United Nations, Aug 8 (AP/UNB) — Reports suggest more than 100,000 people in Syria have been detained, abducted or gone missing during the eight-year conflict, with the government mainly responsible, the U.N. political chief said Wednesday.
Rosemary DiCarlo urged all parties to heed the Security Council's call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained and to provide information to families about their loved ones as required by international law.
She told the council that the U.N. can't verify the figure of more than 100,000 because it has been unable to gain access to places of detention and detainees in Syria. She said its information comes from accounts corroborated by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria authorized by the U.N. Human Rights Council and human rights organizations since the conflict started in 2011.
DiCarlo also reiterated U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for the Syria conflict to be referred to the International Criminal Court, saying accountability for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law "is central to achieving and maintaining durable peace in Syria."
DiCarlo spoke at an open meeting following the Security Council's unanimous approval in June of its first-ever resolution focused on the many thousands of people missing in conflicts around the world. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which was mandated by the 1949 Geneva Conventions to address and oversee the issue of missing persons in conflicts, said it registered over 45,000 missing cases in countries around the world in 2018 alone.
The council meeting, initially requested by the United States, offered a rare opportunity for the U.N.'s most powerful body to hear directly from families of the detained.
Dr. Hala Al Ghawi and Amina Khoulani, who both campaign for freedom and justice for Syrian detainees, criticized the council for its failure to end the war and urged its deeply divided members to adopt a new resolution to pressure all warring parties to reveal the names and whereabouts of all those detained — and release all those arbitrarily detained.
Al Ghawi said she left Syria at the end of 2011 after her husband was detained and held in a cell "so tiny that he didn't have space to sit down." He was released but she said her brother, father-in-law and some cousins remain missing.
Al Ghawi said many medical colleagues were also detained by the Syrian government for helping wounded protesters, and "some of them were killed under torture while in detention."
"As families, we have suffered enough and I'm here today to urge you to act," she said.
Khoulani, whose three brothers were taken by the Syrian government eight years ago, said they all died in detention and she herself was imprisoned for six months, "arrested by the Air Force Intelligence Branch for my peaceful activism." Her husband was detained in a military prison for 2 1/2 years, and "we were both lucky to survive, but many others weren't as lucky."
Khoulani said that while the majority of the missing were detained by the Syrian government, armed opposition and extremist groups like the Islamic State group "are also guilty of detention and disappearance."
"The United Nations Security Council has utterly failed Syrian detainees and their families," she said. "It's your responsibility to protect Syrians from a system that kills, tortures, and illegally detains its own citizens, in systematic violation of international law."
The council's deep divisions were clearly evident when Syria's closest council ally, Russia, spoke.
Russian deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyansky dismissed what he called "unverified and extremely non-objective data regarding the situation in Syria," and criticized Western nations that called the meeting for providing no information on people missing and detained in opposition-held areas.
"We have repeatedly stated that it is unacceptable to politicize humanitarian and human rights issues," Polyansky said. "However, we are once again hearing accusations against one of the parties, the official authorities in Damascus, while outright terrorists ... are being presented as innocent victims."
He said a Working Group on Detainees and Missing Persons comprising Russia, Iran and Turkey as well as experts from the U.N. and the Red Cross arranged a prisoner exchange July 31 and is developing procedures "for establishing a database of persons considered to be missing by the Syrian government and the opposition."
Syrian Charge d'Affaires Louay Falouh said the U.S. and United Kingdom had "no right" to call for a council meeting, accusing them of imposing "unilateral coercive measures" on the Syrian people, adopting "immoral conduct" and exploiting the humanitarian issue.
British Ambassador Karen Pierce retorted that nine countries on the 15-member council called for the meeting and there were no objections.
Pierce said Syria had not answered the most critical questions and again asked: "Would the Syrian authorities please provide a list of who is detained, where they are detained and, for those people who have died, their burial sites? And will they allow ... access to the detention sites?"
Phnom Penh, Aug 8 (AP/UNB) — A man who became wedged between rocks while collecting bat droppings in the Cambodian jungle was rescued after being trapped for almost four days.
Police said Sum Bora slipped Sunday while trying to retrieve his flashlight, which had fallen in the small rocky hollow.
Bat droppings — guano — are used as fertilizer and sold for supplementary income by poor farmers, who sometimes try to attract bats to their property.
His worried family began searching for Sum Bora when he didn't return after three days, Cambodia's Fresh News reported. His brother found him and alerted authorities to his location in the Chakry mountain jungle in the northwestern province of Battambang.
About 200 rescue workers carefully extricated the trapped man by destroying bits of the rock that had pinned him in an effort that took about 10 hours, Police Maj. Sareth Visen said.
The 28-year-old man was freed at about 6 p.m. Wednesday, looking extremely weak, and was taken to a provincial hospital, the police official said.
The rescue was spearheaded by specialists from Rapid Rescue Company 711, which is connected to Prime Minister Hun Sen's elite military bodyguard brigade. The group also was prominent in rescue efforts when a seven-story building collapsed in June in the southern city of Sihanoukville, killing 24 people.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 35% of its 15.2 million people living in poverty, according to a U.N. Development Program report last year.
Karachi, Aug 7 (AP/UNB) — A high-powered four-member security delegation from Sri Lanka visited National Stadium in Karachi on Wednesday to assess the possibility of staging a two-match test series in October.
"We had a very fruitful discussion, briefing about the arrangements made for the test match here from the top brass (of Pakistan security officials)," the head of the delegation, Mohan de Silva, told reporters.
"They made some very comprehensive presentations which we are very happy to have had gone through."
Pakistan has not hosted a test match since terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009. Eight people were killed in the attack, and several Sri Lankan players were injured.
Since then, Pakistan has played almost all its international "home" matches in the United Arab Emirates, with the exception of two test matches against Australia in England in 2010.
"Due to the unfortunate experiences we had in 2009 there'll be lot of concerns naturally among the players and the people of our country, so we need to carry out a thorough assessment of the security situation," de Silva said.
"We will thereafter let the Pakistan Cricket Board know how best we could take this matter forward."
Along with de Silva, who is also secretary of Sri Lanka Cricket, the delegation included chief security adviser Air Chief Marshall Roshan Goonetileke; SLC's head of international cricket, Chandima Mapatuna; and the SLC assistant manager for anti-corruption and security, Mudiyanselage Palitha Seneviratne.
The Sri Lankan contingent will visit Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Thursday, where they will attend another briefing from top government and PCB officials.
"Pakistan and Sri Lanka have a very strong and a cordial relationship over the years," de Silva said.
"We are cautious of the fact that we got to honor our obligations, but at this moment of time we are just going through the briefings and tomorrow morning we'll be in Lahore, also attending a session of briefings."
The PCB has long been trying to persuade foreign teams that it's safe to play cricket in Pakistan. The efforts were given momentum this year when eight Pakistan Super League matches were staged in Karachi.
The two-test series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be the first for the two countries as part of the World Test Championship.
Islamabad, Aug 7 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan has decided to downgrade its diplomatic ties with neighboring India and suspend bilateral trade in response to New Delhi's decision to reduce the special status of Kashmir, a Himalayan region claimed by both countries.
The decision was made Wednesday at a meeting of Pakistan's National Security Committee led by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by the heads of the armed forces and senior government officials.
The government said in a statement that Pakistan will also review other aspects of relations with India.
It also decided to ask the United Nations, including the Security Council, to pressure India to reverse its decision to strip statehood and other rights from the portion of Kashmir it administers.
Stockholm, Aug 7 (AP/UNB) — Danish police say a powerful explosion has occurred outside a tax office in the capital, Copenhagen, shattering windows and damaging the building. No one is believed to have been injured.
Police said that the explosion happened late Tuesday.
Chief Police Inspector Jorgen Bergen Skov said in a statement that a "broad and comprehensive" investigation is underway but that "it is too early to say exactly who is behind the explosion."
Police are calling on anyone with information relevant to the investigation to come forward.