Mediterranean becoming a ‘vast cemetery’: UN

The Mediterranean is turning into a "vast cemetery" because of soaring migrant deaths, the UN human rights chief said in Geneva on Monday, as he strongly condemned "callous" EU migration policies.

With more than 700 people feared dead after a fishing boat crammed with migrants capsized off Libya on Sunday, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was "horrified but not surprised by this latest tragedy".
"Europe is turning its back on some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world, and risk turning the Mediterranean into a vast cemetery," Zeid said.
"These deaths, and the hundreds of others that preceded them in recent months were sadly predictable," he said, blaming "a continuing failure of governance accompanied by a monumental failure of compassion."
Sunday's tragedy came after a week in which two other migrant shipwrecks left an estimated 450 people dead.
Zeid's comments came as ministers from the European Union held crisis talks in Luxembourg, announcing a ten-point action plan to try to step up both control and rescue operations.
Zeid said EU governments must take a "more sophisticated, more courageous and less callous approach" and urged them to stop "pandering to xenophobic populist movements that have poisoned public opinion on this issue."
He lamented the demise of Italy's Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue operation, which rescued some 170,000 people last year but was discontinued over funding constraints and claims it was encouraging migrants to head to Europe.
Mare Nostrum was replaced with a smaller EU-led mission known as Triton, which Zeid said is "simply not fit for purpose" and "more geared to border control and policing the seas than to saving lives".
"Stopping the rescue of migrants in distress has not led to less migration, nor indeed to less smuggling, but merely to more deaths at sea," he said, demanding that Triton immediately be replaced "by a robust, European-wide, state-led and well-resourced search and rescue capability in the Mediterranean."
EU policies seem to ignore the desperation forcing so many people to risk their lives to try to reach Europe, Zeid added.
Elhadj As Sy, head of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, used a similar term to describe the tragedies.
"Let's put a halt to the indifference that is turning the Mediterranean into a vast graveyard," he said.
"Every time a boat sinks a part of humanity drowns and we are haunted by the knowledge that it could have been prevented," said the IFRC chief, who is scheduled to head to Catania in Sicily on Tuesday to meet Red Cross volunteers working on the front lines of the crisis.

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US admits police killings thwart civil rights

The United States acknowledged in Geneva on Monday that more needed to be done to uphold its civil rights laws following a string of recent killings of unarmed black men by police.

US admits police killings thwart civil rights
Riot police contend with demonstration over death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore last month. Photo: AFP

Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council, a US representative stressed the advances his country had made in establishing a range of civil rights laws over the past half century.
But referring to a long line of recent cases of alleged abuse of African Americans by police, James Cadogan, a senior counselor in the justice department's civil rights division, admitted that "we must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that our civil rights laws live up to their promise."
"The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio, and Walter Scott in South Carolina have . . . challenged us to do better and to work harder for progress," he said.
The United States was undergoing a so-called Universal Periodic Review of its rights record — which all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.
The US delegation, headed by US ambassador to the council Keith Harper and acting US legal advisor Mary McLeod, faced a range of questions from diplomats about law enforcement tactics, police brutality and the disproportionate impact on African Americans and other minorities.
The half-day review in Geneva came after the US justice department on Friday launched a federal civil rights investigation into whether police in Baltimore have systematically discriminated against residents, following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody last month.
Six police officers have been charged in connection with Gray's arrest and death.

One faces a second-degree murder charge.
Cadogan insisted Washington was intent on bringing abusive police officers to justice.
"When federal, state, local or tribal officials wilfully use excessive force that violates the US Constitution or federal law, we have authority to prosecute them," he said, pointing to criminal charges brought against more than 400 law enforcement officials over the past six years.
Also on the agenda during Monday's review was the continued use of the death penalty, and the US record on addressing its "war on terror" legacy, including Washington's failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba and CIA torture revelations.
"As President (Barack) Obama has acknowledged, we crossed the line, we did not live up to our values, and we take responsibility for that," McLeod said of the past cases of CIA torture, detailed in an explosive Senate report last December.
"We have since taken steps to clarify that the legal prohibition on torture applies everywhere and in all circumstances, and to ensure that the United States never resorts to the use of those harsh interrogation techniques again," she said.