New China bird flu death, UN concerned about spread – Reuters

Brisbane Times

New China bird flu death, UN concerned about spread
BEIJING/BANGKOK, April 11 | Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:15am EDT. BEIJING/BANGKOK, April 11 (Reuters) – Another person died from a new strain of bird flu in China on Thursday, state media said, bringing to 10 the number of deaths from the H7N9 virus, as a
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Syria accuses UN chief of expanding weapons probe

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows smoke rising from burned cars after a huge explosion shook the Sabaa Bahrat Square, one of the capital's biggest roundabouts, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 8, 2013. A car bomb rocked a busy residential and commercial district in central Damascus on Monday, killing more than a dozen with many more injured and sending a huge cloud of black smoke billowing over the capital’s skyline, Syrian state-run media said. (AP Photo/SANA)DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria has rejected what it says is an attempt by the U.N. secretary-general to broaden the scope of a government request for an international investigation of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the country's north.

Spring at the United Nations: Positive Action Breathes New Life into the UN Human Rights Council, but Challenges Remain

 The 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) comes to an end on 22 March.    While the Council has been heavily criticized in the past for being weak and inconsistent, a slew of positive action taken by its member states this session has given renewed hope that the body might prove its critics wrong, according to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

“The spoilers have not gone away.  Russia, China, Cuba, Egypt and other countries hostile to human rights constantly attempt to undermine positive initiatives at the Council.  What is different is that a handful of countries from around the world have found the will and courage to push through a positive agenda,” said Mr. Ziad Abdel Tawab, Deputy Director of CIHRS.

Particularly important have been efforts to combat the double-standards of the international community towards promoting human rights and democracy in the Arab region.

On  28February, during the first week of the current session, more than forty governments from every continent delivered a joint declaration expressing “serious concern” about ongoing repression and human rights violations in Bahrain, and calling on Bahrain to cooperate with the United Nations and ensure national human rights reform.    The United States and United Kingdom, close allies of the Bahrain government, joined the declaration.

Moreover, under pressure from Libyan civil society and other stakeholders, the Libyan government put forward a strong resolution on its own country at this session.  The resolution acknowledges the need to improve several critical human rights challenges in Libya, including the situation of refugees and migrants, protection of freedom of religion and belief, and the ill-treatment of detainees, and also requests the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to report to the Council at its 25th session on human rights in relation to the technical support and capacity building needs of Libya.

 “This session, what was once considered impossible has been accomplished” added Mr. Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office of CIHRS.  “In March of last year, when human rights defenders from Bahrain demanded that the international community take joint action to condemn repression in Bahrain they were met with silence.  Similarly, when civil society called on member states last year not to look away from rights violations in Libya just because Gaddafi had been deposed they were ignored, and a weak resolution on Libya that lacked any human rights component was adopted without a vote at the Council.  This session, the opposite has occurred.”

Furthermore, a landmark resolution put forward by Norway on Protecting Human Rights Defenders demands that states stop restricting and criminalizing the activities of human rights defenders through repressive legal and procedural measures.  In particular, the resolution calls on governments to end attempts to restrict the ability of human rights organizations to receive and impart funding and to ensure that rights defenders can engage with the international community without fear of being attacked or threatened for doing so. The resolution was created in response to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders dealing with repressive legal restrictions on rights defenders.  The report was created following a consultation between the Special Rapporteur and rights defenders from throughout the Arab region that occurred in Cairo in April 2012, during which the growing use of undue legal restrictions was identified as a leading threat to civil society in the Arab region.  China, Cuba, Egypt and Russia lead efforts to weaken the resolution’s protection for human rights defenders throughout the current session of the Council, but their efforts largely failed.

“In countries throughout the Arab region, civil society and rights defenders are being isolatedfrom the outside world and slowly strangled to death through a host of repressive legal and procedural restrictions which threaten their very existence,” said Mr. Tawab.  “In this regard, the resolution put forward by Norway is very important at this time. The Office of the High Commissioner and UN member States must urgently act to ensure that the resolution’s demands to allow rights defenders to act freely are implemented on a national level within the Arab region, especially in relation to current restrictions on funding for civil society being considered by the Egyptian parliament.”

A resolution on The Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Peaceful Protests, put forward by Costa Rica, Switzerland and Turkey in response to the uprisings in the Arab region was also adopted.  The resolution “calls upon all States to avoid using force during peaceful protests, and to ensure that, where force is absolutely necessary, no one is subject to excessive or indiscriminate use of force…[and]to investigate any death or injury committed during protests.”  The resolution also establishes a “seminar on effective measures and best practices to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests.”

Resolutions on Sri Lanka, North Korea, Iran, Mali, Myanmar and Syria were also adopted.

“In a very positive development Libya and Tunisia have openly joined a call by UN member states made during the session for the ICC to be activated in the case of Syria.   This is the first time we see governments from the Arab region openly supporting ICC investigations on Syria at the Council.  Unfortunately, the resolution on Syria which renews the Commission of Inquiry this session does not sufficiently reflect this call for ICC referral due to continued opposition from the United States and most Arab countries,” said Ms. Paola Daher, UN Advocacy Officer for CIHRS.

 “Unlike Libya and Tunisia, which have adopted a more constructive approach to engagement with the Human Rights Council lately, Egypt’s policies and approach towards human rights at the UN remains as hostile and destructive as it was during the rule of Mubarak,” added Mr. Tawab.

The UN Fact Finding Mission into the effect of Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people also reported to this session of the Council.   Notably, the report not only deals with the direct human rights violations and breeches of international law resulting from the establishment of settlements, but also looks at how businesses and trade policies have, directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of illegal settlements.  CIHRS addressed this issue before the UN, and also called on Palestine, as a newly recognized observer state at the UN, to immediately take measures to sign onto international human rights treaties.

Despite many positive developments, challenges remain.  Some countries continue to put forward proposals at the Council that are designed to undermine the universality of international human rights standards and protection.   Many fear that a resolution on “Protection of the family,” put forward by Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Russian Federation, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe attempts to undermine previous UN agreements which acknowledge the diversity of family structures, instead aiming to entrench a narrow, conservative conception of family that would provide justification for discrimination by governments against individuals on various grounds, including gender, sex, and religion.   While the adoption of this text was postponed following criticism of the resolutions language resolution by delegations from different regions, the risk remains.

According to Ms. Daher, “Efforts by states to undermine the resolution on human rights defenders restrict reference to the International Criminal Court in the Syria resolution, and put forth language and concepts which seek to undermine the universality of human rights are a reminder that progress at the Council is always under threat. Concerted efforts by human rights defenders to defeat these types of threats continue to be critical going forward.”

UN: لا يمكن حل قضية جنوب اليمن إلا بالحوار

أكد مبعوث الأمم المتحدة إلى اليمن، جمال بن عمر، الأربعاء على استمرار دعم الأطراف اليمنية المؤمنة بالحوار السلمي، وأن الاستمرار في التعاطي مع القضايا المعقدة حتى يصل اليمن إلى مرحلة الاستقرار، هو الحل الوحيد لقضية جنوب اليمن.

Egyptian Rights Defenders at UN: “Human rights crises in Egypt must be addressed”

Egyptian human rights defenders representing the Egyptian NGO Forum, a group of 23 independent Egyptian human rights organizations, have been present at the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva throughout the last week with an urgent appeal.

The human rights crises in Egypt must be urgently addressed by the United Nations,” stated Ziad Abdel Tawab, deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “Just because we ousted Mubarak does not mean that the democratization process is finished – in reality, progress towards true democracy has stalled. Serious human rights violations continue to be committed with impunity, and civil society and the media are under unprecedented threat by the government. The country has merely traded one form of authoritarianism for another, albeit with some new features.”

Over the last eight months there have been serious concerns about the extent to which the state of human rights in Egypt has rapidly deteriorated under the leadership of President Mohamed Morsi. Some Egyptian human rights organizations have argued that in many ways, the state of human rights in the country currently appears even direr than it did prior to the revolution and the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.

According to members of the NGO Forum, serious human rights violations have become routine in post-revolutionary Egypt, with all segments of the population being affected. Violations of women’s rights and the right to freedom of assembly, association, and expression, as well as practices of arbitrary detention and torture continue to be carried out with impunity.

These representatives of the Egyptian NGO Forum and Egyptian civil society spoke at a UN side event on 11 March. The event included a discussion of the recent attacks against peaceful protestors in Egypt, which some have described as “circles of hell.”

Women were forcibly removed from the crowds of demonstrators by circles of men who then attacked them with knives and blades, beat them, ripped their clothes off, and raped them. Extreme brutality was used in all cases, leaving at least two women in need of intensive medical care. In two instances, women were raped with a blade,” stated Massa Amir, a researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies, referring to recent demonstrations in Egypt that were intended to highlight the anniversary of the uprising for democracy in the country.

The total lack of political will demonstrated by the government to investigate these violations and prosecute perpetrators represents a serious breach to Egypt’s human rights obligations and constitutes a worrying trend for the future of women’s political participation and their involvement in shaping the new Egypt,” said Masa Amir.

While in Geneva, the delegation also addressed the proposed legislation on non-govermental organizations (NGOs) that is currently being discussed by the upper house of parliament. Such laws, if passed, would threaten the viability of independent civil society in Egypt by introducing a slew of unprecedented restrictions, including cutting off access to funding by human rights and development NGOs. “This legislation would constitute a flagrant violation to the right to freedom of association by forcing the majority of independent NGOs in Egypt to either severely cut their activities or to shut down altogether,”said Mohamed Zaree, Program Manager at the CIHRS and member of the NGO Forum’s delegation to Geneva.

Already, civil society organizations are being targeted by the government. In a letter sent to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs referred to instructions issued by the Prime Minister that no “local entity” shall be permitted to engage with “international entities” in any way without the permission of the “security bodies”. These restrictions violate the numerous resolutions passed by the UN calling on states to allow for unhindered access of local civil society organizations to international human rights mechanisms.

The NGO Forum’s delegation further discussed how the right to peaceful protest and assembly is similarly threatened by a draft law currently being discussed in Egypt that employs overly vague language, including banning protests that would ‘block roads’ or ‘prevent people from going to work’. Such broad provisions have been easily manipulated by authorities to restrict assemblies that they do not want to see take place. In practice, Egyptians face major threats when exercising their right to free assembly. Lethal clashes have broken out following the organization of peaceful protests, as such as during the sit-in at the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace, when supporters of the ruling party clashed with demonstrators, leaving at least 11 people from both sides dead and hundreds injured.

Finally, the NGO Forum’s delegation addressed violations to freedom of expression in general, and media in particular, that are committed in Egypt. As Nihad Aboud, who joins the delegation on behalf of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, points out, “The safety of reporters is nowadays in danger, more that it has ever been. Documented violations include detention, kidnapping, and even death, as with El Hosseiny Abou Deif in December 2012. Various complaints were submitted to the investigative authorities against journalists and other media professionals accusing them with insulting the president, publishing false news, and slander, due to their criticism of the policies of the ruling party. Other violations to media freedom have been committed under the false pretext of defamation of religion. The ruling party seems to be hoping that this will lead to a self-censorship of the media, as was the case under Mubarak.”

Mr. Tawab of CIHRS explains, “We came to Geneva to draw attention to the worsening situation in Egypt and to urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to call upon Egypt to uphold international rights standards and to respect and promote the human rights of Egyptians. Many citizens have and continue to struggle and even give their lives for freedom and democracy. They deserve recognition and protection from the UN Human Rights Council.