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Financial transparency, 'sound governance and accountability’ essential to reach Global Goals

“As an international community committed to addressing inequality and advancing sustainable development, we must put in place the very principles of transparency, sound governance, and accountability that we so often champion”, Volkan Bozkir said at the release of the Report of the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (FACTI). 

Putting sound principles in place 

In the Financial Integrity for Sustainable Development report, the FACTI Panel recommends that governments finance critical action on extreme poverty, COVID-19 and the climate crisis by recovering billions of dollars lost through tax abuse, corruption and money-laundering. 

“Developing countries could not afford to lose resources during the best of times and they certainly cannot afford to now, in the midst of the COVID crisis”, attested the Assembly President.  

Noting that as much as 2.7 per cent of the global GDP is laundered annually, the FACTI Panel is calling on governments to agree to a Global Pact for Financial Integrity for Sustainable Development. 

Making the case 

Pointing out that corporations shopping for tax-free jurisdictions cost governments up to $600 billion a year, the Panel flagged the need for stronger laws and institutions to prevent corruption and money laundering and advocated for those enabling financial crimes to face punitive sanctions. 

The report also calls for greater transparency around company ownership, public spending and stronger international cooperation to prosecute bribery and to increase tax levels on giant digital corporations. 

“A corrupt and failing financial system robs the poor and deprives the whole world of the resources needed to eradicate poverty, recover from COVID and tackle the climate crisis”, said FACTI co-chair and former president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė. 

Ibrahim Mayaki, FACTI co-chair and former prime minister of Niger, added that “closing loopholes that allow money laundering, corruption and tax abuse…are steps in transforming the global economy for the universal good”. 

Cutting tax avoidance 

At a time when billionaires’ wealth soared by 27.5 per cent and COVID-19 has pushed 131 million into poverty, the report notes that a tenth of the world’s wealth could be hidden in offshore financial assets – preventing governments from collecting their fair share of taxes.  

Recovering annual loss to tax avoidance and evasion would, for example, allow Bangladesh to expand its social safety net to nine million more elderly, permit Chad to pay for 38,000 classrooms, and enable Germany to build 8,000 wind turbines, according to the report 

Mr. Bozkir welcomed the Panel’s new system, which fosters financial “fairness, accountability and integrity” for sustainable development and expressed confidence that “if duly implemented” it can “advance progress towards achieving Agenda 2030”. 

“None of us stand to benefit from failure to act”, he attested. “The onus is on each of us to put in place a system of financial integrity for sustainable development” to free up resources that would otherwise be lost and build “trust in our international, national and local systems of governance, demonstrating transparency, accountability and the ability to deliver on the 2030 Agenda”.

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Avoid ‘risky winner-take-all tactics’ in Somalia, UN Security Council hears

“Growing political tensions threaten Somalia’s State-building progress and even security”, Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission (UNSOM) James Swan said via videoconference.  

“I urge all of Somalia’s political leaders to pull back from confrontation and avoid risky winner-take-all tactics”, he underscored. 

Escalating ‘rhetoric and actions’  

A political standoff among Somali leaders has “blocked” the electoral model agreed upon by the Federal Government (FGS) and Federal Member State (FMS) leaders on 17 September, said the UNSOM chief. 

And electoral implementation tensions have been compounded by questions over the legitimacy of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s mandate following the expiry of his constitutional term in office, on 8 February.   

According to news reports, the Somali parliament was due to choose his successor, or grant him a second term, on 8 February, but a delay in picking new law makers pushed that deadline back.  

Meanwhile, on Friday, a day of protests by the opposition Council of Presidential Candidates, saw several violent incidents reported, including unconfirmed firing of weapons by Government forces to disperse protestors along with armed exchanges with opposition supporters.   

“Public communication from key leaders has become increasingly polemical and confrontational, revealing the frustration, mistrust, and sense of grievance felt by many”, he said calling it “a tense moment in Somalia”, with escalating “rhetoric and actions”.  

‘Worrying impasse’ 

Although FGS and FMS representatives met earlier this month, they could not agree on modalities for selecting representatives from self-declared “Somaliland” for federal institutions or managing elections in the Gedo region of Jubaland State.   

However, during a subsequent meeting, a technical committee of senior FGS and FMS ministers reaffirmed their commitment to a 30 per cent women’s quota in the electoral process and announced solutions for contentious issues.  

In what the UN envoy called a “worrying impasse”, leaders from Jubaland and Puntland declined to join a FGS-FMS leaders’ summit last week in Mogadishu.  

Along with other partners, Mr. Swan assured that continued efforts were underway to address the two leaders’ concerns so that they may join the process. 

He explained their work in engaging FGS and FMS leaders and others to “urge a way forward based on dialogue and compromise in the national interest” with a clear message that there should be “no partial elections, no parallel processes, and no unilateral actions by Somali leaders” as they would lead to “greater division and risk of confrontation”. 

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Fair voting 

The UNSOM chief remains convinced, he said, that the consensus-based 17 September model “offers the best available option” to elect members of parliament, senators and the president, noting that it would minimize further delays in Somalia’s four-year transition cycle, ensure a clear and widely accepted mandate for those chosen, and allow a transition from “political competition to vital national priorities”. 

But this requires Somali leaders to “use all available channels” for dialogue, he said.   

To build trust in the process, the electoral process must be impartial, independent, and monitored while also including core freedoms, such as speech, assembly, organization and media access. 

Moreover, communication among the main actors must be regular and frequent “to minimize future misunderstandings and resolve problems before they escalate”, he spelled out. 

Security, assistance and institutions  

Although the extremist militant group Al-Shabaab remains the country’s primary security threat, Mr. Swan noted that previous military gains have been consolidated to combat the terrorist group. 

Public communication from key leaders has become increasingly polemical and confrontational — UN envoy

And as the Council has requested, Mr. Swan said, “preparatory work has been completed” to advance Somalia’s security transition this year. 

Meanwhile, increasing food insecurity, climatic disasters, locust infestation, and a spiking COVID-19 pandemic have prompted the need for humanitarian assistance to estimated 5.9 million people – a big jump from last year’s 5.2 million. 

The UNSOM chief reminded that enduring positive change for Somalis requires institution building; governance improvements; health and education investments; and other long-term reforms requiring “persistence and perseverance”. 

As progress remains fragile, “this is a time to pursue dialogue and compromise to reach an inclusive and credible political agreement to hold elections as soon as possible based on the 17 September model”, he concluded.

Probes on extrajudicial killings, ‘important step’ in fighting impunity in Colombia – UN rights office

So-called “false positives” cases refer to civilians that have been extrajudicially killed by the Colombian army and then falsely labelled as enemies in order to inflate body counts and receive promotions or other benefits. 

“On Thursday, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which was set up to prosecute crimes committed during the armed conflict, announced that it was investigating the killing of 6,402 people, far higher than the initial figure of some 2,000 that they received to investigate”, said OHCHR Spokesperson Liz Throssell. 

She underscored the extremely important and legitimate work of victims’ groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in combatting impunity and obtaining justice, calling their contributions “essential for the realization of the rights to truth and reparation for victims”. 

Prosecuting war crimes 

Ms. Throssell also welcomed the Special Jurisdiction’s decision to prosecute the secretariat of the former FARC freedom fighters for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, particularly hostage-taking.  

 She maintained that the Special Jurisdiction’s work to fight against impunity will help Colombia to address past serious violations of international law and prevent future recurrences.   

“We stress once again that accountability for these crimes and the protection of victims’ rights is essential for the consolidation of peace and the strengthening of rule of law in Colombia”, Ms. Throssell said. 

FROM THE FIELD: Life after conflict in the Central African Republic

Conflict and insecurity in the Central African Republic (CAR) has taken a heavy toll on civilians for many years. 

In 2004 Aicha was brutalized and raped by armed men. She moved to another town to start a new life but, 10 years later, she was abducted and raped by another group. When her husband found out, he left her.

Madame “R”, a mother of 7 children was raped by two men as she returned home in Damala in the Central African Republic. ICC-CPI/Rena Effendi

A woman identified as “R” suffered a similar fate in 2017, on her way home from an early morning trip to the market. She kept the incident from her late husband, never feeling able to share what happened and, for her, the subject is still taboo.

Her testimony is included in the “Life after conflict” series, which seeks to demonstrate the way in which the UN-backed Court allows two-way dialogues to take place with affected communities. 

Make ‘every effort’ to save COVID-19 response from corruption, UN Assembly President urges

Speaking at the UN-Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Annual Parliamentary Hearing, Volkan Bozkir underscored that the potential impact of corruption during the coronavirus pandemic “cannot be overstated”. 

“Already, corruption has led to scarcity in essential protection, life-saving equipment, adequate assistance and the provision of vital services. Corruption has caused thousands of extra lives to be lost during this pandemic”, he added. 

The Assembly President stressed the role of parliaments in ensuring oversight and transparency of the trillions of dollars’ worth of protection announced by governments to tackle the pandemic. 

“Parliaments can play a critical role in ensuring these funds are not diverted through corruption. We must ensure that corruption does not deprive the most vulnerable of medical supplies or assistance programmes”, he said. 

Mr. Bozkir also spoke of the first-ever General Assembly special session against corruption, to be convened in June. 

The special session, he maintained, will provide an opportunity to shape the global anti-corruption agenda for the next decade “by advancing bold and innovative approaches, scaling best practices and developing new standards and mechanisms”. 

Motivation to increase gender parity 

In his remarks, Mr. Bozkir also welcomed the event’s focus on gender-sensitive anti-corruption policies. 

Noting the “particularly adverse impact” that corruption has on the lives of women, further widening the gender equality gap socially, politically and economically, the Assembly President highlighted that their political participation can have a positive impact on preventing corrupt practices. 

“The inclusive participation of women in government and decision-making roles is a catalyst to create more prosperous and robust societies”, Mr. Bozkir said. 

“In countries with a higher number of women engaged in all levels of government, there is greater attention to and funding for the issues that affect the lives of the citizenry. This is motivation for us all to do what we can to increase gender parity”, he added.  

Focus on fighting corruption  

Taking place on 17-18 February, the 2021 IPU-UN Annual Parliamentary Hearing focuses on  

fighting corruption to restore trust in government and improve development prospects. The Hearing is part of the parliamentary contribution to the political declaration of the General Assembly special session against corruption. 

This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Annual Hearing is being held in a virtual format, with delegations attending remotely.  

Loss of autonomy in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir threatens minorities’ rights – UN independent experts

“The loss of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule by the Government in New Delhi suggests the people of Jammu and Kashmir no longer have their own government and have lost power to legislate or amend laws in the region to ensure the protection of their rights as minorities”, Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said in a statement. 

Autonomy imperiled  

As Jammu and Kashmir were India’s only Muslim-majority state, India granted them partial autonomy out of respect for the ethnic, linguistic and religious identities of its people.

On 5 August 2019, the Government unilaterally revoked its special status and in May 2020, passed the so-called Domicile Rules, which removes protections for those in the territory. 

The new laws override previous ones that had granted the Kashmiri Muslim, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Sikh, Ladhaki and other established minorities the right to buy property, own land and access certain state jobs. 

 “These legislative changes may have the potential to pave the way for people from outside the former state of Jammu and Kashmir to settle in the region, alter the demographics of the region and undermine the minorities’ ability to exercise effectively their human rights”, the experts said.  

Moreover, the number of successful applicants for domicile certificates that appear to be from outside Jammu and Kashmir raised their concern that demographic changes on a linguistic, religious and ethnic basis have already begun.  

Undermining minority rights 

The UN experts urged India to ensure the economic, social and cultural rights of the people in Jammu and Kashmir along with their rights to freedom of expression and participation in matters affecting them. 

Independent UN Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

Stop criminalizing civil society, UN rights experts urge Venezuelan authorities 

Their call followed the release on 10 February of five human rights defenders and members of the non-governmental  organization (NGO) Azul Positivo, who had been detained since 12 January. However, the charges they faced, relating to money laundering along with terrorism and its financing have not been dropped, according to a news release issued by the experts. 

“The arrests and criminal charges are part of a pattern of increasing criminalization of civil society organizations in Venezuela, which already operate under a repressive set of laws and regulations including the 2017 ‘Law Against Hate’ that restricts the exercise of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression, among others”, the experts said.  

“We urge the authorities to drop the charges against the five human rights defenders of Azul Positivo”, they added. 

The independent experts said the Government adopted new regulations in recent months that intensify the pressure on NGOs and restrict their access to international funding, including financial resources needed to address the humanitarian crisis.  

They called for a review of the new regulations as well as prioritized attention to the crisis with a human rights-based approach. 

“We call on the authorities to review restrictive laws and practices to ensure compliance with Venezuela’s obligations under international human rights law, and respect and protect the work of civil society, including women human rights defenders”.  

The experts have previously engaged with Venezuelan authorities on these issues, said the news release. 

The experts 

The UN human rights experts making the call include the special rapporteurs on the rights of peaceful assembly and association; on the freedom of opinion and expression; on the situation of human rights defenders; as well as members of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.  

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

British human rights lawyer elected chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

He will take office on 16 June, replacing Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Ghana.  

The President of the Assembly of States Parties, O-Gon Kwon, applauded Mr. Khan on Twitter, saying “Warm congratulations! Thank you all for your hard work!!” 

The 123-member Hague-based court, which began work nearly 20 years ago, is responsible for judgements regarding war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Ahead of the pack 

In its second ballot, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, selected Mr. Khan with 72 votes, surpassing the majority requirement of 62. 

The other three male candidates, bested by Mr. Khan, were Carlos Castresana Fernández, from Spain, Prosecutor of the Court of Auditors of his country; Francesco Lo Voi, of Italy, Chief Prosecutor of Palermo; and Fergal Gaynor, from Ireland, Deputy International Co-Prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and Senior Counsel at the ICC. 

In 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Mr. Khan as Special Adviser to head a UN investigative team assisting the Iraqi Government to hold ISIL terrorists accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2379 (2017). 

No stranger to justice 

In his 28-year law career, including as a Queen’s Counsel in the UK, Mr. Khan has worked as a prosecutor, victim attorney and defense lawyer in national and international criminal tribunals, including the ICC, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former -Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Extraordinary Chambers within the Cambodian Courts (ECCC), the Special Court for Lebanon and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. 

The Prosecutor-elect holds law degrees from King’s College and the University of London and has studied and taught Islamic law. 

Moreover, Mr. Khan is the author of numerous publications in the field of international criminal justice and human rights. 

New ICC ruling ‘opens the door’ for justice in occupied Palestine – Independent UN expert

 “This offers profound hope to those who believe that consequences, not condonation, must be the answer to the commission of grave crimes”, said Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.  

The judgement, which includes potential war crimes, is a major move towards ending impunity in the 53-year-old occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza. 

“The leading political organs of the United Nations have repeatedly failed to enforce their own significant body of resolutions on the Israeli occupation”, the UN expert said. “This ruling opens the door for credible allegations of Rome Statute crimes to finally be investigated and potentially reach the trial stage at the ICC.” 

Probing the past 

The ICC prosecutor can now investigate a number of past allegations, including “grave crimes” committed by Israel during the 2014 war against Gaza, the killing and wounding of thousands of largely unarmed demonstrators during the Great March of Return in 2018-2019 and Israel’s settlement activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, according to the press release from OHCHR.  

Moreover, the prosecutor can also look into allegations of grave crimes involving Palestinian armed groups.  

“In adopting the Rome Statute and creating the International Criminal Court, the international community pledged its determination to end impunity for the perpetrators of grave crimes”, the Special Rapporteur stated. “Yet, in the context of Israel’s protracted occupation, the international community has permitted a culture of exceptionalism to prevail”.  

He also maintained that, had international legal obligations been purposively enforced years ago, “the occupation and the conflict would have been justly resolved and there would have been no need for the ICC process”. 

Unanswered reports 

The Special Rapporteur elaborated on a number of authoritative UN reports in recent years that have called for accountability and for Israel to meaningfully investigate credible allegations of grave crimes – none of which has been implemented.  

He cited one from the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict, which stated that “justice and respect for the rule of law are the indispensable basis for peace. The prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action”. 

Another referred to a 2013 report on the implications of the Israeli settlements and called upon Israel to “ensure full accountability for all violations…and to put an end to the policy of impunity”. 

Call for global backing 

Mr. Lynk urged the international community to support the ICC process, reminding that “the preamble of the Rome Statute calls for ‘international cooperation’ to ensure the ‘lasting respect for and the enforcement of international justice’”.  

“Ending impunity and pursuing justice can only bring us closer to peace in the Middle East”, upheld the independent UN expert. 

His call has been endorsed by Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions and the experts are not paid for their work.

Paraguay: UN rights chief calls for ‘prompt, independent’ probe into girl deaths and disappearance 

According to Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 14-year-old Paraguayan citizen Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, has reportedly been missing since early December. 

On 2 September, she had apparently witnessed a Paraguayan Joint Task Force operation against members of the armed guerrilla group known as the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo, or EPP), in the Yby Yaú area – some 370 kilometres north of the capital city, Asunción.  

The two 11-year-olds who were killed in the same operation, Lilian and Maria Carmen, were both Argentine citizens.  

Fitting the pieces together 

The OHCHR spokesperson flagged that Carmen Elizabeth’s disappearance only recently came to light when her aunt, Laura Villalba Ayala, reported it.  

Meanwhile, Ms. Villalba Ayala was herself accused of several offences and arrested on 23 December, where she has since been detained in a military facility. 

Subsequently, credible new testimonies have emerged, revealing that Carmen Elizabeth was injured during the 2 September operation but fled, while the 11-year-olds, Lilian and Maria Carmen, were apprehended alive.  

“This evidence contradicts the Paraguay Government´s official account that the two 11-year-olds were killed in a clash with the Joint Task Force”, said Ms. Hurtado. 

Lost evidence 

Acknowledging that “important evidence has been lost”, the OHCHR official stated that Lilian and Maria Carmen’s bodies were immediately buried and their clothes allegedly destroyed. 

“When their bodies were subsequently exhumed, the Paraguayan authorities confirmed that both girls had been killed by multiple gunshots”, she said.  

However, Ms. Hurtado added that the girls’ bodies were “quickly reburied” and calls for an independent forensic study not heeded.  

“Instead, the Paraguayan authorities brought charges of ‘association with terrorism’ against the girls´ mothers, who live in Argentina, and against their aunt, Laura Villalba”, the OHCHR spokesperson said. 

Call for justice 

UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called on the Paraguayan authorities to urgently search for the missing girl, Carmen Elizabeth.  

And in light of the new eye witness accounts, urged them to conduct a “prompt, independent and effective investigation” into the many unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of the other two girls, including why a full forensic examination was not carried out before their burial or after allegations of summary execution.  

“Such an investigation should also examine why important evidence was destroyed”, said Ms. Hurtado. “An independent forensic study should still be carried out”. 

The High Commissioner also called on the Paraguayan authorities to provide information regarding Ms. Villalba Ayala’s current situation and ensure that she is granted her full rights in accordance with international law, including access to a lawyer and family visits.  

Review, reform and respect  

Noting the gender dimension of the cases, which involve women and girls who are relatives of EPP adherents, along with previous concerns surrounding human rights violations allegedly committed by the Joint Task Force, the High Commissioner urged the Government to “review and reform” its functioning.   

And while recognizing that the EPP represents “a real security concern”, having committed serious crimes, such as kidnappings – most recently that of former Vice President Oscar Denis in September, which she condemns – the High Commissioner reiterated that the authorities must “fully respect their international human rights obligations when addressing security concerns and criminal activities”.   

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