Ethiopia tried to limit rare UN report on Tigray war abuses

Ethiopia tried to limit rare UN report on Tigray war abuses
A destroyed tank is seen by the side of the road south of Humera in western Tigray, then annexed by the Amhara region, in Ethiopia, May 1, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 02 November 2021

Ethiopia tried to limit rare UN report on Tigray war abuses

Ethiopia tried to limit rare UN report on Tigray war abuses
  • Witnesses have said the perpetrators of most abuses were soldiers from neighboring Eritrea
  • A report by the Amhara Association of America said it found that 112 people were raped in several districts covered by the ministry’s findings

NAIROBI, Kenya: The findings of the only human rights investigation allowed in Ethiopia’s blockaded Tigray region will be released Wednesday, a year after war began there. But people with knowledge of the probe say it has been limited by authorities who recently expelled a UN staffer helping to lead it.
And yet, with groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International barred from Tigray, along with foreign media, the report may be the world’s only official source of information on atrocities in the war, which began in November 2020 after a political falling-out between the Tigray forces that long dominated the national government and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s current government. The conflict has been marked by gang rapes, mass expulsions, deliberate starvation and thousands of deaths.
The joint investigation by the UN human rights office and the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, or EHRC, is a rare collaboration that immediately raised concerns among ethnic Tigrayans, human rights groups and other observers about impartiality and government influence.
In response to questions from The Associated Press, the UN human rights office in Geneva said it wouldn’t have been able to enter Tigray without the partnership with the rights commission. Although past joint investigations occurred in Afghanistan and Uganda, the UN said, “the current one is unique in terms of magnitude and context.”
But Ethiopia’s government has given no basis for expelling UN human rights officer Sonny Onyegbula last month, the UN added, and without an explanation “we cannot accept the allegation that our staff member ... was ‘meddling in the internal affairs’ of Ethiopia.”
Because of those circumstances, and the fact that the UN left the investigation to its less experienced regional office in Ethiopia, the new report is “automatically suspect,” said David Crane, founder of the Global Accountability Network and founding chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an international tribunal.
“What you need when you go into an atrocity zone is a clean slate so outside investigators can look into it neutrally, dispassionately,” Crane said. “You want to do these things where you don’t build doubt, distrust from the beginning,” including among people interviewed.
The investigation might be the international community’s only chance to collect facts on the ground, he said, but because of its setup, it may disappear “in the sands of time.”
People close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, asserted that the head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele, underplayed some allegations that fighters from the country’s Amhara region were responsible for abuses in Tigray and pressed instead to highlight abuses by Tigray forces.
That’s even though witnesses have said the perpetrators of most abuses were soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, Ethiopian forces and Amhara regional forces.
In response to AP’s questions, Bekele asserted his commission’s independence, saying it is “primarily accountable to the people it is created to serve.” Attempts to influence the investigation, he added, can come from ”many directions” in such a polarized environment.
Bekele said he and the commission have consistently cited “serious indications that all parties involved in the conflict have committed atrocities.”
Observers say a major shortcoming of the investigation is its failure to visit the scene of many alleged massacres in Tigray, including the deadliest known one in the city of Axum, where witnesses told the AP that several hundred people were killed.
Bekele said the investigation lacked the support of the Tigray authorities now administering the region after Tigray forces retook much of the area in June, about midway through the joint team’s work.
The UN human rights office, however, said the government’s subsequent severing of flights and communications from Tigray during the planned investigation period made it difficult to access key locations, both “logistically and from a security point of view.”
Even the interim Tigray authorities hand-picked by Ethiopia’s government to run the region earlier in the war rejected the joint investigation, its former chief of staff, Gebremeskel Kassa, told the AP.
“We informed the international community we wanted an investigation into human rights but not with the EHRC because we believe this is a tool of the government,” he said.
The UN has said Ethiopia’s government had no say in the report’s publication, though it was given the chance to read the report in advance and to point out “anything it believes to be incorrect.”
Late last week, Ethiopia’s government and a diaspora group released the results of their own investigations focusing on alleged abuses by Tigray forces after they entered the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar four months ago in what they called an effort to pressure the government to end its blockade on Tigray.
The ministry of justice said it found 483 non-combatants were killed and 109 raped in parts of Amhara and Afar that were recaptured by federal forces in recent weeks. It also found “widespread and systematic looting” of schools, clinics, churches, mosques and aid groups’ offices.
A separate report by the Amhara Association of America said it found that 112 people were raped in several districts covered by the ministry’s findings. The diaspora group drew on data from offices of women’s and children’s affairs as well as interviews with witnesses, doctors and officials.
The diaspora group asserted that the Tigray forces “committed the rapes as revenge against ethnic Amharas, whom they blame as responsible for abuses in their home region.”
The spokesman for the Tigray forces, Getachew Reda, said the allegations aren’t worth “the paper they’re written on.” Accusations of rapes and killings by Tigray forces are “absolutely untrue, at least on a level these organizations are alleging,” he said.


Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police

A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 sec ago

Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police

A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • “Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details”

SHANGHAI: A hacker has claimed to have procured a trove of personal information from the Shanghai police on one billion Chinese citizens, which tech experts say, if true, would be one of the biggest data breaches in history.
The anonymous Internet user, identified as “ChinaDan,” posted on hacker forum Breach Forums last week offering to sell the more than 23 terabytes (TB) of data for 10 bitcoin, equivalent to about $200,000.
“In 2022, the Shanghai National Police (SHGA) database was leaked. This database contains many TB of data and information on Billions of Chinese citizen,” the post said.
“Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details.”
Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the post.
The Shanghai government and police department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Reuters was also unable to reach the self-proclaimed hacker, ChinaDan, but the post was widely discussed on China’s Weibo and WeChat social media platforms over the weekend with many users worried it could be real.
The hashtag “data leak” was blocked on Weibo by Sunday afternoon.
Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China, said in a post on Twitter it was “hard to parse truth from rumor mill.”
If the material the hacker claimed to have came from the Ministry of Public Security, it would be bad for “a number of reasons,” Schaefer said.
“Most obviously it would be among biggest and worst breaches in history,” she said.
Zhao Changpeng, CEO of Binance, said on Monday the cryptocurrency exchange had stepped up user verification processes after the exchange’s threat intelligence detected the sale of records belonging to 1 billion residents of an Asian country on the dark web.
He said on Twitter that a leak could have happened due to “a bug in an Elastic Search deployment by a (government) agency,” without saying if he was referring to the Shanghai police case. He did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The claim of a hack comes as China has vowed to improve protection of online user data privacy, instructing its tech giants to ensure safer storage after public complaints about mismanagement and misuse.
Last year, China passed new laws governing how personal information and data generated within its borders should be handled. (Reporting by Brenda Goh, Sophie Yu, Stella Qiu, Eduardo Baptista and Josh Ye; Editing by Robert Birsel)


Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
Updated 04 July 2022

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
  • Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades

CANAZEI, Italy: Search and rescue operations resumed on Monday in the Italian Alps with 17 people missing, authorities said, after part of a mountain glacier collapsed, killing at least six people and injuring eight.

The avalanche took place on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.

Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades.

It was not clear what caused the ice to break way but an early summer heatwave across Italy saw temperature rise abruptly, including on the Marmolada.

“For weeks the temperatures at high altitudes in the Alps have been well above normal values, while this past winter there has been little snow, which hardly protects the glacial basins anymore,” Renato Colucci from the polar sciences institute of the National Research Council (CNR) said in a statement.

Four victims were identified on Monday, three of them Italian, including two alpine guides, and another from the Czech Republic, news agency AGI reported, citing rescuers.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the head of the National Civil Protection agency were due to visit the area later on Monday.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures
Updated 04 July 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures
  • Island’s dwindling stock of petrol, diesel expected to run out in days

COLOMBO: Schools across Sri Lanka will close for one week starting Monday, the Education Ministry has announced, as the island nation grapples with its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948.

Sri Lanka is struggling to find critical funding to finance the import of essential goods, including fuel, food and medicines.

The country’s existing stock of petrol and diesel is only sufficient for a few more days, and is now limited for use in essential services, such as health, public transport and food distribution. Long queues of drivers have been sighted across Colombo at gas stations, as some wait for more than 48 hours to fill their vehicles.

With the worsening economic turmoil, the Ministry of Education announced an early “holiday week” for all schools across the island, following an official review of the “notifications about the distribution of fuel” in the country.

“The week from July 4 to July 8 will be declared as a holiday week for all government schools and government-approved private schools across the island,” a circular issued by the ministry on Sunday reads.

The latest announcement comes after schools in Colombo and other urban areas were closed for two weeks in a row. Lessons were replaced with online classes, with officials previously citing transportation difficulties caused by the fuel crisis.

The extended closures have raised concerns among Sri Lankans, as some are worried about how the crisis will affect the future of younger generations.

“Simply closing schools will damage the future of the next generation,” Prof. Chandima Wijegunawardena, leader of the Sri Lanka Humanity Party, told Arab News.

“It’s sad that the political blunder of the parliamentarians is affecting children’s education.”

The economic meltdown has triggered a political crisis, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa facing accusations of corruption and economic mismanagement. Anti-government protesters have taken to the streets for months to demand his resignation.

Wijegunawardena said that the government should implement a system that allows students to attend schools closest to their homes.

“It’s a scheme that allows children to walk to schools nearby their homes, so the rule can apply to teachers and other staff, too,” he said. “Policies and principles can be changed with the changing times.”

Ismeth Fatima, principal of Zahira College in Colombo, said that students should not be deprived of education in schools.

“Let them go to the nearby school and transfer teachers to their respective places of origin so they can cut down on the travel,” Fatima told Arab News.

“It is sad that the country has to undergo this ordeal,” she said. “A school is a school — we cannot expect the children to learn properly in their own respective home environment.”

Online learning as an alternative has also worried educators, with MRM Rifky, principal of Al-Humaisara National School located in Beruwala, a town 60 kilometers south of Colombo, warning that students at his school have failed to attend the new virtual classes.

“Online education is an utter failure,” he told Arab News.

The two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have already deprived children in Sri Lanka of their educational experiences, said women’s rights activist Shreen Saroor.

“Now with this ad-hoc management of the education system, Sri Lanka will lose out on our history and pride.”


Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park
Updated 04 July 2022

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

HIGHLAND PARK, Chicago: At least six people have been killed and more than 24 were injured in a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Highland Park on Monday, officials said, as panicked spectators fled the scene.

Officials told a news conference that six people were killed and 24 taken to hospital, and that a rifle was recovered from the scene.

“Law enforcement agencies are searching for the suspect; evidence of a firearm has been recovered,” the city of Highland Park reported on its website. “Numerous law enforcement officers are responding and have secured a perimeter around downtown Highland Park.”

The shooting comes with gun violence fresh on the minds of many Americans, after a massacre on May 24 killed 19 school children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the May 14 attack that killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

Democrat Senator Julie Morrison was in the area when the shooting occurred.

“Today while participating in the Highland Park 4th of July parade, my family and I — and the entire Highland Park community — experienced the trauma of what far too many across the country are experiencing: the paralyzing terror of gun violence,” she said. 

“Like so many other families, I was with my husband, our three children and our grandchildren on what was to be a day of festivities and a beloved community event. Instead, we were running for safety, desperately praying that no one would die from the gunshots we heard in the distance. 

“Even in Highland Park, a town with some of the strictest gun laws in Illinois, lives are at risk from the lack of gun control.”

She continued: “Gun violence has been normalized and no one is to blame except elected officials who have the power to put their constituents’ lives ahead of the gun lobby, but fail to do so every chance they get. Instead we have a Supreme Court that just put our country on a path to even more guns on our streets and a Congress that’s patting themselves on the back over a watered down gun reform package that does little to stop the death sentence that is life in America right now.

“I am enraged by the gun free-for-all that’s killing our children, our seniors and everyone in between. The only way we can end this crisis is for our state and federal government to pass the laws that we’ve all been demanding. Until that happens, we are not safe anywhere—not at our places of worship, our schools, our community gatherings. If you’re not committed to saving lives then you have absolutely no place in public office.

“Thank you to the first responders who bravely stepped in to an active shooting and undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives today. I pray for healing for the victims — and my promise to you is that my years-long crusade against gun violence will continue stronger than ever.”

* With Reuters


British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
Updated 04 July 2022

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
  • Over 180 teachers for the educational outfit suddenly given permission to come to Britain but still lack clear travel route

LONDON: Over 180 teachers at the British Council risk being stranded in Afghanistan after being given permission by the UK government to apply to come to Britain but still lacking a clear route for traveling to the country, The Guardian reported.

Former colleagues and MPs campaigned for the recovery of the contractors, horrified that they had been left behind as full-time British Council staff were extracted amid fears that they would face punishment from the Taliban for teaching values that do not align with the new Kabul administration.

Of the teachers stuck in Afghanistan, 85 have been classified as being at “very high risk,” while another 90 workers have been listed at “high risk.” Many have reportedly gone into hiding fearing the Taliban’s crackdown.

Joe Seaton, a former British Council employee who worked alongside many of the teachers in Afghanistan, told the Guardian that no evacuation plan has been drawn up for the contractors despite 11 months passing since the fall of the city to the Taliban.

Having originally not been afforded the right to be recovered to Britain, the UK government suddenly announced last month that British Council contractors will now be allowed to apply to come to the UK with their families. A decision was expected in August.

Seaton said: “We are finally making some progress, but there does not yet seem to be any clear arrangements on how to get them out. This is a key question. How long will it take to get them out? Every day is another day in grave danger, and so far, all government efforts at processing former British Council staff have been very slow and clunky. The government needs to massively speed up on processing the individual cases.”

He added that the British Council did not have a full list of contractors who worked with them, which he had provided to the organization: “I have given the British Council lists of the contractors on several occasions as they did not have the information.”

Seaton, who speaks to the contractors stuck in Afghanistan on a near-daily basis via WhatsApp, told The Guardian that, following the government’s decision, they were “optimistic, but worried this might be another false dawn.”

The Home Office decision in June ruled that British Council contractors, staff at GardaWorld and former Chevening Scholars could come to Britain with their families so long as the total number of refugees applying in this category to the Foreign Office did not exceed 1,500. Problems with housing have mired the government’s attempts to process Afghan refugees, with the average Afghan family significantly larger than the space afforded by a typical British house.

They have been told to make applications online, but the Home Office Minister for Afghan Resettlement conceded that this would be difficult in many parts of the country.

The British Council said: “We have a full and comprehensive list of our former colleagues and have shared that list with relevant government departments.

We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances, as the situation in the country continues to deteriorate.

The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former colleagues’ relocation applications.”