Category Archive for 'united nations'

In December 2010, Côte d’Ivoire’s long-overdue elections resulted in violence as the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to cede power to his long-time political opponent, Alassane Ouattara. In the months since the election, Gbagbo has clung to power even as Ouattara, recognized by the African Union, European Union, United States, and United Nations as the rightfully-elected president, has attempted to take control. With both men arming militias and battling for control over the country’s resources, Côte d’Ivoire has devolved into a civil war with hundreds dead. The UN estimates 500 Ivoirians have been killed since the election, while Ouattara argues the figure is twice as high. Bloodshed the weekend of April 2nd may have killed over a thousand more. Gbagbo, a former academic whose presidential term ended in 2005, views the pronouncements of the international community – and particularly of France, the former colonial power – as imperialist efforts to undermine African sovereignty. Gbagbo has largely enjoyed the loyalty of the military and Ivoirian elite, who backed him even as the international community attempts to drive him from power with ever-tougher sanctions. The media’s recent focus on uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East appear to have emboldened Gbabgo, whose increasingly violent tactics may amount to crimes against humanity.

In the past week, opposition fighters have taken the capital of Yamoussoukro and up to 80% of the country, though a fierce battle rages on in Gbagbo’s stronghold of Abidjan, the country’s largest city. Next door in Liberia, USAID is feeling the pressure as thousands of Ivoirians stream across the border in an attempt to flee the fighting that has engulfed the capital of Abidjan, as well as much of Western Côte d’Ivoire. Looting, rapes, and killings have occurred in the border region, and the UN estimates 46,000 refugees have fled into Liberia in the last month alone. Liberia was initially hesitant to create refugee camps, leading groups like USAID and Oxfam to house refugees with local families. A camp in Bahn has now been opened, as it became clear the initial response was insufficient. However, many refugees have been unable to make the six-hour journey on poor roads required to reach the camp. Conditions for refugees crossing the border are extremely harsh: there is a notable lack of food and water, as well as poor sanitation and inadequate shelter. This weekend, Oxfam warned that many Ivoirian refugees are living in remote jungle areas on the Liberia-Côte d’Ivoire border. When the rainy season begins, aid groups will be unable to reach the estimated 100,000 people already in danger along the border.

The US government has provided almost $29 million in assistance for refugees, internally displaced persons, and Liberian communities affected by the violence in Côte d’Ivoire. Over the weekend, the BBC reported that health workers were unable to leave hospitals in Abidjan, which were quickly running out of resources. With grocery stories and pharmacies closed, hospitals – where more civilians than combatants are admitted– are in a dire situation. The WHO voiced concerns in February about the health infrastructure in Côte d’Ivoire, saying the post-election violence had exacerbated recent epidemics, including yellow fever and cholera. Refugee migration may serve to spread these diseases into Liberia. In Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring Liberia, a desperate humanitarian crisis shows no signs of an amicable or swift end.

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Tomorrow, December 10, is International Human Rights Day.  This year marks the 62nd anniversary of the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the UN, a watershed moment in establishing an international consensus that we are each entitled to certain inalienable human rights.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

- Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to Louis Henkin, the UDHR is said to be one of the most important international instruments of the twentieth century, second only, perhaps, to the United Nations Charter. The significance of the Universal Declaration lies in four achievements:
  1. It helped convert a discredited philosophical idea (“natural rights”) into a dominant political ideology
  2. It defined a vague colloquialism (“human rights”) in an authoritative code, a triple “decalogue” of thirty articles of fundamental rights.
  3. It universalized human rights, promoting a constitutional ideology accepted in a few countries into a standard of constitutionalism for all countries.
  4. It internationalized human rights, transforming matters that had been subject to exclusive domestic jurisdiction – “sovereignty” – into matters of international concern, putting them permanently on the international political agenda, and providing the foundation for a sturdy edifice of international norms and institutions.
This year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has chosen the theme “human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.”  This theme notes the achievements of human rights defenders and emphasizes how governments must enable and protect their role. The Day is also intended to inspire a new generation of defenders to speak up and take action to end discrimination in all of its forms. Students have a critical role as “human rights defenders,” and I invite you to join PHR to defend human rights and demand justice.

Last Friday, the PHR team delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a joint advocacy letter, urging that sexual and gender-based violence (SGV) programming be recognized as an urgent need in Sudan. Forty advocacy and human rights groups called on Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sudan Envoy Scott Gration to recognize the absence of vital SGV programming following the March 2009 expulsion of international humanitarian organizations and key Sudanese NGOs.  The number of supporting organizations has since grown to more than 60.

The team from PHR met with General Gration’s office, and with the office of the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues on Friday, to present the letter and advocate for the inclusion of SGV programs in the Sudan Policy benchmarks.

The elimination of SGV services in Sudan is a perfect storm of collateral damage: when the 16 international humanitarian organizations and NGOs were expelled, these programs — and equally importantly, the network of SGV-focused personnel and leadership — disappeared. In a climate where remaining staff and organizations were afraid to rebuild or renegotiate their contracts for fear of Government of Sudan retribution, services for survivors of sexual violence in Darfur collapsed.

Despite this, and despite the fine work of the State department on a number of gender-based violence issues, the issue of sexual violence was not explicitly recognized in the administration’s Sudan Policy review, nor was it included in the details of US strategic objective #1, which deals with the humanitarian situation in Darfur. It was, however, recognized by the UN panel of experts in the recent report released on the humanitarian situation in Darfur, and has been a key sticking point for activists in the US at the recent Pledge to Protect conference.

Today — just in time for the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women on November 25 — PHR has launched  a congressional action for advocates and activists to urge Senators and Representatives to join us in our call to the State department on this issue. Partnering with our co-signatories, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, the Arab Coalition for Darfur, the Enough Project, Save Darfur Coalition and others, we continue to advocate for the restoration of services as basic as emergency assistance for injuries, documentation of injuries sustained during these brutal attacks, access to HIV/AIDS prophylaxis treatment, pregnancy testing and psychological and social support. We ask Hillary Rodham Clinton and General Gration not only to include SGV programs as a benchmark in the Sudan policy, but also:

  • To ensure that renegotiation of technical agreements between humanitarian organizations and the Government of Sudan takes place, so that international humanitarian organizations and NGOs can incorporate or SGV programs into their authorized operations in Sudan.
  • To monitor Government of Sudan obstruction of SGV services in Khartoum and on the ground: SGV services must be restored and made available to all IDP populations, including West and South Darfur, where humanitarian operations have historically functioned at a lower level than in North Darfur state.
  • To support and facilitate coordination between aid agencies, camp residents and UNAMID gender desk officers. The recruitment of gender desk officers must involve camp residents, and the work of gender experts should fully utilize the expertise and resources of aid agencies as well as camp residents, to ensure the establishment of culturally competent services.

We need action to protect the rights of survivors in Darfur: please let your US Senators and Representative know.

(Cross-posted on

Between World AIDS Day (December 1) and International Human Rights Day (December 10), PHR is launching the 10,000 in 10 Campaign. We’re mobilizing 10,000 Americans, including students nationwide, to ask their US Senators to support US ratification of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2010.

We need your help to meet our goal. It will take 2 minutes:

Women all over the world are facing discrimination, abuse and systematic inequities that make them especially vulnerable to some of the most severe global health challenges. Until we promote and protect women’s rights, the most severe diseases and health complications will continue to disproportionately affect women world wide.

Why Now?
The US remains one of only 7 countries in the world who have yet to ratify this critical treaty, along with Sudan and Somalia.

Since the treaty was adopted by United Nations in 1979, efforts for US ratification have come up repeatedly in the Senate but faced significant obstacles by CEDAW opponents, crushing potential for ratification. Now, CEDAW has strong support within the Foreign Relations Committee and is listed by the Obama administration as one of the top three treaties to ratify.

Things are looking a lot brighter: Let’s make the most of this new opportunity to protect women’s rights and support women’s health worldwide by finally ratifying CEDAW!

Let your Senator know that it’s time for the United States to ratify CEDAW and get serious about women’s rights worldwide.

The UN reported last week that six aid groups have suspended operations in eastern Chad. Nearly 300,000 Darfuri refugees have fled across the the Sudan-Chad border to escape violence in Darfur. Among the groups suspending operations are the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which reported the kidnapping of a French ICRC worker and five Chadian colleagues near the Sudanese border this week, and French NGO Solidarités, which lost a Chadian employee earlier this month.

As reported by PHR investigators in Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support, and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women, Darfuri refugees in the Farchana Camp in eastern Chad are entirely reliant on the aid provided by UN and humanitarian agencies and face daily threats to their health and security. A September report from Amnesty International supported PHR’s findings at Camp Farchana and further spoke to the volatile security situation in eastern Chad, where more than 50 armed attacks on humanitarian workers have taken place during 2009. Armed banditry has been a persistent security threat, and is cited as the biggest danger facing Darfuri women and girls when they leave UNHCR camps to collect water and firewood.

PHR and other groups have long called for the implementation of firewood patrols around UNHCR camps in eastern Chad, where women and girls have to travel up to 30 kilometers away from camp to collect firewood for cooking, water to supplement the inadequate rations available in the camps and hay or straw to feed animals they raise for milk and meat. Forced to leave the camp in order to satisfy basic human needs of themselves and of their family members, Darfuri refugees plead with peacekeepers assigned to their protection, with little effect. The MINURCAT peacekeeping force and Détachement intégré de Sécurité (DIS) police units fail to provide for the security needs of the refugees; as reported in the September Amnesty International report, refugees report rebukes by DIS, telling refugees to take up their issues with camp administrators.

It is clear from events in recent weeks that the security situation in eastern Chad is insufficient for humanitarian access: aid agencies providing life-saving assistance to Darfuri refugees must be assured security for their convoys and for their international and Chadian employees. The UN should immediately review MINURCAT operationality and renew calls to donor governments to ensure full deployment of MINURCAT uniformed personnel to protect Darfuri refugees and humanitarians in Chad, along with all necessary military and other material, including military helicopters.

PHR continues to encourage all troop contributing countries and police contributing countries to recruit female officers for protection units trained to address sexual and gender-based violence and to increase funding of humanitarian operations in Chad and Sudan, to ensure the provision of healthcare services to survivors of gender-based violence.

The US’ Failure to Ratify CEDAW

Since it was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979, the ratification of the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has come up repeatedly in the Senate and within various presidents’ administrations. Although it has gotten close, it has never been approved for ratification (which would require 2/3rds of the Senators’ votes). This year, we believe the conditions are ideal to give CEDAW the final push through.

In 2002 when CEDAW was last approved by the Foreign Relations Committee to go before the full Senate for a vote, its prospects for ratification were not particularly bright. Within the Senate, strong opposition existed from social conservative legislators, who claimed that CEDAW would undermine the family, force the United States to legalize prostitution, and unduly influence domestic debates over abortion (all common myths propagated by anti-CEDAW advocates). Ultimately, CEDAW was never even brought before the Senate for a full vote. The Bush administration was ambivalent as well. Although Secretary of State Colin Powell considered CEDAW generally favorable, Attorney General John Ashcroft was vehemently against it and used his legislative clout against ratification.

A New Time, A New Opportunity

Seven years later, things are looking a lot brighter. A large portion of the Foreign Relations Committee has established vocal support for the ratification of CEDAW. Senators Barbara Boxer, John Kerry and other members of the Foreign Relations Committee have specifically asserted that they will work hard to push CEDAW through to the Senate floor.

Furthermore, for the first time this year, any senator who puts a hold on a treaty (keeping it from being voted upon) must have her or his identity revealed. Beyond the Senate, President Barack Obama’s administration has been significantly more supportive of the U.S. ratifying CEDAW. President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton all explicitly backed CEDAW during their campaigns. Since the election, CEDAW has been placed on top three treaties to ratify list by the Obama administration.

What You Can Do to Help

Now is the time to push CEDAW through. For the first time, both the Senate and the administration are favorable to the United States ratifying CEDAW. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. There is still significant opposition to CEDAW from activists and from within the government. We need to act now to capitalize on this opportunity and to overcome the opposition. YOU can be a major part of pushing CEDAW through.

Get involved by signing the sign-on on December 1st and organizing your school’s PHR chapter to publicize and get signatures from other students in your community. Another great way to fight for CEDAW is to set up an in-district meeting with your Senator’s office to let them know how important CEDAW is to the promotion of global health and to the fight against AIDS.

An in district meeting with your senator or a staff aide easier than it seems, and is one of the best ways to get your voice heard by your congressional representatives. Rest assured that your senator appreciates hearing from her/his constituents. If your school chapter wants to advocate to your Senator’s office, PHR is happy to help you in all aspects of your planning from assistance setting up meetings to providing talking points and regional advisors.

Please consider using your voice as a health professional-in-training to directly let your representatives know just how important CEDAW is! Contact me if you want to meet with your Senator’s office.

The World Health Organization’s representative to Sudan, Mohammad Abdur Rab, told reporters yesterday that 10 percent of children in Darfur and in South Sudan die before their first birthday, and that 15 percent of children in western Darfur were malnourished. This immense figure provides a quantitative background to PHR’s work on food security issues, as well as sanitation and health needs of displaced Darfuris living in UNHCR camps for the past five years.

In meetings held with members of Congress in Washington, DC last week, PHR doctors briefed co-Chairs from the House Commission on Human Rights, Congressional Women’s Caucus and Congressional Caucus on Sudan on the urgent health, food and security needs in Camp Farchana. The camp was the site of PHR’s 2008 investigation into the impact of sexual violence on survivors of the Darfur conflict (see the report here), which found high levels of malnourishment, lack of healthcare, insufficient sanitation and lack of protection for women and girls in the face of daily risk of attack.

The food security issues and the health needs are closely linked — and an integrated strategy between UN agencies and aid organizations on the ground is desperately needed — on both sides of the Sudan/Chad border. Although the World Food Program (WFP) target caloric intake of 2,100 kilocalories is formally being provided to the refugees by WFP rations, the type and quantities of food apparently are seriously inadequate.

WFP rations consist of only five items (sorghum, oil, salt, sugar, corn-soy blend) and the sorghum rations are distributed in an un-ground form, which means that the refugees themselves have to pay the cost of grinding the grain.

The lack of milk, meat or vegetables has consequences for the health needs of refugees, particularly vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women. Even where fortunate refugees receive the target caloric intake, they don’t receive sufficient nutrients because of the limited diet.

We must commit to reducing child malnutrition by providing milk and meat to pregnant women and children. PHR has been working to encouraging UN agencies to coordinate sufficiently so that refugees themselves can be involved in the solution to this issue.

Currently, women are forced to sell their meager sorghum rations for milk or meat, travelling to a local market where they receive a vastly reduced price for their sorghum due to market saturation. However, if UN peacekeepers would provide protection for women and girls outside the camps, they could collect the necessary hay and water and raise livestock around the camp. This would give them a supply of milk and meat to add to their diet, and also provide them with the opportunity to provide for their family’s livelihood.

In his briefing yesterday, Abdur Rab also mentioned that international donors need to increase their support for fragile health services in Sudan, with special attention to secondary and tertiary care centres. Next week PHR will be doing more work on the issue of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGV) programming, and the need to provide emergency assistance for injuries, documentation of injuries, access to HIV/AIDS prophylactic treatment, pregnancy testing, psychological and social support — none of which are currently being provided to women and girls in Darfur.

You may have seen the news last week that the Obama Administration unveiled its long-awaited Sudan policy.

PHR welcomed the renewed sense of urgency in the policy but took a skeptical position on the Khartoum genocidal regime’s ability to fulfill the role of trusted partner envisioned in the new policy.

The new policy relies heavily on offering incentives to the Bashir regime to improve the situation on the ground. PHR urged the Administration and international community to build strong multilateral pressure on the regime and give a higher priority to the accountability for genocide and atrocities.

As an independent medical organization which has documented, from 2004 to 2009, the Sudan government’s mass killing and rape, pillage, forced displacement and destruction of all means of survival for hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians, PHR has repeatedly called for an end to impunity for this genocidal campaign.

An immediate goal for US policy which is not explicitly addressed in the new comprehensive approach is an end to the gender-based violence occurring inside and outside camps in Chad and Darfur and an end to impunity for the crime of rape.

In line with US Strategic Objective #1, “a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses and genocide in Darfur,” UNAMID and all UN agencies must be tasked with specific reporting on the problem of gender-based violence and must be free to report without obstruction by local authorities. The current system, which discourages women from reporting rape and seeking justice, must be reformed and existing rape laws must be strengthened.

The US and UN must also immediately demand a commitment from the Government of Sudan to cease impeding support programs for victims of gender-based violence and remove any obstacles to gender-based violence programming in technical agreements between the government and humanitarian NGOs. It is essential that the US monitor the ongoing situation on the ground in Darfur and not allow Omar al-Bashir’s government the opportunity to further deceive the international community over human rights abuses. The Government of Sudan must accept an independent fact-finding mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, and the State Department should immediately encourage a high-level congressional delegation to perform this role.

As the US engages with the Government of Sudan and international partners to attempt to reinvigorate the peace process, US policy must remain committed to safely return refugees in Chad and displaced in Darfur to their homes and rebuilding of their villages and livelihoods. This goal should not be lost in efforts to achieve short-term forward progress in the peace process and immediate improvements in humanitarian assistance to the millions of displaced Darfuris.

The renewed commitment by the Obama Administration to end the conflict in Darfur and move forward with implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement must not deter the US from supporting the UN Security Council and the ICC in pursuit of justice by enforcing the arrest warrant for President Bashir.

More soon: PHR briefing on rape and sexual violence in Sudan/Chad in DC this Wednesday (Oct 28)!