27 July 2006 Edition

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International News in Brief


The United Nations' top human rights official said on Wednesday 19 July that the killing and maiming of civilians under attack in Lebanon, Israel and Gaza and the West Bank could constitute war crimes.

"The scale of killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control," said Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights.

"International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities,'' she said. That same obligation exists, she added, in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians," she said in a statement released by her Geneva office. "Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged innocent civilians is unjustifiable."


An Afghan government proposal to re-establish the notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has raised concerns among human rights advocates. Under the Taliban, the virtue and vice department enforced restrictions on women and men through public beatings and imprisonment. The overthrow of the Taliban regime marked the end of the Department, but now, the Western-supported administration of Hamid Karkai wants the parliament to reinstate it. Agents of the Department used to beat women for showing wrists, hands or ankles, or not being accompanied by a close male relative. They also stopped women from educating girls in home-based schools, working or begging.

According to Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, there were at least 184 cases of self-immolation of women in the last year. During the same time period, 300 schools were set on fire and a number of teachers were killed. "This clearly indicates [the] insecurity level in the country, which has had an intense impact on children's admission to school, especially girls," the body reported.

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