UN’s nuclear watchdog chief condemns shelling at Zaporizhzhia plant

UN’s nuclear watchdog chief condemns shelling at Zaporizhzhia plant
A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine. (REUTERS)
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Updated 06 August 2022

UN’s nuclear watchdog chief condemns shelling at Zaporizhzhia plant

UN’s nuclear watchdog chief condemns shelling at Zaporizhzhia plant

ZURICH: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) raised grave concerns on Saturday about the shelling the previous day at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, saying the action showed the risk of a nuclear disaster.
Both sides accused each other on Saturday of engaging in “nuclear terrorism.” Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom blamed Russia for the damage while Russia’s defense ministry accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the plant.
“I’m extremely concerned by the shelling yesterday at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.
Grossi, who leads the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, urged all sides in the Ukraine conflict to exercise the “utmost restraint” around the plant.
Shells hit a high-voltage power line on Friday at the facility, prompting its operators to disconnect a reactor despite no radioactive leak being detected. The plant was captured by Russian forces in early March in the opening stage of the war but it is still run by its Ukrainian technicians.
Energoatom said Russia wanted to disconnect the station from the Ukrainian electricity system and cause blackouts in the south of the country. Moscow’s forces, it said, had placed weapons and explosives in two of the power-generating units and mined the shoreline outside the plant.
“It is highly probable that all of this will cause a nuclear and radiation disaster,” it said in a statement on Saturday.
Russia’s defense ministry said damage to the plant had only been avoided thanks to the “skilful, competent and effective actions” of its units.
Grossi said that military action jeopardizing the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhia plant “is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs.”

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
Updated 11 sec ago

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
Updated 33 min 51 sec ago

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
  • Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency

SAN DIEGO: President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, despite pressure from advocates to raise it even higher to meet the need after falling far short of that target this year.
Refugees advocates have been pushing the Biden administration to do more to restore the US Refugee Admissions Program. The more than four-decade-old program suffered deep cuts under the Trump administration, which slashed admissions to a record low of 15,000.
Biden raised the cap to four times that amount, but so far fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
That number excludes the roughly 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the United States via a legal process called humanitarian parole that got them into the country more quickly than the traditional refugee program but only allows for stays of up to two years.
Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency. Their admissions are determined by the president each year, and federal funding for resettlement agencies is based on the number of people they resettle in a given year.
The 125,000 target “is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest,” Biden stated in his presidential determination. Historically, the average has been 95,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Biden earmarked 5,000 more slots for people from Europe and Central Asia for the 2023 budget year, making room to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The largest number of slots — 40,000 — was set aside for refugees from Africa, followed by 35,000 from South Asia and 15,000 each from East Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Biden has struggled to restore the US Refugee Program despite raising the numbers and removing bureaucratic barriers put in place by his predecessor, which slowed the process and led to a massive backlog.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Biden administration must act now to improve the refugee program with the United Nations reporting a record 100 million people being displaced from their homes.
“It must ramp up and streamline overseas processing of refugee applications if this lifesaving program is to remain relevant amid an unprecedented global displacement crisis,” she said in a statement.

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
Updated 28 September 2022

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
  • In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move

UNITED NATIONS, US: The UN reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” on Tuesday, as pro-Moscow authorities in several parts of the war-torn nation claimed victory in annexation votes condemned internationally as a sham.
“The United Nations remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders,” Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told a meeting of the UN Security Council.
Addressing the meeting by video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once more denounced the ballots hastily organized in Russian-occupied regions — Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
“There’s a very cynical attempt to force the male population in occupied territory of Ukraine to mobilize into the Russian army, in order to send them to fight against their own homelands,” he charged.
Taking aim at Russian leader Vladmir Putin, Zelensky warned that “annexation is the kind of move that puts him alone against the whole of humanity.”
“A clear signal is now needed from every country in the world,” he said.
In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move.
Nevertheless, the United States intends to submit a resolution condemning the “sham referenda,” urging member states “not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and obligating Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine,” said the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
China’s statements and vote on the resolution will be monitored closely for signals of any changes in its stance toward Russia, which it has yet to condemn over its invasion of Ukraine.
“Our position and proposition on how to view and handle the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear,” said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun on Tuesday.
“That is, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected.”
In February, just after Moscow’s forces invaded, China chose to abstain on a resolution deploring the action, which was nonetheless vetoed by Russia.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN ambassador, made clear that Russia would wield its veto again, criticizing the move as “temper tantrums of the Western delegations.”
“The referendums were conducted exclusively transparently, with upholding of all the electoral norms,” Nebenzia argued, adding that the West’s only aim was to “weaken and bleed dry Russia as much as possible.”

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy
Updated 28 September 2022

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy
  • Munir Akram told Arab News his country is proposing the creation of a financial facility that would be permanently available to compensate countries for the effects of climate change
  • He said he is ‘disappointed’ with the rights record of the Taliban in Afghanistan but added it would be counterproductive to break off from talks with them and isolate the government

NEW YORK CITY: Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Munir Akram, remembers the day the recent floods that would eventually submerge a third of his country began.
“The extreme heat melted the glaciers,” he said. “We have 7,000 glaciers in the mountains of Pakistan. This resulted in flash floods. And then the extreme heat led to high precipitation, which resulted in the massive torrential rains that came.
“It is perhaps difficult to imagine the magnitude of the disaster and this became clear to all of us, and to the world, as the waters ran over the rivers into the villages, towns, fields, destroying 7,000 kilometers of roads, 300 bridges, over a million homes, seven million acres of standing crops.”
During a visit to the country this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the situation in Pakistan as “climate carnage.” He had never seen anything like it on this scale before, he said, as the flooded land covered an area three times the size of his own country, Portugal.
This disaster of monumental magnitude has resulted in more than 1,400 deaths, and caused damage estimated at more than $30 billion. A catastrophe of hitherto unimaginable proportions, it has once again propelled the issue of climate change to the top of the international agenda, dominating every discussion during the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York this month.
“This is the consequence of climate change, of global warming,” Akram told Arab News on the sidelines of the UN event. “And the supreme irony is that Pakistan is not responsible for global warming; we emit only 0.8 percent of global carbon emissions and yet Pakistan is the most significantly impacted country by this.
“I think the (UN) secretary-general has spoken eloquently about that when he visited the affected areas and he has called for massive assistance to Pakistan, not only as a humanitarian gesture but also as part of, like, climate justice.
“It is unjust that Pakistan should face the consequences of the actions of those who are the largest emitters and have been the largest emitters for so many decades.”
China, the US and the nations that make up the membership of the EU are the three largest global emitters of greenhouse gases, which cause the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere to warm.
Guterres has for years called for the biggest producers of greenhouse gases not only to lower their emissions but also to finance the response to the effects of climate change in less-wealthy countries and regions — such as Pakistan, drought-hit Horn of Africa, and the Small Island States that are also particularly vulnerable to flooding — when they face extreme weather events resulting from those emissions.
“I think that all the honest people around the world recognize that global warming and climate change is a reality and that it is having very enormous impacts around the world, especially on developing countries,” said Akram.
“Therefore there is a growing support for the proposal of the developing countries that at least $100 billion should be provided annually for climate finance, that at least half of this should go to adaptation — so far, it’s only 20 to 25 percent of those (funds that go) for adaptation — and that when countries such as Pakistan (are) damaged so grievously, to the extent of 10 percent of the gross domestic product, that there is a responsibility on the part of the international community, especially those who have a historical and current responsibility for having the highest emissions, to provide support in the recovery of countries which suffer from the impact.”
Pakistan is putting forward a proposal for the creation of a financial facility that would be permanently available to compensate countries for the effects of climate change. This is in addition, Akram said, to Islamabad’s suggestion that climate-adaptation efforts, often deemed the “orphan child” of climate talks, should receive at least 50 percent of all climate financing, along with an increased emphasis on the importance of speeding up mitigation efforts, “especially by those who are the highest emitters and who have been historically the highest contributors to global warming over the last 150 years.”
Turning to the situation in neighboring Afghanistan, the Pakistani envoy expressed “disappointment” at the human rights record of the Taliban in the year since they took over the country by force following the withdrawal of Western forces in August last year.
“We are all disappointed that some of the promises that were made with regard to human rights, women’s rights and counterterrorism have not been fulfilled and it remains a priority for us to promote those objectives,” Akram said.
However he added that it would be counterproductive to disengage from talks with the Taliban government or to try to isolate and punish it. He said such actions would condemn the entirety of the Afghan population to further suffering and starvation “and that is certainly not the objective of the international community.”
Akram urged the global donors to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and engage in the economic revival of the country, including improvements to its banking system. He also called for the nation to be allowed to use the resources available to it, including the release of overseas assets currently frozen by the international community. Pakistan is actively engaged in this process, he added.
Calling for “a pathway for normalization” as a major weapon in the fight against terrorism, Akram urged the Taliban to “take effective action not only against (Daesh), which is of course the major concern for the international community, but also against terrorist organizations such as the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), which is not only threatening but actually resorting to cross-border attacks against Pakistan.”
The plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban is another topic that has dominated discussions during the UN General Assembly, with Afghan women living in exile making the case for their compatriots in a country that is the only one in the world that actively denies women the right to an education. They have called on world leaders to label the regime’s actions against women as “gender apartheid,” in the hope the term will become a catalyst in Afghanistan for change in terms of the treatment of women, just as it once did in South Africa on issues of race relations.
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, told Arab News last week that the plight of women in Afghanistan should be an issue not only for the wider international community but for the Muslim world in particular because “Islam is what gave women their rights. Islam is what protects women’s rights.”
Akram believes in pursuing “a strategy of persuasion” with the Taliban on the issue.
“We need to convince the Taliban that their position on this issue is out of step with the requirements of human rights, Islamic law or Islamic practice as such, and we are fully behind this,” he said.
“All we say is let’s do it in a way of persuasion, of trying to convince them through (for example) illustration of best practices in the Islamic world of how women are treated and how women are contributing to the welfare of the nations.
“And perhaps the Taliban — at least those who are younger, educated and know the world — will soon come to be convinced that this is the right way to do it. And hopefully, Afghanistan will then emerge into a stage of development that is more consistent with international norms.”


Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery
Updated 27 September 2022

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

KABUL: A mass grave found in southern Afghanistan has sparked calls for justice, as locals recalled atrocities committed against civilians over decades of conflict.

The remains of 12 people were recently found by residents of Spin Boldak, a town bordering Pakistan in the southern province of Kandahar, which had been the site of intense fighting between forces of the Western-backed government and Taliban fighters for the last two decades until the group took over Afghanistan last year.

Video clips, shared on social media by locals and Taliban officials, showed villagers gathered around piles of bones.

Bilal Karimi, the Taliban’s deputy spokesman, said the grave was from around eight or nine years ago, “when the area was under the control of the former administration.” He added that investigations were ongoing.

Taliban officials said the killings took place when Gen. Abdul Raziq was Kandahar police chief under the previous government.

Raziq was allegedly involved in torture and kidnapping, and was known for his fierce stance against the Taliban. He was killed in 2018.

A number of mass graves have been found in Afghanistan, many containing the remains of civilians killed in the decades of war before the US-led invasion in 2001.

More than 47,000 civilians and around 66,000 of Afghanistan’s soldiers and police officers died in the post-2001 conflict, according to a Costs of War report by Brown University.

Afghans called for justice for the victims in the latest discovery. “A lot of kidnapping, disappearing and killing was happening in Kandahar,” Abdul Kabir Mukhlis told Arab News on Tuesday.

Mukhlis, who now lives in Zabul province but studied for several years in Kandahar, recalled years of living under the threat of violence and brutality.

“I swear to God I haven’t had a single day in peace because of the ruthless Raziq and his allies,” the 28-year-old said.

“I couldn’t go anywhere in the city. I’ve seen many such incidents. My friends disappeared, they were killed.”

Mukhlis called on the Taliban to bring the perpetrators to justice, especially those who remain in the country.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should bring all of them to justice. I don’t expect justice from the international community because they supported these criminals,” he said. “They knew about the atrocities but didn’t do anything.”

Hekmatullah Zaland, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, told Arab News that the past two decades had seen powerful military figures committing “severe human rights and legal violations” to retain power.

“In the name of security, many innocent people were killed in the south in ways that are known only to those who did the atrocities. The recently explored grave in Kandahar could be just one example of the many similar incidents across the country,” Zaland said.

“On the pretext of the war on terror, both Afghans and their international allies have caused so much harm to innocent people that can’t be compensated. Justice is what could heal some of the wounds of the Afghan nation and the families of the victims.”

Esmatullah Afghan, a university lecturer from Helmand province, told Arab News that families of the victims often had to wait years to find out their fate.

“The injustice done to Afghans by their own countrymen and by foreigners is enormous,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the current government and an ethical obligation of the world to ensure justice to victims of cruelty, injustice and war in Afghanistan. 

“Afghans have been suffering mainly due to wars initiated by foreigners. The guilty must be punished.”