Khashoggi murder trials must be public and meet international standards, UN expert urges

A United Nations human rights expert said on Thursday that Saudi Arabia’s closed-door trials of those it accuses of assassinating the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, have fallen short of international standards, calling instead for public trials of the alleged killers.   

UN Photo/Mark GartenPress Briefing by Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions    28 March 2019Human Rights

Agnes Callamard, who is leading an independent human rights inquiry into the killing at the Saudi consulate last October, denounced the lack of transparency of Saudi Arabia’s investigation and legal proceedings so far.

Calling the murder “an extrajudicial killing committed in a consulate office on foreign territory,” the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions spelled out that “these are not internal, domestic matters”.

The Saudi Government is “grievously mistaken”, she stated, if it believes that the current proceedings will satisfy the international community “either in terms of procedural fairness under international standards or in terms of the validity of their conclusions”.

Initially, Saudi Arabia detained 21 people during its investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, 11 of whom are currently being tried, with five facing the death penalty if convicted.

“The investigation and subsequent prosecution should comply with international legal standards, and that demands the highest levels of transparency and impartiality”, she maintained, adding that while the rights of the victim and his family are at stake, “so too are the rights of other States under international treaties and law”.

Noting that the Saudi Government has invited representatives of Permanent Members of the Security Council to attend some of the hearings, Ms. Callamard expressed her misgivings that “they risk being participants in a potential miscarriage of justice” and “possibly complicit” should the trials be marred by violations of human rights law.

 “They should review their cooperation and insist that the proceedings be made fully open to the public and expert international observers”, stressed the Special Rapporteur.

She explained that a credible investigation before a court of law, requires adjudication of the disappearance and murder, based on international human rights law, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and customary law on the sanctity of sovereign territory.

“Thus far”, Ms. Callamard observed, “the Saudi authorities have not even disclosed publicly the identities of the accused; their roles in relation to the government or the details of the charges they face, and have held the court proceedings behind closed doors”.

The Special Rapporteur said that the Government would “demonstrate its good faith if it opens its efforts to international review.”

She concluded by renewing her request for permission to visit that country as part of her “inquiry into the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Khashoggi, to which I would welcome a positive response.” 

The UN Special Rapporteur calls on the Saudi Government to: 

  • Make public the names of those being prosecuted and the charges they face.
  • Make public all trial proceedings and evidence against the accused.
  • Invite international, independent, experts to monitor trial proceedings.
  • Make public the details and results in establishing the whereabouts of Mr. Khashoggi’s remains.
  • Make public the fates of all those arrested in connection with Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.

New UN Global Climate report ‘another strong wake-up call’ over global warming: Guterres

The increasing number of natural disasters and dangers linked to climate change, highlighted in a major UN report released on Thursday, represents “another strong wake-up call” to the world, which must be countered by finding sustainable solutions quickly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said.

MINUSTAH/Logan AbassiAfter days of continuous rains parts of Haiti’s north including Cap Haitian suffered serious flooding leaving more than a dozen dead and thousands homeless. (November 2014)    28 March 2019Climate Change

Speaking at the launch of the State of the Global Climate report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Mr. Guterres reiterated his call for action, underlining that the alarming conclusion that climate change is accelerating, “proves what we have been saying: climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it.”

This was why he had convened the Climate Action Summit due to take place on 23 September, he said, sitting alongside the President of the General Assembly and the head of WMO, briefing correspondents in New York.

UN Photo/Manuel EliasHigh-level meeting on Climate and Sustainable Development for All

‘Don’t come with a speech, come with a plan’

Mr. Guterres called on Heads of State to attend his climate action summit in New York on 23 September, and achieve positive change. “Don’t come with a speech, come with a plan,” he said, adding: “This is what science says is needed. It is what young people around the globe are rightfully demanding.”

I want the summit to demonstrate the benefits of climate action and how everyone can benefit”, he said. “A growing number of governments, cities and businesses…already understand that climate solutions can strengthen our economies, improve air quality and public health and protect our environment.”

This will involve a commitment to enhancing national pledges contained in the Paris Agreement by 2020, Mr. Guterres explained, and countries “showing how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and get to net zero emissions globally by 2050”.

Assessing the potential benefits of sustainably-driven climate solutions that leave no-one behind, the UN Secretary-General welcomed the “growing number of governments, cities and businesses” that had embraced Agenda 2030-inspired climate solutions as a way to “strengthen our economies, improve air quality and public health and protect our environment”.

Initiatives could come from a range of areas, “such as energy, sustainable agriculture, forests and oceans and resilience to climate impacts”, Mr. Guterres said, maintaining that renewable technologies “are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil-fuel driven economy”.

Despite this progress, much more radical steps must be taken, he insisted, explaining that “this means ending subsidies for fossil fuels and high-emitting, unsustainable agriculture, and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices”.

In addition, “it means carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of emissions, from climate risk to the health hazards of air pollution”, the UN chief explained, “and it means accelerating the closure of coal plants, halting plans for new ones, and replacing those jobs with healthier alternatives, so the transformation is just, inclusive and profitable.”

UN Photo/Manuel EliasHigh-level meeting on Climate and Sustainable Development for All

President of the General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said she had pledged throughout her time in office there was a need for “a holistic understanding of the socio-economic consequences of increasingly intense extreme weather on countries around the world”, adding that the report “makes an important contribution to our combined international action to focus attention on this very critical problem.”

It was “really not good news” she told journalists, that CO2 emissions had jumped from 1.6 per cent in 2017, to passing the 2.7 per cent emissions growth, during 2018.

“We need to act, and to act now. The numbers and data are extremely worrisome…We are capable, we have the science, we have the knowledge, we have the tools in hand” to push back on global warming, she added.   

WMO said that the temperature rise last year, came despite the agreement by the international community in December 2015 in Paris, to curb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, and to limit global temperature rise to well below 2C.

Paris Agreement increasingly under threat – WMO chief

“The time remaining to achieve commitments under the Paris Agreement is quickly running out,” said WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas.

Outlining the report’s key findings, Professor Taalas warned of record greenhouse gas concentrations last year, that drove global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.

According to WMO, carbon dioxide levels were at 357 parts per million (ppm) in 1994, rising to 405.5 ppm in 2017.

Professor Taalas also described “striking” evidence of record warming from 2015 to 2018, increasing sea-level rise and the loss of sea ice in both northern and southern polar regions.

Idai victims ‘personify why we need to limit climate change’

Noting that extreme weather events have continued into 2019 – most recently with Tropical Cyclone Idai, which caused devastating floods and loss of life in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi – Professor Taalas said that its victims “personify why we need the global agenda on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction”.

“We are seeing record rises in land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gas concentrations,” Mr. Guterres told journalists. “Second, we are seeing, more and more, the dramatic impact of extreme weather conditions. Last year saw 14 weather events where the devastation cost more than $1 billion…The average number of people exposed to heatwaves has increased by some 125 million since the beginning of the century, with deadly consequences.”

Peter Buschmann for Forest Service, USDA2018 Woolsey Fire burns a hillside in California.

2019 so far: record warmth in Europe, unusual cold in North America

According to WMO, the start of this year has also seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America and searing heatwaves in Australia. The extent of ice in the Arctic and Antarctica is yet again well below average, it said.

From now until May, WMO also forecasts above-average sea surface temperatures, which are expected to lead to above-normal land temperature, particularly in tropical latitudes.

General Assembly meets on climate change and sustainable development

Earlier on Thursday, the General Assembly held a High-Level meeting on climate change and sustainable development, including panel discussions on synergies between the two, and how the two agendas can be brought together in terms of concrete action.

“We all can reduce our carbon footprint everyday: in terms of the food we consume, the clothes we use, the transport we choose and the garbage we generate”, said Ms. Espinosa.

“Clearly we need to modify our consumption patterns. This is not just a world of shortages, but also of over-consumption. A great paradox is that 1,300 million tons of food are wasted every year, while almost 2000 million people suffer from hunger or malnutrition”, she told delegates at UN Headquarters.

Landmark terror finance resolution adopted by Security Council

The UN is hailing a new Security Council resolution adopted on Thursday as a landmark step in suppressing the funding of terror groups worldwide.

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeThe United Nations Security Council debates the threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts at UN Headquarters in New York on 28 March 2019.    28 March 2019Law and Crime Prevention

Speaking via video-link from Rome, where he has been meeting specialist Italian law enforcement officials to discuss building closer ties to tackle the problem; The UN’s counter-terrorism chief, Vladimir Voronkov, said that the adoption comes at a “critical time,” with recent attacks demonstrating that terror groups continue to have access to both legal and illegal sources of funding.

Underscoring the necessity for strong collaboration and targeted efforts, in order to achieve “concrete results” in the fight against terrorism and terrorist financing, Mr. Voronkov said that Resolution 2462 on Countering the Financing of Terrorism, pulls together previous resolutions to create a consolidated document that also covers several key emerging issues.

The resolution calls for the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) – set up in 2017 to strengthen the Organization’s ability to implement s global counter-terrorism strategy – to play a leading role in identifying ways to suppress terrorist financing.

Only through strong collaboration and targeted efforts, can we achieve concrete results in our fight against terrorism and terrorist financing Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General, UN Office of Counter-Terrorism

Mr. Voronkov identified three priorities. The first concerns expanding the focus of the UNOCT to cover intelligence sharing, risk assessments and public-private partnerships; the second points to system-wide awareness-raising and the development of a comprehensive approach to the problem.

The UNOCT’s third priority is to work closely with the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body which sets standards for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international finance system; and regional regulators.

Marshall Billingslea, President of the Financial Action Task Force, and Mercy Buku, an expert in the countering of terrorist financing, also briefed the Security Council on the subject. Mr. Billingslea welcomed the fact that the new resolution calls on States to do more to prevent ransom payments to terrorists, which, he said, incentivizes them to continue using kidnapping as an important revenue stream.

He also noted that, currently, two-thirds of States are not effectively prosecuting terrorist financing, which extends well beyond the banking and financing sectors, to include construction, drug trafficking and even the used car trade.

Ms. Buku, speaking via video-link from Nairobi, where, she said, the consequences of recent terror attacks are fresh in the minds of citizens, hailed the adoption of the resolution as “timely” in promoting the fight against terrorism, terrorist financing and money-laundering, but pointed out that the fight must not adversely affect financial inclusion initiatives, that enable access to banking services, and seek to reduce poverty and inequality.

As Syria conflict enters ninth year, humanitarian crisis ‘far from over’, Security Council hears

Eight years ago this month, the Syria conflict began, leading to a humanitarian crisis that remains “far from over”, the UN Security Council heard on Wednesday. 11.7 million need humanitarian assistance and protection, and more than 5.6 million Syrians are living as refugees across the region.

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeRosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefs the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East (Syria).    27 March 2019Humanitarian Aid

Although fighting in the country has diminished, a growing number of civilians have been killed or injured in recent weeks.

Rosemary DiCarlo, head of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, and Ramesh Rajasingham, a senior director at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefed Council members, highlighting the escalating violence in the last rebel-held enclave of Idlib, and the surrounding areas of north-west Syria.

Ms. DiCarlo described reports of artillery, mortar exchanges and airstrikes; as well as rocket attacks and raids which are putting a strain, she said, on a 2018 agreement between Russia and Turkey to limit military operations in the area, which created a buffer zone between opposition fighters and Syrian Government forces and their allies.

‘Alarming spike in civilian casualties’, displacement

Mr Rajasingham told the council that the region has seen an “alarming spike in civilian casualties: “last month alone, 90 people were killed, of whom nearly half were children. At least 86,000 people have also reportedly been displaced by this latest upsurge of violence. Health facilities, including a hospital in Saraqeb city, which had been deconflicted with the parties through established procedures, and schools, are reported to have been hit.”

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeRamesh Rajasingham, Director of the Coordination Division of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefs the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East (Syria).

Last month alone, 90 people were killed, of whom nearly half were children. At least 86,000 people have also reportedly been displaced by this latest upsurge of violence. Ramesh Rajasingham, director of the Coordination Division, OCHA

Regarding last week’s capture – by Syrian Democratic Forces backed by a US-led coalition – of the last remaining territory held by the terror group ISIL, Ms. DiCarlo warned that ISIL still poses a threat, and that thousands of civilians fleeing military operations against the group have found their way to al Hol, a refugee camp in Hasakah province: more than 140 of them died on the way to the camp, or once they arrived there.

There are now 72,000 people living in al Hol, with thousands more on the way, and there is, said the Peacebuilding chief, a desperate need to maintain and ramp up the humanitarian response. However, she noted that the UN is still awaiting approval from the Syrian Government for humanitarian access for a third convoy of life-saving assistance.

Expanding on conditions in al Hol, Mr. Rajasingham said that many newcomers have arrived following gruelling journeys of hundreds of kilometres in open trucks, after prolonged exposure to intense hostilities, extreme deprivation and human rights abuses under ISIL rule. Many show signs of distress, and are suffering from trauma injuries, malnutrition and fatigue.

Mr. Rajasingham concluded with a call for continued international engagement to allow the UN to continue running “one of the largest and most complex aid operations ever implemented,” whilst Ms. DiCarlo reminded Council members, “on this grim anniversary,” that the UN Secretary-General has said that it is a “moral obligation and a political imperative for the international community to support Syrians to unite around a vision that addresses the root causes of the conflict and forges a negotiated political solution.”