UN Syria Investigators Release Gruesome Witness Testimony

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Sept. 16, 2014 – Grave violations by all sides to the conflict in Syria were detailed in witness testimony released in Geneva Tuesday by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

These include attacks by government forces using barrel bombs filled with chlorine, executions and amputations by ISIS, enforced disappearance, and depraved detention facilities.

The 12 witness statements, out of a total of some 3,200 that the inquiry has collected, “demonstrate that few Syrians have been spared,” the investigators wrote in their introduction to the report of testimonies.

They said that “many of the victims interviewed remained hopeful that their stories can prompt the action and dialogue needed to bring this conflict to an end.”

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Pillay Pitches Stronger Security Council Role for Successor

Special Session Human Rights Council
Aug. 21, 2014, Outgoing UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, on Thursday suggested her successor provide informal monthly briefings to the Security Council to avert future crises.

Pillay’s pitch came after she scolded the 15-nation body over its inaction on crises during her tenure such as Syria, Gaza, Sri Lanka and Iraq. “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this Council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” she said in her final address to the Council.

The South African jurist was appointed in 2008 for a four-year term but fell foul of the US over her criticism of Israel and was only given a two-year second term.

The Council tends to act when a humanitarian situation arises out of conflict but Pillay stressed that human rights abuses are evident for years, even decades, before a major crisis erupts and the Council must must do more to prevent, rather than react to, conflicts.

Pillay also said Ban Ki-moon can do more in providing early warning to the Council on emerging crises. Ban launched the Rights Up Front plan last year in response to the UN’s “systematic failure” in responding to the final months of the 2009 war in Sri Lanka.  The plan’s aim is to prevent human rights abuses by acting on early warnings of human rights abuses.

“Within Rights Up Front, the Secretary-General can be even more proactive in alerting to potential crises, including situations that are not formally on the Council’s agenda,” she said.

Article 99 of the UN Charter empowers the secretary-general to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The human rights chief, who will be succeeded by Jordan’s outgoing UN envoy, Prince Zeid, also suggested the Council build on the new Arms Trade Treaty, “which requires arms exporters and importers to confirm that weapons will not be used to commit violations.”

“Where there are concerns about human rights in States that purchase arms, one condition of sale would be that they accept a small human rights monitoring team, with deployment funded by the Treaty’s Trust Fund,” she said.

The five permanent members of the Security Council are among the six biggest arms sellers in the world.

Prince Zeid assumes the role of high commissioner for human rights on Sept. 1. He has been succeeded as UN envoy by Dina Kavar, who becomes the sixth female ambassador to currently serve on the Council.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Image/UN Photo

A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities?

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Eleanor Roosevelt holds a copy of the English draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in this 1948 photo (credit: UN photo)

Dec. 10, 2012 – On this day, 64 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in Paris. The document, whose 30 articles form the bedrock of the international human rights system, has been translated into a record 402 languages since.

While there are criticisms of the UDHR – that it emphasizes political and civil rights over economic, social and cultural rights; that it fails to mention minorities or people with disabilities; and, more generally, that it is a Western construct – it has exerted significant moral and legal influence over the past six decades.

One of the more interesting propositions in recent years – while not a direct criticism of the UDHR – is that the concept of rights have become so ingrained in society (specifically in Western society) that citizens increasingly ignore their duties and responsibilities as members of society.

The idea of a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities was first put forward in 1997 and championed by former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, but the proposal was never acted on by the UN General Assembly – and it’s unlikely to gain traction in the near future. The most significant criticism of the draft declaration is that its 19 articles would embolden autocratic rulers who’d use it to crackdown on people seeking their legitimate rights. Article 14 of the draft also raises significant concerns for a free press.

Nevertheless, the notion of equating human rights with human responsibilities is an interesting one, and some of the articles in the draft human responsibilities declaration – particularly on climate change, sustainable development, and domestic violence – tackle issues not addressed in the original UDHR.

The full-text of the draft Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

To know more about the the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights you should read Mary Ann Glendon’s book A World Made New