Kim’s murder trial to resume with lab visit for VX evidence

This combination of Oct. 2, 2017 photos shows Indonesian Siti Aisyah, left, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, right, escorted by police as they leave a court hearing in Shah Alam, Malaysia, outside Kuala Lumpur. (AP)
Updated 08 October 2017
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Kim’s murder trial to resume with lab visit for VX evidence

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: The trial of two women accused of killing the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader enters its second week with the court moving temporarily Monday to a high-security laboratory to view evidence tainted with the toxic VX nerve agent.
High Court Judge Azmi Ariffin declared that prosecutors and defense lawyers, along with the two suspects, will hold court at the laboratory for chemical weapons analysis to examine samples of the women’s clothing before they are formally submitted as evidence.
The decision came after government chemist Raja Subramaniam told the court that VX found on the clothing may still be active.
Such a move is not unusual in criminal cases in Malaysia, where judges often visit crime scenes.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, lawyer for Vietnamese suspect Doan Thi Huong, told The Associated Press that the visit to Raja’s lab is purely for safety reasons. He said the concept of holding a formal court session at the lab is to legalize the visit, which is expected to take an hour, after which the trial will resume in the court building.
Huong and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial last week to charges of murdering Kim Jong Nam by smearing VX on his face at a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13. They face a mandatory death sentence if convicted. Defense lawyers have said the women were duped by suspected North Korean agents into believing they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden TV-camera show.
VX is banned by an international treaty as a weapon of mass destruction but is believed to be part of North Korea’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Kim was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s dynastic rulers but was believed to have been cast out by his father and had lived abroad for years. He reportedly never met current leader Kim Jong Un, who is widely believed to have perceived his older sibling as a threat and targeted him for assassination.
Last week, VX-tainted evidence from Kim Jong Nam’s body and clothing was presented in court in sealed transparent bags. It was not removed from the bags, but the judge and court officials wore surgical masks and gloves as a safety precaution.
During the week’s four trial sessions, prosecutors sought to reconstruct Kim’s final moments at the airport, establish that VX killed him and provide evidence linking VX to the two suspects.
Raja, who is the only Malaysian with a doctorate in chemical weapons analysis, testified he found traces of VX on Huong’s white sweater and fingernail clippings, and on Aisyah’s sleeveless T-shirt. Huong was seen on airport surveillance videos wearing a sweater emblazoned with big black letters reading “LOL,” the acronym for “laughing out loud.”
Raja also confirmed that he found VX on Kim’s face, eyes, clothing, and in his blood and urine samples.
Raja testified that VX can be safely removed from the palm of a hand by scrubbing it with water within 15 minutes of exposure, in a possible explanation of why the two women didn’t show any symptoms of poisoning.
Raja, the eighth witness to take the stand, is to be cross-examined by defense lawyers on Monday after the lab visit.
Pathologist Mohamad Shah Mahmood also testified there were no signs that a heart attack or other factors had contributed to Kim’s death. He concluded in his autopsy report that Kim died of “acute VX poisoning.”
“It’s no surprise,” said Hisyam, Huong’s lawyer. “We know their (prosecution) narration; we know the evidence that they have. We have a response; we have an answer to every evidence they have adduced so far.”
Gooi Soon Seong, the lawyer for Aisyah, has said the detection of VX on the women is not enough to convict them.
“If I have the knife, it doesn’t mean I killed the person. They must have other stronger evidence,” he said.
This week, prosecutors say they will present airport security videos that show the two women carrying out the attack and indicate they knew they were handling poison.


Myanmar army should be removed from politics: UN probe

Updated 18 September 2018
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Myanmar army should be removed from politics: UN probe

  • The report says an estimated 10,000 people were killed in the crackdown and that was likely a conservative figure
  • Investigators said the Tatmadaw should be restructured and the process should begin by replacing the current leadership

YANGON: Myanmar’s powerful army should be removed from politics, UN investigators said Tuesday in the final version of a damning report reiterating calls for top generals to be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
A brutal military crackdown last year forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border to Bangladesh. Demands have mounted for those who waged the campaign to face justice.
The UN’s 444-page probe is the most meticulous breakdown of the violence to date. It says the military’s top leadership should be overhauled and have no further influence over the country’s governance.
Myanmar’s military dominates the Buddhist-majority nation, holding a quarter of seats in parliament and controlling three ministries, making their grip on power firm despite political reforms which began in 2011.
But the report said the country’s civilian leadership “should further pursue the removal of the Tatmadaw from Myanmar’s political life,” referring to the nation’s armed forces.
The UN’s analysis, based on 18 months’ work and more than 850 in-depth interviews, urges the international community to investigate the military top brass for genocide, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Myanmar’s army has denied nearly all wrongdoing, insisting its campaign was justified to root out Rohingya insurgents who staged deadly raids on border posts in August 2017.
But the UN team said the military’s tactics had been “consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats.”
The report says an estimated 10,000 people were killed in the crackdown and that was likely a conservative figure.
Investigators said the Tatmadaw should be restructured and the process should begin by replacing the current leadership.
Myanmar only recently emerged from almost a half century of military junta rule and Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government remains in a delicate power balance with the generals.
Their presence in parliament gives them an effective veto on constitutional changes, making any transition to full civilian control extremely difficult.
Three key ministries -– home affairs, border and defense –- are also in their hands, giving them carte blanche to conduct security operations with little oversight.
“It is impossible to remove the army out of political life without changing the constitution, and the military have a veto over constitutional changes,” Mark Farmaner, from Burma Campaign UK, told AFP.
The UN team said there were reasonable grounds to believe that the atrocities — including systematic murder, rape, torture and arson -– were committed with the intention of destroying the stateless Rohingya, warranting the charges of genocide.
The mission, created by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, did not focus its sights entirely on the army.
It directed specific criticism at Suu Kyi, whose global reputation has been shattered by her failure to speak up for the Rohingya against the military.
While acknowledging that the civilian authorities have little influence over military actions, the report said that their “acts and omissions” had “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes.”
Pointing to “deeply entrenched” impunity in Myanmar, the investigators said the only chance to obtain accountability was through the international justice system.
They also pointed to failings of the UN’s office within Myanmar, alleging that “quiet diplomacy” was prioritized and that those who tried to push the UN’s Human Rights Up Front approach were “ignored, criticized, sidelined or blocked in these efforts.”
The independent UN team will present its findings to member states of the Human Rights Council in Geneva later on Tuesday, after which Myanmar will have a chance to respond to the allegations.
It also repeated suggestions that crimes against the Rohingya be referred to the International Criminal Court, which concluded in August that it had jurisdiction to investigate even though Myanmar is not a member of the treaty underpinning the tribunal.
Myanmar has dismissed the tribunal’s authority and analysts have pointed to the court’s lack of enforcement powers.
The investigators also recommended an arms embargo and “targeted individual sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible.”