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UN Report: Israel violated international humanitarian law

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An independent UN report into last year’s protests along Gaza’s border fence involving Israeli security forces, that resulted in the shooting deaths of more than 180 Palestinians, concluded on Thursday that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel violated international humanitarian law.

There was “no justification” for Israeli forces to use live rounds, according to a press release issued by the UN Commission of Inquiry into the 2018 Gaza protests.

 “The Commission has found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli security forces committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law,” Chairperson Santiago Canton told journalists in Geneva.

He added: “These violations clearly warrant criminal investigation and prosecution and we call on Israel to conduct meaningful investigations into these serious violations and to provide timely justice for those killed and injured.”

Created by the 47-Member UN Human Rights Council in May last year, the Commission of Inquiry was tasked with investigating all violence linked to anti-Israeli demonstrations on the Israel-Gaza border from 30 March to 31 December 2018.

In total, the Commission conducted 325 interviews with victims and witnesses and analyzed audio-visual material showing demonstrators being shot.

Its findings indicate that Israeli Security Forces injured 6,106 Palestinians with live ammunition at protest sites during the period of its mandate, while another 3,098 Palestinians were injured by bullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or by tear gas canisters.

Four Israeli soldiers were injured at the demonstrations, the report also found, noting that one Israeli soldier was killed on a protest day “but outside the protest sites”.

Children ‘shot playing football’; wheelchair users, medics, journalists

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the protests on 30 March, which Gazans refer to as the “Great March of Return”, the Commission of Inquiry underscored the need for Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian authorities to do more to protect civilians, who continue to demonstrate near the border fence every Friday.

“The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such,” it said in a statement.

Commissioner Betty Murungi described how an 11-year-old boy was shot while playing football near the fence with Israel. He subsequently had one of his legs amputated.

“Although the killings have lessened, we still see protected groups of individuals including children…still being killed as recently as three weeks ago,” said Commissioner Sara Hossain.

She added that paramedics and journalists also continue to be injured at demonstration sites, while also dismissing the idea that the protesters were intent on violent acts.

“We found that in all of the demonstrations, there was violence in the form of the use of the throwing of stones and burning of tyres by a minority of demonstrators,” she said, adding that “the vast majority” were not involved in any form of violence.

“There were women and children present, there were people having poetry reading, playing music, waving flags, things that can’t in any way be considered to be violent,” she insisted: “I think the characterization of all the demonstrators as violent is something we wouldn’t agree with.”

De facto authorities ‘must encourage peaceful protests’

In addition to the appeal to Israel to cooperate with an investigation into the killings, Commission chairperson Santiago Canton called on the de facto authorities in Gaza to ensure that demonstrations were peaceful.

“The Commission finds that these protests were a call for help from a population in despair”, Santiago Canton said. “Not only Israel but also the de facto authorities led by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have responsibilities towards them.

Mr Santiago also called noted the Commission’s call for Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, and in particular allow those in need of urgent medical care to leave the territory, after it found that hospitals there were “literally overwhelmed by the sheer number of death and injuries” after demonstrations on 14 May.

The Commission of Inquiry’s full report will be presented to the Human Rights Council on 18 March 2019.

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Human Rights

ADB Marks International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) for the first time by hosting two events over 2 days at ADB headquarters in Manila.

“ADB supports LGBT+ inclusion within and outside its organization. We are committed to a diverse and inclusive workforce where everyone is treated with respect regardless of gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, and thinking style. We recognize that the promotion and strengthening of diversity, inclusion, and equality at ADB is critical to our effectiveness as an organization,” said ADB President Mr. Takehiko Nakao.

On 16 May, IBM Philippines President and Country General Manager Ms. Aileen Judan-Jiao made a presentation on IBM’s programs and initiatives to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace for all employees, including for those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and related communities (LGBT+).

ADB hosted a panel discussion on 17 May, which brought together ADB experts and civil society representatives to discuss ways to promote the inclusion of LGBT+ communities in ADB operations. The panel members included civil society leaders from APCOM, the Asia Pacific LGBT+ health and rights organization, and Babaylanes, the Philippines LGBT+ student and youth organization. 

The inclusion of vulnerable groups in societies, including LGBT+ people, is critical to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable region, as envisioned in ADB’s Strategy 2030.

IDAHOT promotes inclusion and recognizes efforts to overcome the exclusion, discrimination, and violence that the LGBT+ community continues to experience in many parts of the world, including in Asia and the Pacific. IDAHOT recognizes the significant progress that has been made towards equality in many parts of the world. The date of 17 May was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

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UN: Gaza blockade causes ‘near ten-fold increase’ in food dependency

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More than half the population of Gaza depends on food aid from the international community. (file 2010) ECHO/Fadwa Baroud

At a time when Muslims globally are observing the holy month of Ramadan, more than half the population in Gaza depends on the international community for food aid, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on Monday, citing a “near ten-fold increase” in need.

According to UNRWA, it must secure an additional $60 million by June to continue providing food to more than one million Palestine refugees in Gaza, including some 620,000 “abject poor” who cannot cover their basic food needs and are surviving on $1.6 per day. The funds are also needed to cover the severely challenged 390,000 “absolute poor”, who survive on about $3.5 per day.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support, which has been outpaced by growing needs.

From fewer than 80,000 Palestine refugees in Gaza receiving social assistance in 2000, today over one million people need urgent food aid to get through their day.

“This is a near ten-fold increase caused by the blockade that led to the closure of Gaza and its disastrous impact on the local economy, the successive conflicts that razed entire neighborhoods and public infrastructure to the ground, and the ongoing internal Palestinian political crisis that started in 2007 with the arrival of Hamas to power in Gaza,” said Matthias Schmale, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA is also confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growing number of registered Palestine refugees.

Moreover, the tragic death of 195 Palestinians – including 14 UNRWA students and the long-lasting physical and psychological injuries of 29,000 people during year-long demonstrations, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ – come after three devastating conflicts since 2009 that, combined, left at least 3,790 dead and more than 17,000 injured.

A 2017 UN report predicted that by 2020, Gaza would be unlivable. 

Today, with over 53 per cent of Gazans unemployed and more than one million dependent upon quarterly UNRWA food handouts, UN agencies and remittances from abroad are all that stand between Gaza and total collapse.

“For the first time in my year-and-a-half there,” Mr. Schmale elaborated, “I had three people talking to me separately about noticeably increasing drug abuse, increasing suicide attempts and prostitution and they put this down to the place is collapsing socially, in socio-economic terms and one can see it and of course against a background like that escalation is possible at any time”.

By continuing to deliver upon its mandate, UNRWA remains a critical lifeline for most of Gaza’s 1.9 million inhabitants, dispensing services in health and education and defending rights and dignity. Most urgent though, is the food assistance to more than one million Palestine refugees.

Operating with large financial shortfalls, as one of the few stabilizing elements in a very complex environment UNRWA is encouraging all Member States to work collectively to fund its programme budget as well as its emergency programmes, which are financed through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is tasked to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank – including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – to achieve their full human development potential.

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UN: Sahel crisis reaching unprecedented levels

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Drought has affected residents of the Mbera refugee camp, Mauritania, in the Sahel region of Africa. Photo: WFP/Justin Smith

Repeated and increasingly sophisticated armed attacks in the Sahel and food shortages linked to last year’s severe drought, have reached unprecedented levels, putting the future of a “whole generation” at stake, three top UN humanitarian officials said on Wednesday

In an appeal for increased funding to support millions of people affected by spreading violence in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators for the three countries warned that the instability risked spilling over into other West African countries. 

Needs are growing, they maintained, amid a five-fold rise in displacement in the last 12 months which has seen more than 330,000 people leave their homes, in addition to 100,000 refugees. 

“Many of those affected by the violence now were already facing dire hardship; for them, it’s double devastation,” said Mbaranga Gasarabwe, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Mali. 

Citing “recurrent” violent attacks by armed groups that are up to four times more common now than in 2012 at the start of Mali’s security crisis – when the north and centre were briefly under the total control of extremists – Ms. Gasarabwe told journalists in Geneva that these had severely hampered the delivery of basic social services to communities, such as education, health, water sector and shelter. 

In Mali “more than 1,800 schools have closed and over 80 health centres are either shut or only partially operational”, the UN official said, echoing concerns by her colleagues about service and governance gaps that extremists can be quick to fill. 

“We must act now and fast,” added UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Niger, Bintou Djibo. “Sustained relief efforts, economic and social development are key. In the Sahel, violence is also rooted in a sentiment of marginalisation and disenfranchisement.” 

According to latest UN figures, some 5.1 million people need humanitarian assistance in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger’s western Tahoua and Tillaberi regions. 

Aid organizations have appealed for $600 million to assist 3.7 million of those most in need, but funding is at around 19 per cent only, for all three countries. 

“We cannot stress enough the urgency of the situation. The future of a whole generation is at stake,” said Metsi Makhetha, UN Resident Coordinator for Burkina Faso, referring to attacks by “ISIS-inspired” armed groups, which threatened to destabilize longstanding traditional methods of community-based conflict resolution. “The UN, partner humanitarian organizations and Governments have stepped up operations. But we must do more.” 

Amid indications that explosive devices now being used in the Sahel resemble those being used in the Syria conflict, the UN officials insisted that the urgent action was needed to help vulnerable communities. 

“The attacks are increasing, the methods are getting sophisticated; we are seeing more and more targeting of civilians,” said Ms. Makhetha “We need even a concerted effort so that we can really create conditions that will enable the communities to strengthen their traditional community links.” 

Community tension “is something that we can ill-afford”, Ms. Makhetha explained, “and we have to do everything to make sure that the communities are supported because when we don’t it is also very fertile terrain for recruitment and it is very fertile terrain for increased grievances.” 

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