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The Riddle: new anti-homophobia message from UN human rights office

Published on May 14, 2013

76 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex relationships and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people everywhere continue to suffer violent attacks and discriminatory treatment. In this simple, high-impact video from the UN human rights office, individuals from diverse backgrounds pose questions directly to the viewer designed to expose the nature of human rights violations suffered by LGBT people around the world. The video includes cameo appearances by UN Secretary-General and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

The UN's message: LGBT rights are human rights.

Together we will build a world that is free and equal.

U.S.-trained Congolese troops committed rapes and other atrocities, U.N. says

Courtesy of U.S. Air Force - U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Christopher K. Haas, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, returns the salute of Lieutenant Colonel Pepe Tongawa in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo

By Craig Whitlock, Published: May 13
A Congolese army battalion that received its formative training from the U.S. military went on to commit mass rapes and other atrocities last year, a U.N. investigation has found. Members of the 391st Commando Battalion, a unit created in 2010 with extensive support from the U.S. government, joined with other Congolese soldiers to rape 97 women and 33 girls as they fled a rebel advance in eastern Congo in November, according to the United Nations.

U.S. Special Operations forces had spent eight months training the 750-member battalion in a bid to professionalize Congo’s ragtag military, which has a long history of rights abuses, including raping and killing civilians. The training program, dubbed Operation Olympic Chase, was led by the State Department and the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees military operations on the continent. Two years later, members of the battalion joined other Congolese soldiers to rape and rob scores of civilians in Minova, a town in eastern Congo, according to an investigative report released last week by the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office. The attacks occurred as Congolese forces were chased out of Goma, a key provincial capital, by a rebel group known as M23.

On Monday, the State Department acknowledged that some U.S.-trained soldiers “may be implicated in these rapes,” according to an e-mailed statement from a spokeswoman, Hilary Renner. “We condemn these crimes unequivocally and call for a full and credible investigation” by the Congolese government, she added. “You have enhanced your moral understanding of how a professional military operates effectively within a democratic society to provide security, to protect the civilian population and to contribute to greater stability,” Samuel Laeuchli, the ranking U.S. diplomat in the Congo at the time, said in a speech at the 391st Battalion’s graduation. Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, said the U.S. government underestimated what it would take to reform the Congolese armed forces.

“The state of the army in itself is a disaster, so you train people and you send them back to a dysfunctional army,” he said. “You are trained, but you still have a very low wage, no logistics, a very poor command system and no sense of belonging and cohesion because the Congolese army is still a patchwork of very different groups. Even if you’re trained, at the end of the day, you’re still an hungry and unpaid soldier.”... The U.N. findings represent another setback in the U.S. military’s efforts to train and equip troops in Third World countries, many of which have poor human rights records.


Last Hope in Ruins: Bangladesh’s Race to Save Shaheena

Published: May 5, 2013

SAVAR, Bangladesh — The rescuers discovered her by a faint, distant sound. They had spent four days crawling through the wreckage of Rana Plaza, tons of concrete and steel pressing down, saving hundreds of people. Now only the dead remained. Except for a lone woman, a garment worker. She was trapped behind a fallen pillar, in a suffocating crevice maybe two feet high. First, the rescuers could see only her fingertips pressing through a tiny opening. After hours spent chipping a small hole, they could see her face. Her name was Shaheena. She was 32. She begged to see her young son.

The story of Shaheena, involving a heroic if ultimately doomed rescue operation, offered the last bit of hope of finding anyone alive in what is now considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. For hours on April 28, as television reporters broadcast updates, rescuing Shaheena became a national priority. She would be trapped for more than 100 hours.

Her plight attracted so much attention because of the horror of the building collapse, with a death toll that by Sunday had exceeded 600; the drama of the long rescue effort; and the human desire to find a sliver of redemption in the tragedy. But the attention was also an anomaly: there are easily more than 2.5 million women working in the garment industry in Bangladesh whose lives usually attract scant notice, even though they are the workhorses of the national economy.

For women like Shaheena, the garment industry has been a source of empowerment as well as exploitation. Before, few rural women worked outside the fields in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation. Many, like Shaheena, are still not given a surname at birth. Now the industry has given many women a first step out of rural distress, with some becoming outspoken labor leaders or managers in their factories.


UN sends force to look for a fight in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Deployment of intervention brigade is not peacekeeping but peace enforcement. If successful it will set a precedent
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 May 2013 12.36 EDT

In establishing an intervention brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations has taken a leap into the unknown. UN peacekeeping operations have become embroiled in scraps before, but this is the first time such a force has been sent out to look for a fight. The brigade has the job of "neutralising" ultra-violent armed groups who are perpetuating the misery of the eastern DRC, with a clear mandate for initiating attacks against those militias rather than simply responding to attacks from them. It is not peacekeeping but peace enforcement.

The UN has the right and a duty to confront threats to global peace under chapter 7 of its charter, but in the past the deployment of combat troops has been subcontracted to willing nations, deputised by the UN like a wild west sheriff's posse. The most recent example of this was in April 2011 in Libya, where UN resolution 1973 authorised "all necessary measures" be taken to protect civilians, a mandate controversially interpreted by France, UK and the US to help bring about the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. When global and regional powers have not wanted to become embroiled in civil conflicts, the role has been left to the UN department of peacekeeping, which canvasses member states for troops, puts them in blue helmets and gives them narrowly drawn mandates and rules of engagement aimed at preserving the UN's credibility as a neutral arbiter and preventing the UN from becoming just another warring faction on the ground.

What could possibly go wrong? As events in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia proved, the half-hearted defensive missions were a recipe for humanitarian disasters. The peacekeeping forces Unprofor in Bosnia, Unamir in Rwanda and Unosom II in Somalia were all sent in with no peace to keep and no security council consensus on how they should to their job. The Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansers, the Hutu genocidaires and the Mogadishu warlords could smell the weakness of the UN position and simply overran the blue-helmeted forces, slaughtering hundreds of people who were supposed to be under the UN's protection. Those left defenceless blamed impotent UN soldiers, but the real problem lay with a feckless and divided security council.

The disgust at the genocides of the 1990s paved the way in 2005 for the UN's adoption of a new principle, the "responsibility to protect", which in theory turned the inviolability of state sovereignty on its head and argued that sovereignty was a responsibility rather than a right. When a state failed to protect its civilians, the international community had the right to intervene with coercive measures, including force if necessary. At the same time, UN peacekeeping missions have become more forward-leaning when it comes to defending themselves. In Ivory Coast in April 2011, the UN force Unoci fought back fiercely when attacked by forces loyal to the warlord Laurent Gbagbo, launching gunship assaults on Gbagbo's palace and his residence in tandem with French forces.

more at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/05/un-force-democratic-republic-congo
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