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Resources updated between Monday, May 18, 2015 and Sunday, May 24, 2015
May 22, 2015
"The Israeli government is worried the Obama administration will allow a U.N. conference this week to adopt a resolution that could compel Israel to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal.
At issue is a proposal at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference that would empower the U.N. secretary general to organize a conference to pursue a Middle East free of nukes and other weapons of mass destruction...
A senior Israeli government official Wednesday evening told me, 'Israel is increasingly concerned that the United States is not going to prevent the NPT review conference currently meeting in New York from adopting a resolution on the Middle East that would jeopardize Israel's national security.'...
The senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive diplomatic issues, said of the ... proposal, 'The adoption of such a resolution would contradict a U.S. commitment made to Israel as publicly stated in 2010 by President Obama and then National Security Adviser James Jones.'"
"Iran on Wednesday accused Israel of threatening the Islamic Republic with a nuclear strike, telling the UN Security Council that recent comments by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon were proof of 'the regime's aggressive nature,' according to Iranian media.
Ya'alon's comments, made earlier this month at a conference hosted by a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit that seeks justice for victims of terror, mentioned "certain steps" Israel could take if it were out of other options, and referenced the US's use of atomic weapons in Japan.
Iran's ambassador to the UN, Gholam Ali Khoshrou, sent a letter on Wednesday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as well as to the UN Security Council in which he wrote that Ya'alon's comments were tantamount to an admission that Israel has nuclear weapons and is willing to use them against other countries, the semi-official Fars news agency reported...
A top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday that over 80,000 Iranian missiles 'are ready to rain down on Tel Aviv and Haifa' should Israel attack the Islamic Republic, in apparent response to Ya'alon's comments."
Girls as young as eight in Mozambique and Zambia are forced to go to camps where they are shown how to please a man in bed in order to prepare them for married life, activists said at an international conference on ending child marriage.
These sexual initiations begin once menstruation starts and sometimes involve sticks being inserted inside the girls, Persilia Muianga of international aid agency World Vision said. She added that some mothers force young daughters to sleep with a man in the belief this can bring on menstruation.
Anglican priest Jackson Jones Katete said initiations in Zambia happen among girls between the ages of eight and 13, and may involve girls being cut by women for not performing sexual movements correctly.
"You ... pay these (elderly) women to do this torturing to your child," he said, adding that men do not want to marry girls unless they have been initiated.
"Immediately the girls come out of the camp, they are saying ... you are now ready for sex. And then the men come ... and then they begin to do the betrothals."
The training, which can last a week and is shrouded in secrecy, also teaches girls about hygiene, domestic duties and how to conduct themselves in the community, Muianga said, adding that community leaders fine parents if they do not take their daughters to the initiations.
ROLE OF RELIGION
Muianga, a child protection expert, said the sexual age of consent in Mozambique is 12 and many girls have babies very early, putting their lives at risk.
Serious childbirth injuries such as fistulas are a big problem because so many girls have babies before their bodies are ready, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during the conference in the Moroccan city Casablanca.
Nearly half of girls in Mozambique and more than 40 percent in Zambia are married before they turn 18, even though child marriage is illegal in both countries.
Bride prices paid to the girl's family drive early marriage in poor rural areas, Muianga said.
She said World Vision is training church leaders to tackle issues around early initiations and child marriage, and will help develop a similar initiative for Muslim communities.
Katete, who is director of the Anglican Street Children's Programme in Zambia, said church leaders carry great authority in his country and have a role to play in addressing initiations and child marriage with their congregations.
He added that keeping girls in school is crucial for fighting early marriage, but most rural communities do not have schools nearby and teachers in these regions are usually men, which sends girls the signal that only boys deserve education.
"We are now saying that you should build schools in villages and have female teachers there as well who can act as role models."
The three-day conference ending Thursday is hosted by Girls Not Brides, a global partnership committed to eradicating child marriage which affects some 720 million women worldwide.
May 21, 2015
Two judges in Argentina decided that a soccer coach who raped a 6-year-old boy shouldn't be held entirely responsible because the child had already been traumatized by previous alleged abuse-and because he supposedly showed "homosexual tendencies."
The ruling, which was sealed when it came down last year but was leaked to the press, has caused an uproar in Argentina. It has also revealed a pair of judges with a long record of reducing sentences for sexual and gender-based crimes, including justifying a pastor's rape of two teenage girls because they belonged to a lower economic class.
The court papers show that judges Horacio Piombo and Benjamin Ramon Sal Llargues reduced the sentence of Mario Tolosa, a soccer club coach, who was charged in 2010 with raping the unnamed boy. The pair decided to lower Tolosa's jail time from six years to 38 months, saying that because the boy's father may have already raped him, he was used to such abuse and had showed homosexual traits.
In radio and television interviews defending his decision this week, Piombo saidthe boy had "signs of a transvestite conduct, of conduct we had to take into account," and argued that he had already had "the initiation by his father into the worst of worlds, leading him to depravation."
"We need to make sure the judges don't say to the world that being gay is a reason to be raped," says Pablo Fracchia, a social worker and campaigner for gay-rights organization All Out in Buenos Aires. He is working with other Argentine rights groups to file a complaint with the government requesting the judges' dismissal. "What they're saying is, 'Hello rapist, if you want to rape someone, rape someone who's been raped before,'" he says.
The judicial system in Argentina has three levels: the local court, an appeals level, and a supreme court of the province. The middle level of judges look at closed cases and either confirm or reject sentences based on the original trial proceedings. In this case, Fracchia says, the first judge was the one to decide that the child had homosexual tendencies, based upon a report from a social worker.
"Who wrote that?" Fracchia asks. "Who got an interview with 6-year-old and then said he had his sexual identity defined? That's crazy. I cannot think that a professional would write that. Someone should have their license removed."
The original charge had been a "gravely outrageous attack," but the judges decided this was unnecessary because the boy had been previously attacked, allegedly by his own father.
"We have a very shady judicial system. We have judges who still came from the dictatorship," Fracchia says. "It's supposed to be that the second level and supreme court are good enough to correct most of these crazy things, but sometimes they're also as crazy as the first level."
The boy's father is currently serving a jail sentence for rape, reportedly of his niece, but the family denies he ever attacked his son. His mother is not a guardian anymore, and the boy lives with his grandparents. The boy's aunt spoke to reporters this week, calling for the coach to be retried. "He raped a child and they say he's innocent because the child is gay," she said. The prosecutor has already appealed to the provincial supreme court, and from there, the case could move to the national supreme court.
In their positions in Chamber I of the Buenos Aires Criminal Court of Cassation, based in La Plata, the two judges involved in this case have left a trail of reduced sentences for brutal murders and sexual attacks. This recent incident has surfaced a number of these skeletons.
In March, according to the Spanish-language news site Clarin, Piombo and Llargues lowered the sentence of a man who raped his daughter from 20 years to eight, because the victim gave contradictory statements in court. In 2011, a man who killed his wife with a hammer got a sentence lowered from 17 to 10 years because they viewed the woman's attitude as "almost provocative."
Also in 2011, the pair reduced a sentence of a pastor who abused two girls, aged 14 and 16, because they said the victims were poor and therefore part of a community that supposedly accepts a lower age of sexual activity. They said that the girls already "had sexual experience" because they were raised "in communities where the socially accepted relations at very low ages." Jail time for the pastor was reduced from 18 years to a little more than nine years in a decision that was criticized and rejected by the regional Supreme Court.
The response in Argentina has been swift. One of the judges, Piombo, has already been fired from his post as a lecturer at the University of Mar del Plata. By Wednesday, there were 32,000 signatures on a Change.org petition to speed up the judges' dismissal.
The decision lies with a senate committee, but Fracchia expects that political and international pressure will propel the case forward.
Argentine politicians from both sides of the aisle have railed against the judges' decision. "It's repugnant to say that the presumed sexual orientation of an abused 6-year-old boy is a reason to reduce the sentence of the abuser," said Interior Minister and presidential candidate Florencio Randazzo. The case, said President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's cabinet chief, was "one of the biggest disgraces we've ever seen in this country."
"This kid has suffered a lot," Fracchia says. "And now the system has made him suffer again by saying, 'You look kind of gay, so you're used to being raped.'"
The Saudi Arabia-led forces launched an air strike on an international humanitarian aid office in Yemen on May 21, 2015, killing five Ethiopian refuges and injuring ten others:
"Artillery fire and aerial bombing on Thursday struck the town of Maydee along Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia in Hajja province...The latest deaths come four days after the conclusion of a five-day humanitarian ceasefire, which was declared to allow international groups to bring aid to Yemen."
An Iranian painter and women's rights campaigner is on trial in Tehran on charges of spreading propaganda against the ruling establishment.
Atena Farghadani, who has spoken out against parliamentary plans to restrict access to contraception, appeared in court on Tuesday in connection with her activism as well as her art. The 29-year-old, described by Amnesty as a prisoner of conscience, is currently being kept in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
Farghadani fell foul of the Iranian authorities after meeting with the families of political prisoners and drawing a cartoon depicting a group of Iranian parliamentarians with faces of animals. She is facing charges of "insulting members of parliament through paintings" and "insulting the Iranian supreme leader".
Farghadani's cartoon was drawn in reaction to two separate bills being considered by MPs which would outlaw voluntary sterilisation, restrict access to contraceptives, and tighten divorce laws, which are already weighted in men's favour.
Two decades after Iran initiated progressive family planning programmes, MPs announced last year that they were seeking a U-turn in order to boost the population. It came after an intervention by supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, who criticised the previous policy as an imitation of western lifestyle.
However, activists warn that new proposals, if passed, would reinforce discrimination against women and restrict women's rights.
Farghadani is also facing the charge of "gathering and colluding with anti-revolutionary individuals and deviant sects" because of her art exhibition Parandegan-e Khak (Birds of earth), held in commemoration of those killed in the bloody post-election crackdown in 2009, and attended by families of political prisoners as well as members of the Baha'i community, the most persecuted religious minority in Iran.
Farghadani was initially arrested in August 2014 and held in solitary confinement for two weeks without access to her lawyer or her family.
She was released on bail after two months but was rearrested in January after posting a video on YouTube describing how prison guards mistreated her physically while she was in jail.
"One of the guards opened the cell door violently ... and shouted 'take off your clothes'. I told them that what they were doing was illegal," she said in the video. "One of the guards who swore a lot held my hands up, because I was resisting the body search ... My right hand hit the wall and my wrist became swollen and bruised ... I told them that I was on 'dry' hunger strike and that I would file a complaint. One of them told me 'shut your mouth or I will hit you so hard that your mouth will be full of blood'."
According to Amnesty, she used discarded paper cups and flowers from the exercise area to continue painting while in jail, which infuriated prison guards.
Farghadani, who is banned from university, was interrogated for nine hours every day for six weeks during her first time in jail and, since her recent arrest, she has gone on hunger strike at least once for two weeks.
Farghadani's trial is being presided by judge Abolghassem Salavati who is infamous for handing down heavy sentences to political activists and dissidents. The court is expected to issue its sentence in Farghadani's case within 20 days.
"It is shocking that a young artist and activist has found herself in the most distressing circumstances, facing weeks of solitary confinement and the threat of long-term imprisonment following an unfair trial simply for expressing her opinions," said Raha Bahreini, a researcher with Amnesty International's Iran team.
"Iran's relentless crackdown on journalists, artists and activists critical of the state is not only out of line with international human rights standards, it is also utterly inconsistent with claims by Iran's minister of foreign affairs and other authorities that Iran does not jail people for their opinion," she told the Guardian, referring to a recent controversial interview by foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in which he said "we do not jail people for their opinions".
Referring to a petition signed by more than 33,000 people, Bahreini added: "Thousands of people from around the world want to see Atena Farghadani and other prisoners of conscience released. Iranian authorities should listen to this global appeal and end their disturbing pattern of repression."
Meanwhile, the New York-based international campaign for human rights in Iran (ICHRI) reported earlier this week that another young female activist, Atena Daemi, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for Facebook postings and peaceful protest.
"After the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1701, which established between the Israeli-Lebanese border and the Litani River .an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons' other than those of the Government of Lebanon or the UN. In other words, Hezbollah was supposed to be kept out of this area – not only its fighters but also its thousands of rockets aimed at Israel.
Fast forward to today. Hezbollah, supplied, trained, and funded by Iran, is building new military strongholds in Lebanese border villages. By doing so, Hezbollah has turned Lebanese civilians into human shields – much like Hamas did in the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah's rearmament is a blatant violation of Resolution 1701. Is anyone stopping this?
UNIFIL, the UN force in Lebanon, was supposed to oversee the implementation of Resolution 1701. But do any of you think UNIFIL is going to enter a Shiite village and remove rockets stored in houses?"
"[I]f we do not confront the prime danger posed by radical Islamist and genocidal anti-Semitism, how can our common struggle hope to succeed? One of the symptoms of this vain policy of appeasement pursued by America and Europe is the almost Pavlovian reflex after every terrorist, anti-Semitic outrage to immediately disconnect it from any link to Islam. Of course, Islamist is not identical with Islam, only a minority of Muslim believers support terrorism, and stigmatization is wrong. Equally, we must empower moderate Muslims wherever we can.
But denial does not work. Levels of anti-Semitism among Muslims clearly remain the highest in the world, and the horrific consequences of jihadi movements like Islamic State for all minorities are impossible to ignore. Nothing can be gained by sweeping this threat under the carpet.
The Islamists are the spearhead of current anti-Semitism, aided and abetted by the moral relativism of all-too-many naive Western liberals..."
"The United Nations World Health Organization today (Thursday) singled out Israel for its medical treatment policies. Rather than praise the Jewish state for its efforts in Nepal or with Syrian refugees, though, the international body condemned Israel for allegedly violating the health rights of Palestinians and Druze.
The vote passed by a margin of 104 to four [the four voting against were Australia; Canada; Israel; and United States of America].
The Syrian delegation was allowed to enter a document into the records, which said, 'The Israeli occupation authorities continue to experiment on Syrian and Arab prisoners with medicines and drugs and to inject them with pathogenic viruses.' The document even acknowledged Israel's treatment of refugees from the Syrian civil war, but insisted that Israel only does so in order to let rebels 'resume their subversive terrorist activities directed against the country's peaceful citizens and its infrastructure.'"
"Item 20: Health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east
Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan...
The vote resulted in 104 votes in favour to four votes against, with six abstentions and 65 Member States absent, as follows:...
Votes against: Australia; Canada; Israel; United States of America."
May 20, 2015
"A draft of the proposed French United Nations Security Council resolution on the Israel-Palestinian conflict was published by the French newspaper Le Figaro on Wednesday.
According to the newspaper, the draft resolution, which is being promoted by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, calls for the immediate resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and their conclusion in a permanent agreement within 18 months.
If no agreement is reached in the allotted time, France will recognize the Palestinian state, according to Le Figaro..."
Saudi Arabia, a member of the UN's Human Rights Council and a close US ally, is hiring more executioners, according to its Ministry of Civil Service website.
With 85 people already executed this year alone, Saudi Arabia is recruiting eight more executioners to fulfill positions that require carrying out beheadings, as well as performing amputations on those who committed smaller offenses, according to a report from Reuters.
The job, classified as "religious functionaries," was posted on the Ministry of Civil Service website on Monday and does not require any special qualifications since it falls within the lower tier of the country's civil service pay scale, according to the application form.
Executions have been on the rise since last August, with the call for additional executioners coming a day after a man became the 85th person to be executed in Saudi Arabia this year. The man was beheaded on Sunday for a drug-related offense. While the punishment falls under the country's strict Sharia-based legal system, Saudi Arabia has received immense criticism for the practice from human rights groups, especially in cases concerning criminal offenses such as sorcery or drug smuggling. Murder and drug-related crimes account for a majority of the country's executions.
Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for the Human Rights Watch (HRW), told VICE News that while Saudi officials associate the executions with Islamic law, Coogle emphasized that "nothing in Islamic law mandates that you execute drug offenders. The Saudis don't have to execute people for drug crimes."
"Drug executions are particularly problematic," Coogle said. "To execute people for nonviolent judge crimes, it is particularly egregious."
Behind China and Iran, Saudi Arabia is one of the top five countries in the world for sentencing people to death, according to an Amnesty International report released in March. In January, gruesome footage surfaced on social media showing Saudi authorities publicly beheading a woman in the holy city of Mecca. At the time, her execution was the tenth to be carried out in country.
The current number of executions carried out this year is quickly approaching the 88 people that were sentenced to death in the whole of 2014, based on figures from HRW. Amnesty International, however, reported that at least 90 executions were performed in Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Among those executed, about half were Saudi, while the rest hailed from Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, India, Indonesia, Burma, Chad, Eritrea, the Philippines and Sudan, according to the BBC.
Saudi Arabia has also come under fire for handing out harsh sentences beyond executions, like in the case of political activists, who can receive 10 to 15 year prison sentences for crimes like inciting public opinion and undermining the regime. A recent case that received critical attention and sparked public outcry, involved 31-year-old Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a total of 1,000 lashes for insulting religious clerics.
Although executions have surged in Saudi Arabia, Saudi officials have not offered an explanation for the rise. Some diplomats have suggested that the soar in executions is linked to the fact that additional judges have been appointed, meaning the system can handle more cases, Reuters reported. The recruitment of executioners comes four months after King Salman of Saudi Arabia ascended to the throne and sought to reorganize the government, following the death of his half brother King Abdullah. While the King has endorsed a younger generation of officials, he has yet to alter the judicial sector, where conservative officials still hold power.
Saudi Arabia is also leading airstrikes in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation. Since March, Riyadh has led a bombing campaign in Yemen that has killed hundreds of civilians. According to Coogle, the turbulence in the region can be linked to the high rates of executions.
"The insecurity in the region is influencing authorities to try to toughen up on crime to look like the system can deliver justice," Coogle said.
May 19, 2015
"The UN Human Rights Council includes 47 Member States. Many comprise a rogue's gallery of major human rights abusers – including Saudi Arabia, America, Algeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, among others...
Reports indicate Riyadh wants to chair the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)...
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom criticized Riyadh's human rights record – including its treatment of blogger Raif Badawi.
He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years imprisonment and possible capital punishment – for freely expressing his views...
Independent human rights groups condemn Riyadh's record as one of the world's most egregious for good reason...
Appointing it head of the human rights group would make the organization a laughing stock. Don't bet against it happening."
"Recently..., a case came to light that reveals a shady side to the organisation. Late in April French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, received a leaked UN report detailing sexual assaults by French troops which reportedly took place between December 2013 and June 2014 at a centre for displaced people in the Central African Republic (CAR). The French troops had been deployed alongside UN-mandated European Union (EU) and African Union (AU) peacekeeping missions...
[T]he organisation has for decades suffered in dealing with misconduct - particularly in relation to peacekeeping forces. Official UN statistics show a higher incidence of allegations reported against peacekeeping forces than any other UN staff...
Sexual allegations are rampant. Save the Children investigated allegations of sex with minors against staff from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DKPO), the World Food Program (WFP), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Volunteers (UNV)."
"The Palestinian Authority on Monday urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague to set a date for the submission of documents regarding what it says are crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank and during the last summer's 50-day-war in the Gaza Strip...
The Palestinians accepted the court's jurisdiction in mid-January and officially joined the ICC on April 1 in hopes of prosecuting Israel for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Gaza conflict...
Israel, however, has denounced the Palestinians' joining the court as 'scandalous,' with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that it turns the ICC 'into part of the problem and not part of the solution.'"
Officials say sexual violence was strategy of Islamist group, who hoped to breed new generation of fighters.
Hundreds of women and girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram were raped, some repeatedly, in what officials have described as a deliberate strategy by the Islamist group to breed a new generation of fighters in Nigeria.
In interviews with the New York Times published on Monday, the women said they were locked in houses by the dozen and forced to engage in sexual relations with the militants.
"They chose the ones they wanted to marry," said a 25-year-old woman named Hamsatu, adding that she was four months pregnant with one of the Islamist's babies. "If anybody shouts, they said they would shoot them."
According to the report, dozens of newly freed women and girls, many of whom are pregnant, have been showing up at a refugee camp near Maiduguri, as Nigerian soldiers continue to repel Boko Haram forces from the region.
Most of the 15,000 people who are at the camp are women, relief officials told the Times. Over 200 of these women are pregnant, but many more may be carrying the unwanted children of militants.
"The sect leaders make a very conscious effort to impregnate the women," Borno governor Kashim Shettima was quoted by the Times as saying. "Some of them, I was told, even pray before mating, offering supplications for God to make the products of what they are doing become children that will inherit their ideology."
Some of the girls subjected to sexual violence were as young as 11. Many contracted HIV. Boko Haram fighters also killed older boys and men in front of their families before taking women and children into the forest where many died of hunger and disease, freed captives said.
Several weeks ago, the Nigerian army rescued hundreds of women and children from the Islamist fighters in northern Nigeria's Sambisa Forest in a major operation that has turned international attention to the plight of hostages.
After days on the road in pickup trucks, hundreds were released into the care of authorities at a refugee camp in the eastern town of Yola to be fed and treated for injuries.
"They didn't allow us to move an inch," said one of the freed women, Asabe Umaru, describing her captivity in the forest. "If you needed the toilet, they followed you. We were kept in one place. We were under bondage.
"We thank God to be alive today. We thank the Nigerian army for saving our lives," she added.