05 Jan

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

French farmer’s trial puts rebel valley helping migrants in spotlight

© Marco Bertorello, AFP | Nestled in between the craggy ridges of the Maritime Alps, the Roya Valley has become a haven, albeit a temporary one, for migrants desperate to cross the border between Italy and France.

Text by Mehdi CHEBIL , Benjamin DODMAN

The trial of a French farmer accused of helping migrants slip across the border from Italy, which opened in Nice on Wednesday, has drawn attention to residents of an Alpine valley who claim it is their civic duty to help those in need.

Cédric Herrou, 37, faces up to five years in prison, and 30,000 euros in fines, on charges of helping migrants to illegally enter France, and dwell and travel in the country.

Unapologetic about his actions, Herrou says he is merely doing his civic duty by providing food, shelter and other aid to migrants fleeing war and poverty – and making up for the shortcomings of public authorities.

The trial of a French farmer accused of helping migrants slip across the border from Italy, which opened in Nice on Wednesday, has drawn attention to residents of an Alpine valley who claim it is their civic duty to help those in need.

Cédric Herrou, 37, faces up to five years in prison, and 30,000 euros in fines, on charges of helping migrants to illegally enter France, and dwell and travel in the country.

Unapologetic about his actions, Herrou says he is merely doing his civic duty by providing food, shelter and other aid to migrants fleeing war and poverty – and making up for the shortcomings of public authorities.

“I don’t mind appearing before a judge, but I want the authorities to do so too,” he told France Info radio hours before appearing in court, accusing the French state of failing in its moral duty to help those in need.

“I prefer to be jailed as a free man than to live closing my eyes and plugging my ears,” Herrou added.

It is a view shared by the hundreds of activists and sympathisers who rallied near the Nice court house on Wednesday, in support of the farmer.

Many of them, like Herrou, hail from the nearby Roya Valley, which has emerged as a sanctuary for migrants from stricken African countries, in defiance of French law and government policy.

The Roya Valley

Nestled in between the craggy summits of the Maritime Alps, the Roya Valley stretches along the border between France and Italy, just north of the Italian frontier town of Ventimiglia and the Riviera’s famed beaches.

Since the French government reintroduced border controls two years ago, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants, thousands have amassed in and around Ventimiglia, waiting for a chance to cross into France.

Non-white travelers are routinely stopped, and pulled from cars or trains if they don’t have the right documents. They are mostly Eritrean, Sudanese or Chadian, many of them children.

With police patrolling road and rail links along the coast, around the clock, the Roya has become an alternative route for those hoping to go undetected.

But it is also a bottleneck. The road going north, away from the coast, eventually leads back into Italy. To move deeper into France, migrants have to head west, climbing above barren ridges, where the few roads are also watched by police.

Challenging the law

For the past two years, Herrou and other local residents have been helping migrants along the way, providing food and shelter, tending to their wounds, teaching them a little French, and offering lifts to nearby towns.

Unlike the dozens of smugglers who have been arrested in the area, Herrou and his accomplices make no profit in return.

But their actions still place them in potential conflict with French law, which bans all assistance to illegal migrants unless it is deemed necessary to protect “their dignity and physical integrity”.

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US politics >>

Ted Cruz, Dean Heller and Marco Rubio unveiled the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, a plan backed by Donald Trump but likely to ignite protests

Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem and nominated a US ambassador who shares that view.

Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem and nominated a US ambassador who shares that view. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Three Republican senators have introduced legislation to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, a plan backed by Donald Trump but likely to ignite fierce protests.

After being sworn into the 115th Congress in Washington, Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada and Marco Rubio of Florida unveiled the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act.

Similar moves by Republican majorities over the past two decades have come to nought, but this time they have a sympathetic president-elect in Trump. He has repeatedly pledged to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem and nominated a US ambassador who shares that view.

Critics warn that the move could unleash a wave of violence and further rattle the Israel-Palestine peace process and the future of a two-state solution.

Cruz, runner-up to Trump in the Republican presidential primary, said on Tuesday: “Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s vendetta against the Jewish state has been so vicious that to even utter this simple truth – let alone the reality that Jerusalem is the appropriate venue for the American embassy in Israel – is shocking in some circles.

“But it is finally time to cut through the double-speak and broken promises and do what Congress said we should do in 1995: formally move our embassy to the capital of our great ally Israel.”

A statement from Heller said that some state department funds would be withheld until the embassy was relocated. He said: “For years, I’ve advocated for America’s need to reaffirm its support for one of our nation’s strongest allies by recognising Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

“It honors an important promise America made more than two decades ago but has yet to fulfill. While administrations come and go, the lasting strength of our partnership with one of our strongest allies in the Middle East continues to endure.

Rubio added: “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel, and that’s where America’s embassy belongs. It’s time for Congress and the president-elect to eliminate the loophole that has allowed presidents in both parties to ignore US law and delay our embassy’s rightful relocation to Jerusalem for over two decades.”

The US embassy has been located on Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Street for half a century. US state department policy has long held that the status of Jerusalem will only be determined in final talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Although the US Congress passed a law ordering the move to Jerusalem in 1995, every president since then has exercised a six-month waiver to prevent it taking place, usually citing “national security concerns”. Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official and peace negotiator, warned last month that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would result in the “destruction of the peace process as a whole”.

But David Friedman, the pro-Israel hardliner Trump nominated as his ambassador to Israel, has said he looks forward to serving in Jerusalem. Israel’s ambassador to the US has described the move of the embassy as a “great step forward to peace” and something that “should have happened a long time ago”.

Last month Obama angered Israel – and Trump – by allowing a UN security council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction to be adopted.

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Girls as young as seven found carrying bricks on their head in southern state of Telangana, say police

A brick kiln in India

A brick kiln in India. Nearly 200 children have been found working at a site in the southern state of Telangana. Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP

Indian police have rescued nearly 200 children, most of them under 14, who were found working in a brick kiln, officials said on Wednesday.

The children were rescued in the Yadadiri district in Telangana, 40km from state capital Hyderabad, as part of Operation Smile, a national campaign to tackle child labour and missing children.

The rescued children had moved from the eastern state of Odisha and were living and working with adults presumed to be their parents in the brick kiln, police said. “We are not sure if the parents are genuine and there is a possibility that some of the children were trafficked,” police commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat said.

“The rescue teams spotted girls as young as seven and eight carrying bricks on their head. Some of the children were as young as four.“

In 2015, the International Labour Organization (ILO) put the number of Indian child workers aged between five and 17 at 5.7 million, out of 168 million globally. More than half work in agriculture and over a quarter work in the manufacturing sector, the ILO said.

P. Achyuta Rao, member of a local state body responsible for protecting children’s rights, said Telangana and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh had become hubs for child trafficking and child labour. “Last year more than 3,000 children were rescued, many from brick kilns and others from domestic servitude. In all cases, the children were from eastern India,” said Rao of the Telangana State Commission.

Many migrant children end up working alongside their parents because of a lack of schools and teachers who can provide lessons in their local language, campaigners say.

Local officials said they would investigate why the rescued children had not been enrolled in a nearby primary school.

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Israeli PM says manslaughter verdict handed to Sgt Elor Azaria for killing a Palestinian attacker is ‘painful for all of us’

This amateur footage released by Israeli rights group B’Tselem shows the moment an Israeli soldier appears to shoot dead a wounded Palestinian man who moments before had attacked another soldier. The video was recorded on Thursday morning in the city of Hebron on the West Bank


The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has joined calls for an Israeli soldier to be pardoned after being convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a severely wounded Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron last year.

As soon as the verdict was handed down on Wednesday at the end of one of the country’s most polarising court cases in recent memory, there were calls from Israeli ministers demanding that Sgt Elor Azaria, an army medic who was 19 at the time of the shooting, be granted an immediate pardon by the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, as others accused the Israeli military of abandoning the soldier.

In a short statement, Netanyahu said: “This is a difficult and painful day for all of us – and first and foremost for Elor and his family, for IDF soldiers, for many soldiers and for the parents of our soldiers, and me among them.

“We have one army, which is the basis of our existence. The soldiers of the IDF are our sons and daughters, and they need to remain above dispute.”

The three-judge military court sitting in Tel Aviv said Azaria had acted outside the military’s rules of engagement when he killed Abdel Fattah al-Sharif by shooting him in the head as he lay on the ground, shortly after Sharif and another Palestinian had stabbed and wounded a soldier at an Israeli military checkpoint.

Reading for more than two hours from the verdict, the chief judge, Col Maya Heller, said Azaria shot Sharif out of revenge. The court ruled that accounts of the incident that he had given were “unreliable and problematic” and his defence contradictory and flawed.

“We found there was no room to accept his arguments,” she said. “His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die.”

The other Palestinian involved in the knife attack was shot and died immediately, but Sharif was still alive, badly injured and posing no threat when Azaria shot him, the judges ruled.

As the verdict was read out, Azaria’s mother shouted at the panel of judges: “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Other members of Azaria’s family clapped as the decision was delivered, shouting: “Our hero!”

Outside the court there were clashes between Azaria’s supporters – some notorious fans of Beitar football club, which is known for its anti-Arab followers – and the police. Some supporters chanted death threats against the Israeli army chief, Gadi Eisenkot, insinuating he would face the same fate as Yitzhak Rabin, the former

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Illustration by Eva Bee

Illustration: Eva Bee

As I write, president-elect Donald Trump – soon to become the most powerful individual on Earth – is having a tantrum on his Twitter feed. Losing the popular vote can have devastating consequences for a bigoted plutocrat’s ego, and accusations that Vladimir Putin’s regime intervened to his advantage are getting him down. “The ‘intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday,” he claims (falsely, apparently), “perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Did Putin intervene in the US election? It is entirely plausible, although evidence from the CIA (with its dubious record) and the FBI needs to be carefully scrutinised, whatever our feelings on Trump. And if the Democratic establishment pin the supposedly unthinkable calamity of Trump’s triumph on a foreign power, they will fail to learn the real lessons behind their defeat.

That doesn’t mean alleged interference by the Russian regime shouldn’t be taken seriously. Putin heads a hard-right, kleptocratic, authoritarian government that persecutes LGBT people, waged a murderous war in Chechnya, and has committed terrible crimes in Syria in alliance with Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship. It is a pin-up for populist rightwingers across the west, from Trump to Ukip, from France’s Front National to Austria’s Freedom party. Its undemocratic manoeuvres should be scrutinised and condemned.

But while Americans feel justifiably angry at alleged interference with their political process, they have also been handed a mirror, and the reflection should disturb them.

For the US is a world leader in the field of intervening in the internal affairs of other countries. The alleged interference is far more extensive than hacking into emails belonging to unfavoured political parties. According to research by political scientist Dov Levin, the US and the USSR/Russia together intervened no less than 117 times in foreign elections between 1946 and 2000, or “one out of every nine competitive, national-level executive elections”.

Indeed, one cannot understand US-Russian relations today without acknowledging America’s role in the internal affairs of its defeated cold war foe. As Stephen Cohen puts it, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the approach of US advisers “was nothing less than missionary – a virtual crusade to transform post-communist Russia into some facsimile of the American democratic and capitalist system”.

As soon as Bill Clinton assumed the White House in 1993, his experts discussed “formulating a policy of American tutelage”, including unabashed partisan support for President Boris Yeltsin. “Political missionaries and evangelists, usually called ‘advisers’, spread across Russia in the early and mid-1990s,” notes Cohen: many were funded by the US government. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser, talked of Russia “increasingly passing into de facto western receivership”.

The results were, to put it mildly, disastrous. Between 1990 and 1994, life expectancy for Russian men and women fell from 64 and 74 years respectively to 58 and 71 years. The surge in mortality was “beyond the peacetime experience of industrialised countries”. While it was boom time for the new oligarchs, poverty and unemployment surged; prices were hiked dramatically; communities were devastated by deindustrialisation; and social protections were stripped away.

To the horror of the west, Yeltsin’s popularity nosedived to the point where a communist triumph in the 1996 presidential elections could not be ruled out. Yeltsin turned to the oligarchs, using their vast resources to run an unscrupulous campaign. As Leonid Bershidsky puts it, it was “a momentous event that undermined a fragile democracy and led to the emergence of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorial regime”. It is even alleged that, in 2011, Putin’s key ally – then-president Dmitry Medvedev – privately suggested the election was rigged. In the run-up to the election, Russia was granted a huge US-backed IMF loan that – as the New York Times noted at the time – was “expected to be helpful to President Boris N Yeltsin in the presidential election”.

Yeltsin relied on US political strategists – including a former aide to Bill Clinton – who had a direct line back to the White House. When Yeltsin eventually won, the cover of Time magazine was “Yanks to the rescue: The secret story of how American advisers helped Yeltsin win”.

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