More Allegations of Torture and Ill Treatment in Bahrain

June 27, 2014 – The United Nations expert on torture says his office has received information that torture and denial of medical treatment is continuing in Bahrain detention centers.

Juan Mendez, the special rapporteur on torture, also said that, despite his requests, the government of Bahrain have still not set a date for him to visit the country. The authorities in the Gulf country have “postponed” two of his previously planned visits.

“On a regular basis my mandate receives information and allegations of torture and ill treatment of detainees including beatings and forced confessions,” he said in a video address on Thursday. “We also receive information about denial of medical treatment to people who are suffering different ailments. Some of them originated in torture and some of them pre-existing but either way in violation of the obligation of the state of Bahrain to provide adequate medical treatment to anybody in detention.”

Mendez, an Argentine who was detained for 18 months during Argentina’s military dictatorship and suffered torture, also said that “there is very little information pointing to the fulfillment of Bahrain’s obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish torture.”

He added that the “important recommendations” made by the 2011 Independent Commission of Inquiry are “in a state of non-implementation.”

“We also receive frequent complaints of excessive use of force in the street. Since the clashes of early 2011 those reports have been unceasing which means that the government has not changed its policy regarding crowd control or excessive use of force,” he said.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Human Rights Experts Criticize Detroit Water Cutoffs

June 25, 2014 – The City of Detroit is violating the human rights of its citizens by disconnecting water services from those unable to pay bills, three independent UN human rights experts said on Wednesday.

The city’s Water and Sewerage Department has shut off thousands of households who have not paid their water rates for two months and the process has accelerated in recent weeks with 30,000 homes expected to lose water by the end of the summer.

“Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying. In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections,” said Catarina de Albuquerque, the expert on the human right to water and sanitation.

Water rates in Detroit, which declared bankruptcy in 2013, have risen 120 percent in the past decade and it is estimated that almost half of all households cannot afford to pay their water bills – which are also much higher than the national average.

The human rights experts also expressed concern that water shutoffs are primarily affecting African-American homes and may violate international treaties signed by the United States and are calling on the Federal government to step in to restore water services.

“When I conducted an official country mission to the US in 2011, I encouraged the US Government to adopt a federal minimum standard on affordability for water and sanitation and a standard to provide protection against disconnections for vulnerable groups and people living in poverty,” said Leilani Farha, the special rapporteur on the human right to adequate housing.

Under international human rights law, it is a state’s obligation to to ensure access to essential water and sanitation. “The households which suffered unjustified disconnections must be immediately reconnected,” the experts said in their joint statement.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz


Lack of Women in Military and Police Not Just a Problem in Afghanistan

Major-General Kristen Lund became the first female force commander of a UN peacekeeping mission last month.

Major-General Kristen Lund became the first female force commander of a UN peacekeeping mission last month.

June 24, 2014 – Less than one percent of Afghanistan’s 335,000 army, police and prison personnel are women, according to Ban Ki-moon’s latest quarterly report on UNAMA to the Security Council.

Of 185,131 members of the Afghan army, including air force, 1,138, are female and of the 145,939 police personnel and 5,600 prison guards, women accounted for 1,741 police officers and 273 guards.

While these low figures reflect the difficulty in recruiting female security personnel in a country where women’s rights are challenged and denied, Afghanistan is not alone in having poor female participation in military and police.

Less than four percent of the the UN’s almost 100,000 uniformed peacekeepers are female, according to the latest figures from the Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations.

But the UN is hardly to blame for these numbers as it relies on member states to contribute troops for its peacekeeping missions and, globally, women are under-represented in police and army forces.

Just 7 percent
 of Delhi’s police force are women and 16 percent of the NYPD’s most recent graduating class were women.

On the military side, women make up about 15 percent of active US army service members, while in Norway, which tops many gender equality indexes, only about 10 percent of the country’s military is female.

In 2009, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a campaign to increase the number of women peacekeepers to 20 percent in police units by 2014, and to 10 percent in military contingents. Those targets were not even close to being met.

The UN did appoint its first-ever female force commander last month when Major-General Kristen Lund, a Norwegian, was appointed head of the UN peacekeeping operation in Cyprus.

Ban’s report on Afghanistan notes that the Ministry of Defence is making efforts to recruit women, including through television advertisements but “the challenges encountered included a lack of female recruiters and facilities for women, a risk of abuse and cultural or family prohibitions.”

The Security Council will discuss Ban’s report on Wednesday.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten

UNICEF: Children in Yemen Forced Into Marriage, Labor and Conflict

June 18, 2014 – Attacks against schools and hospitals are among the grave violations committed against children in Yemen, according to the UN Children’s Agency in its 2014 report on the Arab world’s poorest country.

“One particular form of such grave acts is the forced marriage of girls, which is reported to have affected up to 100 girls in Abyan alone during 2012, involving leaders or members of Ansar Al-Sharia,” says the report, which was released on Tuesday. Ansar Al-Sharia is another name given to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The UN team in Yemen verified cases of girls as young as 13 being forced into marriage and a case of two girls offered as ‘gifts’ by their brothers who had been allowed to join armed groups. It says the majority of girls forced into marriage soon become pregnant.

“In all of the verified cases the girls reported being abandoned along with their children when their husbands fled from Abyan as government forces regained control.”

Recruitment of children by armed groups, including the government, is continuing, the report says, with 69 verified cases of boys between the ages of 10-17 recruited to fight in armed conflict last year.

Yemen also has the highest rate of child labor in the MENA region at 23 percent, double that of the next highest country, Iraq, and also the only MENA country where the proportion of girls in child labor exceeds that of boys.

There were 18 attacks on hospitals and 242 attacks on schools in Yemen last year, the report says. “Attacks on schools are a deliberate targeting of children:  their safety, their right to an education and their essential development.”

More than 100 of the schools were destroyed by shelling while other schools have been occupied by armed groups.

One bright spot appears to be a gain in gender parity in primary education with 8 girls enrolled for every ten boys, but the report cautions that the rate of boys dropping out of school is also increasing “and thus gender parity rates in enrollment may not reflect actual gains for girls education in

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Belarus: Secret Executions, Forced Labor Reports UN Expert

June 18, 2014 – The UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday were told of the “systematic character of the serious repression of all human rights in Belarus” by the expert it appointed to investigate the former Soviet state.

Miklos Haraszti told the Geneva-based body that the government in Minsk, headed since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko, is the only parliament in Europe without opposition.

It is also the only country in Europe that retains the death penalty and Haraszti had previously reported “as a possible positive development that no executions had reportedly been carried out during the reporting period.”

“However, in April 2014, two new executions were carried out in secret,” he said. “Those facing the death penalty, and their relatives or lawyers are neither informed of the scheduled date of execution nor where the body is buried. In one of the cases, the mother of the executed Pavel Sialiun was not notified of the decision to reject his plea for pardon or the date of execution.”

He also said there was increased repression before and during Belarus’s recent hosting of the World Ice Hockey Championships and that students were forced to work on the construction of the Chizhovka Arena in Minsk. With up to 80 percent of the economy state-planned there is “severe suppression of the right of independent labour unions to organize.”

Haraszti, a Hungarian professor, journalist and human rigths advocate, held out little hope at the end of his presentation to the 47-nation Council that next year’s presidential election would result in an improved human rights situation.

“Chronic restriction of human rights has led to recurrence of violence over the last 15 years, typically at times of elections and the announcement of their preordained outcomes,” he said. “During the recent local elections in March 2014, the right to elect was in practice again denied, as 88 percent of constituencies were uncontested.”

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Inquiry: Syrians Live in World Where Everyday Decisions are Life and Death

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

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

June 17, 2014 – The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has conducted 3,000 interviews that collectively indicate “a massive number of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the chair of the inquiry told the Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Brazilian Sergio Pinheiro told the Council in his latest update that crimes are being committed daily against Syrian civilians and because of the Security Council’s failure to demand accountability “a space has been created for the worst of humanity to express itself.”

“Syrians live in a world where decisions about whether to go to the mosque for prayers, to the market for food and to send their children to school have become decisions about life and death.”

Pinheiro said the government continues to use barrel bombs causing widespread civilian casualties and, in particular, the city of Aleppo and towns in Dara’a countryside have come under “relentless assault.”

Armed groups have also shelled government-controlled areas of Aleppo and Damascus cities as well as towns in Latakia, he said, and in Homs city, more than a dozen car bombs have exploded in Shia and Armenian neighbourhoods since March.

“In many instances, these bombings appear to target civilians, an act designed to spread terror.”

While the Security Council passed Resolution 2139 in February demanding unhindered access for humanitarian supplies, it has not been complied with by government or anti-government forces.

“Food is confiscated at checkpoints, as women are harassed and arrested for attempting to bring bread into besieged areas,” the Brazilian diplomat said. “At one checkpoint on the only road from Zabadani to Damascus, a large banner reads ‘Kneel or Starve.'”

He said the war has had a devastating impact on Syria’s economy “inflicting harm on livelihoods and habitat from which few Syrian families have escaped unscathed” adding that this hardship has been compounded by economic sanctions.

Pinheiro said military supplies provided by states  to warring parties are “used in the perpetration of war crimes and violations of human rights.”

“States cannot claim to prioritize a political settlement, while their actions demonstrate that their priorities lie in military escalation.”

He concluded his presentation to the Council by reiterating his demand for accountability. “In Syria, the majority of the population are victims of the current conflict. They are entitled to expect, in spite of all they have suffered, that justice will not be denied to them.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Jordan ‘s New UN Ambassador is Sixth Woman on Security Council

June 9, 2014 – Jordan’s appointment of Amb. Dina Kavar as its UN envoy increases female representation on the Security Council to an unprecedented 40 percent.

All UN regional groups now have female representatives in the 15-nation Council with Jordan joining Argentina, Lithuania, Luxebourg, Nigeria and the US in appointing women to the post.

Kavar is the third female diplomat to currently serve as UN ambassador from the Arab Group along with Oman’s Lyutha Al-Mughairy and Qatar’s Sheikha Alya Bint Ahmed Bin Saif Al Thani.

Kavar, who recently served as Amman’s envoy to Paris, replaces Prince Zeid who stepped down last month and was nominated on Friday to replace Navi Pillay as human rights commissioner.

Some 30 of the UN’s 193 member states are currently represented by women.

Chile’s Ana Figueoa was the first woman to serve on the Security Council in 1952. The United States, the only permanent Council member currently represented by a woman, has appointed four female UN envoys with Samantha Power preceded by Susan Rice (2009-13), Madeline Albright (1993-97) and Jeanne Kirkpatrick (1981-85).

The UN has never had a female secretary-general and after eight successive men at the helm, there is mounting speculation that a woman will succeed Ban Ki-moon in 2016.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Jordan’s Prince Zeid Nominated as Next Human Rights Chief

Jordan addresses the press at Security Council Stakeout
June 6, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon on Friday nominated Jordan’s envoy to the United Nations as successor to Navi Pillay as human rights commissioner.

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein will become the seventh person to hold the post of high commissioner for human rights pending approval from the UN General Assembly.

Zeid served as political affairs officer with the UN peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia and was a candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as secretary-general in 2006. Jordan is currently a member of the UN Security Council

Navil Pillay’s term will end in September this year. Pillay, a South African lawyer, has held the post since 2008 but fell foul of the United States because of her criticism of Israel and was only approved for a half-term, or two years, when her first four-year term ended in September 2012.

Zeid would become the first Arab to hold the post.

Previous Holders:

Jose Ayala-Lasso (Ecuador) 1994-97
Mary Robinson (Ireland) 1997-2002
Sergio Vieira (Brazil) 2002-03 (killed in Canal Hotel Bombing, Baghdad, Aug. 19, 2003)
Bertrand Ramcharan (Guyana) 2003-04 (Acting)
Louise Arbour (Canada) 2004-08
Navanethem Pillay (South Africa) 2008-

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Brazil Becomes 38th Country to Ban Corporal Punishment

June 5, 2014 – The UN envoy for child rights is calling for other countries to follow Brazil’s example after the South American country’s senate on Thursday passed a law banning all forms of corporal punishment against children.

Brazil is the 38th country to ban physical punishment of children in homes and schools and the second this year after Malta’s ban which was passed in March. Sweden was the world’s first country to ban corporal punishment in 1979.

“With this historic decision, Brazilian children can grow up in safety and in a protective environment, and violence can be made part of a distant past,” Maria Santos Pais said in a statement.

“With the enactment of this legislation, the percentage of the world’s children protected by a legal ban on all forms of violence will increase from 5 percent to 8 percent,” she stated.

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.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz


Top 25 Donors to UN Syria Appeals in 2014

June 4, 2014 – A total of $2.1bln has been contributed in 2014 to the two United Nations appeals for Syria – one to address the humanitarian situation inside the country and the other to assist the 2.5M refugees in neighboring countries.

The amount received so far this year is still much less that the $6.5bln the UN says it needs to respond to the crisis. Last year, a total of $3.1bln was contributed to UN appeals while in 2012, the figure was $1.2bln.

The US is the top donor by some distance in 2014 contributing a total of $407M, followed by Kuwait, $300M, and the European Commission, which has contributed $294m.

These are the top 25 donors to the Syria appeals so far this year.

1. US $407M
2. Kuwait 300M
3. EC $294M
4. UK $238M
5. Canada $143M
6. Japan $119M
7. Germany $95M
8. UAE $71M
9. Norway $64M
10. Australia $30M
11. Denmark $25M
12. Saudi Arabia $22M
13. Switzerland $18M
14. Netherlands $17M
15. Finland $11.5M
16. France $11.2M
17. Belgium $11.1M
18. Qatar $11M
19. Sweden $8.9M
20. Italy $8.2M
21. Ireland $5.2M
22. Morocco $4M
23. China $3.9M
24. Luxembourg $3M
25. New Zealand $2M

Data from UN OCHA Financial Tracking Service.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz