Posts Tagged United Nations

United Nations Security Council Backs Iran Nuclear Deal

Iran nuclear dealThe U.N. Security Council on Monday backed Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers but the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards attacked the resolution, underlining powerful opposition to the deal.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who also faces domestic political opposition to the agreement, hailed the United Nations endorsement, saying it showed last week’s accord commanded broad international support as the best way of ensuring Iran never gets nuclear weapons.

The European Union also approved the deal, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in return for easing economic sanctions, while Germany rapidly moved to revive its once close trading relationship with Tehran. EU foreign ministers, inspired by the diplomacy that led to the nuclear pact, agreed to try and involve more countries in restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

At the United Nations, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that was negotiated as part of the agreement reached in Vienna between Iran and the six powers.

In return for lifting the U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions that have crippled its economy, Iran must accept long-term limits on the nuclear program that the West suspected was aimed at creating an atomic bomb, but which Tehran says is peaceful.

The White House said several cabinet members would give two classified briefings to lawmakers in Congress on Wednesday and it welcomed a letter signed by 60 national security experts approving the deal.

While the Democratic Party leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, wrote to colleagues backing the nuclear agreement, congressional Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, railed against the U.N. vote. Several called it an “affront to the American people” because it took place before the end of the congressional review period.

Congress has 60 days to decide whether to approve or reject the deal.

The agreement also faces opposition in some Middle East states, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel warned U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on his visit to Israel on Monday that it feared the pact would translate into more money for Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese militia group, and others hostile to Israel.

Even before the Council passed the resolution in New York, top Iran Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammed Ali Jafari denounced it for interfering with Iran’s military operations and crossing “red lines” set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“We will never accept it,” he was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

Iranian hardliners are worried that U.N. inspectors may gain some access to sensitive military sites under the resolution, which becomes international law.

The country’s senior nuclear negotiator, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, dismissed critics’ concerns and called the resolution an “unprecedented achievement in Iran’s history”. The deal must be approved by Iran’s National Security Council and later by Khamenei. Parliament’s role is not clear.

The EU’s approval of the deal with the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany marked a first step toward lifting Europe’s economic sanctions against Tehran. The bloc hopes this will send a signal that the U.S. Congress will follow.

In a message mainly aimed at skeptical voices in Congress and strong resistance from Israel, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels stressed that there was no better option available.

“It is a balanced deal that means Iran won’t get an atomic bomb,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appeared to try to address some of the concerns shared by congressional conservatives and some in the Middle East. The deal “doesn’t change our profound concern about human rights violations committed by the Iranian government or about instability Iran fuels … from its support for terrorist proxies to its repeated threats against Israel, its other destabilizing activities in the region”, she said.

Iran’s U.N. Ambassador, Gholamali Khoshroo, rejected the U.S. accusations as baseless. “The country that invaded two countries in our region and created favorable grounds for the growth of terrorism and extremism is not well placed to raise such accusations against my country,” he told the Council.

Passage of the U.N. resolution triggers a complex set of coordinated steps agreed by Iran during nearly two years of talks with the powers.

It says that no sanctions relief will be implemented until the International Atomic Energy Agency submits a report to the Council verifying that Iran has taken certain nuclear-related measures outlined in the agreement.

Under the deal, the major powers which signed the accord don’t need to take any further action for 90 days. Then they are required to begin preparations so they are able to lift sanctions as soon as the IAEA verification report is submitted.

Some countries are already keen to do business with the oil exporter. Germany and Iran moved tentatively on Monday toward reviving trade, anticipating the lifting of the sanctions.

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, making the first top level German government visit to Tehran in 13 years, indicated that a ministerial-level meeting of a long dormant German-Iran economic commission would take place early next year in Tehran.

For decades, Germany was Iran’s biggest trading partner in Europe. German exports there hit 4.4 billion euros in 2005 but then slumped to 1.8 billion by 2013 as the West tightened the sanctions.

The trip is a delicate one for Gabriel, who is also Vice Chancellor, partly because of Germany’s close ties to Israel, Iran’s sworn enemy.

Gabriel said better economic ties depended on Iran improving relations with Israel. “For us Germans, Israel’s security is of great importance,” he told a news conference.

At the same news conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did not touch on the issue of Israel directly, but said: “Of course we have differing political views. But we can talk about these differences of opinion.”

 

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New Humanitarian Truce Comes into Place in Gaza

GazaIsrael on Tuesday completed the withdrawal of all troops from Gaza as a 72-hour humanitarian truce went into effect following intense global pressure to end the bloody conflict.

Just minutes before the ceasefire took hold, Israel’s military and Hamas both engaged in shows of firepower, seemingly determined to have the last word on the 29th day of their hostilities.

Sirens wailed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and central and southern Israel as Hamas fired a last barrage of 16 rockets over the border, one of which hit a Palestinian home near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, causing damage but no injuries, witnesses said.

Israel also announced that all of its troops had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip after completing a mission to destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border attack tunnels, ending a ground operation which began on July 17.

A spokesman said troops would maintain a defensive position outside the Gaza border and would respond forcefully to any violation of the truce, which was announced by Egypt late on Monday.

It was the second time in four days that the two sides had attempted to observe a 72-hour humanitarian truce deal, with the last attempt on August 1 broken in an explosion of violence within just 90 minutes.

The breakthrough emerged in Cairo where Palestinian and Egyptian mediators had been discussing a ceasefire with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, although Israel was not present.

However, it would send a delegation to Egypt in the coming days, an official said.

The agreement by both sides to hold their fire for three days was hailed by both the United States and the United Nations. Both said the onus was on Hamas to uphold its end of the deal.

Images of the bloodshed which has cost the lives of more than 1,800 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers have triggered tensions across the region and earned the Jewish state increasingly harsh criticism for the high number of civilian casualties.

Israel and Hamas, the defacto power in Gaza, separately confirmed that they would abide by the new 72-hour ceasefire which emerged from two days of Egyptian and US mediated talks in Cairo.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said a delegation of the Islamist movement’s Gaza-based leaders would head to Cairo on Tuesday to join representatives of its exiled leadership who are based in Egypt and Qatar.

The ceasefire comes after Israeli forces largely observed a unilateral seven-hour pause in their offensive on Monday, which was not reciprocated by Hamas, which fired 42 rockets over the border, the army said.

Late on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there would be no end to the Gaza military operation without first ensuring “quiet and security” in Israel “for a prolonged period.”

Israel began its military operation against rocket-firing militants on July 8, and nine days later sent in ground troops to destroy the network of sophisticated attack tunnels.

 

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Christie attacks Obama foreign policy for not defending nation’s values.

Chris ChristieNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie painted a bleak picture of America’s standing in the world on Sunday, blaming the Obama administration for making the country appear weak by not defending the nation’s values in other parts of the globe.

“No one understands any longer who America stands with or against,” he argued. “No one really understands exactly what we’ll stand for – and what we are willing to sacrifice to stand up for it.”

Christie said it’s time for the country’s leaders to “stop singing a happy tune” about the country’s condition. “It is time for us to tell the truth about that condition and then to begin taking the hard and firm actions that are necessary to fix it,” he continued.

The Republican governor made his remarks at a gala hosted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s “This World: Values Network” in New York. Major Jewish figures, including Israel’s ambassador to the United States, as well as mega GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, attended the dinner.

If there was any doubt that Christie didn’t line up with the more hawkish wing of the Republican Party, he firmly quashed those doubts Sunday night. Christie, who’s seriously considering a run for president, argued U.S. leaders needs to re-establish America’s reputation as a strong enforcer of freedom and promoter of prosperity, even if that requires “sacrifice.”

“We need to stand once again loudly for these values, and sometimes that is going to mean standing in some very messy, difficult places and standing strong and hard for those things that we believe in,” he said. “And it will mean sacrifice from the people of our country.”

Christie cited both domestic and foreign policy concerns as reasons for what he described as the country’s deteriorating status. At home, he blasted Washington for partisan gridlock on fiscal issues.

“We are and have become a dysfunctional government that even our own people snicker, laugh at, ignore and are disgusted by,” he said, adding there was a time when developing democracies wanted to emulate America’s government, but that is no longer the case.

On international affairs, the governor referenced issues in Syria, Russia and Iran as three foreign policy areas in which the Obama administration has failed to show strength and credibility.

He said America “is no longer sending clear signals to the world – consistent signals.”

“Signals like the ones Ronald Reagan sent when he was president as to who our friends are and that we will stand with them without doubt, and to who our enemies are, who we will oppose regardless of the cost,” he continued.

Christie’s remarks solidify his stance on national security issues as the Republican Party is knee-deep in an ideological fight over foreign policy. That debate has perhaps played out most visibly between Christie and another potential 2016 contender, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who’s trying to woo the broader Republican base with his libertarian-leaning, non-interventionist views.

Christie’s speech was widely anticipated in the Jewish community because the last time Christie appeared before a Jewish audience, he made a major blunder by referring to the “Occupied Territories,” a term Israel and its allies don’t use.

Many Israelis don’t consider the territories to be occupied, but rather say Israel has a legitimate claim to the land. Palestinians, along with the United Nations, consider the West Bank to be Palestinian but under military occupation by Israel.

In a private meeting later with Adelson, the GOP donor, Christie said he “misspoke” and that he didn’t believe the West Bank is “occupied” by Israel. While Christie didn’t mention Israel in his speech Sunday, he made it clear that the United States should more overtly align with its allies, and he singled out Iran as a “terrorist state” with nuclear capability.

 

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Nigeria Bomb Blast Kills At Least 71

Nigeria bombA bombing at a bus station packed with morning commuters on the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital killed 71 people and wounded 124 on Monday, with the president blaming the attack on Boko Haram Islamists.

The explosion rocked the Nyanya station south of Abuja at 6:45am,  leaving body parts scattered across the terminal and destroying dozens of vehicles.

It was the deadliest single attack ever to hit Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, which includes Abuja and surrounding areas.

Much of Boko Haram’s recent violence has targeted the remote northeast, but a major bombing just a few kilometres from the seat of government will likely raise further doubt over Nigeria’s ability to contain the Islamist violence.

The explosion “emanated from a vehicle” parked within the station, said Charles Otegbade, head of search and rescue at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

National police spokesman Frank Mba put the toll at 71 dead and 124 injured, with the wounded being treated at area hospitals.

Visiting the site, President Goodluck Jonathan vowed that Nigeria would overcome the brutal insurgency being waged by Boko Haram, blamed for killing thousands across the north and centre of the country since 2009.

“The issue of Boko Haram is quite an ugly history within this period of our own development,” Jonathan said. “But we will get over it … The issue of Boko Haram is temporary.”

The Islamists, who say they want to create a strict Islamic state in northern Nigeria, have previously bombed areas in and around the capital, including a 2011 car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in the city that killed at least 26 people.

The explosions left a hole roughly four feet (1.2 metres) deep and spread debris across the compound, and witnesses said.

“I saw bodies taken away in open trucks,” said witness Yakubu Mohammed, describing remains that “were burnt and in pieces.”

A second witness, Suleiman Aminu, said he believed the initial blast came from a minibus parked near larger commuter vehicles, and that commuters who had queued up to board were the likely target.

Nyanya is a densely populated suburb of Abuja, filled with government and civil society workers who cannot afford the city centre’s exorbitant rents.

Bus parks have been among Boko Haram’s preferred targets, including multiple, coordinated bombings at a terminal in the northern city of Kano last year that killed more than 40 people.

Jonathan, who is expected to face a tough re-election battle next year, has faced intense criticism over the continuing Boko Haram violence.

With the recent unrest concentrated in the northeast, Jonathan had been able to claim that progress was being made in the battle against the Islamist rebels.

But an escalation of attacks in or near Abuja would pile further pressure on the embattled president.

Prominent targets within Abuja have been locked down since the UN bombing and checkpoints are set up daily on major roads throughout the city.

Security measures are however less rigid in areas outside the city-centre like Nyanya.

Following Monday’s attack, police chief Mohammed Abubakar ordered officers “to intensify surveillance on all vulnerable targets within Abuja,” Mba said.

But a temporary security crackdown will not be enough to repair Jonathan’s declining credibility on the Boko Haram conflict, according to Adetokunbo Mumuni of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project.

The latest bombings should serve as a reminder that the government’s counter-insurgency strategy is “inadequate and simply not working,” he said in a statement.

Last May, the military launched a massive offensive to crush the Islamist uprising and has described Boko Haram as being in disarray and on the defensive.

But experts warn that force alone cannot stem the bloodshed and have called for a major outreach to dejected and deeply impoverished youths from the north who fill Boko Haram’s ranks.

Nigeria is Africa top oil producer and largest economy, but more than 80 percent of its 170 million people live on less than $2 per day.

Analysts say that the Boko Haram unrest has partly stalled economic growth and scared away potential investors.

“The government is doing everything to make sure that we move our country forward,” Jonathan said after the attack.

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Syria: Assad forces ‘using starvation as weapon of war’

Syrian refugees, fleeing the violence in their country, cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern IraqThe Syrian army has been using starvation as a “weapon of war” in its siege of the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, Amnesty International said Monday.

In a report on the plight of Palestinian and Syrian civilians in Yarmuk, the rights watchdog said nearly 200 people have died since an army siege was tightened in July 2013 and access to food and medicine cut.

The document, entitled “Squeezing the life out of Yarmuk: War crimes against besieged civilians,” said 128 of the deaths were caused by starvation.

“Life in Yarmuk has grown increasingly unbearable for desperate civilians who find themselves starving and trapped in a downward cycle of suffering with no means of escape,” Amnesty’s Philip Luther said in a statement.

Amnesty said the siege of Yarmuk was “the deadliest of a series of armed blockades of other civilian areas, imposed by Syrian armed forces or armed opposition groups on a quarter of a million people across the country.”

Syrian troops have laid siege to the camp as near-daily battles rage between rebels and pro-regime fighters in the sprawling southern Damascus suburb.

The violence has prompted the exodus of tens of thousands of Yarmuk’s 170,000 residents. Some 20,000 are still trapped inside the camp, facing hardship and hunger, according to the UN refugee agency UNRWA.

Amnesty also charged that government forces and their allies have repeatedly launched attacks, including air raids and shelling with heavy weapons, on civilian buildings in the camp.

“Launching indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, leading to deaths and injuries, is a war crime,” it said.

“To repeatedly strike a heavily populated area, where the civilians have no means of escape, demonstrates a ruthless attitude and a callous disregard for the most basic principles of international humanitarian law,” Luther said.

Amnesty also said at least 60 per cent of those who have remained in Yarmuk are said to be suffering from malnutrition, with residents not having eaten fruit or vegetables for months.

“Syrian forces are committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war,” Luther said.

“The harrowing accounts of families having to resort to eating cats and dogs, and civilians attacked by snipers as they forage for food, have become all too familiar details of the horror story that has materialised in Yarmuk.”

It said aid delivered to the camp was “woefully inadequate to meet basic needs.”

Children and the elderly had suffered the most, according to the report. “Eighteen children including babies have died. Complications have also arisen from residents eating inedible or poisonous plants and dog meat.”

It said hospitals have run out of basic medical supplies, while residents had told Amnesty armed opposition groups had looted supplies and stolen ambulances.

Once a buzzing commercial and cultural hub, Yarmuk has suffered massive destruction because of frequent clashes, shelling and air raids.

Syria is officially home to nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees. Half of them have been displaced by the conflict in Syria since it broke out in March 2011.

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North Korea Regime Compared To Nazis By UN

North KoreaNorth Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities, U.N. investigators said on Monday.

The investigators told Kim in a letter they were advising the United Nations to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC), to make sure any culprits “including possibly yourself” were held accountable.

The unprecedented public rebuke and warning to a head of state by a U.N. inquiry is likely to further antagonise Kim and complicate efforts to persuade him to rein in his isolated country’s nuclear weapons programme and belligerent confrontations with South Korea and the West.

North Korea “categorically and totally” rejected the accusations set out in a 372-page report, saying they were based on material faked by hostile forces backed by the United States, the European Union and Japan.

Michael Kirby, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, said he expected his group’s findings to “galvanise action on the part of the international community”.

“These are not the occasional wrongs that can be done by officials everywhere in the world, they are wrongs against humanity, they are wrongs that shock the consciousness of humanity,” Kirby, a former chief justice of Australia, told journalists.

Referral to the Hague-based International Criminal Court is seen as unlikely given China’s probable veto of any such move in the U.N. Security Council, diplomats told Reuters.

“Another possibility is establishment of an ad hoc tribunal like the tribunal on the former Yugoslavia,” Kirby said.

The U.N. investigators also told Kim’s main ally China that it might be “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity” by sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea to face torture or execution, a charge that Chinese officials dismissed.

The findings came out of a year-long investigation involving public testimony by defectors, including former prison camp guards, at hearings in South Korea, Japan, Britain and the United States.

Defectors included Shin Dong-hyuk, who gave harrowing accounts of his life and escape from a prison camp. As a 13-year-old, he informed a prison guard of a plot by his mother and brother to escape and both were executed, according to a book on his life called “Escape from Camp 14”.

Kirby said that the crimes the team had catalogued were reminiscent of those committed by Nazis during World War Two.

“Some of them are strikingly similar,” he said.

“Testimony was given … in relation to the political prison camps of large numbers of people who were malnourished, who were effectively starved to death and then had to be disposed of in pots, burned and then buried … It was the duty of other prisoners in the camps to dispose of them,” he said.

The number of North Korean officials potentially guilty of the worst crimes, would be “running into the hundreds”, he said.

The independent investigators’ report cited crimes including murder, torture, rape, abductions, starvation and executions.

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” it said.

North Korea’s diplomatic mission in Geneva dismissed the findings. “We will continue to strongly respond to the end to any attempt of regime-change and pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection’,” it said.

The two-page North Korean statement, in English, said the report was an “instrument of a political plot aimed at sabotaging the socialist system” and defaming the country.

Violations listed in the document and forwarded to Pyongyang for comment several weeks ago, “do not exist in our country”.

The investigators said abuses were mainly perpetrated by officials in structures that ultimately reported to Kim – state security, the Ministry of People’s Security, the army, the judiciary and Workers’ Party of Korea.

“It is open to inference that the officials are, in some instances, acting under your personal control,” Kirby wrote in the three-page letter to Kim published as part of the report.

The team recommended targeted U.N. sanctions against civil officials and military commanders suspected of the worst crimes. It did not reveal any names, but said it had compiled a database of suspects from evidence and testimony.

Pyongyang has used food as “a means of control over the population” and “deliberate starvation” to punish political and ordinary prisoners, according to the team of 12 investigators.

Pervasive state surveillance quashed all dissent, it said.

North Korea’s extermination of political prisoners over the past five decades might amount to genocide, the report added, although the legal definition of genocide normally refers to the killing of large parts of a national, ethnic or religious group.

Kirby warned China’s charge d’affaires in Geneva, Wu Haitao, in a Dec 16 letter that the forced repatriations of North Korean migrants and defectors might amount to “the aiding and abetting (of) crimes against humanity”, the said.

Wu, in a reply also published in the report, said the fact that some of the North Korean migrants regularly managed to get back into China after their return showed that the allegations of torture were not true.

Human Rights Watch said it hoped the report would open the U.N. Security Council’s eyes to the scale of atrocities.

“By focusing only on the nuclear threat in North Korea, the Security Council is overlooking the crimes of North Korean leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public executions, disappearances, and mass starvation,” said executive director Kenneth Roth.

 

 

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Man brutally murdered as violence continues in Central African Republic

CARA group of soldiers in Central African Republic’s capital lynched a man they suspected of having been a rebel, minutes after hearing the new president promise to restore security at a ceremony to reinstate the divided country’s armed forces.

A  witness saw about 20 uniformed soldiers accuse a member of the crowd of having belonged to Seleka, the mostly Muslim rebel group that seized power in a coup last March, before stabbing him repeatedly until he was dead.

A soldier stamped on the lifeless body, which was then dragged nearly naked through the streets as residents looked on and took photographs.

Ten minutes earlier, about 20 metres away, the new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, had addressed the crowd of at least 1,000 soldiers at a ceremony meant to re-present the army to the nation after it effectively disappeared from view during nine months of Seleka rule.

“Within a month, I would like to fully secure the greater part of the country, and I aim to stick to my word,” she told the gathering at a training centre.

The Seleka, disbanded after Samba-Panza’s inauguration last month, is deeply resented by the Christian majority for months of lootings and killings.

The violence spawned the creation of Christian “anti-balaka” militias, meaning “anti-machete” in the local Sango language, and more sectarian blood-letting.

About 1 million people, a quarter of the former French colony’s population, have fled their homes.

The presence of 1,600 French soldiers and 5,000 African troops has so far failed to stop the tit-for-tat violence, which the United Nations says has already killed more than 2,000 people.

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch in Bangui, tweeted that the corpse of the lynched man had been burned. He posted a photograph showing a man holding up a severed limb next to a bonfire, as an armed French soldier gestured in the background.

Samba-Panza, appointed by parliament two weeks ago after coup leader Michel Djotodia stepped down under intense international pressure for failing to stop the violence, made clear it would take time to restore order:

“At a certain point, everyone will be held responsible for their acts, I am warning troublemakers who continue to sow disorder in the country.”

She also urged former soldiers to report for duty, saying those who did not would be considered deserters.

Central African Republic, one of Africa’s poorest countries despite mineral riches, has a history of instability, and has seen five coups and several rebellions since winning independence from France in 1960.

According to a timetable established as part of a regionally brokered peace deal agreed last year, elections are supposed to be held by February 2015.

 

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