Your Move, US Congress: EU and UN Back Iran Nuclear Accord

Iran resolution at the UN headquarters in New York on July 20, 2015.

International bodies back diplomatic agreement, agree to lift punishing economic sanctions

By Lauren McCauley

Sending a strong signal to the U.S. Congress to follow suit, both the European Union and United Nations Security Council on Monday endorsed the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.

As part of the accord, both bodies agreed to end crippling economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for new limits to its domestic nuclear program.

Representatives from each of the 15 countries within the Security Council unanimously voted to back the landmark deal reached last week between Iran and the so-called P5+1 Nations, which include the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union.

Following the Security Council vote, U.S. President Barack Obama said he hoped the move would “send a clear message that the overwhelming number of countries” recognize that diplomacy is “by far our strongest approach to ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.”

According to the text, in exchange for Iran’s compliance, seven UN resolutions passed since 2006 to sanction Iran will be gradually terminated. However, BBC reports, “The resolution also allows for the continuation of the UN arms embargo on Iran for up to five years and the ban on sales of ballistic missile technology for up to eight.”

The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is charged with the “verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear commitments.”

Meeting in Brussels, EU Foreign Ministers also formally committed to lift economic sanctions against Iran. The lawmakers, though, also elected to maintain the EU’s ban on the supply of ballistic missile technology and sanctions related to human rights, in accordance with the agreement.

The votes mark another step forward within a major worldwide agreement, reached after years of arduous negotiations.

The onus now falls on the U.S. Congress to also approve the accord, which was formally given to both Houses on Sunday, beginning a 60-day deliberation period. Conservative U.S. lawmakers and other warhawks, echoing the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have tried to thwart the international agreement.

“There is broad international consensus around this issue,” Obama continued in his address. Then speaking beyond the agreement’s critics, he added: “My working assumption is that Congress will pay attention to that broad basic consensus.”

More than 150,000 people have so far signed a petition calling on Congress to back the deal and take us off “the path to confrontation and war with Iran.”

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Uruguay Calls For Global Drug Policy To Emphasize Human Rights

Milton Romani Gerner, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the OAS

Uruguay’s National Drug Board released a report to the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the United Nations on shifting drug policy toward a human rights perspective.

The initiative [PDF], proposed on the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, consists of 10 guidelines. One point decriminalizes drug use and ends the death penalty for it. Another point emphasizes respect for different cultures and plans to reduce drug use.

The report found the current approach violating rights of citizens, and a new way of thinking was needed:

The rights of life, liberty and personal security have been violated by [current] drug policy.  Government intervention threatens fundamental rights like when prohibition produces—an unintended effect—powerful and violent illegal markets that threaten the a person’s and community’s security without the state adopting effective protection measures.

Juan Andres Roballo, head of the National Drug Board, stressed the importance of patience in regards to overall drug policy:

We are aware that we cannot obtain automatic, immediate results, but, with a firm and sustained policy, in time we are sure we will have effective results.

Uruguay, as noted by officials associated with the board, is an interesting case. The country legalized cannabis in 2013. When Uruguay passed the measure, it was viewed as a bold move as no other nation fully decided to legalize cannabis.

Roballo noted how such a policy could be helpful in pushing for such a change in drug policy:

[We need to] maintain this status on the national and international level to provide a consist outline in this discussion and the actions of the state directly affect our community and world population.

Milton Romani, secretary-general of the National Drug Board, said it was important to “respect the diversity of approach” in regards to drug policy:

We need to look for paths where there is inclusive consensus, not exclusive. Why refuse to include good practices and models like reduction of harm?

A resolution deriving from the 10 guidelines is scheduled for a vote at next year’s UN General Assembly meeting.

Creative Commons Licensed Image from Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

Legal Organization Representing WikiLeaks Submits Report for UN Official’s Review of Whistleblower Protections

CCR Logo
Center for Constitutional Rights Logo

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a legal organization based in New York which represents WikiLeaks and its editor-in chief Julian Assange, has submitted a report to help United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye complete his review on the global issue of whistleblowers and the protection of sources.

Kaye serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The review addresses how human rights law should protect journalists from having to disclose their sources and how whistleblowers are or are not protected, especially after exposing human rights violations, corruption or other abuses.

Part of the review includes a kind of survey of all governments in the world asking them how journalists are protected from being compelled to reveal sources and how whistleblowers are afforded protections. It also asked for non-governmental organizations to share their views and studies.

CCR is uniquely positioned to provide insights, given that it represents a media organization which has endured an ongoing and unprecedented investigation by the United States government into the publication of documents provided by US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

The legal organization asserts in its submission [PDF], “States have an obligation to protect whistleblowers, a vulnerable group that faces systematic stigmatization as a result of exercising fundamental rights to access and obtain information.”

State governments also “have a positive obligation to promote freedom of expression through cyber laws, and must not use technical violations to punish whistleblowers,” CCR argues.

“There is a serious risk that cyber laws will displace secrecy laws as a tool to prosecute whistleblowers on basis of their activities accessing and obtaining information. In the United States, the cases of Chelsea Manning, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, and WikiLeaks reveal the application of “unauthorized access” computer laws to punish whistleblowers and publishers.”

The legal organization adds, “Today significant amounts of access to information, particularly by whistleblowers, is enabled by computers. Whistleblowers must not be punished for using a computer to blow the whistle. Cyber laws sanctioning whistleblowers or sources who already have access to computers, purely based on their intent to blow the whistle, raise serious problems for freedom of expression.”

The US government has prosecuted whistleblowers for violating the Espionage Act and disseminating information. In these cases, the intent of the whistleblower does not matter to prosecutors and judges. What matters is that a secrecy agreement was breached.

CCR kept close watch as the court-martial of Manning unfolded, even bringing a lawsuit on behalf of media organizations and journalists (including this one) to force the US military to be more transparent and make court-martial records available to the press. It struggled against secrecy, but one military court denied a request for relief, a military appeals court claimed to lack jurisdiction, and a federal court refused to hear the case. Finally, the military decided to start publishing documents to an online “reading room” that the press and public could access.

As an example of how whistleblowers are vulnerable to abuse, CCR recalls how UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez decided “Manning was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while detained in pretrial custody.”

Manning wrote about her time in pretrial detention in Kuwait:

“At the very lowest point, I contemplated castrating myself, and even – in what seemed a pointless and tragicomic exercise, given the physical impossibility of having nothing stable to hang from – contemplated suicide with a tattered blanket, which I tried to choke myself with,” she recounted for The Guardian. (more…)

New Evidence on CIA Medical Torture: Injection “to the Bone” on Former Black Site Prisoner Majid Khan

Countries that articipated in CIA torture & rendition program - via Wikimedia Commons
Countries involved in the CIA Extraordinary Rendition and Detention Program according to a 2013 Open Society Foundation – Image by opensocietyfoundations.org via transcend.org [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Quite recently, U.S. authorities allowed the declassification of notes from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attorney Wells Dixon that described what his client, high-value detainee Majid Khan, told him about his torture at the hands of the CIA. Khan, a Pakistan citizen, is currently at Guantanamo, and awaits trial by military commission.

Dixon has described the hideous torture of his client, which comes on the heels of revelations in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence executive summary of their report on the CIA’s torture program.

According to a June 2 Reuters report, Dixon described from interview notes with Khan, CIA use of solitary confinement; sexual abuse, including frequent touching of “private parts”; threats of physical harm; being hung naked from a pole for days; so-called “rectal feeding” (a form of anal rape); denial of food; water immersion and waterboarding, among other atrocities.

According to a CCR press release on Khan’s torture, CIA doctors onsite were among the “worst torturers.” Both Reuters and CCR have noted how doctors would check Khan’s condition, ignore his appeals for help, and send him back into extreme forms of torture.

In a June 10 phone interview with Wells Dixon, Khan’s attorney revealed there was more unreported material left out of the Reuters and CCR reports. In particular, Dixon revealed that Khan told him he was “also injected with a needle to the bone, and screamed in pain, then lost consciousness.”

According to my research, an injection that just happens to hit a bone does not usually cause great pain. But an injection that enters the bone can. The latter is called an intraosseous or IO injection, and is used to quickly infuse drugs, particularly in instances where a person’s life is at stake. It is usual medical procedure to insert lidocaine, a pain reliever, with or prior to injection because of the great pain associated with IO injections. Certain kinds of drugs can also cause great pain upon injection.

Did the CIA have medical need to make an IO injection, and withhold lidocaine or other pain reliever? Did CIA use the IO injection specifically to cause pain? Was a drug injected into Khan that specifically, or as side effect, caused great pain, in order to further torture him?

We don’t know exactly what the CIA did with this, or any other injection, but the evidence of such forms of medical torture cannot be denied, despite recent attempts by the CIA to minimize allegations of such medical torture, such as the use of drugs in interrogation. In fact, a recent FOIA release from CIA obtained by Jason Leopold at VICE News showed that the CIA used blood thinners to prolong certain forms of torture.

It has not been easy to obtain this information. As Dixon noted in a June 22 op-ed at Al Jazeera, “The CIA has long tried to bury evidence of its crimes. When we filed a legal case challenging Majid’s detention after his arrival at Guantanamo, the government prevented us from meeting with him for a year so that we would not learn about his torture.”

UN Special Rapporteurs’ “Letter of Allegation” to U.S. on Medical Torture and Experimentation

A new article by Adam Goldman at the Washington Post revealed that hundreds of photos from the CIA black sites exist. The fact they may be evidence at any future military commissions trial is currently being determined, as military prosecutors review the photos, which are said to include pictures of naked detainees, CIA personnel, and “photographs of confinement boxes where detainees such as Abu Zubaydah… were forced into for hours.”

But it seems highly unlikely the public will see these photos, and we will have to rely on detainee testimony, and other various attempts by journalists, domestic and international bodies and organizations to pry out the information from the U.S. government. Along those lines, CCR has called for the full Senate CIA torture report and the Panetta Review to be released. A letter initiated by ACLU and signed by approximately 100 national and international rights groups on the need to ensure accountability for the U.S. CIA Torture Program was delivered to the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council. (more…)

UN’s Ban Ki-Moon Caves In, Takes Israel Off List of Serious Child Abusers

By Ali Abunimah

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has caved in to pressure from Israel and the United States and taken the Israeli military off an official list of serious violators of children’s rights, in this year’s report on children in armed conflict.

In doing so, Ban rejected an official recommendation from his own Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui and numerous human rights organizations and child rights defenders.

Ban’s act is particularly egregious since the report found that the number of children killed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2014, at 557, was the third highest only after Iraq and Afghanistan and ahead of Syria.
“The revelation that Israel’s armed forces were removed from the annex of the annual report by Ban Ki-moon is deplorable,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), told The Electronic Intifada.

“The annual report and its annex, or children’s ‘list of shame,’ has been a strong evidence-based accountability tool proven to help increase protections for children in armed conflict situations. There is ample evidence on persistent grave violations committed by Israeli forces since at least 2006 that should have triggered listing,” Parker added.

“The secretary-general’s decision to place politics above justice and accountability for Palestinian children has provided Israeli forces with tacit approval to continue committing grave violations against children with impunity,” Parker said.

The top UN official’s decision will be greeted with relief by the Obama administration, Israel and others concerned with ensuring such Israeli impunity.

Obama pressure

“The draft 2015 report prepared by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended adding Israel and Hamas to the annexed list of parties – the so-called ‘list of shame’ – due to their repeated violations against children,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on 4 June.

Human Rights Watch called on Ban to “list all countries and armed groups that have repeatedly committed these violations, and resist reported pressure from Israel and the United States to remove Israel from the draft list.”

But that pressure proved irresistible to Ban. Foreign Policy reported last week that the Obama administration had made a concerted effort to pressure him to drop Israel from the list for cynical political reasons.

According to an unnamed UN official quoted by Foreign Policy, the Obama administration was concerned about false accusations that “the White House is anti-Israel,” as the US completes sensitive negotiations over Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program.

False balance

Human Rights Watch supported calls on Ban to list Hamas as well as Israel, but this appears to have been a maneuver to look “balanced” and avoid baseless accusations of anti-Israel bias frequently leveled at the organization.

Sources familiar with the final report have told The Electronic Intifada that Hamas is not on the list either.

But the violations attributed to Palestinian armed groups, including the death of one Israeli child last summer due to a rocket fired from Gaza, can hardly be compared in scope to the systematic mass killings with impunity of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip and West Bank by Israeli occupation forces.

Since Hamas and other Palestinian armed resistance groups are already under international sanctions and arms embargoes and listed by various countries as “terrorist organizations,” adding Hamas to the list would have meant little.

It is Israel whose violations continue not only with impunity but with assistance from the predominantly European and North American governments that arm it.

DCI-Palestine documented the killings of at least 547 Palestinian children during last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza.

Human Rights Watch cites as part of Israel’s record the “unlawful killing of children” in the occupied West Bank, including Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, both 17, shot dead by snipers on 15 May 2014.

In April, a board of inquiry set up by Ban found that Israel killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in seven attacks on United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Sabotage

In March, there was an outcry among Palestinian and international human rights advocates when it was revealed that UN officials appeared to be trying to sabotage the evidence-based process that leads to a recommendation of listing, after threats from Israel.

Palestinian organizations called on the mid-level UN officials accused of interfering with the process to resign.

This led to assurances from Special Representative Zerrougui that the decision-making process was still underway and indeed, after gathering all the evidence, Zerrougui did recommend that Israel be listed.

Such a recommendation comes after UN bodies collect evidence in collaboration with human rights organizations, according to specific criteria mandated in UN Security Council Resolution 1612.

But despite the months-long nonpolitical and evidence-based process, the final decision was always in Ban’s hands.

Partner in Israel’s crimes

There was much at stake for Israel and indeed for Ban if he had gone with the evidence instead of submitting to political pressure.

“Inclusion of a party on the secretary general’s list triggers increased response from the UN and potential Security Council sanctions, such as arms embargoes, travel bans, and asset freezes,” Human Rights Watch notes.

“For a country or armed group to be removed from the list, the UN must verify that the party has ended the abuses after carrying out an action plan negotiated with the UN.”

Ban has a long history of using his office to ensure that Israel escapes accountability except for the mildest verbal censures that are almost always “balanced” with criticism of those who live under Israeli occupation.

At the height of last summer’s Israeli attack on Gaza, 129 organizations and distinguished individuals wrote to the secretary-general, condemning him for “your biased statements, your failure to act, and the inappropriate justification of Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes.”

Ban’s record, they said, made him a “partner” in Israel’s crimes. His latest craven decision will only cement that well-earned reputation.

While Israel will celebrate victory in the short-term, the long-term impact will likely be to further discredit the UN as a mechanism for accountability and convince more people of the need for direct popular pressure on Israel in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

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© 2015 Electronic Intifada

Food, Water, Health, Life: UN Experts Warn of Threats Posed by Secret ‘Trade’ Deals

The human rights stakes are too high to keep so-called “free trade” deals secret, say UN experts. (Photo: Syd Stevens, Overhead Light Brigade San Diego)

‘All draft treaty texts should be published so that Parliamentarians and civil society have sufficient time to review them and to weigh the pros and cons in a democratic manner,’ say officials

By Sarah Lazare

Echoing the protests of civil society organizations and social movements around the world, a panel of United Nations experts on Tuesday issued a stark warning about the threats that secret international “trade” agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pose to the most fundamental human rights.

“Our concerns relate to the rights to life, food, water and sanitation, health, housing, education, science and culture, improved labor standards, an independent judiciary, a clean environment and the right not to be subjected to forced resettlement,” reads the statement, whose ten signatories include Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of person with disabilities and Ms. Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

In particular, the officials raise the alarm about the “investor-state dispute settlement” systems that have become the bedrock of so-called “free trade deals,” included in 3,000 agreements world-wide, according to the count of The New York Times. Popularly known as corporate tribunals, ISDS frameworks constitute a parallel legal system in which corporations can sue state governments for allegedly impeding profits and thereby supersede democratic laws and protections.

The UN experts warn that “ISDS chapters are anomalous in that they provide protection for investors but not for States or for the population. They allow investors to sue States but not vice-versa.” Under this framework, states have faced penalties for “for adopting regulations, for example to protect the environment, food security, access to generic and essential medicines, and reduction of smoking, as required under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or raising the minimum wage,” resulting in a “chilling effect,” the officials warn.

Notably, the experts declare that “All draft treaty texts should be published so that Parliamentarians and civil society have sufficient time to review them and to weigh the pros and cons in a democratic manner.”

The recommendation comes amid heightened controversy over the administration of President Barack Obama’s refusal to publicly disclose basic information about three mammoth pacts currently under negotiation: the TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement.

Furthermore, the call was issued the same day that WikiLeaks took the unusual step of announcing a bounty of $100,000 for the full text of the TPP, declaring “the transparency clock has run out.”

Ultimately, the officials conclude, the human rights stakes are too high to keep these deals secret: “There is a legitimate concern that both bilateral and multilateral investment treaties might aggravate the problem of extreme poverty, jeopardize fair and efficient foreign debt renegotiation, and affect the rights of indigenous peoples, minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons, and other persons leaving in vulnerable situations.”

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