UN spokesperson: Imran Khan’s call to Guterres centered on Kashmir

UN spokesperson: Imran Khan’s call to Guterres centered on Kashmir

Imran Khan's call to Guterres centered on KashmirBy Arul Louis,

United Nations : Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan’s phone call to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres centered on Kashmir, according to a UN spokesperson, who said that it was “only normal” for Guterres to speak to heads of government,.

“I can confirm to you that the phone call did happen and it centered on the issue of Kashmir as brought up by the prime minister,” Guterres’s Spokesperson Stephane Guterres told reporters here on Friday.

He did not provide any details of their conversation that took place on Thursday.

Asked by a reporter to react to Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar’s reported remark that Pakistan should mind its own business and Kashmir is a part of India, Dujarric said, “Our position on Kashmir has been reiterated, there is an observer group as mandated by the Security Council.”

The 113-member UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) established by the security council monitors the cease-fire in between the two neighbours in Kashmir.

Dujarric added, “The prime minister called, wanted to speak to the secretary-general. It is only normal that the secretary-general speak to heads of government and heads of state, and, as I said, I can confirm that the call took place and that the prime minister raised the issue of Kashmir.”

Radio Pakistan reported that Khan asked Guterres to send a commission of inquiry to investigate the human rights situation in Kashmir as recommended by former UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein earlier this year.

Although Guterres has backed Zeid’s call for the investigation and the current Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has endorsed it, neither the Human Rights Council nor other UN bodies have acted on it.

India has said that Zeid’s report on human rights violations in Kashmir and the proposal for an investigation were “clearly biased”.

UNMOGIP continues to operate under the security council mandate that grew out of a 1948 resolution that set up its predecessor organisation following the fighting that started in 1947 when Pakistani troops disguised a tribesmen invaded Kashmir soon after Independence.

India maintains that the UNMOGIP has no role because of the 1971 Simla agreement between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and then-President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stipulating that Kashmir was a bilateral issue with no role for third parties.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

—IANS

US embargo stopped Indian company from sending medicine to Cuba: Guterres

US embargo stopped Indian company from sending medicine to Cuba: Guterres

Antonio GuterresBy Arul Louis,

United Nations : The US embargo on Cuba is preventing Indian companies from sending medicines and development-related equipment to the Caribbean island nation, according to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

In his annual report to the General Assembly on the US embargo on Cuba, he said that the State Bank of India (SBI) and at least four other banks have refused to carry out transactions to enable the companies to export to that country.

The report figured in last week’s General Assembly discussions on US sanctions against Cuba.

By an overwhelming majority of 189 to two, the General Assembly on November 1 passed a resolution crticising the embargo and asking Washington to lift it.

In his report Guterres said that in February, the Indian company Aculife had refused to ship levofloxacin directly to Cuba because its bank “would not authorise the payments made by Cuba since the shipping documents supporting the payment had a country under embargo as the final destination”.

Levofloxacin is a drug used to treat pneumonia, bacterial skin infections, bronchitis and other diseases, according to the report.

The Ahmedabad-based Aculife said on its website that it manufactures “intravenous antibiotics including general and advanced molecules” like levofloxacin.

The reluctance of banks to handle payments related to Cuba has also affected a development project with a climate change dimension, Guterres said in the report.

It was reported in March that Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies had said it could not export to Cuba equipment for a gasification plant that uses rice husks because five Indian banks had refused to carry out a transfer from the office of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Cuba to it, he said.

The Vadodara-based company had reported that the SBI refused to receive the UNDP payment “because the transaction is related to a project implemented in Cuba”, the report said.

“It has been impossible to fulfill the payment to the supplier and the implementation of the project has been delayed.”

It is “an ongoing development project that aims to implement measures to adapt to climate change in food production, a gasification plant that uses rice husks”, the UN chief said.

Ankur Scientific says on its website that its technology converts various waste products into combustible gas that can be burned to produce energy for different uses.

India has opposed the US embargo on Cuba enacted after communists under Fidel Castro came to power in 1961.

Guterres said in his report that India informed the UN that it “has consistently opposed any unilateral measure by countries that impinge on the sovereignty of another country. These include any attempt to extend the application of a country’s laws extraterritorially to other sovereign nations”.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

—IANS

UN warns against full-scale military assault in Syria’s Idilib

UN warns against full-scale military assault in Syria’s Idilib

SyriaUnited Nations : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday expressed concern over the “growing risks of a humanitarian catastrophe” in the event of a full-scale military operation in the northern Idlib province of Syria.

Guterres’ statement on Wednesday followed the briefing a day before by the director of operations for UN humanitarian affairs John Ging to the Security Council. Ging warned such a government offensive in Idlib “has the potential to create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen” in the seven-year civil war, Xinhua news agency reported.

Speaking through his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, Guterres reaffirmed that any use of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable, in an apparent response to allegations that emerged recently of possible staging of chemical attacks in the province.

The United States, Britain and France have warned that they will respond “appropriately” to any chemical weapons attack in Idlib, a warning repeated at the Security Council on Tuesday by the three countries.

Russia, for its part, said Syrian rebels are preparing a chemical attack, which Moscow said the West would use to justify a strike against the Syrian forces.

Guterres called on the guarantors of the Astana process, namely Russia, Iran and Turkey, to step up efforts to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Idlib, the last remaining de-escalation zone, one of the four that the process helped to create.

Complementary to the Geneva talks, the Astana process kicked off in early 2017 with a meeting providing for indirect talks between the Syrian government and rebel factions in the neutral Kazakh capital. In tandem with the Geneva talks, the process aims to achieve a peaceful and stable solution to the conflict in Syria.

Concluding his statement, Guterres urged all parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives, allow freedom of movement, and protect civilian infrastructure, including medical and educational facilities, in accordance with international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Reports have said the Syrian government is gearing up for an offensive in Idlib province, which is home to nearly 3 million people and has a large al-Qaida presence in addition to Syrian rebel groups.

—IANS

Rohingya situation one of worst human rights crises: Guterres

Rohingya situation one of worst human rights crises: Guterres

Rohingya refugeeBy Arul Louis,

United Nations : Describing the Rohingya refugee situation as one of the worst humanitarian and human rights crises of the past year, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for international action to ensure Myanmar is held to account for the crimes of its security forces.

Speaking at a Security Council session convened on Tuesday for the one-year anniversary of the start of the exodus of 720,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh, Guterres also condemned the attacks by extremists against the security forces.

However, he added that nothing can ever justify the disproportionate use of force against civilians and the horrendous violation of human rights violations by the security forces.

Urging united action by the divided Security Council, Guterres cited a report issued on Monday by a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) fact-finding team and said the human rights abuses amounted to “the gravest crimes under international law”.

He thanked the Bangladesh government for its generosity in hosting the refugees and said more needs to be done by the world community as only 33 per cent of the $951 million UN appeal for assistance has been met and the the monsoon season looms.

The current crisis began in August 2017 with attacks on Myanmar security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which is led by Karachi-born Ata Ullah.

The Myanmar armed forces and vigilantes retaliated brutally against the Rohingyas starting an exodus that began on August 25.

Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, the British Minister of State for the UN, who presided over the Security Council session, said that it should be prepared to use all the tools it has to ensure justice for the Rohingyas.

The strongly-worded report by the UNHRC team headed by former Indonesian attorney-general Marzuki Darusman said that allegations of genocide against Myanmar officials should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or to a special tribunal.

The Netherlands and Sweden backed the suggestion and asked the Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC.

But Russia and China countered saying that the situation required a non-confrontational approach and only a bilateral diplomatic solution involving Myanmar and Bangladesh would work.

Myanmar’s Permanent Representative Hau Do Suan said that his country did not accept the findings of the UNHRC team as it was biased.

However, he added that Myanmar does not condone human rights abuses and would take action against anyone guilty if there was evidence of their conduct.

He alleged that the ARSA had set up terrorist bases in some areas along the border with Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Permanent Representative Masud Bin Momen said that in the light of the UNHRC team’s report, it was imperative that the Security Council should act decisively.

He said that the Rohingyas could not return to their homes in Rakhine state unless they were assured of their safety.

For this, the Myanmar government should take several steps like curbing hate speech, allowing free access to UN agencies for relief operations and dismantling internal camps for Rohingyas and giving them freedom of movement.

Australian-born actor Cate Blanchett, who is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke at the Security Council session about her encounters with Rohingya refugees who told her harrowing tales of their experiences in Myanmar.

She said that as a mother she was moved by the plight of the children she met as she saw her children reflected in them.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

—IANS

Guterres backs Zeid’s call for Kashmir human rights investigation

Guterres backs Zeid’s call for Kashmir human rights investigation

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

By Arul Louis,

United Nations : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has backed Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s call for an international investigation into human rights situation in Kashmir saying that it represents the “voice of the UN”.

He also defended at a news conference on Thursday his own report on children in armed conflict that referred to situations in Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

He denied India’s assertions that his report overstepped his mandate and that Zeid’s had no mandate and said that they were both covered by the “the general mandate of human rights instruments”.

On Monday, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative Tanmaya Lal told the Security Council that Zeid’s “so-called report” was “reflecting the clear bias of an official who was acting without any mandate whatsoever and relied on unverified sources of information”.

As for Guterres’s report, Lal said: “We are disappointed that the report of the Secretary General includes situations, which do not meet the definition of armed conflict or of threat to maintenance of international peace and security.”

Asked at his news conference if he supported Zeid’s call for the independent international investigation, Guterres said: “As you can imagine all the action of the Human Rights High Commissioner is an action that represents the voice of the UN in relation to that issue.”

Answering a question about the reports running counter to India’s long-standing assertion that Kashmir is a part of India and any problem between the neighbours was a bilateral issue among India and Pakistan, Guterres said there was a distinction between political matters and human rights.

He said: “One thing is the definition of mechanisms for a political solution of a situation in a country and the other thing is the general mandate of human rights instruments in relation to human rights everywhere.”

“What the Human Rights Commissioner did was the use of its own competencies and capacities as it does in all other parts of the world to report on what he considers to be relevant human rights violations,” Guterres explained.

“It does not mean that there is in that a preference for any kind of methodology for a political solution,” he added.

As for India’s saying that the situation in the three Indian states mentioned in Guterres’s report did not meet “a definition of armed conflict or of threat to maintenance of international peace and security,” he said that the same principles applied to it also.

His “report is a report about situations in which the rights of children have been put into question,” Guterres said.

In his report in June on children in armed conflict, Guterres accused Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir and Naxalites in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand of using children.

The report simultaneously assigned blame to the Indian government saying, “Children continued to be killed and injured in the context of operations of national security forces against armed groups.”

His report added that “unverified reports” indicate national security forces use children as “informants and spies”.

Zeid, whose term gets over at the end of 2018, asked the Human Rights Council to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the human rights situation in Kashmir.

The Council did not take up his suggestion at its session that ended last week.

His report said that “Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries” in dealing with protests in the state.

The report raised the issue of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that he asserted gave security personnel “virtual impunity”.

Zeid also called for the investigation to look into reports of mass graves in the state.

Rejecting Zeid’s report, India’s External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said it was “overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative”.

“We are deeply concerned that individual prejudices are being allowed to undermine the credibility of a UN institution,” he said in a direct personal criticism of Zeid.

He said it was a compilation of “largely unverified information” and “the authors have conveniently ignored the pattern of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan and territories under its illegal control.”

He added, “The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan is in illegal and forcible occupation of a part of the Indian state through aggression.”

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

—IANS