Minamata Convention Seeks to Curb Mercury use in Africa

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Two boys seperarte gold from ore. Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

DADOMA, Tanzania — A new UN convention on the trade and use of mercury held its inaugural meeting on September 24, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. The treaty, known as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, seeks to cover a wide range of areas related to mercury,

“The treaty holds critical obligations for all 74 State Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.”

The name of the convention is derived from a fishing town in Japan that involved many cases of mercury poisoning. The connection between mercury and African countries is its use in a process used to mine for gold.

Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mali are but a few African countries that use mercury to separate gold from ore.  The mining process that utilizes this method is known as artisanal and small-scale gold mining or ASGM.  This process is utilized in rural areas where gold mines are located, but are not central mining hubs. While the process is not as intensive as opposed to larger mining operations, the practice does pose some health risks.

The danger of using mercury in ASGM have short and long term effects on those who come into direct contact with the mercury, “Mercury is a shiny liquid metal that attacks the nervous system. Exposure can result in life-long disability, and is particularly harmful to children. In higher doses, mercury can kill.” Children are often utilized in ASGM, given the relative ease of the process.  For some, it is a way for them to earn money to support their families. The reliance on ASGM in rural communities has grown steadily over the years.

A report released by UN Environment details the amount of reliance on ASGM in Africa and worldwide,“ASGM is now responsible for around 20 per cent (600-650 tonnes per annum) of the world’s primary (mined) gold production. It directly involves an estimated 10-15 million miners, including some 4.5 million women and 1 million children.” While 20% seems to be a small percentage of the overall gold production, the numbers may not tell the entire story.  In the same report, statistics detailed the level of inaccuracy regarding the reported figures of ASGM.

Data showing ASGM use by country. Photo courtesy of UN Environment.

The numbers show the wide disparity in the quality of the data reported, which is further explained by some countries who are known to export mercury, but do not necessarily disclose all instances of its export, “Trade between the countries mostly appears to be undocumented. For example, Kenya did not register any exports during 2010-15 period.”

While the convention brings more than 100 countries together to address the issue of mercury use, the convention may face challenges regionally in Africa.  ASGM is a source of income for many rural families.  Taking a hard stance against ASGM, where mercury is the primary agent for ore separation, could hurt a source of income for rural gold miners.  

Beyond the individual considerations, country-level considerations are also relevant.  Some of the more wealthier African countries play a role in the mercury trade, “Kenya and South Africa were the main supply hubs for mercury used in ASGM, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa itself.” Many of the countries rely on gold production as an important source of revenue.  Limiting the use and trade of mercury could have an impact on the gold industries in those countries.

The requirements of the convention also call for swift and decisive action for compliance purposes,

“The convention comes with a long checklist of deadlines. Nations must immediately give up building new mercury mines and, within three years, they need to submit a plan of action to come to grips with small-time gold miners. By 2018, they need to have phased out using mercury in the production of acetaldehyde – the process that poisoned Minamata is still in use. By 2020, they need to have begun phasing out products that contain mercury.”

Three years to comply could pose some challenges to countries who have to not only begin phasing out the use of mercury, but also replace the lost revenue streams from ASGM with new ones.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch — ‘Mercury Rising: Gold Mining’s Toxic Side Effect’ — 27 September 2017

Daily Nation — ‘UN pledges to curb sale and use of mercury’ — 25 September 2017

Phys.org — ‘Something in the water—life after mercury poisoning’ — 26 September 2017

UN Environment —  ‘Global mercury supply, trade and demand’ — 14 September 2017

AllAfrica — ‘Minamata Convention, Curbing Mercury Use, Is Now Legally Binding’ — 16 August, 2017

Upcoming Liberia Elections Signal New Chapter for Democracy

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addressing UN General Body. Photo courtesy of UN News Centre.

MONROVIA, Liberia – Democracy hasn’t come easy for Liberia: a country ravaged with civil warfare aplenty.  October 10, 2017 will mark a historic achievement for Liberia. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, proclaimed the achievement:

“The [legislative and presidential polls] will mark the first time in 73 years that political power will be handed over peacefully, and democratically, from one elected leader to another….Democracy is on the march in Liberia and, I believe, on an irreversible path forward on the African continent.”

Liberia has gone almost a century without a peaceful transition of power from one government to the other.  President Sirleaf’s achievement in being the first woman to be elected in a democratic election on the African continent is right on par with the anticipated peaceful transition of power.  Former United States President Barack Obama underscores the importance of a peaceful transition of power in his farewell address:

“In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy:  the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next…it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face…But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works.  Only if our politics reflects the decency of the our people.  Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

President Sirleaf echoed Mr. Obama’s sentiments in the view that she has for Liberia going forward:

“Liberia’s transformation was powered by a world community that made a shared commitment to deliver peace to a country, and a subregion, beset by civil conflict and cross border destabilization. The UN and its partner nations were of one mind, and from that global unity, a new Liberian democratic state was born. Liberia is a post conflict success story. It is your post conflict success story.”

President Sirleaf assumed the presidency at a time when Liberia was facing stagnant development and civil war. Despite those challenges, Liberia has erected a new foundation through government restructuring and citizen engagement. President Sirleaf commented on some of the initiatives that have helped to revitalize the country:

“Further, previously dysfunctional public institutions now have the capacity to respond to the needs of our citizens through decentralized county service centers with ownership by strong local governments. And from the tragedy of the health crisis, we are strengthening our healthcare systems, prioritizing prevention and delivering capacity at the community level.”

Much remains to be seen as to how Liberia will fair upon the departure of President Sirleaf.  The local election commissions in Liberia are taking sizable precautions to safeguard the electoral process.  In addition to training for its volunteers, the government will be providing upwards of 6,000 security servicemen to assist with order on election day.  The field of candidates for the presidency is quite extensive (upwards of 20), leaving doubt as to what direction Liberia will take once the new president is elected and assumes power. While President Sirleaf has ushered in some notable achievements in here tenure, it has not all been free of scrutiny.   

The tenure of President Sirleaf herself has also been questioned by some.  Most recently, President Sirleaf proposed a law entitled the “Presidential Transition Act”.  According to the Liberian Observer, the act contained provisions related to peaceful transitioning of the government and protection provisions for the president and vice president including vehicles, security and dependent benefits. There were other parts of the law that were more controversial.  Some have argued that this bill could be used to shield President Sirleaf from charges of corruption for example.  President Sirleaf has since withdrawn the bill as of September 17, 2017.

For more information, please see:

Front Page Africa — 6,000 Security Officers to Guard Polling Stations on During Elections — 20 September 2017

Liberian Observer — Ellen Dispels Notion of Living in Fear after Tenure — 20 September 2017

UN News Centre — “Upcoming elections will signal Liberia’s ‘irreversible course’ towards democracy, President Sirleaf tells UN” — 19 September 2017

United Nations — “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet” — 19 September 2017

Bloomberg — Liberia Elections Body Says 20 Candidates Will Vie for President — 31 July 2017

Los Angeles Times — Read the full transcript of President Obama’s farewell speech — 10 January 2017

According to UN Report, Migrant Children Endure Severe Human Rights Abuses

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – According to a September 5th report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 75 percent of migrant children attempting to reach Europe are victims of severe human rights abuses.

Young Child Awaiting Rescue. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo! News UK.

The findings are based on testimonies obtained from over 22,000 migrants and refugees, including 11,000 children, given to the International Organization for Migration, the UN’s Migration Agency.

Afshan Khan, UNICEF Europe Regional Director, said of the findings, “the stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against.”

The victims reported being subjected to a myriad of abuses, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, child marriage and beatings.

A 17-year-old girl from Nigeria reported being raped, held captive and threatened with violence. An Afghan boy recalled being forced into labor and beaten if he stopped working. Another child said, “if you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside.”

UNICEF reports that children originating from sub-Saharan Africa are particularly at risk. Those travelling from Libya along the Mediterranean route are vulnerable due to the route being laden with crime and a lack of policing. The risk also increases for children who are travelling alone and over long periods of time.

The UNICEF report comes amid a substantial increase in the number of children migrating to Europe in recent years. Between 2010 and 2011, 66,000 children travelers were reported. That number has now surged to over 300,000.

The children making these harrowing journeys are often unaccompanied. Of those under 18 years of age arriving to Italy via the Mediterranean Sea passages from North Africa in 2016, 92% were alone.

“For people who leave their countries to escape violence, instability or poverty, the factors pushing them to migrate are severe, and they make perilous journeys knowing that they may be forced to pay with their dignity, their wellbeing or even their lives,” said IOM Regional Director for the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, Eugenio Ambrosi.

UNICEF’s report has prompted calls for the European Union and other parties to “put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children,” said Khan.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – CORRECTION: United Nations – Children Migrants Story – 12 September 2017

Abdolu Agency – UNICEF says Many Young Migrants Face Exploitation – 12 September 2017

UNICEF – Up to Three Quarters of Children and Youth Face Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking on Mediterranean Migration Routes – 12 September 2017

UN News Centre – Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking ‘Stark Reality’ for Migrant Children Trying to Reach Europe – 12 September 2017

Reuters – ‘Just Like Slaves’; African Migrant Children Face Highest Risk of Abuse: Report – 11 September 2017

Yahoo! News UK – Young Migrants Face Abuse on Way to Europe – UN – 11 September 2017

North Korea Threatens Additional Nuclear Tests

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

PYONGYANG, North Korea – On Tuesday, September 19th, President Donald Trump made his first appearance before the United Nations General Assembly. During the speech, President Trump stated that the North Korean leader, Kim Jung Un is “on a suicide mission.”  He further stated that the United States would “have no choice but to totally destroy” the country.

An activist protests outside the North Korean embassy in Germany. Photo courtesy of CNBC.

Following the speech, Kim Jung Un stated that President Trump has “made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard” and said that “a frightened dog barks louder.” Kim has said that he is considering the highest level of retaliation against the United States for President Trump’s comments made during the United Nations Assembly meeting.

Ri Yong Ho, North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that North Korea is considering a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean. The Minister of Foreign Affairs described the possible test as “the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific.”

Since the exchange, United States Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flew over waters east of North Korea. The military exercise, according to the Pentagon, is to display the range of military options available. It is reported that the flight was the farthest north of the demilitarized zone that any United States fighter bomber had flown in the 21st century.

President Trump met with South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, and the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to continue its discussion on imposing new sanctions against North Korea.

Soon after President Trump issued a new executive order which expanded United States sanctions on North Korea, China’s central bank also ordered financial institutions to implement United Nations sanctions rigorously. President Trump thanked China’s president Xi Jinping on his bold move against North Korea.

For more information, please see:

Business Insider – North Korea suggests testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific after Kim Jong Un calls Trump ‘mentally deranged’ – 21 September, 2017

CNBC – North Korea may detonate nuclear bomb in Pacific, foreign minister tells reporters – 21 September, 2017

The Guardian – Japan braces as North Korea threatens hydrogen bomb test in Pacific – 22 September, 2017

Reuters – Trump cranks up North Korea threats as Pyongyang holds anti-U.S. rally – 23 September, 2017

Lake Chad Basin Faces Continuing Threats

By: Adam King
Impunity Watch News Report, Africa

Site for Internally Displaced People in Mellia, Chad. Photo Courtesy of United Nations.

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – The Lake Chad Basin, which is considered one of the worst conflict zones in Africa, faces multiple challenges to regional security. The basin is surrounded by four countries: Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The lake itself struggles with ecological challenges in the form of drought and dwindling water supplies. According to the United Nations, the ecological effects are playing a role in the proliferation of protracted conflict:

“The impact of the drying lake is causing tensions among communities around Lake Chad. There are repeated conflicts among nationals of different countries over control of the remaining water. Cameroonians and Nigerians in Darak village, for example, constantly fight over the water. Nigerians claim to be the first settlers in the village, while Cameroonians invoke nationalistic sentiments, since the village is within Cameroonian territory. Fishermen also want farmers and herdsmen to cease diverting lake water to their farmlands and livestock.”

The conflict over resources gives rise to more instability through the interstate crime. Boko Haram, for example, continues to be a challenge to continued stability, “[w]hile the efforts of the Governments in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin have diminished Boko Haram’s combat capacity in the region, the terrorist group has changed its tactics, increasing the use of suicide attacks.”

Boko Haram has been accused of perpetrating egregious acts against citizens of multiple states in the region,

“[T]he group had shifted its tactics in the wake of these efforts, and some 130 attacks attributed to Boko Haram in the four affected countries – Nigeria, followed by Cameroon, Niger and Chad – in June and July resulted in 284 civilian fatalities, a significant increase compared to 146 attacks and 107 civilian fatalities in April and May.”

The presence of Boko Haram in the region is but one of many factors that continue to drive the violence. According to Jeffrey Feltman, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, “[p]overty, weak state authority, insecurity and climate change explain this situation, with women and girls being the first victims.”

From ecological disaster to insurgent violence, those who inhabit the region are facing a humanitarian crisis of large proportions. According to the USAID, some 8.5 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. Disease also plays a factor as cholera and hepatitis further complicates the plight of the local inhabitants.

The severity of the situation prompted a meeting of the UN Security Council to develop an adequate assessment of the situation,

“As Council members took the floor, delegates expressed serious concern over those challenges, while many also welcomed the strong and coordinated response of the Multinational Joint Task Force. Several speakers outlined their Governments’ responses to the multiple crises in the Lake Chad Basin, urging donors to bolster their financial, logistical and technical support to the affected States.”

While the crisis continues to worsen, Samantha Newport, from the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, offers a positive perspective on the aid and support of the international community working to mitigate the severity of the problems faced,

“The international system has rapidly scaled up and saved millions of lives. We reached two million people with food assistance every month and have provided hundreds of thousands of children with life-saving nutritional support.”

For more information, please see:

United Nations Meetings Coverage — ‘Terrorism, Other Security Threats Diverting Scarce Funds from ‘Staggering’ Lake Chad Basin Humanitarian Crisis, Political Affairs Chief Tells Security a Council’ — 13 September 2017

The Premium Times — ‘UN Humanitarian Aid Interventions Save Millions of Lives in North East’– Official’ — 13 September 2017

UN News Centre — ‘Stronger peacebuilding efforts needed to tackle Boko Haram, end Lake Chad Basin crisis, Security Council told’ — 13 September 2017

USAID — ‘Lake Chad Basin – Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #23, Fiscal Year (FY) 2017’ — 31 August 2017

United Nations —  ‘Africa’s Vanishing Lake Chad’ — April 2012

UN Report Denounces “Extensive” Human Rights Abuses By Venezuelan Government As Opposition Leader’s Wife Is Barred From Leaving Country

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch News Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – The United Nations has released a report chastising the Venezuelan government over extensive human rights violations committed in the wake of anti-government protests. Additionally, Venezuelan authorities have opened an investigation into Lilian Tintori, the wife of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, after allegedly discovering a large amount of cash in her car. She has since been barred from traveling outside the country to attend meetings with European leaders scheduled for the week of September 3rd-9th.

Lilian Tintori demonstrates a picture of jailed anti-government protestors in a meeting with foreign journalists. Photo courtesy of AP.

The UN report documents the systematic use of excessive force during demonstrations and the arbitrary detention of protesters, noting that all evidence indicates that these were not the actions of a few isolated officials. It calls on the UN Human Rights Council, of which Venezuela is a member, to take measures to prevent the human rights situation from worsening. Venezuela’s government has slammed the report as shoddy and biased, though the report says that victims’ accounts were consistent and corroborated by medical reports and NGO reports.

The report also indicates that of the 124 deaths linked to the protests, security forces are allegedly responsible for 46, while pro-government armed groups are responsible for 27. More than 5,000 people have been detained since the protests began in April, with 1,000 still being held.

On Thursday, August 31st, Venezuelan authorities discovered around 200 million bolivars, equal to about $60,000, on the nation’s weakest official exchange rate or $10,000 on the more commonly used black market rate, in the car of Lilian Tintori. It’s unclear what crimes she has being investigated for, since possession of cash in Venezuela is not a crime. However, Tintori is convinced that the actions are government sanctioned persecution targeted towards her.

She also claims that the money was to pay for emergencies, including the hospitalization of her grandmother. Tintori claims that cash was necessary since inflation has decimated the value of Venezuela’s currency, and because no bank would give a credit card or open an account for the wife of an opposition leader. She has also since been banned from leaving the country, a move that came a day after she was ordered to appear before a judge on September 5th.  Tintori was expected to travel to Europe to convince leaders there to institute sanctions against Venezuela.

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg – Venezuelan Opposition Activist Says She Was Barred From Traveling to Europe – 2 Sept, 2017

Fox News – UN rips Venezuelan human rights abuses, as government orders opposition leader’s wife to court – 2 Sept, 2017

ABC – Venezuela probes wife of opposition’s Lopez for cash in car – 1 Sept, 2017

United Nations News Centre – Human rights violations indicate repressive policy of Venezuelan authorities – 30 Aug, 2017

North Korea Welcomes UN Human Rights Expert

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

North Korea is once again hitting headlines in the international media, this time on a positive note. The autarkic country has invited a United Nations representative to visit and assess the rights of the disabled. U.N. special rapporteur Catalina Devandas-Aguilar will be visiting North Korea for six days to collect information on the conditions of disabled persons in the country.

The UN will send human rights expert Catalina Devandas-Aguilar to North Korea to assess the conditions of persons with disabilities living in the state. Photo courtesy of the United Nations.

Devandas-Aguilar spoke on her upcoming visit, saying that the visit represents an important opportunity to learn firsthand about the country’s realities, policies, programs, and laws regarding the rights of people with disabilities. Devandas-Aguilar is also concerned with the shortcomings and challenges disabled persons face in the country. The trip will take place between May 3 and May 8.

The visit also marks the first U.N. sponsored trip to North Korea since 2004, when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights sent an investigator to report on North Korea’s human rights situation. Devandas-Aguilar is scheduled to visit the state’s capital, Pyongyang, as well as South Hwanghae Province.

North Korea ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in December 2016.

Devandas-Aguilar plans to hold a press conference in Pyongyang at the end of her visit. Her official findings will be submitted to the United Nations next year.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – UN disabilities representative announces observer visit to North Korea – 27 April, 2017

Independent News – North Korea agrees to visit from UN human rights expert for first time – 27 April, 2017

Reuters – North Korea opens door a crack to welcome U.N. disability expert – 27 April, 2017

UPI News – U.N. disabilities rapporteur to make observation visit to North Korea – 27 April, 2017

Trump Invites Philippines President, Nicknamed “The Punisher,” to White House

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Saturday, April 29, President Trump invited Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte to the White House during a “very friendly conversation” over the telephone.  Duterte is nicknamed “the Punisher” and is accused of effectuating a drug war that has killed over 7,000.  Duterte has also been accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with reporters in Manila on Friday (Photo Courtesy of NPR)

The White House released a statement that explained that Trump invited Duterte to the U.S. so the two leaders can discuss the “important of the United States-Philippines alliance.”  The White House also commented that on the phone on Saturday, the two discussed the difficulty the Philippine government is facing in fighting “very hard” to rid the country of drugs.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus supported the invitation in a statement to reporters, commenting on the importance of U.S. outreach to other Asian nations in the ongoing nuclear threat issue posed by North Korea.  Priebus acknowledged the issue of human rights, however argued that the North Korean problem takes precedence.  Priebus noted that “[t]he issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”

Trump administration officials are preparing for criticism from human rights groups.  Two senior officials said they expect the State Department and National Security Council to raise internal objections, as the two departments were allegedly surprised by the invitation.

Duterte has been accused of encouraging civilians to kill anyone attempting to sell or buy drugs.  In his final campaign speech before being elected, Duterte announced to the crowd “[f]orget the laws on human rights.”  In December, Duterte released a statement alleging that Trump told him that he was going about the war on drugs in the Philippines “the right way.”  A few weeks after that statement, the top human rights official within the United Nations called for Duterte to be investigated for murder.

In a statement, the White House declined to comment on details of Duterte’s possible trip, however stated that Trump is looking forward to his trip to the Philippines in November.

 

For more information, please see:

CNN — Trump Invites Philippines’ Duterte to the White House — 30 April 2017

The Huffington Post — Trump will Meet President Duterte, Despite Philippines’ Ongoing Extrajudicial Killings — 30 April 2017

NPR — Trump Invites Controversial Philippines Leader to White House — 30 April 2017

The New York Times — Trump’s ‘Very Friendly’ Talk with Duterte Stuns Aids and Critics Alike — 30 April 2017

U.N. Peacekeepers Ran Sex-Ring in Haiti

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

Port-au-Prince, HAITI — Over 100 U.N. Peacekeepers stationed in Haiti are implicated in a child sex ring.  According to an investigation which focused on the presence of the Peacekeepers across the world over the past 12 years, over 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse by Peacekeepers were reported.  From 2004 to 2007 in Haiti, over 134 Sri Lankan Peacekeepers exploited an average of nine children per day.  While 144 Peacekeepers were sent home after an internal U.N. report on the abuse, none have been sent to jail.

A woman who was raped and impregnated by a Peacekeeper wipes her tears during an interview (Photo Courtesy of AP).

One teenage Haitian boy said he was gang-raped in 2011 by Uruguayan Peacekeepers who filmed the assault on a cell phone.  The report also revealed that dozens of Haitian women were also raped, while dozens of others engaged in “survival sex” with the Peacekeepers.  One victim girl told U.N. investigators that from ages 12-15 she had sex with about 50 Peacekeepers, including a “Commandant” who paid her 75 cents.

Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph is working towards getting compensation for victims of a cholera outbreak, which has been linked to Nepalese Peacekeepers, that killed an estimated 10,000 people.  Joseph is also trying to get child support for a dozen Haitian women who were impregnated by   Peacekeepers.  Joseph asked people to “Imagine if the U.N. was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” noting that “[h]uman rights aren’t just for rich white people.”

U.S. Senator Bob Corker agreed with Joseph, and recalled his own disgust at the hearing of the U.N. sexual abuse cases uncovered last year in Africa.  Corker commented that “If [he] heard that a U.N. peacekeeping mission was coming near [his] home in Chattanooga, [he would] be on the first plane out of here to go back and protect [his] family.”

This past March, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced several new measures to help combat sexual abuse by Peacekeepers.  However, the report had little impact and never materialized.

This sex-ring scandal comes on the heels of the April 13th vote by the U.N. Security Council to end the Peacekeeping mission in Haiti.  On the same day, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., mentioned the scandal in her remarks to the U.N.  Haley asked “[w]hat do we say to these kids? Did these peacekeepers keep them safe?”

The U.N. has no jurisdiction over Peacekeepers, which means the countries who provide the troops are left responsible for their punishment.

 

For more information, please see:

Telesur — UN Peacekeepers Gave Haitian Kids Snacks to be Part of Sex Ring — 15 April 2017

Foreign Policy — U.N. Peacekeepers Ran a Child Sex Ring in Haiti — 14 April 2017

Independent — UN Peacekeepers in Haiti Implicated in Child Sex Ring — 14 April 2017

Associated Press — AP Exclusive: UN Child Sex Ring Left Victims but no Arrests –12 April 2017

 

United Nations Report Alleges Human Rights Violations in Southeastern Turkey

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — On Friday, March 10th, the United Nations Human Rights Office released a report alleging detailed depictions of mass destruction, killings and other human rights offenses committed in Southeast Turkey from July 2015 through December 2016.

Between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes (Photo courtesy of UN News Centre)

The United Nations (“UN”) report accused Turkish security forces of violating Kurdish fighters’ human rights in the southeastern part of the country. The violations allegedly took place after a 2013 ceasefire declared between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) broke down. Since the end of the truce in the summer of 2015, Turkey and the PKK have been “engaged in escalating clashes.”

The UN revealed that the findings in its report were based on “remote monitoring,” namely interviews, official records, public documents, satellite images, and analysis of information provided by the Turkish government and NGOs.

The report stated that approximately 2,000 people were killed in Southeast Turkey during the specified period. The number of local residents killed was nearly 1,200. The report went on to state that of that 1,200, an unknown number may have “been involved in violent or non-violent actions against” Turkey. The UN further indicated that an additional 800 individuals belonging to security forces were killed during fighting. The report also stated that between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes.

The UN indicated that a majority of the human rights violations took place during “unannounced, open-ended, 24-hour curfews” instigated by Turkish authorities. Satellite images referenced in the report further revealed that houses in residential areas were destroyed by “heavy weaponry[.]” The report revealed that up to 189 individuals had been trapped in basements for several weeks without food, water, medication or electricity. They were later “killed by fire induced by shelling.”

The Human Rights Chief of the UN, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, noted that Turkey denied access to investigators and “contested the veracity” of the allegations. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the report after stating it was “biased, based on false information and far from professional.” The Foreign Ministry indicated that the country remains committed to sharing information regarding anti-terrorism activities with its partners. A parliament member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mr. Taha Ozhan, stated that the PKK was responsible for the negative findings referenced in the report due to its decision to move the combat zone from rural to urban areas.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—U.N. documents human rights violations in southeast Turkey—10 March 2017

UN News Centre—Turkey: UN report details allegations of serious rights violations in country’s southeast—10 March 2017

AlJazeera—UN accuses Turkey of abuses in country’s southeast—11 March 2017

Daily Sabah—Turkey slams UN human rights body for ‘biased’ report on counter-terror operations—10 March 2017

The New York Times—U.N. Accuses Turkey of Killing Hundreds of Kurds—10 March 2017

 

U.S. Considers Withdrawing from U.N. Human Rights Council

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — The United States is considering leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council.  A final decision to withdraw would most likely include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, and President Trump.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at the Security Council meeting last week at at UN Headquarters in New York. (Photo Courtesy of The Times of Israel)

According to sources connected with current U.S. officials, the council has been accused of being biased against Israel by pushing critical resolutions and issuing “scathing” statements about the country.  The council drew criticism in 2012 for inviting a speaker from the Palestinian Hamas terror group to speak at a meeting.

Countries known for human rights violations, including China and Saudi Arabia, are members of the council.  Russia was also a member until last year when it lost its seat after the U.N. General Assembly voted to remove it due to Moscow’s role in the Syrian conflict.  A former U.S. State Department official commented that there are also questions regarding the council’s overall usefulness.  Tillerson recently expressed skepticism about the council in recent meetings with State Department officials.

Last week, Haley criticized the council for failing to discuss the buildup of illegal Hezbollah weapons, strategies for defeating the Islamic State terrorist organization, and holding Bashar Assad accountable for the deaths of Syrian civilians.

The State Department has not directly commented on the rumored withdrawal, however spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the “delegation will be fully involved in the work of the HRC session which [started] Monday.”

The website Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling a hypothetical withdrawal by the U.S. from the council “misguided and short-sighted.”  U.N. Director of the website, Louis Charbonneau, predicted that the withdrawal might “significantly set back U.N. efforts to protect human rights around the world.”  Charbonneau noted the U.S.’s crucial role in encouraging the council to establish commissions that helped uncover violations in North Korea and Syria and commented that withdrawal would hinder the U.S.’s influence in the international community.

Former President George W. Bush refused to join the council after it was created following the termination of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.  Former President Barack Obama, however, joined the council once he was elected.

 

For more information, please see:

The Independent — U.S. ‘Considers Withdrawing from U.N. Human Rights Council — 27 February 2017

The Nation — U.S. Considers Quitting U.N. Human Rights Council — 27 February 2017

The Times of Israel — U.S. Considering Leaving Human Rights Council – Report — 26 February 2017

Politico — Sources: U.S. Considers Quitting U.N. Human Rights Council — 25 February 2017

U.N. Considering Removing Peacekeepers from Haiti

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — After 13 years, the United Nations is considering removing the military component of stabilization mission in Haiti.  The mission, known as MINUSTAH, will soon undergo a “reconfiguration” according to Herve Ladsous, U.N. deputy secretary-general, due to progress made on the island over the past few years.  MINUSTAH costs an estimated $346 million per year.

UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka patrol Port-au-Prince in Haiti (Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald)
UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka patrol Port-au-Prince in Haiti (Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald)

Ladsous cites the recent success of political elections, the inauguration of the new president, and the development of the police force as signs of progress.  The country has made such significant improvements that the “security throughout the country cannot be compared with that of 10 years ago.”

Newly-sworn in Haitian President Joyenel Moise met with Ladsous last week, and will be the first Haitian president since 2004 to govern without the U.N.’s prominent military presence.  Ladsous believes that the work left to be done in Haiti is to be done primarily by the Haitians, however the U.N. will be “perfectly ready to mobilize” if needed.  During Ladsous’ visit to Haiti, no one objected to the proposed removal of the peacekeepers.

While praising the progress Haiti has made in stabilizing itself, Ladsous issues a warning to those who are tempted to “take advantage of this temporary period to return to illegality, commit crimes, violations of human rights.”  He assures that Haiti “will not accept that.”  Ladsous also notes that there is still a significant amount of work left to do improving the police force, the law, human rights, and the status of women.  Specifically, the Haitian National Police is expected to reach its full strength of 15,000 members

Brian Concannon, head of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, criticizes MINUSTAH for their “slow, expensive and limited progress in its primary mission.”  In support of his criticisms, Concannon cites the introduction of cholera and sexual misconduct by peacekeepers in Haiti as areas of concern.

MINUSTAH was last renewed in October 2016 for a six month period, as opposed to its usual year renewal.  The UN Secretary-General is expected to make recommendations to the UN Security Council regarding the removal of military component on March 15.

 

For more information, please see:

Jamaica Observer — UN Peacekeeping Chief Says Solid Progress Made in Haiti — 15 February 2017

Atlanta Black Star — UN May Change Peacekeeping Protocols in Light of Haiti’s Improving Security Situation — 14 February 2017

Miami Herald — A Haiti Without U.N. Peacekeepers? After Almost 13 Years, it May Happen — 14 February 2017

VOA — UN Considers Removing Military Peacekeepers from Haiti — 9 February 2017

Iraqi Prime Minister Orders Investigation into Alleged Human Rights Violations

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — On January 23rd, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr. Haider al-Abadi, ordered an investigation into human rights violations allegedly committed by government troops and a Shia paramilitary group.

Iraqi forces are being accused of torturing and killing civilians following a video that surfaced on social media (Photo courtesy of Washington Post)

The allegations include claims of kidnapping and civilian abuse as the troops attempt to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq demanded a governmental inquiry from Iraq when a video surfaced on social media allegedly showing “brutal treatment” and the murdering of at least three ISIS members. The video, which is almost three minutes in length, showed several members of the Iraqi security forces wearing army and police uniforms. The video then contains graphic recordings of the individuals “dragging and beating [] suspects in a residential area before showering them with bullets.”

Two days later, Mr. al-Abadi’s office issued a statement saying that he had “ordered to form a committee to investigate cases of kidnappings, mistreatment and violations . . . against civilians by groups exploiting the name of the security forces and Shia paramilitary units.” Mr. al-Abadi subsequently indicated that he had instructed field commanders to ensure that the laws of armed conflict were followed to prevent human rights violations from being committed under the guise of war operations. He further stated that cases of abuse had been recorded and later uploaded to social media to “spoil the joy of victory[,] defame the real image of the brave security forces and their sacrifices to liberate the land[,] and [] maintain security.”

On January 5th, Amnesty International had issued a statement indicating that Iraq’s “Popular Mobilization Units” (PMU) had been “engaged in a systematic pattern of violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and unlawful killings targeting the Sunni community.” Formed in 2014 to join in on the war against ISIS, PMU is a coalition made up of mostly Iranian-trained Shia groups. The coalition was officially merged with the Iraqi armed forces in 2016.

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch had issued a statement in which it “accused Shia militias of abducting and killing [scores] of Sunni civilians in central Iraq.” The rights group had later called upon the Iraqi government to prevent Shia militias from joining the Mosul operation due to concerns of severe human rights violations.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Eye—Iraq PM orders investigation into abuses reported in Mosul battle—23 January 2017

Washington Post—Iraq premier orders probe into violations by troops in Mosul–23 January 2017

Business Standard—Iraqi PM orders probe into abuses by troops in Mosul—23 January 2017

Kurdistan24—Iraqi PM orders investigation of alleged abuses by Iraqi troops in Mosul—24 January 2017

United Nations Estimates Over 10,000 People Dead in Yemeni War

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen — A senior United Nations (U.N.) official issued a statement indicating that over 10,000 people have died in the Yemeni conflict.

Over 3 million people have been displaced due to the nearly 2-year long civil war in Yemen (Photo courtesy of RT)

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, stated that in addition to the estimated 10,000 people that have been killed, an additional 40,000 people have been injured. The U.N. humanitarian affairs office indicated that the figure was a low estimate derived from health facilities that keep track of victims of the war. However, the actual death toll is expected to be much higher because the country’s medical facilities have all been destroyed by Saudi-led coalition planes “in numerous incidents often blamed on ‘mistakes’ and ‘bad intelligence.’” Furthermore, those who are killed in the war are often buried without any official records.

In his statement, Mr. McGoldrick urged “both sides to come together to end nearly two years of conflict.” He indicated that the war has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in history, adding that “there are 7 million people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from[.]” He stated that there are 11 million people needing human rights protection to defend their safety and dignity. He added that an additional 2.9 million people require “legal and other types of support,” for problems stemming from displacement or gender-based violence. Farhan Haq, the U.N. general secretary’s deputy spokesman, added “[t]his once more underscores the need to resolve the situation in Yemen without any further delay. There’s been a huge humanitarian cost.”

The war in Yemen is being waged between Houthi rebels backed by Iran and the Yemeni government, which has received military support from a Saudi-led coalition. The war has “devastated” the country due to the estimated 19 million people (80% of the population) in need of humanitarian aid, and over 3 million people that have been displaced.

For more information, please see:

Newsweek—Yemen: 10,000 Killed in Conflict, U.N. Reports—17 January 2017

Euronews—UN raises alarm about hunger and insecurity in Yemen—16 January 2017

RT—UN ‘estimates’ death toll in Yemen war surpassed 10,000—17 January 2017

BBC News—Yemen conflict: At least 10,000 killed, says UN—17 January 2017

The Guardian—Yemen death toll has reached 10,000, UN says—16 January 2017

 

United Nations Expert Addresses Concerns Over Health Problems Faced By Iranian Prisoners Engaged in Prolonged Hunger Strikes

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — A United Nations expert on Iranian human rights issued a warning regarding the health risks faced by prisoners of conscience who have been on a prolonged hunger strike protesting their legality of their detention.

Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the health problems faced by inmates who are engaged in prolonged hunger strikes (Photo courtesy of U.N. News Center)

The United Nations expert, Ms. Asma Jahangir, reported that in recent weeks, at least eight prisoners of conscience have been “on life-threatening hunger strikes.” She called upon Iranian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release [prisoners] who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted for exercising their rights.”

Among the prisoners of conscience is Mr. Arash Sadeghi, who ended his three-and-a-half month hunger strike last week after his spouse was released from prison on bail. Ms. Jahangir reported that the spouses are “human rights defenders who have been imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.” She stated that Mr. Sadeghi is being kept in his cell and denied treatment at a specialized medical facility despite his critical health. She called upon Iranian authorities to comply with international human rights standards and medical ethics.

Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the continued detention of Iranian human rights defenders who have been “tried [based on] vaguely defined offenses and heavily sentenced following trials marred with due process violations.” She indicated that such prisoners have no alternatives other than “to put their life at risk to contest the legality of their detention.”

Mr. Ali Shariati, another prisoner, has been on a hunger strike since October 31, 2016. He was sentenced to five years in prison for peaceful activism, which included a “non-violent protest to condemn acid attacks against women in Iran.” Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the health issues faced by Mr. Saeed Shirzad, a children’s rights activist who has been on a hunger strike since December 7, 2016, and Mr. Mohammed Ali Taheri, who cannot be located after starting a hunger strike on September 28, 2016 and being transported to a military hospital in October 2016. A further prisoner, Mr. Hassan Rastegari Majd, is reportedly being held in solitary confinement as retaliation for undertaking an extensive hunger strike.

For more information, please see:

Fox News—UN flags risks faced by prisoners on hunger strikes in Iran—9 January 2017

National Council of Resistance of Iran—“Prisoners of Conscience at Risk of Dying …” – United Nations Expert Warns—9 January 2017

United Nations News Center—Iran: UN rights expert warns prisoners of conscience at risk of death after prolonged hunger strike—9 January 2017

Sputnik—UN Concerned Over Hunger Strikes of Iran ‘Prisoners of Conscience’—9 January 2017

Jurist—UN rights expert condemns Iran for continued imprisonment of activists on hunger strike—9 January 2017