War crimes being committed in Syria's Ghouta must be prosecuted: UN

In one of the deadliest offensives of Syria’s war, regime airstrikes and bombardment have killed hundreds of people over 12 days in Eastern Ghouta. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2018
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War crimes being committed in Syria's Ghouta must be prosecuted: UN

GENEVA: Airstrikes on the besieged Syrian enclave of Eastern Ghouta and shelling from the opposition-held zone into Damascus probably constitute war crimes and must be prosecuted, the top UN human rights official said on Friday.
Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the perpetrators of such crimes in Syria should know they were being identified and that dossiers were being built with a view to future prosecutions.
In one of the deadliest offensives of Syria’s war, regime airstrikes and bombardment have killed hundreds of people over 12 days in Eastern Ghouta.
The UN Security Council called on Feb. 24 for a 30-day cease-fire in Eastern Ghouta, where 400,000 people live.
“Despite this rare example of unanimity, civilians in Eastern Ghouta have reported that airstrikes and shelling continue,” Al-Hussein told the Geneva rights forum during an urgent debate held at Britain’s request.
“Once again, I must emphasize that what we are seeing, in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria, are likely war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity. Civilians are being pounded into submission or death.” He added: “Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Attempts to thwart justice, and shield these criminals, are disgraceful.”
Hussam Aala, Syria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said that Al-Hussein was “selective and biased” and that the debate was “politicized.”
British Ambassador Julian Braithwaite said that Eastern Ghouta had become “the epicenter” of suffering in Syria, with starving families huddled in basements to hide from “indiscriminate regime bombing.”
Britain has presented a resolution, which it hoped the council would adopt, calling on UN war crimes investigators to carry out an inquiry into events in Ghouta and report back by June.
“The Assad regime and its Russian backers continue to carry out airstrikes. Airstrikes which have caused more deaths of innocent men, women, and children, and which have caused more destruction of civilian infrastructure — including a maternity ward,” US Charge d’Affaires Theodore Allegra told the meeting.
Also on Friday, the US, Germany and France upped the pressure on Damascus as last weekend’s UN Security Council vote for a cease-fire has failed to stop fighting.
US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a phone call that the Syrian regime must be held accountable. “This applies both to the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons and for its attacks against civilians and the blockade of humanitarian support,” a German chancellery statement said.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Trump called for the immediate implementation of a 30-day cease-fire in Syria.
The French presidency’s office said in a statement the heads of state discussed the situation in a phone call on Friday.
Macron and Trump agreed to “work together” for the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution passed last weekend to allow a cease-fire, the transport of humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the injured and sick.
They call on Russia to “put maximal pressure on Damascus’ without ambiguity” so that the regime commits to respecting the UN resolution. 
Macron said the use of lethal chemical weapons, if proven, would lead to a strong response. He said he’s extremely vigilant on the issue, the statement said.


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.