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Children separated at border, suffering alarming and prolonged effects: UN rights experts

INTERNATIONAL, 19 October 2018, Human Rights - Separating children from their undocumented parents is a traumatic violation of their rights, UN independent experts said on Friday.

The group of experts said in a statement that the treatment of migrants as criminals, provokes intolerance and xenophobia, in addition to posing a danger to their well-being.

Criminalizing irregular migrants and addressing irregular migration through harsh border control measures “is disproportionate to migration governance, contributes to rising intolerance and xenophobia, and the social exclusion of migrants,” said Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers (CMW), Ahmadou Tall.

Ms. Renate Winter, who chairs the Committee of the Rights of the Child (CRC), elaborated on the repercussions for children who are separated from their parents, explaining there are “long-lasting effects” on their health.

She emphasized that for migrants, trauma and stress often begin in their countries of origin, and this is further exacerbated when governments inhumanely separate families.

Children are left vulnerable without their parents, risking exposure to gender-based violence and leaving young girls to fall prey to serious human rights violations, said Ms. Dalia Leinarte, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The experts called on UN Member States to fulfill the human rights of all persons, regardless of immigration status, expressing concern for those in detention who sometimes face violence, overcrowding, poor sanitary facilities and inadequate mental and physical care.

Ms. Winters added that the treatment of children should be based first and foremost on their identity, regardless of migration status or nationality.

States should fully cooperate to address the root causes of irregular migration, and work to make accessible, safe migration paths more available, the experts said.

They concluded that with the coming into force of the Global Compact on Migration, which seeks to investigate and address migration concerns, States will benefit from hearing the voices of migrants themselves to ensure their full respect and protection.

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Mali: UN Peacekeeping chief ‘extremely concerned’ over insecurity, regrets peace deal delays

INTERNATIONAL, 19 October 2018, Peace and Security - After commending the “overall peaceful” climate in which the Malian elections were held in July, the United Nations peacekeeping chief said on Friday that he is “extremely concerned” over the increasing number of attacks by armed insurgents, against a backdrop of continued delays in implementing the 2015 peace agreement.

Briefing the Security Council, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, noted recent positive developments, including the successful presidential vote, which highlighted the “political maturity of the Malian people as well as the commitment of the political leaders to the democratic process”.  

He regretted however the continued delays in getting interim authorities up and running, advancing the National Reconciliation Charter, implementing key institutional reforms – such as changes in the security sector or the constitution – and moving ahead with the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration process.

Conflict in northern Mali started in 2012, but the security situation remains volatile with an increased number of incidents in 2018, in particular in the central parts of the country. On Thursday again, five peacekeepers from Chad were injured during attacks, and MINUSMA has for many months now, been the most dangerous place in the world to serve as a ‘blue helmet’.

“I want to share with the Security Council that I am extremely concerned with the security situation,” said Mr. Lacroix, noting that July, August and September were the deadliest months since the peacekeeping operation, MINUSMA, was established in 2013. Close to 300 civilians died in targeted attacks.

In addition to limiting humanitarian access, violence has also worsened the living conditions of millions of women, children and men. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), about 5.2 million people – one in four Malians – are now estimated to be in dire need of assistance.

As the country prepares for parliamentary elections, Mr. Lacroix said this will be “a new test” to measure the “cohesion of political leaders and Malian society and an important step for the consolidation of democratic institutions.”

“I call on the Government and the opposition to engage in constructive political dialogue, based on inclusivity, keeping in mind the national interest,” he said, adding that he hopes these upcoming elections will provide an occasion to “build a more representative parliament by promoting candidacies of young people and women”.

He commended the composition of the new administration which, in line with Malian law, is composed of 30 per cent women.

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Sulawesi devastation ‘beyond imagination’ as massive aid operation continues: UN relief agencies

INTERNATIONAL, 19 October 2018, Humanitarian Aid - More emergency shelter supplies and relief for thousands of victims of Indonesia’s recent earthquake and tsunami is set to arrive on the island of Sulawesi in the coming days, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday, amid reports from staff that the devastation is “beyond imagination”.

Three weeks since disaster struck, it is estimated to have killed more than 2,000 people, displaced 80,000 and destroyed nearly 70,000 houses. At least 680 individuals remain unaccounted for, UNHCR says.

In addition to the tremors and tidal waves, huge landslides turned the ground into liquid mud which washed over large areas.

UNHCR airlifted a shipment of 1,400 emergency tents to Indonesia to meet the ongoing needs for survivors of last month's deadly earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi.​​​​​​​@UNHCR/Muhammad Assad

“Our staff described the effects of the earthquake and tsunami as ‘beyond imagination’ and ‘devastating’,” said Charlie Yaxley, spokesperson for UNHCR in Geneva. “Communities have seen their houses, schools and hospitals reduced to rubble. Entire villages have been decimated.”

Mr Yaxley confirmed that UNHCR had delivered 435 tents to the hub at Balikpapan airport, on the neighbouring island of Borneo earlier on Friday. The relief items were delivered to Indonesian authorities, which assisted with transferring them to Sulawesi.

Another 1,305 tents will be delivered to Balikpapan in “the next few days”, he added, noting that this initial consignment will provide “much-needed shelter” to around 6,500 of the most vulnerable.

Far more material and psychological assistance will be required, however, and additional emergency tents, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and solar lamps will be delivered in the coming weeks.

‘Strong resilience’ of survivors continues

“There remains a strong resilience, with people helping each other where they can and simply by sharing their stories,” Mr Yaxley said. “One woman said that she felt ‘lucky’ that she had only lost her father, and that her husband and son had survived.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) is also assisting with the relief effort after installing storage facilities at Palu airport in Sulawesi in early October.

Another 10 “mobile storage hubs” are being set up around Palu and Donggala “to ensure the smooth flow and distribution of aid to where it is needed”, WFP said in a statement.

“WFP is due to have 40 trucks in operation in and around Palu by 20 October,” said spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel. “These trucks will be available to all partners through a common services agreement for transporting and distributing aid.”

Palu in Central Sulawesi, is one of the worst-hit areas. Earlier this week, UNHCR staff went there to coordinate with local government and partners. In Petobo and Balaroa, “many people have not only lost their home, but even the land on which it once stood”, Mr Yaxley said.

In answer to a question about aid workers’ access to Sulawesi, the UNHCR spokesperson insisted that the Government of Indonesia and humanitarian workers had been working “tirelessly” as first responders in the affected areas.

“The Government is leading the response and they are coordinating that,” he said. “It’s Indonesian aid staff who are leading that as well. Our staff were on the ground earlier this week and they’ve had no issues with access to the affected areas.”

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UN deplores pre-election killings and attacks, urges Afghans to defy terror, and vote

INTERNATIONAL, 19 October 2018, Peace and Security - With just hours to go before Saturday’s parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, the UN has been expressing concern at the uptick in deadly political violence in the country, whilst encouraging Afghans to exercise their right to vote.

In a statement released on Friday, the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) called for the elections to be held in a safe and secure environment, at a time when Taliban extremists have indicated their intention to attack schools used as polling stations. UNAMA urged the militants not to threaten civilians or attack them simply for exercising their right to vote.

Responding to the killing of senior Afghan government officials in Kandahar on Thursday, for which the Taliban reportedly claimed responsibility, the Mission’s statement condemned the attack which has “contributed to a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity at a moment when many Afghan citizens were preparing to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives.”

Following the killings, voting in Kandahar will be postponed for one week.

UNAMA declared that schools, voters and civilians working in polling stations cannot be regarded as military targets, and that international humanitarian law “explicitly prohibits attacks against civilians and acts or threats of violence aimed at terrorizing the civilian population.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and the members of the Security Council added their own calls for Afghan voters to be protected from political violence.

Mr. Guterres said in a statement that, through the act of voting, Afghans will “contribute to the development of sustainable democratic institutions and creating conditions conducive for a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan,” and called on all political leaders to “work together to ensure full respect for the electoral process, in which every voter, in particular women and minority groups, will be able to cast their ballot.”

The Security Council statement also condemned “in the strongest terms” the Afghan attacks that have taken place over recent weeks, underscoring the importance of a secure voting environment, and emphasizing that “violence in any form, or the threat thereof, intended to disrupt the elections and democratic process in Afghanistan is unacceptable.”

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UN rights experts stand with businesses protesting Saudi journalist’s disappearance

INTERNATIONAL, 19 October 2018, Law and Crime Prevention - Independent UN human rights experts are praising business leaders who have decided to pull out of a high-level investment conference taking place next week in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, over concern for the fate of dissident Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

In a statement issued on Friday by the UN human rights office (OHCHR), Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Dante Pesce, said the decision by corporations and top executives to withdraw “underlines how companies can use their leverage to address human rights concerns.”

Among those who have reportedly pulled out, are the HSBC banking group, ride-share giant Uber, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Around 30 delegates and firms are said to have withdrawn from the event.

The US Treasury Secretary, and UK International Trade Secretary, have also said they will not be going, though many business sponsors and other companies are still scheduled to attend.

“Business leaders need to take a strong interest in keeping civic space open wherever they operate,” said Mr. Pesce. “It is only in an environment where journalists and human rights defenders are able to speak freely that businesses can effectively identify and prevent negative human rights impacts.”

Mr. Khashoggi was last seen on 2 October, entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and there is no evidence that he ever left the building.

Other UN rights experts demanded a probe into Mr. Khashoggi's case earlier this week, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has pressed the Saudi Arabian and Turkish governments to ensure that a prompt, thorough, effective, impartial and transparent investigation takes place.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has repeatedly demanded that the truth be established, and his Spokesperson told reporters on Thursday that the Saudi and Turkish joint investigation needed to play out, before any UN-led international investigation could take place, “if all the parties involved request it, or if there’s a legislative mandate from a UN body.”

The Working Group on Business and Human Rights presented a report to the UN General Assembly earlier this week, which highlighted practical steps businesses need to take to avoid eroding human rights. These principles are echoed in this year’s United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

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Restoring prospect of peace in Middle East is ‘our shared responsibility’ UN envoy tells Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 18 October 2018, Peace and Security - Violence is on the rise in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Israeli authorities are continuing to demolish and confiscate Palestinian-owned homes and property, in contravention of international law, the United Nations envoy for the Middle East Peace Process said on Thursday.

Briefing the Security Council, Nikolay Mladenov called on Israel to stop the demolitions, adding that a negotiated resolution of the so-called final status issues – as defined by Israelis and Palestinians themselves – was essential for any lasting peace settlement.

“It is our shared responsibility to restore that prospect, to facilitate negotiations, to help the weaker party, to insulate the process from radicals and extremists and to show results.”

Speaking via video link, UN Special Coordinator Mladenov also strongly condemned the killing of an Israeli man and woman by a Palestinian assailant in an industrial area in the West Bank, on 7 October, as well as of a Palestinian woman allegedly stoned to death by Israeli assailants, near a checkpoint in Nablus, on 12 October.

“I extend my condolences to the bereaved families. Such incidents must be condemned in the strongest of terms, and I call on everyone to stand up to violence and condemn terrorism,” he stressed.

‘Gaza is imploding ... It is a reality’

Turning to Gaza, Mr. Mladenov said that protests at the border fence which began in March, have expanded to include night demonstrations, and Hamas – which controls the Strip - and other militants, continue to send incendiary kites and balloons across the border, causing fires on the Israeli side, prompting Israeli forces to respond with live ammunition.

The humanitarian and economic situation in the enclave remains dire, he added, noting extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty, with every second person in Gaza now living below the poverty line.

We remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent – UN Special Coordinator Mladenov 

“We remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent.”

The senior UN official also asked Security Council members to urge all sides “to step back from the brink” and adhere to the 2014 ceasefire agreement.

“Hamas and other militant groups must immediately and effectively stop all provocations,” he said, adding that “Israel must restore the delivery of critical supplies to Gaza and improve the movement and access of goods and people [and] exercise maximum restraint in the use of live ammunition,” he said.

He also called on the Palestinian Authority not to disengage from Gaza and to continue working with the international community to help alleviate the suffering of its people in Gaza.

Mr. Mladenov also recalled the September ministerial meeting on the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level general debate, which raised some $122 million, but added that a “significant” funding gap remains.

Also addressing the Security Council, Hagai El-Ad from the Israeli non-governmental organization B’tselem, was invited to speak, and noted the hardship that Palestinians face across the board. The NGO is known as the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and works towards ending occupation.

“It is hard to articulate the flesh and blood meaning of the exposed lives Palestinians endure under occupation,” he said, calling on Security Council members to act to reduce their suffering.

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UN rights chief calls for release of hundreds abducted and abused in South Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 18 October 2018, Human Rights - Hundreds of civilians who were taken by opposition forces in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria region during an uptick in fighting are still missing, the UN’s top rights official said on Thursday, in a call for their immediate release.

The development reportedly happened in April, ahead of the signing in August of a new peace agreement aimed at ending years of bloody civil war involving President Salva Kiir and former vice-President, Riek Machar, who has backing from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in-Opposition (SPLA-IO).

“Most of the abducted civilians are, as far as we know, still being held captive”, said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “The SPLA-IO (RM) must immediately release them, first and foremost the children.”

The High Commissioner’s appeal follows the publication of a UN report into grave rights abuses against villagers in South Sudan’s Gbudue and Tambura states, both of which are in Western Equatoria region.

A new peace agreement has been signed which puts the onus and responsibility on the warring parties to ensure that no atrocities are committed in future - David Shearer, Head, UNMISS

It details testimonies from victims and witnesses that indicate how women and girls as young as 12 were abducted by opposition forces…then paraded and lined up for commanders to choose as “wives”.

Some 900 people were abducted in total and 24,000 were forced to flee their homes, the report notes. Those who were not chosen were left for other fighters who subjected them to repeated rapes, while abducted young men and boys were forced to fight, or work as porters.

At least 28 villages were attacked by the same troops, along with a settlement for internally displaced people and a refugee camp, according to the report, which was compiled jointly by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, UNMISS

UNMISS
A delegation of UN and humanitarian agencies travelled to remote Tambura in Western Equatoria to see first-hand the plight of thousands of people who have fled escalating violence and are in urgent need of safe shelter and aid. 12 July 2018.


During these attacks, victims were subjected to “unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, forced recruitment and the destruction of property”, OHCHR said in a statement, which noted that three commanders had been identified who “allegedly had effective command and control of the forces committing these abuses, which may amount to war crimes”.

Government forces were also found to have harmed civilians in their offensives against SPLA-IO (RM) militia, the report said, noting that “these operations failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants”.

Head of UNMISS, David Shearer, expressed disappointment that the spike in violence happened while warring parties were negotiating a new peace agreement and despite reconciliation efforts in the region at the time.

“A new peace agreement has been signed which puts the onus and responsibility on the warring parties to ensure that no atrocities are committed in future,” Mr Shearer said. “UNMISS will be closely monitoring any potential violations and abuses.”

In addition to calling for the release of those taken during the attacks in Gbudue and Tambura, High Commissioner Bachelet called for rights abusers to be held accountable.

“As part of the revitalised peace process, it is also essential that the Government of South Sudan acts to hold the perpetrators of the abuses and violations detailed in this report to account,” she said.

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‘More time’ agreed for buffer zone, to spare three million Syrian civilians in Idlib

INTERNATIONAL, 18 October 2018, Peace and Security - Russia and Turkey have said that they will allow “more time” for opposition groups to withdraw from a de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib, which has been spared air raids for more than a month, a senior humanitarian adviser to the UN said on Thursday.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva after a meeting of the International Syria Support Group's Humanitarian Access Task Force, Jan Egeland expressed “relief” that further violence in the north-west of the country had been averted, so far.

“The Russian and the Turkish side have indicated that indeed more time will be given to implement the agreement,” Mr Egeland said, in his capacity as Senior Advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who announced his resignation on Wednesday.

The big battles have ended in most of the country (but Idlib) could still become the worst battle yet – Jan Egeland, Humanitarian Adviser

"Some of the first deadlines have passed … there will be more time for diplomacy and that is a great relief to us,” he said, adding that “if one is to follow a military logic that has too often been followed in this war alone, it would be horrific news for civilians”.

After more than seven years of fighting that has left hundreds of thousands of Syrians dead, uprooted millions more and enmeshed the interests of several foreign powers, Mr. Egeland stressed the value of the current deal between Russia and Turkey, who are the guarantors of a proposed demilitarized zone in Idlib.

“We have now had five weeks without any air raids,” he said. “I can’t remember such a period for the last three years in Idlib. It’s a calm through this very sensitive, complex, difficult area full of three million civilians. It is a welcome calm.”

In addition to opposition groups, some three million people live in Idlib, along with 12,000 humanitarian workers.

Many people are there after fleeing other areas of Syria which have been reclaimed by Government forces; most recently the provinces of Dar’a and Quneitra in the south-east, as well as Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus.

“The big battles have ended in most of the country” but Idlib “could still become the worst battle yet”, Mr Egeland said.

He explained that even if the opposition groups including Al-Nusra withdrew their heavy weapons from the contact line, they would “of course” embed themselves in built-up areas of Idlib, leaving “a million civilians engulfed” in conflict.

“This is a fantastic deal so far because it prevents bloodshed, it has to continue like that,” he insisted.

While the eyes of the international community remain fixed on Idlib, there is still tremendous suffering in many areas of Syria, including in the east of the country, Mr Egeland stressed.

“There is horrific fighting that nobody seems to be caring about in the east, with 15,000 people in crossfire between Islamic state fighters and the attacking forces,” he said, stressing that although war is ending “in more and more provinces”, peace can only be built through human rights and the implementation of rule of law.

Egeland to follow de Mistura, and leave post next month

After coordinating the UN’s efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria for more than three years, liaising with the Government of Syria and the international community over safe passage for aid convoys across front lines and borders, Mr Egeland also announced that it was time for him to step down.

Mirroring Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy for Syria, who made a similar announcement on Wednesday at UN headquarters in New York, Mr Egeland said that he would be leaving his post at the end of November. 

“It’s been very exhausting really…there hasn’t really been an evening or a weekend where we have not been dealing with an Aleppo, Homs, Dera’a, Eastern Ghouta, now Idlib, Rukban or some other issues,” he said. “So that’s the issue, and I presume I will be replaced by somebody better and that they will continue with a Task Force because the job is not even half done.”

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Bring killers of journalists to justice: UN agency seeks media partners for new campaign

INTERNATIONAL, 18 October 2018, Peace and Security - Every four days, a journalist is murdered, often for simply doing their job of uncovering something that someone wants to stay hidden: the vast majority of these killings go unpunished.

To help raise awareness of this situation, UNESCO, the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is launching a new campaign, Truth Never Dies, on 2 November, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

The organization is calling for media partners to support the campaign by publishing stories on, or by, journalists who have been killed simply for doing their job, to coincide with the 2 November commemoration. UNESCO has produced a toolkitfor media that want to take part.

In a statement released on Wednesday, UNESCO said that journalist killings affect the whole of society because they prevent the free circulation of information and all citizens’ expression of opinions and ideas. The message of the campaign is that, by publishing stories of these journalists in the media and demanding that justice be done, truth will not die.

2 November was chosen as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists following a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 2013. The date was chosen to commemorate the assassination of two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who were killed on that date in Mali, whilst on assignment.

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Under fire, UN refugee agency evacuates 135 detained in Libya to Niger

INTERNATIONAL, 18 October 2018, Migrants and Refugees - Amid increasingly violent clashes between rival armed groups in Libya’s capital,Tripoli, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has successfully airlifted 135 migrants and refugees to safety in Niger.

The agency staff endured security challenges including having to operate under the threat of intermittent fire between rival militias. 

Many of those evacuated have been held in Libyan detention centres for several months, living in wretched conditions and suffering malnutrition and poor health.

They are now being hosted under UNHCR’s Emergency Transit programme (ETM), pending more permanent solutions. UNHCR Chief of Mission in Libya, Roberto Mignone, said that for many of the Nigeriens, rescue meant the difference between living, and dying.

“These evacuations are a life-changing and life-saving escape for refugees trapped in detention in Libya,” he said. “Refugees and migrants in detention centres often suffer squalid conditions and are at risk of being sold to traffickers and smugglers.”

© UNHCR/Noor Elshin

Many Nigerien migrants making their way to Europe are intercepted while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, ending up in Libyan detention centres, and returning home with accounts of the horrific human rights abuses they have suffered.

This evacuation, the first from Libya since June, brings the total number of migrants and asylum seekers evacuated since December 2017, to 1997.

Another 85 refugees from Syria, Sudan and Eritrea were also flow to relative safety this week, with assistance from the UN migration agency (IOM), and will spend a few days at UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Mechanism before flying to Norway.

UNCHR welcomes the efforts of countries coming forward with offers to host refugees leaving Libya, and urges resettlement countries to speed up the process.

“People are being intercepted off the Libyan coast faster than we can evacuate them,” said Mr. Mignone. “We are deeply grateful for all those who have come forward with resettlement places but the simple truth is we need more evacuations, more often.”

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