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UN human rights report shows rise in reprisals against activists, victims

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Cases of intimidation and retaliation against victims, civil society and activists who cooperate with the United Nations are on the rise, a new report from the UN Human Rights Office reveals.

The study documents incidents from nearly 50 countries, such as the detention and imprisonment of activists, and the filming of participants at meetings, including on UN premises, without their consent. 

Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said there are also cases of authorities threatening and harassing relatives of activists.

“Some governments seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to punish people who cooperate with us.  This may actually underscore the justice of the victims’ causes,” he said.

The report covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May of this year.  It also notes misuse of online spaces to promote hate speech, cyberbullying and smear campaigns, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

Mr. Gilmour expressed concern over the continued trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies as justification for blocking access to the United Nations.

“Reported cases include individuals or organizations being charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State. These have also been used to justify restrictions on foreign funding,” he wrote in the report’s conclusions and recommendations.

“A disproportionate number of cases of enforced disappearance or detention, many which have been deemed arbitrary by United Nations experts, relate to these national security arguments. This is a worrisome trend that I have addressed publicly, including in my previous report, and, regrettably, it continues.”

He said the UN will continue to strengthen its response to these developments, including through improved reporting on allegations.  However, he added, the onus remains on countries as “Member States must be accountable for their own actions and practices, and provide remedy when reprisals occur.”

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ICC gives greenlight for probe into violent crimes against Rohingya

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Judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, namely deportation, which have forced between 600,000 and one million Rohingya refugees out of Myanmar, into neighboring Bangladesh since 2016.  

The pre-trial judges “accepted that there exists a reasonable basis to believe widespread and/or systematic acts of violence may have been committed that could qualify as crimes against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border” the Court said in a press statement, in addition to “persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion against the Rohingya population.” 

After a reported military-led crackdown, widespread killings, rape and village burnings, nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 to settle in crowded refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. 

This is the second strike against the alleged crimes this week, as the tribunal’s decision follows a Monday submission by Gambia to the UN’s principal judicial organ, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of “mass murder, rape, and genocidal acts” which violate its obligations under the Genocide Convention, in addition to destruction of villages, arbitrary detention, and torture.  

As a member to the Genocide prevention treaty, Gambia “refused to stay silent”, and as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the small African nation has taken legal action to assist the persecuted majority-Muslim Rohingya, with support by other Muslim countries.  

In July, the ICC’s top Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, requested an investigation be open into the alleged crimes committed since October of 2016, concerning Myanmar and Bangladesh.  

At that time, her Office’s preliminary examination found “a reasonable basis” to believe that at least 700,00 Rohingya were deported from Myanmar to Bangladesh “through a range of coercive acts causing suffering and serious injury.” 

Under the Rome Statute that created the ICC, which highlights crimes against humanity as one of its four crucial international crimes, the top Prosecutor concluded sufficient legal conditions had been met to open an investigation.  

While Myanmar is not a State party to the treaty, Bangladesh ratified the Statute in 2010, meaning authorization to investigate does not extend to all crimes potentially committed in Myanmar, but will focus on violations committed in part on Bangladeshi territory, the ICC said in July.  

‘Only justice and accountability’ can stop the violence 

Judges forming the pre-trial chamber, Judge Olga Herrera Carbuccia, Judge Robert Fremr, and Judge Geofreey Henderson received views on this request by or on behalf of hundreds of thousands of alleged victims.  

According to the ICC Registry, victims insist they want an investigation by the Court, and many “believe that only justice and accountability can ensure that the perceived circle of violence and abuse comes to an end.” 

“Noting the scale of the alleged crimes and the number of victims allegedly involved, the Chamber considered that the situation clearly reaches the gravity threshold,” the Court said.    

The pre-trial Chamber in addition authorized the commencement of the investigation in relation to any crime, including future crime, so long as it is within the jurisdiction of the Court, and is allegedly committed at least in part in the Rome Statute State Party, Bangladesh, or any other territory accepting the jurisdiction.  

The alleged crime must also be sufficiently linked to the present situation, and must have been committed on or after the date of the Statute’s entry into force for Bangladesh or the relevant State Party.  

Judges from the ICC have given the greenlight for prosecutors to commence collection of necessary evidence, which could result in the judge’s issuance of summonses to appear in court or warrants of arrest. Parties to the Statute have a legal obligation to cooperate fully with the ICC, nonmembers invited to cooperate may decide to do so voluntarily. 

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UNICEF reports uneven progress in 30 years of child rights treaty

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Although the world has made historic gains over the past three decades in improving children’s lives, urgent action is required if the poorest children are to feel the impact, a new UN report published on Monday warns.

The study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) calls on countries to recommit to promises made under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted 30 years ago.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, noted that while increasing numbers of children are living longer, better and healthier lives, the odds continue to be stacked against the poorest and most vulnerable.

“In addition to the persistent challenges of health, nutrition and education, children today have to contend with new threats like climate change, online abuse and cyberbullying,” she said.

“Only with innovation, new technologies, political will and increased resources will we help translate the vision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into a reality for all children everywhere.”

Uneven progress, emerging threats

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely and rapidly adopted international treaty in history, and has been ratified by more than 190 countries.

It acknowledges childhood, which lasts through age 18, as a special time in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity. 

UNICEF reported that since its adoption, the global rate for under-five mortality has dropped by around 60 per cent, while the proportion of undernourished children has almost halved.

The Convention has also influenced numerous constitutions, laws and policies that reflect its guiding principles, which include non-discrimination, the right to protection and acting in the best interests of the child.

However, the report shows that progress has not been even.

UNICEF said the world’s children continue to confront age-old threats while new hazards loom over their future.

The poorest children are still likely to die from preventable causes before reaching their fifth birthday. Millions of the most disadvantaged are still at risk due to poverty, discrimination and marginalization. At the same time, cases of the childhood killer measles are on the rise as immunization coverage rates have slowed down since 2010.

Progress in education also is dismal. The report reveals that the number of primary level children out of school has remained static for more than a decade.

“Many of those who are in school are not learning the basics, let alone the skills they need to thrive in today’s economy,” UNICEF added.

In recent years, young people have been speaking up and calling for action to address climate change. UNICEF said they are the ones most at-risk.

“Rapid changes in climate are spreading disease, increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, and creating food and water insecurity. Unless urgent action is taken, the worst for many children is yet to come,” the UN agency warned.

Inclusive dialogue planned

UNICEF believes that where there is political will and determination, children’s lives improve, as documented by the report, which has been released ahead of World Children’s Day on 20 November.

The study calls for more data and evidence to accelerate progress and advance child rights, alongside recommendations such as involving young people in creating solutions.

UNICEF will use the coming 12 months to promote an inclusive global dialogue aimed at making the promise of the convention a reality for all children.

As Ms. Fore, the UNICEF chief, stated: “The Convention stands at a crossroads between its illustrious past and its future potential. It is up to us to recommit, take decisive steps and hold ourselves accountable.”

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UN: India should ‘unlock’ freedom curbs in disputed Kashmir

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Children attend class in open at a government middle school, Rajouri district, Jammu and Kashmir, India. UNICEF/Syed Altaf Ahmad

The people of Indian-administered Kashmir continue to be deprived of numerous basic freedoms, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday, before urging the Indian authorities “to unlock the situation”.

The appeal over the territory – which both India and Pakistan claim as sovereign – follows months of escalating tensions linked to earlier suicide attacks and the Indian Government’s decision in August to revoke majority-Muslim Kashmir’s special status, which for decades had allowed it partial autonomy.

At the time of the Indian Government decision, five UN-appointed independent rights experts warned that it had led to tighter central Government control, restrictions on peaceful protests and a communications blackout.

Curfew ‘still in place in large parts’ of Kashmir valley

In Geneva on Tuesday, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville acknowledged that an “undeclared curfew” had been lifted from much of Jammu and Ladakh regions within a few days.

But he noted that it was reportedly still in place “in large parts of the Kashmir Valley, preventing the free movement of people, as well as hampering their ability to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and restricting their rights to health, education and freedom of religion and belief.”   

Highlighting several allegations of excessive use of force against protesters that involved the use of “pellet-firing shotguns, tear gas and rubber bullets”, Mr. Colville said that there had also been unconfirmed reports of “at least six civilian killings and scores of serious injuries”, in separate incidents since the Indian Government declaration on 5 August across Jammu and Kashmir.

The Office of the High Commissioner had also received reports that armed groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have threatened some residents trying to work or go to school, the OHCHR spokesperson said.

In addition, “at least another six people have been killed and over a dozen injured in alleged attacks by armed group members, since 5 August”.

Web access blocked, politicians detained

And although restrictions on landline telephones were eventually lifted, and a state-run telecom company allowed to resume partial mobile phone services, all internet services remain blocked in the Kashmir valley, Mr. Colville insisted.

In line with the Indian Government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s partial self-rule, two separate federally-administered Union Territories are to be created this Thursday, the OHCHR Spokesperson explained, adding that “hundreds of political and civil society leaders” had been detained “on a preventative basis”.

While some political workers have reportedly been released, most senior leaders – especially those from the Kashmir Valley – remain in detention, he said.

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