Peshawar Attack is Deadliest Assault Yet on Children’s Education in Pakistan

Schoolgirls in Abbotabad, Pakistan, 2013 (wikimedia)

Schoolgirls in Abbotabad, Pakistan, 2013 (wikimedia)

Dec. 16, 2014 - Less than one week after Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai collected the Noble Peace Prize for her championing of children’s education, a cause for which she was shot in the head by the Taliban as a 14-year-old two years ago in the Swat Valley, the fundamentalist group has carried out its deadliest attack so far on a school in the country.

Tuesday’s assault by the Pakistan Taliban on a military-run school in Peshawar, which killed scores of children as well as teachers, is the latest in a growing list of attacks in which Taliban militants have attacked childhood education, with girls schools and female university students frequently the target.

Two schools for girls in Pakistan were blown up in November and October this year, one of which had recently been reconstructed following a previous attack.

According the UN envoy for children and armed conflict, 78 schools in Pakistan were attacked in 2013. A separate report, from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, reports there were 838 attacks on schools in Pakistan from 2009-2012, more than in any other country, as well as attacks on school buses, such as the one targeting Malala, which also resulted in two of her schoolmates being shot.

Research from Save the Children, a non-governmental organization, suggests that children entering primary school in countries affected by conflict are 20 percent more likely to leave primary school before completion than children in countries not affected by conflict.

In addition to Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan, where some 550 children have been killed in the past year, according to reports by Ban Ki-moon, and Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in March this year, are two of the other worst countries for attacks on children’s education.

Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education is a war crime, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Latin America Only UN Region Not Involved in US Torture Program

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Dec. 14, 2014 – The 53 countries involved in the CIA torture program hail from four of the five UN regional groups and eight of those countries hosted CIA torture prisons.

Overall, more than one-quarter of the UN’s 193 member states were involved in the torture program, which was detailed in a US Senate select committee report released last week.

Four countries belonging to the Eastern European group – Bosnia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania; three countries in the Asian group – Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand; and Morocco in the African group were home to secret CIA detention facilities, or “black sites,” where torture took place, in addition to Guantanamo Bay, according to the Open Society’s Globalizing Torture report.

Forty-five other countries, as well as Hong Kong, facilitated US torture, from providing information to US authorities, to allowing CIA rendition flights stopover and refuel, as well as detaining and handing over individuals to CIA custody.

Almost half are European with thirteen of the countries named belonging to the Western European and Others Group, including permanent Security Council member the UK, as well as Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Spain, in addition to Australia and Canada, while six Eastern European countries were involved including Croatia, Georgia and Macedonia.

Twelve countries from the African group are named including South Africa, Egypt and Zimbabwe as well as twelve from the Asian group including Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Syria.

None of the 33 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean group were named in the report.

List of UN member states implicated in US torture program:

Afghanistan
Austria
Australia
Albania
Algeria
Azerbaijan
Belgium
Bosnia-Herzegovina
Canada
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Djibouti
Egypt
Ethiopia
Finland
Gambia
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Iceland
Indonesia
Iran
Ireland
Italy
Jordan
Kenya
Libya
Lithuania
Macedonia
Malawi
Malaysia
Mauritania
Morocco
Pakistan
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Saudi Arabia
Somalia
South Africa
Spain
Sri Lanka
Sweden
Syria
Thailand
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
Uzbekistan
Yemen
Zimbabwe

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Claims by Powell to UN Justifying Iraq War Based on Info from Tortured Person

Security Council Hears United States Briefing on Evidence of Iraq's Failure to Disarm
Dec. 9, 2014 – Claims made by Colin Powell to the UN Security Council in 2003 that Saddam Hussein was providing support for Al Qaeda came from a person who had been tortured and who later recanted what he told interrogators.

On Feb. 5, 2003, Powell told the Security Council: “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

He went on to describe how a detainee had detailed Saddam Hussein’s support for Al Qaeda including training in the use of chemical and biological weapons.

“Al-Qaida continues to have a deep interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As with the story of Zarqawi and his network, I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaida. Fortunately, this operative is now detained and he has told his story. I will relate it to you now as he, himself, described it.

“This senior al-Qaida terrorist was responsible for one of al-Qaida’s training camps in Afghanistan. His information comes firsthand from his personal involvement at senior levels of al-Qaida. He says bin Laden and his top deputy in Afghanistan, deceased al-Qaida leader Muhammad Atif, did not believe that al-Qaida labs in Afghanistan were capable enough to manufacture these chemical or biological agents. They needed to go somewhere else. They had to look outside of Afghanistan for help.

“Where did they go? Where did they look? They went to Iraq. The support that this detainee describes included Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaida associates beginning in December 2000. He says that a militant known as Abdallah al-Iraqi had been sent to Iraq several times between 1997 and 2000 for help in acquiring poisons and gasses. Abdallah al-Iraqi characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful.”

But the Senate Select Committee report released on Tuesday states in a footnote that the information was given by a Libyan national who had been subjected to torture. He later recanted the claims, saying he had been tortured, adding that he told his interrogators “what he assessed they wanted to hear.”

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Although Powell’s presentation failed to convince Security Council members to support the use of force against Saddam Hussein, with permanent members China, France and Russia opposed, the US invaded Iraq the following month.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

UN Peacekeepers Observe IDF Interacting With Al Nusra in Golan

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Dec. 4, 2014 – UN troops monitoring the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria have witnessed interactions between members of the Israeli Defence Forces and the Al Nusra Front who have taken over a large part of the Golan Heights.

The information is included in a report by Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council issued on Thursday on the activities of the UN Disengagement Observer Force. The peacekeeping mission was forced to relocate its troops from the Golan because of a deteriorating security situation which included 45 Fijian troops kidnapped by the rebels in August.

In the report Ban writes, “Following the evacuation of UNDOF personnel from position 85 on 28 August, UNDOF sporadically observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85.” [see map]

The bulk of the 930-strong UNDOF force have relocated to the Israeli (Alpha) side of the ceasefire line while the mission maintains some positions in southern and northern (Mount Hermon) parts of the Golan Heights. Because of the limited capacity to perform its mandate, Ban has recommended reducing the force by some 200 troops.

In their hasty withdrawal from positions in the Golan in mid-September, the troops were unable to secure all of their assets. “Unfortunately some assets and equipment were left behind,” Ban writes. UN Tribune reported in September that Al Nusra had previously seized several UN armored vehicles as well as taken command of facilities the UN had vacated.

Ban identifies Al Nusra as the group behind the kidnapping of the UN troops. “It should be noted here that from information posted on social media as well as in the course of its efforts to secure the release of the peacekeepers, the United Nations learned that its personnel had been taken and held by members of the Nusra Front. There were indications that the Nusra Front intended to detain additional UNDOF personnel and take from UNDOF more weapons and vehicles as opportunities arose.”

In the report, Ban writes that the Syrian government had threatened to bomb camps hosting IDPs in the Golan Heights.

“During the reporting period, UNDOF observed two tented camps housing internally displaced persons in the vicinity of United Nations position 80…UNDOF estimates that from 60 to 70 families live in the camps…Late in September, the Senior Syrian Arab Delegate sent a letter to the UNDOF Force Commander stating that the camps for internally displaced persons were not used for humanitarian reasons but as a base for “armed terrorist” groups who also crossed to the Alpha side. The Delegate
requested that UNDOF remove the camps within a period of 15 days, after which the camps would be considered a legitimate target for the Syrian armed forces.”

UNDOF informed the Syrian delegate that it was not in its mandate to relocate civilians displaced by conflict and urged that no attack be carried out. In addition, the ICRC were informed of the Syrian request, the report states.

It also says that Syrian forces have withdrawn from a number of locations in the ceasefire area. “Over the course of the reporting period, the Syrian armed forces withdrew from additional positions and checkpoints in the areas of separation and limitation, leaving armed groups in control of more territory in the UNDOF area of operations.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Croatia Pres. Protests to UNSC Over ICTY Release of Seselj

Vojislav_Šešelj in a photo provided by the ICTY

Vojislav Šešelj in a photo provided by the ICTY

Dec. 2, 2014 – Trust in the UN-backed court prosecuting crimes in the former Yugoslavia is being undermined by lengthy trials that fail to reach a conclusion and this has been compounded by the provisional release of a war crimes indictee who immediately resumed his ultra-nationalistic rhetoric.

These were among the complaints made by Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic in a letter to Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council following the decision of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to release Vojislav Seselj.

Seselj was indicted by the court in 2003 on eight counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes for participating in a “joint criminal enterprise” whose aim was the “permanent forcible removal” of a majority of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb populations from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Vojvodina. He surrendered voluntarily to the court that year and was granted provisional release last month due to poor health.

“For the sake of justice and the trust of the general public, and in particular of the victims, in international justice, it is essential that each case end within a reasonable time frame with a court decision — a conviction or an acquittal,” Josipovic wrote in his letter to Ban and the Security Council.

“Too protracted court proceedings, as in the Šešelj case, undermine trust in international  law. The situation is even worse when, as in the Milošević case, the proceedings last so long that death thwarts the conviction. Such cases defeat the cause of justice and international law and result in the loss of citizens’ trust in the international administration of justice,” he added in the letter which was released by the UN on Tuesday.

After his release, Seselj told reporters that the idea of a Greater Serbia would not be abandoned.

The ICTY was established by Security Council Resolution 827 in 1993. The budget for the court, which is borne by UN member states, was $251 million for 2012/13 and the total cost for the tribunal since its inception until when it will shut down in 2016 is estimated at $2 billion.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Ethiopia Among Countries to Meet MDG Hunger Target

A fruit and vegetable market in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. (credit: wikimedia)

Dec. 1, 2014 – Fifteen developing countries in 2014 have met the MDG 1 hunger goal of reducing by half the number of undernourished people from 1990 levels.

Ethiopia, the 13th most populous nation in the world and Africa’s second most populous behind Nigeria, is among the 15 to reach the target this year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said on Sunday that the prevalence of undernourishment in the country has decreased from 74.8 percent in 1990-92, to 35 percent in 2012-14.

But there are still some 33 million Ethiopians without enough food each day, almost one-third of the country’s 96 million people.

Brazil, Cameroon, Iran and Mexico were also among the fifteen countries this year to meet the hunger goal. The prevalence of undernourishment in these countries was much lower than in Ethiopia with Brazil reducing hunger from 14.8 percent of its population in 1990-92, to 1.7 percent in 2012-14, while the number of hungry in Cameroon declined to 2.3 million people compared with 4.7 million in 1990.

Globally, there are some 805 million people who do not have enough food to eat each day. In China, which met the hunger goal in June this year, 10.6 percent of the population are undernourished while in India, which has not yet met the target, 15.2 percent of people are undernourished. Combined, these two countries account for 340 million of the world’s undernourished people, 40 percent of the overall total.

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Hunger is the biggest public health threat globally, according to the World Health Organization and is a contributory factor in the death of 3.1 million children under five every year.

While progress is being made in the fight against hunger, conflict is driving food insecurity in a number of places including Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, Iraq, Gaza and Syria. On Monday, the World Food Program announced it was suspending a food aid scheme for 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a lack of funding. The agency said it needs $64 million in December to resume its voucher scheme in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in December 2015 and will be replaced by a new set of post-2015 goals.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit-Based

Special Event:  United Nations Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Nov. 26, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon will be pressed by both member states and the international aid community to appoint a successor to Valerie Amos as head of OCHA based on merit and not, as has been his precedent, to give the post to a major power.

Amos, the well-liked, hard-working and longest-serving UN aid chief, has overseen the 1,900 person OCHA office at a time of multiple humanitarian emergencies, which, since her appointment in Sept. 2010, includes crises in Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. She will step down in March 2015, her office said on Wednesday.

Amos is the second UK national to head the OCHA since it was founded by merging two separate offices in 1992. She succeeded John Holmes, another UK diplomat, who served from 2007-10. Britain, as is common with its fellow P5 members, typically has one of its own in a key UN cabinet post. In recent years, UK diplomats have served as head of the UNDP and the Dept. of Political Affairs, which is now headed by an American, Jeffery Feltman. The US also gets control of UNICEF, currently headed by former US national security adviser, Tony Lake.

A French national has headed the UN’s Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations since 1997, after then chief, Kofi Annan, was appointed secretary-general. India, the largest troop-contributing country, covets the post. China’s Margaret Chan heads up the World Health Organization while a Russian, Yury Fedotov, is head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

With NGO’s calling for a more transparent process for selecting the next secretary-general, Ban will be under pressure to show he has an independent streak and is not merely doing the bidding of the big powers. To do this, he will have to select candidates based on their previous humanitarian and leadership experience and make the short-list public.

The appointment of the world’s top humanitarian official will come at a key time, just a year before the World Humanitarian Summit which aims to find new ways to address the growing number of humanitarian crises. Earlier this year, MSF published a withering critique of the global humanitarian response and said the UN was at the heart of the dysfunctional response.

Previous heads of OCHA:

1 Jan Eliasson Sweden Sweden 1992 1994
2 Peter Hansen Denmark Denmark 1994 1996
3 Yasushi Akashi Japan Japan 1996 1998
4 Sérgio Vieira de Mello Brazil Brazil 1998 January 2001
5 Kenzo Oshima Japan Japan January 2001 June 2003
6 Jan Egeland Norway Norway June 2003 December 2006
7 John Holmes United Kingdom United Kingdom January 2007 September 2010
8 Valerie Amos United Kingdom United Kingdom September 2010 present

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Prospect of Lost Generation in Syria Now a ‘Reality’

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Nov. 25, 2014 – UN aid chief Valerie Amos on Tuesday told the Security Council that more than 12 million people, including 5 million children, need assistance in Syria and the amount of aid getting into the country is only a fragment of what is needed to address the humanitarian situation.

She said the there was “considerable challenges in implementing”
Resolution 2139 (Feb. 2014), demanding safe, unhindered access to aid, and Resolution 2165 (July 2014), authorizing cross-border aid without state consent.

“This is a conflict that is affecting every Syrian. Syria’s economy has contracted some 40 per cent since 2011. Unemployment now exceeds 54 per cent. Three quarters of the population live in poverty. School attendance has dropped by more than 50 per cent. Young people have few prospects of a bright future,” Amos told the 15-nation body.

“We have lamented the possibility of a lost generation of Syria’s children: it is now a reality.”

She said the resolutions have made a difference and “nearly all the hard-to-reach locations in the four governorates – Aleppo, Idlib, Dar’a and Quneitra” have received aid.

“But despite the progress we have made it is still not enough. No more than two besieged locations have been reached in any month since the adoption of resolution 2165 and only one location has been reached in each of the past two months,” Amos said.

Addressing the Council on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the UN’s top humanitarian official said, “we particularly remember Syria’s women and children. Sexual violence has been used as a form of torture, to injure, to degrade, intimidate and as punishment.”

She also praised the bravery of aid workers, noting that 69 of them have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.

In his report to the Council on the implementation of Resolutions 2139 and 2165, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “at least 239 civilians have reportedly been killed by government airstrikes, including barrel bomb attacks” in the past month.

According to the UN Human Rights Office, 42 barrel bombs were dropped between Oct. 18 and Nov. 6. On Nov. 5 the government air force bombed a Damascus neighborhood, hitting a primary school and killing at least 17 children and injuring a dozen others.

Internal displacement continues unabated with some 50,000 people displaced in the last two weeks of October, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Ban wrote that “foreign fighters continued to be involved on all sides of the fighting” and a reported number “of foreign, mostly Shiite, militias joined the pro-government forces in Aleppo.” He added that the Nusra Front and ISIL continue to recruit foreign and domestic fighters. “On Nov. 4, the leader of the Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, stated that foreign fighters constituted ’30 to 35 per cent’ of his group’s total force,” the report said.

In her address to the Council, Amos said she hopes the Council will renew Resolution 2165 when its six-month mandate expires in January.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/ICRC

Turkey’s Erdogan on Women Contradicts UN Charter and UDHR

Recep_Tayyip_Erdogan
Nov. 24, 2014 – Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s remarks on Monday that women are not equal to men contradict both the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing,” he told a women’s conference in Istanbul. “It is against nature.”

The preamble of the UN Charter states that, “We the peoples of the United Nations determined… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

Meanwhile, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by Turkey in 1949, declares that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Turkey ranks 69th in the UNDP Gender Equality Index with particular gaps in women’s participation in the workforce, politics, and education. Fourteen percent of Turkish Parliament members are women, or 79 MPs out of 548. with Turkey ranking 96th out of 188 countries for participation in politics according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

As for employment, only 24 percent of Turkish women are employed outside the home, typically in low-paying jobs such as in the textile industry or farming.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

The 42 Countries That Have Banned Corporal Punishment

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Nov. 20, 2014 - As the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Child Rights Convention, less than 10 percent of children around the globe are protected by laws banning corporal punishment.

But that’s almost double the amount of children protected from last year with Argentina and Brazil among four of the countries enacting laws in 2014 to protect minors from violence in the home and school.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however slight,” and it calls physical punishment “invariably degrading.”

Sweden was the world’s first country to ban corporal punishment in 1979 while San Marino became the most recent when its parliament passed a bill in June this year.

A full list of countries that have enacted laws prohibiting violence against children in the home and school is below, courtesy of the Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment. Most recent first:

San Marino (2014)

Argentina (2014)

Bolivia (2014)

Brazil (2014)

Malta (2014)

Cabo Verde (2013)

Honduras (2013)

TFYR Macedonia (2013)

South Sudan (2011)

Albania (2010)

Congo, Republic of (2010)

Kenya (2010)

Tunisia (2010)

Poland (2010)

Liechtenstein (2008)

Luxembourg (2008)

Republic of Moldova (2008)

Costa Rica (2008)

Togo (2007)

Spain (2007)

Venezuela (2007)

Uruguay (2007)

Portugal (2007)

New Zealand (2007)

Netherlands (2007)

Greece (2006)

Hungary (2005)

Romania (2004)

Ukraine (2004)

Iceland (2003)

Turkmenistan (2002)

Germany (2000)

Israel (2000)

Bulgaria (2000)

Croatia (1999)

Latvia (1998)

Denmark (1997)

Cyprus (1994)

Austria (1989)

Norway (1987)

Finland (1983)

Sweden (1979)