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Presence of Boko Haram Islamists has led to Humanitarian Crisis in Northeast Nigeria, says UN Refugee Agency

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said aid agencies could not move around freely amid the continuing military campaign

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Crisis in Nigeria. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A catastrophic humanitarian situation is unfolding in northeast Nigeria, where Boko Haram Islamists have displaced nearly 2 million people since 2013, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the extent of the suffering to which Boko Haram victims have been subjected was only now becoming visible. It said government forces’ advances into the Islamist group’s previous stronghold in northeast Nigeria had exposed the destitution of the displaced population.

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UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said aid agencies could not move around freely amid the continuing military campaign. He said that the situation in the region remained dangerous and volatile and that it was impossible to go to some areas without a military escort.

Adrian Edwards. Image source: Twitter
Adrian Edwards. Image source: Twitter

Edwards said the suffering in Borno and Yobe states was shocking. He cited numerous reports of human rights violations, including deaths, sexual violence, disappearances, forced recruitment, forced religious conversions and attacks on civilian sites.

He said the population of Bama, the largest city in Borno after the capital, Maiduguri, had been deeply traumatized. Many of the displaced are women, children and the elderly, he said.

“We have seen adults so exhausted they are unable to move, children with swollen faces and hollow eyes and other clear indications of acute malnutrition,” Edwards said. “Many also show signs of severe trauma. We have people screaming at night. We have aggression among children. People complain about a lack of food and water.”

Regional crisis

Edwards said that with the lack of security along the borders with Niger, Chad, and northern Cameroon, the insurgency in northeast Nigeria had turned into a vast regional crisis, with immense suffering among both the Nigerian refugees and internally displaced nationals.

“One consequence is that Nigerian refugees are fleeing back into their own country, into one of the most catastrophic areas as far as humanitarian needs are concerned that we are seeing at the moment,” he said. “So, it is moving, it is dynamic. It is very difficult, and the insecurity, as I said, it is making it a very tough job indeed, getting these people the help that they desperately need.”

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The UNHCR is scaling up its operations to provide lifesaving assistance to nearly 500,000 people. The World Food Program and U.N. children’s fund said they were trying to reach more than 700,000 people in desperate need.

The beneficiaries are concentrated in 10 newly liberated local government areas in Borno state, but the U.N. agencies said the thousands of refugees who have returned to Nigeria from the three Lake Chad Basin neighbors also urgently needed care. (VOA)

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Concerns Rise Over China’s Stand at United Nations Human Rights Council

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing's human rights record during the most recent process.

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The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. RFA

Rights activists are increasingly worried that Beijing’s influence operations are having a negative impact on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which concludes its 40th session on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) China director Sophie Richardson warned in an article this week that China is seeking to undermine the mission of the U.N. Human Rights Council from within.

She also cited HRW research in 2017 which reported threats and harassment of U.N. staff involved in human rights evaluation by Chinese officials.

“As we head towards the final phase of [China’s U.N. human rights review], ask yourself: What other government threatens #humanrights treaty body experts?” Richardson tweeted on Thursday.

“As an [Human Rights Council] member #China is expected to uphold highest standards,” she wrote in another tweet, referencing a report in The New York Times. “Instead it tells people that merely attending an event is a ‘hostile act.'”

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During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council. VOA

According to HRW’s 2017 article based on a 97-page report: “Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated U.N. staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues.”

The 2014 death in detention of activist Cao Shunli, who was detained on her way to a U.N. human rights event in Geneva, also sent a “chilling” message to Chinese activists who may want to participate in the U.N. human rights process, the article said.

HRW isn’t the only human rights organization worried about Chinese influence at the U.N.

Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, reported from a side-event of the Human Rights Council conference in Geneva this week that it was “standing room only.”

“Strong show of interest despite #China urging countries not to attend,” Xia tweeted.

“The strong attendance was more remarkable esp. after #China officials went to many countries’ diplomats at the U.N., Geneva, to threaten them with “serious consequences” if they attended the side events,” she wrote in another tweet.

“#Bullying at the UN must stop!” she wrote.

‘So many restrictions’

Wang Dan, a former leader of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, is also in Geneva this week.

“To tell you the truth, my feelings during my two days here are that China has huge influence at the U.N.,” Wang told RFA.

“For example, at one side-event, it wasn’t just the Chinese delegation who spoke against [criticisms of Beijing’s rights record], but other countries came to speak in support of China’s position,” he said.

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“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights, Pixabay

Wang said tight controls over public speech also make it less likely that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will have to face criticism of human rights violations coming from within its own borders.

“There are a lot of people online in China, but they are under so many restrictions,” he said. “You can’t mention the Tiananmen Massacre. You can’t mention [late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner] Liu Xiaobo. You can’t say this, you can’t say that.”

“I don’t think that’s how you define freedom … but then the Chinese point to the U.N. charter, which says that all member states must be respected,” he said.

‘Autocratic rule the default’

Veteran New York-based rights activist Liu Qing said the work of the council had become “unrecognizable” to him.

“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights,” Liu told RFA.

“The only purpose of these countries in insinuating themselves into the Human Rights Council is to curb the positive role of the Human Rights Council and make autocratic rule the default setting on the international stage,” he said.

Amnesty International blogger Shao Jiang wrote in December 2018 that Beijing is reinterpreting universal human rights as merely the right to survival, freedom to access food, and regards other definitions of human rights as secondary to trade and economic development.

“The Chinese government has appointed government officials as independent experts into the UN’s Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and the U.N. treaty bodies,” Shao said.

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing’s human rights record during the most recent process.

During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council.

Also Read: Myanmar Government Calls Ethnic Armed Groups To Attend Collective Peace Discussions For The First Time

The United Nations now reports annually on government reprisals against human rights defenders participating in U.N. human rights efforts, Richardson wrote in an article in The Hill last December.

“China has topped the list of offenders in every report issued,” she said. (RFA)