Aletho News


The West Suppresses Report on Ukraine’s Suppression of Journalists

OSCE Squelches Ukrainian Commission on Human Rights Speaker

By Eric Zuesse | Aletho News | September 23, 2015

At a 21 September 2015 meeting of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which is run by the Western powers and which is the leading organization concerning security and cooperation in Europe, a courageous speech against Ukraine’s imprisonment and killing of independent journalists was made by Alexey Tarasov, the Chairman of the All-Ukrainian Commission on Human Rights. Nearly halfway through the prepared text of his intended 6-minute summary description of the main cases, his speech was terminated by the Chairperson. It was cut off at 2:31 in this video:

However, in this video of it, the termination is at 2:38:

Here, then, is the complete printed text, as it was posted at Fort Russ on September 22. I have additionally placed a mark at the point where Tarasov’s speech was cut short:

Dear colleagues,

Please allow me to welcome this meeting.

Probably everyone knows that today’s Ukraine is the most problematic European country in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Especially where it concerns the tragic situation with the freedom of speech and freedom of expression, the situation of access to information, limitation of journalists’ activity and the mass media in general.

According to information by the Institute of Mass Media, since the beginning of 2015 in Ukraine, there has been recorded 224 violations of the rights of journalists. According to the Institute’s reports, almost every day journalists in Ukraine are beaten or intimidated.

The worst thing is the continuation of journalists’ murders. For example, last year the talented journalist Oles’ Buzina was killed right near the entrance of his house. He was a consistent supporter of the Ukraine’s unity, at the same time fundamentally opposing to the war in the Donbass, which contradicted the official doctrine. The suspects of the murder of Buzina were arrested. They are under investigation. Human rights defenders are very concerned with the political pressure on the investigation and law enforcement agencies. They are afraid that the real killers will escape  punishment.

In Kiev this year, journalists Sergei Sukhobok and Margarita Valenko, were killed in Cherkassy region – Vasily Sergienko.

In Ukraine there is political pressure on opposition media, harassment, illegal criminal searches and arrests of journalists became a reality. There are varied forms of violence against dissent in the Ukrainian media.

State officials are trying to illegally shut the license of the popular opposition 112 TV channel and of the metropolitan newspaper Vesti. There were a great number of provocations, criminal searches, etc. Ukrainian authorities are forcibly trying to substitute owners of the mass media. Employees of the Odessa opposition website “Timer” for “prevention” were summoned for questioning at the office of the Ukrainian security service (SBU). There were some searches in journalists’ houses.

Ukrainian authorities always have standard charges on “separatism” with following arrests for those media professionals who are disagree with the state policy. The Chief Editor of the Internet newspaper “Vzapravdu” Artem Buzila, for the last five months has been imprisoned in Odessa on such fabricated accusations.

The Editor of the newspaper “Rabochiy class”, Alexander Bondarchuk has been illegally jailed for the last six months in the Kiev prison. And I can continue this list. There are dozens of journalists who are jailed or are in the wanted list of the SBU for their opposition publications.

Also, I want to draw your attention to the problem with the freedom of expression and regulation of the rights of conscientious objectors (COs) in Ukraine. They are individuals who have claimed their right to refuse to take military service, who have special ideological and moral convictions. …


… This is a normal practice for the European countries to protect rights of conscientious objectors, but not for the Ukraine. Nowadays the position of Ukrainian COs, who are not members of any religious organization, violates the law of the country. Authorities criminally prosecute even those journalists who are COs.

A striking confirmation of this problem is the prosecution of journalist Ruslan Kotsaba, who is CO. For his public conscientious objection, Ruslan Kotsaba has been jailed and his case has been considered for several months by the Ivano-Frankivsk City Court. The authorities consider the open position of the honest journalist as “obstruction of the lawful activities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations during the special period.” Such behavior of the authorities is difficult to imagine in a normal democratic society. Now, according to the information of Ukrainian prosecutors thousands of COs have been prosecuted, and hundreds of them have been jailed. Therefore, in our country there is a total process of transformation of ideological Ukrainian COs into real prisoners of conscience.

In addition, there is another issue. Between Ukraine and the European Union the Association Agreement was signed, which was simultaneously ratified in September 16, 2014 by the European Parliament and the Parliament of Ukraine. According to the Agreement, particular attention is paid to the observation of human rights. Article II (two) states: “Respect for democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms, as defined in particular in the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (1975) and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe (1990) …”.

This Agreement has not yet entered into force, and the Parliament of Ukraine on May 21, 2015 has adopted a resolution “On the withdrawal from certain obligations, certain International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.” This resolution also violates Helsinki Final Act obligations. Ukrainian Deputies motivated their decision to adopt the resolution by the tragic events in Donbass.

By the way, our Ukrainian Human Rights Commission issued a report “Undeclared war at the center of Europe”. It concerns the observance of human rights during the so called «anti-terrorist operation» in Donbass by Ukraine’s state officials. You can see and have it near the conference hall.

So, the Ukrainian state instead of focusing on the implementation of international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians during the armed conflict in Donbass, has substituted these concepts and instead withdrew itself from the obligations of the state to respect international human rights, to protect them, and the exercising of  rights of millions of inhabitants of Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

By the adoption of such a decision, the Ukrainian state has applied to a part of its citizens discriminatory measures based on their residence, and has restricted their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including their right to liberty and security, freedom of residence and movement, the right to fair trial and effective means of legal protection, social protection etc.

There is a question to the EU countries, who ratified the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, the main elements of which are based on international and European standards of human rights without any exceptions:

Will these countries suspend the entry into force of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU before the termination of the violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of millions of citizens in Ukraine? Or will they want to support Ukraine’s position of double standards, and not to extend the requirements of this Agreement to particular regions of Donetsk and Lugansk?

We hope that the international community will stop the ignorance of massive and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Ukraine, first of all, in matters of freedom of speech and the rights of journalists, and will put pressure on the Ukrainian authorities in order to force them into complying with their international obligations in the field of human rights.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Data sharing deal with US must end due to ‘mass surveillance’ – EU court advisor

RT | September 23, 2015

The European Court of Justice’s top legal aid has said that a 15-year-old agreement that eases the transfer of data between the EU and the US should be ended, accusing American intelligence services of conducting “mass, indiscriminate surveillance.”

The ECJ’s advocate-general, Yves Bot, said on Wednesday that the Safe Harbour agreement does not do enough to protect the private information of EU citizens once it arrives in the US, adding that it should have been suspended.

Safe Harbour allows US firms to collect data on their European customers. The system is used by Google, Facebook, and more than 4,000 other companies.

However, it also allows the NSA to use the Prism surveillance system exposed by Snowden to wade through the personal data, communication, and information held by nine internet companies.

Using Facebook as an example, Bot said that users “are not informed that their personal data will be generally accessible to the United States security agencies.”

“Such mass, indiscriminate surveillance is inherently disproportionate and constitutes an unwarranted interference with the rights guaranteed by articles seven and eight of the charter [of fundamental rights of the EU],” he said, adding that European internet users have no effective judicial protection while the data transfers are happening.

Bot added that if any EU country believes that transferring data to overseas servers undermines the protection of citizens, it has the power to suspend those transfers “irrespective of the general assessment made by the [EU] commission in its decision.”

But despite allegations from Bot, Facebook has denied accusations that it provides ‘backdoor’ access to its servers.

Sally Aldous, a spokeswoman for the social media giant, said on Wednesday that the company “operates in compliance with EU Data Protection law. Like the thousands of other companies who operate data transfers across the Atlantic we await the full judgment.”

“We have repeatedly said that we do not provide ‘backdoor’ access to Facebook servers and data to intelligence agencies or governments,” she said.

Although Bot’s opinions are not binding, they are typically followed by the ECJ’s judges, who are considering a complaint about the arrangement in the wake of US surveillance revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The EU court’s decision is expected in the next four to six months.

The European Commission has been in talks with the US for two years, discussing ways to strengthen the Safe Harbour framework amid calls for its suspension.

Meanwhile, many US companies have praised the 2000 Safe Harbour deal, saying it helps them avoid complicated checks to transfer vital data, including payroll and human resources information.

An end to the agreement would cause a headache for US companies operating in the EU, as well as bring about the potential for a varying of national approaches, lawyers said, as cited by Reuters.

It comes just six months after 27-year-old Austrian law student Max Schrems filed a complaint against Facebook, alleging the social media site was helping the NSA harvest email and other private data by forwarding European data to servers in the US.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two-thirds of Palestinians support Abbas departure

MEMO | September 23, 2015

An opinion poll has suggested that two-thirds of Palestinians believe that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should resign. They also think that his resignation from the PLO Executive Committee is not “real”.

The Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research released the results of a poll on Monday that it conducted in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip between 17 and 19 September. The results show that the popularity of President Abbas has declined “significantly” in the occupied West Bank and has improved “slightly” in the Gaza Strip. Fatah’s popularity has declined in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The results revealed an increase in Hamas popularity in the occupied West Bank and a significant decrease in the Gaza Strip. The popularity of the deputy leader of the Islamic movement, Ismail Haniyeh, has improved in the West Bank but fallen slightly in Gaza.

“If Abbas does not participate in the next presidential elections,” said the research NGO, “the only viable candidates from Fatah to replace him are Marwan Barghouti followed, but with much less support, by Mohammad Dahlan and Saeb Erekat.” Among Hamas candidates, it added, Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal are the most popular to replace Abbas, while among the independents the most popular is Rami Al-Hamdallah followed by Salam Fayyad.

“Two-thirds of the public support Hamas-Israel indirect negotiations about a long term Hudna, or truce, in return for ending the siege of the Gaza Strip. But a majority believes that these negotiations will not succeed. A majority rejects the belief that such negotiations, even if they succeed, would harm the chances for reconciliation.”

The results also reveal that the Palestinian public does not view the PLO or its Executive Committee positively and declines to give it a mandate to make important decisions on behalf of all Palestinians. Instead, the public prefers to give such a mandate to the PA, even if the decisions in question relate to the permanent agreement with Israel. “This, though, does not mean that the public has considerable trust in the PA,” said the centre. “On the contrary, a majority believes that it has become a burden on the Palestinian people and, for the first time since we started asking, a majority now demands the PA’s dissolution.”

Results also show that two-thirds of the public believe that the protection of Palestinians against settler terrorism is the responsibility of the PA, not the Israeli army. “Furthermore, two-thirds believe that the PA is not doing enough to protect Palestinian citizens. To protect Palestinian towns and villages targeted by settlers, the largest percentage has selected, from among several options, the deployment of the Palestinian security forces in those areas. The public believes that if the PA formally establishes civil guard units made up of volunteers in such areas, it would also help to provide protection. Indeed, half of West Bankers say that if such unarmed units were established, they would volunteer to join them.”

The survey was conducted on a random sample of 1,270 people in 127 locations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Millions of job seekers’ fingerprints will now be searched for criminal investigations, says FBI

PrivacySOS | September 21, 2015

For years the FBI has performed federal criminal background checks for employers and state governments, amassing tens of millions of biometric records on people accused of no crime. If you want to be a lawyer, teacher, or even bike messenger in many parts of the United States, you’ll need to submit your fingerprints to the FBI. Every single federal employee must submit their prints before employment. Until recently, the FBI claimed it would not search these civil prints when conducting criminal print matching; a wall between the civil and criminal fingerprint databases kept these distinct sets of information separate, the Bureau claimed. But in February 2015, that all changed—very quietly.

EFF‘s Jennifer Lynch:

The change, which the FBI revealed quietly in a February 2015 Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA), means that if you ever have your fingerprints taken for licensing or for a background check, they will most likely end up living indefinitely in the FBI’s [Next Generation Identification] database. They’ll be searched thousands of times a day by law enforcement agencies across the country—even if your prints didn’t match any criminal records when they were first submitted to the system.

This is the first time the FBI has allowed routine criminal searches of its civil fingerprint data. Although employers and certifying agencies have submitted prints to the FBI for decades, the FBI says it rarely retained these non-criminal prints. And even when it did retain prints in the past, they “were not readily accessible or searchable.” Now, not only will these prints—and the biographical data included with them—be available to any law enforcement agent who wants to look for them, they will be searched as a matter of course along with all prints collected for a clearly criminal purpose (like upon arrest or at time of booking).

This seems part of an ever-growing movement toward cataloguing information on everyone in America—and a movement that won’t end with fingerprints. With the launch of the face recognition component of NGI, employers and agencies will be able to submit a photograph along with prints as part of the standard background check. As we’ve noted before, one of FBI’s stated goals for NGI is to be able to track people as they move from one location to another. Having a robust database of face photos, built out using non-criminal records, will only make that goal even easier to achieve.

The FBI’s decision to start using civil prints in criminal investigations demonstrates that we should be very skeptical of all government efforts to collect and retain sensitive information about us. Today they say they won’t do X, Y, or Z with that information. But that can change very easily, and without many of the millions of people affected taking much notice.

Read more about the FBI’s plans to amass biometric information on all of us.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

Former Guantanamo detainee facing possibility of ‘utterly baseless’ charges in Morocco

Reprieve | September 23, 2015

Younous Chekkouri, who was released from Guantanamo last week, is facing the possibility of charges in Morocco that his lawyer has described as ‘utterly baseless’.

The prosecution in Morocco today announced that Younous – who has been held in detention since his release last week – is facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempts to disrupt the security of the country’. A judge will decide in two weeks whether to formally charge him. Meanwhile he has been placed in ‘provisional detention’ in Salé without bail.

Younous, 47, was cleared by the US government in 2010 – a process involving unanimous agreement by six federal agencies including the Departments of State and Defense and the CIA and FBI. He was never charged with a crime. His petition for habeas corpus was litigated through to a hearing, and saw the US government drop almost every allegation it had originally made against Younous.

Cori Crider, Younous’ attorney and director at Reprieve, said: “Younous facing charges is nothing short of an absolute disgrace. The US government, responsible for his being in this position in the first place, saw fit to clear him for release from Guantanamo following an exhaustive review. They never charged him with a crime and indeed they dropped almost every one of the ridiculous allegations they ever made against him while his case was being litigated in federal court. Any charges the Moroccan prosecutors are attempting to lay at Younous’ door are utterly baseless and must be revoked at once. Younous Chekkouri must go free.”

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism | , , , | 1 Comment

Around 200 masked men storm Kharkov city hall in Eastern Ukraine


© slava.mavrichev / Facebook
RT – September 23, 2015

At least 200 people wearing camouflage and masks stormed the local administration building in the city of Kharkov, eastern Ukraine, local media said. The perpetrators are alleged to be members of the radical Azov battalion.

The masked men reportedly clashed with police and security forces at the city’s administration building. Those who have entered the building have also reportedly used tear gas, the Ukrainian 112 channel is saying.

The masked activists were seen holding flags with the insignia of the radical Azov Battalion, which is accused of committing numerous human rights violations in Eastern Ukraine, according to international watchdogs.

“There have been several small clashes between police and people in balaclavas. A few minutes ago somebody let off tear gas. The entrance to the city council is surrounded by a tight police cordon,” a journalist at the scene, from the 112 channel reported.

Earlier, at least 50 people wearing camouflage and balaclavas had taken part in a protest in front of the residence of the local politician, Mikhail Dobkin, who represents the ‘Opposition Bloc’ political party, which wants to find a peaceful solution to the current crisis in Ukraine. The masked men had not set out any demands. However, they were reported to have stated their aim was to “to throw Dobkin out of the city and not to let Kernes become Kharkov’s mayor,” according to the 112 channel.

Gennady Kernes has been the mayor of Kharkov since March 2010. Before the coup in Ukraine, he had been a strong supporter of President Viktor Yanokovich. However, he subsequently switched sides and has backed the new Ukrainian government in order to keep his position.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Video | | Leave a comment

‘West crying for refugees with one eye, aiming gun with the other’ – Assad (FULL INTERVIEW)

RT | September 16, 2015

In a rare interview with Russian media outlets, RT among them, Syrian leader Bashar Assad spoke about global and domestic terrorism threats, the need for a united front against jihadism, Western propaganda about the refugee crisis and ways to bring peace to his war-torn nation.

Question 1:Mr. President, thank you from the Russian media, from RT, from Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel 1, Russia 24, RIA Novosti, and NTV channel, for giving us all the opportunity to talk to you during this very critical phase of the crisis in Syria, where there are many questions that need to be addressed on where exactly the political process to achieve peace in Syria is heading, what’s the latest developments on the fight against ISIL, and the status of the Russian and Syrian partnership, and of course the enormous exodus of Syrian refugees that has been dominating headlines in Europe.

Now, the crisis in Syria is entering its fifth year. You have defied all predictions by Western leaders that you would be ousted imminently, and continue to serve today as the President of the Syrian Arab Republic. Now, there has been a lot of speculation recently caused by reports that officials from your government met with officials from your adversary Saudi Arabia that caused speculation that the political process in Syria has entered a new phase, but then statements from Saudi Arabia that continue to insist on your departure suggest that in fact very little has changed despite the grave threat that groups like ISIL pose far beyond Syria’s borders.

So, what is your position on the political process? How do you feel about power sharing and working with those groups in the opposition that continue to say publically that there can be no political solution in Syria unless that includes your immediate departure? Have they sent you any signal that they are willing to team up with you and your government? In addition to that, since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, many of those groups were calling to you to carry out reforms and political change. But is such change even possible now under the current circumstances with the war and the ongoing spread of terror in Syria?

President Assad: Let me first divide this question. It’s a multi question in one question. The first part regarding the political process, since the beginning of the crisis we adopted the dialogue approach, and there were many rounds of dialogue between Syrians in Syria, in Moscow, and in Geneva. Actually, the only step that has been made or achieved was in Moscow 2, not in Geneva, not in Moscow 1, and actually it’s a partial step, it’s not a full step, and that’s natural because it’s a big crisis. You cannot achieve solutions in a few hours or a few days. It’s a step forward, and we are waiting for Moscow 3. I think we need to continue the dialogue between the Syrian entities, political entities or political currents, in parallel with fighting terrorism in order to achieve or reach a consensus about the future of Syria. So, that’s what we have to continue.

If I jump to the last part, because it’s related to this one, is it possible to achieve anything taking into consideration the prevalence of terrorism in Syria and in Iraq and in the region in general? We have to continue dialogue in order to reach the consensus as I said, but if you want to implement anything real, it’s impossible to do anything while you have people being killed, bloodletting hasn’t stopped, people feel insecure. Let’s say we sit together as Syrian political parties or powers and achieve a consensus regarding something in politics, in economy, in education, in health, in everything. How can we implement it if the priority of every single Syrian citizen is to be secure? So, we can achieve consensus, but we cannot implement unless we defeat the terrorism in Syria. We have to defeat terrorism, not only ISIS.

I’m talking about terrorism, because you have many organizations, mainly ISIS and al-Nusra that were announced as terrorist groups by the Security Council. So, this is regarding the political process. Sharing power, of course we already shared it with some part of the opposition that accepted to share it with us. A few years ago they joined the government. Although sharing power is related to the constitution, to the elections, mainly parliamentary elections, and of course representation of the Syrian people by those powers. But in spite of that, because of the crisis, we said let’s share it now, let’s do something, a step forward, no matter how effective.

Regarding the refugee crisis, I will say now that Western dealing in the Western propaganda recently, mainly during the last week, regardless of the accusation that those refugees are fleeing the Syrian government, but they call it regime, of course. Actually, it’s like the West now is crying for the refugees with one eye and aiming at them with a machinegun with the second one, because actually those refugees left Syria because of the terrorism, mainly because of the terrorists and because of the killing, and second because of the results of terrorism. When you have terrorism, and you have the destruction of the infrastructure, you won’t have the basic needs of living, so many people leave because of the terrorism and because they want to earn their living somewhere in this world.

So, the West is crying for them, and the West is supporting terrorists since the beginning of the crisis when it said that this was a peaceful uprising, when they said later it’s moderate opposition, and now they say there is terrorism like al-Nusra and ISIS, but because of the Syrian state or the Syrian regime or the Syrian president. So, as long as they follow this propaganda, they will have more refugees. So, it’s not about that Europe didn’t accept them or embrace them as refugees, it’s about not dealing with the cause. If you are worried about them, stop supporting terrorists. That’s what we think regarding the crisis. This is the core of the whole issue of refugees.

President Assad: As you know, we are at war with terrorism, and this terrorism is supported by foreign powers. It means that we are in a state of complete war. I believe that any society and any patriotic individuals, and any parties which truly belong to the people should unite when there is a war against an enemy; whether that enemy is in the form of domestic terrorism or foreign terrorism. If we ask any Syrian today about what they want, the first thing they would say is: we want security and safety for every person and every family.

So we, as political forces, whether inside or outside the government, should unite around what the Syrian people want. That means we should first unite against terrorism. That is logical and self-evident. That’s why I say that we have to unite now as political forces, or government, or as armed groups which fought against the government, in order to fight terrorism. This has actually happened.

There are forces fighting terrorism now alongside the Syrian state, which had previously fought against the Syrian state. We have made progress in this regard, but I would like to take this opportunity to call on all forces to unite against terrorism, because it is the way to achieve the political objectives which we, as Syrians, want through dialogue and political action.

Intervention: Concerning the Moscow-3 and Geneva-3 conferences; in your opinion, are there good prospects for them?

President Assad: The importance of Moscow-3 lies in the fact that it paves the way to Geneva-3, because the international sponsorship in Geneva was not neutral, while the Russian sponsorship is. It is not biased, and is based on international law and Security Council resolutions. Second, there are substantial differences around the ‘transitional body’ item in Geneva. Moscow-3 is required to solve these problems between the different Syrian parties; and when we reach Geneva-3, it is ensured that there is a Syrian consensus which would enable it to succeed. We believe that it is difficult for Geneva-3 to succeed unless Moscow-3 does. That’s why we support holding this round of negotiations in Moscow after preparations for the success of this round have been completed, particularly by the Russian officials.

Question 3: I would like to continue with the issue of international cooperation in order to solve the Syrian crisis. It’s clear that Iran, since solving the nuclear issue, will play a more active role in regional affairs. How would you evaluate recent Iranian initiatives on reaching a settlement for the situation in Syria? And, in general, what is the importance of Tehran’s support for you? Is there military support? And, if so, what form does it take?

President Assad: At present, there is no Iranian initiative. There are ideas or principles for an Iranian initiative based primarily on Syria’s sovereignty, the decisions of the Syrian people and on fighting terrorism. The relationship between Syria and Iran is an old one. It is over three-and-a-half decades old. There is an alliance based on a great degree of trust. That’s why we believe that the Iranian role is important. Iran supports Syria and the Syrian people. It stands with the Syrian state politically, economically and militarily. When we say militarily, it doesn’t mean – as claimed by some in the Western media – that Iran has sent an army or armed forces to Syria. That is not true. It sends us military equipment, and of course there is an exchange of military experts between Syria and Iran. This has always been the case, and it is natural for this cooperation to grow between the two countries in a state of war. Yes, Iranian support has been essential to support Syria in its steadfastness in this difficult and ferocious war.

Question 4: Concerning regional factors and proponents, you recently talked about security coordination with Cairo in fighting terrorism, and that you are in the same battle line in this regard. How is your relationship with Cairo today given that it hosts some opposition groups? Do you have a direct relationship, or perhaps through the Russian mediator, particularly in light of the strategic relations between Russia and Egypt. President Sisi has become a welcome guest in Moscow today.

President Assad: Relations between Syria and Egypt have not ceased to exist even over the past few years, and even when the president was Mohammed Morsi, who is a member of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood organisation. Egyptian institutions insisted on maintaining a certain element of this relationship. First, because the Egyptian people are fully aware of what is happening in Syria, and second because the battle we are fighting is practically against the same enemy. This has now become clearer to everyone. Terrorism has spread in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, in other Arab countries, and in some Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and others. That’s why I can say that there is joint vision between us and the Egyptians; but our relationship exists now on a security level. There are no political relations. I mean, there are no contacts between the Syrian Foreign Ministry and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, for instance. Contacts are done on a security level only. We understand the pressures that might be applied on Egypt or on both Syria and Egypt so that they don’t have a strong relationship. This relationship does not go, of course, through Moscow. As I said, this relationship has never ceased to exist, but we feel comfortable about improving relations between Russia and Egypt. At the same time, there is a good, strong and historical relation between Moscow and Damascus, so it is natural for Russia to feel comfortable for any positive development in relations between Syria and Egypt.

Question 5: Mr. President, allow me to go back to the question of fighting terrorism. How do you look at the idea of creating a region free of ISIS terrorists in the north of the country on the border with Turkey? In that context, what do you say about the indirect cooperation between the West and terrorist organizations like the al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups? And with whom are you willing to cooperate and fight against ISIS terrorists?

President Assad: To say that the border with Turkey should be free of terrorism means that terrorism is allowed in other regions. That is unacceptable. Terrorism should be eradicated everywhere; and we have been calling for three decades for an international coalition to fight terrorism. But as for Western cooperation with the al-Nusra Front, this is reality, because we know that Turkey supports al-Nusra and ISIS by providing them with arms, money and terrorist volunteers. And it is well-known that Turkey has close relations with the West. Erdogan and Davutoglu cannot make a single move without coordinating first with the United States and other Western countries. Al-Nusra and ISIS operate with such a force in the region under Western cover, because Western states have always believed that terrorism is a card they can pull from their pocket and use from time to time. Now, they want to use al-Nusra just against ISIS, maybe because ISIS is out of control one way or another. But that doesn’t mean they want to eradicate ISIS. Had they wanted to do so, they would have been able to do that. For us, ISIS, al-Nusra, and all similar organizations which carry weapons and kill civilians are extremist organizations.

But who we conduct dialogue with is a very important question. From the start we said that we engage in dialogue with any party, if that dialogue leads to degrading terrorism and consequently achieve stability. This naturally includes the political powers, but there are also armed groups with whom we conducted dialogue and reached agreement in troubled areas which have become quiet now. In other areas, these armed groups joined the Syrian Army and are fighting by its side, and some of their members became martyrs. So we talk to everyone except organizations I mentioned like ISIS, al-Nusra, and other similar ones for the simple reason that these organizations base their doctrine on terrorism. They are ideological organizations and are not simply opposed to the state, as is the case with a number of armed groups. Their doctrine is based on terrorism, and consequently dialogue with such organizations cannot lead to any real result. We should fight and eradicate them completely and talking to them is absolutely futile.

Intervention: When talking about regional partners, with whom are you prepared to cooperate in fighting terrorism?

President Assad: Certainly with friendly countries, particularly Russia and Iran. Also we are cooperating with Iraq because it faces the same type of terrorism. As for other countries, we have no veto on any country provided that it has the will to fight terrorism and not as they are doing in what is called “the international coalition” led by the United States. In fact, since this coalition started to operate, ISIS has been expanding. In other words, the coalition has failed and has no real impact on the ground. At the same time, countries like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Western countries which provide cover for terrorism like France, the United States, or others, cannot fight terrorism. You cannot be with and against terrorism at the same time. But if these countries decide to change their policies and realize that terrorism is like a scorpion, if you put it in your pocket, it will sting you. If that happens, we have no objection to cooperating with all these countries, provided it is a real and not a fake coalition to fight terrorism.

Question 6: What is the Syrian army’s current condition? They’ve been fighting for over four years. Are they exhausted by the war, or become stronger as a result of engagement in military operations? And are there reserve forces to support them? I also have another important question: you said a large number of former adversaries have moved to your side and are fighting within the ranks of government forces. How many? And what is the extent of their help in the fight against extremist groups?

President Assad: Of course, war is bad. And any war is destructive, any war weakens any society and any army, no matter how strong or rich a country is. But things cannot be assessed this way. War is supposed to unite society against the enemy. The army becomes the most-important symbol for any society when there is aggression against the country. Society embraces the army, and provides it with all the necessary support, including human resources, volunteers, conscripts, in order to defend the homeland. At the same time, war provides a great deal of expertise to any armed forces practically and militarily. So, there are always positive and negative aspects. We cannot say that the army becomes weaker or stronger. But in return, this social embrace and support for the army provides it with volunteers. So, in answer to your question ‘are there reserves?’… yes, certainly, for without such reserves, the army wouldn’t have been able to stand for four-and-a-half years in a very tough war, particularly since the enemy we fight today has an unlimited supply of people. We have terrorist fighters from over 80 or 90 countries today, so our enemy is enjoying enormous support in various countries, from where people come here to fight alongside the terrorists. As for the army, it’s almost exclusively made of Syrians. So, we have reserve forces, and this is what enables us to carry on. There is also determination. We have reserves not only in terms of human power, but in will as well. We are more determined than ever before to fight and defend our country against terrorists. This is what led some fighters who used to fight against the state at the beginning for varying reasons, discovered they were wrong and decided to join the state. Now they are fighting battles along with the army, and some have actually joined as regular soldiers. Some have kept their weapons, but they are fighting in groups alongside the armed forces in different parts of Syria.

Question 7: Mr. President, Russia has been fighting terrorism for 20 years, and we have seen its different manifestations. It now seems you are fighting it head on. In general, the world is witnessing a new form of terrorism. In the regions occupied by ISIS, they are setting up courts and administrations, and there are reports that it intends to mint its own currency. They are constructing what looks like a state. This in itself might attract new supporters from different countries. Can you explain to us whom are you fighting? Is it a large group of terrorists or is it a new state which intends to radically redraw regional and global borders? What is ISIS today?

President Assad: Of course, the terrorist ISIS groups tried to give the semblance of a state, as you said, in order to attract more volunteers who live on the dreams of the past: that there was an Islamic state acting for the sake of religion. That ideal is unreal. It is deceptive. But no state can suddenly bring a new form to any society. The state should be the product of its society. It should be the natural evolution of that society, to express it. In the end, a state should be a projection of its society. You cannot bring about a state which has a different form and implant it in a society. Here we ask the question: does ISIS, or what they call ‘Islamic State’, have any semblance to Syrian society? Certainly not.

Of course we have terrorist groups, but they are not an expression of society. In Russia, you have terrorist groups today, but they do not project Russian society, nor do they have any semblance to the open and diverse Russian society. That’s why if they tried to mint a currency or have stamps or passports, or have all these forms which indicate the existence of a state, it doesn’t mean they actually exist as a state; first because they are different from the people and, second, because people in those regions flee towards the real state, the Syrian state, the national state. Sometimes they fight them too. A very small minority believes these lies. They are certainly not a state, they are a terrorist group. But if we want to ask about who they are, let’s speak frankly: They are the third phase of the political or ideological poisons produced by the West, aimed at achieving political objectives. The first phase was the Muslim Brotherhood at the turn of the last century. The second phase was al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in order to fight the Soviet Union. And the third phase is ISIS, the al-Nusra Front and these groups. Who are ISIS? And who are these groups? They are simply extremist products of the West.

Question 8: Mr. President, at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the Kurdish issue started to be discussed more often. Previously, Damascus was severely criticized because of its position towards the Kurdish minority. But now, practically, in some areas, Kurdish formations are your allies in the fight against ISIS. Do you have a specific position towards who the Kurds are to you and who you are to them?

President Assad: First, you cannot say there was a certain state policy concerning the Kurds. A state cannot discriminate between members of its population; otherwise, it creates division in the country. If we had been discriminating between different components of society, the majority of these components wouldn’t have supported the state now, and the country would have disintegrated from the very beginning. For us, the Kurds are part of the Syrian fabric. They are not foreigners – they live in this region like the Arabs, Circassians, Armenians and many other ethnicities and sects who’ve been living in Syria for many centuries. It’s not known when some of them came to this region. Without these groups, there wouldn’t have been a homogenous Syria. So, are they our allies today? No, they are patriotic people. But on the other hand, you cannot put all the Kurds in one category. Like any other Syrian component, there are different currents among them. They belong to different parties. There are those on the left and those on the right. There are tribes, and there are different groups. So, it is not objective to talk about the Kurds as one mass.

There are certain Kurdish demands expressed by some parties, but there are no Kurdish demands for the Kurds. There are Kurds who are integrated fully into society; and I would like to stress that they are not allies at this stage, as some people would like to show. I would like to stress that they are not just allies at this stage, as some suggest. There are many fallen Kurdish soldiers who fought with the army, which means they are an integral part of society. But there are parties which had certain demands, and we addressed some at the beginning of the crisis. There are other demands which have nothing to do with the state, and which the state cannot address. There are things which would relate to the entire population, to the constitution, and the people should endorse these demands before a decision can be taken by the state. In any case, anything proposed should be in the national framework. That’s why I say that we are with the Kurds, and with other components, all of us in alliance to fight terrorism.

This is what I talked about a while ago: that we should unite in order to fight ISIS. After we defeat ISIS, al-Nusra and the terrorists, the Kurdish demands expressed by certain parties can be discussed nationally. There’s no problem with that, we do not have a veto on any demand as long as it is within the framework of Syria’s unity and the unity of the Syrian people and territory, fighting terrorism, Syrian diversity, and the freedom of this diversity in its ethnic, national, sectarian, and religious sense.

Question 9: Mr. President, you partially answered this question, but I would like a more-precise answer, because some Kurdish forces in Syria call for amending the constitution. For instance, setting up a local administration and moving towards autonomy in the north. These statements are becoming more frequent now that the Kurds are fighting ISIS with a certain degree of success. Do you agree with such statements that the Kurds can bet on some kind of gratitude? Is it up for discussion?

President Assad: When we defend our country, we do not ask people to thank us. It is our natural duty to defend our country. If they deserve thanks, then every Syrian citizen defending their country deserves as much. But I believe that defending one’s country is a duty, and when you carry out your duty, you don’t need thanks. But what you have said is related to the Syrian constitution. Today, if you want to change the existing structure in your country, in Russia for instance, let’s say to redraw the borders of the republics, or give one republic powers different to those given to other republics – this has nothing to do with the president or the government. This has to do with the constitution.

The president does not own the constitution and the government does not own the constitution. Only the people own the constitution, and consequently changing the constitution means national dialogue. For us, we don’t have a problem with any demand. As a state, we do not have any objection to these issues as long as they do not infringe upon Syria’s unity and diversity and the freedom of its citizens.

But if there are certain groups or sections in Syria which have certain demands, these demands should be in the national framework, and in dialogue with the Syrian political forces. When the Syrian people agree on taking steps of this kind, which have to do with federalism, autonomy, decentralization or changing the whole political system, this needs to be agreed upon by the Syrian people, and consequently amending the constitution. This is why these groups need to convince the Syrian people of their proposals. In that respect, they are not in dialogue with the state, but rather with the people. When the Syrian people decide to move in a certain direction, and to approve a certain step, we will naturally approve it.

Question 10: Now, the U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes on Syrian territory for about one year on the same areas that the Syrian Air Force is also striking ISIL targets, yet there hasn’t been a single incident of the U.S.-led coalition and the Syrian Air Force activity clashing with one another. Is there any direct or indirect coordination between your government and the U.S. coalition in the fight against ISIL?

President Assad: You’d be surprised if I say no. I can tell you that my answer will be not realistic, to say now, while we are fighting the same, let’s say enemy, while we’re attacking the same target in the same area without any coordination and at the same time without any conflict. And actually this is strange, but this is reality. There’s not a single coordination or contact between the Syrian government and the United States government or between the Syrian army and the U.S. army. This is because they cannot confess, they cannot accept the reality that we are the only power fighting ISIS on the ground. For them, maybe, if they deal or cooperate with the Syrian Army, this is like a recognition of our effectiveness in fighting ISIS. This is part of the willful blindness of the U.S. administration, unfortunately.

Question 11: So not event indirectly though, for example the Kurds? Because we know the U.S. is working with the Kurds, and the Kurds have some contacts with the Syrian government. So, not even any indirect coordination?

President Assad: Not even any third party, including the Iraqis, because before they started the attacks, they let us know through the Iraqis. Since then, not a single message or contact through any other party.

Question 12: OK, so just a little bit further than that. You’ve lived in the West, and you, at one time, moved in some of those circles with some Western leaders that since the beginning of the crisis have been backing armed groups who are fighting to see you overthrown. How do you feel about one day working again with those very same Western leaders, perhaps shaking hands with them? Would you ever be able to trust them again?

President Assad: First, it’s not a personal relation; it’s a relation between states, and when you talk about relation between states, you don’t talk about trust; you talk about mechanism. So, trust is a very personal thing you cannot depend on in political relations between, let’s say, people. I mean, you are responsible for, for example in Syria, for 23 million, and let’s say in another country for tens of millions. You cannot put the fate of those tens of millions or maybe hundreds of millions on the trust of a single person, or two persons in two countries. So, there must be a mechanism. When you have a mechanism, you can talk about trust in a different way, not a personal way. This is first.

Second, the main mission of any politician, or any government, president, prime minister, it doesn’t matter, is to work for the interest of his people and the interest of his country. If any meeting or any handshaking with anyone in the world will bring benefit to the Syrian people, I have to do it, whether I like it or not. So, it’s not about me, I accept it or I like it or whatever; it’s about what the added value of this step that you’re going to take. So yes, we are ready whenever there’s the interest of the Syrians. I will do it, whatever it is.

Question 13: Regarding alliances in the fight against terrorism and ISIS, President Putin called for a regional alliance to fight the so-called ‘Islamic State’; and the recent visits of Arab officials to Moscow fall into that context, but Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that would need a miracle. We are talking here about security coordination, as described by Damascus, with the governments of Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. How do you envisage that alliance? Will it achieve any results, in your opinion? You said that any relationship is based on interests, so are you willing to coordinate with these countries, and what is the truth behind the meetings held between Syrian, and maybe Saudi, officials as reported by the media?

President Assad: As for fighting terrorism, this is a big and comprehensive issue which includes cultural and economic aspects. It obviously has security and military aspects as well. In terms of prevention, all the other aspects are more important than the security and military ones, but today, in the reality we now live in terms of fighting terrorism, we are not facing terrorist groups, we are facing terrorist armies equipped with light, medium and heavy weaponry. They have billions of dollars to recruit volunteers. The military and security aspects should be given priority at this stage. So, we think this alliance should act in different areas, but to fight on the ground first. Naturally, this alliance should consist of states which believe in fighting terrorism and believe that their natural position should be against terrorism.

In the current state of affairs, the person supporting terrorism cannot be the same person fighting terrorism. This is what these states are doing now. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, who pretend to be part of a coalition against terrorism in northern Syria, actually support terrorism in the south, the north and the north-west, virtually in the same regions in which they are supposed to be fighting terrorism. Once again I say that, within the framework of public interest, if these states decide to go back to the right position, to return to their senses and fight terrorism, naturally we will accept and cooperate with them and with others. We do not have a veto and we do not stick to the past. Politics change all the time. It might change from bad to good, and the ally might become an adversary, and the adversary an ally. This is normal. When they fight against terrorism, we will cooperate with them.

Question 14: Mr. President, there is a huge wave of refugees, largely from Syria, going to Europe. Some say these people are practically lost to Syria. They are deeply unhappy with the Syrian authorities because they haven’t been able to protect them and they’ve had to leave their homes. How do you view those people? Do you see them as part of the Syrian electorate in the future? Do you expect them to return? And the second question has to do with the European sense of guilt about the displacement happening now. Do you think that Europe should feel guilty?

President Assad: Any person who leaves Syria constitutes a loss to the homeland, to be sure, regardless of the position or capabilities of that person. This, of course, does not include terrorists. It includes all citizens in general with the exception of terrorists. So, yes, there is a great loss as a result of emigration. You raised a question on elections. Last year, we had a presidential election in Syria, and there were many refugees in different countries, particularly in Lebanon. According to Western propaganda, they had fled the state, the oppression of the state and the killing of the state, and they are supposed to be enemies of the state. But the surprise for Westerners was that most of them voted for the president who is supposed to be killing them. That was a great blow to Western propaganda. Of course, voting has certain conditions. There should be an embassy, and to have the custodianship of the Syrian state in the voting process. That depends on relations between the states. Many countries have severed relations with Syria and closed Syrian embassies, and consequently Syrian citizens cannot vote in those countries. They have to go to other countries where ballot boxes are installed, and that did happen last year.

As for Europe, of course it’s guilty. Today, Europe is trying to say that Europe feels guilty because it hasn’t given money or hasn’t allowed these people to immigrate legally, and that’s why they came across the sea and drowned. We are sad for every innocent victim, but is the victim who drowns in the sea dearer to us than the victim killed in Syria? Are they dearer than innocent people whose heads are cut off by terrorists? Can you feel sad for a child’s death in the sea and not for thousands of children who have been killed by the terrorists in Syria? And also for men, women, and the elderly? These European double standards are no longer acceptable. They have been flagrantly exposed. It doesn’t make sense to feel sad for the death of certain people and not for deaths of others. The principles are the same. So Europe is responsible because it supported terrorism, as I said a short while ago, and is still supporting terrorism and providing cover for them. It still calls them ‘moderate’ and categorizes them into groups, even though all these groups in Syria are extremists.

Question 15: If you don’t mind, I would like to go back to the question about Syria’s political future. Mr. President, your opponents, whether fighting against the authorities with weapons or your political opponents, still insist that one of the most-important conditions for peace is your departure from political life and as president. What do you think about that – as president and as a Syrian citizen? Are you theoretically prepared for that if you feel it’s necessary?

President Assad: In addition to what you say, Western propaganda has, from the very beginning, been about the cause of the problem being the president. Why? Because they want to portray the whole problem in Syria lies in one individual; and consequently the natural reaction for many people is that, if the problem lies in one individual, that individual should not be more important than the entire homeland. So let that individual go and things will be alright. That’s how they oversimplify things in the West. What’s happening in Syria, in this regard, is similar to what happened in your case. Notice what happened in the Western media since the coup in Ukraine. What happened? President Putin was transformed from a friend of the West to a foe and, yet again, he was characterized as a tsar. He is portrayed as a dictator suppressing opposition in Russia, and that he came to power through undemocratic means, despite the fact that he was elected in democratic elections, and the West itself acknowledged that the elections were democratic. Now, it is no longer democratic. This is Western propaganda. They say that if the president went things will get better. What does that mean, practically? For the West, it means that as long as you are there, we will continue to support terrorism, because the Western principle followed now in Syria and Russia and other countries is changing presidents, changing states, or what they call bringing regimes down. Why? Because they do not accept partners and do not accept independent states. What is their problem with Russia? What is their problem with Syria?  What is their problem with Iran? They are all independent countries. They want a certain individual to go and be replaced by someone who acts in their interests and not in the interest of his country. For us, the president comes through the people and through elections and, if he goes, he goes through the people. He doesn’t go as a result of an American decision, a Security Council decision, the Geneva conference or the Geneva communiqué. If the people want him to stay, he should stay; and if the people reject him, he should leave immediately. This is the principle according to which I look at this issue.

Question 16: Military operations have been ongoing for more than four years. It’s likely that you analyze things and review matters often. In your opinion, was there a crucial juncture when you realized war was unavoidable? And who initiated that war machinery? The influence of Washington or your Middle East neighbours? Or were there mistakes on your part? Are there things you regret? And if you had the opportunity to go back, would you change them?

President Assad: In every state, there are mistakes, and mistakes might be made every day, but these mistakes do not constitute a crucial juncture because they are always there. So what is it that makes these mistakes suddenly lead to the situation we are living in Syria today? It doesn’t make sense. You might be surprised if I tell that the crucial juncture in what happened in Syria is something that many people wouldn’t even think of. It was the Iraq war in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. We were strongly opposed to that invasion, because we knew that things were moving in the direction of dividing societies and creating unrest. And we are Iraq’s neighbours. At that time, we saw that the war would turn Iraq into a sectarian country; into a society divided against itself. To the west of Syria there is another sectarian country – Lebanon. We are in the middle. We knew well that we would be affected. Consequently, the beginning of the Syrian crisis, or what happened in the beginning, was the natural result of that war and the sectarian situation in Iraq, part of which moved to Syria, and it was easy for them to incite some Syrian groups on sectarian grounds.

The second point, which might be less crucial, is that when the West adopted terrorism officially in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and called terrorists at that time ‘freedom fighters’, and then in 2006 when Islamic State appeared in Iraq under American sponsorship and they didn’t fight it. All these things together created the conditions for the unrest with Western support and Gulf money, particularly form Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and with Turkish logistic support, particularly since President Erdogan belongs intellectually to the Muslim Brotherhood. Consequently, he believes that, if the situation changed in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, it means the creation of a new sultanate; not an Ottoman sultanate this time, but a sultanate for the Brotherhood extending from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and ruled by Erdogan. All these factors together brought things to what we have today. Once again, I say that there were mistakes, and mistakes always create gaps and weak points, but they are not sufficient to cause that alone, and they do not justify what happened. And if these gaps and weak points are the cause, why didn’t they lead to revolutions in the Gulf states – particularly in Saudi Arabia which doesn’t know anything about democracy? The answer is self-evident, I believe.

Mr. President, thank you for giving us the time and for your detailed answers to our questions.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Video | , , , | Leave a comment

UN Special Rapporteur On Torture Issues Sharply Critical Report On Ukraine

Introduction by New Cold War, September 21, 2015

Enclosed is the full report dated September 18, 2015 of Christof Heyns, who is the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. His report is titled Ukraine: Lives lost in an accountability vacuum.

Christof Heyns, Special UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

Christof Heyns, Special UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

Heyns conducted an official visit to Ukraine from September 8 to 18, 2015. He is a professor of human rights law in Pretoria, South Africa. In contrast to the most recent report of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), released in early September, Heynes’ report provides the outline of a comprehensive overview of the human rights situation in Ukraine. The result is a rather damning portrait of the governing regime in Kyiv.

The HRMMU report earlier this month is a litany of ‘he said, she said’ anecdotal testimonials strung together in such a way as to leave the reader with the impression that human rights crimes are being perpetrated equally by both sides in the civil war in Ukraine. While Heyns borrows some of the same language, a reading of his report clearly shows that it is the Kyiv regime alone which is guilty of systematic and widespread human rights violations. The accusations cited by Heyns against the rebel regions of Donetsk and Lugansk may or may not be true, but they pale in numbers and scope compared to what Heyns documents on the Kyiv side.

Heyns says that the official investigations by Kyiv into the two large massacres which took place in Ukraine in 2014 are seriously failing. These are the investigations into the Sniper Massacres of Feb 18-20 at Maidan Square in Kyiv, which killed more than 100 police and protesters, and the arson attack in Odessa on May 2 in which at least 48 people perished.

Concerning the Snipers Massacre, there is no mention by Heyns of the video and other evidence being compiled and released by University of Ottawa researcher Ivan Katchanovski and others showing that sniper fire at Maidan Square was directed by extreme-right forces masquerading as part of the Maidan protest itself. But he does make a one-word reference acknowledging doubts about the official government line on events–that the Berkut police of the government overthrown several days later were responsible. That official line has been repeated near universally by Western governments and mainstream media. Heyns writes in his report, “I am concerned that more than 100 people were killed as a result of the firing, allegedly by Berkut and other law enforcement officers of live ammunition at participants. In addition, thirteen police officers were also reportedly killed.” The operative word here is “allegedly”.

Officials in the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk did not meet with Heyns during his official visit. This is no doubt due to the biased record of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with which his office is associated. Concerning the Ukrainian side, Heyns concludes, “Many officials whom I met—particularly in the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine]—simply denied that there was any wrongdoing and pointed to the fact that there are laws in place that meet international standards. There is little hope for progress where this is the approach.”

Ukraine: Lives lost in an accountability vacuum

End of visit statement of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns
Kyiv, Ukraine, 18 September 2015
  1. Introduction
  1. I have conducted an official country visit to Ukraine from 8-18 September 2015. I would like to thank the Government for extending the invitation to me to visit the country, as well as for the open and cooperative approach of the officials I met. I would also like to thank the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) for the invaluable support received in the preparations and conduct of my visit.
  2. The aim of the visit was to examine the level of protection of the right to life in Ukraine, as well as the efforts undertaken to prevent unlawful killings and ensure accountability justice and redress in such cases.
  3. During my visit, I had the opportunity to hold meetings here in Kyiv, as well as to travel to Zaporizhzhia, Mariupol, Donetsk, Kramatorsk, Kharkiv and Odessa.
  4. During the past two weeks I have held meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Office of the Military Prosecutor, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Headquarters of the Anti-Terrorism Operation, the National Security and Defence Council, the High Specialised Court on Civil and Criminal Cases, the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsperson) including her National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). I met with regional administrations, and some regional departments or specialized units of relevant Ministries. I also met with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, the General Consulate of the Russian Federation in Odessa, and with other international and national monitors or non-governmental organisations, civil society, and families of victims.
  5. I also had the opportunity to cross the so-called “contact line” and travel to Donetsk, where I met with representatives of various monitoring missions, with representatives of the ‘Office of the commissioner for human rights’ (‘ombudsperson’) of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and with representatives of the ‘bar association’. I regret that, despite significant efforts on the part of the HRMMU to arrange meetings, no other officials of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ would meet with me. I share HRMMU’s concern for the lack of accountability for the “grave human rights violations and abuses” that have reportedly taken place there since the beginning of the conflict, as I observed no progress in this regard during my stay. I was also able to visit some of the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, including the area surrounding the airport, and to see with my own eyes some of the extensive damage that has been caused, particularly to civilian infrastructure and domiciles, by heavy shelling.
  6. The armed violence that has been taking place in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine since April of last year has taken a heavy toll on civilians and caused significant internal displacement. Like all other international observers I naturally welcome the renewed ceasefire commitment announced in late August and the fact that this has largely been observed since 1 September.
  7. I regret that I was unable to visit the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. I am aware of several allegations of serious violations of human rights in that territory, and I want to reiterate that in order to ensure the greater protection of all human rights, including the right to life, this area should be made accessible to international missions such as HRMMU. When I met with the consulate of the Russian Federation in Odessa I took the opportunity to underscore the need for such visits to take place.
  8. A detailed report on my findings and recommendations will be presented at the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council next year. The observations and recommendations presented today are preliminary and will be examined and developed further in the future report.
  1. Legal Framework
  1. The right to life is protected in Article 27 of the Constitution of Ukraine. Ukraine is a state party both to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) which (in Articles 6 and 2 respectively) both protect the inalienable right to life. The ultimate responsibility for the protection of right to life in any country lies with its Government.
  2. Ukraine has many of the building blocks in place to secure the protection of human rights, including the right to life. At the same time the country is facing significant challenges: challenges which if not met in a comprehensive and incisive way threatens to place this goal out of reach.
  3. To a large extent the normative framework has been established: the laws are there, the treaties ratified. The problem lies with establishing a systematic and effective system and a culture of accountability for violations of those norms.
  4. In response to the violence in the East, the Government launched what it refers to as an “anti-terrorist operation” aimed at retaking control of the two regions. However, regardless of classification as anti-terrorism operation, the objective criteria of an armed conflict exist. Indeed, many of those officials I have spoken to have referred to the existence of a “war” in the eastern regions, and nobody in the Government disputes the fact that there is an armed conflict.  There seem to be general consensus that both international humanitarian law and human rights law applies.
  5. Nonetheless, the framing of the conflict as an anti-terrorism operation has led to considerable confusion, both among observers and monitors and in some cases it seems among the participants themselves, about who within the Government is in control of this war? This may lead to uncertainty about responsibility.
  6. In addition, in June 2015 the Government of Ukraine informed the relevant institutions that it would derogate from certain State obligations under the ICCPR and the ECHR. The derogation is envisaged with respect to the right to liberty and security, fair trial, effective remedy, respect for private and family life and freedom of movement, and should be applied in certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The derogation thus includes certain rights (including effective remedy and procedural rights such as the supervision by judicial bodies of the lawfulness of detention) that the UN Human Rights Committee has interpreted as non-derogable. With respect to my mandate, I am particularly concerned that these elements of the derogation may create an environment in places of detention that may facilitate incommunicado or secret detention, torture, ill-treatment, executions and disappearances.
  7. I note that among the package of measures agreed in the Minsk Agreements is a proposal that there be a general amnesty by way of legislation forbidding prosecution or punishment of persons in relation to events that have taken place in the eastern Donbas region. While supportive of measures aimed at de-escalating tensions, I am concerned that such legislation could amount to fostering impunity for grave violations of human rights by all parties.  Any amnesty devised should be interpreted in such a way as not to include immunity for at least international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  8. Ukraine has committed to accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and signed the Rome Statute in 2000, but a technical constitutional impediment has delayed ratification. I understand that this impediment will be overcome in the proposed reform of the constitution, but in the meantime I welcome the fact that on 8 September the Government sent a declaration to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, giving to the Court ad hoc jurisdiction “for the purpose of identifying, prosecuting and judging the perpetrators and accomplices of acts committed in the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014.” The Prosecutor of the ICC has confirmed that she will open a “preliminary examination” in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met.

III.       Securing the right to life in wider Ukraine

  1. In the context of assemblies
  1. A State’s conduct with respect to assemblies should flow from its responsibility to facilitate and to enable peaceful assemblies. It should be underlined that the right to life continues to apply during any assembly (whether peaceful or not) and that therefore there is no such thing as an unprotected assembly. There was agreement among those officials with whom I met that the principal role for the police within the context of assemblies was that of protecting citizens. In this connection it was pointed out that only in rare circumstances would police be sent carrying firearms to manage an assembly.
  2. I want briefly to elaborate on two examples where it appears that the State failed in its responsibilities with respect to large-scale assemblies, both emblematic cases within the current situation in Ukraine:

(i)           Maidan Protest

  1. With respect to the use of force against protesters in the Maidan protest, most significantly between 18-20 February 2014, I am concerned that more than 100 people were killed as a result of the firing, allegedly by Berkut and other law enforcement officers of live ammunition at participants. In addition, thirteen police officers were also reportedly killed.  As with any use of lethal force by police officers it is vital that there be a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the events to establish that the use of force was both necessary and proportionate.
  2. In this connection, I am greatly concerned by the apparent shortcomings of the investigation into these events. While what process there is seems to be progressing very slowly, having reached court-level proceedings now in a very limited number of cases, there are more systemic failings.  The escape of a principal suspect from house arrest, as well as the loss of a great deal of vital physical evidence are both issues that should themselves be independently investigated.

(ii)          Events of 2 May in Odessa

  1. I have also had the opportunity to hear more about the events of 2 May 2014 in Odessa, where at least 48 people died as a result of clashes between rallies of opposing political opinion to which authorities appear to have reacted in an either deliberate, ill-prepared or negligent fashion. According to the accounts I received from people who were on the scene, the police held a low profile as the crisis was evolving and did not intervene to prevent or stop the violence at the Kulykove Pole square. The fire brigade, which is located very close to the Trade Unions building where many protestors burned to death, failed to respond for 45 minutes to urgent calls that they received. While both pro-unity and pro-federalism groups played a part in the escalation of violence on that day, the subsequent criminal prosecutions for hooliganism or public disorder appear to have been initiated against participants in a partial fashion.
  2. I am concerned by allegations of numerous failings in the official investigation into the events of that day. By allowing almost immediate access of the scene to ‘pro-unity’ protesters, members of the public or to municipal authorities, investigators lost a large proportion of potentially valuable forensic evidence. Meanwhile I am worried by indications that the Government has significantly reduced the size of the team investigating these events in the past year, before it has had an opportunity to report. The slow progress of the investigation and the lack of transparency with which it is being conducted have contributed to a great deal of public dissatisfaction and provided a fertile environment for rumour and misinformation. It is disconcerting that the Special Unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that investigates the 2 May events cancelled our appointment in Odessa at short notice, without any explanation.
  3. I am further concerned that administrative and personal impediments seem to have been imposed to prevent or at least discourage the families of those who died from obtaining the status of suffering or affected persons before the Courts. Meanwhile I am greatly alarmed by reports of the extent to which authorities are tolerating both verbal and physical intimidation both of families attending court proceedings and of the judges of those cases, not only outside the court building, but also inside it and in the court room itself.
  4. I welcome the support that the International Advisory Panel on Ukraine, established by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, is providing to the Government in order to ensure that the investigations into both incidents are in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
  1. In the context of detention
  1. Though issues concerning the treatment of detainees falls more squarely within the mandate of my colleague the Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, violence or other threats to life within detention facilities can lead directly to deaths for which the State has a heightened responsibility.  For this reason, wherever possible, I try also to visit places of detention on my country visits, so as to assess these threats firsthand.
  2. It seems that the Office of the Ombudsperson and the NPM created within it are relatively free to exercise their responsibilities to conduct unannounced visits both to pre-trial detention facilities (SIZO) and to penal colonies, and that this access provides an effective system of protection for the rights of those detained. Among the principle threats to life for detained persons in Ukraine are diseases such as TB and HIV. In the Donetsk region, for example, the rate of TB is allegedly 10 times higher in the prison population than in the general population. I welcome the partnership between the Penitentiary Service and the international NGO Médecins Sans Frontièrs which is aimed at providing specialised care to those detainees with TB.
  3. Detainees with whom I spoke had few complaints about conditions in the pre-trial detention facilities. However several made allegations of ill-treatment at earlier stages of their detention. There is a systematic pattern of complaints about ill-treatment at the hands of agents they identified to be members of the SBU, whom one interlocutor described as ‘untouchable’. I found it very difficult to establish from any officials the locations in which it is possible such abuses may have taken place, whether police temporary detention facilities (IVSs) or other sites. I could find no evidence of asystem of oversight that could effectively investigate any abuses that might (even infrequently) occur or protect detainees against them.
  1. Violence by armed militia groups
  1. While the majority of the “volunteer battalions” have from a military perspective now been incorporated into the formal structures of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, there remain a small number of potentially violent militia groups, such as the Right Sector, that act seemingly on their own authority, thanks to a high level of official tolerance, and with complete impunity.
  2. I am concerned by cases of bodily attacks on journalists or writers, including the cases of Oles Buzyna (who was killed in April 2015 in Kyiv) and that of Sergii Dolgov (who was arrested or disappeared in July 2014 in Mariupol by Azov Battalion).
  3. Some I met with expressed concerns that the lack of official mechanisms for combatants to be demobilised after fighting in the East may be contributing to this violent potential in wider Ukraine.
  4. Of particular concern is the extent to which these groups use violence or, more commonly, threats of violence, to exert pressure on persons holding dissenting views, the judicial system and on other mechanisms of accountability.

D            Accountability for violations

  1. In many of the meetings I held with officials during my visit I tried to explore the mechanisms of accountability that exist in current or proposed legislation and how they should function. As noted above, I leave with the impression that in many instances the formal processes exist or will shortly exist, however I am concerned that—with the exception of the Office of the Ombudsperson and its NPM—these mechanisms are not being effectively used.  Indeed, even the NPM, which appears to be achieving its objective as a preventive mechanism, cannot fully act as an accountability mechanism since it only make recommendations to the Office of the Prosecutor, which is not compelled to take up cases.
  2. Several practising lawyers with whom I met identified the reluctance of the Office of the Prosecutor, combined with the close relationship between the Prosecutor and the judicial authorities, as the principal impediment to pursuing allegations of ill-treatment on behalf of their clients.
  1. The right to life in eastern Donbas
  2. General observations on the conduct of hostilities
  1. As noted above, I welcome the fact that it seems that there have only been very limited violations of the ceasefire on either side of the “contact line” since 31 August.  I hope that this ceasefire continues to hold and that it provides a space for more thorough-going de-escalation of the conflict.
  2. Over the past 18 months, however, the conflict has exacted a heavy human price. Last week the HRMMU released their latest report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, estimating that a total of nearly 8,000 have now been killed and more than 17,000 injured in the course of hostilities.
  3. The majority of these deaths have been caused by shelling, which it would appear on both sides has been taken place indiscriminately or with inadequate precautionary steps taken to protect civilians.
  4. I am also concerned by allegations that the conflict is being waged in part using inherently indiscriminate weapons such as cluster munitions and landmines, including anti-personnel mines. Ukraine is party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, which establishes an absolute prohibition to use anti-personnel mines “under any circumstances”. I also note with concern that Ukraine failed to fulfil its commitment to destruct all its stockpiled anti-personnel mines before 1 June 2010. According to its official reports, Ukraine still retains over 5 million anti-personnel mines.
  5. I am also concerned by the threat that unexploded ordnance (UXO) and other explosive remnants of war pose against civilian lives, particularly children. The HRMMU has already verified numerous civilian casualties as a result of UXO left in the battleground both in Government-controlled areas and in territories controlled by the armed groups. I would like to remind the Government of its obligations under the fifth Protocol to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, on Explosive Remnants of War. According to the Protocol, which Ukraine ratified in 2005, state parties have to mark and clear, remove or destroy, as soon as feasible, all explosive remnant of war in territories under their control. In case explosive ordnance used by Ukraine remains in territory outside of its control, the Government has the obligation to provide assistance and information to facilitate the marking, clearance removal or destruction of the ordnance by a third party. Throughout the hostilities, Ukrainian armed forces have the obligation to record and retain information on the use of explosive ordnance, in order to facilitate its clearance without delay after the cessation of hostilities.
  6. More generally I am worried by the extent to which reporting on the conflict is being instrumentalised by all parties using mechanisms which ought to be exercising an accountability function with respect to their own forces. Instead of responding to, investigating, or prosecuting cases of indiscriminate shelling by their own military forces, each side are dedicating their time to documenting in laudable detail the violations of the other side with a view to continuing their confrontation in the national or international courtroom.
  1. In areas controlled by the Government of Ukraine

(i)           Indiscriminate shelling

  1. I am concerned that forces on the Government side are using weapons in the course of hostilities that are either inherently insufficiently precise  to justify within the context of a highly urban and civilian-populated conflict zone, or that weapons with a known level of precision are being used outside or without regard to proper Standard Operating Procedures to guide targeting.
  2. Moreover I have not been convinced during my engagement with the relevant authorities that there is a proper investigation conducted when allegations of civilian casualties are brought to their attention. The answer that I got from some of the military authorities to the question when an investigation into allegations of excessive civilian casualties would be triggered, was that such a situation will never arise, because there was an order by the Minister of Defence that this should not happen. Such a denial that a problem could exist makes a solution veryvery difficult to achieve.
  3. While I understand the difficulties of conducting investigations in territory outside the control of the Government’s armed forces, such difficulties should not be understood, as suggested in many of the meetings I had, as a reason to reject any possibility to verify civilian casualties caused by shelling or to assess alleged violations of international humanitarian law. The conflict is currently being closely monitored by several international organizations, which publicly report the occurrence of civilian casualties on both sides of the “contact line”. Combined with Ukraine’s military records on the use of artillery, and the possibility to contact families of casualties, morgues, hospitals or other sources for verification, it would be possible for the Government to assess the damage caused by its use of artillery.
  4. Damage assessments conducted this way may not always amount to evidence solid enough to allow accountability for possible violations of international humanitarian law. However, credible estimations of civilian casualties would enable the armed forces to evaluate and strengthen precautionary measures taken to mitigate the impact of shelling among civilians.

(ii)          Detention

  1. I have received several allegations of secret detention, in which individuals claim to have been detained for varying periods of time before being formally introduced to the penitentiary service. In some cases this initial detention takes place at the hands of officials thought to be of the SBU, in other cases such individuals have been apprehended by members of former volunteer battalions.
  2. One facility that is mentioned frequently in this regard is the military base at Mariupol airport.  During my visit to Mariupol I attempted to conduct a pre-announced visit to this base, however I regret that, despite the advance notice, I was denied access to the facility. Other such detention facilities reportedly include the former detention facility (SIZO) of the SBU in Karkhiv, and the SBU office in Kramatorsk.
  3. The existence of unacknowledged, secret detention facilities almost completely undermines the effective work being conducted by the National Preventive Mechanism and the Office of the Ombudsperson.  It is disappointing that judges and prosecutors, who are in many cases presented with quite clear prima facie cases of ill-treatment at the point that the detainee is presented formally to be remanded, do not respond more robustly to uphold the detainee’s rights. The impunity that exists for acts of violence in such conditions poses a clear and direct threat to the right to life.

(iii)        Alleged summary killings

  1. I am concerned by reports of bodies discovered near Makiivka, in the Donetsk Region in September last year.  While several of these bodies appear to be members of the armed groups who died in combat, some are reported to bear signs of having been executed after being detained by Government forces.

(iv)         Integration of armed militias in command and control

  1. At the time of the start of the conflict, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were underprepared for the nature or scale of the challenge that would confront them. Not all of the regular forces, to say nothing of the volunteer battalions, had been properly trained in military warfare, let alone International Humanitarian Law standards that should regulate the conduct of hostilities.
  2. I want to underline questions concerning the responsibility for the actions of volunteer battalions, both now that the majority have been formally incorporated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces and during earlier stages of the conflict. Any extent to which the State is tolerating the existence of politically-motivated armed militias on its territory is a concern. The extent to which the State has been actively collaborating with those militias, in order to participate in joint military operations against a common enemy suggests that the State’s responsibility for the actions of the members of those groups may be even more direct.
  3. It seems that these “battalions” and groups operate in a climate of impunity, partly as a result of the pressure which they exercise on prosecutorial or judicial authorities if they attempt to pursue cases against members perceived by these groups of being “patriotic”.

(v)          The impact of restrictions on movement on the right to life

  1. I am concerned by the potential (and in some cases realised) humanitarian impact of the limitations imposed by the government on free movement of people and goods in the Donbas region. The long queues which the resulting checkpoints inevitably entail have been the target of shelling.  The extent to which the barriers impede the transfer of vital medical supplies to hospitals on the eastern side of the “contact line” also raises serious questions about its appropriateness.
  1. In areas not controlled by Ukrainian authorities
  1. As noted above, despite extensive efforts on the part of HRMMU, I was not able to meet with many representatives of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ or self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’. This was extremely disappointing, given the number and gravity of allegations that have been made about the protection of human rights, including the right to life, in those territories.

(i)           Indiscriminate shelling and the positioning of artillery in civilian areas

  1. Allegations have been made that the forces on the non-Government controlled side are deliberately positioning their artillery within close range of built-up civilian areas and occupying hospitals and schools, so as effectively to use civilians as a shield, or to entice government troops to cause civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, which can then be used for political purposes.
  2. The salience of this problem is demonstrated by the extent to which local populations have taken to the streets to protest it.  For example, there are reports that protests were held to this effect in Donetsk on 15 and 16 June 2015. In situations where people are reportedly reluctant to express dissent, this speaks to the severity of the threat to life posed by the tactics of these armed groups.

(ii)          Summary executions of detainees

  1. There are allegations of the killing of detainees held by fighters of the self-proclaimed Luhansk people’s republic in Sievierodonetsk, as they were retreating from the city in July 2014. While local police had remained in control of their headquarters on Partyzanski Avenue the fighters had taken over the police IVS next door. On the day of the retreat, police reported hearing shots fired from within the IVS at around 5a.m. Several hours later, after the Ukrainian forces had arrived, the police re-entered the IVS, and discovered and documented two corpses in separate cells, each shot either in the neck or in the head. The corpses also showed signs of beatings.

(iii)        Allegations of quasi-judicial executions

  1. I have been alarmed by allegations of executions taking place in quasi-judicial circumstances.  This has allegedly occurred both in the context of ‘military justice’ and in more civilian, ‘criminal justice’ context.  For example, it is alleged that in May 2014 the ‘minister of defence’, Igor Strelkov (Ghirkin) sentenced to death by firing squad two local commanders for looting, armed robbery, kidnapping and desertion. It is not known whether they were executed.
  2. Summary executions may have been carried out under the pretext of criminal legal authority. In July 2014, when the Ukrainian Government regained control of Sloviansk, documents were found in the SBU building, which had been used as a detention facility by armed groups of the ‘Donetsk people´s republic’, that armed groups had given death sentences and carried out executions of at least three persons, reportedly based on legislation dating back to 1941.
  3.  In August 2014, it was reported that the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’s’ de facto authorities had introduced a document that they referred to as the 1960 criminal code, which included provisions for imposing the death penalty for the ‘gravest crimes’. Lawyers I spoke with, however, stated that the ‘constitution’ of the DPR proclaimed the right to life and that the imposition of capital punishment as provided in the criminal code would thus be incompatible with it.

(iv)         Threats against certain groups

  1. Amnesty International found strong signs of alleged drug dealers having been executed by forces of the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ in the area of Sievierodonetsk. Their commander Oleksii Mozhovyi had publicly threatened anyone involved in drug trafficking on 3 June. On 13 June, the police found three bodies of persons they identified as suspected drug dealers.
  2. In May and July 2014, there were reports of summary executions by self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people´s republic’ forces in the area of Sievierodonetsk, Rubizhne and Lysychansk, in the Luhansk Region.

(vi)         Targeting of those hors de combat

  1. As reported by the HRMMU, on 19 August, part of the town of Ilovaisk came under the control of Ukrainian armed forces. By 27 August, the Ukrainian troops in Ilovaisk were surrounded by the armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people´s republic’. The same day, a safe corridor was negotiated for Ukrainian forces to leave Ilovaisk. However, at least one column of Ukrainian troops was heavily shelled while leaving Ilovaisk. Between 107 and more than 200 Ukrainian servicemen were killed, many of which were wounded soldiers being evacuated.
  2. In January 2015, following the shelling of a bus station in which several people were killed, Oleksandr Zakharchenko, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic, made a statement on television announcing that his troops would give no quarter, and take no soldiers of the Ukrainian forces as prisoner. Making such a statement is a war crime. However, available evidence does not seem to indicate that this statement was implemented.
  3. Also in January, Ukrainian soldier Ihor Branovytskyi was allegedly summarily executed while in captivity of the armed groups of the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’. Branovytskyi was among a group of 12 soldiers captured and taken to the base used by the so-called ‘Sparta battalion’ and severely beaten. When Mr Branovytskyi collapsed and fainted he was reportedly executed by the battalion commander Arsenii Pavlov (‘Motorola’). During my meeting with the Office of the commissioner for human rights’ of the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ the ‘deputy ombudsman’ agreed to investigate this case.

(vii)        Downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17

  1. On 17 July 2014, the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 caused the death of 298 persons, becoming one of the most tragic events in the ongoing conflict. Despite initial difficulties to secure access to the site, international investigators now led by the Dutch Safety Board are expected to issue their final report in October. I welcome the progress achieved by the investigating team so far, and hope that the outcome of their work will serve as basis for accountability and provide relief to the families of victims.
  1. Conclusions
  1. The challenges faced by Ukrainian society are real. There are fundamental divisions about its geopolitical orientation which affect national identities. A brutal armed conflict with strong international dimensions is playing itself out on its territory. Twice during the last two years the country has seen massive demonstrations deteriorating into bloodshed on the streets. There is not an established tradition of accountability for violations of the right to life or other human rights on which to draw. The current conflict seems to have exacerbated structural weaknesses.
  2. Long term security will depend on the extent to which a fully functioning human rights protection system which guides the actions of all members of the society is established. The approach that I saw too often during my mission in Ukraine is that when asked about human rights protection one side immediately invokes the transgressions of the other. Human rights are treated as an instrument with which to assail the opponent; not as a shared system of accountability.
  3. The sad truth is that serious violations occur at one point or another in all societies. The Ukraine is no exception, and in some respects it faces unique challenges. The real question is how does one deal with the violations that occur. Many officials whom I met—particularly in the SBU—simply denied that there was any wrongdoing and pointed to the fact that there are laws in place that meet international standards. There is little hope for progress where this is the approach.
  4. I was however heartened by the admission of a senior official whom I met during the mission who commented: ‘Things do not always go as we want them to go’. Being realistic and open about the fact that there are violations is the first step towards addressing them. The second—and decisive—step is to create and utilise mechanisms of accountability to address those violations.

VII.     Preliminary Recommendations

  1. Efforts by all parties to end the armed conflict in the Eastern part of the country should be renewed. The cease-fire should be observed and monitored. As long as hostilities continue, all parties must take concrete measures to reduce civilian casualties, and adhere strictly to the IHL requirements of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack.
  2. Proper internal measures of reporting on exchanges of fire should be established. Targeting should follow international standards, and be adjusted based on regular assessments of its impact. Allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law must be investigated.
  3. It is of great importance to move the conflict out of built-up areas. All parties to the conflict should refrain from using weapons that do not allow sufficient precision in this context.
  4. The Government of Ukraine should take steps to ratify the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. In their public statements on the use of such weapons by the opposing armed groups, the Government has added weight to the idea of an emerging norm against the use of cluster munitions under any circumstances.  All parties to the conflict should immediately desist from the use of such weapons, which are inherently indiscriminate.
  5. All remaining volunteer militia groups must be disbanded and disarmed.
  6. The events at Ilovaisk in August 2014 must be investigated and any perpetrators be brought to justice.
  7. A system of independent overview of the conduct of all those who perform law enforcement functions must be established, focussing in particular on allegations of ill-treatment by the SBU. This mechanism should be empowered to conduct investigations into suspected informal detention facilities, including comprehensive power of search within military or SBU facilities.
  8. The investigations into the events at Maidan in February 2014 and the 2 May events of the same year at Odessa must be completed as a matter of priority and accountability for losses of life must be established. The systemic failures that contributed to the eventual losses of life—such as the low profile of the police and the delayed response of the fire brigade in Odessa—should also be investigated and where appropriate rectified.
  9. The difficult situation of the families of those who lost their lives should be acknowledged by the Government. Their safety, physical and psychological well-being, dignity and privacy must be protected, and they must be promptly informed of progress in the investigations. Public officials must treat them with respect at all times.
  10. The killing of Oles Buzyna and the disappearance of Sergii Dolgov must be investigated.
  11. The Government of Ukraine should consider inviting official country visits from the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
  12. The reservations to the ICCPR and the ECHR must be reconsidered on a regular basis.
  13. The office of the Ombudsperson must be strengthened.
  14. The human rights situation in Crimea must remain under the scrutiny of inter alia international monitoring bodies. The governments who control access to the territory—Ukraine and the Russian Federation—must grant full access to such monitors. However, even without such access the monitoring must continue.
  15. Judges and other officers of the court must be protected against intimidation.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , | Leave a comment

Will US Grasp Putin’s Syria Lifeline?

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | September 22, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin has thrown U.S. policymakers what amounts to a lifeline to pull them out of the quicksand that is the Syrian war, but Official Washington’s neocons and the mainstream U.S. news media are growling about Putin’s audacity and challenging his motives.

For instance, The New York Times’ lead editorial on Monday accused Putin of “dangerously building up Russia’s military presence” in Syria, even though Putin’s stated goal is to help crush the Sunni jihadists in the Islamic State and other extremist movements.

Instead, the Times harrumphs about Putin using his upcoming speech to the United Nations General Assembly “to make the case for an international coalition against the Islamic State, apparently ignoring the one already being led by the United States.”

The Times then reprises the bizarre neocon argument that the best way to solve the threat from the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other jihadist forces is to eliminate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military who have been the principal obstacles to an outright victory by the Sunni terrorist groups.

The dreamy Times/neocon prescription continues to be that “regime change” in Damascus would finally lead to the emergence of the mythical “moderate” rebels who would somehow prevail over the far more numerous and far better armed extremists. This perspective ignores the fact that after a $500 million training project for these “moderates,” the U.S. military says four or five fighters are now on the battlefield inside Syria. In other words, the members of this U.S.-trained brigade can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

But rather than rethink Official Washington’s goofy “group think” on Syria – or provide readers a fuller history of the Syrian conflict – the Times moves on to blame Putin for the mess.

“No one should be fooled about Russia’s culpability in Syria’s agony,” the Times writes. “Mr. Putin could have helped prevent the fighting that has killed more than 250,000 Syrians and displaced millions more, had he worked with other major powers in 2011 to keep Mr. Assad from waging war on his people following peaceful anti-government protests. … Mr. Assad would probably be gone without the weapons aid and other assistance from Russia and Iran.”

This “group think” ignores the early role of Sunni extremists in killing police and soldiers and thus provoking the harsh retaliation that followed. But the Syrian narrative, according to The New York Times, is that the “white-hat” protesters were simply set upon by the “black-hat” government.

The Times’ simplistic story-line fits neatly with what the influential neoconservatives want the West to believe, since the neocons have had Syria on their “regime change” list, alongside Iraq and Iran, since the list was compiled as part of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1996 political campaign. The Times’ narrative also leaves out the crucial role of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other U.S. “allies” in supporting Al Qaeda and its Islamic State spinoff.

Bush’s Unaccounted-for Cash

Further complicating Official Washington’s let’s-blame-Putin Syrian narrative is the unintended role of President George W. Bush and the U.S. military in laying the groundwork for these brutal Sunni extremist movements through the invasion of Iraq last decade. After all, it was only in reaction to the U.S. military presence that “Al Qaeda in Iraq” took root in Iraqi and then Syrian territory.

Not only did the ouster and execution of Sunni leader Saddam Hussein alienate the region’s Sunnis, but Bush’s desperation to avert an outright military defeat in Iraq during his second term led him to authorize the payment of billions of dollars to Sunni fighters to get them to stop shooting at American soldiers and to give Bush time to negotiate a U.S. troop withdrawal.

Beginning in 2006, those U.S. payments to Sunni fighters to get them to suspend their resistance were central to what was then called the “Sunni Awakening.” Though the program preceded Bush’s “surge” of troops in 2007, the bought-and-paid-for truce became central to what Official Washington then hailed as the “successful surge” or “victory at last.”

Besides the billions of dollars paid out in pallets of U.S. cash to Sunni insurgents, Bush’s “surge” cost the lives of another 1,000 U.S. soldiers and killed a countless number of Iraqis, many just going about their daily lives until they were blown apart by powerful American munitions. [See, for example, the “Collateral Murder” video leaked by Pvt. Bradley/Chelsea Manning]

But what the U.S. intelligence community is only now assessing is the collateral damage caused by the bribes that the Bush administration paid to Sunni insurgents. Some of the cash appears to have become seed money for the transformation of “Al Qaeda in Iraq” into the Islamic State as Sunnis, who continued to be disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, expanded their sectarian war into Syria.

Besides the Iraqi Sunnis, Syria’s secular government, with Assad and other key leaders from the Alawite branch of Shiite Islam, also was set upon by home-grown Sunni extremists and foreign jihadists, some of whom joined the Islamic State but mostly coalesced around Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other radical forces. Though the Islamic State had originated as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” (or AQI), it evolved into an even more bloodthirsty force and, in Syria, split off from Al Qaeda central.

Intelligence Reporting

U.S. intelligence followed many of these developments in real time. According to a Defense Intelligence Agency report from August 2012, “AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. … AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”

In other words, Assad’s early complaint about “terrorists” having infiltrated the opposition had a basis in fact. Early in the disorders in 2011, there were cases of armed elements killing police and soldiers. Later, there were terrorist bombings targeting senior Syrian government officials, including a July 18, 2012 explosion – deemed a suicide bombing by government officials – that killed Syrian Defense Minister General Dawoud Rajiha and Assef Shawkat, the deputy defense minister and Assad’s brother-in-law.

By then, it had become clear that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other Sunni-ruled countries were funneling money and other help to jihadist rebels seeking to oust Assad’s regime, which was considered a protector of Christians, Shiites, Alawites and other minorities fearing persecution if Sunni extremists prevailed.

As the 2012 DIA report noted about Syria, “internally, events are taking a clear sectarian direction. … The salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria. … The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China, and Iran support the regime.”

The DIA analysts already understood the risks that AQI represented both to Syria and Iraq. The report included a stark warning about the expansion of AQI, which was changing into the Islamic State or what the DIA referred to as ISI. The brutal armed movement was seeing its ranks swelled by the arrival of global jihadists rallying to the black banner of Sunni militancy, intolerant of both Westerners and “heretics” from Shiite and other non-Sunni branches of Islam.

As this movement strengthened it risked spilling back into Iraq. The DIA wrote: “This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi [in Iraq], and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy, the dissenters [apparently a reference to Shiite and other non-Sunni forms of Islam]. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.”

Facing this growing Sunni terrorist threat — which indeed did spill back into Iraq — the idea that the CIA or the U.S. military could effectively arm and train a “moderate” rebel force to somehow compete with the Islamists was already delusional, yet that was the “group think” among the Important People of Official Washington, simply organize a “moderate” army to oust Assad and everything would turn out just great.

On Oct. 2, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden let more of the cat out of the bag when he told an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School: “our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria … the Saudis, the emirates, etc., what were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” [Quote at 53:20 of clip.]

In other words, much of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition actually has been involved in financing and arming many of the same jihadists that the coalition is now supposedly fighting. If you take into account the lost billions of dollars that the Bush administration dumped on Sunni fighters starting in 2006, you could argue that the U.S.-led coalition bears primary responsibility for creating the problem that it is now confronting.

Biden made a similar point at least in reference to the Persian Gulf states: “Now all of a sudden, I don’t want to be too facetious, but they have seen the lord. …  Saudi Arabia has stopped funding. Saudi Arabia is allowing training [of anti-Islamic State fighters] on its soil … the Qataris have cut off their support for the most extreme elements of terrorist organizations, and the Turks … [are] trying to seal their border.”

But there remain many doubts about the commitment of these Sunni governments to the cause of fighting the Islamic State and even more doubts about whether that commitment extends to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other jihadist forces. Some neocons have even advocated backing Al Qaeda as the lesser evil both vis a vis the Islamic State and the Assad regime.

Blaming Putin

Yet, the Times editorial on Monday blamed Putin for a big chunk of the Syrian mess because Russia has dared support the internationally recognized Syrian government in the face of vicious foreign-supported terrorism. The Times casts no blame on the United States or its allies for the Syrian horror.

The Times also hurled personal insults at Putin as part of its equally one-sided narrative of the Ukraine crisis, which the editorial writers have summarized as simply a case of “Russian aggression” or a “Russian invasion” – ignoring the behind-the-scenes role of neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in orchestrating the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

In Monday’s editorial, the Times reported that President Barack Obama “considers Mr. Putin a thug,” though it was President Obama who boasted just last month, “I’ve ordered military action in seven countries,” another inconvenient fact that the Times discreetly leaves out. In other words, who’s the “thug”?

Yet, despite all its huffing and puffing and calling Putin names, the Times ultimately concludes that Obama should test out the lifeline that Putin has tossed to Obama’s Syrian policy which – with all its thrashing and arm waving – is rapidly disappearing into the quicksand. The editorial concluded:

“Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in London on Friday, made it clear that America would be looking for ‘common ground’ in Syria, which could mean keeping Mr. Assad in power temporarily during a transition. The Russians should accept that Mr. Assad must go within a specific time frame, say six months. The objective is a transition government that includes elements of the Assad regime and the opposition. Iran should be part of any deal.

“America should be aware that Mr. Putin’s motivations are decidedly mixed and that he may not care nearly as much about joining the fight against the Islamic State as propping up his old ally. But with that in mind there is no reason not to test him.”

Kerry’s apparent willingness to work with the Russians – a position that I’m told Obama shares – is at least a sign that some sanity exists inside the State Department, which initially mounted an absurd and futile attempt to organize an aerial blockade to prevent Russia from flying in any assistance to Syria.

If successful, that scheme, emanating from Nuland’s European division, could have collapsed the Syrian regime and opened the gates of Damascus to the Islamic State and/or Al Qaeda. So obsessed are the neocons to achieve their long-held goal of “regime change” in Syria that they would run the risk of turning Syria over to the Islamic State head-choppers and Al Qaeda’s terrorism plotters.

However, after the requisite snorting and pawing of hooves, it appears that the cooler heads in the Obama administration may have finally asserted themselves – and perhaps at The New York Times as well.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | 4 Comments

US-trained militants give up arms to Nusra right after entering Syria

Press TV – September 22, 2015

“Moderate” militants trained by the US military have handed over their weapons to terrorists upon entry into Syria.

Militants with Division 30, who had just graduated from a US-led military training program in Turkey, surrendered to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, The Telegraph reported on Monday, quoting a number of sources.

The militants are said to have given up all their guns and equipment immediately after entry into Syria.

“A strong slap for America… the new group from Division 30 that entered yesterday hands over all of its weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra after being granted safe passage,” read a statement on Twitter by a man calling himself Abu Fahd al-Tunisi, a member of Nusra. “They handed over a very large amount of ammunition and medium weaponry and a number of pick-ups.”

The division’s commander, Anas Ibrahim Obaid, explained to the terrorists that he had tricked the US military to get guns, according to Abu Khattab al-Maqdisi, another Nusra member.

“He promised to issue a statement… repudiating Division 30, the coalition, and those who trained him,” he tweeted. “And he also gave a large amount of weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra.”

The division entered Syria with “12 four-wheel vehicles equipped with machine guns and ammunition” a day earlier, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The entry of the 70 men was also confirmed by the US Central Command after they graduated from the Pentagon’s “train and equip” program.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment