Al-Nasser called on the international community “to intensify their support to the fledgling administration in Mogadishu and to the people of Somalia who have been seeking peace and security for many decades.”

Mr. Ban also strongly condemned the attack and Mr. Ban’s Special Representative and head of UNPOS, Augustine P. Mahiga, noted that this “atrocious” attack came only two days after a milestone vote where the Somali Parliament overwhelmingly and transparently elected Mr. Mohamud as President.

The President’s election marked the culmination of a series of landmark steps to bring an end to the country’s eight-year political transition. Those other steps, over recent weeks, included the adoption of Somalia’s provisional constitution, the establishment of the New Federal Parliament and the appointment of that body’s Speaker.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Human Rights Violations in Syria

The scale and frequency of gross human rights violations in Syria has significantly increased in recent weeks, according to a new report by the United Nations independent panel probing abuses committed during the country’s ongoing conflict.

The report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria, which was mandated by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, states that indiscriminate attacks against civilians are now occurring on a daily basis in many areas of the country including Aleppo, Damascus, Dera, Larakia, Idlib and Homs.  “Gross violations of human rights have grown in number, in pace and in scale,” the Chair of the Commission, Paulo Pinheiro, told the Council this morning. “Civilians, many of them children, are bearing the brunt of the spiralling violence.”

Syria has been wracked by violence, with an estimated 19,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 18 months ago. Mr. Pinheiro said the report, which is based on the Commission’s investigations and interviews conducted up until two weeks ago, had found reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces and members of the Government-controlled militia known as the Shabiha, had committed war crimes, gross violations against human rights and crimes against humanity.

Violations conducted by Government forces include murder, summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, violations of children’s rights, pillaging and destruction of civilian objects – including hospitals and schools.  Anti-Government armed groups have also committed war crimes, including murder and torture, Mr. Pinheiro said. In addition, children under 18 years of age are fighting and performing auxiliary roles for anti-Government armed groups.

A confidential list of individuals and units that are believed to be responsible for violations will be provided to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. However, Mr. Pinheiro said the names would not be publicly released because suspects were entitled to the presumption of innocence and because there is no mechanism in place yet to hold perpetrators responsible where allegations could be contested.  The report also states that the socio-economic situation has further deteriorated, with 2.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid, and more than 1.2 million people internally displaced, half of which are children, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Mr. Pinheiro stressed that the situation was worsening in part due to the cumulative effect of conflict and economic sanctions. “The Commission maintains that sanctions result in a denial of the most basic human rights to Syrians. Scarcity of basic human needs such as potable water food, electricity, petrol and cooking fuel is causing rampant inflation,” he said.  In addition, Mr. Pinheiro warned that the conflict is spilling over into neighbouring countries, threatening stability and security in the region, and called on the international community to deploy renewed efforts to support the mission of the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi, to stop the violence and find a durable solution to the crisis.

Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui of Syria said the Government regretted that the Commission’s report was “neither accurate nor objective” and that many testimonies in the report have no legal value. He also stated that many international parties are working to worsen the crisis by “instigating the media and training, funding and sending mercenaries to Syria.” Mr. Hamoui added that Syria had cooperated with all initiatives to settle the crisis but terrorist groups in the country had no interest in reform or democracy and sought only to fragment the Middle East.

During the same meeting, High Commissioner Navi Pillay introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the human rights situation in Syria and called on all parties to immediately stop the violence. She also echoed Mr. Pinheiro’s remarks by urging cooperation with Mr. Brahimi to find a solution to the crisis.

(From a UN Press Release)

September 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)