People's Stories Justice

The siege and recapture of eastern Ghouta marked by war crimes, crimes against humanity
by UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria
20 June 2018
Following the end of the longest running siege in modern history, lasting more than five years, the UN Commission of Inquiry has condemned this method of warfare in Syria as barbaric and medieval, reporting that civilians in eastern Ghouta experienced immense physical and psychological harm while enduring near daily bombardments and extreme deprivations – in some cases leading to preventable deaths.
In a 23-page report released today, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic urged all parties to the conflict in Syria to desist from resorting to sieges in the future, concluding they are characterised by war crimes.
In March, the Human Rights Council requested an urgent, comprehensive, and independent inquiry into recent events in eastern Ghouta. Today’s report traces the siege and recapture of eastern Ghouta by pro-Government forces.
Dramatically escalating their military campaign to recapture the besieged enclave between February and April, pro-Government forces carried out aerial and ground bombardments which claimed the lives of hundreds of Syrian men, women, and children. By April, numerous homes, markets, and hospitals had been all but razed to the ground, amounting to the war crimes of launching indiscriminate attacks, and deliberately attacking protected objects.
In an effort to avoid the bombardments, terrified civilians relocated to makeshift basement shelters in February, where they subsisted for months underground in dire circumstances.
“It is completely abhorrent that besieged civilians were indiscriminately attacked, and systematically denied food and medicine,” said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro. “What is clear from the terminal phase of this siege is that no warring party acted to protect the civilian population”, he continued.
Through the widespread and systematic bombardments of civilian inhabited areas and objects in eastern Ghouta, and the continued denial of food and medicine to besieged civilians during the period under review, pro-Government forces perpetrated the crime against humanity of inhumane acts causing serious mental and physical suffering, the report finds.
Between February and April, besieged armed groups and terrorist organisations also relentlessly fired unguided mortars into neighbouring Damascus city and nearby areas, killing and maiming hundreds of Syrian civilians.
“Even if pro-Government forces are bombing and starving the civilian population of eastern Ghouta into submission, there can be no justification for the indiscriminate shelling of civilian inhabited areas in Damascus”, said Commissioner Hanny Megally. “Such actions by armed groups and members of terrorist organisations also amount to war crimes.”
The report notes that, by the time Government forces declared eastern Ghouta successfully recaptured on 14 April, some 140,000 individuals were displaced from their homes, tens of thousands of whom are being unlawfully interned by Government forces in managed sites throughout Rif Damascus.
“The blanket internment of all civilians who fled eastern Ghouta through humanitarian corridors, including women and children, is reprehensible,” said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “In many instances, the on-going internment of these individuals amounts to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and the unlawful confinement of tens of thousands of individuals,” she continued.
Pursuant to local truces and “evacuation agreements”, up to 50,000 civilians from eastern Ghouta were displaced to Idlib and Aleppo governorates, none of whom were provided aid by the Syrian Government.
The report also states that the cumulative physical and psychological harm wrought by the five-year siege continues to impact negatively hundreds of thousands of Syrian men, women, and children countrywide.
The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 26 June during an interactive dialogue at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council.

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Majority of Americans oppose seperating migrant children from their parents
by NPR, Unicef USA, Children’s Defense Fund, agencies
June 20, 2018
Trump signs order to end his administration''s family separations.
U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents on the US border Wednesday, reversing his administration''s widely condemned policy.
The reversal comes after more than 2,300 children were forcibly taken from their parents after illegally crossing the border since May. Leading Democrats who opposed the cruel policy responded.
Senator Elizabeth Warren: For weeks, the American people have spoken out against Donald Trump’s cruel and inhumane policy of separating immigrant families. And today, Trump announced that he would end his policy. But let’s just be clear: this isn’t over. Thousands of children have already been ripped from their parents, and this administration hasn’t announced a plan to reunite them.
And Donald Trump’s big solution to this crisis that he made for himself is to create new detention camps for families. The official policy of the United States of America can’t just be to throw more people in cages indefinitely.
The groups that are working on-the-ground to help these children and families still need our help – now more than ever. We’re going to keep fighting our hearts out for these babies, children, and families. We’re not going to stop until they’ve been reunited with their loved ones. And we’re not going to stop until Donald Trump and the Republicans answer for their actions.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi:
The President’s Executive Order seeks to replace one form of child abuse with another. Instead of protecting traumatized children, the President has directed his Attorney General to pave the way for the long-term incarceration of families in prison-like conditions... Using terrified small children as leverage to push the President’s anti-immigrant agenda represents an unspeakably appalling moral low-point for our nation. Yet, House Republicans continue their complicity in the President’s atrocities and cravenly cheerlead the President’s policy.
Senator Cory Booker:
Incarcerating families and children fleeing violence and oppression is an unacceptable response to the family separation crisis created by President Trump and his administration. The lack of any plan to reunite children with their parents and undo the damage that has been done by President Trump’s family separation policy is profoundly concerning. President Trump should immediately reverse his abhorrent ‘zero-tolerance’ policy, which undermines America’s highest ideals and doesn’t make our country any safer.
June 2018
A Cruel Abandonment of the most vulnerable, by Marian Wright Edelman - President of the Children''s Defense Fund
“Little kids are begging and screaming not to be taken from parents, and they’re hauled off.’ It’s as bad as anything I’ve seen in 25-plus years of doing this work.” --ACLU immigration attorney Lee Gelernt
Once again Americans are at a crossroads struggling to decide who we are and want to be as a nation and whether the current Administration’s policies reflect our values or revolt many of us at our core.
The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) several times this year has joined what has grown now to 540 national and other organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico with expertise in child development, early childhood, child health, child welfare, and juvenile justice on a letter urging the Trump Administration to abandon its harsh and indefensible abusive child traumatizing order to separate children from their parents upon arrival at or near the U.S. border. In May Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy that requires prosecuting everyone who crosses the border illegally and separating children from their parents.
Many parents charged with crossing the border illegally (even those seeking asylum as they try to escape threats to their lives in their own countries) are being detained in adult immigration detention centers and/or are being summarily deported. Children are being taken away from their parents, transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and placed in facilities across the country.
HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement assumes responsibility for caring for these traumatized children and finding alternative caregivers. In just two weeks in May 2018 as many as 658 children were separated from their parents. Now we even hear reports that some parents are being deported while their children are being left behind.
As a mother and grandmother I can’t fathom such cruelty. These abusive policies lack any semblance of common and moral decency. CDF and hundreds of organizations must continue to protest this cruelty in every possible manner and have said: “We fear these actions will have significant and long-lasting consequences for the safety, health, development, and well-being of children.” This harsh and cruel snatching and separation of children from parents must stop now!
There is overwhelming evidence children need to be nurtured and cared for by parents to feel and be safe and healthy, and that separating them leads to serious, negative consequences to children’s health and development after they are reunited, disrupting the parent-child relationship and increasing children’s risk of physical and mental illness. Adverse childhood experiences, including a family member’s incarceration, are well-recognized precursors of negative child and mental health outcomes later in life.
19 June 2018
Children should not be separated from their families because of their migration status, by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“Stories of children, some of them just babies, being separated from their parents as they seek safety in the US are heartbreaking.
“Children – no matter where they come from or what their migration status – are children first and foremost. Those who were left with no option but to flee their homes have the right to be protected, access essential services, and be with their families – just like all children. It is the realization of these rights that gives every child the best chance at a healthy, happy and productive future.
“Detention and family separation are traumatic experiences that can leave children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and can create toxic stress which, as multiple studies have shown, can impact children’s long-term development.
“Such practices are in no one’s best interests, least of all the children who most suffer their effects. The welfare of children is the most important consideration.
“For decades, the U.S. Government and its people have supported our efforts to help child refugees, asylum seekers and migrants affected by crises across the globe. Whether it be war in Syria or South Sudan, famine in Somalia, or an earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. has been there to help, and take in, uprooted children.
“I hope that the best interests of refugee and migrant children will be paramount in the application of U.S. asylum procedures and laws.”
19 June 2018
‘We Have a Moral Obligation to Keep Families Together’, by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children US
Save the Children remains gravely concerned about the treatment and well-being of children from Mexico and Central American nations who are in the custody of the United States government after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Separating a child from his or her family unnecessarily is inhumane, traumatic and simply put, unacceptable. The cruel act of separation can cause severe negative social and emotional consequences for the children and their families in the days, months and years ahead. Our global evidence shows that children living in institutions away from their families are highly vulnerable to emotional, physical and psychological abuse, which can lead to lasting developmental problems, injuries and trauma.
The United States has always been a beacon of hope, welcoming the world’s people for nearly 250 years. Our country should remain a safe haven for children and families. We have a moral obligation to keep families together. We also have a legal obligation to ensure children are protected and their rights for due process are upheld.
We urge the United States government to prevent the separation of children from their parents whenever possible and to limit the duration of any such separation when it occurs. Forced separation surely ends a childhood.
June 2018 (UN News)
“In the past six weeks, nearly two thousand children have been forcibly separated from their parents,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in his opening remarks to the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Mr. Zeid said that the American Association of Pediatrics in the US, had called it a cruel practice of “government-sanctioned child abuse” which may cause “irreparable harm” with “lifelong consequences”.
“The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” he said, calling on the United States to immediately put a stop to the policy, and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In a statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres defended the rights of migrant and refugee children.
“As a matter of principle, the Secretary-General believes that refugees and migrants should always be treated with respect and dignity, and in accordance with existing international law,” said a statement issued by his Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.
“Children must not be traumatized by being separated from their parents. Family unity must be preserved,” said the statement.
June 15, 2018
Doctors concerned about ''Irreparable Harm'' to separated Migrant Children. (NPR)
In South Texas, pediatricians started sounding the alarm weeks ago as migrant shelters began filling up with younger children separated from their parents after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
The concerned pediatricians contacted Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and she flew to Texas and visited a shelter for migrant children in the Rio Grande Valley. There, she saw a young girl in tears. "She couldn''t have been more than 2 years old," Kraft says. "Just crying and pounding and having a huge, huge temper tantrum. This child was just screaming, and nobody could help her. And we know why she was crying. She didn''t have her mother. She didn''t have her parent who could soothe her and take care of her."
The number of migrant children in U.S. government custody is soaring — partly the result of a policy decision by the Trump administration to separate children from their parents who are being prosecuted for unlawful entry. Hundreds of the children being held in shelters are under age 13.
Medical professionals, members of Congress and religious leaders are calling on the Trump administration to stop separating migrant families. They question whether these shelter facilities are appropriate for younger children. Pediatricians are warning that separating migrant children from their families can cause "toxic stress" that disrupts a child''s brain development and harms long-term health.
At the facility in South Texas, Kraft says, the staff told her that federal regulations prevented them from touching or holding the child to soothe her. While shelter managers and other experts say there is no such rule, Kraft says the confusion underscores why these shelters are not the right place for young children — especially kids who have fled dangerous countries and who have just been separated from their parents.
"By separating parents and children, we are doing irreparable harm to these children. The long-term concern of what we call toxic stress is that brains are not developed efficiently or effectively," Kraft says. "And these children go on to have behavior problems, to have long-term medical problems."
May 29, 2018
UNICEF USA Statement on the Protection of Children at our Southern Border
UNICEF USA is calling on America to urgently revise its strategies for protecting children at our southern border. We must not punish children who come here seeking protection and an escape from violence and poverty.
For those children fortunate enough to make their journey with family members, we’re calling on our leadership to end the separation of children from their parents as a deterrent tactic. Separation from family leaves children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, no matter what the care setting. And, traumatic separation creates toxic stress in children and adolescents that can profoundly impact their development and increase the risk for stress-related disease well into adulthood.
Fear of separation and detention is one of the factors driving many children away from care and protection. Reports of missing children are extremely alarming, and we urge authorities to act swiftly to ensure they are safe and cared for.
"Children need to be defined by their age, not their borders. Regardless of immigration status, children are children first and need to be treated as such," said Caryl Stern, President and CEO of UNICEF USA. "Children bear no responsibility for the political differences in our world. Every child I''ve met, on both sides of our border, and around the globe, only wants to be safe and protected with hopes for a bright future."
The best way to protect children who have crossed borders or migrated due to violence and circumstances beyond their control is to keep them with their parents and families.
UNICEF USA has called for the protection of children at our borders since January 2017, and again in March 2017. In February 2018, UNICEF USA sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen, encouraging her to keep children with their parents. We renew that call again today - we need stronger policies to prevent children from being separated from their families in transit and faster procedures to reunite families. And, we need to ensure that children arriving alone are safe and accounted for throughout the process. We urge American leadership to end these harmful practices and put children first.

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