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US Supreme Court rules to uphold abortion rights

The highly divisive issue splits Americans and many had hoped the justices appointed by Trump would rule differently [Patrick Semansky/AP]

In its first big abortion ruling of the Trump era, the United States Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined with his four more liberal colleagues in ruling that a Lousiana law that imposes restrictions on doctors who perform abortions violates a right the court first announced in the landmark Roe v Wade decision in 1973.

In two previous abortion cases, Roberts had favoured more restrictions on the procedure.

“The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote, although he did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals.

In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction.”

President Donald Trump’s two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in dissent, along with Justice Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.

The Republican-backed Louisiana law included a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have a difficult-to-obtain arrangement called “admitting privileges” at a hospital within 48km (30 miles) of the abortion clinic.

Abortion opponents called the ruling a “bitter disappointment”.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said it “demonstrates once again the failure of the Supreme Court to allow the American people to protect the well-being of women from the tentacles of a brutal and profit-seeking abortion industry”.

And while praising the decision, supporters of abortion rights cautioned against complacency going forward.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Monday’s decision by no means ends the struggle over abortion rights in legislatures and the courts.

“We’re relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we’re concerned about tomorrow,” Northrup said. “With this win, the clinics in Louisiana can stay open to serve the one million women of reproductive age in the state. But the Court’s decision could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected.”

Similar case

The Louisiana law is virtually identical to one in Texas that the court struck down in 2016, when conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the four liberal justices to defend abortion rights, but Kennedy retired in 2018 and Republican President Donald Trump replaced him with conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, moving the court further to the right.

The court reviewed a September 2018 ruling by the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the Louisiana law. The Supreme Court in February on a five-four vote prevented the law from going into effect while litigation over its legality continued.

Since Kavanaugh joined the court last October, it has sent mixed signals on abortion. The court in June declined to hear a bid by Alabama to revive a Republican-enacted law that would have effectively banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Source: Aljazeera

Abortion activists plot next moves following Supreme Court ruling

Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC during the March for Life in 2018 [File: Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

A ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States on Monday striking down limits on access to abortion was seen a victory for reproductive rights, but experts warned that supporters and foes alike would regroup to plan their next move over the contentious issue.

The nation’s top court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors performing abortions to have a sometimes difficult-to-obtain formal affiliation called “admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 miles (48km) of the clinic.

The court ruled that the requirement provided no significant health benefits and imposed on women’s constitutional right to abortion, which was set out nationwide in a landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Monday’s decision marked the second time that the court has ruled against an admitting privileges requirement, following a 2016 ruling that struck down a similar law in Texas.

While supporters of reproductive rights claimed a victory, they cautioned that as many as 16 other abortion-related cases around the country have the potential to be heard by the Supreme Court.

“What we saw today was really a reaffirmation and a rehashing of the 2016 Texas case, and it came down to the same conclusion,” said Elizabeth Nash, interim associate director of state policy at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and policy organization.

Now, she added: “Everyone goes back to the drawing table and reevaluates their strategy.

“Those who support abortion rights are looking into this case to see how they can roll back abortion restrictions, and abortion opponents are looking to see how they can shift their own strategy,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

At the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, Executive Director Eric Scheidler said abortion opponents were disappointed with the Supreme Court, even as its two newest members were appointed by Republican President Donald Trump.

Trump promised during his 2016 campaign to appoint justices who would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion.

The court needs at least one, if not two, more such judges to be appointed, Scheidler said.

“We’ve been hearing that the Supreme Court is set to overturn Roe v. Wade any day now. I’ve always been sceptical of that claim,” he said. “We need to be passing out fliers, reaching out at abortion facilities, talking to our politicians.”

A wave of anti-abortion rights measures has been passed by Republican-led state legislatures in an effort to prompt the court to overturn its landmark ruling, especially since Trump’s election in 2016.

“States were jockeying for position around whose case would be the first to make it to the Supreme Court,” Nash said.

Andrea Miller, head of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, a pro-abortion rights group, expressed relief that people in Louisiana would continue to have access to abortion.

Source: Aljazeera

UN renews Mali peacekeeping force MINUSMA without personnel cuts

MINUSMA is often dubbed the UN’s most ‘dangerous mission’ [File: Souleymane Ag Anara/AFP]

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously voted to extend the mandate of its seven-year peacekeeping force in Mali for another 12 months without any cuts in personnel.

Monday’s renewal of the mission, known as MINUSMA, allows for the number of its members to continue to comprise up to 13,289 soldiers and 1,920 police officers.

The expected move signifies a temporary truce between the United States and France, both permanent Security Council members and veto-power holders, according to analysts.

For more than a year, the US – the UN’s biggest financial contributor – has regularly questioned the mission, which costs $1.2bn annually, deeming it ill-suited to the continuing violence in the West African nation.

Meanwhile, France, which has taken the most active military role of any foreign power in its former colony, sees MINUSMA as an essential component of a broad coalition of forces currently attempting to root out armed groups.

Mali is struggling to contain a multilayered and complex conflict that erupted in 2012 and which has killed thousands of military and civilian since.

Despite the presence of thousands of French and UN troops, the violence has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Attacks have grown fivefold between 2016 and 2020, with 4,000 people killed in 2019, up from about 770 killed in 2016, according to the UN. 

Meanwhile, the number of people forced to leave their homes due to the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the region has surged from about 600,000 internally displaced people recorded in May 2010 to 1.5 million by April 2020.

Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the mission “remains crucial”.

The renewal does commit to presenting a “possible exit strategy” for the mission by March 2021.

Analysts said MINUSMA, often dubbed the UN’s most “dangerous mission”, faces myriad challenges: a volatile environment that often proves deadly for UN forces, restricts peace-building initiatives and keeps the mission on a defensive footing; an inconsistent Malian ruling class; and a shifting and complicated crisis that has exploded in the centre of the country that lacks an adequate framework for resolution.

Despite such obstacles, Security Council members have not yet been able to deny that the mission is a necessity, according to Paul Melly, a consulting fellow at Chatham House’s Africa Programme.

“However difficult the track record, however troubling the situation, however slow the pace of progress – where there is any, when the Security Council is confronted with the actual reality of the situation on the ground, they come to the conclusion that there is no alternative,” he told Al Jazeera.

“MINUSMA needs to be there.”

Launched in 2013, MINUSMA’s strategic priority first focused on Mali’s north, a flat and unforgiving desert and semi-desert area. Its mandate included protecting civilians, aiding in implementing a 2015 peace agreement between the government and some separatist groups in the north, helping to re-establish the state authority and building the security sector, which was and continues to be largely absent in some regions.

The mission is also charged with monitoring human rights abuses by armed groups and the array of security forces operating in the country, a tenuous role, at times, since MINUSMA works in cooperation with many of those forces.

In 2018, the mission began to shift focus to Mali’s hot, semi-arid centre as the situation there began to devolve drastically. A year later, MINUSMA added a second strategic priority that includes helping the Malian government restore stability in central Mali, while also protecting civilians, helping to restore the presence of the state and promoting political peace initiatives. 

The mission has become “life support” for a Malian state teetering on the edge, providing critical infrastructure, in particular air transportation, for a government that has largely retreated from large swaths of the country, said Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I think that without MINUSMA, for as dire and desperate as the situation in Mali is, it would slide even further down into instability, unrest and un-governability,” he said.

Source: Aljazeera

Let ISIL-linked Canadians in Syria come home: Rights group

Human Rights Watch found worms in the water and tents full of sewage when researchers visited the al-Hol camp in the al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria [File:Deli Souleiman/AFP]

A rights group has called on Canada to repatriate 47 of its citizens, including 26 children “unlawfully detained in dire conditions” in northeast Syria, accused of having links to ISIL (ISIS).

On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report documenting the situation the detainees were in and calling on Canada to urgently bring its citizens home, giving priority to children and other vulnerable detainees.

Since 2017, the Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria have repeatedly urged countries to repatriate their nationals, saying they lack the capacity to properly guard them. On 22 June, France repatriated 10 children from northeast Syria.

“The Canadian government has decided it is not convenient to discuss the issue politically,” Sara Kayyali, Syria researcher at HRW, told Al Jazeera.

“Canada has failed to provide moral authority on the issue of repatriation in Syria,” she said.

The Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry informed Al Jazeera in an email: “Given the security situation on the ground and the current COVID-19 context, the Government of Canada’s ability to provide any kind of consular assistance in Syria remains extremely limited.

“The security environment in northeastern Syria is unstable and highly complex. Intermittent combat operations between various armed actors and an ongoing terrorist threat from several violent extremist organizations are among the specific threats that could impact any government activities in this region,” the statement read. 

‘Filthy and inhuman’

The report, Bring Me Back to Canada: Plight of Canadians Held in Northeast Syria for Alleged ISIS Links, said Canadians have been arbitrarily detained with other foreigners in “filthy and often inhuman and life-threatening conditions” by authorities in northeast Syria. It charges that the prisons in which men and boys are kept are severely overcrowded and medical care is “grossly inadequate”.

Women and children are kept in al-Holand Roj in heavily guarded open-air camps in al-Hasakah governorate. Intermittent water shortages could encourage the spread of COVID-19, HRW said.

During visits to al-Hol camp in June 2019, HRW found women and children living in tents that collapsed in strong winds or had flooded with rain or sewage. HRW researchers saw worms in water that children were drinking. Latrines were overflowing and garbage littered the grounds of the camps. Medical care and basic provisions such as diapers and sanitary towels were insufficient, the report said.

No charges

Like other foreigner detainees in northeast Syria, the detained Canadians have not been charged with any crime.

“The Kurdish-led authorities want the detainees to be prosecuted in their own countries. The authorities are only holding them as an interim measure,” Farida Deif, Canada director of HRW, told Al Jazeera. She said the northeast Syrian authorities have failed to bring the Canadians before a local judge to review the legality and necessity of their detention, and that until Canada acts, they could be detained indefinitely.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told HRW that Canada’s efforts help the detainees were hampered by not having a consulate in Syria, and because northeast Syria is too dangerous for government officials to enter.

Canada has, however, repatriated 29 of its citizens from Syria between March and May 2020. And at least 20 other countries – including Canadian allies such as Australia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States – have repatriated their nationals suspected of having ISIL ties from camps and prisons in northeast Syria.

Rights group calls on Canada to repatriate citizens from Syria

‘Left without a family’

Most of the 26 Canadian children are younger than six including a five-year-old orphan, Amira, whose parents and three siblings were killed in an air raid. Amira is currently being held in a children’s centre.

Sixteen independent human rights experts at the United Nations have called on Canada to repatriate Amira and have described the repatriation of children as “a humanitarian and human rights imperative”. No progress has been made in Amira’s case.

According to HRW, children who lived under ISIL and any women trafficked by the armed group should be treated first and foremost as victims.

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), countries have a responsibility to ensure that children are not deprived of the right to a nationality. Canada ratified the CRC in 1991.

“In terms of article 20 of the CRC, she [Amira] has a right to special protection and assistance by the state,” Ruth Brittle, child rights expert and lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, told Al Jazeera. “There is an obligation to provide alternative care, such as foster care, kafala or adoption, if it is in the child’s best interests. But the child should not be left without a family.”

Brittle added: “If other states have been able to secure release of citizens from the same detention facilities, then the obligation on international cooperation to improve the living conditions and ensure the rights of these children applies. By doing nothing, Canada is complicit in the arbitrary/unlawful detention of these children and the other violations of the children’s rights.”

The HRW report found that the Canadian government may be unlawfully withholding effective consular assistance to the group of 47 citizens, which is a violation of international law. Under international law, it is prohibited to withhold consular services in a discriminatory manner because of factors such as people’s religion or their political or other views.

Collective punishment

Canada has an obligation to repatriate its citizens pursuant to UN Security Council resolution 1326, according to Sarah Kay, a human rights lawyer specialising in counterterrorism. The repatriations that have taken place by various European and other countries have been inadequate, Kay said, and foreigners held in Syria are experiencing “every conceivable single human rights violation”.

The report states that the indefinite detention without charge of the Canadians amounts to guilt by association and collective punishment, which are prohibited under international law.;

HRW recommends that Canada increase communication with the detainees as well as their relatives in Canada or abroad, verify citizenship, issue citizens travel documents, and provide safe passage to Canadian consulates or territory.

It is further recommended that upon the detainees’ return, they should be offered rehabilitation and reintegration services. If appropriate, those suspected of serious crimes should be investigated and prosecuted according to international fair trial standards, the report says.

Source: Aljazeera

How should US police forces be reformed?

The killing of Black American George Floyd last month triggered protests across the United States and elsewhere against police brutality.

People are demanding justice and drastic changes to policing.

Activists say officers routinely discriminate against minorities, and use excessive force when making arrests.

The protest demands include cutting funding for law enforcement agencies, stripping police of military gear such as armoured trucks, and even abolishing police altogether.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a police reform bill to ban chokeholds, combat racial profiling, and establish a national database to track police misconduct.

But the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass the law.

So, is there political will for genuine change?

Presenter: Imran Khan

Guests:

Jamira Burley – human rights activist

Steven Rogers – retired police lieutenant

Elisabeth Anker – professor of American studies and political science at George Washington University

Source: Aljazeera

Kosovo president says he will resign if indictment confirmed

President Hashim Thaci was travelling to Washington, DC in the United States for the discussions when the indictment was announced [File: Getty Images]

Kosovo’s president on Monday denied committing war crimes during and after a 1998-1999 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbia, and said he would resign if an indictment against him is confirmed.

Last week, a special prosecutor’s office said it had indicted President Hashim Thaci, former parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli and others for murder, enforced disappearances, persecution and torture.

The Kosovo Specialist Chamber was set up in The Hague in 2015 to handle cases of alleged crimes by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters during the war that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia a decade later.

“I may have made political mistakes in peace, but war crimes, never!” Thaci said in a televised address.

Thaci and Veseli were among the ex-top commanders in the KLA. Veseli also has denied all the accusations.

Thaci was travelling to Washington, DC in the United States for the discussions when the indictment was announced.

“I do not know whether it was chance or intrigue that, midway toward the White House, the notification for an unconfirmed indictment was released,” he said.

Thaci said the meeting being called off was “a strong blow to the opportunity of achieving peace between Kosovo and Serbia”.

Decision in months

A judge will now take several months to decide whether the cases built by the special prosecutor’s office are strong enough to put Thaci, charged with nearly 100 murders, and the others on trial.

“I assure you [citizens] again, I will not face justice from this office,” Thaci said. “If the accusation is confirmed, I will immediately resign as your president and face the accusations.”

The Specialist Chamber is governed by Kosovo law, but is staffed by international judges and prosecutors.

War crimes allegations against the KLA first surfaced in a 2011 report by the Council of Europe rights agency that accused fighters of killing civilian Serbs and ethnic Albanian political opponents during the 1998-99 conflict.

Local efforts to investigate alleged KLA war crimes have so far been foiled by widespread intimidation in the tiny state, where clan loyalties run deep and former rebels are lionised.

Source: Aljazeera