In the latest blow to the beleaguered citizens of Homs, a pipeline close to the city exploded yesterday. Satellite images captured the magnitude of the fire and the thick smoke covering the city. The pipeline was reportedly on fire at the edge of Baba Amr district, a neighborhood that experienced some of the heaviest attacks by government forces.
Update: Take action now by urging the Russian government to join others on the UN Security Council in putting an end to the bloodshed in Syria.
In New York, the UN Security Council will be briefed today by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, followed by a potential vote on a new draft resolution later this week. A Syrian activist currently based in the U.S. described this new development yesterday by stating: “It has become the last chance for the Security Council to act.”
I agree that it is high time for the Council to end its silence—if demands to end the serious and widespread human rights violations are front and center of the resolution. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
This week, we approach the first major anniversary of the popular uprisings that began to sweep through the Middle East and North Africa last year. On January 14, 2011, Tunisia’s long time president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country to Saudi Arabia. Since December Ben Ali has been on trial – in absentia – along with about 40 other senior officials, for the killing of protesters.
The following weeks will be marked by the anniversaries of uprisings and the resignations of repressive dictators who were ultimately swept away by “a power governments cannot suppress” (transporting a Howard Zinn term to a different region).
Despite ongoing human rights violations, which we believe amount to crimes against humanity, the UN Security Council has shamefully failed the Syrian people so far. Several weeks ago, an already watered down resolution was vetoed by key members of the Security Council. Since this vote, the darkest hour of the Security Council in the context of the MENA uprisings, many more peaceful protesters were killed.
In recent weeks, we have also seen sporadic armed attacks by army defectors against government forces, raising the specter of a full blown civil war.
Over the last years we have explored the use of Information and Communications Technologies for human rights research and campaigning, using satellite images to document human rights violations, ranging from attacks against civilians during armed conflict to housing demolitions, to the impact of oil spills on communities.
At Amnesty International we are looking more and more to expand our work, trying to take advantage of technological progress and new communications tools. We’re not alone. Others around the world are also using cutting edge technologies to bring about change and many are meeting this week in Geneva at the annual Crisis Mappers conference.
So instead of writing my own blog entry, I thought I’d give you a peak on what’s happening in the world of crisis mapping.
Newly released satellite images visualize the devastating impact of the 2008 oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria, part of a pattern of destruction by oil companies in the region.
The images from 2006, 2009 and 2011 document the destruction of large swathes of vegetation near Bodo’s riverbanks. The true and false-color satellite images show rainbow slicks in the water ways, discoloration of the intertidal zone and vegetation death around Bodo. Three years after the oil spills, the pollution is still visible in the images.
A few weeks ago we reported how Syrian authorities went global with their repression by targeting Syrian activists abroad.
In a sign of further escalation, Syrian authorities have turned hospitals and medical staff into instruments of repression in their efforts to crush the unprecedented mass protests and demonstrations.
People wounded in protests or other incidents related to the uprising have been verbally abused and physically assaulted in state-run hospitals, including by medical staff, and in some cases denied medical care, in gross breach of medical ethics, and many of those taken to hospital have been detained.
While the United Nations Security Council keeps bickering and remains inactive, Syrian authorities go global with their repression of free speech and assembly.
By now it’s well documented by both NGOs and the United Nations that crimes committed by Syrian security forces against peaceful protesters may amount to crimes against humanity. Since mid-March, more than 2,200 people are reported to have been killed and thousands of others have been arrested.
However, now Syrian authorities are taking it to the next level. In more than four years of working on international human rights crises, I have never seen a foreign government systematically targeting peaceful protesters globally, which is exactly what the Syrian government is doing.
Will member states of the United Nations Security Council finally stop their bickering and start supporting the human rights of the Syrian people?
We might find out over the next 24 to 48 hours, as European member states circulated a new draft resolution to be voted on shortly. The new resolution was naturally watered down to appease opposition from Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, who so far have opposed tough actions against the regime in Syria.
Death in custody case shocks the world
The human rights situation in Syria continues to be dire, most recently expemplified by the shocking story of eighteen-year-old Zainab al-Hosni of Homs who was decapitated, apparently while in custody of Syrian security forces. While an extreme case, her story is unfortunately hardly unique.
Eight ambassadors to Syria took a dramatic step this week in condemning the Syrian crackdown by attending a vigil for a well-known Syrian activist. The activist, Ghayath Mattar, was reportedly killed under torture by security forces last week in Daraya, and his death was honored by hundreds of Syrians and the ambassadors from the US, Great Britain, Japan, and other EU countries.
The coordinated attendance of so many foreign leaders was an unprecedented and powerful statement of solidarity with the Syrian people that follows the deaths of an estimated 2,600 Syrians to date and confirmed reports of at least 95 deaths in detention.
The spiraling total of detainee deaths, together with the Syrian authorities’ failure to conduct any independent investigations, points to a pattern of systematic, government-sanctioned abuse in which every detainee must be considered at serious risk. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST