Independent UN human rights experts on Tuesday called on Belarus to stop torturing detainees and bring to justice police officers who have reportedly humiliated and beaten protestors in their custody, as mass demonstrations over the disputed 9 August presidential election continue for a fourth week.
Thousands have been detained in the eastern European country, where largely peaceful rallies to demand the resignation of longtime authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko – whose recent re-election to a sixth term opposition leaders believe was rigged – have prompted a heavy crackdown by security forces.
“We are extremely alarmed at the hundreds of allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in police custody”, the experts said, citing reports of 450 documented cases.
In a press release issued by the UN human rights office (OHCHR), the experts urged the authorities in Belarus to immediately register detainees, provide judicial oversight and notify family members in order to safeguard against enforced disappearances.
No justification for torture
Torture “cannot be justified for any reason”, they stated, adding that “no circumstances whatsoever, whether internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked to practice, tolerate or justify enforced disappearances.”
The experts called for the prompt release of all peaceful protestors, pointing out that some 6,700 people, including journalists and passers-by, had been detained in recent weeks and that on Saturday, the government withdrew accreditation of 17 journalists working for foreign media outlets.
Indiscriminate arrests continue
They also expressed concern about indiscriminate arrests over the weekend, at a peaceful women’s march on Saturday in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, and at peaceful protests in many cities Sunday, stressing that “a failure to acknowledge deprivation of liberty by State agents and a refusal to acknowledge detention constitute an enforced disappearance, even if it is of a short duration.”
While most people reported missing have been accounted for, the whereabouts and state of health of at least six individuals are reportedly unknown, and there have been reports of sexual abuse and rape of women and children, according to the press release.
State must commit to accountability
The experts stressed that in addition to full and impartial investigations, Belarus must hold perpetrators to account and ensure compensation for victims and their families.
“There can be no justice without the State’s unequivocal commitment to accountability and redress for violations of human rights,” they said.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts 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, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.
Over 1.9 billion people in Asia-Pacific unable to afford a healthy diet
The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and surging food prices are keeping almost two billion people in Asia and the Pacific from healthy diets, United Nations agencies said on Wednesday.
According to the 2020 Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, the region’s poor have been worst affected, forced to choose cheaper and less nutritious foods. The report is jointly produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The outbreak of COVID-19 and a lack of decent work opportunities in many parts of the region, alongside significant uncertainty of food systems and markets, has led to a worsening of inequality, as poorer families with dwindling incomes further alter their diets to choose cheaper, less nutritious foods,” the agencies said.
“Due to higher prices for fruits, vegetables and dairy products, it has become nearly impossible for poor people in Asia and the Pacific to achieve healthy diets, the affordability of which is critical to ensure food security and nutrition for all – and for mothers and children in particular.”
As a result, progress is also slowing on improving nutrition, a key target for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As of 2019, over 350 million people in the region are estimated to have been undernourished, with an about 74.5 million children under five stunted (too short for their age) and 31.5 million suffering from wasting (too thin for height).
‘Impact most severe in first 1,000 days’
The UN agencies went on to note that while nutrition is vitally important throughout a person’s life, the impact of a poor diet is most severe in the first 1,000 days, from pregnancy to when a child reaches the age of two.
“Young children, especially when they start eating their ‘first foods’ at six months, have high nutritional requirements to grow well and every bite counts,” they said.
The agencies called for an integrated systems approach – bringing together food, water and sanitation, health, social protection and education systems – to address underlying factors and achieve healthy diets for all mothers and children.
‘Changing face of malnutrition’
They also highlighted the “changing face” of malnutrition, with highly processed and inexpensive foods, readily available throughout Asia and the Pacific. Often packed with sugar and unhealthy fats, such food items lack the vitamins and minerals required for growth and development and also increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The report urged governments to invest more in nutrition and food safety to promote healthy diets, as well as regulate sales and marketing of food for consumers, especially children. It also highlighted the need for action within the private sector, given the sector’s important role in the food system and its value chains for achieving healthy diets.
Israel: ‘Halt and reverse’ new settlement construction
Israel’s decision to advance plans for some 800 new settlement units, most of which are located deep inside the occupied West Bank, has sparked the concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In a statement issued on Monday by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief urged the Israeli Government to “halt and reverse such decisions”, calling them “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.
‘No legal validity’
Mr. Guterres reiterated that Israel’s establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.
“Settlement expansion increases the risk of confrontation, further undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines”, he said.
Israel has given the green light to 780 new homes in West Bank settlements on Sunday in a move widely seen as being influenced by the imminent transfer of power in the United States.
Breaking with decades of US diplomacy, outgoing President Donald Trump, in 2019 unilaterally declared that the settlements no longer breached international law.
Against that backdrop, Israel has been increasing construction and either approved or made plans for more than 12,000 homes in 2020, according to news reports.
Spectre of unrest, violent repression looming over Haiti
Increasing political tensions in Haiti coupled with insecurity and structural inequalities could result in protests followed by violent crackdowns by authorities, the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) warned on Tuesday.
According to the office, criminal activities, such as kidnappings, gang fights and widespread insecurity have increased, with “almost total” impunity.
Added to the volatile mix is resurging political tensions over the timing and scope of elections and a constitutional referendum proposed by the Government, OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado told journalists at a regular briefing in Geneva.
“Calls for mass protests have been growing. This in turn raises concerns of renewed human rights violations by security forces during the policing of protests as seen during the months-long protests in 2018 and 2019, as well as during demonstrations in October and November of last year.”
According to an OHCHR report on the unrest, protests started relatively peacefully in July 2018 but became increasingly violent over time, with many violations and abuses of the rights to life, security of the person and effective remedy.
‘Pattern of violations’
The report also documented violations to the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. In 2019 demonstrations, barricades were set up that blocked people’s access to hospitals and passage of ambulances. Health facilities were also attacked, severely impacting the daily lives of the Haitian people, particularly those in a vulnerable situation.
In addition, protesters and criminal elements imposed “passage fees”, further impeding the movement of people and goods and exacerbating economic hardship.
“The report shows a pattern of human rights violations and abuses followed by near lack of accountability,” Ms. Hurtado said.
The OHCHR spokesperson called on Haitian authorities to take “immediate action” to avoid repetition of such violations and abuses by ensuring that law enforcement officers abide by international norms and standards regarding the use of force when dealing with protests; as well as ensuring that gangs do not interfere with people’s right to demonstrate peacefully.
She also urged the Government to guarantee accountability for past violations and abuses, ensuring justice, truth, and reparations. Alongside, Haiti should take steps to address people’s grievances and the root causes that fuelled the protests, she added.
“OHCHR stands ready to continue supporting State authorities in their fulfilment of human rights international obligations [and] expresses its willingness to continue working towards the establishment of a country office,” Ms. Hurtado said, welcoming commitments made by the Haitian National Police to reform practices documented in the report.
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