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humanitarian mine action & boko haran

Geneva UN Report, February 2015, by Rachel Babecoff, ICJW UN Representative, Geneva

The Geneva UN team attended several meetings in February: a short month with less meetings than the imminent avalanche of plenaries and side-events during the Human Rights Council session, held every year in March for 4 weeks.

Amongst the February meetings we attended:

1) A roundtable on Humanitarian Mine Action: Updates from the Field: Afghanistan, Palestine and Somalia. 

Somalia’s delegate never reached Geneva so we had only reports on Afghanistan and Palestine. UNMAS (United Nations Mine Action Service) has recently expanded its office in Geneva. It was established by the UN General Assembly in 1997 as the focal point for United Nations mine action. Mine action comprises five fields of work: clearance, risk education, victim assistance, advocacy and stockpile destruction. UNMAS has temporary missions, training local people to become independent and deal with the mines by themselves.

The clear speeches, statistical data and down-to-earth facts of the roundtable were convincing. Speaking in the aftermath of the 2014 Gaza war, the Program Manager for the Palestine Program, acknowledged that in comparison with the highly densely populated areas in Gaza, there were relatively few casualties and that there were weapons in some Palestinian schools and UNRWA facilities. He also mentioned that the Israeli Government was cooperating, by giving them its own lists of the locations of buried bombs.

It may be interesting to note that during last summer’s hostilities between Israel and Hamas (8 July-26 August 2014), the Israel Defense Forces used over 5.085 airstrikes, 8.210 missiles, 15.736 naval projectiles and 36.718 land projectiles. On the other side, armed groups in Gaza fired approximately 4.584 rockets and 1.676 mortars towards Israel, a portion of which fell short and landed within Gaza. In the Q & A, the representative of the Palestinian NGO BADIL made negative comments which were ignored.

Clearance by UNMAS from early July to December 2014:
228 UN sites were cleared of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW).
All UNRWA and 21 Palestinian Authority Schools were cleared, allowing 250.000 students to return to class.
Key infrastructures sites were cleared of ERW, facilitating the humanitarian emergency response.
UNMAS provided 5.300 humanitarians and at-risk people with ERW awareness training.

2) Two private and closed (by invitation only) panel discussions organized by the Israeli Mission in Geneva: “International Law & Asymmetric warfare” and “UN fact-finding missions and State investigations – The case of Israel following Operation “Protective Edge”. B

3 )The Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, organized by the Geneva-based human rights NGO UN Watch.

Among dissidents and victims from China, Cuba, Iran, Tibet, North Korea, we heard from a Nigerian schoolgirl who was kidnapped by Boko Haram, with 200 girls from her school at night and managed to escape by jumping off a truck. (“Bring Back Our Girls”) She now lives in America, under a changed identity.

Did you know that Boko Haram was one of the most lethal groups on earth? They killed more people than ISIS or the Taliban. According to figures of last year they killed over 10.000 people! On the same day that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists were assassinated in Paris, they killed 2.000 people in Nigeria… Very few people know this…

Boko Haram has existed since 2002 and at first were called “the Nigerian Taliban”. Although they have the same ideology as ISIS and have killed citizens of more than 15 countries, the global answer is totally disappointing and the UN did not designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization until the schoolgirls were abducted in April 2014.