Myanmar: Conflict resolution at ‘total standstill’, military commanders must answer for crimes against humanity
#UnitedNations; #Fact-FindingMission; #warcrimes; #UNOCHA; #HumanRightsCouncil; #ethnicRohingyacivilians
United Nations, May 14 (Canadian-Media/UN): Myanmar’s military commanders must answer charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in a credible court, a United Nations (UN) Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM) said on Tuesday, urging the international community to cut off all financial and other support to them, UN reports said.
Image Credit: UNOCHA/Vincent Tremeau: The two children of Nomtaz Begum, 30, a refugee from Myanmar who is now in Bangladesh, were killed in front of her. (March 2018)
Myanmar has not done enough to resolve the nation’s internal-conflicts or protect human rights, including those of over a million ethnic Rohingya civilians who have been forced into exile, according to FFM Chairperson Marzuki Darusman.
“There has been no movement toward a resolution of the crisis”, Mr. Darusman said after a 10-day visit to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. “The situation is at a total standstill.”
The FFM documented in its 444-page report to the Human Rights Council in September how Myanmar’s military brutally and systemically violated the human rights of ethnic minorities throughout the country.
It spotlighted the military’s so-called “clearance operations” in 2017, when security forces killed thousands of Rohingya civilians, raped and sexually abused women and girls and burned villages in Rakhine State in an explosion of violence that caused more than 700,000 people to flee across the border into Bangladesh, in just two months.
Moreover, Myanmar authorities have levelled abandoned Rohingya villages with bulldozers, effectively destroying criminal evidence, while making no substantive progress in resolving the ethnic animosities that have helped fuel the crisis.
For their part, the Government denies the facts and disclaim any responsibility for crimes under international law.
Rights abuses flourish
The report also condemns ethnic armed organizations within Myanmar, for committing human rights abuses and violating international humanitarian law.
The FFM visited Kutupalong Camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, where Mr. Darusman told the refugees that when its mandate expires in September, it would hand over its evidence to the new Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar to expedite fair criminal proceedings against the perpetrators.
“In short, this is not the end of the story,” he told them. “Please have hope that this will lead to eventual accountability of those who are responsible for what took place against the Rohingya community.”
Against the backdrop that the conduct of national security forces in Rakhine State “were the result of structural problems fuelled by the absence of a political and legal system that is willing to accommodate diversity”, Mr. Darusman said: “Any solutions should directly address the structural problems.”
He also advised the Government to “focus on the real betterment of the remaining Rohingya community in Myanmar” where many live in fear of security forces.
Since 3 May, the FFM Experts have met with different ethnic communities, where they have found that the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar military, has “committed similar atrocities” against other ethnic groups within the country’s borders.
Acknowledging human rights violations, holding people accountable and reforming the Tatmadaw is “the only way forward,” according to FFM member Radhika Coomaraswamy who said that “the repatriation of refugees remains remote unless and until the Myanmar Government takes concrete measures to provide conditions that are conducive for voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return, including full and equal inclusion in Myanmar society”.
However team member Christopher Sidoti emphasized that the FFM “has seen no evidence” that the Government is acting in good faith, saying: “The situation demands an increase in international pressure”.
The Independent Investigative Mechanism is not the only body laying the ground for future prosecution. The International Criminal Court is conducting its own examination and discussions are also taking place about the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice under the Genocide Convention. The FFM has also called on national courts to exercise jurisdiction and prosecute alleged perpetrators.
Link camp closures to ‘improvements in freedom’Meanwhile, after a six-day mission to Myanmar, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller underscored the need for sustained humanitarian assistance and protection for the country’s vulnerable, crisis-affected people.
Noting the Government’s work in developing a national plan to find solutions for the more than 270,000 internally displaced people across Myanmar, she emphasized: “It is critical that the strategy be implemented in a way that addresses the root causes of displacement”.
“The closure of camps must be linked to improvements in freedom of movement and access to services and job opportunities”, she spelled out, calling on the authorities to work with all partners and the affected people themselves to find durable solutions that protect the rights of displaced people to voluntarily return home in safety and in dignity or to resettle some other place of their choosing.
Colombia: ‘Terrible trend’ of rights defenders killed, harassed; UN calls for ‘significant effort’ to tackle impunity
#UnitedNations; #OHCHR; #UNVerificationMissioninColombia; #TruthCommission; #humanrightsdefenders
United Nations (UN), May 11 (Canadian-Media): Alarmed by the “strikingly high number” of human rights defenders being killed, harassed and threatened in Colombia, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office (OHCHR) in the country on Friday, called on authorities to “make a significant effort” to “tackle the endemic impunity” surrounding these cases, UN reports said.
Image Credit: UN Colombia/Bibiana Moreno: Mural, which reads "Reconciliation with the victims", symbolizes the cultural manifestation of reintegrating ex-members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Caquetá, Colombia.
OHCHR described the dozens of deaths since the beginning of the year as a “terrible trend” that seems to be worsening.
Spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva that the rights office in Colombia is “closely following up on the allegations” reported by civil society, State institutions and the national human rights institution, that in the first four months of 2019 recorded a total of 51 human rights defenders and activists have been allegedly killed.
“This staggering number continues a negative trend that intensified during 2018, when our staff documented the killings of 115 human rights defenders”, he said.
The violations are occurring against a backdrop of stigmatized rights defenders, especially those living in rural areas, which lack basic social services and have high levels of poverty and illegally-armed and criminal groups.
“There is an urgent need to address disparities in the enjoyment of all rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights and especially in rural areas”, Mr. Colville stressed.
A wide range of activists have been targeted, including community leaders, Afro-Colombians, indigenous people, environmentalists, journalists and women’s rights defenders, some involved in local politics.
“Community leaders are particularly vulnerable and account for more than 70 per cent of all recorded killings”, the OHCHR spokesperson explained, adding that some were targeted because they supported aspects of the historic 2016 Colombian peace agreement, including land restitution and victims’ rights.
Mr. Colville went on to express concern that, with local elections in October,” the number of violent attacks may increase even further”.
While acknowledging the steps taken by the State to better protect rights defenders, such as the President’s recent announcement to appoint specialized judges in the field, Mr. Colville called on the authorities “to redouble their efforts to expand and strengthen efforts to safeguard a free and secure environment for civic engagement”.
“Despite some positive actions by the Office of the Attorney-General, we urge the State to make sure all killings, attacks and threats are properly investigated and the perpetrators – including those directing them, as well as those carrying them out – are brought to justice”, he asserted.
UN heavily invested in lasting peace
After decades of civil war, in 2016, rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a landmark peace deal with the Government. Joining them as part of a trilateral mechanism to verify and monitor the cessation of hostilities and surrender of weapons, with the unanimous approval of the Security Council, the UN opened a political mission there on 25 January 2016.
By that October, the mission had verified the destruction of 620 kilogrammes of munitions and explosives held by the FARC.
On 26 September 2017, the UN Verification Mission in Colombia was established to verify the commitments of the Government and former FARC rebels on reintegrating them back into society, and on ensuring security in territories most affected by the decades-long conflict.
This past January, Special Representative Ruiz Massieu updated the Security Council on the situation in the country, noting the “important milestone” of the May 2018 inauguration of a ‘Truth Commission’ to examine past human rights violations, including sexual violence.
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres has long highlighted the importance of young people in addressing the challenges confronting the world. And on 4 May, he took a page from their book and opened an Instagram account, reinforcing his role as the UN’s “lead influencer”, UN reports said.
Image Credit: UN News/Patrick Newman: Woman follows UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Instagram.
The move was an immediate success. In just five days, the UN chief’s new account has garnered over 32,000 followers; the highest number from the United States, followed by Mexico, India, Brazil and the United Kingdom.
The fast-growing Instagram platform is very popular with young audiences, as evidenced by the majority of followers so far, who are between the ages of 18 and 34.
Providing social media fans with access to content not seen anywhere else, Mr. Guterres’ first post, pictured above, was both personal and authentic.
“Looking out at this vibrant and diverse city, I remember all the villages and towns the world over, where I've heard people express the same, simple hope – for a life of dignity and security on a planet that is thriving”, he wrote next to the photo of him taking in the stunning view from his office.
In a time where people are most influenced by those they trust and about whom they care, Instagram plays a key role in building that support for the UN and what it has to say.
Powered by strong visuals and messaging the launch of the @antonioguterres Instagram account was supported both inside and outside the UN system and has already measured high numbers of engagement and audience growth.
With over 20,000 engagements, or people who have responded to the Secretary-General’s content, his very first post went viral. What’s more, comments from followers have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
On this new platform, Mr. Guterres can share a personal, inside look into his work and the priorities of the Organization.
Spreading the word
And his posts have already been noticed throughout cyberspace. Some of the UN agencies, Goodwill Ambassadors, Messengers of Peace, and other supporters who started following, have been spreading the word to their respective supporters to follow as well.
A case in point is UN environment’s Goodwill Ambassador Aidan Gallagher who encouraged his young and devoted fans to support the Secretary-General. This helped the UN chief kick off his account with exactly the youthful demographic he wants to hear the UN’s message.
And his ability to bring other major influencers on board has not waned. Malala, Leonardo DiCaprio and Yo-Yo Ma are just a small sample of the more than 60 celebrities following the UN chief. Moreover, he has amassed attention from over 20 Governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society accounts.
#UnitedNations; #fundamentalrights; #internationallaw
United Nations, May 9 (Canadian-Media/UN): United Nations (UN) experts have described the three year “arbitrary detention” of American academic Xiyue Wang as a “clear violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under international law,” UN reports said.
UN experts have also issued Iranian authorities with a “firm request” to immediately release Wang.
The experts, who include the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Javaid Rehman, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, noted that the use of espionage charges to justify the ongoing detention of Mr. Wang had reached the “level of absurdity.”
Mr. Wang, a doctoral student at Princeton University, was arrested in August 2016, whilst researching his PhD on Eurasian history. His health is reportedly deteriorating, putting his life at risk, amid claims of degrading treatment while in detention. Despite this, the experts say that he has been denied access to specialized medical treatment outside the prison since being held.
#UnitedNations; #Reutersjournalists; #OHCHR; #UNESCO
United Nations, May 7 (Canadian-Media/UN): The release of two prize-winning Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after reporting on the massacre of Rohingya Muslims has been welcomed by the United Nations (UN) human rights office, OHCHR, which warns however that press freedom there remains “dire”, UN media reports said.
Image Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin: Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) briefs the press at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. 7 September 2018.
Reuters journalists Wa Lone, who is 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were convicted and sentenced to seven years in jail last September, after being convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act.
They had been investigating the killing of 10 ethnic Rohingya Muslim men by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Rakhine State, during an army operation that began in August 2017.
The UN country team in Myanmar released a statement welcoming their release, saying that the it marked a "step forward" towards improving press freedom, and should be seen as a "sign" of Government commitment to the continuing democratic transition. "The UN stands ready to continue to support Myanmar in its complex transition process" said the statement from Yangon.
OHCHR Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that while it was good news that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been released after more than 500 days in custody, “they should never have been convicted and arrested in the first place”.
"Our office, you may recall had put out a report in September last year, right after their sentences were first confirmed, and that report detailed the very dire situation for freedom of expression in Myanmar, and this has not changed," she said, while also citing concerns about “flaws” in the judicial process that led to the journalists’ conviction, as well as the use of “restrictive legislation…to limit freedom of the press and to silence dissent in the country”.
The two journalists were released along with more than 6,500 inmates on Tuesday, as part of an annual amnesty which has seen thousands of other prisoners pardoned since last month.
The report the two men authored featured testimony from the alleged perpetrators, witnesses and families of the victims. It was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in New York, for international reporting in April, as well as the 2019 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
Describing the journalists’ “dedication” and “courage” as an inspiration to others, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay insisted on Tuesday that their release had helped to advance Press freedom.
“This is a relief for them, their loved ones, but also a positive step forward for press freedom,” she said. “UNESCO recalls that it is essential to the functioning of our democracies that journalists can carry out their mission without fear of reprisals.”
The widespread military action reported on by the Reuters journalists prompted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh, leading the then UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to describe the exodus as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Today, around a million Rohingya refugees remain in camps in southern Bangladesh, amid ongoing UN-led efforts to repatriate them when conditions are deemed sufficiently safe for them to do so.
United Nations, May 7 (Canadian-Media/UN) The United Nations (UN) human rights chief on Monday welcomed Cameroon’s willingness to cooperate over finding workable solutions to “major human rights and humanitarian crises”, caused by months of serious unrest and violence across the west and north of the country, UN media reports said.
Image Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe: Refugees from Nigeria arrive in the Cameroonian village of Goura in January 2019 following armed attacks by extremists.
The announcement came after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, concluded a visit to the West African country. During three days of meetings and consultations in the capital, Yaoundé, she met President Paul Biya to discuss the human rights challenges facing the country, and initiatives the Government has taken to deal with them, as well as their broader linkages with peace, security and development.
“I believe there is a clear – if possibly short – window of opportunity to arrest the crises that have led to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, as well as the killings and brutal human rights violations and abuses that have affected the northern and western areas of the country,” Ms. Bachelet said in a statement.Warning that it will not be an easy process, Ms. Bachelet stressed that “it will take significant actions on the part of the Government, and substantial and sustained support from the international community – including us in the UN.”
With ten or more separatist movements in the North-West and South-West region, the situation could spiral “completely out of control, if measures are not taken to reduce tension and restore trust”, said Ms. Bachelet underlining that it’s essential to tackle root causes of violence, for the sake of long-term stability.
Reported cross-border incursions by armed groups and criminal organizations along Cameroon’s border with the Central African Republic (CAR), as communities continue to be terrorized and attacked by Boko Haram, and other extremist organizations, are a persistent challenge.
Cameroon is also hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Central African Republic and Nigeria.
“In several regions, civilians and soldiers have been killed and mutilated, and entire villages have been burned. Children have been abducted and forced to join the armed groups and have even been utilized as unwitting suicide bombers by Boko Haram”, she said.
“In the two western regions, schools, hospitals and other key infrastructure has been targeted and destroyed by the various separatist groups; and government employees, including teachers who have dared to continue teaching, have been targeted and killed or abducted”, the statement said.
With everyone - Government, opposition and civil society - in agreement that Cameroon is facing the most serious set of crises it has seen in years, and that they need to come to an end as soon as possible, the statement added that “everyone can make important contributions to a drive for peace, if they can discuss options openly and freely.”
The UN human rights chief also offered to provide advice and assistance to the Government, to help ensure military operations are in compliance with international human rights standards and violations are prevented, when military forces are engaged in counter-terrorism operations and combat against armed groups.
Saying that this was a first step to the restoration of peace and security, Ms. Bachelet concluded that “the stakes are high, not just for Cameroon itself, but for the whole region.”
Migrants, asylum seekers detained in Hungary ‘deliberately deprived of food’: UN human rights office
#UN; #OHCHR; Hungariandetentioncentres; #deprivedoffood
United Nations, May 3 (Canadian-Media/UN): The United Nations (UN) human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday it was alarmed by reports that migrants and asylum seekers who are being held in Hungarian detention centres are being “deliberately deprived of food in contravention of international laws and standards”.
Image Credit: UNHCR/Mark Henley: Hungary's strengthened razor wire border fence along an old railway line, to block the path of refugees and migrants. File photo, September 2015.
OHCHR Spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters in Geneva that under existing laws in Hungary, migrants and asylum seekers who are undocumented, are immediately detained in transit zones during the asylum procedure, or until they can be sent back to their country of origin.
“We are concerned by the absence in these transit zones of meaningful individualised procedures”, she said, “which are required to ensure deprivation of liberty is an exceptional measure, and that all risks prohibiting a person’s return, are taken into account.”
She said once Hungarian authorities begin proceedings to expel “rejected” applicants, they stop being given food. “Pending the enforcement of the expulsion, adults - with the sole exception of pregnant or nursing women - are deliberately deprived of food, which can lead to malnutrition and is both detrimental to their health and inherently inhumane.”
Some migrants denied food for five days
Ms. Shamdasani said that since last August, at least 21 migrants awaiting deportation had reportedly been deprived of food in this way, “some for up to five days”.
“We note that the Hungarian authorities had promised to end this practice following an interim measure by the European Court of Human Rights. However, we regret that, in the absence of a clear change in the legal framework, reports suggest the practice is continuing”, she added.
She said that if migrants were arbitrarily detained in “inadequate conditions” or facing coercion, that would render any returns involuntary.
The OHCHR Spokesperson reminded all States, of their “obligation and heightened duty of care towards migrants who are deprived of their liberty, including through the provision of food.”
“We encourage Hungary to ensure it fulfils its human rights obligations towards those deprived of liberty,” she concluded, “regardless of whether they are in transit zones or any other place where migrants are detained and cannot provide for themselves.”
#UnitedNations; #PreventionofGenocide; #AdamaDieng; #UNAOC; #MiguelMoratinos
United Nations, May 2 (Canadian-Meda/UN): With murderous attacks against religious institutions on the rise, leaders across the world need to do more to end “political opportunism” and policies which allow hate speech and violent extremism to flourish, said the United Nations (UN) Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide on Wednesday, UN reports said.
Image Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard: Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng briefs the press.
Speaking at the end of the second Global Summit on Religion, Peace and Security, at UN headquarters in Geneva, Adama Dieng noted that in the wake of dozens killed inside Sri Lanka churches, a synagogue attack in California, and killings inside a church in Burkina Faso, the threat of another genocide somewhere, was only growing larger.
“We are speaking about peace, we are speaking about justice, we are speaking about strong institutions”, said the Special Adviser, adding with urgency, that “it’s easy to accuse the extreme right-wing leaders, but what are the others doing?”
More moderate politicians need to be “speaking out” too, and getting “better mobilized, but sometimes you see also the political opportunism, even in those camps”, he said.
This needed to be addressed fast he said, especially in Europe, where the same signs of growing, militant nationalism, that allowed the rise of violent regimes based on racist ideology in the 1930s, can be seen today.
“We need to bring an end to this cynical, politicians’ discourse” said Mr. Dieng. “Big massacres start always with small actions and language”, he warned, noting that the Holocaust against the Jews perpetrated by the Nazis, was preceded by hate speech, and hate crimes, that robbed Jews of their basic humanity.
“We witnessed the same in Rwanda” he said, in 1994, against the Tutsis and others, where they became known as “snakes”. “It started with those words, and what we are seeing today, is pretty close”.
Alliance of Civilizations chief visits Sri Lanka, pledges support of UN
In the wake of the deadly attacks which left more than 250 dead in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on 21 April, the UN High-Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), Miguel Moratinos, made the first visit by a high-level UN official to the country on Tuesday, expressing support for the Government’s efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism.
Mr. Moratinos met top politicians, religious leaders, representatives of civil society and the UN Resident Coordinator as well as the UN Country Team, said a statement released by UNAOC. In his meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena, the High-Representative conveyed “his personal deepest sympathies as well as the heartfelt condolences of the UN Secretary-General.
“You are not alone” he told the President, who expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the visit and support of the High-Representative. President Sirisena said he was “determined to move forward and restore security and safety” to his country.
Mr. Moratinos said the UN stood ready “to support those efforts to help in restoring harmony, unity and social cohesion”, stressing that there is an urgent need to find a long-term solution to the problem of asylum seekers and refugees in Sri Lanka to ensure their safety and well-being. Some 1600 refugees and asylum seekers mainly Ahmadi Muslims had been under attack in the wake of the Easter bombings.
High Representative Moratinos – who has officially been tasked by UN chief António Guterres to lead an initiative to help ensure the safety of religious sanctuaries – also met Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, with whom he exchanged views on the current efforts undertaken to restore unity and peaceful co-existence within Sri Lankan society.
In response he has set two “urgent initiatives” in motion; the drawing up of UN plan of action to “fully mobilize” the system to tackle hate speech, led by Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and an effort being led by the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Miguel Moratinos, to help ensure the safety of religious sanctuaries.