UN Staff Member Accused of Domestic Violence Arrested in Kenya

UN legal officer Alphonse Kambu, accused of assaulting his ex-partner (credit: The Star/Kenya)

UN legal officer Alphonse Kambu, accused of assaulting his ex-partner (credit: The Star/Kenya)

Nov. 4, 2015 – A legal officer with the UN Environmental Program was arrested in Kenya on Wednesday to answer allegations that he brutally assaulted his ex-partner and mother of their 3-year-old child.

Alphonse Kambu, 42, will appear in a Nairobi court on Thursday to enter a plea, according to local media. The Nairobi News reported that the victim, 26-year-old Ruth Gakki, said that Kambu came to her home on October 21 while drunk and demanded food from the staff working at the house.

“Immediately I came from the bedroom, he slapped, kicked me and smashed me against the wall. At this point, the house-help fled with the baby leaving me behind helpless,” Ms. Gakii told Nairobi News.

Ruth Gakki ar Nairboi Women's Hospital (credit: Star, Kenya)

Ruth Gakki at Nairobi Women’s Hospital (credit: Star, Kenya)

Kambu, a native of Papua New Guinea, has worked in various capacities for the United Nations since 2002, including as a lecturer for the United Nations University. He has worked for UNEP, which is headquartered in the Kenyan capital, since May 2008, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Ms. Gakki has said that the alleged October 21 incident was not the first time he assaulted her but each time she reports it to authorities Kambu cites diplomatic immunity and has not been charged.

In an email to Nairobi News, UNEP said that it would co-operate with the police investigation and that staff members only enjoy immunity for words spoken or written and for acts performed in an official capacity.

“Without prejudice to the privileges and immunities accorded to the United Nations and its staff members, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect local laws,” read the statement from UNEP.

According to UN Women, up to 70 percent of women have experienced either physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or ex-partner at some stage in their lives.

It is estimated that almost half of women killed globally are killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member, compared with six percent of men.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Respecting the Dignity of People Suffering from Mental Illness

Philippe Pinel, often refferred to as "father of modern psychiatry" releasing people from their chains at the Salpêtrière Asylum, Paris, 1795 by Tony Robert-Fleury

Philippe Pinel, often referred to as “father of modern psychiatry” releasing people from their chains at the Salpêtrière Asylum, Paris, 1795, by Tony Robert-Fleury, (Brigdeman Art Library)

Oct. 10, 2015 – Research from post-conflict South Sudan reported that up to half the population met the symptoms for depression while another study found that 15 percent of ex-combatants wished they were dead.

Yet there are only twelve beds for treatment of mental illness in South Sudan and many of those with serious mental illness or disability are instead sent to prison where they are shackled and locked away for years on end.

World Mental Health Day is commemorated on Oct. 10th and the World Health Organization has declared dignity as the this year’s theme, noting that many people suffering from mental health are sent to institutions, deprived of their liberty and subject to inhuman and degrading conditions.

Yet, it is not only post-conflict developing countries where people suffering from mental illness are denied their inherent dignity. In the United States, prisons often serve as the functioning mental health system especially for the homeless, more than a third of whom suffer from a mental illness.

In China, there’s barely one psychiatrist for every 100,000 people, even though more than 17 percent of the adult population have a mental disorder at some stage of their lives.

For countries currently experiencing conflict, the treatment of mental illness is often neglected as over-burdened aid agencies focus on delivering food and trauma care. In Syria, for example, the World Health Organization said there’s a shortage of medication for those suffering from depression – and the number is growing – and other mental illnesses.

On this year’s Mental Health Day, WHO is calling for governments, communities and donors to invest in a holistic approach that respects the rights of those suffering from mental illness, and for treatment to not just focus on managing symptoms but on recovery so that people can achieve their full life’s potential.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

UN General Assembly Debate – Day 2 Wrap

Petro Poroshenko addressing the UN General Assembly, Spet. 29, 2015 UN Photo)

Petro Poroshenko addressing the UN General Assembly, Sept. 29, 2015 UN Photo)

Sept. 29, 2015 – Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday responded to Vladimir Putin’s speech on Monday by telling delegates that, “Over the last few days we have heard conciliatory statements from the Russian side in which, in particular, it called for the establishment of anti-terrorist coalition, or warned of danger to flirt with terrorists.”

“Cool story, but really hard to believe,” Poroshenko continued. “How can you urge an anti-terrorist coalition – if you inspire terrorism right in front of your door? How can you talk about peace and legitimacy – if your policy is war via puppet governments? How can you speak of freedom for nations – if you punish your neighbor for his choice? How can you demand respect for all – if you don’t have respect for anyone?”

He added that Russia “shamefully” used its veto twice to block Security Council resolutions related to Ukraine, the first in March 2014 that would have condemned the Crimea referendum and, more recently, a resolution that called for establishing an international criminal investigation into the downing of Flight MH17.

Ukraine is set to join the Council as a non-permanent member for a two year term beginning in Jan. 1, 2016.

Speaking later on Tuesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country, one of the top humanitarian donors to the UN system, would step up its funding for refugees and internally displaced people from Syria and Iraq. The funding would not only go to neighboring countries hosting the vast majority of refugees, but also to countries on Europe’s borders, particularly Serbia and Macedonia.

He also expressed frustration at the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament, noting that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Abe called for continuing reductions in Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, as well as all other countries that possess these weapons.

Also speaking on Tuesday was Liberia’s President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson who said progress towards gender equality was well behind schedule. She noted that only a few of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representatives were women, that only one woman had ever served as president of the General Assembly, and that there had never been a female secretary-general.

Johnson said the response to the Ebola crisis in her country, as well as in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea, which she called the “greatest modern threat to global public health” showed that the promise of the United Nations works when we “find it within our humanity to respond even to unknown enemies to our collective progress” and she thanked Ban Ki-moon as well as other international organizations for mobilizing their response to fight Ebola.

At a side event on Tuesday, foreign ministers from Argentina, Benin, Fiji, Italy and Rwanda spoke for the need to work towards global abolition of the death penalty.

Also speaking was human rights high commissioner Zeid Hussein and US campaigner Sister Helen Prejean. Zeid noted that 82 percent of UN member states have either introduced a moratorium or have abolished the death penalty. In the past twelve months, Fiji, Madagascar, Suriname and the U.S. state of Nebraska have abolished the practice.

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Sister Helen, who had to leave the event early as she is actively campaigning for a stay on the execution in Oklahoma of Richard Glossip, who the U.S. state is set to execute tomorrow. She said after witnessing her first execution in Alabama, she vomited. She then decided that she needed to educate the American public about the cruelty of the death penalty. In the course of her campaigning she met many victims families – those whose killer was executed – and discovered that, for many, they are hidden victims of the death penalty. “Don’t kill for us,” she quoted victims families as saying. She called it revictimization.

Sister Helen noted the racial disparities among those on death row, saying that in the U.S. when a person of color is put to death it is negligible and that while there’s a perception that the US has the best justice system in the world, 150 people on death row have been exonerated, while others who have been innocent have been put to death.

At least 11 countries have applied the death penalty in 2015: Afghanistan, Chad, China, Indonesia, India, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the United States.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

UN Stonewalling on Decision to List IDF as Child Violators

"Palestinian man with child during Operation Protective Edge" by Basel Yazouri -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palestinian_man_with_child_during_Operation_Protective_Edge.jpg#/media/File:Palestinian_man_with_child_during_Operation_Protective_Edge.jpg

“Palestinian man with child during Operation Protective Edge” by Basel Yazouri – License: Creative Commons

April 7, 2015 – Ban Ki-moon’s office says he is still preparing his annual report on children and armed conflict but is so far unwilling to say whether the secretary-general will name the Israeli Defence Forces in his list of groups that have committed grave violations against children.

Ban has been urged to include the IDF in the annex of the annual report, which lists state and non-state forces that have committed grave violations against children, over its conduct during the six-week summer conflict in Gaza that the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says resulted in the deaths of 551 Palestinian children.

A source told UN Tribune that a meeting was scheduled for April 6 in New York involving Ban and the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, during which a decision on listing the IDF would be made. A spokesperson for Zerrougui’s office said the meeting did not take place.

The source said UN staff working on the ground in Gaza have urged the inclusion of Israel in the annual report but have been subject to intimidation from inside the Israeli government.

At stake, the source added, is Ban’s Human Rights Up Front initiative which was launched after the UN’s systematic failure during the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The initiative aims to support United Nations staff who warn of human rights abuses and tasks the UN system “with using all the resources at its disposal, including its moral authority” to promote and encourage human rights especially with regard to protecting civilians.

While the United States has steadfastly lobbied the UN on Israel’s behalf in the past, which included the US mission to the United Nations overseeing Ban’s release of details of a 2009 UN inquiry into Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza, recent statements from the White House indicate that Washington’s appetite to shield Israel from rebuke at the United Nations is waning.

Ban would also be expected to list Hamas in his annual report for its indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian areas of southern Israel endangering the lives of Israeli children as well as for using schools and hospitals to store and launch rockets.

Last year’s annual report on children and armed conflict listed 59 parties in 15 countries including eight state armed forces and 51 other armed groups that have committed any of the six categories of grave violations identified by the United Nations.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Rights Official Cites Progress, Setbacks in Death Penalty Abolition

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March 4, 2015 –  A senior UN human rights official on Wednesday said the number of countries that have abolished the death penalty is at a record high but executing countries are increasing the frequency of its use.

UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, in an address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, said that some 160 countries have abolished, either legally or in practice, the use of the death penalty.

“In the last six months, the death penalty was abolished in Chad, Fiji and Madagascar,” he said. “However, despite this progress, there remain challenges: while we are seeing movement towards abolishing the death penalty in some countries, elsewhere, we are seeing moves towards its preservation, or even reintroduction.”

Ivanovic told the Council that despite the record number of abolitionist countries the number of states executing and the number of executions increased from 2012 to 2013.

More than 50 countries still retain the death penalty and it was used by 22 countries in 2013, resulting in a 15 percent rise in the number of people executed from 2012. Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Viet Nam resumed the death penalty in 2013.

In all, some 778 people were executed in 2013, according to Amnesty International, excluding China where the death penalty is regarded as a state secret and reliable figures are not available.

Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia were responsible for more than three-quarters of reported executions while the US remained the only country in the Americas to use the death penalty, with the majority of executions taking place in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Arizona. Eighteen of the 50 US states have abolished the death penalty.

Ivanovic noted that some countries still retain the death penalty for drug offenses, “with the argument that this harsh punishment is needed for deterrence purposes. However, there is no evidence that the death penalty deters any crime,” he said.

China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Singapore are among the countries that execute persons convicted of drug offenses.

Regionally, Europe and the Americas are tops for death penalty abolition while only eleven of 54 African countries use the death penalty. Sudan is Africa’s leading executioner.

All countries in the Middle East and North Africa retain the death penalty but some countries, such as Algeria, Mauritania and Qatar effectively have a moratorium on its use, while Israel has only ever executed one person, Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged in 1962 for war crimes.

Eight countries have applied the death penalty so far in 2015 with more than 100 of the 192 executions occurring in Iran alone. Of the 192 people executed in the eight countries this year, nine were women.

The other countries where executions have taken place in 2015 are Afghanistan, China, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

New York City Expected to Adopt CEDAW Legislation in June

Wordle_Visualization_of_CEDAW

Feb. 17, 2015 – As the sixtieth session of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women opens in Geneva, the treaty is expected to get a boost in coming months when mayors from several US cities are expected to sign legislation to implement CEDAW at the municipal level.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of 100 mayors that signed on to a resolution at the US conference of mayors last year to enforce CEDAW at the municipal level and he is expected to implement the resolution in June.

The US is one of seven UN member states that have not ratified the 1979 convention, one of nine core human rights treaties, with both Republican and Democrat-majority senates rejecting the convention in part because of what they view as its pro-abortion agenda.

The convention makes no mention of abortion and countries that restrict or prohibit abortion, such as Chile, Ireland and Portugal, have ratified the treaty.

To circumvent the senate’s unwillingness to ratify CEDAW (the US signed the treaty in 1980), the Cites for CEDAW campaign was launched to push cities to pass laws to eliminate discrimination based on gender.

San Francisco and Los Angeles are currently the only two US cities to have passed ordinance to comply with CEDAW, which has been described as an international bill of rights for women.

During its sessions, the CEDAW committee, made up of 23 elected members, receive and review reports from states that have ratified the treaty and then issue recommendations. Some statements by the committee have caused controversy such as one in its 2000 review of Belarus when it said that, “The Committee is concerned by the continuing prevalence of sex-role stereotypes and by the reintroduction of such symbols as a Mothers’ Day and a Mothers’ Award, which it sees as encouraging women’s traditional roles.”

Besides the US, the other UN member states that have not ratified CEDAW are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Tonga. The Holy See, a non-member observer state also has not ratified the treaty while Palestine, also a non-member observer state, became the last country to ratify the treaty in April 2014.

Of the nine core human rights treaties, the US has ratified three: the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

- 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

Spotlight on Venezuela as it Gains Security Council Seat

Venezuela's delegation celebrates election to the Security Council for 2015-16. (credit/UN Photo).

Venezuela’s delegation celebrates election to the Security Council for 2015-16. (credit/UN Photo).

Oct. 21 – Venezuela’s UN delegation gloated last week over its election to a non-permanent Security Council seat calling it “recognition of the international policies of the Bolivarian Revolution” but since then it has come in for criticism from both the Human Rights Commissioner and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

That its election to the Council is a victory for the country’s Bolivarian policies is off the mark as it ran uncontested for the available Latin American seat – it was simply their turn to run – and in principle, a country’s national policies should have no impact on the collective responsibility of the Council to maintain international peace and security (in reality, however, the Council consists of governments whose national interests often usurp its international obligations).

The criticism from newly appointed UN human rights chief, Zeid Hussein, came on Monday when he called on Venezuela to release opposition leaders and others arbitrarily detained during student-led anti-government protests earlier this year. He also “deplored” threats and intimidation directed at human rights defenders and journalists. “My office is extremely concerned about the current situation, and we will continue to monitor it very closely,” Zeid said.

And on Tuesday, Venezuela’s record on ending discrimination against women was up for review by CEDAW. Among the areas of concern, committee member Olinda Bareiro-Bobadilla said, were “dozens” of discriminatory laws. This includes “the acquittal of a rapist if he marries his victim. Allowing that violence against women persists throughout life.”

When it joins the Council on Jan. 1, 2015, Venezuela will have the unenviable distinction of having the highest murder rate of any of the 15 nations on the Council. According to the latest report of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, more than 16,000 Venezuelans are killed annually by armed violence, a rate of more than 50 people for every 100,000 citizens, the second highest murder rate globally, behind Honduras, according to the UNODC report whose most recent figures were for 2012.

As a comparison, that’s 40 percent more than the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined last year – almost 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed in 2013, according to the UN mission there, and in Iraq, more than 7,000 civilians were killed last year, according to UNAMI.

Next year the UN will decide on its post-2015 development agenda and whether peace and stability should be one of the goals.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Why Malala Won the Nobel Prize: Remembering Her Speech to the United Nations

UN Tribune editor Denis Fitzgerald with Malala Yousafzai at Pakistan's Mission to the UN in New York, July 2013.

UN Tribune editor Denis Fitzgerald with Malala Yousafzai at a reception at Pakistan’s Mission to the UN in New York, July 2013.

Oct. 10, 2014 – Malala Yousafzai, who on Friday became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, which she shared with child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, gave one of the most powerful addresses ever delivered to the United Nations when she spoke before youth delegates on July 12 last year.

The occasion was a Youth General Assembly, which was planned to coincide with Malala’s 16th birthday, and her words of wisdom, humility, forgiveness and kindness will long be remembered. Below are some excerpts as well as a link to the full address.

“Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.  I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.

“Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorists group. I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child. I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists especially the Taliban.

“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me. I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.”

UN Rights Council Adopts Resolution Supporting LGBT Rights

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Sept. 26, 2014 – More than half the members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council on Friday supported a resolution that affirms the dignity of all people irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity and condemns acts of violence and discrimination against people based on these grounds.

Twenty-five countries voted for the text while seven abstained and 14 voted against it. The resolution, sponsored by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, asks human rights commissioner Zeid Hussein to provide a report to the Council on best practices to overcome discrimination and violence against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Of the 13 African countries on the Council, South Africa was the only one that voted for the resolution while Congo, Sierra Leone and Namibia abstained. Benin did not vote while the nine other countries including Botswana, Algeria, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Kenya voted no.

 

In the Asia group, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam voted for the resolution while India abstained and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death, voted against the text as did Pakistan, Maldives, Kazakhstan, UAE, and Indonesia.

 

All members of the Western Europe group supported the resolution. Russia voted against it while other members of the Eastern European group, including Estonia and Romania, supported the resolution.

“The resolution does not seek to create any new rights but simply affirms the application of existing international standards and law to those who face human rights abuses and violations simply because of who they are and who they love,” said Italy’s representative to the Council on behalf of EU states before the vote.

 

-Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz