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UN slams Trump for pardoning Blackwater contractors

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(Last Updated On: December 23, 2020)

The United Nations said Wednesday night it was deeply concerned by US President Donald Trump’s move to pardon four former Blackwater security contractors convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

“We are deeply concerned by the recent US presidential pardons for four security guards from the private military firm Blackwater who were convicted for killing 14 Iraqi civilians. 

The UN Human Rights Office spokesperson, Marta Hurtado, said in the statement that “pardoning them contributes to impunity.”

Hurtado said the four individuals were given sentences ranging from 12 years to life imprisonment, including on charges of first-degree murder. 

“By investigating these crimes and completing legal proceedings, the US complied with its obligations under international law. Victims of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law also have the right to a remedy. 

“This includes the right to see perpetrators serve punishments proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct,” Hurtado said. 

The UN Human Rights Office (UNOCHA) in turn called on the US to renew its commitment to fighting impunity for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law and to uphold its obligations to ensure accountability for such crimes. 

This comes after Trump’s announcement Wednesday that the four security contractors, 

Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard,  were among a group of 15 prisoners to be pardoned. 

A White House statement said Slatten, Slough, Liberty and Heard had a “long history of service to the nation” as veterans of the US Army and US Marine Corps, and that their pardons were “broadly supported by the public… and elected officials”.

It added that the Court of Appeals “ruled that additional evidence should have been presented at Mr Slatten’s trial”, and that prosecutors recently disclosed “that the lead Iraqi investigator, who prosecutors relied heavily on to verify that there were no insurgent victims and to collect evidence, may have had ties to insurgent groups himself”.

But according to the BBC, the father of a boy who died called the move “indescribable” and a rights group said Trump had hit a “new low”.

Slatten, Slough, Liberty and Heard were among 19 Blackwater private security contractors assigned to guard a convoy of four heavily-armored vehicles carrying US personnel on 16 September 2007.

According to the US justice department, at about noon that day several of the contractors opened fire in and around Nisoor Square, a busy roundabout that was immediately adjacent to the heavily-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.

When they stopped shooting, at least 14 Iraqi civilians were dead – 10 men, two women and two boys, aged nine and 11. Iraqi authorities put the toll at 17.

US prosecutors said Slatten was the first to fire, without provocation, killing Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubiay, an aspiring doctor who was driving his mother to an appointment.

The contractors said they mistakenly believed that they were under attack.

The incident caused international outrage, strained relations between the US and Iraq, and sparked a debate over the role of contractors in warzones.

In 2014, a US federal court found Slatten guilty of murder, while Slough, Liberty and Heard were convicted of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and other charges. Slatten was sentenced to life in prison, and the other three were handed 30-year terms.

Slough, Liberty and Heard subsequently had their sentences reduced to 15, 14 and 12 years respectively.

BBC reported that according to Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, Trump had “hit a disgraceful new low with the Blackwater pardons”.

“These military contractors were convicted for their role in killing 17 Iraqi civilians and their actions caused devastation in Iraq, shame and horror in the United States, and a worldwide scandal. President Trump insults the memory of the Iraqi victims and further degrades his office with this action.”

Mohammed Kinani, whose nine-year-old son Ali was killed in Nisoor Square, told Middle East Eye: “No-one is above the law is what we learned in America, but now there’s someone above the law.”

“I don’t know how this is allowed. I don’t think that America is built on such principles,” he added.

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Donor countries pledge $1 billion to support emergency aid for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has announced that donors have pledged over $1 billion towards aid for Afghanistan – exceeding the hoped for amount of $606 million. 

Guterres’ announcement comes after Monday’s High-Level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan. 

“This conference has fully met my expectations in relation to the solidarity with the people in Afghanistan,” Guterres said late Monday. 

Afghanistan stands on the brink of a growing humanitarian and economic crisis.

Earlier Monday Guterres, who hosted the meeting, said “the people of Afghanistan need a lifeline” during “their most perilous hour.”

Guterres also maintained that the country’s new rulers had pledged their cooperation “to ensure assistance is delivered to the people of Afghanistan.”

One in two Afghans do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN chief explained, adding that “many people could run out of food by the end of the month, just as winter approaches”.

Guterres did not specify how much of the $1 billion in pledged funding would be distributed towards the UN emergency budget for the coming months, or what would be potentially provided later. 

However, a survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) found 93% of Afghans surveyed lacked sufficient food, many because they could not get access to cash to pay for items.

Even before the takeover by the Islamic Emirate, food circumstances in Afghanistan were dire. 

Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the WFP Country Director for Afghanistan said: “It’s critical for the humanitarian effort that in the greatest time of need, that the international community stands alongside the women and children and men of Afghanistan, whose lives have been upended through no fault of their own,” she said.

 

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US pledges additional $64 million in aid for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday night the United States has committed a further $64 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

In a tweet late Monday, Khalilzad said: “The United States remains firmly committed to continue our robust humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan.

“We are proud to announce an additional $64 million in humanitarian assistance,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the funding is from both USAID and the U.S. State Department and the money will flow through independent organizations, such as UN agencies and NGOs.

This money will “provide life-saving support directly to Afghans facing the compounding effects of insecurity, conflict, recurring natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic,” read the statement.

The organization said the additional funding will provide vulnerable Afghans with critically needed food, health care, nutrition, medical supplies, protection, hygiene supplies, and other urgently needed relief.

In addition, USAID stated it has activated a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) – based outside of Afghanistan – to lead the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response.

“This team, which is based outside of Afghanistan, is working with partners to provide aid and adapt programs in response to the new environment,” the statement read.

The United States is the single largest humanitarian donor in Afghanistan, providing nearly $330 million this year alone.

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UN chief calls for urgent emergency aid for Afghanistan 

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

The international community should urgently offer a “lifeline” to millions of vulnerable Afghans “who face perhaps their most perilous hour”, the UN Secretary-General said on Monday at a special meeting in Geneva on the need for emergency aid for Afghanistan.

Leading the appeal in Geneva for $606 million to support emergency aid for 11 million people across the country, António Guterres said that even before the fall of the previous government, people were in the grip of one of the worst crises in the world.

“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” he said. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them.”

Highlighting concerns over humanitarian access as needs rise dramatically, Guterres maintained that the country’s new rulers had pledged their cooperation “to ensure assistance is delivered to the people of Afghanistan. Our staff and all aid workers must be allowed to do their vital work in safety — without harassment, intimidation or fear.”

One in two Afghans do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN chief explained, adding that “many people could run out of food by the end of the month, just as winter approaches”.

Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stressed the extent of the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan.

At Monday’s meeting, the UN Secretary-General highlighted the need for food, life-saving interventions and essential health care for the people of Afghanistan.

And he insisted that “robust mechanisms” had been established to coordinate humanitarian efforts that were anchored in human rights.

UN emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths noted that he had received written assurances from leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to allow relief efforts to continue.

These guarantees followed his meeting with the Afghan government’s interim leaders in Kabul last week, where he urged the country’s new rulers to respect human rights and facilitate aid access.

Speaking from Kabul, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, underscored the high level of needs among Afghanistan’s 3.5 million displaced people, and the potential for even greater suffering.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has underlined the urgent need to safeguard rural livelihoods and avoid massive displacement.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu called for funding to save Afghanistan’s next wheat harvest, keep farm animals alive, and avoid a deterioration of the country’s already severe humanitarian crises.

His agency is seeking $36 million to speed up support to farmers and ensure they will not miss the upcoming winter wheat planting season.   

FAO will also assist around 3.5 million Afghans, who depend on agriculture for their incomes, until the end of the year.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister calls for sustained engagement

 Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi also addressed the ministerial meeting, via a video link, and called on the international community for sustained engagement with Afghanistan.

 According to a statement issued by Qureshi’s office, the Foreign Minister gave a report on the humanitarian support provided by Pakistan in recent days, including the facilitation of evacuations for foreigners, the establishment of a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of relief goods, among others. 

“He committed to continue Pakistan’s humanitarian assistance comprising food and medicines to Afghanistan as well as hosting more than three million Afghan refugees. 

“He called for international solidarity with the Afghan people, both in terms of financial and political support. He emphasized the need to renew developmental partnerships, support nation-building, and meet the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people,” the statement read. 

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