Countries at UN rally behind expert who accused Israel of ‘genocide’

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Rights Situation in the Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, is seen on a TV screen delivering her rapport during a session of the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva, on March 26, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 27 March 2024
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Countries at UN rally behind expert who accused Israel of ‘genocide’

  • Dozens of diplomats, mostly representing Arab and Muslim countries but also Latin America, took the floor to defend her mandate and her work
  • And Qatar, on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, thanked Albanese for her report and demanded the international community “put an end to genocide being perpetrated by the Israeli war machinery”
  • Israel has killed more than 32,414 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas government's Ministry of Health

GENEVA: The UN expert who concluded Israel was committing acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip received broad support at the United Nations on Tuesday, with countries speaking up to back her and her report.
Francesca Albanese, the special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, told the UN Human Rights Council that countries should impose an arms embargo and sanctions on Israel.
Expanding in person on her report released on Monday, Albanese said Israel was characterising the entire Gazan population as “targetable, killable and destroyable,” and had ostentatiously laid bare its “genocidal intent” to “rid Palestine of Palestinians.”
Dozens of diplomats, mostly representing Arab and Muslim countries but also Latin America, took the floor to defend her mandate and her work.
Pakistan, speaking for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, backed her call for sanctions and an arms embargo.
“We commend your courage in documenting... acts amounting to genocide in Gaza,” Islamabad’s representative said.
“The occupation force’s dangerous and ruthless push for a final solution to the Palestinian question is plain for all to see, as its forces encircle Rafah like vultures and its ravenous land grab continues unabated in the West Bank.”
Egypt, speaking for Arab group countries, affirmed their support for Albanese’s mandate and said they were gravely concerned about Israel’s “structured and systematic attack to make the Gaza Strip uninhabitable.”
And Qatar, on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, thanked Albanese for her report and demanded the international community “put an end to genocide being perpetrated by the Israeli war machinery.”

In her speech, Albanese told the top UN rights body that Israel had “destroyed Gaza.”
“When genocidal intent is so conspicuous, so ostentatious, as it is in Gaza, we cannot avert our eyes: we must confront genocide, we must prevent it and we must punish it,” she said.
“The genocide in Gaza is the most extreme stage of a long-standing settler-colonial process of erasure of the native Palestinians.”
Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council, although they do not speak on behalf of the UN.
In response, Russia said it was “horrified” by Israel’s military operation that had seen “civilian infrastructure targeted” while China said it was was ready to facilitate peace talks.
The European Union called for “proper and independent investigations on all allegations” and while appalled by the civilian death toll it recognized Israel’s right to self-defense.

Albanese’s speech concluded to applause in the chamber. Israel was not present, nor was its chief ally the United States.
Israel has long been harshly critical of Albanese, and on Monday immediately rejected her report as an “obscene inversion of reality.”
The United States called her mandate “biased against Israel.”
In the rights council on Tuesday, the only firm support for such positions came from non-governmental organizations.
The World Jewish Congress said Albanese’s mandate “seeks to entrench divisions and a one-sided narrative instead of pursuing a balanced and inclusive approach.”
The European Union of Jewish Students said Albanese’s “resignation is imperative” for the council to retain any credibility on issues concerning Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The bloodiest ever Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign against Hamas has killed at least 32,400 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the territory.
 

 


NATO to formally appoint Rutte next boss Wednesday: diplomats

Updated 25 June 2024
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NATO to formally appoint Rutte next boss Wednesday: diplomats

  • Diplomats from several NATO states said Rutte will take over from current secretary general Jens Stoltenberg
  • The seasoned Dutch leader will take the reins at a pivotal time

BRUSSELS: NATO will officially name outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the alliance’s next head on Wednesday, after ambassadors from all 32 member countries greenlit his appointment, diplomats said Tuesday.
Diplomats from several NATO states said Rutte, who was strongly backed by leading power the United States, will take over from current secretary general Jens Stoltenberg when his term ends on October 1.
Rutte, 57, last week sealed the race to lead the Western military alliance after lone challenger Romanian President Klaus Iohannis dropped out.
The seasoned Dutch leader, who is set to leave office in the Netherlands soon after almost 14 years in charge, will take the reins at a pivotal time.
The next NATO chief will have to grapple with the ongoing fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine and the potential return to the US presidency of Donald Trump after elections in November.


Spanish police examine CCTV footage in missing UK teenager’s case in Tenerife, mayor says

Updated 25 June 2024
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Spanish police examine CCTV footage in missing UK teenager’s case in Tenerife, mayor says

  • Slater, 19, went missing on June 17
  • Dozens of police officers, rescue teams and fire fighters have been searching since Wednesday in the steep valley

SANTIAGO DEL TEIDE, Spain: Spanish police are examining CCTV footage from a local town on the island of Tenerife near where British teenager Jay Slater disappeared, its mayor said on Tuesday.
Slater, 19, went missing on June 17 and his phone was last traced to the Masca ravine in a remote national park on the Canary Islands archipelago.
Dozens of police officers, rescue teams and fire fighters have been searching since Wednesday in the steep valley located on the island’s west coast, using dogs, drones and a helicopter.
Warren Slater, the teenager’s father, on Monday shared a blurry still picture from a security camera in the town of Santiago del Teide of a person that could be his son in the hope it would help with the search, British media reported.
“We know the police are investigating (the CCTV images). They have asked for the town hall’s security cameras and they are also working with the company that handles those cameras,” mayor Emilio Jose Navarro told Reuters.
The image shared by the family to British media outlets shows a person walking through town, but it is impossible to make out a face.
Navarro said police had interviewed several people who may have seen him, including some who said they thought they had spotted him on the coast watching matches in the Euro 2024 soccer tournament.
British national Tom Beckett, who is familiar with the area where Slater last used his phone and was in Santiago del Teide on Tuesday, said he believed the teenager may not have reached the town.
“Had he been on the road, he would have been seen by numerous tourists. It’s a very narrow road so they wouldn’t have missed him, they would have seen him,” Beckett told Reuters.


Spanish police smash international drug-smuggling ring

Updated 25 June 2024
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Spanish police smash international drug-smuggling ring

  • Raids in 28 locations in the southern cities of Granada, Malaga and Seville earlier this month netted caches of money and weapons
  • Officers arrested 36 suspects from 10 nations as part of the operation

BARCELONA: Spanish police have smashed an international network led by Turkish nationals suspected of smuggling “large amounts” of marijuana and heroin from Spain to other European nations, police said on Tuesday.
Raids in 28 locations in the southern cities of Granada, Malaga and Seville earlier this month netted caches of money and weapons, as well as 10 luxury vehicles and over two tons of marijuana, Spain’s Guardia Civil police force said.
Officers arrested 36 suspects from 10 nations as part of the operation, including the suspected leader of the network, a man of Turkish origin who lived in Spain and was the target of an international arrest warrant issued by Turkiye, they added.
The group “was focused on exporting large amounts of marijuana and heroin from our country to Germany and other nations in eastern Europe,” police said.
The arrested suspects also included nationals from Argentina, Austria, Germany, Montenegro, Romania, Spain, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.
European Union police force Europol, which coordinated the investigation, said over 400 officers from French, Spanish and Turkish law enforcement agencies took part in the operation.
Spain is one of the main entry points for drugs into Europe given its close ties with Latin America and its proximity to Morocco.
Latin America is the main source of cocaine and Morocco is a key source of hashish, a sticky brown substance made from the resin of the cannabis plant.


Who is Julian Assange, the polarizing founder of the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks?

Updated 25 June 2024
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Who is Julian Assange, the polarizing founder of the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks?

  • Assange drew global attention in 2010 publishing war logs and diplomatic cables detailing US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • He is seen either as a persecuted hero for open and transparent government, or a villain who put American lives at risk 

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: He emerged on the information security scene in the 1990s as a “famous teenage hacker” following what he called an ” itinerant minstrel childhood” beginning in Townsville, Australia. But the story of Julian Assange, eccentric founder of secret-spilling website WikiLeaks, never became less strange — or less polarizing — after he jolted the United States and its allies by revealing secrets of how America conducted its wars.
Since Assange drew global attention in 2010 for his work with prominent news outlets to publish war logs and diplomatic cables that detailed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other matters, he has provoked fervor among his admirers and loathing from his detractors with little in-between — seen either as a persecuted hero for open and transparent government, or a villain who put American lives at risk by aiding its enemies, and prompting fraught debates about state secrecy and freedom of the press.
Assange, 52, grew up attending “37 schools” before he was 14 years old, he wrote on his now-deleted blog. The details in it are not independently verifiable and some of Assange’s biographical details differ between accounts and interviews. A memoir published against his will in 2011, after he fell out with his ghostwriter, described him as the son of roving puppeteers, and he told The New Yorker in 2010 that his mother’s itinerant lifestyle barred him from a consistent or complete education. But by the age of 16, in 1987, he had his first modem, he told the magazine. Assange would burst forth as an accomplished hacker who with his friends broke into networks in North America and Europe.
In 1991, aged 20, Assange hacked a Melbourne terminal for a Canadian telecommunications company, leading to his arrest by the Australian Federal Police and 31 criminal charges. After pleading guilty to some counts, he avoided jail time after the presiding judge attributed his crimes to merely “intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to – what’s the expression? – surf through these various computers.”
He later studied mathematics and physics at university, but did not complete a degree. By 2006, when he founded WikiLeaks, Assange’s delight at being able to traverse locked computer systems seemingly for fun developed into a belief that, as he wrote on his blog, “only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.”
In the year of WikiLeaks’ explosive 2010 release of half a million documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the non-profit organization’s website was registered in Sweden and its legal entity in Iceland. Assange was “living in airports,” he told The New Yorker; he claimed his media company, with no paid staff, had hundreds of volunteers.
He called his work a kind of “scientific journalism,” Assange wrote in a 2010 op-ed in The Australian newspaper, in which readers could check reporting against the original documents that had prompted a story. Among the most potent in the cache of files published by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
Assange was not anti-war, he wrote in The Australian.
“But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies,” he said. “If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.”
US prosecutors later said documents published by Assange included the names of Afghans and Iraqis who provided information to American and coalition forces, while the diplomatic cables he released exposed journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates and dissidents in repressive countries.
Assange said in a 2010 interview that it was “regrettable” that sources disclosed by WikiLeaks could be harmed, prosecutors said. Later, after a State Department legal adviser informed him of the risk to “countless innocent individuals” compromised by the leaks, Assange said he would work with mainstream news organizations to redact the names of individuals. WikiLeaks did hide some names but then published 250,000 cables a year later without hiding the identities of people named in the papers.
Weeks after the release of the largest document cache in 2010, a Swedish prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Assange based on one woman’s allegation of rape and another’s allegation of molestation.
Assange has always denied the accusations and, from Britain, fought efforts to extradite him to Sweden for questioning. He decried the allegations as a smear campaign and an effort to move him to a jurisdiction where he might be extradited to the US
When his appeal against the extradition to Sweden failed, he breached his bail imposed in Britain and presented himself to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he claimed asylum on the grounds of political persecution. There followed seven years in self-exile inside the embassy — and one of the most unusual chapters in an already strange tale.
Refusing to go outside, where British police awaited him around the clock, Assange made occasional forays onto the embassy’s balcony to address supporters.
With a sunlamp and running machine helping to preserve his health, he told The Associated Press and other reporters in 2013, he remained in the news due to a stream of celebrity visitors, including Lady Gaga and the designer Vivienne Westwood. Even his cat became famous.
He also continued to run WikiLeaks and mounted an unsuccessful Australian senate campaign in 2013 with the newly founded WikiLeaks party. Before a constant British police presence around the embassy was removed in 2015, it cost UK taxpayers millions of dollars.
But relations with his host country soured, and the Ecuadorian Embassy severed his Internet access after posts Assange made on social media. In 2019, his hosts revoked his asylum, allowing British police to arrest him.
Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said he decided to evict Assange from the embassy after “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols.” He later lashed out at him during a speech in Quito, calling the Australian native a “spoiled brat” who treated his hosts with disrespect.
Assange was arrested and jailed on a charge of breaching bail conditions and spent the next five years in prison as he continued to fight his extradition to the United States.
In 2019, the US government unsealed an indictment against Assange and added further charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents. Prosecutors said he conspired with US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning had served seven years of a 35-year military sentence before receiving a commutation from then-President Barack Obama.
At the time, Australia’s then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had no plans to intervene in Assange’s case, calling it a matter for the US The same year, Swedish prosecutors dropped the rape allegation against Assange because too much time had elapsed since the accusation was made over nine years earlier.
As the case over his extradition wound through the British courts over the following years, Assange remained in Belmarsh Prison, where, his wife told the BBC on Tuesday, he was in a “terrible state” of health.
Assange married his partner, Stella Moris, in jail in 2022, after a relationship that began during Assange’s years in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Assange and the South Africa-born lawyer have two sons, born in 2017 and 2019.


WHO, scientists call for urgent action on mpox strain

Updated 25 June 2024
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WHO, scientists call for urgent action on mpox strain

  • “There is a critical need to address the recent surge in mpox cases in Africa,” Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s technical lead for mpox, said
  • John Claude Udahemuka of the University of Rwanda said the strain spreading there was extremely dangerous

LONDON: The spread of mpox in Africa needs to be addressed urgently, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, as scientists warned separately of a dangerous strain in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“There is a critical need to address the recent surge in mpox cases in Africa,” Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s technical lead for mpox, said in a briefing note to journalists.
In a separate briefing, John Claude Udahemuka of the University of Rwanda, who has been working on an outbreak in Congo’s hard-to-reach South Kivu province, said the strain spreading there — a mutated version of the clade I mpox endemic in Congo for decades — was extremely dangerous. It has fatality rates of around 5 percent in adults and 10 percent in children.
This year, roughly 8,600 mpox cases have been reported in Congo, and 410 deaths, Cris Kacita, the doctor in charge of operations in the country’s mpox control program, told Reuters last week.
Mpox is a viral infection that spreads through close contact, causing flu-like symptoms and pus-filled lesions. Most cases are mild but it can kill.
A different, less severe form of the virus — clade IIb — spread globally in 2022, largely through sexual contact among men who have sex with men. This prompted the WHO to declare a public health emergency. Although that has ended, Lewis said on Tuesday the disease remained a health threat. Two people died in South Africa this month of this form of the virus after a handful of cases were diagnosed.
Vaccines and treatments were used to combat the global outbreak, but they are not available in Congo.
The WHO and scientists said efforts were ongoing to address that.
In South Kivu, Adahemuka and other researchers said the new strain was spreading partly by sexual contact among men and women, and particularly among sex workers.
He said other close contact routes needed study, with evidence of transmission at school and from caregiver to child. The disease also seemed to be causing miscarriages among pregnant women as well as a longer-term rash and other lingering symptoms, the team said.
Leandre Murhula Masirika, research co-ordinator in the health department in South Kivu province, said 20 cases were arriving at hospital in the mining town of Kamituga every week.
“At the rate things are going, we risk becoming a source of cases for other countries,” said Kacita. South Kivu borders Rwanda and Burundi.
He said 24 of 26 provinces in Congo were affected and the outbreak was the worst mpox epidemic yet.