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On 24th February, the Russian military entered the territory of Ukraine under the auspices of a special military operation, aimed at helping the Ukrainians “remove the corrupt government and denazify the country” (Al-Jazeera, 2022). The Russian government presented their case as acting in the interests of the Ukrainian people, especially those living in the Donbass region – a part of the country embroiled in separatist movements and conflict since 2014. These acts have created a humanitarian crisis, with the UN Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres urging, “in the name of humanity, to not start what may be the most devastating war since the start of the century” (UN News, 2022). He further highlights that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”, calling the use of force by Russia against Ukraine unacceptable yet, not irreversible (UN, 2022). As a result, the UN has scaled up its humanitarian operations in and around Ukraine, reminding the world of the toll of war and the high cost that everyday innocent people pay in conditions where force is used (UN, 2022). In the meanwhile, The EU was quick to respond in both condemning the behaviour and in applying a plethora of economic sanctions to the Russian Federation (European Council, 2022). However, the participation in the economic sanctioning of Russia was not expected from a rather small actor outside of the EU and EEZ. 

On 28th February, the Swiss Federal Council (2022) adopted the packages of sanctions imposed by the EU on 23rd and 25th February. These actions align with the Federal Constitution, where, in Article 184 para. 3 Cst. and Article 185 Cst., the Federal Council is allowed to adopt necessary measures to safeguard Switzerland’s interests and/or external security, independence, and neutrality (Federal Council, 2022). The decision to follow the EU and the US and to fully adopt their sanctions marks a new interpretation and a clear departure from the previous conceptualisation of neutrality. Nonetheless, Switzerland offers to maintain its role of a good offices provider and marks that picking a side, be it once in 500 years, does not signal a massive departure of neutrality. Through these actions, Switzerland reaffirmed that Russia’s military attack indeed was unprecedented and violated international law; it emphasised that the lack of precedent and attack on a sovereign European country was the deciding factor to create a departure from previous approaches to conflict situations (Federal Council, 2022). 

The measures applied by Switzerland touch upon import and export of Russian products, designated territories where activities are prohibited, financial measures, and travel sanctions. The most recent update in measures containing goods, issued on 4th March, includes the prohibition of import of military equipment from Russia or Ukraine; prohibition on goods which are intended for use in petroleum refineries; prohibition on dual-use goods, especially military; and a prohibition for goods intended to be utilised in the aeronautics and space industry (Federal Council, 2022). The issued financial measures freeze the assets and economic resources of different Russian officials and people associated with them, including Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Mishustin, and Sergey Lavrov (Federal Council, 2022). Furthermore, Switzerland prohibits the purchasing of securities and money market instruments of and granting loans to certain Russian nationals, as well as does not allow deposits of more than 100,000 CHF from Russian nationals (Federal Council, 2022). Existing deposits of over 100,000 CHF have to be declared to the authorities; no transactions with the Central Bank of Russia and no specialised financial messaging services are permitted for Russian nationals or legal/natural persons in Russia (Federal Council, 2022). Furthermore, certain services originating or entering Russia and Ukraine are prohibited from being financed and attended to (Federal Council, 2022). Lastly, various travel sanctions have been applied, including the restriction of any Russian aircraft, whether originating from Russia or being registered there, from flying and landing in the Swiss airspace (Federal Council, 2022). These measures have been taken in a step where Switzerland “reaffirms its solidarity with Ukraine and its people” (Federal Council, 2022).

Since the beginning of the conflict, 2,155,326 people have fled Ukraine to its neighbouring countries, with Poland hosting most of the war refugees (UNHCR, 2022). As a step of solidarity, SBB has offered free public transport to all arriving Ukrainian refugees and various telecommunication networks in Switzerland have waived all fees for communication with Ukraine (The Local, 2022). The Swiss government has committed to delivering 25 tonnes of relief supplies to Warsaw, Poland (estimation of a value of CHF 400,000) as part of the first Swiss aid package (total amount CHF 8,000,000) (Federal Council, 2022). In the meanwhile, the Swiss community has organised together to collect humanitarian assistance for those fleeing Ukraine and those remaining in Ukraine – it has been estimated that, at the current rate, Kiev could remain without food and water in a week from now (Apollo.lv, 2022). Furthermore, various protests in Geneva and Bern have been organised to express solidarity with Ukrainian citizens and residents. Altogether, the situation seems to keep accelerating into more dangerous territories, primarily through the usage of psychological warfare and attacks on civilian objects. Switzerland’s approach has marked a relatively powerful departure from the complete neutrality it presented throughout the last 500 years.

Written by: Krista Tingbrand / Mercy Hands Europe

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When the Mercy Hands for Humanitarian Aid and Mercy Hands Europe teams began implementing the first training for teacher on IT and Coding” program in 10 schools in the Shatt al-Arab district in November 2021, the 18 participating female teachers did not have the knowledge and tools to successfully conduct coding and computer science classes with their girl students. 

During the training period, we focused on teaching the participants how to use Scratch and Excel, but also the importance of using computers in their daily lives and in the lives of their girl students to improve their skills or find a good job in the future. Among the trained teachers was Ms. Alya Kamash: a computer teacher at Shatt al Arab Girls’ High School with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. She distinguished herself by her productivity and diligence during the trainings, as well as her enthusiasm to raise the scientific and professional level of her students, despite the difficulties and challenges of Iraqi society such as the lack of resources in schools and the stigmatization of girls in the IT field. 

Ms. Kamash, receiving her certificate of completion of IT and coding training from the district Director of Education

After completing the training, and with the skills and tools obtained, Ms. Kamash felt very empowered and became very active in her school to implement cooperative learning techniques in the classroom, with the support of the school director and the education department authorities. Indeed, Mrs. Alya Kamash decided to change the way she taught her students in order to organize student work groups and innovative, self-directed, peer-to-peer teaching among students. She also put the IT and coding project activity on her school’s Facebook page in order to spread the word about these educational projects in the Shatt al Arab district, and to encourage others to participate. 

In addition, through the project, she also taught her own son to use the Scratch program at home, who is now very motivated to learn more about coding and computer science in the future!  But that’s not all! As further evidence of the life-changing impact of the project on the participants and its strong sustainability due to their motivation, Mrs. Kamash is preparing a computer science festival for which she has invited the Mercy Hands team, which will take place in March. We will, of course, keep you posted on the progress of this wonderful initiative! 

Mrs. Kamash and her son, learning to use the Scratch program

In a nutshell, the transformative and empowering impact of the project supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives on its beneficiaries is extremely well illustrated by the story of Ms. Kamash. Starting from nothing, thanks to the project she multiplied the initiatives by herself within her school and her own house, in order to make the project last in the future and allow a maximum of Iraqi children, especially girls, to study information and coding and improve their future prospects!

On December 2, following the historic conviction of Taha Al-Jumailly by Germany’s Higher Regional Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide — the first conviction of an ISIL member for genocide against the Yezidi community — the Security Council convened for a briefing on the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Da’esh/ISIL Crimes.

In his briefing, Christian Ritscher, Special Advisor and Head of UNITAD, built on the momentum of Taha Al-Jumailly’s conviction and stated that “we stand at a turning point, a moment of perhaps unexpected hope… to bring impunity to justice”.

Stating that cooperation with Iraqi and Kurdistan Region authorities to investigate those who financially supported and profited from ISIL’s crimes has deepened considerably, he went on to announce that in his next briefing, he will present the results of a structural case detailing their findings regarding ISIL’s use of chemical weapons, including the legal characterization of crimes committed in its implementation.

Christian Ritscher concluded by reiterating his goal that by the end of 2022, UNITAD will have established a comprehensive and cross-cutting legal basis for prosecuting ISIL members for international crimes committed against a wide range of communities, as well as its chemical weapons program and financial support systems.

Meanwhile, Mercy Hands is committed to supporting the Yezidi community and all victims of ISIL’s crimes by providing legal, psychological and psychosocial support to survivors, regardless of their gender, ethnic, social and/or religious group.

Friday, November 19, 2021

In recent days, thousands of refugees — the majority of whom are Iraqis and Syrians, including women and children — who have fled the war and instability in the Middle East region for a better and more peaceful future, have found themselves trapped at the European border between Poland and Belarus. In front of them, an impassable wall of barbed wire and police.

In this context, attention is being drawn to European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen’s statement that the European Union may impose new sanctions against Belarus, which is accused of hosting and pushing thousands of migrants to the Polish and Baltic countries. On the other hand, Lukashenko has threatened to cut off natural gas supplies through his country, which will lead Europe into an energy crisis. 

The political and diplomatic tug-of-war between the European Union and Poland and Belarus is therefore getting all the attention, while the freezing temperatures and lack of humanitarian aid have already claimed many lives (The Guardian, 2021)

In a recent statement, the Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) points out that the EU has failed to create effective European policies that respect both the human rights of individuals and the prosperity of the European Union members through a fair and equitable distribution of migration. This failure and “lack of consensus within the EU has led some member states to take matters into their own hands and enforce brutally tough border policies that have little regard for human rights”. (GICJ, 2021)

In the absence of a consensus within the EU, Poland has adopted the “push-backs”, a practice that remains in contradiction with international refugee and human rights law, according to the United Nations (UN, 2021). Moreover, due to the declaration of a state of emergency, the impossibility for the media and humanitarian organizations to access the field reinforces the urgency of the situation (Aljazeera, 2021).

While some of the surviving refugees are repatriated to their home country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stressed that “the priority now is to prevent loss of life and move people to safer locations in Belarus” (UN, 2021). The access to the area for humanitarian NGOs is more necessary than ever. 

The UN and EU must therefore take urgent steps to strengthen respect for international human rights law and international refugee law, and avoid a repeat of the same tragic story.

Michela G. Maccabruni

Mercy Hands Europe