#UN; #InternationalDayoftheEliminationofViolenceagainstWomen; #genderInequality;
New York, Nov 24 (Canadian-Media): Violence against women and girls is among the most widespread, and devastating human rights violations in the world, but much it is often unreported due to impunity, shame and gender inequality, the UN highlighted ahead of Monday’s World Day to stamp out abuse of women and girls.
“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination”, UN chief Secretary-General António Guterres added, reminding the world that stigma, misconceptions, under-reporting and poor enforcement of laws perpetuate impunity in rape cases.
“All of this must change…now”, Guterres urged.
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”, the UN highlighted on the Day.
Rape isn’t an isolated brief act. It damages flesh and reverberates in memory.--Executive Director of UN Women
Beginning Monday, and for the upcoming two years, the UN chief’s UNiTe to End Violence against Women campaign will focus on the issue of rape as a specific form of harm, encouraging people to join the initiative and “Orange the World.”
UN Women’s Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, expressed her concerns when it comes to rape specifically.
She said the end of the horrendous act would mean eliminating a “significant weapon of war from the arsenal of conflict”, the absence of a daily risk assessment for girls and women who actively work to avoid an incident that could leave them scarred.
“Rape isn’t an isolated brief act. It damages flesh and reverberates in memory. It can have life changing, unchosen results – a pregnancy or a transmitted disease”, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed, adding that consequences of a one-time act can sprawl into damaging long-term effects.
“It’s long-lasting, devastating effects reach others: family, friends, partners and colleagues”, she continued.
In addition, research by the World Health Organization (WHO), details disturbing impacts of violence on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health:
Women who experience physical or sexual abuse are twice as likely to have an abortion, and the experience nearly doubles their likelihood of falling into depression. In some regions, they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, and evidence exists that sexually assaulted women are 2.3 times more likely to have alcohol disorders.
More women abused than not, in US
Some national studies examining incidents in the United States show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and or sexual violence from an intimate partner, according to UN Women.
The agency cited that nearly a quarter of female college students reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the US, but harm targeting women and girls knows no bounds.
Multi-country investigations by WHO show partner violence to be a reality for 65 per cent of women in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and around 40 per cent of women in South Asia, as well as Andean parts of Latin America.
Meanwhile, even in regions where incidents are less likely, as in East Asia and Western Europe, more than 16 per cent and 19 per cent of women have experienced intimate partner violence, respectively.
Psychological violence is another layer to the problem, with some 82 per cent of women parliamentarians in a recent study, reporting having experienced remarks, gestures, threats, or sexist comments while serving – most often via social media.
While gender-based violence can happen to anyone, women who identify with the LGBTI community, migrants and refugees, indigenous minorities, and those living through humanitarian crises, are particularly vulnerable to gender-based harm.
“Almost universally, most perpetrators of rape go unreported or unpunished”, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka explained. “For women to report in the first place requires a great deal of resilience to re-live the attack…In many countries, women know that they are overwhelmingly more likely to be blamed than believed.”
Attacks targeting women continue to be an obstacle to achieving equality, and impede the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leave no one behind.
Several public events are being coordinated for this year’s International Day to commemorate the fight against gender-based violence, spotlighting rape specifically.
Criminalizing the offense, placing women in positions of power, and strengthening the capacity of law enforcement, are some steps to increase accountability in incidents of sexual assault.
The effects of such violations suppress voices and traumatize, at “an intolerable cost to society”, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“No further generations must struggle to cope with a legacy of violation.”
#PardonForUSSoldiers; #WarCrimes; #UnitedNationsHumanRightsWing; #OHCHR
New York, Nov 19 (Canadian-Media): A presidential pardon for two United States soldiers accused of war crimes, and a sentence reduction for a third, “run against the letter and the spirit of international law which requires accountability for such violations”, the United Nations human rights wing said on Tuesday.
Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Image credit: UN Photo
“While pardons exist in international law, and can properly address issues of injustice or unfairness”, Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters at a regular press briefing in Geneva that these cases showed no circumstances to suggest anything other than “simply voiding the otherwise proper process of law in the cases”.
“These pardons send a disturbing signal to military forces all around the world”, he added.
According to news reports, Lieutenant Clint Lorance was tried and convicted for ordering the shooting of Afghanistan civilians in 2013 and handed down a 20-year prison sentence. Last Friday, he was given a full pardon.
Major Mathew Golsteyn was charged with executing an unarmed Afghan man who was a suspected Taliban bombmaker in 2010. He was scheduled to be tried in February.
And Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was charged with murdering a captive in Iraq. He was acquitted but received a demotion for posing with the corpse for a photograph. President Trump on Friday vowed to restore his rank.
“These three cases involve serious violations of international humanitarian law, both proven and alleged, including the shooting of a group of civilians and execution of a captured member of an armed group”, said Mr. Colville.
Some US news outlets applauded President Donald Trump’s reprieves, while others saw them as a sign of disregard for the decisions of military juries as well as for the judicial process itself.
“International Humanitarian Law establishes the obligation to investigate violations and prosecute war crimes”, reminded Mr. Colville.
He pointed out that by investigating the allegations, and initiating and completing criminal proceedings, the US military justice system had been in compliance with international law.
Underscoring that “victims of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law have the right to a remedy”, Mr. Colville maintained that the pardon terminating further criminal proceedings in the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn, was “particularly troubling”.
He elaborated that remedies include equal and effective access to justice, the right to the truth, and to see perpetrators serve punishments proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct, “rather than see them absolved of responsibility”.
#UNICEF; #ChildRights; #HumanRights; #PoorestChildren; #UnevenProgress
New York, Nov 19 (Canadian-Media): Although the world has made historic gains over the past three decades in improving children’s lives, urgent action is required if the poorest children are to feel the impact, a new UN report published on Monday warns.
Children raise their hands to answer a question in class at a UNICEF learning space in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (8 July 2019). Image credit: © UNICEF Patrick Brown
The study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) calls on countries to recommit to promises made under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted 30 years ago.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, noted that while increasing numbers of children are living longer, better and healthier lives, the odds continue to be stacked against the poorest and most vulnerable.
"In addition to the persistent challenges of health, nutrition and education, children today have to contend with new threats like climate change, online abuse and cyberbullying," she said.
"Only with innovation, new technologies, political will and increased resources will we help translate the vision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into a reality for all children everywhere."
Uneven progress, emerging threats
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely and rapidly adopted international treaty in history, and has been ratified by more than 190 countries.
It acknowledges childhood, which lasts through age 18, as a special time in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity.
UNICEF reported that since its adoption, the global rate for under-five mortality has dropped by around 60 per cent, while the proportion of undernourished children has almost halved.
The Convention has also influenced numerous constitutions, laws and policies that reflect its guiding principles, which include non-discrimination, the right to protection and acting in the best interests of the child.
However, the report shows that progress has not been even.
UNICEF said the world’s children continue to confront age-old threats while new hazards loom over their future.
The poorest children are still likely to die from preventable causes before reaching their fifth birthday. Millions of the most disadvantaged are still at risk due to poverty, discrimination and marginalization. At the same time, cases of the childhood killer measles are on the rise as immunization coverage rates have slowed down since 2010.
Progress in education also is dismal. The report reveals that the number of primary level children out of school has remained static for more than a decade.
"Many of those who are in school are not learning the basics, let alone the skills they need to thrive in today’s economy," UNICEF added.
In recent years, young people have been speaking up and calling for action to address climate change. UNICEF said they are the ones most at-risk.
"Rapid changes in climate are spreading disease, increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, and creating food and water insecurity. Unless urgent action is taken, the worst for many children is yet to come," the UN agency warned.
Inclusive dialogue planned
UNICEF believes that where there is political will and determination, children’s lives improve, as documented by the report, which has been released ahead of World Children’s Day on 20 November.
The study calls for more data and evidence to accelerate progress and advance child rights, alongside recommendations such as involving young people in creating solutions.
UNICEF will use the coming 12 months to promote an inclusive global dialogue aimed at making the promise of the convention a reality for all children.
As Ms. Fore, the UNICEF chief, stated: "The Convention stands at a crossroads between its illustrious past and its future potential. It is up to us to recommit, take decisive steps and hold ourselves accountable."
#UN; #HumanRights; #SouthAmerica; #WidespreadArrests&Detentions
South America, Nov 16 (Canadian-Media): The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging authorities in Bolivia to ensure security forces comply with international standards on the use of force following the deaths of at least five protesters on Friday.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (file).
Image credit: UN Photo/Laura Jarriel
The South American country has plunged into political chaos following the resignation last week of President Evo Morales, with at least 17 people killed in demonstrations since then.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN rights chief, said while earlier deaths mostly resulted from clashes between rival protestors, the latest incidents appear to be due to the disproportionate use of force by the army and police.
With the country divided, she fears the situation could worsen.
"I am really concerned that the situation in Bolivia could spin out of control if the authorities do not handle it sensitively and in accordance with international norms and standards governing the use of force, and with full respect for human rights," she said in a statement issued on Saturday.
"The country is split and people on both sides of the political divide are extremely angry. In a situation like this, repressive actions by the authorities will simply stoke that anger even further and are likely to jeopardise any possible avenue for dialogue."
Widespread arrests inflaming tensions
Ms. Bachelet is also concerned that widespread arrests and detentions are adding to the tensions. More than 600 people have been detained since 21 October, many in the past few days, according to her office.
The UN Secretary-General has dispatched his Personal Envoy in efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
"This situation is not going to be resolved by force and repression," she said. "All sectors have the right to make their voice heard – this is the basis for democracy."
Ms Bachelet called for prompt, transparent and impartial investigations into the arrests, detentions, injuries and deaths that have occurred as a result of the crisis.
Data on these incidents also should be made available, she added.
#Bangladesh; #AllegedCrimesAgainstHumanity; #deportation
Bangladesh, Nov 15 (Canadian-Media): Judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, namely deportation, which have forced between 600,000 and one million Rohingya refugees out of Myanmar, into neighboring Bangladesh since 2016.
Pictured here, Rohingya refugee children wade through flood waters surrounding their families' shelters following an intense pre-monsoon storm in Shamlapur makeshift settlement in Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh: UNICEF/UN0213967/Sokol
The pre-trial judges “accepted that there exists a reasonable basis to believe widespread and/or systematic acts of violence may have been committed that could qualify as crimes against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border” the Court said in a press statement, in addition to “persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion against the Rohingya population.”
After a reported military-led crackdown, widespread killings, rape and village burnings, nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya fled Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017 to settle in crowded refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.
This is the second strike against the alleged crimes this week, as the tribunal’s decision follows a Monday submission by Gambia to the UN’s principal judicial organ, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of “mass murder, rape, and genocidal acts” which violate its obligations under the Genocide Convention, in addition to destruction of villages, arbitrary detention, and torture.
As a member to the Genocide prevention treaty, Gambia “refused to stay silent”, and as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the small African nation has taken legal action to assist the persecuted majority-Muslim Rohingya, with support by other Muslim countries.
While the UN’s ICJ, known as the ‘World Court’, settles disputes submitted by States on a range of matters, the ICC is the world’s only permanent criminal tribunal with a mandate to investigate and prosecute individuals who participate in international atrocity crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity. In July, the ICC’s top Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, requested an investigation be open into the alleged crimes committed since October of 2016, concerning Myanmar and Bangladesh.
At that time, her Office’s preliminary examination found “a reasonable basis” to believe that at least 700,00 Rohingya were deported from Myanmar to Bangladesh “through a range of coercive acts causing suffering and serious injury.”
Under the Rome Statute that created the ICC, which highlights crimes against humanity as one of its four crucial international crimes, the top Prosecutor concluded sufficient legal conditions had been met to open an investigation.
While Myanmar is not a State party to the treaty, Bangladesh ratified the Statute in 2010, meaning authorization to investigate does not extend to all crimes potentially committed in Myanmar, but will focus on violations committed in part on Bangladeshi territory, the ICJ said in July.
‘Only justice and accountability’ can stop the violence Judges forming the pre-trial chamber, Judge Olga Herrera Carbuccia, Judge Robert Fremr, and Judge Geofreey Henderson received views on this request by or on behalf of hundreds of thousands of alleged victims.
According to the ICC Registry, victims insist they want an investigation by the Court, and many “believe that only justice and accountability can ensure that the perceived circle of violence and abuse comes to an end.”
“Noting the scale of the alleged crimes and the number of victims allegedly involved, the Chamber considered that the situation clearly reaches the gravity threshold,” the Court said.
The pre-trial Chamber in addition authorized the commencement of the investigation in relation to any crime, including future crime, so long as it is within the jurisdiction of the Court, and is allegedly committed at least in part in the Rome Statute State Party, Bangladesh, or any other territory accepting the jurisdiction.
The alleged crime must also be sufficiently linked to the present situation, and must have been committed on or after the date of the Statute’s entry into force for Bangladesh or the relevant State Party.
Judges from the ICC have given the greenlight for prosecutors to commence collection of necessary evidence, which could result in the judge's issuance of summonses to appear in court or warrants of arrest. Parties to the Statute have a legal obligation to cooperate fully with the ICC, nonmembers invited to cooperate may decide to do so voluntarily.
‘Diversity is a form of wealth, not a factor of division,’ UNESCO chief says ahead of International Day for Tolerance
New York, Nov 15 (Canadian-Media): At a time when extremism and fanaticism are too often unleashed, when “the venom of hatred” continues to poison a part of humanity, “tolerance has never been more vital a virtue”, the United Nations cultural agency’s chief has said in her message on the International Day for Tolerance.
Children in Ukraine play with an SDG poster illustrating children from different races around the world. Image credit: UNDP Ukraine/Oleksandr Ratushnyak
“Tolerance is more than standing idly by or remaining insensitive to differences between men and women, cultures and beliefs”, Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said, but instead a “state of mind, an awareness and a requirement.”
In 1996, the UN General Assembly invited Member States to observe the Day each year on 16 November to, among other things, foster mutual understanding among cultures and peoples. The 2019 edition of the Day will be marked this Saturday.
Ms. Azoulay stressed that tolerance is “to realize that cultural diversity is a form of wealth, not a factor of division”.
“It is to perceive that each culture, beyond immediate or apparent differences, is a constituent part of universality and speaks the common language of humanity.”
Quoting former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, she said that tolerance is “a virtue that makes peace possible”.
Since its foundation, UNESCO has aimed to “build peace by combating the intolerance that still too often tears our societies apart, and by relentlessly fighting all forms of racism and discrimination”, the agency chief maintained.
Ms. Azoulay cited the words of former Director-General Federico Mayor: “UNESCO bears and echoes the message of tolerance, true to its mission of being ‘the conscience of the United Nations’”.
In conclusion, Ms. Azoulay invited everyone to share UNESCO’s message of tolerance and peace.
Fighting intolerance requires
#UN; #HumanRightsExperts; #violenece; #ChileProtests
United Nations human rights experts on Friday condemned the excessive use of force during Chile’s ongoing street protests, and in a statement underscored that violence “can never be the answer to people's social and political demands”.
Protesters take to the streets in Santiago, Chile. (October 2019).
Image credit: UN News/Diana Leal
At least 20 people are reported to have been killed and about 1,600 injured, including police officers, during protests that began in early October over rising transport costs and inequality, that has become deeply entrenched in the Latin American country.
Throughout the weeks of demonstrations, the Human Rights Council-appointed independent experts have spoken out against the excessive force used by security forces.
“The high number of wounded and the way in which non-lethal weapons have been used, seem to indicate that the use of force was excessive and violated the requirements of necessity and proportionality," the seven experts maintained.
As violence escalated, a state of emergency was declared in several provinces on 19 October. And to date, thousands have also been detained, including children and adolescents.
Reports of children beaten, sexual violence
The experts also expressed deep concern over reports of excessive force against people prior to being detained, and allegations of the ill-treatment and beating children, which may constitute torture.
Moreover, there have been reports of sexual violence against women, men and adolescents, including practices such as forced stripping, touching and rape in detention.
“Women and children have been actively participating in the ongoing protests and the State must address their specific protection concerns”, the experts asserted.
Rejecting all violence committed by individuals, the experts stressed that the Chilean Government has an obligation “not only to respect human rights but to protect people against violent acts committed by private individuals”.
They spelled out that the Government officials and politicians “must allow protests…by isolating those who resort to violence, while guaranteeing that everyone in the country can enjoy their rights”.
The independent experts welcomed Chile’s decision to invite a UN Human Rights Office mission to assess the situation through identifying the main patterns of human rights violations, analyzing the response of Chilean State institutions as well as the causal factors leading to the mass-demonstrations.
The experts have corresponded with the authorities and discussed their willingness to pursue and determine the responsibilities in cases of human rights violations, particularly those committed by State agents.
In their capacity as independent experts, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working group on Arbitrary Detention; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; and Meskerem Geset Techane, chair of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation.
Their positions are honorary and the experts are neither UN staff, nor paid for their work.
Egypt: ‘Credible evidence’ that ‘brutal’ prison conditions prompted Morsi’s death, thousands more at risk
#UN; #HumanRights; #MohamedMorsi'sDeath; #Egypt; #EgyptPresident
United Nations, Nov 9 (Canadian-Media): A group of independent UN human rights experts said on Friday that there was “credible evidence” that inadequate prison conditions in which former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was held may have led “directly” to his death in June, and thousands of other detainees may be at “severe risk”.
Mohamed Morsi, President of Egypt, addresses the general debate of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly. Image Credit: UN Photo/Marco Castro
“Dr. Morsi was held in conditions that can only be described as brutal, particularly during his five-year detentions in the Tora prison complex”, said Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, together with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
“Dr. Morsi’s death after enduring those conditions could amount to a State-sanctioned arbitrary killing”, they added in a press release.
The late Egyptian leader was placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours of each day, the experts explained. While serving six years of jail time on charges of alleged terrorism, spying and escape from prison, “he was not allowed to see other prisoners, even during the one hour a day he was permitted to exercise.”
“He was forced to sleep on a concrete floor with only one or two blankets for protection. He was not allowed access to books, journals, writing materials or a radio”, the independent rights experts detailed in an “official communication” to the Government.
Mr. Morsi, who took office as the first democratically-elected head of State in modern Egyptian history from 2012 to 2013 - before a military takeover - also “was denied life-saving and ongoing care for his diabetes and high blood pressure” while incarcerated, the group went on, and consequently, “he progressively lost the vision in his left eye, had recurrent diabetic comas and fainted repeatedly. From this, he suffered significant tooth decay and gum infections.”
Despite repeated warnings to authorities that such conditions would gradually undermine Mr. Morsi’s health, to the point of killing him, “there is no evidence they acted to address these concerns, even though the consequences were foreseeable.”
Prisoners ‘effectively being killed by the conditions’ Former affairs adviser to the late President, Dr. Essam El-Haddad, and his son, Mr. Gehad El-Haddad, who was chief spokesman for the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation, considered a terrorist group by Egyptian courts, at the time of his arrest, are among the thousands of other prisoners enduring similar conditions.
“These two men are effectively being killed by the conditions under which they are held and the denial of medical treatment. It appears that this is intentional or at the very least allowed to happen through the reckless disregard for their life and fate”, the experts noted.
"We have received credible evidence from various sources” that gross human rights violations may be a reality for thousands of detainees more across the State, “many of whom may be at risk of death”, they went on.
Further, they urged Egypt to promptly address its prison conditions “and reverse what appears to be deeply entrenched practices” on people’s right to a life free of torture, ill-treatment, and the right to due process and medical attention.
These violations place Egypt’s inmates at risk of death or “irreparable damage to their health”, thus, the experts called for an effective and impartial investigation into Mr. Morsi’s “unlawful death…and all other prisoners who died in custody since 2012.”
The experts said they have engaged with the Egyptian Government and will continue to monitor the situation and have offered their assistance to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to address the larger problem of dire prison conditions in the country.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has previously expressed extreme concern for the country’s prosecution approach, after the Egyptian court confirmed it would sentence 75 people to death, and 47 to life in prison in a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood-led protests in 2013. She called the sentences a “gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice.”
New York, Nov 8 (Canadian-Media): Fearless. Plain-speaking. Critical. Courageous. Unflinching. Unfair. Biased. Manipulative. These are some of the adjectives used to describe the Human Rights Council experts who fan out across the world to research, hold consultations and gather information on a vast range of human rights violations.
Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, OHCHR. Image Credit: UN News
These Special Rapporteurs often find themselves caught in the crosshairs of international and domestic politics. Independent of governments and institutions – including the UN’s Human Rights Council, which appoints them – they occupy a unique investigative role that allows them to shine a light on alleged violations perpetrated across the world.
The experts have mandates to “report and advise”, both as specialists focusing on specific forms of abuse of international human rights law; such as torture, human trafficking or the right to privacy; but also to carry out country-specific investigations.
Officially they are part of the Special Procedures of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, whose members are elected in the UN General Assembly, but they are volunteers, not UN staff – nor are they paid for what they do. Theirs is a powerful pulpit from which to serve as a voice for the voiceless.
The Special Rapporteurs come to UN Headquarters every October to update the General Assembly on their findings.
During their time in New York, UN News spoke to some of these dedicated experts about what drives them to do the job, which often sees them criticizing States and other powerful institutions, on behalf of vulnerable people across the world.
‘We cannot afford to stay silent’
From investigating the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, to condemning the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Agnès Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has often found herself in the news.
Throughout her career, Ms. Callamard has been devoted to human rights and humanitarian causes. She combines her UN role with her position as Director of Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression initiative and, prior to that, spent nine years as the Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, the international human rights organization promoting freedom of expression globally.
Ms. Callamard also founded the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (now CHS Alliance), the first international self-regulatory body for humanitarian agencies, has worked for Amnesty International in various capacities, and advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world on human rights (full biography here).
We caught up with Ms. Callamard when she came to the United Nations to report on her portfolio this October. Making full use of the freedom of expression to which she, as an independent expert is entitled, she shared her views on some of the high-profile cases with which she has been involved.
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, just over a year ago, was particularly shocking, she told UN News, and not just for the gruesome details examined by the human rights inquiry into the killing, which she led: “The other thing that shocked me was the attempts by governments around the world to move on. Some governments made strong statements but, very quickly, there was an attempt to move on to business as usual”.
“I was shocked by the G20 Meeting in Osaka, when the US President literally embraced the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, a few days after I published the finding of my report, which raises extremely serious questions regarding the responsibility of the Crown Prince”, she said. “It was so inappropriate for the US President to go out of his way to demonstrate his affection for the Crown Prince, just as it was shocking to see the silence of everyone else in the room at that G20 meeting”.
“It's one thing not to act, but it's another thing to be silent altogether. And we cannot afford for human rights-friendly Governments to be silent in the face of, or when confronted with, the manipulation and politicization of meetings, when witnessing the trampling on human rights protection”.
The commitment to those who fight for their values, to countries that fight for justice and for others, is the way I was raisedAgnès Callamard
Ms. Callamard’s devotion to human rights is deep-seated and, she told UN News, has its roots in her childhood: “I could not conceive of my life and my work without a commitment to social justice and human rights protection. This is how I was raised as a child. Every year I paid respect to my grandfather who had joined the French resistance and was killed by the Nazis, and to others who had been killed on that same day”.
“The commitment to those who fight for their values, to countries that fight for justice and for others, is the way I was raised. It was almost a natural journey to find myself doing the work I've done for the last 20 years, from human rights, to women's rights, freedom of expression, to rights in conflict situation. To become a Special Rapporteur is a way for me to explore how to make the best of use of what I have learned, and contribute to the protection of human rights around the world.”
As one of the more high-profile Rapporteurs, calling out Governments and Heads of State, Ms. Callamard has frequently been the subject of criticism and attacks. In 2017, for example, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte insulted her, and made threats of physical violence, in response to her comments on the country’s “war on drugs” campaign, that has led to thousands of deaths.
Ms. Callamard told UN News that she is unconcerned by such attacks, citing the safety in numbers that comes from the fact that many of the statements released by Special Rapporteurs are jointly issued:
“We feel stronger in our determination because numbers play a role. That doesn't stop social media trolls, or governments, from criticizing us, sometimes in terms that are really inappropriate. But this is nothing, compared to the threats experienced by the people on whose behalf we are working”.
Fighting antisemitism, the ‘canary in the coalmine of global hatred’
Over the past 12 months, the world has seen a rise in antisemitic violence, prompting UN Secretary-General António Guterres, to warn in January that “the old antisemitism is back – and getting worse.”
Delivering his report on antisemitism to the General Assembly, Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, described antisemitism as the “canary in the coalmine of global hatred”, which “poses a threat to all societies if left unaddressed”.
A citizen of the Maldives, Mr. Shaheed twice held the office of Minister of Foreign Affairs in his country, and led the Maldives' efforts to embrace international human rights standards between 2003 and 2011. He is currently Deputy Director of the Essex Human Rights Centre (more information here).
Mr. Shaheed’s previous UN role was Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, during which time he faced significant criticism from the Iranian authorities, and was eventually barred from entering the country. For him, this goes with the territory: “I think every time someone speaks up for human rights, there'll be somebody who will not be happy with that.
If you are speaking up for what is right, then you have to prepare to face the criticism that comes with it, and what enables me to go on, is the fact that there are people who need attention, and there are people who find value in the work. I do that despite opposition from governments. Very often, however, they take notice and do the right thing.”
Speaking to UN News, Mr. Shaheed said that his motivation for tackling antisemitism dates back to his formative years: “I have always been struck by how widespread antisemitism is in my own country, where there has never been a Jewish presence. But it's so widespread everywhere you go”.
“I am very concerned, in my mandate, about rising global intolerance, and I think that the place to start off is the oldest hatred, because if we learn how toxic antisemitism, conspiracy theories, and scapegoating are, then we begin to address all the other issues as well. For me, antisemitism is a particularly pernicious form of hatred”.
Surviving slavery, and the ‘tenacity of the human soul’
Another human rights issue that has persisted over centuries, is slavery. More than half of all countries have yet to criminalize it, and some 40 million people around the world are enslaved, a quarter of them children.
Urmila Bhoola, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, works globally to advance human rights and end child labour, child marriage, forced labour and other contemporary forms of slavery.
Ms. Bhoola has worked for some twenty years, as a labour and human rights lawyer in South Africa, and has received many awards for her rights and gender equality work.
As she explained to UN News, supporting workers’ rights, and ending their exploitation, has always been close to her heart, and her current role allows her to help some of the world’s most vulnerable:
“My mandate is also focused on the specific impact of slavery on women and children, so it is an opportunity that allows me to make a greater contribution to the rights of workers and to really pursue my commitment of ending the extreme forms of exploitation that we find in the world today.”
As Special Rapporteur, she has an opportunity to engage with governments, civil society organizations, survivors and victims, in several countries, and making recommendations. She has also seen first-hand the devastating impact of contemporary slavery:
I feel that everyone I've met, every survivor and victim, has told a story with so much dignity, and they speak so much to the tenacity of the human soul. Urmila Bhoola
“The one situation that really had a major impact on me was meeting some of the women in a village in Niger, which was my first country mission. I met a survivor who brought a case at the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Court of Justice against her government, because she had been sold into slavery by her master. She managed to recover compensation, but also recovered her dignity because the court ruled in her favour”.
So I met her and a number of women who had escaped from slavery: they had been forced to become ‘fifth wives’, which is when a master and his four wives, literally employ someone, normally a girl, to work as a slave in the household”.
“Some of them had terrible stories: one of them had her eye put out by her master, because she refused to comply with his demands. Their resilience and dignity, despite the experiences that they had gone through, really struck me".
"I feel that everyone I've met, every survivor and victim, has told a story with so much dignity, and they speak so much to the tenacity of the human soul”.
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United Nations, Nov 1 (Canadian-Media): UN Member States agreed seven decades ago to a set of inalienable rights to ensure the dignity of everyone. On Friday, the newly-installed General Assembly President recalled their collective responsibility through the Human Rights Council to “actualize that shared vision for a better world.”
Children attending Nuristan Primary School in Afghanistan. (File)/UNAMA/Ebrahim Papal
Based in Geneva, the Human Rights Council is a 47-member UN body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights globally, with countries elected to serve by the Assembly in New York.
“Let us not forget: a just world is a safe world”, Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande stressed before the Council’s annual report was formally delivered, adding that “we can only ensure peace and development if human rights are upheld”.
Noting that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is built upon “a foundation of human rights”, he pointed out that since its adoption, the Council has mandated the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to convene dialogues on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Encouraging everyone to view the SDG’s “through a human rights lens”, he drew attention to education, one of his key priorities, linking SDG 4 to articles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the seminal Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Yet, Mr. Muhammad-Bande noted that “despite being anchored in these texts”, there is much to do to reach the SDG 4 targets on quality education and lifelong learning and urged for “a rights-based approach towards implementation”.
To achieve all 17 Goals, he maintained, “we must ensure that all stakeholders are included…so that we leave no one behind” and made “inclusion a priority for the session”.
Citing the displaced, people with disabilities and indigenous persons, among others, he spelled out: “We will not have a UN that excludes”.
“In 2019, this is simply a no-brainer: the rights of women, everywhere, must be upheld”, he underscored.
Recalling that 20 November will mark the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he stated, “the notion that ‘children are people, too’, serves as a reminder to us all that the rights of children everywhere must be upheld so that children do not just survive, but also to thrive”.
“The Report of the Human Rights Council aligns not only with the aforementioned priorities of education and inclusion, but to all of the priorities I have set for the seventy-fourth session, including: peace and security through conflict prevention; poverty eradication and zero hunger; and climate action” the PGA flagged.
He said that most of the violent conflicts today have “had their origins in violations of, or disregard for, human rights”, pressing that it is “incumbent upon each Member State…to uphold equal dignity and human rights for everyone, everywhere”.
“There is no alternative to protecting the rights of the people we serve”, he concluded.
‘Even greater responsibility’ of members
For his part, Human Rights Council President Coly Seck presented an overview of the themes the Council had prioritized and underscored the important role of each country.
“By becoming a member of the Council, these States have an even greater responsibility to achieve their objectives in the promotion and respect of human rights”, he asserted.
He also noted the “high degree of harmonization and mutual respect” between “the two processes in Geneva and New York” and urged for continued “coordination and cooperation” for the protection of human rights.