Ebola response panel studying ways to enforce compliance with key UN legal

“In many countries, even in the Ministry of Health… sometimes the regulations about the International Health Regulations are not well known, so I think that there is a question of information communication, there is a question of capacities, there is a question of compliance to the rules; that’s very important,” said Didier Houssin, newly-elected Chair of the Review Committee on the Role of International Health Regulations in the Ebola Outbreak and Response.The 68th World Health Assembly in May 2015 set a mandate for a Review Committee on response to the Ebola outbreak, which has claimed more than 11,300 lives to date mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, to recommend steps to improve the functioning, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency of the regulations, and to strengthen preparedness and response for future emergencies with health consequences.In a press conference after the committee’s two-day meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Mr. Houssin said the review will divided by three working groups – one on communications to define the flow of information from the World Health Organization (WHO) to member States, a second to address capacities, epidemiology, points of entry, surveillance and a third to evaluate member states’ compliance to rules and governance of international health regulations.“The International Health Regulations…are a very important legal instrument in order to improve the global health security; that’s an instrument for public health to protect the health of the population in the world and it’s existing since several decades and it has been modified in 2005,” Mr. Houssin said. “And, of course, it has strengths and weaknesses and, recently, the Ebola outbreak suggested that probably there were things to improve in these Regulations.”He said the committee requested from the WHO to inform it about the various methods of compliance which can be used in international laws, Mr. Houssin said.“In some sectors, for example, there is almost no imposition, nothing imperative; for example, human rights,” he said. “On the other hand, you have, at the other extreme, weapons and nuclear activities where there are sanctions, controls [and] inspections. Well, with the International Health Regulations there is no sanction but we observe that there is not a good compliance.”“So, we have to find the right balance and probably encouraging mechanisms, incentives, publicity, transparency, benchmarking are the ways that we will explore but at this stage it’s too early to say what will be our recommendation,” he said.“We are going to explore all the possibilities,” he said.He said the recommendations are expected to be presented to the next World Health Assembly that is in May 2016.In her opening address to the committee, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said on Monday that “the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak likely represents our best chance ever to transform the world’s response to epidemics and other health emergencies.” read more

UN rights expert warns torture routinely used against Sri Lankan security suspects

“The Tamil community has borne the brunt of the State’s well-oiled torture apparatus,” said Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, adding that the law is used disproportionately against the minority group. During his visit between 10 and 14 July to assess the progress Sri Lanka has achieved in its law, policies and practice in the fight against terrorism since the end of its internal armed conflict, Mr. Emmerson heard first-hand accounts of brutal torture. “These included beatings with sticks, stress positions, asphyxiation using plastic bags drenched in kerosene, pulling out of fingernails, insertion of needles beneath the fingernails, various forms of water torture, suspension for several hours by the thumbs, and mutilation of the genitals.” Mr. Emmerson said 80 per cent of all suspects arrested under the anti-terror legislation in late 2016 had reported torture and other physical ill-treatment. The expert specifically pointed to the situation of a dozen prisoners who have been detained without trial for more than 10 years under the anti-terror act, and 70 others for more than five years. “These staggering figures are a stain on Sri Lanka’s reputation,” the expert noted, urging immediate release of the 81 suspects and announcing a dialogue with the government on the shape of proposed draft legislation which is due to replace the act.Although recognizing that Sri Lanka had faced “tremendous security challenges” in recent years, the expert emphasized that progress towards reform, justice and human rights was at a “virtual standstill” despite Government promises.The Special Rapporteur did welcome small signs of progress, but said failing to deliver justice and reform risked prolonging grievances and even reigniting the conflict. “The Government has committed itself to ending the culture of impunity, ensuring accountability, peace and justice, achieving lasting reconciliation and preventing further human rights abuses” he said, pointing to the steps set out in a Human Rights Council resolution.A comprehensive report with his findings and recommendations based on the experts visit will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council.Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. read more