The case of a Kelowna, B.C., social worker accused of stealing from hundreds of vulnerable children has unearthed years of trauma for Robert Riley Saunders's alleged victims. Advocates say the case also highlights troubling flaws in the child welfare system Saunders worked within.
Saunders disappeared from Kelowna when the first of more than a dozen lawsuits were filed against him in B.C. Supreme Court. He has never responded to any of the allegations.
The B.C. prosecution service is reviewing the results of an RCMP investigation that wrapped up this spring to determine if he should be charged criminally. But advocates and lawyers involved in the case say it would be a mistake to concentrate only on the actions of one man without shining a spotlight on the system he worked in.
According to court documents, Saunders faked a bachelor's degree in social work. He was warned about a conflict of fiduciary interest. And performance reviews suggested he could be seen to be "disinterested or not show appropriate sensitivity to Aboriginal culture/history."
Saunders was trusted in a role that made him a de facto parent for children in the care of the state. The vast majority of his victims — 85 of the 102 identified in a class-action lawsuit — were Indigenous.
"Is the fact that these kids were Aboriginal the reason why he was able to do what he did with confidence, knowing that he's operating in a system that will not bat an eyelid as to what is happening with the most vulnerable of the population?" asks Michael Patterson, a lawyer who represents numerous individual victims suing Saunders. "Is it systemic?"
#Afghanistan; #QamarGul; #Violence
Afghanistan, Jul 21 (Canadian-Media): Qamar Gul, believed to be aged between 14 and 16, took the family's AK-47 assault rifle, shot dead two of the militants, who had killed her parents, and wounded several others, local officials in Ghor province said, media reports said.
Ghor, according to local media, is one of the most underdeveloped western provinces of Afghanistan and incidences of violence against women are high.
A photo of the girl holding the gun has gone viral in recent days.
The incident happened last week when insurgents stormed the home of Qamar Gul, a teenager from a village in the central province of Ghor.
More militants came to attack the house later in the village of Griwa, but were beaten back by villagers and pro-government militia.
Officials said the girl, and her younger brother had been taken to a safer place.
Social media users praised the teenager.
"Hats off to her courage," AFP quoted Najiba Rahmi as saying on Facebook.
"We know parents are irreplaceable, but your revenge will give you relative peace," said Mohamed Saleh, also on Facebook.
Although Taliban had signed a peace deal with the US in February, many of its members still continued to call for the overthrow of the current Afghan government and constitution.
#UN; #Seafarers; #ILO; #IMO; #Isolation, #MentalToll
Geneva/UN, Jul 19 (Canadian-Media): Hundreds of thousands of seafarers are finding themselves stranded at sea, sometimes for over a year, and with no end in sight, as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions. The uncertainty and long spells away from home are taking a heavy mental toll.
The container ship MSC Daniela at sea. Image credit: ©MSC shipping
“I am tired, exhausted and hopeless. I have been at sea for 12 months already. And I don’t know when I can see my kids and family. It’s very frustrating.”
Raphael (not his real name) has no idea how long he will be stuck on his ship. A 33 year old seafarer from the Philippines, with two children, he was scheduled to fly home in April, but the pandemic put paid to his plans: airports have been closed, and his company decided not to relieve him, and eight other colleagues, some of whom have spent up to 14 months onboard.
“This is the fourth time my home leave has been cancelled. I don’t know what’s going on. We deliver the cargo and the goods, but they close the borders for us.”
Because of the uncertainty, Raphael says, the atmosphere on the ship is tense, and he fears that there will be an impact on safety, because of the fragile mental health of the crew: “our minds are in different worlds”, he says. “It’s like walking on thin air.”
’All we want is to come home’
Some 90 per cent of global trade takes place via maritime transport, thanks to the work of around two million seafarers. Like Raphael, Matt, an English Chief Engineer onboard a boat that sails mainly in the Middle East and Asia, feels that the crucial contribution made by seafarers, who ensure that the transportation of key goods continues unimpeded during the pandemic, should be valued more highly.
“I would say that, as seafarers, we have more than played our part during this pandemic. We have kept countries supplied with everything they need, including PPE (personal protective equipment) and medical supplies, oil and gas to keep power stations running, and food and water. All we want in return is to be able to come home and rest”.
Matt’s contract is well overdue, and most of his crew members are in a similar situation: “The officers have 10-week rotation contracts, but most of us have now been onboard for 6 months or more. It is even worse for the crew: they’re on nine-month contracts, but I have one crewman who has been onboard for 15 months.
Waiting at home for Matt are two children, aged eight and 12, and the separation is proving difficult for all members of his family.
“I’ve done long contracts before, but this is different. It has a psychological effect, as there is no end in sight. It affects family life a lot more. My children are always asking when I am coming home. It’s difficult to explain to them.”
As time has gone on, Matt and the crew have gone through a range of emotions, and the mental health burden is growing.
“I think we’ve been through all the emotions. A lot of anger in the beginning as we had to watch all the borders close. We understood the health risk, and we could understand why it was happening. We tried to remain hopeful, but as time has passed it seems like little has changed. We are hanging in here, but we are tired and mentally fatigued.”
Isolation on the high seas
Wagner Brandt is the Head of the Transport and Maritime Unit at The International Labour Organization (ILO). As a former Naval Officer, he recognizes the challenges experienced by stranded crew members.
“The sea can be tough. When the weather’s bad it's pretty awful. Also, those onboard are living for several months in the same place that they're working. These days the industry is highly efficient, so a container ship can be unloaded and loaded in a few hours. Ports are now some distance from town centres and, in the case of oil tankers, you might be discharging or taking on oil, at an off-shore facility. So, seafarers have fewer opportunities to disembark than they did in the past. It can be very isolating”
Thanks in part to the work of the ILO, conditions for seafarers have steadily improved over the years: “in 2006, we set up the Maritime Labour Convention, often referred to as the seafarers bill of rights. This sets out the minimum working conditions for all seafarers, including provisions such as the minimum hours of rest, occupational safety and health, and states that no seafarers should be at sea for more than 11 months. Today, the vast majority of the ships in the world are flying the flag of States that have ratified this convention.”
“There are still problems, of course, such as low pay, seafarers forced to work long hours, or abuse, but this is why we have international instruments, to set minimum work standards, and see that they are enforced.”
These conventions have been sorely tested by the current pandemic, however. Seafarers may have to travel thousands of kilometres to reach their ships, or return home. Since the pandemic, commercial flights have been significantly reduced, borders have been closed, and it has become more difficult to obtain visas or travel permits through certain transit countries.
The unheralded contribution of the seafarer
To help Matt, Raphael, and the more than 200,000 seafarers struggling to cope with a seemingly endless stint on the seas, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), set up the Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT), in partnership with the ILO, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). SCAT has successfully intervened in several individual cases, finding solutions that will allow seafarers to go home.
The IMO is pushing for all governments to classify seafarers and other marine personnel as “essential workers” which would make it easier for safe crew changeovers to take place. Following a ministerial summit in July, held in the UK, 13 countries committed to recognizing seafarers as key workers, and facilitating crew changes.
The cause has also been taken up at the highest levels of the UN, with Secretary-General António Guterres expressing concern about a growing ocean-bound humanitarian and safety crisis, and praising the “unheralded contribution” of seafarers to the global economy, and bringing life-saving supplies to civilians trapped in conflict zones, such as Yemen.
For Matt, the change can’t come soon enough: “We need the support of world governments to allow us to transit through their countries without restrictions. Time frames for visas need to be reduced or scrapped all together.
This needs to happen now. The delay is going to have a detrimental effect to the maritime industry. There has been more than enough time for talking: now we need to see real action.”
#UN; #UK; #HumanRights;
UK/UN, Jul 18 (Canadian-Media): Radicalized on British soil as a London schoolgirl, an independent UN expert welcomed a Court of Appeal ruling in the United Kingdom on Thursday, to allow 20-year-old Shamima Begum to return home from Syria to challenge the Government’s removal of her citizenship.
A child walks in Al Hol camp in north-east Syria where more than 90 per cent of the people are women and children. Image credit: OCHA/Hedinn Halldorsson
“Citizenship is a gateway right, which enables and supports the right to have other rights, and without it individuals are profoundly vulnerable to harm”, said Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
Shamima Begum was one of three schoolgirls who left the UK capital in 2015 to join ISIL terrorist fighters in Syria.
Aged 15, she married an alleged ISIL combatant and gave birth to two children while still a minor, and then a third after turning 18.
All three children died, the third while they were detained at Al Hol refugee camp in northern Syria.
Ms. Begum, now 20, was found last year in Camp Roj, another of Syria’s largest refugee and IDP camps, according to media reports.
At that time, the UK Home Office revoked her citizenship on security grounds.
Kudos to the court
As a fundamental right under international law, it is prohibited to arbitrarily deprive a person of citizenship, the UN expert said, saying having status provided “essential protection for individuals”.
According to news reports, the Court of Appeal maintained that Ms. Begum had been denied a fair hearing because she could not make her case effectively, from the Syrian camp.
Ms. Ní Aoláin commended the UK court for “grasping the essential and absolute importance of the right to meaningfully participate in the proceedings depriving a person of their citizenship”.
She valued the “independence and thoughtfulness of the Court’s review” along with its willingness “to allow for a human rights intervention, and its acknowledgment of the relevance of international law to such proceedings”.
The Special Rapporteur intervened in the case, she said, because of “the severe and irreparable consequences” of revoking citizenship to the minor when she travelled to Syria.
Citizenship is a gateway right, which enables and supports the right to have other rights -- UN expert
She described the then adolescent as “a child who may have been groomed online, and who had no meaningful capacity to participate in the legal proceedings depriving her of citizenship”.
The independent UN expert, was “deeply concerned” that Ms. Begum – along with other women and children abandoned by their own governments - were eking out “survival in an overcrowded camp and under conditions that were inhumane and degrading that amount to torture under international law and where her right to life is under constant threat”.
International law not only fulfils UN Security Council resolutions but also takes into consideration the long-term security interest of States, Ms. Ní Aoláin said.
“The urgent return and repatriation of foreign fighters and their families from these conflict zones is the only international law-compliant response to the increasingly complex and precarious human rights, humanitarian and security situation faced by those women, men and children”, the Special Rapporteur concluded.
Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary, and the experts are neither UN staff nor paid for their work.
#UN; #Inequality; #GlobalEconomy; #GlobalSociety; #NelsonMandela
New York, Jul 18 (Canadian-Media): Inequality, an issue which “defines our time”, risks destroying the world’s economies and societies, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a hard-hitting speech on Saturday.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivers the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture.
Image credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Mr. Guterres was delivering the 2020 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, held online for the first time, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The lecture series, held annually by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, on the birthday of the first democratically-elected President of South Africa, aims to encourage dialogue by inviting prominent personalities to discuss major international challenges.
The COVID-19 spotlight
Mr. Guterres began by noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has played an important role in highlighting growing inequalities, and exposing the myth that everyone is in the same boat, because “while we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts, while others are clinging to the floating debris.”
While we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts while others are clinging to the floating debris - António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations
Global risks ignored for decades – notably inadequate health systems, gaps in social protection, structural inequalities, environmental degradation, and the climate crisis – have been laid bare, he said. The vulnerable are suffering the most: those living in poverty, older people, and people with disabilities and pre-existing conditions.
Mr. Guterres pointed out that inequality take many forms. Whilst income disparity is stark, with the 26 richest people in the world holding as much wealth as half the global population, it is also the case that life-chances depend on factors such as gender, family and ethnic background, race and whether or not a person has a disability.
However, he noted that everyone suffers the consequences, because high levels of inequality are associated with “economic instability, corruption, financial crises, increased crime and poor physical and mental health.”
The legacy of colonialism and patriarchy
Colonialism, a historic aspect of inequality, was evoked by the Secretary-General. Today’s anti-racist movement, he said, points to this historic source of inequality: “The Global North, specifically my own continent of Europe, imposed colonial rule on much of the Global South for centuries, through violence and coercion.”
This led to huge inequalities within and between countries, including the transatlantic slave trade and the apartheid regime in South Africa, argued Mr. Guterres, and left a legacy of economic and social injustice, hate crimes and xenophobia, the persistence of institutionalized racism, and white supremacy.
Mr. Guterres also referred to patriarchy, another historic inequality which still resonates: women everywhere are worse off than men, and violence against women is, he said, at epidemic levels.
The UN chief, who described himself as a proud feminist, said he was committed to gender equality, and has made gender parity a reality across senior UN posts. He also announced his appointment of South African international rugby captain, Siya Kolisa, as a global champion for the Spotlight Initiative, which aims to engage men in fighting violence against women and girls.
‘Everyone must pay their fair share’ of tax
Turning to contemporary inequality, Mr. Guterres said that the expansion of trade, and technological progress, have contributed to “an unprecedented shift in income distribution”. Low-skilled workers are bearing the brunt, he warned, and face an “onslaught” from new technologies, automation, the offshoring of manufacturing and the demise of labour organizations.
Meanwhile, he continued, widespread tax concessions, tax avoidance and tax evasion, as well as low corporate tax rates, mean that there are reduced resources for social protection, education, and healthcare - services that play an important part in reducing inequality.
Some countries have allowed the wealthy and well-connected to benefit from tax systems, but “everyone must pay their fair share”, said Mr. Guterres, and governments need to tackle the “vicious cycle” of corruption, which weakens social norms and the rule of law, and shift the tax burden from payrolls to carbon, which would help to address the climate crisis.
A New Global Deal
Although climate change is a global problem, the effects are felt most keenly by those countries which are least to blame. The issue is likely to become more pronounced in the coming years, and millions risk malnutrition, malaria and other diseases; forced migration, and extreme weather events.
The only way towards a fair and sustainable future for all, he suggested, involves what he called a “New Social Contract”, which allows young people to live in dignity; women to have the same prospects and opportunities as men; and protects the vulnerable, and a “New Global Deal”, which ensures that power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly at the international level.
As part of the New Social Contract, labour market policies would be based on constructive dialogue between employers and workers, and would ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Secretary-General called for new social safety nets, including universal health coverage, the possibility of universal basic income, boosted investment in public services, and, to reverse long-standing inequalities, affirmative action programmes and other policies to address inequalities in gender, race or ethnicity.
The UN chief explained that quality education for all, and the effective use of digital technology, will be crucial to achieving these aims.
This would mean doubling education spending in low and middle-income countries by 2030 to $3 trillion a year: within a generation, all children in low- and middle-income countries could have access to quality education at all levels.
Governments also need to transform the way children are taught, said Mr. Guterres, and invest in digital literacy and infrastructure, and help them to prepare for a rapidly changing workplace that is being upended by technology.
The Secretary-General outlined some of the ways that the UN is supporting these efforts, including The Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, launched at the United Nations in June, which promotes ways to connect four billion people to the Internet by 2030, and “Giga”, an ambitious project to get every school in the world online.
‘We stand together, or we fall apart'
The UN chief ended his major strategic vision statement, by invoking the importance of international cooperation and solidarity.
“We belong to each other”, he said. “We stand together, or we fall apart”.
The world, he concluded, is at breaking point, and it is time for leaders to decide which path to follow. The choice presented by Mr. Guterres, is between “chaos, division and inequality”, or righting the wrongs of the past and moving forward together, for the good of all.
#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.