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Credible elections can help propel Iraq towards ‘safe and prosperous future’ 

“The way to express one’s voice, to make one’s choice, is at the ballot box. This essential democratic exercise requires every voter, candidate, journalist and activist to play their part”, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), updated the Ambassadors via video-teleconference from Baghdad.  

She said that Iraqi’s have spoken “loudly and clearly” in demanding fresh elections, and a failure to hold them would cause “significant, lasting, widespread anger and disillusionment” that could further destabilize the country at a time when “strength and unity are desperately needed”. 

Stressing that elections due in October will remain “Iraqi-owned and Iraqi-led”, the UN envoy reiterated her call to uphold the integrity of the process, warning that “political pressure and interference, intimidation, and illicit financial flows” would jeopardize their credibility.  

Punishing perpetrators 

Accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations, such as targeted killings, abductions and intimidation, remains “very, very limited”, the UNAMI chief said, warning that impunity can only embolden perpetrators and further erode trust in the State.  

Despite public statements expressing intent to ensure accountability and establish investigative committees, “there have been few prosecutions for the killing and serious injury to protestors”, she said.  

Rising unemployment, years of corruption and failing public services had sparked massive anti-Government protests at the start of October 2019. Yet to date, no information has been made public on the patterns of violent attacks against demonstrators and critics, attributed to so-called unidentified armed actors. 

Kurdistan  

Turning to a curtailment of free expression in the Kurdistan region, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert told the Council that critics risk intimidation, movement restrictions and arbitrary arrest, adding that some were even prosecuted under national security laws. 

Meanwhile, as representatives of the federal and Kurdistan regional governments discuss security provisions, progress remains slow on administration and reconstruction.  

“The absence of an institutionalized dialogue and implementation mechanism between Baghdad and Erbil, is being negatively felt, fuelling misperceptions and distrust”, the UN official said.  

One bright note was the passing of the Yazidi Survivors Law which provides reparations and legal recognition of ISIL’s atrocities against women and girls as crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Terrorism 

While progress is being made in combatting remnants of ISIL, “terrorism continues to claim far too many innocent lives”, said Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert. 

She described rockets and improvised explosive devices as “a constant in Iraqi life” used by “cynical and callous armed entities” to destabilize the country. 

Notwithstanding the Government’s objective of bringing all arms under State control, “we are witnessing the use of new capabilities by non-State actors, with potentially devastating effects”, she said. 

Dismantling camps 

Over the past seven months, 16 camps for those internally displaced, have been closed or reclassified.  

Often carried out on short notice, the necessary preparations for the safe return of some 50,000 Iraqis to areas of origin had not been made, said the UN envoy.  

“When camps are closed before return conditions are appropriate, Iraqis face dire consequences”, she explained pointing to their rejection by local communities, a lack of protection from authorities and even physical attacks against the returnees.  

“This is certainly not the path towards recovered and stabilized communities”, said the UNAMI chief.

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Former LRA leader, ex-child soldier, sentenced to 25 years in prison

Dominic Ongwen, 45, was found guilty of 61 charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape, murder and sexual enslavement, committed in Northern Uganda between July 2002 and 31 December. 

In summarizing the decision to sentence him, Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt highlighted the unique nature of the case. 

Victim and perpetrator 

“The Chamber is confronted in the present case with a unique situation. It is confronted with a perpetrator who willfully and lucidly brought tremendous suffering upon his victims”, he said. 

“However, it is also confronted with a perpetrator who himself had previously endured extreme suffering himself at the hands of the group, of which he later became a prominent member and leader.” 

Judge Smith said the Chamber decided to give certain weight in mitigation to the circumstances of Mr Ongwen’s childhood, abduction by the LRA at a very young age, and his early stay with the group. 

The LRA was formed in the 1980s by Joseph Kony, a self-styled prophet who has long been sought for war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  

Children forced to kill 

The group launched its insurgency in northern Uganda, attacking camps hosting internally displaced people, eventually spreading to countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. 

It is estimated that as many as 25,000 children were abducted and forced to fight in the hostilities, or to serve as labourers. 

As an LRA brigade commander, Mr. Ongwen sanctioned the killing of large numbers of civilians, forced marriage, sexual slavery and the recruitment of child soldiers, among other grave crimes. 

He had been detained at the ICC, which is located in The Hague, in the Netherlands, since January 2015, and was found guilty in February. 

The detention period will be deducted from his overall prison sentence. 

The ICC also issued an order for submissions on reparations to his victims. Inputs from parties to the case are due by 6 September of this year, while those from “interested persons or organisations, particularly with local expertise” are due by 7 July 2021.

Middle East coordinator calls for new and timely Palestinian election date 

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, said that he understood the “disappointment of the many Palestinians” who had gone nearly 16 years without being able to cast their vote.  

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the postponement of the planned parliamentary elections, amidst a dispute over voting rights in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, according to news reports. 

Israel governs voting conditions in the city, and Palestinians are reportedly insisting that all 150,000 eligible voters be allowed to cast their ballots – far more than under a previous agreement with Israeli authorities. 

“Facing this difficult situation, we decided to postpone the date of holding legislative elections until the participation of Jerusalem and its people is guaranteed”, Mr. Abbas said, on Palestinian television. 

The last Palestine-wide ballot in 2006 fuelled a factional split, with extremist group Hamas gaining control over the Gaza Strip, while Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party won a majority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. 

Democratic path 

Encouraging Palestinians “to continue on the democratic path”, Mr. Wennesland underscored the “widespread international support” for transparent and inclusive elections throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem.  

Giving people the chance to vote would renew the “legitimacy and credibility” of Palestinian institutions and help to re-establish Palestinian national unity, he said.   

“This will also set the path toward meaningful negotiations to end the occupation and realize a two-State solution based on UN resolutions, international law and previous agreements”, added the UN official. 

Moreover, setting a new and timely date for elections would be ‘an important step” in reassuring the Palestinian people that “their voices will be heard”. 

‘Fragile situation’ 

Noting that the UN reaffirmed its support to strengthening the Palestinian national institutions, the Special Coordinator stressed that a prolonged period of uncertainty risks “exacerbating the fragile situation”. 

He called on all parties to maintain calm, show restraint and refrain from violence and encouraged leaders on all sides to “reduce tensions and create the conditions for a resumption of the electoral process”.

New Iraqi law ‘major step’ in assisting ISIL’s female victims but more must be done

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, welcomed the adoption on 1 March of The Law on Yazidi Survivors, which recognizes ISIL’s violations against women and girls from the Yazidi, Turkman, Christian and Shabaks minorities – including kidnapping, sexual enslavement, forced marriage, pregnancy and abortion – as genocide and crimes against humanity. 

“This is a major step towards promoting justice for crimes committed by ISIL”, she said. 

More on the law 

In addition to providing reparation to the victims, the law provides compensation for survivors, as well as measures for their rehabilitation and reintegration into society, and the prevention of such crimes in the future.  

It also offers pensions, the provision of land, housing and education, and a quota in public sector employment. 

“When I visited Iraq in February last year, I witnessed the situation of Yazidi women and girls who had survived atrocities by ISIL. Despite their remarkable resilience and strength to rebuild their lives, many continued to live in displacement and faced many challenges to achieve a durable solution”, said the UN independent expert. 

Ms. Jimenez-Damary called for “a broad implementation of the law” to also cover survivors from other minorities. 

Children born out of rape  

At the same time, the Special Rapporteur expressed deep concern over the situation of the children born out of rape by ISIL fighters during the conflict.  

Mothers often encounter obstacles to register them because of the absence of a father – and children of Yazidi women born of sexual exploitation and enslavement by ISIL are not accepted in Yazidi communities.  

“These children are at risk of abandonment, and these Yazidi mothers face the difficult choice of either leaving their children or their community”, said Ms. Jimenez-Damary. 

Unfortunately, this situation is not addressed by this law.  

Action requested 

The UN rights expert called on the Government of Iraq to strengthen mediation and social cohesion efforts, with the participation of those affected, to protect the rights of both the children and their mothers, and to work toward “a durable solution to their displacement.” 

She also called on the international community to support victim-centred programmes and initiatives in Iraq to this end, as well as to contribute to the implementation of the law. 

The Special Rapporteur’s remarks were endorsed by Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; and Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences. 

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. Their positions are honorary and they are not they paid for their work. 

UN rights chief welcomes verdict in George Floyd murder case 

“This is a momentous verdict”, said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in a statement. 

The white former Minneapolis police officer was convicted on Tuesday of murdering the 46-year-old African American man in May of last year. 

Mr. Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, sparking mass protests globally against racism. 

More needed in battle for justice 

Bachelet praised the “courage and perseverance of George Floyd’s family and many others in calling for justice”, but said that for “countless other victims of African descent and their families, in the United States and throughout the world, the fight for justice goes on”.  

Ms. Bachelet said the battle for justice in cases of excessive force or killings by police “is far from over”. 

She called for “robust measures” to reform police departments across the US, stating that so far, they had been “insufficient to stop people of African descent from being killed”. 

Police officers have rarely been convicted – or even charged – for deaths that occur in custody. 

The practice of policing in the US and elsewhere must be rethought with a “whole-of-government and whole-of-society” approach to “dismantle systemic racism” she added. 

Uprooting systemic racism 

The UN human rights chief called for a critical examination surrounding the context of George Floyd’s killing by revisiting the past and probing its “toxic traces in today’s society”, including the legacies of enslavement and transatlantic slave trade and the impact of colonialism, which need to be “decisively uprooted”. 

She added that achieving racial justice and equality also requires “the full and equal participation of people of African descent in ways which transform their interactions with police and in all aspects of their lives”. 

“If they are not, the verdict in this case will just be a passing moment when the stars aligned for justice, rather than a true turning point”, she warned. 

UN ‘World Court’ marks 75 years of work to ensure peaceful settlement of disputes

ICJ 101

Widely referred to as the “World Court”, the ICJ was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War as the highest judicial body of the United Nations.

The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.

The Statute of the Court forms an integral part of the UN Charter. The first members of the ICJ were elected on 6 February 1946, at the first session of the UN General Assembly and the Court held its inaugural sitting at the iconic Peace Palace in The Hague, on 18 April 1946.

The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the General Assembly and the Security Council.

ICJ
The ICJ held its inaugural session on 18 April 1946 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands.

Tackling ‘new areas’ of international law

On the occasion of the Court’s 75th anniversary, the body’s President, Judge Joan E. Donoghue, noted that since the establishment of the ICJ, States have submitted over 140 disputes to it, adding that the Court has also received over 25 requests for advisory opinions.

“The Court has demonstrated that it is equipped to tackle cases relating to new areas of international law that have emerged and developed since its first sitting”, she went on to say.

The President commended the fact that “in recent years . . . the Court has gotten high marks for the way it has handled scientific and technical aspects of environmental disputes” and that “the docket has also included cases arising under a number of important human rights treaties”.

 President Donoghue spoke of her confidence that “the institution and procedures established in the Statute of the Court and in its Rules will continue to provide fertile ground for the peaceful settlement of inter-State disputes”.

Year-long anniversary celebration

While the Court had initially planned to commemorate its 75th anniversary by holding a solemn sitting at the Peace Palace, Ms. Donoghue, said: “Regrettably, due to the [COVID-19] pandemic, the Court has found itself obliged to postpone the solemn sitting until such time as it can be held in a safe and fitting manner”.

Still, the ICJ will mark the auspicious occasion in a number of ways throughout the year. Apart from her video statement, the President of the Court has also written an article published in the UN Chronicle, the United Nations’ flagship online magazine.

In addition, a new institutional video on the activities and role of the Court, aimed at students and the public at large, will soon be released; a virtual tour will be posted on the Court’s website, providing visitors with information on its activities and guiding them through the Peace Palace; and a book about the work and achievements of the “World Court” will be published later this year.

UN experts urge US to align anti-terrorism programme with international law

Operated by the US State Department, the anti-terrorism programme offers money for information on people outside the country, who the Government has designated as being associated with terrorism, although they have not been charged with any crimes.  

It also offers financial incentives to foreigners who claim to have terrorist ties, if they cooperate with US authorities. 

“Many of the people targeted by the Rewards for Justice programme have had their due process rights denied”, Alena Douhan,  Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures said, in a statement endorsed by UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. 

Targeting fugitives 

Offering money to foreign individuals, allegedly involved in or associated with US-deemed terrorist activity – including Iran, Cuba and other States – comes with the threat of sanctions should they not cooperate with Washington’s demands.  

According to the UN experts, these sanctions violate a number of rights, including their right to work, freedom of movement, reputation and life. 

Moreover, there is no possibility of accessing justice to protect these rights. 

Ms. Douhan maintained that as those rights entail the presumption of innocence and fair trial, which the US is obliged under international law to respect, by offering money for information towards capture, “the programme encourages others to participate in the denial of these rights”. 

“Such offers are reminiscent of wanted posters that target fugitives from justice – fugitives charged with crimes or who have warrants for their arrest”, she said. 

Forced labour 

The Special Rapporteur made the case that pushing “an individual [to] carry out tasks against their will under the threat of a penalty” amounts to forced labour, as defined by International Labour Organization (ILO) agreements. 

Noting that the US has accepted that definition, she reminded that “forced labour is prohibited by treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States has ratified”. 

Respect international law in fighting terrorism  

Ms. Douhan respectfully urged the US Government to review its Rewards for Justice Programme “to ensure that its activities are aligned with international law”. 

Fighting terrorism…shall only be done with due respect to human rights — Special Rapporteur

“Fighting terrorism is obviously necessary, but it shall only be done with due respect to human rights, international humanitarian and refugee law, in line with the UN Global Strategy on Counter-Terrorism”, she spelled out. 

The Special Rapporteur has raised this with the US Government, along with other issues concerning her mandate, but has thus far received no response, the experts’ statement said. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts 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. Their positions are honorary, and they are not paid for their work.

 

 

‘Reasonable grounds’ to believe Syrian military helicopter deployed chemical weapon: OPCW

The UN-backed international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released the findings of the second report by its Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), saying that “at least one cylinder” of deadly chlorine gas had been dropped on the night of 4 February, spreading “over a large area” and affecting at least 12 Syrians on the ground.

‘Intolerable’

Questioned by reporters at UN Headquarters in New York about the report, the UN Spokesperson said that Secretary-General António Guterres had received the report, “and is deeply concerned by its findings.

“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons and reiterates his position that the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, and under any circumstances, is intolerable, and impunity for their use is equally unacceptable”, said Stéphane Dujarric.

“It is imperative to identify and hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons.”

The report states that although nobody was killed, a dozen people had been treated for symptoms of chemical poisoning, after the Syrian air force helicopter “under the control of Tiger Forces” had dropped a cylinder, which “ruptured and released” the chlorine.

Syria uncooperative

In its general conclusion, the IIT states that although it is aware of general information related to Syrian government investigations that “could be relevant to the use of chemical weapons”, it had not obtained or received information from the Syrian authorities “though it requested it”, which is a breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Neither did the IIT uncover any information indicating that “rogue units or individuals” could have been responsible for chemical weapons use in the 2018 Saraqib attack.

The OPCW investigation team is responsible for examining all evidence that can be gathered on alleged attacks in Syria, including interviews with witnesses, once the body’s Fact-Finding Mission has determined that chemical weapons have been used or likely used.

The IIT released its first report a year ago, asserting that the Syrian military had used the nerve agent Sarin and chlorine gas, in two attacks on the village of Ltamenah, in March 2017.

OPCW background

As the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, the OPCW, with its 193 Member States, oversees the global endeavour to permanently eliminate chemical weapons. Since the Convention’s entry into force in 1997, it is the most successful disarmament treaty eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction.

More than 98% of all declared chemical weapon stockpiles have been destroyed under OPCW verification

COVID complicates efforts to shut down drug traffickers, boost development

Ghada Waly was addressing the opening of the latest session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the agency’s governing body, taking place this week in-person and online from Vienna.  

“The pandemic has brought about changes in drug trafficking and the illicit drug market as a result of mobility restrictions and related measures. It has also increased vulnerabilities associated with negative coping mechanisms and risky behaviours”, she told participants. 

Rising vulnerabilities 

In the shadow of the pandemic, opioids continued to claim more lives than any other drug, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of drug deaths.  At the same time, coverage for preventing and treating drug use disorders, HIV and related diseases has also been impacted. 

Ms. Waly added that COVID-19 has also affected access to controlled substances for medical purposes, such as for pain management, particularly in low and middle-income countries. 

“Rising poverty and unemployment resulting from the crisis have also further deepened vulnerabilities”, she said.  “More people are now without access to proper care, and at greater risk of drug use, and potentially more likely to turn to drug cultivation or trafficking in their desperation to earn a living.” 

The UN official reported that following the 2008 financial crisis, drug use patterns became more harmful, with a shift to cheaper drugs and injecting drug use, amid a reduction in government funding to address the problem. 

“We must be prepared to face similar challenges in the current crisis”, she warned. 

Support to countries 

Ms. Waly also reported on UNODC’s actions throughout the pandemic.   

The agency has been assisting policymakers and providers of drug prevention, treatment and care, as well as HIV services, while also working with hundreds of grassroots organizations.  

Together with the World Health Organization (WHO), staff have trained some 10,000 professionals providing care in nearly 30 countries, serving thousands. 

UNODC is also now preparing the latest edition of its flagship World Drug Report, which will be launched in June.  The study will provide an outlook on the predicted evolution of drug markets post-pandemic, among other topics. 

More than 1,400 participants from 128 countries are taking part in this latest session of the UN Commission.  The official opening of the CND saw adoption, by consensus, of a joint statement which outlines new challenges, good practices and actions to take in addressing the impact of COVID-19.

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