View previous stories|
UN report on children in Syria’s civil war paints picture of ‘unspeakable’ horrors
by UN News, Unicef, Save the Children & agencies
Syrian children have been subjected to “unspeakable” suffering in the nearly three years of civil war, with the Government and allied militia responsible for countless killings, maiming and torture, and the opposition for recruiting youngsters for combat and using terror tactics in civilian areas, according to the first United Nations report on the issue.
“Violations must come to an end now,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in the report, which was released yesterday to the Security Council. “I therefore urge all parties to the conflict to take, without delay, all measures to protect and uphold the rights of all children in Syria.”
The report, covering the period from 1 March 2011 to 15 November 2013, lists a raft of horrors that Syria’s children have suffered since the opposition first sought to oust President Bashar al-Assad, ranging from direct commission of abuse, including sexual violence, to more general violation of their rights from school closures and denial of access to humanitarian aid.
“The present report highlights that use of weaponry and military tactics that are disproportionate and indiscriminate by Government forces and associated militias has resulted in countless killings and the maiming of children, and has obstructed children’s access to education and health services,” Mr. Ban writes.
“Government forces have also been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children. Armed opposition groups have been responsible for the recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations, including using terror tactics, in civilian-populated areas, leading to civilian casualties, including children.”
The report spotlights the disappearance of many children, notes that all parties to the conflict have seriously hampered the delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas most affected by the fighting, and warns that children have experienced a high level of distress as a result of witnessing the killing and injuring of members of their families and peers, or of being separated from their family and/or displaced.
Detailing the detention of children as young as 11 years old for alleged association with armed groups by Government forces in large-scale arrest campaigns, the reports says they were ill-treated and tortured to extract confessions or humiliate them or pressure a relative to surrender or confess.
“Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shock, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives,” the report says.
“Reports indicate that children were also suspended from walls or ceilings by their wrists or other limbs, were forced to put their head, neck and legs through a tire while being beaten, and were tied to a board and beaten.
The report cites a 16-year-old boy as saying he witnessed his 14-year-old male friend being sexually assaulted and then killed, and notes other allegations that boys and in a few instances girls were raped. The 16-year-old said children and adults were beaten with metal bars, their fingernails pulled out, their fingers cut. “Or they were beaten with a hammer in the back, sometimes until death,” he added.
Allegations of sexual violence by opposition groups were also received, but the UN was unable to further investigate them due to lack of access, the report says.
It adds that opposition forces recruited and used both in support roles and for combat, while Government forces used children as human shields. It notes that during the first two years of the conflict, most killings and maiming of children were attributed to Government forces, but mainly due to increased access to heavy weapons and the use of terror tactics opposition groups increasingly engaged in such acts in 2013.
“Armed opposition groups also engaged in the summary execution of children,” it says, reporting that lack of access, including for security reasons, prevented the UN from systematic documentation.
Schools and hospitals have been disproportionally targeted by all parties, with indications that Government forces were the main perpetrators of attacks against hospitals and other health-care infrastructure, mainly opposition-run makeshift health facilities and of threats and attacks against medical personnel, according to the report.
“Injured opposition fighters and civilians, including children, admitted to Government hospitals in perceived pro-opposition areas in Aleppo, Dar’a, Homs and Idlib governorates were reportedly exposed to arrest, detention, ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture by civilian doctors, and/or elements of Government forces,” it says.
The UN also received reports on instances where opposition groups denied medical treatment to injured pro-Government fighters, or misused ambulances, including to cross Government checkpoints.
In his list of recommendations, Mr. Ban calls on all sides to stop all grave violations against children cited in the report, end all indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilian areas, including terror tactics, airstrikes, chemical weapons and heavy artillery, allow unimpeded humanitarian access, and immediately release abducted women and children.
Jan 22, 2014
Humanitarian Leaders Open Letter to Geneva II Peace Talk Participants; Calls for Urgent Action to Protect Syrian Children - Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Leila Zerrougui.
With the parties in Syria’s conflict meeting in Geneva today, we believe the time has come to urgently focus on the plight of children. Over 11,000 Syrian children have already lost their lives. From the shelling of residential areas to attacks on schools and hospitals, children are being targeted. More than 4 million children have been forced to flee their homes, including over a million who have fled the country altogether. Many are traumatized, hungry, and in urgent need of shelter and protection. Scandalously, aid cannot reach the children who need it the most. Hundreds of thousands of children are trapped in conflict zones and are receiving little or no humanitarian assistance at all.
We urgently call on the parties to the conflict not to target children, and to commit to a three-point plan to protect them:
Do not prevent life-saving aid from reaching children. Do not target, or allow military use of, schools or health facilities. Do not use explosive weapons in populated areas.
Every child in Syria who is hurt, or killed, or loses a loved one, represents yet another failure by the international community.. An entire generation is being lost to violence. All of us bear a responsibility to save these children.
6 Feb 2014
Playground bomb wounds 12 kids in Libya.
A bomb blast has rocked the playground of a primary school in Libya"s second city of Benghazi during recess, wounding 12 children, two of them seriously.
Witnesses said a bomb was thrown over the school wall as the children were playing.
Fadia al-Barghathi, spokeswoman for Benghazi"s Al-Jala hospital, on Wednesday said six children suffering "light to moderate" injuries were admitted there.
Another medic later revealed that six other children, two in serious condition, were taken to Benghazi medical centre.
A security official described the force of the explosion as "weak" and said a hunt was under way for those behind the attack.
"Witnesses saw an individual throw an explosive device over the school wall during recess," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Visit the related web page
Committee on the Rights of the Child critical of Vatican response to Child Sexual Abuse
by UN News, Reuters, Guardian, CRIN & agencies
5 February 2014
Devastating UN report demands Vatican "immediately remove" all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers.
The Vatican has failed to acknowledge the huge scale of clerical sex abuse and has implemented policies that have led to "the continuation of the abuse and the impunity of the perpetrators", a UN panel said on Wednesday in a scathing rebuke of the Holy See"s handling of the global scandal.
In grimly worded findings released by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the watchdog urged the Holy See to "immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers" from their posts in the church and hand over the cases to law enforcement authorities in the countries concerned.
It also asked the Vatican to ensure that an expert commission set up by Pope Francis last year will "investigate independently" all cases of child sex abuse and the way in which they are handled by the Catholic hierarchy. Records concerning past cases should be opened up so that they can be used to hold the abusers – and those who may have sought to protect them – accountable, the panel added.
The Holy See must establish "clear rules, mechanisms and procedures" for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of abuse to civil law enforcement authorities, it said.
The committee said it was "particularly concerned" that in dealing with allegations of child sex abuse, "the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children"s best interests, as observed by several national commissions of inquiry."
The Vatican responded testily to the findings, saying that though it would submit them "to a thorough study and examination"… "The Holy See reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child, in line with the principles promoted by the convention on the rights of the child and according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine."
But the report, the recommendations of which are entirely non-binding, was welcomed by those who have long found the Vatican"s approach to the scandal wanting.
"This day has been a long time coming, but the international community is finally holding the Vatican accountable for its role in enabling and perpetuating sexual violence in the church," said Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "The whole world will be watching to ensure that the Vatican takes the concrete steps required by the UN to protect children and end these crimes. Impunity and cover-up, including at the highest levels of the church, will not be tolerated."
Barbara Blaine, president of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused (Snap), described the report as a "scathing" indictment of the way the Vatican had handled the scandal.
"It"s a wake-up call, not to Catholic officials (who have known about and concealed abuse for decades and still do) but for secular officials, especially those in law enforcement, who can and should investigate Catholic abuses and cover-ups and prosecute the church supervisors who are still protecting predators and endangering children," she said.
"We have been trying every which way we can to get church officials to step up and do the right thing and what we"ve learned over time is that the only time that they take even the barest of minimum of steps is when they are forced to from external sources."
The Committee also said the Vatican needed to launch a full investigation into Ireland"s Magdalene Laundries scandal in which thousands of women and girls were abused and enslaved. The report said those who abused and exploited those incarcerated in the laundries run by Irish nuns should be prosecuted if they are still alive.
It urged that "full compensation be paid to the victims and their families" who were caught up in the Magdalene system in Ireland.
While welcoming statements made by the Holy See delegation expressing a commitment to upholding the rights of children, the committee made clear its "deepest concern" about abuse committed by clergy operating "under the authority of the Holy See".
Tens of thousands of children had been abused by clerics worldwide, it said.
"The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators," it wrote.
The report came two weeks after the committee grilled a Vatican delegation over the church"s response to abuse allegations.
In particular, the committee slammed the practice of moving priests found to have abused children from parish to parish or to other countries "in an attempt to cover up such crimes". Last month a Vatican delegation in Geneva for questioning by the panel accepted criticisms of this practice and said it no longer went on.
But the committee nonetheless noted: "The practice of offenders mobility, which has allowed many priests to remain in contact with children and to continue to abuse them, still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children."
The UN panel also criticised the Holy See for refusing to hand over data concerning all cases of abuse brought to its attention during the period in question, and their outcomes. It said that confidential disciplinary proceedings had "allowed the vast majority of abusers and almost all those who concealed child sexual abuse to escape judicial proceedings in states where abuses were committed".
It also said the reporting of suspected crimes had been strongly hampered by a "code of silence" among the clergy which had seen those who dared to break it "ostracised, demoted and fired", and cited one well-known instance from 2001 in which a bishop was in effect congratulated for having kept to it.
At a press conference following the release of the report, the committee"s Kirsten Sandberg said the Vatican had "systematically" placed the reputation of the church over the protection of children.
"They are in breach of the Convention [on the Rights of the Child] as up to now, because they haven"t done all the things that they should have done," she told reporters.
Examples of Global Catholic Church abuse cases:
Australia: Priests, brothers, charged over more than 100 offenses against children dating back to 1970s at St Stanislaus school, Bathurst. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, launched in April 2013. Expected to hear from 5,000 victims.
Canada: Mount Cashel Orphanage, Newfoundland, closed in 1990 after it emerged staff abused 300 residents over several decades. In 2002, associations representing more than 10,000 self-declared victims joined forces to seek compensation.
US: A 2004 criminal investigation found 4,400 priests sexually abused minors between 1950 and 2002; abuse affected about 11,000 children. Former archbishop of Boston Bernard Law forced to resign in 2002 for having protected paedophile priests; former archbishop of Los Angeles Roger Mahony agreed to pay $US660 million to 500 victims.
Ireland: One priest admitted sexually abusing more than 100 children, another said he had abused minors regularly over 25 years. A total of 14,500 Irish children are reported to have been victims of abuse by clergy.
Germany: In early 2010, hundreds of alleged cases of child sex abuse in church institutions emerged, notably at the Jesuit college Canisius in Berlin where about 20 cases were reported. In late 2012, a report said at least 66 church officials had been accused of sex abuse.
The Netherlands: In late 2011, a report said "several tens of thousands of minors" had been abused within church institutions between 1945 and 2010, and around 800 suspects have been identified.
The report also urged the Vatican to "review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls" and called on it for greater flexibility in "identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted".
The UN said the Catholic Church had not yet taken measures to prevent a repeat of cases such as Ireland"s Magdalene laundries scandal, where girls were arbitrarily placed in conditions of forced labour.
At a public session last month, the UN committee pushed Vatican delegates to reveal the scope of the decades-long sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests that Pope Francis called "the shame of the church".
UN committee on the rights of the child questions Catholic hierarchy on handling of child sex abuse by priests.
The Roman Catholic Church has faced a cascade of scandals involving child sexual abuse by priests and Catholic lay officials, from Ireland to the US and from Australia to Germany.
Pope Francis, who has vowed zero tolerance of abuse since he was elected last March, said the scandals "are the shame of the Church".
"Do we feel shame? There are so many scandals that I do not want to name them individually but everyone knows about them!" the Pope said.
Like other signatories of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Vatican agrees to submit regular reports on its respect for the rules, and to be scrutinised by an 18-member Child Rights Committee.
A review of the Holy See"s rights record, - marked the Vatican"s second appearance before the committee.
UN committee member Hiranthi Wijemanne charged that abuse perpetrators were too often shielded by the Church hierarchy.
"Why is there no mandatory reporting to a country"s judicial authorities when crimes occur? Taking actions against perpetrators is part of justice," she asked the Vatican"s delegation.
Many past cases of abuse were often covered up by priests superiors, who typically transferred offenders to new parishes, rather than turn them over to police.
The Vatican"s UN ambassador, Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, claimed the Holy See was legally responsible only for implementing the UN Convention on the tiny territory of Vatican City - a position long criticised by campaigners.
But he said that as the central body of the Church the Vatican was working with its local branches to develop measures to stem sexual abuse.
Pope Benedict XVI, pontiff from 2005 to 2013, was the first Pope to apologise to victims and call for zero tolerance of abuse, though critics say that his rhetoric outstripped real action.
Pope Francis has vowed to take things further by setting up a special committee to investigate crimes, enforce prevention measures and care for the victims.
Pressed for details of the Vatican committee, Tomasi said the ground rules and membership were still being established.
UN committee member Sara Oviedo questioned the Vatican"s efforts.
"The Holy See has not established any mechanism to investigate those accused of perpetrating sexual abuse, nor to prosecute them," she said, calling for a "new approach".
Victims groups say the issue is far from settled with cases of ongoing abuse emerging regularly and the total tally potentially in the hundreds of thousands.
Pam Spees, of the US-based advocacy group the Centre for Constitutional Rights, who said, "the Vatican attempted to relegate the issue to the past and claim it is a new era, that they now "get it," but they continue to refuse to turn over records for prosecution, punish higher-ups that covered up the crimes, or provide any real evidence that they are now putting the safety of children above the reputation of the Church," she said.
"Nonetheless, today"s hearing is a milestone in calling for an end to these days of impunity. The international community is demanding answers, and that is the first step toward true accountability and, we hope, an end to the widespread violence against children."
http://crin.org/home/campaigns/end-sexual-violence-religious-institutions http://crin.org/node/38436 http://crin.org/en/library/news-archive/holy-see-vatican-responds-un-questions-sexual-violence-against-children
The Vatican is to face tough questioning by a United Nations committee over the Catholic church"s record in tackling child sexual abuse by its clergy around the world.
A detailed "list of issues" has been released by the Geneva-based Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) before the appearance of officials from the Holy See. The session is expected early next year.
The decision to ask senior Roman Catholic clerics to hand over confidential internal documents to such a high-profile inquiry marks a fresh initiative in the global debate over clerical abuse. It will present the new pontiff, Pope Francis, with a direct challenge to provide records of financial compensation given to victims of sexual abuse and disclose whether secret deals were made to preserve the church"s reputation.
The UN committee"s document is headed: "List of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the second periodic report of the Holy See." Paragraph 11 of the CRC"s document states: "In the light of the recognition by the Holy See of sexual violence against children committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns in numerous countries around the world, and given the scale of the abuses, please provide detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns or brought to the attention of the Holy See."
The information sought includes cases where priests were transferred to other parishes, "where instructions were given not to report such offences, and at which level of the clergy", and "where children were silenced in order to minimise the risk of public disclosure". The CRC has also asked for "the investigations and legal proceedings conducted under penal canon law against perpetrators of sexual crimes" and "the number of child victims who have been given assistance for recovery, including psychological support and social reintegration and have received financial compensation".
The Vatican has replied to past UN requests to respond to general concerns about sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The list of questions demands far more details.
Shortly after becoming pope, Pope Francis announced that he had urged the Vatican to deal with the problem.
The CRC has been pressing the Vatican for greater disclosure over the issue of clerical abuse for years. Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests said last month: "The fact that a UN committee has called the Vatican to account for its record on children"s rights, including the right to be free from sexual violence and exploitation, is giving survivors all over the world hope."
Apr 2013 (Reuters)
Pope Francis has called on the Catholic Church to "act decisively" against paedophile priests, warning that the Church"s credibility is on the line.
The new Pontiff has issued his first public comments on the sex abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis said in a statement that the Church must promote measures to protect young people, help victims and take ensure the perpetrators are punished.
The statement came after a meeting with the Archbishop in charge of the Vatican department which investigates cases of alleged sexual abuse.
Pope Francis said the department should "act decisively as far as cases of sexual abuse are concerned, promoting, above all, measures to protect minors, help for those who have suffered such violence in the past (and) the necessary procedures against those who are guilty," the statement said.
It said the Pope wanted Catholic bishops around the world to promote and put into place "directives in this matter which is so important for the witness of the Church and its credibility".
But a victims group said the statement did not go far enough.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) are troubled by the Pope"s statement that the action should "continue along the lines" set by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
"Action, not discussion, is needed," SNAP said in a statement. "We can"t confuse words with actions. "When we do, we hurt kids."
Many victims had been hoping Pope Francis would take a much stronger line.
"We must insist on new tangible action that helps vulnerable children protect their bodies, not vague pledges that help a widely-discredited institution protect its reputation," the SNAP said.
The Catholic Church"s crisis began in Boston in 2002, when media began reporting how cases of abuse were systematically covered up and abusive priests shuttled from parish to parish instead of being defrocked and handed over to civil authorities.
Visit the related web page
View more stories|