News in Brief 9 May 2017 – Geneva (AM)

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Some 190 people are feared drowned in separate shipwrecks last weekend, the UN has reported. Photo:UNHCR/Patrick Russo

Mediterranean Sea migrants attacked by armed gangs: IOM

Armed gangs have begun attacking migrants on the high seas between Libya and Italy to steal their mobile phones and boat engines, the UN said on Tuesday.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva said it had received reports of the practice.

Spokesperson Joel Millman said the development was an indication that smugglers' networks are starting to unravel:

"Are these smugglers, are these people who put people out to sea and then come back to retrieve the engine, we don't know in every case that that's what happened. We also hear that there are scavengers, you know, boats wash up and someone comes along and takes the engine. But what it does tell us is that the components that smugglers feel they need to conduct this business are getting harder and harder to come by in a place like Libya, and so that would account for some of the violence and some of the robbery."

The development comes amid reports from the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR that fewer migrant vessels are equipped with satellite phones, making them harder to locate when they get into difficulty.

Their boats are also of poorer quality, UNHCR added.

According to IOM 190 people are believed to have died in two shipwrecks at the weekend after setting out from the Libyan coastline.

Operations are still under way to bring the survivors to shore in Italy, where nearly 42,000 migrants have arrived so far this year.

That's 10,000 more than the same period in 2016, IOM reported.

Philippines defends war on drugs at rights review

The Philippines government has defended its self-proclaimed war on drugs and denied that it has sparked a "sudden wave" of extrajudicial killings.

Senator Alan Cayetano, speaking at a regular country review at the UN in Geneva, insisted that the previous administration had seen up to 15,000 deaths per year – some 5,000 more than the new government of Rodrigo Duterte.

Critics of the Duterte government, he continued, had duped the public into believing that the number of killings had risen dramatically.

They had done so by changing the definition of an extrajudicial murder, the senator said:

"Therefore deceiving the public and foreign media into believing that there is a sudden wave of state-sponsored extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. This is absolutely not true. One, there is no state-sponsored killings in the Philippines, two, there is no sudden wave of killings."

Responding to Senator Cayetano's comments, Bob Last, Secretary of the United Kingdom mission to the UN in Geneva, said that the UK remained concerned about "the high death toll associated with the campaign against illegal drugs".

Other concerns, Mr Last said, included plans to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines and lower the age of criminal responsibility."

In December UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said that President Duterte's calls for the police, military and the general public to engage in a "war on drugs", which included bringing people in "dead or alive", had fostered an environment of alarming impunity and violence.

Intra-Syria talks to return to Geneva

Talks to help end the war in Syria are to resume in Geneva on 16 May, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura has announced.

The development follows the end of parallel discussions in Astana, Kazakhstan, in which Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to set up four so-called "safe" zones in Syria that are to be free of fighting.

The last round of UN-facilitated talks in the Swiss city ended in March.

Spokesperson for the Special Envoy, Michael Contet, said in Geneva on Tuesday that next week's discussions would continue between the government of Syria and opposition blocs, according to the mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

This focuses on all sides agreeing to political transition, a new constitution, free and fair elections and anti-terrorist measures.

To date the more than six-year Syria conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 3'53"

 

 

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