The United Nations mission in Afghanistan has condemned the killing of at least 15 civilian men and the injuring of at least 13 others, including at least one boy, in an airstrike targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) conducted yesterday in the country’s eastern district of Achin.
“UNAMA calls on the Government and international military forces to launch a prompt, independent, impartial, transparent, and effective investigation into this incident,” the mission said.
In the early morning of 28 September, an international military forces unmanned aerial vehicle conducted an airstrike, reportedly targeting members of ISIL/Da’esh, which struck a civilian home, killing the 15 civilians, according to UNAMA.
The civilians had gathered in a village to celebrate the return of a tribal elder from the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and were reportedly sleeping in a guesthouse of the elder when the airstrike occurred. Civilian victims of the strike included students and a teacher, as well as members of families considered to be pro-Government. Government sources report that ISIL/Da’esh personnel also died in the attack, UNAMA said.
The mission highlighted that in a press release issued yesterday, United States Force-Afghanistan acknowledged conducting the airstrike, but refrained from elaborating further, indicating that they “are still reviewing all materials related to the strike.”
UNAMA also expressed condolences to the families of those killed in the incident and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.
Afghanistan has been in protracted conflict for almost 35 years, which, in addition to being prone to recurrent natural disasters, has seriously hampered poverty reduction and development, strained the fabric of society and depleted the country’s coping mechanisms.
The Iranian interior minister says the UN has failed to provide Tehran with sufficient aid to help the country cover the expenses of the services it is offering to refugees on its soil, particularly Afghan nationals.
Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli made the remarks in a Tuesday meeting with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi in New York.
The Iranian minister traveled to New York to attend the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants, which addresses large movements of refugees and migrants.
Rahmani-Fazli further voiced Iran’s concern over the situation of illegal migrants, which has created many problems for both the Iranian government and people.
“The United Nations and relevant international institutions should provide the Afghan government with more serious” assistance so it can organize and secure the repatriation of its nationals, he added.
Foreign assistance to Iran only covers less than three percent of its expenses in dealing with the refugees it is sheltering, said Rahmani-Fazli, urging international aid bodies to take more responsibility “in providing the required expenditure to take care of the healthcare, medical, educational and food costs of refugees and displaced people.”
Iran has been hosting large numbers of Afghan refugees, who fled wars and conflicts in their country. In recent years, Tehran has been urging the Afghan nationals to return home voluntarily to contribute to the reconstruction of their homeland.
More than 350,000 Afghan refugee children are now going to school in Iran while some 48,000 undocumented Afghan children were allowed last year to enroll for the first time in Iranian public schools, according to UNHCR.
Fazli called for efforts to restore security to the countries grappling with terror groups and help them improve their economic conditions as the only “realistic” approach towards stemming mass migrations and displacements.
For his part, Grandi said his observations during a visit to Iran in June showed that the country’s attitude towards refugees “is a model in the world.”
Also on Tuesday, the Iranian interior minister met with Swiss Head of the Department of Justice and Police Simonetta Sommaruga as well as Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has once again confirmed Iran’s commitment to a landmark nuclear agreement Tehran signed with the six world powers last year.
“Iran continues to implement its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amanon said in an introductory statement to the agency’s Board of Governors in Vienna on Monday.
He added that his report on Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015) summarizes the verification and monitoring activities conducted by the UN nuclear agency in the last few months.
The IAEA chief said Iran has submitted its declarations under the Additional Protocol, which Tehran is applying provisionally, pending its entry into force.
“The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement,” Amano pointed out.
He noted that the IAEA would continue evaluating the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.
In a quarterly report on Iran on September 8, the IAEA confirmed Iran’s commitment to the nuclear agreement reached between the Islamic Republic and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – plus Germany on July 14, 2015.
The UN nuclear agency, which is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the JCPOA, said Tehran has not exceeded the limits set in the accord on its low-enriched uranium and heavy water stockpile.
Under the JCPOA, which took effect in January, Iran undertook to put limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related bans imposed against Tehran.
The deal requires Iran’s storage of uranium enriched to up to 3.67 percent purity to stay below 300 kilograms. Tehran has also agreed to keep its heavy water stockpile below 130 metric tonnes.
Since January, the IAEA has released regular reports confirming the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities and Tehran’s commitment to the agreement.
In April, the IAEA director general hailed Iran for respecting the nuclear accord, saying the Islamic Republic has even gone beyond its obligations.
Following numerous complaints and legal action concerning pain and injury caused by the use of single plastic hand ties by the Israeli military on detainees, including children, the office of the Military Advocate General announced the introduction of new procedures for the use of restraints in 2010. The nature of the complaints prior to the introduction of the new procedures relating to the use of plastic ties included swelling, ties cutting into wrists and severe pain.
Under the new procedures introduced in 2010, hands should be tied from the front, unless security considerations require tying from behind. Three plastic ties should be used; one around each wrist and one connecting the two; there should be the space of a finger between the ties and the wrist; and the restraints should avoid causing suffering as much as possible. The officer in charge is responsible for ensuring compliance.
According to international juvenile justice standards restraints should only be used if the child poses an imminent threat to him or herself, or to others and all other means have been exhausted. Restraints may be used as a precaution against escape during transfer but only for as long as is strictly necessary and must not cause unnecessary pain or suffering. According to UNICEF and a UK report, single plastic hand ties should be prohibited in all circumstances, as should blindfolds.
Approximately three years after the introduction of the new procedures, UNICEF reported that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process”. In reaching this conclusion UNICEF found that children continued to be painfully hand tied and blindfolded on a routine basis contrary to international standards and Israeli military regulations.
In May 2013, the military authorities responded to UNICEF’s findings by issuing a letter to the heads of all Brigades, Divisions, Police and Military Police operating in the West Bank reminding all units of existing standard operating procedures and policies in relation to the arrest of minors. Existing standard operating procedures stipulate that: hand-tying should be done at the discretion of the head of forces and always with three plastic ties in accordance with the 2010 regulations.
According to evidence collected by Military Court watch (MCW) in 2016, 90 percent of children continue to be restrained upon arrest, generally with plastic hand ties, and 85 percent report being blindfolded. In situations where plastic hand ties are used, many children continue to report experiencing pain. In 67 percent of cases where restraints are used, the military regulations for their use continue to be disregarded.
Although UNICEF and the UK reports also recommended that children should never be restrained while attending court except in extreme and unusual circumstances, children continue to be shackled by the ankles during their appearances in the military courts. … Full article
A collective open letter has been signed by many professors of international law and legal researchers. Entitled “A plea against the abusive invocation of self-defence as a response to terrorism” it has been circulating on the internet for a few weeks.
Among the signatories, of which there are more than 230 professors and almost 50 assistants/researchers (see the list available here as at 25 July; it is updated regularly by the Centre de Droit International de l´Université Libre de Bruxelles), there are distinguished members of the international law community as well younger practitioners. The objective of this collective initiative is to challenge the invocation of the legal argument of self-defence by several states in the context of the so called “war” against ISIS.
As is well known, the UN Charter has been extremely clear on the unique exception to the prohibition of the use of force since its adoption in 1945 — self-defence — and military operations authorised by Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter. However, since 9/11, interpretations made by the United States and its allies have been made to give legal support for unilateral military operations in the territory of a state without the previous consent of its authorities. In a recent note published on the website of the European Journal of International Law (EJIL), we read that: “Particularly since 9/11, several States have supported a broad reading of the right to use force in self-defence, as allowing them to intervene militarily against terrorists whenever and wherever they may be. A consequence of that conception is that any State could be targeted irrespective of whether that State has ‘sent’ the irregular (in this case terrorist) group to carry out a military action or has been ‘substantially involved’ in such an action.”
The use of force in self-defence must be exercised in conformity with the conditions laid down in international law, and particularly the UN Charter. On this very particular point, it must be recalled that France presented to the Security Council a quite surprising draft resolution after the Paris attacks of 13 November last year (see the full text here of the “blue version” circulated among UN delegations) which avoided any reference to the Charter in its operative paragraphs; it is possibly a great “première” of French diplomacy at the United Nations and was analysed in a short note. Resolution 2249 was used a few weeks later in a British parliamentary debate to justify air strikes in Syria, without major clarifications (see this modest note about this).
The text of the global open letter (available here in French, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Arabic) considers, among other arguments, that: “Thus, numerous military interventions have been conducted in the name of self-defence, including against Al Qaeda, ISIS or affiliated groups. While some have downplayed these precedents on account of their exceptional nature, there is a serious risk of self-defence becoming an alibi, used systematically to justify the unilateral launching of military operations around the world. Without opposing the use of force against terrorist groups as a matter of principle — particularly in the current context of the fight against ISIS — we, international law professors and scholars, consider this invocation of self-defence to be problematic. In fact, international law provides for a range of measures to fight terrorism. Priority should be given to these measures before invoking self-defence.”
Furthermore, the signatories of this collective letter state: “…we consider that terrorism raises above all the challenge of prosecution and trial of individuals who commit acts of terrorism. A variety of legal tools are available in this respect. They relate first and foremost to police and judicial cooperation (chiefly through agencies such as INTERPOL or EUROPOL), aiming both at punishing those responsible for the crimes committed and preventing future occurrence of such crimes. Although there is certainly room for improvement, this cooperation has often proved effective in dismantling networks, thwarting attacks, and arresting the perpetrators of such attacks. By embracing from the outset the ‘war against terrorism’ and ‘self-defence’ paradigms and declaring a state of emergency, there is a serious risk of trivialising, neglecting, or ignoring ordinary peacetime legal processes.”
It must be noted that international law scholars and researchers around the world can sign this document until 31 July. The text recalls a certain number of very clear rules that the diplomats in New York know better than anyone — despite the ambiguous interpretations made by some of their colleagues, in particular since the beginning of air strikes in Syria, without the consent of its de facto authorities — on the extremely vague notion of an ‘unwilling or unable’ State, justifying, for some diplomats, military operations on its territory without its previous consent. I refer to this very recent article published in The Netherlands.
The collective document also states that: “…the maintenance of international peace and security rests first and foremost with the Security Council. The Council has qualified international terrorism as a threat to the peace on numerous occasions. Therefore, aside from cases of emergency leaving no time to seize the UN, it must remain the Security Council’s primary responsibility to decide, coordinate and supervise acts of collective security. Confining the task of the Council to adopting ambiguous resolutions of an essentially diplomatic nature, as was the case with the passing of resolution 2249 (2015) relating to the fight against ISIS, is an unfortunate practice. Instead, the role of the Council must be enhanced in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Charter, thereby ensuring a multilateral approach to security /…/ However, the mere fact that, despite its efforts, a State is unable to put an end to terrorist activities on its territory is insufficient to justify bombing that State’s territory without its consent. Such an argument finds no support either in existing legal instruments or in the case law of the International Court of Justice. Accepting this argument entails a risk of grave abuse in that military action may henceforth be conducted against the will of a great number of States under the sole pretext that, in the intervening State’s view, they were not sufficiently effective in fighting terrorism.”
It must be noted that, in February, Canada’s new government decided to cease air strikes in Syria and Iraq. We read in this official note produced by the Canadian Armed Forces that: “ In accordance with Government of Canada direction, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) ceased air strike operations in Iraq and Syria on 15 February 2016. From their first sortie on 30 October 2014 to 15 February 2016, the CF-188 Hornets conducted 1378 sorties resulting in 251 airstrikes (246 in Iraq and 5 in Syria), expended 606 munitions and achieved the following effects: 267 ISIL fighting positions, 102 ISIL equipment and vehicles, and, 30 ISIL Improvised Explosive Device (IED) factories and ISIL storage facilities.”
In 2015, a Canadian scholar concluded an extremely interesting article on air strikes in Syria and Iraq in the following terms: “However, there is a further legal hurdle for Canada to overcome. Unless Canada can attribute ISIS´ attacks in Iraq to Syria, then the question becomes whether Canada may lawfully target ISIS, as a non-state actor in Syria’s sovereign territory, using the ‘unwilling or unable’ doctrine to prevent ISIS’ extraterritoriality attacks against Iraq. This justification moves significantly away from the Nicaragua, Congo and Israeli Wall cases’ requirement for attribution. There appears to be a lack of consensus on whether opinion juris and state practice have accepted the ‘unwilling or unable’ doctrine as customary international law. There is no escaping the conclusion that Canada’s air strikes on Syria are on shaky, or at least shifting, legal ground.”
The signatories of the open letter, the number of whom is increasing daily, include scholars from different continents and of different ages; they conclude by reaffirming that: “The international legal order may not be reduced to an interventionist logic similar to that prevailing before the adoption of the United Nations Charter. The purpose of the Charter was to substitute a multilateral system grounded in cooperation and the enhanced role of law and institutions for unilateral military action. It would be tragic if, acting on emotion in the face of terrorism (understandable as this emotion may be), that purpose were lost.”
Eastern Ukraine neighbourhood shelled by Ukraine armed forces (UNHCR photo)
Five days ago, the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released another in a long line of reports purporting to provide an overview of the human rights situation in Ukraine. This latest report is titled “Accountability for killings in Ukraine from January 2014 to May 2016”.
The report is 20 pages long with 31 additional pages of appendix examining “Cases of violations or abuses of the right to life in Ukraine from January 2014 to May 2016”. A press release by the UN body summarizes the content of the report.
The OHCHR report is another outlandish collection of selected facts making a strong inference that a large part of the “abuses to the right to life” it examines are the fault of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and their self-defense forces.
As with past reports, the OHCHR makes an equivalency between, on the one hand, the governing regime in Kyiv which is bound by all of the international conventions on human rights which previous Ukrainian governments signed onto and, on the other hand, the people’s republics and armed forces of Donetsk and Lugansk which are not so bound. The Donetsk and Lugansk republics cannot sign on to international human rights conventions because they are shunned and unrecognized by most international bodies… including the OHCHR!
At last check, it is not the republics of the former eastern Ukraine which have invaded Ukraine, but Ukraine that has invaded and imposed an ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ against the people there. Yet the UN report describes Kyiv’s civil war as a “separatist conflict”.
Adding insult to injury, the UN press release says, “According to the report, the killings are being “fueled by the inflow of foreign fighters and weapons from the Russian Federation”.
The UN report fails to mention that even if such a patently false description of the conflict as being a “separatist conflict” were true, Ukraine is nonetheless duty bound by international convention to protect its nominal citizens and not wage war against them.
The UN report speaks of shadowy “armed groups” in Donetsk and Lugansk who it says are responsible for extra-judicial killings as well as prisoner abuse, torture and killings. Yet when it comes to the extremist and neo-Nazi paramilitaries who are joined with Ukraine’s armed forces in waging civil war, they are given the polite description of “volunteer battalions”. Sounds downright patriotic and heroic!
When it comes to the Kyiv regime itself, the UN report language is all kid glove. For example, in professing concern about the Odessa Massacre of 48 people on May 2, 2014, UN press release writes:
The report also highlighted the violence that took place on 2 May 2014, in Odesa, during which 48 people died as a result of clashes between “pro-unity” and “pro-federalism” groups. OHCHR “remains concerned that the authorities have still not taken appropriate measures to ensure effective investigations into the 2 May 2014 events, nor to protect the independence of the judiciary,” the report said.
On that day in Odessa, nearly all of the victims were peacefully protesting against the coup in Ukraine in February 2014 which deposed the country’s elected president. They were targeted for killing when the trade union building in the center of the city where they had taken refuge from a right-wing mob was set on fire.
Further in the press release we read:
Furthermore, the report found that the lack of accountability remains widespread in Ukraine, despite efforts by the Government [sic] to bring perpetrators from its own ranks to justice and the pre-trial investigations by the Office of the Chief Military Prosecutor into cases of killing, torture and ill-treatment by members of the armed groups of the self-proclaimed [sic] “Donetsk people’s republic” and self-proclaimed “Luhansk people’s republic.”
While acknowledging the challenges faced by the authorities in ensuring justice, including the lack of access to the territories where many of the alleged acts took place, the report noted “an apparent lack of motivation to investigate some cases … especially when it concerns acts allegedly committed by Ukrainian forces.”
What about the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement, signed by Ukraine on February 12, 2015 and endorsed by no less that the UN Security Council several days later? Not a word of it in the OHCHR press release. In the 20 pages of the report, one finds several references to the need to implement what is called the “Minsk Agreements”, but no detailed description of the content and import of the agreement is provided.
How bad is the official state of human rights in Ukraine? Two months ago, the UN’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture took the unprecedented step of cancelling in mid-visit an official visit looking into reported cases of torture by Ukrainian government forces and by rebel authorities in the east. The reason for the cancellation was that Kyiv refused to live up to its obligations under Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, an international convention to which a previous Ukrainian government signed on. It requires signators to provide unfettered access to prisons and other places of detention. The subcommittee was intending to investigate reports of secret prisons operated by Ukraine’s police and military services.
Oh, don’t look for information in this latest UN report on the telling experience of the UN’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture two months ago. Blank. Apparently, that would be unrelated to “Cases of violations or abuses of the right to life in Ukraine from January 2014 to May 2016”.
Syria’s envoy to the UN has called on the international community to draw up an effective mechanism to end Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and its continued exploitation of the natural resources of the territory.
Speaking at a UN Security Council session on Tuesday, Bashar al-Ja’afari said Israeli forces continue to arbitrarily detain Syrian nationals and loot water and petroleum resources in the Golan Heights in flagrant violation of international law and regulations.
He urged the UN to force Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights and withdraw from the area in compliance with the Security Council Resolution 497, which was adopted unanimously on December 17, 1981, and which declares Tel Aviv’s annexation of Golan as “null and void and without international legal effect.”
The top Syrian diplomat also pointed to Israel’s land expropriation policies in the Golan Heights, arguing that Israeli officials have created 750 farms and accommodated 90 settler households there since the beginning of the current year, and are planning to lodge 150 families every year in a bid to change the demographic identity of the area.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later occupied and annexed it.
Ja’afari further criticized the international community’s inaction toward Israel’s subversive acts, and its support for al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.
He also lashed out at some European countries over their support for Takfiri terrorism, highlighting that they have fallen victim to acts of terror themselves.
Russia ‘to continue assisting Syria in terror fight’
Meanwhile, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, has said his country is set to provide Syria with all necessary assistance in the campaign against terrorism.
“For our part, we are going to continue providing the Syrian government with assistance in fighting terrorist groups, led by Daesh and the Nusra Front. Undoubtedly, there should be neither delays nor concessions in this struggle,” Churkin said at the Tuesday’s Security Council meeting.
He further described the free movement of terrorists through borders, the flow of weapons and money to terrorist outfits as well as access to chemical warfare agents as the main challenges in the anti-terror fight.
Syria UN envoy ‘shirking responsibilities’
Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has criticized UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, saying the envoy has failed to fulfill his responsibilities and convene a new round of peace talks for Syria.
“We are concerned that the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has been shying away from his duties recently, not calling another round of intra-Syrian talks, and starting to make public statements on the need for Russia and the United States to agree on how to proceed with the political settlement in Syria, and then the UN will convene a new round of intra-Syrian talks. This is the wrong approach,” Lavrov said.
“Replacing the intra-Syrian dialogue with a Russia-US duet is impossible and I believe this is a very harmful signal that is being sent to the irreconcilable opposition in the so-called High Negotiations Committee, which just keeps voicing ultimatums on [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s resignation and some sort of deadlines. This is not helping the case,” Lavrov said, referring to a Saudi-backed group of Syrians opposing Assad.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011.
De Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict. The UN has stopped its official casualty count in Syria, citing its inability to verify the figures it receives from various sources.
Sir John Chilcot’s report into the war in Iraq contains 2.6 million words and took seven years to complete yet there is one story which was untold in the dossier. It is the story of how two heroic GCHQ (Government Communications HQ) staff sacrificed their careers and ambitions in order to try and stop the most powerful country in the world from invading Iraq, and thereby preventing the slaughter of innocents.
One of the women, whom I called “Isobel”, came to see me after an anti-war gathering I addressed at Bristol University. It was towards the end of 2002 and I had recently returned from an investigative assignment in Iraq, convinced more than ever that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD). However, as an anti-war journalist, very few of my colleagues in Fleet Street’s mainstream media wanted to run a story saying there were no WMD in Iraq, even though this was also the conclusion of the UN’s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and his team of experts.
“Isobel” gave me a top secret document which turned out to be the biggest and most damning intelligence leak since World War II. I wondered how I could get the story out to the wider world that America was so desperate to push for war in Iraq that it was prepared to use blackmail against individuals sitting on the UN Security Council to get its wish.
The document made it quite clear that Britain’s spy agencies would do the spade work to seek out and dig dirt on council members which could then be used against them to secure their votes for war. It was sensational.
All of the information was contained in an email from America’s National Security Agency (NSA) to Britain’s GCHQ. British spy agencies were “ordered” by their American counterparts to spy on all members of the Security Council to try to ascertain how they would vote in the event of Bush and Blair seeking UN approval for the war in Iraq.
When “Isobel” handed me the document I was working as a freelance journalist and automatically thought the best way to place it would be at the Daily Mirror which, under editor Piers Morgan, was one of the few Fleet Street titles to adopt an anti-war position. Intelligence stories are always difficult to prove and, without compromising my contacts at GCHQ, I was unable to supply the Mirror with anything other than the original email, although I had used an intelligence contact to verify its authenticity.
The war drums were beating ever louder when it was returned to me with disappointing news; it would not be used by the Mirror. In hindsight, the story was so massive that I should have gone straight to Morgan to try and persuade him to run it.
By this time it was early February and, realising that it had a limited shelf life, I contacted a former colleague at the Observer and told him what I had. I met with Martin Bright in a small cafe in London’s West End and knew straight away that he would give it his best shot as he realised the importance of the document.
It took a full three weeks for Bright, assisted by the Observer’s then defence correspondent Peter Beaumont and US editor Ed Vulliamy, to stand up the story and persuade the editor, Roger Alton, to run with it. It was years later before I discovered that political editor Kamal Ahmed did his best to persuade Alton to dump the exclusive.
There were even attempts to trash my personal reputation as a journalist and reminders bordering on hysteria about the Sunday Times’ embarrassing faux pas over the 1980s hoax “Hitler Diaries”; it was a desperate attempt to dissuade Alton not to use the story but it went ahead and the scoop soon travelled around the world. Sadly, days later, Iraq was invaded and the story was swamped by “Shock and Awe” headlines. Now it is virtually forgotten, but I often wonder if it would or could have altered the course of events had we been able to get the story published in early February 2003.
The woman who handed me the document – “Isobel” – and her colleague Katharine Gun, a 29-year-old Mandarin translator who also worked at GCHQ in Cheltenham, were arrested. When their homes were raided and searched by police, “Isobel” got a message to me; I was in Bahrain at the time and sent Bright a text message saying simply, “Shit, hit & fan”.
Recalling events some five years later, Martin Bright wrote in the New Statesman : “The email was sent by a man with a name straight out of a Hollywood thriller, Frank Koza, who headed up the ‘regional targets’ section of the National Security Agency, the US equivalent of GCHQ. It named six nations to be targeted in the operation: Chile, Pakistan, Guinea, Angola, Cameroon and Bulgaria. These six so-called ‘swing nations’ were non-permanent members of the Security Council whose votes were crucial to getting the resolution through.”
According to Bright, “It later emerged that Mexico was also targeted because of its influence with Chile and other countries in Latin America, though it was not mentioned in the memo. But the operation went far wider – in fact, only Britain was specifically named as a country to be exempt from the ‘surge’.”
Verifying the document as genuine proved the most difficult task and Blairite journalists embedded in the Observer newsroom continued to whisper in the editor’s ear about conspiracy theories, Russian forgeries and even a double bluff scenario by GCHQ spy chiefs to flush out traitors.
In the end, Vulliamy simply telephoned the NSA’s Maryland HQ and asked to speak to the author of the email. Within seconds he was put through to Frank Koza’s office and the man himself answered the phone. Although he refused to comment on the story, the call proved that Koza did indeed exist and was not some invention of the Kremlin’s spooks.
The story was published on 2 March 2003 but it became clear that the US president was going to go to war come what may and that he wasn’t going to rely on UN support. Thanks to Chilcot, we now know that Blair had already given his unconditional support to Bush in September 2002.
Gun and “Isobel” were arrested for alleged offences under the Official Secrets Act, but the attorney general at the time, Lord Goldsmith, dropped the case at the 11th hour on 26 February 2004. Had the case gone ahead, it would have been both sensational and embarrassing for the US and Britain. Today I wonder if that is why Chilcot chose to ignore the story, which has been recounted in part by Bright. The shenanigans of what went on inside the Observer newsroom were provided in more detail by award-winning journalist Nick Davies. He decided to break Fleet Street’s unwritten rule by investigating his own colleagues, in order to expose how the mainstream media subverts the truth.
In his book “Flat Earth News”, Davies gave us a scathing critique of the media; not just some of it, but all of it. Davies’ most damaging dirt is reserved for Kamal Ahmed, the man who – with no prior experience – was appointed as political editor of the Observer after Patrick Wintour moved to the Guardian. The more obviously qualified Andy McSmith was overlooked by the new editor, Roger Alton, whose sympathies were generally right-wing. According to Davies, both Alton and Ahmed were open to endless manipulation by Downing Street, which resulted in uncritical stories about the “findings” of the now notorious “dodgy dossier”.
There were other blatant lies published about Saddam’s alleged connections to Al-Qaida and his arsenal of WMD. Journalists like myself who supported the anti-war movement and individuals like Blix and the US’ Scott Ritter were demonised and ridiculed for holding to a narrative which differed from that of the pro-war lobby.
The British and American media ware manipulated by people inside newsrooms who were under the influence of the Bush and Blair camps, manipulation the like of which we can see continuing today in the attacks against anti-war Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The pro-war lobby appears to be infecting all walks of life, including the media and government.
I don’t know if Chilcot was persuaded to ignore the story of the GCHQ leak or if he simply over-looked it, but as whistle-blower Kathryn Gun writes here, it was a missed opportunity. If nothing else, this is a cautionary tale which serves as a warning about the kind of desperate measures that the US and British governments are prepared to take to get their own way, especially on matters relating to the Middle East. If that means blackmailing, eavesdropping and intercepting the private communications of UN Security Council members, there are those in Washington and London ready, willing and able to do it.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finished his farewell trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. He is due to step down in December and used the occasion to urge some political will for a two-state solution as “the only way to meet the national aspirations of both peoples.” Ban also criticised the blockade of Gaza which, he said, “Suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts.” Interestingly, he added that it is “collective punishment for which there must be accountability.”
Speaking in Ramallah, the UN chief expressed an understanding of Palestinian frustration: “I’m aware that many Palestinians question the feasibility of reaching a just and lasting peace with Israel. They hear talk of peace but they see violence. They still live a life of checkpoints, permits, blockade, demolitions and profound economic hardships faced with growing indignities and the humiliating occupation that will soon enter its 50th year.”
During his time as Secretary General, Ban has condemned the status quo verbally but the organisation he leads has failed to take concrete action. Under his tenure, Gaza has been strangled by a tight blockade and its residents have witnessed three major Israeli offensives. In over half of his time at the top of the UN, the West Bank settler population has grown by 23 per cent (from the beginning of 2009 until the beginning of 2014), and at least two rounds of direct talks have failed. In 2014, more Palestinians were killed by Israel than in any other year since 1967. Violence and fatalities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, meanwhile, were at their highest since the beginning of his tenure in 2007.
Following the most recent Israeli war against Gaza in 2014, a UN inquiry found that Israel was responsible for striking seven official sites used by the organisation as civilian shelters, during which 44 Palestinians were killed and 227 others were injured. Releasing the report, Ban condemned the attacks “as a matter of the utmost gravity.” He noted that it was the second time during his tenure as secretary general that he had been obliged to establish a board of inquiry into incidents involving UN premises and personnel in Gaza that have occurred during the course of “tragic conflicts” in the Gaza Strip. Concerning the children killed in the war, he commented during an earlier visit, “I met so many of the beautiful children of Gaza. More than 500 were killed in the fighting – many more were wounded. What did they do wrong? Being born in Gaza is not a crime.”
However, his inaction during the conflict forced 129 organisations and distinguished individuals to sign an open letter to him. “Until today,” they wrote, “you have taken no explicit and tangible measures to address the recent Israeli attacks in the occupied Palestinian territories since 13 June. Moreover, your statements have been either misleading, because they endorse and further Israeli false versions of facts, or contrary to the provisions established by international law and to the interests of its defenders, or because your words justify Israel’s violations and crimes.”
The number of Palestinian children killed during the 2014 war led to efforts to include the Israel Defence Forces on a UN list of serious violators of children’s rights. However, while the UN chief should have supported that inclusion made by Leila Zerrougui, the UN special envoy for children and armed conflict, he didn’t. He was accused of caving into pressure and omitting the Israeli military from the list. UN sources described the decision to override Zerrougui’s recommendation as “unusual”, while Human Rights Watch called it “a blow to UN efforts to better protect children in armed conflict.”
On his farewell visit to Gaza, Ban Ki- Moon told residents that, “The UN will always be with you.” As the two-year anniversary of the beginning of the 2014 Gaza war draws near, most of the 11,000 homes destroyed and 6,800 severely damaged or rendered uninhabitable remain in ruins, largely as a result of the Israeli-led blockade. As his time as UN leader comes to a close, the Palestinians will be hoping that his successor will give them more than words.
Palestinians along with a group of Muslim countries have lashed out at a UN decision to elect Israel as the chairman of one of its permanent committees for the first time in the history of Israeli occupation.
Danny Danon, Israel’s representative at the United Nations, was elected Monday to head the world body’s Legal Committee also called the Sixth Committee, which oversees issues related to international law.
It is first time that Tel Aviv will head one of the world body’s six permanent committees since joining the United Nations in 1949.
His election, however, elicited angry reactions from Muslim countries, including those in the Arab League and 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The chief Palestinian delegate at the UN, Riyad Mansour, strongly denounced the results of the election, which according to him was “threatening the work of the Sixth Committee.”
Mansour said the Israeli regime has long been “the biggest violator of international law.”
The General Assembly has six standing committees that report to it on several issues, including human rights, decolonization, disarmament, economic and financial issues, as well as the UN budget and legal issues.
Danon was nominated for the position by the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) in the UN. Israel has been a temporary member of the WEOG since 2000, but joined the group permanently in December 2013.
The chairmanship of assembly is allocated on a rotational basis and is usually confirmed without a vote.
Deputy US Ambassador to the UN David Pressman, however, reacted angrily to the opponents of Danon’s election.
“We need a United Nations that includes Israel, that brings Israel closer, not one that systematically pushes Israel away.”
However, the UN warned Israel of unspecified action over its failure to cooperate with its reporters.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein slammed Tel Aviv for denying UN special rapporteurs access to the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“I must emphasize that non-cooperation by governments will not result in my office remaining silent,” he said.
He said investigators from his office had an important role in providing factual information that could prevent further violence.
Zeid also touched on the issue of the Palestinians held in Israel’s prisons, saying; “Over 400 Palestinian children are currently detained in Israeli prisons.”
He warned that violence could would break out again between Israeli forces and the Palestinian people unless the regime lifts the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Gaza, one of the most densely-populated areas in the world, has been under an Israeli siege since June 2007.
The 13th report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Ukraine between 16 November 2015 and 15 February 2016, when the Minsk Agreements were in force, has come as a shock to Kiev.
According to the UN, more than three million people live in the areas directly affected by the conflict. The exact number of people who have left Ukraine-controlled territory is still unknown, although rough estimates range from 800,000 to 1,000,000 people. The Ukrainian government has estimated that more than a million people have left southeast Ukraine for Russia, Belarus and Europe. This figure does not match that of the Russian federal migration service, however: in 2015, around four million Ukrainians crossed the border, with nearly 2.6 million settling in Russia. More than a million people have arrived from southeast Ukraine. Residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are permitted to live freely in Russia.
The discrepancy in the figures clearly shows that Ukraine is not interested in keeping track of its citizens, whether within the country or abroad. This means that one of the aims of the military campaign launched in the east of the country is to displace the population from the area of conflict, predominantly to Russia. Given that refugees from the republics to Ukraine are facing discrimination in access to public services, according to the UN report, the authorities in Kiev do not seem to want the residents of Donbass either.
The UN also states that those living close to the contact line (nearly 800,000 people) are particularly suffering, and the lives of these people are constantly at risk. The UN mission believes that the assistance being given to the residents of Donbass is insufficient, even given Russia’s humanitarian convoys, although the fact that it was Ukraine that shut down all the social programmes and introduced the ‘blockade’ unfortunately remained beyond the scope of the report.
The UN believes that the permit regime introduced by Ukraine and the disorder at checkpoints are negatively reinforcing the isolation of those living in the DPR and LPR. Queues of up to 300-400 cars waiting on either side of the checkpoints are observed on a regular basis and this recently ended in tragedy. Due to the fact that the Ukrainian checkpoint is not open at night, civilians who had been queuing in their cars overnight were fired at by the Ukrainian side using illegal-calibre weapons (122 mm), resulting in the deaths of five people, including a pregnant woman.
During the period covered in the report, the Ukrainian armed forces have advanced even further into populated areas and the numerous attacks on the residential areas of Horlivka, Shakhtarsk and Debaltseve are also mentioned in the report.
Since the Minsk ceasefire agreements entered into force (i.e. since 15 February 2015), there have been 843 civilian casualties – 235 killed (216 adults and 19 children) and 608 injured (554 adults and 44 children). At the same time, the UN mission notes that it is unable to attribute some of the victims to either side of the conflict. It also emphasises that the real number of those killed and injured could be higher than that given in the report.
The number of people missing is particularly shocking. The Ukrainian side has reported 741 persons missing, while the DPR has registered 420 missing persons. In addition, the UN mission has ascertained that approximately 1,000 bodies held in morgues in government-controlled territory have still not been identified.
And once again the numbers are crying out that the Ukrainian government does not believe people to be important. The number of persons that Kiev has declared missing is a third less than the number of unidentified bodies! And the numbers also ignore the mortal remains in areas where hostilies took place – search operations are virtually non-existent. As the UN report states, there is not even a dedicated mechanism in place to gather statements from the relatives of missing persons.
The UN mission has also not taken into account the number of unmarked graves in cemeteries. The overwhelming majority of missing persons should not be looked for in the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, but among the thousands of bodies that have already been quietly buried or are still lying in morgues. It is possible that the official number of those who will never return has been hugely underestimated.
The efforts of the Ukrainian side aimed at searching for and identifying those killed and those missing are referred to in the UN report using the word «inaction».
Kiev cannot admit that to avoid responsibility, it is secretly carrying out a policy of ‘unidentified bodies’. It is also being suggested to relatives that missing persons are being held captive by DPR and LPR ‘separatists’.
The report concedes that some people recorded as missing may be alive, but are being held in secret places of detention either in the republics or in Ukrainian-controlled territory.
The UN mission has finally figured out that the secret prisons and torture in Ukraine are an established system that has become part of the state and its policies. Of the 1,925 criminal investigations launched into allegations of torture in 2015, 1,450 were closed.
The report has also provided yet more evidence that it is not a civil war. It is a war between those who seized power by means of a military coup and the people of Ukraine, a war that is hypocritically being referred to as an ‘anti-terrorist operation’.
As noted in the report, «throughout the country, OHCHR continued to receive allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, and torture and ill-treatment of people accused by the Ukrainian authorities of ‘trespassing territorial integrity’, ‘terrorism’ or related offenses, or of individuals suspected of being members of, or affiliated with, the armed groups».
People are not just being tortured, but are also being executed without trial. In Sloviansk, for example, the basement of the local college is being used for this purpose. A basement used for torture and summary executions was also discovered by UN inspectors in Izium, Kharkiv district. In addition, «a network of unofficial places of detention, often located in the basement of regional SBU buildings, have been identified». The SBU also has such basements in Odessa and Kharkiv. In February 2016, between 20 to 30 people were detained in the basement of the Kharkiv regional SBU building, and the vast majority of prisoners were not arrested in accordance with legal procedures and were not charged.
The report also notes that the SBU obtains confessions of terrorism using torture, and those who sign the confessions are told that should they complain, then their families, including their children, will also be made to suffer. The Security Service of Ukraine refers to such methods as the use of «proportional» and «justified» force.
The 13th report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Ukraine appeared on 3 March 2016, but it is only now that the information bomb has exploded following an article in The Times, in which Ivan Simonovic, UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, talks about the report and also about five secret SBU prisons that a delegation of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture was not allowed access to, resulting in the delegation cutting short its visit to Ukraine…
The 13th report also completely destroys the myth that there are thousands of prisoners in the DPR and LPR. There is no trace of the thousands – in February 2016, the SBU gave the UN mission a list of 136 people who are allegedly being detained in custody in the republics, but nothing is known about this for sure. The list provided by the DPR authorities, however, looks completely different. «Some 1,110 persons were detained by the Government of Ukraine, including 363 members of the armed groups. This includes 577 people arrested for ‘their political views’ and 170 civilians ‘who have nothing to do with the conflict’», says the UN report. The SBU has gone overboard by essentially creating a system of concentration camps. The UN report likens the actions of the SBU to the seizure of hostages.
It has been impossible to keep the scandal hushed up, but while this regime exists in Ukraine, investigations into its criminal activities will be carried out along the same lines as the investigations into the people burned alive in Odessa on 2 May 2014. Namely that the executioners will remain free or under house arrest while the victims are imprisoned. For years.
RT | May 20, 2016
The American legal system is rapidly transforming itself with the expressed purpose of replacing much of international law. Be it within the realm of trade and banking, criminal prosecutions and even sports. The Americanization of law supplants the United Nations and the sovereignty of every state on the planet.
CrossTalking with Joe Lauria, Daoud Khairallah, and Toby Cadman.