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Suspected Mosul Mustard Gas Victims Recovering; Foul Smells Remain

Weeks after the chemical attack incident in Mosul, the smell is still rancid and neighbors complain of watering eyes and skin problems

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Locals say the smell of suspected chemical weapons is strongest when it rains, but the scent of this house is still pungent at all times — even weeks after the bombings — in Mosul, Iraq, March 22, 2017 (VOA)

Iraq, May 25: “Some soldiers said the house has to be destroyed,” said Dhia Deen, a taxi driver on the street next to the site of the alleged worst chemical attack in Mosul. “Even our cows are getting sick.”

The home that was bombed in early March does not have to be pointed out. Weeks after the incident, the smell is still rancid and neighbors complain of watering eyes and skin problems.

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Regardless of the apparent danger, a crowd of children burst into the home of their neighbor, Natham Hamad, eager to show us the hole in the ceiling and the bomb now planted in the floor.

They are smart enough to cover their mouths and noses with their shirts, and avoid touching anything. The inside of the home is coated with something that looks like yellow sulfur powder.

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The smell inside is overwhelming. The neighbors soon scurry out of the house and away from the door. “The smell is better than it was,” said Ahmed Farah, a carpenter. “But when it rains, it gets really bad.”

Shortly after the attack early this month, local officials said the Hamad home and at least four other civilian houses in eastern Mosul were bombed by Islamic State militants with weapons containing homemade chemical poisons. International Committee of the Red Cross doctors said patients’ symptoms indicated mustard gas.

Some Iraqi officials later said that they had not seen evidence IS has the capacity to deploy chemical weapons. Others in Mosul qualified that statement, saying IS has only the capacity to use crude homemade chemical weapons that emit non-deadly poisons.

In the neighborhoods that were hit, families say they care less about what hit them than about getting it cleaned up. But chemical cleanup requires some expertise, and cannot be done with soap and water, says Yahya Kassim, a 51-year-old father of seven who was hospitalized after a bomb emitting foul-smelling black oil fell in his yard in early March.

“They should come to my house and smell it,” he said in the yard. The smell is less pungent than it was last week because a neighbor paid for the removal of some of the poisoned bricks scattered in the attack. But the sickening odor returns in the rain, he said.

“Or tell them to call me,” he added. “I’ll explain what happened.”

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‘Contingency planning’

At an Irbil hospital on Friday, Hamad’s wife and five children are recovering and are planning to be released Saturday.

The family is better but they still have damaged immune systems, said Dr. Johannes Schad of ICRC.

At least 15 patients have been treated in Irbil in recent weeks for symptoms consistent with chemical attacks, including blistering skin, and respiratory and eye problems. Near the bombings in Mosul, dozens of people tell us they have experienced symptoms but have very little access to health care.

And while there have been no new reports of suspected chemical weapons in recent weeks, international organizations continue to build capacity, preparing for more victims of chemical weapons.

“You can see this is some kind of chemical agent,” Schad said. “We are contingency planning. The situation is getting more tense.”

Iraqi forces say the battle for Mosul has never been fiercer than now, as it moves in on the last quarter of the city held by IS. In previous months, militants often fled as Iraqi forces moved in. Now, they are surrounded and fighting back with everything they can.

As the fighting gets more intense, the humanitarian crisis surrounding the war has become overwhelming, with nearly 275,000 people displaced since operations began in October. Trauma centers have seen at least 5,000 civilian patients.

And among the displaced could soon be Hamad and his family, as his home is no longer livable.

“I don’t know where we will go,” he said, standing by the hospital room door. “Even if we go to friends or relatives, we can stay only for a few days.”

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Test results

In Mosul, patients released weeks ago show us ICRC documents that call them “suspected victim[s] of mustard gas,” but no one we speak to has received formal test results.

The ICRC says they have not received results of tests taken in early March. In Mosul, local police confirm the presence of chemicals in the bombs, but locals have not been told exactly what hit them.

“First they told me it would be a few hours for the results,” Kassim said. “Then they told me the United Nations will get the results.”

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The United Nations said it is not mandated to carry out an investigation of the suspected IS chemical weapons in Iraq, although it has condemned the attacks.

At the hospital, Hamad says his family expects to receive the information after they are released.

“Thank God,” he said. “At least my children are better.”

(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)