Rittenhouse verdict puts Biden in difficult political spot

People react to the verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S., November 19, 2021. (REUTERS)
People react to the verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S., November 19, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 21 November 2021

Rittenhouse verdict puts Biden in difficult political spot

People react to the verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S., November 19, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • Former President Donald Trump called the teen “brave” for testifying in his own defense and accused the left of trying “to fan hatred” with its treatment of Rittenhouse

WILMINGTON, Delaware: A difficult political atmosphere for President Joe Biden may have become even more treacherous with the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse.
Biden was already facing sliding poll numbers with an electorate worn down by the coronavirus pandemic and increasing inflation. Now, the president finds himself caught between outraged Democrats — some of whom were already stewing over Biden’s inability to land police reform and voting rights legislation — and Republicans looking to use the Rittenhouse case to exploit the national divide over matters of grievance and race.
“This is one of the last things Biden wants to be engaging in at this moment as he tries to finish up the big Build Back Better bill and get that across the finish line through the Senate,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “Race and Kyle Rittenhouse is not the space where he wants or needs to be going deep right now.”
The acquittal of Rittenhouse has touched off new conversations about racial justice, vigilantism and policing in America. The Illinois teen armed himself with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle during an August 2020 protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, days after the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer. He said he came to small city to help protect a car lot from vandals and provide medical aid.
Rittenhouse would end up fatally shooting two men and maiming a third. Rittenhouse and his lawyers successfully argued that he had acted in self-defense during a confrontation in which he feared for his life.




Kyle Rittenhouse speaks with his attorneys before the jury is relieved for the evening during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, U.S., November 18, 2021. (REUTERS)

The verdict in the case comes at a moment when Biden is trying to keep fellow Democrats focused on passing his massive social services and climate bill and hoping to turn the tide with Americans who have soured on his performance as president.
The president responded carefully following Friday’s verdict, expressing respect for the jury’s decision. He later added in a written statement that, like many Americans, he was “angry and concerned” with the jury acquittal of Rittenhouse.
Meanwhile, Republicans, who had success in this month’s Virginia election in part by accusing Democrats of promoting critical race theory in public schools, are embracing 18-year-old Rittenhouse as their newest hero in America’s culture wars.
GOP Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Matt Gaetz of Florida have said they’d like to hire him as an intern, with Gosar suggesting they arm wrestle for the honor. Another Republican, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, on Saturday predicted that liberal outrage over the Rittenhouse trial would benefit her party.
“It seems liberals want self-defense to be illegal,” Boebert tweeted. “Try running on that in 2022 and see how far it gets you with the majority of the sane American public.”
Former President Donald Trump was quick to stand with Rittenhouse following the verdict. He called the teen “brave” for testifying in his own defense and accused the left of trying “to fan hatred” with its treatment of Rittenhouse.
Trump has spent much of his post-presidency stoking divisions with his frontal criticism of Biden and of any Republican who has not marched in lockstep with his views. And most Republicans, either through silence or direct endorsement, have followed his lead.
In the aftermath of the acquittal, Republicans have highlighted a tweet by Biden during his winning 2020 presidential campaign in which he appeared to suggest that Rittenhouse was a white supremacist.
The tweet, from September 2020, excoriated Trump for failing “to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage” the previous night and included a video that contained a still image of Rittenhouse from the night of the Kenosha shooting and footage of torch-bearing white supremacists at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel are among party officials who have called on Biden to apologize.
“He smeared a teenager to score political points and spread lies about this case,” McDaniel wrote on Twitter. “What Biden did was dangerous and inflammatory.”
Asked by a reporter soon after the verdict if he stood by his campaign social media posting, Biden responded that “I stand by what the jury has concluded.”
Borick, the Muhlenberg College pollster, said the results of this month’s elections in Virginia show that driving at cultural issues — including race and transgender rights — could be a good strategy for Republicans trying to energize a segment of the electorate that was passionate about Trump but less enthusiastic about the rest of the GOP. But Borick warned that the GOP’s fulsome embrace of Rittenhouse wasn’t without risk.
“I don’t know if it’s a great place to be if you’re trying, come the midterms, to reach suburban voters and educated voters who might not fault the decision to acquit Rittenhouse because of the circumstances but are far from comfortable holding him up as a hero,” Borick said.
Even before the verdict, Biden had been facing increased pressure from some Democrats over the lack of progress on passing voting rights and police reform legislation.
Last month, a day after Senate Republicans filibustered a major voting bill for the second time this year, Biden acknowledged that the process of governing could be “frustrating and sometimes dispiriting” but urged supporters to “keep the faith.”
At the same, civil rights leaders have expressed frustration that Biden has not used the power of the bully pulpit more to push for a broad police reform bill named after George Floyd, the Black Minneapolis man whose killing last year by police touched off protests around the US
Speaking at an event earlier this week where he signed into law a trio of bills to increase aid to police, Biden only made passing mention of the George Floyd act, asking legislators from both parties to work together to make it law.
“That’s next,” Biden said.
 


Uyghurs urge UN rights chief to ask hard questions in Xinjiang

A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP)
A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP)
Updated 8 sec ago

Uyghurs urge UN rights chief to ask hard questions in Xinjiang

A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP)
  • Campaigners have voiced concern that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough probe into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-managed tour with limited access

BEIJING: Uyghurs have urged UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to avoid falling victim to a public relations stunt as her trip to China enters a delicate new phase on Tuesday with a visit to the remote Xinjiang region.
The ruling Communist Party is accused of detaining over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region as part of a years-long security crackdown the United States has labelled a “genocide.”
China vehemently denies the allegations, calling them the “lie of the century.”
Bachelet is expected to visit the Xinjiang cities Urumqi and Kashgar on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a six-day tour.
“I hope she can also ask the Chinese government for the whereabouts of my mother,” said Jevlan Shirememet, adding that he had not been able to contact her in four years.
The Turkey-based 31-year-old — from the province’s northern reaches near the border with Kazakhstan — also said he hoped Bachelet would venture further than her itinerary.
“I don’t know why she can’t visit these places,” he told AFP.
Nursimangul Abdureshid — another Uyghur living in Turkey — was “not very hopeful that her trip can bring any change.”
“I request them to visit victims like my family members, not the pre-prepared scenes by the Chinese government,” she told AFP.
“If the UN team cannot have unlimited access in Xinjiang, I will not accept their so-called reports.”

Regional capital Urumqi — population four million — houses major government bodies believed to have orchestrated the province-wide campaign China described as a crackdown on religious extremism.
It is home to a sizeable Uyghur community and was the site of deadly ethnic clashes in 2009 as well as two terrorist attacks in 2014.
Meanwhile, Kashgar — home to 700,000 people — lies in the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang.
An ancient Silk Road city, it has been a major target of Beijing’s crackdown, researchers and activists say, with authorities accused of smothering the cultural hub in a high-tech security blanket while bulldozing Uyghur homes and religious sites.
The outskirts of both cities are pockmarked with what are believed to be detention camps, part of a sprawling network of recently built facilities stretching across the remote province.
Campaigners have voiced concern that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough probe into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-managed tour with limited access.
The US has said it is “deeply concerned” that she had not secured guarantees on what she will see, adding that she was unlikely to get an “unmanipulated” picture of China’s rights situation.
Speaking in Guangzhou where she met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday, Bachelet said she would be “discussing some very important issues and sensitive issues.”
“I hope this will help us build confidence, and enable us to work together,” she added.
Bachelet also gave assurances on her access to detention centers and rights defenders during a Monday virtual meeting with the heads of dozens of diplomatic missions in China, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing.
Caroline Wilson, the UK’s Ambassador to China, was on the call and said she stressed “the importance of unfettered access to Xinjiang and private conversations with its people.”
“There is no excuse for preventing UN representatives from completing their investigations,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.
Bachelet’s office has also said she will meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics.
In addition to mass detentions, Chinese authorities have waged a campaign of forced labor, coerced sterilization and the destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage in Xinjiang, researchers and campaigners say.
Uyghurs overseas have staged rallies in recent weeks pressing Bachelet to visit relatives believed to be detained in Xinjiang.


Moscow not sure it needs resumed ties with West, will work on ties with China -Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Reuters)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Reuters)
Updated 10 min 1 sec ago

Moscow not sure it needs resumed ties with West, will work on ties with China -Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Reuters)
  • “Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said

MOSCOW: Russia’s Foreign Minister said on Monday that Moscow will consider offers of re-establishing ties with the West and think whether that is needed, but will focus on developing ties with China.
“If they (the West) want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not,” Lavrov said in a speech, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry’s website.
He also said Moscow’s goal now is to further develop ties with China.
“Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said.

 


UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told
Updated 23 May 2022

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told
  • Steiner said first thing that must be reestablished in country is “a rule of law in the sense of fundamental rights”
  • He added that the most urgent priority is saving Afghanistan’s economy from collapse

LONDON: The UN is clear about the human rights it expects authorities in Afghanistan to uphold, one of which is the right of girls to education, an official from the organization said on Monday.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Achim Steiner, the administrator of the UN Development Program, said that girls in the country should be free to complete their education and pursue careers.
The UN “is unequivocal about the fundamental human rights that we expect a country like Afghanistan to uphold and to respect and that includes … the right of girls to attend educational institutions,” he said. “And not just primary school but also secondary school, and their ability to pursue careers and to go to university.
“It is without doubt a grave misjudgment that up to now the Taliban have not fulfilled the commitment that they have repeatedly made to their own public, but also to the international community, that they would reopen the secondary schools” to girls, Steiner added.
The Taliban has barred girls from attending school after the sixth grade, reversing previous promises made by Taliban officials when they took control of the country last year that girls of all ages would be allowed to continue their education.
The group has placed other strict restrictions on females, including ordering all women to wear clothing in public that covers them head to toe with only their eyes visible. They also issued a decree stating that women should leave their homes only when necessary and that male relatives would face punishment for any violations of the women’s dress code, starting with a summons and escalating to court hearings and jail time.
Steiner said the first thing that must be reestablished in the country is “a rule of law in the sense of fundamental rights.” He added: “I think this is perhaps the greatest single litmus test that the international community holds up to the Taliban — and I think quite rightly.”
However, Steiner warned that the most urgent need in Afghanistan is action to save its economy from complete collapse.
“We cannot abandon 40 million Afghans simply on the principle of moral outrage,” he said. “That is why the UN stepped back into Afghanistan and became the backbone of an international community’s presence.
“We are there because we see the desperation of the Afghan people. And while the international community finds a way with the Taliban to conclude a process of political rapprochement, we are trying to essentially intervene in an economy that has to keep people alive.”
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan nine months ago following the withdrawal of US troops triggered an economic crisis. Underpinning this was the decision of the Biden administration to freeze about $9.5 billion deposited by the Afghan central bank in American financial institutions.
President Joe Biden has signed an order to release $7 billion of these frozen assets but only half will be released for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. The remainder will go to the families of Sept. 11 victims.


UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies
Updated 23 May 2022

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies
  • The latest tech has benefited human rights work and efforts to battle bigotry and racism but malicious use has quadrupled in seven years, UN official said
  • Rosemarie DiCarlo called on members to build a consensus on the use of digital technologies for the good of people and the planet, and on addressing the risks

NEW YORK: Digital technologies have profoundly transformed every facet of society. They offer endless opportunities for development, education and social inclusion, and are transforming the process of advocacy on issues such as human rights and humanitarianism, making it possible to mobilize large numbers of people around the world quickly around important topics that require urgent attention.

However, technological advances are also increasingly being misused by governments and terrorist groups to cause instability and exacerbate conflicts, including through the online spread of disinformation and hate speech.

These were among the main points made by Rosemarie DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs on Monday during a Security Council meeting on technology and security. It was the second signature event organized by the US delegation, which holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, after a debate last week about conflict and food security.

The Security Council has become increasingly involved in efforts to address cybersecurity issues and the role of information and communication technologies in influencing and shaping events in modern societies. The UN has also been working to leverage digital technologies to enhance its work in the field.

During a briefing at the start of the American presidency of the council, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, said that the issue is “a new and important focus for the Security Council” and that “it is long past time for the council to fully grapple with the impact of digital technologies.”

DiCarlo said that digital tools are helping to strengthen the UN’s information-gathering and early-warning capacities in many places. In Yemen, for example, the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement has used mapping, geographic information systems and satellite technology tools to enhance its monitoring of the ceasefire in the governorate.

New technologies have also helped to remove barriers to access for groups that traditionally have been excluded from political and mediation processes and, therefore, have helped to promote inclusion, DiCarlo said. She gave as an example of this the digital discussions conducted with thousands of Libyans from all walks of life, which were broadcast on TV and social media.

“This effort increased the legitimacy of the process, as different communities saw that their voices could be heard,” she added.

Similarly, in Yemen digital technologies have enabled the UN’s special envoy to engage with hundreds of women across the country, DiCarlo said, “which provided insight on the gender dimensions of the war.”

However, she also warned that incidents involving the malicious use of digital technologies for political or military ends have quadrupled since 2015, and said that activities targeting infrastructure that helps to provide essential public services is particular concern.

A report by the UN Secretary General published in May 2020 noted that new technologies were too often used for surveillance, repression, censorship and online harassment, and called for greater efforts to develop guidance on how human rights standards apply in the digital age.

The UN Human Rights Council last month adopted a resolution concerning the role of states in countering the negative effects of disinformation on human rights. It called on members to refrain from conducting or sponsoring disinformation campaigns.

“Non-state actors are becoming increasingly adept at using low-cost and widely available digital technologies to pursue their agendas,” DiCarlo said.

“Groups such as (Daesh) and Al-Qaida remain active on social media, using platforms and messaging applications to share information and communicate with followers for the purposes of recruitment, planning and fundraising.”

Referring to the pernicious use of technology by “super-empowered, non-state actors,” Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN, said that commercially available drones are now capable of flying faster, traveling greater distances, carrying larger payloads and leveraging artificial intelligence and other tools to operate without manual control.

“Drones do not just operate in the air,” she said. “On March 3, 2020, the Houthi terrorist group used a remotely operated drone boat laden with explosives to attack an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.

“If successful, the attack would have had devastating effects not only on the tanker and the crew but on the environment, on local supply routes and on communities along the Yemeni coast who depend on the sea for their livelihood.”

The misuse of social media can also fuel polarization and violence, spread disinformation, radicalization, racism and misogyny, DiCarlo said.

She also expressed concern about the increasing use of internet shutdowns in times of active conflict which, she said, “deprive communities of their means of communication, work and political participation.”

She called on member states to seize what she described as a critical opportunity to build consensus on how digital technologies can be used for the good of people and the planet, while addressing their risks.


Global economic impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine to be felt for years: WEF panel

Global economic impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine to be felt for years: WEF panel
Updated 23 May 2022

Global economic impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine to be felt for years: WEF panel

Global economic impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine to be felt for years: WEF panel
  • Former Finnish PM Alexander Stubb: Zelensky can’t give up, and it’s much easier to defend your country and your identity than to attack
  • Alexander Stubb: The Russian military is surprisingly weak, and it’s difficult for Putin to define a victory

DAVOS: The war in Ukraine is likely to continue impacting the economies of Europe and the wider world for years to come, former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said during a panel at the World Economic Forum on Monday.

Stubb said the global economy would feel the pinch as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, especially in terms of inflation, energy prices and food security.

While Vladimir Putin remains in power in Russia, Stubb said he could not see the return of an equilibrium between Moscow and Europe and that it would be hard for either the Russians or the Ukrainians to define a victory in the conflict.

“Zelensky can’t give up, and it’s much easier to defend your country and your identity than to attack,” he said. “The Russian military is surprisingly weak, and it’s difficult for Putin to define a victory,” he added.

“I think it has to be a territorial definition; for Putin, it’s only Donetsk, perhaps a little bit more, including Crimea.

“Whereas for Zelensky, he could never approve that. I don’t have an answer for when this is going to end.”

Stubb also said he believes that the driving force behind the war is Putin’s desire to make himself a great leader in Russian history.

Stubb’s co-panelist Karin von Hippel, director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, said more definition was needed between Putin and the Russian people, calling the Ukraine invasion “Putin’s war.”

She continued: “It’s hard to say if he knows the truth about what’s really going on in Ukraine; we don’t know how far he’s willing to go.”

She said that under Russia’s leadership, Putin would not abandon the ideology that Ukraine should form part of Russia.

“No Western country can shake hands with him after this. Some may, but a large part can’t,” she added.

Von Hippel said that while she believed in global governance and was a supporter of the UN project, she felt “deeply disappointed” by its response to the Ukraine conflict, saying it had “failed” in its duty.

Samir Saran, president of the Observer Research Foundation, said he believed the developing world — in Asia, Africa and Latin America — should not be paying for what he called a war of European making. 

“When will the world start blaming the West for this inflation?” he asked, before concluding the moment would come sooner than European leaders think.

Saran also said that if a reported disconnect between Putin and the Russian people were to disappear and they were to fully supported the conflict, the consequences would be felt by the global economy for at least another decade.