Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

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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U.S. condemns eviction of Arab families from East Jerusalem

August 3, 2009

By Nir Hasson and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent | Haaretz/Israel, Aug. 3, 2009

The United States and the United Nations sharply condemned the eviction of two Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and their replacement with Jewish families on Sunday.

Diplomats from the U.S. Embassy sent a protest letter to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, stressing the move went against the spirit of the road map. The diplomats said a high-level protest will be communicated to Israel later on Monday.

A large force of several hundred police officers evicted the two families from their homes in the early Sunday morning. Hours later the families’ possessions were cleared from the homes and two Jewish families moved in.

The eviction came at the end of a long legal process. The families, Hannun and Gawi, say they are refugees from Palestinian neighborhoods in West Jerusalem who lost their homes in the War of Independence.

They were housed by the UN and the Jordanian authorities in East Jerusalem homes that previously belonged to a Sephardic community committee. Israeli courts acknowledged the committee’s ownership of the houses, but provided a protected tenant status for the residents.

However, the committee, which supports the Jewish families’ bid for the homes, had since claimed that the Palestinian families violated the agreement and demanded their eviction. Several families have been evicted over the years, the last – before Sunday – in November 2008. That family’s protest tent was demolished during Sunday’s eviction.

“They blew up the doors with small charges, walked in, and dragged us out like sacks,” said Nasser Gawi. “We are 38 people in the family. Now the skies are our blanket and the earth is our bed.”

His neighbor, Majhad Ganun, who was evicted with 16 members of his family, said the police came at 5 A.M.

“We were dragged out of our beds, and told to wait outside. They brought a truck and loaded everything we had on it. They took it somewhere, and didn’t tell us where. I’m going to sleep on the pavement, we have no place to go.”

Some of the Israeli and foreign activists who were staying with the families before the eviction were detained and released after a few hours.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said UN staff later saw vehicles bringing Jewish families to live in the homes.

Robert Serry, the United Nations envoy to the Middle East, criticized the eviction of the Palestinian families, saying “Israel’s actions are unacceptable.”

“I deplore today’s totally unacceptable actions by Israel, in which Israeli security forces evicted Palestinian refugee families registered with UNRWA from their homes in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to allow settlers to take possession of these properties,” Serry said in a statement. “These actions are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory. They also contravene the united calls of the international community, including the Quartet’s, which in its recent statement urged the Government of Israel to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including house demolitions and evictions. The UN rejects Israeli claims that this is a local matter dealt with by the courts.” Serry added the move undermined efforts at reaching a peace deal.

The British consulate also issued a statement condemning the move, saying that the evacuation and other such moves come in contrast to Israel’s declarations regarding its desire to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The British statement also called on Israel not to allow extremists to control the government’s agenda.

The eviction was also slammed by the Jerusalem organization Ir Amim.

“Israel must consider the future implications of the move, which allows Jews to claim rights over property dating back to before 1948, but prevents the execution of the same rights by Palestinian residents. A re-opening of all ownership cases by Palestinians and Jews in Jerusalem could place Israel in an impossible situation in the city,” a statement from Ir Amim said.

U.N. Asked to Probe CIA Rendition

June 27, 2009

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Jun 26 (IPS) – Human rights groups are asking United Nations officials to investigate the case of an Italian citizen and victim of the “extraordinary rendition” programme of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency who is currently being held in a Moroccan prison based on a confession coerced from him through torture.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Geneva-based Alkarama for Human Rights have requested that two U.N. Special Rapporteurs investigate the circumstances of Abou Elkassim Britel’s forced disappearance, rendition, detention and torture, and raise his case with the governments of the United States, Morocco, Pakistan and Italy.

The requests were made to the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Torture and the on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism.

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Israel scuppers UN war crimes probe

June 10, 2009

Morning Star Online, Tuesday 09 June 2009

Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, most of them civilians

Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, most of them civilians

The UN war crimes probe into Israel’s assault on Gaza is likely to be scuppered by Tel Aviv’s refusal to co-operate, the chief investigator has admitted.

Judge Richard Goldstone (pictured), who led a UN fact-finding team to Israel and Gaza, said the investigation was unlikely to lead to prosecutions.

Israel has refused to co-operate, depriving Mr Goldstone’s team of access to military sources.

The chief barrier remains the lack of a court with clear jurisdiction to hear any resulting cases stemming from the investigation into Israel’s bloody three-week onslaught on Gaza which ended in January.

And Hamas security often accompanied his team during last week’s trip to Gaza, raising questions about witnesses’ ability to testify freely, Mr Goldstone said.

“From a practical political point of view, I wish I could be optimistic,” he said.

Nevertheless, he hoped that his group’s report, due in September, will spur action by other UN bodies and foreign governments.

Mr Goldstone, a South African judge involved in the war crimes trials regarding the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and who was involved in the settlement to end apartheid, refused to comment on the investigation’s content.

But Gazans who had spoken to the team revealed some of their accusations.

Majed Hajjaj said that he had watched Israeli soldiers shoot his mother and sister dead as they fled their home waving white flags.

But he said: “The committee was just like all the others who have come. There are lots of reports written but they’re nothing more than ink on paper.”

The UN team also visited a mosque which witnesses said had been hit by an Israeli missile, killing 16.

Palestinian human rights groups say that more than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the Israeli assault, most of them civilians.

Thirteen Israelis were killed, three of them civilians.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel had made a “clear decision” not to co-operate with Mr Goldstone’s team, alleging anti-Israeli bias by the probe’s sponsor the UN Human Rights Council.

Tel Aviv’s stance meant that Mr Goldstone – who is Jewish and has close ties to Israel – had to enter Gaza via Egypt.

British newspapers expose cold-blooded killing of LTTE leaders in Sri Lanka

June 3, 2009
By Robert Stevens |, 3 June 2009

The British press last week revealed that senior leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were in negotiations with British and American diplomats to surrender, immediately prior to their killing by the Sri Lankan army on May 18. Also involved in the talks was the United Nations secretary general’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar.

The Guardian and the Sunday Times both published reports stating that Balasingham Nadesan, the leader of the LTTE’s political wing, and Seevaratnam Puleedevan, the head of its peace secretariat, held talks with Nambiar through a series of intermediaries, including a journalist and a delegation of British diplomats.

The Guardian states that the LTTE leaders also made further contact with Norwegian Environment and Development Cooperation Minister Erik Solheim prior to their deaths. Solheim had been involved as a special envoy in attempts to broker a peace agreement following the 2002 ceasefire in Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war.

The Sunday Times article by journalist Marie Colvin was headlined, “Tigers begged me to broker surrender.” She explained how the initial contact between the LTTE, British and United States officials, and the United Nations had been facilitated through her.

Colvin has covered the civil war in Sri Lanka since being “smuggled into territory eight years ago” in order “to investigate reports that the government was blocking food and medical supplies to half a million Tamils.” She had met and came to know Nadesan and Puleedevan since that time.

The Guardian details how the two leaders of the LTTE attempted to agree to a last minute deal with the Sri Lankan government just hours before they were killed by the army in the early hours of May 18—while in the process of surrendering.

A British official states that UK involvement was “at most indirect”, but the article includes a quote from Nambiar saying that he had had “direct contact” with British diplomats in New York and also with an unnamed British minister. Nambiar added, “There was a ministerial demarche [a formal diplomatic representation] to the secretary general from the UK office in New York.”

Nambiar passed on the information obtained by the Times journalist regarding the proposal of Nadesan and Puleedevan to surrender to the Sri Lankan government. He says that he also spoke to Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona about the proposal.

The government had no intention of brokering a ceasefire or allowing any surrender by the LTTE leadership. Nambiar told the Guardian, “The Sri Lankan government did not say that they would accept the surrender. They said it may be too late.”

After being contacted by the LTTE regarding the surrender, Solheim “then contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Sri Lankan government”.

A text message was then sent from Kohona to the Red Cross, which read, “Just walk across to the troops, slowly! With a white flag and comply with instructions carefully. The soldiers are nervous about suicide bombers.”

In Colvin’s Times article she described the harrowing conditions facing the LTTE fighters as they were cornered into a tiny strip of jungle and a beach area during the final army offensive: “Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were trapped with them, hiding in hand-dug trenches, enduring near constant bombardment.”

“For several days I had been the intermediary between the Tiger leadership and the United Nations as the army pressed in on the last enclave at the end of a successful military campaign to defeat the rebellion,” she writes. “Nadesan had asked me to relay three points to the UN: they would lay down their arms, they wanted a guarantee of safety from the Americans or British, and they wanted an assurance that the Sri Lankan government would agree to a political process that would guarantee the rights of the Tamil minority.

“Through highly placed British and American officials I had established contact with the UN special envoy in Colombo, Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff to Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general. I had passed on the Tigers’ conditions for surrender, which he had said he would relay to the Sri Lankan government.”

Colvin corroborates the Guardian’s report. She states that in conversation with Nambiar during the morning of May 18, he told her that he had been told by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse that the two leaders would be able to surrender by hoisting “a white flag high”.

Colvin stated, “Once more, the UN 24-hour control centre in New York patched me through to Nambiar in Colombo, where it was 5.30 a.m. on Monday. I woke him up.

“I told him the Tigers had laid down their arms. He said he had been assured by Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan president, that Nadesan and Puleedevan would be safe in surrendering. All they had to do was ‘hoist a white flag high,’ he said.”

Shortly after this Colvin lost contact with Nadesan’s satellite phone and spoke to an LTTE contact in South Africa, to whom she relayed the instructions to hoist the white flag.

Colvin reports, “A Tamil who was in a group that managed to escape the killing zone described what happened. This source, who later spoke to an aid worker, said Nadesan and Puleedevan walked towards Sri Lankan army lines with a white flag in a group of about a dozen men and women. He said the army started firing machineguns at them. Nadesan’s wife, a Sinhalese, yelled in Sinhala at the soldiers, ‘He is trying to surrender and you are shooting him.’ She was also shot down.”

The incident underscores the ruthlessness with which the Sri Lankan government and army slaughtered the LTTE leadership on the morning of May 18. Virtually all of the top LTTE leaders, including LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran, died in circumstances that have not been adequately explained. The Sri Lankan government claimed that Prabhakaran was killed in a gun battle trying to flee, but he may well have met the same fate as Nadesan and Puleedevan.

Certainly the army pursued the destruction of the last pocket of LTTE resistance with criminal indifference to the consequences of nearly a quarter of a million Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone. While Rajapakse’s government denies responsibility for any civilian deaths, the latest reports based on leaked UN estimates put the death toll at more than 20,000 since January.

Amnesty presses UN on Sri Lanka casualty figures

June 1, 2009
Morning Star Online, Sunday 31 May 2009

Amnesty is urging the United Nations to publicise its estimate of civilian deaths in the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war, amid mounting speculation over the true toll.

The NGO said that it has received “consistent testimony” that both government troops and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam fighters had killed thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone.

It called for an independent international investigation to uncover the truth.

The group did not say who had testified to the alleged abuses.

The UN said that 7,000 civilians had been killed and 16,700 wounded between January 20 and May 7.

However, these estimates, circulated among diplomats, were not released publicly.

Amnesty cited an investigation published on Friday in a British newspaper, which claimed that 20,000 civilians had been killed in the final phase of the war.

The report cited unnamed UN sources.

But the world body denied that the figure had come from the UN and said that the exact death toll may never be known because there were no independent observers on the ground.

UN chief knew Tamil civilian toll had reached 20,000

May 30, 2009

The Times/UK, May 30, 2009

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

The top aide to the United Nations Secretary-General was told more than a week ago that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the Sri Lankan Government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month, The Times can reveal.

UN officials told Vijar Nambiar, Ban Ki Moon’s chief of staff, that their figures indicated a likely final death toll of more than 20,000, during a briefing in preparation for Mr Ban’s visit to the region on May 23.

Two staff present at the meeting confirmed the exchange to The Times but Mr Ban never mentioned the death toll during his tour of the battleground, which he described as the “most appalling scene” he had witnessed in his long international career.

The casualty figure, revealed by The Times yesterday, triggered an international furore, with the Sri Lankan authorities denying the report and human rights groups demanding an investigation into possible war crimes.

Lakshman Hulugalle, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said: “These figures are way out . . . What we think is that these images are also fake. We totally deny the allegation that 20,000 people were killed.”

But, internationally, calls have been growing for an independent war crimes investigations on both sides and for access by humanitarian groups to the war zone and the 270,000 Tamil civilians who are still being detained.

Amnesty International called on the UN to release the estimated figures to help to push for a war crimes inquiry. “The Timess investigation underscores the need for investigation and the UN should do everything it can to determine the truth about the ‘bloodbath’ that occurred in northeast Sri Lanka,” Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said.

“The Human Rights Council’s decision not to call for specific measures to protect Sri Lankans made a mockery of the council, but it does not mean the end of the international community’s responsibility to respond to this continuing crisis,” Mr Zarifi said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross made a rare public plea yesterday for access to the no-fire zone and internment camps in the region. “We haven’t been able to access the areas where most of these people would have fled from since the ending of the most recent fighting,” Florian Westphal, the Red Cross spokesman, told a briefing in Geneva.

The figure of 20,000 casualties was given to The Times by UN sources, who explained in detail how they arrived at that calculation.

Before this month’s bombardment made the recording of each individual death impossible, the figures had been collated from deaths reported by priests and doctors and added to a count of the bodies brought to medical points.

Of the total, the bodies collected accounted for only a fifth of all reported deaths. After the bombing intensified this month, the only numbers available were by a count of the bodies. The 20,000 figure is an extrapolation based on the actual body count.

The 20,000 figure has also been obtained by Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, which quoted UN sources as saying that the figure had not been made public to avoid a diplomatic storm. The figure of 7,000 deaths until the end of April, which was based on individually documented deaths and not estimates, was leaked by UN sources in Sri Lanka this month after internal anger over the secrecy surrounding them. UN satellite images documenting the bombing of medical facilities were also leaked from New York.

The UN Humanitarian Co-ordination Office said yesterday that the figures cited by The Times were based on “well-informed estimates” given in private briefings to member states to underscore its concern — including Britain and the United States.

“You have seen the figures that are mentioned. Obviously, what we have are well-informed estimates and not precise, verifiable numbers,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the humanitarian co-ordination office. “The point is the UN has not been shy about the scale of human suffering and civilian casualties. It has been ringing the alarm bells for a long time.”

UN praise for Sri Lanka criticised

May 29, 2009

The United Nations was today accused by human rights groups of failing to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for alleged abuses against civilians ­during the suppression of the Tamil Tiger insurgency.

The accusations followed a resolution in the UN human rights council welcoming the Sri Lankan government victory, with no reference to human rights concerns over civilian casualties and the 300,000 Tamils made homeless, many of whom are interned in government camps.

But criticism was also aimed at the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who ­visited the biggest camp over the weekend and complimented the Sri Lankan government on its humanitarian role, and the security council for not speaking out officially about the human cost of the military victory.

“The human rights council performed abysmally,” said Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s there to monitor human rights and the laws of war, and it completely failed – and failed to register any concern over the situation.”

The Sri Lankan government took the unusual step of submitting its own resolution to a council session in Geneva convened to examine its conduct in the conflict. Colombo won substantial support from friendly governments, derailing an attempt to launch an inquiry into war crimes allegations.

“It was a deplorable result, a self-congratulatory resolution that Sri Lanka imposed on the council,” said Peter ­Splinter, Amnesty International’s representative in Geneva.

Sen Kandiah, a Tamil community leader in Britain, said: “The Tamil diaspora feel the system is not working. We feel justice is not going to be done.”

The Geneva resolution hailed “the liberation by the government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] against their will as hostages”. It won 29 votes, with six abstentions. Britain’s was one of 12 votes against it. A European diplomat admitted that if EU states had been more organised they might have put forward a more critical resolution that could have been accepted by the council.

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, todaysaid the government had been able to defeat countries that were “trying to undermine Sri Lanka’s efforts in countering terrorism”.

Colombo was also buoyed by the remarks of Ban Ki-moon after his visit to Menik Farm internment camp, noting the government’s “tremendous efforts”. The comments infuriated aid workers. “It seems to me Ban … didn’t raise the really hard questions about human rights,” Porteous said.

UN urges Sri Lanka war crime probe

May 27, 2009
Al Jazeera, May 26, 2009

Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war has left thousands dead and forced many to flee their homes [AFP]

The United Nations human rights chief has called for an independent investigation into whether war crimes were committed in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there was reason to believe that the government and the Tamil Tigers had “grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians”.

“Establishing the facts is crucial to set the record straight regarding the conduct of all parties in the conflict,”  Pillay told a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

She said thousands of civilians had been killed or injured in fighting between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since December.

In a video message to the council, Pillay reiterated concern over allegations that Tamil rebels prevented civilians from fleeing the combat zone and used them as human shields.

She also highlighted reports that the government fired heavy artillery on the densely populated area, and claims that the army may have killed rebels who were trying to surrender.

‘Outrageous suggestion’

Pillay said ensuring accountability for abuses committed would be important for the nation’s reconciliation.

But Dayan Jayatilleka, the Sri Lankan ambassador, said it was “outrageous” to suggest the government be investigated.

Pillay’s comments come as the UN Human Rights Council tries to reach consensus on their approach to the aftermath of the conflict, with two separate draft resolutions tabled for UN special session.

On one side, a Western-led group is demanding unrestricted access to around 300,000 Tamil civilians said to be forcibly held in government-run camps, and also calls for an inquiry into allegations of war crimes.

The other resolution, backed by Sri Lanka and its allies, praises its government for liberating Tamil civilians and its humane treatment of those displaced.

Sri Lanka declared total victory over the LTTE a week ago after killing their leaders.

The UN estimates that up to 100,000 people died during the 26-year conflict, including at least 7,000 civilians killed since the beginning of the year.

Sri Lanka faces ‘unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe’

May 16, 2009

May 16, 2009

Civilians who managed to escape from the last remaining Tamil rebel-held patch of coastline in the northeastern district of Mullaittivu

(HO/AFP/Getty Images)

The war has been fought for 26 years

Image :1 of 2

Thousands of civilians were trapped last night as Asia’s longest-running civil war neared its endgame amid scenes of “unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe”.

Trapped in trenches, with little food and water, up to 50,000 ethnic Tamils are pinned in a tiny pocket of land between the final advance of the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tiger rebels facing imminent defeat.

A government doctor in the area said hundreds of wounded civilians, many of them dying from their injuries, had crowded into a makeshift hospital that he was forced to abandon two days ago because of shelling. “They are dying without proper treatment,” said Thurairajah Varatharajah. “Dead bodies are all lying on the floor. We are unable to bury or clear them. It is a very pathetic situation.”

He said: “We are in fear not just for my life, but for all the civilians and patients and staff. Here there is no food, no water, nothing.”

Thileepan Parthipan, a spokesman for the Tigers, said: “People are dying every minute. The situation is critical.”

The final push to end the Indian Ocean island’s 26-year civil war comes in defiance of repeated appeals for a ceasefire from most Western governments. About 7,000 civilians have been killed since late January, according to the United Nations, which has called for an independent war crimes inquiry to examine the behaviour of both sides.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only neutral organisation working in the conflict area, said its staff were “witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe”.

The army said 10,000 desperate civilians fled the area yesterday. They risked being shot by both sides, but in the past few days have paddled across a lagoon on rubber tyres, or waded through its chest high waters to the relative safety of army lines.