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Iraq: UN envoy calls for immediate action to avert potential "massacre" in northern town
by UN News, agencies
1 Sept 2014
Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militiamen have broken through to end a siege by Islamic State militants on the town of Amerli, that had been surrounded by militants for more than two months, leaving as many as 20,000 Shiite Turkmen trapped and suffering a shortage of food and water.
Amerli mayor Adel al-Bayati said troops backed by Shiite militias defeated IS fighters to the east of the town, averting a feared massacre if the town had fallen.
"Security forces and militia fighters are inside Amerli now after breaking the siege and that will definitely relieve the suffering of residents," he said.
The town, in Salaheddin province north of Baghdad, had been entirely cut off from the rest of government-held territory since fighters spearheaded by IS swept through much of the rest of the province in a offensive in early June.
"I''m very happy we got rid of the Islamic State terrorists who were threatening to slaughter us," said Amir Ismael, an Amerli resident.
23 August 2014
The United Nations envoy for Iraq called for immediate action to prevent a possible massacre in the northern town of Amerli, besieged by Islamic State (IS) militants for the past 2 months, leaving its 20,000 citizens stranded without food or access to water supplies.
“The situation of the people in Amerli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” declared Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov, expressing serious alarm at reports regarding the “inhuman conditions” facing the town"s residents.
In a press statement issued from Baghdad by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, which Mr. Mladenov heads, the envoy said the town is besieged by IS and reports confirm that people are surviving in desperate conditions.
“I urge the Iraqi Government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner” he said, adding that Iraq"s allies and the international community should work with the authorities to prevent a “human rights tragedy.”
Mr. Mladenov said the United Nations in Iraq will do all it can to support the country"s Government and people in alleviating the “unspeakable suffering” of Amerli"s inhabitants.
13 August 2014
‘Barbaric’ sexual violence perpetrated by Islamic State militants in Iraq – UN
Two senior United Nations officials today condemned in the strongest terms the “barbaric acts” of sexual violence and “savage rapes” the armed group Islamic State (IS) has perpetrated on minorities in areas under its control.
In a joint statement from Baghdad, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence (SRSG) in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov urged the immediate protection of civilians.
"We are gravely concerned by continued reports of acts of violence, including sexual violence against women and teenage girls and boys belonging to Iraqi minorities,” Ms. Bangura and Mr. Mladenov said.
“Atrocious accounts of abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, as well as Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes, are reaching us in an alarming manner," Ms. Bangura and Mr. Mladenov stated, pointing out that some 1,500 Yazidi and Christian persons may have been forced into sexual slavery.
The officials condemned, in the strongest terms, the explicit targeting of women and children and the barbaric acts IS has perpetrated on minorities. Acts of sexual violence are grave human rights violations that can be considered as war crimes and crimes against humanity, they warned.
Mr. Mladenov called on regional Governments and the wider international community for the immediate release of the women and girls held in captivity and to support the Government of Iraq’s efforts to protect its citizens. He pledged that his Office would closely monitor the situation to ensure accountability and advocate for support to the survivors of the “barbaric acts.”
Islamic State insurgents massacred some 300 members of Iraq"s Yazidi minority in a village in the country"s north, according to officials.
"They arrived in vehicles and they started their killing this afternoon," senior Kurdish official Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters. "We believe it"s because of their creed: convert or be killed."
A Yazidi politician and another senior Kurdish official also said the killings had taken place and that the women of the village were kidnapped.
UN warns Iraqi refugees plight still severe
In Geneva, the United Nations said around 80,000 people had fled to the relative safety of Dohuk province on the Turkish and Syrian borders, part of the 1.2 million Iraqis who have been displaced inside the country this year.
Dan McNorton of the UNHCR refugee agency said their plight was severe. "People are exhausted, people are very thirsty, these are searing temperatures," he told a news briefing, adding that children and old people were among those forced to walk for days without food, water or shelter.
Several thousand remained on the barren tops of the Mount Sinjar range, where members of the Yazidi religious minority fled the militants, who consider them "devil worshippers".
The enslavement of Iraq’s minority women. (Guardian News)
Evidence that women belonging to the Yazidi and Christian religious minorities in Iraq are being raped and sold into slavery by the Islamic State (Isis) is mounting. One of the first to speak out was Vian Dakheel, the only Yazidi female MP who addressed the Iraqi parliament last week. “Mr Speaker, our women are being taken as slaves and being sold in the slave market,” she said.
A spokesman for Iraq’s human rights ministry, Kamil Amin, confirmed that the Islamist group had captured Yazidi women under 35 years old, that it is holding them in schools and likely to use them as slaves.
The news was reaffirmed by the Iraqi Red Crescent and the international press, which reported that those fleeing had received phone calls from their daughters, wives or sisters saying they were being taken as brides or warned to convert or die. The issues has also been documented by US state department and the UN.
Gender, religion and location are intersecting to produce a situation in which women belonging to minority religions are being targeted.
As Isis has taken over cities with large religious minority populations in Northen Iraq, they have targeted women belonging to minorities.
The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq has decried the abduction of women and their rape under the Isis banner of jihad al-nikah (sex for the pursuit of struggle). Many Iraqi women who have suffered the worst backlash against their rights in Isis-controlled areas.
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No Safe Place: How Cities are making it Illegal to be Homeless
by Michael Maskin
Talk Poverty, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
Tonight, thousands of homeless people in the United States will face the possibility of arrest because they do not have a safe place to sleep. Thousands more could be arraigned for sitting or standing in the wrong place. While they must sleep rest their legs, homeless people live in cities where these and other life sustaining activities are against the law, even though shelters face a critical shortage of beds.
Criminalization laws can take many forms. Most commonly, they outlaw sitting, sleeping in vehicles or outdoors, lying down, “hanging out,” sharing food, and camping. What makes them even more insidious is that they can be difficult to detect. Curfews on public parks are often explained by municipalities as a way to deter drug-related crimes.
In reality, they are frequently a way to ensure that homeless people don’t use park benches as beds.
By not having enough safe sleeping spaces, cities are forcing their homeless persons to live on the streets with virtually no other options, and then arresting them for doing so. These laws represent a gross violation of human rights, and have received a large amount of criticism from civil rights advocates around the country and the world.
In March, criminalization laws led to a man’s death. 56-year-old Jerome Murdough, a homeless veteran, was without shelter in New York City on a cold night. Searching for a safe place to sleep, he took refuge in an enclosed stairwell in a Harlem public housing building. He was discovered and arrested for trespassing. Since he didn’t have $2,500 to post bail, he was sent to Riker’s Island Prison, where he was placed in a hot cell and ignored for hours by prison staff. According to a city official, Murdough “basically baked to death” in the cell, and was found dead on the floor.
His disturbing saga highlights the dangers of criminalization laws; instead of receiving needed assistance, Murdough was treated like a criminal, and ultimately lost his life by trying to protect it.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty recently released a report entitled, No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities. The report details the alarming upward trend of these inhumane and ineffective statutes that criminalize homelessness—with specific examples from around the country—and highlights how the laws are both ineffective and also violations of human rights.
While Murdough’s death represents the most extreme effect of criminalization laws, countless other homeless people face situations every day that put their lives in danger. In No Safe Place, the Law Center recounts the story of Lawrence Lee Smith, a man in Boise, Idaho who became homeless after a degenerative joint disease made him unable to continue to work construction.
“He lived in a camper van for years until it was towed. He couldn’t afford to retrieve it, leaving him with nowhere to reside but in public places…due to frequent overcrowding of area homeless shelters. Mr. Smith was cited for illegal camping and was jailed for a total of 100 days. Due to the arrest, he lost his tent, his stove, and the fishing equipment he relied upon to live.”
In addition to a loss of property, many homeless people who are cited for sleeping in public also must pay fines that they can’t afford, which often results in jail time. A homeless woman, Sandy, tells her story in the report:
“I just basically wanted to get in a little bit safer situation so I hid . . . in this church. And they gave me a ticket and now I can’t pay for this ticket; it’s four-hundred bucks! You know, I can’t pay $80 dollars. I have no income whatsoever.”
In some cities, it is illegal to share food with homeless people. The report details the case of Birmingham, Alabama Pastor Rick Wood, who was ordered by police to stop serving hotdogs and bottled water to homeless people in a city park.
This makes me so mad,’ Wood told a local news station. ‘These people are hungry, they’re starving. They need help from people. They can’t afford to buy something from a food truck.’”
Bans on food-sharing exist in 17 of the cities studied by the Law Center and are based on the wrong assumption that free food services will bring an influx of homeless persons to the area. In reality, the bans simply force people to search for food in less safe places like dumpsters and trash cans.
There has been a nationwide increase in criminalization laws since 2011, despite mounting evidence that criminalization is the most expensive and least effective way to deal with homelessness. As cities increasingly opt for these bad policies, there will eventually be no safe place left for homeless people.
Instead, communities should focus on constructive alternatives to criminalization that actually work; policies like the “housing first” strategy that provides housing and supportive services to homeless people and is also much less costly than the price of jail stays and emergency room visits.
Could you survive if there were no place you were allowed to fall asleep, store your belongings, or stand still? There are far better policy choices than criminalization and making it illegal for people to simply try to survive; policies that are better for homeless people, and better for the character of our nation.
* Access the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty via the link below.
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