#UN; #UNHumanRights; #ClimateChange; #HumanitarianAid; #OCHA; #OHCHR; #Stigma
Geneva/UN, Jul 13 (Canadian-Media): The collective impact of climate change, COVID-19 and conflict mean that well over 200 million people will likely need humanitarian assistance by 2022, the UN’s deputy rights chief said on Monday.
On 23 April 2020, a child washes dishes in the Maarat Misrin camp north of Idlib, Syrian Arab Republic. Image credit: © UNICEF/Omar Albam
Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN Human Rights Council that the situation is especially worrying for women and girls.
They face additional hardships from the pandemic – including sexual abuse - Ms. Al-Nashif warned, particularly those displaced by war.
“Experience demonstrates that insecurity and displacement fuel increases in sexual and gender-based violence, as well as other crimes and human rights violations such as child, early and forced marriages, or denial of access to sexual and reproductive health services.”
According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 212 million people may need humanitarian assistance by 2022.
This year, it’s believed that nearly 168 million people are in need of such protection, representing around one in 45 people in the world, the highest figure in decades.
At a discussion on how to improve accountability for women and girls in emergencies, the deputy rights chief urged Member States at the Geneva forum to consider adopting a new approach.
Swift and thorough justice
In addition to the current practice of ensuring criminal prosecution for abusers, she called for specific laws to be enacted that would prevent or eradicate a “continuum of human rights violations”, by addressing the root causes of the lack of accountability for women and girls.
This was the only way to restore their full equality and rights in dignity, she said.
Highlighting recent human rights Council investigations into Myanmar, Venezuela and South Sudan, Ms. Al-Nashif noted that all countries shared systemic discrimination against women and girls that enabled violations to persist.
Failings from Myanmar to Venezuela
Many Rohingya women and girls don't attend classes because they are mixed gender. But here in the refugee camps, to get basic services they need to have education
In Myanmar, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reported on wide-ranging gender inequality and the denial of freedom of movement faced by ethnic Rohingya women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence, the UN official said.
It also found the denial of access to education, basic health care and other economic and social rights.
Turning to Venezuela, the deputy rights chief pointed to a 2019 UN human rights office (OHCHR) report that documented limited access to sexual and reproductive health services, “with zero contraceptives available in several cities, alongside severe restrictions on abortion”.
The resulting high rates of teenage pregnancies “have been a major factor driving many girls to leave school”, Ms. Al-Nashif added, while preventable maternal mortality is also increasing, she said, with an estimated one in five maternal deaths linked to unsafe abortions.
South Sudanese sorrowIn South Sudan, where sexual violence has been a widespread and pervasive feature of the conflict since 2013, an investigation into health care for victims of such abuse indicated that there was only one health facility per 10,000 people, and many did not have enough qualified personnel to treat survivors.
“As a result, victims may only seek assistance when they develop serious medical conditions and, of course, stigmatization forces many to continue to suffer in silence,” the UN official added.
#UN; #Covid19Lockdown; #LGBTQI; #Discrimination; #Stigmatization; #UNFPA; #UNAIDS; #Covid19
Geneva/UN, Jul 13 (Canadian-Media): In Myanmar, the COVID-19 lockdown has laid bare the stigmatization, discrimination and harassment faced by many LGBTQI people, particularly in rural areas. The United Nations is working to support those people.
Staff check customers’ temperatures at a shopping mall entrance in Yangon, Myanmar. Image credit: Man Aihua
When the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Myanmar in late March, quarantine centres were set up in sites around the country. People arriving in a town—such as migrant workers returning home—had to quarantine at their local centre for 21 days.
One of the first people to work as a volunteer at the quarantine centre in the town of Pyay was a man named Min Min. Like other centres around the country, this one was in a school that was repurposed for the pandemic.
The roughly 20 volunteers were divided into two groups. The “outer circle”, according to Min Min, dealt with external affairs, such as coordinating donations, going shopping for food, and registering new arrivals. “Inner circle” volunteers distributed food among people in the centre, took out the trash, did the cleaning.
Strict gender roles
“The challenges we faced as volunteers were like in any other centre,” says Min Min, who was an “inner circle” volunteer. "There were shortages of personal protective equipment. N-95 face masks were in short supply. Gloves had to be reused.”
Min Min was concerned that he might face another challenge: the disdain and rejection of inhabitants of the center. Myanmar is bound by strict gender roles, and Min Min is transgender.
But, he says, “I was fortunate that everyone knew me in town, and they accepted me for what I am and accepted the support I gave. I mingled freely with the occupants at the centre and even hung my sarong with the laundry of other men.”
In Myanmar society, families often separate their laundry not by colour but by the sex of the wearer. This is because women’s undergarments are considered to cause a man to lose his masculine “aura” or power. For Min Min’s sarong to be left undisturbed among those of other men was an unusual show of acceptance.
In conservative rural Myanmar, Min Min managed what other LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) people could only dream of: he stood firm regarding his identity. However, he says, several gay men volunteers were harassed by people who were uncomfortable with their ‘effeminate’ behaviour.
Rejection and stress“When the pandemic reached Myanmar, the LGBTQI community did their bit by going out on the street, handing out masks, sanitizing gel, and educational pamphlets,” said Htike Htike of Asia Foundation, who is also an LGBTQI-rights activist. This was an educational role that some had taken on before, doing public education about HIV or other issues. “They wanted to show that they are one with the people.”
The stay-at-home order was especially difficult for many in the LGBTQI community. Some live with their families, or had left but now had nowhere else to go but back home. Their acceptance at home was largely due to their steady income, but because the lockdown meant a loss of jobs and income, they were again met with rejection and stress.
Many other LGBTQI people had been turned out by their families, and some found acceptance and jobs in such industries as beauty and lifestyle. They created homes with their friends or partners. But here, too, there was peril. “LGBTQI people living with their partners started facing increased domestic violence,” says Aung Myo Min, the Executive Director of NGO Equality Myanmar. “Desperate for income, some sought to become sex workers, breaking the curfew and sneaking out at night, only to fall prey to further violence or to be harassed by police.”
The legal status of the community is grim. “There is nothing in the law that protects LGBTQI people,” says Aung. Section 377 of Myanmar’s law criminalizes homosexual sex. There is no gender-neutral definition of rape in the law. When cases of violence against the community are reported to the police, they are ignored. Transgender women are not recognized as women. Transgender men face discrimination as well, but they have some legal protections, as they are considered women.
For example, a recent statement by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission spoke of protecting women—and only women—against cyber bullying. For trans people to take advantage of such protections, however, means denying their gender identity. Some trans people give themselves hormone treatment, but it is unregulated; the closest place to get sex reassignment surgeries is in neighbouring Thailand.
But these troubles are not the only thing defining the community.
“Around the world, just as here in Myanmar, LGBTQI people should not be seen as victims, but as drivers of change”, says Nicolas Burniat, Country Representative of UN Women in Myanmar. “They have contributed to the COVID-19 crisis response. Society cannot just accept their contribution when it is convenient and forget them or discriminate against them the rest of the time. It is essential that the rights of LGBTQI people be respected during this crisis and beyond and that their specific needs be addressed in the COVID-19 response efforts.”
The struggle remains
UN Women is working with UNFPA, UNAIDS, and other UN agencies, as well as local organizations in Myanmar, to support the country’s LGBTQI community—especially as COVID-19 upended daily life. With just over 300 reported cases and only a handful of deaths, Myanmar has fared relatively well—thanks largely to the strict quarantine, which over 30,000 people nationwide have undergone. Min Min’s centre and many others have wound down operations. The ongoing struggle remains.
“The UN is there to support the LGBTQI community,” says Burniat. Sometimes the UN’s support is symbolic, such as when it flew the rainbow flag on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Other times the help is practical, as when UN agencies coordinate to protect LGBTQI human rights. A recent UN-sponsored online conference brought together organizations concerned about human rights during the pandemic, and Min Min and other activists spoke.
“COVID-19 does not discriminate by your race, religion, gender, or sexuality,” says Min Min. “I volunteered because I believe it is the human thing to do. I ask only that we be treated the same by society.”
All drone strikes ‘in self-defence’ should go before Security Council, argues independent rights expert
#UN; #AirDroneStrikes; #DronePowerClub; #DroneRules
New York, Jul 10 (Canadian-Media): The growing use of weaponised drones risks destabilising global peace and security and creating a “drone power club” among nations, that face no effective accountability for deploying them as part of their “war on terror”, a senior UN-appointed independent rights expert said on Thursday.
Agnes Callamard. Image credit: UN
At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said that more than 100 countries have military drones and more than a third are thought to possess the largest and deadliest autonomous weapons.
‘No red lines’ in drone warfare?
States who used them on the grounds of self-defence, “defined in a very elastic fashion” against purported terrorists, risked creating a situation where “there will be no red lines really”, she told journalists later.
“As more Government and non-State actors acquire armed drones and use them for targeted killing, there is a clear danger that war will come to be seen as normal rather than the opposite of peace,” Ms. Callamard said. “War is at risk of being normalized as a necessary companion to peace, and not its opposite.”
Appealing for greater regulation of the weapons, and lending her support to calls for a UN-led forum to discuss the deployment of drones specifically, the Special Rapporteur insisted that their growing use increased the danger of a “global conflagration”.
‘Influential States’ rewriting the rules
Such a move was necessary because “a small number of rather influential States” had sought to reinterpret the law of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter, she explained.
She urged UN Security Council to meet in formal session to review and debate all such self-defence claim, before recommending that the High Commissioner for Human Rights should produce an annual report on drone strikes casualties for the Human Rights Council.
There was now the “very real prospect that States may opt to ‘strategically’ eliminate high-ranking military officials outside the context of a ‘known’ war”, she explained, and that they might seek to justify the killing “on the grounds of necessity - not imminence” as the target was classified as a “terrorist who posed a potential, undefined, future threat”.
Iranian general’s chilling death
In particular, she cited the killing by drone strike in Iraq of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on 3 January for which the United States claimed responsibility and which she insisted was a violation of the UN Charter.
“Targeted killings until very recently to drones had been limited to non-state actors,” she told journalists. Until, for the first time in January 2020, a State armed drone targeted a high-level official of a foreign State and did so on the territory of a third State.”
Drone strikes were the preferred option for “decision makers and military alike for their relative efficiency, effectiveness, adaptability, acceptability, deniability, and political gain”, the rights expert maintained.
But she noted that their benefits were as “illusory” as the “myth of a surgical strike”.
Because of the current absence of effective oversight, it was “practically impossible to know whether a person(s) killed in a drone strike was, in fact, a lawful target”, Ms. Callamard said, adding that harm to civilian populations, including deaths, injuries and trauma, was likely largely under-reported.
Khashoggi trial welcomed
Asked about the latest developments in the ongoing trial in Turkey into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was assassinated and later dismembered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in 2018, the independent expert described the proceedings as “an important step”.
His killing had been “violent and extreme”, she said, adding that she hoped the trial might bring more elements to the story and increase the chances of accountability via an international probe.
#UN; WarCrimes; #Syria; #Covid19Pandemic
Geneva, Jul 9 (Canadian-Media): Hospitals, schools and homes have all been targeted during Syria’s brutal and long-running conflict, said UN-appointed investigators, who on Tuesday condemned likely fresh war crimes committed by all parties.
A mother caught up in Syria's long-running conflict holds her child. Image credit: WHO/Syria
In its latest report, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria highlighted the military campaign launched late last year in Idlib Governorate by pro-Government forces, to retake the last remaining areas under armed groups’ control.
The Commissioners also maintained that UN-designated terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) indiscriminately shelled densely populated civilian areas, “spreading terror” in Government-held areas.
“It is completely abhorrent that, after more than nine years, civilians continue to be indiscriminately attacked, or even targeted, while going about their daily lives”, said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro.
Bombarded while fleeing
“Children were shelled at school, parents were shelled at the market, patients were shelled at the hospital…entire families were bombarded even while fleeing”, he continued. “What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians.”
Alongside the Russian air force, Syrian Government troops “carried out air and ground attacks which decimated civilian infrastructure, depopulated towns and villages”, killing hundreds of women, men and children, said the commissioners, who report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
International law flouted
Numerous locations protected by international law in the country’s northwest were destroyed in aerial and ground attacks, some involving cluster munitions, according to their report.
It details how from November 2019 to June this year, 52 attacks by all parties included 17 on hospitals and medical facilities; 14 on schools, 12 on homes and nine on markets.
If proven in court, such acts would amount to the war crimes of launching indiscriminate attacks, and deliberate attacks on protected objects, the investigators maintained.
Beginning in the second half of December and mid-February, “widespread and indiscriminate” bombardment carried out by pro-government forces on Ma’arrat al-Nu’man and Ariha in Idlib governorate, as well as Atarib and Darat Azza in western Aleppo, led to mass displacement, according to the report.
Civilians had no choice but to flee, the Commissioners said, adding that this may amount to the crimes against humanity of forcible transfer, murder and other inhumane acts.
Detained, tortured, executed
When people fled, HTS terrorists pillaged their homes, the investigators continued, and “as battles waged, they detained, tortured, and executed civilians expressing dissenting opinions, including journalists”.
Female media workers were doubly victimized, as the terrorist group continued to discriminate against women and girls, including by denying their freedom of movement.
“Women, men and children that we interviewed faced the ghastly choice of being bombarded or fleeing deeper into HTS-controlled areas where there are rampant abuses of human rights and extremely limited humanitarian assistance”, said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “The acts by HTS members amount to war crimes.”
In an appeal for the nearly one million highly vulnerable civilians displaced by the conflict in Idlib governorate who now face added threat of COVID-19, Commissioner Hanny Megally urged all parties to the conflict to cease attacks on civilians and civilian objects.
“Now more than ever, civilians need sustained and unfettered access to humanitarian assistance which must neither be politicised by Member States nor instrumentalised by parties to the conflict. Pandemics know no borders, neither should life-saving aid,” Mr. Megally said, while also urging Member States to pursue accountability for crimes outlined in the report.
The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 14 July to the Human Rights Council during its current 44th session.
#BritishColumbia; #BCHousingFund; #BridgeHousing; #Homeless; #Covid19Pandemic
British Columbia, Jul 07 (Canadian-Media): The Province of British Columbia (BC), through BC Housing, and supported by BC housing fund has bought the former Rose Bowl Restaurant in Campbell River for $985,000 and plans to convert it into bridge housing for locals experiencing homelessness, media reports said.
Homelessness. Image credit: Unsplash
“We know our community is safer and healthier when everyone has a place to call home, with supports and services to help them succeed, and we are working closely with the city to build new permanent supportive housing as fast as possible,” said Claire Trevena, MLA for North Island in a news release.
Besides this project, the Province is working in partnership to deliver close to 120 new affordable homes for people in Campbell River
Renovations to the building would create space for 20 beds. The residents would be provided with a bed, showers and meals, as well as many of the support services found in permanent supportive housing.
Day-to-day management of the facility would be overseen by the Vancouver Island Mental Health Society on site 24/7 and will provide outreach services to guests, as well as connection and referral to health services.
Expected to open in August 2020 the project will be operational until a new permanent supportive housing project is in place.
Potential supportive housing locations are being explored in BC Housing in collaboration with City of Campbell River and will provide more information to the public once a plan for permanent supportive housing has been developed.
“We are pleased to partner with the Province and BC Housing to operate this bridge housing for the homeless in Campbell River,” said Taryn O’Flanagan, CEO, Vancouver Island Mental Health Society in a news release. “Having a place to stay is an important step in maintaining the well-being of vulnerable people in this community.”
Delivering affordable housing is a shared priority between government and the BC Green Party caucus and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.
#UN; #HumanRights; #OHCHr; #SAR
Geneva, Jul 3 (Canadian-Media): The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has expressed alarm at the arrest of demonstrators in Hong Kong, following China’s adoption of a national security law for the Special Administrative Region (SAR).
The skyline of Hong Kong harbour. Image credit: Unsplash/Man Chung
pokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva on Friday that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was continuing to analyze the new law after it came into force on Wednesday, regarding its compliance with international human rights obligations:
“I think several hundred people have been arrested since protests began on Wednesday, I think the last I heard, we understood 10 of those people have been charged under the new law, but I don’t have more details at this point on the nature of the charges at this point and so on.”
He added that colleagues are “very much actively counting, trying to get those kinds of details and we’ll see what kind of concerns we have about individual cases.”
Mr. Colville pointed to “vague and overly broad” definitions of some offences in the new law that had been adopted by China's National People's Congress.
“This may lead to discriminatory or arbitrary interpretation and enforcement of the law, which could undermine human rights protection,” he explained.
Reiterating concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression highlighted by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, the OHCHR official insisted that such laws “should never be used to criminalize conduct and expression that is protected under international human rights law”.
Principle of legality
Offences created under the new national security legislation should comply with the principle of legality, which is enshrined in article 15.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Mr. Colville added.
The development follows a joint declaration by dozens of UN-appointed independent rights experts alleging the repression of “fundamental freedoms” of Hong Kong protesters.
Citing the alleged use of chemical agents against demonstrators, the experts also alleged sexual harassment and assault of women protesters in police stations; together with the alleged harassment of health care workers.
The law had been drafted without meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong, they continued, adding that it risked undermining the right to a fair trial and could prompt a “sharp rise in arbitrary detention”.
The independent experts are neither UN staff nor paid by the Organization.
One country, two systems
The “one country, two systems” governance framework that was introduced at the end of British rule also risked being undermined, the experts insisted, enabling the Chinese Government to establish “agencies” in Hong Kong “when needed”.
Provisions governing the offence of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” contained in article 29 of the new law were also concerning, the OHCHR spokesperson added.
“This may lead to a restriction of civic space and of the possibility for civil society actors to exercise their right to participate in public affairs,” he said.
“These provisions could also lead to criminalizing human rights defenders and activists for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
Geneva, Jun 28 (Canadian-Media): The repression of “fundamental freedoms” by the Chinese Government prompted nearly 50 UN independent experts on Friday to express their continuing alarm, urging the country to “abide by its international legal obligations”, UN reports said.
The skyline of Hong Kong harbour. Image credit: Unsplash/Man Chung
After having “repeatedly communicated” their concerns, they highlighted the repression of protests and democracy advocacy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR); impunity for excessive use of force by police; the alleged use of chemical agents against protesters; the alleged sexual harassment and assault of women protesters in police stations; together with the alleged harassment of health care workers.
The experts also raised their “grave concerns” on issues ranging from the collective repression of specific communities – “especially religious and ethnic minorities, in Xinjiang and Tibet” – to the detention of lawyers and prosecution - in addition to disappearances - of human rights defenders across the country.
Moreover, they expressed alarm over allegations of forced labour in both formal and informal sectors of the economy, as well as arbitrary interferences with the right to privacy, cybersecurity laws that authorise censorship; and anti-terrorism and sedition laws, applicable in Hong Kong.
The independent experts also voiced their concern for journalists, medical workers and those speaking out about COVID-19 online inside China, who have allegedly faced retaliation from the authorities, including being charged with “spreading misinformation” or “disrupting public order.”
‘Violation’ of legal obligations
Most recently, say the experts, and without meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong, China has drafted a national security law that would undermine the right to a fair trial, and open the door to a “sharp rise in arbitrary detention”, undermining the “one country, two systems” governance framework that was introduced at the end of British rule; enabling the Chinese Government to establish “agencies” in Hong Kong “when needed.”
If adopted, the law would “violate China’s international legal obligations and impose severe restrictions on civil and political rights in the autonomous region”, according to the independent experts.
“The draft law would deprive the people of Hong Kong…the autonomy and fundamental rights guaranteed them under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration”, they maintained.
The experts urged China to "withdraw the draft national security law for Hong Kong”.
Standing up, speaking out
After actions taken by the Government towards Hong Kong, Xinjiang minorities, the Tibet Autonomous Region, and rights defenders across the country, the independent experts are calling for “renewed attention on the human rights situation in the country”.
They urged China to invite civil and political rights monitors to conduct independent missions “in an environment of confidentiality, respect for human rights defenders, and full avoidance of reprisals” and encouraged the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to urgently monitor Chinese human rights practices.
Click here for the full list of names of the UN experts.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based HRC to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honourary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
#UN; #TortureVictims; #HumanRights
Geneva, Jun 26 (Canadian-Media): Torture is an “egregious abuse of human rights”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday, the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, UN reports said.
After surviving military enslavement in Guatemala, Maria Ba Caal received help through an emergency grant from the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
Image credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Although international law “unequivocally prohibits torture in all instances”, the UN chief pointed out that it nevertheless continues in many countries, “even those where it is criminalized”.
Torture seeks to annihilate a victim’s personality and denies a human being of his or her inherent dignity.
Concerns about protecting national security and borders are increasingly used to allow torture and other forms of cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment.
And its pervasive consequences often go beyond the isolated act on an individual to be transmitted through generations, leading to cycles of violence.
From the outset, the UN has condemned it as one of the vilest acts perpetrated by human beings on their fellow human beings.
“On this International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, human rights defenders and survivors of torture around the world take the opportunity to speak out against this abhorrent denial of human dignity and they act to remember and support its victims”, Mr. Guterres said in his message.
No legal basis
Torture is absolutely banned under all relevant legal instruments and cannot be justified under any circumstances.
Its prohibition forms part of customary international law, which means that it is binding on every member of the international community, regardless of whether a State has ratified international treaties that expressly prohibit the practice or not, according to the UN.
Moreover, the systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity.
“Torture diminishes everyone and everything that it touches, including torturers and the systems and States where it occurs”, maintained the top UN official. “Torturers must never be allowed to get away with their crimes, and systems that enable torture should be dismantled or transformed”.
To transition from horror to healing, victims of torture require prompt and specialized programmes.
“Victims and survivors and their families must be empowered and assisted to seek justice for their ordeal”, Mr. Guterres asserted.
The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, channels funding to assist victims of torture and their families by awarding hundreds of grants to civil society organizations worldwide for medical, psychological, legal, social and other assistance.
It contributes to the rehabilitation, reparation, empowerment and access to remedies for nearly 50,000 torture survivors each year.
“To that end, I commend the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and call for its replenishment”, added the UN chief.
The dedicated day offers an opportunity for everyone, everywhere, to unite in support of the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have been tortured and those who are still being abused today.
“On this International Day, let us honour the victims of torture and commit to work to achieve a world where such abuse cannot happen”, the Secretary-General concluded.
Geneva, Jun 19 (Canadian-Media): Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) is “a brutal crime” that is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN chief underscored on Friday, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, UN reports said.
Mainly perpetrated against women and girls, CRSV also affects men and boys.
“It reverberates throughout communities and societies, perpetuating cycles of violence and threatening international peace and security”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the day.
And the already dramatically under-reported crime has been buried further by the coronavirus during national lockdowns, limiting the ability of survivors to report incidents, further intensifying existing structural, institutional and socio-cultural barriers to reporting the crimes.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages through regions of the world suffering through armed struggle, Mr. Guterres commended “frontline staff who are finding ways to support those affected, despite lockdowns and quarantines”.
“On this International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we stand in solidarity with survivors”, he continued, vowing to “listen to them and act on their experiences and decisions”.
The UN chief concluded with the words: “We must prevent and end these crimes; place survivors at the centre of our response; hold perpetrators accountable; and expand support for all those affected”.
Combatting CRSV crimes
Combatting impunity for sexual violence is central in deterring and preventing CRSV crimes. It is also an essential component in redress for victims.
Among many other aspects, COVID-19 is significantly and detrimentally impacting the rule of law, including by limiting the availability and capacity of law enforcement and judicial authorities to respond to CRSV.
Moreover, the pandemic hinders the processing of reports on incidents of sexual violence and risks deprioritizing services needed by survivors, including in shelters, health care services, police and justice sector services.
Closed shelters, cancelled counselling services and diverted resources are also severely impacting a range of medical, psychosocial and legal services required to support CRSV survivors.
And fear of the virus spreading adds to barrier in accessing services.
Survivors of sexual violence may be less willing to seek help because of perceived risks of contracting COVID-19, fearing infection and potentially transmitting the virus to their families.
Detail from a work of art by Noorulhuda Nadheer.Lockdown violence Stay-at-home restrictions have also contributed to an increase in domestic and gender-based violence.
Women and girls already in abusive situations are more exposed to increased control and abuse, with little or no recourse to seek support.
Marking the occasion
On this sixth official observance of the International Day, a virtual event was co-hosted on Friday by the UN Offices on Sexual Violence in Conflict and for Children and Armed Conflict, along with Argentina’s Mission to the UN.
Among other things, it outlined the toll of the coronavirus on the lives of survivors, delivery of services and the UN’s work as a whole.
The Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, told the meeting that “the current crisis is a test of our resolve”.
“We must not allow it to reverse the gains we have made in recent decades to combat gender-based discrimination as a root cause of gender-based violence in times of war and peace”, she said.
Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, noted that while COVID-19 is impacting her office’s monitoring, reporting and verification capacity, teams on the ground are “evaluating the situation and developing mitigation measures”.
“It is critical that we do not forget children affected by armed conflict when responding to the pandemic”, underscored the UN envoy, maintaining that the “protection, release and reintegration” of children “remains more important than ever”.
‘I am my brother’s keeper’, Philonise Floyd tells UN rights body, in impassioned plea for racial justice
Geneva, Jun 17 (Canadian-Media): The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday heard powerful testimony from the brother of George Floyd, whose death, captured on video, while a police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes in Minneapolis, has sparked worldwide protest, UN reports said.
Philonise Floyd, the brother of the George Floyd, addresses the Human Rights Council remotely. Image credit: UN Geneva
In a pre-recorded appeal to the Council to set up an international probe to investigate killings of Black people in America, and violence against demonstrators, Philonise Floyd urged the United Nations to act.
Echoing that message, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said: “Today, people are saying, loudly and movingly, ‘Enough.’ The United Nations has a duty to respond to the anguish that has been felt by so many for so long.
“This cause is at the heart of our Organization’s identity. Equal rights are enshrined in our founding Charter. Just as we fought apartheid years ago, so must we fight the hatred, oppression and humiliation today.”
‘I am asking you to help us. Black people in America
’Mr. Floyd delivered his message in the Council’s first Urgent Debate on racism, alleged police brutality and violence against protesters, who have marched by the million, after being sickened by the manner of George Floyd’s death, called by the African Group of nations.
“You watched my brother die. That could have been me,” he said in an impassioned recording. “I am my brother’s keeper. You in the United Nations are your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in America, and you have the power to help us get justice for my brother George Floyd. I am asking you to help him. I am asking you to help me. I am asking you to help us. Black people in America.”
Addressing the Council at the start of the debate, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, struck a similarly urgent tone. “Time is of the essence. Patience has run out,” she said. “Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. The lives of people of colour matter. All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights and that is what this Council, like my Office, stands for.”
Reminding the Council’s delegates of the circumstances surrounding his 46-year-old brother’s death on 25 May in Minneapolis, Mr. Floyd noted that even after he was “unconscious, stopped moving and stopped breathing, the officer kept his knee on my brother’s neck for another four minutes as many witnesses kept begging the officer to take his knee off of my brother’s neck and save his life.
‘No mercy, no humanity’
“The officers showed no mercy, no humanity and tortured my brother to death in the middle of the street in Minneapolis with a crowd of witnesses watching and begging them to stop, showing us black people the same lesson yet again: black lives do not matter in the United States of America.”
Ms. Bachelet called for the reform of specific institutions and law enforcement agencies across the world, and measures to address the “pervasive racism that corrodes institutions of government, entrenches inequality and underlies so many violations of human rights”.
‘Lethal harm’ results ‘too often’
“Gratuitous brutality has come to symbolise the systemic racism that harms millions of people of African descent”, she said, adding that it causes “pervasive, daily, life-long, generational and too often lethal harm”.
The urgent debate, only the fifth to take place since the Council began its work in 2006, was initiated by the Council’s African Group, after a call from more than 600 rights groups to investigate alleged police violence after Mr Floyd’s death.
“The African Group is profoundly worried by recurring acts of racial murder and police brutality and by recurring violations of human rights against people of African heritage in some parts of the world,” said African Group representative, Ambassador Léopold Ismael Samba (Central African Republic). “The African Group condemns firmly the senseless and unjustified killing of George Floyd.”
In a call for reform and notably a renewed commitment to the implementation of key pledges taken to combat racism in in 2002 at the Durban World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Ambassador Samba added that it was “unacceptable” to still have to be “talking about and fighting for equality for some people 72 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which proclaims that all people are born free and in dignity”.
In a session marked by expressions of sympathy for the family of George Floyd, speakers also addressed the issue of violence against protesters – a matter also raised by Philonise Floyd.
Protestors, journalists ‘beaten and blinded’
“When people dared to raise their voice and protest for my brother, they were tear-gassed, run over with police vehicles, several people lost eyes and suffered brain damage from rubber bullets, and peaceful protestors were shot and killed by police,” he said.
“Journalists were beaten and blinded when they tried to show the world the brutality happening at the protests. When people raise their voices to protest the treatment of black people in America they are silenced; they are shot and killed.”
Highlighting how the many protests around the world had been “the culmination of many generations of pain and long struggles for equality,” Ms. Bachelet noted that “too little has changed over too many years. We owe it to those who have gone before, as well as those to come, to seize this moment, at long last, to demand fundamental change and insist upon it.”
Criminal acts by some among the protests
Nonetheless, the High Commissioner for Human Rights underlined how she had been “disturbed by the criminal acts undertaken by a small number of people amid the many peaceful protests around the world, which have often harmed property of racial and ethnic minorities in acts of fresh victimization. Video evidence has also shown excessive use of force against protestors by police, including during entirely peaceful protests. All these incidents should be investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice.”
Speaking for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Amina Mohammed noted to Council delegates that he shared their “abhorrence of racism” and was committed to fighting it with every tool we have”.
The UN Deputy Secretary-General also pointed out that he had launched a one-year process to address grave staff concerns on the matter, before quoting from a recent letter he sent UN staff, in which he insisted that the “scourge violates the United Nations Charter and debases our core values”.
From personal experience and in likely reference to her joint Nigerian and British roots, Mrs Mohammed added: “The poison of racism still rages, and so the fight must still be waged. On a personal level, from my high school days in the United Kingdom through my career across the private sector, civil society and now international public service, I have grown thick skin.
“I have even become numb, to the extent that one has forgotten how to feel the injustice of racial slurs and my human right to live a life of dignity and of respect.”