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India abstains from UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka’s human rights record

GENEVA, March 23: India on Tuesday abstained from a crucial vote at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Sri Lanka’s rights record, though New Delhi called on Colombo to carry forward the reconciliation process and address the aspirations of the Tamil minority.

The 47-member UNHRC adopted a resolution – sponsored by a group of countries that includes the UK, Germany and Canada – which gives UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet the mandate to collect and preserve evidence of crimes related to Sri Lanka’s civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels.

A total of 22 countries voted for the resolution that was very critical of Sri Lanka’s failure to address human rights violations that occurred during the civil war. The resolution also contended the human rights situation has deteriorated under the Rajapaksa administration and that rights defenders and ethnic and religious minorities are facing problems.

Eleven countries, including Bangladesh, China and Pakistan, voted against the resolution, while 14 countries, including India, Indonesia, Japan and Nepal, abstained.

In a statement before the voting on the resolution on “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, Pawankumar Badhe, first secretary at India’s permanent mission in Geneva, said New Delhi believes states have the primary responsibility for protecting human rights.

“We would urge the government of Sri Lanka to carry forward the process of reconciliation, address the aspirations of the Tamil community and continue to engage constructively with the international community to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens are fully protected,” Badhe said.

India’s approach to human rights in Sri Lanka, he said, was guided by “two fundamental considerations” – support to the Tamil minority for equality, justice, dignity and peace, and ensuring the unity, stability and territorial integrity of the island nation.

“We have always believed that these two goals are mutually supportive and Sri Lanka’s progress is best assured by simultaneously addressing both objectives,” he added.

India also supports the world community’s call for Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitments on devolution of political authority to the Tamils, including through early holding of elections to provincial councils and ensuring that these councils are able to operate effectively in line with the 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, Badhe said.

India has traditionally shied away from backing direct UN intervention on human rights issues because of its sensitivities related to the Kashmir issue. At the same time, the Modi government has repeatedly pressed Sri Lanka to take steps to devolve powers to the Tamil minority and address their aspirations.

The Tamil Nadu assembly election, to be held during April-May, is also believed to have been a factor behind India’s decision to abstain. The status of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority is often a factor in Tamil Nadu’s politics.

Though the Sri Lankan government reached out to India to vote against the resolution at the UNHRC, New Delhi has been irked with Colombo for reneging on a 2019 tripartite India-Japan-Sri Lanka agreement for developing the East Container Terminal at Colombo port.

The Sri Lankan government scrapped the deal last month following pressure from labour unions and instead offered to develop the West Container Terminal with Indian and Japanese investors.

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena made a distinction while thanking countries that voted against the resolution or abstained. In a tweet, he appreciated “the support shown at Geneva” by countries such as India and Japan that abstained, and in another tweet, he extended a “very warm Thank You for solid support” shown by countries that voted against the resolution.

While presenting the resolution at the UNHRC, British ambassador Julian Braithwaite said: “Impunity has become more entrenched; progress in emblematic cases has stalled.” But Sri Lankan ambassador MCA Chandraprema rejected the document as “unhelpful and divisive”.

Myanmar military has killed over 250 civilians: UN

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, March 22: The UN Country Team remains deeply concerned over the continued loss of life following the military takeover of the Government on 1 February, according to Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman of the Secretary General.

Speaking to newsmen here, the spokesperson said that at least 224 civilians have been killed at the hands of security forces, according to the UN Human Rights Office, including while in custody. "We believe the real figure could be more than 250."

Hundreds more people, including women and children, have been injured.

Farhan said "Our colleagues continue to call on the military to halt the use of force against peaceful protestors."

He said the team was also very concerned over further efforts to undermine freedom of expression, with increased pressure on independent media outlets. To date, at least 40 journalists have been arrested.

UN Security Council strongly condemns violence against peaceful protesters in Myanmar

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, March 11: The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned the violence against peaceful protesters in Myanmar and voiced “deep concern” at restrictions on medical personnel, civil society, labour unions and journalists, as demonstrations continue across the south-east Asian nation against the military takeover last month.

In a presidential statement, issued on Wednesday by the representative of the United States, Council President for March, the 15-member body also reiterated its call for the immediate release of all those detained arbitrarily.

“The Security Council expresses its continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar, and stresses the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law”, the statement read.

“It encourages the pursuance of constructive dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar”, the statement added.

The Council also called on the military in Myanmar “to exercise utmost restraint” and emphasized that it is following the situation closely.

In the statement, the Security Council expressed its strong support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner.

The Council commended the regional bloc’s continued efforts to engage with all relevant parties in Myanmar, welcoming its recent meeting and statements that “recalled the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter, notably the principle of democracy, adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the protection of human rights and respect for fundamental freedoms”.

The Security Council also reiterated its support to the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar for her good offices, and encouraged her “to maintain communication and her efforts to engage intensively” with all relevant parties in the country, and “to visit Myanmar as soon as possible”.

The 15-member Council also called for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need, highlighting that the current situation “has the potential to exacerbate existing challenges” in Rakhine and other regions.

According to UN figures, separate from the political strife, about one million people are in need of support and protection across Myanmar. Response efforts, however, have been constrained by a difficult operating environment as well as disruptions to communication, transport and supply chains, and cash shortages, according to humanitarians.

The Security Council also voiced concerns that the recent developments “pose particular serious challenges” for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons.

“It is vital that the rights of minorities are fully protected”, it said.

A presidential statement is a statement made by the President of the Security Council on behalf of the Council. The statements are adopted at a formal meeting and issued as an official document of the UN’s primary body on international peace and security.

The current statement was issued in connection with the Council’s consideration of the item “The situation in Myanmar”.

Prior presidential statements on the country include one that was issued in November 2017, calling on the Government to end the excessive military force and intercommunal violence that had devastated the Rohingya community in Rakhine state.

UN launches new campaign, Only Together, to support global vaccine equity call

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, March 11: The United Nations today launched a new global campaign, Only Together to support its call for fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world.

The campaign stresses the need for coordinated global action to ensure vaccines are accessible in all countries, starting with health-care workers and the most vulnerable.

"Over the past year, we’ve all missed out on doing the things we love to do with others --eating, hugging, and going to school and work,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed.

“Millions of us have lost someone we love or had our livelihoods taken away. An unprecedented global scientific effort for vaccines has given us hope to defeat the virus -- but only if we work together to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to COVID-19 vaccines. Only together can we end the pandemic and transform a new era of hope.”

More than 2.5 million people around the world have died from COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. The COVID-19 vaccines will stop people from dying, prevent new variants from emerging, reignite economies and offer the best hope to end the pandemic.

The biggest vaccine roll out in history is now underway with millions of doses being delivered around the world, including to some of the world’s poorest countries, through the efforts of COVAX, the global vaccine equity mechanism.

But these doses will initially only cover a small segment of the populations -- healthcare workers and the most vulnerable. By the end of 2021, COVAX aims to offer vaccines to nearly 30 per cent of each participating country’s population. But that progress pales compared to ten rich countries who possess nearly 80 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines, with some planning to vaccinate their entire population within the next few months.

COVAX, which is led by the World Health Organization, GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and in partnership with UNICEF, has 190 participating countries. It needs more than US$2 billion to fully meet its goal to vaccinate those most in need by the end of the year.

Pledging new funding for COVAX is critical, but more can be done to scale up vaccine access by sharing excess vaccines, transferring technology, offering voluntary licensing or even waiving intellectual property rights.

“If the world’s scientists were able to develop safe and effective vaccines in just seven months, the aims of world’s leaders must be equally record-breaking -- to provide enough funding and to ramp up manufacturing to enable everyone on earth to be vaccinated,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming.

'Stop Murdering' Protesters: UN Tells Myanmar Military

GENEVA, March 4: At least 54 people have been killed and over 1,700 detained since Myanmar's February 1 coup, the UN rights chief said Thursday, demanding that the military "stop murdering" protesters.

The comments come after the deadliest day of protests in Myanmar, with at least 38 dead Wednesday in rallies where security forces were seen firing into crowds.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged security forces to "halt their vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters".

"Myanmar's military must stop murdering and jailing protesters," she said in a statement.

"It is utterly abhorrent that security forces are firing live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country," she added.

Bachelet added that she was "also appalled at the documented attacks against emergency medical staff and ambulances attempting to provide care to those who have been injured".

The UN rights office said it had corroborated information that at least 54 people had been killed by police and military officers since February 1.

"The actual death toll, however, could be much higher as these are the figures the office has been able to verify," it stressed.

The killings have escalated sharply in recent days.

The rights office had verified 30 of the 38 deaths reported by other UN entities on Wednesday, saying the killings by security forces had taken place in Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Magway and Mon.

Another person was documented killed on Tuesday and 18 people on Sunday, with five prior to that.

It said it was difficult to document injuries, but that "at a minimum, hundreds have been wounded during protests".

Since the coup, more than 1,700 people have also been "arbitrarily arrested and detained in relation to their participation in protests or engagement in political activity," the statement said.

At least 700 people were detained on Wednesday alone, with many of them reportedly swept up as soldiers and police conducted door-to-door searches.

Those arrested include parliamentarians, political and rights activists, election officials, teachers, healthcare workers, journalists and monks, it said.

"Many of the arbitrary arrests and detentions that have been carried out since February 1 may constitute enforced disappearances," Bachelet warned, calling for the immediate release of all those who remain arbitrarily detained.

She also expressed alarm at the targeting of media workers, with at least 29 journalists arrested in recent days, eight of whom had been charged with crimes, including inciting opposition or hatred of the government and attending unlawful assemblies.

"I urge all those with information and influence... to support international efforts to hold military leaders accountable for the serious human rights violations that have been committed both now and in the past," Bachelet said.

"This is the moment to turn the tables towards justice and end the military's stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar."





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