A North Korean spokesman is blaming the United States and its allies for a “human rights racket” a day after the U.N. Security Council met to discuss a new report that accuses the reclusive communist regime of crimes against humanity. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday quoted a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry and accused the U.S. and allies of reaching an “extremely reckless phase” with Thursday’s informal council meeting.
It was the first time the Security Council had met on the unprecedented U.N. commission of inquiry report, which recommends that the council refer its findings to the International Criminal Court. The commission chair says most council members expressly said the matter should be referred. All members but Russia and top Pyongyang ally China attended.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Thursday condemned the United States for criminalizing homelessness, calling it “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that violates international human rights treaty obligations. It also called upon the U.S. government to take corrective action, following a two-day review of U.S. government compliance with a human rights treaty ratified in 1992. “I’m just simply baffled by the idea that people can be without shelter in a country, and then be treated as criminals for being without shelter,” said Sir Nigel Rodley, chairman of the committee in closing statements on the U.S. review. “The idea of criminalizing people who don’t have shelter is something that I think many of my colleagues might find as difficult as I do to even begin to comprehend.”
The Committee called on the U.S. to abolish criminalization of homelessness laws and policies at state and local levels, intensify efforts to find solutions for homeless people in accordance with human rights standards and offer incentives for decriminalization, including giving local authorities funding for implementing alternatives and withholding funding for criminalizing the homeless. Those recommendations run counter to the current trends in the nation. Laws targeting the homeless—loitering laws that ban sleeping or sitting too long in one public spot, or camping in parks overnight—have become increasingly common in communities throughout the country as homelessness has skyrocketed.
While President Obama told the country to “look forward, not backward” when it came to Bush’s torture program, the United Nations has taken a different route. Recently, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a report excoriating the United States for its human rights violations. It focuses on violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the country is party. The report mentions 25 human rights issues where the United States is failing. This piece will focus on a few of those issues – Guantanamo, NSA surveillance, accountability for Bush-era human rights violations, drone strikes, racism in the prison system, racial profiling, police violence, and criminalization of the homeless.
The UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that the Japanese government must halt its whaling programme in the Antarctic. It agreed with Australia, which brought the case in May 2010, that the programme was not for scientific research as claimed by Tokyo.
Japan said it would abide by the decision but added it “regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision”. Australia argued that the programme was commercial whaling in disguise.
The court’s decision is considered legally binding. Japan had argued that the suit brought by Australia was an attempt to impose its cultural norms on Japan.
The UN has delivered a withering verdict on the US’s human rights record, raising concerns on a series of issues including torture, drone strikes, the failure to close Guantánamo Bay and the NSA‘s bulk collection of personal data.
The report was delivered by the UN’s human rights committee in an assessment of how the US is complying with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], which has been in force since the mid 1970s.
The committee, which is chaired by the British law professor Sir Nigel Rodley, catalogued a string of human rights concerns, notably on the mass surveillance exposed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Energy production will increasingly strain water resources in the coming decades even as more than 1 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people already lack access to both, according to a United Nations report. “There is an increasing potential for serious conflict between power generation, other water users and environmental considerations,” said the UN World Water Development Report published today that focused on water and energy. Ninety percent of power generation is “water-intensive,” it said.
Shale gas and oil production as well as biofuels “can pose significant risks” to water resources, pitting energy producers against farmers, factories and providers of drinking and sanitation services, the agency said ahead of tomorrow’s annual World Water Day. Water-related needs for energy production have tripled since 1995, according to GE Water, while more than half of the global cotton production is grown in areas with high water risks. Electricity demand is forecast to rise at least two-thirds by 2035, driven by population growth.
Political turmoil, social unrest, civil war and terrorism could all be on the table unless the world boosts its food production by 60 percent come mid-century, the UN’s main hunger fighting agency has warned. The world’s population is expected to hit 9 billion people by 2050, which, coupled with the higher caloric intake of increasingly wealthy people, is likely to drastically increase food demand over the coming decades said Hiroyuki Konuma, the assistant director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Asia-Pacific.
Increased food demand comes at a time when the world is investing less in agricultural research, prompting fear among scientists that global food security could be imperiled. “If we fail to meet our goal and a food shortage occurs, there will be a high risk of social and political unrest, civil wars and terrorism, and world security as a whole might be affected,” Reuters cites Konuma as saying at a one-week regional food security conference in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
In 1995, Conrad Harper, the Clinton administration’s top State Department lawyer, appeared before a United Nations panel in Geneva to discuss American compliance with a global Bill of Rights-style treaty the Senate had recently ratified, and he was asked a pointed question: Did the United States believe it applied outside its borders?
Mr. Harper returned two days later and delivered an answer: American officials, he said, had no obligations under the rights accord when operating abroad. The Bush administration would amplify that claim after the Sept. 11 attacks — and extend it to another United Nations convention that bans the use of torture — to justify its treatment of terrorism suspects in overseas prisons operated by the military and the C.I.A.
The United Nations panel in Geneva that monitors compliance with the rights treaty disagrees with the American interpretation, and human rights advocates have urged the United States to reverse its position when it sends a delegation to answer the panel’s questions next week. But the Obama administration is unlikely to do that, according to interviews, rejecting a strong push by two high-ranking State Department officials from President Obama’s first term.
Spain’s pioneering universal jurisdiction doctrine, which has enabled judges to prosecute foreigners in connection with human rights crimes committed in other countries, will be shaved back within four months following a vote in Congress Tuesday night [Feb 11th] to reform the judicial code. According to the reform, judges will only be able to open investigations against a suspected human rights violator if the defendant “is Spanish or a foreigner who frequently resides in Spain,” or who is currently in the country and Spanish authorities have refused to allow their extradition.
After an intense debate that pitted the entire opposition against the ruling Popular Party (PP), the final vote stood 179 in favor and 163 against, reflecting the conservatives’ absolute majority in Congress. The new legislation will come into effect within the next four months. Opposition groups roundly condemned the government’s decision and were united in their conviction that pressure from Beijing guided the hand of Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party administration.
On the 17 February the United Nations released what it called an “unprecedented” report on the state of human rights in the most secretive state in the world: North Korea. It concluded that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and still are being committed by the country officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and that in many cases, these violations constituted crimes against humanity, including: systematic torture, starvation and mass killings bordering on genocide. As a result of this, it recommended that the UN Security Council consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court. (Truthloader)
- UN: Punish N. Korea, Kim for ‘Unspeakable Atrocities’
- North Korea says U.N. rights report based on ‘faked’ material
- China rejects ‘unfair criticism’ in UN North Korea report
- Why it’s a good time to be a dictator like Kim Jong-un
- Cenk Uygur on the UN Report on North Korea
- North Korea Jokes No Longer Seem So Funny
Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, recommitted to securing Israel a tour on the U.N. Security Council after assisting its entry to a U.N. regional group.
Israel last month became a member of the JUSCANZ regional group at U.N. headquarters in New York. JUSCANZ stands for Japan, United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, some of the 15 members of the regional group, which is a sub-group of the Western European and Others (WEOG) regional group at the U.N. Israel was admitted to WEOG in New York in 2000, and in Geneva in 2013. Israel had been a member of JUSCANZ in Geneva, but until late last month not in New York.
In an address Monday to the Board of Governors of the American Jewish Committee, Powers said she will not give up on achieving a seat on the U.N. Security Council for Israel. Israel is vying with Germany and Belgium for a seat on the 2019-20 Security Council.
Chairperson Kirsten Sandberg discusses the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report outlining massive allegations of child abuse coverups and its demands The Vatican take action to hold guilty parties accountable. (The Real News)
The U.N. Security Council urged countries on Monday to stop the payment of kidnap ransoms to extremist groups like al Qaeda, which have earned hundreds of millions of dollars from such crimes. Although states are already required not to pay kidnap ransoms under an anti-terrorism resolution adopted in 2001, the British-drafted resolution was designed to increase political pressure on countries not to pay ransoms. The resolution creates no new legal obligations.
“We estimate that in the last three and a half years, al Qaeda-affiliated and other Islamist extremist groups have collected at least $105 million,” British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters. “It is therefore imperative that we take steps to ensure that kidnap for ransom is no longer perceived as a lucrative business model and that we eliminate it as a source of terrorist financing,” he said. “We need to break that cycle.”
The United States has estimated militant groups have received $120 million over the past decade, including ransoms paid to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The United States and Britain do not pay ransoms, but some European governments do.
Liverpool Council bosses are to go to the United Nations to make their case that the government could be breaking international rules on keeping people out of poverty.
The authority believes the coalition – through its controversial policies such as the bedroom tax and welfare reform – could be in breach of the UN economic and social rights convention that sets out minimum standards of access to food, clothing and housing.
At Wednesday [January 15] night’s meeting of the full council, Labour members from all parts of the city spoke of the evidence they had gathered of people in Liverpool who were being forced into degrading poverty because they were being denied access to benefits they desperately needed – ending up having to resort to what they said was effectively “begging” for food at food banks.
The chamber heard stories of people stripped of their dole money for up to 16 weeks because they had been late for interviews or had failed to meet the criteria of the government’s Welfare to Work programme.
And they heard claims that in some job centres in the city, suspensions of benefits and other sanctions had risen by up to 500% since 2012.
The very same week the interim nuclear deal with Iran went into effect, a diplomatic fiasco surrounding the Syrian peace talks underscored how little Western officials think has changed, and that Iran still occupies the position of “hostile power” for them.
Early last week, the focus was on getting partial ceasefires to slow the Syrian Civil War, and Iranian involvement would’ve been a major boost to that effort. The UN did the “reasonable” thing and invited Iran.
What followed was a total rethink of the talks and 24 solid hours of threats, before Iran was summarily disinvited and the US started insisting the whole point of the Syria talks was regime change and condemning the idea of partial ceasefires as a “distraction.”
Iran remains irked at being invited and uninvited like that, Russia is also angry since the whole point of the talks seems to be changing, and the UN is trying to insist none of this is their fault, and that they just assumed Iran was ready to impose a regime change ousting a close ally and replacing them with a pro-US government.
The Geneva II talks on the Syrian civil war in Switzerland started today. In the lead up to the conference, the media focus, unfortunately, had been on which parts of the Syrian opposition would attend and whether or not Iran, the Assad regime’s close ally, would attend (the U.S. pressured the UN to uninvite Iran at the last minute for not accepting the Geneva Communique).
And today, the media focused on two developments: (1) Secretary of State John Kerry’s hardline rhetoric about the Syrian regime’s crimes and how Assad cannot be a part of any transition government, and (2) the tense back-and-forth between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, the latter being nothing more than a disagreement over how much time the foreign minister should have to speak.
From where I’m sitting, the real story of the Geneva II conference was all but ignored. It was summed up by Ban Ki-Moon in a press conference following the talks when he said, “all of the countries who have been providing arms to either side must stop and encourage them to engage in political dialogue.”
- Patrick Cockburn: Moment of Truth for Syria
- Assad spokeswoman on CNN: Isn’t this colonial? What John Kerry said today? To me it’s very colonial
- John Kerry Says President Assad Cannot Be Part Of Transition Government In Syria
- Many Syrians Still See Assad as Indispensable in Saving Their Country
- Lots of Anger, Little Content as Syria Talks Begin
- Major Syrian opposition party withdraws from coalition
- Geneva Talks Underscore Huge Gap Between Syrian Regime and Opposition
- Brutality of Syria War Casts Doubt on Peace Talks
- Syrian Refugees on Geneva II: ‘I Have Learnt That Politics Has No Principles’
- Iran’s Rouhani: Hopes Slim for Syria Peace Talks
- Russia Says Iran’s Absence From Syria Talks Is a Mistake, Not a Catastrophe
- Map: Who Is Invited to the Syria Peace Talks (and Who’s Not)
- Syria TV Shows Opposition Head Alongside ‘Terrorist Crimes’
- Al-Qaeda slaughters on Syria’s killing fields
- Syrian Prison a Breeding Ground for Extremists
- Syrian Kurds Declare Autonomous Region in Northeast
The global group Reporters Without Borders is proposing that attacks on journalists be considered war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The U.N. Security Council held informal talks Friday on the protection of journalists amid alarm at the more than 50 killed so far this year. An estimated 90 percent of those deaths go unpunished.
France, which holds the presidency of the council this month, is especially concerned after the killings of two Radio France Internationale journalists last month in northern Mali.
The director of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, called the statistics on killings “sinister” and warned that impunity amounts to “encouragement” for more attacks.
Deloire said 88 journalists were killed in connection with their work last year — a record since the organization started keeping count in 1995.
An internal United Nations draft document leaked last weekend has offered outsiders a rare look at longstanding disagreements between member states over the course of U.N. drug policy.
The document, first publicised by the Guardian and obtained by IPS, contains over 100 specific policy recommendations and proposals from member states, many at odds with the status quo on illicit drug eradication and prohibition.
It confirms a widespread belief that discontent is growing among national governments and in the corridors of New York and Vienna, where the leak originated from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
[...] Despite recent moves in Latin America and Europe towards policies of harm reduction, U.N. reforms remain mired in mid-20th-century dogmas and perennial horse-trading between member states.
As prices drop for drugs that are purer by the year, governments continue to spend 100 billion dollars annually on enforcement measures. The U.N. estimates the illicit drug trade has grown to over 350 billion dollars per year. And by 2050, the number of illicit drug users is set to rise by 25 percent.
Uruguay’s move to legalise the production and sale of marijuana breaks international law, the world drugs body said Wednesday, warning it would encourage addiction.
“Uruguay is breaking the international conventions on drug control with the cannabis legislation approved by its congress,” said the International Narcotics Control Board, a UN agency that oversees the implementation of international treaties on drugs.
INCB president Raymond Yans added he was “surprised” that Montevideo had “knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed legal provisions of the treaty.”
A United Nations official says plans are being made to restart major offensives in parts of Somalia held by the militant group al-Shabab.
Special Representative Nicholas Kay also told the Security Council by videoconference Tuesday that it’s important that the long-chaotic East African country hold democratic elections in 2016 as part of building strong state institutions.
Somalia is shakily emerging from more than two decades of conflict, and parts of the country are still in the hands of the al-Shabab.
Kay reminded the Security Council that he had warned the council in September that if Somalia remained a home to terrorists, the effects would be felt “from Bamako to Bangui.”
Later that month, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on an upscale Kenyan mall.
The UN’s senior counter-terrorism official is to launch an investigation into the surveillance powers of American and British intelligence agencies following Edward Snowden’s revelations that they are using secret programmes to store and analyse billions of emails, phone calls and text messages.
The UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC said his inquiry would also seek to establish whether the British parliament had been misled about the capabilities of Britain’s eavesdropping headquarters, GCHQ, and whether the current system of oversight and scrutiny was strong enough to meet United Nations standards.
The inquiry will make a series of recommendations to the UN general assembly next year.
In an article for the Guardian, Emmerson said Snowden had disclosed “issues at the very apex of public interest concerns”. He said the media had a duty and right to publish stories about the activities of GCHQ and its American counterpart the National Security Agency.
France has warned that the Central African Republic is “on the verge of genocide” amid escalating violence between Christians and Muslims and a humanitarian crisis.
The landlocked nation has descended into near-anarchy since the Seleka, a largely Muslim coalition of rebels, ousted President François Bozizé in March. Thousands of people have been killed, abducted or fled their homes amid the burning of villages in what some say is the worst violence CAR has ever seen.
“The country is on the verge of genocide,” the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French television station France 2. “France, CAR’s neighbours and the international community are worried. The United Nations will give permission to African forces, the African Union and France to intervene.”
His dire predictions come amid reports that CAR’s government, failing to keep a lid on its own troubles, is in talks with Joseph Kony, the fugitive warlord of the Lord’s Resistance Army, to surrender after more than two decades on the run.
Mr Fabius’s warnings echo those of the United Nations and other agencies in recent days, with the UN chief Ban Ki-moon calling for the urgent deployment of 6,000 UN peacekeepers to the diamond-rich country to bolster a force of 2,500 African soldiers that has proved largely ineffectual in curbing the violence. The UN Security Council is to vote next month on whether to dispatch UN and French troops to the strife-torn country. The US, though, has been more cautious in its assessment, terming the situation in CAR as “pre-genocidal”. It has pledged $40m (£25m) to bolster the African troops there, saying it does not yet see the need for UN peacekeepers.
Some of the world’s biggest broadcasters on Friday urged the UN Security Council to take greater action over the killing of journalists in conflict zones.
The organisations including the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Japan’s NHK said the dangers facing their reporters were making it difficult to provide accurate news from some corners of the world.
[...] The statement was also issued on behalf of the Broadcasting Board of Governors from the United States, France Medias Monde, Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
It cited the deaths of journalists this year in Mali, Egypt, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan and Mexico, plus increasing numbers of arrests and violence towards journalists in Yemen.
The US has not paid its dues to UNESCO due to the decision by world governments to make Palestine a UNESCO member in 2011. Israel suspended its dues at the same time and also lost voting rights on Friday.
Under UNESCO rules, the US had until Friday morning to resume funding or explain itself, or it automatically loses its vote. A UNESCO official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the issue, said nothing was received from either the US or Israel.
U.S.-Russian plans for a long-delayed summit on Syria appeared to collapse Tuesday, with the United Nations’ special envoy to Syria suggesting that the opposition’s perpetual disarray was to blame for the failure to begin negotiations on a political settlement to the conflict.
U.N. and Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi spoke at a news conference in Geneva, where U.S., Russian and U.N. officials met in hopes of a breakthrough that would allow them to announce a date for a “Geneva 2 conference,” so called because it builds on an earlier framework for talks to end the war that’s raged for more than two years, with a death toll beyond 100,000.
No such agreement was reached, however, and Brahimi strongly suggested that the onus lay on the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which has been unable to resolve its internal differences and assemble what Brahimi called a “credible delegation” to meet with members of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. He said the United States, Russia and the U.N. would meet again Nov. 25 to assess progress after scheduled opposition meetings, though he appeared skeptical of the opposition’s ability to do even that. “I don’t know whether they’ll meet or not,” he said.
Using strikingly blunt language for a veteran diplomat, Brahimi declared the opposition “not ready.” “They’re divided; it’s no secret to anybody,” he said.
- Syria opposition says no to peace talks without Assad exit (Daily Star)
- Syria rebel groups brand Geneva talks ‘treason’ (AFP)
- U.N. envoy says no preconditions for Syria peace talks (Reuters)
- Syria Vice PM Fired Over Secret Meeting With US Envoy (Antiwar)
- Al-Qaeda Complicates Syria Peace Talks (Antiwar)
- Assad compares Syria war to Algeria conflict (AFP)
- UN envoy warns of ‘Somalisation’ of Syria (The National)
- Damascus, rebels coordinate to let 1,800 civilians flee siege (Reuters)
- Damascus says ‘only Syrians’ will choose leader (AFP)
The United Nations estimates that around 9.3 million people in Syria or about 40 percent of the population need humanitarian assistance due to the country’s 2-1/2-year civil war, the U.N. humanitarian office said on Monday.
“The humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate rapidly and inexorably,” U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors, according to her spokeswoman Amanda Pitt.
“The number of people we estimate to be in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria has now risen to some 9.3 million,” Pitt said, summarizing Amos’ remarks to the 15-nation council. “Of them, 6.5 million people are displaced from their homes, within the country.”
The population of Syria is around 23 million.
- Watchdog: More than 120,000 killed in Syria war (AP)
- From England, one man feeds Western media on Syria (AP)
- Largest camp for Syrian refugees becoming a city (AP)
- Cost of hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan $5.3 bn (AFP)
- Minister: Syria war costs industry $2.2 billion (AFP)
- Polio outbreak in Syria threatens whole region, WHO says (Reuters)
- Syria: Foreign Jihadis Said Responsible for Polio (AP)
- On Zaatari’s Street of Widows, Syria refugees survive on kindness (Al Jazeera)
There’s absolutely no evidence to back the allegation, and indeed ample evidence in the form of reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the contrary, but the US is still expressing “skepticism” about Syria’s chemical disarmament.
It was US demands that led the UN Security Council to set artificially early deadlines for several stages of the disarmament, and the OPCW has confirmed Syria has met every single one with time to spare.
- Syrian chemical weapons mission funded only until end of month (Reuters)
- Strange silence on success in removing Syria’s chemical weapons (Washington Post)
- Chemical arms experts hail cooperation from Syria (Press TV)
- UN report on chemical weapon use in Syria delayed until early December (HRI)
- A Critique of the Report of the UN Mission to Investigate the Use of Sarin in Damascus (Denis R. O’Brien)
- Vince Cable refuses to name firms that tried to export chemicals to Syria (Independent)