Force-feeding hunger strikers is a breach of international law, the UN’s human rights office said Wednesday, as US authorities tried to stem a protest by inmates at the controversial Guantanamo Bay jail.
The statement came a day after US President Barack Obama said the military jail at Guantanamo Bay is damaging US interests and vowed a renewed push to close it, as around 100 prisoners take part in a hunger strike there.
A spreading hunger strike among inmates, who are protesting their indefinite detention without charges or trials, has put Guantanamo back in the headlines.
“If it’s perceived as torture or inhuman treatment – and it’s the case, it’s painful – then it is prohibited by international law,” Rupert Coville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, told AFP.
Out of 166 inmates held at the remote US naval base in southeastern Cuba, at least 100 are now on hunger strike, according to the latest tally from the Pentagon. Of those, 21 detainees are being fed through nasal tubes.
The military has sent extra medical staff to cope with the hunger strike, which is entering its 12th week.
Coville explained that the UN bases its stance on that of the World Medical Association, a 102-nation body whose members include the United States, which is a watchdog for ethics in healthcare.
In 1991 the WMA said that forcible feeding is “never ethically acceptable”.
“Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the force feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting,” it said. [++]
Fearing the disruption of gun exports, the National Rifle Association vociferously opposed the Arms Trade Treaty that was approved on April 2 by the UN General Assembly.
The NRA always fights gun-related legislation because it fears a “slippery slope” toward confiscation. But its cause for concern in this case—the treaty’s non-binding call for national record-keeping, which is actually far less detailed than what is already required by existing U.S. laws—is so far-fetched as to be laughable.
The joke, though, is not just on the NRA. While the treaty doesn’t do anything to affect American gun owners, it’s so weak that it doesn’t seem to affect anybody at all. [++]
The U.N. Security Council has approved a new military force to launch operations against rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force’s mandate is unprecedented in explicitly assigning “offensive” capability to a peacekeeping force under the United Nations. The force would target the rebel M23 and other groups operating in the DRC’s border regions with Rwanda and Uganda.
The UN Human Rights Council has appointed special rapporteur Ben Emmerson to investigate drone strikes which have killed civilians. Emmerson is taking a proactive stance on the report, urging Israel not to boycott it the way they have so many other Human Rights Council investigations.
Emmerson’s investigation was expected to focus almost exclusively on the US, which has killed a large number of civilians worldwide in such strikes. He has recently confirmed that British strikes in Afghanistan and Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip which have killed civilians would also be included.
Emmerson has been pushing for the creation of some mechanism for the UN to routinely investigate such attacks when civilians are killed, but has faced major resistance from the Obama Administration, which has refused to turn over footage of its strikes, citing national security.
Israel has a long-standing policy of opposing any UN investigation it is even tangentially involved in, and last month became the first nation to ever pre-emptively boycott its own routine human rights review. There hasn’t been a public statement yet from them about the drone probe, but it will predictably face an angry condemnation if the final report mentions the Gaza killings.
The United Nations, blamed for causing the outbreak of cholera in Haiti which killed over 7000 and sickened over half a million, has rejected a November 2011 claim for compensation on behalf of victims of the disease, stating, “claims are not receivable.”
“Today, the United Nations advised the claimants’ representatives that the claims are not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations,” a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated on Thursday. “The Secretary-General telephoned Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him of the decision, and to reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to the elimination of cholera in Haiti.”
Weisbrot slammed today’s decision as a failure by the U.N., the U.S. and its allies:
The scientific and forensic evidence that UN troops brought cholera to Haiti is far beyond the standard of “reasonable doubt” required in the U.S. criminal justice system, let alone the less exacting standard of “preponderance of the evidence” in a civil suit. It included studies by independent scientists, articles published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and even the UN’s own research.
If this were a private corporation that could be sued in a U.S. court, there is little doubt that it would end up paying hundreds of millions if not billions in damages. The UN’s denial represents a failure not only of the UN system, which is abused by the rich countries, but a failure by the U.S. and its allies, who sent those troops to Haiti without proper safeguards and against the will of the Haitian people.
The U.N. statement added that it has “worked closely with the people and government of Haiti to provide treatment, improve water and sanitation facilities, and strengthen prevention and early warning. In December 2012, the Secretary-General launched an initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti, which aims to strengthen Haiti’s own National Cholera Elimination Plan through significant investments and the use of an oral cholera vaccine.”
Weisbrot has previously said that the U.N.’s cholera elimination plan “falls short,” and said “It is unclear where the money for this is going to come from, and whether the international community, which has chronically underfunded responses to disasters in Haiti, will treat this any differently, and actually put up the cash to stop needless deaths.”
Weisbrot stated today that they do “have the resources to put an end to cholera in Haiti for less money than they are going to spend in the next year or two on keeping U.N. troops there. But they’re in no rush to right the wrongs that they have done.”
[It] is important to remember that [UNSC] resolution 2085 focused primarily on advancing political negotiations and establishing a process of dialogue and reconciliation, in addition to military deployment. It is clear that the French operation, justified as an ‘emergency situation,’ gives de facto priority to the management of the crisis by force, and relegates the prospects of a politically negotiated solution to the background. The complexity of the situation in northern Mali, and the imbrication of various interests tied to claims of Tuareg and Islamist groups have been reduced to a simple opposition between France and the “terrorists,” with whom no negotiation is possible.
… It is the case that the Malian “government” did request assistance. But bear in mind that this “government” came to power as a result of a coup led by the military, whose coup leadership (especially Captain Amadou Sanogo) was trained by the US; and that the actual Malian democracy of the 1990s was consistently undermined by the West and the IMF, who inserted their own man to the prime minister’s office in the early 2000s. Mali did not call for the intervention; the undemocratic, and Western backed, coup regime’s antecedents did. The current President, Dioncounda Traoré is only the Acting President, whose installation to his current office in April 2012 was sealed with a promise to fight a “total and relentless war” on the Tuareg, giving in, therefore, to the Malian military’s main grouse that led to the March 2012 coup in the first place. Traoré’s first Acting Prime Minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra was removed by the coup leaders in mid-December 2012 and replaced by Django Sissoko, who presided over a regime dominated by the coup leaders. This is the government that invited the French into Mali. Sanogo’s own political leanings can be gauged by the fact that he opposed the entry of an UN-authorized African force (staffed by ECOWAS) but he welcomed the French bombardment.
The African Union’s head, Yayi Boni, but not the African Union itself, hastily blessed the French intervention. Benin’s President Boni, a former banker who has become paranoid about his own safety, said he was aux anges or thrilled with the French intervention. Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou backed the intervention and a military solution, but more it seems out of nervousness about Niger’s precarious position. When Issoufou came to power in 2011, he appointed a Tuareg social democrat, Brigi Rafini to be his Prime Minister, seeking to unite all of Niger, including the restive Tuareg. Pressure on the Francophone African heads has been immense – but even here there are signs of stress, as it is disagreement amongst them that has prevented a clear line from the African Union in Addis Ababa.
The UN support for the intervention is, despite Deputy Asensi’s claims, also shaky. UN Security Council resolution 2085, negotiated in December, was to provide safeguards against an extension of any intervention. It is not clear that the French provided any safeguards to the UN before its 11 January bombardment of Konna. Paragraph eleven of the UN Resolution is fairly clear,
Emphasizes that the military planning will need to be further refined before the commencement of the offensive operation and requests that the Secretary-General, in close coordination with Mali, ECOWAS, the African Union, the neighbouring countries of Mali, other countries in the region and all other interested bilateral partners and international organizations, continue to support the planning and the preparations for the deployment of AFISMA [African Led Support Mission to Mali], regularly inform the Council of the progress of the process, and requests that the Secretary-General also confirm in advance the Council’s satisfaction with the planned military offensive operation.
The UN has been caught a bit wrong-footed, once more opening the door to an intervention with safeguards in place, but then watching one of its permanent members disregard the caution and its provisions as it bombs and kills civilians in the name of the UN. For the French Left to hide behind the UN, when it is exactly what the French military assault is doing, is to ridicule both the UN Charter and the entire tradition of anti-colonialism and human rights. France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud will brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday, 22 January. It is expected that he will reinforce the tired narrative: jihadis have to be stopped, France is only assisting the Malian government, and so on.
The French operation is called Serval, the African wild cat, whose figure is the symbol of the Italian island of Lampedusa – the gateway between Europe and Africa. During the Libyan war, Lampedusa became the contentious stopping point for Africans fleeing the crisis for Italy. Now, the herald of Lampedusa, the serval, blesses the jet fighters as they go in the other direction, bombing Africa as if by habit, throwing dust in the eyes of the world’s peoples. [++]
Traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivia will no longer be considered illegal under a United Nations antidrug convention, the organization said Friday. Coca is the plant used to make cocaine, but many people in Bolivia, which has a majority indigenous population, chew it as a mild stimulant, a use that has continued since pre-Colombian times. Bolivians also use the plant as a tea, in medicines and in religious or social rituals. The government of President Evo Morales withdrew from the international agreement a year ago as it sought an exception for traditional uses of the plant within its borders. The change was a diplomatic victory for Mr. Morales, above. To block the change, 62 United Nations members would have had to object; only 15 did, including the United States. Bolivia will now rejoin the convention, which could help it receive aid in fighting drug trafficking.
France is signalling pretty unambiguously that it is prepared to step into the Malian conflict. President Hollande said any military action would take place within the framework of the UN, but officials at the Elysee have made clear that, in France’s view, existing UN resolutions already provide sufficient legal cover.
Media reports in Paris say a detachment of French troops is already on the ground at the airport in Mopti, about 70km (43 miles) south of the frontline. It is not clear what their role is - perhaps to assess the situation ahead of a possible intervention.
And what form that intervention might take is not clear either. Off the record, French officials say the “line in the sand” is Mopti. If the rebels and foreign Islamists advance much further towards the town, France could perhaps launch air strikes to stop them.
But France faces two difficult questions. Seven French hostages are held in the Sahel region. What would their fate be if France intervened? And, second, what guarantee is there that air strikes would halt the advance? If they don’t, what then?
“France, like its African partners, cannot accept this. I have decided that France will respond, alongside our African partners, to the request from the Malian authorities.
“We will do it strictly within the framework of the United Nations Security Council resolution. We will be ready to stop the terrorists’ offensive if it continues.”
[…] Earlier this week, the militant Islamist group Ansar Dine said it had entered the key central town of Konna and intended to advance further south.
The army has refused to comment on the claim.
Following its emergency meeting on Mali on Thursday, the UN Security Council called for a “rapid deployment” of the African force and expressed “grave concern” at the capture of Konna by “terrorists and extremist groups”.
UN diplomats in New York said President Traore had appealed for help to Paris and to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
“It basically said ‘Help, France’,” the US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters in describing the letter.
A record 111 countries voted Thursday for a moratorium on capital punishment at a keynote UN General Assembly human rights meeting.
Although not legally binding, campaigners say the vote held every two years sends a strong signal to the slowly shrinking number of nations — including China, Iran and the United States — that still execute prisoners.
There were 111 votes in favor of a moratorium, four more than in 2010.
Among the 41 countries that voted against the moratium were the United States, China, Japan, India, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Thirty-four countries abstained.
European nations have pressed hard for votes backing a moratorium. But Norway’s ambassador Geir Pedersen said the growing numbers backing an end to capital punishment show “this is no longer dominated by western countries. This is a global campaign.”
“The importance of the vote is that it sends a very strong message to the international community across the board,” Pedersen told AFP. “The General Assembly is the one place where all nations are represented and you have a strong majority in favor of a moratorium.”
“There is a global trend toward fewer countries executing people and for us, it is an important issue of principle,” the ambassador added.
Pedersen said that when he raises objections to the death penalty in bilateral talks with countries that impose capital punishment, “we have the feeling that they are on the defensive.”
About 150 countries now have a moratorium or an outright ban on capital punishment. Just 21 nations were reported to have carried out executions in 2011, according to rights groups.
The gestures by both legislative chambers are largely symbolic, however, as they mimic the U.S. government’s stance at the two-week meeting. The conference is designed to update the International Telecommunications Regulations governed by the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency responsible for global communication technologies.
“The 193 member countries of the United Nations are gathered to consider whether to apply to the internet a regulatory regime that the International Telecommunications Union created in the 1980s for old-fashioned telephone service,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon). He said that should be “strongly opposed.”
[…] Despite immense pressure to eject them, Columbia University in New York has been a good home to voices of sanity for the Middle East. It was the redoubt of Edward Said, a clinically fierce advocate for the rights of the Palestinians, and it is now home to the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies Rashid Khalidi as well as to the political scientist Joseph Massad. In October 1998, Said wrote in al-Ahram against Yasser Arafat’s promise to declare a Palestinian state in May 1999. The demographic and geographic realities of a “Palestinian state,” eaten into by Israeli settlements and hemmed in by the security barriers of Israeli paranoia, would not allow anything close to a state with actual sovereignty to become reality. What Arafat’s declaration would do, Said argued, is to accept the social conditions of apartheid – to invalidate the tradition of liberation and self-determination and to accept the crumbs of Bantustan. Those who believed that this was a first step to true self-determination, Said cautioned, were thinking illogically. “If by declaring that what, in effect, is a theoretical abridgment of true statehood is the first step towards the realization of actual statehood, then one might as well hope to extract sunlight from a cucumber on the basis of the sun having entered the cucumber in the first place.”
After the current vote, Joseph Massad weighed in at The Guardian. Massad correctly points out that the UN vote offers the Palestinians at most 18% of historic Palestine. “The vote is essentially an update of the partition plan of 1947,” Massad argues, “whereby the UN now grants Jewish colonists and their descendants 80-90% of Palestine, leaving the rest to the native inhabitants, and it risks abrogating the refugees’ right of return.” In other words, the Palestinian political project has been reduced to possession of a statelet.
Both Said and Massad drive their analysis away from the two-state solution toward binationalism – better to create one secular state where Palestinians and Israelis can live together. Such a state would abrogate Zionism, which is a form of supremacy, and end the apartheid social conditions that would otherwise be institutionalized in the two-state arrangement.
Logically, this is an impeccable argument. But politics does not conform to the unfolding of logic. A one-state solution, a worthy goal, is far from the horizon of current possibility, with no political platform inside Israel having adopted it. The exhaustion in the neoliberal Palestine Authority has reduced its imagination. Hamas and the left groups have come to this UN process by default. It is not their politics, but they will not oppose it. They will not stand for 18%, nor will their constituencies cower before the kind of neoliberal policies enacted by Abbas and his consigliere, Salam Fayyad. Their theory is neither to accept the 18% and build a state on it, nor to believe that this is the first step toward a second step. My friends in the Palestinian Left say that the UN vote is simply part of the political arsenal – building up the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause, furthering the political isolation of the Zionist argument and of the US as enabler of its client state. The political momentum is on the side of the Palestinians. It is useful to move in all directions to build on that momentum. They recognize the Bantustan argument and acknowledge it. But that is not their destination. [more]