Yazidi survivor of Daesh’s human trafficking Nadia Murad appointed UN Goodwill Envoy for victims

Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who survived trafficking at the hands of Daesh was today appointed a United Nations advocate for the victims of human trafficking.

With the appointment, which marks the first time a survivor of atrocities is bestowed this distinction, Ms. Murad, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman, wears the mantle of Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “Nadia is a fierce and tireless advocate for the Yazidi people and victims of human trafficking everywhere,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at her induction ceremony today, which was held in connection with the UN’s commemoration of the International Day of Peace. “She was subjected to unspeakable abuse and human rights violations at the hands of Daesh. Nadia has shown exceptional courage in speaking out. She gives a much-needed voice to trafficking victims who continue to suffer, and who demand justice,” the UN chief added.

Nadia Murad receives UN appointment by UN SG Ban Ki-moon
Nadia Murad receives UN appointment by UN SG Ban Ki-moon

Ms. Murad briefed the UN Security Council in its first-ever session on human trafficking in December 16, 2015. She described being rounded up with fellow Yazidis in Iraq in 2014 and witnessing as Daesh fighters shot men and boys in cold blood. She was bought and sold various times. “It is two years since Daesh seized Sinjar. It is unconscionable that thousands of Yazidi, in particular women and children, continue to be held captive,” Mr. Ban said, calling for their immediate release. “And I repeat: the crimes committed by Daesh in Iraq against the Yazidi may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide.”

A relentless advocate for victims, Ms. Murad was recently named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2016.” During her Ambassadorship, she will focus on advocacy initiatives and raise awareness around the plight of the countless victims of trafficking in persons, especially refugees, women and girls.

UNODC is the lead UN entity fighting all forms of human trafficking, including sexual slavery, forced labour, child soldiering and trafficking for the purpose of organ removal. It is also the custodian of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and mandated to manage the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. “Nadia’s appointment as a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Goodwill Ambassador, provides a unique opportunity to urge others to join us in our fight against human trafficking. We know that Nadia’s extraordinary commitment to the plight of trafficking victims will move people to take action against this scourge,” UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, said in his message on her induction.

Sources: UN News Centre/Ruptly TV

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Turkish strikes on SDF fighters in northern Syria kill 24 civilians: HRW

A Turkish attack on US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters in northern Syria on August 28, 2016, killed 24 civilians, including 6 children; between 10 and 15 fighters deployed among the civilians were also killed, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Wednesday.

Ruins of a house after Turkish aircraft attacked SDF fighters near the village of Suraysat, south of Jarablus, Syria, killing 24 civilians and 10 to 15 SDF fighters, August 28, 2016. [photo via HRW]
Ruins of a house after Turkish aircraft attacked SDF fighters near the village of Suraysat, south of Jarablus, Syria, killing 24 civilians and 10 to 15 SDF fighters, August 28, 2016. [photo via HRW]

Available information suggests that both sides could have done more to minimize civilian loss of life, as required by the laws of war. Two local residents told Human Rights Watch that before sunrise on August 28, Turkish aircraft struck SDF forces who had just disembarked from military vehicles among residential buildings in which about four dozen civilians had sought shelter from nearby fighting. Artillery shelling soon after resulted in additional casualties.

“The deaths of 24 civilians could have been avoided if the SDF fighters hadn’t positioned themselves among buildings filled with civilians and Turkish forces had made a better effort to determine whether civilians were there,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s unlawful to put civilians at unnecessary risk, and even an attack on a military target can be unlawful if the likely harm to civilians isn’t taken into account.”

Four days earlier, on August 24, Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army opened military operations in northern Syria against Daesh (also known as Islamic State) and Kurdish forces from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main fighting force within the SDF, an alliance that also includes Arab and other forces. The United States and other Western countries have actively supported and armed the SDF in the fight against ISIS. The Turkish-Free Syrian Army alliance captured Jarablus, a town near the Turkish border previously held by ISIS, and then moved south of the town where they clashed with the SDF.

Satellite images of houses near the village of Suraysat, south of Jarablus, Syria, before and after an attack by Turkish aircraft. [photo via DigitalGlobe – NextView]
Satellite images of houses near the village of Suraysat, south of Jarablus, Syria, before and after an attack by Turkish aircraft. [photo via DigitalGlobe – NextView]

The two local residents said that on the evening of August 27, SDF troops asked them to evacuate their house near the village of Suraysat, about 12 kilometers south of Jarablus, because of nearby fighting. The troops told them that they would be safe in their cousin’s house, a kilometer away. A few days earlier, the troops had wanted to take over their cousin’s two houses, which sit on a hill, the residents said, but had eventually allowed the civilians to stay and moved to other houses further north. Eventually about 50 to 55 civilians moved into the houses on the hill. At about 4 a.m. on August 28, the SDF troops returned to the cousin’s houses, parked vehicles, including some with heavy machine guns mounted on the back, near the houses, and positioned fighters on the roof of the buildings, the two residents said. One person asked the fighters to leave, they said, but the fighters refused. Less than 30 minutes after the fighters arrived, the Turkish aircraft struck the houses.

“It was as if we were inside a dormant volcano that suddenly erupted,” one of the residents said. “I woke up in shock. The smell of explosives, the smell of the death – it was everywhere. My brother was seriously injured. His son was sitting in his lap so I pulled him away so that he couldn’t see what had happened. It was an awful sight. I then tried to pull my brother away, but another bomb fell and threw me away.” The two residents said that they counted seven bomb impacts, after which there was intensive artillery fire, which killed and injured people who came to assist the wounded. They did not know which forces had fired the artillery.

Local residents examine the ruins of a house after Turkish aircraft attacked SDF fighters near the village of Suraysat, south of Jarablus, Syria, on August 28, 2016. [photo via HRW]
Local residents examine the ruins of a house after Turkish aircraft attacked SDF fighters near the village of Suraysat, south of Jarablus, Syria, on August 28, 2016. [photo via HRW]

The two residents provided Human Rights Watch with the names of 13 relatives who died during the attack. Mohammad Othman, a relative who was not there, published on his Facebook page the names of 24 people killed in the attack, including 6 children and 6 women. One resident provided Human Rights Watch with a photograph that he had taken showing a destroyed SDF pickup truck with reinforced cardboard packaging tubes commonly used for ground-fired ammunition.

Satellite imagery from August 30 shows that the two buildings were almost completely destroyed sometime between August 27 and 30. A third building a kilometer away was also damaged. At least four impact craters are visible in the surrounding fields. Photographs of remnants of the weapon used indicate that Paveway-series laser-guided bombs were used in the airstrikes.

On August 28, as reported by the state-run Anadolu news agency, the Turkish Armed Forces said that they had carried out airstrikes against armed groups that had attacked Turkish forces in Jarablus. Anadolu said that the armed forces had reported that the attack had neutralized 25 “terrorists” and destroyed five buildings they were using.

Under the laws of war applicable to the armed conflict in Syria, warring parties must take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control against the effects of attacks. They must seek to remove civilians from the vicinity of their military forces. The Syrian Democratic Forces should not have positioned their forces in the compound without having first relocated the civilians to another area, Human Rights Watch said. Attacking forces must take all feasible precautions to minimize loss of civilian life. This includes taking necessary steps to assess whether an attack may be expected to cause civilian loss that would be disproportionate compared to the anticipated military advantage of the attack, and suspend such attacks.

The office of the Turkish prime minister, in a statement on August 28, said that the “Turkish Armed Forces has taken all necessary measures to prevent any harm to the civilian population,” referring to, among others, the military operations south of Jarablus. However, because the attack took place in darkness and soon after the arrival of the SDF at the residential compound, it is not clear that the Turkish military took adequate steps to determine the extent to which civilians might be at risk in the attack, Human Rights Watch said. “With another party joining the conflict in Syria, if the armed forces continue to pay inadequate attention to civilian protection, many more civilians are going to be casualties,” Solvang said.

Source: Human Rights Watch

US, Russia agree Syria truce holding, extend it by 48 hours

The United States and Russia agreed that the Syrian cessation of hostilities that began on Monday had largely held and should be extended for another 48 hours despite sporadic violence, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. The cessation of hostilities, brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday, went into effect on Monday night.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Kerry and Lavrov had spoken by telephone earlier on Wednesday and agreed it was worth extending the truce. Under the deal, the United States and Russia are aiming for reduced violence over seven consecutive days before they move to the next stage of coordinating military strikes against Nusra Front and Islamic State militants, which are not party to the truce.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]

“There was agreement that as a whole, despite sporadic reports of violence, the arrangement is holding, and violence is significantly lower in comparison with previous days and weeks,” Toner told a briefing. “As part of the conversation they agreed to extend the cessation for another 48 hours,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian conflict through contacts on the ground, said no deaths from fighting had been reported in the first 48 hours of the truce.

“This recommitment will initially be for 48 hours, and, provided it holds, the U.S. and Russia will discuss extensions, with the aim of achieving an indefinite extension to lower the violence,” Toner explained later. He said Russia needed to use its influence over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to ensure that humanitarian aid was delivered to besieged communities under the agreement. “We haven’t seen the humanitarian access yet so we’re still continuing to assess this, talking to the Russians,” he said. “We’re pressuring them to pressure the Assad regime.”

Two aid convoys, each of around 20 trucks carrying mostly food and flour, that were headed for the city of Aleppo have been held up since crossing the Turkish border, according to United Nations and other officials. The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said on Tuesday the United Nations was waiting for Damascus to issue letters authorizing the aid deliveries, which are desperately needed in Aleppo, the scene of Syria’s fiercest fighting in recent months. The U.N. has estimated that well over half a million people are living under siege in Syria.

Source: Reuters

The US and Russia reach breakthrough agreement on Syria ceasefire

The United States and Russia early Saturday announced a breakthrough agreement on Syria that foresees a nationwide cease-fire starting next Monday, followed a week later by an unlikely new military partnership between the rival governments targeting Daesh and al-Qaeda.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said shortly after midnight that the plan could reduce violence in Syria and lead to a long-sought political transition, ending more than five years of bloodshed. He called the deal a potential “turning point” in a conflict that has killed as many as 500,000 people, if complied with by Syria’s Russian-backed government and U.S.-supported rebel groups. The cease-fire begins at sundown Sept. 12, Kerry said, coinciding with the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.

Kerry’s negotiating partner, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, confirmed the agreement and said it could help expand the counter-terrorism fight and aid deliveries to Syrian civilians. He said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was prepared to comply. “This is just the beginning of our new relations,” Lavrov said.

The deal culminates months of frenetic diplomacy that included four meetings between Kerry and Lavrov since Aug. 26, and a lengthy face-to-face in China between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. The arrangement hinges on Moscow pressuring Assad’s government to halt all offensive operations against Syria’s armed opposition and civilian areas. Washington must persuade “moderate” rebels to break ranks with the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, and other extremist groups.

Both sides have failed to deliver their ends of the bargain over several previous truces. But the new arrangement goes further by promising a new U.S.-Russian counter-terrorism alliance, only a year after Obama chastised Putin for a military intervention that U.S. officials said was mainly designed to keep Assad in power and target more moderate anti-Assad forces.

Russia, in response, has chafed at America’s financial and military assistance to groups that have intermingled with the al-Nusra Front on the battlefield. Kerry said it would be “wise” for opposition forces to separate completely from al-Nusra, a statement Lavrov hailed. “Going after al-Nusra is not a concession to anybody,” Kerry said. “It is profoundly in the interests of the United States.”

The military deal would go into effect after both sides abide by the truce for a week and allow unimpeded humanitarian deliveries. Then, the U.S. and Russia would begin intelligence sharing and targeting coordination, while Assad’s forces would no longer be permitted to target al-Nusra any longer; they would be restricted to operations against Daesh. The proposed level of U.S.-Russian interaction has upset several leading national security officials in Washington, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter and National Intelligence Director James Clapper, and Kerry only appeared at the news conference after several hours of internal U.S. discussions. At one point, Lavrov said he was considering “calling it a day” on talks, expressing frustration with what he described as an hours-long wait for a U.S. response. He then presented journalists with several boxes of pizza, saying, “This is from the U.S. delegation,” and two bottles of vodka, adding, “This is from the Russian delegation.”

The Geneva negotiating session, which last more than 13 hours, underscored the complexity of a conflict that includes myriad militant groups, shifting alliances and the rival interests of the U.S. and Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and Turkey and the Kurds. Getting Assad’s government and rebel groups to comply with the deal may now be more difficult as fighting rages around the divided city of Aleppo, Syria’s most populous and the new focus of a war that has killed as many as 500,000 people.

Assad’s government appeared to tighten its siege of the former Syrian commercial hub in the last several days, seizing several key transit points. Forty days of fighting in Aleppo has killed nearly 700 civilians, including 160 children, according to a Syrian human rights group. Volunteer first responders said they pulled the bodies of nine people, including four children, from rubble following air raids Friday on a rebel-held area. Kerry outlined several steps the government and rebels would have to take. They must now pull back from demilitarized zones, and allow civilian traffic and humanitarian deliveries. But as with previous blueprints for peace, Saturday’s plan appears to lack enforcement mechanisms. Russia could, in theory, threaten to act against rebel groups that break the deal. But if Assad bombs his opponents, the U.S. is unlikely to take any action against him given Obama’s longstanding opposition to entering the civil war.

In addition to those killed, Syria’s conflict has chased millions of people from their homes, contributing to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Amid the chaos of fighting between Syria’s government and rebels, the Islamic State group has emerged as a global terror threat.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
Sources: Reuters/Associated Press/Syria & Iraq News

Turkey ready to join U.S. in capturing Raqqah from Daesh: Erdoğan

U.S. President Barack Obama floated the idea of joint action with Turkey to capture the Syrian city of Raqqah from Daesh, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said in remarks published on Wednesday. Ankara would not object, Erdoğan said.

Turkey, which is battling a Kurdish insurgency at home, launched an incursion into northern Syria last month with the stated aims of clearing Daesh from its border and preventing the Kurdish YPG militia expanding into new territory.

Ankara now wants international support for an operation to take control of a rectangle of territory stretching about 40 km into Syria, creating a buffer between two Kurdish-held cantons to the east and west and against Daesh to the south.

Speaking to reporters on his plane back from the G20 summit in China on Monday, Erdoğan said Turkey’s military was ready to join any offensive on Raqqah, Daesh’s de facto capital.

“Obama wants to do some things together concerning Raqqah in particular,” Erdoğan said in comments published by Hurriyet newspaper, following meetings in China with Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders. “We stated that would not be a problem from our perspective. We said, ‘Let our soldiers come together, whatever is necessary will be done’,” Erdoğan said. Any Turkish role would be have to be determined in further talks, he said. “But at this stage we have to show our presence in the region. We do not have the chance to take a backward step. If we take a backward step terror groups like Daesh, PKK, PYD and YPG will settle there,” he said.

Turkish president Erdoğan and US president Obama during a meeting of G20 in Huangzhou, China [4/9/2016]
Turkish president Erdoğan and US president Obama during a meeting of G20 in Huangzhou, China [4/9/2016]
 Source: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News