Pakistan lodges formal complaint to UN over forest damage by Indian air strike

A man takes a photo with his mobile as he stands amidst damaged trees in Jaba village, Balakot, Pakistan February 28, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Pakistan lodges formal complaint to UN over forest damage by Indian air strike

  • The air strike in the Massar Jabba Forest Reserve had damaged a forest ecosystem which “could take up to a century to recover”

NAIROBI: Pakistan has lodged an official complaint with the United Nations over damage caused to a protected forest reserve during an air strike by India last month, Pakistan’s climate change minister Malik Amin Aslam Khan said on Monday.
The air strike in the Massar Jabba Forest Reserve had damaged a forest ecosystem which “could take up to a century to recover,” said Khan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser for climate change.
Khan said he handed over a dossier detailing the damage at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, calling on the global body to condemn India and seek compensation.
“We think what happened was a strike on nature — it was a strike on the Massar Jabba Forest Reserve which is a protected ecosystem and a globally important carbon sink,” Khan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
“We are speaking for the voiceless trees of the Massar Jabba forest reserve which became a target of this operation.”
India and Pakistan are amidst their biggest stand-off in years, with the United States and other global powers mediating to de-escalate tensions between arch-foes who have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
Indian warplanes on Feb. 26 bombed the hilly forest area near the northern Pakistani town of Balakot, about 40 km (25 miles) from India’s border in the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
India said it destroyed a militant training camp, adding Pakistan’s accusation of environmental damage was “misguided.”
“It is unfortunate that the Pakistan delegation has misused this forum and wasted the time on matters not relevant,” Rahul Chhabra, Permanent Representative to UN Environment told the world’s environment ministers at the UNEA last week.
“The air strike by India in Balakot in Pakistan was a precision and accurate strike directed at terrorists located in a terrorist training camp and the strike was not aimed at any environmental damage.”
Pakistan denies there were any such camps in the area.
The Jabba Massar Reserve Forest is located in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and was established as a protected area in 2015 as part of the “Billion Trees Afforestation Project” which promotes forest regeneration.
A report by Pakistan after the air strike found damage to an area of 1.2 acres which included 19 pine trees valued at 2.7 million Pakistani rupees ($20,000) and soil erosion.
“The recovery of biomass lost due to this destructive action will take about a century to recover,” said the report, produced by a team of experts, including staff from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Wide Fund for Nature.
Khan said India had violated international rules such as a UN resolution which states “destruction of the environment, not justified by military necessity and carried out wantonly, is clearly contrary to existing international law.”
The damage contravened International Humanitarian Law, with additional protocols to the Geneva Convention prohibiting warfare which is intended to cause “long-term” and “severe” environmental damage, he added.
“In terms of the extent of damage, I mean, the whole forest did not go up in flames — but the fact is that the only victim of this atrocity was the environment,” said Khan.
“Nature paid a price for somebody’s madness. We want compensation, retribution and condemnation of this act.”


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 8 min 25 sec ago
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.