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Impunity prevails as little progress is made towards securing peace and justice for Syrians
by UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria
19 March 2015
ISIL may have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide: UN report
The so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) may have committed all three of the most serious international crimes – namely war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – according to a report issued by the UN Human Rights Office.
The report, compiled by an investigation team sent to the region by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights late last year, draws on in-depth interviews with more than 100 people who witnessed or survived attacks in Iraq between June 2014 and February 2015. It documents a wide range of violations by ISIL against numerous ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, some of which, it says, may amount to genocide.
It also highlights violations, including killings, torture and abductions, allegedly carried out by the Iraqi Security Forces and associated militia groups.
The report finds that widespread abuses committed by ISIL include killings, torture, rape and sexual slavery, forced religious conversions and the conscription of children. All of these, it says, amount to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some may constitute crimes against humanity and/ or may amount to war crimes.
However, the manifest pattern of the attacks against the Yezidi “pointed to the intent of ISIL to destroy the Yezidi as a group,” the report says. This “strongly suggests” that ISIL may have perpetrated genocide.
The report, requested by the UN Human Rights Council at the initiative of the Government of Iraq, cites the brutal and targeted killings of hundreds of Yezidi men and boys in the Ninewa plains last August.
In numerous Yezidi villages, the population was rounded up. Men and boys over the age of 14 were separated from women and girls. The men were then led away and shot by ISIL, while the women were abducted as the ‘spoils of war.’ “In some instances,” the report found, “villages were entirely emptied of their Yezidi population.”
Some of the Yezidi girls and women who later escaped from captivity described being openly sold, or handed over as “gifts” to ISIL members. Witnesses heard girls – as young as six and nine years old – screaming for help as they were raped in a house used by ISIL fighters. One witness described how two ISIL members sat laughing as two teenage girls were raped in the next room. A pregnant woman, repeatedly raped by an ISIL ‘doctor’ over a period of two and a half months, said he deliberately sat on her stomach. He told her, “this baby should die because it is an infidel; I can make a Muslim baby.”
Boys between the ages of eight and 15 told the mission how they were separated from their mothers and taken to locations in Iraq and Syria. They were forced to convert to Islam and subjected to religious and military training, including how to shoot guns and fire rockets. They were forced to watch videos of beheadings. One child was told, “This is your initiation into jihad….you are an Islamic State boy now.”
Brutal treatment was meted out by ISIL to other ethnic groups, including Christians, Kaka’e, Kurds, Sabea-Mandeans, Shi’a and Turkmen. In a matter of days in June, thousands of Christians fled their homes in fear after ISIL ordered them to convert to Islam, pay a tax, or leave.
Also in June, around 600 males held in Badoush prison, mostly Shi’a, were loaded onto trucks and driven to a ravine, where they were shot by ISIL fighters. Survivors told the UN team that they were saved by other bodies landing on top of them.
Those perceived to be connected with the Government were also targeted. Between 1,500 to 1,700 cadets from Speicher army base, most of whom are reported to have surrendered, were massacred by ISIL fighters on 12 June. The findings of Iraqi Government investigations into both the Badoush and Speicher incidents have yet to be made public.
ISIL fighters are reported to have relied on lists of targets to conduct house-to-house and checkpoint searches. A former policeman stated that when he showed his police ID card to ISIL fighters, one of them slashed the throats of his father, five-year-old son and five-month-old daughter. When he begged them to kill him instead, they told him “we want to make you suffer.”
The investigation team received information from numerous sources who alleged that Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated militia had committed serious human rights violations during their counter-offensive operations against ISIL..
February 2015
Impunity prevails as little progress is made towards securing peace and justice for Syrians
Unthinkable crimes continue to occur daily in Syria with victims’ voices in danger of being lost amidst the horrors of a conflict now approaching its fifth year, a group of UN experts warned today.
In its latest report, the UN commission of inquiry on Syria calls for urgent attention to be paid to the shocking crimes that continue to be perpetrated against the Syrian people. The report, the Commission’s ninth to the Human Rights Council, charts the major trends and patterns of international human rights and humanitarian law violations committed from March 2011 to January 2015. It draws on more than 3,550 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses in and outside the country, collected since September 2011.
The report emphasises the need for concerted and sustained international action to find a political solution, to stop grave violations of human rights, and to break the seemingly intractable cycle of impunity.
“It is unconscionable that Syrians should continue to suffer as they have for the last four years and have to live in a world where only limited attempts have been made to return Syria to peace, and to seek justice for the victims,” said Commission Chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro.
Violence in the Syrian Arab Republic, which began with civil unrest in March 2011, has mutated since February 2012 into a protracted and increasingly violent non-international armed conflict. The increasing number of warring parties continues to demonstrate a complete disregard for their obligations under international law.
Government authorities responded to the civil unrest with increased arbitrary arrests, disappearances and torture, and carried out increasingly indiscriminate and highly lethal attacks on civilian areas perceived to be affiliated with the opposition. That such violations are still being perpetrated underline the impunity with which the Government continues to operate.
Armed groups, which emerged following armed confrontations in June 2011, have fractured and proliferated. Two terrorists groups, Jabhat Al-Nusra and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, are characterised by their brutality towards civilians and attacks on minorities. They have flourished as the conflict dragged on. In 2014, as ISIS gained control of significant economic resources and expanded the area under its control, it escalated its use of tactics that instil terror among the civilian population, including public executions and mutilation.
Over the course of the spiralling violence in Syria, the Commission’s reports have extensively shown that it is civilians who have borne the brunt of the suffering inflicted by the warring parties. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed. Half of the country’s population have fled their homes, becoming refugees or internally displaced persons. Fighting-age men, women, children, detainees, the sick and wounded, medical and humanitarian workers, and internally displaced persons have been particularly targeted.
Current needs for basic assistance of all types outstrip the existing humanitarian response. Many people are hard to reach, making basic and essential protection efforts virtually impossible. Based on the prevailing trends the Commission documents in this report, the extreme hardship endured by millions of ordinary Syrians will only grow more acute unless immediate action is taken to stop the violence.
The Commission once again emphasised the shared responsibility of States, particularly those with influence over the warring parties, to find an effective, political solution to the conflict. Accountability, it stated, must form part of any future negotiations if the resulting peace is to ensure. The Commission also called upon the Security Council to work to realise the demands it set out in its Resolution 2139.
Mr. Pinheiro noted that Resolution 2139 stressed the need to end impunity and reaffirmed the necessity of bringing perpetrators to justice.
“Victims deserve more than our compassion. We cannot continue to urge an end to the conflict, and its many crimes, without there being some prospect, some means, of bringing about that end,” he said.
Background: The Commission, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, Ms. Carla del Ponte and Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law.
The Commission has also been tasked with investigating allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and its mandate was recently expanded to include “investigations of all massacres.”

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Untangling land rights in rapidly-changing Myanmar
by International Land Coalition, Namati, agencies
Feb 2015
The abuse of land rights has been one of the central injustices in Myanmar over the last half-century.
But now, across seven states and divisions, thirty community paralegals, supported by Namati and the Pyay-based Civil and Political Rights Campaign Group, are working with thousands of farmers to protect their land rights.
The paralegals track data on every case they handle, so they can identify opportunities for improving the system as a whole. Using the data to advocate that Myanmar''''s new land policy should respect the rights of women as well as those whose land has been grabbed in the past.
Phoe Sein is a land rights advocate working in the dry and dusty central plains region of Bago in Myanmar. In 1996, Phoe Sein lost five of his family’s ten acres when a military officer marched into his field with a pistol and informed him that he was “trespassing on government land”. At the time, under the military rule of Than Shwe, says Phoe Sein, “Everyone was afraid. So government took land very easily.”
Phoe Sein’s land – five acres on the west side of Shan Su Village was part of a 5,291acre swath that the military seized, leasing the land to Burmese sugarcane companies. When Phoe Sein protested that the land belonged to him, the officer raised his pistol. He gathered his tools and walked back home.
The company came in with machines and cleared the land. Some local farmers became day laborers on the sugarcane farms. As years went by, the farmers fell into debt because of their shrunken farms. Children in the village had to drop out of school after year five, because the cost of school was out of reach.
It is a story that has been repeated cross in Myanmar. The military seizes land and signs deals with Burmese and foreign companies, leaving farmers impoverished or landless.
With elections and a change of government in 2011, there has been hope for change in Myanmar and the government recently released a draft national land use policy, which will be finalized at the start of 2015. However there are fears it will fail to address historic land grabbing by the country’s ruling elite, threatens to dispossess women and will leave thousands of farmers with insecure rights to their land.
Land in Myanmar is complex and important – over 65 per cent of the country works in agriculture. Recent government reforms have opened the door to protest and the claiming of redress, but not all of the trouble dates from military land grabs.
In Lad Panpin Village, in Bago, I talked to Nyo Gyi, a 43 year-old farmer whose main crops are beans and rice. In 2012 he learned that he was no longer eligible for the annual six-month loan from the Government Agricultural Bank that he and his family had depended on for as long as they could remember.
He was denied the loan because the government’s records classified his farm as state forest. Looking at the land, it is hard to understand how it could be classified as forest. The acres surrounding the village stretch out under the bleaching sun, dry and flat – barely a tree in sight. “We’ve been farming there for many years,” Nyo Gyi says. “Even in the ‘forest area’ there are no trees.”
Without government loans, farmers are forced to pay high interest rates to buy seeds. In 2013, Nyo Gyi’s yield was worse than expected because of drought, so he couldn’t pay his loan in full. Without being able to pay, and with high interest rates, Nyo Gyi is at risk of entering a crippling cycle of debt. Many farmers are experiencing the same problem.
The classification issue reveals how tenuous the farmers’ claims to their own land really are in Myanamr. Nyo Gyi was under the impression that he controlled the land he farmed. It was only when the land was designated a state forest that he realized this wasn’t true.
A new registration process, announced in 2012, has revealed the tangled web of confusion around ownership, control, classification, and use. The process lends itself to abuse. In one village, I talked to 26 year-old Thar Hla whose aunt, when she learned about the registration process, tried to register her nephew’s land under her name.
Without a land use certificate a farmer has no formal tenure and no ability to protect his land or his family’s livelihood, regardless of how long it has been understood to be theirs.
Meanwhile Myanmar’s opening up means the tourism industry is growing. Near Inle Lake, we passed happy tourists riding bicycles down a lazy road amidst new construction and bungalows enveloped in greenery. Across the street from a new flower-laden boutique hotel is Milethong village, a community that is seriously struggling.
Many of the farmers in Milethong lost access to their land because it has been seized by government and leased to developers to build hotels. Many Junta cronies own tourism businesses in the area.
“Problems have been there for a long time – but now because of the changes, farmers can do something. That’s why we hear their voice,” says Nay Tun, founder of the Civil and Political Rights Campaign Group (CPRCG). CPRCG was founded by a couple of activists in their late twenties. It employs lawyers, activists, and now works in partnership with Namati, an international legal empowerment organization, there are 30 paralegals like Phoe Sein across six of Myanmar’s 14 states and divisions.
Since the passage of the Farmland Law in 2012, over 300,000 acres across the country have been restored to farmers. Many with the assistance of paralegals trained by Namati and CPRCG.
But a great many past land grabs remain unsolved. “With the prevalence of past land injustices, some of which are decades-old cases, the new land policy shouldn’t just regulate future land use,” says Laura Goodwin, Namati’s program director in Myanmar. She is also concerned that because current land regulations only allow one name on a land use certificate women face the threat of dispossession.
“We’ve seen that 83 per cent of registrations are in a man’s name, despite the fact that many women hold documents like tax records showing the land they maintained in the past,” says Goodwin. “There also needs to be recognition of community land rights – shared commons areas that millions rely on for livestock grazing, firewood, and other resources.”
By collecting information on the thousands of land cases handled, Namati and CPRCG have more data on the land registration process than the government itself. It is using that information to advocate changes that will make the process more equitable for women and responsive to the outstanding land grabbing cases from the past.
“The Burmese government created five drafts of the National Land Use Policy this year before making a draft public,” says Goodwin. “Without a longer period for public consultation Myanmar’s land laws are in danger of making permanent the injustices of the past and creating new ones for the future.”
* In order to protect their identities, the names of some farmers were changed in this article.
* In January 2015, officers from the Fordham Law School - Leitner Center for International Law and Justice and the Global Justice Center undertook training workshops with representatives of 14 Civil Society groups in Burma to assist them in reporting to the upcoming Universal Periodic Review to the UN Human Rights Council - to harness and use international law to advance gender equality and to realize greater respect for human rights:

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