UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya
Mourners show portraits near bodies which were exhumed from a mass grave in Tarhouna before getting reburied in Tripoli, Libya. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 July 2022

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya
  • Militia run by seven brothers executed and imprisoned hundreds of people between 2016-2020
  • Surviving leaders of the Kaniyat are mostly believed to have fled to areas of eastern Libya

GENEVA: A UN-appointed mission to Libya said on Monday there are “probable mass graves” yet to be investigated, possibly as many as 100, in a town where hundreds of bodies have already been found and it urged Tripoli to continue searching.
The report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council this week details how a militia run by seven brothers executed and imprisoned hundreds of people between 2016-2020, sometimes keeping them in tiny oven-like structures called “the boxes” which were set alight during interrogations.
The evidence of kidnappings, murder and torture in Tarhouna by the independent Fact-Finding Mission represents one of the most egregious examples of human rights abuses in the turbulent period since long-ruling Muammar Qaddafi’s ousting in 2011.
Among the victims were the disabled as well as women and children, the 51-page report said.
Based on the testimonies of residents and two site visits, the mission found “reasonable grounds” that the Kaniyat militia committed crimes against humanity. It identified four commanders who participated directly in them.
Already, Libyan authorities have recovered 247 bodies in mass and individual grave sites in the Tarhouna area in Western Libya. Many were still handcuffed and blindfolded.
The mission used satellite imagery showing signs of soil disturbances among other evidence to identify three new likely sites. But there could be many more, it said, citing an existing grave known as ‘The Landfill’ where just a tiny fraction of the site has been investigated.
“According to insider knowledge, there might still be up to 100 as of yet undiscovered mass graves,” the report said.
It is not immediately clear how the findings will reflect on Libyan authorities. Libya’s diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond for a request for comment.
At one stage, the Kaniyat was aligned with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord but later with the eastern Libyan National Army led by commander Khalifa Haftar that tried, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the National Accord administration. The militia no longer holds authority in Tarhouna. The surviving leaders of the Kaniyat are mostly believed to have fled to areas of eastern Libya under Haftar’s control.
In its conclusions, the FFM calls on Libyan authorities to continue searching for the graves. It also urges them to establish a special tribunal to prosecute international crimes.
However, the report refers to difficulties with cooperation in the past. Diplomats and UN sources told Reuters that Libya had in the past expressed reservations about continuing the mission, which expires this month.
A resolution is currently before the Geneva-based council to keep investigations going for another nine months, which is less than some had hoped for. A decision is expected this week.


Iranian activists planning to sue govt over COVID-19 response sentenced to prison

Iranian activists planning to sue govt over COVID-19 response sentenced to prison
Updated 12 sec ago

Iranian activists planning to sue govt over COVID-19 response sentenced to prison

Iranian activists planning to sue govt over COVID-19 response sentenced to prison
  • Iran has had the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 7,488,493 confirmed cases and 143,093 deaths so far, according to data from John Hopkins University

Several Iranian activists who had plans to sue government officials for its poor handling of the COVID-19 outbreak have been jailed, an appeals court in Iran’s capital city has confirmed. 

Known as “health defenders,” the activists were seeking to file legal charges against the government and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines’ rollout, Radio Farda reported on Wednesday. 

Iran has had the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 7,488,493 confirmed cases and 143,093 deaths so far, according to data from John Hopkins University. 

Many Iranians also saw Khamenei’s ban on the import of vaccines from the US and Britain as a solely political move that led to thousands of preventable deaths, Radio Farda said. 

Security officers arrested five people in August 2021 for refusing to sign a letter pledging they would not sue Khamenei or other officials over the COVID-19 response, Radio Farda reported. 

Activist Mostafa Nili said the court had confirmed sentences against him and other activists before the group could file a suit against the government. 

The report added that Mehdi Mahmudian was jailed for four years and sentenced to two years of deprivation of media activity, while Arash KEykhosro was facing a jail term of two years and a one-year ban from advocacy and media activities. 

Mohammed Reza Faghihi was sentenced to six-months in prison and Maryam Afrafaraz was given a 995-day jail term. 

During a closed trial, the group was convicted of “colluding to commit crimes against national security,” Radio Farda said.


Kuwait approves measures to ensure transparent elections

Kuwait approves measures to ensure transparent elections
Updated 25 min 50 sec ago

Kuwait approves measures to ensure transparent elections

Kuwait approves measures to ensure transparent elections
  • Cabinet approved adding new precincts to four voting constituencies
  • Resolutions will be forwarded to Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah for approval

Voters can use their national IDs to cast their ballot in Kuwait’s upcoming parliamentary elections, state news agency (KUNA) reported.  

The resolution was among new law-decrees of necessity adopted during a cabinet meeting that was held at Seif Palace on Wednesday.

Kuwait’s cabinet approved adding new precincts to four voting constituencies “based on geographic proximity and governorate affiliation,” said Minister of Justice and Minister of State for Integrity Enhancement Jamal Al-Jallawi in a statement to KUNA.

“The new measures aim to ensure transparent and legal elections that truly represent the will of the voters,” said Al-Jallawi.

Earlier this month, Kuwait had formally dissolved the parliament, with the Crown Prince Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah calling for early elections.

The cabinet’s recent resolutions will be forwarded to Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah for approval, KUNA said.


Former US officials call for regime change in Iran led by the nation’s people

Former US officials call for regime change in Iran led by the nation’s people
Updated 18 August 2022

Former US officials call for regime change in Iran led by the nation’s people

Former US officials call for regime change in Iran led by the nation’s people
  • They were speaking at an event marking the 20th anniversary of a conference that revealed to the world the existence of a secret Iranian nuclear program
  • National Council of Resistance of Iran’s Alireza Jafarzadeh said the regime in Tehran sees the nuclear program as a way to guarantee its survival

WASHINGTON: The National Council of Resistance of Iran in the US on Wednesday urged American authorities and the wider international community to stand firm against the regime in Iran and its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

The call came during a conference in Washington organized by the council. The speakers included a number of American former political and military leaders who called for support for regime change spearheaded by the Iranian people.

They also argued that the administration of President Joe Biden is making a critical mistake in negotiating with Iranian authorities over a possible revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, without leveraging the power of the US military capability to strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. The US, under President Donald Trump, unilaterally withdrew from the JCPoA in 2018.

Wednesday’s conference was organized to examine Iran’s current nuclear agenda on the 20th anniversary of the NCRI press conference in Washington that revealed to the world the existence of a secret Iranian nuclear program at the Natanz and Arak nuclear facilities.

The speakers included John Bolton, a former US national security advisor and ambassador; Gen. Chuck Wald, former deputy commander of US European Command; Robert Joseph, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Joe Lieberman, a former senator; Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency; and Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI’s Washington office.

Jafarzadeh said that the Iranians will never abandon their nuclear ambitions because they see the program as a way to guarantee the survival of the regime and deter any potential foreign attack or military intervention. He urged the US government to support the Iranian people in their push for change in Tehran.

“The solution is a regime change by the Iranian people and replacing (the regime) with a democratic republic,” he said.

Bolton echoed Jafarzadeh’s sentiments and said the Iranian regime has lied for 20 years about its nuclear program. There will be no peace or security if it remains in power, he added.

“The key is the Iranian people, who are a threat to the regime,” Bolton said.

Wald said the US and Israel have carried out a lot of planning in the past 20 years in case it is decided that Iranian nuclear sites must be attacked.

He pointed out that all the previous and current negotiations with the regime have failed to halt its nuclear program and said the US government must make it clear to Tehran that it has the military capability and political will to strike the nuclear facilities.

“The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps must stay on the (US government’s) Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, as well as placing the issue of Iran’s ballistic missiles on the negotiating table,” he added.

Arguing against the current round of negotiations with Iran, Joseph said that Tehran has stepped up its nuclear program while also building ballistic missiles, it provides support for terrorist groups and has carried out repression of the Iranian people since signing the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The key here is the Iranian people,” he said. “It’s the greatest threat to the administration. At the minimum, we shouldn’t stand in the way of people who seek democracy, basic human dignity and human rights.”

Joseph added that when Iran considers its nuclear weapons program it thinks of the fate of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who surrendered his country’s nuclear program and “eight years later he is dead in a ditch.”

He said said Iran’s breakout time — the term for how long is required to produce enough fissile material to develop a nuclear weapon — can now be measured in weeks.

“My view that Iran is a virtual nuclear weapons state” he added.


Mikati defies skeptics with new bid to form government

Mikati defies skeptics with new bid to form government
Updated 18 August 2022

Mikati defies skeptics with new bid to form government

Mikati defies skeptics with new bid to form government
  • 350 Lebanese judges on strike in protest over low salaries

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has launched a new attempt to form a  government and end the political deadlock that has gripped the country for months.

After meeting President Michel Aoun on Wednesday, Mikati said: “I presented Aoun with a proposal for the government formation on June 29. We discussed it again today and I can tell you we are starting to see eye to eye.”

The meeting is believed to have improved relations between Mikati and Aoun, which soured after the latter claimed the proposed government formation robbed his political team of the ministries it wanted to keep.

Mikati briefed Aoun about a ministerial meeting that he called on Tuesday and held in his residence. Discussions did not take place in the official Cabinet hall since the government has been in caretaker mode following parliamentary elections in May.

The ministerial meeting focused on the issue of the customs dollar, and urgent financial and economic files.

A source in the PM’s office told Arab News: “Mikati was relieved after the meeting with Aoun. Although he did not want to reveal the details of the discussions, he hopes to form a government soon.”

The source said that during the ministerial meeting, Mikati sought to unify ministers’ views regarding the customs dollar between those who want to price it based on the rate of 12,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar and those who want to adopt the Central Bank’s Sayrafa platform rate of 26,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

The customs dollar is still priced at 1,507 Lebanese pounds to the dollar — the official price that has prevailed during the past three years of economic collapse.

The source said: “They will most likely settle on an average rate so that the customs dollar would be based on the rate of 20,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar. Any decision in this regard requires the government’s approval, which can only happen if a new government is formed and gains Parliament’s vote of confidence. This needs to happen before September since Parliament would turn into an electoral body only as of Sept. 1.”

A political observer said: “The customs dollar needs to be settled and approved to feed the state treasury and limit the collapse.”

Unifying the customs dollar price is one of several conditions Lebanon must meet in order to complete its agreement with the International Monetary Fund, in addition to enacting the capital control law, restructuring banks and approving the 2022 budget.

Political observers fear constitutional crises related to the caretaker government managing the presidential elections may be fabricated, which could suggest that such a government is not eligible to take power in the event of a presidential vacuum, resulting in the current president remaining in office after the end of his term.

The Strong Lebanon Bloc, Aoun’s political team, warned in a statement on Tuesday of the danger of refraining from forming a government under various pretexts that allow a resigned government to take the president’s place if a new one is not elected within the constitutional deadline.

“Any attempt in this direction is rejected and allows constitutional chaos, which may create a custom that could lead to many new ones,” the bloc said.

It demanded Mikati form a new government, taking into account the president’s constitutional role in the process.

The bloc insisted that the presidential candidate should be from a parliamentary bloc with balanced representation, or be supported by significant parliamentary blocs, adding that it will not accept the nomination of those who have no representative capacity.

Meanwhile, more than 350 out of 560 judges have decided to stop work in protest against the withdrawal of a decision to pay judges’ salaries based on the rate of 8,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

The Central Bank had adopted this measure to raise the value of the judges’ salaries, but was met with protests by public sector employees, who went on strike until they received pay rises.

The judges’ strike could have serious repercussions, and includes investigative judges and judges in the Public Prosecution Office, as well as members of the Supreme Judicial Council, the State Shoura Council and the Court of Audit.

Aoun addressed judges on Tuesday, urging them “to fight for their dignity and authority, and not fear the oppression of those in power.”

He asked the judiciary “to confront everyone who restricts their judgment in the case filed against Central Bank governor Riad Salameh, and in the Beirut port explosion probe.”


Young Palestinians losing interest in politics, poll shows

Young Palestinians losing interest in politics, poll shows
Updated 18 August 2022

Young Palestinians losing interest in politics, poll shows

Young Palestinians losing interest in politics, poll shows
  • Study by Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre finds young people are reluctant to join political parties

RAMALLAH: Young Palestinians have the potential to play a vital role in politics but lack the opportunity to do so, according to the results of a recent poll.

The study, by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, found that young people were reluctant to join political parties, despite more than 82 percent of respondents believing they had an important role to play.

More than 88 percent of people thought it was important for young people to become members of the central committees and politburos of political parties and factions, but almost 69 percent said there had been a significant decline in them doing so.

Almost 75 percent of respondents said they believed in the importance of holding legislative elections, while 79 percent said it was essential to hold presidential elections. Just over 70 percent of people said they would vote in such elections.

More than 34 percent of people said economic issues were their primary concern when evaluating the platforms of electoral lists or parties, followed by safety and security at 29 percent and fighting corruption at 14 percent.

The poll showed that 51 percent of respondents would support the PLO’s platform, 22 percent would support Hamas and 27 percent did not respond.

Almost 76 percent of people said it was essential to hold leadership elections for Palestinian political parties and factions.

Just over 32 percent of respondents said they would vote for the PLC elections candidate representing Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, while 13.5 percent would opt for Hamas, led by Ismail Haniyeh. More than 33 percent said they would not vote or were unsure whom to vote for.

In the study, 19 percent said they wanted Marwan Barghouthi to be the future president of the PLO, while the same percentage said they wanted him to be president of the PA, followed by Mohammed Dahlan with 4.3 percent, Hussein Al-Sheikh with 3.6 percent, Mohammed Shtayieh with 3.3 percent and Mohammed Aloul with 2.9 percent.

Just over 44 percent said that Abbas’ decision to appoint Hussein Al-Sheikh as PLO executive committee secretary was not good and 33 percent said they expected him to do a bad job.

A shade over 50 percent of the participants said the PA’s performance was good — down from over 68 percent who thought so in June 2020 — while 45 percent said it was terrible. A total of 58.5 percent said they believed the PA should be maintained, while 33 percent said it should be dissolved.

On the issue of the war in Ukraine, 65 percent of respondents said they were neutral, while 17 percent said they sympathized with Russia and 8 percent said they sympathized with Ukraine. Almost 65 percent of people said the Palestinian leadership should take a neutral stance on the conflict.

Just over 42 percent of respondents said they thought that US President Joe Biden’s visit to the region would not affect the interests of the Palestinian people, while 38 percent said it would be harmful and 13 percent thought it could be beneficial.