Archive for the ‘UN’ Category


The UN to send a team of experts to the Yemen
UK government tried to frustrate this

The United Nations has just announced in the last few days, that it is to send a team of ’eminent international and regional experts with knowledge of human rights law and the context Yemen for a period of at least one year’.  (HRC 36)  They will conduct a ‘comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law.’

Readers of this blog and elsewhere will be aware by now of the dire situation in that country.  The latest figures, reported by the BBC, show that over 8,500 have been killed, mostly in air strikes, and around 48,000 injured.  A cholera epidemic has hit the country and over 700,000 are affected by that.  Matters are made worse because hospitals are bombed and there is a blockade hindering or preventing medical supplies getting through.  About 20 million citizens are in need of aid of some kind.

The crisis has come about because of Houthi rebels fighting government forces.  What has made matters worse is the aid the UK and other governments have provided to the Saudis.  In the past these have included cluster munitions – now banned but allegedly still being used – and Paveway bombs to replace them.  RAF personnel are involved in the control room but it is claimed they are not involved with the actual bombing.  The involvement of British military personnel was kept secret and was only known when it was revealed by the Saudis themselves.  Targets have included weddings, funerals, schools, markets and medical facilities.  Only recently, Amnesty reported on residential building hit by a US made bomb killing 16 civilians.  This was due to a ‘technical error’ it was claimed.

The establishment of a team to look into human rights violations is to be welcomed and in a statement, Amnesty International said:

A resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council today, authorising the establishment of group of international experts to investigate abuses by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, is a momentous breakthrough that will pave the way for justice for countless victims of human rights abuses and grave violations of international law, including war crimes.

The resolution was passed in Geneva today by consensus, after intensive negotiations.  It is the result of years of campaigning and lobbying by Yemeni human rights organisations as well as Amnesty and other international human rights and humanitarian organisations.  30 September 2017

Negotiations have been intense reportedly and it was the Canadian and Netherlands governments holding firm which secured a result.  The US, UK and French governments were dragging their feet.  This is because these governments have significant and lucrative weapons sales to the Saudis.  Only a few days ago, success did not look promising with the Daily Mail reporting a stalemate.  The actions by our government, the US and France prevented a proper commission of enquiry.

The Guardian reported on 24 September the UK’s role in seeking to block the enquiry:

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson last week rejected the need for such an inquiry, arguing that the UK was “using a very, very wide variety of information sources about what is happening to acquaint ourselves with the details” about Yemen.

But the revelation that the UK neutered EU attempts to bring about such an investigation is likely to raise questions about its motives.  Since the conflict began, the UK has sold more than £3bn worth of weapons and military equipment to the Saudis and defence contractors hope more deals are in the pipeline.

“Blocking attempts to create an international inquiry is a betrayal of the people of Yemen who have suffered so much during this conflict,” said Polly Truscott of Amnesty International.  “It’s shocking. The UK ought to be standing up for justice and accountability, not acting as a cheerleader for arms companies.”

Human Rights Watch has also spoken out about the role of our arms sales in worsening the conflict.  With Brexit on the horizon, the need to secure such arms sales will only increase and indeed, the Trade Secretary Liam Fox is off to Saudi soon to try and secure more sales of aircraft.

UPDATE: 2 October

A number of stars wrote to the Observer on 1 October calling for a ban on arms sales to Saudi.  Names include: Ian McEwan; Bill Nighy; Phillip Pullman.

 

Sources: Amnesty; BBC; The Daily Mail; Human rights Watch; Middle East Monitor; UN; Observer; Guardian


Maybe you feel shocked at the shameful role our government has played in this war and would like to do something about it.  If you would like to join us you would be very welcome.  Come along to one of our events which are listed at the end of our minutes or keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter or this site (Salisburyai).  It is free to join the local group

 

 

 

 

 

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UN speech by the Commissioner for Human Rights well worth a read

It is perhaps a sign of the times that Theresa May, the UK prime minister, should find herself quoted in the opening paragraph of a speech by the UN Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.  Not in a flattering way but quoting her remarks that human rights should be overturned if the ‘got in the way’ of the fight against terrorism.  These remarks were made during the election campaign which did not go the way intended by Mrs May.  They followed a terrorist attack in London.

Whatever the background, Al Hussein thinks the remarks were ‘highly regrettable’ and are a gift to the many authoritarian

Al Hussein, UN. Pic: Times of Israel

governments around the world.  It seems that any idea that the UK is some kind of a beacon for civilised behaviour in an increasingly troubled world has all but gone.  The desire to promote arms now matters more than the victims of their use for example in Yemen.  Despite the appalling behaviour of the Chinese government, most recently with the death of Liu Xiaobo, our response is the minimum necessary: we are more interested in trade than decent behaviour.

It is disappointing to see the prime minister of the UK being mentioned in this way because whatever her faults, there is no comparison between the behaviour of her government and that say, of Russia, where journalists and opposition politicians are gunned down and which has been described as a mafia state.  The activities of governments in the Gulf also leave a great deal to be desired.  There are many other countries in the world where autocratic regimes mistreat their citizens, use torture routinely, violently put down peaceful protests and deny freedom of expression.

The remarks were perhaps made more in sorrow reflecting the fact that it was the UK government after the war which was one of those who were active in promoting the role of international law and human rights.  Today, Al Hussein notes in his speech, for some politicians see human rights as an ‘irritating check on expediency.’  Some are indifferent to the effects of austerity on their own citizens.

A question he asks are ‘what rights does the prime minister mean?’ a question we asked of our Salisbury MP Mr Glen.  It is seldom if ever clear what it is they want to see done away with.  This might arise because they are responding to tabloid media pressure which maintains an unceasing campaign against the European Court, the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.  A recent example is from the Daily Mail claiming that the Act does help terrorists.  Other newspapers run similar stories presenting a drip, drip of negative material against the act.  Throw in a hatred of anything European and it is small wonder politicians follow the line.  As Al Hussein expresses it:

So why did Prime Minister May said this?  At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop! This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although some members of the government seek to reduce the influence of human rights in our society, not all do and the organisation Bright Blue, which describes itself as an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism, has recently published a report arguing that the Conservatives should make Britain the ‘home of human rights.’  Clearly some fundamental attitudes will have to change if that ambition is to be realised.  This report is also well worth a read.

Unless countries like Britain and the USA are willing to provide moral leadership then a further deterioration in human rights around the world is to be expected.

 

 

UN Security Council: North Korea

Posted: December 15, 2015 in North Korea, torture, UN

North Korea is not forgotten

The UN Security Council has a chance to show that the world has not forgotten about the victims of crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in North Korea, and that those responsible will face justice

said Nicole Bjerler, Deputy Representative at Amnesty International’s UN office in New York.

This meeting should serve as a wake-up call to the North Korean authorities to put an immediate end to the systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations that persist in the country. A starting point would be for them to cooperate with the UN and let independent human rights monitors into the country.

The meeting on Thursday is a significant step forward in the UN Security Council’s commitment to address the horrific human rights situation in North Korea alongside peace and security.

“Peace and security cannot be separated from respect for human rights, accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims and their families. These issues urgently demands the Security Council’s continued attention,” said Nicole Bjerler.

International pressure on North Korea has been building since the publication of the UN Commission of Inquiry report in February 2014.  The damning report documented widespread human rights violations including forced labour, deliberate starvation, executions, torture, rape, infanticide, and up to 120,000 men, women, and children detained incommunicado in North Korea’s political prison camp system – a situation described as “without parallel in the contemporary world”.

Last December, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution which, among other measures, called on the UN Security Council to take appropriate action to ensure accountability, including through consideration of referral of the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court.  The General Assembly is reiterating its call in this year’s resolution, which was adopted by the Third Committee on 19 November and is to be formally adopted in the Plenary next week.

“The UN Security Council must seize the opportunity today to tell perpetrators of crimes against humanity in North Korea that ultimately they will be held accountable,” said Nicole Bjerler.

 


Amnesty publishes a report on arming of IS

Last week we had the debate in Parliament about bombing the Islamic State IS or Da’esh as some call it.  This was occasioned by the outrage in Paris and the massacre of ordinary people in that city.  Parliament voted in favour of bombing and since then we have had recriminations in the Labour party between those who voted for and those against.

It is timely therefore that a report has been published by Amnesty International called Taking Stock: the Arming of the Islamic State.  All politicians should read it.  As we have noted several times on this blog, one cannot but help notice that when pictures are shown of IS fighters, they are well equipped and armed to the teeth.  So where do all these arms come from?  The report explains where and how in great detail.

The major source is Iraq supplemented by materiel taken from the Syrian army.  The Iraq weapons were supplied by the coalition forces but because they were irresponsibly guarded, it was easy for them to be stolen or looted.  As the report puts it, ‘there were decades of irresponsible arms transfers to Iraq principally by Russia, France and China.’

The supply and transfer of weapons was governed by a global treaty adopted by the UN in 2013.  It places international human rights law, humanitarian law and criminal law standards alongside other international benchmarks for assessing the authorisation of exports and other transfers of conventional arms.

The report documents the astonishing amount of weaponry possessed by IS (the range and types are listed at the end).  Although a total of 25 countries have been identified as suppliers – including some from the former Soviet Union – it is the Security Council members P5 who are the main culprits.

The Iraq invasion cast a long shadow over the region.  Arms were poured in and in the chaos, thousands of weapons were lost to the militants.  The Arms Trade Treaty was designed to put a stop to irresponsible activity and it will take a long time to take effect.  We noted in an earlier blog that the UK and the US continues to supply Saudi Arabia which is bombing Yemen creating fertile ground for the next wave of insurrection.

It is much to be regretted that the House of Commons would not be packed or buzzing with excitement if the question of arms supplies was being debated.  Yet unless and until arms supplies are curtailed to regions such as the middle east, organisations like IS will prosper in the chaos.  Bombing the result seems a little pointless.  

 

 

IS arms report


Yes, you read that right.  A Saudi by the name of Faisel Trad, who is the kingdom’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, was elected chair of an independent panel of experts on the UN’s human rights council.

This blog – and many, many others – has highlighted the appallingsaudi flogging human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.  The big increase in the use of the death penalty, often in public, floggings including that of Raif Badawi and most recently, the proposal to crucify a man.  Along with a lack of free speech, and that women are denied basic rights and cannot drive for example, means that the country ranks as among the worst in the world.

UN Watch Director Hillel Neuer said according to the Independent (20 September):

Saudi Arabia has arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious rights and women’s rights and continues to imprison the innocent blogger Raif Badawi.

It’s bad enough that Saudi Arabia is a member of the council, but for the UN to go and name the regime as chair of a key panel only pours salt in the wounds for dissidents languishing ins Saudi prisons.

A UN Watch representative also said “This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief”.  It gives Mr Trad power over the appointments of key UN human rights representatives.


We have been engaged in correspondence with our local MP to persuade the government to do more and we await a reply to our letter to him.  This was sparked by the FCO’s decision to drop the abolition of the death penalty as a specific policy.


Why Eritrea?

In all the discussion about the relative merits of refugees from the various war-torn parts of the world, the Syrians are presently claiming most attention.  We all understand how dreadful their plight is, and so too those fleeing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the Sudan.  But Eritrea?  Eritrea is not actually at war with anyone (well, it’s in a face-off with Ethiopia, but wouldn’t dare to take on its bigger neighbor in a full-scale war), and the regime is in total control of the country.  So why the desperation of people to escape to Europe?  Indeed the British government has changed its view of the country in recent months to say that it is safe for asylum seekers to be returned home. The Home Office said:

its guidance on Eritrea is based on a careful and objective assessment of the situation in Eritrea using evidence taken from a range of sources including media outlets; local, national and international organisations, including human rights organisations; and information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

However they have relied largely on a Danish report, the authors of which have disowned for its misinterpretation, and Eritrean government sources, rather than the reports of human rights groups.

The UK’s position is totally confused, as they are supposedly taking account also of a recent UN report, which would also give a somewhat different picture.  The report, by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, cites a raft of human rights violations – some, it says, which may constitute crimes against humanity – of a ‘scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere’. The report strongly urges continued international protection for Eritrean refugees fleeing human rights violations, and warns against sending them back to danger in a country that punishes anyone who tries to leave without permission

President Aferworki

President Afeworki

Following its independence in 1991, the country has lapsed into a total disregard for the rule of law.  Elections have been regularly postponed – President Isaias Afeworki has never faced the electorate – arbitrary detention is rife; torture is so common that the Commission concluded that it was government policy, and mass surveillance and neighbourhood spying is the norm.  Justice is arbitrary, detention conditions are appalling, and complete disappearance not unusual.  So far, so typical dictatorship but in Eritrea it is egregiously appalling.

The speciality of the state is that, under the pretext of defending the integrity of the State and ensuring national self-sufficiency, much of the population is subjected to open-ended national service, either in the army or through the civil service.  When they turn 18 or even before, all Eritreans are conscripted.  While national service is supposed to last 18 months, in reality conscripts end up serving for an indefinite period, up to 20 years in extreme cases.  Thousands of conscripts are subjected to forced labour that effectively abuses, exploits and enslaves them for years.  Women conscripts are at extreme risk of sexual violence during national service.

Many others – detainees, students, members of the militia – are also subjected to forced labour.  The report says

The use of forced labour is so prevalent in Eritrea that all sectors of the economy rely on it and all Eritreans are likely to be subject to it at one point in their lives.  The commission concludes that forced labour in this context is a practice similar to slavery in its effects and, as such, is prohibited under international human rights law.

The Eritrean Foreign Ministry inevitably claimed the Commission’s report contained ‘wild allegations’ which were ‘totally unfounded and devoid of all merit’ and charged the UNHRC of ‘vile slanders and false accusations’, without addressing any of the issues.  The British government have since modified their stance based on Eritrean assertions that military service will be limited to 18 months to 4 years, which would render it legal, but there is no evidence of this happening.

These widespread abuses have prompted thousands of Eritreans to flee their home country in search of asylum in Europe.  According to the latest estimates produced by Italian authorities, 32,000 Eritreans were rescued in 2014 as they attempted to traverse the Mediterranean – the majority of all migrants rescued by Italy’s comprehensive Mare Nostrum operation.  Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has placed the number of Eritreans under its concern outside the country at more than 357,400.

This is the country we are intending to return refugees to as being “safe”.  The Government needs to think again.