Assad regime bombed Damascus water supply, turned Syria into a ‘torture chamber’ — UN officials

Kevin Kennedy (left), UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syrian Crisis, sitting next to Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Jordan’s Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, right, delivers his speech, during a panel discussion on the situation of human rights in Syria during the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Updated 14 March 2017
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Assad regime bombed Damascus water supply, turned Syria into a ‘torture chamber’ — UN officials

GENEVA, Switzerland: The Assad regime came under fire from two UN bodies on Tuesday, one of which accused Syria’s air force of deliberately bombing water sources in December and another saying Syria has become a “torture chamber.”
In a report, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said that the deliberate act of bombing water sources, which cut off water for 5.5 million people in and around the Syria’s capital Damascus, amounted to a “war crime”.
The commission said it had found no evidence of deliberate contamination of the water supply or demolition by armed groups, as the Syrian government maintained at the time.
Meanwhile, the top UN human rights official called for the release of tens of thousands of detainees held in Syria’s prisons and said that bringing perpetrators of crimes including torture to court was vital for reaching a lasting peace.
“Today in a sense the entire country has become a torture-chamber; a place of savage horror and absolute injustice,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council.
“Ensuring accountability, establishing the truth and providing reparations must happen if the Syrian people are ever to find reconciliation and peace. This cannot be negotiable,” he told the Geneva forum at the start of a session on Syria.
He appealed to the warring sides to halt torture and executions and to free detainees or at least provide basic information: “names and localities of those in detention and the place of burial of those who have died.”
He lamented the fact that efforts to end “this senseless carnage” had been repeatedly vetoed, an apparent reference to Russia and China’s decisions to veto UN Security Council resolutions on several occasions since the war began.
Zeid noted that the conflict, which has raged for six years, began when security officials detained and tortured a group of children who had daubed anti-government graffiti on a school wall in Daraa.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles)


Prison becomes ‘second home’ for Turkish cartoonist

Updated 38 min 32 sec ago

Prison becomes ‘second home’ for Turkish cartoonist

  • Unfailingly optimistic and modest, Kart refuses to be run down by his ordeals

ISTANBUL: Renowned Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart says he has spent as much time in prison and courthouses as he has at work since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power.

His latest stint in jail started in April, after an appeals court upheld his sentence of three years and nine months for “helping terrorist organizations.”

Released last week pending another appeal, Kart told AFP: “For 15 years, prisons and courthouses have become a second home to me.”

Kart, who was recognized last year by the Swiss Foundation Cartooning for Peace, was among 14 journalists and staff from the renowned opposition paper Cumhuriyet convicted in the case.

He was initially arrested in 2016 after Erdogan launched a major crackdown on opponents in the wake of a failed coup.

“I have spent almost the same amount of time in court corridors as I spent in the paper. It is very unfortunate,” he told AFP.

Unfailingly optimistic and modest, Kart refuses to be run down by his ordeals, and says he always made an effort to look his best for prison visitors.

“I never welcomed my visitors in a hopeless state,” he said. “I would shave, pick my cleanest shirt from my modest wardrobe and welcome them with open arms. We would spend our time telling jokes.” His morale was boosted by the knowledge he had done nothing wrong.

“If you believe that your position is right, if you have an inner peace about your past actions, then it is not that difficult to stand prison conditions,” he said. Kart has been in and out of trouble since Erdogan took power in 2003.

His first lawsuit came in 2005 over a cartoon portraying Erdogan, then prime minister, as a cat entangled in a ball of wool.

“I have drawn cartoons for over 40 years ... I did it in the past with other political leaders, but I was never the subject of a court case,” Kart said. 

“The frame of tolerance has seriously narrowed today.”

The current case against him claims he contacted members of the Gulen movement accused of orchestrating the failed coup in 2016. 

It also says the 14 Cumhuriyet staffers had conspired to change the paper’s editorial policy to support the Gulenists, as well as Kurdish rebels and the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

“Today the accusations of terrorism have gone well beyond a realistic point,” Kart said.

“When you take a look at my cartoons, you see how much I am against any kind of terrorist organization and how seriously and strongly I criticize them.”

Rights advocates including the Reporters Without Borders have called on Turkey to revise its anti-terrorism and defamation laws, which they claim are abused to silence opponents.

Cumhuriyet — Turkey’s oldest daily founded in 1924 — is not owned by a business tycoon but by an independent foundation, making it an easier target for authorities.

The paper’s former editor-in-chief Can Dundar fled to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article alleging that Turkey had supplied weapons to Islamist groups in Syria.

It has its own internal problems, too — Kart and some of the others actually quit the paper last year over disagreements with the new management.

But the case has added to the chilling effect that has infected the whole of the media in Turkey, which has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.

No date has been set for the next appeal, and Kart has no idea how the saga will end.

“Everyone knows that there has been a political shadow hanging over our case,” he said.

Whatever happens, he said his focus would remain on drawing.

“Cartoons are really a very strong language because you can find a way to express yourself under any circumstances, even under pressure.”