18 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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UN investigators publish report detailing evidence for accusation of genocide against Burmese military

Warning: graphic information in this report may upset some readers

UN report calls on Myanmar’s military leaders to be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes.

UN report calls on Myanmar’s military leaders to be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes.
Photograph: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

Horrific accounts of murders, rapes, torture and indiscriminate shelling allegedly committed by the Burmese army against the Rohingya people and other minority groups have been laid out by UN investigators in an extensive new report detailing evidence for their accusation of genocide.

The report from the fact-finding mission, presented to the UN human rights council (UNHRC) on Tuesday, said Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, had committed “the gravest crimes under international law”.

The full 440-page report, a summary of which was released in August, includes accounts of women tied by their hair or hands to trees then raped; young children trying to flee burning houses but forced back inside; widespread use of torture with bamboo sticks, cigarettes and hot wax; and landmines placed at the escape routes from villages, killing people as they fled army crackdowns.

“I have never been confronted by crimes as horrendous and on such a scale as these,” said Marzuki Darusman, the chair of the mission.

The three-person panel said the Tatmadaw had developed a “toxic command climate” in which widespread human rights abuses had become the norm. It called for the army to be brought under civilian oversight, stripped of its quota of parliamentary seats and, if necessary, totally dissolved and rebuilt.

It called for senior Burmese military leaders, including the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, to be prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“Any engagement in any form with the Tatmadaw, its current leadership, and its businesses is indefensible,” the report said.

The investigators and their staff spent 15 months examining the conduct of Myanmar’s military and other armed groups in the states of Rakhine, Shan and Kachin, following years of reports of human rights abuses. They were denied access to Myanmar by the government but interviewed 875 witnesses who had fled the country.

The panel was nearly six months into its mission in August 2017 when Rohingya militants attacked a series of Burmese police outposts with knives and small bombs, triggering army “clearance operations” that forced more than 700,000 members of the Muslim minority group into neighbouring Bangladesh.

More than 1,700 Rohingya are still crossing the border into the Cox’s Bazar district of southern Bangladesh each month, the report said.

It gave a “conservative” estimate that at least 10,000 Rohingya people had been killed in the two months after the army crackdown commenced in August last year, including at least 750 people in the village of Min Gyi, known to the Rohingya as Tula Toli.

Rape and sexual violence were a “particularly egregious and recurrent feature” of the Tatmadaw’s conduct, the report said. It cited eyewitness accounts of Rohingya people who claim to have seen naked women and girls running through forests “in visible distress” and villages scattered with dead bodies with “large amounts of blood … visible between their legs”.

Satellite imagery included in the report showed nearly 400 “whole villages literally wiped off the map”, investigators said.

They noted a buildup of armed forces in Rakhine state in the months leading up to the clearance operations and a sharpening of anti-Rohingya rhetoric, including by civilian leaders. “The human rights catastrophe of 2017 was planned, foreseeable and inevitable,” the report said.

It sharply criticised the UN presence in Myanmar, finding that top officials were loth to pursue a human rights agenda, preferring a “business as usual” approach that prioritised development goals and maintaining access for humanitarian groups.

Some of those who tried to push human rights issues told investigators they were “ignored, criticised, sidelined or blocked in these efforts”, the report said.

Facebook was also singled out by investigators for the ease with which its open platform allowed hate speech and misinformation to spread.

Members of the panel attempted to report a post in which a human rights activist was accused of cooperating with the fact-finding mission and labelled a “national traitor”. One comment under the post read: “If this animal is still around, find him and kill him.”

The panel was told the post did not contravene Facebook guidelines and it was only removed several weeks later with the support of a contact at the social media company.

A Rohingya refugee woman walks with a child in the Balukhali refugee camp in the Bangladeshi district of Ukhia

A Rohingya woman walks with a child in the Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh. Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

Bangladesh and Myanmar have both agreed in principle that the Rohingya refugees sheltering in Cox’s Bazar should return, but the report said repatriation in the current circumstances was out of the question.

“The security forces who perpetrated gross human rights violations, with impunity, would be responsible for ensuring the security of returnees,” it said. “Repatriation in such condition is inconceivable.”

Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s representative to the UN in Geneva, told the council the report lacked “balance, impartiality and fairness”, criticising its reliance on refugee testimony and the reports of NGOs – though the Burmese government did not grant the mission access to the country.

“Not only is this report detrimental to social cohesion in Rakhine state, it also undermines the government’s efforts to bring peace, national reconciliation and development to the entire nation,” he said.

Bangladeshi officials said on Tuesday they were moving ahead with a controversial plan to relocate thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.

“Initially, 50 to 60 Rohingya families will be relocated in the first phase beginning next month,” an official, Habibul Kabir Chowdhury, told Agence France-Presse.

World Politics

United States

The supreme court nominee and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her, have been called to testify

Brett Kavanaugh looks on during his Senate judiciary committee confirmation hearing.

Brett Kavanaugh looks on during his Senate judiciary committee confirmation hearing. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and the woman accusing him of sexual assault have been invited to testify in an extraordinary public hearing that could determine the fate of his confirmation.

Under immense pressure, Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said his panel would hold a hearing next Monday with both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged that he sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers in high school.

“To provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing,” Grassley said in a written statement, as Republican leaders attempt to prevent the accusation from sinking Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Ford’s allegation, made in the Washington Post on Sunday, plunged Kavanaugh’s nomination into uncertainty, delaying a committee vote on his confirmation that had been scheduled for Thursday. But Republicans, including majority leader Mitch McConnell, remained defiant that the process would move forward.

Trump said the nominee “looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation” and stands read to testify as soon as the panel calls him.

Trump defended Kavanaugh earlier on Monday, calling him “one of the finest people I’ve ever known” while saying he did not have a problem with delaying the vote.

“If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” he told reporters. He added: “They’ll go through a process and hear everybody out. I think it’s important.”

Asked if Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw his nomination, Trump did not answer directly, simply responding: “What a ridiculous question.”

Ford, 51, is a research psychologist at Palo Alto University in northern California. Speaking to the Post, she described an incident she said happened when she and Kavanaugh were in high school in the early 1980s.

She alleged that Kavanaugh and a friend – both “stumbling drunk” – corralled her into a bedroom at a party. Kavanaugh then pinned her on a bed, she said, groping her and placing his hand over her mouth. Ford said she was able to escape only when the friend jumped on top of them.

In a statement released by the White House on Monday, Kavanaugh issued a fresh denial of the claims: “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone.

“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am willing to talk to the Senate judiciary committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”

Ford’s lawyer, Debra Katz, told NBC’s Today Show her client was “willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth”.

Republicans hope to confirm Kavanaugh before the midterm elections in November, when their Senate majority could be at risk. But by midday a growing number of Republicans had sought to delay the vote until senators had more time to examine the claims.

Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican on the committee who called for the vote to be delayed, said a public hearing was the “best route forward”.

“Obviously these are serious charges, and if they’re true, I think that they’re disqualifying,” he told reporters.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a senior judiciary committee member and strong Republican supporter of Kavanaugh, said he spoke on Monday to Kavanaugh, who said he was not present at the party where the alleged assault occurred.

Hatch said: “I’ve known him for a long time, he’s always been straightforward, honest, truthful, and a very, very decent man.”

Democrats have called for the FBI to handle the matter by reopening Kavanuagh’s background investigation.

“Republicans and their staff cannot investigate these allegations,” Senate minority leader Charles Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor. “They’ve already said they’re not true.”

Republican leadership meanwhile fumed at Democrats for not previously disclosing this information, during their one-on-one meetings with Kavanaugh or during his confirmation hearing, which drew raucous protests and partisan bickering earlier this month.

“Now – at the 11th hour, with committee votes on the schedule, after Democrats have spent weeks and weeks searching for any possible reason that the nomination should be delayed,” McConnell said in remarks on the House floor.

Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat, received a letter from Ford detailing the allegations in July, in which she asked for complete anonymity. In the interview with the Post, Ford said she decided to come forward publicly only after the allegations – and her identity – began to circulate.

Feinstein and nine other Democrats on the committee have signed a letter demanding that the matter be turned over to the FBI investigate rather than have members’ staff make phone calls.

“In view of the enormity and seriousness of these allegations, a staff-only phone call behind closed doors is unacceptable and Democratic staff will not participate,” the letter said. “This isn’t how things should be done and is in complete violation of how this committee has worked in the past.”

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Lawyer for Brett Kavanaugh sexual assault accuser speaks out – video>>

A new study finds that warming in the Atlantic Ocean is changing rain patterns in the Amazon

Amazon rainforest, Peru.

Amazon rainforest, Peru. Photograph: Bethan John

Global warming means truly global warming. The atmosphere, the oceans, and the ground are all warming. As a result, ice is melting, seas are rising, storms are getting more severe, and droughts are getting worse. But these things are not happening in isolation. The tricky thing about the climate is that things are connected all across the globe. And those connections are revealing changes that may not be obvious at first glance.

One such change was exposed in a recent paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters by a team of top scientists from China and Brazil, an instructive video is available here. The scientists focused their study on the Amazon rainforest. There, the year is broken into “wet” and “dry” seasons. The researchers wanted to know how rainfall has changed during the wet seasons over the past few decades.

What they found was astonishing – the rain in this tropical rainforest has increased 180–600 mm (7–24 inches). They learned about the increase in wet-season rainfall by reviewing old weather data – information from rain gauges for example. They also used satellite measurements to complement the rain gauge readings. The trend they found was clear – the rains are increasing.

So, any good scientist wants to know why. Why are the rains increasing? What is the main cause? By using the results of state-of-the-art climate calculations, the authors showed that the temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are primarily responsible. The Pacific Ocean water temperature plays a smaller role.

This study is really important for a few reasons. First, the Amazon is important for the entire globe’s climate. The rainforest provides about 20% of the Earth’s freshwater. There is a tremendous amount of evaporation from the rainforest into the air. This evaporated water is carried to other parts of the planet where it falls as rain. We call the evaporation/precipitation process a “hydrologic cycle.” This cycle refers to the movement of water throughout the planet; the Amazon is an important engine for the cycle.

But the importance of the Amazon is broader than just water. The growth and decay of wood and plant growth there means the Amazon absorbs and emits large amounts of carbon dioxide. Think of the rainforest like the lungs of the planet. They help the planet breathe.

The Amazon rainforest also helps transfer heat throughout the Earth’s climate. Energy moves from one location to another with help of processes (such as evaporation and condensation) that originate in the Amazon. In these ways, the Amazon connects far-flung parts of the planet together. What happens in one region like the Pacific Ocean affects the climate elsewhere like the Atlantic Ocean. The way the climate interacts between to distant locations is called “teleconnections.” And the Amazon is a great teleconnector for the planet.

Previous researchers who have looked at the Amazon and its changing precipitation have found that the southern part of the rainforest has experienced a long-term increase in rainfall. Researchers have also found changes to the monsoon cycles that affect the rainforest. But with most of these studies looking at the southern Amazon, very little was known about the northern region. What was happening there? Also, most of the early studies looked at changes to rain during the dry season. The authors of this new study wanted to focus on the wet seasons.

The authors used six different methods to look at the data. Three methods were based on actual rainfall measurements. Three additional methods were based on a technique called climate reanalysis – essentially combining measurements and climate calculations. The image below, which is from the paper, shows results for the six methods. The blue regions indicate places where the rainfall is increasing. Areas in orange/red correspond to decreasing rainfall. The results correspond to December through May and the trends are based on 1979–2015.

The general results are the same, regardless of which of the six methods are used. In particular, in the black box (upper left image), the six methods give very similar results. It doesn’t matter whose inputs are used; the rainfall there is increasing. Only one of the methods (MERRA2) results in some portions of the region with a reversed trend.

Next, the authors used their computer calculations to determine what was causing these blue and red patterns. They found that the culprit is the Atlantic Ocean. There has been a very strong warming in the Atlantic, especially off the coast of South America. The warming oceans supercharge the evaporation of ocean water into the atmosphere and change both the amount of water and the amount of energy in the atmosphere. This warming in the Atlantic is responsible for about half of the wet-season precipitation changes in the Amazonian rainforest.

What I liked about this study is that the authors have identified another trend in how we feel climate change. We humans are generally interested in things that affect us. An abstract warming world may not lead us to think about consequences to climate change (other than temperature). But in reality, the whole world is connected. What happens to the temperature in one location can affect other aspects of the climate on the other side of the globe. These teleconnections and their changes resulting from human-caused warming are fascinating.

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