57 Countries Express Support to Venezuela at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

Over 50 countries around the world expressed support for the constitutional government of Venezuela against foreign threats.

During the 36th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday, 57 countries signed an expression of support of respect for the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela.

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“We condemn any action that disturbs peace, tranquility, and democratic stability... and that threatens sovereignty, including the recent threats of a possible foreign military intervention,” the jointly signed document read, that was read by Cuba's ambassador to the Council, Pedro Luis Pedroso.

The nations, among whom are Cuba, China, Bolivia, Russia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Libya, Ecuador, Vietnam, South Africa, and Iran, expressed their “support for the constitutional government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in its commitment to preserve peace and maintain democratic institutions in the country.”

They expressed support for the calls and efforts of President Nicolas Maduro to political dialogue in Venezuela in order to “preserve peace and guarantee the stability of the democratic institutions."

RELATED: 'Latin America Must Be a Region of Peace’: Bolivia’s Morales on Venezuela Dialogue

Also read during the session was a declaration by the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA) that echoed the calls for respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity in Venezuela. Presented by the Nicaraguan ambassador, Hernan Estrada, ALBA repudiated the “international media campaign” against Venezuela and condemned the recent threats of the United States President Donald Trump in his address to the United Nations General Assembly.

The Venezuelan representative to the council, Jorge Valero, also spoke, expressing solidarity to those countries who support Venezuela's sovereignty and saying that "peace reigns" in his country due to the democratic National Constituent Assembly.

“Thanks to the National Constituent Assembly, elected through the universal, direct, and secret vote of millions of Venezuelans, peace reigns in Venezuela," he said.

The 36th session of the Human Rights Council is currently taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, from September 11th to the 29th.

The support of ALBA and 57 countries around the world is an affirmation of the international support Venezuela has behind it, in a crucial moment as it has been subject to renewed attacks from the United States and its allied countries in recent weeks.

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Argentines protest Supreme Court ruling on Dirty War sentences

Tens of thousands of Argentines protested on Wednesday against a Supreme Court ruling that could decrease jail time for those convicted of human rights abuses during the country’s 1976 – 1983 military dictatorship that killed as many as 30,000 people.

The ruling was widely criticized, including by President Mauricio Macri, and Congress passed a law earlier on Wednesday to block future reductions of sentences for killings, torture, kidnappings and other human rights violations during the so-called Dirty War. “Judges: Never again. No free genocidists,” read banners in the Plaza de Mayo of Buenos Aires.

The Supreme Court’s May 3 decision ruled in favor of Luis Muiña, who was sentenced in 2011 to 13 years in jail for kidnapping and torturing five people during the dictatorship. The court said a law known locally as “two for one” that allows every day spent in jail before a final sentence to count for two days when more than two years have been served, could apply for human rights cases.

“I would like to congratulate the Congress for the speed at which it resolved the legal vacuum left by this unfortunate 2-for-1 law,” Macri said in a press conference earlier on Wednesday. “I am against any tool that is in favor of impunity, more so when this tool is applied to crimes against humanity.”

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UN Report Describes Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip

United Nations, Apr 7 (Prensa Latina) A UN report reflects today the daily hardships faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a territory under a decade of the Israeli blockade and devastating bombings in recent years.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 70 percent of the 1 880 000 people living in the 365 square kilometer strip are registered as refugees and 47 percent are considered to be food insecure.

Power outages reach 12 to 16 hours daily and unemployment affects four out of every 10 Palestinians in Gaza, being women and young persons the most affected, with 65.3 and 61 percent of them unemployed, respectively.

In respect to water, OCHA warns that 97 percent of the liquid that reaches people through pipes is not suitable for human consumption.

In addition to the permanent Israeli blockade in place, the small Palestinian territory still remains suffering the consequences of the 51-day aviation bombings carried out by Tel Aviv, which in summer of 2014 destroyed much of the housing and living infrastructure there.

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US Pulls Funding for UN Population Fund

The UN Population Fund rejects state department's claim that agency backs "coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization".

The U.S. State Department announced that it is discontinuing its funding for the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA). The UNFPA is an organization that focuses on family planning and maternal and child health in more than 150 countries worldwide. This marks U.S. President Donald Trump's first step in reducing funding for United Nation organizations. This move has raised some concerns since the U.S. is the major contributor to the UN.

RELATED: No Top Position at UN for Palestinians, Says US Envoy

The State Department revealed that it withheld $32.5 in funding because the UNFPA "supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization." In January, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which withholds U.S. funding for international organizations that perform abortions or provide information about abortion. One of Trump's recent executive orders, which references all global health assistance, withheld at least half a billion dollars in U.S. funding. Trump's proposed 28 percent budget reduction for diplomatic and foreign aid, specifically, included reduced financial support for the United Nations and its agencies.

UNFPA stated that it regrets the U.S. government's decision to end funding, which it said is based on an "erroneous claim" that the agency supports coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China. The agency added that its mission is "to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled." The statement from UNFPA also declared, "The support we received over the years from the government and people of the United States has saved tens of thousands of mothers from preventable deaths and disabilities, and especially now in the rapidly developing global humanitarian crises."

The State Department said the funds will instead be transferred to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support family planning, maternal and reproductive health activities.

UN officials have warned that abrupt funding cuts could trigger more global instability and argued that dollars for diplomacy are more effective than military spending in combating terrorism. President George W. Bush had also defunded the UNFPA, from 2002 to 2008, arguing that its presence in China constituted participation in the country’s "one-child" family planning policy. At that time, the U.S. government had pulled $34m of funds.

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Hundreds of Mosul civilians killed by airstrikes were told not to flee by authorities – Amnesty

Hundreds of Mosul residents were killed by airstrikes in their homes following repeated instructions from Iraqi authorities not to leave, Amnesty International says. It adds coalition forces should have known they were likely to result in civilian deaths.

Citing numerous testimonies given by survivors and eyewitnesses, Amnesty said many people did not attempt to flee during the US-backed operation to retake the city from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) due to Iraqi authorities’ instructions. 

FILE PHOTO. © Khalid al Mousily

“Evidence gathered on the ground in east Mosul points to an alarming pattern of US-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside,” said Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis response adviser who carried out field investigations in Mosul.

She noted the increasingly high civilian death toll “suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”

The fact that the Iraqi authorities repeatedly told civilians not to flee the war-ravaged city in the midst of fighting, “indicates that coalition forces should have known that these strikes were likely to result in a significant numbers of civilian casualties,” the organization said, adding that “disproportionate attacks and indiscriminate attacks violate international humanitarian law and can constitute war crimes.”

Wa’ad Ahmad al-Tai, a resident of eastern Mosul, said these instructions were delivered via radio and through leaflets dropped from military aircraft.

“The government … told us [to] stay in our homes and avoid displacement,” he added.

Amnesty has also noted IS resorts to using civilians as human shields, which amounts to a war crime.

READ MORE: Civilian deaths in Mosul are miscalculations & mistakes – Iraqi President

“However, the IS’s use of human shields does not absolve Iraqi and coalition forces from their obligation not to launch disproportionate attacks,” said Rovera.

Amnesty has urged the Iraqi government and the US-led coalition to “immediately launch an independent and impartial investigation into the appalling civilian death toll resulting from the Mosul operation.”

The statement comes as the US-led coalition faces allegations that one of their airstrikes on March 17 killed dozens of civilians.

READ MORE: 307 civilians killed, 273 wounded in western Mosul since February 17 – UN human rights chief  

The US declared that its forces are not planning to change the way they conduct airstrikes despite the battle for Mosul entering more densely-populated areas in the western part of the city.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi president told RIA Novosti that “there is coordination between the US coalition and Iraqi security forces, but sometimes it fails,” civilian deaths being the result of “miscalculations” and “unintended mistakes.”

UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein made a statement on Tuesday condemning the “massive loss of civilian lives in western Mosul,” where at least 307 people have been killed and 273 wounded in just over a month.

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South African Anti-Apartheid Leader Ahmed Kathrada Dies

Ahmed Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment along with the Nelson Mandela; served 26 years and three months.

Ahmed "Uncle Kathy" Kathrada was hospitalised in Johannesburg earlier this month after surgery to relieve blood clotting in the brain. Earlier today, his foundation confirmed that the former colleague of late South African President Nelson Mandela had succumbed to post-surgical complications at the Donald Gordon Hospital in Johannesburg.

RELATED: South Africa Minister Urges Expropriation of White-Owned Land

Kathrada, who was a lifelong supporter of the African National Congress (ANC), Palestine and all things liberation-related, was sentenced to life imprisonment along with the Mandela. He was imprisoned for 26 years and three months – 18 of which were on the infamous Robben Island. He was then moved to Pollsmoor prison in 1982 before being released from jail on Oct. 15, 1989, at the age of 60.

The activist-turned-politician later served as parliamentary counselor in Mandela's first administration. "We are deeply saddened to learn this morning of the passing on of our dear friend and founding trustee, Ahmed Kathrada," wrote the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Twitter. "Hamba Kahle [farewell] Kathy."

Kathrada had dedicated his life to fighting the racial injustice of white-minority rule in South Africa. He was also one of the most senior ANC leaders to criticize President Jacob Zuma's presidency regarding allegations of government corruption and maladministration. “This is great loss to the ANC, the broader liberation movement and South Africa as a whole. Internationally, he was staunch in his support for the Palestinian struggle. "Kathy" was an inspiration to millions in different parts of the world,” Neeshan Balton director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation said.

RELATED: South Africa President Blasts Anti-Corruption Report as Unfair

Tourism minister and activist Derek Hanekom added that the passing of the “revolutionary mentor and dear friend” was a great lost. “Comrade Kathy was a gentle, humane and humble soul. He was a determined revolutionary, who gave his entire life to the liberation struggle in our country,” Hanekom shared.

Former Archbishop of Cape Town Reverend Desmond Tutu said in a short statement published on Facebook: "May Ahmed rest in peace and rise in glory. May he rejoice in many heavenly cups of hot chocolate with his old friends and comrades, Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi and Mahlaba, among them."

Kathrada was born to immigrant Indian parents in the Schweizer-Reneke province of South Africa, just before the Great Depression, in 1929. He became involved in politics at the tender age of 12 when he distributed leaflets for the Young Communist League of South Africa.

He was married to fellow anti-apartheid activist Barbara Hogan, who served 10 years in jail for high treason against the apartheid government.

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Mexican Police Caught Handing Over Youth to Armed Group

The video showed a group of police officers in a busy street hand over the handcuffed youths to a group of armed men. 

Policeman in Culiacan, the capital of Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa state, were filmed arresting eight young men before handing them over to what was believed to be an organized crime group, in an incident that echoes the circumstances that led to the disappearances of 43 students at Ayotzinapa teachers' college which sparked outcry more than two years ago. 

RELATED: Cuban Migrants File Abuse Complaint Against Mexican Officials

The video shot by neighbors on Wednesday night shows how the group of youths, bound with handcuffs, were arrested by agents on a busy street outside a restaurant. As the lights of the police car flashed, the youths were then put into the vehicles of the armed men, who were presumed to be part of one of the state's notorious criminal organizations. A number of people were seen walking around the area with large weapons.

Head of public security in Sinaloa, Victor Hugo Sanchez Mendieta, confirmed to media that police filmed in the video were municipal agents, who had actually admitted to handing over the arrested youth because they were threatened by the criminal group. 

Sanchez Mendieta said that the police involved in the incident had already been arrested and that an investigation would be initiated. It was thought that the incident could have been part of a “clone” operation where police members wear plain clothes and pose as members of organized crime groups.


Sanchez Mendieta also encouraged citizens to denounce similar dishonest behavior by police. The identity and the current location of the youths that were handed over by the police remains unknown.

RELATED: Mexico 'Paramilitary Police' Accused of Torture, Killings: UN

Collusion between police and criminal organizations in Mexico is not rare. The incident in Culiacan bears a concerning resemblance to the infamous Ayotzinapa disappearances from 2014, which still remain unsolved. 

In the state of Guerrero, police from the town of Iguala pulled over 43 students from Ayotzinapa teachers' college on their way to attend a protest in Mexico City. 

Several independent investigations have uncovered evidence which not only challenges the official government claim that the students were murdered by a local drug gang, but also points to high levels of state involvement in the disappearances, including accusations that police handed the students over to criminals.

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Parents of Ayotzinapa 43 Take Mexico to Human Rights Tribunal

"The Mexican state has to account for the meager progress in the investigation and the search for our children,”the parents said in a statement.

On Thursday, the parents of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa teachers' college announced that they would take the Mexican attorney general's office to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 17, given the continued lack of progress in the investigation into the disappearance of their children over 2 years ago.

RELATED: Parents of Ayotzinapa 43 Pledge to 'Toughen up Their Actions'

In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, the Committee of Parents of the 43 said that they were canceling a scheduled meeting with the attorney general's office on Thursday and instead were taking their case to the regional international human rights body.

"Considering that the attorney general's office has offered no guarantees to respond to the proposals we made at the meeting last February 9, the IACHR is the appropriate forum before which the Mexican state has to account for the meager progress in the investigation and the search for our children," said the statement.

After their last meeting with the government on Feb. 9, the parents had promised to "toughen up our actions" if there was no progress in the case by March 9.

The 43 students — from the largely Indigenous teachers' college renowned for its activism — were on their way to a protest in Mexico City when they were pulled over by local police on Sept. 26, 2014. They have been missing ever since.

In the two years since the disappearance the parents, as well as several independent investigations have uncovered evidence which not only challenges the official government claim that the students were murdered by a local drug gang, but also points to higher level state involvement in the disappearance.

Just last week the Mexican-based representative to the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights slammed the attorney general's inquiry into problems with the investigation, calling it a whitewash and pointing to "serious violations" by various officials.

In their statement the parents said that they will now take the demands they had planned to present at Thursday's meeting to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 17 in Washington, D.C.

The statement was also signed by the students' committee of the Ayotzinapa teachers' college.

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