29 Sep

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

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Cartoon credit: Patrick Chappatte, The International Herald Tribune

While limited to only 140 characters, Twitter has helped many to realize just how thin-skinned Republican nominee Donald Trump truly is, and how fast he is to lash out when he feels slighted.  For someone who has proclaimed that his best advisor is himself, the idea of Trump having access to nuclear weapons only a phone call away should give everyone pause. The Onion possibly captures it best, with a (fake) report from the U.N. warning that Trump may be just months away from acquiring nuclear weapons.



World Politics


Macron’s counter-terror bill risks France’s human rights record, say UN experts

Liberty and security ‘under threat’ from bill proposing to end France’s state of emergency by transferring special police powers into permanent law

UN rapporteur Michel Forst warned that the bill risked creating a ‘permanent emergency situation’ in France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

A tough new French counter-terrorism bill could have discriminatory repercussions, especially for Muslims, and puts the country’s human rights record at risk, UN experts have said.

The bill proposed by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is designed to allow France to end its two-year state of emergency by transferring certain exceptional emergency policing powers into permanent law.

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, a special UN rapporteur, said the bill contains provisions that could harm the rights to liberty, security, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

Another UN rapporteur, Michel Forst, warned that the bill, being debated by the French parliament, risked creating a “permanent emergency situation”, handing the state special policing powers without the proper control of judges and the legal system.

Forst told France Inter radio that the first people targeted by the law would be those simply “considered suspect”, including Muslims.

“The UN is watching France on this also because of France’s international impact and standing,” he said. “What France does is not trivial. We want France to do better so it doesn’t inspire bad practice in other countries.”

In a letter to the French authorities, the UN experts warned that the new anti-terrorism bill had a “vague definition of terrorism” that exacerbated fears that “emergency powers could be used in an arbitrary way”.

France has been living under a nationwide state of emergency since Islamic State jihadists struck Paris in November 2015, killing 130 people in a series of attacks on bars, restaurants, the national stadium and a rock gig at the Bataclan concert hall.

The special police powers granted under the state of emergency hark back to the Algerian war in the 1950s. The exceptional measures allow police to conduct house raids and searches without a warrant or judicial oversight, including at night, and give extra powers to officials to place people under house arrest outside the normal judicial process and to close places of worship. They also allow for restrictions on large gatherings.

How to leave the state of emergency, which has been renewed several times since 2015 and is still in effect, was one of the first challenges for Macron, elected as president this year after a runoff against the far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen. Politicians have been wrestling with the problem of how to exit the state of emergency without looking weak while France remains under a terrorist threat.

On Bastille Day last year, the then Socialist president, François Hollande, told the nation he planned to end the state of emergency. But hours later, a truck driver ploughed into crowds on Nice’s seafront, killing 86 people in one of France’s worst terrorist attacks. The state of emergency was not lifted but instead was renewed several times over the following months – despite a parliament security committee questioning the efficiency of the measures.

Macron has vowed to reinforce counter-terrorism laws in order to “organise a well-managed exit from the state of emergency”. He wants to end the state of emergency at the start of November.

But his anti-terrorism bill involves enshrining most of the special emergency police powers into common law, so that exceptional limits to freedoms intended for a special period of time would become the norm. The bill would make permanent certain special policing powers including placing suspects under house arrest, closing places of worship, expanding police “stop-and-search” operations in designated areas. It would also allow house raids and searches – now renamed “house visits” – with what critics say is insufficient judicial oversight.

Macron’s interior minister, Gérard Collomb, called the bill “a lasting response to a lasting threat”. It is expected to be passed in parliament next month.

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United States

The four-day raid, targeting people in cities including LA, San Francisco and New York, was criticized as vindictive against those resisting Trump’s agenda

A Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agent in San Diego, California. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Trump administration’s immigration enforcement division arrested hundreds of people in raids across “sanctuary” cities in recent days, in an operation directly targeting communities that are resisting the president’s aggressive deportation agenda.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) announced Thursday that it had arrested 498 people in a four-day operation and that it was dedicating more resources to the liberal jurisdictions that limit police cooperation with federal agents. The raids, which hit major cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, New York and Philadelphia, sparked harsh criticisms from human rights campaigners who said the arrests were cruel and vindictive and would only hurt public safety by disrupting families and instilling fear in communities.

“Persecuting cities because they are following the constitution and making sure they don’t violate people’s rights takes it down to a new level of low,” said David Leopold, an immigration attorney and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “This makes communities less safe.”

Since he made anti-immigrant policies a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, Trump has repeatedly attacked sanctuary cities, which have regulations preventing local police from enforcing certain immigration laws and restricting law enforcement collaboration with Ice. Some progressive cities like San Francisco have sued the Trump administration over his efforts to withhold federal public safety grant money due as punishment for their sanctuary status.

Trump’s efforts to defund these cities have faced repeated roadblocks in federal courts, with judges across the country defending sanctuary rules. Studies have found that when police stay out of immigration enforcement, there are positive economic impacts and that undocumented people are more likely to report crimes and work with police.

Ice said its “Operation Safe City” arrests targeted people from 42 countries for various “federal immigration violations”, with a focus on regions that deny deportation officers access to jails and prisons or ignore requests to hold immigrants on behalf of Ice. The agency said it prioritized “aliens with criminal convictions, pending criminal charges, known gang members and affiliates, immigration fugitives and those who re-entered the US after deportation”.

Ice said that the arrests did not include Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) recipients, known as “Dreamers”, meaning immigrants brought into the country as children, who were protected by an Obama-era program that Trump recently revoked.

According to Ice’s announcement, 317 of the nearly 500 people arrested had criminal convictions. The list included non-violent offenses such as drug charges, shoplifting, “illegal reentry”, disorderly conduct and fraud. Ice also highlighted specific cases in its press release of immigrants it said had been convicted of serious crimes, including domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Ice added that 18 people arrested were “gang members or affiliates”. The gang designations that Ice has used for deportations under Trump and Obama have been condemned by human rights’ groups, who say they cast a wide net on communities of color with no due process and sometimes very minimal evidence.

Acting director Tom Homan said in a statement that the sanctuary cities are “creating a magnet for illegal immigration”, adding: “As a result, Ice is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”

Research, however, suggests that cities with sanctuary policies have significantly lower crime rates than comparable municipalities. Studies have also found that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes than people born in the US.

“They are throwing out people who are playing by the rules, raising families and paying taxes,” said Leopold. “This is all about instilling fear in the immigrant community”

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UN migration agency says Rohingya Muslims were trying to escape Myanmar when vessel overturned in rough waters

People mourn next to the bodies of relatives after a boat sank in rough seas off the coast of Bangladesh. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

More than 60 people are presumed dead after a boat carrying Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar capsized, the UN migration agency has said.

“Twenty-three people have been confirmed dead … 40 are missing and presumed drowned,” a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) told reporters in Geneva. “The total fatality toll will be in the range of 60,” he said, updating a previous toll of 19.

Survivors of the accident on Thursday told IOM staff that the boat was carrying about 80 people, including 50 children, who were believed to be fleeing violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. The boat overturned in rough waters off Bangladesh.

“Survivors described being at sea all night, having no food,” the IOM spokesman added.

More than half a million minority Rohingya Muslims have fled an army campaign in just a few weeks, escaping from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

The violence, the latest and most deadly upsurge in years of government oppression and communal hatred between Rohingya and Buddhists in Rakhine, exploded on 25 August when Rohingya insurgents attacked army posts.

A ferocious counteroffensive has destroyed more than 200 Muslim villages, which have been shown by satellite imagery to have been burned. Refugees in Bangladesh have recounted horrific stories of rape, mass murder and infanticide.

Bodies of Rohingya children who died when a boat capsized are pictured before a funeral near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Speaking at a damning open session of the United Nations security council on Thursday night, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the conflict had become “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare”.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, lambasted the government of Aung San Suu Kyi for the bloodshed. “We cannot be afraid to call the actions of the Burmese authorities what they appear to be: a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority,” she said. “And it should shame senior Burmese leaders who have sacrificed so much for an open, democratic Burma.”

But Myanmar’s national security adviser U Thaung Tun denied the accusations. “I can assure you that the leaders of Myanmar, who have been struggling so long for freedom and human rights, will never espouse a policy of genocide or ethnic cleansing and that the government will do everything to prevent it,” he said.

He repeated a government line that 50% of Muslim villages in north Rakhine state, the heart of the violence, remain intact.

U Thaung Tun said Myanmar was “concerned by reports that thousands of people have crossed into Bangladesh” but said the country needed to “fathom the real reasons for the exodus”, which he blamed on “terrorists”.

But Masud Bin Momen, Bangladesh’s representative to the UN, said it was evident why people were escaping. “Any individual among the new arrivals would make it known why this exodus is continuing. They all narrate use of rape as a weapon to scare families to leave,” he said.

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When police descended on a cattle ranch deep in the Amazonian rainforest of Pará state, they found workers in thrall to a boss who allegedly made them toil incessantly on pain of death while living without sanitation, beds or electricity

Lúcio de Cassio Vieira’s cattle ranch, in Pará state. The sign reads: ‘Don’t envy me, just work’. Photograph: Fabiano Maisonnave

When labour inspectors and heavily armed police officers finally raided Lúcio de Cassio Vieira’s cattle ranch in the Amazonian rainforest of northern Brazil, they found seven men huddled beneath a makeshift shelter. All were exhausted after labouring all day under the scorching sun.

A large wooden sign, staked in the red earth a few yards away, reminded the men of their most basic duty: “Don’t envy me, just work.” Most of Cassio Vieira’s farm workers were illiterate, but they got the idea. Their boss was a man to fear.

Cassio Vieira allegedly ruled his 560-acre ranch with an iron fist. The workers said he was easily angered, and that he cursed and beat his employees, often threatening to kill them with the gun he carried on his belt. Behind his back, the men called him Lúcio Brabo (Angry Lúcio), or, more simply, Lucifer.

“We worked from Sunday to Sunday, with no rest. If we complained, he said he owned the farm and that he would only calm down if he killed one of us,” one of the workers told the Guardian, which accompanied the police and prosecutors on the raid.

The seven workers were identified as victims of modern-day slavery under Brazilian law. Prosecutors hurried to draw up an arrest warrant for Cassio Vieira. On paper, it was an open and shut case.

But Brazil’s once famously tough anti-slavery laws are being grossly undermined by powerful politicians and business interests. Remote ranches, semi-feudal power structures, impunity and lack of resources have made slavery the grim trademark of Brazil’s $4bn (£3bn) beef export industry, which counts the US, UK and EU among its clients.

The men hired by Cassio Vieira claim they were made to live in shacks that had no running water, sanitation, beds or electricity. They say they had to survive on shreds of meat stored in plastic buckets mixed with brine, working 12-hour days clearing land in searing heat. The men say they were paid infrequently, at salaries far below Brazil’s minimum wage, and that “debts” supposedly owed to their boss were deducted from their income.

“The only thing he didn’t charge us for was the drinking water, because it comes from the rain,” said another worker, who claimed they had all been forced to share their few provisions with farm animals. “We had to drink the water the pigs shit in.”


Lúcio de Cassio Vieira with his wife. Photograph: Fabiano Maisonnave

Following the March raid, the men, ranging in age from 22 to 58, told inspectors that they were all in debt to their boss. None knew by how much, but with salaries of just £35-50 paid to them every three or four months – in violation of Brazil’s monthly minimum wage of £220 – the workers knew they were unlikely ever to pay off Cassio Vieira.

Hidden deep in the state of Pará, where much of the Amazon is protected but rarely enforced by conservation laws, Cassio Vieira’s ranch was so remote that officials and police spent 48 hours driving along bumpy dirt roads trying to find it. Chief labour inspector Raimundo Barbosa, who coordinated the raid, said the farm’s geographical isolation did much to stop the workers from escaping and diminished the likelihood of prying eyes.

“Slave labour is extremely common on cattle ranches out here in southern Pará. But what is exceptional in this case is the savagery with which Lúcio treated his workers,” he added, alluding to the workers’ testimony that they were beaten and threatened with murder.

This wasn’t Cassio Vieira’s first brush with authorities. Five years ago, officials found 15 workers living in conditions of slavery during a raid on another of his cattle ranches. The men had been beaten, threatened, extorted and forbidden from leaving the ranch. One of them was found sleeping in a pigpen.

Brazil’s beef industry has been rocked by a series of scandals over the past six months. In March, 30 meat companies – including Brazil’s largest meatpacker – were revealed to have engaged in fraud, bribery and document falsification to circumvent industry regulations. That same month, 15 slaughterhouses were fined for purchasing cattle raised on illegally deforested land.

According to the NGO Walk Free, an estimated 160,000 people are trapped in some form of slavery in Brazil. More than 50,000 people have been released from conditions of slavery since 1995 – nearly one-third from cattle ranches.

Yet slavers go mostly unpunished by criminal justice. In December, the inter-American court of human rights ordered Brazil to pay £4.1m to 128 former farm workers rescued from conditions of slavery at a cattle ranch in southern Pará, not far from Lúcio’s ranch, between 1988 and 2000. No criminal charges were levelled against the slaver until 2013, when two NGOs brought the case to the international court.

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