United Nations, Apr 25 (AP/UNB) — A 20-year-old Syrian woman with cerebral palsy told the United Nations on Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities already "were forgotten in times of peace" and are struggling to survive in her country's long war as they "remain invisible."
Nujeen Mustafa urged the Security Council at a meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria to ensure that the urgent needs of people affected by the conflict are met, especially the disabled. She said many struggle "to even get to sites where they can get aid."
Seated in a wheelchair, she described how her siblings carried her out of the city of Aleppo which was under attack after relatives were killed in the bombing of a funeral in June 2015. After a harrowing 16-month journey, she arrived in Germany where she is now a student.
"The conflict has had a significant psychological impact, too," Mustafa said. "Even in my case, I still jump and get startled when I hear a loud noise, a reminder of those hours hiding in the bathroom" in Aleppo.
Ursula Mueller, the assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council that Syrians "have lived through a litany of horrors" and the disabled are "among those people who suffered the most — and are still suffering today."
They are "often excluded and highly vulnerable," she said, and many lack access to health care and education and face a "heightened risk of violence and abuse."
Mueller called Mustafa "an advocate for all those with disabilities in conflict settings, for women and for young people." And she said the U.N. must do "our utmost to support and protect persons with disabilities, and to ensure that their specific and diverse needs are met."
Mustafa said people with disabilities "seem to be an after-thought," and their needs are largely overlooked in humanitarian efforts in Syria and neighboring countries where millions have fled.
Like many others, she said, accessing basic services such as sanitation, health care and education was difficult when she fled Syria. "On my journey to Germany, I didn't find many accessible bathrooms along the way — and that's especially hard for a woman," she said.
"You need to address the needs of people with disabilities, particularly women," Mustafa said. "This is not a favor. This is not charity. This is our rights."
She said there is very little data on how many disabled people are in Syria and neighboring countries, which leaves them "invisible" when it comes to programs, policies and assistance.
"People with disabilities were forgotten in times of peace. What do you expect in times of war? But that doesn't make it right," Mustafa said. "You need to count us because we count, too."
The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, estimates 1.5 million Syrians still in the country were disabled during the war, which is now in its ninth year, she said. Just in Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold, "there are more than 175,000 people with disabilities," many of them as a result of the conflict, she said.
Mustafa said people with disabilities are a resource, not a burden, and should participate and be represented in all parts of the Security Council's work because they know best the risks and challenges they face and their needs.
"Nothing about us, without us," she said. "Otherwise, we continue to remain invisible."
Mosul, Apr 24 (AP/UNB) — When Ahmed Khalil ran out of work as a van driver in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago, he signed up with the Islamic State group's police force, believing the salary would help keep his struggling family afloat.
But what he wound up providing was a legacy that would outlast his job, and his life.
In Mosul and elsewhere across Iraq, thousands of families — including Khalil's widow and children — face crushing discrimination because their male relatives were seen as affiliated with or supporting IS when the extremists held large swaths of the country.
The wives, widows and children have been disowned by their relatives and abandoned by the state. Registrars refuse to register births to women with suspected IS husbands, and schools will not enroll their children. Mothers are turned away from welfare, and mukhtars — community mayors — won't let the families move into their neighborhoods.
The Islamic State group's "caliphate" that once spanned a third of both Iraq and Syria is now gone but as Iraq struggles to rebuilt after the militants' final defeat and loss of their last sliver of territory in Syria earlier this year, the atrocities and the devastation they wreaked has left deep scars.
"They say my father was Daesh," said Safa Ahmed, Khalil's 11-year old daughter, referring to IS by its Arabic name. "It hurts me."
Iraq has done little to probe the actions of the tens of thousands of men such as Khalil who, willingly or by force joined, worked and possibly fought for IS during its 2013-2017 rule. Instead, bureaucrats and communities punish families for the deeds of their relatives in a time of war.
Khalil was killed in an airstrike in Mosul, in February 2017, during the U.S.-backed campaign to retake the city that IS seized in 2014. It was liberated in July 2017, at a tremendous cost — around 10,000 residents were believed to have been killed in the assault, and its historic districts now lie in ruins.
His widow, Um Yusuf, and their seven children were left to bear the stigma of his IS affiliation. She cannot get social assistance, and her teenage son Omar is being turned away from jobs.
They live in an abandoned schoolhouse, living on what they can make selling bread on the streets of the devastated city. Just three of the children are in school — the oldest two dropped out because of bullying about their father, and the youngest two cannot enroll because the civil registrar's office won't issue their IDs.
"It's true their father made a mistake," Um Yusuf said. "But why are these children being punished for his sin?"
Under Iraq's patrimonial family laws, a child needs a named father to receive a birth certificate and an identity card, to enroll in school and to claim citizenship, welfare benefits and an inheritance.
But in post-IS Iraq, virtually every bureaucratic procedure now includes a security check on a woman's male relatives, further frustrating mothers and children.
A U.N. report this year estimates there are 45,000 undocumented children in Iraq. Judges and human rights groups say an urgent resolution is needed or the country risks rearing a generation of children without papers or schooling.
"By punishing entire families, you marginalize them and you seriously undermine reconciliation efforts in Iraq," said Tom Peyre-Costa, a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, which provides legal aid to Mosul mothers struggling to get their children ID papers.
At al-Iraqiya school in western Mosul, one of the city's first to reopen in 2017, principal Khalid Mohammad said he faces pressure from the community to deny enrollment to children whose fathers are in jail or missing — an absence many interpret as proof of IS affiliation.
"If anyone complains and someone is sent to investigate, I could lose my job," he said.
At a legal office and clinic supported by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Nour Ahmed was looking for a way to claim legal custody of her undocumented younger son, in order to collect food and fuel aid for the family.
Her husband, she said, was abducted two years ago in Mosul by a group of pro-government militiamen who likely thought he was an IS member. Ahmed insists he wasn't. He has been missing to this day.
Born in 2016 at a hospital run by IS, their son was given a birth certificate notarized by the Islamic State group. As Iraq doesn't recognize IS documents, the 3-year-old has no legal mother or father.
Ahmed was told she would need to find her husband to re-register her son's birth. If she submitted a missing person's report, it would raise questions about the child's parentage, jeopardizing his right to citizenship.
"I just want to find him," said Nour.
Adnan Chalabi, an appeals court judge, said he sees more than a dozen cases each day related to civilian documentation, brought largely by the wives, widows or divorcees of IS suspects. There is little he can do to help, he said, without a change to the law first.
"Daesh held the city for three years. Did people stop getting married, divorced, and having children during those three years?" he said. "We need a legislative solution."
There is little appetite to change the country's family and patrimony laws, said Iraq's parliament speaker, Mohamad Halbousi, though there is a proposal to open civil registries for a limited period, to register undocumented children.
"These families need to be cared for. They cannot be left to melt away into society," he said.
Outside a mosque in Mosul, where Um Yusuf was selling bread with her children, the widowed mother of seven said she was losing the strength to look after her family.
"We are deprived of everything," she says. "The whole family is destroyed."
Dubai, Apr 24 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia on Tuesday beheaded 37 Saudi citizens, most of them minority Shiites, in a mass execution across the country for alleged terrorism-related crimes. It also publicly pinned the executed body and severed head of a convicted Sunni extremist to a pole as a warning to others.
The executions were likely to stoke further regional and sectarian tensions between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi dissident Ali Al-Ahmed, who runs the Gulf Institute in Washington, identified 34 of those executed as Shiites based on the names announced by the Interior Ministry.
"This is the largest mass execution of Shiites in the kingdom's history," he said.
Amnesty International also confirmed the majority of those executed were Shiite men. The rights group said they were convicted "after sham trials" that relied on confessions extracted through torture.
It marked the largest number of executions in a single day in Saudi Arabia since Jan. 2, 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 people for terrorism-related crimes in what was the largest mass execution carried out by Saudi authorities since 1980.
Among those executed three years ago were four Shiites, including prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, whose death sparked protests from Pakistan to Iran and the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Saudi-Iran ties have not recovered and the embassy remains shuttered.
King Salman ratified by royal decree Tuesday's mass execution and that of 2016. The king, who has empowered his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has asserted a bolder and more decisive leadership style than previous monarchs since ascending to the throne in 2015.
The kingdom and its Sunni-led Arab allies have also been emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump's unwavering dedication to pressuring Iran's Shiite clerical leadership, which includes his decision to pull out of a nuclear agreement with Iran and re-impose punishing sanctions to cripple its economy.
Al-Ahmed described Tuesday's executions as a politically motivated message to Iran.
"This is political," he said. "They didn't have to execute these people, but it's important for them to ride the American anti-Iranian wave."
The Interior Ministry's statement said those executed had adopted extremist ideologies and formed terrorist cells with the aim of spreading chaos and provoking sectarian strife. It said the individuals had been found guilty according to the law and ordered executed by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which specializes in terrorism trials, and the country's high court.
The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives, killing a number of security officers and cooperating with enemy organizations against the interests of the country, the Interior Ministry said.
The statement was carried across state-run media, including the Saudi news channel al-Ekhbariya. The statement read on the state-run news channel opened with a verse from the Quran that condemns attacks that aim to create strife and disharmony and warns of great punishment for those who carry out such attacks.
Al-Ahmed said among those executed was Shiite religious leader Sheikh Mohammed al-Attiyah, whose charges included seeking to form a sectarian group in the western city of Jiddah. Al-Ahmed said the sheikh publicly spoke of the need to work closely with Saudi Arabia's Sunni majority and would lead small prayer groups among Shiites.
In a speech he gave in 2011 under then King Abdullah, the sheikh was quoted as saying that frank and open dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites could help strengthen Saudi unity. He urged patience and expressed hope in a national dialogue that had taken place among Shiite dissidents and Sunni leaders.
"As long as we live in the same country, we have no choice but to accept one another and live with one another, no matter the degree of difference between us," he said.
Amnesty International said 11 of the men were convicted of spying for Iran and sentenced to death after a "grossly unfair trial." At least 14 others executed were convicted of violent offences related to their participation in anti-government demonstrations in Shiite-populated areas of Saudi Arabia between 2011 and 2012.
Among those put to death was a young man convicted of a crime that took place when he was 16 years-old, said Amnesty.
Saudi Arabia's supreme council of clerics, who are all ultraconservative Sunnis, said the executions were carried out in accordance with Islamic law.
The Interior Ministry said the body of one of the executed men — Khaled bin Abdel Karim al-Tuwaijri — was publicly pinned to a pole. The statement did not say in which city of Saudi Arabia the public display took place.
He appears to have been convicted as a Sunni militant, though the government did not give a detailed explanation of the charges against each individual executed.
The government defends such executions as a powerful tool for deterrence.
Saudi analysts and pro-government writers brought in to discuss the executions on al-Ekhbariya said they are a powerful sign that the country's leadership will not hesitate to use the full might of the judicial system to punish Saudis who seek to disrupt the kingdom's security.
Those executed hailed from Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Asir, as well as Shiite Muslim populated areas of the Eastern Province and Qassim. The executions also took place in those various regions.
It brings the number of people executed since the start of the year to around 100, according to official announcements. Last year, the kingdom executed 149 people, most of them drug smugglers convicted of non-violent crimes, according to Amnesty's most recent figures.
Executions are traditionally carried out after midday prayers. Public displays of the bodies of executed men last for around three hours until late afternoon prayers, with the severed head and body hoisted to the top of a pole overlooking a main square.
This latest mass execution comes days after four Islamic State gunmen were killed by Saudi security forces while trying to attack a security building north of the capital, Riyadh.
It also comes on the heels of Sri Lanka's Easter Day attacks that killed over 300 people, including two Saudi nationals. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Local affiliates of the Islamic State group and Saudis inspired by its ideology launched several attacks in Saudi Arabia between 2014 and 2016, killing dozens of people, including security officers and Shiite worshippers. The last major attempted attack is believed to have been two years ago.
The group, like al-Qaida in the past, has sought to undermine the Al Saud royal family's legitimacy, which is rooted in part in its claim to implement Islamic Shariah law and to be the protectors of Islam's most sacred sites in Mecca and Medina that are at the center of hajj.
New York, Apr 23 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration's decision to impose sanctions on countries that buy Iranian oil is raising concerns about global crude supply and sending oil prices to their highest levels since October.
Industry experts said Monday that the sanctions could potentially remove up to 1.2 million barrels of oil per day from international markets. But that number will likely be lower, depending on how countries respond and just how much oil Iran continues to export.
President Donald Trump wants to eliminate all of Iran's revenue from oil exports, money he says funds destabilizing activity in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The announcement primarily impacts Iranian oil importers including China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.
"It's difficult to imagine all exports being cut off, especially since China is still a major buyer of Iranian crude oil," said Jim Burkhard, vice president for oil markets at IHS Markit. "How China responds will go a long way to shape just how much Iranian exports are cut or not."
To make up for the Iranian losses, Saudi Arabia may increase production that the country had recently trimmed, but it "is going to use up all the spare capacity that they have, or pretty darn close to it, and that is going to leave markets feeling tight," said Shin Kim, head of supply and production analytics at S&P Global Platts.
Oil prices rose more than 2% Monday, helping to lift some energy stocks.
The price of gasoline in the U.S. was already rising and the development could raise prices further.
"We've seen that market tighten up considerably even before the Iranian news, and we're also seeing a number of refining issues in the U.S.," said Ryan Fitzmaurice, energy strategist at Rabobank.
Rising oil — and gasoline — prices can squeeze consumers, whose spending accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic output. "They can take a bite out of consumers' purchasing power," said Scott Hoyt, senior director at Moody's Analytics, where he follows consumer economics.
But unless energy prices surge considerably higher, a lot faster, Hoyt said he doesn't expect them to do much damage to the American economy. Employers are hiring, and the unemployment rate is near a five-decade low of 3.8%.
Rising prices are "coming at a time when consumers are relatively well positioned to handle it," he said. "Job growth is strong. Wage growth is healthy." And prices at the pump aren't even up much over the past year: The AAA reports that U.S. gasoline prices average $2.84 a gallon, compared to $2.76 a gallon a year ago.
Tehran, Apr 22 (AP/UNB) — Iran's president says a new joint security force will be formed with Pakistan to combat militants based along the two countries' shared border.
Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that "a joint quick-reaction force for fighting against terrorism at the borders" was agreed to during his meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan a day earlier. Rouhani did not elaborate.
Both Pakistan and Iran say militant groups operate from bases on the other country's soil, occasionally carrying out deadly cross-border attacks.
The agreement comes after Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that a group of militants crossed the border from Iran earlier that week and carried out a deadly attack against Pakistani armed forces in southwestern Baluchistan province, killing 14.
Rouhani also said he'll increase the volume of trade with Pakistan.