Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

The Democrats Abandon Catholics

March 23, 2018

If you value religious education or life’s sanctity, you’re not welcome in the party.

A couple of events over the past few weeks brought to mind two towering people who had a tremendous effect on the Archdiocese of New York and the U.S. more broadly. Their witness is worth remembering, especially in this political moment.

Last Saturday’s feast of St. Patrick, the patron saint of our cathedral and archdiocese, reminded me of Archbishop John Hughes. As the first archbishop of New York (1842-64), “Dagger John” displayed dramatic reverence for the dignity of Irish immigrants. Thousands arrived daily in New York—penniless, starving and sometimes ill—only to be met with hostility, bigotry and injustice.

Portrait of Archbishop John Hughes, c. 1840s.
Portrait of Archbishop John Hughes, c. 1840s.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

An immigrant himself, Hughes prophetically and vigorously defended their dignity. Because the schools at the time were hostile to these immigrants, he initiated Catholic schools to provide children with a good education sensitive to their religion and to prepare them as responsible, patriotic citizens. The schools worked. Many remain open to this day, their mission unchanged.

The second event was the recent funeral of a great African-American woman, Dolores Grier. A convert to Catholicism, she was named vice chancellor of the archdiocese three decades ago by Cardinal John O’Connor; she was the first layperson and first woman to hold the prestigious position. Grier was passionate about civil rights, especially the right to life of babies in the womb. She never missed an opportunity to defend, lovingly but forcefully, their right to life.

Grier attributed her pro-life sensitivity to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who preached that abortion was an act of genocide against minorities. No wonder, she often observed, abortuaries were clustered in poor black and brown neighborhoods. The statistics today confirm her observation: In 2013 there were more black babies aborted in New York City (29,007) than were born here (24,758), according to a report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The values Archbishop Hughes and Dolores Grier cherished—the dignity and sanctity of human life, the importance of Catholic schools, the defense of a baby’s civil rights—were, and still are, widely embraced by Catholics. This often led Catholics to become loyal Democrats. I remember my own grandmother whispering to me, “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.”

Such is no longer the case, a cause of sadness to many Catholics, me included. The two causes so vigorously promoted by Hughes and Grier—the needs of poor and middle-class children in Catholic schools, and the right to life of the baby in the womb—largely have been rejected by the party of our youth. An esteemed pro-life Democrat in Illinois, Rep. Dan Lipinski, effectively was blacklisted by his own party. Last year, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez insisted that pro-life candidates have no place in the modern Democratic Party.

It is particularly chilly for us here in the state Hughes and Grier proudly called their earthly home. In recent years, some Democrats in the New York state Assembly repeatedly blocked education tax credit legislation, which would have helped middle-class and low-income families make the choice to select Catholic or other nonpublic schools for their children. Opposing the bill reduces the ability of fine Catholic schools across the state to continue their mission of serving the poor, many of them immigrants.

More sobering, what is already the most radical abortion license in the country may soon be even more morbidly expanded. For instance, under the proposed Reproductive Health Act, doctors would not be required to care for a baby who survives an abortion. The newborn simply would be allowed to die without any legal implications. And abortions would be legal up to the moment of birth.

The “big tent” of the Democratic Party now seems a pup tent. Annafi Wahed, a former staffer to Hillary Clinton, recently wrote in this newspaper about her experience attending the Conservative Political Action Conference. She complimented the conservative attendees, pointing out that most made her feel welcome at their meeting. They listened attentively to her views—a courtesy, she had to admit, that would not be given to them at a meeting of political liberals.

I’m a pastor, not a politician, and I’ve certainly had spats and disappointments with politicians from both of America’s leading parties. But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.

To Archbishop Hughes, Dolores Grier, and Grandma Dolan, I’m sorry to have to write this. But not as sad as you are to know it is true.

Cardinal Dolan is archbishop of New York.

Appeared in the March 23, 2018, print edition.


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The Philippines: A Lesson in How Nation’s Lose Their Dignity (And Their Property)

March 23, 2018
 / 05:12 AM March 23, 2018

As a history teacher, I must object to President Duterte’s order to quit the International Criminal Court. With it, we lose our dignity as a nation.

The ICC is part of the United Nations, and the Philippines is part of the United Nations. Back in 1945 when the UN was founded, there were only three other Asian nations that participated. Our officials signed the original charter, hoping that we would become an upstanding member of this important organization. The UN and the Philippines both grew up together.

Since 1945, our soldiers have been actively involved in peacekeeping missions. Our dues have helped other nations, and during catastrophes, the UN has helped us. We have gotten advice from Unicef on Filipino child health and welfare. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea backed us up in the West Philippine Sea dispute with China.

Our government and nongovernment officials have become leaders in the organization. Carlos P. Romulo was elected president of the UN. We have been president of the Security Council seven times.

The UN and its judicial wing, the ICC, put pressure on nations to uphold human rights. We agreed to these human rights. We agreed to uphold the goals of this body. Yet now, President Duterte wants to pull out of the ICC, and put our good reputation in the trash bin. If he does not have anything to hide, why is he afraid? Why must we tear up our agreement with the rest of the world? Obligations are obligations and should not be thrown away, just because of the bad behavior of one president.


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All this makes one wonder: does the Philippines know what it is doing with China? In the South China Sea?  Benham Rise? Is Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the ICC, and is Agnes Callamard  (Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the UN) correct in saying the Philippines is guilty of gross illegalities under international law? Is the Philippine government being run by people who don’t understand the law? Is the move for a “Federal form of Government” based upon any good thinking?

No automatic alt text available.

China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.




We’ve heard 白痴國家 (Means “Idiot Nation”)




Catalan separatists face charges as key figure flees abroad

March 23, 2018


© AFP | Separatists won an absolute majority of parliamentary seats in December but have so far failed to form a new government

BARCELONA (AFP) – Spain’s Supreme Court said Friday said it would prosecute 13 key Catalan separatists for “rebellion”, as Marta Rovira became the latest leading pro-independence figure to flee abroad to escape charges over the region’s breakaway bid.Among those prosecuted are Catalonia’s sacked president Carles Puigdemont and his designated successor, Jordi Turull.

If found guilty, they face up to 30 years in prison.

Judge Pablo Llarena accused Puigdemont — currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium — of organising the independence referendum in October last year despite a ban from Madrid and “grave risk of violent incidents”.

Turull, a former government spokesman, is already under investigation over Catalonia’s secession drive but so far remains free under bail. He was due to appear in court Friday along with several other leading separatists.

But one of them, Marta Rovira, ignored the summons and instead announced she was taking “the road to exile”.

Rovira is deputy leader of the leftwing separatist ERC party, whose chief is currently in jail.

She was placed under judicial control in February, but the judge stopped short of putting her behind bars for the duration of an ongoing probe into charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

In a statement released by her party, Rovira said she felt her “freedom of expression was being censored by the courts which intimidate and shamelessly apply political criteria”.

Rovira, who did not specify where she was headed, is the seventh separatist to flee abroad to escape charges.

Separatist parties won regional elections in December called by Madrid after they attempted to secede, retaining their absolute majority in parliament.

But they have still not been able to form a government as their two previous candidates for the presidency proved problematic.

As a result, Catalonia remains under direct rule from Madrid, imposed after the declaration.

The separatist parties failed to elect a new regional president on Thursday after their most radical faction refused to back Turull in a vote of confidence.

A second round parliamentary vote is due to take place on Saturday.

People Seeking The Safety of Strongly Enforced Human Rights Once Came To The EU — “Today there is not so much enthusiasm.” — “the EU is a fair-weather friend to human rights.”

March 23, 2018

How much does the EU care about human rights?

Human rights groups have criticized the European Union for failing to uphold its values while tackling the migrant crisis. Where are its red lines? Conflict Zone meets European Parliament Vice President Ioan Pascu.

 Image may contain: 1 person, suit and text

Watch video26:00

Ioan Pașcu on Conflict Zone

Populist success at the polls across Europe. Brexit. Disunity. The European Union continues to face serious problems on many issues, including its handling of the migrant crisis that began in 2015.

But despite its humanitarian rhetoric, the EU has come under fire for its interventions, most recently in Libya.

In December, Amnesty International published a damning report, criticizing EU member states for “actively supporting a sophisticated system of abuse and exploitation of refugees and migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard, detention authorities and smugglers in order to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean.”

Is the European Union failing to live up to its founding values of “human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity” that each of its members are bound by?

Red lines

This week on Conflict Zone, DW’s Tim Sebastian met European Parliament Vice President Ioan Pascu in Strasbourg and began by asking him why the EU spent so much time talking about human rights but did less to uphold them.

“It’s a question of values of a club,” Pascu told DW’s Sebastian. “They were posted at the entrance door, whoever wanted to become a member of the club would have to abide by them.”

Responding to the suggestion that member states were failing to abide by these rules, Pascu said: “I would agree with you that the attractiveness of the European Union has been affected by the crisis, by the conflicts around, and today there is not so much enthusiasm as there used to be in the late 90s, beginning of the 2000s.”

But Pascu dismissed that there was anything new in Greece’s decision in June 2017 to block EU criticism of China’s human rights record. China has a 51% stake in Greece’s largest port.

Philippinen - Präsident Rodrigo Duterte (picture alliance/ZUMAPRESS/R. Umali)The EU said its deal with the Philippines would “allow better collaboration … in political, economic and development issues”. Human Rights Watch has said that under President Rodrigo Duterte human rights in the Philippines is in crisis

Pascu disagreed too that the EU was failing to offer help beyond its own borders: “We see countries which up until now did not pay too much attention to the EU, being interested in relations with the EU, take India for instance, take Mexico for instance.”

But wasn’t this only driven by trade interests?

“Who is going to come only for values? Who is going to come only for that?” said Pascu, a former defense minister of Romania.

‘Not a great democrat’

On criticism of a recent agreement with the Philippines, Pascu questioned waiting for another leader: “Because they elected Duterte as president and Duterte is not a great democrat we should say, ‘no deals with you until you elect somebody else’?”

Human Rights Watch has saidPresident Rodrigo Duterte has “plunged the Philippines into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.”

“We do have to take into account much more than that. What if we don’t have such a treaty with Philippines tomorrow when they elect somebody else than Duterte?” said Pascu.

On the EU’s statements championing human rights, Pascu said: “It does not mean that the world revolves around only about one action or one leader, and then we have to give up everything else because that leader is not a democrat.”

Zitattafel - Conflict Zone: Ioan Pascu

So does it have limits in its dealings with other countries?

“We do have red lines … In February this parliament was very critical to the human rights records of Egypt.”

The European Parliament issued a statement in February condemning Egypt’s use of the death penalty.

In January, the former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, said “the EU is a fair-weather friend to human rights: emphasizing them when there’s little risk, de-emphasizing them when interests come into play – often when it is in the interest of individual member states not to raise issues, primarily for commercial reasons […].”

Pascu, a European Parliament vice president since 2014, questioned this view as too generalized: “Not everything in the European Union is bad. Not everything in the European Union, equally, is not to be criticized. So that’s the way we move forward.”

Spanien Katalonien Unabhängigkeits-
Referendum Poilzei schreitet ein (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Fernandez)“This argument has been made by all the separatists [in Catalonia], that it was police brutality,” Ioan Pascu told Conflict Zone. Human Rights Watch said that Spanish police had used excessive force during Catalonia’s independence referendum

‘Violence can be provoked’

But if there are many matters of division within the Union, one moment of recent unity has arguably been its silence over Spain and Madrid’s response to Catalonia’s failed independence bid.

Human Rights Watch said the Spanish police had used excessive force as they tried to stop the referendum in Catalonia.

Pascu told DW’s Tim Sebastian: “I side with the [Spanish] government because the government has the responsibility to make their constitution respected by their citizens. If that happens in another country the same situation will happen. Why do you think that these separatists have not been supported in Europe?”

However, Pascu insisted that support for Spain was not about the country’s importance to the EU: “It’s the symbolism of it. If you let these things happen and go around, then you never have the member states existing in the European Union.”

And if there was more violence in Spain over an independence vote?

“Sometimes violence can be provoked. Sometimes it can,” said Pascu.

Law regulating deliberate online falsehoods can be justified under ‘public order’ — Singapore going for “Chinese style censorship”?

March 23, 2018

Channel News Asia

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

National University of Singapore’s (NUS) law professor Thio Li-ann.

SINGAPORE: A law regulating deliberate online falsehoods (DOFs) may be justified on the grounds of “public order” given the harm that they pose to democratic institutions and processes, said National University of Singapore’s (NUS) law professor Thio Li-ann in her written representation to the select committee looking at the issue.

Dr Thio, who appeared before the committee on Friday (Mar 23), said in her written representation that such a law could also be justified on the ground of “national security” given that DOFs are a “hybrid” threat to both.

She also said that a law regulating such falsehoods cannot be seen as a means to curtail free speech as “not all forms of speech are equally worthy of protection”.


In expounding her case, Dr Thio said that the dissemination of false or inaccurate information or claims “can harm and threaten public order”.

Public order is a “less decentralised” idea than a ‘law and order’ issue, she wrote. “It is usually defined as relating to a disturbance to communal tranquility under which every person feels safe under the protection of the law, where danger to human life and safety falls within its purview and can involve matters relating to public health or drug trafficking which has obvious deleterious social impact.”

With the courts appearing oriented towards an expansive or capacious understanding of ‘public order’ that transcends the threat of physical violence, public order thus appears able to accommodate both physical threats and threats to fundamental values and processes.

These include the harm that deliberate online falsehoods poses to democratic institutions and processes. Found within a single publication or cumulatively in a series of publications, these falsehoods can cause harm by a “single death blow or causing death by a thousand cuts”, she said.

Hence, anticipatory preventive action may be required, though care must be taken to ensure that there is a non-trivial basis for such action, she added.

Dr Thio also said that falsehoods could perhaps be a “hybrid” between a threat to public order and national security, citing views that deliberate online falsehoods, which attempt to undermine democratic elections, may rise to the level of a national security threat.

“The internet in particular provides the speaker (or) publisher with a platform to an audience of thousands if not hundreds of thousands, as opposed to a speaker addressing a local crowd or handing out tracts to dozens of people in a localised setting.

“The exponential spread of online information in terms of speed and reach has yielded characterisations of deliberate online falsehoods as a mode of ‘weaponising’ public narratives with the intent to deceive, to effect misrepresentation, in order to get a certain result.”

She added: “This could be for personal pecuniary benefit which is simply anti-social and irresponsible, or to manipulate political processes by spreading duplicitous narratives, which implicates the common weal.”

The Internet has also been a “mixed blessing to democracy”. While the Internet has promoted and expanded informational flows, this increase is also accompanied by an increase in misinformation flows, which undermines the democratic process.

“As a vehicle for human communication, the manner of communication will be shaped by human nature, which is capable of both wickedness and altruism, such that both benefit and harm may be generated depending on the proclivities of its user,” she wrote.

Thus, freedom of expression can be viewed as a “double-edged sword”. While free speech is the lifeblood of democratic society, the abuse of free speech through the propagation of deliberate falsehoods can undermine deliberative democracy and have other deleterious effects, she said.


In that case, free speech is not really ‘free’ in the sense of being offered “just for the sake of expression.”

She added that not all forms of speech are equally worthy of protection if one “speaks with the goal to defame another’s reputation, to denigrate a judge in a contemptuous fashion, to incite violence against an ethnic or religious group or to abusively harass someone who expresses a view in the public square which the abuser dislikes and wishes to silence through intimidation and threats”.

In such case, “the law steps in and sanctions rather than protects such speech”.

“Such speech is adjudged unworthy of protection, as it violates the rights of others or undermines a social interest, or both,” according to Dr Thio.

She added that a society is “entitled to prohibit or severely restrict forms of speech to vindicate social values. She raised the example of banning or severely restricting pornography in the interests of public morality or feminist concerns about gender stereotyping and the degradation or commodification or women.

Even if regulation is not entirely effective, the prohibition has a “signaling function” which indicates to people “the boundaries of what is and is not socially desirable or approved”. She said “this discharges the educative function of law”.

In the context of Singapore, “bright lines are drawn” where fundamental values like racial and religious harmony are at stake.

These represent substantive limits on free expression, which are justified on grounds of other overriding considerations which go to the heart of community identity and moral solidarity. Though she added that societies differ as to where to draw these lines and where free speech is valorised and elevated, it is harder to justify speech restriction as a “clear and present danger” might be required.


Dr Thio also said that it would be false to characterise the balancing process as always involving an individual’s right to free speech against a state-defined and defended public interest.

The process can be far more complex, she said, while listing four examples.

Firstly, there’s the popular view that involves pitting the right of an individual against the interest of the state in regulation.

However, a free speech issue could also involve a clash between two co-equal rights. This includes the right to free speech and the right to reputation as a facet of privacy rights.

Meanwhile, there could be instances when “free speech as a negative liberty may be in conflict not with a state defined good but with a positive liberty”. A positive liberty is defined as “the power to control or participate in public decisions”.

Dr Thio raised the example of pornography that exercises free speech as a negative liberty. This has been criticised as violating the “positive liberty” of women as pornography creates an environment where women cannot have political power given its degrading stereotypes of women and projecting them as commodities or somehow unfit for public office.

Lastly, the exercise of a negative liberty like free speech can actually erode someone else’s right to free speech.

Dr Thio quoted Harvard Law Professor Frank Michelman who has argued that certain speech, such as pornography, can have a “silencing” effect. “If I speak and you engage in simultaneous and/or abusive speech, you may intimidate me into silence or otherwise prevent me from effectively communicating my views, which is the point of free speech,” she wrote in her written submission.

Source: CNA

Turkey rejects Angela Merkel’s criticism over Afrin offensive

March 22, 2018

After Angela Merkel broke her silence on Turkey’s Afrin offensive and condemned the attack, Ankara rejected her stance as “unacceptable.” Merkel also decried the assault on Ghouta ahead of reports of evacuations.

A cloud of smoke above rebel-controlled Zamalka (Getty Images/AFP/A. Almohibany)

Turkey dismissed Angela Merkel’s statements on the Afrin offensive as “far from reality” and “based on disinformation” after the German chancellor slammed Turkey in Germany’s parliament.

On Wednesday, Merkel criticized Turkey’s attack on Kurdish forces in Syria’s Afrin, which Ankara describes as an anti-terror offensive.

“Despite all justified security interests of Turkey, it’s unacceptable what’s happening in Afrin, where thousands and thousands of civilians are being pursued, are dying or have to flee,” Merkel told German lawmakers.

While Berlin has repeatedly hinted at its displeasure since the Afrin offensive started two months ago, Merkel’s Wednesday remarks were the first time the chancellor herself clearly condemned the attack.

Read more: What you need to know about the Turkish offensive against Afrin

Merkel also decried the attack on rebel strongholds in eastern Ghouta conducted by the Syrian regime forces. Specifically, she slammed Moscow for “just watching” the offensive that had reportedly claimed over 1,500 lives.

“We also condemn this in the strongest possible terms,” she said.

Turkish attack a ‘model’ operation

Responding to Merkel’s comments, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said it is “extremely strange” that “some of our allies are looking at the situation through the eyes of terrorists.”

Turkish diplomats said Merkel’s statement was “unacceptable.”

“Operation Olive Branch is a role model on how to fight terrorism without inflicting civilian causalities,” the ministry said in a statement.

Turkish forces and their allies seized Afrin on Sunday, but announced they would continue their offensive east of the town.

Russian ultimatum

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime was making gains in Ghouta as rebels agreed to give up the town of Harasta and evacuate after weeks of rocket fire and airstrikes. Damascus’ ally Russia negotiated the deal with the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham.

Damascus was not directly involved in the talks, Syrian Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar told the AFP news agency. The agency also cited analyst Nawar Oliver, who claimed rebels were “not able to impose a single one of their conditions” on the evacuation agreement.

“Russia told them: that’s what’s on the table. If you like it, welcome. If you don’t like it, we’ll carry on with our ground offensive,” he said.

Read more: President Bashar al-Assad visits troops in eastern Ghouta

Motorbikes passing by buses awaiting evacuees (Getty Images/AFP/L. Beshara)Buses waiting to enter Harasta

Thousands evacuated from eastern Ghouta

On Thursday, Russia representative Vladimir Zolotukhin said over 5,000 civilians left eastern Ghouta through the specially arranged corridor. Separately, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said over 4,000 people fled from Douma, another rebel-controlled town in Ghouta, and entered into government territory.

On Thursday, a Syrian army officer urged all rebels in the area to give up their resistance.

dj/ng (AFP, Reuters, dpa, Interfax)

Turkey-Allied Jihadists Slaughtering Christians, Yazidis in Syria’s Besieged Afrin

March 22, 2018


Turkey-linked jihadists from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda are taking advantage of the Ankara offensive in the besieged Afrin region in northwestern Syria to slaughter Christians and Yazidis, caution several activists.

The warnings come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced over the weekend that his allied forces conquered the center of the Kurdish-held city of Afrin.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

U.S. President Donald Trump’s State Department has expressed “a serious and growing concern” over the situation in the Syrian city, but maintains, “We remain committed to our NATO ally Turkey, to include their legitimate security concerns.”

Khalid Haider, a U.S.-based Yazidi (or Yezidi) activist with ground sources in Syria, told Breitbart News the Turkish military is working alongside ISIS in Afrin, noting:

Time and time again the indigenous people of Syria are suffering, but this time is at the hands of members of the Turkish military who have been incubating ISIS terrorists. ISIS militants and their leaders are embedded with the Turkish military, and they are annihilating religious minorities. The world needs to wake up and stop this from happening.

Haider went on to say that Turkey-linked ISIS jihadists are killing Christians and Yazidis for not knowing how to behave like proper Muslims, telling Breitbart News:

Please be advised that any Christian or Yazidi who is captured by those ISIS militants is asked how many times do Muslims bow during prayers and how many times do Muslims pray. And if the Christians and Yazidis don’t have the correct answer, they are killed.

Haider’s comments echo activists who recently told the Catholic News Service (CNS) that Turkey-affiliated members of al-Qaeda and ISIS are targeting Christians and Yazidis.

Citing the activists, CNS notes, “Turkey is using hardline jihadist proxies, including Islamic State and al-Qaida militants, to eliminate the presence of Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities along its border.”

Al-Qaeda maintains what experts have described as the terrorist group’s strongest branch in Syria.

“The situation is dire. They feel desperate. They are crying out to God every hour,” Charmaine Hedding, the head of the Christian aid organization known as the Shai Fund, told the Catholic News Service (CNS), referring to religious minorities.

“The jihadist militants consider Yezidis ‘infidels,’ while there have been announcements made that if you kill Christians, you will go straight to paradise,” added Hedding, noting that she maintains contact with members of the religious groups via satellite phone.

Lauren Homer, a U.S.-based international human rights lawyer familiar with the situation in Afrin, told CNS that Turkey is engaging in ethnic cleansing and other war crimes in the region.

She said:

Farming villages and small towns have already been ‘cleansed’ of their inhabitants. Yezidi villages and Christian churches stand empty. Ancient landmarks, homes, and farmland lie in ruins due to Turkish bombs. Many war crimes have occurred. They’re documented by both residents and by gloating Turkish fighters.

Homer’s comments coincide with what United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights advocate who survived the ISIS genocide in the Middle East, noted in a statement last week, in which she said, “This horror is reminiscent of the initial actions of ISIS in Iraq. Medical and healthcare services are urgently needed, This situation foreshadows ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide.”

On January 20, Turkey launched an operation to seize Afrin from the U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) defending it, which Ankara claims to be an extension of the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

Although the Trump administration continues to praise the YPG’s contribution to the ongoing fight against ISIS, it has apparently abandoned the Kurds in northern Syria.

“The United States does not operate in the area of northwest Syria, where Afrin is located,” Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, declared on Monday, echoing the American military.

“Observers said so far; the United States military seems to be doing little to protect its Kurdish and Christian allies in northwestern Syria, who are largely credited with eradicating Islamic State from the area as part of the U.S.-led military coalition,” notes CNS.

Haider and other activists have urged the Trump administration to take action to stop the slaughter of religious minorities at the hands of Turkey-allied jihadists.

Citing the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of ground sources to keep tabs on the conflict, the Associated Press (AP) reports that “nearly 200,000 people have fled the Afrin region in recent days amid heavy airstrikes, entering Syrian government-held territory nearby.”

AP learned from a Kurdish official that “more than 800 YPG fighters have been killed in the 58 days of fighting, and estimated that 500 civilians were killed.”

“The Observatory puts the number of casualties at over 280 civilians, adding that more than 1,500 Kurdish fighters have been killed since Jan.20,” adds AP.

China to reorganise propaganda efforts at home and abroad

March 21, 2018


© AFP/File | The CCTV tower in Beijing: the broadcaster is facing consolidation with other state media

BEIJING (AFP) – China Wednesday announced a series of changes aimed at strengthening its global influence, including the creation of a centralised news service to better communicate the ruling Communist Party’s message at home and abroad.The changes are part of a larger overhaul of government functions that will also see an increased role for the United Front Work Department, a shadowy organisation that has been accused of trying to manipulate politics abroad.

Under the new arrangement, the party’s Central Propaganda Department will take direct responsibility for print, news and movies away from the central government, according to an announcement published by the official Xinhua news agency.

The move to put these branches of the media directly under the party’s control comes as China has been tightening censorship and efforts to dictate the outlook and “positivity” of content.

Control of radio and television will be placed under a separate government-run organisation tasked with “carrying out the Party’s propaganda guidelines and policies”.

The change is aimed at ensuring that broadcast media “acts as the Party’s mouthpiece”, the announcement said.

As part of the change Chinese state media outlets CCTV, China Radio International and China National Radio will be consolidated into one super-broadcaster answering to the Central Propaganda Department.

Programmes targeted at foreign audiences will be rebranded as “the Voice of China”, the announcement said.

The reorganisation will also increase the prominence of the United Front Work , an agency which works to promote ties between the Communist Party and non-Communist elite — including other political parties, former government officials, religious groups and overseas Chinese.

Under the new arrangement it will have complete responsibility for work related to China’s ethnic minority groups, religious management and contact with overseas Chinese, which Beijing sees as an important constituency for its propaganda efforts.

President Xi Jinping has described the United Front Work Department as a “magic weapon” in the country’s soft power arsenal.

But it has come under increased criticism for what some say are covert efforts to influence politics in other countries.

Chinese donors tied to United Front-affiliated groups gave money to Australian politicians, providing impetus for Canberra to introduce new laws to limit foreign interference in its government.



The covert department behind China’s growing influence

March 21, 2018

‘Magic wand’ used to extend China’s reach abroad gets enhanced role at time of growing international concern over state’s covert influence

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2018, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2018, 4:37pm

The controversial Chinese Communist Party department responsible for promoting its influence around the world will have its authority greatly strengthened, according to a document seen by the South China Morning Post.

The document was later published by the official Xinhua news agency on Wednesday afternoon.

The United Front Work Department, which has fallen under the scrutiny of Western governments in recent months, will now oversee the country’s ethnic and religious issues as well as overseas Chinese affairs.

This is part of a sweeping party restructuring that will see a further fusion between the party and the state.

It aims at increasing efficiency and strengthening the party’s control on all aspects of life in China.

The document also proposed upgrades to four party leading groups – responsible for reform, cybersecurity, finance and the economy, and foreign affairs.

The leading groups are the de facto decision-making bodies in Chinese politics and the upgrade is designed to further institutionalise the party’s political power.

The elevation of the UFW, once hailed by Xi Jinping as a “magic weapon” for the party to project its influence and wield its soft power, came at a time when democracies from Australia to the United States are increasingly suspicious of tacit Chinese state influences on their soil.

“The party used to lead the United Front behind a veil,” a government source, who declined to be named, told the Post.

“Under the new structure, it will no longer hide behind various government agencies.”

 The Communist Party is seeking to institutionalise its political power. Photo: Reuters

Under the new line-up, the State Ethnic Affairs Commission will report to the United Front Work Department, while the State Administration of Religious Affairs and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office will be absorbed into the department as two internal bureaus, according to the document dated March 19.

At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party will also upgrade four “leading groups” headed by Xi into “commissions”.

The move will enhance the president’s control over the relevant fields.

The State Computer Network and Information Security Management Centre, the office in charge of China’s “Great Firewall”, will be moved under the central commission on internet security, from the control of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The central leading group responsible for protecting China’s maritime interests, meanwhile, will be merged into Central Commission of Foreign Affairs Works – a move that highlights the importance of maritime issues on the leadership’s agenda.

In addition, the Chinese Communist Party will set up a new “Rule-by-Law Commission” and an auditing commission. A new leading group on education will be set up as well.

The Publicity Department of the Central Committee, the propaganda arm of the party, will have a direct control over all publishing and movies, according to the document.

China activists fear high-tech crackdown in Xi’s ‘new era’ — “Beijing Analytica” — “Monitoring of the behaviour and thoughts of the people.” — “The new emperor is a tyrant.”

March 21, 2018


© AFP / by Joanna CHIU | Some Chinese police have been using high-tech sunglasses that use facial recognition technology to spot suspects in crowded areas

BEIJING (AFP) – As Xi Jinping embarks on a potentially lifelong presidency, activists fear that the Chinese leader’s promise of a “new era” sounds the death knell for human rights under an increasingly digital-savvy police state.The Chinese government has severely reduced space for civil liberties since Xi took power in 2012, and authorities are developing new technologies to keep the vast population in check.

They include include facial recognition software as well as a “social credit” system for good behaviour — eerily similar to an episode of Netflix’s sci-fi hit “Black Mirror” that depicted a dystopian society governed by such scores.

Ye Du, a poet and activist who lives in southern Guangdong province, warned that China is entering a stage of “high-tech totalitarianism” in which most citizens will feel the psychological impact.

“The Chinese Communist Party has begun to pay more and more attention to cloud technology, monitoring technology and other tools, trying to integrate the most cutting-edge technology for the monitoring of the behaviour and thoughts of the people,” Ye told AFP.

Xi’s move to stay in office beyond the end of his second term in 2023, rubber-stamped this week when parliament abolished term limits, triggered a rare bout of criticism on social media.

Censors blocked dozens of phrases such as “I disagree” or “emperor”, in an illustration of their resolve to maintain stability, backed by a massive increase in domestic security spending in recent years.

– High-tech specs –

Last month, some police began to don high-tech sunglasses that can spot suspects in crowded areas, the newest use of facial recognition technology that has drawn concerns among human rights groups.

The glasses send people’s images to a database that checks their personal information.

It is part of China’s efforts to build a digital surveillance system able to use a variety of biometric data — from photos and iris scans to fingerprints — to keep close tabs on the movements of the entire population.

A group of legislators suggested during the parliament session that iris recognition be added to the country’s national identity system, including for passports, according to state-run media.

On the web, China has further tightened its “Great Firewall” with new restrictions on what can be said and shared on social media — all in the name of protecting national security.

Some 13,000 websites have been shut down or stripped of their licenses since 2015 for violating the rules.

Dozens of Chinese internet users have been imprisoned for crimes linked to their social media posts including “inciting subversion of state power” or “provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble” in recent years.

– ‘Digitised people’ –

The Chinese state is also experimenting with pilot “social credit” systems to evaluate the trustworthiness of citizens based on a wide range of behavioural data, and reward or penalise people accordingly.

According to a State Council document introducing the initiative in 2014, the system will “forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious” and will go national by the year 2020.

Ye called the policy a “new type of totalitarian society control” that completely “digitises” people, from their shopping habits and criminal records to social networks and private lives to “judge their position in society from the perspective of those in power.”

Private internet companies including Tencent and Alibaba have also rolled out social credit systems to score users and give out perks to frequent online shoppers.

While it is unclear whether companies are handing over users’ information to the government, authorities are likely to make “highly subjective” judgements based on blanket data collection, said Shazeda Ahmed, a Berkeley doctoral candidate who researches China’s social credit system.

Earlier this month, government agencies published a notice on the establishment of a social credit system to prevent “untrustworthy persons” from boarding civil aircraft.

Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon told AFP the new measures mean that “nobody can really enjoy their freedom of movement as they are de facto under surveillance anywhere in China.”

“It will haunt everyone with the fear that you don’t really have any privacy and you can be accused of anything silly at any time as the government wishes,” he said.

Authorities are also using old fashioned methods to keep dissenting voices in check.

Pro-democracy activist Hu Jia was placed on a “forced vacation” thousands of kilometres from Beijing during the two-week National People’s Congress session.

He has been under house arrest and constant police surveillance since 2013. Hundreds of lawyers and activists have been detained in the past five years.

“The new emperor is a tyrant. The five years we’ve been through have been brutal for human rights,” Hu told AFP after being allowed back to his home in Beijing on Tuesday.

by Joanna CHIU