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

World Cup 2014: the UN and FIFA

June 11, 2014 – Thirty-one of the 32 nations that will contest this year’s World Cup are UN member states with England the odd one out.

That’s because the UK, comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is a UN member while each of its country’s football associations are individual FIFA members and compete separately for qualification.

FIFA is bigger than the 193-member UN. The world football body has 209 member associations including China, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) and Macau. It also includes Puerto Rico, Montserrat, Guam, Suriname, Tahiti and Denmark’s Faroe Islands, along with several other dependent territories of France, the US, UK and the Netherlands.

Most of the associations that are not a UN member are FIFA members on the basis of Article 10, Paragraph 6 of the Fifa statutes. It states: ‘A football association representing a territory that has not yet gained independence may apply for FIFA membership if it has the authorization of the association of the country to which this territory belongs.’

Not so for Kosovo. Despite recognition from 96 countries, it is not a full member of FIFA because of Serbian objections.

Besides the United Kingdom, there are seven other UN member states that are not members of FIFA – Monaco, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu.

Although its economic and political influence is waning on the world stage, Europe still dominates on the football field with 13 of the 32 World Cup slots allocated to the continent while South America gets six, Asia and Oceania, 5, Africa, 5, and North and Central America, including the Caribbean, gets four places.

The World Cup draw itself has produced some interesting UN battles with current Security Council members Australia and Chile facing off in Group B, while fellow non-permanent members Nigeria and Argentina meet in Group E, a group that also includes Bosnia and Iran, two countries that are both on the Security Council’s agenda.

But the biggest battle of all could happen in the knockout stage. If the US emerge as runners-up in its very difficult group and Russia wins its somewhat easier group – which also includes non-permanent Council member South Korea – then the two will meet in the round of 16.

Let the games begin.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Children Now Allowed Complain Directly to UN Rights Committee

June 10, 2014 – Now that ten countries have ratified the third optional protocol of the Child Rights Convention, children and teenagers may lodge complaints directly with the UN.

Belgium became the eleventh country to ratify the treaty late last month but it was Costa Rica’s accession in January that allowed the protocol to come into force in April, three months after the tenth country ratified it.

Only children and teenagers in the eleven countries that have ratified the protocol can make a complaint to the Child Rights Committee and, like other international human rights mechanisms, only after domestic remedies have been exhausted.

Violations must also have taken place after April 14th when the protocol came into force.

The eleven countries, on four continents, that have ratified optional protocol 3 are Albania, Belgium, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Gabon, Germany, Montenegro, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Thailand.

The office of the UN envoy for child rights has produced a child-friendly guide to understanding the optional protocol procedure for making complaints.

When the General Assembly were debating the text of the optional protocol in 2011, there was much discussion on the capacity of children to make complaints to an international group with some states arguing that complaints should be brought by parents on behalf of their children while others argued that parents are not always the best advocates as they may be the offenders.

Central to the Convention on the Rights of the Child is that children have a right to express their views at any age but in practice it is more likely that future complaints brought before the committee will be submitted on behalf of the children by their parents, a lawyer or others.

A major impetus in drafting optional protocol 3 was to encourage states to provide domestic mechanisms to address complaints by children of human rights abuses.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

Released Taliban Detainees are on UN Sanctions List

May 31, 2014 – Four of the five Guantanamo Bay detainees released by the United States on Saturday in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Berghdahl are subject to an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo by the Security Council.

The four are Fazl Mohammad Mazloom, Khirullah Khairkhwa, Nurullah Nuri and Abdul Haq Wassiq while a fifth detainee released, Mohammad Nabi Omari, is not on the sanctions list. *

They were listed for the following reasons, according to the 1988 Sanctions Committee:

Fazl Mohammad Mazloom

Fazl Mohammad Mazloom was a close associate of Mohammed Omar (TI.O.4.01) and helped him to establish the Taliban government. Mazloom was at the Al-Farouq training camp established by Al-Qaida. He had knowledge that the Taliban provided assistance to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the form of financial, weapons and logistical support in exchange for providing the Taliban with soldiers. He was a commander of approximately 3,000 Taliban front-line troops in the Takhar Province in October 2001.

Abdul Haq Wassiq 

Abdul-Haq Wassiq is allied with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Under the Taliban regime, he held successive positions as local commander in Nimroz and Kandahar provinces. He then became Deputy Director General of Intelligence, reporting to Qari Ahmadullah (TI.A.81.01). In this function, he was in charge of handling relations with Al-Qaida-related foreign fighters and their training camps in Afghanistan. He was also known for his repressive methods against Taliban opponents in the South of Afghanistan.

Khairullah Khairkhwa

Khairullah Khairkhwah was listed on 25 January 2001 as Governor of the Herat Province of the Taliban regime so falling within the provisions of resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1333 (2000) of the United Nations Security Council regarding acts and activities of the Taliban authorities. Khairullah Khairkhwah also served as Spokesperson of the Taliban regime, Governor of the Kabul Province of the Taliban regime, and Minister of Internal Affairs of the Taliban regime.

Nurullah Nuri 

Nurullah Nuri was listed on 25 January 2001 concurrently as Governor of the Balkh Province as well as Head of the Northern Zone of the Taliban regime so falling within the provisions of resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1333 (2000) of the United Nations Security Council regarding acts and activities of the Taliban authorities.

The Council passed a revised sanctions resolution in 2012 at the request of the Afghanistan Government “to support national reconciliation, including by removing names from the United Nations sanctions lists for those who reconcile, and, therefore, have ceased to engage in or support activities that threaten the peace, stability and security of  Afghanistan.” While some names have been removed, the four released on Saturday remain on the list.

In terms of the travel ban, the resolution stipulates that all countries must: “Prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of these individuals, provided that nothing in this paragraph shall oblige any State to deny entry or require the departure from its territories of its own nationals and this paragraph shall not apply where entry or transit is necessary for the fulfillment of a judicial process or the Committee determines on a case-by-case basis only that entry or transit is justified, including where this directly relates to supporting efforts by the Government of Afghanistan to promote reconciliation.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/ US DOD

*A Mohammed Omar Ghulam Nabi is on the Taliban sanctions list but unlike the other four whose location is listed as Guantanamo, the location entry for Nabi says he is belived to be in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region.

Palestine Joins 15 International Conventions

May 12, 2014 – Palestine has ratified 14 UN conventions in the past month and has become a state party to the Geneva Conventions regulating the conduct of armed conflict.

According to a search of the UN Treaty database, Palestine submitted its ratification paperwork on April 2 for the 14 conventions listed below and letters from Ban Ki-moon, in his role as depository, show that most conventions went into effect on May 2 while others go into effect on July 2.

■ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

■ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

■ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

■ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

■ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

■ United Nations Convention Against Torture

■ United Nations Convention Against Corruption

■ UN Genocide Convention

■ Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid

■ Convention on the Rights of the Child

■ Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

■ Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties

■ Vienna Convention on Consular Relations

■ Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

Palestine also ratified the Geneva Conventions and associated protocols on April 2, according to the ICRC database.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz


Ban Ki-Moon’s Letter on Palestine ratifying the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations

New Books


Charlotte Mires’ Capital of the World is an entertaining account of the race to host the UN’s headquarters in the mid-1940s. New York City won the privilege in the end but Mires takes us through the twists and turns of the origins of the ‘world capital’ including plans from South Dakota, Michigan, St. Louis and Westchester County and she tells us the story of Prescott Bush’s opposition to building the headquarters in Greenwich, Connecticut which was the UN’s first choice.

Anne Hammerstad’s The Rise and Decline of a Global Security Actor tracks the UN Refugee Agency’s rise in the 1990s as a major actor in the global security arena and its post-9/11 return to a more independent role as its major donors fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with both these countries soon becoming the top source countries for refugees.

Providing Peacekeepers examines the challenges and demands of generating some 120,000 troops to serve in UN peacekeeping missions. The book has sections on the permanent five members of the Security Council, traditional troop contributor countries and emerging troop contributor countries.

We The Peoples: A UN for the 21st Century is a collection of Kofi Annan’s speeches arranged thematically and regionally covering such topics as human rights, peace and security, the Middle East, Africa, and development. The book is edited by Annan’s former speechwriter, Edward Mortimer.

UN Urges Qatar to Tackle Migrant Rights, Women’s Rights

May 7, 2014 – Qatar should abolish its kafala system which ties a migrant worker to their employer and the Gulf country must take action to end discrimination against women.

Those were the main recommendations of UN bodies to the energy-rich emirate during its universal periodic review in Geneva on Wednesday.

In its submission, the UN Committee Against Torture said it “was deeply concerned about reports of widespread torture or ill-treatment and abuse of migrant workers, in particular under the sponsorship system, and about constraints faced by such workers on lodging complaints against their employers.”

Under the kalifa, or sponsorship, system a migrant worker essentially becomes the property of his or her employer. The sponsor monitors and controls all aspects of the worker’s life and it’s common practice for sponsors to confiscate the worker’s passport.

Of Qatar’s population of about 1.8 million, only 280,000 of these are citizens as the vast majority are foreign workers, mostly from South Asia.

The Committee to End Racial Discrimination called on Qatar to revise its law on nationality which bans Qatari women from passing on citizenship to their children if their husband is foreign.

The Gulf country was also urged to allow for equal representation in parliament as currently only men are authorized to be nominated to the Shura council, the legislative branch.

UNESCO raised concerns about Qatar’s blasphemy law which imposes seven-year prison sentences for “insulting the Supreme Being in letter and spirit,
in writing, drawing, gesturing or in any other way” while human rights commissioner Navi Pillay called for the immediate release of a poet who was sentenced to 15 years for allegedly encouraging the overthrow of the ruling system in Qatar and insulting the “nation’s symbols.”

Qatar was also urged to abolish the death penalty. The country’s representative at the review, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani, noted that no executions had taken place since 2003.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Aid Chief Chides Security Council Over Syria Inaction

OCHA Head speaks to the press following Security Council Consultations on the situation in Syria
April, 30 – 2014- Valerie Amos on Wednesday told members of the Security Council behind closed doors that they were failing to uphold the founding values of the UN in their approach to Syria.

Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that only ten percent of the some 250,000 people living in besieged areas received aid in the past month despite a February 19 resolution demanding unimpeded access for humanitarian relief.

“I told the Council that in my reports I have demonstrated time and time again the minimal impact of the approach being taken so far, and that public pressure and private diplomacy has yielded very little,” she said to reporters after briefing the 15-nation body.

“I also told the Council that the UN is a multilateral organization. Its founding values set the framework for the way in which we work. In Syria, those founding values and the responsibility of a state to look after its own people are being violated every day, and I think the onus rests on the Council to not only recognize that reality, but to act on it,” she added.

She spoke a day after a group of legal experts published a letter criticizing Amos and the heads of other UN agencies for “an overly cautious interpretation of international humanitarian law.” They argue that relief agencies do not need permission, which is not forthcoming, from the government in Damascus to deliver life-saving aid to trapped civilians.

February’s resolution on unimpeded aid delivery also states that the Council intends to take further steps in the event of non-compliance which puts pressure on China and Russia, who voted for it, to agree to a tougher follow-up resolution.

However, Russia’s state news agency on Wednesday reported that Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said a Chapter 7 resolution being prepared by his Western colleagues was “untimely.”

In his report to to the Council, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Council.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

US Declares 4,804 Active Nuclear Weapons

April 29, 2014 –  The United States has reduced its active nuclear arsenal by six percent under President Barack Obama with the number of warheads for delivery now less than 5,000.

At its height in 1967, the US had 31,255 nuclear weapons. The reduction under Obama is still far less than under his predecessor, President George W Bush, who reduced the active arsenal by 25 percent in the first six years of his presidency.

The US had 5,113 active nuclear weapons in 2009.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that as of September 2013, the number of nuclear weapons in the active U.S. arsenal has fallen to 4,804,” US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said at an NPT preparatory committee meeting held at UN headquarters on Tuesday. “This newly declassified number represents an 85 percent reduction in the U.S. nuclear stockpile since 1967.”

Gottemoeller hinted that recent divisions with Russia over Syria and Ukraine is hindering further cuts in the nuclear arsenal.

“Recent actions have significantly undermined mutual trust and that trust will take time to rebuild,” she said. “Still, no one should forget that even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union found it in our mutual interest to work together on reducing the nuclear threat.

Gottemoeller also said the US remains committed to ratifying the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. The treaty cannot go into force until it has been ratified by the eight remaining countries of the 44 that initially negotiated it – China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the US, which have signed the treaty, and North Korea, India, and Pakistan, which have not signed.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia