UN identifies South Sudan’s mass rapists, killers and torturers

UN photo 1Violence continues despite South Sudan’s main warring parties signing a peace deal last September [File: Andreea Campeanu/Reuters]

A United Nations report says its investigators have identified alleged perpetrators of pervasive rape, killings and torture in South Sudan’s civil war – violence they believe was driven by oil revenues.

The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan on Wednesday said the army, national security, military intelligence, rebel forces and affiliated armed groups committed serious human rights breaches.

The UN body had drawn up a confidential list of suspects including army and opposition commanders, two state governors and a county commissioner.

Its 212-page report detailed people being held for years and tortured in secret, vermin-ridden detention centres, children being run down by tanks, rape of girls as young as seven, and babies being drowned, starved or smashed against trees.

In some stricken areas, 65 percent of women and 36 percent of men may have been sexually abused, according to the report.

Peace deal

Although South Sudan’s main warring parties signed a peace deal in September, widespread violence, especially rape, has continued.

Andrew Clapham, a member of the three-person commission, said it was outraged by reports of further fighting between government forces and the rebel National Salvation Front, which was not part of the peace agreement, in the Yei River area.

“There are thousands of civilians who have been forcibly displaced following a scorched-earth policy in which the parties to the conflict are attacking the villages, torching the homes, killing civilians and raping women and girls,” Clapham said.

The United States, Britain and Norway jointly expressed their alarm at the reports of escalating violence in Yei.

“These military actions, and the trading of blame, must stop,” they said in a joint statement.

Clapham said that more than 5,000 refugees had reached neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and up to 20,000 people were expected to be displaced by the latest fighting.

Oil and conflict

The report cited a close connection between oil and the conflict.

A law ensuring that South Sudan’s oil-producing regions and communities received two and three percent of its oil revenue respectively had triggered a redrawing of provincial boundaries and ethnic conflict.

“We feel the national security services are very much involved in the siphoning off of the oil money,” said Clapham.

The Human Rights Council should get to the bottom of the sums involved and where the money was going, he told reporters, noting that health and education spending was “minuscule”.

“If you are involved in oil extraction in that area and you are asked to assist one side or the other, you could be accused of complicity in war crimes. There are Council members that we think have a responsibility to look more carefully at this.”

At war since 2013, South Sudan has seen horrific levels of sexual violence.

The South Sudan commission, set up by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016, is tasked with collecting evidence that could be used to prosecute individuals for major atrocities in the conflict.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/identifies-south-sudan-mass-rapists-killers-torturers-190220160817331.html

UN raises $2.6bn in donations for Yemen humanitarian aid

UN photoThe UN raised $2.6 billion for Yemen, calling it the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

by Barbara Bibbo
A UN pledging conference for Yemen has raised about $2.6bn of the $4bn needed to address the humanitarian crisis in the country, where about 80,000 children below the age of five have already died of hunger, UN officials said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were the main donors, pledging $500m each and contributing to a 30-percent increase of total pledges from last year.

But the two Gulf countries, backed by the United States and the United Kingdom, are also active participants in the ongoing conflict, which has caused what the UN describes as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Houthis have seized control of the capital Sanaa, the Hodeidah port and most of the northeastern part of the country.

The war has caused a humanitarian emergency of catastrophic proportion, according to the UN, especially due to the almost total disregard for international humanitarian law by both the parties.

Nevertheless, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday praised the Gulf countries’ contributions and abstained from any criticism of their role, despite insistent requests from the media to clarify the contradiction in their position as donors as well as parties in the conflict.

“This is a pledging conference and any contribution is welcome despite a country’s role in the war,” he said.

Asked to comment on the ongoing UN investigations for war crimes allegedly committed by all parties in the conflict, Guterres said they will continue as expected.

Humanitarian catastrophe

About 24 million people, 80 percent of the population, need humanitarian aid and protection, UN officials said at the conference.

About 20 million people cannot feed themselves reliably, out of which about 10 million Yemenis are just one step away from famine, according to UN figures.

Since last year, due to the continued fighting and a collapsing economy, an additional two million people fell into the humanitarian crisis.

The worst affected by the conflict are the children. About 80,000 children below the age of five have already died of starvation, according to a report quoted by Guterres.

Eight children a day are being killed as they go to school or play outdoors and from other conflict related causes, according to UNICEF.

About 360,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition with life threatening consequences.

According to Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, every ten minutes in Yemen a child is dying of a preventable disease because of the lack of essential health services. More than two million children not being able to go to school.

“Today Yemen is the worst place on earth for a child,” Cappelaere told Al Jazeera. “I invite the parties to think of their own children when they sit at the negotiating table next time.”

Stockholm Agreement

Addressing the media on Monday, Guterres admitted that the humanitarian response cannot suffice to address the Yemeni crisis without the parties’ serious engagement in the peace negotiations.

“There cannot be a humanitarian solution to humanitarian problems,” he said.

The UN chief admitted that the implementation of the agreement reached between the Yemeni Government and the Houthis in December was meeting “obstacles”.

The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement signed in December 2018 and Security Council resolution 2451 endorsing that agreement, called for a ceasefire in the Hodeidah governorate and a mechanism for exchanging prisoners amongst other confidence building measures.

However, little progress has been achieved since the parties met in Sweden with the each repeatedly accusing each other of not abiding by the agreement.

While violence in Hodeidah has diminished, the conflict continues or has escalated in some areas like Hajjah, while the humanitarian crisis remains catastrophic.

Out of 10 million on the verge of famine, nearly 240,000 of those people are right now facing catastrophic levels of hunger.

Almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare, and nearly 18 million don’t have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation.

More than three million people – including two million children – are acutely malnourished.

About 3.3 million remain displaced from their homes, including 685,000 who have fled fighting along the west coast since June 2018.

Amidst the conflict the economy continues to unravel. The exchange rate is about 600 Yemeni Rial to a US dollar – from about 400, which was the level it recovered to following substantial injections of foreign exchange into the Central Bank by Saudi Arabia in late 2018.

As the rate falls, the price of food for ordinary people rises.

Response Plan

The Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019 requires about $4bn to reach 15 million across the country.

The pledges made in Geneva will go towards increasing the number of people reached with emergency food aid to 12 million every month, from the 10 million of December last year, amongst other essential health and assistance plans.

According to Mark Lowcock, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, donations made last year were divided amongst 200 agencies that reached people in all of Yemen’s 333 governorates.

But the UN operations also met with delays and blockades due to restrictions imposed on humanitarian workers and convoys by both parties in the conflict.

In particular, the blockade of the Hodeidah port which alone normally handles 70 percent of food imports entering Yemen and a lifeline for the entire population, has had disastrous consequences so far.

Access to mills

Guterres on Tuesday also announced the UN had regained access to a stocking facility that can potentially feed some 3.7 million people for up to one month.

“We have a good news, we have access to the Red Sea Mills again,” said Guterres.

That was later confirmed by Herve Verhoosel, World Food Programme senior spokesperson.

“I can confirm that the WFP assessment team has gained access today to the Red Sea Mills for the first time since September 2018 when they were cut off by fighting in the area,” said Verhoosel.

At that time there were 51,000 metric tons of wheat in storage at the mills, which is enough to feed 3.7 million people for one month, and represents a quarter of WFP’s wheat flour milling capacity in the country.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/raises-26bn-donations-yemen-humanitarian-aid-190226161139569.html

Religious superiors voice shame over child abuse failings

Shame photoCredit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

By Hannah Brockhaus

Rome, Italy,(CNA/EWTN News). Superiors general of men’s and women’s religious communities expressed sorrow Tuesday for sexual abuse committed within religious congregations and orders ahead of a Vatican meeting on child sex abuse.

The Feb. 19 statement noted the summit’s focus on “the sexual abuse of children and the abuse of power and conscience by those in authority in the Church, especially bishops, priests and religious.”

“We bow our heads in shame at the realization that such abuse has taken place in our Congregations and Orders, and in our Church,” the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG) wrote.

“Our shame is increased by our own lack of realization of what has been happening,” it continued. “We acknowledge that when we look at Provinces and Regions in our Orders and Congregations across the world, that the response of those in authority has not been what it should have been. They failed to see warning signs or failed to take them seriously.”

The organizations said they hope the Holy Spirit will work powerfully during the Feb. 21-24 meeting on the protection of minors in the Church, and that they are ready to implement whatever is decided in terms of accountability for those in authority. Representatives of UISG and USG will attend the summit.

“New steps forward can be imagined and decisions can be made so that implementation can
follow speedily and universally with proper respect for different cultures,” they said, adding that “the abuse of children is wrong anywhere and anytime: this point is not negotiable.”

The same statement also said that the Church and wider society needs a “different culture” – one where children are treasured, and safeguarding promoted. They listed education, healthcare, formation, and spirituality, as areas in which the work of religious can help the Church safeguard children from sexual abuse.

It went on to say that the leadership provided by Pope Francis on this issue is “key,” and that they join with the Holy Father in reaching out to survivors and to “humbly acknowledge and confess the wrongs that have been done.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/religious-superiors-voice-shame-over-child-abuse-failings-63124

 

Holy See issues statement on conviction, appeal of Cardinal Pell

CNA photoCardinal George Pell outside Rome’s Hotel Quirinale, March 3, 2016. Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA
Vatican City, (CNA). The Vatican press office has issued a statement on the recently announced conviction of Cardinal George Pell on charges of the sexual abuse of minors.

The decision of the County Court of Victoria was reached on December 11, 2018, but not widely reported until this week, following the imposition of a sweeping gag order by the court in June of last year. Pell was convicted on five counts of child sexual abuse against two former choristers in Melbourne Cathedral in 1996.

The statement from the Holy See press office, issued Feb. 26, acknowledges the “painful” news which has “shocked many people.”

“As already expressed on other occasions, we have the utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities,” the statement said.

“Out of this respect, we await the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal.”

The statement confirms that Pell has been barred from public ministry and from contact with minors during the course of the legal process, and will remain so during his appeal.

“In order to ensure the course of justice, the Holy Father has confirmed the precautionary measures which had been imposed by the local Ordinary on Cardinal George Pell when he returned to Australia. That is, while awaiting the definitive assessment of the facts, as is the norm, Cardinal George Pell is prohibited from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors.”

The lifting of the court imposed gag order followed the decision by local prosecutors to drop further charges related to Pell’s time as a priest in the 1970s. With the proposed second trial cancelled, Chief Judge Peter Kidd lifted the reporting restrictions.

Pell is expected to be sentenced on Wednesday and is appealing the conviction.

The Vatican statement followed a similar release by Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Melbourne, president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference.

“The bishops [of Australia] agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system. The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the Cardinal’s legal team has lodged. Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served,” Coleridge wrote.

“In the meantime, we pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones, and we commit ourselves anew to doing everything possible to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all, especially the young and the vulnerable.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/holy-see-issues-statement-on-conviction-appeal-of-cardinal-pell-46914

Abuse, ‘survival sex’ a stark reality for child migrants: Report

Abuse photoChildren traveling with a caravan of migrants from Central America stand on the beach and near the border fence between Mexico and the US, prior to preparations for an asylum request in the US in Tijuana, Mexico [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

by Faras Ghani

Unaccompanied child migrants face dangerous journeys during transit, including abuse and detention, rights organisations have warned, highlighting significant failings in safeguarding unaccompanied minors.

A recent report by UNHCR revealed that nearly 140,000 people arrived in Greece, Italy and Spain in search of safety in 2018. Almost 11,000 of the new arrivals were unaccompanied children.

Additionally, according to the Red Cross, more than 300,000 unaccompanied child migrants are currently at high risk of sexual and gender-based violence during transit.

The perilous journey undertaken by these young migrants without an accompanying adult makes them vulnerable to being assaulted, sexually abused, raped, trafficked into sexual exploitation or forced into “survival sex”, according to an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report Alone and Unsafe, which shows that the number of unaccompanied child migrants has grown five-fold in five years.

Europe accounted for more than half of unaccompanied minor arrivals in 2017, with more than 158,000 reaching the continent in the first three quarters of the year.

Currently, almost 30 percent of all asylum seekers across that continent are children, half of whom are from just three countries: Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.

A joint UNICEF-IOM report also revealed that children from sub-Saharan Africa are targeted more than any other group, highlighting discrimination and racism along transit routes.

The reason for their departure ranges from abuse at home and peer pressure to violence, says IFRC President Francesco Rocca, who called on UN member countries to address the root causes.

“In Cox’s Bazar, for example, we saw many children with their neighbours because their parents were killed,” Rocca told Al Jazeera.

“In Niger, we see young girls from Nigeria who sold themselves for sex for as low as $3. In Central America, there’s violence that drives them out. It creates a very, very difficult environment for them to live in.”

More support needed
More than 40 percent of all child asylum seekers are girls. A poll by UNICEF late last year revealed that almost half of nearly 4,000 refugees and migrants aged 14 to 24 were forced to leave their countries, 44 percent of them left alone.

Some 38 percent said they did not receive any help from anyone, including family, friends or relatives, while almost half the respondents reported that they had been unable to see a doctor when needed.

“While politicians are squabbling over migration, 4,000 uprooted children and young people are telling us they need more support,” said Laurence Chandy, Director of Data, Research and Policy for UNICEF.

“Uprooted children can teach us a great deal about their needs and vulnerabilities if we are willing to hear them. Migration is inevitable, but the danger and discrimination experienced by refugee and migrant children doesn’t have to be.”

The risks, including sexual and gender-based violence, do not abate once these child migrants arrive in a country of destination, according to the IFRC.

A study, based on interviews with unaccompanied children from Horn of Africa countries who migrated to the United Kingdom, revealed that 72 percent of the respondents experienced more than one incident of sexual violence upon arrival – most of these incidents happened in the first 12 months after their arrival in the UK.

This shows that their safety is not guaranteed, even after reaching the desired destination country, added Rocca.

“If there isn’t enough protection in the country of destination, there is a very high risk of being exploited and exposed to the violence. These vulnerable people can also be forced to the labour market.”

 

 

 

 
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/abuse-survival-sex-stark-reality-child-migrants-report-190204113958830.html

Bangladesh blocks 20,000 websites in anti-porn ‘war’

Pornography photoPopular social media apps such as TikTok and Bigo have also been blocked [File: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

Bangladeshi authorities have blocked almost 20,000 websites as part of an anti-pornography “war”, a minister said on Tuesday.

Internet providers in the conservative Muslim-majority nation took down pornography and gambling websites in the past week under orders from the telecommunications regulator.

“I want to create a safe and secure internet for all Bangladeshis, including children. And this is my war against pornography. And this will be a continuous war,” Mustafa Jabbar, the posts and telecommunications minister, told the AFP news agency.

Popular social media apps such as TikTok and Bigo – which authorities believe are misused – have also been blocked in the South Asian nation, Jabbar said.

Most of the blocked sites are foreign, but a few local websites and social media platforms have also faced action under the crackdown, he added.

The crackdown was launched after Bangladesh’s High Court in November asked the government to block pornography websites and publication of obscene materials in electronic forms for six months.

The court acted after a civil society organisation filed a petition stating that a large number of adult websites contain uncensored and obscene content.

Regular monitoring
On Sunday, police reprimanded a rising actress and told her to remove provocative images from her Facebook, Instagram and TikTok pages.

“We are monitoring the local Facebook profiles, YouTube channels and websites, also,” Jabbar said.

“A few of them were taken down for having obscene content. We advised a few others not to post anything that goes against our social norms.”

Bangladesh, a country of 165 million people, has more than 90 million internet users. Porn stars regularly top the list of the most searched names.

Emdadul Hoque, general secretary of the internet service providers association, said they have complied with the order, but many users can still access online porn by using virtual private networks or mirror websites.

“This is a continuous process and it needs regular monitoring. These websites are very well aware of the regulations and they come up with thousands of mirror sites every week,” Hoque told AFP.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/bangladesh-blocks-20000-websites-anti-porn-war-190219155030486.html

El Chapo drug trafficking trial: Mexican cartel boss found guilty

Drug photoEl Chapo twice escaped prison before his final capture in 2016. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

The notorious cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been found guilty of 10 counts of drug trafficking, at the end of a three-month New York trial that featured dramatic testimony of prison escapes, gruesome killings and million-dollar political payoffs.

Guzmán, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to build a drug empire worth billions of dollars, is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The 61-year-old showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Jurors had spent six days weighing the evidence against Guzmán, including testimony from more than 50 witnesses. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife Emma Coronel, put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign. His wife shed tears.

US district judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American”.

Guzmán is set to be sentenced on 25 June. He is expected to receive life without parole.

The trial afforded a glimpse into the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel, named for the Mexican state where Guzmán was born.

US prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Guzmán smuggled drugs into the US through secret tunnels, or hidden in tanker trucks, prosecutors said. The cartel would also conceal their cargo in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry.

Witnesses testifying against Guzmán included former cartel lieutenants and a cocaine supplier who underwent plastic surgery to disguise his appearances. The court heard stories of Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeño cans shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500m each year.

One cartel member turned government witness told of how Guzmán sometimes acted as his own hitman. The witness said Guzmán had kidnapped, beat and shot a man who had dared to work for another cartel. Guzmán then ordered his men to bury the victim while he was still alive.

In contrast to the weight of evidence presented by the prosecution, the defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzmán’s lawyers did not deny his crimes, instead arguing their client was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury in closing arguments not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

Jurors spent six days weighing the charges against Guzmán, their deliberations complicated by the trial’s vast scope. The jury members, whose identities were kept secret, were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors had proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100m bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity.

One day a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series Narcos: Mexico came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal”.

While the trial was dominated by Guzmán’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun, the jury never heard from Guzmán himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But recordings of intercepted calls gave the court plenty of opportunity to hear Guzman speak.

“Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from Guzmán’s then girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez. Sanchez testified that she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzmán in 2014, when Mexican marines started breaking down the door.

She said Guzmán led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

Guzmán had staged escapes from jail in 2014 and 2001. In the earlier breakout Guzmán hid in a laundry bin before being escorted to a mountainside hideaway by corrupt police officers.

In 2014 Guzmán escaped from a high-security jail via a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said the trial demonstrated the US government’s “tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman”.

“This conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzmán, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted,” Whitaker said.

Guzmán’s lawyers, meanwhile, said they would appeal the verdict.

“We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the lawyers said in a statement.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/12/el-chapo-mexican-drug-kingpin-guilty-drug-trafficking