Posts Tagged ‘Navi Pillay’

UN rights chief says torturers will face justice

June 26, 2010
Yahoo! News, June 26, 2010

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, pictured in April 2010, on Friday warned torturers that they could not escape justice even if they might benefit from short term impunity.

GENEVA (AFP) – – UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Friday warned torturers that they could not escape justice even if they might benefit from short term impunity.

“Torturers, and their superiors, need to hear the following message loud and clear: however powerful you are today, there is a strong chance that sooner or later you will be held to account for your inhumanity,” Pillay said.

“Torture is an extremely serious crime, and in certain circumstances can amount to a war crime, a crime against humanity or genocide,” she added in a statement to mark Saturday’s International Day for the Victims of Torture.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights urged governments, the United Nations and campaign groups “to ensure that this message is backed by firm action.”

“No one suspected of committing torture can benefit from an amnesty. That is a basic principle of international justice and a vital one,” Pillay added.

“I am concerned, however, that some states rigidly maintain amnesties that save torturers from being brought to justice, even though the regimes that employed them are long gone.

“As a result there are a number of well-established democracies that generally abide by the rule of law, and are proud to do so, which are in effect protecting torturers and denying justice,” said Pillay.

That often, as a result, denied their victims reparations.

The UN human rights chief noted that more people were being prosecuted for torture every year, including recent prosecutions in Chile and Argentina for cases dating back to the 1970s and 1980s.

She also highlighted the looming verdict in Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal on former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as ‘Duch’ which is due on July 26.

“There is one aspect of all this that should cause even the most ruthless and self-confident torturers to stop and think: in time, all regimes change, including the most entrenched and despotic.

“So even those who think their immunity from justice is ironclad can — and I hope increasingly will– eventually find themselves in court,” Pillay added.

UN rights chief says China failing to protect Tibetan, Uighur rights

September 17, 2009, Sep17, 2009

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, has cited “discrimination and the failure to protect minority rights” among the factors that had led to the recent violent events in Chinese ruled Eastern Turkestan and Tibet. Pillay made the comment in an “update report” to the 12th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Geneva, on Sep 15 morning. She called lack of democracy a major factor contributing to rights violations.

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UN: Israel had ‘impunity’ in Gaza

August 15, 2009
Al Jazeera, Aug 15, 2009

The report said that Israel’s military justice system did not meet international standards [AFP]

The senior human rights official at the United Nations has said that the Israeli military acted with “near impunity” during its late-December to mid-January offensive on the Gaza Strip, violating international law.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a report on Friday that evidence collected on the Gaza war had pointed to human rights abuses by Israel.

She said that a grave humanitarian situation in Gaza before the Israeli invasion was exacerbated by Operation Cast Lead, a military campaign that had the stated aim of preventing Palestinian rocket squads from firing missiles into Israel.

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Afghan War Spreads to Residential Areas: UN Report

August 1, 2009
by Laura MacInnis,  Reuters, July 31, 2009

GENEVA – The Afghan battlefield is spreading into residential areas where more people are being killed by air strikes, car bombs and suicide attacks, according to a U.N. report published on Friday.

[File photo shows a British soldier talking with Afghan children during a patrol on the outskirts of Kabul. (AFP/File/Shah Marai)]File photo shows a British soldier talking with Afghan children during a patrol on the outskirts of Kabul. (AFP/File/Shah Marai)

The U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan said that 1,013 civilians were killed on the sidelines of their country’s armed conflict from January to the end of June, compared to 818 in the first half of 2008 and 684 in the same period in 2007.

Commenting on the report, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said it was critical that steps be taken to shield Afghan communities from fighting.

“All parties involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians, and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims,” the South African said.

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Gaza Killings Trigger Call for War Crimes Probe

January 14, 2009

By Thalif Deen | Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 13 (IPS) – With hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, killed during nearly three weeks of fighting in Gaza, there is a growing demand either for an international tribunal or an international commission to investigate charges of war crimes committed by Israel.

But there are fears that any such move may be shot down by the United States, and possibly by other Western nations, which continue to politically temper their criticism of Israel despite violations of all the known international conventions protecting women, children, the wounded and the dying in war zones.

“On an inter-governmental level, the war crimes process is essentially subject to geopolitical control, which means in practice that the criminal wrongdoing of the most powerful [the U.S. government] and its closest friends [Israel] get a free pass,” Richard Falk, a professor of international law and a U.N. human rights expert, told IPS.

Despite widespread condemnation, this practice of “geopolitical impunity” is likely to shield Israel from formal scrutiny with respect to the alleged crimes of war and crimes against humanity associated with its military operations in Gaza since Dec. 27, he added.

Falk, who is the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, was detained and expelled from an airport in Tel Aviv last month when he was on a U.N.-mandated assignment to probe human rights in the occupied territories.

As of Tuesday, the Palestinian death toll had risen to more than 900, mostly civilians, compared with over 10 Israelis, including those killed by Hamas’s rocket fire.

The London-based Amnesty International has asked the Security Council “to take firm action to ensure full accountability for war crimes and other serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a special session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva that accountability must be ensured for violations of international law.

“I remind this Council that violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked,” she said.

At the special session Monday, the HRC adopted a resolution calling for an “urgent independent international fact-finding mission” to investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel.

Asked specifically about charges of “war crimes” in Gaza, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon refused to express his view on the unbridled killings of civilians.

“That’s something which the International Criminal Court (ICC) or other international organisations will have to determine,” he told reporters Monday, on the eve of his weeklong peace mission to the Middle East.

But the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which is calling for an international commission of investigation, points out that Israel has not ratified the statute of the ICC.

“Activating the ICC jurisdiction for these crimes implies for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC,” in order for the ICC prosecutor to initiate an investigation, FIDH said in a letter to the 15-member U.N. body.

But any such Security Council action will most likely be vetoed by the United States, a longstanding ally of Israel.

Besides the ICC, which was established in 2003, there have been special criminal tribunals or special courts created to prosecute war crimes or genocide in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Cambodia and East Timor.

“There certainly should be a tribunal,” Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS.

While it would look at war crimes committed by all parties, Hamas’s actions pale in comparison to the murders committed by Israel, he said.

“The continued impunity of Israel for crimes it has committed encourages it in perpetrating gross violations of humanitarian law,” said Ratner, who is also adjunct professor law at Columbia University.

“A tribunal is essential, [but] the United States will likely veto such a Security Counsel resolution. By doing so, it is enabling and condoning war crimes,” he warned.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, said: “A strong case can be made for an investigation into war crimes committed by Israeli armed forces.”

Since the Gaza Strip is legally a non-self-governing territory, the United Nations has a particular responsibility to ensure that those guilty of war crimes are prosecuted, he added.

“Such prosecution, however, would be more appropriate if pursued through the International Criminal Court, which did not exist at the time special tribunals were set up for Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Rwanda,” Zunes told IPS.

By pursuing cases through the ICC rather than a special tribunal, it would lessen the likelihood of charges that the United Nations was once again unfairly singling out Israel for violations of international humanitarian law, he added.

Falk said “the most that we can expect are fact-finding and investigative missions” established by the Human Rights Council in Geneva (as proposed in its Special Session) and by the General Assembly (as an outcome of an upcoming Ninth Special Session).

“I think these symbolic steps are important, and they will undoubtedly be opposed by the United States and Israel, and Israel will in all likelihood not allow such initiatives to enter Gaza,” he said.

This will confirm concealment, a virtual admission of guilt, and will still enable authoritative reports and recommendations for a criminal accountability mechanism to be established, which the General Assembly has the authority to do under Article 22 of the U.N. Charter, Falk said.

There are some other possibilities for establishing legal responsibility and criminal accountability, especially well-organised civil society initiatives.

He pointed out that one model would be the tribunal process associated with the Iraq War, with sessions in some 20 countries, and a culminating Iraq War Tribunal held in Istanbul, Turkey in June 2005.

“There exists the political climate to organise such a tribunal process for Gaza, and it will have worldwide resonance.”

In the course of such a democratically conceived grassroots tribunal process, there would also be an opportunity to consider the implications of the U.S. role in providing vast military assistance and unconditional diplomatic support to Israel, as well as to consider the relative passivity of Europe, Arab neighbours, and others, he added.

UN Rights Council Condemns Israeli Offensive in Gaza

January 13, 2009

GENEVA – A divided UN Human Rights Council voted on Monday to condemn Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip and set up a probe into “grave” human rights violations by Israeli forces against the Palestinians.

[United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) employees hold a U.N. flag stained with red paint during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron against Israel's offensive in Gaza January 12, 2009. (Reuters/Nayef Hashlamoun/West Bank)]United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) employees hold a U.N. flag stained with red paint during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron against Israel’s offensive in Gaza January 12, 2009. (Reuters/Nayef Hashlamoun/West Bank)

The resolution setting up a fact-finding mission was adopted despite the lack of Western support.Thirty-three African, Asian, Arab and Latin American countries voted for the resolution. Thirteen mainly European states abstained, while Canada was the only country to vote against.

The 47 member council — frequently critical of Israel in the past — normally seeks to adopt resolutions by consensus.

Western countries said the text put forward by Arab and African states was too biased and failed to clearly recognise the role that rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants played in triggering the offensive.

Last minute changes failed to overcome the differences after the special session on the violence in the Gaza Strip spilled into a second day.

The European Union’s representative said the EU could have supported some elements, but found the text too one-sided despite its concern about human rights violations in Gaza.

Israel also dismissed the resolution as biased and cast doubt on the Council’s credibility. The United States is not on the Council and steers clear of it.

The text released by the UN Council “strongly” condemned the Israeli military operation in Gaza, saying it had “resulted in massive violations” of the human rights of Palestinians.

With the toll surpassing 900, including nearly 400 women and children, according to Gaza medics, it called for “urgent international action” to halt “grave human rights violations by Israel”.

The draft resolution also called for an end to rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.

But the key contents were four overlapping probes targeting Israel.

The resolution tasked 10 UN experts on human rights and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay with two separate probes into the violence.

It also set up an independent, international fact-finding mission to “investigate all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by Israel”, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was asked to investigate the bombing of UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip.

During the first day of the session on Friday, Pillay had warned that human rights violations in Gaza were extremely serious and some attacks that hit civilians and relief workers might warrant prosecutions for war crimes.

“Credible, independent and transparent” investigations were a first step towards ensuring accountability, she added on Friday, warning that “violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked.”

Julie de Rivero of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said lack of consensus and the resolution’s focus on Israel “undermined its credibility.”

Israel has refused to cooperate with similar fact-finding missions in the past, as well as a UN special rapporteur on the human rights of the Palestinians, complaining of bias because they fail to consider attacks on Israelis as well.

Israeli authorities last month detained and turned back the UN expert, Richard Falk, upon his arrival at Ben Gurion airport, accusing him of “legitimising Hamas terrorism.”

© 2009 AFP

UN human rights chief accuses Israel of war crimes

January 10, 2009

Official calls for investigation into Zeitoun shelling that killed up to 30 in one house as Israelis dismiss ‘unworkable’ ceasefire

The United Nations‘ most senior human rights official said last night that the Israeli military may have committed war crimes in Gaza. The warning came as Israeli troops pressed on with the deadly offensive in defiance of a UN security council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for “credible, independent and transparent” investigations into possible violations of humanitarian law, and singled out an incident this week in Zeitoun, south-east of Gaza City, where up to 30 Palestinians in one house were killed by Israeli shelling.

Pillay, a former international criminal court judge from South Africa, told the BBC the incident “appears to have all the elements of war crimes”.

The accusation came as Israel kept up its two-week-old air and ground offensive in Gaza and dismissed as “unworkable” the UN security council resolution which had called for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire”.

Protests against the offensive were held across the world yesterday just as diplomacy to halt the conflict appeared to falter.

With the Palestinian casualty toll rising to around 800 dead, including 265 children, and more than 3,000 injured, fresh evidence emerged yesterday of the killings in Zeitoun. It was “one of the gravest incidents” since Israel’s offensive began two weeks ago, the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs said yesterday.

“There is an international obligation on the part of soldiers in their position to protect civilians, not to kill civilians indiscriminately in the first place, and when they do, to make sure that they help the wounded,” Pillay told Reuters. “In this particular case these children were helpless and the soldiers were close by,” she added.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich, said the incident was still being examined. “We don’t warn people to go to other buildings, this is not something we do,” she said. “We don’t know this case, we don’t know that we attacked it.”

Despite the intense bombardment, militants in Gaza fired at least 30 rockets into southern Israel yesterday. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, told al-Jazeera TV: “This resolution doesn’t mean that the war is over. We call on Palestinian fighters to mobilise and be ready to face the offensive, and we urge the Arab masses to carry on with their angry protests.”

Israeli officials said they could not be expected to halt their military operation while the rockets continued and said they first wanted an end to the rocket fire and a “mechanism” to prevent Hamas rearming in future.

“The whole idea that Israel will unilaterally stop protecting our people when Hamas is sending rockets into our cities to kill our people is not a reasonable request of Israel,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for prime minister Ehud Olmert. Israel wanted security for its people in southern Israel, he said, and dismissed suggestions his military might seek to topple Hamas, saying they were “not in the regime-change business”.

Israeli public opinion still strongly favours the war. One poll of Jewish Israelis yesterday, by the War and Peace Index, said 90% of the population supported continuing the operation until Israel achieved all its goals.

Olmert held a meeting of his security cabinet, and on the agenda was discussion about whether to intensify the offensive by launching a fresh stage of attacks in which Israeli troops would invade the major urban areas of Gaza as more reservists were called up. There was no word on the outcome.

So far 13 Israelis have been killed in this conflict, of whom three were civilians.

Another 23 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military yesterday. Seven from one family, including an infant, died when Israeli jets bombed a five-storey building in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza. There was heavy aerial bombing and artillery fire across the territory.

More than 20,000 Gazans have fled their homes in the north of the strip and thousands more in the south. In some cases Israeli troops have told them to leave, or dropped leaflets warning them to evacuate their homes. Some are even dividing their families between different addresses for fear of losing them all in a single air strike.

“Many people are leaving their homes and moving to the centre of the cities,” said Abdel Karim Ashour, 53, who works with a local aid agency, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee. He, his wife and their four children fled their house on the coastal road in northern Gaza on the third day of the conflict. He sent the four children to stay with his brother while he and his wife are staying at a friend’s house. “We were in an area of heavy shelling, so we left and I divided the family to try to reduce the victims if we face any trouble. We try and keep in touch by telephone but there are problems with the network,” he said. “We’re just hoping for a ceasefire. If the fighting goes on there will be more victims.”

RIGHTS: Politics Still Reign Over Principles at U.N.

December 11, 2008

By Thalif Deen | Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 10 (IPS) – The United Nations Wednesday commemorated the 60th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) against the backdrop of widespread political repression — most notably in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma (Myanmar), Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Israeli-occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza.

But a sharply divided Security Council has remained politically impotent against continued atrocities worldwide, in violation of humanitarian law and international conventions, including the UDHR.

Andrew Hudson, a senior associate with the Human Rights Defenders Programme at Human Rights First, singled out U.N. member states, primarily Security Council members, “who have frequently failed to prevent or address gross violations of the UDHR.”

The United Nations, he said, should redouble its efforts to demonstrate that the human rights contained in the UDHR are universal and allow for translation into specific local contexts.

“The new Universal Periodic Review mechanism at the Human Rights Council demonstrates that the UDHR applies universally to all states,” he stressed.

The U.N. human rights system should engage in objective, impartial and universal evaluation of the human rights records of all states, Hudson told IPS.

More recently, at a political level, the Security Council has remained deadlocked because of the partisan role of the five veto-wielding permanent members.

The United States, France and Britain have continued to protect Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan while Russia and China continue to shield Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma (Myanmar) against any strictures or sanctions for human rights violations.

Article 1 of the UDHR, which was adopted by the General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948, states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

But in reality human rights abuses are increasingly becoming the norm in most developing nations. And in developed countries, including the United States and Britain, violations are being justified in the name of fighting terrorism.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the UDHR on Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “We see human trafficking, the exploitation of children, and a host of other ills plaguing millions of people,” he added.

The “host of other ills”, according to human rights organisations, includes torture, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention, surveillance, defamation and administrative and judicial harassment. The victims also include journalists and human rights defenders.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters that tens of millions of people around the world are still unaware that they have rights that they can demand, and that their governments are accountable to them, to a wide-ranging body of rights-based national and international law.

“Despite all our efforts over the past 60 years, this anniversary will pass many people by, and it is essential that we keep up the momentum, thereby enabling more and more people to stand up and claim their rights,” she added.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the San Francisco-based Oakland Institute, pointed out the failure of nation states and governments in fulfilling their obligation to ensure human rights for all.

For instance, she said, in the United States, where homelessness, hunger and poverty — particularly among children and seniors — abound, it is the failure of the government to fulfill its obligation to its people.

“The United Nations could have done more in terms of emphasising the relevance of human rights treaties, insisting on these treaties taking precedence over, say, trade agreements or other social economic policies that might conflict with human rights of people,” Mittal told IPS.

Asked where the United Nations has succeeded or failed in helping implement the UDHR, Julie Gromellon of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told IPS the objective of the founders of the U.N. to add a human dimension to international law through the UDHR has become a reality.

She said international law, and especially the UDHR, has become an important tool to promote respect for and observance of human rights.

The Universal Declaration has also served as a starting point for further standard-setting activities through eight core human rights conventions, whose implementation is monitored by so-called treaty bodies, a more advanced system of supervision.

In this framework, the United Nations has contributed to the recognition of the accountability of all states for compliance with their human rights obligations as laid down in the UDHR, she added.

But important lacunae need to be filled to implement the UDHR. States should be continuously urged by the U.N. to ratify all relevant international human rights treaties and to accept and implement the supervisory procedures.

In particular, they should be urged to ratify the relevant individual complaint procedures, Gromellon added.

She also said the crucial role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should be recognised by the U.N. “They have contributed in a most significant way to the development and enforcement of the international human rights system,” she noted.

And such organisations should also be given a consultative status with other organisations, including the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organisation.

Rob Wheeler of the World Alliance for Transforming the U.N. said the United Nations, in failing to ensure that all people’s rights are met, is actually violating several articles of its own founding Charter.

“We thus urge the United Nations to organise and hold a U.N. Charter Review Conference, under Article 109 of the Charter, in order to determine what can and must be done to ensure that the charter is upheld and that all people’s most basic human rights are indeed provided and met,” he said.

Unfortunately, he said, most of the provisions included in the Universal Declaration have still not been met even after 60 years — 830 million people still do not have enough food to eat, 1.1 billion lack access to clean water, 2.6 billion to basic sanitation, and 2.0 billion to essential drugs.

Hudson of Human Rights First said that the United Nations, especially the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has played a critical role in education, outreach and awareness-raising about the universality of the UDHR.

“However, U.N. member states fail to implement aspects of the UDHR by suggesting that human rights do not acknowledge cultural difference — a specious argument used to avoid human rights scrutiny,” Hudson told IPS.

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