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U.S. quits U.N. human rights body, citing bias vs. Israel, alarming critics

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley delivers remarks to the press together with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announcing the U.S.’s withdrawal from the U.N’s Human Rights Council at the Department of State in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

 

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States withdrew from a “hypocritical and self-serving” United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform, a move activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult.

Standing with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for thwarting U.S. efforts to reform the council. She also criticized countries which shared U.S. values and encouraged Washington to remain, but “were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo.”

Washington’s withdrawal is the latest U.S. rejection of multilateral engagement after it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

It also comes as the United States faces intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Monday called on Washington to halt its “unconscionable” policy.

“Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” said Haley, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo. She did not mention Saudi Arabia, which rights groups pushed to be suspended in 2016 over killings of civilians in the Yemen war.

Among reforms the United States had pushed for was to make it easier to kick out member states with egregious rights records. Currently a two-thirds majority vote by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly is needed to suspend a member state.

Haley also said the “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the U.S. decision.

The United States has long shielded its ally Israel at the United Nations. In citing what it says is bias against Israel, the administration of President Donald Trump could further fuel Palestinian arguments that Washington cannot be a neutral mediator as it prepares to roll out a Middle East peace plan. Washington also relocated its embassy to Jerusalem after recognizing it as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of U.S. policy.

The United States is half-way through a three-year term on the 47-member Geneva-based body and the Trump administration had long threatened to quit if it was not overhauled.

‘MISGUIDED POLICY’

Rights groups have criticized the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.

“Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the U.S. should be stepping up, not stepping back,” Zeid said after Haley announced the U.S. withdrawal.

Reuters reported last week that talks on reforming the council had failed to meet Washington’s demands, suggesting the Trump administration would quit.

“The Human Rights Council enables abuses by absolving wrongdoers through silence and falsely condemning those that committed no offense,” Pompeo said.

Diplomats have said the U.S. withdrawal could bolster countries such as Cuba, Russia, Egypt and Pakistan, which resist what they see as U.N. interference in sovereign issues.

Haley said the withdrawal “is not a retreat from our human rights commitments.”

Twelve rights and aid groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, warned Pompeo the U.S. withdrawal would “make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world.”

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said Trump’s “misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests.”

The EU said Washington’s decision “risks undermining the role of the U.S. as a champion and supporter of democracy on the world stage.” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was regrettable and that the council was the “best tool the international community has to address impunity.”

FIRST MEMBER TO WITHDRAW

The Human Rights Council meets three times a year to examine human rights violations worldwide. It has mandated independent investigators to look at situations including Syria, North Korea, Myanmar and South Sudan. Its resolutions are not legally binding but carry moral authority.

When the Council was created in 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration shunned the body.

Under President Barack Obama the United States was elected for a maximum two consecutive terms on the council by the U.N. General Assembly. After a year off, Washington was re-elected in 2016 for its current third term.

U.N. officials said the United States would be the first member to withdraw from the council.

Haley said a year ago that Washington was reviewing its membership. The body has a permanent standing agenda item on suspected violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories that Washington wanted removed.

The council last month voted to probe killings in Gaza and accused Israel of using excessive force. The United States and Australia cast the only “no” votes.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel,” said Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth.

Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish

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PH mulls severing ties with Iceland, 17 other nations – Malacañang

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is mulling over the possibility of cutting ties with Iceland and 17 other nations that voted in favor of a resolution calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to conduct a comprehensive review on the human rights situation in the Philippines amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, Malacañang said Monday (July 15).

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said they will take a serious look into the country’s diplomatic relationship with other nations, adding that Iceland and other nations’ move can be considered as interference in the Philippines’ domestic affairs.

On July 11 (Thursday), 18 of the 47-member of the UNHRC voted to adopt the resolution filed by Iceland, tasking the UN Human Rights Office to prepare a comprehensive report on the Philippines’ human rights situation amid its ongoing anti-drug campaign.

Among the countries that voted in favor of the resolution are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Italy, Iceland, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Uruguay.

“’Pag ang isang bansa ay nagpapahayag ng mga posisyon na makakasira sa ating kasarinlan o sovereignty ay kailangang talagang putulin natin ang relasyon natin sa kanila kung wala silang gagawin kundi siraan tayo ng siraan sa mga kalakaran na di naman batay sa tunay na pangyayari dito sa ating bayan,” Panelo told reporters in a press briefing.

(If a country is making declarations that are affront to our independence or sovereignty, if they continue to do or say negative things that are not based on facts or occurrences in our country, then we need to sever our ties with them.)

However, Panelo said that Duterte will have the final say on the matter, as well as on calls for the Philippines to withdraw its membership from the UNHRC.

READ: Philippines eyes withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council

“In the ultimate analysis, he is the chief architect of foreign policy. Then, it’s the call of the President,” he said.

The palace official assured that they will also factor in every aspect, including the welfare of Filipinos living and working in the mentioned 18 countries, and circumstances that could lead to the cutting of ties.

The UN resolution asked the Philippine government to cooperate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights, including preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation of retaliations on human rights defenders.

The resolution also urged the Philippine government to take up measures against extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, conduct impartial investigations of human rights violations and hold those involved accountable.

With the adoption of the Iceland-led resolution, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet was tasked to prepare a report on the Philippines human rights situation by June 2020.

Although the Duterte administration does not consider the resolution a legally-binding document, Panelo said the government is willing to respond to the UN council’s formal questions or communication about Duterte’s war against illegal drugs.

“They have to believe what this government tells them, because this government does not lie,” Panelo said.

However, he stressed that the government will not oblige if the questions are designed to “embarrass” the Duterte administration. (with details from Rosalie Coz)

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Iceland hopes PH gov’t will work with UN drug war probe

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – The government of Iceland expressed hope that the Philippines will cooperate with the investigation that would be conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) amid allegations of human rights violation in relation with the government’s war on illegal drugs.

Icelandic Foreign Miniser Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson made the statement in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s comments, slamming the Nordic island nation after it endorsed a resolution seeking a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

“The resolution is very modest, focusing on impartiality and cooperation with the U.N. to get clarity around the contested facts. I sincerely hope that this will eventually prompt Philippine authorities to work with the U.N.,” he said.

Last Friday (July 12), Duterte criticized Iceland, saying it does not understand the problems faced by the Philippines.

“Ano ang problema ng Iceland? Ice lang. That’s your problem you have too much ice and there is no clear day or night there. Parang alas kwatro ng hapon ang araw pati gabi. So you can understand why there is no crime, there is no policemen either, and they just go about eating ice… they don’t understand the social, economic, political problems of the Philippines,” he said in a speech during the 28th anniversary celebration of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Camp Aguinaldo.

The UNHRC on Thursday adopted the Iceland-led resolution seeking for a comprehensive review on the alleged human rights violations under Duterte’s drug war.

Eighteen countries voted for the resolution, 14 rejected it, including the Philippines and China while 15 nations abstained.

With the adoption of the resolution, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet was tasked to prepare a report on the Philippines’ human rights situation by June 2020.

The Philippine government has lambasted the passage of the resolution in a poll held in Geneva, Switzerland.

Malacañang earlier said the adoption of the ‘grotesquely one-sided’ resolution is an insult to the majority of Filipinos who expressed satisfaction on the kind of “forceful and effective” governance of Duterte.

READ: Palace slams UN resolution as ‘grotesquely one-sided’ and ‘insulting’

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin also rejected the Iceland-led resolution and warned of “far-reaching consequences” for nations who supported the resolution.

Rights advocates have claimed that thousands of people have died since Duterte launched his campaign against illegal drugs in 2016.

The Philippine Commission on Human Rights earlier called on the government to fully cooperate with the UN probe “to show that it has nothing to hide and is willing to adhere to the global standards expected of a member of the UNHRC.” (with details from Rosalie Coz)

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Tensions spill over in Caracas as Venezuelans take to the streets in an uprising vs Maduro

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Tens of thousands of people marched in Caracas in support of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday made his strongest call yet to the military to help him oust President Nicolas Maduro, but there were no concrete signs of defection from the armed forces leadership.

Tens of thousands of people marched in Caracas in support of Guaido, clashing with riot police along the main Francisco Fajardo thoroughfare. A National Guard armoured car slammed into protesters who were throwing stones and hitting the vehicle.

Seventy-eight people were injured in the incidents, most of them hit with pellets or rubber bullets, said Doctor Maggi Santi of the Salud Chacao health centre in Caracas. None of the injuries were life-threatening, he added.

Early on Tuesday, several dozen armed troops accompanying Guaido clashed with soldiers supporting Maduro at a rally in Caracas, and large anti-government protests in the streets turned violent. But by Tuesday afternoon an uneasy peace had returned and there was no indication that the opposition planned to take power through military force.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN that “as we understand it” Maduro had been ready to depart for socialist ally Cuba, but had been persuaded to stay by Russia, which has also been a steadfast supporter.

Maduro did not make a formal speech on Tuesday but said on Twitter: “Nerves of steel! I call for maximum popular mobilisation to assure the victory of peace. We will win!” He said he had spoken with military leaders and that they had shown him “their total loyalty.”

Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was illegitimate. But Maduro has held on, despite economic chaos, most Western countries backing Guaido, increased U.S. sanctions, and huge protests.

Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis despite its vast oil reserves. Shortages of food and medicine have prompted more than 3 million Venezuelans to emigrate in recent years. (REUTERS)

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