Category Archives: News

24Sep/19

South Sudan government forces hand over captured child soldiers

Source: UN Mission in South Sudan
Country: South Sudan

The children were captured during recent clashes between government and opposition forces. They were imprisoned at military HQ for five weeks without adequate healthcare and food.

EMMANUEL KELE/DENG MOU

Last week, nearly two dozen children were officially released by armed groups in South Sudan’s Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal region and handed over to the National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC).

“My heart is full of joy and my face is shining brighter than the moon,” said 17-year-old Ring Ring, one of the boys set for a return to civilian life.

The children had been captured during recent clashes between government and opposition forces in the region. They were imprisoned at military headquarters for five weeks without adequate healthcare and food.

“I was forcefully recruited in Abyei, near the South Sudanese border with Sudan,” said Ring, who was wearing a new t-shirt reading “children not soldiers” given to him by peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), who helped facilitate the hand-over in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners. “I was trained and later deployed to the front line, where I was captured.”

After undergoing registration and verification with the demobilization commission, the children were transferred to a rehabilitation centre for trauma counseling, medical treatment, and food.

“Once they have gained some strength, the children will be held at the transit centre until their parents can tracked down,” said Oluku Andrew, child protection coordinator for the NDDRC.

According to South Sudanese law, children below the age of 18 are not authorized to enroll in military ranks and files, but this law has been blatantly ignored with impunity.

“These children were recruited against their will by opposition forces,” said Butros Bol Bol, commander of South Sudan’s People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) in the area. “Instead of recruiting children, we should all be doing as much as we can to move the peace process along.”

Earlier this year, parties to the conflict, with the support of the peacekeeping mission, agreed on a comprehensive action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of children for fighting and to safeguard them from conflict-related violence.

“Today you have demonstrated your commitment to protecting the youth in this country,” said Irene Kumwenda, an UNMISS Child Protection Officer in Aweil. “With the signing of the revitalized peace agreement, warring factions will be able to come together to eliminate these crimes.”

The day’s atmosphere was happy and optimistic, and the children were not shy about sharing their newfound joy.

“I am ready to go back to school,” said 16-year old Peter Lual with a smile on his face.

“I appreciate what the UN and other humanitarian organizations have done for me,” said 14-year old Mustagbal Abdullahi, who will soon be rejoining his parents at the protection of civilians site in Wau.

24Sep/19

Ten million children at risk from air pollution due to Indonesia forest fires

Source: UN Children’s Fund
Country: Indonesia

While forest and peatland fires are common in Indonesia during the dry season, the situation is made worse this year because of extended droughts and global warming.

Jakarta (Indonesia), 23 September 2019 – Wild forest and peatland fires across Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia are putting nearly 10 million children under 18 at risk from air pollution, said UNICEF today.

Small children are especially vulnerable to air pollution because they breathe more rapidly, and their physical defenses and immunities are not fully developed. It is estimated that 2.4 million children under five live in the areas most affected by the haze and wild fires, which have been burning in Indonesia since July 2019.

UNICEF warns that air pollution affects babies even before they are born. Research has shown that babies born to mothers exposed to high levels of pollution during pregnancy are more likely to experience reduced growth while in utero, low birth weight, and be delivered preterm.

“Poor air quality is a severe and growing challenge for Indonesia,” said Debora Comini, UNICEF Representative. “Every year, millions of children are breathing toxic air that threatens their health and causes them to miss school – resulting in lifelong physical and cognitive damage.”

According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, more than 46,000 school are currently affected by poor air quality, impacting more than 7.8 million students. Many schools have had to be closed in the most affected areas, depriving learning opportunities from children.

While forest and peatland fires are common in Indonesia during the dry season, the situation is made worse this year because of a combination of factors, including extended droughts and global warming.

“It is vital that families and children receive accurate information regarding their exposure to toxic air pollution, as this will help them to protect themselves”, said Comini.

UNICEF offers support to Indonesian authorities as they work on measures to mitigate the impact of poor air quality on children.

For more information:

Kinanti Pinta Karana, UNICEF Indonesia: Mobile: +62-815-880-5842; Email: kpkarana@unicef.org

Kate Rose, UNICEF Indonesia: Mobile +62 81 18714894; Email: krose@unicef.org

Media Contacts

Kinanti Pinta Karana
UNICEF Indonesia
Tel: +62 8158805842
Email: kpkarana@unicef.org

24Sep/19

Mass Arrests Cast Doubt on Rights Reform in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan police officers detain a protester during an opposition rally in Almaty, September 21, 2019.


© 2019 AP Photo/Vladimir Tretyakov

Since coming to power in June, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev has claimed a desire to accelerate political reforms and improve human rights in the country. But the mass detention of peaceful protesters over the weekend and other recent large-scale arrests undermine Tokaev’s expressed commitment to reform.

On September 21, authorities appeared to use excessive force to detain about 100 people at a rally by the banned opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK); 15 were fined or held in custody. One man was so manhandled by the police that his prosthetic leg came off when they carried him into a police van.

In June, Tokaev promised to reform the country’s protest law, which requires protesters to obtain prior permission from local authorities, requests that are often denied. Riot police regularly round up those participating in unsanctioned demonstrations ­ as was the case in June, when at least 4,000 people protesting the presidential election were detained and hundreds placed under administrative arrest. Tokaev reiterated his support for reform during his first national address in September.

Tokaev, whose predecessor Nursultan Nazarbaev ruled the country for 30 years, is right to call for change. But despite his reformist message, the reality in Kazakhstan remains largely the same.

Authorities did not detain anyone who participated in an August march for constitutional reform, nor were arrests made in protests against growing Chinese investment in Kazakhstan earlier this month. But in the weeks since, at least 36 people who participated in those anti-China protests and other forms of civic action have been placed in administrative custody or fined.

Human rights groups have proposed concrete changes to Kazakhstan’s protest law that would protect the right to peaceful assembly, but say the government has not acted on them.

If Tokaev truly wants to break with Kazakhstan’s past rights record, he should seek to reform the law on protests and end the arrest and detention of peaceful protesters. Grand pronouncements and rhetoric are not enough.

24Sep/19

Thailand: Pro-Democracy Activists Acquitted

The Bangkok Criminal Court acquitted six pro-democracy activists who had been charged with illegal assembly and sedition in 2018 on September 20, 2019.


© 2019 Nuttaa Mahattana

(New York) – Bangkok’s Criminal Court acquitted six prominent pro-democracy activists in an important verdict for protecting free expression in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today. The court ruled that a 2018 rally demanding a free and fair election was a peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Thai constitution.

“The Thai government should never have put activists on trial for peacefully calling for a free and fair election in the first place,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The court’s acquittal of the six pro-democracy activists will hopefully discourage the authorities from pursuing other criminal cases against people critical of military rule.”

On September 20, 2019, the Bangkok Criminal Court acquitted Nuttaa Mahattana, Chonthicha Jangrew, Sirawith Seritiwat, Anon Numpha, Kan Pongprapaphan, and Sukrit Piensuwan, all members of a network of pro-democracy activists calling themselves the “We Want Elections” group. Authorities had charged them with illegal assembly and sedition for protesting on Ratchadamnoen Avenue near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on February 10, 2018.

The court dismissed the illegal assembly charge because the then-ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) lifted the ban on a political assembly of more than five persons in December 2018. The court also rejected the sedition charge on the basis that the activists had held their rally peacefully in accordance with the constitution. The court also said that the activists’ criticisms of the military and government leaders were made in good faith according to democratic principles, and therefore did not constitute an act of incitement of unrest.

Another protest leader, Rangsiman Rome, a member of the parliament for the Future Forward party, faces a separate trial on charges of unlawful assembly and sedition, scheduled for June 2020. The prosecutor had already dropped the charges against 43 other people who faced illegal assembly charges for participating in the rally after the junta lifted the political assembly ban.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, protects the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly. However, Thai authorities frequently treated people who peacefully expressed dissenting views as threats to national security. When a new government took office in July 2019 and the junta disbanded, at least 130 people in Bangkok and other provinces still faced illegal assembly charges, and in some cases sedition charges, for peacefully holding rallies in 2018 or posting online commentaries in support of those rallies.

“Thailand’s proclaimed path toward democracy will be unconvincing so long as the authorities are bringing politically motivated charges against peaceful critics,” Adams said. “Governments around the world should press the Thai government to end its harassment and persecution of activists demanding that Thailand respect basic rights.”