UK risks creating ‘new Guantanamo in Syria’

Shamima Begum (L), a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 27 February 2021

UK risks creating ‘new Guantanamo in Syria’

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Charity slams govt’s ‘abdication of responsibility’ over ‘Daesh bride’ Shamima Begum

LONDON: The UK risks creating a “new Guantanamo” in Syria through the practice of revoking the citizenships of Daesh accomplices, the director of a human rights charity has warned.

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday.

The director of human rights charity Reprieve, Maya Foa, who was involved in Begum’s case, said the ruling has left the 21-year-old in a “legal limbo,” where she cannot return to the UK or mount a legal challenge remotely.

“The court has said she can appeal against the decision, but they do not say how it can be done. It leaves her in the hands of the British government, which is unwilling to assist,” Foa added.

“That is less of a policy and more of an abdication of responsibility — unless the policy is to create a new Guantanamo in Syria.”

Supporters of Begum claim that she regrets her decision to leave the UK to join Daesh, and is remorseful about her actions.

Critics of the government decision say Begum was a minor and a victim of trafficking, who was unable to leave Syria until she was detained in the wake of Daesh’s defeat.

About 24 adults and 35 children who left the UK to join Daesh are still detained in Syrian camps, where conditions are said to be dismal. Many have been stripped of their UK citizenship.

The ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday means that Begum is forbidden from entering the UK to fight her case.

She left London aged 15 with two friends to join Daesh in Syria six years ago. Despite being born in the UK, her citizenship was stripped in 2019 by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid after she was discovered living in a prison camp by a UK journalist.

British law permits the removal of a person’s citizenship if it is deemed “conducive to the public good.” However, it is illegal to remove a person’s citizenship if doing so would leave them stateless.

But Javid said Begum was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, where her parents were born and had citizenship.

Intelligence agencies say about 900 Britons traveled to Syria or Iraq to join Daesh. About 20 percent of them were killed and 40 percent returned home.


Taliban fighters now manning checkpoints in Afghan cities

Taliban fighters now manning checkpoints in Afghan cities
Updated 8 sec ago

Taliban fighters now manning checkpoints in Afghan cities

Taliban fighters now manning checkpoints in Afghan cities
  • Taliban fighters have changed roles, from insurgents fighting in the mountains and fields to an armed force running the country
HERAT, Afghanistan: Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan more than three and a half months ago amid a chaotic withdrawal of US and NATO troops, their fighters have changed roles, from insurgents fighting in the mountains and fields to an armed force running the country.
Many Taliban foot soldiers now have new jobs: manning checkpoints on the streets and carrying out security patrols in and around Afghan cities and towns. Last month, several Taliban fighters posed for portrait photographs on nighttime patrols and at checkpoints in the western city of Herat.
One of them, 21-year-old Ahmad Wali, was on patrol in the village of Kamar Kalagh, north of Herat. A student in an Islamic religious school known as a madrassa, he said he joined the Taliban because he believed in the teachings of the Qur’an and was against the American presence in his country and against the previous Afghan government, which was widely criticized for corruption.
Now, he said, he is very busy with his new responsibilities providing security in the area he was assigned to. He hopes both he and his country will have a bright future, and said he was “99 percent sure” better days will come for all people in Afghanistan.
After the Taliban takeover in mid-August, Afghanistan’s already dilapidated and aid-dependent economy careened into full-blown crisis. The international community has withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in financing that the country of 38 million people relied on. Billions of dollars in Afghan assets abroad have been frozen.
Afghanistan’s banking system has been largely cut off from the world, and the new Taliban rulers have been largely unable to pay salaries, while jobs across the economy have disappeared.
Women have been mostly barred from the job market, except in certain professions, and from a high school education, while tens of thousands of people, including highly educated professionals, have fled or are trying to flee Afghanistan, leading to a massive brain drain.

20 sentenced to death for Bangladesh student killing: prosecutor

20 sentenced to death for Bangladesh student killing: prosecutor
Updated 7 min 46 sec ago

20 sentenced to death for Bangladesh student killing: prosecutor

20 sentenced to death for Bangladesh student killing: prosecutor
  • All those handed death sentences were between 20 and 22 years old and attended the elite Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

DHAKA: Bangladesh sentenced 20 university students to death on Wednesday for the brutal 2019 murder of a young man who criticized the government on social media.
The battered body of Abrar Fahad, 21, was found in his university dormitory hours after he wrote a Facebook post slamming Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for signing a water-sharing deal with India.
He was beaten with a cricket bat and other blunt objects for six hours by 25 fellow students who were members of the ruling Awami League’s student wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL).
“I am happy with the verdict,” Fahad’s father Barkat Ullah told reporters outside court after the verdict. “I hope the punishments will be served soon.”
Prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP that the remaining five perpetrators were sentenced to life imprisonment.
All those handed death sentences were between 20 and 22 years old and attended the elite Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology alongside Fahad.
Three of the defendants are still at large while the rest were in the courtroom.
A lawyer for the defendants said the sentence would be appealed.


UN refugee chief warns of world’s inability to restore peace

 United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. (AFP file photo)
United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 December 2021

UN refugee chief warns of world’s inability to restore peace

 United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. (AFP file photo)
  • Grandi said UNHCR works in highly politicized situations, and increasingly it has to deal with “de facto authorities” who are not internationally recognized but control areas in many countries where it operates because people need help

UNITED NATIONS: The growing inability of the international community to restore peace in countries like Yemen, Libya and Ethiopia is forcing humanitarian and refugee organizations to work increasingly during conflicts which they can’t solve despite the expectations of many people caught up in these crises, the UN refugee chief warned Tuesday.
Filippo Grandi reminded the UN Security Council that in the absence of political solutions to conflicts — “and those political solutions seem to be more and more scarce and far apart” — the consequences on people caught in these violent confrontations “continue to become more and more serious.”
The UN high commissioner for refugees said his office and other organizations are dealing with about 84 million refugees who fled across borders and people displaced within their own countries, trying to provide humanitarian support, shelter and safety.
Grandi spoke to the council and UN correspondents from Geneva where donors pledged a record of more than $1 billion Tuesday to support UNHCR’s work in 2022. While he welcomed their crucial support, Grandi said the pledges won’t be enough to support the growing challenges the agency foresees next year, largely driven by conflict, climate change and COVID-19.
The high commissioner said UNHCR is appealing for nearly $9 billion to cover its operations in 136 countries and territories next year. Almost half the money is for emergencies to assist a record number of forcibly displaced people, especially in the Middle East and Africa as well as millions who have fled their homes in places like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Venezuela and beyond, he said.
Asked whether he saw any hope for the many millions of refugees and displaced people in 2022, Grandi said “I see glimmers of hope everywhere — if certain things are done.”
“The question is will these things be done?” he asked. “Will states cooperate more to try and solve these issues? Will more resources be put into responses? Will be will the neutrality and safety of humanitarian operations be granted?”
“I remain not terribly optimistic about progress on these matters, especially on cooperation and the search of solutions,” he said.
Grandi said if it took “excruciating negotiations” in the Security Council to get approval to continue delivery of humanitarian aid through a single crossing point from Turkey into Syria, “then we are in trouble, then we cannot really aim at moving forward.”
“So yes, I think the prospects, unfortunately, are rather grim in terms of the size of the problem and the complexity of the causes,” he said.
Grandi said UNHCR works in highly politicized situations, and increasingly it has to deal with “de facto authorities” who are not internationally recognized but control areas in many countries where it operates because people need help. These situations are very often complicated by political difficulties, sanctions and other restrictions on dialogue and engagement which aggravate the provision of humanitarian needs, he said.
Grandi said he is often warned by countries that UNHCR should not politicize humanitarian action, but “I keep reminding states that if anybody politicizes humanitarian action it is the states, not the United Nations as an institution, not UNHCR for sure.”
Nonetheless, he said, UNHCR is being accused by all sides in Ethiopia, for example, of supporting the other side which he warned is not safe for its staff or conducive to effective humanitarian action.
“We operate in context in which there is more burden, expectation that humanitarian actors can solve problems, when in reality, the space is reduced even for us to save lives,” he said.
Grandi said he just returned from a tour of Mexico and northern Central America where he saw “the incredible complexity of the causes of displacement” — conflict, human rights abuses, violence by criminal gangs, poverty, inequality, climate change and an inadequate response by states.
He said the complexity of causes in Central America, Africa’s Sahel region, and elsewhere leads to “increasingly complicated forced displacement.”
Grandi said his message to the Security Council was to focus on one of the causes — conflict — because if progress can be made toward stability then perhaps “the vicious circle” leading to the displacement of millions of people can be unblocked.
He also appealed to the council to provide “the widest scope for humanitarian exception” to UN sanctions on Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers to help the 23 million Afghans facing extreme levels of hunger and other humanitarian challenges.
Grandi warned that a widespread implosion of the Afghan economy will almost inevitably trigger a much bigger exodus of Afghans seeking a better life in neighboring countries and beyond.
“This is something that can still be prevented at this point, but it requires quicker action” to ensure that the economy functions including the flow of cash and services, he said. this with its leaders.


British woman testifies about grooming by Ghislaine Maxwell

In this courtroom sketch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe, left, questions Special FBI Agent Kelly McGuire on the witness stand, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, in New York. (AP)
In this courtroom sketch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe, left, questions Special FBI Agent Kelly McGuire on the witness stand, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, in New York. (AP)
Updated 08 December 2021

British woman testifies about grooming by Ghislaine Maxwell

In this courtroom sketch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe, left, questions Special FBI Agent Kelly McGuire on the witness stand, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, in New York. (AP)
  • Maxwell, 59, has denied charges she groomed girls as young as 14 for Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019

NEW YORK: A British woman testified Monday that Ghislaine Maxwell pressured her into giving Jeffrey Epstein sexual massages when she was still a teenager, assuring her she would have “fun” with him.
The woman — testifying at Maxwell’s sex-abuse trial in New York City using the pseudonym “Kate” to protect her privacy — described one episode during the mid-1990s at Epstein’s Palm Beach, Florida estate where Maxwell left out a schoolgirl’s outfit with a pleated skirt for her to wear for the financier.
“I thought it would be fun for you to take Jeffrey his tea in this outfit,” the witness recalled Maxwell telling her.
After a sexual encounter that followed, the British socialite “asked me if I had fun” and told her, “You are such a good girl,” she said.
The witness was the second woman to take the witness stand against Maxwell in federal court in Manhattan. But unlike the first, she was at the age of consent in Great Britain and the United States during her sexual contact with Epstein, so the judge barred her from detailing specific sex acts.
Maxwell, 59, has denied charges she groomed girls as young as 14 for Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019. Her lawyers say the government is making her a scapegoat for Epstein’s alleged sex crimes.
The woman who testified on Monday said she met Maxwell at age 17 through a friend of hers she had dated on and off, and was eager to be friends with the British socialite. Maxwell told her Epstein, then her boyfriend, was a philanthropist who could help her with her singing career, she said.
Maxwell also told her that Epstein was “demanding” when it came to sexual massages, saying it was “very difficult to keep up” with his needs, the witness said. After agreeing to give him massages in London, she was later flown on commercial flights to Florida, where she said the interactions continued when she was 18.
She recalled that the first time she saw Epstein naked, Maxwell was standing right next to him. “I remember it so clearly because I was terrified and frozen,” she said.
By contrast, Maxwell’s demeanor was “almost like a schoolgirl,” she said. “Everything was fun. Everything seemed to be like a fun, silly joke.”
She said she resisted “disengaging” from Maxwell and Epstein “because I had witnessed how connected they both were and I was fearful.”
Asked about wanting to testify anonymously, she said, “I have a huge amount of humiliation and shame around the events that took place” and wanted to protect her child from knowing details.
On cross-examination, a lawyer for Maxwell got the witness to acknowledge instances where she had spoken out publicly about Epstein and Maxwell using her real name. The lawyer also asked whether her history of drug and alcohol abuse affected her memory.
“It has not had an impact on the memories I have always had,” she said.
The jury also saw bank statements on Monday showing that between 1999 and 2007, roughly $30 million was transferred from Epstein’s accounts to those of Maxwell’s. About $7 million of that was used in the purchase of a helicopter, the records showed.

 


Myanmar democracy in new era as Suu Kyi sidelined by army

Myanmar democracy in new era as Suu Kyi sidelined by army
Updated 08 December 2021

Myanmar democracy in new era as Suu Kyi sidelined by army

Myanmar democracy in new era as Suu Kyi sidelined by army
  • Suu Kyi, whose pro-democracy efforts won her the Nobel Peace Prize, and her allies have played important roles in the past, even when sidelined or jailed by the generals

BANGKOK: In sentencing Myanmar’s iconic democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to prison, the country’s generals have effectively exiled her from electoral politics. But that doesn’t mean the Southeast Asian nation is back to square one in its stop-start efforts to move toward democracy.
In fact, a younger generation that came of age as the military began loosening its grip on politics and the economy and has tasted some freedoms is well positioned to carry on the struggle.
A de facto coup on Feb. 1 pushed Suu Kyi’s elected government from power, throwing the country into turmoil. But erasing the gains of a decade of opening up has proved more difficult.
People took to the streets en masse almost immediately and have continued sporadic protests since then. As a military crackdown on demonstrations grew increasingly violent, protesters moved to arm themselves.
Within days, a mix of old and new guard, including elected lawmakers who were prevented from taking their seats by the takeover, announced a shadow administration that declared itself the nation’s only legitimate government. It was very consciously assembled to be a diverse group, including representatives of ethnic minorities and one openly gay member, unusual in socially conservative Myanmar.
It, not Suu Kyi, who was arrested in the takeover, has been at the forefront of the opposition — and has garnered significant support among the general population.
While no foreign government has recognized the so-called National Unity Government, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met virtually with two of its representatives. And it has accomplished a kind of standoff at the U.N., which delayed action on a request by Myanmar’s military government for its representative to take its seat. The country’s current delegate has declared his allegiance to the unity government.
“The coup and its aftermath are not so much the end of a democratization process in Myanmar as they are proof that democratization has actually taken hold of the younger generation,” Priscilla Clapp, who served as the U.S. chief of mission in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002. “In fact, the coup may ultimately prove to be the dramatic end to the older generation of leadership in Myanmar.”
The pro-democracy movement now faces the challenges of continuing to resist military rule, keeping up international pressure for restoring an elected, civilian government, and consolidating support from ethnic groups that have long fought the central government.
Suu Kyi, whose pro-democracy efforts won her the Nobel Peace Prize, and her allies have played important roles in the past, even when sidelined or jailed by the generals. On Monday, the 76-year-old was convicted on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions and sentenced to four years in prison, though that was almost immediately reduced to two. She faces other charges that could see her imprisoned for life.
But the younger generation may be better placed to carry the mantle anyway.
Unlike their elders, younger people in Myanmar, especially those in the cities, have spent most of their lives without having to worry about being imprisoned for speaking their minds. They have had access to mobile phones and Facebook and grew up believing the country was moving toward greater, not less democracy.
They also seem more willing to reach out to Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. Not only did the unity government include ethnic minority officials in its Cabinet, but it sought out alliances with the powerful ethnic militias, which are fighting for autonomy and rights over their resource-rich lands.
“Even as they are fighting against the military takeover, they are debating among themselves to determine the outlines of a new form of a more democratic and ethnically diverse political system,” said Clapp, who is also a senior adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Asia Society. “This did not happen with earlier rebellions against military rule before the people had experience with democratic institutions that gave the public a voice.”
Suu Kyi’s own reputation abroad was deeply marred by her seemingly condoning, or at times even defending, abuses committed by the military against the Muslim Rohingya minority while her government was in power. She disputes allegations that troops killed Rohingya civilians, torched houses and raped women.
The unity government has also been criticized for seeming to neglect the long-oppressed Rohingya, and it remains to be seen how its uneasy alliance with ethnic groups will play out.
But Suu Kyi’s handling of the Rohingya is just one element that complicates her legacy.
An icon of resistance during her 15 years under house arrest, Suu Kyi agreed to work alongside the generals after she was freed. It was a gamble that left Myanmar’s fledgling democracy in limbo, with the military keeping control of key ministries and reserving a large share of seats in parliament.
Some overseas admirers were disappointed that during its time in power Suu Kyi’s government used British colonial-era security laws to prosecute dissidents and critical journalists, in part of “an ongoing pattern of silencing dissent,” said Jane Ferguson, a lecturer at Australian National University.
In seizing power, the military claimed there was massive fraud in the 2020 election that saw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy win in a landslide. It said that justified the takeover under a constitution that allows it to seize power in emergencies — though independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities. Critics also assert that the takeover bypassed the legal process for declaring the kind of emergency that allows the army to step in.
Security forces have since quashed nonviolent nationwide protests with deadly force, killing about 1,300 civilians, according to a tally compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Despite the risks, the verdict against Suu Kyi, who remains popular, provoked more spirited protests. In the city of Mandalay on Monday, demonstrators chanted slogans and sang songs popularized during pro-democracy protests in 1988.
“In Yangon, we are seeing local residents resume banging pots and pans late at night in protest,” said Jason Tower, Myanmar country director for the U.S. Institute of Peace. “These types of moves by the junta are also a key driver and motivation for local people to join people’s defense forces.”
Those forces, which began as a way to protect neighborhoods and villages from the depredations of government troops, are also being supported by the opposition unity government that hopes to turn them into a federal army one day.
In the meantime, the military will keep trying to “terrorize the public into obedience,” said Christina Fink, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University. “They have done so successfully in the past, but this time the opposition is more widespread and takes many different forms so it has been much harder for the regime to achieve its goal.”