Legacy of president Wilson’s racism clouds UN rights office
How do you condemn racism on behalf of the global community while sitting in a building named after a racist?
Some would argue it’s a challenge the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) needs to face up to.
The UN rights office is housed in a 225-room mansion built in the mid-1870s on the shores of Lake Geneva which, since 1924, has been named the Palais Wilson, honouring the former United States president, Woodrow Wilson.
A century after Wilson negotiated a peace deal to end World War One and set up the League of Nations — which was based in Geneva and helped establish the Swiss city as a diplomatic centre — his record on human rights, and particularly race, has met fresh scrutiny.
That revision had been concentrated at Princeton University — where Wilson was also president — but it has not yet extended to Geneva, a place sometimes referred to as the capital of human rights.
While Wilson’s legacy and Geneva’s identity as the home of major international bodies are inextricably linked, some have suggested that it may be worth rethinking his connection to the UN’s rights office, given his woeful actions regarding black Americans.
“Wilson was a racist. I think there is no doubt about that”, acclaimed Oxford University historian Margaret MacMillan told AFP.
“The fact that (the Palais Wilson) houses the rights office… that I do think is unfortunate. That is one of those accidents of history.”
‘A man of his time?’
At Princeton, a black student group in 2015 raised concerns about the university’s prestigious school of international affairs bearing the president’s name.
Princeton established a committee that studied submissions from historians, including evidence that Wilson was in fact a reactionary when it came to equality for blacks, adopting policies that intensified segregation in the federal government while staffing his cabinet with white supremacists.
UN warns racism on rise in Australia, calls for section 18C to be strengthened
The United Nations has issued a scathing report on racism in Australia, warning discrimination is “on the rise”, including in the political sphere and in the media.
But the assessment and its recommendations have drawn a fierce response from the Turnbull government’s Multicultural Affairs Minister, Zed Seselja, who lashed out at its “bizarre criticism”.
The periodic review documented 16 areas of concern including the welfare and status of Indigenous Australians, asylum seekers and migrant workers.
The UN committee proposed a range of radical changes to combat racism, including beefing up section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and effectively censoring aspects of the media and public commentary.
Multicultural Affairs Minister Zed Seselja, right, said parts of the report’s criticism were “bizarre”. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
It suggested racist incidents were often “treated with impunity” and said section 18C should be better policed by “law enforcement officials”. UN officials were concerned too few racial discrimination complaints made it to court because the costs and the burden of proof were too high.
Free speech advocates consider section 18C – which makes it unlawful (but not criminal) to offend, insult or humiliate someone on the basis of race – a blight on free expression. The Turnbull government earlier this year tried to water down the section’s wording but was blocked by the Senate.
In its report released overnight in Geneva, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination declared “expressions of racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia, including in the public sphere and political debates as well as in the media, are on the rise” in Australia.
The report’s conclusions are based largely on submissions and testimony from non-government organisations, communities and Australian governments.
Hate speech and violence particularly affected Arabs and Muslims, asylum seekers and refugees, Africans, South Asians and Indigenous people, the committee noted.
UN expert urges Mexico to end pattern of discrimination against indigenous peoples
A United Nations expert on indigenous rights has called on Mexico to achieve an equal and respectful relationship with indigenous peoples, in order to end a “serious pattern” of human rights abuses. “The Government should take decisive steps to show its real commitment to fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples,” UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said at the end of an official visit to the country.
During her 8-17 November mission, the Special Rapporteur met more than 200 people from 23 different indigenous groups – half of whom were women – drawn from 18 Mexican states. She also met officials during her visit to Mexico City and the states of Chiapas, Chihuahua and Guerrero.
Exclusion and discrimination
The indigenous rights activist from the Philippines called for creating the “necessary conditions for a sustained and inclusive dialogue, addressing all outstanding issues and providing an opportunity to establish trust, and create a new relationship between indigenous peoples and the State based on equality, respect and non-discrimination.”
Tauli-Corpuz said she was able to recognize a “serious pattern of exclusion and discrimination, which in turn reflects in a lack of access to justice, among other human rights violations.” Another serious and challenging issue brought to her attention was the fact that indigenous peoples are not being properly consulted, according to international standards, on projects and other decisions that affect their rights, including their right to life.
Mexico falls short
The Special Rapporteur used her visit to assess whether recommendations made by her predecessor in 2003 had been implemented, and to evaluate how Mexico had incorporated its international human rights commitments on indigenous peoples. She noted that neither the 2003 recommendations nor the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, had been fully implemented.
Army offensive aimed at ‘preventing’ Rohingya return
Myanmar security forces have carried out “well organised, coordinated and systematic” attacks aimed at preventing members of the Rohingya ethnic group from returning, the UN Human Rights office said in a report on Wednesday.
The report, based on interviews with Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh in the past month, said that “clearance operations” started before armed attacks on police posts on August 25 and included killings, torture, and the rape of children.
More than half a million Rohingya Muslims have been driven out of northern Rakhine State, have had their homes torched, and crops and villages destroyed, the UN said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein – who has described the government operations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – said in a statement that the actions appeared to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return”.
“Credible information indicates that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas [and] scorched their dwellings and entire villages in northern Rakhine State, not only to drive the population out in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya victims from returning to their homes,” the report by his office said.
One 12-year old girl quoted in the report said soldiers and Buddhist civilians surrounded her home before opening fire on it.
“It was a situation of panic, they shot my sister in front of me, she was only seven years old,” the girl said, adding: “She cried and told me to run.”
“I tried to protect her and care for her, but we had no medical assistance on the hillside and she was bleeding so much that after one day she died. I buried her myself.”
UN: Myanmar violence may be ‘crimes against humanity’
UN rights experts have warned that the violence against women and children in Rakhine State “may amount to crimes against humanity”.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of a Child called on Myanmar authorities to “promptly and effectively investigate and vigorously prosecute cases of violence against women and children” in northern Rakhine.
“We are particularly worried about the fate of Rohingya women and children subject to serious violations of their human rights, including killings, rape and forced displacement,” the committees said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Such violations may amount to crimes against humanity and we are deeply concerned at the state’s failure to put an end to these shocking human rights violations being committed at the behest of the military and other security forces, and of which women and children continue to bear the brunt.”
More than 507,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar’s army launched a military crackdown in response to an attack by Rohingya fighters on dozens of police posts and an army base on August 25.
Rohingya who have fled have told stories of rape and other sexual abuse, indiscriminate killings and arson by Myanmar security forces.
The mainly Muslim minority, who live primarily in Rakhine State, is not recognised as an ethnic group in Myanmar, despite having lived there for generations. They have been denied citizenship and are stateless.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Myanmar official Kyaw Tint Swe, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali said both countries agreed to form a joint working group to begin work on the massive repatriation.
Governments are criminalizing homeless people to distract from their own failures
More than 100 million people are currently homeless worldwide, according to a UN estimate. This staggering figure demonstrates the failures of governments across the world to protect human rights and ensure the most basic needs of their populations are met.
Today is World Habitat Day, and this year’s theme is housing policies and affordable homes. Governments in 193 countries have promised to ensure that by 2030 every person has access to adequate, safe and affordable housing and essential services. But affordable housing policies will only reach the most vulnerable if governments tackle the root causes of homelessness too – often a perfect storm of injustice, inequality and discrimination.
Globally, homelessness has increased in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with many countries seeing an increase in unemployment, job insecurity and in-work poverty. In many places, this has been exacerbated by government austerity measures which result in reduced spending on social housing and homeless shelters.
More than 100 million people are currently homeless worldwide, according to a UN estimate. This staggering figure demonstrates the failures of governments across the world to protect human rights and ensure the most basic needs of their populations are met. Today is World Habitat Day, and this year’s theme is housing policies and affordable homes. Governments in 193 countries have promised to ensure that by 2030 every person has access to adequate, safe and affordable housing and essential services. But affordable housing policies will only reach the most vulnerable if governments tackle the root causes of homelessness too – often a perfect storm of injustice, inequality and discrimination. Globally, homelessness has increased in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with many countries seeing an increase in unemployment, job insecurity and in-work poverty. In many places, this has been exacerbated by government austerity measures which result in reduced spending on social housing and homeless shelters.
Myanmar ex-minister says UN has ‘no proof’ of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya.
Amid international criticism and claims of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is defiant.
“Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny,” Suu Kyi said in a speech Tuesday.
The Nobel laureate did not blame her country’s army in her first public address since the current crisis began in late August. She said there were “allegations and counter-allegations,” but unlike Suu Kyi, international observers and Rohingya Muslims aren’t equivocating.
- Suu Kyi condemns ‘all human rights violations’
- here is fire-detection data, there’s satellite imagery, photographs, videos — they show entire Rohingya villages being burned down by vigilante Buddhist mobs [and] also by Myanmar security forces. Given all that evidence, how can you deny what’s happening? What the satellite images show is that villages are burning. There is also Rakhine villages that are burning. So satellite photos just show the image. There is no proof who is responsible. But I admit it. This is not a good thing for our country.
They tell stories of villages burned to the ground by Myanmar security forces, refugees shot and killed as they try to flee, and the mass exodus of more than 400,000 Rohingya people crossing into Bangladesh.
Ye Htut is Myanmar’s former minister of information, who oversaw the transition to Suu Kyi’s de facto leadership. He spoke with As it Happens guest host Helen Mann from Singapore. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation:
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called the situation in Rakhine state “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” How do you respond to that?
I reject the remark. … You need the strong, legal evidence to use this term. Without this type of precaution, you will give the Rohingya group, like ISIS, a good propaganda platform.
END PROSECUTION OF SEX WORKERS AND PROTECT FEMALE RIGHTS DEFENDERS, UN SAYS
Thailand should stop prosecuting female sex workers, improve conditions in women’s prisons and take steps to protect female human rights defenders, the UN body in charge of promoting gender equality has suggested.
Those issues were among a host of recommendations from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, in its first such review of women’s status in the kingdom in over a decade.
Although most the report’s 14 pages were devoted to measures Thailand should take to live up to its international and self-imposed commitments to gender parity, it did acknowledge positive developments such as enactment of the 2007 Protection of Victims of Domestic Violence Act, the junta-sponsored constitution of 2007 and – with some caveats – the Gender Equality Act of 2015.
“The Committee notes that the revised Constitution, which came into effect in April 2017, prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including sex, and guarantees the principle of equality between men and women,” the committee wrote.
Thailand should stop prosecuting female sex workers, improve conditions in women’s prisons and take steps to protect female human rights defenders, the UN body in charge of promoting gender equality has suggested. Those issues were among a host of recommendations from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, in its first such review of women’s status in the kingdom in over a decade. Although most the report’s 14 pages were devoted to measures Thailand should take to live up to its international and self-imposed commitments to gender parity, it did acknowledge positive developments such as enactment of the 2007 Protection of Victims of Domestic Violence Act, the junta-sponsored constitution of 2007 and – with some caveats – the Gender Equality Act of 2015. “The Committee notes that the revised Constitution, which came into effect in April 2017, prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including sex, and guarantees the principle of equality between men and women,” the committee wrote.
UN: more must be done to protect rights of LGBTI refugees
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday announced [UN report] that, in response to the unique prejudice and violence lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees face, it has implemented a new effort [press release] to train humanitarian workers on the protection of minority rights. The effort, referred to as a training package, is touted as being the most complete of its kind and was developed in response to the UN’s recent publication [text] concerning the status of LGBTI rights worldwide. Volker Turk [official profile], the UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said in a press release, “despite significant progress in this effort, discrimination against LGBTI persons persists, and their international protection needs often go unmet.” LGBTI persons in forced migration are often confronted with discrimination, violence, and various challenges in meeting their needs for protection and asylum. The program was developed by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) [official website] along with various other agencies to ensure global relevance of the training program for humanitarian and UNHCR staff. The package focuses a variety of topics including international law, health, refugee status determination, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. It was funded by the US Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.
Islamic State militants in Syria committed an “intolerable crime against civilization” by destroying the Temple of Bel, one of the ancient world’s most iconic monuments, the head of the U.N. cultural agency said Tuesday.
The militants used explosives to destroy the two-millennia-old temple in the ancient city of Palmyra on Sunday. Witnesses described a huge blast and the destruction was later confirmed by U.N. satellite images.
The militants claim ancient relics and sites of worship promote idolatry. They have blown up several ancient treasures in Iraq and destroyed a smaller Palmyra temple, Baalshamin, in late August.
Dr. Nedal Haj Darwish at the Department of Archaeology at Iraq’s University of Sulaimani told VOA’s Kurdish service that militants of the self-claimed Islamic State group use religion as a pretext to destroy statues. “But in reality, they want to eliminate the cultural heritage of the area.”
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said Tuesday 4,500 years of history will never be erased. “The power of culture is greater than that of all forms of extremism and nothing can stop it,” she added.
She said her agency will try to protect “all that can be saved” from destruction by IS.
The Temple of Bel, dating back to 32 AD, displayed a unique merging of ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman architecture. Dedicated to the Semitic god Bel, it was considered one of the most important religious buildings of the first century. The temple consisted of a central shrine inside a colonnaded courtyard, with a large gateway within a complex that has other ruins, including an amphitheater and some tombs.
Dr. Darwish says the world should act more aggressively to stop IS from destroying cultural treasures as the group will try to destroy all historical sites that it deems represent non-Islamic icons or values.
Palmyra was an important caravan city of the Roman Empire, linking it to India, China, and Persia. Before the outbreak of Syria’s conflict in March 2011, the UNESCO site was one of the top tourist attractions in the Middle East.
Kokab Farshori , Voanews