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United Nations

UN rights chief attacks US over Dreamers as ‘apocalypse’ unfolds in Syria and Myanmar covers up possible genocide

In an annual report High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein also called for an investigation into extrajudicial killings in Venezuela

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 10:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 10:38pm

The UN human rights chief on Wednesday took aim at repressive policies being pursued in the United States and Europe, and increasingly harsh treatment of migrants, while warning of crimes against humanity in Venezuela, apocalyptic attacks in Syria and possible “acts of genocide” in Myanmar.

In an annual report to the UN Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein also took democracies to task for failing to respect basic rights.

“In the United States, I am shocked by reports that many migrants intercepted at the southern borders, including children, are detained in abusive conditions – such as freezing temperatures – and that some young children are being detained separately from their families,” he said.

“Detentions and deportations of long-standing and law-abiding migrants have sharply increased, tearing families apart and creating enormous hardship.”

The administration of US President Donald Trump had also ended the Central American Minors Refugee and Parole Programme, which offered adolescents and children “a lifeline to safety”, and ended Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of people.

“I deplore the continuing uncertainty about beneficiaries of the DACA programme,” Zeid said, referring to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects roughly 700,000 “Dreamers” – mostly young Hispanics – from deportation and lets them work.

Uncertain future for ‘Dreamer’ immigrants in US as congress misses deadline

The protections are due to start phasing out in March under Trump’s move to end DACA, but Congress so far has failed to pass legislation to address the fate of the “Dreamers”.

Zeid also expressed concern about US proposals that could “drastically reduce social protections”, particularly for poorer Americans.

In many European Union (EU) countries the trend towards “racism, xenophobia and incitement to hatred” was now dominating the political landscape, as shown in Italy’s recent election campaign, he said.

“I am deeply concerned about the current overriding focus of EU States on preventing migrants from reaching Europe, and rushing to deport many who do,” Zeid added.

By pushing migrants back from its borders, the EU risked “subcontracting their protection” to states such as Libya, where they faced a real risk of torture, sexual violence and other serious violations, he said.

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Zeid went on to accuse the Syrian government regime’s is orchestrating an “apocalypse” that will continue to strike other parts of the country following the devastating crisis unfolding in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

“This month, it is Eastern Ghouta which is, in the words of the Secretary General, hell on Earth; next month or the month after, it will be somewhere else where people face an apocalypse – an apocalypse intended, planned and executed by individuals within the government, apparently with the full backing of some of their foreign supporters,” Zeid told the council.

“It is urgent to reverse this catastrophic course, and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court,” he added.

Fighting shakes Syrian enclave after army advances

The Syrian army and allied militia launched an offensive on February 18 to retake Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-controlled region near the capital Damascus. The offensive has been backed by Russia, the government’s key military ally.

They have since recaptured more than 40 per cent of the area with support from a devastating bombing campaign that has killed more than 800 civilians.

The UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria again appealed to the government to commit to a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta on Thursday, to allow an aid convoy containing medical supplies to enter the area.

In Myanmar, where a military crackdown in the northern Rakhine state has led to the mass exodus of nearly 700,000 Muslim Rohingya since August, Zeid said he strongly suspected that “acts of genocide” had taken place.

Reports of bulldozing of alleged mass graves showed a “deliberate attempt by the authorities to destroy evidence of potential international crimes, including possible crimes against humanity,” the human rights chief said.

Zeid noted that his office said on Tuesday that it believes ethnic cleansing is still underway in Rakhine.

Rohingya are still fleeing because of “systematic” if lower-intensity persecution and violence there, he said.

Myanmar’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims continues, UN rights official claims

“Victims have reported killings, rape, torture and abductions by the security forces and local militia, as well as apparently deliberate attempts to force the Rohingya to leave the area through starvation, with officials blocking their access to crops and food supplies,” Zeid told the Geneva forum.

“This Council is aware that my office has strong suspicions that acts of genocide may have taken place in Rakhine State since August,” he added.

Casting his eye to Venezuela, Zeid said crimes against humanity may have been committed by state forces amid what he described as “the erosion of democratic institutions”.

He said his office had received credible reports of “hundreds of extrajudicial killings in recent years, both during protests and security operations”, and called on the UN Human Rights Council to investigate.

“I encourage the Council to consider mandating a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Venezuela,” Zeid told the council, which is holding its main annual four-week session through to March 23.

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Venezuela is among the 47 member states of the Geneva forum, where it enjoys support from allies led by Cuba, but it has been criticised by the United States and other Latin American countries for shrinking democracy and a food and health crisis.

Venezuela last week postponed its upcoming presidential vote to May 20 in a move cementing an opposition split as socialist incumbent Nicolas Maduro seeks re-election despite an economic crisis and global censure.

The main opposition coalition is boycotting the poll, saying it is a farce intended to legitimise a “dictatorship.”