World is waiting for you to demand Gaza cease-fire, UN refugee chief tells Security Council

World is waiting for you to demand Gaza cease-fire, UN refugee chief tells Security Council
In this image taken from video, intense blasts are seen inside Gaza on Oct. 31, 2023, from southern Israel after a day of expanded Israeli operations in the north of the territory. (AP)
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Updated 31 October 2023
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World is waiting for you to demand Gaza cease-fire, UN refugee chief tells Security Council

World is waiting for you to demand Gaza cease-fire, UN refugee chief tells Security Council
  • Will you allow the ‘jigsaw of war’ to be completed ‘by your disunity or by sheer neglect,’ or ‘will you take the courageous and necessary steps back from the abyss?’ asks Filipo Grandi
  • ‘Humanitarians are tough,’ he says, but growing shortfalls in aid funding mean they are ‘near breaking point — and what will you be left with when they have to go?’

NEW YORK CITY: The UN’s high commissioner for refugees, Filipo Grandi, on Tuesday pleaded with members of the Security Council to demand a cease-fire in Gaza, telling them the world is waiting for the UN’s most powerful body to act.
Lamenting the fact that disregard for the basic rules of war is becoming “the norm and not the exception,” he said innocent civilians are being killed in unprecedented numbers “in the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, and in the killing of Palestinian civilians and massive destruction of infrastructure caused by the ongoing Israeli military operation.”
Two million Gazans, half of them children, are going though “hell on earth,” said Grandi. “A humanitarian cease-fire can at least stop this spiral of death and I hope that you will overcome your divisions and exercise your authority in demanding one — the world is waiting for you to do so.”
He was speaking during a Security Council meeting about the situation in Ukraine. The war there has entered its 21st month, with hostilities remaining concentrated in the eastern Donbas region and the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia areas.
The total number of refugees and displaced people worldwide now stands at 114 million, Grandi told council members, attributing this large number to the “current extreme disorder” around the world, of which the war between Israel and Hamas is the latest symptom.
Calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, he expressed hope that such a move would be just the initial stage in restoring the path toward a resolution of the long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Over many years, (I) have observed how solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was always described as ‘elusive,’” he said. “But it has not been elusive; it has been repeatedly and deliberately neglected, cast aside as something no longer necessary, almost ridiculed.
“Dealing with the chronic resurgence of violence, followed by temporary cease-fires, was deemed more expedient than focusing on a real peace, one able to provide Israelis and Palestinians with the rights, recognition, security and statehood that they deserve.
“I hope that now, amid the horrors of war, we can at least see how grave a miscalculation that has been. There will be no peace in the region, and in the world, without a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the end of the Israeli occupation.”
Grandi repeated the UN’s warning that this current, “deadliest round of violent conflict risks infecting the wider region and beyond with catastrophic consequences.”
The conflict in Gaza is, however, just the latest piece of a “most dangerous jigsaw of war that is rapidly closing in around us,” he said.
He urged council members to also reflect on the situation in Sudan, where the violence is spreading in both “scope and brutality,” solely affecting the Sudanese population while the world remains “scandalously silent” despite the ongoing violations of international humanitarian law.
It is “shameful,” he said, that the same kind of atrocities witnessed in Darfur 20 years ago are recurring now with minimal attention from the world, leading to the displacement of nearly 6 million people from their homes, more than a million of whom have sought refuge in neighboring, often fragile nations. Some have even made their way to Libya and Tunisia before embarking on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean on precarious vessels in an attempt to reach Italy or elsewhere in Europe.
Grandi applauded the resumption of the Jeddah talks between the warring generals in Sudan and expressed hope that they will lead “at least” to an imminent cease-fire.
He urged council members to consider the plight of the millions of people displaced as a result of political instability, economic collapse, and the conflicts and “brutal violence” plaguing places such as Lebanon, the Central Sahel, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Ukraine, Armenia, Central and Latin America, Myanmar and Afghanistan.
“Each new crisis seems to push the previous ones into dangerous oblivion — but they stay with us,” Grandi said.
“Look at all these crises, and let this lifelong humanitarian worker say that we need your voice to address each one of them. Not your voices — your voice. Your strong, united voice, carrying the authority which the (UN) Charter vests in this council but which the world does not hear any more, drowned as it is in rivalries and divisions.”
With major state donors cutting levels of humanitarian funding, Grandi also spoke of his concern about the prospects for all UN agencies next year.
“UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), whose crucial role is now clear to all, has been chronically underfunded,” he said. “The World Food Program, UNICEF (the UN Children’s Fund), and the International Committee of the Red Cross all face the same financial crunch in their humanitarian activities.
“So, we prioritize and reprioritize. We cut rations, shelter, staff, hoping to maintain a lifeline to those in need. But in many places that lifeline is becoming thinner by the day.
“Being alone, being exposed, being short of resources make me wonder for how much longer we can continue. Humanitarians are tough. But humanitarians (are) near breaking point. And
what will you be left with when they have to go?”
He continued: “The gravity of this moment cannot be overstated. The choices that the 15 of you make — or fail to make — will mark us all, and for generations to come.
“Will you continue to allow this jigsaw of war to be completed by aggressive acts, by your disunity, or by sheer neglect? Or will you take the courageous and necessary steps back from the abyss?”


Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army

Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army
Updated 23 April 2024
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Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army

Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army
  • Raisi said the killings by Israel in Gaza were being committed with the support of the United States and other Western countries

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A lawyer for the military contractor being sued by three survivors of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told jurors Monday that the plaintiffs are suing the wrong people.
“If you believe they were abused ... tell them to make their claim against the US government,” said John O’Connor, defense attorney for Reston, Virginia-based military contractor CACI, during closing arguments at the civil trial in federal court. “Why didn’t they sue the people who actively abused them?”
The lawsuit brought by the three former Abu Ghraib detainees marks the first time a US jury has weighed claims of abuse at the prison, which was the site of a worldwide scandal 20 years ago when photos became public showing US soldiers smiling as they inflicted abusive and humiliating treatment on detainees in the months after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The suit alleges that civilian interrogators supplied by CACI to Abu Ghraib contributed to the torture the plaintiffs by conspiring with military police to “soften up” detainees for interrogations.
CACI, in its closing arguments, relied in part on a legal theory known as the “borrowed servant doctrine,” which states an employer can’t be liable for its employees’ conduct if another entity is controlling and directing those employees’ work.
In this case, CACI says the Army was directing and controlling its employees in their work as interrogators.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs disputed that CACI relinquished control of its interrogators to the Army. At trial, they introduced evidence that CACI’s contract with the Army required CACI to supervise its own employees. Jurors also saw a section of the Army Field Manual that pertains to contractors and states that “only contractors may supervise and give direction to their employees.
Muhammad Faridi, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, told jurors that the case is simpler than CACI’s lawyers are trying to make it.
He said that if CACI interrogators conspired with military police to inflict abuse on detainees to soften them up for interrogations, then the jury can find CACI liable even if CACI interrogators never themselves inflicted abuse on any of the three plaintiffs.
All three plaintiffs testified to horrible treatment including beatings, sexual assaults, being threatened with dogs and forced to wear women’s underwear, but said the abuse was either inflicted by soldiers, or by civilians who couldn’t be identified as CACI workers. In some cases, the detainees said they couldn’t see who was abusing them because they had bags over their heads.
As evidence of CACI’s complicity, jurors heard testimony from two retired generals who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004; both concluded that CACI interrogators engaged in misconduct.
Faridi told the jury that while many of the soldiers who abused detainees were convicted and sentenced to prison, CACI has not yet been held accountable.
“When our country’s military found out about the abuse, they didn’t cover it up,” Faridi said. “Our country’s military held the military police members who were perpetrating the abuse accountable. CACI escaped liability.”
And Faridi said that even when the Army asked CACI to hold its its interrogators responsible, it still sought to evade responsibility. In May 2004, the Army asked CACI to fire one of its interrogators, Dan Johnson, after one of the Abu Ghraib photos showed Johnson interrogating a detainee who was forced into an awkward crouching position that investigators concluded was an illegal stress position.
CACI contested Johnson’s dismissal, writing that the “photo depicts what appears to be a relatively relaxed scene” and saying that “squatting is common and unremarkable among Iraqis.”
“I’ll leave that to you to consider whether you find that offensive,” Faridi told the jury Monday.
At trial, CACI employees testified they defended Johnson’s work because Army personnel had asked them through back channels to do so. O’Connor said that out of the many hundreds of photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the photo of Johnson is the only one depicting a CACI employee, and it shows him questioning not one of the plaintiffs but an Iraqi policeman after someone had smuggled a gun into the prison and shot at military police.
O’Connor also apologized for parts of his case that were “long, annoying and boring” but said he had no choice because the US government claimed that some evidence, including the identities of interrogators, was classified. So jurors, rather than hearing live testimony, were subjected to long audio recordings in which the interrogators’ voices were doctored and their answers were often interrupted by government lawyers who instructed them to not answer the question.
The trial was delayed by more than 15 years of legal wrangling and questions over whether CACI could be sued. Some of the debate focused on the question of immunity — there had long been an assumption that the US government would hold sovereign immunity from a civil suit, and CACI argued that, as a government contractor, it would enjoy derivative immunity.
But US District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, determined that the US government cannot claim immunity in cases involving fundamental violations of international norms, such as torture allegations. And, as a result, CACI could not claim any kind of derivative immunity, either.
The eight-person jury deliberated about three hours before pausing Monday afternoon without reaching a verdict. Deliberations are set to resume Wednesday.

 


India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech

India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech
Updated 23 April 2024
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India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech

India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech
  • Modi’s muscular Hindu-first politics is a key part of his electoral appeal and his opponents accuse him of marginalizing India’s 200 million Muslim population

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress party filed a complaint to the Election Commission Monday accusing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “blatantly targeting” minority Muslims in a campaign speech.
The world’s most populous country is constitutionally secular and its election code bans canvassing based on “communal feelings.”
Modi’s muscular Hindu-first politics is a key part of his electoral appeal and his opponents accuse him of marginalizing India’s 200 million Muslim population.
The prime minister usually steers away from explicit references to religion — the word “Hindu” does not appear in his Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 76-page election manifesto.
But at a weekend election rally in Rajasthan, Modi claimed a previous Congress government had said that “Muslims have the first right over the nation’s wealth.”
He said if Congress won “it will be distributed among those who have more children. It will be distributed to the infiltrators.”
“Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?“
Critics said the phrases were references to Muslims.
In its complaint to the Election Commission, the Congress party said the “divisive, objectionable and malicious” comments were targeted at “a particular religious community” and amounted to “blatant and direct violations of electoral laws.”
They were “far worse than any ever made by a sitting Prime Minister in the history of India,” the complaint said.
Congress party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters outside the Commission’s office: “We hope concrete action will be taken.”
Modi and the BJP are widely expected to coast to victory in India’s marathon elections, which began last Friday and with the results due on June 4.
Earlier this year, Modi presided over the inauguration of a grand temple to the deity Ram, built on the site of a centuries-old mosque razed by Hindu zealots.
The BJP has frequently invoked the temple on the campaign trail.
BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia told reporters Monday that Modi was calling “a spade a spade” and his remarks resonated with what people thought.


Hamas has ‘moved goal post’ on hostage talks, says State Dept

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
Updated 23 April 2024
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Hamas has ‘moved goal post’ on hostage talks, says State Dept

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
  • Miller said the United States had received a report by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna into the UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, and is reviewing it
  • Israel has killed 34,151 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

WASHINGTON: Palestinian militant group Hamas has “moved the goal post” and changed its demands in the hostage negotiations with Israel mediated by Egypt and Qatar, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday.
Speaking at a daily press briefing, Miller said the United States would continue to push for an agreement that would see hostages taken on Oct. 7 released and a pause in fighting in Gaza.
Separately, Miller said the United States had received a report by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna into the UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, and is reviewing it.

 


UK parliament passes Rwanda asylum law as Sunak vows flights will start in weeks

UK parliament passes Rwanda asylum law as Sunak vows flights will start in weeks
Updated 23 April 2024
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UK parliament passes Rwanda asylum law as Sunak vows flights will start in weeks

UK parliament passes Rwanda asylum law as Sunak vows flights will start in weeks
  • Critics say the plan to deport people to Rwanda rather than handle asylum seekers at home is inhumane
  • Other European countries, including Austria and Germany, are also looking at agreements to process asylum seekers abroad

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised on Monday to start sending asylum seekers to Rwanda within 10 to 12 weeks as the upper house of parliament finally passed required legislation, delayed for weeks by attempts to alter the plan.

Sunak said the government had booked commercial charter planes and trained staff to take migrants to Rwanda, a policy he hopes will boost his Conservative Party’s flagging fortunes before an election later this year.

The House of Lords had long refused to back the divisive legislation without additional safeguards, but eventually relented after Sunak said the government would force parliament to sit as late into Monday night as necessary to get it passed.

“No ifs, no buts. These flights are going to Rwanda,” Sunak told a news conference earlier on Monday.

Tens of thousands of migrants — many fleeing wars and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Asia — have reached Britain in recent years by crossing the English Channel in small boats on risky journeys organized by people-smuggling gangs.

Stopping the flow is a priority for the government, but critics say the plan to deport people to Rwanda rather than handle asylum seekers at home is inhumane. They cite concerns about the East African country’s own human rights record and the risk asylum seekers may be sent back to countries where they face danger.

Sunak’s new law states some existing UK human rights statutes will not apply to the scheme and Rwanda must be treated by British judges as a safe destination, in a bid to override a Supreme Court ruling which declared the scheme unlawful.

It also limits individuals’ options for an appeal to only exceptional cases.

Other European countries, including Austria and Germany, are also looking at agreements to process asylum seekers abroad.

The legislation returned on Monday to the House of Commons — the elected lower house — where lawmakers removed changes proposed by the Lords before the upper chamber considered it again.

Some Labour and unaffiliated peers wanted the legislation to include safeguards for Afghans who previously helped British troops and to establish a committee to monitor asylum seekers’ safety in Rwanda. But eventually the Lords let the legislation pass its final parliamentary step without any formal changes.

The legislation is expected to receive Royal Assent from King Charles later this week, and then will become law.

Speaking before the legislation was passed, Sunak said an airfield was on standby, slots were booked for flights and 500 staff were ready to escort migrants “all the way to Rwanda.”

Under the policy formulated two years ago, and agreed with Rwanda, any asylum seeker who arrives illegally in Britain will be sent to Rwanda under a scheme the government says will deter Channel crossings and smash the people smugglers’ business model.

Sunak’s team hope the pre-election pledge will help turn around his electoral fortunes, particularly among wavering Conservative voters who want to see less immigration.

He had previously said he hoped the policy would be operational by spring, without giving a precise date.

Polls suggest his Conservative Party will be badly beaten in this year’s election by Labour, which has said it will scrap the scheme if it wins power. Labour says it will pursue a deal with the European Union to return some arrivals to mainland Europe.

Even after successfully navigating parliamentary hurdles, Sunak may still face legal challenges to the law.

Charities and rights groups say they would try to stop individual deportations and the trade union which represents border force staff is promising to argue the new legislation is unlawful “within days” of the first asylum seekers being informed they will be sent to Rwanda.

“We urgently need the UK government to start treating refugees with decency and stop trying to send them away to an unsafe future in Rwanda,” Lucy Gregg, acting head of Advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said in a statement. 


US rights report on India cites abuses in Manipur, harassment of media and minorities

US rights report on India cites abuses in Manipur, harassment of media and minorities
Updated 23 April 2024
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US rights report on India cites abuses in Manipur, harassment of media and minorities

US rights report on India cites abuses in Manipur, harassment of media and minorities
  • The US assessment said religious minorities in India reported discrimination including calls for violence and spread of misinformation
  • Reporters Without Borders ranked India at 161 out of 180 countries on its press freedom index in 2023, the country’s lowest position ever
  • Modi’s muscular Hindu-first politics is a key part of his electoral appeal and his opponents accuse him of marginalizing India’s 200 million Muslim population

WASHINGTON: The US State Department’s annual human rights assessment found “significant” abuses in India’s northeastern Manipur state last year and attacks on minorities, journalists and dissenting voices in the rest of the country.
Manipur has seen fierce fighting between its tribal Kuki-Zo and majority Meitei populations after a court order a year ago suggested the Kuki’s minority privileges be extended to the Meitei. More than 200 people have been killed.

Members of the media report from outside an office complex where Indian tax authorities raided BBC's office, in Mumbai on February 14, 2023. (AFP)

The State Department report said over 60,000 people were displaced between May and November in Manipur.
There was no immediate comment on the report from the Indian embassy in Washington.
In the rest of India, the State Department reported “numerous instances” in which the government and its allies “allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government.”

Security personnel stand guard on a road as a Hindu religious flag is seen on a minaret (C) of a burnt-out mosque following clashes between people supporting and opposing a contentious amendment to India's citizenship law in New Delhi on February 26, 2020. (AFP)

For example, the Income Tax Department searched the BBC’s offices in early 2023 after it released a documentary critical of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Indian government said at the time the search was not vindictive.
Reporters Without Borders ranked India at 161 out of 180 countries on its press freedom index in 2023, the country’s lowest position ever.
The US assessment said religious minorities in India reported discrimination including calls for violence and spread of misinformation.
Modi, who is favored to win a record-equaling third term in an election under way until June 1, denies abuse of minorities and says his policies aim to benefit all Indians.
Human rights groups allege the climate has deteriorated under Modi. They point to rise in hate speech, the revoking of Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status, a citizenship law that the UN calls “fundamentally discriminatory” and the demolition of Muslim properties in the name of removing illegal construction.
While the US report hit on themes similar to recent years, political analysts say Washington is restrained in its public criticism of New Delhi because the US hopes India will act as a counterweight to an expansionist China.