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UN rights chief: Reparations needed for people facing racism

UN rights chief: Reparations needed for people facing racism

GENEVA — The U.N. human rights chief, in a landmark report launched after the killing of George Floyd in the United States, is urging countries worldwide to do more to help end discrimination, violence and systemic racism against people of African descent and “make amends” to them — including through reparations.The report from Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, offers a sweeping look at the roots of centuries of mistreatment faced by Africans and people of African descent, notably from the transatlantic slave trade. It seeks a “transformative” approach to address its continued impact today.The report, a year in the making, hopes to build on momentum around the recent, intensified scrutiny worldwide about the blight of racism and its impact on people of African descent as epitomized by the high-profile killings of unarmed Black people in the United States and elsewhere.“There is today a momentous opportunity to achieve a turning point for racial equality and justice,” the report said.The report aims to speed up action by countries to end racial injustice; end impunity for rights violations by police; ensure that people of African descent and those who speak out against racism are heard; and face up to past wrongs through accountability and redress.“I am calling on all states to stop denying — and start dismantling — racism; to end impunity and build trust; to listen to the voices of people of African descent; and to confront past legacies and deliver redress,” Bachelet said in a video statement.While broaching the issue of reparation in her most explicit way yet, Bachelet suggested that monetary compensation alone is not enough and would be part of an array of measures to help rectify or make up for the injustices.“Reparations should not only be equated with financial compensation,” she wrote, adding that it should include restitution, rehabilitation, acknowledgement of injustices, apologies, memorialization, educational reforms and “guarantees” that such injustices won’t happen again.The U.N.-backed Human Rights Council commissioned the report during a special session last year following the murder of Floyd, a Black American who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to 22-1/2 years in prison last week.Protests erupted after excruciating bystander video showed how Floyd gasped repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!” as onlookers yelled at Chauvin to stop pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck.The protests against Floyd’s killing and the “momentous” verdict against Chauvin are a “seminal point in the fight against racism,” the report said.The report was based on discussions with more than 340 people — mostly of African descent — and experts; more than 100 contributions in writing, including from governments; and review of public material, the rights office said.It analyzed 190 deaths, mostly in the U.S., to show how law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for rights violations and crimes against people of African descent, and it noted similar patterns of mistreatment by police across many countries.The report ultimately aims to transform those opportunities into a more systemic response by governments to address racism, and not just in the United States — although the injustices and legacy of slavery, racism and violence faced by African Americans was clearly a major theme.The report also laid out cases, concerns and the situation in roughly 60 countries including Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Colombia and France, among others.“We could not find a single example of a state that has fully reckoned with the past or comprehensively accounted for the impacts of the lives of people of African descent today,” Mona Rishmawi, who leads a unit on non-discrimination at the U.N. human rights office, told a news conference. “Our message, therefore, is that this situation is untenable.”Compensation should be considered at the “collective and the individual level,” she said, while adding that any such process “starts with acknowledgment” of past wrongs and “it’s not one-size-fits-all.” She said countries must look at their own pasts and practices to assess how to proceed.The U.N. report called on countries to make “ amends for centuries of violence and discrimination” such as through “formal acknowledgment and apologies, truth-telling processes and reparations in various forms.”It also decried the “dehumanization of people of African descent” that was “rooted in false social constructions of race” in the past to justify enslavement, racial stereotypes and harmful practices as well as tolerance for racial discrimination, inequality and violence.It cited inequalities faced by people of African descent and the “stark socioeconomic and political marginalization” they face in many countries, including unfair access to education, health care, jobs, housing and clean water.———Follow all AP stories about racial injustice at https://apnews.com/Racialinjustice.

China, Canada spar at UN body over human rights failings

China, Canada spar at UN body over human rights failings

Canada and China have sparred over human rights at the U.N.-backed Human Rights CouncilBy JAMEY KEATEN Associated PressJune 22, 2021, 2:25 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleGENEVA — Canada and 40 other countries on Tuesday urged China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” so independent observers can visit its western Xinjiang region, while a Chinese envoy demanded that Canadian authorities “stop violations of human rights” at home.The mutual finger-pointing, which preceded admissions from Canada’s envoy about shortcomings in her country’s rights record, came in a debate at the Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s top human rights body.The showdown in the largely virtual council session exposed an ongoing rift between the West and allies of China, which has been increasingly pushing back against the criticism of its human rights record.Chinese envoy Jiang Duan inveighed against Canada’s past mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and the recent discovery of the remains of more than 200 children at an Indigenous boarding school in Canada. He called for a “thorough and impartial investigation” into cases of crimes against Indigenous peoples and faulted racism and xenophobia in Canada.“We urge Canada to immediately stop violations of human rights,” he said, adding that U.N. bodies should “keep following the human rights issues in Canada.”“Canada has also repeatedly used human rights as an instrument to promote its political agenda,” Jiang said.Canada presented a statement from 41 mostly Western countries that echoed widespread concerns among human rights groups about detention centers in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities have been held.“We urge China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the High Commissioner,” Canadian ambassador Leslie Norton said, referring to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.Bachelet’s office has been trying since the start of her tenure in 2018 to arrange a visit to Xinjiang and she said Monday she hoped to carry one out by year’s end.Norton cited “credible reports” that over 1 million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang — some facing torture and other “inhuman” treatment — and that Uyghurs and others face disproportionate surveillance and restrictions on their culture.China has insisted the centers are used for training and to help fight terrorism in Xinjiang.The statement from Norton also called for an end to “the arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities,” and also expressed concerns about human rights in Hong Kong and Tibet.China’s statement about Canada was on behalf of several other countries, including Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Iran and Syria.“We acknowledge that Canada has historically denied the rights of Indigenous peoples through assimilationist policies and practices,” said Norton. “We know that the world expects Canada to adhere to international human rights standards. We, too, expect no less of ourselves.”Canada held its National Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrations on Monday.

Debate over Myanmar upends start to UN rights body session

Debate over Myanmar upends start to UN rights body session

The U.N.’s top human rights body opened its latest session and was immediately embroiled in a debate over the representation of Myanmar, where a military coup toppled the civilian government in FebruaryBy JAMEY KEATEN Associated PressJune 21, 2021, 3:04 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleGENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body opened its latest session on Monday and was immediately embroiled in a debate over the representation of Myanmar, where a military takeover toppled the civilian government in February.Western countries said two planned debates about the human rights situation in Myanmar during the Human Rights Council’s 3-1/2 week session should go forward, even without the country represented. But China, the Philippines and Venezuela insisted it should be on hand.The showdown delayed the opening statement to the council from the U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, who aired concerns about human rights in places like China, Mexico, Russia, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia’s Tigray region. She said she hoped to address Myanmar and other rights issues in places like Ukraine, Nicaragua and Iran later during the session.Myanmar hasn’t been represented at the U.N. in Geneva since the civilian government’s ambassador left after the junta took over. The U.N. General Assembly’s credentials committee is facing a decision about which representation of Myanmar will be recognized.“If we exclude the country concerned, this is not fair,” said Ambassador Chen Xu of China, urging the debates on Myanmar to be put off until the council’s next session in September.But Western envoys insisted the rights situation in Myanmar was urgent, notably over alleged rights violations such as those suffered by the Muslim Rohingya minority and — more recently — protesters against the military takeover who have faced a deadly crackdown.“We recognize that we are dealing with an unusual set of circumstances that have not arisen before,” said Rita French, Britain’s international ambassador for human rights. “(But) the reason why two dialogues were mandated just a few months ago is because there is a human rights crisis in Myanmar.”Envoys agreed to maintain the council’s schedule that includes the two debates on Myanmar. But the council president, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji, acknowledged her office would continue to assess whether they would proceed, and said the plans could still change.Pressure has been growing against Myanmar’s military. In a rare move, the U.N. General Assembly on Friday condemned the takeover and called for an arms embargo against the country in a resolution that demanded the restoration of the country’s democratic transition.Bachelet, in her remarks, also expressed concerns about the arrest of 107 people under a new security law in Hong Kong, saying a first trial expected later this week would be an “important test of independence for Hong Kong’s judiciary.”She called on Russia to uphold “civil and political rights” and said she was “dismayed” by new measures that could curb people’s right to express critical views and take part in Russia’s parliamentary election in September.She noted a Russian court decision that labeled an anti-corruption foundation led by opposition figure Alexei Navalny as an “extremist organization” and urged Russian authorities “to end the arbitrary practice” of labelling individuals, journalists and NGOs “as extremist foreign agents or undesirable organizations.”On the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, she lamented “continued reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations and abuses against civilians by all parties to the conflict,” including by Ethiopian government forces.“Credible reports indicate that Eritrean soldiers are still operating in Tigray and continue to perpetrate violations of human rights and humanitarian law,” she said, referring to troops from neighboring Eritrea. She said 350,000 people are threatened by famine.Since mid-May, her office has had staffers in Tigray as part of a joint investigation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission that is expected to finish in August.

Navalny fans protest in Geneva ahead of Putin-Biden summit

Navalny fans protest in Geneva ahead of Putin-Biden summit

A few dozen supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny have staged a colorful, cheeky rally in Geneva in the hope of sending a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of his summit with U.S. President Joe BidenBy JAMEY KEATEN Associated PressJune 15, 2021, 7:51 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleGENEVA — There was a bare-chested man in a Vladimir Putin mask doling out fake bills as mock corruption payments, and a Czech fitness instructor, who endured eight hours of tattooing to put a likeness of Putin critic Alexey Navalny on his chest.They were among a couple of dozen supporters of Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, who staged a colorful, cheeky rally Tuesday on a sunny Geneva square — a day before Putin arrives in the Swiss city for a high-profile summit with U.S. President Joe Biden.Despite the tiny turnout — with possibly more journalists there than demonstrators — the protest was well-orchestrated with banners and gimmicks, in a show of dissent that participants said might garner a crackdown by security forces in Putin’s Russia.U.S. officials have said Biden was expected to discuss the war in Ukraine and human rights in Russia, including Navalny’s case, among an array of topics on the table Wednesday.Across town in recent days, a mural of a smiling Navalny holding his fingers in a heart shape with the words “Hero of our time” in French mysteriously popped up — in reference to a similar mural in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, that was quickly covered up by authorities.At the demonstration, banners called for the liberation of political prisoners generally and for Navalny himself. Protesters chanted for a “Free Russia!”Czech national Petr Pavelec said he had long planned to have his chest tattooed with the likeness of Navalny — and moved it up to last weekend to make the protest.Pavelec said he deeply admired Navalny’s courage.“I believe what he’s doing is not just for Russia, but the rest of the world. This incredible guy sacrificed himself by returning to Russia after being poisoned,” he said. That was a reference to Navalny’s poisoning with a nerve agent similar to Soviet-era Novichok, for which he was transported to Germany for medical care before returning home — only to be arrested.Andrey Zaitsev, a Russian who was one of the protest organizers, said he and colleagues had traveled from Berlin for the rally, and planned to make a film about Putin’s trip to Geneva.“We are the fruits of the labor of Vladimir Putin. If Russia had a working civil society, we wouldn’t even exist as civil activists. We would have a democracy and we would merely be working for the betterment of our society,” he said.“All of us are united in one matter or another, chiefly because of Vladimir Putin,” Zaitsev said.The rally, which took place on a square that the Swiss have authorized for any protests during the summit, marked just one effort to leverage public attention on some of the more hot-button issues that Putin and Biden were likely to address — human rights and arms control among them.Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, highlighted the Treaty on the Prohibition for Nuclear Weapons which the U.S. and Russia have both shunned. She said they account for nearly 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenals.“I think we need to have moderate expectations on success of the meeting itself,” said Fihn, whose group won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. “But hopefully this will set up a process where they can hand over to diplomats to actually start negotiating reductions of nuclear weapons.”Speaking in an interview on a dock across Lake Geneva from the summit site, Fihn insisted that Putin and Biden could “really drive progress” on nuclear weapons reductions.“There’s a lot of issues on the agenda for the U.S. and Russia to discuss, of course,” she said. “But I do think that when it comes to nuclear weapons, it’s really THE issue — because these two individuals have the power to end the world as we know it.”

Geneva regains diplomatic spotlight with Putin-Biden summit

Geneva regains diplomatic spotlight with Putin-Biden summit

GENEVA — A year ago, Geneva was largely down on its diplomatic luck: The Trump administration had an “America First” policy that shunned the internationalism the Swiss city epitomizes, and blasted some of its top institutions like the World Health Organization, the Human Rights Council and the World Trade Organization.That’s all in the past.The lakeside city, known as a Cold War crossroads and a hub for Swiss discretion, neutrality and humanitarianism, returns to a spotlight on the world stage Wednesday as U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin come to town for a summit.It will mark the third time that Geneva has hosted U.S. and Russian leaders’ talks: The first was a multilateral meeting involving U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1955. The second came 30 years later, when President Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev — an important icebreaker that some say paved the way toward the end of the Soviet Union.Both times, the two sides made progress toward defusing tensions. This time, hopes loom for even a modest improvement on the current U.S.-Russia chill over issues like Ukraine, human rights and cyber attacks.Soviet and Russian studies expert Robert Legvold, a professor emeritus at Columbia University, said Geneva hosted crucial U.S.-Soviet talks on strategic nuclear arms control and has had a relatively good track record as a venue where the two countries can cooperate.If there’s any city “where business has been done … it has been Geneva,” Legvold said of the two rival countries.Legvold noted how Eisenhower used the 1955 meeting to launch what became known as the “Open Skies” agreement, which called for U.S. and Soviet militaries to exchange maps to boost transparency and defuse tensions.That eventually led to a treaty in 1992, which let each country carry out surveillance flights over the other’s territory. Under Trump, the U.S. pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty, and the Biden administration announced last month that the U.S. would not rejoin it — alleging repeated Russian violations.Putin has lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century,” and has sought to rebuild Russia’s Soviet-era global clout and prestige. He often has been critical of Gorbachev’s legacy, saying that the U.S. and its Western allies cheated the Soviet Union by pledging not to expand NATO eastward following the reunification of Germany — and then breaking their promise.Today’s Geneva is not the den of Cold War espionage and intrigue that it once was. But while Switzerland has in many ways cleaned up its reputation as a hub for the rich and powerful to squirrel away funds and avoid taxes, experts say many autocrats are still drawn to the discretion and stability of Swiss banking.Nevertheless, the city has painstakingly built a reputation for diplomacy, humanitarianism and multilateralism. The International Red Cross was founded here in 1863 to help victims of conflict. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson helped set up the League of Nations — the U.N. predecessor that the U.S. Congress shunned — to foster dialogue. The Geneva Conventions set rules about humanitarian conduct in war.More recently, Geneva has been home to the United Nations’ European headquarters, its human rights office and scores of U.N.-affiliated bodies, multilateral institutions and humanitarian and advocacy groups — often with U.S. support.Still, in this city of about 200,000 people, Trump casts a long shadow. He pulled the U.S. out of the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council. He criticized the WTO and largely stripped it of its ability to settle trade disputes. Just over a year ago, Trump paused U.S. funding for the WHO and threatened to pull the U.S. out over the health agency’s alleged missteps and kowtowing to China early in the COVID-19 crisis.Biden kept the U.S. in the U.N. health agency and restored U.S. funding.“Certainly, the former situation (under Trump) was threatening … Geneva as a place for multilateral negotiation” as well as its many technical organizations, said Nicolas Levrat, director of the Global Studies Institute at the University of Geneva.He differentiated between Geneva’s lure as a site for face-to-face power diplomacy and its penchant for multilateralism, which the U.S. hasn’t always supported — even before Trump.”(The) Biden administration is not as unilateral as the Trump administration. And it is a very good thing, I think, for global governance (and) for the place of Geneva,” Levrat said. But, he said, the U.S. has “never been a genuine supporter of multilateralism.”Thomas Greminger, a former secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which counts both Russia and the U.S. as participating states, said the choice of Geneva for the summit was “highly symbolic” and hoped it will signal “an important U.S. role” in multilateralism.For Putin and Biden, amid tensions between their two countries, Greminger suggested the summit offers a neutral venue that could help reduce polarization.“Safe spaces are again becoming very important — that is, places where people that are not like-minded can meet, discuss and try to establish bridges,” said Greminger, now director of the Geneva Center for Security Policy. Geneva “has a track record for this.”———Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Swiss narrowly reject tax hike to fight climate change

Swiss narrowly reject tax hike to fight climate change

Exit polls indicate that Swiss voters have narrowly rejected a referendum that would have hiked fees and taxes on fuels that generate carbon dioxideBy JAMEY KEATEN Associated PressJune 13, 2021, 2:12 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleGENEVA — Exit polls on Sunday indicated that Swiss voters appear to have narrowly rejected a proposed “carbon dioxide law” that would have hiked fees and taxes on fuels that produce greenhouse gases.The Alpine country has been experiencing an outsized impact from climate change. Switzerland has faced a rise in temperatures that is twice as fast as the global average, the government says. Greenhouse gases — notably carbon dioxide — are seen as the primary culprit.The proposal would have revised and strengthened an existing law that was aimed at reducing CO2 emissions by 2030. It would have enacted new taxes on CO2-generating fuel and natural gas, as well as on airline tickets.The proposal was rejected by 51% of the vote, Swiss public broadcaster SRF reported. However, local media said not all votes had been counted and the final result was not expected before late Sunday or Monday.The climate proposal was one of several measures that Swiss voters cast their ballots nationwide on Sunday.Critics of the proposal called it ineffective since Switzerland’s carbon-dioxide emissions amount to a mere 0.1% of the global tally.Among other issues on the nationwide ballot was a referendum on the government’s COVID-19 law, which was accepted. It will generate a surge in state spending.Another initiative to improve the quality of drinking water in Switzerland was rejected — it would have made it harder for farmers to get state subsidies if they use some types of pesticides and antibiotics. A ban on the use of pesticides was also rejected.A majority of Swiss voters supported an initiative to grant police enhanced surveillance powers and take preventative actions to help fight terrorism.———Follow all AP stories on climate change issues at https://apnews.com/hub/climate.