Daily Archives: April 14, 2015

UN rights experts welcome Blackwater sentencing, urge greater ...

14 April 2015 – The outsourcing of national security to private firms creates risks for human rights and accountability, the United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries confirmed today as it welcomed the sentencing of four former Blackwater Worldwide personnel for the 2007 killing of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

The four security personnel were convicted for the shooting deaths of 14 unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad’s crowded Nissour Square in 2007. Another 17 Iraqi civilians were also injured when the private contractors opened fire.

According to a press release issued by the UN’s human rights office (OHCHR), one Blackwater security guard was convicted to life in prison while three others were sentenced to 30 years.

“We endorse the sentences meted out to the private military actors in this landmark trial,” said Elzbieta Karska, the working group’s chairperson, in the press release. “Private military and security companies must always be held accountable for violations committed under international human rights and humanitarian law.”

However, Ms. Karska added, such examples of accountability are the “exception rather than the rule.”

“The difficulty in bringing a prosecution in this case shows the need for an international treaty to address the increasingly significant role that private military companies play in transnational conflicts.”

Ms. Karska and the Working Group acknowledged that the adoption of a new international legal instrument within the UN would provide a clear framework to effectively monitor abuses and violations of human rights committed by private security contractors and develop an independent avenue to compensate victims of such violations.

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 was established in 2005 by the then Commission on Human Rights. It is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Chairperson-Rapporteur, Poland), Ms. Patricia Arias, Mr. Anton Katz (South Africa), Mr. Gabor Rona (United States/Hungary), and Mr. Saeed Mokbil (Yemen).

The UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

“There can be no justice without effective accountability and redress mechanisms for victims,” Ms. Karska continued, noting that human rights violations committed by private security companies cannot remain unpunished.

“States have a responsibility to ensure that victims and their families have equal and effective access to justice, as well as adequate, effective and prompt reparation for the harm suffered.”

South Sudan: UN official meets displaced people sheltering at ...

14 April 2015 – The United Nations Deputy Special Representative for South Sudan visited Malakal today, meeting with local officials and community leaders of some 26,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who are being sheltered by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Recent fighting between youths from the Dinka and Shilluk communities triggered an influx of more than 4,000 new IDPs into the UN protection sites in Malakal two weeks ago.

Moustapha Soumaré, Deputy Special Representative for South Sudan, toured the Mission’s two protection sites, as well as an extension site currently under construction to relieve overcrowding at the existing facilities for displaced people, a UN spokesperson said today at a Headquarters press briefing.

During his visit, Mr. Soumaré said he was impressed by the progress made in the building of a new extension that will host these recently arrived civilians, as well as other people who have been under UN protection for many months.

The UN’s Mission in South Sudan is currently sheltering more than 117,000 displaced people throughout the world’s youngest nation, which is the highest number since December 2013, when this current crisis started.

Emerging threats demand renewed fight against sexual violence in ...

14 April 2015 – Those who use rape as a weapon of war are becoming increasingly “brutal and ruthless,” the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict said today, warning against a lax attitude that would allow emerging armed groups to gain further ground and continue committing such atrocious crimes.

“We have made tremendous progress in the last few years, but we must redouble our efforts in the face of new threats,” Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura told journalists at a UN Headquarters briefing this afternoon, which coincided with the one-year anniversary of the abduction by Boko Haram of 276 school girls in Nigeria.

She urged the international community to renew its commitment and apply increased pressure so as not to lose the ground we have gained and to meet the demands of new and emerging threats. To garner this support, Ms. Bangura will present the Secretary-General’s 2015 report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence to the Security Council tomorrow.

The report, documenting horrendous crimes committed in conflict zones around the world between January and December 2014, identifies some 19 countries and lists 45 armed groups suspected of committing these crimes, including state forces, opposition groups and violent extremist groups. Combating sexual violence in conflict remains a challenge in Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. Indeed, it is a “global problem,” the Special Representative said.

The report chronicles the disturbing trends of new and emerging non-State actors, listing some 45 armed transnational groups suspected of rape and other forms of sexual violence. It records how this new threat- different from traditional Government security forces – use sexual violence to persecute ethnic and religious minorities and target people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Crimes committed by non-State actors who may not follow the same rules of engagement and may not respond the same penalties. They also subjugate women as a “tactic to terrorize” and their use of modern day technology to advance mediaeval beliefs is alarming because social media helps them get their message out.

“Our opponents are brutal and relentless. They are cunning and even if we relax for a moment they may gain the upper hand,” said Ms. Bangura, calling on the international community to find new ways to deal with the emerging threats and warning against a “culture of denial and silence.”

Governments where the crimes occur must foster national ownership and leadership of solutions. In 2014, some countries progressed on the issue. In Colombia, the law broadened on the definition of sexual violence to include provisions that now protect survivors and ensure that they have a prominent place at the table in peace negotiations to end that country’s decades-long civil war.

In its recommendations, the report underscores the need for broader efforts to strengthen institutional safeguards against impunity. For example, in the past year military and police officers in countries covered by the report have been indicted, prosecuted, and convicted on charges of conflict-related sexual violence. More women must be involved in peacekeeping and peacebuilding processes, she said.

It is also critical to increase medical, psychosocial, legal and economic services and support for survivors so that they can rebuild their lives. National and regional early warning systems that sound the alarm against escalating sexual violence should be adopted to help prevent these atrocities before they occur.

“A country that does not respect women in peace time will not protect women in conflict. Change the dynamics and change the opportunity for women,” Ms. Bangura declared.

In a recent interview with the UN News Centre, she stressed that the countries where these crimes are being committed have to make sure they have the political will and commitment. “The donors who are supporting them need to make sure they provide the resources to support these countries so that they take the necessary action,” she added.

Remarks by Jane Rooney, Financial Literacy Leader, at the Institute ...

April 2, 2015
San Antonio TX

Thank you for the warm introduction, Mr. Linfield. What a great conference this has been. It’s inspiring to hear what is going on south of our border.

Congratulations to the Institute for Financial Literacy on the tenth anniversary of your Conference. It’s a timely way to kick-off Financial Literacy Month in the US.

I would like to acknowledge the winners of the 2015 Excellence in Financial Education Awards and thank you for your commitment, innovation, and for the success of your programs.  A special congratulations to my Canadian colleagues at Chartered Professional Accountants Canada!

I’m honoured to be your first international speaker. It has been a year of firsts for me in manyways. I’ll soon celebrate the first anniversary of my appointment. On April 15th, to be exact.

It has been a whirlwind year. Today, I will share with you what year one looked like — the major milestones reached, a little bit about my role and mandate — and where we are in developing Canada’s national strategy to strengthen financial literacy.   

First, let me say, financial decision- making is part of consumers’ everyday lives — and it’s not getting any easier. As everyone here knows, financial markets and products have become more complex. Many consumers lack the skills and knowledge they need to make sound financial decisions.

In Canada, we define financial literacy as having the knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions. Today, it is as important as basic literacy and numeracy.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, where I work, was established in 2001 out of a federal government task force on financial services.

The task force stated that “the current framework for consumer protection is not as effective as it should be in reducing the information and power imbalance between institutions and consumers.” So FCAC was created. We are a similar organization to the CFPB here in the U.S. We have two mandates: consumer protection and education. 

Seeing the need to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians, in 2007 the Government of Canada  provided funding to FCAC for financial literacy to develop a program for youth, which we did. In 2009, the government created a second task force, this time focused on financial literacy.

The task force drew members from the business and education sectors, community organizations and academia.

They met with Canadians across the country to hear their views on financial literacy. The task force commissioned original research and reviewed international best practices.

In 2011, the task force made 30 recommendations in its final report including the suggestion to appoint  a leader to develop and execute a financial literacy strategy.

Many groups in Canada — public, private and non-profit — are already active in financial literacy. Achieving real progress in improving financial literacy has and will continue to require concerted and cooperative efforts among these groups.

As Financial Literacy Leader, my role is to collaborate and coordinate financial literacy initiatives across all sectors and to develop and implement a national strategy.

To help me, the Minister of State for Finance, Kevin Sorenson and I announced the members of the National Steering Committee on Financial Literacy. Its members come from a broad range of public, private and non-profit organizations across Canada.

These include Cairine Wilson of Chartered Professional Accountants Canada, who won two awards yesterday and is here today. Members have been instrumental in helping me develop a strategy that is inclusive, relevant, and accessible to all Canadians. It will be launched shortly.

To help us understand Canadians’ different financial literacy needs, the government held three phases of nation-wide consultations. These focused on:

  • seniors
  • priority groups, including Aboriginal peoples, newcomers to Canada, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities
  • and young and adult Canadians.

Out of the consultations, and as a first step toward the national strategy, we published a document called Strengthening Seniors’ Financial Literacy last October.

This fulfills a Government of Canada commitment to develop a strategy responding specifically of the unique needs of seniors.

Its goals are to engage Canadians in preparing for their senior years, in planning during their senior years, improving access to and understanding of government benefit programs, and combatting financial abuse of seniors.

Several organizations have announced new initiatives in support of the seniors’ strategy. For example:

  • The credit union movement started training frontline workers to recognize, review and respond to possible elder abuse.
  • The Canadian Bankers Association enlists volunteer bankers to hold sessions on fraud, financial abuse and cash management for seniors.
  • And the federal government re-designed an online tool that helps Canadians calculate their retirement income.

In all the consultations two ideas came to the fore:

  • First, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Messages and initiatives must be tailored to those we are trying to reach.
  • Second, financial literacy is everyone’s responsibility. Collaboration is fundamental to our success.

On tailoring our approaches: We heard repeatedly that people’s priorities change, whether they are seniors on fixed incomes, single parents saving for their children’s education, or young adults starting families.

These are what I call “teachable moments,” when people are ready to absorb particular financial knowledge and develop financial capability.

But providing vital information when consumers are likely to be receptive to it is only half the effort. The information must be communicated clearly, be easy to use and understand, and come from trusted, objective sources.

In the consultations, we heard about the need to encourage partnerships between the public, private and non-profit sectors. Everyone wants to ensure we are all working toward the same goals.

This confirmed what we at FCAC have learned through experience: we cannot do it alone. Collaboration among all individuals and organizations invested in improving the financial literacy of Canadian consumers is critical to success. And so collaboration is at the heart of everything we do.

Since I became Leader last year, all of us engaged in financial literacy in Canada have further developed collaborative networks. And we’ve encouraged new ones where they were needed.

To help connect organizations, every few years FCAC hosts a National Conference on Financial Literacy. Similar to  this conference, it’s an opportunity for our financial literacy community to share best practices, success stories and the latest research.

At the 2014 conference, I was proud to announce the launch of FCAC’s latest and largest collaborative initiative: the Canadian Financial Literacy Database.

I’d like to show you a video FCAC produced to promote it.

It’s housed on FCAC’s website, ItPaysToKnow.gc.ca. The database is a one-stop shop listing more than 860 resources from over 75 organizations. Users can search for resources by topic, target audience and many other variables.

And it includes a self-assessment quiz so people can measure their money-management skills. Depending on the knowledge and skills they’re lacking according to the quiz, the user is then linked to the database resources they need most.

The database is also a networking tool, enabling like-minded organizations to connect and build partnerships.

So that’s some of what we do to collaborate with those in the private and non-profit sectors. To promote collaboration within Canada’s federal government, I chair the Interdepartmental Committee on Financial Literacy. The committee strengthens the dialogue among federal government divisions whose work touches on financial literacy.

I hope to find similar opportunities to collaborate with Canada’s provincial governments such as the education ministries when I reach out to them this year. That’s because no single level of government in our country holds all the levers that can help us achieve greater financial literacy.

As the government rolls out the national strategy for financial literacy later this year, we expect that our many partners will help to implement it.

Doing so will be a shared responsibility. We count on the participation of financial literacy networks, the Interdepartmental Committee on Financial Literacy and National Steering Committee members.

They will act as champions for financial literacy and will carry the torch within their own organizations and communities, engaging consumers across the country.

Canada’s national strategy will set high aspirations for financial literacy. How will we know our plans are working?

We will evaluate them using a range of tools, and adjust as necessary. Our evaluation methods will include surveys and other feedback from stakeholders.

As well, our  financial capability survey,, which is fielded every five years, tests Canadians’ financial knowledge, behaviours and attitudes. It will continue to be a benchmark for measuring changes in Canadians’ financial literacy over time. A couple of findings from the 2014 survey: less than half of those surveyed have a budget, and 3 in 10 said they were having trouble paying bills.

Additionally, FCAC will work with the private and non-profit sectors to develop an evaluation toolkit. We will share the toolkit with all those working to  deliver financial literacy programs so they can assess their programs’ effectiveness and where and how financial literacy is improving.

One question remains: will financial literacy lead consumers to better financial decision-making?

We are conducting research to better understand the factors that influence decision-making. We already know that people’s circumstances, experiences and personalities have significant impacts on their decisions.

So do the ways in which financial information is presented to them– how we say it — as does the context — where we say or present it. That is why it is vital to tailor financial information and financial literacy programs to people’s specific needs. 

Research also shows us that default choices have a huge impact on consumer decisions. For example, when people start new jobs, they may have to choose whether to join their employers’ corporate pension plans if one is offered. Many later regret not joining.

Something as simple as a box on a form can nudge financial consumers toward decisions that can have a major impact on their financial well-being. That’s just one example where collaboration between government and the private sector can make a significant difference.

We are also looking toward our international counterparts for research on behavioural economics.

I am a member of the International Network for Financial Education, or INFE for short. It is part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

INFE members work together to develop best practices and models that all countries can use to improve financial literacy.

For example, INFE developed High-level Principles on National Strategies for Financial Education. Canada participated in this work. These were endorsed by G20 leaders. They provide a framework to help countries develop their national strategies. Some 50 countries have done so to date.

Building on this base, INFE is now developing a policy handbook and a checklist – practical tools to help countries implement their strategies.

Financial literacy is a shared responsibility at home and among our international counterparts.

We have a common goal: to enhance the financial literacy of our population.

This Annual Conference on Financial Literacy exemplifies the value of collaborating toward achieving that goal.

The sessions in which I’ve participated underscore that value. I look forward to hearing more about your work in financial literacy.   

Thank you.

LAF reports Israeli breaches

NNA – The Lebanese Army Command – Orientation Directorate – issued on Tuesday the following statement:

“Today at 8:50 an Israeli enemy reconnaissance plane violated the Lebanese airspace over Kfarkila and circled above the South, then left at 17:00 over Rmeish.

At 9:20 a similar plane breached Lebanon’s skies over the Sea off Beirut shore and executed circular flights above Baalbek, Hermel and Arz then left at 16:00 from above Kfarkila.”

=========D.K.

Epidemiologist warns Maine is unprepared to deal with disease ...

EpidemicsEpidemiologist warns Maine is unprepared to deal with disease outbreaks

Published 14 April 2015

Last year, when Kaci Hickox, a nurse who returned to her home state of Maine from West Africa, she was quarantined despite showing no signs of the disease. The way she was treated led the CDC to warn that in the absence of detailed preparations, public hysteria and paranoia often accompany, and complicate response to, an outbreak. Since then, Maine officials have been debating whether or not state agencies are prepared to tackle an outbreak.

Dr. Peter Millard, a Belfast, Maine-based epidemiologist, warns that the state is unprepared to handle infectious disease outbreaks. His warning follows an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that in the absence of detailed preparation, public hysteria and paranoia often accompany, and complicate response to, an outbreak.

Bangor Daily Newsreports that Millard offered his warning last year, when Kaci Hickox, a nurse who returned to the state from West Africa, was quarantined despite showing no signs of the disease.

“We’re going to have epidemics. Epidemics are always going to be with us. We’re going to have a bad epidemic eventually and if we don’t pull together and use science as a basis for our response, we’re going to be in big trouble. It’s terrible. We have no state epidemiologist. We have no assistant state epidemiologist.” said Millard at a lecture at Husson University.

He also cited the recent layoffs of staff at the Maine branch of the CDC.

“They’ve laid off a lot of people” he said. “I think we’re really poorly prepared now in Maine, which is a shame because we historically have been pretty well prepared, but I think we’re in really bad shape now. We don’t have the leadership in the governor’s office. Leadership is really important in public health. People, they don’t think it’s important, so that’s when leadership is especially important.”

John Martins, the public health information officer in Maine, has countered Millard’s claim, arguing that the state is well-prepared for a disease outbreak.

“While we look forward to the selection of a new state epidemiologist, it is imperative that all spending continues to be assessed to ensure efficient and effective use, regardless of the funding source,” Martins said. “This administration is committed to financial accountability, and we recognize there’s room for improvement. To say that Maine is ill-prepared for a disease outbreak because there is no state epidemiologist is an insult to the hard-working professionals who do this work daily.”

Millard went on to also warn that there could be far worse outbreaks than Ebola, which can be effectively quarantined.

“The respiratory ones are the scary ones. With measles, if a person with measles enters a room and nobody is immunized, everybody in the room is going to get measles,” he said. “That’s how easily it is transmitted.”

He closed with saying that the country’s handling of the SARS outbreak between 2003 and 2004 was a “big close miss,” and that good preparation would be the key toward countering future situations.

“We all worked together. People didn’t get hysterical,” he said. “They recognized the seriousness of the situation. The whole world’s health agencies worked together. We were very lucky. It was a close call. If everybody is running around doing this hysterical thing, like they did with Ebola, we’re going to be in serious trouble. We all have to work together because it’s going to be a very challenging situation.”

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Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), based ...

Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), based on information received as of 19:30 (Kyiv time), 13 April 2015 | OSCE

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At Doha Crime Congress, UN experts site ‘shift’ as more ...

14 April 2015 – As the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice continued its work in Doha, Qatar today, high-level UN, academic and Government experts at a panel discussion on death penalty advocated moving away from the punishment as there is no empirical evidence that it deters crime.

“Over the lifetime of the United Nations, the balance has shifted, and today, more than 160 Member States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it”, said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Ivan Šimonović, who moderated the discussion.

“Despite these positive developments, however, a number of States continue to impose the death penalty,” he told the panel, one of the many events taking place during the UN Crime Congress, which opened Sunday and is expected to conclude on 19 April.

The participants at the panel included the Minister of Justice of Italy, Andrea Orlando, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, the Deputy Director in Penal Reform International in charge of regional Middle East and North Africa office, Haitham Shibli, a non-governmental organization working on penal and criminal justice reform, and Jeffrey Fagan, Professor at Columbia Law School in New York.

Mr. Šimonović stressed that Amnesty International noted in a recent report on global sentences and executions that in 2014 there were fewer registered executions but there was an increase of people condemned to death.

“The spread of drug trafficking and terrorism is an important factor for many States when considering to retain or even reintroduce the death penalty,” he added, noting that China, Iran, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Malaysia have the highest rate of executions for drug trafficking.

The event, organized with Italy, provided the opportunity to present a publication by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Moving away from the Death Penalty, Arguments, Trends and Perspectives. The book, launched at UN Headquarters in October 2014, has been translated into Arabic and will be available soon, said Mr. Šimonović.

“The world is certainly moving away from the death penalty, in just the way the world moved away from slavery, from judicial torture and from other such practices”, Mr. Heyns said, recalling that in 1948, only eight States had taken the death penalty out of their laws.

“Now, 99 have done so,” he said, adding that only five States now execute more than 25 people a year – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United States.

The Special Rapporteur stressed that “the most important consideration coming into play over the last seven years is that it is not clear that the death penalty has any special deterrence value. In fact, there is no evidence to that effect.”

“The death penalty creates a false sense of security,” he continued, underscoring that the punishment will not solve the problem of criminal activity and that countries should rather focus on better policing and addressing underlying causes.

Mr. Heyns said that there has been a “shift” regarding death penalty. “It seems that it is a matter of decades before there will be a situation where it is very likely that very few States will still have the death penalty officially in their books.”

Regarding the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, Mr. Shibli stressed the use of death penalty on a very wide and vague scope in the region.

He took the examples of Yemen, where there are more than 360 crimes punishable by death penalty, Morocco where there are more than 325, and Egypt with more than 40. “It is widely used in the criminal law as a punishment in the region,” Mr. Shibli said. “Generally in the region now, especially after the political instability, the governments feel more at ease in using the death penalty.”

Mr. Fagan discussed the situation in the United States, where capital punishment is a legal sentence in more than 30 states. He pointed out empirical research that shows that “there is no evidence that death penalty has any greater deterrent effect than would other punishments.”

“Deterrence is one of the essential justifications. Without that justification, I think there is a constitutional issue,” he added.

He said that because of that evidence, things are changing in the United States. “There is a deep change in the American society in respect to the beliefs about the death penalty,” he concluded.