UN rights body agrees to appoint expert to scrutinize Russia

UN rights body agrees to appoint expert to scrutinize Russia
Russian ambassador Gennady Gatilov speaks at the opening of the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, in February. (AP)
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Updated 07 October 2022

UN rights body agrees to appoint expert to scrutinize Russia

UN rights body agrees to appoint expert to scrutinize Russia
  • The 47-member Human Rights Council passed the proposal, presented last week by all European Union member countries except Hungary
  • The original proposal expressed concerns about “mass forced shutdowns" of independent media, NGOs and opposition groups in Russia

GENEVA: The UN’s top human rights body voted Friday to appoint an independent expert to step up scrutiny of Russia’s rights record at home as arbitrary arrests, a crackdown on dissenting voices and limits on free speech worsen during the war in Ukraine.
The 47-member Human Rights Council passed the proposal, presented last week by all European Union member countries except Hungary, on a 17-6 vote, with 24 abstentions. Shortly before the vote in Geneva, Russian human rights group Memorial was named a co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
The original proposal expressed concerns about “mass forced shutdowns” of independent media, non-governmental organizations and opposition groups in Russia.
The Human Rights Council majority agreed to name a “special rapporteur” to keep tabs on rights violations in Russia, in part by relying on help from Russian groups and activists who are both still in the country and abroad.
It’s the first time the council has authorized a special rapporteur to look into human rights issues in any of the five countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Russian ambassador Gennady Gatilov called the draft proposal a “despicable document” that was intended “to find yet another way of exerting leverage for bringing pressure to bear on Russia.”
“This scheme by the EU and its allies is yet another attempt to punish our country for pursuing an independent foreign and domestic policy, and to entrench for the long-term the topic of Russia on the agenda of the HRC so as to unleash a stream of false allegations and accusations directed at us,” Gatilov said.
Western countries provided most of the votes in favor, joined by Paraguay, Marshall Islands and Ukraine. Diplomats from Bolivia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Kazakhstan and Venezuela voted against the proposal.
The number of abstentions in part reflected hesitations about authorizing a special rapporteur for a country that opposed the initiative: It’s unlikely that Russia will let the special rapporteur to visit the country.
The council previously appointed a Commission of Inquiry — the UN-backed body’s highest form of scrutiny — that is looking into rights abuses related to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Russian government has taken a number of steps to limit domestic dissent over the war, including passing a law that criminalizes spreading “fake” news about Russia’s military.
British ambassador Simon Manley said “repression at home, aggression abroad” by Russian authorities had increased since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February.
“The truth is that (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin uses repressive legislation to restrict freedom of speech and assembly. He crushes dissent through arbitrary detention and violence and has created a climate of fear and intimidation in order to deter civil society and activists from speaking out against the authorities,” Manley said.
Russia was a member of the Human Rights Council until earlier this year, when it suspended its participation as the UN General Assembly was set to strip the country of its membership due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Friday was the last day of the council’s fall session. A day earlier, member countries rejected a proposal, first floated by the United States and several other Western countries, to hold a debate over alleged human rights abuses in China’s Western Xinjiang region.


Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities
Updated 28 November 2022

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities
  • Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex
  • UN nuclear watchdog wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station

KYIV: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine remains under Russian control, authorities installed by Moscow in the nearby city of Enerhodar said on Monday, after a Ukrainian official suggested Russian forces were preparing to leave.
“The media are actively spreading fake news that Russia is allegedly planning to withdraw from Enerhodar and leave the (plant). This information is not true,” the Russia-installed administration wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy company said on Sunday there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to vacate the vast Zaporizhzhia plant which they seized in March, soon after invading Ukraine.
Ukraine, which suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chornobyl in 1986, and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex.
Both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency), wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station, which is Europe’s largest.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said late on Sunday that he had no doubt that Russian forces would leave the plant, where Ukrainian staff are still operating. Many of these workers live in Enerhodar.
“The defense line is starting to retreat to the borders of the Russian Federation,” Podolyak told Ukrainian television, adding that Ukraine would “take it (the plant) back.”
Ukraine’s military said on Monday its forces late last week destroyed six units of Russian military equipment and that about 30 Russian servicemen were wounded in fighting near Enerhodar.
Reuters was not able to immediately verify the reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin moved in September to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine where his forces say they have partial control. Kyiv and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal.


US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
Updated 28 November 2022

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
  • Russia and the US have been discussing a deal that could see the basketball star in exchange for convicted weapons trafficker Viktor Bout

MOSCOW: The United States and Russia are discussing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan through special channels, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing a top US diplomat.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Russia, was quoted as saying that the United States had submitted a serious proposal for consideration but it had not received a “serious response” back from Russia.
Russia and the United States have been discussing a deal that could see Griner, who is facing nine years in jail in Russia on drug charges, return to the United States in exchange for convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.
No deal has materialized amid heightened tensions between the two countries.


More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters
Updated 28 November 2022

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters
  • The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports-and-logistics company
  • Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative East-West trade routes

KOCHI, India: More than 80 people were wounded in southern India as villagers halting the construction of a $900 million port clashed with police, the latest escalation of a months-old protest waged by a mostly Christian fishing community against Asia’s richest man.

The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports-and-logistics company which has been forced to stop work on the Vizhinjam seaport that is seen winning business from rivals in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Construction, however, has been halted for more than three months after villagers blocked the entrance of the site, blaming the port of causing coastal erosion and depriving them of their livelihoods.

Over the weekend, police arrested several protesters after they blocked Adani’s construction vehicles from entering the port, despite a court order for work to resume.

The arrests prompted hundreds of protesters, led by Roman Catholic priests, to march on the police station, clash with personnel and damage vehicles there, according to police documents and footage on local television.

Senior local police official M R Ajith Kumar said 36 officers were wounded in the clashes. Joseph Johnson, one of the protest leaders, said at least 46 protesters were also hurt.

Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative East-West trade routes, adding to the global reach of the business led by billionaire Adani, estimated by Forbes to be the world’s third richest man.

Asked about the latest protest, the Adani Group did not immediately comment. The company has said that the port complies with all laws and cited studies that show it is not linked to shoreline erosion. The state government has also said that any erosion was due to natural causes.

The protests have continued despite repeated orders by the Kerala state’s top court to allow construction to start. Police have largely been unwilling to take any action, fearful that doing so will set off social and religious tensions.

In the latest clashes, police documents said the protesters “came with lethal weapons and barged into the station and held the police hostage, threatening that if people in custody were not released they would set the station on fire.” Eugine H. Pereira, the vicar general of the archdiocese and a protest leader, said the police pelted the protesters with stones.

The port protests recall the backlash Adani faced in Australia over his Carmichael coal mine. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to downsize production targets and delayed the mine’s first coal shipment by six years.


Four dead in hotel siege in Somali capital: security agency

Four dead in hotel siege in Somali capital: security agency
Updated 28 November 2022

Four dead in hotel siege in Somali capital: security agency

Four dead in hotel siege in Somali capital: security agency
  • Government forces seeking to ‘eliminate’ a number of armed militants inside the Villa Rose hotel
  • The militant group Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack

MOGADISHU: At least four people were killed in an ongoing attack by Al-Shabab militants who laid siege to a popular hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu overnight, a security agency official said on Monday.

Gunfire and explosions could still be heard more than 12 hours after the militants stormed the hotel near the presidential palace in a hail of bullets.

Mohamed Dahir, an official from the national security agency, said the gunmen were holed up in a room at the Villa Rose surrounded by government forces.

“So far we have confirmed the death of four people,” he said, adding that others had been rescued from the besieged venue.

“Very soon the situation will return to normal.”

Government officials were among others injured, he added.

The Villa Rose is frequented by MPs and located in a secure central part of the capital just a few blocks from the office of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Al-Shabab, a militant group affiliated with Al-Qaeda that has been trying to overthrow Somalia’s central government for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Police said the gunmen rushed into the hotel in Bondhere district at around 8:00 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Sunday and an operation was under way to “eliminate” them.

More than 12 hours later, witnesses near the scene described still hearing loud explosions and gunfire.

“I saw several military vehicles with special forces heading toward the hotel, and a few minutes later, there was heavy gunfire and explosions,” said local witness Mahad Yare.

In a statement late Sunday, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), a 20,000-strong military force drawn from across the continent, praised the “swift” security response to the attack.

On its website the Villa Rose describes the hotel as the “most secure lodging arrangement in Mogadishu” with metal detectors and a high perimeter wall.

Al-Shabab has intensified attacks against civilian and military targets as Somalia’s recently-elected government has pursued a policy of “all-out war” against the Islamists.

The security forces, backed by local militias, ATMIS and US air strikes, have driven Al-Shabab from central parts of the country in recent months, but the offensive has drawn retribution.

On October 29, two cars packed with explosives blew up minutes apart in Mogadishu followed by gunfire, killing at least 121 people and injuring 333 others.

It was the deadliest attack in the fragile Horn of Africa nation in five years.

At least 21 people were killed in a siege on a Mogadishu hotel in August that lasted 30 hours before security forces were able to overpower the militants inside.

The UN said earlier this month that at least 613 civilians had been killed and 948 injured in violence this year in Somalia, mostly caused by improvised explosive devices attributed to Al-Shabab.

The figures were the highest since 2017 and a more-than 30-percent rise from last year.


China’s Xinjiang eases some Covid measures after protests

China’s Xinjiang eases some Covid measures after protests
Updated 37 min 57 sec ago

China’s Xinjiang eases some Covid measures after protests

China’s Xinjiang eases some Covid measures after protests
  • Demonstrators gathered over the weekend to protest China’s COVID-19 lockdowns

BEIJING: China’s western Xinjiang region eased some Covid restrictions in its capital Urumqi on Monday, after a deadly fire in the city blamed on virus controls sparked protests across the country.
People in the city of four million, some of whom have been confined to their homes for weeks on end, can travel around on buses to run errands within their home districts starting Tuesday, officials said at a press conference Monday.
Certain essential businesses in “low-risk” areas could also apply to restart operations — at 50 percent capacity — while public transport and flights will start “resuming in an orderly manner,” officials said a day earlier.
Ten people were killed when a blaze ripped through a residential building in Urumqi on Thursday night, spurring crowds to take to the streets in multiple Chinese cities this weekend to protest against the country’s strict zero-Covid policy.
Many social media users blamed Covid lockdowns in Urumqi for hampering rescue efforts, but officials have instead said private cars obstructed firefighters.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday lashed out at “forces with ulterior motives” for linking the fire with Covid.
But in the wake of the protests, officials on Saturday said the city “had basically reduced social transmissions to zero” and they would “restore the normal order of life for residents in low-risk areas in a staged and orderly manner.”
Officials at the press conference on Monday said Urumqi would also resume parcel delivery services — but logistics workers would have to stay in a “closed loop” at company dormitories.
China’s unrelenting zero-Covid push has sparked protests and hit productivity in the world’s second-largest economy, as the public grows weary of snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing campaigns.
A series of new rules announced by Beijing earlier this month appeared to signal a shift away from the strategy, easing quarantine requirements for entering the country and simplifying a system for designating high-risk areas.
But officials have instead dug in their heels, even shutting down large parts of China’s capital as national case numbers shot past the 30,000 mark in recent days to record highs.
Public anger boiled over on the weekend when hundreds gathered on university campuses and cities around the country demanding an end to the zero-Covid policy.
In Beijing, the city government said on Sunday afternoon it will not allow snap lockdowns of residential areas to be in place for more than 24 hours.