UN accuses Turkey of killing hundreds of Kurds

The New York Times reports: Turkey’s military and police forces have killed hundreds of people during operations against Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey, the United Nations said on Friday in a report that listed summary killings, torture, rape and widespread destruction of property among an array of human rights abuses.

The report, by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, details how operations by the Turkish infantry, artillery, tanks and possibly aircraft drove up to half a million people from their homes over a 17-month period from July 2015 to the end of 2016.

Though the report is focused on the conduct of security forces in southeastern Turkey, the 25-page document underscores the deepening alarm of the United Nations over the measures ordered by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, since a failed coup attempt last July.

The state of emergency Mr. Erdogan imposed after the coup attempt appeared to “target criticism, not terrorism,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said here on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal challenged on human rights and terrorism

 

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Rex Tillerson skips State Department’s annual announcement on human rights, alarming advocates

The Washington Post reports: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who during his confirmation hearings repeatedly vowed to promote human rights as a core American value, alarmed human rights advocates when he did not appear in person to present the State Department’s annual human rights report, released Friday.

In a break with long-standing tradition only rarely breached, Tillerson’s remarks were limited to a short written introduction to the lengthy report. Nor did any senior State Department official make on-camera comments that are typically watched around the world, including by officials in authoritarian countries where abuses are singled out in the report.

Instead, a senior administration official talked to reporters by phone and only on the condition of anonymity.

“The report speaks for itself,” the administration official said. “We’re very, very proud of it. The facts should really be the story here.”

But Tillerson’s absence underscored how the former ExxonMobil executive remains more comfortable with an aloof, corporate style of governance than the public diplomacy practiced by his predecessors.

Tillerson drew fire from some members of Congress and advocates who said his decision not to personally unveil the report suggested the Trump administration places a low priority on advancing human rights. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration considering breaking up families at Mexico border

Reuters reports: Women and children crossing together illegally into the United States could be separated by U.S. authorities under a proposal being considered by the Department of Homeland Security, according to three government officials.

Part of the reason for the proposal is to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children, said the officials, who have been briefed on the proposal.

The policy shift would allow the government to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings. Children would be put into protective custody with the Department of Health and Human Services, in the “least restrictive setting” until they can be taken into the care of a U.S. relative or state-sponsored guardian.

Currently, families contesting deportation or applying for asylum are generally released from detention quickly and allowed to remain in the United States until their cases are resolved. A federal appeals court ruling bars prolonged child detention. [Continue reading…]

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Dreamer arrested after speaking to media will be deported without hearing, attorney says

Huffington Post reports: A 22-year-old undocumented immigrant arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday after speaking to the media about her family’s detention is set to be deported without a court hearing, her attorney said on Thursday.

Daniela Vargas, who came to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 7 years old, previously had a work permit and deportation reprieve under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Her DACA status expired last November, and because she was saving money for the renewal — which costs $495 — her new application wasn’t received until Feb. 10.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for ICE said Vargas would go through court proceedings to determine whether she is eligible for some type of relief, adding that the agency would take no further action until those proceedings were completed.

But Abby Peterson, Vargas’ attorney, said ICE agents told her on Thursday that they would instead pursue immediate deportation without a court hearing or bond because Vargas entered the country through the visa waiver program, which allows certain foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for under 90 days without a visa. (Argentina was previously part of the program, although it no longer is.) Individuals who use the visa waiver program have no right to a hearing or to contest their removal unless they are seeking asylum. [Continue reading…]

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After Oscar win, Russian Embassy calls Syria’s White Helmets ‘actors,’ not life-savers

Amanda Erickson writes: When “The White Helmets,” a documentary short about volunteer rescue workers in Syria, took home an Oscar on Sunday night, the group’s press officer was elated. He tweeted: “The world stands with the white helmets. Standing ovation at the Oscars. We have won.”

The film follows three volunteers from Syria Civil Defense, more commonly known as the White Helmets, as they do the heartbreaking work of rescuing civilians from the rubble. (At one point, they pull a 1-month-old “miracle baby,” unharmed, from a collapsed building. He’d been trapped for half a day.) The group was founded by locals along with a former British army officer and United Arab Emirates-based consulting firm called Analysis Research and Knowledge. Its membership is overwhelmingly Syrian, though it has received training from ARK and a Turkish NGO. The White Helmets receive funding from U.S. and European governments, operating on a budget of about $26 million.

The organization says it has saved about 60,000 lives. More than 140 of its volunteers have been killed. For these efforts, the White Helmets have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

The documentary has garnered good press and glowing reviews. But not everyone reacted so positively to the win. The Twitter account run by the Russian Embassy in Britain attacked the film Tuesday morning, calling the documentary a fiction populated by actors. [Continue reading…]

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Churches are readying homes and underground railroads to hide immigrants from deportation under Trump

BuzzFeed reports: Churches across the US are fighting back against the Trump administration’s mandate to ramp up deportations with new sanctuary practices of their own, using private homes in their congregations as shelter and potentially creating a modern-day underground railroad to ferry undocumented immigrants from house to house or into Canada.

Church leaders from California to Illinois and New York told BuzzFeed News they’re willing to take their sanctuary operations for undocumented immigrants underground should federal immigration authorities, emboldened by Trump’s recent directives to take a harder line on deportations, ignore precedent and raid their campuses.

“We’re willing to take that risk because it is our call to justice, and this is how we live our faith,” Rev. Justo Gonzalez II, pastor of Pilgrim St. Luke’s in Buffalo, told BuzzFeed News. He leads one of the churches that has reached out to an organization in Canada to possibly take in undocumented families.

Gonzalez knows they are stepping into legally murky territory, especially when it comes to possibly smuggling immigrants into Canada, but he said attorneys in his congregation have agreed to help them pro bono if they find themselves in hot water.

“I’m thrilled that we’re establishing a cross-border [link] into another country, so we could support people finding places they are welcome in because, frankly, this administration is not the place,” Gonzalez said. [Continue reading…]

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Canada’s plan to bring in hundreds of Yazidi genocide survivors hailed by refugees

CBC News reports: Canada’s promise to resettle hundreds of Yazidis by the end of the year is being welcomed in Iraq, where Yazidi women and girls have endured horrific abuse and persecution at the hands of ISIS.

Among those who have greeted the news with open arms is Saud Khalid, who was kidnapped by ISIS in August 2014 and sold as a sex slave three times before escaping after a year in captivity.

UN officials recently interviewed the 23-year-old about going to Canada and she’s hoping she and her young son will be among the 1,200 Yazidis and other ISIS survivors accepted by the Liberal government.

“We wish to go and live in Canada because here our situation is not good in general,” she said through a translator on Wednesday. “We live in bad conditions and we want to go.

“If they take me to Canada, I will never come back. And my hope is if my relatives still being held by ISIS, if they escape, I want them to also join me in Canada.” [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s child-refugee crisis

Lauren Collins writes: Wasil awoke to the sound of a knife ripping through nylon. Although he was only twelve years old, he was living alone in a small tent at a refugee camp in Calais, France, known as the Jungle. Men entered his tent; he couldn’t tell how many. A pair of hands gripped his throat. He shouted. It was raining, and the clatter of the drops muffled his cries, so he shouted louder. At last, people from neighboring tents came running, and the assailants disappeared.

Wasil had left his mother and younger siblings in Kunduz, Afghanistan, ten months earlier, in December, 2015. His father, an interpreter for nato forces, had fled the country after receiving death threats from the Taliban. Later, Wasil, as the eldest son, became the Taliban’s surrogate target. Wasil was close to his mother, but she decided to send him away as the situation became increasingly dangerous. Her brother lived in England, and she hoped that Wasil could join him there. To get to Calais, Wasil had travelled almost four thousand miles, across much of Asia and Europe, by himself. Along the way, he had survived for ten days in a forest with only two bottles of water, two biscuits, and a packet of dates to sustain him. Before leaving home, he hadn’t even known how to prepare a meal.

Wasil was stunned by the conditions of the Jungle. The camp, a forty-acre assemblage of tents, situated on a vast windswept sandlot that had formerly served as a landfill, didn’t seem fit for human habitation. “I did not come here for luxury,” Wasil told me, in excellent English, which he had learned from his father. “But I can’t believe this is happening in Europe.” A chemical plant loomed nearby. There was no running water, and when it rained the refugees’ tents filled with mud and the camp’s rudimentary roads became impassable.

The Jungle had one thing to recommend it: its proximity to the thirty-mile-long Channel Tunnel, which connects France and England at the Strait of Dover. Thousands of refugees and migrants from all over the world congregated at the camp, amid rats and burning trash, with the sole objective of making it, whether by truck, train, or ferry, onto British soil. On one of Wasil’s first days at the camp, he called his mother on his cell phone. “Are you safe?” she asked. “I was saying to her, ‘I’m in a good condition, I am too safe. I’m going to school and learning French. . . . I can touch the water that one side is here and the other side is England,’ ” Wasil recalled. “I’m not telling her the real situation.” [Continue reading…]

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Iraq launches west Mosul offensive as torture videos emerge

The Guardian reports: Iraqi government forces have launched an offensive to capture the western part of the city of Mosul from Islamic State.

Hundreds of military vehicles, backed by air power, were filmed travelling across the desert towards the jihadis’ positions in the city early on Sunday.

Government forces retook the eastern side of Mosul, the last major Isis stronghold in Iraq, last month. But military officials say the western side of the city, with its narrow, winding streets, may prove a bigger challenge.

According to Lt Gen Abdulamir Yarallah the latest attack began well, with the rapid response units capturing the villages of Athbah and al-Lazzagah near Mosul airport.

However, the launch of the new offensive was overshadowed by graphic videos of men in Iraqi security force uniforms carrying out beatings and killings of unarmed people on the streets of Mosul. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is terrorizing America’s immigrant population

The New York Times reports: In Austin, Tex., undocumented women working in a laundromat cowered in the back of the room, petrified after seeing a video and a photograph of apprehensions outside a local grocery store and burger joint.

A day laborer and mechanic in Staten Island told his 17-year-old son where the list of emergency contacts were, including the name of the guardian who would take responsibility for him and his two younger siblings.

In Savannah, Ga., undocumented restaurant workers were asking for rides rather than walking home, afraid they might be stopped and questioned.

As reports of immigration raids and roundups have rocketed across Twitter, Facebook and texts around the country, undocumented immigrants, their lawyers and advocacy groups are bracing for the increased enforcement that President Trump has called for.

Susannah Volpe, a managing attorney at Ayuda, an immigrant legal services group in Washington, said she had noticed what seemed to be roundups of people, like those without criminal records, that the government had not previously paid much attention to.

“These are agents going into apartment buildings or agents going to worksites,” said Ms. Volpe, who had a client arrested, along with five others, at a construction site in Washington last week. “This is new.”

School principals in Los Angeles have been sent a checklist of things to do in case immigration agents turn up. The Mexican government even warned “the entire Mexican community” in the United States “to take precautions and to keep in touch with their nearest consulate,” after the deportation of a woman who had previously been allowed to remain in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Kremlin critic in coma was ‘poisoned by undefined substance’

The Guardian reports: A prominent Kremlin critic and Russian opposition figure who has been in a coma since last week has been diagnosed with “acute poisoning by an undefined substance”, his wife has said.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, 35, who works for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia foundation, had been in Russia to screen a documentary film about his friend Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader and former deputy prime minister who was gunned down near the Kremlin in 2015.

Kara-Murza was about to fly back to the US for his daughter’s eighth birthday when he woke up at 5am on Thursday with an accelerated heartbeat and difficulty breathing. He remained in a stable but critical condition on Tuesday in a medically induced coma, his wife, Yevgeniya, said.

Kara-Murza was taken to the same hospital in 2015, when he was diagnosed with acute kidney failure in connection with poisoning and only just survived. He later said it had been an attempt to kill him for his political activities. The symptoms were the same in this latest attempt on his life, his wife told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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Up to 13,000 secretly hanged in Syrian jail, says Amnesty

The Guardian reports: As many as 13,000 opponents of Bashar al-Assad were secretly hanged in one of Syria’s most infamous prisons in the first five years of the country’s civil war as part of an extermination policy ordered by the highest levels of the Syrian government, according to Amnesty International.

Many thousands more people held in Saydnaya prison died through torture and starvation, Amnesty said, and the bodies were dumped in two mass graves on the outskirts of Damascus between midnight and dawn most Tuesday mornings for at least five years.

The report, Human Slaughterhouse, details allegations of state-sanctioned abuse that are unprecedented in Syria’s civil war, a conflict that has consistently broken new ground in depravity, leaving at least 400,000 people dead and nearly half the country’s population displaced. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said U.S. President Donald Trump prioritizing the fight against jihadists led by Islamic State was promising although it was too early to expect any practical steps, state news agency SANA reported on Tuesday.

The Kremlin, Assad’s most powerful ally, said Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed setting up “genuine coordination” in the fight against Islamic State and “other terrorist groups” in Syria during a phone call last month.

Assad was quoted by SANA as telling a group of Belgian reporters that Trump’s position was promising. “I believe this is promising but we have to wait and it’s too early to expect anything practical,” he said. Assad was also quoted as saying that U.S-Russian cooperation in stepping up the fight against the militants would have positive repercussions. [Continue reading…]

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New CIA deputy director, Gina Haspel, had leading role in torture

The New York Times reports: As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.

On Thursday, Ms. Haspel was named the deputy director of the C.I.A.

The elevation of Ms. Haspel, a veteran widely respected among her colleagues, to the No. 2 job at the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.

Over the past eight years, C.I.A. leaders defended dozens of agency personnel who had taken part in the now-banned torture program, even as they vowed never to resume the same harsh interrogation methods. But President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. And the new C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture, and praised as “patriots” those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.

Ms. Haspel, who has spent most of her career undercover, would certainly fall within Mr. Pompeo’s description. She played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.

The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s talk about Muslims led acting attorney general to follow the law and defy the president

 

The New York Times reports: As Republicans seethed over President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration in early 2015, Senator Jeff Sessions sharply questioned Sally Q. Yates about whether she had the independent streak needed to be the Justice Department’s second in command.

Mr. Sessions, Republican of Alabama, wanted to know whether Ms. Yates, a federal prosecutor from Georgia who made her career charging domestic terrorists and white-collar criminals, would be willing to stand up to the president.

“If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say ‘No?’ ” Mr. Sessions asked during a confirmation hearing for Ms. Yates.

“I believe the attorney general or deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and Constitution and give their independent legal advice to the president,” Ms. Yates replied.

As acting attorney general on Monday, Ms. Yates faced what she believed to be the realization of that hypothetical.

President Trump’s own words convinced her that his executive order on immigration was intended to single out Muslims, senior officials said. Hours after she refused to defend that order, Mr. Trump fired her.

Ms. Yates, 56, a relative newcomer to Washington, has become a hero to many on the left and the face of a simmering resistance inside the government to Mr. Trump’s administration.

After receiving a hand-delivered dismissal letter, she packed up her office around midnight and left the department, a politically divisive moment in a career that until now had earned her bipartisan praise.

“She will be a hero of the American people, a hero of what’s right,” Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, said in 2015 at her confirmation hearing. “She’ll call them like she sees them, and she will be fair, and she will be just.” [Continue reading…]

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Global resistance to Trump rises

Huffington Post reports: Time Magazine has used its February 8 cover to drive home the significance of the Women’s March on Washington. The cover, complete with the headline “The Resistance Rises,” features a striking image of the now-infamous pink “pussy hat.”

The cover is a strong comment on powerful resistance that has formed in response to President Donald Trump, with a specific focus on the influence the Women’s March ― which close to 3 million people are estimated to have attended worldwide ― has had on public consciousness.

“There is no precedent in U.S. history for the show of collective outrage that answered Trump’s Inauguration,” wrote Time’s Karl Vick in the magazine’s cover story. “But then, there is no precedent for Trump.”

Vick pointed out that the strength of the march lay in the fact that organizers made the march less about Trump and more about empowering women and all marginalized communities.

“Protest organizers actually calculated that framing the march as pro-women rather than anti-Trump would work wonders,” Vick wrote.

And he’s right. As Women’s March co-chairs Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland and Tamika D. Mallory emphasized, the march was not about protesting one man. Rather, it was about justice for every marginalized group, as per the march’s policy platform, and about resisting the bigotry and misogyny that have already come to characterize the Trump Administration. [Continue reading…]

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