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'Not a word': Aung San Suu Kyi criticised over Rakhine silence

United Nations investigator Yanghee Lee has expressed deep concern over potential human rights abuses committed by Myanmar’s military under the cover of a mobile phone blackout in parts of the Southeast Asian country.

“This is the first time they’ve ever declared an internet blackout. This worries me very much and I think it should worry the international community, as well,” Lee, the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

Her comments came hours after she called for the immediate lifting of the restrictions imposed on Friday by Myanmar’s security forces in parts of Rakhine – where a brutal army crackdown has already forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh – and Chin states in the west of the country.

Lee reported that eight townships in Rakhine and one in Chin had been blacked out, with no media access and serious restrictions on humanitarian groups. 

In Rakhine, Myanmar’s security forces are currently fighting the Arakan Army, a group that recruits from the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine population and is battling for greater autonomy for the state.

Lee spoke to Al Jazeera’s Peter Dobbie from Rome about the situation in Rakhine, the media blackout and the stance of Aung San Suu KyiMyanmar’s de-facto civilian leader. 

Al Jazeera: What do you think the Myanmar military may be doing?

Yanghee Lee: One can only guess what they are doing, but judging from past experience in 2016 and 2017, when they called for a clearance operation, we know what happened: they drove out about 800,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. And now this is the first time they’ve ever declared an internet blackout. This worries me very much and I think it should worry the international community, as well.

Al Jazeera: Are they acting with impunity, and are they acting with the green light of the civilian administration?

Lee: They are acting with impunity, but when it comes to clearance operations or any security issues, the civilian government has absolutely no power over the military under the current constitution – and therefore that’s why there is a need for constitution reform.

But without a constitutional reform and the way the situation is now, the military and the security forces can do whatever they want under the name of national security.

Al Jazeera: So many people fled crackdown two years ago and live in refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh. How many people are left in Rakhine to victimise in this way, if you’ve got it right?

Lee: We really don’t know the exact number of the Rohingya left; there is an estimate of about 350,000 to 450,000 Rohingya left.

But this clearance operation is not geared against the Rohingya this time. It is geared against the Rakhine Buddhist community, all the civilians and other ethnic minorities in the Rakhine state.

Al Jazeera: Have you relayed these reports to the relevant military authorities inside Myanmar, and if you have, what was their reaction?

LeeI haven’t because they do not engage with me. Myanmar wants me replaced, so they will not engage with me. But I am sure they have seen or heard what I’ve said through media releases and and social media and other means … I have no back-door conduit to the military. I don’t think anyone does.

Al Jazeera: People outside the region might be thinking, ‘where is Aung San Suu Kyi in all this, why are we not talking to her? Why is she not talking to the outside world about this?’

LeeI’d like to know that, too. She had attended the ASEAN conference … but she has not spoken out about the issue in Rakhine state when the Rohingya were being driven out, and now with the ethnic Rakhine community she has not said a word about protection of the civilians.

In the past few months, civilians have been killed, they’ve been detained, they’ve been killed in detention, and children have been killed.

These are ethnic Rakhine and other minorities residing in Rakhine state. She’s not said a word about these people either.

Al Jazeera: If you had the opportunity to direct a direct message at Aung San Suu Kyi now, what would that message be?

Lee: I would want her [you] to see what is happening in the Rakhine state for yourself.

Al Jazeera: Why is this still happening in Rakhine state? About two years ago, it was appalling, and you seem to believe it is still appalling and it is still happening. What is the mindset of the military? Is their go-to position a scorched-earth scenario? Is that what they want to get to?

LeeYes. We’ve seen it in the 1990s in northern and eastern part of Myanmar, the scorched-earth campaign, and we’ve witnessed it in different periods from 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017, which was the climax of the scorched-earth [campaign], what I’ve always called hallmarks to genocide, and now I would like that this has been a genocide in the making and it’s still going on.

But now these clashes and this blackout is not focused against the Rohingya, it’s focused against … the Rakhine, they are not minorities, they are the majority in Rakhine state, and this really troubles me because now they are attacking all civilians, whether they are Rohingya or others, and we are seeing this in Kachin and northern Shan, there are still clashes, there are still internally displaced people [IDPs], right now we have about 35,000 IDPs who are not Rohingya.

Source: Aljazeera

The slumlords' peace

Presidential adviser Jared Kushner has spearheaded the Trump administration’s proposed peace deal for Israel and Palestine [Reuters/Kevin Lamarque]

We Palestinians thought we had it bad the past 25 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords under the reign of American and Israeli technocrats and “security experts”. And with good reason.

This revolving door of Foggy Bottom “doves”, Arlington spooks and other denizens of the Pentagon and swanky Georgetown restaurants – working closely with counterparts in Tel Aviv – convinced the mediocre Palestinian leadership that a state was attainable if only they would give up just a little more.

And so after two and a half decades of being mugged at the negotiating table, the Palestinians have nothing to show for the moribund “peace process. No state. No sovereignty. No Jerusalem. No human rights. No borders (let alone control of borders). No end to the mushrooming illegal Jewish-only settlements on stolen Palestinian land or the more than a half century of Israeli military rule over Palestinians.

Meanwhile, water and other resources are siphoned to the Israeli state and settlers as Israel today pushes the idea of officially annexing swaths of the occupied West Bank. And of course, despite promises to connect Gaza and the West Bank, the two territories have remained divided – with Gaza subject to a brutal siege and periodic pulverisation by Israeli and American munitions.

In essence, Palestinians live under a form of apartheid with the timid stamp of Palestinian approval from the unelected Palestinian “Authority”, itself a pseudo-entity created by the Americans and Israelis to outsource the burden of keeping the restive Palestinian natives in their place. Can’t get much worse, right?

Wrong. Enter two infamous slumlords (and sons of slumlords): Donald Trump and Jared Kushner.

These scions of sketchy New York real estate empires are currently doing business out of the White House, and Kushner the younger has been put in charge of Middle East peace, where he has been pimping something called the “deal of the century”.

Unfortunately, anyone who has heard anything about (or, God forbid, lived through) the practices of said real estate moguls knows that this so-called “deal of the century” does not portend well for the Palestinians.

If only the Palestinians problems were limited to being duped into an overpriced lease for a shoebox apartment in the East village with shoddy renovations, no gas or heat, broken appliances and vermin infestations. But the scale of the real estate swindle the Palestinians are being dragged into is much greater, as is the human tragedy that will follow in its wake.

Let’s take a look at some of the purported highlights, as leaked in the Israeli press last month:

First, there is no mention of the return of Palestinian refugees (homeless since 1948) to a quasi-statelet of “New Palestine”. Of course, Palestinians will be ignored when they insist they would be perfectly happy with “old” Palestine (ie, “historic Palestine”).

Second, Palestinians get no control of their own borders and no army but must pay the Israeli army a fee to protect their reservation, err, territory.

Third, Palestinians will not get back any Palestinian land currently occupied by hundreds of thousands of illegal Israeli settlers but will instead receive a slice of land donated by the dictator of Egypt, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. No matter that this land swap will see the Palestinians give up their rich ancestral agricultural lands in the West Bank for a slice of the Sinai Desert. Oh yeah, and the Palestinians will apparently have to pay rent to the Egyptians for this piece of prime real estate. Maybe Kushner and Trump can throw in some quality condos, too. For a price, of course.

For anyone who cares about justice, human rights and a lasting peace in Palestine/Israel, the leaked reports of Kushner’s deal makes for grim reading, as does the economic portion of the plan, officially unveiled this past week by Kushner and the White House. But the nuts and bolts of the deal matter far less than the spirit of it and the general parameters, which we know consist of throwing cash and empty promises of prosperity at the Palestinians in the absence of any substantive political and territorial concessions.

Considering the way that the Trumps and Kushners have always done business, however, it’s not at all surprising to see how ungenerous the deal is for the Palestinians. For only slumlords could come up with a deal whose terms are so mean-spirited, so insulting, so falsely advertised. And only slumlords like the Trumps and Kushners know how to prey on the susceptible customer, in this case, a stateless nation of refugees and their descendants.

Fittingly, they have just the supporting cast to get the job done, including a lineup of Washington reruns who should probably have been locked up by now, including the likes of John Bolton, Elliot Abrams (currently executing a coup in Venezuela but surely in the loop on this one), and the bellicose Mike Pompeo to name a few.

Then, there are the foreign cosponsors of the deal in the form of two long-standing “democracies” and the closest regional allies of the United States – the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia under the Yemeni-butchering, journalist-dismembering Crown Prince MBS; and the apartheid state of Israel under the extreme right-wing demagogue Benjamin Netanyahu.

With this dream team drafting up the Palestinians’ fate, is it any surprise that the future looks nightmarish? Perhaps the only hope for us to wake up before it is too late is the shifting opinion of millions of Americans who increasingly see the US one-sided support of a deeply flawed Israeli regime to be a hindrance to peace.

I certainly hope so, because, like most Palestinians, I don’t want any landlord lording it over Palestine, let alone two whose properties most sane New Yorkers wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Source: Aljazeera

Hatice Cengiz: UN 'must take action now' over Khashoggi's murder

Geneva, Switzerland – Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has called for an international probe into his murder, days after a United Nations expert report blamed Saudi Arabia for his killing inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

“This is the first report that says loud and clear how to proceed,” Cengiz said on Tuesday, addressing diplomats and media at the United Nations in the Swiss city of Geneva.

“We need an international investigation into Jamal’s murder,” she added. “Not only high-level officials are involved in the killing, but the report says Saudi Arabia has tried to eliminate the evidence of it. It’s scandalous.”

In her 100-page report, which was made public on June 19, Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Khashoggi’s death constituted a premeditated extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia was responsible.

Callamard is due to officially present the report to the UN’s Human Rights Council on Wednesday 

Speaking at the same event as Cengiz, Callamard said Khashoggi’s killing “is the symbol of a pattern around the world, which the international community must respond to energetically”.

‘International crime’

The killing of Khashoggi by a team of Saudi operatives inside the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey’s largest city on October 2 last year provoked outrage worldwide and marred the image of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Khashoggi’s body has never been found.

Cengiz said nearly nine months after the killing, she still has not overcome the trauma of his death.

“I still ask myself if he may still be alive, if he is somewhere,” she said. “I hope the report does not remain dead word, it should not be shelved. The UN must take action now.”

Callamard said Saudi Arabia violated the Vienna Convention on consular relations, the UN charter on the prohibition of the use of force in times of peace as well as the principle of the right to life.

“The world cannot turn a blind eye. All these violations make Khashoggi’s killing an international crime and for that reason, the UN and the international community must be able to investigate and be prepared to take the needed actions in response,” she said.

The targeted killings of journalists, dissenters and human-rights defenders, more generally, are on the increase, warned Callamard, adding that the most worrying pattern is the impunity that surrounds those actions.

In addition, exile cannot grant dissidents and journalists immunity or safety from the threats posed by police states, Callamard said, referring to the dangerous rise of states’ surveillance over individuals.

Following the release of the report, UN member states could now request an international investigation to take place into Khashoggi’s murder.

However, Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, the secretary-general of the No Peace Without Justice NGO, was doubtful of the international community’s readiness to challenge Saudi Arabia. He said some governments preferred to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in countries where they entertained profitable business relations.

Source: Aljazeera

'Journalism is not a crime': Taliban decried for threats to media

Afghanistan was the deadliest country in the world to be a journalist in 2018 [Omar Sobhani/Reuters]

The United States and Afghanistan have denounced a Taliban warning that Afghan media will be targeted unless they stop broadcasting what the group called “anti-Taliban statements”.

Radio stations, TV channels and other media organisations had one week to stop transmitting “anti-Taliban advertisements”, the group’s military commission said in a statement on Monday.

“Those who continue doing so will be recognised by the group as military targets who are helping the Western-backed government of Afghanistan,” it said, adding “reporters and staff members will not remain safe”.

President Ashraf Ghani’s office condemned the threats by the armed group on Tuesday, which has previously targeted reporters and employees of media organisations.

“Freedom of expression and attacks on media organisations is in contradiction to human and Islamic values,” Ghani’s office said in a statement.

Peace talks

The warning comes as Taliban leaders prepare for a seventh round of peace talks with US officials aimed at finding a political settlement to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.

The next round of talks is scheduled to begin on June 29 in Doha.

John Bass, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said the Taliban should stop threatening Afghan journalists.

“Afghanistan’s vibrant media is a testament to the gains of the last 18 years. Journalism is not a crime, it is a valued public service to the world,” Bass said on Twitter

“More violence, against journalists or civilians, will not bring security and opportunity to Afghanistan, nor will it help the Taliban reach their political objectives,” he said.

Afghanistan was the deadliest country in the world to be a journalist in 2018, with 13 deaths according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The International Federation of Journalists said 16 journalists were killed last year.

With the international media presence in Afghanistan sharply reduced since the withdrawal of international troops in 2014, domestic media outlets have filled the gap but their work has become increasingly difficult.

In 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber rammed his car into a bus carrying employees of Tolo TV, the country’s largest private broadcaster, killing seven journalists.

Source: Aljazeera

Rewilding Patagonia: Chile's Great Conservation Leap Forward

Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activity and the few remaining pockets of wilderness are themselves at risk of becoming ecological deserts.

Agriculture, industry, urbanisation, climate change – all these are decimating ecosystems and destroying biodiversity. Some 60 percent of the world’s animals have been wiped out since the 1970s.

In response, a worldwide movement is under way to “rewild” the countryside.

Rewilding is the restoration of an entire ecosystem to its natural state, by removing foreign species while reintroducing and protecting native ones. It begins with the removal of livestock, allowing vegetation to flourish. This encourages insects and other animals, attracting birds and other small predators.

Removing fences allows for the return of herbivores, which are preyed on by apex predators – those at the top of the food chain – which then also multiply. Species in critically low numbers or who are totally absent are rehabilitated. And ultimately, prey and predator populations regulate one another and the ecosystem evolves into a balanced and self-sustaining wilderness.

One rewilding initiative – right at the tip of South America, in Chile‘s Patagonia – is exceeding all expectations.

There, two billionaire philanthropists, Kris McDivitt Tompkins and her late husband Doug Tompkins, have helped create one of the largest national parks in the world. Kris, the founder and CEO of the clothing brand Patagonia, and Doug, the founder of Esprit and North Face spent $345m buying up vast tracts of land for restoration and rewilding.

“Predators have been systematically persecuted for decades and decades, so their numbers get precariously low,” says Kris. “Every ecosystem has what’s called their apex species … and if you take out the very top predator, everything cascades down from that, and comes out of order.”

“When you take the fences down you see wildlife coming back in, because for 80 years it’s been excluded from the best grasses,” she adds. “It’s very exciting to see the grasslands and the forests begin to restore themselves, and that’s the joy of taking fences down.”

In what has become recognised as the biggest land donation in history, Tompkins will soon be handing it over to the Chilean state to be run as a national park, alongside four million hectares of land contributed by the state.

Areas decimated by overgrazing are now being restored to their original wild state and vulnerable wildlife populations are being revived.

“Even though it’s early here in the park in terms of rebalancing, we can see some big changes: where there are water systems, the grasslands are definitely coming back; the numbers of pumas in the park; the numbers of guanacos in the park; foxes,” Kris says. “But the success comes when all of those species are truly back in a system that’s functioning without human intervention.”

earthrise heads to Patagonia in Chile, where a four-million-hectare national park is being brought back to life.

Source: Aljazeera

Women suffer disproportionately in Mexico's war on drugs

In Mexico, a growing percentage of women are being imprisoned for crimes related to drug trafficking.

This despite the Mexican government’s push towards reforming drug war policies that victimize the country’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

Source: Aljazeera