Category Archives: World

Mass rape, cannibalism, dismemberment: UN team finds atrocities in Congo war

GENEVA: Rebels and government troops in Congo have committed atrocities including mass rape, cannibalism and the dismemberment of civilians, according to testimony published on Tuesday by a team of UN human rights experts who said the world must pay heed.

The team investigating a conflict in the Kasai region of Democratic Republic of Congo told the UN Human Rights Council last week that they suspected all sides were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Their detailed 126-page report catalogued gruesome attacks committed in the conflict, which erupted in late 2016, involving the Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias and Congo’s armed forces, the FARDC.

The testimony included boys being forced to rape their mothers, little girls being told witchcraft would allow them to catch bullets, and women forced to choose gang-rape or death.

“What happened in the Kasai simply beggars description,” Congo’s Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa told the Council.

“One victim told us that in May 2017 she saw a group of Kamuina Nsapu militia, some of whom sported female genitals (clitorises and vaginas) as medals,” the report said.

“Some witnesses recalled seeing people cutting up, cooking and eating human flesh, including penises cut from men who were still alive and from corpses, especially FARDC, and drinking human blood.”

Lead investigator Bacre Waly Ndiaye told the Council that in one incident, at least 186 men and boys from a single village were beheaded by Kamuina Nsapu, many of whose members were children forced to fight, unarmed or wielding sticks, and were convinced that magic had made them invulnerable.

Many such child soldiers were killed when FARDC soldiers machine-gunned them indiscriminately, he said.

“The bodies were often buried in mass graves… or were sometimes piled in trucks by soldiers to be buried elsewhere.”

There were initially thought to be about 86 mass graves, but after investigating on the ground the team suspected there may be hundreds, he said.

A Congolese government spokesman told Reuters that such information should be passed to magistrates in Congo.

“We were not aware of this and it is very curious. But it is clearly a politically motivated press campaign that has nothing to do with justice,” he said.

Mushobekwa said the government had given the expert team its whole-hearted cooperation and wanted the truth to come out, but she said some of the findings were “rather doubtful” because the investigation had been done quickly.

“One thing is absolutely certain. Each element of law enforcement and security forces that is responsible for these crimes will answer for their actions and will be severely punished,” she said.

US plan to end Iranian oil exports 'a fantasy': Hassan Rouhani

GENEVA: A plan by the United States to cut Iran‘s oil production to zero is a “fantasy,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tueday during his European tour to rally support for the 2015 nuclear deal.

Washington has said it wants to pressure Iran to change its behaviour by taking away all revenue Tehran generates from crude sales, part of the confrontational approach adopted by President Donald Trump, who pulled out of the historic nuclear pact in May.

“These are exaggerated statements that can never be implemented,” Rouhani told reporters in Bern, after holding talks with Swiss authorities on a range of issues, including the nuclear deal.

“Such a scenario would mean the US was imposing its imperialist policy in flagrant violation of international law,” he said.

“This is really a baseless fantasy,” he added, condemning an “unjust” scenario where all oil producers are allowed to export crude except Iran.

Washington has said it is confident the world has enough spare oil capacity to replace Iranian crude, and Trump has said that he has persuaded Saudi Arabia to balance the market by boosting its own production.

The international community still overwhelmingly backs the nuclear deal which opened new opportunities to deepen economic relations with Iran.

But many believe nations will have to sever ties once Washington reimposes sanctions, to avoid losing access to US markets and financing.

Rouhani and Swiss President Alain Berset both underscored the importance of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, substantial parts of which were negotiated in Switzerland.

The deal was signed in Vienna, where Rouhani will hold further talks tomorrow.

UN urges Jordan to open borders to fleeing Syrians

GENEVA: The United Nations human rights office and refugee agency UNHCR urged Jordan on Tuesday to open its border to Syrians trying to escape an escalating conflict in the southwest region of Deraa.

An estimated 270,000 people have fled air and ground attacks over the past two weeks, the United Nations said on Monday

“We call on the Jordanian government to keep its border open and for other countries in the region to step up and receive the fleeing civilians,” UN human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell told a news briefing.

UNHCR spokesman Andre Mahecic said an estimated 40,000 Syrians were massed near the border with Jordan, which already hosts 650,000 registered Syrian refugees.

UK government outlines new initiative for LGBT communities

LONDON: The British government says it will ban gay conversion therapy as part of 4.5-million-pound ($5.9 million) effort to make society more inclusive for LGBT people.
The initiative comes after the government released the results of a survey of 108,000 LGBT people, which found that 5 per cent had been offered conversion therapies. The government says it will “eradicate the abhorrent practice”.

The survey also found that LGBT people experience prejudice daily, with more than two in three saying they avoid holding hands with a same-sex partner in public for fear of a negative reaction.

Prime Minister Theresa May says, “no one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love”.

The government’s 75-point plan includes appointment of a national LGBT health adviser to improve care for the community.

Ex-Malaysian PM Najib Razak arrested amid graft probe

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was arrested on Tuesday, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, amid an investigation into how billions of dollars went missing from a state fund he founded almost a decade ago.

Authorities picked up Najib from his home after serving him with a remand order, two sources close to the family said. One of the sources said Najib was expected to be charged in court on Wednesday.

Malaysia’s anti-graft agency also said Najib had been arrested, according to state news agency Bernama.

A Najib spokesman did not immediately have a comment. Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing in dealings with state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Since his shock election loss to Mahathir Mohamad in May, Najib has been barred from leaving the country, quizzed by the anti-graft agency and had his personal and family houses searched as part of the 1MDB probe.

Mahathir said in an interview with Reuters last month that embezzlement and bribery with government money were among the charges that Malaysia was looking to bring against Najib, adding they had “an almost perfect case” against him.

Founded by Najib in 2009, 1MDB is being investigated in at least six countries for alleged money laundering and graft.

Civil lawsuits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice allege that nearly $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Japan women's university to accept transgender students

TOKYO: A Japanese women’s university said Tuesday it will admit transgender students who were born male but identify as female, a rare move in a country where LGBT rights lag behind other developed nations.

An official at the education ministry told AFP the move by Ochanomizu University in Tokyo was “likely unprecedented”, though he could not confirm if it was a national first, and praised the decision.

“It is desirable that many universities take steps in the direction of understanding the needs of sexual minorities, though making such a decision is up to each university,” he said.

A university spokesman said the policy would come into force from fiscal year 2020, and would apply to would-be students who were born male but identify as female.

The move by the university, which was Japan’s first institution of higher education for women and opened in 1875, comes as many local private universities are reportedly weighing a similar policy, following in the footstep of American schools.

Ochanomizu University will hold a press conference “soon” to explain the background and details of the decision, the university spokesman said.

Japan has gradually been moving to accommodate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and students.

In 2015, the education ministry issued instructions to municipalities to address the needs of LGBT students, including efforts to prevent bullying and addressing issues linked to changing rooms and school uniforms.

About one in 13 people in Japan is estimated to belong to the LGBT community, according to private company research.

But despite a relatively tolerant environment, only 13 percent are open with friends about their sexual orientation or gender identity, with just over 10 percent coming out to their family and less than five percent to their colleagues, according to the Japan LGBT Research Institute.

Japan has no national legislation recognising same-sex partnership, though some local governments have policies recognising same-sex civil unions.

And transgender Japanese face serious hurdles to changing their birth gender on legal documents.

Akane Tsunashima, acting secretary general of rights group Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, welcomed the move as “a positive step towards an environment where all universities take measures to accept sexual minorities as they are.”

Doubts on North Korean denuclearization shadow Pompeo visit

SEOUL, South Korea: Three weeks after the US-North Korea summit and ahead of an impending trip to North Korea by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a leaked US intelligence report and an analysis of satellite data suggest the North may be continuing its nuclear and missile activities despite a pledge to denuclearize.

North Korea has been showering the United States and South Korea with goodwill gestures in recent months, including the shutdown of its main nuclear testing site and the release of three American detainees. But many experts say nothing it has done is consequential enough to be seen as a sign that the country is willing to fully surrender its nuclear weapons.

The State Department said Pompeo is to visit North Korea from Friday in his third visit to the country in the past three months. President Donald Trump‘s national security adviser, John Bolton, said Sunday that Pompeo and North Korean officials will discuss a US plan that would lead to the dismantling of the North’s nuclear and missile programs in a year.

It’s unclear whether Pyongyang would agree to that. Many also question if Trump has the persistence to see through a lengthy and expensive process to eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat.

A look at the latest developments in the nuclear diplomacy:

NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES

After his June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Trump tweeted that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” But recently disclosed information has contradicted that claim.

The Washington Post on Saturday cited unidentified US intelligence officials as concluding that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile. Evidence collected since the Singapore summit points to preparations to deceive the US about the number of nuclear warheads in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the existence of undisclosed facilities used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs, according to the report.

A US official told The Associated Press that the Post’s report was accurate and that the assessment reflected the consistent view across US government agencies. The official was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter and requested anonymity.

An analysis of recent satellite photos also indicated that North Korea is completing a major expansion of a factory in the northeast that produces key parts of nuclear-capable missiles, two researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said in a joint post Monday.

“The expansion suggests that, despite hopes for denuclearization, Kim Jong Un is committed to increasing North Korea’s stockpile of nuclear-armed missiles,” Jeffrey Lewis and Dave Schmerler said.

Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, said the US officials or academics speaking out likely aimed to put pressure on both North Korea and Trump.

“First, they would want to say that they have lots of intelligence on North Korea and that its relations with the US would go back to the past if it doesn’t take practical disarmament steps,” Nam said. “Secondly, they likely targeted (Trump), asking if he was deceived by North Korea because no progress has been reported in the three weeks after the summit.”

Analyst Hong Min at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification downplayed the significance of the new disclosures, saying Pyongyang and Washington haven’t yet agreed on detailed disarmament steps the North is obliged to take.

POMPEO’S MISSION

During the Singapore summit, Kim repeated his vague pledge to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” In return, Trump promised to give Kim security assurances and announced the suspension of military drills with South Korea, drawing criticism that he made too many concessions.

The result has left much of the hard work to Pompeo. In each of his two previous trips, he met with Kim. According to the State Department, senior US diplomat Sung Kim, who held negotiations with North Korean officials before the Singapore summit, also travelled to a Korean border village on Sunday to restart talks with the North.

Experts say Pompeo will have to coax significant reciprocal steps from North Korea that would firmly lock the country into a process of disarmament to justify the suspension of the US-South Korea war games.

Hong said Pyongyang is expected to tell Pompeo what disarmament steps it will take over the next six to 12 months, such as shutting down its plutonium-producing reactor and uranium-enrichment plant at its main nuclear complex.

Others say Pompeo should aim higher and get North Korea to commit to specific disarmament timetables and a “frontloaded” abandonment of its nuclear weapons and materials at an early stage. This would be something of a reversal of a normal denuclearization process in which inspections of nuclear facilities and sites come before a verifiable dismantling of nuclear assets.

KIM’S STEPS

It remains to be seen how far Kim would go in rolling back his nuclear program, which he may see as a stronger guarantee of his survival than whatever security assurances Washington could provide. Some experts think Kim is modeling his country’s nuclear future after Pakistan, which began building a nuclear arsenal in the 1990s to deter India and is now estimated to have more than 100 warheads that are deliverable by short – and medium-range weapons and aircraft.

While Kim may seek to turn his finished weapons into security and economic benefits, in any agreement he will also attempt to retain enough of his manufacturing and research capabilities to allow for a quick resumption of his nuclear weapons program in case diplomacy falls apart, said Hwang Ildo, a professor at Seoul’s Korea National Diplomatic Academy. Others think Kim might try to drag out the process and wait out the Trump administration, which last year had provided a credible threat of military force against the North.

A bad outcome for South Korea and Japan would be Trump agreeing to a deal that removes North Korea’s long-range missiles that pose a direct threat to continental United States, but leaves Kim’s shorter arsenal mostly intact. This would put South Korea’s security and its alliance with the United States “at a crossroads between life and death,” said Kim Taewoo, a former president of the Korea Institute of National Unification.

Bali volcano hurls lava and ash, airport unaffected

DENPASAR: The Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali erupted Monday evening, ejecting a 2,000-meter-high (6,560-foot-high) column of thick ash and hurling lava down its slopes.

The Indonesian geological agency’s Agung monitoring post said explosions from the mountain began just after 9 p.m. and lasted more than 7 minutes. “Flares of incandescent lava” reached 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the crater, it said, setting fire to forests at high elevation on the mountain.

Nearly 700 people fled Banjar Galih village, about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the crater, to an evacuation center, said a resident, Ketut Budi.

“I saw smoke rising and the volcano rumbled very loud,” he said. “We came here with motorcycles and those with cars helped carry other people.”

It was the volcano’s first explosive eruption since a dramatic increase in activity last year that temporarily forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

The alert status for Agung has not been raised from its current second-highest level and the exclusion zone around the crater remains at 4 kilometers (2.5 miles).

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the explosions Monday night were “thunderous” and hurled white hot rocks from the crater.

The volcano was periodically erupting ash Tuesday, which was drifting west. The island’s airport, to the south, was still operating normally.

Bali’s international airport closed for half a day on Friday because of volcanic ash from Agung, disrupting travel for tens of thousands. The island is set to host World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in October.

Monday’s eruption was “strombolian,” the geological agency said, which is the mildest type of explosive volcanic eruption. It warned people living near rivers to exercise caution, particularly in wet weather, because of the risk of fast-moving flows of muddy volcanic debris.

The volcano, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Bali’s tourist hotspot of Kuta, last had a major eruption in 1963, killing about 1,100 people.

Authorities lowered its alert status from the highest level in February after seismic activity quietened.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 250 million people, sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Government seismologists monitor more than 120 active volcanoes.

Pak polls: Hardline party vows 'surprising results'

KARACHI: As Pakistan is all set to go to polls on July 25, a newly-launched Islamic hardline party led by a radical cleric has expressed confidence to bring “surprising results” as it aimed at making inroads into the existing power matrix by stirring up the religious sentiments of the voters.

The Tehreek-i-Labbaik (TLP) Pakistan chief, Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who launched the election campaign from Karachi yesterday night said he saw no competition to his party candidates in the elections.

Sitting in a wheelchair, Rizvi, whose legs are paralysed, said his party’s manifesto is same as that of Islam’s teachings to create a truly Islamic welfare state in Pakistan.

“We are confident that those who believe in Khatm-i-Nabuwwat (the finality of the prophethood) would vote for us and you will see surprising results in the elections,” Rizvi said.

The party has fielded candidates on all the national assembly and provincial assembly seats from the city.

Massive traffic jams were witnessed in and around the airport area as the TLP leader travelled in a convoy surrounded by thousands of supporters from the airport to the city.

The little known TLP came into prominence in November last year when its followers led by Rizvi converged at Islamabad and Rawalpindi and staged a sit-in demanding sacking of the then Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017.

The amendment had changed the wordings of a clause relating to a candidate’s belief in the finality of the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad, which is submitted at the time of election by candidates, turning it into a declaration form instead of an affidavit, which puts a candidate under oath.

Hamid resigned after violent clashes broke out between the TLP supporters and security forces which had left several people dead and hundreds injured in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The amendment was later deemed a ‘clerical error’ and was rectified by the PML-N government which restored the Khatm-e-Nabuwat declaration to its original form.

Classmates yearn for safe return of Thai boys trapped in cave

MAE SAI (THAILAND): Classmates of 12 boys trapped in a flooded Thai cave spoke of their hopes for a miracle rescue Monday, as divers inched through thick mud and water towards an air pocket where the group is believed to be.
There has been no contact with the boys, aged between 11 and 16, since they went missing with their football coach nine days ago.

The massive rescue effort has been hampered by heavy rains that flooded the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand, blocking access to chambers where it is hoped the group will be found alive.

Divers took advantage of a brief window of good weather on Monday to edge further into the cave, with forecasters predicting downpours could return in the coming days.

Friends and teachers of the “Wild Boar” football team refused to give up hope of seeing the young players again.

Tilek Jana, 14, whose friend Prajak is among the missing, expressed his wish that his friend will soon return.

“Let him come and let’s play (football) together, I miss him,” he told AFP.

The principal of Mae Sai Prasitsart school, which is attended by six of the missing boys, said it had been a painful week.

“We chant and pray and send our support to them to give them power to wait for help to arrive,” Kanet Pongsuwan told AFP.

Officials on Monday said the divers were less than one kilometre (0.6 miles) from an elevated area called Pattaya Beach where the boys are thought to be stranded.

“We are fighting against time and water to save the 13 lives,” Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.

Scores of divers — including foreign experts — have been sent into the cave with hundreds of oxygen tanks, establishing a base camp inside the chambers over the weekend.

Aboveground several team were drilling into chimneys that may lead to new opening into the labrynth of darkned tunnels.

“The deepest one is 200 meters and we will continue that operation. If we manage to though the cave walls, then luck is on our side,” the governor Narongsak said.

Weary-faced relatives have camped out at the cave’s entrance for more than a week, desperately waiting for news from the boys, while the head of the Buddhist clergy has urged prayers from a nation fixated on the fate of the group.

The youth football team and their 25-year-old assistant coach went into the cave on June 23 after a training session and got stuck when heavy rains cut them off from the entrance.

Rescuers found their bicycles, football boots and backpacks near the cave’s entrance, and discovered handprints and footprints further in.

But those are the only signs of the boys so far and no one knows if they are still alive.

They likely have access to fresh water inside the cave and officials believe they brought snacks into the cave and possibly headlamps too.

Even without food experts have said young, athletic boys could survive for several weeks if they are not injured — and don’t attempt to escape through deep floods.

Yet it remains a perilously urgent rescue.

Officials have dropped survival kits with food, medical supplies and a cave map into a crevice in the hope some of the relief will reach the boys.

At 10 kilometers long, Tham Luang cave is one of Thailand’s longest and one of the toughest to navigate, with its snaking chambers and narrow passageways.

A sign outside the site warns visitors not to enter the cave during the rainy season between July and November.