Australian government faces legal action for failing to rescue women, children detained in Syrian detention camp 

Australian government faces legal action for failing to rescue women, children detained in Syrian detention camp 
Women and children walk at Camp Roj, where relatives of people suspected of belonging to Daesh are held. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2023
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Australian government faces legal action for failing to rescue women, children detained in Syrian detention camp 

Australian government faces legal action for failing to rescue women, children detained in Syrian detention camp 
  • Australia has effective control over the detention of Australians, Save the Children claims

LONDON: More than 30 Australian women and children detained in a Syrian detention camp are taking legal action against their government, arguing that it has the authority and obligation to repatriate them to Australia, The Guardian reported on Monday. 

The Australians, who are wives, widows and children of dead or jailed Daesh fighters, remain detained inside the Roj camp in northeast Syria. Most have been in the camp for more than four years and some of the children born at the location have never left. 

Many of the women claim their husbands coerced or manipulated them into traveling to Syria. None has been charged with a crime or received a warrant for arrest, The Guardian reported.

The Australians are being forcibly held by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and its military wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Save the Children Australia, which represents 12 Australian women and their 21 children, argues in federal court filings that Australia is a part of the coalition that “specifically supports the AANES to maintain the detention of persons, including women and children.”

According to the court documents, AANES has openly urged coalition countries, including Australia, to repatriate citizens.

There is no safety issue with traveling to camps, the organization added, as journalists, family members, and nongovernmental organization employees often travel in and out.

Save the Children claims that Australia has effective control over the detention of Australians and that the government must prove that the women and children are lawfully detained, or that Australia cannot repatriate them, “or bring their bodies to the court.”

Michael Newton, a Vanderbilt University law school professor, has argued in an affidavit that Australia “enjoys the practical ability, by virtue of exercising de facto authority, to make arrangements for ending the extended detention of Australian women and children in northeastern Syria.”

He added: “As a logical corollary, Australian officials have the means, in my expert opinion, of securing the release and subsequent return of the Australian women and children in northeastern Syria.”

The Australian government has said in court documents that it “does not have control of the remaining Australian women and children” and cannot be forced to return them, The Guardian reported.

It claims it is not responsible for Australians traveling to Syria or being detained, and that camp detention is at the “absolute discretion” of the AANES, over which the government has no power.

Even if repatriation was agreed by Syrian forces, “the commonwealth would need to arrange for their safe repatriation having regard to the security and geopolitical situation that exists at the relevant time.”

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said the legal challenge was necessary because “these innocent Australian children … have been abandoned by their own government.”

He added: “Despite countless opportunities to repatriate these families, the Australian government has ultimately failed in its duty to bring all of its citizens home to safety.”

Eight orphaned children, including a pregnant teenager, were returned to New South Wales in 2019. Four women and 13 children were also rescued from Roj in October last year.

The government has said that it is committed to repatriating all Australians who may be safely evacuated, but has not stated when another operation may be carried out.
 


Prosecutor urges jury to convict Trump, citing ‘powerful evidence’

Prosecutor urges jury to convict Trump, citing ‘powerful evidence’
Updated 8 sec ago
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Prosecutor urges jury to convict Trump, citing ‘powerful evidence’

Prosecutor urges jury to convict Trump, citing ‘powerful evidence’

NEW YORK: Donald Trump engaged in “conspiracy and a cover-up” to hide from voters that he had paid hush money to a porn star, prosecutors told a jury Tuesday in closing arguments at the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Less than six months before an election in which Trump is seeking to return to the White House, the stakes riding on the verdict are high — both for the 77-year-old personally and for the country.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, afraid that her account of an alleged sexual encounter could doom his 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass delivered the summation for the prosecution after Trump’s defense lawyer, Todd Blanche, called for his acquittal, insisting the case against the former president was based on lies.

Steinglass said Daniels’s story about her 2006 tryst with the married Trump was the motive for the alleged crime, but the “case at its core is about a conspiracy and a cover up” on the eve of an election.

“The people have presented powerful evidence of the defendant’s guilt,” he said.

Blanche told the jury that Trump was “innocent.” The only outcome should be a “very quick and easy not guilty verdict.”

Cohen, the one-time Trump fixer who became the star prosecution witness, was motivated by “outright hatred” for his former boss, Blanche said.

“He told you a number of things on that witness stand that were lies, pure and simple,” he said.

Blanche said Trump was busy “running the country” when the reimbursements were made to Cohen and he did not closely inspect all the invoices that came across his desk.

“There was no intent to defraud and beyond that there was no conspiracy to influence the 2016 election,” Blanche said.

But Steinglass countered that there was a mountain of corroborating evidence in addition to Cohen’s testimony.

“They want to make this case about Michael Cohen,” he said. “This case is about Donald Trump and whether he should be accountable for causing false entries in his own business records and whether he did that to cover up his own election violations.”

Speaking to reporters before entering the Manhattan courtroom, Trump called it a “very dangerous day for America.”

“We have a rigged court case that should have never been brought,” he said as three of his five children — Don Jr, Eric and Tiffany — stood behind him.

The 12 anonymous jurors were to start deliberations as early as Wednesday.

Polls show Trump neck and neck against President Joe Biden and the verdict will inject new tension into the White House race.

Speaking on behalf of the Biden campaign outside court, legendary actor Robert De Niro berated Trump as a “clown” intent on destroying the country.

The first former or sitting president under criminal indictment, Trump faces charges ranging from the relatively minor hush money case to accusations he took top secret documents and tried to overthrow the 2020 election.

The New York case, which featured more than 20 witnesses over five weeks and gripping testimony by Daniels and Cohen, is the only one likely to come to trial by election day.

If convicted, Trump faces up to four years in prison on each of 34 counts, but legal experts say that as a first-time offender he is unlikely to get jail time.

A conviction would not bar him from appearing on the ballot in November.

Trump chose not to testify in his defense.

Instead, he used his trips to court to stage tirades against “corrupt” Judge Juan Merchan, and to claim the trial is a Democratic ploy to keep him off the campaign trail.

To return a guilty or not guilty verdict requires the jury to be unanimous. Just one holdout means a hung jury and a mistrial, although prosecutors could seek a new trial.


Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage

Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage
Updated 11 min 24 sec ago
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Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage

Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden’s red lines over Israel’s assault on Rafah have kept shifting, but the US president faces growing pressure to take a firmer stance after a deadly strike in the Gazan city.

Despite global outrage over the attack in which 45 people were killed, the White House insisted on Tuesday that it did not believe Israel had launched the major operation that Biden has warned against.

John Kirby, the US National Security Council spokesman, said that Biden had been consistent and was not “moving the stick” on what defined an all-out military offensive by key ally Israel.

But Biden faces a difficult balancing act both domestically and internationally over Gaza, especially in a year when the 81-year-old Democrat is locked in an election battle with Donald Trump.

“Biden wants to appear tough on Rafah, and has really tried to be stern with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, but in an election year, his red lines are increasingly blurred,” Colin Clarke, director of research at the Soufan Group, told AFP.

“I think he’ll continue shifting those lines, ducking and weaving, largely in response to events on the ground.”

Facing US campus protests over his support for Israel, Biden said earlier this month that he would not supply Israel with weapons for a major military operation in Rafah, and he halted a shipment of bombs.

Yet he has since taken no action even as Israel has stepped up air attacks and, as of Tuesday, moved tanks into central Rafah.

Instead, the White House has largely retreated to arguing about what does, and does not, constitute an invasion.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last week there was “no mathematical formula” and said that “what we’re going to be looking at is whether there is a lot of death and destruction.”

At the White House on Tuesday, his colleague Kirby faced intense questioning over the Israeli strike, which sparked a fire at a displaced persons camp in which dozes of people burned to death.

Kirby said the deaths were “heartbreaking” and “horrific” but again said there would be no change in policy toward Israel.

“We have not seen them smash into Rafah,” he said.

“We have not seen them go in with large units, large numbers of troops, in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated maneuver against multiple targets on the ground.”

But internationally the pressure is growing on Biden, a self-described Zionist who has stuck by Netanyahu despite deep disagreements since the war began with the October 7 Hamas attack.

Questions are mounting over how long the United States can tolerate an Israeli assault on Rafah when the International Court of Justice — the UN’s top court, of which both the US and Israel are members — ordered it to stop.

Political pressure is also mounting on Biden at home.

Protests against his support for Israel have roiled university campuses across the United States, while many on the left wing of his Democratic Party also oppose his stance.

Republicans however have assailed Biden over what they say is his faltering support for Israel, with US House Speaker Mike Johnson inviting Netanyahu to address Congress.

“It is indeed a difficult balancing act,” Gordon Gray, a former US ambassador who is now a professor at George Washington University, told AFP.

“Threading the proverbial needle — as the Biden administration is apparently seeking to do — will only disappoint voters who feel strongly about the issue one way or another.”

Gray however said he believed Biden’s decades-old support for Israel meant he would unlikely change his position, saying he was a “rare politician who is acting out of genuine conviction rather than for his own electoral benefit.”


Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video

Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video
Updated 28 May 2024
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Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video

Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video
  • Labour, if elected, would recognize Palestinian statehood, says Angela Rayner

LONDON: Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the UK’s Labour Party, has promised that her party will do everything in its power to ease the suffering in Gaza as it bids to regain Muslim voters’ support, a leaked video surfacing on social media has revealed.

The footage was first reported by the political blog Guido Fawkes, which claimed to have obtained the leaked tape from a meeting in Ashton-under-Lyne, Rayner’s constituency.

The MP is seen appealing to voters upset with the party’s stance on Israel’s assault on Gaza, The Telegraph reported.

Rayner — claiming she worked “day and night” to get three British doctors out of Rafah and is now attempting to secure aid for the enclave — said: “I promise you, the Labour Party, including myself, is doing everything we can, because nobody wants to see what’s happening.”

She acknowledged the party’s current inability to halt the fighting, admitting that Labour’s influence would be “limited,” even if it came to power after July’s general election.

Rayner added: “Only last week the Labour Party were supporting the ICC (International Criminal Court). The Conservatives didn’t support the ICC, so with this general election on that issue, we can’t affect anything when we’re not in government.

“And I’ll be honest with you, if Labour gets into government, we are limited. I will be honest. I’m not going to promise you … because (Joe) Biden, who’s the US (president), who has way more influence, has only got limited influence in that.

“And Qatar, Saudi Arabia, all of these people, we are all working to stop what’s happening at the moment; we want to see that. So I promise you, that’s what we want to see.”

Rayner also promised that, if Labour was elected, the party would recognize Palestinian statehood.

She added: “If Labour gets into power, we will recognize Palestine. I will push not only to recognize … there is nothing to recognize at the moment, sadly. It’s decimated.

“We have to rebuild Palestine; we have to rebuild Gaza. That takes more than just recognizing it.”

Gaza has been a divisive issue for Labour since Oct. 7, with reports revealing that Muslim voters have abandoned the party as a result of what they perceive as its politicians enabling the war.

The Telegraph found that Labour’s support had dropped in local elections in areas with large Muslim populations, including Oldham in Greater Manchester, where the party lost control of the council in a surprise defeat.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has expressed his determination to re-establish trust among those who have abandoned his party due to his handling of the Gaza war.

However, when probed on particular commitments, he remained vague.

Rayner said in the video: “I know that people are angry about what’s happening in the Middle East.

“If my resignation as an MP now would bring a ceasefire, I would do it. I would do it if I could effect change.”

However, she said such an eventuality was not “in my gift” due to the “failure of the international community.”

In response to the footage, Nigel Farage, Reform UK’s honorary president, accused Rayner of “begging” for the Muslim vote, The Telegraph reported.


12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains
Updated 28 May 2024
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12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains
  • Several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides, and all schools were shut
  • India’s weather office warned of extremely heavy rains in northeastern states on Tuesday

Guwahati: Torrential rains in the wake of a powerful cyclone caused the collapse of a quarry in India’s Mizoram state killing 12 people, government officials said Tuesday.

“So far 12 bodies have been found, we are looking for more,” deputy commissioner of Aizawl district Nazuk Kumar told AFP.

Rescue efforts in the quarry were being hampered by “heavy rains,” police director general Anil Shukla said, NDTV news network reported.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma offered compensation to families of the victims of the “landslide due to Cyclone Remal.”

“I pray for the success of rescue and relief operations and wish a speedy recovery of the injured,” India’s President Droupadi Murmu said on social media.

In Mizoram, several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides. All schools were shut and government employees asked to work from home.

India’s weather office has issued warnings of extremely heavy rainfall across Mizoram and other northeastern states on Tuesday.

In India’s neighboring Assam state, one person was killed and heavy rains had cut the power supply, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a statement.

The cyclone made landfall in low-lying Bangladesh and neighboring India on Sunday evening with fierce gales and crashing waves.

Overall, at least 38 people died in the cyclone or storms in its wake.

In India, eight people died in West Bengal state, officials said Tuesday, updating an earlier toll of six, taking the total killed in the country to at least 21.

In neighboring Bangladesh, which bore the brunt of the cyclone that made landfall on Sunday, at least 17 people died, according to the disaster management office and police.


Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine
Updated 28 May 2024
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Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine
  • Radek Sikorski made the comments in an interview published Tuesday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily
  • “We should not exclude any option. Let Putin be guessing as to what we will do”

WARSAW: Poland’s foreign minister says the NATO nation should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine and should keep Russian President Vladimir Putin in suspense over whether such a decision would ever be made.
Radek Sikorski made the comments in an interview published Tuesday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
“We should not exclude any option. Let Putin be guessing as to what we will do,” Sikorski said when asked whether he would send Polish troops to Ukraine.
Sikorski said he has gone to Ukraine with his family to deliver humanitarian aid.
But a spokesperson for Poland’s Defense Ministry, Janusz Sejmej, told Polish media on Tuesday he had “no knowledge of that” when asked about a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine suggesting Poland might send troops to Ukraine.
The idea of sending foreign soldiers to Ukraine, which is battling Russian military aggression, was floated earlier this year in France, but no country, including Poland, has publicly embraced it.
Poland supports neighboring Ukraine politically and by providing military equipment and humanitarian aid.