UN Alarmed Over Syrian Humanitarian Funding Shortfall

Humanitarian Aid for Syria.

Humanitarian Aid for Syria. Click to explore interactive map.

Ahead of a crucial donors conference for Syria tomorrow, UN officials are warning of a funding shortfall that severely might affect the response to the spiraling humanitarian crisis. John Ging, the Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), cited “a funding shortfall that is affecting the ability of the UN and its partners to deliver vital assistance, including food, water and medical supplies”, according to the UN News Centre.

Already last week, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, urged more funding ahead of the donors conference:

We also need more resources. The humanitarian community has requested US$1.5 billion to help displaced people and the communities hosting them in Syria – and in neighbouring countries – for the next six months.

There is a funding conference on the 30th of this month, in Kuwait, which will be hosted by the Secretary-General of the UN and the Emir of Kuwait. We hope that the conference will yield the resources we need. If we do not receive these funds, we will not be able to reach the poorest and most vulnerable families who so desperately need our help.

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North Korea's Dire Lack of Food and Health Care

Amnesty International released a disturbing new report today detailing the crumbling state of health care in North Korea.  The  report paints a bleak picture of barely-functioning hospitals void of medicines and epidemics brought on by malnutrition.

In addition, our researchers found that the North Korean government has been unable to feed its people and, in violation of international law, has refused to cooperate fully with the international community to receive food aid.

Thousands are estimated to have starved to death in North Korea as recently as February © Korea Press

Even though North Korea claims to provide healthcare for all, the latest estimate from the World Health Organization shows that North Korea spent less on healthcare than any other country in the world – under US$1 per person per year in total. In fact, many witnesses have stated that they have had to pay for all services since the 1990s, with doctors usually paid in cigarettes, alcohol or food for the most basic consults, and taking cash for tests or surgery. Because North Korea has failed to provide for the most basic health and survival needs of its people, many North Koreans bypass doctors altogether, going straight to the markets to buy medicine, self-medicating according to their own guesswork or the advice of market vendors.

Thousands are estimated to have starved to death in North Korea as recently as February this year after a botched currency revaluation. Crippling food shortages, exacerbated by government policies in North Korea, have caused widespread illness as well as people are forced to survive on “wild foods” such as grass and tree bark. Hwang, a 24-year-old man from Hwasung, North Hamgyong province, was homeless and lived alone from the age of nine. Foraging for wild foods was his only option to avoid starvation.

“I ate several different kinds of wild foods, such as neung-jae, which is a wild grass found in the fields. It’s poisonous – your face swells up the next day. Other kinds of grass and some mushrooms are also poisonous so you could die if you picked the wrong one,”

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President Obama Extends TPS to Haitians

This afternoon Janet Napolitano, Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, announced that the administration will extend temporary protected status to Haitians in the US. Providing work authorization through a TPS designation empowers Haitians to share responsibility for the relief and rebuilding of their own country, and it enables the US to meet its human rights obligations under international law and standards. AIUSA commends the administration for its generous and prompt humanitarian response to the disaster that is unfolding in Haiti. Haitians fleeing persecution or other serious human rights violations have a right to seek protection in the US. Accordingly, we hope that in the coming days the administration will also suspend the policy on interdiction during this time of crisis.

Haiti Through Satellite Images

Click to enlarge (c) Digital Globe 2010

Click to enlarge (c) Digital Globe 2010

Satellite images of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince show the effect of the major earthquake that hit the island earlier this week. In addition to destroyed houses, the images also capture displaced people gathering in open spaces – like soccer fields – as there is no place left to go (and to be safe from aftershocks). The previous blog post outlines our human rights concerns, and urges President Obama to grant temporary protected status to all Haitians in the United States. The satellite images only provide one more piece of evidence why no-one should be returned to Haiti at this point.

In a different example of how geospatial technologies are being used to respond to the crisis in Haiti, our colleagues from Ushahidi have put out a Haiti platform in order to track developments on the ground and to support relief efforts. Check it out (works best with Firefox at this point).

See additional satellite images at the Huffington Post.

(c) Digital Globe 2010

(c) Digital Globe 2010

President Obama: Protect the Human Rights of Haitians

Haiti is devastated.

According to media reports, the earthquake has resulted in thousands of deaths, more injuries, and likely countless people missing and displaced. Amnesty International researchers are monitoring the situation. The US government quickly reacted on Wednesday by pledging humanitarian, technical and financial support to the people of Haiti, and this is to be welcomed. The Department of Homeland Security stated that it is temporarily halting all deportations to Haiti, which will provide some relief to the Haitians already here, and their family and friends in Haiti who will likely rely on them for financial support.

At the same time, however, there has been no move to provide protection or secure status to Haitians in the US, or suspend specific immigration policies that discriminate against Haitian nationals. Haitians fleeing persecution or other serious human rights violations have the right to seek protection in the US, but in flagrant violation of international law, the US government stops them on the high seas and returns them to Haiti (interdiction).

President Obama Should Extend Temporary Protected Status to All Haitians in the United States
Temporary protected status (TPS) is a form of protection provided to foreign nationals whose countries have experienced environmental disasters or armed conflicts posing a serious threat to the personal safety of foreign nationals if returned. By definition it is temporary in nature and provides protection and work authorization.

TPS also provides a critical lifeline to the family and friends of people remaining in the home country because TPS beneficiaries can work legally and provide financial support overseas. The US government has made very clear that Haiti is in critical need of financial support. Ensuring that Haitians in the US have the opportunity to work complies with US human rights obligations under international law and standards, and by enabling them to support their families in Haiti, helps indirectly to provide financial assistance to that country.

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Feeling Out of Options? Try a Boycott.

Update: Amnesty International warns of deteriorating human rights conditions in Zimbabwe. 

Amnesty International warned today that Zimbabwe is on the brink of sliding back into the post-election violence that erupted last year, risking the stability brought about by the creation of the unity government in February. The organization called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) foreign ministers, visiting Zimbabwe on Thursday to assess the eight month-old unity government, not to ignore the worsening human rights situation. Amnesty International also challenged SADC and the African Union (AU) to tackle human rights violations by government bodies under the control of ZANU-PF.

The civil rights boycotts that occurred in the southern US during the 1950′s are some of the most famous and successful examples of this pressure tactic. In the last two weeks, boycotts have suddenly became en vogue again. Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s embattled Prime Minister, declared his political party, MDC-T, would boycott the compromise government formed following contested elections last year. This seemingly courageous attempt to force compliance with the negotiated agreement by his opponent, President Mugabe, was promptly undercut in its significance and boldness when accused war criminal Karadzic declared he was boycotting his trial at the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague. Awkward…

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Human Rights Flashpoint – August 18, 2009

AFGHANISTAN – Election violence and a nod to “warlord politics”

The world is looking to Afghanistan this week, where Presidential and Provincial Council elections will be held on August 20th. The Taliban are threatening to attack polling stations in the country’s unstable southern province. The government estimates that about 14 percent of the country’s polling centers are considered too dangerous for people to vote. Moreover, the risk of violence will increase should no presidential candidate reach more than 50 percent of the vote, leading to a mandatory run-off between the top two contenders. Nevertheless, US government officials are optimistic, stating that the Taliban have failed to derail the elections. In other developments, both government officials and the Taliban have been increasing pressure and threats against journalists in the country and limiting independent and critical reporting.

In what the Christian Science Monitor calls a nod to ‘warlord politics’, suspected war criminal General Dostum returned to Afghanistan this week. Addressing the thousands of people who welcomed him home, he boasted that he is too popular to be persecuted: “If you mess with Dostum, you mess with a million people.” His return has shown the failure of the Afghan government and its international supporters to demonstrate that the rule of law is respected in Afghanistan.

Must Reads

Overheard

We hope that, from top to bottom, every effort will be taken to make election day secure, to eliminate fraud, and to address any complaints fairly and quickly. It will be several days before we have preliminary results and we hope initial reports will refrain from speculation until results are announced. Final results could take several weeks. We call on candidates and their supporters to behave responsibly before and after the elections – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

We have made clear to the Government of Afghanistan our serious concerns regarding the return of Mr. Dostum and any prospective role in today’s Afghanistan. And I think that President Obama had earlier, based on an earlier story, had asked that the national security team gather further information on his background, including concerns that he might have been involved in the deaths of a significant number of Taliban prisoners of war a few years ago, and that the team is continuing to gather that information – Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

A ferocious offensive by the Taliban [was] designed to try to kill the elections. Their goal is to prevent the elections and they have failed in that – Richard Holbrooke, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – Humanitarian situation deteriorates

Ongoing ethnic conflict in northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) and recurring attacks by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the southeast part of CAR have created overwhelming humanitarian needs throughout the country. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that thousands of internally displaced people have been left without food, protection or shelter.

The country is the second poorest in the world after Sierra Leone and has long been unstable. Although five of the rebel groups signed peace treaties with the government in late 2008, the security situation has been deteriorating since the beginning of the year, causing about 18,000 people to flee to Chad and many more losing their homes during attacks. Children are particularly at risk in CAR, with almost 700,000 children under five living below acceptable standards, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, CAR Communications Minister Cyriaque Gonda announced on Monday that the government has set up a three-year timetable to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 former rebels. However, upcoming elections in 2010 and the formation of a new rebel group in 2009 in the northeast of the country are likely to lead to increasing insecurity and tension in CAR.

Must Reads

Overheard

The situation is still very volatile and the displaced population remains traumatized […] Fear is very evident amongst the people who had to repeatedly leave their villages and watch their homes and livelihoods being looted, burnt and destroyed – Catherine Bragg, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

These children’s lives, their ability to learn, to earn, and to lead productive lives is being stunted by this tragic crisis – Jeremy Hopkins, acting representative of UNICEF in CAR

Coming This Week

  • August 18: U.S. President Barack Obama meets Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Washington, DC
  • August 18: Secretary Clinton meets with Colombian Foreign Minister Bermudez
  • August 20: Presidential and Provincial Council Elections in Afghanistan
  • August 17-24: US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration travels to Sudan (Juba, Makalal), Ethiopia and Egypt

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team.

Loss of Foreign Humanitarian Aid Brings Major Implications for the Honduran People in Need

As always, it is those with no resources that lose out first. Despite of the acute international pressure, protests, threats of violence and the possibility of a civil war, the arrogant power struggle the Honduran Government has been playing at, has led to a critical consequence: the European Union has officially suspended millions in aid to Honduras, as Washington suspends 18 million in military and development assistance, warning the facto Government of more “consequences” to come.

The European Union’s decision to suspend 65.5 million Euros in aid comes after failed attempts to negotiate talks for the resolution of the political crisis in the country, the worst political crisis in Central America in two decades. Recently negotiation talks were mediated by the Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace prize winner Oscar Arias, who proposed a six-point plan that first and foremost requests the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya to finish his term until late January. Delegates speaking on behalf of the interim government said that Zelaya will be arrested if he returns to his country, a statement that ignores the claims of the United Nations and the international community. Among the other proposals put forth by President Arias is: to form a coalition government, to declare amnesty for political crimes, push for advancing elections and the resignation of Zelaya to a referendum, among other things.

It is a devastating problem for a country like Honduras to lose humanitarian aid and support of entities like the Organization of American States, the United Nations, the European Union and United States. For the members of the Honduran Congress who opted for not only an illegal, but a rebellious solution to resolve an issue in their administration, the loss of millions of Euros, may not be much. Though, the loss of foreign aid has a direct and instantaneous effect for the millions of Hondurans in need living in this impoverished nation. The Honduran government should react as soon as possible before we see more violations of human rights, or more acts of violence and attacks on democracy in Central America that already hangs by a thread.

Deposed President Zelaya took a few steps into Honduran territory on Friday, immediately turning back without being confronted. As of Sunday night, Manuel Zelaya remains on the Nicaraguan border with Honduras, where he has vowed to stay until allowed to enter the country.

Israeli Naval Force Blocks Humanitarian Aid from Entering Gaza

The Israeli navy intercepted, boarded, and took control of a Greek cargo ship carrying foreign peace activists, including former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Nobel prize winner Mairead Maguire. Their ship was carrying humanitarian aid cargo for the residents of Gaza.

The Israeli military instilled a blockade June 2007 in Gaza; a response to the rise in power of Hamas. Since then, the sanctions have made it incredibly difficult to get the bare essentials to the population, such as food, fuel, and medicine.

This is not the first time Israel has blocked humanitarian aid—similar ships have been turned back after attempting to deliver basic goods like food and medicine.

This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip,” said Cynthia McKinney in a statement shortly after she and the other activists were turned over to immigration authorities in Ashdod.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Amnesty Secretary General Dedicates Classic Police Song to Zimbabwe

Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan meets Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, London, 22 June 2009 © Amnesty International

AI's Khan meets Tsvangirai June 2009

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan met with Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai this week as he was wrapping up his world tour and she had just returned from a high level mission to Zimbabwe. As far as I can tell from the picture, there wasn’t actually a karaoke machine in the room, but Khan told Tsvangirai that Amnesty will be watching Zimbabwe closely over the next 100 days, looking for improvements in human rights. Only not in a stalker, creepy way as in the song, but more in line with the on going efforts of Amnesty International to bring to light the conditions that have occurred on the ground in Zimbabwe in recent years.

The severity of the degradation in human rights was on dramatic display during Khan’s visit last week, when civil activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise staged two protests, one in Bulawayo and one in Harare. Both protests were violently broken up by riot police, resulting in serious injuries. The Harare protest occurred near where Khan was holding a press conference. Not smart to try to convince the world you are making progress on human rights issues and then beat up mothers with their babies and grandmothers in front of the head of one of the world’s largest human rights organization.

While Tsvangirai was in the US, he secured a commitment from Obama for “humanitarian plus” aid. This means increased aid to help the people in Zimbabwe with things like education and healthcare by giving the money to organizations in Zimbabwe as opposed to the government itself. All total, Tsvangirai secured pledges from donor governments amounting to around $180 million to provide some relief in Zimbabwe. This is no where near the amounts needed to begin to rebuild the country, but donor governments remain leery of the ability of the Zimbabwe government to handle direct developmental funding in a tranparent manner. Especially when the same week the new aid commitments are being announced, legislation is introduced in Zimbabwe’s Parliament to provide $30,000 loans to all Parliamentarians to buy brand new cars.

Amnesty International USA endorses the decision of the US government to increase funds that will improve the lives of the citizens of Zimbabwe. The US and international community have an obligation to protect and promote economic, social and cultural rights around the world. But Zimbabwe, we’ll be watching you.