Saturday, December 22, 2012
International Environmental Law Development: The UN General Assembly Upgrades the UN Environment Programme
World governments have “upgraded” the global status of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) by opening its governing body to all 193 UN Member States. In a resolution establishing universal membership of the former 58-member UNEP Governing Council, the UN General Assembly signalled it was reinforcing the agency’s role as the world’s “leading environmental authority” for setting the global environmental agenda, UNEP said in a news release.
Crucially, the resolution renders UNEP eligible to receive “secure, stable and increased financial resources” from the regular budget of the UN, and “calls for other UNEP donors to increase their voluntary funding,” the release said. “The decision by the General Assembly to strengthen and upgrade UNEP is a watershed moment,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner. “Universal membership of UNEP’s Governing Council establishes a new, fully-representative platform to strengthen the environmental dimension of sustainable development, and provides all governments with an equal voice on the decisions and actions needed to support the global environment, and ensure a fairer share of the world’s resources for all,” he added.
The General Assembly established UNEP a year after the UN’s 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment – which is widely credited with having placed global environmental issues on the international agenda – called for the creation of a specialized agency within the UN Secretariat to help States coordinate environmental policy.
For its part, today’s General Assembly resolution marks the first major structural change to UNEP in its four-decade history. “The resolution reaffirms UNEP’s role as the UN's authority on the environment, and provides the mandate to enhance our ongoing work on bringing the latest science to policy-makers, directly supporting national and regional environmental efforts, improving access to technology, and other key areas,” said Mr. Steiner. “For UNEP and the environmental community, this is a truly historic day.”
The resolution follows commitments by world leaders at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Brazil in June, to improve the institutional framework for a development agenda that meets human needs while also protecting the environment. “The provisions contained in the resolution are among the first practical steps by the UN General Assembly to implement the outcomes of Rio+20,” UNEP said.
The reform comes as the latest edition of UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook report, released in June 2012, said that significant progress had been made in only four of the 90 leading environmental goals agreed by the international community. The report warned that, if current trends continued, several critical thresholds may be exceeded, beyond which irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur, according to the UNEP release.
In light of the report, the new General Assembly resolution reflects the “commitment of member states to improve global cooperation on the environment in order to meet such challenges, and to promote the integration of the social, economic, and environmental pillars of sustainable development, as well as improving coordination within the UN system,” UNEP said.
The first meeting of the new Governing Council will take place in February.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the passing of an “historic” United Nations resolution yesterday calling on countries to eliminate female genital mutilation, adding that the move was an important step towards a world free from violence against women. “Harmful practices, such as genital mutilation, constitute a serious threat to the health of millions of women and girls worldwide and violate their fundamental rights,” said a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.
In a series of five resolutions passed yesterday by the General Assembly, the UN body took what it described as “groundbreaking” action against the brutal practice which has affected an estimated 140 million women worldwide, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
Female genital mutilation/cutting refers to several different harmful practices involving the cutting of the female genitals for non-medical reasons. The procedure – which often causes severe bleeding and problems urinating, cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths – is characterized by the WHO in four types: clitoridectomy, or the partial or total removal of the clitoris; excision, or the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; infibulations, or the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris; and all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes.
“The resolutions approved yesterday urge countries to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilation, and to take all necessary measures, including enforcing legislation, awareness-raising and allocating sufficient resources to protect women and girls from this form of violence,” the statement added.
Pointing to diverse initiatives – such as the COMMIT launched by UN Women and the Secretary-General’s own UNiTE to End Violence against Women, which works in collaboration with governments and civil society to advance legislation and social mobilization – the statement further noted that ending violence against women remained a priority for the Secretary-General during his second term mandate.
At a news conference held yesterday to mark the resolutions’ passing at UN Headquarters in New York, the representative of Burkina Faso, Der Kogda, acknowledged that the resolution, “strengthening the global effort to eradicate female genital mutilation,” had been adopted by consensus.
Sponsored by two thirds of the Member States, including the Group of African States, the text condemns the practice, recognizing it as harmful to women and girls and a serious threat to their health. States were also urged to condemn female genital mutilation to protect women against all forms of violence.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The Government of Eritrea must cooperate with an international mandate to provide “an objective, fair and impartial picture” of the human rights situation in the Horn of Africa country, a United Nations independent expert urged yesterday. “I hope that the Eritrean Government would consider the mandate of the Special Rapporteur as an opportunity to start a fresh and constructive dialogue on human rights issues that have been raised by the international community and other stakeholders,” Beedwantee Keetharuth, the newly-appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, stated in a news release.
According to multiple reports, the human rights situation in Eritrea is generally viewed as being poor, with allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as widespread constraints on freedom of speech. In one example dating to early September of this year, the UN condemned the deaths of three Eritrean media workers who had been kept in a prison camp for over a decade.
In July this year, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which it strongly condemned the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights committed by the Eritrean authorities, the severe restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, and the forced conscription of citizens for indefinite periods. At the same time, it decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the matter.
In keeping with her mandate, Ms. Keetharuth, a lawyer from Mauritius with extensive experience in monitoring and documenting human rights violations across Africa, is expected to present her report on Eritrea’s human rights situation to the Council in June 2013. Ahead of that, she had requested meetings with the country’s diplomats in Geneva and London at the start of her mandate this past November. She noted, however, that the meetings had yet to take place. “The aim was to introduce myself and present my vision of the mandate in a spirit of openness, as well as to explore avenues for cooperation,” she continued. “I have now requested to travel to Eritrea in early 2013.”
In the news release, Ms. Keetharuth expressed faith that the Eritrean Government would ultimately view her mandate as an opportunity to carefully address the country’s “compliance with its human rights obligations as contained in international treaties to which the country is a party.” In the meantime, the UN expert added that she would engage with other parties affected by human rights issues in the Eritrea, including those who consider themselves to be the victims of alleged human rights violations, human rights defenders and other civil society actors.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs such as Ms. Keetharuth, are appointed by the Human Rights 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 UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Jeff Golden (in photo, on right) and I are two of the contributing authors.
Mark E. Wojcik (mew)
Friday, December 21, 2012
The Security Council yesterday authorized the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali, to be known as AFISMA, for an initial period of one year to assist the authorities in recovering rebel-held regions in the north and restoring the unity of the country.
Northern Mali has been occupied by radical Islamists after fighting broke out in January between Government forces and Tuareg rebels – just one of several security, political and humanitarian problems the West African nation has been dealing with this year.
Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which allows the Council to use force in the face of a threat to peace or aggression, the 15-member body tasked the Mission with contributing to the rebuilding of the Malian Defence and Security Forces, as well as supporting the Malian authorities in “recovering the areas in the north under the control of terrorist, extremist and armed groups and in reducing the threat posed by terrorist groups.” By unanimous resolution, the Mission will also be responsible for supporting the Malian authorities in their primary responsibility to protect the population and to create a secure environment for the civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance and the voluntary return of internally displaced persons and refugees.
The renewed clashes in the north, 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 uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians this year. Over 412,000 people have been forced to flee northern Mali, and an estimated five million people have been affected by the conflict.
The Council also urged the transitional authorities of Mali to finalize a transitional roadmap through broad-based and inclusive political dialogue, to fully restore constitutional order and national unity, including through the holding of peaceful, inclusive and credible elections by April 2013 or as soon as technically possible. It demanded that Malian rebel groups cut off all ties to terrorist organizations, and urged the transitional authorities to expeditiously put in place a credible framework for negotiations with all parties in the north who cut off such ties.
UN military and police planners have worked closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, in consultation with Malian authorities, for many months in developing a framework for the new force. Addressing the meeting on behalf of the Chairman of ECOWAS, Youssoufou Bamba, the Permanent Representative of Côte d'Ivoire to the United Nations, said the commendable goals that this “timely” resolution seeks, will not be fully achieved without a strong and consequent mobilization and international support. “The African Union and ECOWAS require a logistical support package, funded by assessed contributions of the United Nations, which should be quickly endorsed by the Security Council,” he stated.
In its resolution, the Council called on Member States and international organizations to provide financial support and contributions in kind to AFISMA to enable its deployment and implementation of its mandate. It also expressed its intention to consider the provision of a voluntary and a UN-funded logistics support package to AFISMA, and requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to further develop and refine options within 30 days in this regard.
It was previously announced that Mr. Ban intends to establish a full-time UN political presence in the Malian capital, Bamako, which will be responsible for interacting with key stakeholders and report to both the Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, and his Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi. The Council requested him to submit specific and detailed proposals on establishing this presence as soon as possible for further consideration.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
ICTR Sentences Former Government Minister to 35 Years for Genocide, Incitement to Genocide, and Crime Against Humanity
A trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has sentenced a former government minister, Augustin Ngirabatware, to 35 years imprisonment for genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide and rape as a crime against humanity.
According to an ICTR news release, Trial Chamber II found that Mr. Ngirabatware – then serving as Rwanda’s Minister of Planning – directly and publicly incited the killing of Tutsis at the Cyanika-Gisa roadblock in February 1994. It further found that Mr. Ngirabatware instigated and aided and abetted the attacks and killings of Tutsis in April 1994 in the Nyamyumba commune through his words and actions in distributing weapons at two roadblocks there. At least some of these weapons were used by the Hutu Interahamwe militia to kill Tutsis.
The chamber also found Mr. Ngirabatware guilty of participating in a joint criminal enterprise, which was in existence by 7 April 1994, and whose members shared the common purpose of destroying, in whole or in part, the Tutsi ethnic group, and exterminating the Tutsi civilian population in the Nyamyumba commune. In addition, the chamber found Mr. Ngirabatware guilty for committing – through this joint criminal enterprise in the extended form – the repeated rapes of a Tutsi woman.
Mr. Ngirabatware was arrested in September 2007 in Germany, and transferred to the court in October 2009. His trial opened in September 2009.
Based in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, 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 deaths of then Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, when their plane was brought down over the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on 6 April 1994.
In a statement issued after the verdict, the ICTR’s Chief Prosecutor, Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow, said that the delivery of today’s judgement in this case marks a historic occasion and important mile stone in the work of the tribunal. “For today the Tribunal has completed the trial phase of its mandate,” he said. “Established by the UN Security Council by resolution 955 of 1994 with the mandate to prosecute persons responsible for genocide and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Rwanda in 1994, the ICTR has over the past eighteen years of its operations indicted 93 persons for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
He noted that of those indicted, 83 have been arrested with 75 of them prosecuted to judgement; 65 of those tried were found guilty and convicted, nine of them on their guilty pleas. Ten of the accused have been acquitted, while three died after indictment. The cases of ten of the accused were referred to national jurisdictions for trial, including six of the remaining nine fugitives, while two indictments were withdrawn. “It has taken considerable effort, dedication and diligence by several parties for this outcome, amongst them the governments and law enforcement authorities of some 21 countries which have cooperated in ensuring the arrest and transfer of s to the tribunal for trial; over three thousand witnesses from several countries who have despite many challenges, testified in order to assist the tribunal arrive at the truth and render justice,” Justice Jallow said.
The ICTR is expected to conclude its work by the end of 2014. The UN Security Council set up the so-called International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in December 2010 and mandated it to take over and finish the remaining tasks of the ICTR – and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – when they are closed after their mandates expire. The ICTR branch of the Residual Mechanism began its functions on 1 July.
The Chief Prosecutor said that “some important” work still remains to be done at the ICTR – mainly in the management of the remaining appeal cases as well as management of legacy and closure related issues. “We are confident that these tasks too can be completed before the end of 2014 as stipulated by the UN Security Council,” he said. “The conclusion of the work of this phase of the ICTR or its final closure will not affect the tracking of the remaining fugitives whose cases have now been transferred to the Residual Mechanism.” He added, “The search for these fugitives will continue and will not cease and until they are found and until they are brought to account before the Mechanism or before an appropriate national jurisdiction for trial.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
A United Nations independent panel investigating human rights violations in Syria has released a new update on the situation, noting that violations continue unabated and reiterating the need for a political solution to the conflict. “The war of attrition that is being fought in Syria has brought immeasurable destruction and human suffering to the civilian population. As the conflict drags on, the parties have become ever more violent and unpredictable, which has led to their conduct increasingly being in breach of international law,” the Commission of Inquiry on Syria stated in its latest update, covering the period between 28 September to 16 December.
“The sole way to bring about an immediate cessation of the violence is through a negotiated political settlement which meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” the Commission added, noting that it strongly supports the Joint Special Representative of the UN and League of Arab States for the crisis in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, in his efforts to bring the parties towards such a settlement.
The Commission – which comprises Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Karen AbuZayd, Carla del Ponte, and Vitit Muntarbhorn – has been mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law in Syria, where at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
The conflict, now in its 22nd month, has spawned more than 500,000 refugees, while an estimated four million people inside the country need urgent humanitarian assistance. The Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country.
The Commission has also been tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and its mandate was recently expanded to include “investigations of all massacres.” Its latest update is based on interviews with some 100 witnesses and victims, with the Commissioners and their staff having interviewed a total of just under 1,200 people since they began their work in August 2011. The new 10-page update paints a bleak picture of the conflict and continuing international human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria, with civilians continuing to bear the brunt as the front lines between Government forces and the armed opposition move deeper into urban areas.
“Violence has increased dramatically in and around major cities, in particular Damascus and Aleppo, where anti-Government fighters have advanced to neighbourhoods close to the cities’ centres,” the Commission states in the update. “Anti-Government armed groups were also reported in governorates such as al-Raqqah and al-Hasakah where they have clashed with army units, provoking shelling and artillery attacks.”
In addition, it notes that mounting tensions have led to armed clashes between different armed groups along a sectarian divide – particularly involving Sunni and Shia communities, as well as the Alawaite minority – with such incidents taking place in mixed communities or where armed groups had attempted to take hold of areas predominantly inhabited by pro-Government minority communities.
“The risk of the Syrian conflict devolving from peaceful protests seeking political reform to a confrontation between ethnic and religious groups has been ever present,” the Commission stated. “As battles between Government forces and anti-Government armed groups approach the end of their second year, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature.”
Furthermore, the country’s other minority groups – such as the Armenians, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, Kurds and Turkmen – have been drawn into the conflict. “Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides,” according to the update. However, the sectarian lines fall most sharply between Syria’s Alawite community, from which most of the Government’s senior political and military figures hail, and the country’s majority Sunni community who are broadly, but not uniformly, in support of the anti-Government armed groups.
The update observes that most of the foreign fighters filtering into Syria to join the anti-Government armed groups – or to fight independently alongside them – are Sunnis hailing from countries in the Middle East and North Africa, adding that the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict provides one motivation for other actors to take part. The update notes that the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah has confirmed that its members are in Syria fighting on behalf of the Government, and there have also been claims, still under investigation, of Iraqi Shias coming to fight in Syria. Iran confirmed on 14 September that members of its Revolutionary Guards are in Syria providing “intellectual and advisory support,” the Commissioners added.
In addition to highlighting the violence which has resulted in many thousands of dead and wounded, arbitrary detention and disappearances, huge displacement and the massive physical destruction in Syria, the Commission’s update also describes how World Heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, as well as entire neighbourhoods of several of the country’s biggest cities. The Commission of Inquiry will present its fourth report to the Human Rights Council in March next year.
Also today, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, met with that country’s Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, and discussed a range of issues – including the impact of recent developments in Syria on its Lebanese neighbor. “We discussed the issue of displaced Syrians, and the significant rise in the numbers of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who have fled to Lebanon during the past week. We agreed that two things have to be highlighted: the very difficult circumstances that forced these people to leave their homes, and the humanitarian obligation to assist them until they are able to return,” the UN envoy said in a statement after the meeting.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are some 155,00 displaced Syrians currently seeking refuge in Lebanon, and their humanitarian needs are expected to increase with the onset of winter in the region. “We understand that this represents a very big burden for Lebanon, and one which is likely to grow before those displaced are able to return home,” Mr. Plumbly said, adding that the UN humanitarian agencies concerned are working in the “closest possible fashion” with the Lebanese Government to help it and the displaced people and the communities receiving them. “We are standing and will stand shoulder to shoulder with Lebanon in this,” the envoy added. “I reiterated to the Prime Minister the support of the United Nations for the response plan that the Government has prepared, and for the arrangements put in place in it.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Thursday, December 20, 2012
After more than a decade of effort, the Senegal National Assembly adopted legislation yesterday that will create Extraordinary Chambers within the Senegalese court system to try the former president of Chad, Mr. Hissene Habre, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during his rule from 1982-1990.
The decision follows a series of international events, including the July 2012 judgment by the International Court of Justice (disussed in this earlier post) that ordered Senegal to prosecute Habre without delay or extradite him to Belgium for trial. The legislative action also follows an agreement with the international community to fund the legal proceedings in the amount of 7.4 million euros.
The new Extraordinary Chambers will handle investigations, trials, and appeals. The Chambers will prosecute “the person or persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad between June 7, 1982, and December 1, 1990. The trial chamber and the appeals chamber will each consist of two Senegalese judges and one non-Senegalese judge from an African Union member country, who will preside over the proceedings.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Extraordinary Chambers Statute provides for the participation of victims at all stages of the proceedings as civil parties, represented by counsel, and says that the victims may also be awarded reparations. The chambers’ budget allows for the recording of all proceedings as well as the establishment of an extensive outreach program so that the trial can have a positive and educational impact in Chad and elsewhere.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is accepting nominations under December 31 for its new Director General. The new DG will succeed Pascal Lamy, whose term expires in August 2013.
Yesterday, Costa Rica nominated its Foreign Trade Minister Anabel Gonzalez. If chosen, she will be the first female DG of the WTO.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The United Nations Security Council today strongly condemned the ongoing attacks and atrocities carried out by the armed group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and urged that the United Nations regional strategy designed to tackle the threat be carried out as soon as possible. “The Council demands an immediate end to all attacks by the LRA, particularly those on civilians, urges LRA leaders to release all those abducted, and insists that all LRA elements put an end to such practices, and disarm and demobilise,” the 15-member body said a presidential statement.
The regional strategy, which was endorsed by the Council in June, focuses on five key strategic objectives to address the threat posed by the LRA – the Ugandan rebel group notorious for carrying out massacres in villages, mutilating its victims and abducting boys for use as child soldiers, while girls are often forced into sexual slavery.
The Council has urged swift implementation of the strategy’s objectives. These include support for the full operationalization and implementation of the African Union (AU) regional cooperation initiative against the LRA; enhancing efforts to promote the protection of civilians; and expanding current disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration activities to cover all LRA-affected areas.
The other objectives are to promote a coordinated humanitarian and child protection response in these areas, and to support LRA-affected governments in the fields of peacebuilding, human rights, rule of law and development, to enable them to establish State authority across their territories.
In its presidential statement today, the Council urged the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), the UN political and peacekeeping missions in the region and other relevant UN presences to coordinate their efforts in support of the implementation of the strategy, and called on the international community to provide assistance “as possible” to advance these goals. Furthermore, the Secretary-General was requested to present to the Council a prioritised and sequenced implementation plan to support the strategy no later than 28 February 2013, based on a clear division of labour between all parts of the international system as well as UN organizations.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNOCA, Abou Moussa, told the Council that the UN and the AU will seek increased funding early next year for the strategy “The most urgent step revolves around the need to promptly finalize the LRA programmatic document and mobilize sufficient resources for its full implementation,” he said. He added that once the programmatic document is finalized, his office, in partnership with the office of the AU Special Envoy on the LRA, Francisco Madeira, plans to organize a resource mobilization forum early next year with the aim of raising funds for the most critical areas of the strategy.
The LRA was formed in the 1980s in Uganda and for over 15 years its attacks were mainly directed against Ugandan civilians and security forces, which in 2002 dislodged the rebels. They then exported their activities to Uganda’s neighbours, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
The Council welcomed the “significant” increase in individuals escaping or defecting from the LRA over recent months, and strongly supported ongoing efforts to promote defections through the distribution of leaflets, targeted radio broadcasts, and the establishment of safe reporting sites. In addition, it called for the remaining LRA fighters to leave the group’s ranks and participate in a disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration process.
(UN Press Release)
The United Nations human rights chief today called on Iraq to move towards abolishing the death penalty, saying – in response to the latest periodic report on Iraq’s human rights record – that the rate of executions in the country this year “cannot be justified.”
“I would like to stress that, under international law, the death penalty is permitted in very limited circumstances, including after trial and appeal proceedings that scrupulously respect all the principles of due process,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in her comments on the Report on Human Rights in Iraq: January to June 2012, released today. “The number of executions so far in 2012, and the manner in which they have been carried out in large batches, is extremely dangerous, cannot be justified, and risks seriously undermining the partial and tentative progress on rule of law in Iraq outlined in this report,” she added, according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).
Iraq, which retains the death penalty for a large number of crimes, executed 70 people in the first six months of this year, compared to 67 for the whole of 2011, and 18 in 2010, according to the 46-page report, produced by UNAMI – a UN political mission established by the UN Security Council in 2003 at the invitation of the Government of Iraq – in cooperation with OHCHR.
“I encourage the Iraqi Government to declare a moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty in the near future,” Ms. Pillay said. The human rights chief also called on the Iraqi authorities to address other “serious human rights violations” highlighted in the report, which, as with earlier reports, reflects information gathered by UNAMI from the mission’s on-site monitoring.
Although the report noted the Iraqi Government had taken a “number of positive steps to address certain human rights concerns,” it said respect for human rights in the country “remains fragile as the country continues its transition from years of conflict and violence to peace and democracy.” The study highlighted that many ordinary Iraqi women, children, disabled people and members of ethnic and religious groups continue to face varying degrees of discrimination in the full enjoyment of their basic rights, according to the joint news release.
Many Iraqis also still have only limited access to basic services, including healthcare, education, and employment, the release said, citing the report. “Respect for human rights is at the basis of any democracy, and strong action needs to be taken by the Iraqi authorities to ensure that each and every person in this country can fully enjoy his or her fundamental rights – including social and economic rights,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler.
According to the report, violence remains of great concern in Iraq, with the number of civilians killed having slightly increased compared to the same six-month period in 2011. The report found that 1,346 civilians were killed and 3,660 others wounded during the first six months of 2012. It also noted that, despite a decline in the overall number of incidents, the attacks were often more deadly, with a few attacks claiming scores of victims.
Iraqi Government initiatives welcomed in the report included “key legislative and institutional reforms,” according to the joint news release. It named them as the appointment of the Commissioners to serve on Iraq’s first Independent High Commission for Human Rights, the ratification by Iraq of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the launch of a reorganization and rehabilitation programme for detention centres and prisons under the authority of the Iraqi Ministry of Justice.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
A United Nations independent expert today called on the Government of Madagascar to take “urgent measures” in its fight against poverty, adding that poverty was the driving factor in the island nation’s slavery epidemic. “Human rights cannot thrive in an environment of extreme poverty,” the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, stated in a news release at the end of her first-ever visit to the African country.
During her trip – which included stops in the towns of Antsirabe, Ambositra, Fianaransoa, Ihosy, Sakaraha, and the capital, Antananarivo – Ms. Shahinian noted that she was informed that over 70 per cent of the population in Madagascar is poor and over 50 per cent is extremely poor. Moreover, she detailed the lingering effects of Madagascar’s caste system and the deeply rooted discrimination resulting from it, which continues to marginalize the most vulnerable people in society, particularly those descended from slaves.
“Madagascar’s experience has shown the extent to which men, women, and children suffering from extreme poverty end up living in conditions of contemporary forms of slavery such as domestic servitude, child slavery in mines and quarries, bonded labour, and servile marriages,” Ms. Shahinian said. She noted that many parents across Madagascar are “desperately poor” and are often faced with few alternatives regarding employment and where to send their children to school. As a result, the children, who are frequently undernourished and suffer from chronic hunger, are doled out across the countryside as domestic workers in order to pay off rising debts or simply to help feed the family. In addition, many girls and boys are forced to marry against their will and at ages as young as 10 years old, despite laws to the contrary.
The UN expert also pointed out that many children were illegally working in Madagascar’s artisanal mining and quarrying sector, often living in remote areas plagued by violence and lawlessness where they were exposed to rape, prostitution and potentially fatal health hazards. Nevertheless, Ms. Shahinian emphasized that the country’s authorities already had proper legislation on its books to counter the diffuse problem of slavery but that they were not being implement or monitored prompting impunity and corruption.
“The Government, as well as civil society and international organizations cannot continue to ignore this issue,” she stated. “I urge the government to develop urgent measures and fully resourced programmes with local authorities and work closely with civil society and international organizations in order to secure funding and combat contemporary forms of slavery.”
UN independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Ms. Shahinian, 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 UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
(UN Press Release)
The credibility of the Internet depends on how much civil society – the broad label given to worldwide activism outside government – is able to take part in its evolution, a United Nations independent expert said today. “Civil society participation is essential to ensure legitimacy of global discussions on the future of (the) Internet,” the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, said in comments on a recent global telecommunications conference that aimed to update a world treaty containing general principles for assuring the free flow of information worldwide. “The only consensus reached so far on this matter is that the future of the Internet has to be determined in a multi-stakeholder dialogue, where no positions can be imposed unilaterally,” he added, according to a news release from the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Click here to read a copy of the news release.
The UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) convened the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in early December, as part of a wider mandate that sees it allocate global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develop the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strive to improve access to international telecommunications technologies to underserved communities worldwide. Attended by more than 160 countries, the conference aimed to update ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations, which serve as a binding global treaty designed to make global interconnection easier, more efficient and more available to the public in a way that is useful.
In his comments, the Special Rapporteur noted that the Internet “vastly expands the capacity of individuals to enjoy their right to freedom of expression, as well as other rights.” As such, he said, any future focus on Internet governance by the Conference “must ensure the meaningful participation of multiple stakeholders, including representatives of other international organizations, human rights entities, private sector representatives, including Internet providers and non-governmental organizations,” the OHCHR release said.
“Global attention is required to ensure that no international or national regulations on the Internet pave the way for hampering freedom of opinion and expression through the Internet,” said Mr. La Rue. “Unfortunately, legitimate expression on the Internet is already criminalized in various countries today,” he added, saying he had documented this in his 2011 report for the UN General Assembly on Internet-linked freedom-of-expression rights, and also in a 2011 report on Internet trends and challenges related to free-speech. “International efforts must reverse this trend, not reinforce it,” he added of the information clampdowns.
According to the Special Rapporteur, ensuring freedom of expression and access to information on the Internet is central for the promotion and protection of human rights, and the strengthening of democracy across the globe today. “Over the last two decades, the Internet has greatly contributed to expanding access to information on serious human rights violations, giving voice to millions who would be silent and invisible without the access to this powerful tool,” he said, adding that “discussion on any form of regulation or governance of this crucial tool must be firmly grounded in human rights standards.”
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs such as Mr. La Rue, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights 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 UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Preliminary findings by United Nations investigators have documented at least 126 rapes and the killing of two civilians – one a minor – during a probe into human rights violations in a part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that recently experienced a new eruption of violent clashes and civilian displacements, a UN spokesperson said today.
A parallel investigation by the armed forces of DRC, known by the French acronym FARDC, has led to the arrest of nine FARDC soldiers, two in connection with the rapes, and seven in connection with lootings, the spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.
The probes are focused on allegations of violations committed between 20 and 30 November in and around Minova, a town close to the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the eastern DRC, which fighters from the 23 March Movement (M23) armed group occupied on 19 November.
According to media reports, there have been allegations that FARDC soldiers raped dozens of women in Minova during the army’s retreat from Goma.
The UN investigators are with the UN Joint Human Rights Office (JHRO), a collaboration between the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Mr. Nesirky said two JHRO teams visited the Minova area this month and interviewed more than 200 people, though investigations are ongoing. “The UN Mission is supporting the (DRC) military justice procedure in conducting thorough investigations into these allegations to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and held accountable,” he said.
Mr. Nesirky noted that MONUSCO officials met today with DRC’s Vice Prime Minister Mutombo Bakafwa Nsenda, who also serves as Minister of Defence, to share initial findings. He added that MONUSCO is working with the DRC Government to identify the FARDC units in which the arrested soldiers served. According to Mr. Nesirky, identifying the units will allow MONUSCO to review the exact nature of any support in accordance with the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, which contains principles to be followed on the part of any UN entity when supporting non-UN security entities.
The investigations come amid continuing tensions in the region even though the M23 – made up of former national army troops who mutinied in April and named after a 23 March 2009 peace agreement that they reportedly say has not been implemented – ended their occupation of Goma after 11 days and are now in political talks with the DRC Government in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Media reports have said the M23 also face allegations of killing and raping civilians and looting towns during the clashes that took place last month. The reports also highlight that several other armed groups in the area have been involved in the wider regional violence.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 400 women and girls were sexually assaulted amid the regional fighting and advance on Goma. “Women and girls in the displacement camps are living in constant fear of being attacked or sexually molested,” a UNICEF spokesperson, Marixie Mercado, said in an interview with UN Radio.
Separately, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today issued an alert about the presence of armed groups in and around a camp west of Goma hosting up to 15,000 of the estimated 177,000 civilians driven from their homes amid the M23 advance. The armed groups were “fuelling worries” among the inhabitants of the Mugunga III camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), said a UNHCR spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, who added that the agency saw their presence as a “serious concern.”
Already this month, armed men have staged at least three attacks, Mr. Edwards said. In one, they raped several women and looted supplies in the camp, while in another, three people were shot and wounded when gunmen looted several homes around Mugunga III and demanded goods or money. A third attack left two people inside the camp injured by gunfire after four armed men “apparently looking for aid items, including plastic sheeting” entered, according to Mr. Edwards.
While Mugunga III is one of 31 established IDP sites throughout North Kivu province, Mr. Edwards told the UN News Centre that the precarious regional security situation meant that UNHCR had access to “very few.”
“Civilians must be kept out of harm’s way and any deployment of armed men in densely populated areas should be avoided,” he said at the briefing in Geneva, adding that the presence of armed men at any refuge was a “threat to the civilian character of the camps,” and something UNCHR had “repeatedly urged all sides to respect.”
“It exposes IDPs to risks of violence in violation of their fundamental rights, including the right to physical safety and integrity,” Mr. Edwards noted. He added that fighting farther north in the eastern DRC has caused about 4,000 people to flee into South Sudan, where – before the latest influx – there were 18,408 DRC refugees.
“Most of the new arrivals are women with small infants and separated or unaccompanied children,” he said. “UNHCR is prioritizing identification of the unaccompanied children to ensure that those most at risk, particularly adolescent boys, are protected.”
(UN Press Release)
International Criminal Court Acquits Congolese Rebel Leader of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
The International Criminal Court (ICC) today acquitted former Congolese rebel leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui of war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to a deadly 2003 assault on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), saying it could not convict him “beyond reasonable doubt” based on the evidence presented.
Hundreds of people were killed in the 24 February 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro in Ituri province and many women forced into sexual slavery. Mr. Ngudjolo, a former commander of the National Integrationalist Front (FNI), had been charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and seven of war crimes, and was alleged to have played a key role in designing and carrying out the Bogoro attack.
In a unanimous decision, the Court’s Trial Chamber determined that it has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was the commander of the Lendu combatants from Bedu-Ezekere during the attack against Bogoro village on 24 February 2003. “As a result, the Chamber is of the view that the Prosecution has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was responsible, within the meaning of article 25-3 of the Rome Statute [which set up the ICC], for the crimes allegedly committed during the attack. Hence, the judges decided to acquit the accused,” it stated in a news release.
The Chamber emphasized that the approach it adopted does not mean that, in its opinion, no crimes were committed in Bogoro on 24 February 2003, nor does it question what the people of this community have suffered on that day. It also emphasised that the fact of deciding that an accused is not guilty does not necessarily mean that the Chamber finds him innocent. “Such a decision simply demonstrates that, given the standard of proof, the evidence presented to support his guilt has not allowed the Chamber to form a conviction ‘beyond reasonable doubt,’” it said.
The Trial Chamber has ordered that the necessary steps be taken to release Mr. Ngudjolo, whose trial began in November 2009.
A verdict in the case against Germain Katanga – another former Congolese rebel leader also on trial for crimes allegedly committed in relation to the Bogoro attack – will be delivered at a later stage.
Located in The Hague, in the Netherlands, the ICC is an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern – namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The United Nations has declared December 18 to be International Migrants Day to recognize the efforts, contributions and rights of migrants worldwide. Each year, the UN invites interested governments and other groups to observe the day by highlighting information about the rights and freedoms of migrants. Here is a message from Ban Ki-moon regarding the importance of the day:
"As budgets tighten, we are seeing austerity measures that discriminate against migrant workers, xenophobic rhetoric that encourages violence against irregular migrants, and proposed immigration laws that allow the police to profile migrants with impunity. During economic downturns, it is worth remembering that whole sectors of the economy depend on migrant workers and migrant entrepreneurs help to create jobs."
More information about International Migrants Day may be found here.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is alarmed by the continued dramatic escalation of violence in Syria over the past several days, and the grave danger facing civilians in areas under fire, according to his spokesperson. There have been “extremely worrisome” reports earlier this week of a mass killing of civilians in the village of Aqrab near Hama, as well as alleged firing of long-range missiles in some areas of the country, said a statement issued on Sunday night by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.
Continued bombing raids by fixed-wing military aircrafts and attack helicopters on populated areas have been amply documented, it added. There were also reports on Sunday of aerial bombing amid intense violence resulting in many casualties among Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk camp in the capital, Damascus. “The Secretary-General firmly condemns this escalation of armed violence, in particular the shelling of population centres and attacks against civilians. He calls on all sides to cease all forms of violence,” said the statement.
“The Secretary-General reminds all parties in Syria that they must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians,” it added. “Targeting civilians or carrying out military operations in populated areas, in an indiscriminate or disproportionate fashion that harms civilians is a war crime.” At least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed there since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 21 months ago. In addition, more than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.
According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – which is the main provider of education, health, social and other basic services to five million registered Palestinian refugees across the region – there are some 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. UNRWA said it is following up on the reports of the casualties at the Yarmouk camp. “Thus far, a significant number of Palestine refugees, as well as Syrians, have been killed, injured and compelled to leave. The killings in Yarmouk today send a clear and unfortunate signal that calls by UNRWA and others on all parties to spare civilians and to respect the neutrality of Palestine refugees are going unheeded,” the Agency said in a <"">statement.
UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, has appealed to the Syrian authorities, and all parties to the conflict, to safeguard the security of Palestinian refugees wherever they reside in Syria.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than half a million Syrian refugees have now been registered or are awaiting registration in four neighbouring countries – Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey – and North Africa.
The refugee agency said the numbers are currently climbing by more than 3,000 per day, and the total number of refugees could increase to 700,000 by the end of the year.
Over the weekend, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, and European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva appealed to all parties in the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, to provide unhindered access to humanitarian aid and to ensure the safe passage of civilians fleeing the fighting. “Millions of Syrians are affected by this conflict and hundreds of thousands are uprooted and on the move in search of safety,” Mr. Guterres said during a joint visit to Lebanon to view refugee projects. “Getting help to them is difficult and dangerous. And those seeking protection in neighbouring countries are often in extreme danger right up to the borders. The safety of the civilian population is of paramount importance,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, the Security Council is scheduled to hear a briefing on Syria from the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, in a closed-door session later today.
(UN Press Release)
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is deeply concerned about the continuing political deadlock in Nepal, according to his spokesperson. "He urges the country's political parties to set aside differences in the interest of the nation and form a broad-based government without further delay," the spokesperson added in a statement issued on Friday night. "He also encourages the main stakeholders to create a conducive environment for the next elections."
The Asian nation's political leaders have reportedly failed to nominate over the past three weeks a prime ministerial candidate, who would lead a new government that would be responsible for holding Constituent Assembly elections.
The South Asian country has been plagued by political disputes since a civil war between Government forces and Maoists formally ended in 2007 and the monarchy was abolished. There have been important achievements in the peace process to date, including the completion of the discharge and integration process of the ex-Maoist army, the successful and largely peaceful elections in 2008, the removal of all minefields, and a smooth transition to a Republic. However, challenges have included a missed 27 May deadline for a new Constitution and the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly that followed.
Mr. Ban's spokesperson said that the Secretary-General urges all actors in Nepal to "reaffirm their commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreements and to safeguard the achievements of the past several years in line with the aspirations of the Nepali people."
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have unanimously dismissed an argument on its jurisdiction presented by defence lawyers for former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who is currently facing trial there on charges of crimes against humanity. The lawyers had questioned Mr. Gbagbo’s prosecution by the ICC, arguing that Cote d’Ivoire is not formally a state party to the Rome Statute, the court’s founding treaty, according to an ICC news release. However, the court’s Appeals Chamber dismissed the appeal and confirmed an earlier decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber I.
In August, the Pre-Trial Chamber had declined to grant Mr Gbagbo’s request to find that the Court would lack jurisdiction over the post-2010 election period and events on which the warrant of arrest and the charges laid against him are based. Côte d'Ivoire was rocked by a post-election crisis in late 2010, when Alassane Ouattara won a disputed presidential run-off election that led to months of deadly violence when Mr. Gbagbo – the runner-up and incumbent – refused to step down. He was later captured by security forces and transported to The Hague in the Netherlands to face trial at the ICC.
Mr. Gbagbo allegedly bears individual criminal responsibility, as an indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity, namely murder, rape and other sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts, allegedly committed during the post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011.
The former president’s defence lawyers had alleged that Côte d’Ivoire, while not a State Party to the Rome Statute, had accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction in a declaration made on 18 April 2003 only in relation to the events in 2002 and 2003, and not in relation to future crimes.
According to the ICC release, the appeals judges noted that under the terms of the Rome Statute, a State may accept the jurisdiction of the Court generally, and could not find a “temporal limitation” in the 2003 declaration. The defence lawyers also asked for a stay of proceedings because of alleged violations of Mr. Gbagbo’s fundamental rights during his detention in Côte d’Ivoire, prior to his transfer to the ICC. That request was also dismissed by the judges, citing procedural reasons.
The ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, namely war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
A United Nations war crimes tribunal last week sentenced a former Bosnian Serb military chief to life imprisonment after convicting him of genocide and other crimes linked in part to the murders of Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995. Zdravko Tolimir, 64, had been the former Assistant Commander and intelligence chief of the Bosnian Serb Army, which served the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic in the east of the internationally recognized territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina following that country’s break with the former Yugoslavia.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which sits in The Hague, found him guilty of taking part in two 1995 joint criminal enterprises (JCEs), one being what quickly become known in the media as the ‘Srebrenica massacre,’ and the other involving the removal and deportation of Bosnian Muslims from both Srebrenica and Žepa, a second enclave in the breakaway Serbian Republic, according to an ICTY news release.
ICTY said a majority of a three-judge panel of the tribunal convicted Mr. Tolimir of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war, as well as extermination, persecutions, inhumane acts through forcible transfer and murder as crimes against humanity. He was found not guilty of the crime of deportation as a crime against humanity. According to the ICTY release, the court majority ruled that the Serbian Republic had decided by 1992 to remove the Bosnian Muslim population from eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, and found that Mr. Tolimir participated in the JCEs that aimed to fulfil the policy.
The court majority also found that the “combined effect of the forcible removal and murder operation had a devastating effect on the physical survival of the Bosnian Muslim population of Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina,” adding it was “satisfied that these operations were aimed at destroying this population.”
The number of Muslim men killed from Srebrenica had approached 6,000 “at a minimum,” according to the court majority, ICTY noted. “The suffering these men went through in the moments leading up to their deaths must have been unbearable,” the ICTY release quoted the court majority as saying. “On many occasions, those who were waiting to be shot saw others before them executed.”
Between 30,000 and 35,000 women and children were forcibly removed from both Srebrenica and Žepa, according to the court majority, which added that the victims’ “extreme suffering” had rendered them unable to live a “normal and constructive life to this day,” the ICTY release stated.
“Removing the Bosnian Muslim civilian population from Žepa, demolishing their homes and the mosque, and killing three of the most prominent local leaders was carried out to ensure that the Bosnian Muslim population of this enclave would not be able to reconstitute itself,” the ICTY release added, citing the court majority.
Indicted in 2005, Mr. Tolimir spent two years on the run before his arrest in Serbia and transfer to The Hague in 2007. His trial began in February 2010. The trial of Mr. Tolimir has been among 12 ICTY proceedings dealing with a range of crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb forces against Bosnian Muslims during and after the July 1995 fall of Srebrenica and Žepa, which were at the time UN protected zones. Six of the cases have been completed.
Established in 1993 by the UN Security Council, ICTY has to date indicted 161 people for serious violations of humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. Proceedings against 130 people have been concluded.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)