Friday, March 29, 2013
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said he was deeply disappointed with the failure of the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to reach an agreement among all 193 Member States on a treaty text during the last day of the conference. "The treaty had been within reach, thanks to the tireless work and spirit of compromise among Member States," the Secretary-General said in a statement attributable to his spokesperson. "The Secretary-General commends Ambassador Peter Woolcott, President of the Conference, for his leadership in guiding the complex negotiations," according to the statement. Mr. Ban also commended civil society and the majority of States for their active support.
Some 2,000 representatives of Governments, international and regional organizations and civil society had gathered in New York since 18 March to hammer out the details of what was seen as the most important initiative ever regarding conventional arms regulation within the UN. The draft text which was nearly adopted was considered "balanced" by Mr. Ban, according to his spokesperson, and would have established effective common standards to regulate the international trade in conventional arms.
If passed, the treaty would have applied to all conventional arms within the following categories: battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons, according to the draft text.
Armed violence kills more than half a million people each year, including 66,000 women and girls. In addition, between 2000 and 2010, almost 800 humanitarian workers were killed in armed attacks and another 689 injured, according to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.
Given the importance of the issues involved, Mr. Ban "strongly hopes that Member States will continue exploring ways to bring the Treaty into being," his spokesperson said in the statement. Mr. Ban "is confident" that the Arms Trade Treaty will come to pass and is encouraged by the shared determination "to make this happen as soon as possible," he added.
The previous attempts to reach a consensus on the treaty ended without success in July 2012. In December, the UN General Assembly agreed to a final conference and set today as the deadline for the two-week negotiations.
(UN Press Release)
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) met earlier this week under the leadership of its new chair, Ambassador Fried of Canada. Ambassador Fried began the meeting by urging the members to work harder on implementation of DSB rulings. He lamented the fact that members had fallen into a bad habit of submitting the same reports each month and requested that the members provide more meaningful and up-to-date information in their monthly reports.
Also at the meeting, Indonesia delayed the establishment of a dispute resolution panel requested by the United States to examine Indonesia's use of import licensing measures that restrict imports of horticultural products, animals and animal products. Indonesia said it was not in a position to agree to the establishment of a panel because it was engaged in consultations with the United States to resolve the matter bilaterally. If the matter is not resolved by consultations by the time of the next DSB meeting, the United States will have the right to have the panel established.
In other business, the DSB agreed to reappoint Mr. Richard Ramirez to the Appellate Body for a second four-year term beginning in July 2013.
An independent United Nations human rights expert today urged the Indonesian Government to restrict the use of the death penalty, following the recent reported execution of a man convicted on drug charges.
“I deeply regret that Indonesia executed Mr. Adami Wilson despite appeals by UN human rights experts and civil society organisations not to carry out executions for drug-related offences,” said Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. According to reports, Mr. Wilson was executed by firing squad in the capital, Jakarta, on 14 March 2013 – the first execution in the country since November 2008.
After the execution, Indonesia’s Attorney General announced that 20 prisoners convicted and sentenced to death will be executed later this year, stated a news release issued by the UN human rights office (OHCHR). Reportedly, around 130 people are believed to be on death row in Indonesia and more than half of them have been convicted of drug-related offences.
“Such a practice is unacceptable,” Mr. Heyns stressed. “Under international law, the death penalty is regarded as an extreme form of punishment which, if it is used at all, should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, that is, those involving intentional killing, and only after a fair trial.” He reiterated that “any death sentence undertaken in contravention of a State’s international human rights obligations is tantamount to an arbitrary execution, and is unlawful.”
Noting that the death penalty is under review by national courts and that a public debate on the issue is ongoing in Indonesia, Mr. Heyns said he hoped that the Government will consider a moratorium on executions.
(UN Press Release)
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon honored individuals worldwide who dedicate their lives to seek truth and justice for those who have been victims of gross human rights violations. “The right to the truth is both an individual and a collective right. Each victim has the right to know the truth about violations against them, but the truth also has to be told more widely as a safeguard to prevent violations from happening again,” Mr. Ban said in a message to mark the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, observed on 24 March.
The International Day, proclaimed in December 2010 by the General Assembly, honours the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and promotes the importance of the right to truth and justice. It is also designed to pay tribute to those who have devoted their lives to, and lost their lives in, the struggle to promote and protect human rights for all, particularly Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered in El Salvador on this day in 1980 for refusing to be silent in the face of violence, abuse and injustice.
“On this day, let us pledge to help victims, their families and society realize their right to truth and protect those who fight to see the truth prevail,” Mr. Ban said. “The UN supports truth-seeking mechanisms, such as truth commissions, to promote justice, propose reparations and recommend reforms of abusive institutions,” he added, highlighting last year’s appointment by the Human Rights Council of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, which “has contributed to efforts to serve justice, provide remedies to victims, and promote the rule of law.”
(UN Press Release)
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
A confirmation of charges hearing is held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that the person committed each of the crimes charged, according to a news release issued by the Court, which is based in The Hague. If the charges are confirmed, the Court’s pre-trial chamber commits the case for trial before a trial chamber, which will conduct the subsequent phase of the proceedings, namely the trial.
Mr. Ntaganda surrendered himself voluntarily to the ICC’s custody on 22 March, after turning himself in to the United States Embassy in Rwanda on 18 March.
The ICC is an independent, permanent court that investigates and prosecutes persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes if national authorities with jurisdiction are unwilling or unable to do so genuinely. DRC is one of seven situations currently under investigation by the ICC. The others are northern Uganda, the Darfur region of Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged participants at the United Nations Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to show a shared determination to put in place substantial measures that would establish standards for the international trade in conventional weapons. “The negotiations now stand at a critical juncture,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, told reporters in New York. “[Mr. Ban] calls upon Member States to show a shared determination to close the gaps in the poorly regulated international arms trade by agreeing to a set of legally binding global standards that will make a difference.”
Virtually all international trade in goods is regulated, but no globally agreed standards exist for the international arms trade. The result can be the misuse of transferred weaponry by government forces, or diversion of arms into illegal markets, where they end up in the hands of criminals, gangs, war lords and terrorists. The last negotiations on the ATT ended in July of last year without agreement. Mr. Ban has described that outcome as “a disgrace,” and has stressed that reaching consensus through compromise on all sides is long overdue.
Mr. Ban “has consistently said that a strong and robust arms trade treaty will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence,” Mr. Nesirky said.
Some 2,000 representatives of Governments, international and regional organizations and civil society have gathered at UN Headquarters to take part in the negotiations and related events. The process is overseen by Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia which holds the presidency of the conference. Mr. Nesirky noted that there are a range of views on the scope of the treaty, regarding whether ammunition should fully be a part of it, and the criteria that arms-exporting States will need to use to determine if a particular arms export is warranted. However, he said Mr. Ban has full confidence that Mr. Woolcott will guide the two-week conference to a positive outcome before it comes to a close on Thursday.
“The Secretary-General has been active in encouraging Member States to reach an agreement. He has been reaching out to some of the key players in this regard,” Mr. Nesirky added. According to the conference’s website, the proposed treaty will not interfere with the domestic arms trade and the way a country regulates civilian possession; ban, or prohibit the export of, any type of weapons; impair States’ legitimate right to self-defence; or lower arms regulation standards in countries where these are already at a high level.
(UN Press Release)
A very informative and successful Eighth Annual Global Legal Skills conference was held in San Jose, Costa Rica earlier this month. Much of the credit must go to my co-blogger, Mark Wojcik, as the principal organizer (pictured here holding the flag of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights). Featuring two days of presentations by international law scholars and experts on teaching legal skills to students from all over the world, many great ideas were shared. Presentations included ideas for making legal field trips more effective, preparing foreign students for U.S. law schools, the use of elaborate simulations in international law, teaching international human rights online, the incorporation of diversity issues in the curriculum, methods for improving success rates in law school for indigenous students and many others.
The highlight of the conference for this author was the day of legal field trips to the Costa Rican Supreme Court (pictured on the left), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (pictured on right below) and the US Embassy. At the Costa Rican Supreme Court, we learned about the incredible access individuals have to the Court if they believe their human rights were violated. We were told that individuals may file a petition (called recursos de amparo) with the Supreme Court as the court of first instance alleging a violation of constitutional or human rights 365 days a year. At the Inter-American Court, we were reminded of the Court's extraordinary powers to award a wide range of remedies to remediate a harm, including not only an award of monetary damages, but also orders to change domestic laws or constitutions, orders to train police, prosecutors and judges, and the award of various types of satisfaction, including public apologies, the construction of a monument, or establishment of a scholarship. Finally, at the U.S. Embassy, we learned of cooperative efforts between the United States and Costa Rica to combat problems such as human trafficking, gender-based violence and refugee issues.
Kudos to all who helped to make the conference a success. Mark your calendars for next year's Global Legal Skills Conference in Verona, Italy in May 2014.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Recent data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Union (EU) show a sharp rise in refugee and asylum applications, much of it attributable to the on going conflict in Syria.
The UNHCR has reported an 8% rise in asylum applications in industrialized countries in 2012. 479,300 claims were registered last year, the largest number since 2003. The United States received more applications than any other country with 83,400, a significant increase over 2011. France and Germany followed the United States as the most popular destination for asylum seekers.
Eurostat announced that European countries received 330,000 asylum applications in 2012, up from 302,000 in 2011. The largest number of asylum seekers come from Afghanistan, but Syrians have now moved into second place, followed by Russians, Pakistanis and Serbs.
Friday, March 22, 2013
A senior United Nations official has urged Nepal to rectify a decree that gives a truth and reconciliation commission the power to grant amnesty for serious human rights violations. “Such amnesties would not only violate core principles under international law but would also weaken the foundation for a genuine and lasting peace in Nepal,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
The 2006 peace accord that ended the conflict in Nepal had agreed to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate human rights violations that occurred from 1996 to 2006, during which at least 13,000 people were killed and 1,300 went missing. While there had been an agreement to establish such a commission, no law had been passed to do so until last week – part of a package to break a long-standing political deadlock and move the country towards fresh elections.
“An amnesty for those who committed serious human rights violations will deny the right of thousands of Nepalese to truth and justice. This will not provide a sustainable road to peace,” Ms. Pillay said.
The High Commissioner added that she was particularly disturbed that the text of the decree was developed and passed in a secretive manner, without consultations with civil society, victims, families of the victims or national human rights institutions. “Past experiences elsewhere in the world have shown that without the active involvement and support of these key affected groups, mechanisms of this type may lead to further divisions and disagreements, so producing the opposite result to that intended,” she said.
The commission will also have the power to conduct reconciliation processes without the consent of the parties involved, and Ms. Pillay warned that the Government must not force people to reconcile. “I am also concerned that the ordinance may be used to avoid or delay criminal investigations and prosecutions of conflict-related cases. Criminal justice should be reinforced, not replaced by other transitional justice processes such as truth and reconciliation commissions,” she added, noting that Nepal should address gaps in its law that adequately deal with violations such as torture and enforced disappearances.
Ms. Pillay stressed that her office (OHCHR) stands ready to provide support and advice to the Government to amend the decree so that it complies with international laws and principles, and called for open and broad-based consultation as the process continues.
(UN Press Release)
Bosco Ntaganda was wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). His alleged crimes include recruiting child soldiers, murder, and rape.
This week, he walked into the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda to turn himself in and to be transferred to the Netherlands for trial before the ICC.
“The surrender of Bosco Ntaganda and his early transfer to the ICC will help advance the peace process in the DRC,” said Roger Meece, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO). “It will also send a strong signal to other human rights offenders that they are not beyond justice.”
This is an important event in international criminal justice. A suspect who turns himself in shows respect for the international criminal court and for the basic principles of international law.
The United States found itself is a complicated positiion by not being a party to the International Criminal Court. Rwanda, as well, is not a party to the International Criminal Court. However a team from the ICC is reportedly traveling to Rwanda to accomplish the transfer and it reportedly has assurances from the Rwandan government that they will not prohibit his transfer to the Hague.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced in a press release this week that it has approved the Reform of the Rules of Procedure, Policies and Practices by means of Resolution 1/2013. Here is further information from the IACHR press release:
"This reform is the result of a process begun in 2011 for the purpose of strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights. The process included as essential input the recommendations and observations presented by Member States, civil society, victims, academics, and other stakeholders in the inter-American human rights system. In approving this reform, the Commission is renewing its commitment to the defense and promotion of the fundamental rights of the human person.
Over the past two years, the Commission has carefully considered its procedures and mechanisms, through a process that included discussion forums, public consultations, and hearings, in order to garner the opinions, inputs, and experiences of all interested parties. The Commission considered these contributions with an open, constructive frame of mind, based on the principle that any reform must be aimed at strengthening the protection and promotion of fundamental rights, which is the useful purpose for which this institution was established and one of the principal objectives of the Organization of American States (OAS).
In adopting this reform, the IACHR set out to strengthen the Commission’s capacity to fulfill, in an independent and autonomous manner, its mandate to promote the observance and protection of human rights. The Commission also took into account that the reform must reconcile legal certainty with the flexibility necessary to respond to the needs of victims and persons at risk, improving access of all victims of human rights violations to the inter-American system. In addition, the Commission sought to enhance the transparency of its actions by providing accessible, complete, and relevant information in its accountability to all users of the human rights system. This reform also aims to identify best practices and challenges in the “protection of the essential rights of man and the creation of circumstances that will permit him to achieve spiritual and material progress and attain happiness,” as established in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The IACHR also took into consideration that in order to fulfill its mandate, the Commission must harmoniously develop its functions of promotion and protection, and that it must assist Member States in complying with their international responsibilities to strengthen their internal capacity and improve their mechanisms for protecting human rights.
Through the resolution, the IACHR amended Articles 25, 28, 29, 30, 36, 37, 42, 44, 46, 59, 72, 76, and 79 of its Rules of Procedure. It also adopted measures on institutional policy and practices - including modifications to the Strategic Plan - implementation of which will depend on the availability of the respective funds in a sustainable and predictable manner. Due to their complexity, the reform measures adopted require adequate time for preparing measures for their practical implementation and for obtaining additional funds. Consequently, the reform will take effect on August 1, 2013."
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Chicago Bar Association International and Foreign Law Committee held a joint meeting today with the Chicago Bar Association Probate Practice Committee to discuss the topic of "Death and Inheritance in an International Community." The program attracted a large audience -- something not surprising in a city that is proud of its immigrant heritage and international connections. The speakers were:
- Lynne R. Ostfeld, a Chicago-based attorney with an affiliated office in Paris France;
- Sandra Chiarlone, a lawyer in both Italy and the United States; and
- Edmund Gronkiewicz, of counsel at Reda Ciprian Magnone LLC, Chicago
Pictured here (from left to right) are Sandra Chiarlone of Genoa, Italy; Ramsey Senno, Vice Chair of the Chicago Bar Associaion International and Foreign Law Committee; Lynne Ostfeld, Chair of the Chicago Bar Association International and Foreign Law Committee; and former CBA International and Foreign Law Committee Chair Professor Mark Wojcik of The John Marshall Law School. The photo was taken by another Italian attorney, Stefano Viola.
Fun secret fact? Lynne and Mark competed together as law students in the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition.
Happy birthday to Professor William B.T. Mock of The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, seen here in a photo taken last week at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica. Professor Mock was an editor of Human Rights in Europe: Commentary on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, a book he published with colleagues at the University of Sardinia Faculty of Law. He is working now on new international law case book to be published by Carolina Academic Press.
Click here for an excerpt from the European Human Rights book published by Carolina Academic Press.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Former Head of State Finally on Trial for Genocide in Guatemala -- Case Marks the First Time that Any Former Head of State is Being Tried for Genocide by a National Tribunal
The top United Nations human rights official has applauded the beginning of the “historic” trial of Guatemala’s former head of State and former head of intelligence who are both accused of crimes committed in the Central American nation over 30 years ago, and urged local authorities to ensure the execution of a fair and independent legal proceeding. “I welcome the beginning of this historic trial, and I hope that it will signal the arrival of long-awaited justice for thousands of victims of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed during the murderous 36-year conflict in Guatemala,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said today in a press release. She also pointed out that it was “the first time, anywhere in the world,” that a former head of State was being tried for genocide by a national tribunal.
Former president Efraín Ríos Montt and former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez stand accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity for their roles in Guatemala’s conflict, which spanned from 1960 to 1996, and saw, according to news reports, an estimated 200,000 killed or disappeared. The trial is set to start on Tuesday after Guatemala’s Constitutional Court rejected a writ of protection filed by Ríos Montt’s lawyers citing a 1986 amnesty law.
Ms. Pillay commended the Constitutional Court’s decision and emphasized that genocide and crimes against humanity “should never be covered by amnesties,” adding that “along with war crimes, these are among the gravest crimes known to mankind.”
During the conflict, Guatemala became the theatre for numerous displays of brutality which were ultimately catalogued and revealed by the UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission of Guatemala in its report on the war.
At the press conference announcing the release of the report at UN Headquarters in 1999, two members of the Commission, Christian Tomuschat of Germany and Otilia Lux de Cotí of Guatemala, described the “atrocious nature” of some of the massacres committed by Government forces against ethnic enclaves during the conflict. In particular, they noted the Government’s “scorched earth” policy which led to the destruction of entire villages and the murders of all their inhabitants, including women, children, babies and elderly people. The two experts also stated that pregnant women and babies had been victimized with “particular brutality.”
“Until quite recently, no one believed a trial like this could possibly take place in Guatemala, and the fact that it is happening there, 30 years after the alleged crimes were committed, should give encouragement to victims of human rights violations all over the world,” Ms. Pillay stated.
Voicing concern over a recent wave of attacks against journalists, judicial personnel and human rights defenders in the country, she urged authorities to take extra steps in ensuring the protection of all those involved in the high-profile case.
“The protection of all those involved in this crucial case is essential, if the rule of law is to be seen to be respected, and truth and justice are to prevail in Guatemala.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The United Nations has expressed concern over Hungary’s adoption of an amendment to the constitution that threatens the independence of its judiciary, and stressed this could have a profound effect on the human rights of its citizens. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the amendment to the Fundamental Law (constitution) was adopted by the Hungarian Parliament last Monday without proper public discussion on issues that may affect the population’s human rights.
“The new amendment may further strengthen the already extensive powers over the judiciary held by the President of the National Judicial Office,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva. “For example, the amendment upholds the President’s right to reassign cases to a different court – a provision that was previously adopted as a transitional measure and was subsequently struck down as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.”
This provision is also in violation of the European Union’s Convention on Human Rights, to which Hungary is a party.
“This Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law raises serious concerns in a variety of areas, including possible threats to the independence of the judiciary, the authority and the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court and, by extension, to the rule of law in general,” Mr. Colville said. He also welcomed recent reports stating that Hungary is recognizing the role of the Venice Commission to advice on its compliance with international and regional norms. Established in 1990, the Commission is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Corruption kills by siphoning money from humanitarian and development projects, the top United Nations human rights official today last week, urging a coordinated human-rights based approach among UN agencies, civil society and inter-governmental groups to fight the scourge. “Corruption is an enormous obstacle to the realization of all human rights, in practical terms – civil, political, economic, social and cultural, as well as the right to development,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the UN Human Rights Council. She noted that from 2000 to 2009, developing countries lost $8.44 trillion to illicit financial flows – equivalent to 10 times more than the foreign aid they received.
The money stolen through corruption every year, she pointed out, is enough to feed the world’s hungry 80 times over, while bribes and theft swell the total cost of projects to provide safe drinking water and sanitation around the world by as much as 40 per cent. Noting the growing awareness of the intrinsic links between human rights and the struggle to combat corruption, the High Commissioner told the panel on the ‘negative impact of corruption on human rights’ held in Geneva, that “there here is an urgent need to increase synergy.”
She flagged the need for greater coordination to implement international human rights conventions and the UN Convention against Corruption, the legally binding, global anti-corruption instrument promoted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). At least 164 countries have so far become Parties to the Convention.
Ms. Pillay also called for stronger policy coherence and collaboration between UNODC, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), her Office, civil society and the intergovernmental processes in Vienna, Geneva and New York. With an increasing emphasis on creating a post-2015 development agenda – a set of new anti-poverty goals to take over from where the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) leave off – Ms. Pillay said her office is increasingly “convinced that efforts to combat corruption are most effective when coupled with an approach that respects all human rights, including those of the accused.
“As we continue to clarify the links between corruption and human rights, groups working to combat corruption locally and internationally will see more clearly the value of working with agencies in the field of human rights,” Ms. Pillay said, adding that the reverse was also true.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The United Nations human rights office has welcomed a new law in Bolivia which broadens the protection of women against various forms of violence. “We welcome the promulgation, on 9 March 2013, of the Comprehensive Law to guarantee women a life free from violence in Bolivia (Law 348), which broadens protection of women against various forms of violence and establishes the eradication of violence against women as a priority of the State,” the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.
The law also includes the crime of ‘femicide’ – in which a woman is murdered due to the fact that she is female – in the penal code, with a prison term of 30 years without pardon.
The draft was elaborated over the past three years, with the participation of the main women’s organizations and State institutions, and the technical assistance of the UN human rights office in Bolivia, Mr. Colville said. It was approved by both chambers of the Bolivian National Congress in February and signed into law around the time of International Women’s Day, observed on 8 March.
In her Women’s Day message, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged authorities to adopt the necessary legal frameworks to protect women against violence, trafficking and gender-motivated killings saying the indifference towards violence against women leads to a lack of protection for the victims and lack of prosecution of perpetrators.
Lat year, Bolivian President Evo Morales and the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Michelle Bachelet, hosted a friendly soccer match in New York to support Bolivia’s Year to End all forms of Violence against Women and Girls.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Ongoing reforms in Myanmar are improving the human rights situation in the country, but a large gap still remains between these efforts and their implementation on the ground, a United Nations independent expert said last week. “While the process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed, such as discrimination against the Rohingya in Rakhine state and the ongoing human rights violations in relation to the conflict in Kachin state,”said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana. “Now is the time to address these shortcomings before they become further entrenched and destabilise the reform process.”
Several waves of clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have left 115,000 people displaced in Rakhine state, while some 75,000 people have fled their homes in Kachin since fighting began in June 2011 between Government troops and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). The fighting intensified in September and December last year, before authorities in Myanmar announced a unilateral ceasefire in January.
“The Government must establish the truth about what happened in Rakhine state during the two waves of communal violence last June and October, and hold those responsible for human rights violations to account,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said, offering his support to pursue further investigations.
Mr. Ojea Quintana also urged the Government to ease the harsh restriction on freedom of movement for the 120,000 people who remain in camps for the internally displaced in Rakhine and to begin their relocation into integrated communities before the start of the rainy season, which will flood many camps.
In Kachin, he welcomed the recent de-escalation of violence while highlighting the needs of those who have been displaced by the fighting. “I’m particularly concerned about the situation of the 40,000 displaced in non-Government controlled areas of Kachin state, and urged the Government to provide humanitarian organizations with regular access to these areas,” he said.
In addition, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over the rights of journalists in the country due to a draft law that threatens to undo recent progress. “This would be giving with one hand while taking away with the other.” He also noted that while people now can associate freely, protestors continue to be imprisoned and police officers are still using excessive force when managing demonstrators.Mr. Ojea Quintana acknowledged progress in other areas, such as the release of over 800 prisoners of conscience since May 2011, but called for the immediate release of the over 250 who remain behind bars.
“I welcome the committee set up by the Government to identify remaining prisoners of conscience, and recommend that it be established as a permanent body to guard against future detentions for political reasons and to help ensure that the rights and freedoms of all those released are fully respected,” he said.
Special rapporteurs are appointed by the 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)
Saturday, March 16, 2013
The United Nations human
rights office has expressed shock by the content of a video showing
the apparent torture of two men in Fiji, and called on the Government to
ensure the perpetrators are prosecuted and the victims protected. The nine-minute video, which emerged on online
social networks, shows two handcuffed men being physically and sexually
assaulted by a group of men while lying helplessly in the back of a
pick-up truck. “While the circumstances surrounding the video have not yet been
ascertained, the acts being carried out in it are clearly illegal, and
we condemn them in the strongest terms,” the spokesperson for the Office
of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva.
In the video, one of the men is repeatedly struck on his feet, legs, body and head with a number of different implements including a length of rubber pipe, a metal rod, a stick and a hammer. He is later shown stripped of his clothes while others film and photograph him. A second handcuffed man is shown sitting on the ground nearby and is also struck on his body, legs and head with a stick and a rod. A dog is encouraged by its handler to seize him by the shirt and drag him several metres across the ground.
“The Fijian police authorities have stated that they will seek to establish the facts in this case. We welcome this commitment, and urge the Government to ensure that the apparent serious human rights violations are swiftly and effectively investigated by an impartial and competent authority, and that the findings are made public,” Mr. Colville said. “We also call on the authorities to ensure that perpetrators – who are clearly visible in the video and should be easily identifiable – are brought to justice, and that a concerted effort is made to ensure that this type of treatment is not repeated,” he said. “Victims of the abuse must have access to the necessary medical and psychological support, as well as redress.”
Mr. Colville reiterated the OHCHR’s readiness to assist the Government in their effort to eradicate torture and ill-treatment, and said it will continue to follow the case closely as well as the outcome of the police investigations.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Friday, March 15, 2013
The violence in Syria has reached “new heights of destruction,” independent United Nations human rights investigators said this week, presenting a new report which urges a political solution to what has become an increasingly militarized and sectarian conflict. “There is an urgent need for a sustained diplomatic initiative to put an end to the violence and the suffering of the Syrian population,” the Chair of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“If the national, regional, and international actors fail to find a
solution to the conflict and stop the agony of millions of civilians,
the alternative will be the political, economic and social destruction
of Syria and its society, with devastating implications for the region
and the world,” Mr. Pinheiro warned, speaking on behalf of the
four-member Commission. He added that “the war displays all the signs of a destructive
stalemate” where neither the Government nor anti-Government forces have
been able to prevail militarily and are thus escalating force “in the
fallacious belief that victory is within reach.”
In the report presented by Mr. Pinheiro, the Commission concluded that the main cause of civilian casualties, mass displacement and destruction “is the reckless manner in which parties to the conflict conduct hostilities,” including indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment. “The parties must take all feasible precautions to protect civilians,” the Commission urges, reiterating that the conflict is waged by both Government forces and anti-Government armed groups in violation of international humanitarian law.
The 10-page update, which is based on first-hand accounts from 191 interviews conducted last month, describes a dramatic erosion of civilian space with mass displacement exacerbated by diminishing areas in which civilians can seek refuge.
Up to 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 and about a million people have fled to neighbouring countries. In addition, 2 million have been internally displaced and over 4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The report notes in particular the use of medical care as a tactic of war. Medical personnel and hospitals have been deliberately targeted and are treated by parties to the conflict as military objectives, the Commission notes, adding that medical access has been denied in certain cases “on real or perceived political and sectarian grounds.”
In addition, the human rights investigations call attention to so-called “Popular Committees,” which comprise local residents who reportedly protect their neighbourhoods against anti-Government armed groups and criminal gangs. “In a disturbing and dangerous trend, mass killings allegedly perpetrated by Popular Committees have at times taken on sectarian overtones,” the Commission writes.
The report also notes at least three massacres reportedly committed in Homs governate since December 2012, noting that the bodies of those killed or executed are often desecrated, by being burned or dumped in waterways, making identification difficult. Despite a lack of access, the Commission said it is investigating approximately 20 cases of alleged massacres.
In a sign of the increasing recklessness with which the parties to the conflict treat human life, Mr. Pinheiro noted in his statement the capture and detention of 21 UN peacekeepers by the Martyrs of Yarmouk armed group last week in the Golan Heights. “We welcome their safe release,” Mr. Pinheiro said, but noted that members of the Commission also “condemn such outrageous acts and consider it a clear violation of international humanitarian law.”
In addition, the report cites the use of child fighters, some recruited as young as 13 by anti-Government forces for weapons training and operational roles; while there are instances of Syrian boys as young as 12 being pushed to support Government troops. There are also reports of sexual violence, including at checkpoints or while being held by intelligence agencies.
“A failure to resolve this increasingly violent conflict will condemn Syria, the region and the millions of civilians caught in the crossfire to an unimaginably bleak future,” the Commission summarizes, urging all stakeholders to redouble their efforts to facilitate a negotiated settlement.
“The latest initiative by the UN and Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria suggesting that the UN is willing to facilitate negotiations between the parties represents a step in the right direction and deserves to be supported,” the Commission, which also includes
Karen Koning AbuZayd, Carla del Ponte and Vitit Muntarbhorn, writes in the report.
Last week, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi met in Mt. Pelerin, Switzerland, to discuss the situation in Syria. They reiterated that the UN would welcome and be prepared to facilitate a dialogue between a strong and representative delegation from the opposition and a credible and empowered delegation from the Syrian Government.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)