UN to take up Russian annexations in Ukraine

UN to take up Russian annexations in Ukraine
Volunteers work to clean the debris on a site where several houses were destroyed after a Russian attack at a residential area in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Oct. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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Updated 10 October 2022

UN to take up Russian annexations in Ukraine

UN to take up Russian annexations in Ukraine
  • EU and other countries brought issue to the UNGA — no one wields veto power — after Russia blocked it in the Security Council

NEW YORK: The UN General Assembly on Monday will open debate on a draft resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions, as Western powers seek to underscore Moscow’s international isolation.
The decision to bring the matter before the General Assembly, where the 193 UN members have one vote each — and no one wields veto power — was taken after Russia used its veto in a Security Council meeting September 30 to block a similar proposal.
“It’s extremely important,” said Olof Skoog, who, as EU ambassador to the world body, drafted the text in cooperation with Ukraine and other countries.
“Unless the UN system and the international community through the General Assembly react to this kind of illegal attempt, then we would be in a very, very bad place,” the Swedish diplomat told reporters.
A failure by the General Assembly to act — a vote is expected no sooner than Wednesday — would give “carte blanche to other countries to do likewise or to give recognition to what Russia has done,” he added.
A draft of the resolution seen by AFP condemns Russia’s “attempted illegal annexations” of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson following “so-called referendums,” and it stresses that these actions have “no validity under international law.”
It calls on all states, international organizations and agencies not to recognize the annexations, and demands the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.

In response, Russia has addressed a letter to all member states in which it attacks “Western delegations” whose actions “have nothing to do with protection of international law and the principles of the UN Charter.”
“They only pursue their own geopolitical objectives,” said the letter, signed by Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.
He denounced the “huge pressure” he said the United States and its allies were placing on other member states.
Nebenzia said that given the circumstances, the General Assembly should vote by secret ballot — a highly unusual procedure normally reserved for matters like electing the rotating members of the Security Council.

“It doesn’t suggest a high degree of confidence in the outcome if Russia is seeking to obscure the vote count,” a senior official in the administration of US President Joe Biden told reporters, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
“It does suggest a bit of desperation.”
Such a procedure would first require a vote of the member states — and not by secret ballot, according to General Assembly spokeswoman Paulina Kubiak.
The UN secretary-general, as the leading defender of the world body’s values, bluntly denounced the annexations.
“It stands against everything the international community is meant to stand for,” said Antonio Guterres.
“It flouts the purposes and principles of the United Nations. It is a dangerous escalation. It has no place in the modern world. It must not be accepted.”
Those remarks, the US official said, “show that this is not really about the West versus Russia.”
During the Security Council vote, no other country sided with Russia, though four delegations — China, India, Brazil and Gabon — abstained.
Some developing countries have complained that the West is devoting all its attention to Ukraine, and others might be tempted to join them this week.
The vote will provide a clear picture of exactly how isolated Russia has become. Given the high stakes, backers of the draft are going all out to win over potential abstentionists.
“It’s going to be tough,” a senior European diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“For the 2014 annexation resolution of Crimea, there were approximately 100 supportive votes. I think we’ll get more this time,” he said, estimating total support at 100 to 140 votes.
In March, two earlier General Assembly resolutions condemning the Russian invasion drew, respectively, 141 and 140 votes for, to five against (Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea), with 35 and 38 abstentions.
A third vote, in April, to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, passed but with less unanimity.
There were 93 votes for, 24 against and 58 abstentions.
For the US official, the overarching question this week will be “who’s going to vote with Russia,” when its objective is “to erase Ukraine from the map.”

North Korea’s Kim calls for scaling up weapons grade nuclear materials -KCNA

North Korea’s Kim calls for scaling up weapons grade nuclear materials -KCNA
Updated 18 sec ago

North Korea’s Kim calls for scaling up weapons grade nuclear materials -KCNA

North Korea’s Kim calls for scaling up weapons grade nuclear materials -KCNA
  • The military simulated a nuclear air explosion strike with two ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missiles during Monday’s firing training, KCNA said in a separate dispatch

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for scaling up the production of weapons-grade nuclear materials to increase the country’s nuclear arsenal, saying it should be fully ready to use the weapons at any time, state media KCNA said on Tuesday.
Kim made the remarks during an inspection of the country’s nuclear weapons program where it tested trigger technology, KCNA said.
The military simulated a nuclear air explosion strike with two ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missiles during Monday’s firing training, KCNA said in a separate dispatch.
A defense think tank also tested underwater strategic weapons systems, KCNA said.


How Arab-Islamic migration, language and culture shaped modern Latin America 

How Arab-Islamic migration, language and culture shaped modern Latin America 
Updated 28 March 2023

How Arab-Islamic migration, language and culture shaped modern Latin America 

How Arab-Islamic migration, language and culture shaped modern Latin America 
  • Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula left many influences, later taken to the continent by colonists
  • Some researchers believe 700-1,000 Portuguese words and about 4,000 in Spanish come from Arabic 

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL: In recent years, a new generation of researchers has been examining the ancient Islamic roots of Latin American societies.

In the age of social media, such content is being disseminated among larger audiences, and many people in Latin America seem to be avidly interested.

“I began to read about the Moors when I was studying Arabic in Egypt,” said Mansour Peixoto, a Muslim convert from the Brazilian city of Recife who in 2014 founded the website Historia Islamica (Islamic History).

“I’d already learnt at that time about the Islamic influence on Portugal, but then I became interested in its direct and indirect impacts on Brazilian culture,” he told Arab News.

Between 711 and 1492, Arab-Berber rulers dominated parts of present-day Portugal, Spain and France, naming the region Al-Andalus.

An almost-800-year presence in the Iberian Peninsula left many influences that were brought to colonial Latin America.

After the Christian re-conquest, Islam was forbidden in Spain and Portugal. From then on, especially at the beginning of the 17th century, many Muslims — including people of European ancestry — were forced to move to North Africa, but many accepted to convert to Catholicism, some of whom remained secretly Muslim.

“Those people, especially the poor, were numerous among the Portuguese who came to colonize Brazil since the 16th century,” said Peixoto.


  • Between 711-1492, Arab-Berber rulers dominated parts of Portugal, Spain and France, naming the region Al-Andalus.
  • After the Christian re-conquest of Al-Andalus, Islam was forbidden in Spain and Portugal.
  • Some researchers believe that 700-1,000 Portuguese words come from Arabic.

Although his website deals with several Islamic themes, the history of Muslim Portuguese settlers — known as Mouriscos, or Moors — and their influence on Brazil is a frequent topic. “Many people don’t realize that we have customs in Brazil that come from the Islamic world,” said Peixoto.

Historia Islamica’s publications about the influence of Arabic on the Portuguese language are among the most shared by the website’s followers.

Some researchers believe that 700-1,000 Portuguese words come from Arabic, but recent studies suggest that the number of Arabisms could be much higher.

Several everyday words in Brazil have Arabic origins, such as alface (lettuce), almofada (cushion), acougue (butcher shop) and garrafa (bottle).

“Not to mention architectural terms that we still use today, like alicerce (foundation) and andaime (scaffolding),” said Peixoto.

“Iberian building methods were mostly Arab in the 16th century, and they were brought to the Americas.”

La Pila fountain in Chiapa del Corzo. (Government of Mexico)

Islamic architectural influence in Latin America is one of the most noticeable cultural traits of Al-Andalus in the region, according to Hernan Taboada, an expert on the subject and a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“That can be seen in the architectural style in New Spain, the viceroyalty that extended from the south of the present-day US to Central America,” he told Arab News.

Along with the Viceroyalty of Peru, in South America, that region probably concentrated most of the Moorish settlers in colonial Latin America, Taboada said.

Colonial-era churches in Mexico, from Veracruz on the Atlantic coast to Oaxaca in the south, exhibit evident Moorish artistic traits.

Tlaxcala's cathedral Mudejar wood ceiling. (Gobierno de Mexico)

“They’re especially visible in the elements of decoration in those churches,” Taboada said. “Many temples in Mexico undoubtedly have Moorish style, which doesn’t mean they were necessarily built by Moors. In general, such elements were assimilated in Spain and transposed to Latin America.”

The presence of Muslims in New Spain and elsewhere in the region is not easy to verify, given that it was a clandestine presence.

This may be why the subject was ignored in academia for so long, although classical works of Latin American history mentioned it in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“The study of the Moorish presence was mostly resumed by Muslims and people of Arab origin. Those works showed that they weren’t as few in Latin America as was once supposed,” Taboada said.

Although Islam was forbidden, the Moors — like the Jews — largely enjoyed tolerance in the New World, though the Inquisition did act against them at times, he added.

Historian Ricardo Elia, cultural director of the Islamic Center of the Republic of Argentina, has since the 1980s been one of the pioneers in the study of the Moorish presence in the region of La Plata River.

“I discovered that the gauchos (the term used in Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil for legendary horsemen) are nothing less than Moors,” he told Arab News.

Ricardo Elia at the Islamic Center. (Supplied)

There is an ancient controversy regarding the etymological origin of that term in Argentina. Some scholars say it comes from a Quechuan word, but Elia and other researchers say it comes from chauch, a term with Arabic origins that means something like indomitable.

“In Valencia, Spain, the word chaucho was used to designate horsemen and pastors,” Elia said, adding that most of the crews of the Spanish ships that explored the Americas since the 15th century were composed of Moors, and that the first person to catch sight of the Americas was Rodrigo de Triana, a Moor.

“They needed to leave Spain so they came to the Americas. And they were good sailors.”

Over the centuries, Moors intermarried with other ethnic groups such as the Guarani indigenous people, but their cultural impact in the region is felt to this day.

Elia said empanadas, Argentina’s most typical pastry, have Andalusian origins, as does dulce de leche (caramelized milk).

The linguistic influence on the Spanish language is unquestionable. Elia estimates that there are about 4,000 Arabisms, most of them adopted in Spain.

Argentinian empanadas. (Salta city government)

“But in Argentina and Uruguay, the Moors also impacted our way of pronouncing the words,” he said.

Over the years, Elia has taught classes in universities in Argentina and Chile about the Moorish presence in South America.

“Unfortunately, the community of Lebanese and Syrian descent in Argentina has never shown much interest in such themes. Non-Arab Argentinians have always been the most curious about that,” said Elia, who comes from a Lebanese family.

He added that more and more people now want to learn about the first Muslim settlers in Latin America.

“In Morocco, an academic conference dealing especially with that topic was organized in 2021,” he said.

Mudejar Tower in Cali. (Cali city government)

Peixoto said many people are “willing to discover more about their ancestry and the many questions not answered about it,” which is why a new generation of scholars has been researching the Moors of Latin America.

He plans to conduct an academic study about the Moors in Brazil, publish books on that topic and offer online classes.

“Our elite (in Brazil) likes to see itself as European, but we’re a combination of indigenous peoples, Africans, Europeans, and also Moors,” he said.

Peixoto thinks Muslims and Arabs made a decisive contribution to the formation of the Brazilian people, not only with the settlers from Al-Andalus, but also with the Africans brought as slaves, and the huge wave of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who came to Brazil since the end of the 19th century.

“They transformed our way of being on many levels,” he said.

Taboada agreed, saying: “Eurocentric views are dominant among the Latin American elite. We have to emphasize that we have a multicultural origin.”


Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties

Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties
Updated 27 March 2023

Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties

Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties
  • New bill to also replace life sentences with 30 to 40-year prison terms 
  • Activists hail reforms as timely and progressive

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s government has taken its first step to abolish the mandatory death penalty for 11 offenses including drug trafficking, illegal firearms possession and kidnap.

Its parliamentary bill, introduced on Monday, will also replace life sentences with prison terms between 30 and 40 years and whipping of more than 12 lashes.

“The abolition of the mandatory death penalty aims to value and respect the life of every individual … The policies proposed through this bill are a middle ground to ensure justice is preserved for all,” Law Minister Azalina Othman S, who tabled the bill, said in a statement.

“I am very grateful that the unity government has taken concrete steps in abolishing the mandatory death penalty.”

The move championed by the unity government of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who took office in November, is expected to affect hundreds of prisoners who have yet to complete their appeals in court.  Those cases will instead be reviewed by the Federal Court.

While the new bill does not completely remove capital punishment, it allows judges the discretion to pass alternatives.

“The effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent is questionable at best,” Dobby Chew, executive director of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, said in a statement.

“There are significant indicators that demonstrate that the death penalty is counterproductive in that it supports or enables crime syndicates, especially for drug offenses,” he said.

He called Malaysia’s move “a progressive step towards significant reform of the criminal justice system.”

A moratorium on the death penalty has been in effect since 2018 in Malaysia, where more than 1,300 prisoners are on death row, representing a disproportionately high number compared to other countries in the region.

“It is timely and I am pleased with the decision by the government,” Malaysian politician and anti-death penalty activist Kasthuri Patto told Arab News.

“Let’s not forget that the death penalty is a colonial law but even colonial masters have removed them from their country, take for example the UK,” Patto said.

“This alternative is worth exploring now. I hope with this announcement, the government will seriously look into prison reforms as well.”

Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection 

Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection 
Updated 27 March 2023

Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection 

Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection 
  • In the 1980s, the violent separatist movement called for an independent Sikh state 
  • Though banned in India, Khalistan has support from some in Sikh diaspora community 

MANILA/NEW DELHI: Philippine authorities have arrested suspected members of a Sikh separatist group banned in India, a government agency announced on Monday, as demands for an independent Sikh homeland are rising abroad. 

Officers from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration, the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center and the Military Intelligence Group arrested three suspected members of the Khalistan Tiger Force in the central Philippine city of Iloilo on March 7, the CICC said in a statement issued Monday. 

“It is out of the ordinary, their presence here,” CICC Executive Director Alexander K. Ramos told Arab News. 

The three suspects are all Indian nationals in their 20s, who were named in a red notice issued by the global police agency Interpol, Ramos said. They are currently in the custody of the Philippine military. 

“It appears they are a group. In fact, there may be more that we are still trying to track down. This is the first time that the Khalistanis were detected here,” he added. 

Their group KTF supports a movement banned in India known as Khalistan, which calls for an independent Sikh homeland and was known as a violent separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, then prompting a controversial military operation by the Indian government that killed thousands of people. 

The Philippine development follows Indian police launching on March 21 a manhunt in Punjab province for Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh, who has captured national attention and revived talks of Khalistan. 

The crackdown has triggered fresh demands abroad for an independent Sikh state, including protesters gathering in front of Indian missions in Canada and the UK this month, which has sparked concerns from Indian authorities. 

Though recent developments are stoking fears of a return to the violence that occurred decades ago, the Khalistan movement does not have much support within India, said Delhi-based counterterrorism expert Ajai Sahni. 

Sahni said Khalistan supporters are most active in Canada and the UK, but they also have a presence in the US, across Europe, and even in Malaysia and the Philippines. 

“At present, the overwhelming support is from outside, from Sikh extremist diaspora communities,” Sahni told Arab News. “The movement is not securing very much traction on the ground in India.” 

Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say

Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say
Updated 27 March 2023

Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say

Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say
  • Temporary structures on old military bases and disused ferries to be used for new arrivals, sources tell media

LONDON: Asylum seekers in the UK face being held in camps on abandoned military bases and on disused ferries under government plans, reports say.

Sources told the BBC that former bases in Lincolnshire and Essex are to be confirmed next week and the first people will be moved in within weeks. An announcement on old ferries is also due in the same time frame, the sources said.

The plans come as the government pushes the “Illegal Migration Bill” through parliament, which will ban people arriving in small boats from across the Channel from ever applying for asylum, and confirm plans to send some of them to Rwanda with no chance of return. The law has been condemned by rights groups and international bodies alike.

According to reports, the planned camps on military bases would house between 1,500 to 2,000 migrants. They would be used initially for new arrivals rather than relocating the nearly 51,000 asylum seekers being housed in hundreds of hotels at a reported cost of £6.8 million a day.

The proposals, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, have not been denied by government sources. 

A Home Office spokesperson told the BBC that the government had been “upfront about the unprecedented pressure being placed on our asylum system, brought about by a significant increase in dangerous and illegal journeys into the country.”

In 2018, 300 people reached Britain via the channel. The number rose to 45,000 last year. 

The spokesperson added: “We continue to work across government and with local authorities to identify a range of accommodation options.”

Hotels housing asylum seekers have been targeted for protests by far-right groups, including in Knowsley, Merseyside, where a crowd fought police and set fire to a police van last month. 

Last week residents near the former RAF Scampton base in Lincolnshire, heard that the site could house about 1,500 people, including in temporary cabins on the former runway.

Meanwhile, Europe’s top human rights body wrote to British MPs on Monday urging them to prevent the passing of the “Illegal Migration Bill”, saying it was “incompatible with the UK’s international obligations.” 

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in the letter that the bill created a “clear and direct tension with well-established and fundamental human rights standards.”