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Posts tagged ‘United Nations’

Merkel says UN migrants pact is in Germany’s interest

November 21, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel says it’s in Germany’s interest to support a U.N. agreement on migration that countries such as the United States, Hungary and Poland have rejected. Merkel told lawmakers Wednesday that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration would ensure many of the conditions that already exist in Germany.

German officials hope the non-binding pact, due to be approved next month in Marrakech, Morocco, will reduce the flow of migrants to Germany by ensuring that they can expect humane conditions elsewhere, too.

Merkel used her budget speech to emphasize the importance of international cooperation, noting that Germany owes its revival after World War II in part to multilateral institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations.

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Czech Republic to stay out of UN pact on migration

November 14, 2018

PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech government has decided the country will stay out of a United Nations pact promoting an international approach to safe and orderly migration. Wednesday’s decision comes after Prime Minister Andrej Babis vehemently opposed the document, saying it poses a threat for his country’s security and sovereignty.

Babis has argued the U.N. pact that is the subject of an adoption meeting set for Dec. 11-12 in Marrakech, Morocco, is dangerous even though it’s nonbinding because “it, in fact, defines migration as a basic human right.”

Babis noted that the United States, Austria and Hungary also reject it. The Czech Republic previously refused a European Union plan to assign member states a required number of asylum-seekers to accept.

Austria says it won’t sign UN global migration pact

October 31, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — The Austrian government said Wednesday that it won’t sign a global compact to promote safe and orderly migration, citing concerns about national sovereignty as it joined neighboring Hungary in shunning the agreement.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz took office last December in a coalition with the nationalist, anti-migration Freedom Party. Austria currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, and Kurz has made curbing unregulated migration a priority.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which won’t be legally binding, was finalized under U.N. auspices in July. It is due to be formally approved at a Dec. 11-12 meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said Austria won’t sign the document or send an official representative to Marrakech. They cited, among other things, fears about a possible watering-down of the distinction between legal and illegal migration.

“There are some points that we view critically and where we fear a danger to our national sovereignty,” Kurz said, the Austria Press Agency reported. “Migration is not and cannot become a human right,” added Strache, the Freedom Party’s leader. “It cannot be that someone receives a right to migration because of the climate or poverty.”

In September 2016, all 193 U.N. member states, including the United States under President Barack Obama, adopted a declaration saying no country can manage international migration on its own, and agreed to launch a process leading to the adoption of a global compact in 2018.

But last December, the United States said it was ending its participation in negotiations on the compact, stating that numerous provisions were “inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies” under President Donald Trump.

In July, Hungary said it would withdraw from the process. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said then that the pact was contrary to his country’s interests because while it had some positive aims, like fighting human trafficking, overall it considered migration an unstoppable and positive phenomenon worthy of support.

The compact has 23 objectives that seek to boost cooperation to manage migration and numerous actions ranging from technical issues like the portability of earnings by migrant workers to reducing the detention of migrants.

Austria’s interior minister, Herbert Kickl, denounced what he called “an almost irresponsibly naive pro-migration tone.” Kickl contended that “it is simply not clear whether this pact, if we were to join it, would not at some point or somehow influence our body of law, even by the back door.”

Austria’s opposition criticized the decision. In Brussels, Natasha Bertaud, a spokeswoman for the EU’s executive Commission, said it regrets Austria’s decision and is seeking more details from Vienna.

“We continue to believe that migration is a global challenge where only global solutions and global responsibility-sharing will bring results,” she said at a regular briefing. EU heavyweight Germany reaffirmed its support for the pact, which foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said is “necessary and important.”

Lorne Cook in Brussels and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.

China dismisses criticism about mass detentions at UN

November 06, 2018

GENEVA (AP) — China on Tuesday once again rejected criticism of its treatment of ethnic Muslims, telling the United Nations that accusations of rights abuses from some countries were “politically driven.”

At a regular U.N. review of the country’s human rights record, China characterized the far west region of Xinjiang as a former hotbed of extremism that has been stabilized through “training centers” which help people gain employable skills.

Former detainees of such centers, on the other hand, have described the facilities as political indoctrination camps where ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities are forced to renounce their faith and swear loyalty to the ruling Communist Party.

The U.N. has previously said there are credible reports that as many as 1 million people are being held in this form of extrajudicial detention. At Tuesday’s review — part of the Human Rights Council’s periodic review process for every member state — the U.S., Canada, Japan and several other countries called on Beijing to address growing concerns over its treatment of Xinjiang Muslims.

U.S. charge d’affaires Mark Cassayre urged China to “immediately release the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of individuals” arbitrarily detained in the region. Representatives from both Canada and the U.K. said the country’s human rights situation has “deteriorated.”

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng dismissed the censures. “We will not accept the politically-driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases,” Le said. Yasim Sadiq, the Uighur mayor of Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi, told the session in Geneva that current policies are in line with the people’s wishes. He repeated China’s frequently cited claim that no terrorist attacks have occurred in the region for 21 months, and that “trainees” who were previously “controlled by extremist ideology” have since immersed themselves in cultural and athletic activities at the centers.

Sadiq said visitors are always welcome in Xinjiang, but he did not address requests from several countries to allow independent UN observers inside the region. In recent years, Xinjiang has been outfitted with a high-tech security network , making police checkpoints and surveillance cameras ubiquitous throughout the region.

Human Rights Watch said the U.N. review showed the contrast between Beijing’s view of its human rights records and “the grim realities.” “China’s efforts to whitewash its record have failed to convince a growing number of states who recognize China’s deliberate and systemic abuses, and suppression of dissenting voices, can no longer be ignored,” John Fisher, the organization’s Geneva director, said in an emailed statement.

About 500 people, including ethnic Uighurs but also pro-Tibet demonstrators, marched through Geneva before holding a boisterous, colorful rally at Geneva’s landmark three-legged chair outside the U.N. offices.

Chanting “Shame on China” and accusing its government of tyranny and “terrorist” repression, the demonstrators waved light-blue flags representing East Turkistan — some Uighurs’ preferred name for Xinjiang — and held aloft photos of loved ones who have gone missing or were taken into custody by Chinese authorities.

Wang reported from Beijing.

Koreas, UN finish removing firearms from border village

October 25, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The rival Koreas and the U.S.-led U.N. Command finished removing firearms and troops from a jointly controlled area at a border village on Thursday, as part of agreements to reduce decades-long animosity on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea separately announced that its troops found what it believes are Korean War remains in another front-line area where they have been clearing land mines with North Korean soldiers. The rival Koreas plan their first-ever joint searches for war dead there after their demining work is done.

Disarming the Joint Security Area at the border village of Panmunjom and the joint searches are among a package of deals the Koreas’ defense ministers struck on the sidelines of their leaders’ summit last month. Other steps include creating buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border, as well as removing some of their front-line guard posts.

On Thursday, the Koreas and the U.N. Command completed a removal of weapons, ammunition and soldiers manning guard posts at Panmunjom’s Joint Security Area, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. The three sides earlier finished removing mines from the village.

The three sides will jointly verify their disarmament work on Friday and Saturday. Under the September deals, the two Koreas are to let 35 “unarmed personnel” from each side guard the Joint Security Area and let tourists freely move around there.

The area symbolizes the Koreas’ seven decades of division. It’s where an armistice was signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Rival soldiers have faced each other only meters (feet) apart in the zone, which has been the scene of numerous incidents of bloodshed and violence. It is also a venue for talks and a popular tourist destination.

Soldiers and visitors were previously allowed to move freely inside the area, but the 1976 ax-killing of two American troops by North Korea at Panmunjom led to the creation of ankle-high concrete slabs that mark the border there.

The Koreas are split along the 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) -wide border called the Demilitarized Zone that was originally created as a buffer. But unlike its name, the DMZ is now the world’s most heavily fortified border. An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.

Officially, the entire DMZ area, including Panmunjom, is jointly overseen by North Korea and the U.N. Command. About 28,500 U.S. troops are deployed in South Korea to deter possible aggression from North Korea.

The Defense Ministry said earlier Thursday that its troops found what they believe are two sets of human remains at another DMZ spot. It was the first such discovery since South Korea began the joint demining work with North Korea on Oct. 1 at a place where one of the heaviest Korean War battles took place.

According to the ministry, a bayonet, bullets and a South Korean army identification tag with the name “Pak Je Kwon” were found along with the remains. Military records show Pak was a sergeant first class who died in a battle in 1953 in the final weeks of the Korean War.

Pak has two surviving sisters and authorities will take their DNA samples to find out if parts of the bones belong to him. During a media visit to the site, South Korean soldiers wrapped a piece of bone in white paper and put it into a wooden box. They later wrapped the box with a national flag, placed it on a small table and offered a shot of liquor before they paid a silent tribute.

“Sgt. 1st Class Pak Je Kwon has come back to us. It’s been 65 years since he died in battle. Now, we can offer up a shot of soju (Korean liquor)” to him, South Korean President Moon Jae-in tweeted. The area, known as Arrowhead Hill, is where South Korean and U.S.-led U.N. troops repelled a series of Chinese attacks to secure a strategically important hilltop position. South Korea said the remains of an estimated 300 South Korean, French and U.S. soldiers are believed to be in the area. The remains of a large number of Chinese and North Korean soldiers are also likely there.

The Korean War left millions dead or missing, and Seoul officials believe the remains of about 10,000 South Korean soldiers alone are still inside the DMZ. September’s agreements received strong criticism from conservatives in South Korea that Moon’s government made too many concessions that will eventually weaken the country’s military strength at a time when North Korea’s nuclear threat remains unchanged. Moon, a liberal who wants greater ties with North Korea, has facilitated a series of high-profile U.S.-North Korean talks, including a June summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, to address the standoff over Kim’s nuclear program.

Associated Press video journalist Yong Jun Chang at Arrowhead Hill in Cheorwon, South Korea, contributed to this report.

UN investigator: Genocide still taking place in Myanmar

October 25, 2018

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Genocide is still taking place against Rohingya Muslims remaining in Myanmar and the government is increasingly demonstrating it has no interest in establishing a fully functioning democracy, U.N. investigators said Wednesday.

Marzuki Darusman, chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar, said thousands of Rohingya are still fleeing to Bangladesh, and the estimated 250,000 to 400,000 who have stayed following last year’s brutal military campaign in the Buddhist-majority country “continue to suffer the most severe” restrictions and repression.

“It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place at the moment,” he told a news conference Wednesday. Darusman said the requirements for genocide, except perhaps for killings, “continue to hold” for Rohingya still in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. These include causing serious bodily harm, inflicting conditions designed to destroy the Rohingya, and imposing measures to prevent births, he said.

Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Hau Do Suan, called the fact-finding mission “flawed, biased and politically motivated” and said the government “categorically rejects” its inference of “genocidal intent.” Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special investigator on human rights in Myanmar, said she and many others in the international community hoped the situation under Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi “would be vastly different from the past — but it is really not that much different from the past.”

Lee added later that she thinks Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former political prisoner who now leads Myanmar’s civilian government, “is in total denial” about accusations that the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar raped, murdered and tortured Rohingya and burned their villages, sending over 700,000 fleeing to Bangladesh since August 2017.

“The government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no interest and capacity in establishing a fully functioning democracy where all its people equally enjoy all their rights and freedoms,” Lee said. “It is not upholding justice and rule of law” that Suu Kyi “repeatedly says is the standard to which all in Myanmar are held.”

If this were the case, she said, fair laws would be applied impartially to all people, impunity would not rein, “and the law would not be wielded as a weapon of oppression.” Suu Kyi’s government has rejected independent international investigations into the alleged abuses of Rohingya and has commissioned its own probe. The government has also rejected the report by the fact-finding mission, which said some top military leaders should be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya.

“The Myanmar government’s hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle,” Darusman told reporters. “Its continued denials, its attempts to shield itself under the cover of national sovereignty and its dismissal of 444 pages of details about the facts and circumstances of recent human rights violations that point to the most serious crimes under international law” strengthens the need for international action because “accountability cannot be expected from the national processes,” he said.

Darusman and Lee spoke ahead of a Security Council meeting that began with a vote on whether Darusman should be allowed to brief members. He was given a green light with the minimum nine “yes” votes from the U.S., Britain, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Peru and Poland. China, which is Myanmar’s neighbor and ally, Russia and Bolivia voted “no” and Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan abstained.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused supporters of the briefing of “torpedoing consensus” in the council and forcing council members “to engage in loud-speaker diplomacy.” He said the fact-finding mission didn’t go to Rakhine state, called its report “too biased,” and said the international community should help Myanmar and Bangladesh resolve the Rohingya refugee problem.

Chinese Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu later echoed Nebenzia, calling the report’s conclusions “lopsided” and “not credible” and saying the international community should work on returning the refugees. Lee stressed that their “repatriation is not possible now.”

“I will not encourage any repatriation,” the U.N. envoy said. “Conducive conditions means they should not go back to … the oppressive laws, the discrimination. The minimum they need is freedom of movement, access to basic health services.”

Lee said “there’s been a lot of progress in terms of economic development and infrastructure, but in the area of ‘democratic space’ and people’s right to claim back their land … there is no progress.”

“Right now, it’s like an apartheid situation where Rohingyas still living in Myanmar … have no freedom of movement,” Lee said. “The camps, the shelters, the model villages that are being built, it’s more of a cementing of total segregation or separation from the Rakhine ethnic community.”

At the council meeting, Darusman said the fact-finding mission concluded that last year’s events were “a human rights catastrophe that was foreseeable and planned,” and it conservatively estimates there were “10,000 Rohingya deaths.”

“Remaining Rohingya in Rakhine state are at grave risk,” he said, and returning Rohingya from Bangladesh would be “tantamount to condemning them to life as sub-humans and further mass killing.” Darusman said the Security Council should the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or another international tribunal and also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar, a ban on transactions with all military-related enterprises and sanctions against those alleged to be most responsible for atrocities against the Rohingya.

“There can be no ‘moving on’ from this crisis without addressing its root causes — all of which continue to exist today, primarily the presence of an unaccountable military that acts with complete impunity,” he said.

The Netherlands’ deputy U.N. ambassador, Lise Gregoire Van Haaren, said her government will push quickly for a Security Council resolution that would refer Myanmar to the ICC. But council action appeared highly unlikely because of its deep divisions and almost certain opposition from China and Russia, both veto-wielding council members.

“I’m very aware that there might be pushback, but having pushback is never a reason not to try,” Van Haaren said. “So we are going to have a really ambitious aim for the negotiations” on a possible resolution “and let’s see where we get.”

Myanmar’s Suan said the Independent Commission of Inquiry established by the government will investigate alleged human rights violations, and “we will never accept any calls for referral of Myanmar to the ICC.”

They said it: Leaders at the UN, in their own words

September 27, 2018

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Lots of leaders saying lots of things about lots of topics — topics that matter to them, to their regions, to the world. That’s what the speechmaking at the U.N. General Assembly invariably produces each year. And each year, certain enormous topics and certain louder voices dominate.

Here, The Associated Press takes the opposite approach and spotlights some thoughts you might not have heard — the voices of leaders speaking at the United Nations who might not have captured the headlines and the air time on Wednesday.

“We depend on each other, whether we like it or not.”

— Kersti Kaljulaidm, the president of Estonia.

“My country has finally turned the corner, with more years of peace than the preceding years of war. … But a nation which has experienced civil war must never take peace for granted, or forget the long shadow that years of conflict still cast over people’s lives. We must realize and appreciate that ours is still a fragile peace.”

— Liberian President George Manneh Weah, a former soccer star, who won his nation’s presidency by a large margin this past January in Liberia’s first independently run election since the end of its civil wars. The U.N. wrapped up a 15-year peacekeeping mission in Liberia at the end of March.

“Today, it seems that playing by the rules has become old-fashioned — as if ignoring them was a sign of strength, and respect a sign of weakness.”

— Andrej Kiska, president of Slovakia.

“To those countries experiencing conflict situations, we appeal to them to come up with homegrown solutions to address their differences. We urge these nations to avoid the use of force in an attempt to impose change. Where they do not see eye to eye, they need to adopt dialogue as the best way to find lasting solutions. Where there is no loss of blood, unity prevails, whereas violence begets instability.”

— King Mswati III of Eswatini, a tiny African nation that was known as Swaziland until it renamed itself earlier this year.

“We do not think that a nation needs to remain poor or become poor for others to become prosperous. We believe that there is room, and there are enough resources on this planet for us all to be prosperous.”

— Nana Akufo-Addo, president of Ghana.

Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz and Maria Sanminiatelli contributed to this report.

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