Sunday, January 21, 2018
A UN report on human rights abuses related to foreign intervention in Yemen details the extensive civilian casualties inflicted by the Saudi-led coalition's air attacks.
The United Nations panel examined 10 air attacks in 2017 that killed 157 people, and found that the targets included a migrant boat, a night market, five residential buildings, a motel, a vehicle and government forces, according to a copy of the report shown to Al Jazeera.
"This is a report to the UN Security Council that has not been made public, but I've been allowed to read a copy. It's very hard hitting and very critical of all of the parties in the war in Yemen," Al Jazeera diplomatic editor James Bays said. The panel said it requested information from the Saudi-led coalition for the rationale behind such attacks, but did not receive a response. The attacks were carried out by precision-guided munitions, so it is likely these were the intended targets, the report points out.
"Even if in some cases, the Saudi-led coalition had targeted legitimate military objectives, the panel finds it highly unlikely that the IHL [International Humanitarian Law] principles of proportionality, and precautions in attack were met," the report stated.
The report also cited a "widespread and systematic" pattern of "arbitrary arrests, deprivation of liberty and enforced disappearances". It was particularly scathing about UAE camps, where it says torture has been taking place.
"The report talks about beatings, electrocutions, constrained suspension, and it talks about something called the cage which is confinement in a cage in the sunlight and the denial of medical treatment," James Bays said.
"Working with the gov of Yemen gives the UAE plausible deniability," he added.
'Threat to peace'
Proxy forces funded and armed by the coalition "pose a threat to peace, security and stability of Yemen", the panel said, and "will do more to further the fragility of Yemen than they will do to hold the state together".
The report also said that southern secession in Yemen has become a genuine possibility, due in part to the length of the war, the lack of military progress and divisions that have emerged in the country.
According to Bays, the report wonders if Yemen can remain one country.
"People in the south are displaying the old flag of South Yemen and they are not loyal to President Hadi even though they are under his command," Bays said. The report is also critical of Iran's role in the conflict, focussing specifically on supporting Houthi rebels, who stormed the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2014 and captured large expanses of the country, with military equipment.
"The report says there have been military equipment and drones that were of Iranian origin and that were introduced into Yemen after the Security Council adopted an arms embargo," Al Jazeera correspondent Bays said.
Since the beginning of Yemen's war, more than 10,000 people have been killed, according to the UN.
In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched a large aerial campaign against the Houthis, aimed at restoring the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. A majority of the more than 5,000 civilian deaths were caused by the Saudi-led coalition, of which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a member, the UN has previously said.
The UN's top human rights official, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, had called for an independent inquiry into atrocities in Yemen for three years before the international community agreed in 2017. In September, the Netherlands and Canada debuted a draft resolution that would establish an international commission of inquiry to make sure "perpetrators of violations and abuses, including those that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, are held accountable".
The resolution was approved after China signalled its support later that month.
Published: 14 Jan 2018
The University of Texas at Austin recently rejected a donation to the China Public Center from the Hong Kong-based China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) on the grounds that it is linked to the United Front Work Department and could place limits on academic freedom and the robust exchange of ideas. U.S. media emphasized that the foundation’s leader, Tung Chee-hwa, is vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which is listed as “a united front organization.”
“The university will not accept programmatic funding from CUSEF. Neither will we accept any funds for travel, student exchanges or other initiatives from the organization,” Gregory Fenves, President of the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in a letter to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.
The Global Times recently contacted CUSEF but did not get a response. According to its website, CUSEF was established in Hong Kong in 2008 as a privately funded, non-governmental, non-profit entity. The website also lists the names of several sponsors.
Li Haidong, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times that one of the most important principles emphasized by China is that it will not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. The United States has a habit of interpreting the behavior of other major nations in the way of its own thinking, which can lead to distorted conclusions.
Li said that there are many cultural exchanges between China and the United States and sources of funding vary, but the purpose is to promote a healthy China-U.S. relationship. CUSEF is not supported by the Chinese government but by private donors, Li added. Unfortunately, U.S. media and politicians interpret China’s goodwill in a distorted and even sinister way.
Those who have heard this news may be surprised to learn that an effort to promote understanding between China and the United States is being viewed as “political influence.” What comes to mind is how many American foundations and non-governmental organizations are carrying out political activities in China. If China was to respond in the same manner, every single one of them would probably have to take a hike.
At the end of last year, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a hearing titled “The Long Arm of China: Exporting Authoritarianism With Chinese Characteristics,” which was described by some media outlets as a counterattack on China’s “ideological invasion.” Imaginations are running so wild in the West that it is now a trend to link artificial intelligence to China’s so-called “infiltration” efforts.
Fort Leonard Wood, an Army base in the U.S. state of Missouri, just removed surveillance cameras made by Hikvision. Colonel Christopher Beck, the chief of staff at the base, said he never believed the cameras were a security risk, but removed them to “remove any negative perception” surrounding them. Just this month, the U.S. government blocked U.S. business deals involving Alibaba and Huawei on the grounds of national security.
Ironically, a lot of Chinese now think that Americans are the narrow-minded ones. In their view, the United States has put “politics in command” and is constantly on the lookout for foreign influence. If China was to follow the U.S. standard in guarding against China, then it would be virtually impossible for China to reform and open up.
All countries must safeguard their national security. But the recent wave of warnings about China in the United States and other countries, such as Australia, has been borderline hysterical.
First it was Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, then Chinese “infiltration” of American universities. But it is the United States that is by far the world’s largest exporter of intellectual and artistic products and the largest exporter of technology, which means that it is the United States that has the greatest ability to infiltrate other countries.
To put it simply, the voices that are wary of China’s “infiltration” are a little scared of China. But neither side should let fear of the other influence the bilateral relationship.
By LISA MASCARO
A rare weekend schedule continued on Capitol Hill, with voting possible. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who had not spoken for a day, huddled briefly on the Senate floor and arranged to meet later Sunday.
But deep uncertainty over whether the shutdown would extend into Monday and beyond created hardship for many of the 2.3 million federal employees who don't yet know whether their offices will be shuttered and whether they will lose pay. McConnell pushed a proposal to temporarily fund the government through Feb. 8. But without the consent of all senators, complicated Senate rules won't allow a roll call until 1 a.m. Monday, adding to the sense of chaos and confusion.
"This shutdown is going to get a lot worse tomorrow," McConnell warned. "A lot worse. Today would be a good day to end it."
It was either the "Trump Shutdown" or the "Schumer Shutdown," depending on whether the finger pointing came from Republicans backing the president or from Democrats standing with the New York minority leader.
Schumer blamed Republicans, who control the House, Senate and White House, especially after President Trump backed out of a possible agreement. "It all stems from the president, whose inability to clinch a deal has created the Trump Shutdown," Schumer said. Schumer said he even agreed to put Trump's request for border wall funds — some $20 billion over several years, sources said — on the table for consideration, a major concession that alarmed other Democrats. The White House disputed that account, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Schumer's recollection "hazy." "His account of Friday's meeting is false," Sanders said. "The president's position is clear: We will not negotiate on the status of unlawful immigrants while Sen. Schumer and the Democrats hold the government for millions of Americans and our troops hostage." However long it lasts, Democrats said Trump's inconstancy had hurt the chances of staving off the shutdown.
"How can you negotiate with the president under those circumstances where he agrees face-to-face to move forward with a certain path, and then within two hours calls back and pulls the plug?" asked Sen. Richard J. Durbin, (D-Ill.), appearing on ABC's "This Week."
Trump, forced to give up his planned weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, spoke to the heads of the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to gauge the impact of the shutdown, according to the White House. He took to Twitter to blame Democrats for the impasse and to urge Senate Republicans to change the rules to allow a bill to pass with a simple majority, not the 60 votes now required. "If stalemate continues," Trump tweeted, Republicans should use the "Nuclear Option" to change Senate rules and try to pass a long-term spending bill with a simple majority. A spokesman for McConnell later said the nuclear option was not under consideration.
The government spending deadline was midnight Friday, and Democrats and Republicans are stalemated over several issues, but most split over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump has promised to end by March 5. Known as DACA, it protects from deportation about 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. White House aides later signaled there might be some flexibility, although they did not provide details.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump is "absolutely interested and wants to get DACA fixed." The president's legislative director, Marc Short, sent the same message in an interview on ABC's "This Week," painting DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, as contributing to the economy and society. "These are people aged 16 to 36 with work permits, which means they do not have any criminal background," Short said. "They're here being productive to our country."
In some cases, rank-and-file lawmakers began taking action on their own.
A bipartisan group of senators of met behind closed doors for a third consecutive day to try to hammer out a compromise. Conferring for more than an hour in the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the 20 senators developed the contours of a path forward for resolving the budget, immigration and other issues. By midafternoon, the group's Democrats and Republicans, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), separately presented the idea to their Senate leaders.
One aspect of any deal has been a guarantee from McConnell to consider immigration legislation in February before DACA expires.
But the GOP whip, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, after speaking with Trump, doubted any promises would be made on immigration. He also defended Trump's hands-off approach of outsourcing the shutdown mess to Congress. "It's not his responsibility," Cornyn said. "He doesn't get to vote on a filibuster. Only the Senate does." The shutdown struck at 12:01 a.m. Saturday when Democrats in the Senate, joined by a handful of Republicans, blocked a House-passed bill to temporarily fund the government for four weeks.
The federal government has been running on a series of four stopgap funding bills since the 2018 fiscal year began Oct. 1 because Congress cannot agree on budget levels.
Republicans, who are the majority in the House and Senate, want increased military funding, and Democrats insist on parity for other federal operations.
The GOP hold on the Senate is slim, just 51 seats, when 60 votes are typically needed to break a filibuster and pass most legislation. So Democrats, who hold 49 seats, used their leverage to demand concessions on budgeting, immigration and other issues. Tops on the Democrats' priority list is legislation to protect the Dreamers. But Republicans want a massive overhaul of immigration law to reduce the flow of legal migrants as well as stem the flow of illegal immigration. Democrats say the White House demands go beyond the outlines of an initial, more limited deal to protect Dreamers in exchange for more border security.
Lawmakers on both sides also want to extend the Children's Health Insurance Program, provide more disaster assistance to states hit hard by hurricanes and wildfires, and focus on other issues that have bipartisan backing. More immediately, they are trying to insulate themselves from voter blowback. Some are promising to donate their congressional salaries during the shutdown and others have introduced bills to ensure some government services — especially pay and benefits for military troops — are not disrupted.
"Shutdowns are just a bad idea," said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who was part of the bipartisan working group. If the shutdown continues, he added, "next week is going to be a building chorus of problems."
Asked who would be blamed, he shrugged, "I don't know — depends on whose pollster you talk to."
BY JAMES M. DORSEY
Self-serving politics threaten not only to strain Pakistan’s relations with the United States, but heighten tensions in the geostrategic region of Balochistan, a vital node in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative that has been earmarked as home for China’s second foreign military base.
Pakistan’s short-sighted political battles are being fought at a time of worsening relations with the US over alleged Pakistani support of militants and concern that the US may withdraw from the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran. This potentially creates a dilemma for China, which is heavily invested in Pakistan with more than US$50 billion committed to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a collection of infrastructure projects. Beijing may freeze further CPEC-related investment until the country’s domestic politics stabilise. So far, China is believed to have invested US$29 billion of its committed US$56 billion.
“Political events in Pakistan have sent China in a watchful mood … I am concerned if we continue to throw surprises to the outside world, then anyone can be forced to rethink their economic investments,” Pakistan’s chief CPEC negotiator, Ahsan Iqbal, told Pakistani daily The News.
Iqbal spoke after the Pakistani military seemingly backed a successful effort to force the resignation of Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, the chief minister of Balochistan, the troubled region that is core to CPEC and contains its crown jewel, the deep-sea port of Gwadar. The removal of Zehri, a member of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), was part of an effort to prevent the PML-N from returning to power in elections scheduled for July.
Zehri’s resignation signalled an end of efforts to drive a wedge between various nationalist Baloch insurgent groups and weaken Islamic militants that have wreaked havoc in Balochistan with attacks on Chinese, Pakistani and Shiite targets. Informal contacts between the Baloch provincial government, the federal government when Sharif was still in office, and Brahmdagh Bugti, a Baloch nationalist living in exile in Switzerland who heads the Baloch Republican Party, had already fizzled when Zehri came to office in late 2015. Nonetheless, he refrained from slamming the door shut. One reason contacts failed was Bugti’s demand that Pakistan fend its military and paramilitary operations against nationalist forces in Balochistan – a resource-rich, population-poor region the size of France that straddles the border with the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan – as a precondition for formal talks. Some militant nationalists refused to endorse his position, but quietly watched whether he would make headway.
The timing of the effort to topple Zehri and foreclose renewed contacts with Baloch nationalist factions could not be more sensitive. It comes against the backdrop of a long history of military support for militant religious groups to counter the nationalists in Balochistan. It also coincides with the military’s use of militants elsewhere to weaken the PMN-L while at the same time refute US allegations that it backs extremists in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.
US President Donald Trump’s administration said this month that it was cutting almost all security aid to Pakistan, believed to total more than US$1 billion, until it deals with militant networks operating on its soil. Pakistan, in response and in advance of a visit by a UN Security Council team to evaluate compliance with its resolutions, has sought to crack down on the fundraising and political activities of Muhammad Hafez Saeed, an internationally designated terrorist accused of having masterminded the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. The crackdown constitutes a double-edged sword. Pakistan and its military needs to be seen to be acting against internationally designated terrorist groups, yet Saeed has been treated over the years with kid gloves. His organisation was allowed to continue operations under multiple guises, and although he was put under house arrest several times, he was never put behind bars. It isn’t clear whether the crackdown by the PMN-L-led federal government of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has the backing of the military. Saeed has recently attempted to move into mainstream politics with the support of the military. The military is motivated not only to keep control over defence, security and foreign policy, “but also give these former militant groups that have served the state a route into the mainstream where their energies can be utilised”, a senior military official said. Saeed headed the militant terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), one of South Asia’s most violent groups.
Associates of Saeed said their participation in this summer’s election was in part designed to prevent the PMN-L from returning to office. “There is little else more patriotic than ensuring the ouster of the Sharifs. Pakistan needs a government that serves Pakistani, not Indian interests,” said Nadeem Awan, a spokesman for Jamat u-Dawa, widely seen as a LeT front headed by Saeed.
Former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf said last month he was discussing an alliance with Milli Muslim League (MML), the political party Saeed is trying to register. Speaking on Pakistani television, Musharraf pronounced himself “the greatest supporter of LeT”. Also last month, the military displayed its political influence and inclinations by mediating an end to a weeks-long blockade of a main artery leading into Islamabad. The blockade was a protest against a perceived softening of the government’s adherence to Islam in a proposed piece of legislation.
All in all, the Pakistani military appears to be embroiled in battles on multiple fronts in a Herculean effort to satisfy target audiences with contradictory demands. Countering the PML-N by supporting religious forces complicates refuting US allegations of support for militants. It also risks escalating violence in Balochistan and enhancing opportunity for external players like the US and Saudi Arabia to use the province as a launching pad for efforts to destabilise Iran, should they opt to travel down that road.
China, despite its concern about Pakistan’s political stability, sees the military’s use of proxies against India as beneficial, yet it also needs stability in Balochistan to secure its massive investment. Pakistan could well be the ultimate loser in institutional battles that appear focused more on vested interests than on resolving issues that have long held the country back, such as extremism, intolerance and a lack of fundamental human rights.
In pursuit of their own interests, neither the US nor China appear willing to help their Pakistani allies look beyond their narrow and most immediate concerns towards the development of policies that would launch the country on a path of security, stability and economic prosperity. ■
By Raza Rumi
In the terror-fighting Pakistan, anyone can be branded as an alleged terrorist or a facilitator.
As a successor of the colonial police force, police departments in South Asia are notorious for their high-handed, brutal methods, especially for what is known as faked “encounter killings.” The Police Order of 1861 drafted by the British in India remains in force. In India, it has not even received the cosmetic name change that Pakistani authorities have undertaken. While every political party in Pakistan has promised to end the’thana culture’, no substantive change has occurred. In fact, the so-called war against terrorism has made things worse, providing yet another excuse to the police to stage extrajudicial killings with further impunity.
The latest case is the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud by Karachi police. Mehsud, a resident of South Waziristan, was an internally displaced person and arrived in Karachi in 2008 to escape insecurity in his native land. He was picked up in early January by the Counter Terrorism Department and his body was found a few days later. The Police had cited Mehsud’s alleged links with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which are easy to forge given the victim’s ethnicity and background. For long, we have equated Pakhtuns with terrorists in popular narratives. Civil society has been protesting across the country and the encounter specialist SSP Rao Anwar has been reportedly removed from his post until the investigation is complete.
War against militancy will not be successful if the state continues to make a mockery of its larger responsibility of ensuring the rule of law. Whether it is profiling of Pakhtuns, viewing IDPs as suspects and giving a free hand to Rangers and Police, more and more Pakistanis will be alienated
Human Rights Watch in its 2017 report “This Crooked System” Police Abuse and Reform in Pakistanhighlighted the continued use of extrajudicial killings in the country. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 2,108 men and seven women were killed in police encounters across Pakistan during 2015. 696 suspects were killed in Karachi alone. Punjab was even worse where 1,191 men and 3 women were killed in police encounters. “An encounter killing occurs when the police justify the killing of a criminal suspect either as an act of self-defense or as a means of preventing suspects from fleeing arrest or escaping from custody…many are faked outright, and are not merely the use of excessive force but an extrajudicial execution”, adds HRW.
The use of extra judicial methods finds some measure of popular support. Shehbaz Sharif, the long time Chief Minister of the Punjab province is known for his proclivity to give Police a free hand for such abuses. Over recent years, Karachi’s law enforcement has adopted this method to’clean-up’ regularly supported by influential voices within the media and political circles. HRW report cited a police officer: ‘Yes, junior officers do stage encounters and kill suspects…They do not consider it a gross violation of human rights and instead see it as an effective way of delivering justice.’And HRW’s investigation showed that’junior’officers more often than not were supported by their seniors to stage such ‘encounters.’
The plain truth is that Pakistan’s ruling elites find in the police a convenient mechanism to advance their political and class-agenda through this brutal colonial instrument. This is why most of the so-called reform efforts have failed. Musharraf’s mega reform drive in early 2000s was reversed when he had to win politicos for his legitimacy. Even the recent reform efforts in provinces do not restructure but tinker at the margins. A fundamental tenet of any such effort has to be police accountability, especially to the citizens. Until that is assured, police excesses will not end. In fact they are likely to increase given the imperative of ‘counter terrorism’ efforts.
The global discourse on War on Terror, eagerly internalized by Pakistan’s security institutions, including the paramilitary and police further justifies such brutal killings. Amnesty International’s 2012 report, The Hands of Cruelty had alerted as to how Pakistan’s security apparatus gained wider powers and more impunity. Ethnic profiling intersects with the state policy. In Karachi and elsewhere, the Pakhtun has been branded as an easy suspect. Since 2014, Pakistan military’s drive against TTP and its affiliates have killed thousands of ‘terrorists’. That is cited as a success. Worse, the Parliament in early 2015 set up the military courts with the intention to deliver quick justice. The record of these courts has been no better than the ordinary ‘civilian’ courts but in the process, due process and the constitutional guarantees of a fair trial have been subverted.
In the terror-fighting Pakistan, anyone can be branded as an alleged terrorist or a facilitator. The best example was Dr Asim, a political associate of former President Asif Ali Zardari who was accused of massive corruption as well as enabling the Al Qaeda militants by giving them medical treatment at his hospital. Once Zardari’s relations with the establishment improved, Dr Asim was released and all terrorism charges were forgotten.
War against militancy will not be successful if the state continues to make a mockery of its larger responsibility of ensuring rule of law. Whether it is profiling of Pakhtuns, viewing IDPs as suspects and giving a free hand to Rangers and Police, more and more Pakistanis will be alienated.
The recent release and whitewashing of Sufi Mohammad, who finds Pakistan’s Constitution and democratic ideals as ‘unIslamic’, is yet another reason to be worried. TTP’s Ehsanullah Ehsan, a self-confessed murderer is already in state custody. Just because he confirms the role of India in terrorism within Pakistan, he may be pardoned.
An overhaul of the criminal justice system is long due and no one seems interested, including the guardians of law and the geographical and ideological frontiers. A security policy without checks on the excesses of Police and Rangers is designed to fail.