Friday, July 26, 2013

UN Campaign to Raise Awareness of LGBT Equality: Free and Equal

With consensual, same-sex conduct a criminal offence in more than one-third of the world’s countries, the United Nations human rights office today launched its first global public education campaign to raise awareness and respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.

‘Free & Equal,’ a year-long effort by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and partners launched today in Cape Town, South Africa, focuses on the need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia.

Calling it an “unprecedented” initiative, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the campaign’s core messages: human rights are universal and we can change attitudes for the better.  “The Secretary-General has consistently called on world leaders to address violence against LGBT members of our human family,” his spokesperson said in a statement, adding that Mr. Ban is personally committed to championing this cause.

More than 76 countries criminalize consensual same-sex relationships, according to a 2011 OHCHR report on violence and discrimination against LGBT people. Penalties range from jail sentences to execution. Meanwhile, in many more countries discrimination in the workforce, education, health sectors and other areas of society is widespread, the UN reported.

Unveiling the new campaign, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed that such discrimination – sometimes leading to physical assault, sexual violence and targeted killings – is a violation of basic human rights. 

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights – no exceptions, no one left behind. Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”

Speaking alongside Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court, Ms. Pillay added that changing attitudes is never easy but it is possible. “It begins with often difficult conversations. With this campaign, we want to help start millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”

Also at the launch, a statement of support for the campaign was read out on behalf of renowned South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who is also a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Roll Back Malaria Goodwill Ambassador.

A number of other celebrities have pledged their support for the Free & Equal campaign by spreading campaign messages and materials via social media, including pop star Ricky Martin, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury.  

Over the next 12 months, the Free & Equal campaign will also release a variety of multimedia content, along the lines of “The Story of a Mother from Brazil,” the first in a series of filmed interviews with family members of LGBT people around the world, and “The Riddle,” a video by OHCHR for the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia which asks: What exists in every corner of the world but remains illegal in more than 70 countries? The answer: Being gay, being lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

The International Day, while not an officially observed UN day, was marked by the world body on 17 May, and included a call on Governments worldwide to protect the rights of LGBT individuals, and strike down laws that discriminate against them.

In 2011, 85 States signed a statement expressing their concern at human rights violations perpetrated against LGBT people, and the UN Human Rights Council adopted the first ever resolution to specifically address the issue.

Last year, OHCHR produced a guide to LGBT rights entitled ‘Born Free and Equal’ that sets out States’ core legal obligations.

(UN press release)(mew)

July 26, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gay Athletes and the Russian Winter Olympics

Blake Skjellerup, a gay speed skater from New Zealand, says he will wear a rainbow pin to the Sochi Olympic games in 2014 in defiance of the Russian law prohibiting any positive affirmations of LGBT persons.  It seems as though this is something non-gay athletes should do as well.  Russia`s persecution of LGBT persons continues and violates international human rights laws. There is much debate about whether it is better to boycott the Russian Olympics or to use it for global education on the persecution of gay and lesbian persons in Russia.

July 26, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Text of the Russian Law Banning Information about Gays

Courtesy of an anonymous source, we have received an English translation of the Russian Law that makes it a crime to promote any positive information about lesbian and gay persons.  Here is the text -- we encourage Russian-speaking readers to confirm its accuracy and to send us comments about it.

Section 6.21. Promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors

1. The promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors
expressed in the dissemination of information aimed at developing in
minors non-traditional sexual facilities, at the allure of non-traditional
sexual relations, at a distorted picture of the social equivalence of
traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or at the imposition of
information about non-traditional sexual relationships, causing interest
in such relationships, if these actions do not constitute a criminal
offense, are punishable by an administrative fine in the amount of four
thousand to five thousand rubles for citizens, from forty thousand to
fifty thousand rubles for officials, and from eight hundred thousand to
one million rubles or administrative suspension of activity for up to
ninety days for legal entities.

2. Actions stipulated in paragraph 1 of this Article, when committed with
the use of media and/or information and telecommunication networks
(including the Internet), if these actions do not constitute a criminal
offense, shall entail the imposition of an administrative fine in the
amount from fifty thousand to one hundred thousand rubles for citizens,
from one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand rubles for officials,
and one million rubles or administrative suspension of activity for up to
ninety days for legal entities.

3. Actions stipulated in paragraph 1 of this Article, when committed by a
foreign national or a stateless person, if these actions do not constitute
a criminal offense, shall be punishable by a fine of four thousand to five
thousand rubles and administrative expulsion from the Russian Federation,
or an administrative arrest period of fifteen days with administrative
expulsion from the Russian Federation.

4. Actions stipulated in paragraph 1 of this Article, when committed by a
foreign national or a stateless person with the use of the media and/or
information and telecommunication networks (including the Internet) if
these actions do not constitute a criminal offense, shall entail the
imposition of an administrative penalty in the amount of fifty thousand to
one hundred thousand rubles and administrative expulsion from the Russian
Federation or administrative arrest for up to fifteen days with
administrative expulsion from the Russian Federation.


Click here to see photos on the situation of LGBT persons in Russia


July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gay Pride Marchers Attacked in Montenegro

LGBT activists and their supporters staged the first Pride March this week in Budva, Montenegro. The participants of the March were subjected to physical violence, incitement to killings and other verbal abuse by about 200 protesters. Some participants were injured and a number of protesters were arrested.

ILGA-Europe issued a statement strongly condemning the violence and deeply regretting that some people in Montenegro resort to aggressiveness and hostility to express their views. This said, ILGA-Europe commended the police force for ensuring adequate protection to the marchers and hopes that the Montenegrin authorities will thoroughly investigate the attacks and bring the perpetrators of violence to justice. Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, was quoted in a press release as stating that "Today is an unfortunate day for Montenegro. A group of LGBTI citizens exercised their fundamental right to assembly and publicly express themselves peacefully. Unfortunately other citizens employed violent methods to deprive their compatriots of this basic right."

She also stated that "Montenegro is an EU candidate country. The Montenegrin authorities fulfilled their duty to guarantee the right of assembly to LGBTI activists and their supporters. However, the events of today clearly demonstrate that despite some positive progress in laws against discrimination, there is a huge need for education and awareness raising to be done by the Montenegrin authorities in order to cultivate and promote the basic principles and values of the European Union among its citizens, the principles of diversity and respect for human rights."

Click here for a link to photos and videos of the attacks.


July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

36 Photos from Russia that Everyone Needs to See

We are sharing this link to 36 photos from Russia that everyone needs to see.  The situation for LGBT persons in Russia is deteriorating rapidly.  Calls are being made to boycott the Russian Winter Olympic Games.  Have a look at the photos, and leave comments here on this blog if you like.


July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Peace Efforts for Africa's Great Lakes Region

The United Nations Security Council today reiterated its commitment to the United Nations-brokered peace accord for Africa’s strife-torn Great Lakes region and demanded an immediate end to hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where fresh clashes between armed rebels and Congolese troops have sent thousands of civilians fleeing for safety. “The Security Council further demands that the members of all armed groups immediately and permanently disband and lay down their arms, and calls for the restoration of State authority of the Government of the DRC in eastern DRC,” the 15-member Council said in a presidential statement at the start of the meeting chaired by United States Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Over the past year, the 23 March Movement (M23), along with other armed groups, has clashed repeatedly with Congolese armed forces (FARDC) in the eastern DRC, with the rebels briefly occupying Goma, the region’s main city, in November 2012. The fighting, which erupted again in recent days, this time dragging in a group of Ugandan-based rebels, has displaced more than 100,000 people, exacerbating an ongoing humanitarian crisis in eth region which includes 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and 6.4 million in need of food and emergency aid.

The Council statement condemned all hostilities in the region and, in addition to the M23, cites other armed groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF-NALU), and the Mayi Mayi Kata-Katanga. It specially urges these groups “to cease immediately all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, continuing recruitment and use of children, destabilizing activities, human rights abuses, violations of international humanitarian law, and attempts to undermine or supplant the DRC Government.”

Addressing the Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “deeply concerned” about the current fighting and urged all parties to the conflict to return as soon as possible to achieving a political solution, starting with the so-called Kampala talks held under the auspices of the Chairperson of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Mr. Ban stressed the importance of the DRC and its regional neighbours of fulfilling their commitments as outlined in the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, and in Security Council Resolution 2098. “I have called for maximum restraint and urge all Framework signatories to jointly and individually respect their commitments,” he stressed referring to the peace accord, which was  adopted in February by 11 African leaders and four regional and international institutions (11+4) and has since been hailed as a “framework for hope.”

Also speaking at today’s meeting was Mr. Ban’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, who has been working with civil society and a technical committee comprised of participates from ICGLR, UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUSCO) and UN partners, and the South African Development Community (SADC), to establish “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound” benchmarks and indicators of progress on the framework.

Mrs. Robinson will present the benchmarks to the next ICGLR Summit scheduled for 31 July in Nairobi, Kenya, ahead of the next meeting of the “11+4” oversight mechanism which will formally adopt them on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly high-level debate in New York this September.

Also stressing the importance of immediately stopping violence in the region, Mrs. Robinson told the Council today that in the four months since taking up her post, “not a day goes by without a report of killings, rape, sexual assault and displacement of people in eastern DRC… what strikes me is the lack of outrage and horrors at this daily toll. It has become the accepted normal.”

She added that while the steps taken in recent months may appear minor for the millions of people on the ground who eagerly waiting to see peace established and their lives changed, they are “concrete affirmation of the determination of the international community to try new avenues for sustainable peace and stability and development in the Great Lakes region.”

Among these, Mr. Ban reiterated the UN’s commitment to promoting economic development in the DRC and the wider Great Lakes region as highlighted by his May visit to the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and other concerned countries, accompanied by Mrs. Robinson and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who pledged an additional $1 billion for cross-border development in support of the framework.

Speaking to the Council by video, Mr. Kim said he and Mr. Ban were committed to increasing cooperation between their respective institutions and with other partners, such as the European Union, African Development Bank, and the regional economic communities, to maximize the impact of efforts in the DRC and the region.  “We cannot have development without peace, and we cannot have peace without development,” he noted.

Today’s day-long Security Council meeting was chaired by Mr. Kerry on behalf of the United States, which holds the body’s rotating presidency for the month of July. “As the chair of this debate and as a representative of a nation that, like all of yours, has a stake in the stability of the Great Lakes, I want to urge all of us around this table to take advantage of the unique opportunity that the framework provides,” Mr. Kerry said, leading a delegation that includes Russ Feingold, his newly appointed special envoy to the Great Lakes region. “All parties must immediately end their support for armed rebel groups,” he emphasized. “All Governments must hold human rights violators and abusers accountable. We must end the era of impunity and that, unfortunately, has been rampant.”

In an attempt to squelch the fighting, the Security Council in March authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within MONUSCO to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.

The brigade – which is currently being built up in North Kivu province and will ultimately consist of more than 3,000 peacekeepers – is tasked with neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities.

(UN press release)

July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Opposition Leader Assassinated in Tunisia

Strongly condemning the assassination earlier this morning of a Tunisian opposition leader, the United Nations human rights chief called on the authorities to investigate the murder, and urged Tunisian citizens to stand united against attempts to derail the country’s democratic transition.

“I am shocked and deeply saddened by the news of [Mohamed] Brahmi’s assassination. I call upon the authorities to immediately launch a prompt and transparent investigation to ensure that the people who carried out this crime are held accountable,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

Mr. Brahmi, a member of the National Constituent Assembly, was shot dead in front of his daughter outside of his house in a Tunis suburb.

“The assassination of Mr. Brahmi, which coincides with the 56th anniversary of the Declaration of the Tunisian Republic, risks upsetting the vital constitution-making process that is in its final stages,” Ms. Pillay said. “I urge all actors in Tunisia – Government, opposition, the general public and civil society – to stand firm and united in the face of political violence, and defend everyone’s freedom to hold and express diverse political views.”

This is the third killing of this kind in the past ten months. In October, Lofti Nagdh was killed and in February, Chokri Belaid, another opposition member was assassinated in similar circumstances to Mr. Brahmi’s murder.

“The Tunisian authorities must take very serious measures to investigate these assassinations, identify the culprits and bring them to justice,” Ms. Pillay said. “It is also crucial that they offer better protection to people who, like Mr. Brahmi, are clearly at risk.”

Tunisia has been undergoing a democratic transition since massive public demonstrations overthrew long-standing leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. The actions of Tunisian citizens sparked the wave of popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring, which also led to the toppling of regimes in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

“The Government must take strong measures to show it will enforce the rule of law, and do its utmost to deter these terrible acts which appear to be designed to inflame the situation and undermine the democratic transition in Tunisia,” Ms. Pillay added.

(UN press release)

July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

United Nations Compensation Commission Makes Another Billion Dollars Available for Damages from Iraq's Invasion of Kuwait

The United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), which settles the damage claims of those who suffered losses due to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, today made $1.07 billion available to the Government of Kuwait.

The remaining category E claim was submitted by the Government of Kuwait on behalf of the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, stated a news release issued by the Geneva-based Commission.

In 2000, the claim was awarded $14.7 billion for oil production and sales losses as a result of damages to Kuwait's oil field assets and represents the largest award by the UNCC's Governing Council. With this payment, the Commission has paid out $42.3 billion of its total awarded amount of $52.4 billion to over 100 governments and international organizations for distribution to 1.5 million successful claimants in all claim categories, leaving approximately $10.1 billion remaining to be paid. 

Successful claims are paid with funds drawn from the UN Compensation Fund, which is funded by a percentage of the proceeds generated by the export sales of Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products.

The UNCC's Governing Council has identified six categories of claims: four are for individuals' claims, one for corporations and one for governments and international organizations, which also includes claims for environmental damage.

The Commission was established in 1991 as a subsidiary organ of the UN Security Council. It has received nearly three million claims, including from nearly 100 governments for themselves, their nationals or their corporations.

(adapted from a UN press release)

July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Israel Urged to Reconsider Proposed Legislation that Would Displace As Many as 40,000 Bedouins

The United Nations human rights chief today urged Israel to reconsider a proposed law that would result in the demolition of up to 35 Bedouin villages, displacing as many as 40,000 members of these communities from their ancestral homes.  “As citizens of Israel, the Arab Bedouins are entitled to the same rights to property, housing and public services as any other group in Israel,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “The Government must recognize and respect the specific rights of its Bedouin communities, including recognition of Bedouin land ownership claims.” 

The first reading of the proposed bill, known as the Prawer-Begin Bill, passed by a narrow margin in the Knesset on 24 June, and is expected to go through the second and third readings before the end of July, according to a news release issued by the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR).

Ms. Pillay said she was “alarmed” that the bill seeks to legitimize the forced displacement and dispossession of indigenous Bedouin communities in the Negev desert in southern Israel, without recognizing that they traditionally owned land titles in the region. Instead, the bill offers Bedouins limited compensation on the condition that they move to one of the seven officially recognized urban Bedouin townships the Government has created. “If this bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership, and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development,” Ms. Pillay said.  

The High Commissioner also pointed out that the 2008 Goldberg Commission set up by the Israeli Government recognized that the Negev Bedouins must be viewed as equal citizens with historic ties to the land, and that they were legitimate residents of the Negev. “Respect for the legitimate rights of minorities is a fundamental tenet of democracy,” she said, adding that it was regrettable that the Government continues to actively pursue a discriminatory policy against its own Arab citizens.

Ms. Pillay added that a reconsideration of the bill must involve a genuinely consultative and participatory process that involves all representatives of Bedouin communities in the Negev.

(adapted from a UN press release)

July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Human Rights Violations in the Central African Republic

The United Nations political mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) is concerned about purported human rights violations in the country.  A spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told journalists in New York that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the CAR, Babacar Gaye, met this week with local human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who informed him of systematic killings of civilians, rape and other violations by soldiers from the Séléka coalition. “They also informed the Special Representative that human rights defenders were targeted and threatened by Séléka, and reported several attempts to remove evidence of abuses, looting and destruction of public property, occupation of schools and recruitment of children,” the spokesperson said.

Violence erupted in December 2012 when the Séléka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks. A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels again seized Bangui in March, forcing President François Bozizé to flee.

Meanwhile, the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, known by the acronym BINUCA, condemned last week of reports of multiple extrajudicial executions accompanied by torture and mutilation. Among the identified victims is Ngombet Jerome, an accountant at the Association of Women Lawyers of Central (AFJC), a local NGO. “These executions were carried on, in all likelihood, at routine checks in the open countryside and in the city of Bangui,” BINUCA said in a statement.  BINUCA also called on authorities to immediately open an investigation to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice, and to continue the process of securing Bangui, the statement added.

Speaking publicly earlier this month, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos urged national authorities to urgently re-establish the rule of law so that assistance and access can continue unimpeded, warning that the political crisis gripping CAR has affected its entire population of 4.6 million.

(adapted from a UN press release)

July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Security Council Extends Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea

The United Nations Security Council has extended for 16 months the mandate of the United Nations expert panel monitoring compliance with sanctions against Somalia and Eritrea, while further easing funding and equipment restrictions on the UN and European Union missions in the region.

In a resolution adopted this morning, the Council asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to re-establish the eight-member Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia until 25 November 2014. The panel, which monitors compliance with the embargoes on the delivery of weapons and military equipment to Somalia and Eritrea, also investigates any seaport operations in Somalia that could generate revenue for the Islamist militant group known as Al-Shabaab that controls some Somali territory.

The Security Council in 1992 imposed an embargo on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Somalia. This past March, the Council partially lifted the weapons ban for one year to boost the Government’s capacity to protect areas recovered from the militant group Al-Shabaab and defend against fresh attempts by such groups to destabilize the country. It decided that the arms embargo would not apply to arms or equipment sold or supplied solely for the development of the Government’s security forces, but it kept its restrictions in place on heavy weapons, such as surface-to-air missiles.

Today’s resolution reminds the Federal Government of Somalia that it is required to notify the Council’s sanctions committee at least five days in advance of any such deliveries and provide details of the transactions. Alternately, Member States delivering assistance could make the notification after informing the Government of its intentions in that regard.

The text decides that until 6 March 2014, the arms embargo on Somalia would not apply to weapons, military equipment, training or advice intended to develop Somalia’s security forces.  Nor would it apply to military supplies and aid to the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNISOM), African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and its strategic partners, the EU Training Mission in Somalia (EUTM) or to Member States and organizations working to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The 15-member Council also expresses its “deep concern” at reports of continuing violations of the charcoal ban by Member States and stresses that it is willing to take action against those violate the ban. It also reiterates that a charcoal export ban applies to all charcoal from Somalia, whether or not it originated in the country, and requested AMISOM to support and assist Somali authorities in preventing the export of charcoal from the country. In addition, the resolution includes language renewing a humanitarian exemption until 25 October 2014. The exemption is for “payment of funds, other financial assets or economic resources necessary to ensure the timely deliver of urgently needed humanitarian assistance in Somalia” by the UN and its implementing partners. 

The text also encourages the Federal Government to mitigate the risk of the petroleum sector becoming a “source of increased tension.” The Council also “expresses its serious concern” at reports of misappropriation so Somalia’s public resources given President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s commitment to improve public financial management.

Council members encouraged the Government “to address corruption and hold perpetrators accountable,” and reiterated their willingness to take action against individuals involved in misappropriation of public resources.

(adapted from a UN press release)

July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Federal Court Rules in Favor of President in Zivotofsky

US-PassportcoverIn an update on an earlier post, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its latest decision in the ongoing litigation in Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State involving a dispute over which branch of the federal government controls place of birth designations on U.S. passports.

By way of background, Zivotofsky involves a power struggle between Congress and the President over recognition of Jerusalem as part of Israel. It has long been executive branch policy not to take an official position regarding the disputed territory of Jerusalem. Accordingly, when a child is born to a US parent in Jerusalem, US State Department policy forbids recording Israel as the place of birth. However, in 2002, Congress passed the Foreign Relations Authorization Act allowing US parents to request that Israel be listed on the record of birth for a child born in Jerusalem. When a parent exercised this option, the State Department refused to comply on the basis that recognition of foreign states and governments is the prerogative of the executive branch, not the legislative branch. Therefore, the executive is not bound by the statute.  The federal circuit court initially refused to reach the merits of the dispute on the ground that the case presented a nonjusticiable political question. In March 2012, the US Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the political question doctrine was not applicable and sending the case back to the lower court to reach the merits.

In a decision issued earlier this week, a unanimous three-judge panel of the federal circuit court ruled that the subject section 214 of the statute is unconstitutional because it impermissibly interferes with the president's authority to recognize foreign sovereigns.  The court noted that "the status of the city of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in recorded history" and that US presidents had maintained a consistent policy of not prejudging the issue.  Congress was attempting to alter this consistent policy.  The executive branch made Congress aware that it viewed the issue as being within the exclusive domain of the president, both during consideration of the legislation and with a presidential signing statement upon enactment of the law.  To determine whether the executive branch was correct, the court first examined the text and the "originalist evidence" of the Constitution, finding that they did not resolve the question. Rather, the court held that "longstanding post-ratification practice supports the Secretary's position that the President exclusively holds the recognition power." Supreme Court precedent supported this conclusion as well.  The court also held that while Congress has the power to enact laws governing the issuance of passports, that power is shared with the executive, whose power trumped in this case.  Accordingly, section 213 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act is unconsitutional. The full opinion may be found here.


July 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New WTO Dispute Settlement Actions

WTOJapan filed a new case with the World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body today.  Japan claims that Russia is violating the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994, the Trade Related Investment Measures Agreement (TRIMs) and the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT) by imposing certain recycling fees on motor vehicles.  According to Japan, all importers must pay the fee, but certain Russian entities are exempted. Japan has requested consultations with Russia, the first step in the dispute settlement process. If consultations do not resolve the matter within 60 days, Japan will have the right to request the establishment of a dispute settlement panel.  The matter has been assigned case number WT/DS463/1.

In another WTO dispute, the DSB established a panel after consultations failed to resolve a trade dispute between Guatemala and Peru with respect to "Additional Duty on Imports of Certain Agricultural Products”. Argentina, China, El Salvador, the European Union,India and the United States reserved their third-party rights to participate in the panel’s proceedings. That matter is case number WT/DS457/1.



July 24, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Children will Bear the Brunt of the Conflict in Syria

There is no reward to be won in Syria, a top United Nations child rights official said after visiting the region, stressing today that without a political solution, children will continue to bear the brunt of the conflict, leaving a generation of angry, illiterate adults. “They have lost their families, lost their house, they lost hope. They are full of anger – I repeated this, they are full of anger, and if it continues, we will face a generation of illiterates,” Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told journalists in New York. 

The press conference is Ms. Zerrougui’s first since returning from a nearly month long visit to Syria and neighbouring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, to see first-hand the impact of the conflict on children, to report, and to show those who are violating children’s rights that there is a professional system for gathering and assessing the credibility of information that would ultimately hold them accountable for breaking international laws, she said.  

During her visit, the envoy met with Government officials and had contacts with members of opposition groups. She urged all parties in Syria to take urgent measures to protect children and other civilians, highlighting that the Government is on the UN’s “list of shame” for killing and maiming children, as well as attacking schools and hospitals, while the opposition has been enlisting recruits under the age of 18. 

The list is used by the Security Council to indicate to the world those groups, individuals and Governments violating the rights of children and where they are active. Ms. Zerrougui stressed that the list is a “tool that allows us to have influence,” and even if the perpetrators feel safe today, “we know by heart that those who commit violations will pay.” 

She recalled visiting a local hospital, “You cannot imagine when you see a child without a leg, and he’s telling you, they will fix my leg and I will go to fight. And you see the brother that is lying on the bed that lost a kidney, that lost a pancreas, and you see the mother sitting there. That is the reality.” 

In addition, the Special Representative also raised the issue of detention of underage recruits, predominantly with the Government. “I had a very fruitful discussion to say this is your responsibility. You cannot just consider that you are fighting terrorism, you have to also work with part of your population which is not happy that is not happy with how it is treated.” 

Since fighting began in March 2011 between the Syrian Government and opposition groups seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad as many as 100,000 people have been killed, almost 2 million have fled to neighbouring countries and a further 4 million have been internally displaced.

Inside Syria, 6.8 million people require urgent humanitarian assistance, half of whom are children. Among the main problems in the region as a result of the displacement of families is the disruption to schooling. While neighbouring countries have attempted to assist, Ms. Zerrougui said, problems continue as a result of curriculum, capacity and language.  In addition, refugees are faced with the problem of certification - who will give you the recognition that your schooling has value and you will have a degree, the Special Representative added.   

Comparing the current situation in Syria with what Ms. Zerrougui experiences during her last visit in December, the Special Representative noted the increasing polarization of society between those who are against the Government and those who are for. “There is no reward to be won in Syria,” the Special Representative stressed. “The Government today is feeling that they are winning. We need to work with them to let them understand that the only way to bring them together is to bring society together. And to understand that there is grievance and there is a need to move forward on a political agenda.”

(UN press release)

July 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

EU Designates Hezbollah Military Wing as Terrorist Organization

After months of debate and pressure from the United States and Israel, the European Union (EU) decided yesterday to designate the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, but refused to cut off ties with the entire Hezbollah organization. The EU took the action following concerns about suspected Hezbollah involvement in terrorist activities in Europe, including a deadly attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and the conviction of an operative in Cyprus for plotting an attack against Israelis.

The details of the restrictions have not been announced yet, but news report indicate that they are likely to include travel bans and asset freezes. The move will allow the EU to continue to deal with the political wing of Hezbollah.



July 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Burundi has made progress on a number of fronts in recent months but still faces numerous challenges, including a weak economy, cross-border incursions and a “mixed” human rights situation, the top United Nations envoy to the country told the Security Council yesterday.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Burundi, reported that there have been “significant” advances in terms of political dialogue over the past six months.  One among them is that several opposition politicians who remained in exile abroad following their boycott of the 2010 elections returned to Burundi to participate in a workshop that was held in March. Also, for the first time since the boycott, all Burundian political actors came together to discuss their country’s political future. “I wish to emphasize that the return of key political figures to Burundi marks significant progress and is an encouraging sign of the increasing willingness of all political actors to collaborate in the interest of preparing peaceful, free and fair elections in 2015.”

The returning politicians have since resumed their activities and some political parties have already been able to make progress in terms of reaching out to their members in different locations of the country, he noted.“These major advances on political dialogue have played a key role in reducing restrictions of political space which have had the negative impact of curtailing the ability of political parties and actors to freely conduct their day-to-day activities.” 

At the same time, the activities of some youth members of political parties have raised concern, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said. “Given the country’s violent history, we strongly urge all stakeholders to ensure that youth wings of political parties perform their activities peacefully and do not become a source of intimidation and at times actual danger for the population, including those that may be politically active, thus affecting negatively the political environment ahead of the 2015 elections.”

Supporting next year’s elections in the war-scarred African country is one of several tasks assigned by the Council to the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB). Headed by Mr. Onanga-Anyanga, the Office was set up in 2006 to assist efforts towards peace and stability after decades of factional and ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis killed hundreds of thousands of people. The envoy noted that overall Burundi continued to enjoy a “commendable” level of security and stability. However, occasional clashes continued in recent months between Government forces and armed groups, including cross-border incursions from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with armed groups claiming responsibility for some of the attacks. “As such incidents show, the ongoing instability in eastern DRC continues to adversely impact on Burundi.” 

In addition, the country finds itself in an “extremely difficult” fiscal position, which could, if not handled properly, pose a serious threat to hard-won yet still fragile stability, the envoy warned.

The picture regarding the overall human rights situation during the first half of this year is “mixed,” Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said, noting that there have been far fewer cases of killings that may have been politically motivated than in the past.  He also noted that the “excessive and inappropriate” use of force by State security agents, mostly the police, appears to have been the cause of the majority of cases of human rights violations that have been documented since the beginning of this year.

Another issue the country continues to struggle with, said the Special Representative, is the high rate of extreme poverty. “Food security and nutrition remain major challenges, and most Burundians continue to face a daily struggle to make ends meet.” He added that projections for 2013 indicate a slightly increased growth rate of 5.3 per cent, which is still insufficient to significantly reduce the poverty level, given continuing high rates of population growth. 

Ambassador Paul Seger of Switzerland, the head of the Burundi configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), told the Council that his overall impression after visiting the country last month is that although it has made significant progress, a number of challenges remain to be tackled. “I saw a real risk of a gap between the Government’s expectations on the one hand, and those of the international community on the other,” he stated. “Moreover, the fragility of the Burundian economy requires urgent action.”

He said his message to the Government is to show political leadership and to redouble its efforts to undertake major reforms in the areas of good political and economic governance and the rule of law, while his message to the international community is to step up its commitment to Burundi and to maintain constructive, open and forthright communication with the Government. “I realize that the peacebuilding process is difficult and requires perseverance. Every marathon runner knows that the last 10 kilometres are the hardest,” Mr. Seger stated. “I therefore encourage the Government to press ahead with the race given that the country has made so much progress in terms of stabilization in recent years.”

(adapted from a UN press release)

July 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gay Rights Activist Murdered in Cameroon

The United Nations human rights office has requested authorities in Cameroon to properly investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the death of gay activist and journalist Eric Lembembe. “Our office in Cameroon has approached the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms and requested that the Commission takes necessary steps to ensure that the case is properly investigated by the police so that Mr. Lembembe’s murderers are brought to justice,” the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva

Mr. Lembembe was reportedly found dead in his apartment in the capital of Yaoundé on 15 July, soon after he wrote about attacks in the country on organizations that support homosexuals. According to OHCHR, his body reportedly showed evidence of physical mistreatment possibly amounting to torture.

The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) also decried the killing, calling Mr. Lembembe, the Executive Director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, “an important partner in the AIDS response.” UNAIDS also called on the Cameroonian Government to thoroughly investigate the death.

“This case is taking place amid a general climate of fear amongst Cameroonian human rights defenders,” Mr. Colville said, adding that some activists have received death threats by phone or email for defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

In June, Human Rights Watch and three local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) launched a report on human rights violations linked to arbitrary arrests and detentions on the grounds of homosexuality in Cameroon. 

On a visit to the country earlier this month, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay highlighted the need to ensure human rights for all and to respect the principles of non-discrimination, including for people belonging to sexual minorities.

Ms. Pillay had told journalists in Yaoundé that Cameroon has ratified six key human rights treaties, giving it a strong framework to guide the development and amendment of national laws and policies relating to human rights, but needs to implement them.
The Universal Periodic Review conducted in May by the UN Human Rights Council – which subjects each country’s human rights record to a State-led peer review – highlighted a number of concerns such as violence against women, harassment of journalists, criminalization of homosexuality, and the vulnerability of indigenous peoples.

Click here for an earlier post on the situation of gay and lesbian persons in Cameroon.

(adapted from a UN press release) (mew)

July 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Italy Illegaly Deports a Mother and Child

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts have called on Italian authorities to facilitate the return to Italy of Alma Shalabayeva, a Kazakh national, and her six-year-old daughter who were unlawfully deported to Kazakhstan in May.

Ms. Shalabayeva is married to former political prisoner Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is an opponent of Kazakhstan's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, according to a news release issued by the experts. He was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom in 2011 but fled after UK police warned him his life was in danger.  Ms. Shalabayeva and her daughter were legal residents in the European Union and living in Italy when they were expelled on May 31, 2013. 

François Crépeau, Juan E. Méndez and Gabriela Knaul, the UN experts on the rights of migrants, torture and independence of the judiciary, respectively, said the actions of the Italian authorities had violated guarantees of due process and deprived Ms. Shalabayeva of her right to appeal against deportation and to apply for asylum.  "The circumstances of the deportation give rise to the appearance that this was in fact an extraordinary rendition which is of great concern to us," they stated. The authorities also appeared to have ignored concerns that Ms. Shalabayeva might be at risk of being persecuted, tortured or subjected to other forms of ill-treatment upon her forcible return to Kazakhstan due to her husband's political activities.

"We are encouraged to see that Italy has now publicly recognized that the deportation of Ms. Shalabayeva and her daughter was unlawful and unacceptable," said the UN experts on the rights of migrants, torture and independence of the judiciary," the experts said.  They welcomed the decision to officially revoke the deportation order and the announcement that investigations were under way to determine responsibility for the illegal expulsion. "We appreciate the Italian authorities' commitment to carry out thorough investigations on the case and welcome the developments thus far," the experts said. "We urge both Italy and Kazakhstan to continue to investigate and hold those responsible accountable."   

Italy is a State party to many international treaties which prohibit the expulsion, refoulement or extradition of a person to a State where it is feared he or she would be at risk of persecution and/or torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. "Given the possible serious implications of this case, we call upon both the Italian and Kazakh authorities to cooperate and reach a diplomatic agreement to facilitate the rapid return of the deportees," the experts said. 

(adapted from a UN press release)

July 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

20 Journalists Have Been Murdered in Honduras Since 2010

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has condemned the recent murder of a Honduran broadcaster and called on the authorities to bring those responsible to justice. Anibal Barrow, the former host of a popular morning talk show on Globo TV was kidnapped on 24 June in the city of San Pedro Sula as he was travelling by car with a driver and members of his family. His body was found on 11 July near the city.

“I condemn this killing,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a news release. “I trust that the authorities will be able to bring to justice those responsible for this crime which undermines freedom of expression in Honduras and journalists’ ability to exercise their profession. “Letting crimes against journalists go unpunished seriously undermines press freedom,” she stressed. 

UNESCO added that Mr. Barrow is the 20th journalist to be assassinated in Honduras since 2010.

(adapted from a UN press release)

July 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Nigeria Was Asked to Arrest Omar Al-Bashir

The International Criminal Court (ICC) requested Nigeria to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who is wanted for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, while he was on a visit to Abuja and surrender him to the Court. In March 2009, ICC judges issued arrest warrants against Mr. Al-Bashir for crimes allegedly committed in the Sudanese region of Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have died since 2003 due to fighting between rebel groups and Government forces and their allies, militiamen known as the Janjaweed. Mr. Al-Bashir was reportedly in Nigeria for an African health summit that concluded last week. 

Nigeria is a State party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, and has the obligation to execute the Court's orders, according to a news release issued by the Court. Under the Rome Statute, States that fail to comply with a request to cooperate with the Court may be referred to the Assembly of States Parties or to the Security Council.

Since the arrest warrants were issued, Mr. Al-Bashir has travelled to a number of African countries that are parties to the Rome Statute, all of whom have failed to arrest the Sudanese leader and surrender him to the Court. 

(adapted from a UN press release)

July 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)