Failure Is Not An Option

syria global day of action

Over the past year, more and more citizens around the world have been standing up for their freedom.  Sadly, as chronicled in Amnesty International’s annual State of the World 2012 Report, world leaders have failed to mirror the courage shown by millions of peaceful protesters.  Too many nations have placed self-interest and profit ahead of people’s rights – and even their lives.  The results have been tragic.

Even the United Nations Security Council, which is supposed to be the bulwark of global peace and security, has failed in its response to these popular uprisings, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.  The Security Council’s ramparts have been thinly manned, its response to cries for help too often feeble.  Inaction over Syria has left the Council seeming woefully unfit for its primary purpose: maintaining international peace.

In the case of Syria, Russian and Chinese intransigence has put the credibility of the Council at risk; undermining its core function as a guardian of human rights, and rendering accountability for crimes against humanity elusive.  President Hafez al-Assad’s regime continues to face down protesters with snipers and tanks, arresting and torturing children as young as ten years old.  Yet Russia continues to provide Syria with arms and fails to use its close security relationship – it maintains a naval base at Tartus – to persuade Assad to stop the killing.


How Many More Syrians Have To Die Before The UN Acts?

One of the many public actions mapped out on the Eyes on Syria map: Amnesty International Croatia demonstrated on July 20, 2011, in Zagreb to demanded an end to the bloodshed in Syria. © Amnesty International

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.


Palestinian Statehood Bid at UN and Its Implications

As you may have heard, Palestinian authorities have embarked on a major diplomatic effort to secure wider recognition of a Palestinian state and an upgraded status at the United Nations.  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently submitted an application for full UN membership to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Palestine currently has the status of an observer entity at the UN General Assembly, where it is represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  An application for full membership is currently being considered by the UN Security Council Committee on Admission of New Members.  The UN Committee will issue its analysis of the historic Palestinian bid for statehood around mid-October.


Will UN Finally Act On Syria Atrocities?

© Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

The situation in Syria further escalated over the weekend. Yesterday alone, more than 100 people were reportedly killed across the country and the death toll is feared to be increasing.

In a by now familiar pattern, Syrian authorities used tanks and snipers to attack civilians. We believe that the crimes committed in Syria constitute crimes against humanity.

I just learned that the UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Syria later today and I urge you to sign our online petition to call on Brazil, India and South Africa to end their opposition to a Security Council resolution condemning the grave human rights violations.


UN: Investigate Sri Lanka War Crimes

This past Monday, the U.N. finally released the report of its advisory panel on accountability in Sri Lanka.  Thanks go to everyone who sent an online letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking him to release this report.

The report found credible allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war in early 2009, and that both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers violated international law, including committing war crimes.  The panel recommended, among other things, that the U.N. establish an international investigation into these allegations.

Sri Lanka's military held many of those who escaped the conflict in miserable conditions © Private

Today, Ban’s spokesperson explained that Ban would not initiate an international investigation into these allegations unless the Sri Lankan government consented or he was asked to do so by a U.N body such as the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly.

Well, the Sri Lankan government isn’t likely to consent.  They’ve rejected the panel’s report, calling it “flawed” and “biased.”  President Rajapaksa has called for mass protests against the report on May 1.

We’ll need action by U.N. member states to establish an international   investigation.  The U.S. government could play a vital role in this effort.  Please write to Secretary Hillary Clinton and ask her to support the establishment of an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.

U.S. Veto of UNSC Resolution Gives Israel a 'Green Light' to Continue to Expand Illegal Settlements in OPT

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) issued a press release late Friday (2/18/2011) after the United States, a permanent member of the UN Security Council vetoed a UNSC resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are illegal and demanding that Israel cease all settlement activities in the OPT, including East Jerusalem.

Amnesty believes the U.S. veto gives Israel a ‘green light’ to continue building settlements in the OPT. Israel welcomed the veto while Palestinians were disappointed, angry and frustrated saying the veto has set back the peace process.


The US Needs to Ensure that the Israeli Siege of Gaza is Lifted

By Avner Gidron, Senior Policy Adviser at Amnesty International
(Originally posted on Huffington Post)

Israel’s rejection of an international inquiry into its deadly raid on the Gaza-bound ship is deeply disappointing, if not surprising. Judging by precedent, Israel is unlikely to provide the effective, independent and impartial investigation required to ensure truth, justice and reparations for victims and their families. But the truth is the outcome of an inquiry is unnecessary to reach the conclusion that Israel must end its siege of Gaza now.

The blockade violates human rights and humanitarian law, and it is politically senseless. It is past time that the United States and Israel’s other allies press for its immediate end.

For three years, the population of the Gaza Strip has been suffering the debilitating effects of Israel’s blockade imposed when Israel decided to treat the area as a “hostile entity” after Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza. With the stated aim of preventing rocket fire by militants and pressuring Hamas, the blockade instead punishes the civilians in the Gaza Strip by restricting a vast range of goods and products that have no possible military use.

The firing of indiscriminate rockets into Israeli towns by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups (which, since 2001, has killed some 16 civilians in Israel) deserves unequivocal condemnation. But Israel’s closure of Gaza goes well beyond its security needs, penning one and a half million Palestinians into a tiny strip of land and condemning hundreds of thousands to poverty and dependence. The sweeping scope of the blockade and statements by Israeli officials about its purpose make clear that this siege is being imposed as a form of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.


Sri Lanka: need stronger action by U.N.

I have to say I’m disappointed.  Today, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed members of the Security Council in an informal session about his May 22 visit to Sri Lanka.  The members of the Council took no action as the session reportedly was just a briefing.  Afterwards, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters. 

Secretary-General Ban told reporters that he’d been informed by the Sri Lankan government that restrictions on access by aid agencies to the internment camps holding displaced civilians had been eased since his visit.  Nearly 300,000 civilians displaced by the recent fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers are being held in overcrowded camps which they can’t leave.  Amnesty International has called for the Sri Lankan government to provide unimpeded access to the camps for aid agencies.  Today, the U.N. World Food Programme said that access to the camps had improved somewhat over the last few days, but also that they hoped there’d be more improvement in access soon.  Other U.N. agencies today said that continuing restrictions on access to the displaced civilians were preventing them from meeting the needs of the civilians, especially some 10,000 children in the camps suffering from acute malnutrition.

The Secretary-General also said today there should be a “proper investigation” into allegations of violations of humanitarian law.  But he clarified in response to a question that he was looking for an investigation by the Sri Lankan government, not an international inquiry.  He referred to the joint statement issued by the U.N. and the Sri Lankan government at the conclusion of his May 22 visit to Sri Lanka, in which the Sri Lankan government promised to establish an investigation into those violations.  Amnesty International has been calling for an international investigation, not one simply conducted by the Sri Lankan government. 

I don’t know if we can expect action by the Security Council anytime soon on Sri Lanka.  I hope the Secretary-General changes his position and pushes harder for immediate, unimpeded access to the camps for the aid agencies.  Further, if the Security Council doesn’t soon establish an international investigation into the human rights violations and war crimes committed by both sides during the fighting, the Secretary-General take steps to set one up himself.  That’s the leadership that the international community, and especially the displaced civilians in Sri Lanka, need from the U.N.

Were 20,000 civilians killed in Sri Lankan offensive?

Take a look at this article in The Times of London newspaper and tell me why we shouldn’t demand an immediate international investigation into the war crimes and human rights violations that occurred during the recent fighting between the Sri Lankan security forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The U.S. and other governments should press for one at the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council as soon as possible.

Red Cross: Sri Lankan war zone a "humanitarian catastrophe"

The International Committee of the Red Cross today described the Sri Lankan war zone as “an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe.”  For the third consecutive day, the ICRC has been unable to evacuate seriously wounded or ill patients and deliver desperately needed food, due to ongoing combat in the area.  The U.N. reported today that fighting between government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers was continuing with heavy casualties in the war zone, which is about the size of Central Park in New York.  The U.N. has continued its high-level involvement; it was announced that Secretary-General’s chief of staff would be sent to Sri Lanka to try to help resolve the humanitarian situation.

Despite statements by President Obama and the UN Security Council yesterday on the crisis, neither the Sri Lankan government nor the Tigers have agreed to a pause in the fighting in order to allow civilians to leave the war zone safely and to allow aid into the area.  Instead, both the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers appeared to welcome the parts of the statements that criticized the other side without agreeing to the commitments being asked of them.  The only good news I saw was a statement by the Sri Lankan government that over 3,300 civilians had escaped from the war zone today.

The Sri Lankan government has been engaged in a military offensive to reconquer territory held by the Tigers, which has been fighting for an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  The military has now confined the Tigers to a small pocket of land in northeastern Sri Lanka.  Trapped with the Tigers are an estimated 50,000 or more civilians, who are being used by the Tigers as human shields and not allowed to leave the conflict area.

AI has called for an international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of international law by both sides.  The British government today supported that call.

We urgently need both the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers to halt the fighting, in order to allow civilians to leave the war zone and aid to get into the area.  Both sides should understand that the world is watching and they’ll be held to account for their actions.