Kashmiris voice anger at ‘curated tour’ for envoys

Kashmiris voice anger at ‘curated tour’ for envoys
One of the visiting diplomats waves towards media after visiting the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 19 February 2021

Kashmiris voice anger at ‘curated tour’ for envoys

Kashmiris voice anger at ‘curated tour’ for envoys
  • Businesses close in protest as diplomats from 24 countries begin two-day visit

NEW DELHI: Businesses in Srinagar, the main city of Indian-administered Kashmir, were closed on Thursday as part of protests at a government-sponsored trip for foreign envoys to the turbulent region.

The visit, which started on Wednesday, is the third trip by a group of foreign diplomats stationed in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status in August 2019, enforcing the change with a military crackdown, mass detentions of political leaders and activists, and a communications blackout.

Diplomats of 24 countries, including France, Brazil, Italy, Finland, Cuba, Chile, Portugal and members of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) such as Malaysia, Bangladesh, Senegal and Tajikistan, have joined this week’s Kashmir trip, which the region’s pro-freedom alliance group, the Hurriyat Conference, on Wednesday described as “a curated tour of foreign dignitaries to showcase normalcy.”

Critics of the envoys’ visit say that it “rubs salt into the wounds” of Kashmiris.

“New Delhi wants to make the international community happy at the cost of the pain of the local people,” Srinagar-based business owner Aijaz Ahmad Ahmad told Arab News.

“Believe me, nothing comes out of such a trip unless you feel the pain of common people,” he said.

While India’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the trip, Modi’s party representatives in Kashmir say it shows that things are improving in Kashmir under New Delhi’s rule.

“The foreign delegation’s visit to Kashmir is a sign that the situation is getting better in the area,” Dr. Hina Bhat, a Kashmir-based leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told Arab News on Thursday.

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad welcomed the visit, but expressed doubts about what it was meant to achieve “if they don’t meet real stakeholders.”

“They should have met real stakeholders, business leaders and members of the civil society. That would have brought more authenticity to the trip,” he said.

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Critics of the envoys’ visit say that it ‘rubs salt into the wounds’ of Kashmiris.

However, diplomats’ involvement in the trip, especially those from EU countries, has angered rights activists.

“Are the EU countries supposed to stand for democracy or not? What they are up to?” asked Radha Kumar, co-chair of the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir.

“It shows terrible bankruptcy in these embassies if they go on a paid trip to the conflict area where you know voices are being silenced,” she told Arab News.

“The Indian government’s intention is clear — it wants to make a big thing of showing that foreign countries support its stand on Kashmir.”

Days before the envoys’ visit, several security bunkers in Srinagar and nearby areas were removed in what activists such as Danish Lone, of the Jammu and Kashmir Students’ Association, told Arab News was a government attempt to showcase “a fake truth and reality about Kashmir.”

New Delhi-based Kashmir activist Nasir Khuehami said that the trip is a “futile exercise.”
“On the one hand, the government says that the abrogation of the special status is India’s internal matter. On the other, New Delhi takes a delegation of foreigners to Kashmir. The government cannot mislead the world with such a futile exercise,” he said.

 


German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
Updated 18 sec ago

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
  • The convicted man, an Iraqi citizen, was ordered to pay the girl's family $57,000
  • It was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidis

BERLIN: A former member of the Daesh group was convicted by a German court on Tuesday of genocide and committing a war crime over the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he had purchased as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die.
The Frankfurt regional court sentenced Taha Al-J., an Iraqi citizen whose full last name wasn’t released because of privacy rules, to life imprisonment and ordered him to pay the girl’s mother 50,000 euros ($57,000).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidi religious minority.
The defendant’s lawyers had denied the allegations made against their client.
His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”
Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, also welcomed the verdict.
“We can only hope that it will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” she told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Daesh group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”
The United Nations has called the Daesh assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community “had all been displaced, captured or killed.” Of the thousands captured by IS, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam — and often executed in any case — and women and girls were sold into slavery.
According to German prosecutors, Al-J. bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter Reda as slaves at an Daesh base in Syria in 2015. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants from the northern Iraqi town of Kocho at the beginning of August 2014 and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
The defendant took the woman and her daughter to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules,” while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that toward the end of 2015, Al-J. chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment. The punishment was allegedly carried out because the 5-year-old had wet the bed.
Al-J. was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany two years ago.
German authorities took on the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the country to try particularly serious crimes even if they were committed elsewhere and there is no direct link to Germany.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by Daesh, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community.”
“Germany is not only is raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it,” she said in a statement. “Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”


4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
Updated 30 November 2021

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
  • Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County
  • The investigation was in the preliminary stages

FORT WAYNE, Indiana: The bodies of four people were found at a home in northeastern Indiana following a report of shots being fired, authorities said.
Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County, near Fort Wayne, sheriff’s Cpl. Adam Griffith said at the scene.
One person described as a witness was uninjured, Griffith said, and investigators interviewed that person.
The investigation was in the preliminary stages Monday night, Griffith said, but authorities didn’t believe there was any current danger to the public. Circumstances of the deaths weren’t immediately given.
Additional information was expected to be released Tuesday.


Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
Updated 30 November 2021

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
  • Dozens of civilians were killed in successive airstrikes
  • A US legal officer ‘flagged the strike as a possible war crime’ but the leadership are alleged to have taken no action

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon launched a fresh probe Monday into a 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Syria, two weeks after a New York Times investigation claimed the US military concealed dozens of non-combatants’ deaths.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin instructed Army General Michael Garrett to “review the reports of the investigation already conducted into that incident” and “conduct further inquiry into the facts and circumstances related to it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Garrett’s three-month review will assess “civilian casualties that resulted from the incident, compliance with the law of war, record keeping and reporting procedures,” Kirby added.
It will also probe whether measures taken after the earlier investigation were effectively implemented, if “accountability measures” should be taken and if “procedures or processes should be altered.”
According to a Times investigation published mid-November, a US special force operating in Syria — sometimes in complete secrecy — bombed a group of civilians three times on March 18, 2019, near the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Baghouz, killing 70 people, mainly women and children.
The Times report says a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” but that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
The Times found the strike “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State,” but was never publicly acknowledged by the US military.
“The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified,” the report said, adding findings of a Pentagon probe were “stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.”
A statement released by the Pentagon after the report said the initial investigation into the incident by the US Army Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, found the strikes were “self-defense,” “proportional” and that “appropriate steps were taken to exclude the presence of civilians.”
A US-led coalition and Kurdish-led allies announced the defeat of the IS proto-state, known as the “caliphate,” at the end of March 2019 after overcoming the last jihadist holdout of Baghouz.


India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening
Updated 30 November 2021

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening
  • State governments warned last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic

BENGALURU: India’s health ministry said on Tuesday states should ramp up COVID-19 testing as the world battles the new coronavirus variant omicron, while some cities delayed the reopening of schools as a precautionary measure.
The ministry also said the omicron variant “doesn’t escape RT-PCR and RAT (testing),” appeasing some concerns among domestic health workers that changes in the spike protein of the virus could lead to conventional tests failing to detect the variant.
It comes as the ministry warned state governments last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic.
While India has not reported any omicron cases yet, authorities are studying the sample of a man who tested positive for COVID-19 after recently returning from South Africa to see if he is infected with the omicron or another variant.
Also on Tuesday, Mumbai’s municipal corporation said it was delaying reopening schools for younger children to Dec. 15 instead of Wednesday as a precautionary measure given the global situation involving omicron. In-person classes for senior students began about two months ago.
The city of Pune, which is also located in the western state of Maharashtra, has also postponed the reopening of schools, local media reported.
After battling a record jump in infections and deaths in April and May, cases have come down substantially in India.
Its COVID-19 cases rose by 6,990 on Tuesday — the smallest increase in 551 days — to 34.59 million. Only the United States has reported more total infections.
Deaths rose by 190, taking the total to 468,980, health ministry data showed.


Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
Updated 30 November 2021

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
  • About 63 percent of the population of about 11 million is fully vaccinated
  • Greece has recorded a spike in infections this month, with daily cases hitting record highs

ATHENS: Greece said on Tuesday it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over in a move to quell a resurgent virus that is burdening a frail health care system.
Authorities said those who failed to comply from Jan. 16 would face a recurring monthly fine of 100 euros.
Tuesday’s announcement marks an EU-wide first in targeting a specific age group. Other countries make vaccines mandatory for health workers and other high-risk groups of workers.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he struggled with the decision but it was necessary to protect more than half a million elderly Greeks who had failed to get the jab.
“Its the price to pay for health,” he said.
About 63 percent of Greece’s 11 million population is fully vaccinated. While vaccine appointments have picked up in recent weeks, health ministry data shows there are 520,000 people over the age of 60 who have failed to get a jab.
“We are focusing our efforts on protection of our fellow citizens and for this reason their vaccination will be mandatory from now on,” Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting.
Syriza, Greece’s main opposition party, faulted the measures as being punitive and financially excessive.
“This hasn’t happened anywhere,” it said.
Mitsotakis did not say how authorities would enforce the rule. A 100 euro fine is a hefty chunk of the average monthly 730 euro pension.
“(The decision) tortured me, but I feel a heavy responsibility in standing next to those most vulnerable, even if it might fleetingly displease them,” he said.
Greece this month barred unvaccinated people from indoor spaces including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms as daily COVID-19 cases hit record highs.
It has recorded 931,183 infections and 18,067 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.