“…wars and rumours of wars… for all these things must come to pass. Nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom… famines and pestilences and earthquakes in unusual places…” Matt. 24:6-7
INSIDE THIS WEEK’S EDITION: Shocking killings in Venezuela; Outcry over US migrant children’s policy; Siege in Syria; New genetic study supports creation; Fighting escalates in Somalia; When we think it is peace; Fight to end hunger faces challenges; Nothing can stop the return of Jesus Christ; What is the Lord’s Day?
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Week of May June 24 – July 1, 2018
‘Shocking accounts of extrajudicial killings’ in Venezuela
In Venezuela, “credible, shocking accounts of extrajudicial killings” and impunity for perpetrators, indicate that the rule of law “is virtually absent”, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a call for an international inquiry into the alleged violations.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s appeal to the UN Human Rights Council to mount a high-level investigation, follows the publication of a new report by his office into the Latin American country, detailing serious abuse allegations.
“For years now, institutional checks and balances and the democratic space in Venezuela have been chiseled away,” the High Commissioner said in a statement.
Briefing journalists in Geneva, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani confirmed that the new OHCHR report provides an update on alleged abuses committed amid bloody demonstrations held against constitutional reforms, proposed by the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
“This report…spotlights the failure of Venezuelan authorities to hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights violations that include killings, the use of excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture,” Ms. Shamdasani said.
On the subject of extrajudicial killings since 2015, the OHCHR spokesperson said that the report contained “credible, shocking accounts” that young men in poor neighbourhoods had been targeted “who fit the profile (of) so-called criminals”.
In some cases, they had been killed in their home, Ms Shamdasani noted, adding that the OHCHR report detailed how security forces “will tamper with the scenes, so that the killing would appear to have occurred in an exchange of fire”.
The report also highlights the grave impact of the social and economic crises gripping Venezuela.
Families are “having to search in rubbish bins”, Ms Shamdasani said, adding that 87 per cent of the population is now affected by poverty.
“The human rights situation of the people of Venezuela is dismal,” she continued. “When a box of blood pressure pills costs more than the monthly minimum salary and baby milk formula costs more two months’ wages – but protesting against such an impossible situation can land you in jail – the extreme injustice of it all is stark.”
The High Commissioner’s call for an international Commission of Inquiry will be heard by the Human Rights Council – the UN’s principal human rights organ – which is currently in session in Geneva.
It has previously created two such probes following allegations of serious rights violations in Syria and Burundi.
Vast numbers of Venezuelans are starving, deprived of essential medicines, and trying to survive in a situation that is spiralling downwards with no end in sight – Special Rapporteur Philip Alston
Beyond the Human Rights Council, Zeid said that there was also a “strong case” for the matter to be passed to the International Criminal Court (ICC), “given that (Venezuela) appears neither able nor willing to prosecute serious human rights violations”.
US migrant children policy reversal, still ‘fails’ thousands of detained youngsters: UN rights experts
The United States government decision to end its border policy of forcibly separating migrant children from their parents, does not help thousands of youngsters already in detention, who should be released and reunited with their families, a group of UN rights experts said on Friday.
The group of 11 independent Special Rapporteurs, and other experts, insist that the detention of the migrant children – “most” of whom are asylum-seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – inside the US, “severely hampers their development and in some cases, may amount to torture”.
Their statement issued to reporters in Geneva, follows President Donald Trump’s decision to sign an Executive Order ending the practice of forcible separation on Wednesday, two months after the so-called “zero-tolerance” policy was introduced.
The order calls for detaining family members together, who are caught attempting to enter the US, mostly at the southern border with Mexico.
We call on the Government of the US to release these children from immigrant detention and to reunite them with their families – UN human rights experts
The experts, appointed by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, said that the Order simply “does not address the situation of those children who have already been pulled away from their parents.”
“We call on the Government of the US to release these children from immigrant detention and to reunite them with their families based on the best interests of the child, and the rights of the child to liberty and family unity,” the statement added.
The group of experts had already expressed their grave concerns to the US government over the impact of the zero-tolerance policy in early April. The policy made all adults and children trying to cross the border liable to criminal prosecution as a punitive deterrent, the experts noted.
“The separations have been conducted without notice, information, or the opportunity to challenge them. The parents and children have been unable to communicate with each other,” said the statement, adding: “The parents have had no information about the whereabouts of their children, which is a cause of great distress.”
“Moreover, we are deeply concerned at the long-term impact and trauma, including irreparable harm that these forcible separations will have on children.”
Siege of Syria’s eastern Ghouta ‘barbaric and medieval’, says UN Commission of Inquiry
The siege of eastern Ghouta in war-torn Syria, which lasted more than five years, has been labelled “barbaric and medieval” — “amounting” to war crimes, and crimes against humanity, a high-level UN inquiry said on Wednesday.
In a 23-page report on the siege mounted against the densely populated suburb close to the capital Damascus, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic details the events that led to its recapture by pro-Government forces in April this year, following a “dramatically escalating” military campaign.
Neighbourhoods suffered aerial and ground bombardments “which claimed the lives of hundreds of Syrian men, women and children”, the report notes, with “numerous homes, markets and hospitals all but razed to the ground”.
These indiscriminate, “widespread and systematic bombardments” and the act of deliberately attacking protected objects, amounted to war crimes, it continues.
Commenting on the events in eastern Ghouta, Commission of Inquiry Chair, Paulo Pinheiro, condemned the civilian deaths as “abhorrent”.
In addition to the deadly violence they faced, families were denied food and medicine, the veteran rights expert noted, before adding that “no warring party acted to protect the civilian population” during the last phase of the siege.
According to the report, between February and April this year, besieged armed groups and terrorist organizations based inside eastern Ghouta “relentlessly fired” unguided mortars into Damascus city and nearby areas, “killing and maiming” hundreds of Syrian civilians.
Insisting that “there can be no justification” for the indiscriminate shelling of inhabited areas, Commissioner Hanny Megally said that this, too, amounted to a war crime.
According to the report, by the time Government forces declared eastern Ghouta recaptured on 14 April, some 140,000 individuals had fled their homes and up to 50,000 were evacuated to Idlib and Aleppo governorates.
“Tens of thousands” of people have been unlawfully interned by Government forces in what the report’s authors call “managed sites” in rural Damascus, which includes Ghouta.
Their number includes women and children, which is “reprehensible”, Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd said.
The report is scheduled to be formally presented next week, on 26 June, during an interactive dialogue at the current session of the Human Rights Council.