Resources updated between Monday, March 17, 2014 and Sunday, March 23, 2014
March 23, 2014
UN media has falsely reported on what the UN itself has made available to the public on Syria.
Back in August of 2011, in response to the atrocities in Syria, the UN Human Rights Council created a Commission of Inquiry. The Commission presented its latest report to the Council on March 18, 2014 in Geneva. The job description of the Commission is to investigate "all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic."
The Commission was also asked to "establish the facts and circumstances that may amount to such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and, where possible, to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable."
On March 18, 2014 UN media reported that: "A list of individuals and entities allegedly responsible for crimes in the Syria Arab Republic war has just been released by a UN panel investigating human rights abuses in the country. The news was announced during an interactive dialogue on Tuesday in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council."
And the UN tweeted: "list of perpetrators in Syria conflict named by UN rights panel"
But in fact, the list(s) were never released and the outcome of the mandate "to identify those responsible" is a well-kept secret.
Speaking to the Council on March 18, 2014, the Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said this: "As is well known, we have established a list of individuals and entities - military units and security agencies as well as armed groups and their battalions responsible for violations and crimes we have documents throughput our reports. This 'perpetrators list', as we call it, contains names of persons criminally responsible for hostage-taking, torture and executions. It also contains the names of the heads of intelligence branches and detention facilities where torture occurs; names of military commanders who targeted civilians; airports from where barrel bomb attacks are planned and executed; and armed groups involved in attacking and displacing civilians. We have an enormous volume of testimony-over 2,700 interviews as well as a wealth of documentary material. we do not lack of information about crimes or perpetrators. What we lack is a means by which to achieve justice and accountability".
After two and a half years of information-gathering, why won't the UN "identify those responsible"? As the Nuremberg Tribunal taught us: "crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities."
March 22, 2014
During the year, the UN Human Rights Council reviews human rights conditions of each of the UN's 193 states. The process is called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and is repeatedly touted as the Council's single most important innovation for protecting human rights. The theory goes that the Council will "undertake a universal periodic review (UPR), based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments..."
On Thursday, March 20, 2014, the Council took up the human rights record of China. It was the second stage of the UPR process on China, which began at the Council's UPR session in October 2013. China introduced its (horrendous) human rights record this way: "My government has taken vast initiatives to advance the cause of human rights."
Those initiatives include the following. In September 2013 Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli was detained after she staged a two-month sit-in at the foreign ministry with other activists, pressing authorities to allow the public to participate in the UPR process involving China. Authorities first detained Cao at Beijing airport on September 14, as she was en route to Geneva to participate in a human rights training program. She was formally arrested one month later on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble". Cao suffered from several conditions, including tuberculosis, liver disease and uterine fibroids but Beijing's Chaoyang district detention centre, where she was held, refused to give her medical treatment for months, causing her condition to deteriorate. Cao was finally taken to the hospital on February 19, 2014 after she fell into a coma. On March 14, 2014, shortly before stage two of the Chinese UPR in Geneva, Cao Shunli died.
On March 20, 2014, during stage two of China's UPR, several NGOs took the floor. The International Service for Human Rights told the story of Cao Shunli and called for "a moment of silence" to remember her. The Chinese delegate immediately raised a point of order and objected to the moment of silence on procedural grounds. He was supported by Cuba, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Morocco, Algeria, South Africa, Maldives and Egypt. At the same time, NGO representatives were standing in the back of the room with pictures of Cao Shunli. Iran's representative asked that the pictures be removed. Canada, U.S., UK, France, Germany, Austria, Estonia and Ireland all supported the right of NGOs to use their allotted speaking time as they wished.
The President of the Council then decided that he would discuss this issue later and that the UPR of China should proceed. The Chinese delegation however insisted that the Council decides on the issue "straight away." The members of the Council then proceeded to a roll-call vote where each member was asked in effect whether they support the right to free speech at the Council and more specifically if they support a moment of silence for Cao Shunli.
Only 13 Council member states voted in favor of the President's decision to discuss the issue further - that is, supported freedom of expression and a moment of silence, while 20 voted against and 12 abstained. Thus the moment of silence for Cao Shunli - who died trying to bring the human rights of those in China to the attention of the Council - was disallowed by the very same Council.
Moreover, China took other steps to silence freedom of speech at the Council. It interrupted the statement of the International Federation for Human Rights League (FIDH) because they were speaking on behalf of its member organizations - namely Human Rights in China and International Campaign for Tibet. The FIDH rep was allowed to proceed only after the several points of order were raised and Canada, U.S., France, Germany and the UK intervened.
While NGOs were harassed and silenced during China's UPR, states were free to comment and did. In particular, rogue states enjoy using the UPR to applaud the worst human rights abusers and criticize democracies in order to deflect attention from their own abysmal records. Their comments on China, therefore, included:
On March 20, 2014, a meeting in "observance of the international year of solidarity with the Palestinian people" was held at the UN office in Geneva's Palais des Nations. The meeting was intentionally organized in parallel to the UN Human Rights Council session currently being held in Geneva. The Council and its UN staff advertised and facilitated the event. It was published on the UN website and listed on an official UN document headlined "Human Rights Council, 25th session, 3-28 March, 2014" as "Human rights in the State of Palestine". UN conference rooms and services are available only to a non-governmental organization that holds UN accreditation and the application to hold the meeting in the first place must be examined and approved by UN staff. The Council's official bulletin listed the UN-accredited NGO "International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations" as the main organizer of the event.
The speakers included the moderator Jan Lonn, from the International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations; Krishna Ahooja Patel, from the Women International League for Peace and Freedom; Issa Amro, the chair of the Youth Against Settlements in Hebron; Marie Claude Julsaint from the Women's Christian Association Palestine and Richard Falk, UN "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories."
The moderator Lonn opened the meeting by comparing the International year of solidarity with the Palestinian people to "previous international years" created by the UN like the one "on mobilizing against apartheid."
The statement of Krishna Ahooja Patel included the following:
On March 18, 2014 the UN Human Rights Council discussed the subject of "Human rights situations that require the Council's attention". The Iranian representative, at home in the UN "human rights" system, believes the topic is an excellent opportunity to lecture the world's leading democracies about human rights:
"To date the EU Member States have often proven unwilling to tackle human rights violations at home including...deteriorating media freedom...We remain concerned that extremism rests strong across the EU especially on issues related to Muslim minorities. It has been painful to observe that in a number of EU countries Romas continue to be victims of social exclusion and segregation...The U.S. human rights record is exceptionally poor and widely criticized despite its claim of human rights advocacy while its own restrictions on protests in US cities expose its inherent double-standard. Its unprecedented record level of human rights abuses and atrocities it committed around the world should also be highlighted...We express concern over widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment in Sweden ...My delegation also regrets to notice that the indigenous people's situation in Canada remains an issue of serious concern. We continue to witness escalating levels of violence and growing reports of human rights abuses against indigenous peoples."
The spectacle of the leading state sponsor of terrorism - a regime that subjugates its female population and minorities, has no rule of law or democracy, routinely practices torture and other gruesome violations of human rights - advising the United States, Europe and Canada on how to protect rights, is ridiculous. Unfortunately, it also resonates with the majority of UN member states.
On March 18, 2014 the UN Human Rights Council discussed the subject "Human rights situations that require the Council's attention". Rights-abusing countries use the UN platform to divert attention away from their own sorry records. China - one of the world's worst human rights abusers and a member of the UN's top human rights body - took this occasion to attack the United States and Europe.
"We are very concerned with politicization and double-standards in the Council ...What is incredible is certain countries are still very keen on open pressure and naming and shaming in the human rights area provoking confrontation and interfering in the internal affairs of other countries in the name of human rights...A moment ago the representatives of the US, EU, UK, Czech and other countries ignored the China situation and the huge progress achieved in the human rights cause and made groundless accusations against China... The systematic racial discrimination in the United States, minority groups rights are often violated, sexual discrimination is also very serious in the States, women's rights are not effectively protected... A lot of European countries have racial discrimination and xenophobia...We advise these countries sincerely that they should reflect and resolve their own human rights issues."
However nonsensical, this typical rant makes a good impression on the majority of UN member states.
March 21, 2014
"A draft law before Iraq's parliament that would legalise the marriage of girls as young as nine and restrict women's rights in matters of parenting, divorce and inheritance is a political move to define the identity of the country's majority Shias before next month's election, officials say. The law, which was approved by Iraq's council of ministers two weeks ago, has generated widespread debate in Iraq six weeks before the first national poll since US forces departed. International human rights groups have described it as a disastrous regression in the status of women...The law was put forward by Iraq's justice minister, who heads the Fadila party, which has seven seats in the national parliament and is allied with the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Its endorsement by the council of ministers was a prerequisite for a vote in the 325-seat assembly. Observers say Iraq's Shia religious authorities are split over how to react to a debate that has roots in Islamic jurisprudence. Known as the Jaafari personal status law, a reference to the Shia imam of that name, the draft law legalises marital rape and gives men a strict guardianship role over their wives. It also gives automatic custody to fathers in divorce cases that involve children of more than two years old. Most controversially, it allows girls to divorce from the age of nine – a clause that means they must first have been married...'He has never said that he is with the law or against it,' said Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi. 'What we have done is democratic. We took this to be discussed, then voted on. We didn't object straight away. Some media outlets show Iraq as if it has gone backwards, but this isn't true. In the west, people are talking about gay marriage. This is something we would never discuss and it is against our religion, our nature, yet we don't say that they are backwards.'"
March 17, 2014
The UN's top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, has rejected a request made by its own Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea to show a video clip with testimonies of witnesses collected by the Commission.
On March 17, 2014 the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) presented the report on the human rights situation in North Korea to the Council currently meeting in Geneva. The Commission's report, which was released on February 17, documents "unspeakable atrocities" in North Korea, including crimes against humanity which have been and are committed by officials of the State Security Department, the Ministry of People's Security, the Korean People's Army, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the judiciary and the Workers' Party of Korea" which are acting under "the effective control of the leadership organs of the Workers' Party of Korea, the National Defense Commission and the Supreme Leader of the DPRK." The Commission concluded that "the gravity, scale and nature of the violations" committed by North Korea reveal a "state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world" and which "seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens' lives".
In February of 2014 the Commission made a request to the President of the Human Rights Council to display a video clip as part of the presentation of its report with testimonies of witnesses collected by the COI.
On March 5, 2013 Iran acting on behalf of the Non Aligned-Movement group of states sent a letter to the President objecting to the Commission's request allegedly because "it would run counter to the cause of human rights." On the same day Ethiopia, acting for the African Group of states, sent a letter also stating that "the group does not support the request" made by the Commission.
On March 14, 2014 the Human Rights Council Bureau - consisting of representatives of Gabon, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Italy and India - announced that "In view of concerns expressed by some States, and given the lack of proper guidelines on the use of video clips" it will not permit display of the video at the Council.
Victims of human rights abuse silenced by the UN's top human rights body.
On March 13, 2014 Israel asked the UN Human Rights Council to delay next week's scheduled adoption of the "Universal Periodic Review" report on its human rights record because Israeli diplomats are on strike - for higher pay and working conditions for spouses - and have suspended all contacts with the UN (and other international organizations.) The letter sent to the Council asks it to respect the right to strike. The Council notoriously respects virtually nothing about Israeli rights, and has already said no to a delay past the end of the current Council session.
"Over 146,000 people, more than a third of them civilians, have been killed in Syria's uprising-turned-civil war which enters its fourth year this month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.
The last U.N. figures, released in July 2013, put the death toll at least 100,000 but the United Nations said in January it would stop updating the toll as conditions on the ground made it impossible to make accurate estimates."