More than 200 companies have Israeli settlement ties: U.N

A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank December 22, 2016.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights office said on Wednesday it had identified 206 companies so far doing business linked to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and it urged them to avoid any complicity in “pervasive” violations against Palestinians.

Israel fears that companies in the U.N. “blacklist” could be targeted for boycotts or divestment aimed at stepping up pressure over its settlements, which most countries and the world body view as illegal.

“Businesses play a central role in furthering the establishment, maintenance and expansion of Israeli settlements,” the U.N. report said.

The settlements alter the demographic composition of the occupied Palestinian territory, seized by Israel in 1967, and threaten the Palestinians’ right to determination, it said.

The majority of the companies, or 143, are domiciled in Israel or the settlements, followed by 22 in the United States, it said. The remainder are based in 19 other countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, France and Britain.

The report, which did not name the companies but said that 64 of them had been contacted to date, said that the work in producing the U.N. database “does not purport to constitute a judicial process of any kind”.

But businesses operating in the occupied area have a responsibility to carry out due diligence and consider “whether it is possible to engage in such an environment in a manner that respects human rights”, it said.

The office’s mandate was to identify businesses involved in the construction of settlements, surveillance, services including transport, and banking and financial operations such as loans for housing that may raise human rights concerns.

Human rights violations associated with the settlements are “pervasive and devastating, reaching every facet of Palestinian life,” the report said. It cited restrictions on freedom of religion, movement and education and lack of access to land, water and jobs.

Israel assailed the Human Rights Council in March 2016 for launching the initiative at the request of countries led by Pakistan, calling the database a “blacklist” and accusing the 47-member state forum of behaving “obsessively” against it.

Israel’s mission in Geneva said on Wednesday that it was preparing a statement responding to the U.N. report. There was no immediate reaction by its main ally, the Untied States.

“We hope that our work in consolidating and communicating the information in the database will assist States and businesses in complying with their obligations and responsibilities under international law,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.

Zeid’s office deferred the report last February saying it needed more time to establish the database. It is to be debated at the U.N. Human Rights Council session of Feb 26 – March 23.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Venezuelan President Maduro will not go to U.N. rights forum

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela August 25, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will not address the U.N. Human Rights Council next week, contrary to what had been announced, the United Nations and his country’s diplomatic mission said on Tuesday.

Maduro, accused of trampling on human rights and democracy in Venezuela, had been expected to address the opening day of a three-week United Nations Human Rights Council session on Sept. 11.

“The president is not coming,” a Venezuelan diplomat in Geneva told Reuters on Tuesday.

Rolando Gomez, Council spokesman, said in a statement: “Please note that per information the HRC Secretariat just received, President Maduro of Venezuela will not address the Human Rights Council.

“Instead, (Foreign) Minister (Jorge) Arreaza Montserrat has been scheduled to address the Council on the opening day of the session.”

In a report last week, the U.N. said that Venezuela’s security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in crushing anti-government protests and that democracy was “barely alive”.

The actions indicated “a policy to repress political dissent and instil fear”, the U.N. human rights office said in a report that called for further investigation and accountability.

Maduro, whose country is currently one of the Council’s 47 member states, addressed the Geneva forum in Nov. 2015.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Andrew Roche)

Russia fails to win re-election to U.N. Human Rights Council

A still image, taken from video footage and released by Russia's Defence Ministry on August 18, 2016, shows a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber based at Iran's Hamadan air base dropping off bombs in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia failed to win re-election to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday, beaten out by Hungary and Croatia, following lobbying by rights groups against Moscow’s candidacy because of its military support for the Syrian government.

In a secret ballot by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, Hungary received 144 votes, followed by Croatia with 114 votes and Russia with 112 votes. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow had faced good competition.

“It was a very close vote,” Churkin told reporters. “Croatia, Hungary – they are fortunate because of their size they are not as exposed to the winds of international diplomacy;  Russia is quite exposed.”

“We have been there a number of years, I’m sure next time we’re going to get in,” he said.

Russian air power has been backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s nearly six-year war. A recent offensive to capture eastern Aleppo – the rebel-held half of Syria’s largest city – has sparked international outrage.

Russia’s three-year term on the 47-member Geneva-based Human Rights Council will finish on Dec. 31. It had been competing for a second three-year term. Council members cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.

“U.N. member states have sent a strong message to the Kremlin about its support for a regime that has perpetrated so much atrocity in Syria,” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch.

The United States, Egypt, Rwanda, Tunisia, Iraq and Japan were elected to the body, while Saudi Arabia, China, South Africa and Britain won a second terms. Their candidacies were uncontested but needed to win a majority vote. In the other competitive slate, Cuba and Brazil beat out Guatemala.

“The re-election of China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia – regimes which systematically violate the human rights of their citizens – casts a shadow upon the reputation of the United Nations,” said U.N. Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer.”

A Saudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen has been criticized for killing civilians. U.N. sanctions monitors have accused the Saudi-led coalition, Houthi rebels and Yemen government troops of violating international humanitarian and human rights laws.

(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. and Russia meet in Geneva on Aleppo

A rebel fighter stands near a Turkish tank as it fires towards Guzhe village, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Senior U.S. and Russian officials held talks on Wednesday aimed at agreeing on how to separate al Qaeda-linked militants from rebel fighters in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo so as to pave the way for a ceasefire.

U.S. special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney led Washington’s delegation, while Moscow sent military experts whose names were not released.

They were joined by officials from regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but not Syria’s ally Iran which was not invited, a Western diplomat said. The Syrian warring sides themselves were not at the table.

“The idea is to engage the Russians in a discussion on the issue,” the Western diplomat said before the meeting held at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva.

The talks follow a meeting between the United States and its allies on Tuesday that aimed to coordinate efforts toward a new ceasefire, after Russia unexpectedly announced it had halted air strikes on Aleppo.

Russia favors a U.N. proposal to evacuate jihadist fighters belonging to the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group from the besieged zone of eastern Aleppo in return for a ceasefire.

Russia has said a planned eight-hour ceasefire on Thursday will be extended if other rebels clearly distance themselves from the group, but it will not prolong the pause unilaterally.

The last ceasefire fell apart in September, since when Russia and Syria have undertaken a massive bombing campaign on eastern Aleppo, in which hospitals have been destroyed and hundreds of civilians killed.

Britain has triggered a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council to be held on Friday. A draft resolution seen by Reuters calls for an independent special inquiry which would name those responsible for breaking international law, including possible crimes against humanity.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad argues that his forces have a constitutional duty to protect the civilian population and rid the city of “terrorists”.

The task of separating “moderate” rebels from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was formerly known as the Nusra Front and is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.N., is complicated because they have long fought side-by-side and there is little agreement on the number of Fateh al-Sham fighters in the city.

The U.N. says there are up to 900 Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters out of 8,000 rebels in eastern Aleppo in total, but diplomatic sources have told Reuters there are far fewer, probably a maximum of 200.

“They are calling the shots in Aleppo,” one aid official told Reuters.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tom Miles and Dominic Evans)

Anti-Semitic U.N. Official Leaving Post

An openly anti-Semitic official with the United Nations announced that he would be stepping down from his position.

Leaders in the U.S. and Israel expressed their joy over the departure of Richard Falk.

“The United States welcomes Mr. Falk’s departure, which is long overdue,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said in a statement. “Falk’s relentless anti-Israeli bias, his noxious and outrageous perpetuation of 9/11 conspiracy theories [and] his publication of bizarre and insulting material has tarnished the U.N.’s reputation and undermined the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council.”

Falk, in his position as UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, allegedly altered and excluded information from reports that would show Israel in the worst possible light and would overlook the murders of Israeli citizens by Islamic extremists groups and Palestinian cities.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon even publicly admonished Falk for his one-sided views on the Israel-Palestine issue.

The U.N.’s “Human Rights Council” includes nations that are not known for giving human rights to their citizens, such as Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.