Saturday, June 25, 2016
The Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) have signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement and laying down of weapons.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the importance of the historic event as an exemplary implementation of peace. “On this day, in a world beset by seemingly intractable wars, the peace process in Colombia delivers on a key commitment: an agreement on a ceasefire and the laying down of weapons,” the Secretary-General said. “Today the Colombian peace process validates the perseverance of all those around the world who work to end violent conflict not through the destruction of the adversary, but through the patient search for compromise,” he added.
Since 2012, the FARC and the Colombian Government have been in talks hosted in Havana, Cuba, seeking to end a 51-year conflict. Throughout the discussions, negotiators have reached agreement on key issues such as political participation, land rights, illicit drugs and victims’ rights and transitional justice.
Mr. Ban expressed admiration for the negotiating teams, which he said have demonstrated that it is possible to “achieve peace with dignity for all concerned.”
“They have overcome tense moments and challenging issues to arrive at an historic achievement,” he stressed.
Congratulating the Governments of Cuba and Norway for devoting “considerable diplomatic skills” to the peace process, the Secretary-General said that they, together with the accompanying countries, Chile and Venezuela, have shown how national peace efforts can be supported faithfully, discreetly and effectively. He also recalled that six months ago, the UN Security Council and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) had responded to the call of the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP, and made a commitment to support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the laying down of weapons.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
UN Human Rights Experts Highlight Need to Protect LGBTI People from Violence and Torture in Detention
Ahead of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (Sunday, June 26, 2016), UN human rights experts highlighted the lack of policies and methods to recognise people’s self-identified gender, and the need to carry out proper risk assessments in order to protect LGBTI people from stigmatization and violence in detention.
In a joint statement, the Chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the Chair of the UN Committee against Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture called on Member States to redouble their efforts to prevent the ill-treatment and torture faced by LGBTI people in places of detention.
Underscoring the risk of torture and ill-treatment that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons are at, particularly where they may be deprived of their liberty, Jens Modvig, Chair of the Committee against Torture, said “The Committee is striving to protect LGBTI people from being forcibly sent back to countries where, based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, they may face torture, criminalization, detention, ill-treatment and even murder.”
“For transgender women and men, for example, it is often a situation of complete abandonment, resulting in some transgender women being placed in male-only prisons, where they are exposed to a high risk of rape, often with the complicity of prison personnel,” said Sir Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. In its ninth annual report, the Subcommittee identified measures for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment of LGBTI people in detention.
Drawing the attention of countries to their obligations under international human rights law and standards, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez said, “LGBTI people are often stigmatized and dehumanized, leaving them particularly vulnerable to violence and ill-treatment, that in many cases amounts to torture.”
“Breaking the silence on torture and ill-treatment endured by LGBTI people is critical,” said Gaby Oré Aguilar, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the UN Fund for Victims of Torture, calling for increased support for the rehabilitation of victims, including LGBTI people. “The UN Fund for Victims of Torture thus supports programmes providing specialized assistance to LGBTI victims of torture,” added Ms. Aguilar.
“It is crucial that LGBTI people are fully involved in discussions and decisions concerning how detention systems can respond most effectively to their needs and respect their human rights,” the experts stressed.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Thailand to Vote on New Constitution on August 7th; U.N. Secretary General Express Support for Thailand's Return to Democracy
In a telephone call with the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reaffirmed the UN’s readiness to support Thailand as the country prepares to vote on a final draft Constitution.
“The Secretary-General reaffirmed the UN’s readiness to support Thailand during this critical juncture to facilitate a swift return to democracy,” said a statement released by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.
Referring to reports about restrictions on the freedoms of expression, opinion and assembly ahead of the 7 August referendum on the draft Constitution, the Secretary-General stressed that an open and inclusive debate would be essential to ensuring the legitimacy of the constitution and achieving national unity, according to the statement.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Noting the new protests and increased tensions in Bahrain triggered by the revocation of the citizenship of a prominent Shia religious leader, a senior United Nations human rights advisor called on the Government to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is fully respected and that any response to the protests is in accordance with the country’s obligations under international human rights law. Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide also called on the protestors to exercise their rights peacefully and to avoid any act of violence, as well as on all decision-makers, in the country and at the regional level, political parties and groups, military, religious, tribal and community leaders to exercise restraint and to take all possible measures to prevent the further increase of tensions.
According to a statement by his office yesterday, the Special Adviser noted that the 20 June action by the Interior Ministry of Bahrain to revoke the citizenship of Sheikh Issa Qassem, a Shia religious leader, is the latest in a series of actions by the authorities in recent weeks that have further restricted space for public participation and the enjoyment of human rights in the country.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed concerns at crackdown on human rights and political opposition groups including the action against the Shia religious leader, the re-arrest of Nabil Rajab, a prominent human rights defender, the dissolution of Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition political grouping, the interrogation of five Shia clerics, and the travel bans on a number of human rights defenders. Moreover, on 16 June, in a statement issued by his spokesperson, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern at the situation in the country and noted that such actions by the State authorities could potentially damage the human rights situation in the country as well as undermine the reforms undertaken by King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa.
In his view, Mr. Dieng said, “the country and the region are facing a critical moment. It is now even more crucial for the authorities and for all relevant parties to recommit to an inclusive national dialogue in the interest of all people of Bahrain.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
International Criminal Court Sentences former Congolese Vice President to 18 Years Imprisonment for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in the Central Africal Republic
The International Criminal Court (ICC) today sentenced the former Congolese Vice-President, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, to 18 years of imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003.
In a ruling issued in March, the United Nations-backed ICC had found Mr. Bemba guilty beyond reasonable doubt as a military commander responsible for two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) committed in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.
Mr. Bemba had been the commander-in-chief of the former Congolese rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, as well as a vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 2003-2006 transition.
ICC Trial Chamber III delivered the sentence today in an open hearing, where Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner read a summary of the decision.
Ms. Steiner indicated that the Chamber found the crimes of murder, rape, and pillaging to be of “serious gravity,” the ICC said in a press release.
The Chamber also found that two aggravating circumstances applied to the crime of rape: it was committed against particularly defenceless victims, and with particular cruelty.
In addition, the Chamber found that one aggravating circumstance applied to the crime of pillaging, which the majority of the Chamber considered to be the particular cruelty with which the crime was committed.
The Chamber further found that Mr. Bemba’s culpable conduct was of serious gravity. Lastly, the Chamber was satisfied that no mitigating circumstances existed in the case, the ICC said.
In light of his conviction, Mr. Bemba was sentenced to the following terms of imprisonment: 16 years of imprisonment for murder as a war crime; 16 years of imprisonment for murder as a crime against humanity; 18 years of imprisonment for rape as a war crime; 18 years of imprisonment for rape as a crime against humanity; and 16 years of imprisonment for pillaging as a war crime.
The Chamber considered that the highest sentence imposed, namely, 18 years for rape, reflected the totality of Mr. Bemba’s culpability, and decided that the sentences imposed shall run concurrently.
The entire time Mr. Bemba has spent in detention in accordance with an order of the ICC, since 24 May 2008, will be deducted from his sentence.
The ICC also noted that the prosecution and the defence may appeal the sentence on the grounds of disproportion between the crime and the sentence.
Further, the ICC said that the issue of reparations to victims under article 75 of the Rome Statute will be addressed in due course.
The ICC Trial Chamber III is composed of Ms. Steiner (Brazil), Judge Joyce Aluoch (Kenya) and Judge Kuniko Ozaki (Japan).
(UN Press Release)
Monday, June 20, 2016
In light of the current refugee crisis, we could not let this day pass without recognizing World Refugee Day. In honor of this day, here are a few United Nations resources - pictures, stories, and appeals for help - that tell this sad story far better than we could.
Sign the petition to show that you stand with refugees or make a donation at United Nations Refugee Day Website.
To learn more about the record high 65 MILLION men, women and children who have been driven from their homes due to conflict and persecution, visit the UN High Commissioner for Refugees website. According to the UNHCR, 24 persons are displaced from their home every minute due to conflict and persecution. 16 million qualify as refugees due to persecution.
The U.S. Supreme Court has just issued its 4-3 decision in RJR Nabisco Inc. v. European Community, No. 15-138 (June 20, 2016), on the question of whether Congress intended to provide a cause of action under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") for injuries suffered outside the United States. Here's a link to the decision reversing the Court of Appeals. Justice Alito wrote for the majority, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Thomas. Justice Ginsburg concurred in part, dissented in part, and dissented from the judgment. She was joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor took no part in this decision.
Issuing a new report on the situation of minorities in Myanmar, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has urged the Government to take concrete steps to end the “systemic discrimination” and ongoing human rights violations against minority communities, particularly the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
The report requested by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2015, documents a wide range of rights violations, including arbitrary deprivation of nationality, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, threats to life and security, denial of rights to health and education, forced labour, sexual violence, and limitations to political rights. It also notes that for those formally charged, fair trial guarantees are often not respected.
The report also raises the possibility that the pattern of violations against the Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity Among the report’s findings is that in northern Rakhine state, ‘arbitrary arrest and detention of Rohingya remains widespread. Arrests are often carried out without grounds, formal processing or charges, until release is secured by payment of a bribe. For those formally charged, fair trial guarantees are often not respected.’
Rakhine has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country, and non-citizens, including Rohingya, are excluded from studying certain professions including medicine, economics and engineering. Some 30,000 Muslim children in IDP camps depend on temporary learning spaces supported by humanitarian organizations. “The consequences of lost years of education are devastating for future livelihood opportunities and the ability of Rohingya and Kaman youth to contribute to Myanmar’s development,” the report states.
According to a news release issued by the his Office (OHCHR), Mr. Zeid said Myanmar’s new Government had inherited the situation where laws and policies are in place that are designed to deny fundamental rights to the minorities and where impunity for serious violations has encouraged further violence against them.
Noting that it will “not be easy to reverse such entrenched discrimination,” he urged the Government to accord priority to halt ongoing violations and prevent further ones taking place.
Mr. Zeid further noted the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement last year as both a significant step and also a starting point. He called on the authorities to initiate a comprehensive programme of legal and policy measures to address the scope and pattern of violations against such communities. Acknowledging the complexity of the situation, he added: “We stand ready to support the Government of Myanmar in ensuring a successful transition to a society based firmly on the rule of law and the protection of human rights for all.”
The report outlines human rights violations and abuses against other minorities, including in the context of armed conflict. These include deliberate targeting of and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, use of child soldiers, forced labour, sexual and gender-based violence, violations of housing, land and property rights, and restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.
It also calls for a comprehensive inquiry into the situation of minorities in Myanmar, and independent investigations into all alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including those committed by law enforcement officers.
The report also notes that Government has taken some initial steps, including creating a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs, proposing a national peace conference, and establishing a central committee on the implementation of peace, stability and development of Rakhine state.
(UN Press Release)
The first European Islamophobia Summit will convene June 24-26, 2016 in Sarajevo, Bosnia, bringing together participants from 17 European nations and different faith communities. Confirmed participants include:
- former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw,
- Chairman of Bosnia’s Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic,
- Founder of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Bernard Kouchner,
- international media anchor, Mehdi Hassan and
- the Grand Mufti of Sarajevo, Husein Kavazovic.
Key outputs to come from the Summit will include the following:
- Establish best policy practices to combat Islamophobia from across European countries - delivered by leading international academics. These will be compiled into a report that is made available to European policy-makers after the Summit.
- Deliver country-specific case studies on the extent of Islamophobia and suggested approaches to tackling it across 17 European nations.
- An inter-faith Ramadan Iftar dinner that will convene over 400 guests in Sarajevo’s Bašcarsija (old bazaar and cultural centre).
- A panel discussion on how communities can work together to combat different forms of prejudice and bigotry.
- The signing of a joint Istanbul-Sarajevo Declaration on Islamophobia, reflecting a renewed commitment and effort to tackling anti-Muslim hate crime and bigotry by both cities.
Other confirmed summit participants include:
- Civil society organisations such as British counter-racism group, Hope Not Hate, the European Forum of Muslim Womenand Turkish Think-Tank SETA.
- Political figures including Member of the European Parliament, Afzal Khan and British MP, Naz Shah;
- Civil society figures including American female basketball player,Indira Kaljoand creator of Islamic super-heroes comic ‘The 99’, Naif Al Mutawa;
- Academic figures including George Town University Research Director, Nathan Lean, and senior Berkley University lecturer, Hatem Bazian.
The European Islamophobia Summit was founded to address the manifold increase in Islamophobic rhetoric and hate crime across Europe, including in France, Spain and Britain – particularly in light of the refugee crisis and terror attacks like those that recently took place in Orlando. The Summit will also focus on combatting the increased mainstreaming of Islamophobia and racism in political discourse, which has led to the
Academic Advisor to the Summit, Dr. Farid Hafez of Salzburg University said “Islamophobia represents a major challenge to European democracy, freedoms and its values of tolerance and pluralism.” He also said that: “Against the backdrop of calls by US Presidential candidate Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the USA and Hungary’s Prime Minister and upcoming EU President and Slovak Prime Minister both stating Islam has no place in their countries, the need for a Summit uniting political, academic, media and civil society leaders against Islamophobia is timelier than ever.”
In response to recent terror attack on the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Muddassar Ahmed, a member of the European Islamophobia Summit Advisory Panel and Patron of the Faiths Forum for London said: “The European Islamophobia Summit condemns the recent horrific attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando and offers its deepest condolences and thoughts to the families of the victims.”
“The recent killing of British MP, Jo Cox, is yet another reminder of how damaging the effects of hateful and divisive rhetoric can be.”
“All forms of bigotry and prejudice are abhorrent and share the same pernicious structure. This is why at the European Islamophobia Summit, we will discuss fostering cross-community unity against not just Islamophobia, but all forms of prejudice and bigotry.” He also added that “the choice of Sarajevo, Bosnia as the location for the first European Islamophobia Summit is notable because Bosnia’s history is an example of what can happen when anti-Muslim and racist rhetoric goes unabated. Not far from Sarajevo in Srebrenica, the 21st anniversary of the massacre of 8000 Muslims will be commemorated just days after the European Islamophobia Summit.”
Summit moderator and Director of Development at the Center for Global Policy, Haroon Moghul, said “Counter-Islamophobia efforts are crucial to counter-extremism efforts. ISIS attacks intend to divide western societies by establishing the ‘grey zone’; the destruction of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims. An Islamophobic reaction is precisely what ISIS terrorists and Far-Right Islamophobic activists hope for in order to realise their clash of civilisations narratives.”
“In addition to protecting the rights of innocent people, this is yet another reason for why the west must remain vigilant against Islamophobic backlash and why the efforts of the European Islamophobia Summit are so important and timely.”
The European Islamophobia Summit will take place across various Sarajevo landmarks including the Sarajevo National Library (within Sarajevo’s City Hall), the Sarajevo National Theatre and Sarajevo’s old bazaar. The summit will be held in partnership with the city Government of Sarajevo.
(Adapted from a press release from the Islamophobia Summit.)
More than 83,000 people have fled the besieged city of Fallujah and surrounding areas as of this past Saturday, and thousands more could still be on the move amid ongoing fighting, the United Nations relief wing has reported. In a humanitarian update, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted that since military operations led by Iraqi security forces to retake Fallujah in Anbar from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) began on 22 May, people have fled Fallujah in rapidly increasing numbers.
Most people initially fled outlying areas of Fallujah, but on 7 June, reports were received of some families leaving Fallujah city itself, as military operations began to enter the city centre. In the past few days, tens of thousands of people have been allowed to leave the centre of town, OCHA said. “The sudden increase in displacement in early June follows both increased opportunities for families to flee as well as hundreds of other families demonstrating a willingness to take extremely high risks to try to escape, sometimes with grave consequences,” OCHA noted in the bulletin.
There are reports of people drowning as they tried to escape, or being injured or killed by snipers or improvised explosive devices. Many families are separated during their escape, with men and teenage boys being separated from their families for security screening, OCHA said. The families still trapped inside Fallujah are thought to have only limited, if any, food, and there appear to be few sources of safe drinking water. The risk for disease outbreaks is high, OCHA noted.
While it is not clear how many civilians remain in the city, OCHA said that UN estimates indicate there could still be thousands of families. “Nothing is more important than ensuring that civilians are protected and have access to life-saving assistance. The UN and partners continue to call on all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to meet their obligations under international humanitarian law,” OCHA said in the update.
Emergency response is ongoing in multiple locations
Most displaced people from Fallujah have been taken to Ameriyat al Falluja, a town located about 30 kilometres south of the city, where the Government of Iraq and partners had previously prepared tents as well as water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. These camps are now full, although the Government and humanitarian partners are working to quickly set up others, including in the nearby towns of Khalidiyah and Habbaniyah Tourist City, OCHA said. People are also fleeing areas north of Fallujah towards the east, and are being hosted in local schools and in the Al Ahal camp.
OCHA said that major efforts are being made to provide emergency assistance to the newly displaced, including shelter, water, food, basic household items and health care. Specialized activities for children and women are being established and mobile teams are providing psychological support.
The UN has not been able to access Fallujah since it came under the control of armed opposition groups in January 2014. Humanitarian partners have worked with about 50,000 civilians remaining in Fallujah, although OCHA stressed that the number of displaced people is well above that planning figure and that the scope of the crisis has outpaced humanitarian capacity. “Contingency stocks are nearly depleted, every agency requires funds and there are few frontline partners,” OCHA stressed. “With rising temperatures and lack of shade and clean drinking water, outbreaks of communicable diseases are likely.”
OCHA also emphasized that there is only limited support for newborn babies, and nearly all of the children who have been outside Government control have not yet been immunized. The low level of antigens, coupled with poor hygiene and substandard sanitation, raises the risk of disease outbreaks further.
Before the most recent military operation, more than 75,000 displaced people from other locations within Anbar were already residing in camps near Fallujah in Khalidiyah, Habbaniyah and Ameriyat al Falluja. Humanitarian partners also continue to provide emergency assistance to other conflict-affected people, including in the transit sites Al Wafaa and Kilo 18 in western Anbar, OCHA said.
(Adapted from a UN press release)
UN Special Adviser on Genocide Condemns Attacks on Pulse Nightclub and on the Outpouring of Hatred, Homophobia, and Islamophobia After the Attack
Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, condemned the criminal attack that took place at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on 12 June, in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured. He expressed grave concern at the outpouring of hatred, homophobia, and Islamophobia that followed the incident, which targeted the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
“At a time when there was greatest need for sympathy and solidarity, I was appalled by the immediate and shameful efforts of some political and religious leaders to manipulate and politicise the events in Orlando to fuel fear, intolerance and hatred,” said Mr. Dieng. “I was particularly sickened to hear religious leaders commend the killings of members of the LGBT community,” he added, referring to statements by some religious leaders, including one who labelled the victims as “disgusting perverts and paedophiles” and calling on governments worldwide “to execute LGBT people.”
Mr. Dieng also criticized calls by some politicians to cite radical Islam as the cause of the attack in Orlando, to ban Muslims from the United States and to label all Muslims as terrorists. “Religious and sexual minorities are subjected to discrimination, human rights violations and violence worldwide, including in peaceful and democratic societies,” Mr. Dieng stated. “It is simply unacceptable that influential leaders, including political and religious leaders, spread the kind of dangerous homophobic and islamophobic messages that we have seen in public discourse and the media this week.” He reminded political and religious leaders that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence is prohibited under international human rights law as well as by the national laws of many countries.
(Adapted from a U.N. press release)
Friday, June 17, 2016
India Urged to Repeal Regulation that Blocks Civil Society Access to Foreign Funding -- Registration of Lawyers Collective NGO is Suspended for Six Months Despite Proof that It Did Not Violate India's Foreign Contribution Regulation Act
Three United Nations human rights experts this week called on the Government of India to repeal a regulation that has been increasingly used to obstruct civil society's access to foreign funding. The experts' call came as the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs suspended for six months the registration of the non-governmental organization Lawyers Collective, under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.
The suspension was imposed on the basis of allegations that its founders, human rights lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, violated the act provisions by using foreign funding for purposes other than intended.
“We are alarmed that FCRA provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government,” said UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and on freedom of association, Maina Kiai.
Despite detailed evidence provided by the non-governmental organization (NGO) to rebut all allegations and prove that all foreign contributions were spent and accounted for in line with FCRA, the suspension was still applied.
“We are alarmed by reports that the suspension was politically motivated and was aimed at intimidating, delegitimising and silencing Lawyers Collective for their litigation and criticism of the Government's policies,” the experts said noting that the NGO is known for its public interest litigation and advocacy in defence of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of Indian society.
Many civil society organizations in India now depend on FCRA accreditation to receive foreign funding, which is critical to their operations assisting millions of Indians in pursuing their political, cultural, economic, and social rights. The ability to access foreign funding is vital to human rights work and is an integral part of the right to freedom of association.
However, FCRA's broad and vague terms such as 'political nature', 'economic interest of the State' or 'public interest' are overly broad, do not conform to a prescribed aim, and are not a proportionate responses to the purported goal of the restriction.
“Human rights defenders and civil society must have the ability to do their important job without being subjected to increased limitations on their access to foreign funding and the undue suspension of their registration on the basis of burdensome administrative requirements imposed to those organizations in receipt of foreign funds,” the UN human rights experts concluded.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
In the wake of the mass killing of 49 people by a sole gunman in a gay nightclub in Florida, the United Nations human rights chief this week urged the leadership of the United States to live up to its obligations to protect its citizens from the “horrifyingly commonplace but preventable violent attacks that are the direct result of insufficient gun control.”
“It is hard to find a rational justification that explains the ease with which people can buy firearms, including assault rifles, in spite of prior criminal backgrounds, drug use, histories of domestic violence and mental illness, or direct contact with extremists – both domestic and foreign,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
“How many more mass killings of school-children, of co-workers, of African-American churchgoers -- how many more individual shootings of talented musicians like Christina Grimmie, or politicians like Gabrielle Giffords, will it take before the United States adopts robust gun regulation?” he added, questioning the availability for civilians anywhere of an assault rifle or other high-powered weapons designed to kill lots of people. “Irresponsible pro-gun propaganda suggests that firearms make society safer, when all evidence points to the contrary,” Zeid said.
A new UN human rights report on the civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms highlights the “devastating impact” of gun violence on a host of human rights, including the rights to life, security, education, health, an adequate standard of living and participation in cultural life. The report states that women and children are frequently found to be victims of firearm-related violence, including through the use of guns to commit rape and other sexual violence, abduction, assault and domestic violence.
It states that protection of human rights must be central to the development of laws and regulations regarding the availability, transfer and use of firearms. UN and regional human rights experts have long recommended that firearm control measures must include adequate background check systems, the periodic review of licenses, clear gun removal policies when intervening in domestic violence cases, mandatory training, and the criminalization of illegal sale of firearms, among others.
“Examples from many countries clearly show that a legal framework to control the acquisition and use of firearms has led to a dramatic reduction in violent crime,” Mr. Zeid said. “In the United States, however, there are hundreds of millions of guns in circulation, and every year thousands of people are killed or injured by them.”
Zeid added that it was particularly reprehensible – indeed dangerous – that this terrible event is already being utilized to promote homophobic and Islamophobic sentiments. He urged everyone in the United States to rally around the common cause of ensuring that the human rights, and consequentially the security, of all are strengthened in the aftermath of this horrendous incident.
“That is the least that is owed to the relatives of all those children, women and men whose lives have been snatched from them by gunmen from a wide variety of backgrounds in the Orlando nightclub, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, at the Methodist Church in downtown Charleston, and at so many other homes, schools, colleges and other venues across the United States,” he said.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The American Society of International Law (ASIL) is seeking submissions of scholarly paper proposals for the ASIL Research Forum to be held at ASIL Academic Partner University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, Washington on November 11-12, 2016.
The Research Forum, a Society initiative introduced in 2011, aims to provide a setting for the presentation and focused discussion of works-in-progress from across the spectrum of international law. Please note that - in addition to academics - private practitioners, government attorneys, international organization representatives, and non-government lawyers are frequently selected to present papers based on the abstracts they submit.
Papers may be on any topic related to international, comparative, or transnational law and should be unpublished at the time of their submission (for purposes of the call, publication to an electronic database such as SSRN is not considered publication). Interdisciplinary projects, empirical studies, and jointly authored papers are welcome. Multiple submissions are welcome, but authors will only be selected to present on a single abstract, including co-authored papers.
For full instructions and to submit a proposal, visit the ASIL website. Submissions are due by 12 noon ET on Monday, July 11, 2016.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) [also known as ISIL and Da'esh] is committing genocide against Yazidis that amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes, a United Nations-mandated human rights inquiry reported this week. “Genocide has occurred and is ongoing,” Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, emphasized in releasing the report They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes against the Yazidis. “ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities,” he said in a press statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Under the Commission's mandate, the report focuses on violations committed against Yazidis inside Syria, where it found that thousands of women and girls are still being held captive and abused, often as slaves. The Commission also examined how the terrorist group forcibly transferred Yazidis into Syria after launching its attacks on northern Iraq's Sinjar region on 3 August 2014. The information that was collected documents evidence of intent and criminal liability of ISIS's military commanders, fighters, religious and ideological leaders, wherever they are located, the Commission said.
The findings are based on interviews with survivors, religious leaders, smugglers, activists, lawyers, medical personnel, and journalists, as well as extensive documentary material, which corroborate information gathered by the Commission.
“ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community,” according to the report.
ISIS separated Yazidi men and boys older than 12 years old from the rest of their families, and killed those who refused to convert, in order to destroy their identity as Yazidis. Women and children often witnessed these killings before being forcibly transferred to locations in Iraq, and thereafter to Syria, where the majority of captives remain, the Commission found.
Mr. Pinheiro stressed that there must be no impunity for crimes of this nature, recalling States' obligations under the Genocide Convention to prevent and to punish genocide. The Commission repeated its call for the Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, or to establish an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute the violations of international law committed during the non-international armed conflict.
The Commission further noted that, with no path to international criminal justice available, it is likely that the first such prosecution of ISIS crimes against the Yazidis will take place in a domestic jurisdiction. It is essential, that States enact laws against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the Commission stated.
(adapted from a UN press release)
Homosexual acts in Kenya are punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Justice Mathew J.A. Emukule of the Kenyan High Court in Mombassa has just dismissed a legal challenge to anal exams administered by the Kenyan Police to find people who may have violated the law. The judge dismissed claims that anal exams were a form of discrimination and that the exams were tantamount to torture. The AP News Agency reports that the judge found "no violation of human dignity, right to privacy, and right to freedom of the petitions."
Anal probing is an outdated 19th century practice that has been condemned as torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, who stated in a January 2016 report that: “In States where homosexuality is criminalized, men suspected of same-sex conduct are subject to non-consensual anal examinations intended to obtain physical evidence of homosexuality, a practice that is medically worthless and amounts to torture or ill-treatment.” U.N. Doc. A/HRC/31/57, at 10, para. 36 (citing CAT/C/CR/29/4).
The two men will appeal the Mombassa High Court ruling finding that anal exams do not violate human dignity or the right to privacy. Their trial for allegedly having gay sex will reportedly continue.
The High Court of Kenya has jurisdiction to hear all criminal and civil cases as well as appeals from lower courts.
Decisions of the High Court of Kenya are appealed to the Court of Appeal of Kenya, which is established under Article164 of the constitution of Kenya and comprises a maximum of 30 Judges who elect a President from among themselves. The Court of Appeal is decentralized and currently has six registries (Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret).
Further appeals may be had to the Kenya Supreme Court, which has appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the Court of Appeal and any other court or tribunal as prescribed by national legislation. Appeals to the Kenyan Supreme Court can only be head as a matter of right where the case involves interpretation or application of the Constitution or a matter certified by the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal as a case that involves a matter of general public importance. The Supreme Court may review a certification by the Court of Appeal and either affirm, vary, or overturn it.
Laws that criminalize sexual acts between consenting adults violate rights to privacy and non-discrimination under international human rights law. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law also determined that sodomy laws facilitate the spread of HIV/AIDS. In Caribbean countries with sodomy laws, for example, almost one in four men who have sex with men is HIV-positive; in Caribbean countries without sodomy laws, the rate is only one in fifteen men. The U.N. Human Rights Committee and other human rights mechanisms have urged states to repeal sodomy laws since the Committee’s 1994 landmark opinion in Toonen v. Australia, which found that sodomy laws violate the right to privacy. At least seventy-six nations still have laws that criminalize and harass people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender expression.
Mark E. Wojcik
Pontifica Universidad Javeriana of Colombia Wins WTO Moot Court Competition; Queens' University of Canada is the Runner-Up
Law students from around the world gathered in Geneva from 7 to 11 June for the final oral round of a competition involving simulated World Trade Organization panel proceedings organized by the European Law Students’ Association (ELSA), with the support of the WTO and its legal divisions. Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia, emerged as the winner, with the team from Queen’s University, Canada, the runner-up.
The ELSA Moot Court Competition is a simulated WTO dispute involving exchanges of written submissions and adversarial hearings before panelists on international trade law issues. This year teams of interested students from all over the world sent in written submissions of a fictitious case dealing with subsidies for the production of renewable energy equipment and for the purchase of renewable energy, written by Professor Andrew Lang of the London School of Economics.
After the regional rounds in Germany (Passau), Canada (Kingston), Singapore, South Africa (Grahamstown) and Czech Republic (Brno), the best 20 teams came to Geneva to plead in the Final Oral Round. Teams drawn from 16 countries on six continents (Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America, and Europe) competed against each other at a level similar to what might be seen in an actual WTO dispute. Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia, emerged as the winner, with the team from Queen’s University, Canada, the runner-up. Congratulations are also due to the semi-finalists from National Taiwan University, Chinese Taipei, and KU Leuven, Belgium, as well as to all the teams that participated in the event in Geneva.
The competition included students of diverse backgrounds working hard to produce high-quality legal arguments on cutting-edge issues of WTO law. The Final Oral Round is an opportunity for them to meet their fellow students from all over the world but also to see trade law in action and to see all the opportunities available for a career in trade law. It is one of the aims of the competition to encourage and develop the next generation of WTO experts.
The WTO has been a technical sponsor and partner in the ELSA competition on WTO law since its inception 14 years ago. This is an example of the WTO’s broad support for capacity building focusing not just on government officials but also on students and academics who can take WTO law into the future. The WTO sends legal experts on technical assistance missions to act as panelists in the regional rounds. WTO staff members also advise ELSA on the academic aspects of running the competition and are integral in planning the Final Oral Round held in Geneva.
During the week participating students not only competed against the top teams from around the world but met with practitioners in law firms, delegations and the WTO Secretariat. Students were also able to participate in the British Institute on International and Comparative Law’s annual conference on WTO law which was held simultaneously with the moot court.
WTO staff members from several divisions of the Secretariat volunteered in the organization of the event and shared their experiences with young students. Colleagues from the Legal Affairs, Rules, and Council and Trade Negotiations Committee divisions, the Appellate Body Secretariat, and the Office of the Director General assisted in all aspects of the moot court.
It is not only the WTO Secretariat that sees the value in the ELSA moot court on WTO law. Private law firms (Van Bael & Bellis, King & Spalding, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan, Mayer Brown, Sidley Austin, Steptoe & Johnson, and Whtie & Case), the Society for International Economic Law (SIEL), and the World Trade Institute all made contributions towards sponsoring the global competition. Furthermore the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Akin Gump, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL), along with several local sponsors, all made significant contributions towards the smooth running of the African Round. Academic institutions provided support by offering prizes to the winning teams (the World Trade Institute, the Graduate Institute and IELPO at the University of Barcelona) and by hosting the preliminary rounds of the finals (the Graduate Institute). The entire trade law community embraces the value of this competition.
The Grand Final took place on Saturday 11 June with a Final Bench of distinguished panelists chaired by Appellate Body member Ricardo Ramirez-Hernandez. Deputy Director-General Karl Brauner served as the Master of Ceremonies and handed out the prizes. The winning team was announced by Aegyoung Jung, Legal Advisor to the Director-General.
(WTO Press Release)
The World Trade Organization Secretariat, in collaboration with the Secretariats of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), will hold a five-day workshop on Trade and Public Health in Geneva from 17 to 21 October 2016. Applications for this year’s workshop can be made until 22 July 2016.
For more information click here.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has expressed deep concern at the deteriorating security situation in Ngaoundaye, Ouham Pende Prefecture, in the west of the country following attacks and retaliation between groups backed by Christian militias and herders supported by Muslim fighters, since 10 June.
Houses have been burnt and properties looted in the fighting. The violence has caused significant displacement of the civilian population to the parish of Ngaoundaye, as well as to neighbouring Cameroon.
Issuing a statement, the Mission called on the armed groups and affiliated movements to put the interests of civilians above any other consideration. It also reiterated its readiness to find a solution to the crisis, related to the issue of seasonal migration, in collaboration with the Central African Republic (CAR) Government and the actors involved.
The Mission has reaffirmed its determination to provide stability and security in the country and protect the freedom of movement of the communities. In the wake of the violence, the security apparatus has been strengthened in the region and peacekeepers have been placed between the belligerents.
The Mission also noted that it is ready to provide all necessary support to conduct investigations to identify the instigators of the unrest who must be held accountable for their acts and be brought to justice.
More than three years of civil war and sectarian violence have displaced thousands of people in the CAR amid continuing clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian. The UN recently reported an upsurge in violence, in particular last September and October, committed by armed elements.
(UN Press Release)
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Iran instituted proceedings yesterday against the United States at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) pursuant to a 1955 bilateral Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between the two States. Iran alleges that the United States has violated this treaty by wrongfully designating Iran as a State sponsor of terrorism, which has resulted in Iranian assets and entities being subjected to multiple enforcement actions in U.S. courts. Iran takes the position that the United States' actions fail to recognize the separate juridical status of certain Iranian entities, results in discriminatory treatment, and fails to accord Iran and Iranian entities the immunity to which they are entitled under the treaty and customary international law. Iran requests that the Court order the United States to (1) take no steps which are inconsistent with the treaty, (2) respect Iran's immunity; (3) respect the juridical status of Iranian companies; and (4) pay reparations to Iran.
For more information, see this ICJ press release.