Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Palestinians in Lebanon: ‘It’s like living in a prison’

December 16, 2017

Al Jazeera

Hassan Salem, 12, works at a mechanic's shop seven days a week, 10 hours a day, to help his family survive [Lisa Khoury/Al Jazeera]

Hassan Salem, 12, works at a mechanic’s shop seven days a week, 10 hours a day, to help his family survive [Lisa Khoury/Al Jazeera]

Beddawi, Lebanon – Mahmoud Mashwra was 12 when he left school to sell candy on the street.

Mashwra, whose family fled Israeli oppression in the Palestinian territories years ago in hopes of a better life in Lebanon, instead found a dismal economy, international aid shortages and discrimination against Palestinians. He began working full-time to help his family survive.

“I thought, I’ll go back to school when I go back to Palestine,” Mashwra, now 16, told Al Jazeera.

But that hope has dimmed in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s statement this month recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the US proclamation – despite being roundly condemned by the international community – has dealt a blow to the estimated 280,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, many of whom hope to one day return home to Palestine.

Struggling to survive

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are treated as second-class residents, restricted from working in most fields, banned from owning property, forced to live in run-down camps and barred from formal education.

Mohamad Jabbar makes $10 a day at his butcher shop, just a tenth of what he could earn if Lebanese authorities allowed him to operate outside the military-guarded camp in Beddawi.

“It’s like living in a prison,” Jabbar said. “The government controls where I live and where I work.”

Palestinians cannot own businesses in Lebanon and are banned from most decent-paying professions, including medicine and law. An estimated two-thirds live in poverty. The government will not give citizenship rights to Palestinian refugees, for fear it could make them stay forever.

“This is a cruel and false hypothesis,” Bassam Khawaja, a Beirut-based spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. “Nothing prevents Lebanon from respecting Palestinians’ basic human rights while withholding permanent residency or citizenship. But instead, generations have grown up in limbo, without basic protections.”

Mohamad Jabbar makes as little as $10 a day at his butcher shop, just a tenth of what he could earn if Palestinians were allowed to open businesses outside camps [Lisa Khoury/Al Jazeera]

Today, Palestinians are competing with nearly two million Syrian refugees in Lebanon for jobs and aid.

“The vast majority of international humanitarian aid coming into Lebanon is focused on the Syrian refugee crisis, which means we are overlooking the long-standing human rights violations that Palestinians have faced here for decades,” Khawaja said.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) deals with aid for Palestinians, while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) covers Syrians – and the difference in the aid provided is stark. UNHCR gives 150,000 Syrians in Lebanon $175 a month per family; UNRWA, however, can only give 61,000 Palestinians $10 for each family member every three months, spokespersons told Al Jazeera. Both agencies say they target whoever is considered the most vulnerable.

Unlike Lebanese citizens, Palestinians cannot obtain free treatment at hospitals. They are also barred from most public schools. UNRWA has opened 67 schools and 27 clinics in Lebanon, but the clinics are only for general check-ups, while refugees with serious illnesses, such as cancer, must seek help from other NGOs.

Ripped from childhood

Twelve-year-old Hassan Salem is covered in grease after finishing a 10-hour shift at the local mechanic’s shop, as he does every day. At the end of the week, he will get $3.33, all of which goes to his family.

“Of course I want to send my son to school,” his mother, Lena Deeb, told Al Jazeera. “But I can’t. If he doesn’t work, we won’t eat.”

Nearly 20 percent Palestinians between the ages of six and 15 – and 30 percent of those aged 16 to 18 – are out of school in Lebanon, often because they are forced to work when their parents cannot. More than 30 percent of Palestinians leave school due to low achievement.

Ali and his friends plan to attend more protests against Trump’s statement on Jerusalem [Lisa Khoury/Al Jazeera]

“The schools are so bad, I didn’t see a point in going any more,” said Ali, a 17-year-old Palestinian refugee who asked to withhold his last name. “I was 14 when I left, and I could barely read or write.”

Nineteen-year-old Mahmoud Mustafa dropped out three years ago. Asked what his dream job is, he laughs: “We’re refugees, we can’t dream here. We’re just worried about living today.”

‘Death to America’

Rami Saaf becomes anxious when he is at work – not because he may have to borrow food from his neighbours again to feed his family, but because his kids could be electrocuting themselves at home.

The 34-year-old lives in the Beddawi camp, where raw sewage and water leak onto wires outside his front door. The last time his nine-year-old son touched a wire, he landed in hospital.

Lebanon has 12 refugee camps to house the generations of Palestinians pushed from their homes after the 1948 founding of Israel. Many lack basic services, such as electricity, sewage and waste disposal networks. Seventy-eight percent of households complain of dampness, 62 percent suffer from water leakage, and 52 percent have poor ventilation, according to a UNRWA study.

But this camp is all Saaf knows. Growing up, his dad sold candy on the street, and Saaf never went to school. Instead, he roamed the camp looking for work, which he still does today.

He always dreamed that one day, he would be able to give his kids a better life in Palestine.

“After what Trump said, it’s like we died,” Saaf said. “We lost hope. I’m sad for the future of my kids. I don’t want to have any more kids, because I’ll just destroy their future.”

Thousands of Palestinians have held demonstrations across Lebanon over the past week, including one in Beirut on Sunday that turned violent. Protesters threw rocks and set rubbish cans on fire outside of the US embassy, while Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannon into the crowd.

At another protest in the capital on Monday, demonstrators chanted: “Death to America! Death to Israel!”

“We don’t accept Trump’s decision,” Ali said. “So we will fight.”

Rami Saaf and his nine-year-old son, Jihad, stand outside their home, where water leaks onto wires [Lisa Khoury/Al Jazeera]

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/palestinians-lebanon-living-prison-171215114602518.html

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France Accuses Syria’s Bashar Assad of “Mass Crimes” — 400,000 people are besieged by government forces in Eastern Ghouta

December 16, 2017

 

A Syrian man carries the body of a child who was killed in a reported air strike in the rebel-controlled town of Hamouria, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, in this December 3, 2017 photo. (AFP)

PARIS: France on Friday accused Syria of doing nothing to reach a peace agreement after almost seven years of war and said it was “committing mass crimes” in the Eastern Ghouta region where 400,000 people are besieged by government forces.

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“The Assad regime never entered in any negotiation since the beginning of the civil war,” France’s Ambassador to the US Gerard Araud said on Twitter, adding: “They don’t look for a political compromise but for the eradication of their enemies.”
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There is no alternative to a negotiated political solution agreed by both parties under the auspices of the UN,” Alexandre Giorgini, deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in a daily briefing, reiterating Paris’ support for UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and appearing to dismiss a separate Russian initiative planned in Sochi next year.
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“We deplore the attitude of the Syrian regime, which has refused to engage in the discussion. The Syrian regime is responsible for the lack of progress in the negotiations,” he said.
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The UN says about 400,000 civilians are besieged and face “complete catastrophe” because aid deliveries by the Syrian regime were blocked and hundreds of people who need urgent medical evacuation have not been allowed outside the enclave.
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“By denying humanitarian access, the Damascus regime is responsible for mass crimes, particularly through the use of the siege as a weapon of war,” Giorgini said.
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Meanwhile, over half of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are now living in extreme poverty, and the vast majority live below the poverty line, the UN’s refugee agency said Friday.
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According to the UN, more than a million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon since the war in their country erupted in March 2011.
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The massive influx has tested Lebanon, a country of just four million citizens that already struggled with overstretched resources before the arrival of Syrian refugees.
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Over the last six years of the war, the refugee population has sunk further into debt and poverty, UNHCR said, with 58 percent of households now living in extreme poverty, defined as less than $2.87 per person a day.
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That is an increase of five percent since last year, UNHCR said in an annual survey.
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The survey found 76 percent of refugees were living below the poverty line, defined as less than $3.84 per person a day, and that nearly 90 percent of refugees were in debt.
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“Syrian refugees in Lebanon are barely keeping afloat,” said UNHCR’s Lebanon representative Mireille Girard said.
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“Most families are extremely vulnerable and dependent on aid from the international community.”
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One bright spot in the survey was a large jump in school enrolment of refugee children aged 6-14, with 70 percent now registered at school, up from around just half. But the report found just 12 percent of adolescent refugees had finished their education.
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 (His main allies are Bashar Assad, Iran and Turkey…)
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Philippine National Police Chief Brags About “Many Accomplishments in 2017”

December 15, 2017
Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa said the police force had “many victories” in 2017. He remarked this despite the criticisms over the alleged police abuses in the government’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs. File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa on Friday thanked his fellow cops for supposedly overcoming trials in the service this year.

In a statement, Dela Rosa said the police force had “many victories” in 2017. He remarked this despite the criticisms over the alleged police abuses in the government’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.

One of the fatalities, who has yet to be identified, was killed in an alleged shootout with police officers in Guiguinto, Bulacan on June 16. AP/Aaron Favila, file

“We end 2017 with deep gratitude in our hearts for the countless blessings and many victories we have achieved during the year and look forward to 2018 with great optimism as we receive from the good Lord the gift of another new year of service,” the police chief said.

Dela Rosa said that the opportunity to serve the country is “perhaps the best gift from the Lord.”

“In gratitude, let us celebrate the birth of Lord Jesus Christ by offering to Him and for His greater glory all our victories, our good deeds, our sacrifices and even our defeats,” he said.

The PNP director urged his fellow policemen to use the Christmas season to renew and strengthen their commitment to another year of service filled with “integrity, love of country and compassion for fellowmen.”

“We must remember that Jesus Christ is the ultimate public servant whose selfless service and the sacrifices he made for mankind must inspire us as we perform our duties to serve and protect or country,” Dela Rosa said.

The PNP, under his watch, nabbed alleged supporters and financiers of the Maute group who fought government forces in Marawi City for five months.

The police force also foiled attempt of suspected Abu Sayyaf members who planned to terrorize the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summits and Related Meetings in mid-November.

Dela Rosa, who will retire January 21 next year, has been confirmed to lead the Bureau of Corrections.

On Wednesday,  President Rodrigo Duterte said he is extending Dela Rosa’s term for “two to three months” to help introduce reforms in Mindanao.

READ: Duterte to extend PNP chief Dela Rosa’s termDuterte to appoint Bato dela Rosa as next BuCor chief

Defeats

Before Duterte barred them from joining the war on drugs campaign in October, cops have received criticisms both at home and abroad for alleged abuses and accusations of extrajudicial killings related to the drug war.

Following the deaths of teenagers at the hands of the police force, Duterte had ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to the lead in the administration’s anti-drug campaign.

Responding to what he called “public clamor,” Duterte signed a memorandum on December 5 bringing back the police in the crackdown on illegal drugs.

According to human rights watchdogs, Duterte’s war on drugs has claimed over 12,000 lives.

The government has disputed these numbers. According to the latest #RealNumbersPH data release, there have been 3,967 drug suspects killed in government operations since July 2016. Government officials, including Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, said all of those killed were drug pushers.

The data releases no longer include information on “deaths under investigation,” a tally of murders and homicides that police have yet to determine motives for.

The PNP was also in hot water after the kidnapping and murder of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo by policemen. This prompted Duterte to suspend PNP’s role in drug war for the first time.

READ: Duterte brings back PNP to war on drugs

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/12/15/1768678/bato-pnp-had-many-victories-2017

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President Rodrigo Duterte and PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa. PhilStar photo

Jee Ick-joo, a South Korean businessman in the Philippines, was abducted by police from his home in October. It took his wife, Choi Kyung-jin, three months to learn his fate. Video: Eva Tam; photo: Jes Aznar for The Wall Street Journal
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Rohingya ‘rather die’ than return to oppression and genocide in Myanmar — Disease, hunger and misery stalk the Rohingya living in Bangladesh — “When we go back, they will torture and kill us again.”

December 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Annie BANERJI, Redwan AHMED | The worst bouts of violence have subsided but Rohingya continue to flee, the UN says

COX’S BAZAR (BANGLADESH) (AFP) – Disease, hunger and misery stalk the Rohingya living in Bangladesh’s refugee camps but despite the grinding hardship, few are willing to consider the alternative — returning home under a deal struck with Myanmar.The arrangement signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in November to start repatriating refugees within two months is viewed with deep suspicion and dread by Rohingya still traumatised by the violent expulsion from their homeland.

“They make deals, but they won’t follow them,” said Rohingya refugee Mohammad Syed, who estimated his age at 33.

“When we go back, they will torture and kill us again.”

Their fear is not misplaced.

Doctors Without Borders said Thursday that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of a Myanmar army crackdown on rebels in Rakhine state that began in August.

The worst bouts of violence have subsided but Rohingya continue to flee, the UN says.

Nearly 650,000 of the Muslim minority have fled across the border into Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh since the army campaign began.

The UN rights chief said in December the catalogue of abuses — including indiscriminate killings, mass rape and the razing of hundreds of Rohingya villages — contained “elements of genocide”.

Myanmar has consistently denied committing atrocities in Rakhine, saying the crackdown was a proportionate response to the Rohingya militants who attacked police posts on August 25, killing around a dozen officials.

But rights groups say the conditions are not in place to ensure safe, voluntary and dignified returns, and Rohingya sense danger lurking behind Myanmar’s assurances.

“It’s a trap. They have given such assurances before, and still made our lives hell,” said Rohingya woman Dolu, who goes by one name, in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.

“I would rather live here. We get food and shelter here, and we can pray freely. We are allowed to live.”

– Fear of return –

The Rohingya have reason to be wary.

The persecuted minority has been the target of past pogroms in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which does not recognise the group as a genuine ethnicity and has stripped them of citizenship.

Many have no homes left after their villages were torched.

Those still living in Rakhine, Myanmar’s poorest state, face heavy restrictions on work, travel and access to basic services.

More than 100,000 Rohingya displaced by a 2012 outbreak of violence have been trapped in squalid camps in central Rakhine ever since.

Aid groups have warned Myanmar they would boycott any new camps for Rohingya returnees, saying refugees must be allowed to settle in their own homes and not forced into ghetto-like conditions.

“They have to recognise us as citizens of the country. They have to give us proper Rohingya identity cards. Only then we will go back,” said 25-year-old Rohingya man Aziz Khan at Kutupalong, a gigantic camp in Cox’s Bazar.

“Otherwise we would rather die here in Bangladesh.”

Bangladesh has been praised for opening its borders as waves of Rohingya civilians fled army reprisals and Buddhist mobs.

But the government has always maintained that the refugees would one day return, tussling for months with Myanmar over the terms of repatriation deal.

Before the latest surge, Bangladesh was already hosting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled previous waves of persecution.

This crisis has put enormous pressure on ordinary Bangladeshis living in Cox’s Bazar, where the refugee population has grown four-fold since August.

“It is good news, goodbye to them. It is time they go back to where they belong,” said Ehsaan Hossain, a shopkeeper at Cox’s Bazar where prices for basic goods has skyrocketed.

Others complained about the headache of frequent identity checks and roadside patrols since the Rohingya influx began.

But rickshaw driver Mohammad Ali worried his income — which had doubled since the flood of refugees — would slump if the Rohingya suddenly left en masse.

“In a way, I will miss them if they leave,” the 30-year-old told AFP.

by Annie BANERJI, Redwan AHMED

Stark Reality of Chinese Communism — Bustling Beijing migrant area turns into ghost town — closed with concrete and barbed wire

December 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Dead leaves litter the pavement after authorities swept through the area in a controversial city-wide eviction campaign

BEIJING (AFP) – The narrow alleyways of the Beijing migrant neighbourhood were once crammed with men cooking on outdoor stoves, women hanging clothes to dry and young children playing games.Now dead leaves litter the pavement as a bitterly cold wind blows through empty lanes after authorities swept through the area in a controversial city-wide eviction campaign.

 

It is one of the myriad migrant neighbourhoods in the capital of 23 million people that have been turned into ghost towns as the government shuts down and demolishes illegal or unsafe structures.

Authorities stepped up the controversial expulsions last month, arguing that they have to clear dangerous buildings after a fire killed 19 people. A blaze in another migrant area killed five people on Wednesday.

The harsh tactics sparked uproar as rural migrants who had been seeking a better life were suddenly given hours to vacate homes in the shivering cold.

When AFP journalists visited Houchang Cun — “the village behind the factories” — in the summer, residents in one densely populated section had been warned that evictions were looming.

This is the scene of desolation the reporters found when they recently returned to the single-storey brick homes.

– Taps off –

In August, shirtless men washed vegetables, brushed their teeth or cleaned themselves in the only facility with running water in the urban “village”.

Today, litter is strewn around the empty space under its tin roof.

The tables that people used to place their bowls or toiletries on are gone.

Even the silvery spigots have been ripped off the walls.

– Movers moved –

Many of the residents were movers. Zhang Zhanrong, a mother in her early 30s, ran her own moving business.

She lived in a one-room dwelling with her husband and son. Wearing a blue dress, she served dinner on a small table, next to a bed and tall armoire.

The mattress now rests diagonally against the wall while the makeshift stove which she shared with her neighbour outside their brick homes is gone.

– Sealed doors –

As the homes were so small, much of life took place outside in the lanes whose entrances have been closed with concrete and barbed wire.

A large grease stain is left on a brick wall where a woman used to cook meals outside her home.

A poster of Chairman Mao Zedong surrounded by officials that hung on a wooden storage space is gone.

An abandoned sink lies on the pavement in front of a home where a woman once hung shirts while another woman washed clothes in a green plastic bucket.

A nail remains on a wall where a woman used to hang garlic.

Purple and flowery sheets are still draped over some entrances in the deserted alleyway.

A mop still hangs from a window next to where a man held his baby in his arms months ago.

The green and brown doors are all shut and bear an official white seal with different dates of evictions in November.

– ‘No use to protest’ –

One couple remained behind, spending days sitting on blankets on a corrugated metal rooftop.

“There’s no heating where we are so it’s warmer out here in the sun,” the husband said, declining to give his name, on a below-freezing day.

The man plans to leave Beijing after he receives his last paycheque from his job as a maintenance worker.

Many residents hailed from the same hamlet in Pengshui, a mountainous region in southwestern Chongqing province, and relocated to Beijing to work menial labour jobs or to start small businesses.

Evictees said they received no compensation and feel forced to return to a place where they have no way of making a living.

“There is no use to protest,” said a woman surnamed Wang. “It will all be gone sooner or later.”

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China: Xinjiang Authorities Collecting Residents’ Biometric Data

December 14, 2017

Human Rights Watch has reported on a program which has gathered biometric data—including fingerprints, iris scans, blood-type, and DNA—on millions of residents in six regions in Xinjiang in 2017 under the guise of a free public health program providing physical examinations. HRW earlier this year voiced concern over a lack of privacy protections related to the planned expansion of DNA collection and indexing targeting vulnerable populations in  and other parts of China.  is the frontline of a long-running and highly controversial crackdown on terrorism that has been criticized by human rights advocates for targeting members of the Uyghur ethnic minority, and exacerbating ethnic tensions.

For all “focus personnel” – those authorities consider threatening to regime stability – and their family members, their biometrics must be taken regardless of age. Authorities are gathering the biodata in different ways. DNA and blood types are being collected through a free annual physical exams program called Physicals for All. It is unclear if the participants of the physicals are informed of the authorities’ intention to collect, store, or use sensitive DNA data.

“Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project ‘Privacy Violations for All,’ as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “The mandatory databanking of a whole population’s biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms, and it’s even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free health care program.”

The biometric collection scheme is detailed in an official document called “The [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous] Region Working Guidelines on the Accurate Registration and Verification of Population” (全区人口精准登记核实工作指南, “The Population Registration Program”), available in full on the government website of Aksu city in Xinjiang (an unofficial translation is available below). […] [Source]

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Coverage of HRW’s report from Echo Huang at Quartz notes the lack of disclosure of the voluntary nature and particulars of the program reported by some Xinjiang residents who took part in it, and notes wider efforts by authorities to collect personal information nationwide:

The Physicals for All program stands out for the way it’s been characterized as a free benefit for a poor region, and important to stable development (link in Chinese). “What’s transmitted to the public via media and social media do not mention DNA collection in Physicals for All,” wrote HRW researcher Maya Wang in an email to Quartz.

[…] Although Physicals for All is touted as a voluntary program (link in Chinese), some residents told HRW that that wasn’t the case. One Uighur said his neighborhood committee demanded participation, warning that any absence would be considered “political disloyalty.” He added he had not received the results of his physical.

In recent years, China has been stepping up efforts nationwide to collect personal information—including intimate relationships, delivery records, and biometric data—from not only people it considers potential threats, but normal citizens as well. Government databases now include such data on tens of millions of citizens, among them , migrant workers, and college students. [Source]

Coverage from the Financial Times’ Emily Feng notes expert opinion that concern exists in Xinjiang that the data collected may be used to match organs of suspected criminals with potential recipients post-execution, and also that the Xinjiang program may be functioning as a pilot program for eventual nationwide rollout.

Following the criticism from HRW and subsequent English-language press coverage, state-affiliated tabloid Global Times covered official defenses of the program and castigations of the criticism:

In Yining, such information would be collected for a demographic database to help accurately identify people and for information-sharing among government departments.

China’s government has the right to take measures it deems as proper to protect national security, and the collection of such information is not harmful to the residents, nor does it affect people’s rights, Turgunjan Tursun, a professor at Zhejiang Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Such measures, as well as the collecting of fingerprints in other cities in China, help secure public security, and claims of human rights violations are groundless, he added.

The organization has always made false statements on issues involving China and I suggested there’s no need to spend time on such remarks, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.

“Xinjiang has witnessed economic development and social stability, and the people there are living and working in a joyful mood, a scene that some people overseas might be unwilling to see,” Lu said. [Source]

Since 2014, Xinjiang has been the “frontline” of a nationwide crackdown on terrorism in response to rising incidents of violence in the region and elsewhere in China. The crackdown in Xinjiang has seen tightening security measures, the implementation of cutting-edge surveillance technology, and the mandatory installation of spyware on mobile phones; and has also included policies that appear to target  such as selective religious fasting banslocal and region-wide rules against “extremist behavior” including face veils or long beards, and a ban on “extreme” Islamic baby names. CDT Chinese editors recently drew attention to state media’s promotion of a primary school in Aksu, Xinjiang where Uyghur students were dressed in traditional Han dress as they recite Chinese classics“in order to feel the powerful charm and profound nature of traditional Chinese culture.”

After hosting the South-South Human Rights Forum the month,  Xinhua released the full text of the “Beijing Declaration.” The declaration, which was signed by all representatives in attendance, devotes an article to religious minorities:

Article 6

States should, in accordance with their national laws and international obligations, focus on guaranteeing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of specific groups, including ethnic, national, racial, religious and linguistic groups and migrant workers, people with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees and displaced persons. States have an obligation to respect and protect religious minorities, and religious minorities have the same obligation to adapt to their local environment, and this includes the acceptance and observance of the Constitution and laws of their localities, as well as their integration into the local society. Everyone has the right to choose his or her own beliefs, including the choice of believing or not believing a religion, and the choice of believing one religion or another, without being discriminated. [Source]

 

Chinese dissident’s widow sends desperate letter

December 14, 2017

AFP

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© Shenyang Municipal Information Office/AFP/File | Liu Xia (C) holds a portrait of her late husband, Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, after his death in July 2017

BEIJING (AFP) – Friends of the late Chinese democracy advocate and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo voiced concern about his widow’s health on Thursday after she sent a letter showing signs of deep depression.The poet Liu Xia, 56, has been under police watch without charges since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, a recognition that deeply angered the Communist regime.

In a letter written in the form of a poem to the 2009 Nobel Literature Prize Laureate Herta Mueller, Liu said she was “going mad”.

“Too solitary / I have not the right to speech / To speak loudly / I live like a plant / I lie like a corpse,” the poem read.

Exiled Chinese dissident and author Liao Yiwu posted a photo of the letter on his Facebook account on December 9.

The Chinese handwriting appeared to match previously published letters from Liu, who has been under de facto house arrest in her Beijing home for the past seven years.

“I shared her words in the hope of urging Western governments to talk with the Chinese government on this issue and let her go as soon as possible,” Liao told AFP by phone from Berlin.

Liao said the widow had sent the poem “recently”, but declined to say how she was able to get it out.

“She is taking a lot of medicine to control her depression. If she doesn’t take medicine, her heart will jump like crazy. She fainted once,” he added.

Another friend, who declined to give his name because he lives in Beijing, said he has not been able to reach Liu since August.

“She must be under tight police control,” he said.

The United States and European Union have called on President Xi Jinping’s government to free the widow and let her go abroad.

“Foreign governments should press for Liu Xia’s release publicly and at the highest level to let the Chinese government know that she is not forgotten,” Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang told AFP.

Her husband was a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and was detained in 2008 after co-writing Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms.

Following Liu Xiaobo’s terminal cancer diagnosis, the democracy advocate requested to receive treatment abroad — a wish that friends believe was in reality for his wife’s sake.

But the authorities refused to let him go and he died in July this year.

China vs Google, Facebook and other US internet giants: a lesson in internet oversight for the West — Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice

December 13, 2017

Jesse Friedlander says while the US government is playing catch-up with the globally powerful tech companies of Facebook, Google and others, Beijing’s tight grip on cyberspace appears to be paying off

By Jesse Friedlander
South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 5:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 6:52pm

Watching US technology leaders try to curry favour at China’s premier internet conference is instructive of the quickly shifting power dynamics among global tech giants. China is the only major market where Silicon Valley’s greatest companies have yet to gain a foothold. Famous for their “take no prisoners” aggressiveness and willingness to break the rules, the leaders of these companies on this occasion, in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, displayed modesty and submission to authority.

At the back of everyone’s mind must be Uber, which, despite its first-mover advantage, was forced to beat a retreat last year after losing billions trying to establish its business in China.

California’s Silicon Valley has long been home to libertarian technologists, who place their faith in the ability of unfettered innovation to solve real human and business problems. Largely free from government regulation, these brainy optimists have developed ideas that have radically changed the way people work, communicate, shop and learn. In the process, they have disrupted – or eliminated – countless companies that relied on traditional approaches to providing goods and services.

Today, the most prominent examples of Silicon success stories are the vaunted “FAANG” stocks, an acronym for FacebookAppleAmazon, Netflix and Google. Individually, each of these companies dominates its market segment in the United States and in most international markets.

 A scene from the Netflix TV series, Glow. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google, collectively known by the acronym “FAANG”, are the most popular tech stocks in the market. Individually, each dominates its market segment in the US and in most international markets. Photo: Netflix via AP

For example, Facebook is the world’s largest social media company with over two billion active users. Together with Google, the two giants account for 84 per cent of global digital advertising spending. Amazon has 44 per cent of e-commerce sales in the US. Altogether, “FAANG” has a market capitalisation in excess of US$2.5 trillion, which surpasses that of France, the world’s seventh-largest economy.

It would appear that most Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice

Given the compelling value proposition offered by their services, these new-economy companies have developed large and reliable user bases of individuals, businesses, schools and even governments.

On the back of their tremendous success, these companies have grown so large that their power and influence is unassailable, even by the government in some respects. More than just a challenge to traditional businesses, new-economy companies are a major social force, with the power to affect political outcomes, personal careers, and even the general mood of society. Armed with reams of our personal data and sophisticated algorithms, they alone determine what information we consume, the prices we pay for products and if we are even allowed to participate in certain online activities.

At the moment, there is little consensus in the US on if and how new-economy companies should be regulated. Perhaps counter-intuitively, China may serve as a role model for Western governments as they contemplate oversight of internet companies. Indeed, China was among the first countries to express concern about the potential negative side-effects of the internet.

 Chinese magazines featuring President Xi Jinping on the cover are seen during the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, on December 3. Photo: Reuters

Much to the consternation of Western observers, China has made a series of controversial moves aimed at taming the internet, including: the creation of a “Great Firewall”, which prevents unfettered access to the web; disallowing anonymous postings and other online activity through real-name authentication; monitoring and restricting the content of internet media companies; and, holding direct and indirect stakes in certain technology companies.

While derided as draconian by critics who value free self-expression, these measures have undoubtedly helped ensure that the Chinese web remains a safer and more orderly space with less content hostile towards individual public figures and subgroups. While the US struggles with issues of ad hominem attacks and fake news, China has developed arguably the world’s most advanced e-commerce and logistics ecosystem.

From the Chinese perspective, the government’s oversight of cyberspace has helped to create a more healthy and harmonious society, something that is sorely lacking in the US.

A clear negative consequence of China’s strict controls is a lack of choice for consumers. Facebook, Twitter, Google, The New York Times, CNN and other American media are all inaccessible from within the Chinese Great Firewall.

Watch: China blocks Microsoft’s Skype in November this year

More recently, WhatsApp, and Microsoft’s LinkedIn have also been blocked. That being said, surveys consistently reveal that Chinese consumers enjoy an enviable amount of options for goods, services and intellectual content important to them. To be sure, Chinese public opinion also consistently shows a high degree of satisfaction with government policies and optimism towards their individual and the nation’s future.

It would appear that most Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice. For the Chinese government, this is at the forefront of their minds as they consider what role, if any, they will allow Silicon Valley’s winners to play in China.

Jesse Friedlander, CFA, is co-founder and chief investment officer of Des Voeux Partners, a multifamily office that manages intergenerational wealth. His areas of interest include macroeconomics, geopolitics, language and culture

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Leaders needed to fix global ‘mess’, says Kofi Annan

December 12, 2017

AFP

© AFP | “Honestly speaking, we are in a mess,” UN chiefs Kofi Annan told AFP in an exclusive interview ahead of Tuesday’s climate talks in Paris.

PARIS (AFP) – 

Former UN chiefs Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon have lashed out at the state of global leadership in the age of Donald Trump, warning a nuclear war could be triggered by accident.

“Honestly speaking, we are in a mess,” Annan told AFP in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s climate talks in Paris.

“In the past when we went through this sort of crisis, you had leaders who had the courage and the vision to want to take action, to understand that they needed to work with others,” he said.

At a time of growing US isolationism — Trump has announced plans to leave the Paris climate deal agreed two years ago on this day — Annan urged leaders to cooperate better on fighting terrorism, migration and global warming.

“Today, leaders are going in the wrong direction,” he said. “Leaders are withdrawing.”

He expressed particular concern over escalating tensions with North Korea, warning: “One miscalculation, one mistake and we are all victims”.

“It may not be a deliberate decision to start a nuclear war,” he added, adding that inflammatory rhetoric — without mentioning Trump or North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un by name — was not helping.

Ban, who like Annan spoke to AFP as part of The Elders group of senior statesmen and women, blasted Trump’s climate stance as “politically short-sighted and misguided”.

“The richest and most powerful country” in the world is disengaging from a historic deal that “even countries like Syria” have signed, Ban said.

“We are seeing more and more troubles and conflicts still continuing, because of the lack of global commitment and global vision,” he added.

– Step forward, Macron? –

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN Syria envoy who joined the interview with former Irish president Mary Robinson and Norway’s first female premier Gro Harlem Brundtland, said Europe could step into the bigger global role vacated by Trump — at least in the Middle East.

French President Emmanuel Macron in particular, he suggested, appears willing to shoulder more responsibility: this week’s climate talks are his latest bid to play a lead role in global affairs.

“I think Europe certainly has a role and a capacity to play a role, and the important leaders in Europe. Definitely one of them is President Macron,” Brahimi told AFP.

The United States has “absolutely” disqualified itself as a broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he added.

“They have now announced with this statement ‘We are not going to mediate anymore’. And the thing is, I think someone should step in because this problem is not going to go away.”

As a new round of peace talks gets under way in Geneva this week, Brahimi — who like Annan quit as the UN’s Syria envoy in frustration over years of deadlock — said he hoped this time things might be different.

“I think we have come now much closer to the realisation that indeed there is no military solution. There is some hope there,” he said.

“The other thing is that there was fear that Syria would break up as a country. It does seem that the unity of Syria can be preserved if people really start working for a political solution.”

The West Faces Up to Reality: China Won’t Become ‘More Like Us’

December 12, 2017

The make-believe that Beijing would eventually embrace Western values is over

SHANGHAI—For decades, the relationship between China and the West rested on illusion and pretense.

Western politicians fooled themselves into thinking that the Chinese system, centrally directed and authoritarian, would in time resemble their own, open and democratic.

For its part, China camouflaged its global ambitions. Obeying Deng Xiaoping’s maxim to “hide our capabilities and bide our time,” it built itself into a manufacturing colossus and the world’s largest trader, amassed “hard” military power and projected “soft” influence, sometimes covert and bought with cash.

This game of make-believe is winding down.

Last week’s trip to China by Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister whose father engineered his country’s opening to the People’s Republic, will likely go down as one of the last in a series of largely futile Western efforts to “shape” China’s rise by encouraging its adoption of liberal Western ideas. He arrived with plans to open talks on a “progressive” free-trade agreement that stresses gender equality, labor protections and environmental rights. He was politely shown the door.

At the same time, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was underscoring a new era of realism. With China in mind, he introduced legislation to limit foreign interference in the country’s political life. The impact has been swift: On Tuesday, Labor party senator Sam Dastyari pledged to resign amid an uproar over his links to a real-estate billionaire affiliated with the Communist Party.

Australia exemplifies both the advantages and potential hazards of a more hard-nosed approach to China.

Some predict a new Cold War. That’s possible, if Western disillusion gives rise to such strong anti-China sentiment that it derails ties.

But a dose of honesty could also lead to a more sustainable relationship, one based on a frank acknowledgment of differences rather than hopes for an East-West merger based on common values.

That mythical prospect—that China will become “more like us”—has held up debate in the liberal West about the larger questions posed by China’s economic and military ascendancy.

What is the appropriate response to an increasingly predatory Chinese state that takes advantage of Western openness to acquire technology even as it shelters its own markets behind protectionist barriers?

How do free societies push back against an authoritarian system that advances its geopolitical interests with clandestine influence campaigns? China co-opts the elites in target countries like Australia by offering them corporate sinecures and consultancy contracts. It buys up Chinese-language news outlets and infiltrates the Chinese diaspora through Communist Party agencies—all the while blocking Western media content at home with its Great Firewall and restricting Western influence by placing foreign NGOs under police administration.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has hastened this reckoning. At a party congress a few weeks ago, he made clear that China is supremely confident in its own ways and proclaimed a “new era” in which it will move “closer to the center of the world.” Western politicians are finally coming to view China for what it is, not the country they wish it to be.

The new sense of clarity has spread to Europe. “It is always useful to call a spade a spade,” write François Godement and Abigaël Vasselier in a paper on China-EU relations for the European Council on Foreign Relations that, among other things, recommends tougher screening for inbound Chinese investment.

In a sign of growing alarm at Chinese political interference, Germany’s intelligence services have published details on how Chinese spies have gathered data on officials and politicians using fake social-media profiles.

The U.S. House and Senate are working on bills to restrict Chinese investment in technology companies. The Trump administration is readying a raft of punitive trade measures. And among U.S. academics, debate is simmering over the threat to free expression presented by Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes on college campuses.

In a report for the congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy, Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig connect Chinese and Russian efforts to shape public opinion around the world. The billions these countries spend to influence media, culture, think tanks and academia, they argue, goes beyond “soft power.” They label it “sharp power,” which should be seen as “the tip of their dagger.”

Australia will be a test of how far Western countries will to go to defend democratic values. Fee-paying Chinese students keep the country’s higher education system afloat; Chinese purchases of Australia’s raw materials, along with tourist spending, underpin its growth.

The People’s Daily attacked the new laws on foreign interference as “hysterical paranoia.” A Foreign Ministry spokesman accused Mr. Turnbull of poisoning ties.

Mr. Turnbull was unmoved. Echoing a slogan often attributed—incorrectly—to Mao, he declared in Mandarin that the Australian people will “stand up” for their sovereignty. Once China gets over its outrage, a reset of relations with the West is attainable, this time based on candor and clear-eyed pragmatism, not wishful thinking.

Write to Andrew Browne at andrew.browne@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-west-gets-real-about-china-1513074600