“Dehumanizing” practice of torture remains pervasive (Podcast)

The dehumanizing practice of torture remains pervasive and is disturbingly gaining acceptance, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday. (Podcast)

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Somali singers advocating “No torture” line up before performance outside Mogadishu Central Prison on 10 December 2013. UN Photo/ Tobin Jones

He made the remarks on the International Day of Support for the Victims of Torture observed annually on 26 June.

Torture is strictly prohibited under international law.

Jocelyne Sambira reports.

The law on torture is crystal clear, the UN chief underscored in his message of solidarity with the victims of torture and their families.

Torture can never be used at any time or under any circumstance including during conflict or when national security is under threat, he said.

Around the world, in every region, men, women and children are still being subjected to this form of abuse by non-State actors and under direct State policy.

Mr Ban Ki-moon called on the 159 States that ratified the Convention Against Torture to support the UN Voluntary Fund Against Torture.

Established in 1981 by the UN General Assembly, it requires a minimum of US $12 million annually in voluntary contributions.

The Fund supports hundreds of organizations that provide legal, social, psychological and medical support to some 50,000 victims every year.

It is a lifeline of last resort when States fail to prevent torture and provide support to victims.

Jocelyne Sambira, United Nations.

Duration: 1’01”

 

 

Islamic State conflict: The Libyans gaining ground in Sirte

“They [IS] beheaded our children, crucified them, threw them off the roofs of buildings, terrorised the people and abused faith to justify their crimes”

By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Lybia

From the sand dunes of eastern Sirte, the so-called Islamic State’s port is clearly visible. Fishing boats are docked on the quayside, out of the water. Over the horizon is Europe. At the port, nothing stirs.

But put your head above the dunes here and you risk getting shot.

IS group snipers have occupied a Gaddafi-era hotel on the coast.

Yet in the city behind them, one they have controlled since early last year, their territory diminishes week after week.

IS can no longer get larger boats in and out of the harbour. Sirte was to be the Islamic State’s bolt-hole from its bases in Iraq and Syria. But here, as in their home territories, the militants are losing.

Libya’s pro-government forces are gaining ground.

Mahamud Madi, Bin Mousa brigade:

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“They [IS] beheaded our children, crucified them, threw them off the roofs of buildings, terrorised the people and abused faith to justify their crimes”

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Hamza Hassan leads a brigade and has lost his own father in the fighting

 

Keeping watch here is Hamza Hassan of Brigade 166 from the nearby city of Misrata. His brigade are weary from fasting for Ramadan and they have lost nine men so far in the fight for Sirte.

Among their losses was Mr Hassan’s father.

But the brigade’s job is to pin IS down and stop them escaping by sea. And Brigade 166 is making progress.

Mr Hassan says: “The only problem we’re facing is suicide car bombs. We’re taking out their tyres, firing heavy weapons at them and closing roads.”

The city is seeing battle. I watched from a rooftop as northern Sirte came alive with tracer rounds and mortars. Rounds bounced off buildings and fell deep into the densely packed streets of the city.

A young and improvised force

Mr Hassan is a veteran of the civil war but he says this fight is different.

“The guerrilla warfare is similar to 2011 but these are a different breed of people,” he says.

“Then, there was no-one willing to carry a suicide attack against you. Now, we don’t know how to deal with their fighters surrendering to us. They put their hands in the air so you think they’re surrendering and then detonate themselves”.

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map of Libya showing position of Misrata, Tripoli and Sirte Image caption Many of those fighting IS are from Misrata, which lies between Sirte and the capital, Tripoli

I spent three days with his men then headed south of the city for an offensive to clear the neighbourhood of snipers, which had the effect of joining Libyan forces in the west of the city to Mr Hassan’s men in the east.

Hundreds of men lined up on the back of Libyan “technicals”, pick-up trucks equipped with large guns. A few tanks joined the front.

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The anti-IS forces have gained ground recently

There was little in the way of air support, but a drone buzzed high in the sky.

For the past two weeks it had been mapping the buildings used by snipers, and with co-ordination from UK and US special forces, the men at the front were now hitting those buildings with everything they had.

The noise was deafening and huge clouds of dust and debris were thrown into the air. It didn’t take long for IS to respond with mortars of their own and deadly sniper fire.

It was a costly day for Libyan fighters. They are mostly militia with some army, and all under the authority of Libya’s UN-backed Tripoli-based government. Although like Mr Hassan many are veterans of the 2011 war, this is a young and improvised force.

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Many of the pro-government forces are young men, without much training

They have almost no body armour or helmets, and their weapons are outdated.

At the edge of the battlefield, one curly-haired fighter, perhaps still in his teens, joked as I took a photograph.

“Take my picture,” he said, “because I’m going to die today”. His comrades laughed and told him to be quiet.

At a nearby field hospital, casualties soon began arriving.

Half a dozen ambulances stood at the hospital entrance with their doors open.

The injured, more than 150, were strangely quiet.

There was little crying out in pain, but occasionally a call of “Allahu Akhbar” would go up as the corpse of a dead fighter arrived.

Some were transferred straight from the ambulances to body bags in a shaded area outside the hospital.

Almost 50 were killed in the first round of fighting.

‘Sacrifice worth paying’

Mahamud Madi of the Bin Mousa brigade brought in one of his fighters, wrapped in a brightly coloured blanket.

He didn’t make it but another fighter, who had been shot in the neck by an IS sniper, survived.

Mr Madi’s trousers were soaked in their blood, his boots splattered.

But to him, this was a sacrifice worth paying if it meant defeating IS.

“They beheaded our children, crucified them, threw them off the roofs of buildings, terrorised the people and abused faith to justify their crimes,” he said.

“Islamic faith has no room for them. They are outsiders and it is permitted to kill them and treat them with no mercy.”

The toughest fighting still lies ahead, but the Libyan forces are pressing ahead. It will likely be weeks if not months before Sirte is once again liberated.

IS threatened to send their jihadists to the gates of Rome.

In Sirte, they will be lucky to survive much beyond the end of Ramadan in a couple of weeks’ time.

 

Source: BBC News

Nigeria Boko Haram: Scores of refugees starved to death – MSF

Nearly 200 refugees fleeing Boko Haram militants have starved to death over the past month in Bama, Nigeria, the medical charity MSF says.

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Aid workers say one in five children is severely malnourished

A “catastrophic humanitarian emergency” is unfolding at a camp it visited where 24,000 people have taken refuge.

Many inhabitants are traumatised and one in five children is suffering from acute malnutrition, MSF says.

The Islamist group’s seven-year rebellion has left 20,000 people dead and more than two million displaced.

Nigeria’s military has carried out a large-scale offensive against them but Boko Haram still attacks villages in the north-east, destroying homes and burning down wells.

Displaced people in Bama say new graves are appearing on a daily basis, according to a statement from MSF.

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MSF’s visit to the camp was only possible with an army escort

It quoted inhabitants as saying about 30 people died every day due to hunger or illness.

Although the area has been unsafe to travel through, MSF says one of its teams reached Bama on Tuesday.

It went in with a military convoy from the city of Maiduguri in Borno state.

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“This is the first time MSF has been able to access Bama, but we already know the needs of the people there are beyond critical,” said Ghada Hatim, MSF head of mission in Nigeria.

“We are treating malnourished children in medical facilities in Maiduguri and see the trauma on the faces of our patients who have witnessed and survived many horrors,” he said.

Source: BBC News

More than half of Yemenis “don’t have enough food to eat” (Podcast)

Fears are growing for the people of Yemen, the UN said Tuesday, amid news that more than half of the country’s population is suffering from life-threatening food insecurity.

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Severe food insecurity widespread in Yemen, over 1/2 population in crisis. Photo: WFP

In a joint statement by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 14 million people are said to be affected as a result of ongoing conflict between government forces and Houthi rebels.

Here’s WFP’s Bettina Luescher:

“It’s a dire situation. It’s one of the hardest places on earth with some of the biggest humanitarian crises on earth.”

Import restrictions on everyday goods into the country have made matters worse, according to WFP, which supplies aid to three million people a month.

The agency also noted that damage to ports and the shifting security situation continues to aggravate the vulnerability of Yemenis.

Niger displacement hits new highs after Nigeria violence

Violence linked to Boko Haram extremists in eastern Niger has forced a new wave of mass displacement, UNICEF has warned.

Around 67,000 people are believed to have fled attacks at the start of the month, adding to the 240,000 displaced who are already in the Diffa region.

According to the UN Children’s Fund those in search of shelter are mainly Nigerian refugees and internally displaced people from Niger who have settled along a highway, the Route Nationale 01.

Here’s UNICEF’s Viviane van Steirteghem, speaking from Niger:

“This resulted in a huge pressure on water resources especially, because the newly arrived in three of the main sites didn’t only settle with their families, they came with their cattle.”

Most of the new arrivals are women and children, as UNICEF says that the men have stayed at home closer to Lake Chad to plant crops as the rainy season begins.

Concern over Bahrain’s intensified crackdown on dissent

Authorities in Bahrain are being urged by the UN to de-escalate the situation following weeks of stifling dissent and depriving people of their nationality.

The top Shia cleric, Sheikh Issa Qassem, is the latest of at least 250 people to be stripped of their citizenship since July 2014.

The Interior Ministry has the power to revoke the citizenship of an individual for being disloyal or causing harm to the interests of the Kingdom.

Mass protests are taking place outside the cleric’s home in the northwest port village of Diraz since Monday.

Last week, five Shia clerics were also interrogated and Friday prayers by Shia mosques have been suspended until further notice.

Three organizations have also been dissolved, including the country’s largest opposition group.

The Government of Bahrain is being asked by the UN human rights office to ensure that freedom of peaceful assembly is fully respected.

Protestors are also being called on to exercise their rights peacefully and to avoid any act of violence.

Jocelyne Sambira, United Nations.

Duration: 3’04″

WORLD REFUGEE DAY SPEECH CALLS FOR WORLD TO STAND TOGETHER (PODCAST)

The world must stand together with the millions of men, women and children who flee their homes each year to ensure their rights and dignity are protected.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made the call on World Refugee Day observed annually on 20 June.

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with refugees at the Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. UN Photo/Rick Bajorna

Forced displacement has reached unprecedented levels with more than 65 million people uprooted from their homes globally.

Jocelyne Sambira reports.

New and recurring conflicts as well as violence and persecution are forcing people out of their homes and even across international borders, according to the UN chief.

In 2015, more than 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean in dinghies and flimsy boats.

Meanwhile, divisive political rhetoric on asylum and migration issues, rising xenophobia and restrictions on access to asylum have become increasingly visible in some regions, Ban Ki-moon warned.

He also expressed concern over the increase in the use of detention and in the construction of fences and other barriers.

Anti-refugee rhetoric has become so loud, he said, it has been difficult to hear the voices of welcome.

Mr Ban praised the countries as well as the ordinary people and communities that have opened their homes and hearts to refugees.

There is an urgent need to build on and amplify these positive examples, he added.

Jocelyne Sambira, United Nations.

Duration: 58″

Founder of the African Children's Choir, Music For Life and Friends In The West.