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?"
Tehran, Aug 7 (AP/UNB) — Iran's president reiterated Tuesday that if Washington wants to open negotiations with Tehran, it must lift all sanctions against his country "before everything else."
Iranian state TV said President Hassan Rouhani made the comments during a meeting with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Rouhani also reiterated that America's sanctions on his country are an act of "economic terrorism," the report said.
Tensions have escalated since President Donald Trump last year withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and imposed new and harsher sanctions on Iran's oil and banking sectors.
The U.S administration last week also announced financial sanctions on Zarif, after Trump last month imposed similar measures on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The sanctions are seen as part of a U.S. pressure campaign on Iran.
Iran's U.N. ambassador, Majid Takht Ravanchi, sent a letter Tuesday to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres protesting what he called the "illegal" sanctions on Zarif. Ravanchi said they are part of U.S. policy "waging economic terrorism against the Iranian people and bringing pressure to bear on their representatives."
Iran considers the sanctions "a flagrant infringement of the fundamental principles of diplomatic law" that contravene the privileges and immunities of U.N. diplomats and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, he said.
The ambassador said the sanctions signify "the U.S. regime despises diplomacy, which is one of the greatest achievements of humanity to preserve and uphold peace and security among nations" He said the U.S. action "threatens multilateralism as the foundation of international relations and sets a dangerous precedent, paving the way for those who aspire to rather divide, not unite nations."
"It is imperative for the international community to condemn the United States' unlawful behavior in the interest of promoting multilateralism ... (and) stand firm in defending the established principles of international law," Ravanchi said.
Tehran, Aug 6 (AP/UNB) — Iran's president has reiterated that if Washington wants to open negotiations with Tehran, it must lift all sanctions against his country "before everything else."
Iranian state TV says President Hassan Rouhani made the comments during a meeting with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday.
Rouhani also reiterated that America's sanctions on his country are an act of "economic terrorism."
Tensions have escalated since President Donald Trump withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and imposed new and harsher sanctions on Iran's oil and banking sectors.
The U.S administration last week also announced financial sanctions on Zarif, after Trump last month imposed similar measures on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The sanctions are seen as part of a U.S. maximum pressure campaign on Iran.
Cairo, Aug 5 (AP/UNB) — A car packed with explosives being driven to carry out an attack collided with other vehicles and exploded in central Cairo outside Egypt's main cancer hospital, killing at least 20 people, the Interior Ministry said Monday.
Authorities had initially said the deaths were caused by a multi-vehicle accident Sunday night on the busy Corniche boulevard along the Nile River, with no explanation of how it caused an explosion that damaged the hospital's facade and even rooms inside.
But later Monday, the ministry later acknowledged that a car bomb was involved. It accused a militant group known as Hasm, which has links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, saying it was moving the car — stolen in the Nile Delta — to carry out an attack elsewhere. The ministry did not say what the intended target was.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called it a "terrorist incident" in a tweet, expressing condolences for the dead and vowed to "face and root out terrorism."
The explosion injured 47 others, some of them with burns and broken bones, the Health Ministry said. It did not say if any hospital patients or staff were among the casualties. At least 78 patients were evacuated to other hospitals.
The blast damaged the cancer hospital's main gate and several patient rooms and wards, according to a statement from the Cairo University, whose medical school uses the institution as an educational facility. Windows and glass doors on the hospital building were shattered.
"Parts of the ceiling of the hospital were collapsing as I got out of my room," said one patient, Mahmoud el-Sayed. "People were running everywhere and shouting."
Multiple vehicles on the street were damaged, burning those inside, said another witness, Mohamed Ashraf. "People were struggling to get the passengers out," he said.
In its initial account of the explosion, the Interior Ministry said a vehicle was driving against traffic on the boulevard and collided with up to three other cars, causing an explosion. It didn't elaborate when it later announced the car bomb, and it was not clear which vehicle in that scenario was the vehicle with explosives.
The police quickly cordoned off the area of the crash, as prosecutors began an investigation. Unidentified body parts were being collected in a body bag from the site, Health Minister Hala Zayed said in TV comments.
The hospital is close to Cairo's Tahrir Square, which became known internationally as the scene of mass protests in the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
After the blast, some patients with appointments Monday were left stranded, waiting outside the hospital with their relatives. Ahmed Ramadan, a farmer, had brought his daughter from their home 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of Cairo for chemotherapy.
"We do not know where to go," he said.
Tehran, Aug 5 (AP/UNB)— Iran's foreign minister on Monday lambasted recent U.S. financial sanctions against him, calling the move a "failure" for diplomacy amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf.
"Imposing sanctions against a foreign minister means failure" for any efforts at negotiations, Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters at a press conference in Tehran, adding that it also means the side imposing the measures is "opposing talks."
The U.S. administration last week announced sanctions on Zarif, a month after President Donald Trump had imposed similar sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The moves are seen as part of Washington's escalating campaign in what Trump calls "maximum pressure" on the Islamic Republic.
The U.S. has increasingly deployed military reinforcements to the region amid unspecified threats from Iran in the wake of Trump's withdrawal last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Zarif stressed that while there are no problems between the American and the Iranian people, Washington's policy of threatening war and "talking about war as an option that remains on the table cannot stand."
Zarif's press conference came a day after Iran announced its forces had seized a foreign ship in the Persian Gulf suspected of carrying smuggled fuel. It was the Revolutionary Guard's third seizure of a vessel in recent weeks and the latest show of strength by the paramilitary force amid the spike in tensions.
Iranian media reported that seven crew members were detained when the ship was seized last Wednesday with "smuggled fuel" from Iran but provided no details on the vessel or the nationality of the crew.
Tensions in the region escalated recently, with the United States boosting its military presence and six oil tankers targeted in the Gulf of Oman in unclaimed acts of sabotage that the U.S. blames on Iran. Iran has denied any involvement in those attacks.
In June, Iran shot down an American surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz. Trump came close to retaliating, but called off an airstrike at the last moment. Washington has since claimed that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denies losing any aircraft in the area.
Maritime security in the region was further jolted in mid-July, when the Revolutionary Guard's naval forces confirmed they had seized a United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker, the Panamanian-flagged MT Riah, for allegedly smuggling fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.
Also in July, the Guard seized a British-flagged vessel near the Persian Gulf in the Strait of Hormuz, in what some Iranian officials suggested was retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar, near Spain.
Also, Iran recently began surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in the 2015 nuclear deal, but says these moves can be reversed if given enough economic incentives to offset U.S. sanctions.
Referring to the seizure of the British tanker, Zarif said Monday that it was not a reciprocal action for Gibraltar. He also told reporters he had received an invitation from Washington for a meeting during his New York trip in July, along with a warning about the sanctions.
"During my trip to New York, I was told I would be sanctioned within two weeks unless I accept their invitation, which I rejected," Zarif said.
U.S. officials have not confirmed either of Zarif's claims — neither the one about him being warned about the sanctions nor the one about the alleged invitation for talks.