Despite Attack on MSF Hospital, Ban Ki-moon Omits U.S. From Report on Child Rights Violators

Screenshot 2016-05-31 at 5.12.03 PM
May 31, 2016 – Ban Ki-moon’s annual report on children and armed conflict does not list the United States among the parties that have bombed hospitals in 2015.

The report includes two annexes of parties that commit any of the six grave violations against children, which includes recruiting, killing, maiming, rape and other sexual violence, abductions, and attacks on schools and hospitals. The first annex is for situations that are on the Security Council agenda, such as Syria and Afghanistan and the second annex for situations of armed conflict that are not on the Security Council’s agenda, such as the Philippines.

One party added to the annex this year is the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.

(Update June 6: Following a protests from the Saudi UN mission, Ban has removed the Saudi coalition from the listing pending a join investigation by the UN and Saudi coalition)

But Ban has not named permanent Security Council member the United States even though it bombed a MSF hospital in Kunduz in October 2015 killing 42 health workers and patients.

Ban came in for wide criticism last year when he declined to include Israel in the annex despite a UN report blaming Israel for bombing seven schools during its summer 2014 invasion of Gaza.

Ban’s 2015 report does note the Kunduz attack and attributes it to international forces.

From the report:

Verified attacks on hospitals and health personnel (125) significantly increased compared with 2014 [for Afghanistan]. In the attacks, at least 63 health-care personnel, including vaccinators, were killed or injured, 66 abducted and 64 intimidated and assaulted. A total of 75 incidents were attributed to the Taliban; 14 to ISIL-affiliated groups; 1 to TTP; 19 to undetermined armed groups; 14 to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and pro-Government militias; and 1 to international forces. For example, 49 medical staff were killed or injured in an air strike by international forces on the Médecins sans frontières hospital in Kunduz on 3 October.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar says accountability for crimes against children took a hit because of Ban’s refusal to name the U.S. as the responsible party.

“Accountability depends on being able to name perpetrators when they are known,” Kumar said to UN Tribune. “The UN Secretary General missed an opportunity to combat impunity by using a euphemism when the fact that the U.S. was responsible for the Kunduz attack is not in dispute.”

Ban’s office has yet to respond to request from UN Tribune to explain why he avoided naming the U.S. as the responsible party.

In total, 62 parties in 14 countries are named in the annexes to Ban’s report including government forces in Syria, Sudan, Yemen and the Afghan national police.

The full report is here.

 - Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

(story updated June 6 with comments from Human Rights Watch)

Syria Overtakes Afghanistan as Top Source Country for Refugees

050615-N-0000X- 001
June 18, 2015 - Before the conflict in Syria started, the country was among the top five refugee hosting states. It is now the number one source country for refugees, having overtaken Afghanistan which had been the number one source country since 1981.

There are now a record 59.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, mostly as a result of war and persecution, according to figures released Thursday by the UN Refugee Agency in its annual Global Trends report. In addition to the 3.9 million Syrian refugees in 107 countries, there are another 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians. The vast majority of Syrian refugees are hosted in neighboring countries Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.

The number of Afghan refugees stands at 2.6 million, making them the second largest refugee group. The majority of Afghan refugees are hosted in Pakistan and Iran.

The next highest group of refugees are Somalis with 1.1 million, mostly residing in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Sudan and South Sudan are the third and fourth largest countries of origin for refugees with the latter experiencing a massive outflow of people fleeing war and hunger in the past twelve months – some 616,200 South Sudanese are now refugees compared with 114,400 last year. Ethiopia and Kenya were the top destination countries for South Sudanese.

Armed conflicts in the Central African Republic and Ukraine saw the number of refugees from these countries grow with Cameroon hosting the majority of CAR’s 412,000 refugees while more than 270,000 Ukrainians applied for asylum or refugee status in Russia. There are also more than 800,000 displaced inside Ukraine.

Developing countries continue to bear the primary burden of hosting refugees while the Americas hosts the lowest number and Europe – excluding Russian and Turkey, which is now the world’s biggest host country – the next lowest.

UNHCR said in its report that at least 3,500 people died crossing the Mediterranean last year seeking shelter in Europe.

More than half of the world’s refugees are children, the agency said.

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia

Report: Afghan National Army Numbers Inflated

640px-Non_Commissioned_Officers_of_the_Afghan_National_Army

Newly trained Afghan army recruits (Wikimedia Commons)

March 3, 2015 – When Ban Ki-moon last reported Afghan national troop numbers to the Security Council in June last year, he stated that Afghanistan’s army stood at over 185,000 personnel.

But a report released on Tuesday says that the Afghan ministry of defense was reporting incorrect numbers and the actual number of military troops is almost 20,000 less, at a strength of 169,000.

The report, from the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, paints a grim picture of the state of the Afghanistan’s security forces who are expected to take the lead security role in the country with the wind down of ISAF.

The United States has spent more than $50 billion in building up, training and paying the salaries of Afghanistan’s military and police forces.

“The military’s inconsistent reporting on ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] strength numbers indicates long-standing and ongoing problems with accountability and personnel tracking. Accurate information is necessary to assess Afghanistan’s ability to maintain security and to determine the pace of U.S. troops withdrawals from the country,” the Inspector General’s report states. “It is also key to ensuring the United States is paying to train, equip, and sustain the ANSF based on accurate troop strength numbers.”

As well as inflated troop numbers, attrition remains an ongoing concern with 40,000 personnel dropped from the rolls of the Afghan army and police from Sept. 2013 to Sept. 2014, according to the report.

It also says that only about 35 percent of Afghan security force members are functionally literate and it further cannot determine how many recruits that received literacy training are still members of the security forces.

The report adds that only 860 women are enlisted in the Afghan National Army, or less than half a percent of the overall total.

The precarious security situation is also taking its toll on the Afghan army with more than 1,300 personnel killed in action last year, and another 6,200 injured.

- Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

Afghan Civilian Casualties Hit Record Levels in 2014

CIA_map_of_Afghanistan_in_2007
Feb. 19, 2015 – More than 10,000 civilians in Afghanistan were killed or injured last year, a 22 percent increase from 2013 and the worst year for civilians since the United Nations started collecting figures in 2009.

In all, a total of 3,699 civilians were killed and 6,849 were injured in conflict related violence in 2014 with anti-government forces responsible for 72 percent of the casualties; pro-government Afghan forces, 10 percent; and ISAF, 2 percent.

Three percent of casualties were caused by land-mines and other remnants of war that could not be attributed to either side, one percent was caused by cross-border shelling from Pakistan into Afghanistan while the responsibility for the remaining ten percent was due to ground engagements for which the perpetrator could not be determined.

The information is included in the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) annual review which was released on Wednesday.

(source: UNAMA)

(source: UNAMA)

Deaths and injuries to women and children last year were also at record levels with 2,474 casualties of children, including 714 deaths, and 909 casualties among women including 298 deaths.

The use of improvised explosive devices by anti-government forces was the leading cause of civilian casualties last year, resulting in 925 deaths and 2,053 injuries.

The report also documents the Taliban’s imposition of punishment for perceived infractions of Sharia law including summary executions, beheadings, amputations of body parts, beatings, lashings and illegal detention as well as house burnings of those who expressed opposition to the group.

In addition, UNAMA says that the number of internally displaced last year increased by 156,193, an eight percent increase from 2013 with the total number of IDPs now at 805,409.

Children continue to be recruited by both pro- and anti-government forces, the report says, and it also documents incidents of sexual violence against children committed by both sides.

The drawdown of international military forces in the country has negatively impacted the safety of civilians, the report says, “in particular the reduction of combat air support to Afghan forces ground troops, provided the Taliban and other anti-Government armed groups with more opportunities to launch large-scale ground operations in some areas.”

- 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

Afghan Aid Workers Exploited by UN, Other Aid Agencies

Myndir frá Afganistan
Aug. 19, 2014 – Afghan aid workers are put on the front lines by the UN and other aid organizations and are increasingly under attack while their international colleagues remain in secure compounds, the head of a local humanitarian organization told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Masood Karokhail, Director of The Liaison Office, also told the Council that humanitarian space is rapidly diminishing in the country and aid workers are seldom considered neutral from the international political and military presence in the country.

He was addressing the Council as they discussed the protection of aid workers to mark World Humanitarian Day.

Karokhail said since 2001, 895 aid workers have been attacked in Afghanistan, with 325 killed, 253 wounded and 319 kidnapped.

“Afghan aid workers account for 88 percent of those killed, 89 percent of those wounded and 89 percent of those kidnapped,” he said. “And this does not tell the whole story: many local organizations do not report attacks on their staff, the real numbers are likely to be much higher.

“Local humanitarian workers rarely receive the same security arrangements as their international colleagues,” Karokhail told the Council. “This inequality exploits the reliance of many Afghans on employment opportunities within the humanitarian sector: many have been forced to accept dangerous assignments simply to feed their families.”

“There is a need to remove the artificial hierarchy between international and local staff in protracted situations such as Afghanistan,” he said. “Rather than using funds to create a bunkerization of international aid agencies, the assistance community could increase their partnership with national organizations. This, however, should not mean transferring all the risk or responsibility to local organization, but to improving their protection.”

Karokhail said the distinction between aid workers and the political and military presence in the country is increasingly blurred. Over the past several years the UN has adopted a policy of integrating its presence in country missions. For example, for its assistance mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, the deputy special representative of the mission is also the resident humanitarian coordinator.

This dual role and the policy of integrating political, military and humanitarian functions has come in for heavy criticism from many in the aid community who say it threatens the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence. See here and here.

“Communities, and by association the insurgency, have great difficulty distinguishing between different organizations working on the ground,” Karokhail told the Council. “They associate aid organizations with the international presence of ISAF, UNAMA and view all of them as a legitimate target.”

“The fact that offices of many aid organizations, including the UN, increasingly resemble military bunkers with armed guards and usually Afghan Police are used for field travel, adversely impacts on the security of local staff and organizations working for them,” he added.

In his closing remarks, Karokhail said it was time to negotiate with all parties in Afghanistan.

“We all know that the future will hold more violence in Afghanistan,” he said. “The time has come to openly speak to all parties of the conflict and negotiate clear access principles.”

He said that “Afghans organizations understand that they will increasingly be asked to provide assistance where international organizations no longer can. Many stand ready to shoulder this burden. But the international community must do more to protect them, and enable them to protect themselves.

“We can no longer maintain the status quo, where local aid workers put their lives on the line in order to get the job done.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/ICRC

Civilian Casualaties Up 24 Percent in Afghanistan

600px-Flag_of_Afghanistan.svg
July 9, 2014 - Almost 5,000 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in the first six months of 2014 with women and children accounting for one-third of casualties.

The UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 4,853 civilian casualties from Jan. 1 to Jun. 30 2014, up 24 percent over the same period in 2013. The toll included 1,564 civilian deaths, up 17 percent, and 3,289 injuries, up 28 percent.

Total child civilian casualties increased 34 percent in the first six months of 2014 to 1,071 with 295 children killed and 776 injured, while total women civilian casualties increased 24 percent to 440, including 148 women killed and 292 injured.

“The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas,” the head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš,, said in a statement. “The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating.”

Seventy-four percent of civilian casualties were attributable to anti-government forces, according to UNAMA, with the Taliban publicly claiming responsibility for 147 attacks that resulted in 553 civilian casualties with 234 civilians killed and 319 injured.

Attacks involving suicide bombers killed 156 civilians and injured 427.

Nine percent of civilian casualties were attributed to  pro-government forces – eight percent to Afghan national security forces and one per cent to international military forces, while 12 percent occurred in ground engagements between insurgents and Afghan forces which could not be attributed to a specific party.

The remaining civilian casualties were caused by explosive remnants of war, such as landmines, UNAMA said.

- 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

Ten Countries Infected by Polio Virus as WHO Declare Emergency

Poliodrops
May 5, 2014 –  Cameroon, Pakistan and Syria pose the greatest risk for exporting the polio virus that was on the verge of eradication a couple of years ago.

The vaccine-preventable disease has already spread across the borders of these three countries with neighboring Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan and Iraq also infected.

Declaring the situation a public health emergency of international concern, the World Health Organization on Monday said “the consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given the large number of polio-free but conflict-torn and fragile States” where vaccination programs have been interrupted because of fighting.

Ethiopia, Israel, Somalia as well as Nigeria have also recorded cases of polio in the past year whereas prior to 2013 only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – were considered endemic countries. The number of cases had decreased from some 350,000 in 1988 to 223 in 2012 as it seemed that the virus would join smallpox and rinderpest as the only diseases ever eradicated.

There were 417 polio cases last year, according to the Global Eradication Initiative.

Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Lebanon are at high risk of becoming infected countries due to their proximity to currently infected countries and the risk of conflict interrupting vaccination campaigns there.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz