Category Archives: United Nations

Samantha Power and the Weaponization of Human Rights

Editor’s Note: I thought the below profile by civil rights lawyer Chase Madar written back in 2009 was worth sharing after Evan Osnos’s recent piece on “humanitarian interventionist” Samantha Power in the New Yorker.

Chase Madar wrote for The American Conservative back in 2009:

‘[…] The intellectual career of Samantha Power is a richly instructive example of the weaponization of human rights. She made her name in 2002 with A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. In this surprise global bestseller, she argues that when confronted with 20th-century genocides, the United States sat on the sidelines as the blood flowed. Look at Bosnia or Rwanda. “Why does the US stand so idly by?” she asks. Powers allows that overall America “has made modest progress in its responses to genocide.” That’s not good enough. We must be bolder in deploying our armed forces to prevent human-rights catastrophes—to engage in “humanitarian intervention” in the patois of our foreign-policy elite.

In nearly 600 pages of text, Power barely mentions those postwar genocides in which the U.S. government, far from sitting idle, took a robust role in the slaughter. Indonesia’s genocidal conquest of East Timor, for instance, expressly green-lighted by President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger, who met with Suharto the night before the invasion was launched and carried out with American-supplied weapons. Over the next quarter century, the Indonesian army saw U.S. military aid and training rise as it killed between 100,000 and 200,000 East Timorese. (The figures and the designation of “genocide” come from a UN-formed investigative body.) This whole bloody business gets exactly one sentence in Power’s book.

What about the genocide of Mayan peasants in Guatemala—another decades-long massacre carried out with American armaments by a military dictatorship with tacit U.S. backing, officer training at Fort Benning, and covert CIA support? A truth commission sponsored by the Catholic Church and the UN designated this programmatic slaughter genocide and set the death toll at approximately 200,000. But apparently this isn’t a problem from hell.’

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Stateless: One in 500 people living with no nationality, report says

Emma Batha reports for Reuters:

[…] The number of stateless people worldwide likely exceeds 15 million, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion said in a report, which lifts the veil on some of the most invisible people on the planet.

[…] The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) estimate of 10 million stateless people left out 1.5 million stateless refugees and 3.5 million stateless Palestinians.

Without a nationality, stateless people are denied basic rights and benefits that most people take for granted, including access to healthcare, education and work. They often cannot own property, open a bank account or even get married.

Sometimes called “legal ghosts”, stateless people are vulnerable to rights abuses, detention and exploitation.’

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New Evidence Suggests Israel Is Helping Syrian Rebels in the Golan Heights

Samuel Oakford reports for VICE News:

‘Israel continues to interact with Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights and allow them to cross the border, according to a new UN report corroborated by a VICE News team that visited the area in November, uncovering additional incidents beyond what has been described by the UN.

Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since the Six-Day War in 1967, when it captured it from Syria. In 1974, a UN peacekeeping mission, known as UNDOF, was established to police a 50-mile-long disengagement zone between the Israeli “Alpha” and Syrian “Bravo” lines. At the disengagement zone’s narrowest southern points, the distance between the two lines can be less than a kilometer.’

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United Nations Panel Slams U.S. Record on Police Brutality, Torture, Child Migrants & Guantánamo

‘As protests continue over the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the United States is facing pressure internationally over its failure to put a halt to police brutality. In a new report, the United Nations Committee Against Torture expresses deep concern over the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.” The Committee also criticizes a number of other U.S. practices on torture and imprisonment, Guantánamo Bay, and the custody of migrants including children in “prison-like detention facilities.” We discuss the report’s findings with Dr. Jens Modvig, member of the Committee against Torture and one of two rapporteurs for its report.’ (Democracy Now!)

At Global Climate Conferences, Spying Is Just Part of the Woodwork

Alleen Brown writes for The Intercept:

‘[…] The resigned attitudes toward spying at the climate talks signal a normalization of broad surveillance by states like the U.S. and Britain. It seems that spying has become part of the woodwork of international ecological negotiations.

Intelligence gathering is fading into the background in part because it has become so ubiquitous, expanding well beyond traditional redoubts like diplomacy and military affairs into corporate operations, political activism and, yes, environmental affairs. Faiza Patel, who helps lead efforts against surveillance overreach at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, says, “The big point of this story for me is the fact that both the GCHQ and NSA shroud their actions as if it’s all about national security, when what we’ve seen over and over again is that it’s not.”’

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UN: 13.6 million displaced by wars in Iraq and Syria

Reuters reports:

About 13.6 million people, equivalent to the population of London, have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and many are without food or shelter as winter starts, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday.

Amin Awad, UNHCR’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said the world was becoming numb to the refugees’ needs.

“Now when we talk about a million people displaced over two months, or 500,000 overnight, the world is just not responding,” he told reporters in Geneva.

The 13.6 million include 7.2 million displaced within Syria – an increase from a long-held U.N. estimate of 6.5 million – as well as 3.3 million Syrian refugees abroad.

In Iraq, 1.9 million have been displaced this year by tribal fighting and the advance of Islamic State, adding to 1 million previously displaced, and 190,000 have left the country to seek safety.’

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Inside the UN Resolution on Depleted Uranium

John LaForge writes for CounterPunch:

‘On October 31, a new United Nations General Assembly First Committee resolution on depleted uranium (DU) weapons passed overwhelmingly. There were 143 states in favor, four against, and 26 abstentions. The measure calls for UN member states to provide assistance to countries contaminated by the weapons. The resolution also notes the need for health and environmental research on depleted uranium weapons in conflict situations.

This fifth UN resolution on the subject was fiercely opposed by four depleted uranium-shooting countries — Britain, the United States, France and Israel — who cast the only votes in opposition. The 26 states that abstained reportedly sought to avoid souring lucrative trade relationships with the four major shooters.

Uranium-238 — so-called “depleted” uranium — is waste material left in huge quantities by the nuclear weapons complex. It’s used in large caliber armor-piercing munitions and in armor plate on tanks. Toxic, radioactive dust and debris is dispersed when DU shells burn through targets, and its metallic fumes and dust poison water, soil and the food chain. DU has been linked to deadly health effects like Gulf War Syndrome among U.S. and allied troops, and birth abnormalities among populations in bombed areas. DU waste has caused radioactive contamination of large parts of Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and perhaps Afghanistan.’

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Report to U.N. Calls Bullshit on Obama’s ‘Look Forward, Not Backwards’ Approach to Torture

Murtaza Hussain writes for The Intercept:

‘Months after President Obama frankly admitted that the United States had “tortured some folks” as part of the War on Terror, a new report submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture has been released that excoriates his administration for shielding the officials responsible from prosecution.

The report describes the post-9/11 torture program as “breathtaking in scope”, and indicts both the Bush and Obama administrations for complicity in it – the former through design and implementation, and the latter through its ongoing attempts to obstruct justice. Noting that the program caused grievous harm to countless individuals and in many cases went as far as murder, the report calls for the United States to “promptly and impartially prosecute senior military and civilian officials responsible for authorizing, acquiescing, or consenting in any way to acts of torture.”’

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Noam Chomsky at United Nations: It Would Be Nice if the United States Lived up to International Law

Venezuela, Malaysia, Angola, New Zealand and Spain win U.N. Security Council seats, Turkey bid fails

Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau report for Reuters:

‘Venezuela, Malaysia, Angola, New Zealand and Spain won seats on the United Nations Security Council on Thursday for two years from Jan. 1, 2015. The 193-member U.N. General Assembly elected Venezuela with 181 votes, Malaysia with 187 votes, Angola with 190 votes.

All three countries campaigned unopposed for their seats after being chosen as the candidates for their respective regional groups, but still needed to win the votes of two-thirds of the General Assembly to secure their spots.

The only contest was between New Zealand, Spain and Turkey for two seats given to the Western European and others group. New Zealand won a seat during the first round of voting with 145 votes. Spain beat Turkey in a third round of run-off voting.’

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UN Member States Owe World Body About $3.5 Billion

Edith M. Lederer reports for The Associated Press:

‘U.N. member states owe the world body about $3.5 billion for its regular operating budget and far-flung peacekeeping operations, the U.N. management chief said Thursday.

Yukio Takasu told reporters after briefing the General Assembly’s budget committee that “as a whole the financial situation of the United Nations is very sound and generally good except the regular budget.”‘

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Mali to UN: Consider a Rapid Intervention Force

Cara Anna reports for The Associated Press:

‘Mali’s foreign minister urged the United Nations on Wednesday to consider creating a rapid intervention force to fight extremist groups in the African country’s troubled north, warning that the region “once again runs the risk of becoming the destination of hordes of terrorists.”

Abdoulaye Diop spoke to the U.N. Security Council via videoconference the day after a peacekeeper with the U.N. mission in Mali was killed in a rocket attack. That follows the death of nine peacekeepers in an attack on Friday, the deadliest since the mission began last year.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has called the situation “intolerable” as French troops in northern Mali draw down, leaving peacekeepers largely on their own in the rebellious region. Ladsous told the council that the rate of attacks has increased substantially and that with the “quasi-disappearance” of Mali’s forces, “we cannot face the threat alone.”‘

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UN’s Mission in Haiti Consists of Terrorism and Military Occupation

Nydia Dauphin writes for The Huffington Post:

‘What is the seizure and control of an area by armed troops? Military occupation. What is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of politico-economic aims? Terrorism. What is the freedom from negative consequences of an injurious action? Impunity.

Military occupation. Terrorism. Impunity.

To far too many of us, these 4 words have become synonymous with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the MINUSTAH which, for the past 10 years, has maintained a reign of terror in Haiti.’

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Haiti: A Movement of Solidarity to End the UN’s Illegal Occupation

Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya writes for Global Research:

‘We are no longer living in the 19th century with the spectre of Haiti’s successful struggle for its freedom haunting the consciousness of slave masters across the Americas. Yet the military occupation of this country since 2004 by way of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is sending a clear message that the Haitians’ tentative step toward exercising control over the destiny in the 1990s and the early years of the new century is still “a source of alarm and terror” to imperial overlords such a Canada, France, and the United States.

The MINUSTAH occupation army has a combined force of 7, 408 soldiers and police personnel as of July 31, 2014. This armed entity has served as the muscle behind the schemes of the local elite and foreign interests in preventing the disenfranchised urban and rural labouring classes from seeking to capture the levers of national political, economic, and social power.

A number of observers have documented the oppressive actions of MINUSTAH in its ten-year occupation of Haiti: involvement in the sexual exploitation and abuse of girls and women; repression of Jean-Bertrand Aristides’ supporters; the general abuses of living under occupationintroduction of cholera that has killed over 8,500 Haitians and infected more than 700,000 people;  the suspicious death of a teenager; and the compelling reasons for an end to the occupation.’

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Suggesting Ebola will become airborne is ‘irresponsible’, say experts

Rebecca Smith reports for The Telegraph:

Ebola virus‘The UN’s chief of Ebola mission Anthony Banbury said Ebola could become airborne in a ‘nightmare scenario’ but leading scientists have slammed his remarks saying this has never happened and suggesting it is ‘irresponsible’.

Mr Banbury was speaking exclusively to the Telegraph as predictions were made that Ebola could have infected 1.4m people by January.

He said the longer the virus is in humans the greater the chance it could mutate. He said the virus being spread through the air was a ‘nightmare scenario’ but that it ‘could not be ruled out’.

However leading British scientists have rounded on him saying his comments are a distraction and accused him of spreading panic.’

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Did The UN Just Pass The Global Patriot Act?

Abby Martin speaks with RT Correspondent Marina Portnaya, about a new UN resolution that is being compared to the US Patriot Act, going over how the text could allow countries to increase surveillance under the name of counter terrorism, as well as giving states new tools to crack down on dissent by simply labeling activists ‘terrorists’.’ (Breaking the Set)

Russia at U.N. accuses U.S., allies of bossing world around

Louis Charbonneau reports for Reuters:

‘The speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the 193-nation assembly was the latest example of the deteriorating relations between Moscow and Western powers, which have imposed sanctions on Russia over the conflict in neighboring Ukraine.

“The U.S.-led Western alliance that portrays itself as a champion of democracy, rule of law and human rights within individual countries … (is) rejecting the democratic principle of sovereign equality of states enshrined in the U.N. Charter and trying to decide for everyone what is good or evil,” he said.

“Washington has openly declared its right to unilateral use of force anywhere to uphold its own interests,” Lavrov added. “Military interference has become a norm – even despite the dismal outcome of all power operations that the U.S. has carried out over the recent years.”‘

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Refugee Flow to Industrialized Nations Is Poised for a 20-Year High

Nick-Cumming Bruce reports for The New York Times:

‘Conflict and instability in the Middle East and parts of Africa look set to push the number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries to the highest level in 20 years in 2014, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday, warning that the flow of refugees was increasing the strain on already overstretched humanitarian aid budgets.

More than 330,700 people applied for asylum in a group of 44 countries in Europe, North America and parts of the Asia-Pacific region in the first half of the year, the refugee agency reported, almost a quarter more than in the last half of 2013.

From the experience of past years, which saw more people seeking asylum in the second half of the year, it predicts that the number of people seeking refuge in these countries will reach more than 700,000 by the end of the year, the highest level since the Balkan wars of the 1990s.’

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Is Emma Watson the right woman for the job?

Julia Zulver writes for Al Jazeera:

‘[…] I am all in favour for generating the largest audiences possible when it comes to topics as important as feminism and gender equality. What I don’t understand, however, is why the UN decided to re-invent the wheel. Why, in 2014, did a keynote speech about gender equality focus on girls dropping out of sports teams, or boys not being able to show their emotions by age 18? I understand that Watson was speaking from personal experience, and even found that her candour added real emotional appeal to her message, but in a world where femicide, FGM, and child marriage are pertinent issues, I don’t think the girl-next-door experience is good enough.’

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Breakthroughs Unlikely at Upcoming UN Climate Summit: Interview with Patrick Bond

U.N. torture inspectors say barred from Azerbaijan jails

Reuters reports:

‘A United Nations human rights team looking into complaints of torture in Azerbaijan said on Wednesday it had cut short its investigations because it had been stopped from visiting some government detention centres.

In a statement issued in Geneva, the five-person group said the action by the authorities in the former Soviet republic had come despite assurances that the team would have unrestricted access to all places where prisoners were held.’

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CERD Report: US Slammed for Failure to Fulfill Legal Obligation to Eliminate All Forms of Race Discrimination

Marjorie Cohn reports for Truthout:

‘Three weeks after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) published a report detailing how the United States has failed to fulfill its legal obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Convention).

The CERD report was scathing in its criticism of the United States for not complying with the convention’s mandates. Since the United States ratified this treaty, thereby becoming a state party, it is part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

States parties must comply with the obligations under the convention, including submitting periodic reports to CERD regarding their progress in fulfilling their obligations. CERD is the body that monitors compliance of states parties with the convention.  After reviewing the most recent US report, CERD responded with its concluding observations.’

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UN: Libya fighters ‘committing grave rights violations’

AFP reports:

‘Grave human rights violations have been committed during clashes in the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, with disastrous consequences for civilians, a UN report said on Friday. The warning came from the UN mission in Tripoli (UNSMIL) and UN rights office only days after Libya’s outgoing government admitted from its safe refuge in the east that it has effectively lost control of the capital to armed militias.

The report accused the combatants of “indiscriminate shelling and attacks on civilian objects, the shelling of hospitals, the abduction of civilians, torture and unlawful killings”, including of women and children. “Dozens of civilians were reportedly abducted in Tripoli and Benghazi solely for their actual or suspected tribal, family or religious affiliation, and have remained missing since the time of their abduction,” it said. The United Nations agencies appealed to all parties to prioritise the protection of civilians.’

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U.N. failed to protect civilians during Sri Lanka’s bloody war end, says report

Nita Bhalla reports for Reuters:

‘The United Nations failed in its mandate to protect Sri Lankan civilians caught up in the final phases of the Indian Ocean island’s bloody war, a new report has said.

Sri Lanka’s civil conflict ended in May 2009 in cataclysmic final battle in which government forces surrounded Tamil rebels on a tiny strip of coastal land, where the separatists kept hundreds of thousands of civilians as human shields.

A 2011 U.N. probe estimates about 40,000 people were killed in the final phases of the war, mostly by army shelling and bombardments. Sri Lanka has rejected the allegation and claims in its own investigation that around 7,000 people died.’

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Saudi Arabia remains on U.N. Human Rights Council despite 19 beheadings, including one for “sorcery”

All Gov reports:

‘Ask any human rights organization where they stand on chopping off people’s heads and they’ll probably say such actions constitute a violation of human rights.

And yet, one nation that does a lot of beheadings is on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. Lately, in fact, Saudi Arabia can’t seem to get enough beheadings. Its government has executed at least 19 people using this method since August 4, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Of the 19, eight were found guilty of non-violent offenses; seven for drug smuggling and one for committing sorcery.’

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Vladimir Putin: U.S. actions in Iraq and Libya examples of ‘doomed’ unilateralism

UN rights chief Navi Pillay rebukes Security Council

BBC News reports:

‘UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay has strongly criticised the UN Security Council for its failure to prevent conflicts around the world. “Greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” she told a meeting of the 15-member body.

She said that national interest had repeatedly taken precedence over human suffering and breaches of world peace. Her briefing came just days before her six-year term comes to an end. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was milder in his criticism, but acknowledged that “it is the time for a new era of collaboration, co-operation and action from the Security Council”.’

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UN Announces Members For Gaza Probe Panel, Angers Israel

Avaneesh Pandey reports for The International Business Times:

‘The United Nations Human Rights Council, or UNHRC, in a statement released Monday, announced the appointment of three experts to an international commission of inquiry that will investigate allegations of war crimes and violations of “international humanitarian and human rights laws” during the Israeli military’s assault on the Gaza Strip.

[…] The international commission of inquiry, which was launched on July 23 after 29 countries voted in its favor, is slated to submit its report by March 2015. Israel, responding to Monday’s announcement, reiterated its earlier stance and denounced the UNHRC panel as a “kangaroo court,” Al Jazeera reported… Hamas, on the other hand, said that the formation of the commission was an important step forward… The UNHRC announcement came on the second day of a 72-hour cease-fire between Hamas and Israel during which the two sides have resumed indirect talks in Cairo, mediated by Egypt.’

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ICG’s Nathan Thrall: Likely solution for a lasting ceasefire was on the table before Israeli assault and over 1,800 dead

‘Is a lasting ceasefire in Gaza possible — and on what terms? Our guest Nathan Thrall has laid out a possible plan for a ceasefire in his new article in the London Review of Books, “Hamas’s Chances.” Thrall writes: “The obvious solution is to let the new Palestinian government return to Gaza and reconstruct it. Israel can claim it is weakening Hamas by strengthening its enemies. Hamas can claim it won the recognition of the new government and a significant lifting of the blockade. This solution would of course have been available to Israel, the U.S., Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in the weeks and months before the war began, before so many lives were shattered.” Speaking to us from Jerusalem, Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. He also addresses Hamas’ accusation that Israel misled the world about the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier. On Friday, Israel said one of soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin, had been captured near Rafah. His suspected abduction led to an Israeli offensive in Rafah that killed more than 100 people and the collapse of a U.S.- and U.N.-brokered ceasefire.’ (Democracy Now!)

Emergency UN Security Council Meeting Calls for Immedate Unconditional Ceasefire in Gaza

Editor’s Note: Video from the UN Security Council meeting comes at around 6:30, after some typically biased reporting on the situation.