Rights groups protest suspension of ICC probe into Philippines ‘war on drugs’

Rights groups protest suspension of ICC probe into Philippines ‘war on drugs’
The group which represents families of those killed during the drive requested the court to continue with the probe. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 November 2021

Rights groups protest suspension of ICC probe into Philippines ‘war on drugs’

Rights groups protest suspension of ICC probe into Philippines ‘war on drugs’
  • Tribunal estimates the campaign has killed between 12k and 30k Filipinos

MANILA: Rights advocates and Philippine lawyers on Saturday protested the suspension of an International Criminal Court investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs.”
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has carried out the anti-drug campaign, which according to official records has led to the deaths of more than 6,000 Filipinos to date. The tribunal’s prosecutors in court papers estimate the death figure to be between 12,000 and 30,000.
The tribunal in September authorized a full investigation into the anti-drug campaign, which it said appeared to have been “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” and could amount to crimes against humanity.
On Friday, the Hague-based court announced that it had suspended the investigation to assess a deferral request from the Philippine ambassador in the Netherlands, who in a letter to the court said that the Philippine government was investigating the alleged crimes.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers, which represents families of those killed in the anti-drug drive, requested the court’s chief prosecutor to continue with the investigation and not be “swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration.”
“The NUPL entreats the ICC prosecutor to deny any such deferral request and, instead, continue with the conduct of a full-blown investigation into the drug-war atrocities,” the group said in a statement.
“These domestic ‘remedies’ described by the Philippine ambassador in his letter have proven utterly ineffective in stopping wave after wave of drug-related killings, the imprisonment of thousands of poor Filipinos on questionable charges, and the commission of countless human rights violations during the anti-drug campaign.”
The Philippines Justice Department has been investigating dozens of police officers suspected of criminal abuse in anti-drug operations after a UN Human Rights Council report said that the drug war was an “illegal, murderous state policy.”
Last month, the Justice Department said that it found rights abuse in 52 cases of death reviewed under the investigation.
Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said on Saturday that the government is claiming that existing domestic mechanisms afford citizens justice to “stave off ICC action.”
“In its letter to the ICC, the Philippine government claims that ‘drug war’ killings are being investigated. This is barely true; only 52 out of thousands of killings are in early stages of the investigation,” he said in a statement. “Despite many clear-cut cases of murder, no charges have even been filed.”
The Philippine government has welcomed the tribunal’s decision to suspend the investigation, saying that the court had no jurisdiction over the Philippines.
Duterte pulled Manila out of the court in 2019 after it launched a preliminary probe into the war on drugs, but according to the court it still has jurisdiction over crimes committed while the Philippines was still a member.
“We reiterate that it is the position of the Philippine government that the ICC has no jurisdiction over it,” Duterte’s acting spokesperson, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, said in a statement after the announcement to suspend the investigation.
“We welcome the judiciousness of the new ICC prosecutor, who has deemed it fit to give the matter a fresh look and we trust that the matter will be resolved in favor of the exoneration of our government and the recognition of the vibrancy of our justice system.”


Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week
Updated 21 January 2022

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

GENEVA: The United States and Russia tried Friday to avert another devastating conflict in Europe, but the two powers’ top diplomats warned no breakthrough was imminent as fears rise that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine.

Armed with seemingly intractable and diametrically opposed demands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva at what the American said was a “critical moment.” The talks are shaping up as a possible last-ditch effort at dialogue and a negotiated agreement.

With an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed near Ukraine, many fear Moscow is preparing an invasion although Russia denies that. The US and its allies are scrambling to present a united front to prevent that or coordinate a tough response if they can’t.

After the meeting, Lavrov said that the US agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands on Ukraine and NATO next week. That could at least delay any imminent aggression for a few days.

But ahead of the meeting, they remained far apart.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today. But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy or dialogue remains open,” Blinken told Lavrov before their spoke privately. “This is a critical moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he did not “expect a breakthrough at these negotiations either. What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

But ahead of the meeting, they remained far apart.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today. But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy or dialogue remains open,” Blinken told Lavrov before their spoke privately. “This is a critical moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he did not “expect a breakthrough at these negotiations either. What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

Washington and its allies have repeatedly promised “severe” consequences such as biting economic sanctions — though not military action — against Russia if an invasion goes ahead.

Blinken repeated that warning Friday. He said the US and its allies were committed to diplomacy, but also committed “if that proves impossible, and Russia decides to pursue aggression against Ukraine, to a united, swift and severe response.”

But he said he also wanted to use the opportunity to share directly with Lavrov some “concrete ideas to address some of the concerns that you have raised, as well as the deep concerns that many of us have about Russia’s actions.”

Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Russia’s Putin seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, part of a simmering but largely stalemated conflict with Ukrainian forces that has taken more than 14,000 lives. He faced limited international consequences for those moves, but the West says a new invasion would be different.


Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme
Updated 21 January 2022

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme
  • Malik Faisal Akram was referred to Prevent after breakdown of his marriage
  • Scheme under review amid string of deadly failings, boycott by rights groups

LONDON: A British man who took four people hostage in a Texas synagogue was referred to the UK government’s counter-radicalization program Prevent, it has emerged.

Malik Faisal Akram was referred to Prevent in 2016 following the breakdown of his marriage. MI5 also tracked him for a month in 2020.

Akram was shot dead by the FBI last week while holed up with hostages in a Texas synagogue. He was the only person killed in the ordeal.

Leaked audio revealed that his brother tried to convince him to abort the attack, but was told that Akram would be returning home “in a body bag.”

According to his brother, Akram’s life fell apart in 2016 after he split from his wife. His brother told The Times that he was bitter that his wife had taken his six children after their split, and that Akram had closed his pharmacy business, which ran five locations across the north of England.

It was after this string of events that Akram was referred to Prevent. The new revelations about his referral are likely to pile more pressure on the British government to rethink its de-radicalization strategy.

The Prevent program is currently under review by the government, and a string of failings — some with deadly consequences — add further impetus to strengthening or modifying the program.

Last year, MP Sir David Amess was murdered in his constituency by Ali Harbi Ali, who had also previously been referred to and later discharged by Prevent.

Another attacker, Khairi Saadallah, had been referred to the program by refugee groups. He later killed three in a knife rampage in the English town of Reading.

Prevent’s review, undertaken in 2019, had initially been scheduled for completion in 2020, but a series of delays means it still has not been published.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have boycotted the review, saying William Shawcross, who is leading it, had previously expressed anti-Muslim views that call into question the review’s validity.

A joint statement by the rights groups said: “Shawcross’s appointment, given his well-known record and previous statements on Islam … brings into question the good faith of the government in establishing the review and fundamentally undermines its credibility.”


Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths

Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths
Updated 21 January 2022

Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths

Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths
  • The previous record of 78 deaths was set on Tuesday
  • New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported a record 46 deaths

CANBERRA: Australia on Friday reported its deadliest day of the pandemic with 80 coronavirus fatalities, as an outbreak of the omicron variant continued to take a toll.
But Dominic Perrottet, premier of the most populous state, New South Wales, said a slight decrease in hospitalizations gave him some hope about the strain the outbreak is putting on the health system.
The previous record of 78 deaths was set on Tuesday. There have been just under 3,000 coronavirus deaths in Australia since the pandemic began.
New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported a record 46 deaths. They included a baby who died from COVID-19 in December, one of several historical cases that were investigated.
The news came after the premier of Western Australia state, Mark McGowan, backed down on a promise to reopen the state to the rest of the country on Feb. 5.
In a late-night news conference on Thursday, McGowan said reopening the state as planned would be “reckless and irresponsible” given the large number of COVID-19 cases in other states. No new date has been set for when the state might relax its border closure.
The border decision means neither Prime Minister Scott Morrison nor opposition leader Anthony Albanese can campaign in the state for now. An election is due to be held by May 21.


UK government reinstates citizenship of alleged ‘Islamist extremist’

UK government reinstates citizenship of alleged ‘Islamist extremist’
Updated 21 January 2022

UK government reinstates citizenship of alleged ‘Islamist extremist’

UK government reinstates citizenship of alleged ‘Islamist extremist’
  • He was told his British citizenship was revoked while visiting newborn daughter in Bangladesh
  • Advocacy group: Citizenship deprivation ‘nearly exclusively impacts Muslims, people of color’

LONDON: A British man left stateless in 2017 when his citizenship was stripped has had it reinstated following a lengthy court battle.

The man, identified in court documents as E3, had his citizenship removed in 2017 while he was in Bangladesh for the birth of his daughter.

In a deprivation-of-citizenship order sent to his mother’s UK address, the government alleged that he was “an Islamist extremist who had previously sought to travel abroad to participate in terrorism-related activity.”

It said he was considered a threat to national security and would not be allowed to return to Britain.

His lawyers were not given any evidence of the criminal activity upon which the decision was based because it was “secret.”

Five years on, the government has reinstated the man’s citizenship, but he faces another court battle to provide his daughter with UK nationality.

“I never thought I would win my case; not because I am guilty of anything but because the system is set up to make you lose,” the man, who was born in London but is of Bangladeshi heritage, told The Independent.

“It was incredibly difficult. It is something that you cannot prepare for — you are suddenly cut off from your home, your family and friends, your job and source of income, and everything you take for granted.

“I was stranded in a country with a family that were financially dependent on me and I had no way of providing for them.”

He said he felt helpless and in danger from the Bangladeshi government. “If they were to learn that the British government had accused me of terrorism, they would probably detain and torture me as they routinely do with terrorism suspects,” E3 added.

“I had been sent into exile for a crime that I was not told about; I was not brought before a judge, had not even seen the evidence, so was not at all hopeful for a positive outcome to my appeal.”

The UK government is currently attempting to push the Nationality and Borders Bill through Parliament, which would make it significantly easier to remove the citizenship of those considered threats to national security.

The bill has proved controversial — if implemented, almost half of all British Asians and two in five black Britons would be eligible to have their citizenship revoked, potentially at short notice.

Anas Mustapha of advocacy group Cage, which is supporting E3’s family, told The Independent that E3’s case “exposes the cruel nature of citizenship deprivation” which, he added, “nearly exclusively impacts Muslims and people of color.”

The Good Law Project published advice on the bill, currently being reviewed by the House of Lords, and concluded that if it becomes law it will have “a disproportionate impact on non-white British citizens.”


Nepal imposes tough restrictions as COVID-19 cases set record

Nepal imposes tough restrictions as COVID-19 cases set record
Updated 21 January 2022

Nepal imposes tough restrictions as COVID-19 cases set record

Nepal imposes tough restrictions as COVID-19 cases set record
  • Authorities also halted in-person classes at all schools and indefinitely postponed university examinations

Katmandu: Nepal’s capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.
The chief government administrator of Katmandu issued a notice on Friday saying all people must carry their vaccination cards when they are in public areas or shop in stores.
Nepal, however, has only fully vaccinated 41 percent of its population. The notice did not say how unvaccinated people will be able to pay utility bills or shop for groceries.
The government says it has enough vaccines in stock, but a new wave of COVID-19 cases propelled by the omicron variant has created long lines at vaccination centers, with many people unable to receive shots.
All public gatherings and meetings will be banned and cinemas and theaters will be closed. Gymnasiums, pools and other sporting venues will also be shut. No public religious festivals or events will be allowed, the notice said. It did not say how long the restrictions would last.
Authorities also halted in-person classes at all schools and indefinitely postponed university examinations.
Wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing in public will be mandatory. Only 20 customers at a time will be allowed in shopping malls and department stores, and all must carry vaccination cards. Employees will be given regular antigen tests to be allowed to work.
Restaurants and hotels can remain open, but employees must wear face masks and other protection. Hotel guests must take antigen tests every three days.
The government is also limiting road traffic, with bans on alternating days for vehicles with odd or even license plates.
The notice said violators will be punished, but did not elaborates. An existing law relating to pandemics says violators can be jailed for a month.
The Health Ministry reported a record 12,338 new cases on Thursday and 11,352 on Wednesday, compared to a few hundred daily cases last month.
Nepal had full lockdowns in 2020 and again from late April to Sept. 1, 2021.