#UN; #UNHCR; #HumanRights; #Violence; #Protest
UN/UNHCR/Canadian-Media: In response to the killing of at least 18 protesters demonstrating against Myanmar’s military coup, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) on Sunday strongly condemned the “escalating violence” and called for an immediate end to the use of force.
Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the UN, Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun ended his General Assembly address on Friday denouncing the 1 February coup, with a three-fingered salute used by protesters. Image credit: UN Web TV
More than 30 demonstrators have been wounded as police and military forces used live rounds together with less-than-lethal force against crowds nationwide protesting the month-long takeover, according to OHCHR, citing “credible information”.
The military has claimed, without evidence, that the ruling party of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – fraudulently won parliamentary elections. Arrested on 1 February, she and other leaders have remained in detention and according to news reports she is due in court on Monday.
On Friday, the UN Ambassador to Myanmar denounced the coup in a General Assembly meeting in New York, calling on the international community to take the “strongest possible measures” against the military junta to restore civilian rule. The top diplomat was reportedly fired from his post on Saturday.
Right to peaceful protest
“The people of Myanmar have the right to assemble peacefully and demand the restoration of democracy”, said OHCHR spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, in a statement issued on Sunday.
“These fundamental rights must be respected by the military and police, not met with violent and bloody repression.”
The people of Myanmar have the right to assemble peacefully and demand the restoration of democracy. These fundamental rights must be respected by the military and police, not met with violent and bloody repression.
According to OHCHR, police and military confronted peaceful demonstrators using disproportionate force with deaths reported in the largest city Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myiek, Bago and Pokokku. “Tear gas was also reportedly used in various locations as well as flash-bang and stun grenades”, said Ms. Shamdasani.
“Use of lethal force against non-violent demonstrators is never justifiable under international human rights norms”, she said. “Since the beginning of the coup d’état…the police and security forces have targeted an ever-increasing number of opposition voices and demonstrators by arresting political officials, activists, civil society members, journalists and medical professionals.
“Today alone, police have detained at least 85 medical professionals and students, as well as seven journalists, who were present at the demonstrations. Over 1,000 individuals have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in the last month - some of whom remain unaccounted for – mostly without any form of due process, simply for exercising their human rights to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly.”
The Spokesperson reiterated OHCHR’s call for the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained by the military authorities, “including members of the democratically elected government.
“The international community must stand in solidarity with the protestors and all those seeking a return to democracy in Myanmar”, Ms. Shamdasani concluded.
#NorthwestSyria, #Displacement; #Pandemic
Northwest Syria/Canadian-Media: Bana, 12, was able to escape her hometown, the city of Aleppo, before the Syrian conflict engulfed her neighborhood. It was the first of two times she and her family would have to flee violence before settling down here, in Al Bab, northwest Syria. And then the pandemic struck.
“Like all girls in Syria, I live a difficult childhood,” she told facilitators at the women’s and girls’ safe space where she receives support and services.
She is a dedicated student, but since the outbreak of COVID-19, her school has often been closed. “When I can attend school, I behave politely and work hard,” she described.
Despite all the difficulties she has faced, Bana has held tight to her ambitions: “I want to be a doctor and help sick people.”
And, in fact, a future in science is a real possibility for her. “I started to attend a robot building course,” she said. “The sessions were amazing.”
Girls work together on a robot at the safe space. Images courtesy of Ihsan Relief and Development
Building a better, more resilient future
Nearly a decade of conflict has left the humanitarian situation in northwest Syria highly volatile.
Of the 4.2 million people living in the area, more than half are living in displacement, and 3.5 million require humanitarian assistance. A staggering 1.6 million people are living in internal displacement camps or settlements; 80 per cent are women and children.
The pandemic has only worsened conditions, deepening poverty, burdening health services and limiting aid delivery.
And the vulnerabilities of girls have greatly escalated: “Girls in northwest Syria continue to bear the brunt of the crisis in Syria, and are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence,” said Reem Khamis, who coordinates UNFPA’s response to gender-based violence in northwest Syria through the cross-border office in Turkey.
“These forms of violence typically follow a girl throughout her life cycle, beginning in pre- or early adolescence with harassment, restriction on movement, and family violence, and potentially worsening to include child marriage, sexual exploitation, sexual violence, early pregnancy and domestic violence.”
UNFPA is working with partners to help girls demand better.
A future of their own design
Bana, for instance, learned from a friend about a local women’s and girls’ safe space, supported by UNFPA and operated by local partner Ihsan Relief and Development.
The safe space provides a range of services, including counselling and specialized support for survivors of gender-based violence, referrals to sexual and reproductive health care, as well as recreational activities to support stress relief and skill building. (The space also provides COVID-19 prevention information and adheres to strict infection control protocols.)
Unlike many vocational programmes for women and girls – which tend to focus on traditionally feminine jobs such as cooking, sewing or hairdressing – the Ihsan-run safe space also offers robotics classes.
These captured Bana’s interest and sparked a new passion.
“My new friend and I were so impressed and excited when we were able to make the robot walk!”
Some 659 girls, aged 10 to 16, have so far participated in the robotics courses offered at several of the 18 UNFPA-supported safe spaces in northwest Syria. Not only do the classes strengthen the girls’ mechanical abilities, they also promote problem-solving skills, creativity, critical thinking, self-confidence and teamwork.
“It helps us to use our intellectual skills,” Bana said.
Globally, women comprise only 33 per cent of science and technology researchers, and Syria is no exception. But this robotics class – which receives support from Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom – is giving vulnerable girls a chance to shatter that glass ceiling.
Still, the girls of northwest Syria need more than just classes and skills. They must also be empowered to meaningfully participate in Syria’s path to peace.
#UN; #HumanRights; #Myanmar
On the opening day of a new UN Human Rights Council session on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his “full support to the people of Myanmar”, three weeks after the military takeover that has brought thousands out onto the streets in protest.
A general view of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in session. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
“Coups have no place in our modern world”, Mr. Guterres said in a pre-recorded video address at the Council’s 46th regular session, his comments coming after the forum held a special session on 12 February, in which it adopted a resolution expressing deep concern at the junta’s move.
“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately”, the UN chief continued. “Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights and the will of the people expressed in recent elections. I welcome the resolution of the Human Rights Council, pledge to implement your request, and express my full support to the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law.”
14-year old victim
Mr. Guterres’s comments followed his censure at the weekend of the use of “deadly force” in Myanmar, in which a protester - reportedly 14 years old – was killed in Mandalay, along with one other.
Also addressing the Council at the start of its month-long session, which is being held almost entirely remotely to prevent the spread of COVID-19, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, focused on the massive and negative impact of the pandemic.
“I think we all realise that the use of force will not end this pandemic. Sending critics to jail will not end this pandemic. Illegitimate restrictions on public freedoms, the overreach of emergency powers and unnecessary or excessive use of force are not just unhelpful and unprincipled. They deter public participation in decision-making, which is the foundation of sound policy-making.”
Help for the most vulnerable
In another video message, President of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, underscored the need to focus on people’s basic needs – including new coronavirus vaccines - as the best way to recover from the pandemic.
“It is essential that all responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are centred around human rights, and promote the protection of our citizens, including the most vulnerable who need our care and consideration the most”, he said. “This includes ensuring the equal and fair distribution of vaccines for all. It is critical that civil society, the private sector, and all stakeholders are facilitated to participate and provide feedback throughout the planning and assessment of responses.”
Echoing the call for equitable vaccine access in a wide-ranging address that included a broadside against right-wing extremists becoming a “transnational threat” and the manipulation of personal digital data by Governments to control citizens’ behaviour, the Secretary-General described the fact that only 10 countries had administered “more than 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines” as “the latest moral outrage”.
Vaccine equity “affirms human rights”, he said, but “vaccine nationalism denies it. Vaccines must be a global public good, accessible and affordable for all.”
Taking up that theme, Ms. Bachelet insisted that the new coronavirus crisis had illustrated the “deadly realities of discrimination”.
Deep inequalities and chronic under-funding for essential services were to blame, she added, with policymakers largely responsible for ignoring these basic needs.
Pandemic rolls on
“Today, the medical impact of the pandemic is far from over – and its effects on economies, freedoms, societies, and people have only just begun”, she said. “The global rise in extreme poverty, accelerating inequalities; setbacks to women's rights and equality; to education and opportunities for children and young people; and to the Sustainable Development Agenda are shocks that could shake the foundations of societies.”
Despite the scale of the challenges posed in this second year of the pandemic, the High Commissioner struck a positive note, insisting that “we have the possibility of rebuilding better, more inclusive systems, which address root causes and prepare us to meet the challenges we will certainly face”.
Among the many major problems facing people everywhere, the UN Secretary-General highlighted the disproportionate gender impact of COVID-19.