Posts Tagged ‘Michelle Bachelet’

Far-right policies see Italy’s democracy ranking fall — increasing support for ‘strongmen’ who bypass political institutions

January 9, 2019

The policies of Italy’s anti-immigrant and anti-establishment government which came to power last June have torpedoed the country’s global democracy ranking, a think tank said Wednesday.

The country dropped from 21st to 33rd position in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2018 Democracy Index, mainly because of the presence of the far-right League in Italy’s coalition.

The report singled out the League's deputy prime minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for blame

The report singled out the League’s deputy prime minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for blame.  AFP/File

“Deep disillusionment with political institutions, including parliament and political parties, fed through into increasing support for ‘strongmen’ who bypass political institutions,” the EIU said in a report.

While the coalition also includes the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), the report singled out the League’s deputy prime minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for blame.

Salvini “has often used anti-foreigner rhetoric” and supported evictions of members of the minority Roma community from “illegal” houses despite a stop order issued by the European Court of Human Rights, the report said.

UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet in September criticised Italy’s treatment of migrants and minorities.

She slammed those who would build walls against migrants, as well as Salvini’s decision to close Italy’s ports to boats carrying migrants rescued at sea.

Bachelet said she would send a team to Italy to assess what she said was a rise in reported violent and racist attacks on immigrants, people of African origin and Roma.

“All this contributes to the risk of a deterioration in civil liberties,” said the EIU report, which also “considers the extent to which the government invokes new threats as an excuse to curb civil liberties.”

Italy’s parliament in November approved a wide-ranging security decree which limits humanitarian protection for tens of thousands of migrants.

It is among several countries that are opposed to a UN Global Compact on Migration.



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The twilight zones of the democratic world are drifting towards the Putin-Xi camp


Philippines: Palace says Duterte’s drug war protects lives on Human Rights Day (Only 5,000 or so dead)

December 10, 2018

The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte said it would remain steadfast in its campaign to rid the country of illegal drugs, crime and corruption as the world celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Committee, claimed the government’s program against drugs and crime protects human rights of “innocent law-abiding” Filipinos despite allegations of abuses and violations.

In this Dec. 6, 2018 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his speech during the 85th anniversary of the Department of Labor and Employment.

Presidential Photo/Richard Madelo

“To protect the lives of the innocent law-abiding citizens of the country, this administration remains unrelenting in its crusade against criminality, corruption, terrorism, insurgency and the proliferation of illegal drugs that destroy families and the future of the young,” Medialdea said in a statement Monday.

He added: “In all these, the rule of law is upheld as the guilty are brought before the bar of justice.”

Various rights watchdogs had stressed that the Philippines under Duterte is in its worst human rights landscape since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos as thousands—mostly urban poor dwellers—have been killed in the violent campaign against illegal drugs in so short a period.

The casualty count is more than 12,000, according to rights watchdogs. But the Philippine National Police has lower figures, saying more than 4,900 “drug personalities” have been killed in anti-narcotics operations.

In Duterte’s more than two years in office, attacks against rights defenders, critics of the government and the Catholic Church have also intensified.

Last week, the International Criminal Court said it continues to assess communications into Duterte’s alleged crimes against humanity in the context of the drug war despite the Philippine government’s withdrawal of its ratification from the Rome Statute—the treaty that established the Hague-based tribunal.

‘Duterte a threat to human rights’

Opposition lawmaker Risa Hontiveros claimed that Duterte is the “single biggest threat to human rights in the Philippines.”

“The president has singlehandedly rolled back human rights safeguards and made the country a haven for human rights violators. By unleashing a bloody and abusive war on drugs, he has set into motion the killing of thousands, most of whom are poor people,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

She also stressed that the rule of law is “grossly distorted” and women’s rights are “constantly [under] attack” under the Duterte administration.

“We cannot continue treading this path. I call on the people to push back and stand up against the threat to our human rights,” Hontiveros said.

She added: “Human rights are not suggestions or ornaments. They are fundamental anchors to a society of fairness for the many and not tools to be used by the privileged few.”

‘Philippine leaders have forgotten about UDHR’

Sen. Leila De Lima, another critic of the administration, noted that there is a growing absence of human rights leadership today.

“Some governments themselves, led mostly by populist demagogues and autocrats, have actually attacked their own people. And, far too many politicians and so-called leaders—including those in my country, the Philippines—seem to have forgotten the UDHR,” De Lima said.

The Philippines became one of the first signatories to the UDHR, a landmark human rights document. It is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the document has gone from being an “aspirational treatise” to a set of standards that has “permeated virtually every area of international law.”




 (Includes FT Op-Ed)


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 man is above the law…)


The grandmother of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, Violeta, cries beside his casket yesterday in Caloocan City. Relatives and concerned neighbors of the teenager slain by police are calling for justice. MICHAEL VARCAS
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


According to the Philippine National Police, there have been 6,225 drug-related deaths between July 2016 and September 2017. Despite this, the authorities claim that there has only been one extrajudicial victim under the current administration. AFP/Noel Celis
Three of five Filipinos believe that only the poor are killed in the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign, the Social Weather Stations said in its latest survey. AFP/Noel Celis
Photos obtained by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism show the body of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. lying flat on his back with his eyes half-open, and both of his hands empty. He was killed while in police custody during a “jail house shoot out” with police. All the police involved were exonerated and returned to duty. Image obtained by PCIJ/Nancy Carvajal



 (The Philippines seems to be siding with China, Russia and Iran)




Philippines: Human Rights Watch director Phelim Kine also said the numbers of fatalities in the drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed office on June 30, 2016, are “appalling but predictable” since he (Duterte) vowed to “forget the laws on human rights.”

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Philippines Policeman found tortured and strangled after some fellow police said he was involved in the illegal drug trade. Photo Credit Boy Cruz

 (December 23, 2016)


 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

“They are afraid the incident could cause President Duterte to declare martial law. I talked with some sultans and ulamas and elders here… and that’s what they have told me,” Ponyo said.

 (November 30, 2016)


Summary executions of supposed drug dealers and other criminals have become a common occurence in recent weeks. The STAR/Joven Cagande, file

 (November 16, 2016)

 (August 10, 2016)

Davao City’s Ronald dela Rosa has been appointed to become the next chief of the Philippine National Police to lead President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s planned crackdown on illegal drugs. Facebook/Dela Rosa

Trump’s gamble on MBS looks worse by the day

December 7, 2018

More than two months after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the Trump administration is desperate to sweep the whole episode under the rug. It won’t be easy.

By Ishaan Tharoor
Washington Post

On Wednesday, Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president and current U.N. high commissioner for human rights, became the latest voice to call for an international investigation into his killing. “I do believe it is really needed in terms of ensuring what really happened and who are the [people] responsible for that awful killing,” she said at a news conference in Geneva.

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The possibility of an outside inquiry into the affair has also been floated by Turkish authorities, who are still pursuing their own investigation. As my colleague Kareem Fahim reported on Wednesday, a Turkish court issued arrest warrants for two officials close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani. The new Turkish arrest warrants, noted Fahim, appeared to be part of an effort to “pressure Saudi Arabia to reveal more details about Khashoggi’s killing, as well as to isolate the crown prince.”

The Saudis owned up to Khashoggi dying under their watch only after weeks of obfuscation. Both the aides targeted by the Turkish court were relieved of their posts, while 18 others allegedly involved in the killing were reported to have been arrested. Qahtani numbered among the 17 Saudi officials sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for their roles in the abduction and murder of Khashoggi — a contributor to The Washington Post’s Opinions section and a critic of the leadership in Riyadh.

But there’s a growing sense that the killing of Khashoggi reflects, rather than an aberration, a wider pattern of Saudi behavior that has become all the more apparent with rise of the young Mohammed. It emerged on Thursday that Qahtani, widely seen as Mohammed’s enforcer, was also allegedly involved in the torture of at least one Saudi female activist detained this year during a wider crackdown on civil society.

Lindsey Graham


Senate Measure Holds Saudi Crown Prince Accountable for Killing of Jamal Khashoggi

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The Saudis are still hoping to ride out the storm. Last week, Mohammed carried out something of a comeback tour through a number of Arab countries; he then endured a mixed reception at the Group of 20 Summit in Buenos Aires, where a prosecutor even weighed pursuing the Saudi heir to the throne for his government’s alleged war crimes in Yemen.

“The global debate around Saudi Arabia’s abuses and MBS’s role in Khashoggi’s killing is not likely to disappear soon,” Sarah Yerkes, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East program, wrote, referring to the prince by his initials. “But this tour . . . made clear that MBS is back to business as usual.”

This week, Khalid bin Salman — Mohammed’s brother and the Saudi ambassador to the United States — returned to Washington for the first time since news of the journalist’s murder convulsed the capital. “The return of Prince Khalid suggests that Riyadh thinks the crisis is over,” Simon Henderson, a Saudi Arabia expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said to my colleague John Hudson. “Congress probably has a different view.”

Indeed, Trump has failed to stave off a growing insurrection among even Republican lawmakers in Congress. Senators emerged from a closed-door hearing with CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday seething with rage at a White House that seems bent on helping Riyadh cover up its tracks. “There’s not a smoking gun — there’s a smoking saw,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, referring to the grisly tool possibly used to dismember Khashoggi’s body.

The following day, a bipartisan group of senators filed a resolution condemning the crown prince for complicity in Khashoggi’s death. In a statement accompanying the release, Graham called Mohammed a “wrecking ball to the region jeopardizing our national security interests on multiple fronts.” He added: “It will be up to Saudi Arabia as to how to deal with this matter. But it is up to the United States to firmly stand for who we are and what we believe.”

Trump, however, has taken a very different stance. He shrugged at the CIA’s own conclusion that the crown prince presided directly over Khashoggi’s killing. In a statement last month, he chalked up Khashoggi’s death to the “dangerous” times we live in, engaged in casual slander of the slain journalist by linking him to an outlawed Islamist faction, and insisted that the U.S.-Saudi relationship was far too important to be compromised by one “tragic event.”

Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia is puzzling. There’s little electoral logic in pandering to Riyadh: Before November 2016, Trump was a vehement, if ill-informed, critic of the Saudi kingdom. His administration has artificially inflated the economic value of Saudi Arabian arms sales in a bid to justify turning a blind eye to Khashoggi’s killing.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been even more outspoken, mocking the “caterwauling” of Mohammed’s detractors in Washington and pointing to the supposed greater threat of Iran as a reason to look beyond the assassination of a Post writer.

The president’s loyalty to the crown prince looked even more conspicuous after reports, including from my colleagues, pointed to the Saudis pouring vast sums of money into Trump Organization properties since Trump came to power. These pecuniary concerns underscore the extent to which Trump is indeed a “transactional” president, willing to sacrifice principle for what is, in this case, personal gain.

But it has helped make Trump’s relationship with Saudi Arabia an easy target for his critics — and it helps create distance between the American president and many of his political allies. “Washington has grown to detest the Saudi crown prince,” Middle East expert Steven Cook wrote in an op-ed for Foreign Policy, “because he represents a world that seems to be spinning out of control.”

China will retaliate ‘in proportion’ to any U.S. sanction over Muslim Uighurs, ambassador says

November 28, 2018

China will retaliate “in proportion” if the United States sanctions its top official in the restive region of Xinjiang over alleged human rights abuses, China’s ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday, adding that Beijing’s policies in the region are to “re-educate” terrorists.

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Chinese paramilitary police on patrol in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang. Photograph: Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese Ambassador to Washington Cui Tiankai said in an interview that China’s efforts to combat international terrorism are held to a double standard, comparing Chinese actions in Xinjiang to U.S. troops battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“Can you imagine (if) some American officials in charge of the fight against ISIS would be sanctioned?” Cui said, adding “if such actions are taken, we have to retaliate.”

Cui did not elaborate on specific actions China might take.

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Cui Tiankai

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, academics, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang.

In August, a United Nations human rights panel said it had received many credible reports that a million or more Uighurs in China are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

U.S. officials have said the Trump administration is considering sanctions targeting companies and officials linked to China’s crackdown on minority Muslims, including Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who, as a member of the powerful politburo, is in the upper echelons of China’s leadership.

Cui said that while the United States was using missiles and drones to kill terrorists, “we are trying to re-educate most of them, trying to turn them into normal persons (who) can go back to normal life,” Cui said.

“We’ll see what will happen. We will do everything in proportion,” he said, responding to a question on how China would retaliate to possible U.S. sanctions on Chen.

Cui’s comments are the strongest response yet to U.S. threats on the issue.

Any such U.S. sanctions decision against so senior an official as Chen would be a rare move on human rights grounds by the Trump administration, which is engaged in a trade war with China while also seeking Beijing’s help to resolve a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

U.S. sanctions could be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, a federal law that allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any U.S. assets, U.S. travel bans, and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them, U.S. officials have said.

Chinese authorities routinely deny any ethnic or religious repression in Xinjiang. They say strict security measures — likened by critics to near martial law conditions, with police checkpoints, the detention centers, and mass DNA collection — are needed to combat the influence of extremist groups.

After initial blanket denials of the detention facilities, officials have said that some citizens guilty of “minor offenses” were sent to vocational centers to improve employment opportunities.

At a briefing in Washington on Monday, a Uighur woman, Mihrigul Tursun, 29, told reporters she had experienced physical and psychological torture, including electrocution while strapped to a chair, during 10 months in Xinjiang detention centers.

Tursun, who wept and shook as a translator read her prepared statement, said her three children were taken from her while she was in detention and that her four-month-old son had died without explanation in government custody.

Rejecting Chinese government claims that the detention facilities serve vocational purposes, she said many of the dozens of other women in her cell were “well-educated professionals, such as teachers and doctors.”

Tursun said she witnessed nine women die during one three-month period she spent in detention, including from sickness after being denied medical treatment.

Reuters could not independently verify her account, though numerous former detainees have begun to share similar first-hand details with media. China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tursun’s statement.

Independent assessments of the conditions in Xinjiang are nearly impossible given restrictions on journalists from openly reporting from the region.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called on China to allow monitors in Xinjiang, though Beijing has responded by telling her to respect China’s sovereignty.



Canada should break silence on Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs

September 14, 2018
It will come as news to nobody that the Communist regime in Beijing lies through its teeth about the state of human rights in China, but nothing comes close to the lies Beijing tells to cover up its mounting persecution of Muslims. Those lies have been getting harder to tell, ever since Xi Jinping’s police state embarked upon measures so extreme and tyrannical that it’s become harder for the regime to keep the truth from getting to the outside world.
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An in-depth Human Rights Watch investigation published on Monday found that in the far western expanses of Xinjiang, a region nearly as big as Canada’s prairie provinces, “the government’s religious restrictions are so stringent that it has effectively outlawed Islam.” Last month, the head of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination told a UN human rights panel in Geneva that Xinjiang’s Uighur autonomous region has been turned into “a massive internment camp.”

Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs , perhaps a million people in all, have been detained for weeks and sometimes months at a time in a network of indoctrination camps. At first, the Chinese government denied that the camps even existed. But as evidence has mounted – eyewitness accounts, the Chinese government’s own documents, satellite photographs, construction blueprints – the party line has changed.

Chinese officials are now describing the camps as “vocational education facilities,” training centres and residential schools where petty criminals are housed while undergoing“rehabilitation and reintegration.” Former inmates who have managed to escape China describe the camps as hellholes of torture and forced labour. Internees are required to learn Mandarin, sing patriotic songs, memorize government propaganda and recite florid loyalty oaths.

Xinjiang’s Uighurs, Tajiks and Kazakhs have tended to see themselves as peoples apart from the Han Chinese cultural hegemony that the Communist regime has imposed in the region in recent years. Separatist sentiment has waxed and waned, and radical Islam has occasionally found a place for itself in the region. The Communist Party line is that extraordinary measures have been necessary to eradicate “ideological diseases” in the region, particularly among the 10 million Uihgurs. Devout Muslims are classified as mentally ill.

In Xinjiang’s towns and cities, population movements are closely controlled. Surveillance is ubiquitous. The Communist administration is employing biometric data, experimental voice-recognition and facial-recognition technology, house arrest, DNA data banks and digital tracking to closely monitor and control the public. Cameras are everywhere. Travel is severely restricted. Over the past two years, hundreds of thousands of special police have been deployed to newly-built stations and temporary checkpoints.

As grim as all this is, the gross human rights abuses in Xinjiang are at least beginning to emerge as subjects of closer global scrutiny. On Monday, in an unusual move, Michelle Bachelet, in her first speech as the UN’s new High Commissioner for Human Rights, singled out Beijing’s mistreatment of Xinjiang’s Uighurs for special notice. The former Chilean president specifically referred to “deeply disturbing allegations of large-scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs and other Muslim communities in so-called re-education camps across Xinjiang”.

Bachelet called on Beijing to reverse its closed-door policy and allow the UN Human Rights office complete access to Xinjiang and all other regions of China. That would be a good start.

In Washington, meanwhile, a bipartisan initiative in Congress has begun to push the Trump White House to “swiftly act” and trigger the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to sanction Chinese government officials and entities directly complicit in the Xinjiang abuses. On Monday, the Australian opposition Labour Party followed suit, calling on Canberra to draw up a similar list for sanctions. A petition drawn up by a group of Australian imams asking parliament to start ramping up pressure on Beijing managed to gather 10,000 signatures.

Canada, predictably, has been quiet, even though Ottawa could have been out in front inholding Beijing to account for its cruelties in Xinjiang. It’s been 12 years since the Canadian Uighur Huseyin Celil, who fled China as a refugee in 2001, was arrested while visiting family in Uzbekistan. Celil was extradited to China and chucked into prison, and in 2012 Celil was given a life sentence without a proper trial on trumped up terror charges. Celil’s sentence was later reduced after being subjected to a “re-education” program.

Canada could make some use of itself taking the lead in backing UN human rights investigators’ efforts to gain access to Xinjiang, and and Ottawa’s own Magnitsky law would serve perfectly well in a collaboration with Australia and the United States to sanction the tormentors of Xinjiang’s Uighurs.

Canada has neither reason nor excuse not to do so.


Italy calls U.N. rights chief’s remarks on migrants unfounded, unjust

September 11, 2018

Italy on Tuesday rejected remarks by U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet about its treatment of migrants, calling them “inappropriate, unfounded, unjust”.

The foreign ministry, in a long and sharply worded statement, was responding to a speech in which Bachelet, the former president of Chile, accused the populist government of “political posturing” by denying entry to NGO rescue ships.

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Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Human Rights Council 39th regular session on 10 September 2018. U.N. photo

In her first address in her new position in Geneva, Bachelet also announced a U.N. team was being sent to Italy to assess “the reported sharp increase in acts of violence and racism against migrants, persons of African descent and Roma”.

The foreign ministry statement rejected what it called the “presumed negligence by Italy in the area of human rights of migrants” and said it had for years borne much of the responsibility for saving thousands of lives in the Mediterranean.

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Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Interior Minister has become the “bad boy” of human rights groups

The ministry statement followed sharp criticism of Bachelet on Monday night by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also head of the anti-immigrant League party.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by John Stonestreet, Larry King



© AFP | Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has marked the first 100 days of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government

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IGC Ubaldo Diciott — Migrant rescue ship

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Migrants disembarking from the IGC Ubaldo Diciott


UN urges Egypt to reverse ‘unfair trial’ death sentences

September 9, 2018


An Egyptian court’s confirmation of 75 death sentences was not based on a fair trial and should be reversed to avoid an “irreversible miscarriage of justice”, the UN said Sunday.

New United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was “extremely concerned” at the decision handed down by the Cairo Criminal Court Saturday in one of the largest mass trials since the 2011 uprising.

“The evident disregard of basic rights of the accused places the guilt of all those convicted in serious doubt,” she warned in a statement.

© AFP | Mahmoud Abu Zeid mimics taking a photograph during his trial at the Cairo Criminal Court on September 8

Bachelet, who took the reins of the UN rights office less than a week ago, urged Egypt’s appeals court to “review this verdict and ensure that international standards of justice are respected by setting it aside.”

The 75 people who initially received their death sentences in July were among 739 defendants on trial in the same case — most of them facing charges of killing police and vandalising property during clashes in 2013 between security forces and supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

“The 739 people were tried en masse, and were not permitted individual legal representation before the court,” Bachelet noted out in a statement.

“In addition, the accused were not given the right to present evidence in their defence, and the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence to prove individual guilt,” she said.

In light of the obvious unfairness of the trial, she warned that “the 75 death sentences affirmed yesterday, if implemented, would represent a gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice.”

In addition to the death sentences, 47 people were sentenced to life behind bars, while the remainder were handed prison terms of varying length.

They included award-winning photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, who was sentenced to five years behind bars.

On August 14, 2013, one of the bloodiest days in Egypt’s modern history, a month after the army ousted Morsi, police moved to disperse a sprawling Islamist protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo.

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FILE – Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood run away from tear gas during clashes with Egyptian riot police close to Rabaa al-Adawiya square, Nov. 22, 2013.

The military crackdown “is alleged to have led to the killing of up to 900 mostly unarmed protesters by members of the Egyptian security forces,” the United Nations said.

Despite the large death toll, the United Nations noted that no state security personnel have ever been charged in relation to the so-called Rabaa massacre.

Bachelet pointed to the stark contrast between the many mass trials since then and a law passed in July effectively bestowing complete impunity on security personnel for offenses committed in the period after the overthrow of Morsi’s government on July 3, 2013.

“Justice must apply to all, no one should be immune,” she insisted.

“Attempts to bestow immunity from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed by members of the security forces merely promotes impunity,” she warned.


Pinera poised for presidential comeback in Chile

November 19, 2017


© AFP / by Paulina ABRAMOVICH | Chile’s Sebastian Pinera delivers a speech ahead of Sunday’s presidential election, in which he is expected to garner the most votes — but perhaps not enough to win without a run-off

SANTIAGO (AFP) – Sebastian Pinera, one of Chile’s richest men, looks likely to prevail in the first round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday, confirming his frontrunner status to succeed Socialist leader Michelle Bachelet.If the 67-year-old billionaire does ultimately become head of state, it would be his second chance to run Latin America’s fifth-biggest economy — confirming a tag team for power that he and Bachelet, 66, have been performing for the past decade.

Chile’s constitution does not permit consecutive terms for its president. But re-election after a skipped term is permissible, and that quite possibly is what is in store after this weekend, thus swinging the pendulum of Chile’s national politics from left back to right again.

Voter intention surveys credit the Harvard-educated Pinera, who was president from 2010-2014, with a comfortable lead in the race — but not enough to win the presidency outright on Sunday.

“It’s not very likely” he will get the 50 percent or more of ballots needed to avoid a run-off, said political analyst Mauricio Morales of Talca University.

In that case, a second-round showdown would be held between the top two candidates on December 17. The winner takes over in March next year.

– Voter apathy –

Apart from Pinera, Sunday’s field counts seven candidates.

His closest rival is Alejandro Guillier, a former state TV anchor turned senator who presents himself as an independent but who has the backing of Bachelet’s Socialists.

Guillier is credited with 25 percent of voter support, against 44 percent for Pinera.

With the outcome weighted heavily in Pinera’s favor, voter apathy could be an issue.

Compulsory voting was dropped in 2012, and since then a growing proportion of the 14-million-strong electorate has decided to stay away from polling stations.

“People don’t want to vote because, really, nobody believes there will be any significant change anywhere. Also, they see who will be president as a foregone conclusion,” said Catalina Gascone, a 19-year-old student.

Analysts predict abstention could be as high as 40 percent on Sunday, and that Pinera has more motivated voters who will turn out.

Chileans living abroad have already begun casting their ballots, beginning with those living in New Zealand. Some 40,000 registered to take part in the election.

– No majority? –

Pinera’s first presidential victory in 2009 elections signified a break from the center-left politics that had reigned in Chile since democracy was restored with the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990.

But a comeback by him was not seen as a rejection of the overall economic and social model erected in the Bachelet years, during which Chile posted 1.8 percent in annual growth and saw tax and labor reforms, an introduction of free education, and the right to abortion.

“Chileans don’t want to tear down the model, just fix its structure,” Morales said.

Pinera has promised modifications to Bachelet’s reforms, as well as vowing to have Chile join the club of developed nations within the next eight years.

His effectiveness, though, could be hobbled by a shortfall in legislative support.

“He is not going to have a majority in Congress,” another analyst, Marta Lagos, founder of Latinobarometro and MORI Chile, predicted.

Sunday’s balloting also includes legislative elections for many of the congressional seats. Electoral forecasts suggest the right will increase its representation, but likely will not have the majority in either chamber.


Palau Makes Most Of Its Coastal Waters a Marine Sanctuary

October 22, 2015


Palau Dive picture looking through the fish in Palau, Jim Caldwell Redondo Beach

Oct. 22, 2015
The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Lawmakers in the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau passed a law Thursday to make almost all its coastal waters a marine sanctuary in the latest move to expand ocean protections.

A news release said Palau’s president plans to sign the legislation next week. Friday is a national holiday in Palau.

The Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act designates 80 percent of the nation’s maritime territory as a fully protected marine reserve in which no extractive activities, such as fishing or mining, can take place.

At 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles), or slightly larger than the U.S. state of California, the sanctuary will be the sixth-largest fully protected marine area in the world.

The measure also seeks to prevent illegal fishing by tightening rules for vessels passing through Palau’s waters.

About 20 percent of Palau’s waters will be reserved as a domestic fishing zone for local fishermen and small-scale commercial fisheries with limited exports. There will be a five-year transition as the number of commercial licenses issued to foreign commercial fishing vessels will be reduced and phased out.

A shark in Palau. There are more than 13,00 species of fish and 700 species of coral around Palau’s hundreds of tiny islands. Photograph: Richard W. Brooks/AFP/Getty Images

President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. described the measure as essential.

“We want to lead the way in restoring the health of the ocean for future generations,” he said in a statement.

The country created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, but until recently had only one patrol boat to help protect its great hammerheads, leopard sharks and more than 130 other species of shark and rays from extinction.

Earlier this year, the government set fire to several vessels caught fishing illegally to underscore its commitment to protecting its seas.

Palau, about 600 miles (970 kilometers) miles east of the Philippines, is one of the world’s smallest countries, its 20,000 people scattered across a tropical archipelago of 250 islands that is a biodiversity hotspot.

The Pew Charitable Trusts provided technical support for establishing the shark sanctuary and the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.

A spotted black grouper in the waters of the Kermadec Islands off of New Zealand’s northeast coast. Photograph by MALCOLM FRANCIS, AFP, Getty Images

New commitments made this year would protect more than 2.5 million square kilometers of the world’s ocean territory.

Britain plans to establish the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve in the South Pacific. On Sept. 28, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced plans for a fully protected ocean sanctuary in the Kermadecs, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of his country’s North Island.

Earlier this month, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet promised to support efforts by the indigenous Rapa Nui community of Easter Island to create a fully protected marine park.

Easter Island. Photograph by Kashfi Halford, Bertarelli Foundation

Palau is home to more than 1,300 species of fish and 700 species of coral. AP photo

Palau boat burn. Distress signals—on behalf of the fish. (The Pew Charitable Trusts, Richard Brooks)