Rodrigo Duterte to pull Philippines out of international criminal court

President accuses ICC of crusade against him after it opened inquiry into his war on drugs

Rodrigo Duterte is to withdraw the Philippines from the international criminal court after it opened a crimes against humanity investigation into his brutal war on drugs.

In a lengthy statement, the Philippines chairman accused the ICC and the UN of a crusade against him, denouncing what he described as” baseless, unprecedented and outrageous assaults on my person “.

” I therefore declare and forthwith give notice, as president of the republic of the Philippines, that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of the Rome statute[ the treaty that established the ICC] effective immediately ,” said Duterte.

The ICC announced last month it was investigating allegations that Duterte had committed crimes against humanity in his war on drugs, which has killed an estimated 8,000 people since he took office in May 2016.

Duterte initially said he welcomed the chance to defend his name. But on Wednesday he said the ICC had shown a” brazen ignorance of the law” and claimed that the Rome statute was fraudulently implemented in the Philippines to begin with and therefore not” effective or enforceable “.

Philippine legislators satisfied the proclamation with scorn and rage. Congressman Antonio Tino said the move was ” utterly self-serving and driven by sheer panic at the prospect of a trial before the ICC for criminal offences against humanity related to his murderous war on narcotics “. Tino added:” Saving his own scalp has taken precedence over the long-term commitment made by the Philippines state to human rights .”

Kabataan party representative Sarah Elago said it showed that” Duterte intends to impose his fascist and tyrannical propensities even against international critics “.

” Only the guilty become too eager to run away from prosecution ,” Elago added.” If indeed he wants to prove his innocence, what better platform than a court ?”

Relations between the Philippines and the international community have become increasingly antagonistic in recent weeks. Last week, the department of justice included a UN special rapporteur on a listing of people declared to be communist terrorists. In response, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, told Duterte” needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric examination “.

In his statement on Monday, Duterte told Hussein’s comments were clear evidence of” international bias” and that the ICC was ” being utilised as a political tool against the Philippines “.

He also described the ICC’s inquiry- which involves looking into a 77 -page report submitted to it last year that allegedly documents Duterte’s crimes against humanity going back to 1988 when he was mayor of Davao- as” unduly and maliciously generated “.

When the Philippines ratified the Rome statute in 2011- nine years after it came into force- it was seen as a big step forward for human rights in Asia. The country’s withdrawal will be seen as a jolt for international accountability of the states of the region. The ICC, based in The Hague, is the world’s only permanent international tribunal that looks into war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Duterte has stimulated his contempt for the ICC well-known in the past, calling it “bullshit”, ” hypocritical” and “useless”, but in his statement on Wednesday, he went further, accusing the court of violating its own due process and depriving him of the interests of innocence until proven guilty.

Should the ICC’s preliminary investigations find evidence of crimes against humanity, the Philippines’ sudden withdrawal from the statute would not protect Duterte from being put on trial. A country’s withdrawal from the ICC takes effect a year after the UN has received the application and article 127 of the Rome statute specifies that” withdrawal shall not affect any cooperation with the court in connection with criminal investigations “.

James Gomez, Amnesty International’s south-east Asia director, described Duterte’s move as misguided and deeply regrettable.” Powerful people in the Philippines are more interested in covering up their own potential accountability for killings than they are in ensuring justice for the many victims of the country’s brutal war on medications ‘,” Gomez said.

There are 139 countries signed up to the Rome statute, but with some powerful exceptions. The US signed the treaty in 2000 but never ratified it, citing fears over sovereignty, similarly with Russia. Israel signed it for a short period but also never ratified it into law.

Should the UN accept Duterte’s withdrawal, it would build the Philippines only the second country to withdraw from the Rome statute, following Burundi in 2017. South Africa attempted to leave in 2016, but its withdrawal was revoked by the UN.

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2017 was the deadliest year of Syrian war for children, says Unicef

Report advises generation faces psychological wrecking, with most vulnerable the hardest hit

A generation of Syrian children face psychological ruin and ever increasing peril, with child deaths rising by 50% last year and the number of young soldiers tripling since 2015.

A report by Unicef saw 2017 was the worst year of the war for young Syrians, with 910 killed in a conflict that has spared them no mercy and has taken a vastly disproportionate toll on the country’s most vulnerable people.

The figures undermine claims that the war, which will soon enter its eighth year, is losing steam. Those most at risk face escalating menaces of being permanently maimed by opposing, or emotionally scarred by a litany of abuses including forced labor, matrimonies, food scarcity and minimal access to health or education.

” There are scars in children and there are scars on children that will never be erased ,” said Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s director for the Middle East and north Africa.” The protection of children in all circumstances that was once universally embraced- at no moment have any of the parties accepted .”

Syrian children in numbers

More than 13 million people inside Syria need humanitarian assistance, more than half of whom are children, the UN says. Of the 6.1 million internally displaced, roughly half( 2.8 million) are children. Figures for last year depict an average of 6,550 people were displaced each day in Syria.

During the first months of 2018 there has been a sharp escalation in violence in Idlib, eastern Ghouta on the suburbs of Damascus and in Afrin on the Turkish perimeter. The Syrian regime and Russia have been besieging Idlib and east Ghouta, while Turkey and a proxy Arab force launched an offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in January. There also remains a lethal threat from mines and unexploded bombs left over from opposing in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

In eastern Ghouta a besieged population of nearly 420,000 people, half of whom are children, are suffering a month of airstrikes from Russian and Syrian jets, which are attempting to oust opponent fighters and the communities that support them from Damascus’s doorstep. Calculated death tolls in Ghouta range from 1,000 to 1,300 people. Children are thought to account for at least several hundred casualties.

Reaching children in need has been relentlessly difficult, the UN has said, with requests to deliver aid to opponent communities routinely denied and convoys allowed to enter often stripped of essential medicines. Humanitarian access was denied 105 times in 2017 alone- a year marked by sieges of east Aleppo and east Ghouta, which had both been strongholds of the anti-Assad opposition throughout the war.

Healthcare facilities, including hospitals and ambulance basis, have been repeatedly targeted in eastern Ghouta, recurring a pattern set elsewhere in Syria. In opposition-held east Aleppo, the healthcare network was destroyed before the area was overrun by pro-regime forces-out in late 2016. Last year alone, there were 175 assaults on health and education centres, the Unicef report says.

Medecins Sans Frontieres tells 15 of the 20 hospitals and clinics it supports in eastern Ghouta have been hit by airstrikes or shelling. Local authorities inside the enclave say the healthcare system is being systematically targeted and the capacity to care for high numbers of wounded has shrunk tremendously as a result.

” Their[ Assad regime’s] strategy is brutally clear ,” said Ghassan Chamsi, a resident in the Douma neighbourhood of eastern Ghouta.” They want to terrorise everyone into running for the borders. Either submit, or die. But don’t expect to be treated by our own .”

On almost every economic indicator, children in Syria experienced worse conditions last year than in 2016. The scarcity of food has soared across the country, with the young again suffering most for the absence of adequate nutrition. Up to 12% of young Syrians are considered to be acutely malnourished, the report says.

The psychological impact on young generations who have spent at the least half their lives in conflict, deprived of adequate food, education and healthcare, is among the most difficult risk categories to gauge.

” Their conditions require specialised therapy and services ,’ said Cappelaere.” As children, their needs differ from those of adults: as their bodies and abilities change, so must their care. These children face a very real risk of being forgotten and stigmatised as the unrelenting conflict continues .”

With opposing raging in north and central Syria, the majority of the population displaced and regional powers now more deep invested in the war than before, there appears to be little hope of the humanitarian situation easing anytime soon.

Syrian refugee numbers

Russia and Iran have both strengthened their support for Bashar al-Assad, who was losing on the battlefield until Vladimir Putin sent the Russian us air force to prop up the Syrian leader in September 2015. Iranian-led ground troops have been central to clawing back lost ground, while opposition groups, splintered and divided , no longer pose a sustained menace to the regime.

However, Idlib and east Idlib, despite sustained assaults, remain formidable obstacles to a leadership that has pledged to return all of Syria to central control. As yet, there is no plan for what to do with eastern Ghouta’s population if they are forced to flee. In Idlib, more than 2.5 million people, many of them displaced from elsewhere in the country, are crammed into a small province faced with ever increasing humanitarian needs.

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‘A boys’ club’: UN agency accused over sexual harassment claims

Leading campaigner, current and former faculty call for inquiry into bully and sexual assault at UNAids

The head of a resulting women’s rights movement has called for an independent investigation into what she calls permeating bully and sexism within a UN agency, alleging that she was harassed and sexually assaulted while working for the organisation.

Malayah Harper , now general secretary of the World YWCA, one of the world’s oldest women’s rights organisations, said the agency UNAids must urgently review how sexual harassment accusations are handled.

Her call for an inquiry is supported by testimonies from six current or former UNAids employees. The girls, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described a culture where senior male staff offer career progression in exchange for sexual relationships, and harass women with seeming impunity.” It’s a boy’ club environment ,” said one employee.” They just see it as nearly part of their due .”

Harper, who worked for UNAids for more than 10 years, alleges she was sexually harassed for years and sexually assaulted in 2013 by Luiz Loures, the agency’s deputy executive director. She did not report the incidents at the time because she believed no action would be taken. A previous objection she had stimulated, against a different member of staff which related to bully and intimidation, had not been handled adequately, she said. The investigation report was not shared with her , no counselling was offered and the alleged perpetrator was moved on through a promotion, she added.

” I’m a feminist, I was the lead in the organisation on gender- and I had been bullied quite seriously, and then sexually harassed for years. The irony of it did not escape me ,” said Harper. A bigger irony, she added, was that this was happening at the UN:” The UN is the custodian and standard setter for the human rights of women and girls .” She also said that UNAids’ policies for tackling sexual harassment were” based on reporting, on weakly enforced punitive measures- not on prevention or providing support to employees “.

Harper said she had decided to speak publicly because she believed that UNAids is failing many female members of staff and the people the UN serves.” A manager has a responsibility to ensure staff are in a safe place of work. If you do nothing, you are accountable. The surrounding becomes corrosive and pernicious ,” she said.

UNAids said it has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse, and that it had clear procedures to address complaints.

Two females told the Observer they had warned the agency’s executive director, Michel Sidibe, about Loures’s alleged behaviour. One former employee, who left in 2015, said:” I had an exit interview with Michel when I left and the first words out of my mouth were,’ your deputy director is a sex predator and everybody knows it. I’m telling you because you really have to do something about it .'”

UNAids said Sidibe always took complaints severely and always acted in accordance with required procedures.

On Friday, UNAids said that Loures, who is also an assistant secretary-general of the UN, would not seek to renew his contract when it expires at the end of March. Loures has recently been investigated over separate claims that he assaulted a current staff member in a lift while on run travel. An inquiry, which was criticized by campaigners, received the allegations to be unsubstantiated. The bureau said Loures’s decision to stand down was not related to sex misconduct claims.

The announcement of Loures’s departure follows news that Justin Forsyth has stepped down as deputy executive director of Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency, after accusations of inappropriate behaviour toward female faculty while working for Save the Children. He said his resignation was not related to past mistakes constructed while working for the charity. On Saturday, a number of charities, including Plan International and the International Committee of the Red Cross, disclosed the number of recent allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse by staff members.

Harper said the deviation of high-profile officials did not exonerate the UN of responsibility, and that it had allowed a culture of sexual harassment to fester for years. She says she was repeatedly invited to drinkings by Loures, who once told her she was ” a very naughty daughter” because she had declined an offer in South Africa to satisfied him one night in his hotel room. In addition, following a run conference, Loures assaulted her in a lift, she said.” We left the conference and shared a lift together and he attempted to kiss me. In the process of me are moving, he bruised my lip. On exiting the lift he tried to get me into his hotel room and rent a button off my shirt .”

A second woman, who wished to remain anonymous, also alleged she had been assaulted by Loures, after a work meeting. She did not file a complaint.” He grabbed me, pushed me against himself, stuck his tongue in my mouth and touched me all over. I was so shell shocked ,” she claimed.” I can’t say he was extremely aggressive but he was constantly all over me putting his hands on me. I said I can’t, I don’t want this, let me go. He tried several times and then he let me go .”

A farther two women alleged that Loures had pursued or sexually harassed them.” When I would talk to him he had this route of backing me up against the wall and putting his arm so you’re literally trapped, pulling me in for a hug, truly insisting that we needed to go out for dinner ,” said one woman.

Some females said they believed run had been taken away from them, or that their career progression was slow, because they did not comply or engage in sexual relationships.

They did not report what had happened because they did not trust the complaints system, or because they had also experienced sexual harassment at the hands of the senior personnels to whom they turned for support.

UNAids said personnel were regularly informed of the channels available to raise a complaint, including a 24 -hour hotline, and were offered protection when they did so, such as reassignment to another squad. In recent years it has taken extra measures to prevent harassment at the workplace, it said, adding that it fosters current or former staff who have a complaint to report it.

UNAids has been criticised for its handling of a recent investigation into Loures. An internal investigation report said Sidibe had attempted to settle the assault allegation informally, despite the issues being under official investigation by the World Health Organisation’s investigations squad, Internal Oversight Service.

UNAids afterward told the Observer that Sidibe had no role in the decision-making process of the case and that the investigation could not have been stopped through an informal solving.” Any formal complaint received by UNAids is always acted upon in accordance with due process ,” it added.

This month, the Labour MP Gareth Thomas wrote a letter to Penny Mordaunt advising that the UK, as chair of the UNAids governing body, should immediately establish an external investigation into abuses of power, harassment, assault and bullying.

” This is not just one individual, it’s more than that ,” said one of the women who says she was harassed by Loures.” It’s about how you establish a system that creates perks for the chosen ones, which is a group of senior men .”

Loures did not respond to a request for comment.

UNAids added in a statement that, other than the investigation recently concluded that find the allegations to be unsubstantiated, it had received one other complaint of sexual harassment in 2009. Those allegations were also be considered to be unsubstantiated and both parties accepted the decision, it said.

” Informal channels of reporting and resolve require that the person making such an informal complaint expressly authorises that the matter be formally addressed ,” the statement said.

” Individuals who are not satisfied with the outcome of a formal resolution process may appeal to the administrative tribunal of the International Labour Organization. They also have recourse to local national jurisdiction .”

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Syria: fresh fighting in eastern Ghouta despite UN-ordered ceasefire

Assad forces-out have launched new air and ground offensive on battered enclave, witnesses say

Fresh fighting has broken out on several fronts in eastern Ghouta, the besieged opposition-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, despite a 30 -day ceasefire across all of Syria ordered by the United Nation.

After days of intense debate, the UN security council had voted unanimously on Saturday for a temporary truce to let the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical assistance.

But first reports from eastern Ghouta on Sunday said forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s Russian-backed president, had launched a new air and ground offensive in a bid to “storm” rebel positions.

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Why is the regime targeting eastern Ghouta?

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Eastern Ghouta is the last rebel-held enclave bordering the Syrian capital, Damascus. Since 2013, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have imposed a suffocating and deadly siege on the area. Yet several rebel factions have retained control.

This month, Syria’s army launched one of the most intense bombardments of the war, saying their assault was necessary to end rebel mortar ten-strikes on the capital. Residents accuse Russia of also bombing Ghouta, a mixture of dense suburbs and fields that once served as the breadbasket for Damascus.

Photograph: Mohammed Badra/ EPA

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Witnesses told al-Jazeera regime forces were attacking opposition groups on multiple fronts, while Syrian warplanes kept up their bombardment of the battered enclave for an eighth consecutive day.

Residents and human rights observers also described renewed attacks by planes and artillery, although the bombing was less intense than on previous days, Reuters reported. Clashes were resulting along several frontlines, and rebel fighters were said to be struggling to hold their positions. The Syrian military attained no comment.

About 520 civilians have died and more than 2,500 have been wounded in Ghouta since a relentless barrage of regime rocket fire, shelling and airstrikes began last Sunday. The dead include more than 120 children, in agreement with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The new fighting appeared to deal a blow to the authority of the UN and justify scepticism expressed by Russian officials about the viability of a ceasefire enforced from outside. If confirmed, a ground offensive proposed to the regime may be attempting to finally eradicate all resistance in Ghouta before the ceasefire takes effect.

The UN resolution called for the truce to begin “without delay” but did not set a specific timeframe, following Russian objections. Nor did it say how a ceasefire would be implemented, how the injured would be evacuated, or how returning assist employees would be protected.

Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, said the fight against terrorism would continue regardless , noting the ceasefire resolution excluded named organisations such as Islamic State and an al-Qaida affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham( HTS ), formerly the al-Nusra Front.

” Our government will reserve the right to answer as it deems appropriate in case those terrorist limbs groups are targeting civilians in any part of Syria with even one single missile ,” Ja’afari said.

The two main rebel factions in Ghouta- Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam- said after the vote that they would applied by the truce and facilitate aid access. But they also vowed is in response to any attacks.

Iran, whose Revolutionary Guards and militiamen are fighting alongside Assad’s forces, said both it and Syria would respect the UN resolution. But General Mohammad Baqeri, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, insisted the ceasefire did not apply in areas of Damascus’s suburbs” held by the terrorists”, Iran’s Tasnim new agency reported.

The 30 -day ceasefire was also binding on US troops and other members of the anti-Isis coalition present in Syria, and on Israeli forces-out based in the occupied Golan Heights, the Syrian government said.

Previous ceasefires in the seven-year-old Syrian civil war have had limited success. A truce agreed by the regime and backed by Russia during the siege of Aleppo in 2016 collapsed on its first day.

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UN ambassador Nikki Haley says rumors of affair with Trump are ‘disgusting’

Haley denied speculation that spread online after Fire and Fury was published, saying It is absolutely not true

Brexit bill may have broken international environment law, says UN

Exclusive: conformity committee deems complaint alleging government violated Aarhus convention by not consulting populace over withdrawal bill

The British government may have breached a major” environmental democracy” law by failing to consult the public when drawing up Brexit legislation.

A UN-backed committee has confirmed it is considering a complaint from Friends of the Earth that the government’s EU withdrawal bill breached the Aarhus convention, which requires public consultation on any new environmental statute.

Most of the UK’s environmental laws derive from or interact with EU law, and Friends of the Earth( FoE) has raised concerns that the bill dedicates pastors” unique and wide-ranging powers” to amend or delete EU-derived environmental statute without public consultation, if ministers consider it appropriate.

According to Defra,” over 1,100 core pieces of immediately applicable EU legislation and national implementing legislation” fall within the department’s remit.

The ” polluter pays ” principle and the precautionary principle could both be affected, as could the public’s they are able to challenge changes to environmental laws.

William Rundle, lawyer for Friends of the Earth, said:” The government said Brexit was about taking back control, yet it has ignored the views of the UK people in taking it forwards. There has been no consultation on what the withdrawal bill could mean for the environment and environmental legal protections, or what is the best route forwards.

” The Aarhus convention requires effective consultation when new laws are being prepared that can significantly affect the environment, such as the EU withdrawal bill. This would have allowed environmental issues to be debated and understood, but also constructed democratic accountability and public confidence.

” The current approach by government in conducting Brexit fails to do this; they didn’t even try. Nobody believed Brexit would be easy, but the government cannot ignore its legal obligations, or the views of the people .”

According to the Aarhus convention’s three pillars, datum relating to environmental legislation must be provided by public authorities” in a timely and transparent manner “, and the public must be allowed to participate in the development of new laws at an early stage of their preparation. The third pillar is public access to justice, should a party violate or fail to adhere to environmental statute or the convention’s principles.

The government may have breached the convention in two ways, FoE says: by failing to set out a consistent legal framework to allow public participation in the preparation of new environmental legislation( article 3 ), and by not dedicating the public an opportunity to comment on the bill before it was presented to parliament to be made into law( article 8). FoE says the governmental forces failed to consult with the public, and by calling a snap election, any possible involvement with the bill’s white paper was prevented.

In a letter to Friends of the Earth, the Aarhus convention conformity committee says:” the committee has, on a preliminary basis, ascertained the communicant’s allegation concerning the preparation of the draft’ great repeal bill’ and the alleged absence of a clear, transparent and consistent framework to implement article 8 … to be admissible “.

Michael Mason, associate professor at the London School of Economics, says the government remains legally bound by the Aarhus convention after withdrawal from the EU, and by abolishing laws relating to Aarhus provisions the UK would be in breach of the treaty.

He says:” The UK would not be able to cherry-pick provisions in the convention: the UK is either fully in or would have to pull out from the treaty. To stay in, the UK government will have to retain all EU-derived law implementing Aarhus obligations.

” A withdrawal from the Aarhus convention would be disastrous for UK environmental policy .”

A House of Lords report calls the EU withdrawal bill a” bill of the first order in terms of law-making powers being granted to ministers “. It says” this bill is expected to generate another 800 to 1,000 statutory instruments in the near future .”

The bill does not require that current environmental standards are preserved after Brexit , nor does it contain a general requirement that the public should be consulted on potentially significant changes to environmental legislation. It does not require pastors to replace the existing European committee objections procedure on any infringement of EU-derived environmental law, which is currently available to UK citizens free of charge. The UK government could still include a requirement for public consultation, however.

In February 2017, campaigners won a case against the Ministry of Justice over proposed changes to cost protection orders that could have induced legal challenges to government over environmental issues too financially risky to seek. A UN committee at the time criticised the government for failing to meet its reporting obligation on access to justice under the Aarhus convention.

A government spokesperson said:” The purpose of the withdrawal bill is to provide a functioning statute book on the day we leave the EU- it is an essential bill in the national interest. While we can’t comment on proceedings, we believe we have complied with all of the relevant obligations in developing this crucial legislation and remain committed to maintaining the highest environmental standards. We will be submitting our full reply in due course .”

The government now has until 5 June to offer its written response to the complaint. The committee will then decide whether the UK government is in breach of its obligations.

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After six years in jail, Gaddafi’s son Saif plots return to Libya’s turbulent politics

Gaddafi, freed in June after being held since the 2011 insurgency, is scheming a comeback and experts say he could benefit if elections take place next year

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former Libyan dictator, is seeking to make a comeback after years in detention, and claims to be leading a military campaign against terrorist groups around Tripoli.

Gaddafi was freed in June after six years as the captive of a militia in the town of Zintan following the Nato-supported uprising in 2011 that led to the killing of his father, Muammar Gaddafi, and the fragmentation of the country.

Saif Gaddafi was once the heir apparent of the Libyan regime, a London School of Economics graduate touted as a moderniser who mixed with British high society. Now, he stands accused of ordering the killing of protesters as the Gaddafis fought desperately to hold on to power.

But in recent weeks he has told a longstanding US contact he was meeting a force-out that had taken control of the coastal township of Sabratha- and claimed he would fight his route to Tripoli.

” Saif al-Islam is inside Libya and is committed to his word, which he dedicated to all Libyans in 2011, when he said that he will remain in Libya to defend its territory or die a martyr for it ,” a spokesman for Gaddafi said in a written statement, rendered through the US contact who had extensive dealings with him before the fall of his family’s regime.

” The forces-out who oppose in Sabratha against Isis, the gangs of illegal immigrants and the oil-smuggling mafiums were mainly members of the tribes who are in favour of Saif al-Islam, and those who were part of the former Libyan army, also loyal to Saif Gaddafi .”

A fighter loyal to Libya’s Government of National Accord fires his weapon during fighting against Isis in Sirte. Photo: Fabio Bucciarelli/ AFP/ Getty Images

It is unclear, however, to what magnitude Gaddafi is claiming credit for military operations carried out by others. Much of the recent battle has been between tribal militias vying for control of smuggling roads. Commentators said they doubted the dictator’s son would be able to muster sufficient loyalists to pose a serious threat to the capital.

The Warshefana tribal militia, Gaddafi loyalists who controlled some of the area surrounding Tripoli, were routed last month by rival forces-out from Zintan- former allies who appear to have been angered by Warshefana endeavors at extortions at road checkpoints.

” Growths on the ground have not been in his prefer ,” said Mattia Toaldo, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.” He can dream, but he can’t get anywhere .”

Observers say Gaddafi could still emerge as a political force if elections are held next year and he is allowed to stand despite his 2011 indictment from the international criminal tribunal( ICC ) for alleged crimes against humanity. He was also sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli in 2015, though that trial was conducted in absentia and was widely criticised by international human rights groups.

A diplomat involved in election preparations said the ICC indictment against Gaddafi would not necessarily stop him from standing, or winning.


” We don’t control who stands in the election. That is up to the Libyans ,” the diplomat said, pointing to the precedent of Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2013 presidential election win in Kenya despite ICC charges.” You can see “hes having” popularity on the ground, particularly in the south .”

Gaddafi is seeking to benefit from the chronic sense of uncertainty and insecurity since his father’s autumn. Libya has two rival parliaments, and a kaleidoscope of vying fiefdoms run by warlords and militias. A tenuous UN agreement designed to hold the nation together is wearing thin and its critics claim it will expire on 17 December, the anniversary of its signing.

If there is no agreement between the factions to amend and extend the agreement, there are fears that the current most powerful military figure, General Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army( LNA ), which holds sway in the east, will seek to capture Tripoli, and depose the UN-backed prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and his Government of National Accord( GNA ).

Haftar has backing from Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates( UAE ). Russia is reported to have established a small military presence in western Egypt, and Cairo and Moscow have come to a preliminary agreement the coming week that would allow Russian warplanes to use Egyptian airspace.

Haftar is also reported to have held talks in Paris last month with militia leaders based in Tripoli, on whom Sarraj depends for his security, seeking to persuade them to stand down or defect. The outcome of those contacts is unclear, but they are likely to have increased Sarraj’s nervousness about his future.

The prime minister met Donald Trump on Friday, but his requests for a most active US role, including a guarantee of personal security for himself and his government, were rebuffed.

” They wanted a military insure from the United States that we would basically defend their block in Tripoli ,” a US source familiar with the talks said. He added that there were deep distrusts about corruption in the GNA and the human rights record of the militias protecting it.

” Is the US going to use military force against performers against the UN plan in Libya? Perfectly not .”

However, the fact Trump met Sarraj at all- and has held at least two sessions on the situation there in the past month- is itself being seen as a step forward as it marks the first time he has taken a direct interest in the country since taking the presidency.

” When Trump came into office there was a fear his perceived preference for strongmen would result him to back Haftar ,” Jason Pack, executive director of the US-Libya Business Association.” This visit sets get paid to that myth. Trump is lock, stock and barrel backing the UN process .”

But the UN-brokered agreement signed in December 2015 has failed to bind Libya’s divisions. It created a presidency council in Tripoli that was supposed to form a unity government, and the house of representatives in eastern Libya was supposed to approve the unity government, but it has yet to do so.

Saif Gaddafi attends a hearing behind bars in a courtroom in Zintan in May 2014. Photograph: Reuters

The UN special envoy, Ghassan Salame, has been seeking to keep the peace process alive with a new action plan to reconfigure the transitional government to make it more effective in delivering services, convening a national meeting early in 2018 to be followed in theory by elections.

There are serious doubts over whether elections are feasible in the current climate of general insecurity, and Salame acknowledged over the weekend those elections might not take place in 2018 as schemed if the conditions were not met.

If or when a vote does go ahead, Libya commentators said Saif Gaddafi could benefit from general weariness of political divisions and nostalgia for the relative stability of the Gaddafi era.

Salame has said that any election law adopted by Libya should be” open for all” including loyalists from the old regime and Saif Gaddafi.

Wolfgang Pusztai, a former Austrian defense attache in Libya and Tunisia, described Gaddafi as a polarizing figure, but one with outside support.

” There are industries in the west who were dealing with the old regime who would like to see Saif back ,” Pusztai , now a security consultant who writes extensively about Libya, said.” But if he joined the political landscape it would make it even more divided .”

Additional reporting by Chris Stephen

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Saudi Arabia still blocking aid to Yemen despite pledge to lift siege

Saudi-led coalition has failed to lift siege on Yemens ports, leaving tens of thousands without food and medicine

Aid agencies said Saudi Arabia had not fulfilled its promise to reopen humanitarian aid passageways into northern Yemen on Thursday, leaving the main aid lifeline closed for tens of thousands of starving people.

Following intense pressure from western governments, Saudi Arabia agreed on Wednesday to lift a fortnight-long blockade of the port of Hodeida from midday( 9am GMT) on Thursday, but more than eight hours after the deadline, aid agencies said no permissions for humanitarian shipments had been given.

A UN source in Yemen said:” We have submitted the request to bring in aid, as we have every day, but there has been nothing. At this stage, we do not know the reason for the delay .”

Jamie McGoldrick, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen, said:” There is a system where we notify[ the Saudi-led alliance] and ask for space or time slots to bring our aircrafts in, and we negotiate to its implementation of getting space on the port as well. We’ve actually gone through the normal procedures and we’re just waiting to find out how that goes .”

He said he remained hopeful for the next 48 hours.

Two aid shipments- one containing food, including grain, and the other containing medicines to combat a cholera outbreak- have been waiting for permission to dock at Hodeidah for days.

Saudi Arabia also said it was lifting a blockade on the airport at Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, but no flights had landed.

It enforced the blockade on all commercial and humanitarian shipments in response to a missile launched by Houthi rebels towards Riyadh international airport, fired as part of the three-year civil war in Yemen.

Following a review of inspection methods by the UN and Saudi authorities, Riyadh announced on Wednesday that it would lift the siege on humanitarian supplies, but has still not been the block on commercial ships. Saudi Arabia claims cargo being shipped into the Houthi-controlled Hodeida includes weapons parts and ammo destined forthe rebels.

Labour called on the UK government to suspend all limbs export licences to Saudi Arabia until the blockade was lifted.

Fabian Hamilton, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman, said:” While we cautiously welcome the Saudi-led coalition’s pledge to allow UN aid into Yemen once again, the opening of Hodeida and Sana’a airport is not enough. Innocent civilians, including children, are still hazard of starvation and malnutrition due to this brutal blockade that has already taken its toll on the civil population of the country.

” We are continuing to call for the suspension of all British arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the blockade is fully lifted to allow both UN and commercial aid into the country. The British government must act to prevent any further loss of innocent life in an already catastrophic humanitarian situation .”

Care, one of the aid agencies operating in Yemen, said it remained deeply concerned that there would continued famine and further outbreaks of illnes, unless all ports are open to commercial goods.

” Not only is the commercial import of food and medical supplyings necessary for survival, without gasoline Yemen’s water and sanitation networks will not function in a country already battling cholera. Humanitarian assistance alone is not enough to supply the basic needs and protections critical for Yemen’s population ,” it said.

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Alternative US group honouring Paris climate accord demands ‘seat at the table’

The Americas Pledge group claims to represent US majority opinion on carbon emissions, despite Trumps withdrawal from the Paris agreement

The United Nations should devote a” seat at the table” to a powerful group of US countries, cities, tribes and business that are committed to taking action on climate change, the billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg has urged.

In an apparent bid to circumvent US president Donald Trump’s moves to withdraw from the Paris accord, Bloomberg also said the world body should accept an alternative decide of US climate commitments alongside national pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

The former New York mayor was speaking at the UN’s climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, during the launch of the America’s Pledge report. The report has found that US nations, cities and industries that have signed up to reduce greenhouse gas emissions together represent a GDP of about $10 tn. That is more than any nation except the US and China.

” If these working groups were a country, we’d be the third-biggest economy in the world. We should have a seat at the table ,” Bloomberg said.” If Washington won’t leading, then mayors and governors will .”

Bloomberg- “whos also” a UN special envoy for cities and climate change- was among a high-level alternative US delegation that included Californian governor Jerry Brown, four senators, several mayors and representatives of major US firms. Together they claim to represent a majority of people in the US.

” The American government may have pulled out of the Paris accord but the American people are still committed to its goals. And there is not a thing the government can do to stop us ,” Bloomberg said.

The rival US group have overshadowed the muted official US delegation, which has shown the priorities of the Trump White House by scheduling a meeting at the talks focusing on the future of coal.

The packed America’s Pledge launch event took place in the US Climate Action Center, an inflatable dome that the alternative US delegation is employing as its headquarters. Although it is outside the official meeting foyer, its close proximity, huge space and packed crowds highlighted the high status of the rival body.

It also got a top-level endorsement from the organisers.” They may be non-state actors, but they are leaders in this process. America’s Pledge sends a powerful message to the world that America is still in video games ,” said Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji, which is the president of this year’s UN conference.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said she would take the report to the official parties at the conference centre.” We’re standing at the edge of something truly special ,” she said in an upbeat assessment of the progress made in so far in the US and elsewhere on the adoption of clean energy such as wind and solar. She said the world was moving from the information age to the” age of renewal .”

In an atmosphere often reminiscent of a campaign rally, Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the solar industry in the US had created 50,000 jobs in 2016- equivalent to the entire coal mining industry- and that the renewable industry as a whole would hire half a million workers by 2020.” This is the greatest blue-collar job creation in two generations ,” he said.

Many major US corporations have also signed up to the campaign. Laura Phillips, senior vice-president of sustainability at Walmart, said a transition to clean energy attained economic sense.

She said the world’s biggest retailer had enough solar cells on its supermarkets to cover 190 football fields and had saved$ 1bn in gasoline bills:” It’s good for business, it reduced emissions and it’s good for our community .”

Activists protesting California Governor Jerry Brown’s speech at the America’s Pledge launching event. Photo: Martin Meissner/ AP

But critics argue carbon trading and massive investments in technology do not enter into negotiations with the root causes of the problem, which are overconsumption and capitalism. The event was interrupted by protesters who created flags declaring” False Solution for the Planet” and chanted” We are the solution. Don’t trade pollution !” in reference to California’s carbon cap-and-trade scheme.

In a raucous five-minute exchange with the hecklers, Jerry Brown accepted that governments need to do more, but he said it was necessary to stimulate the transition in stages rather than all at once.

” That is good noise ,” he said to the chanters.” But it doesn’t get the job done. You need a plan … the perfect can be the enemy of the better .”

Several speakers highlighted the progress made in their regions.

Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto said a blue-green confederation between labour unions and renewables companies had revitalised his city after the post-industrial decline of its traditional steel industry.

” Time goes in only one direction. If you wait for the mills and mines to reopen, you’ll be left in the past ,” he said.

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UN tells China to release human rights activists and pay them compensation

Exclusive Document given to the Guardian repudiates Chinese government claims that activists voluntarily confessed to their crimes at trials

The United Nation has demanded that China should immediately release prominent human rights activists from detainees and pay them compensation, according to an unreleased document obtained by the Guardian.

The report, which has not been made public, from the UN’s human rights council says the trio had their rights infringed and calls China’s statutes incompatible with international norms.

Christian church leader Hu Shigen and lawyers Zhou Shifeng and Xie Yang were detained and tried as part of an unprecedented nationwide crackdown on human rights attorneys and activists that began in July 2015. The operation insured nearly 250 people detained and questioned by police.

Hu was jailed for seven and a half years and Zhou was sentenced to seven years on subversion charges, while Xie is awaiting a verdict.

” The appropriate redres would be to release Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng and Xie Yang immediately, and accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations ,” said the UNreport assured by the Guardian, adding that China should take action within six months.

The UN’s working group on arbitrary detention, which reviewed the case, repudiated Chinese government asserts the three men voluntarily confessed to their crimes at their trials and said their detentions were” attained in total or partial non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial “.

The group is a panel of five experts that falls under the UN’s human rights council, of which China is a member. While its judgements are not legally binding, it investigates claims of rights violations and indicates remedies.

China promised to cooperate with the group when it work for a seat on the human rights council in August 2016, when it also pledged to induce” unremitting endeavours” to promote human rights.

The group’s report on the Chinese activists said the trio were subjected to a host of rights violations, including being denied access to legal counsel, being held in “incommunicado detention” and their families” were not informed of their whereabouts for several months “.

Their detentions were due to” their activities to promote and protect human rights”, the UN saw, while the sentiment also promoted China to amend its laws to conform with international standards protecting human rights.

Although Xie was released on bail after a trial in May, his wife, Chen Guiqiu said her husband was far from a free man.

State security agents rented a flat across the dormitory from his and Xie has 12 guards stationed 24 -hours a day outside his building, Chen said. Police follow him whenever he goes out and despite the constant surveillance, he has to prepare reports for state security agents every four hours on what he has done and who he has spoken to.

But Chen greeted the UN’s report and said she felt vindicated.

” Of course, he didn’t commit any crime, his arrest was completely illegal and I’m glad the UN, a very objective party that represents the international community, can see that ,” said Chen, who fled to the US earlier this year.” I hope this will put pressure on China and attain them think twice the next time they consider apprehending people on political charges .”

” Paying compensation would indicate the governmental forces acknowledges they harmed our family, that they were wrong to subject us to more than two years of continuous damage ,” she added.

During his detention, Xie was beaten and forced into stress positions, his legal team said, with one interrogator telling him:” We’ll torture you to demise just like an ant .”

Ambassadors from countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, wrote to China’s minister of public security in February, voicing fears over the torment claims and calling for an independent investigation.

” The working group’s opinion cuts straight through the government’s lies and shows that the arrests were always about reprisal against lawyers for protecting human rights ,” said Frances Eve, a researcher at the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.” The government set enormous resources into their propaganda campaign to smear human rights lawyers as’ offenders ‘, deploying country media, police, prosecutors and the courts .”

During the course of the panel’s investigation, the Chinese government said the men were jailed not because” they defend the legitimate rights of others” but rather they have” long been engaged in criminal activities, aimed at subverting the basic national system established by the China’s[ sic] constitution “. The UN rejected this claim.

Critics say Hu was arrested for leading an underground church, which works outside the government-sanctioned system. He previously expended 16 years in prison for distributing leaflets on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent bloody crackdown.

Zhou is a prominent human rights attorney who founded the Fengrui law firm that was at the centre of the 2015 government” war on law “. His firm represented dissident artist Ai Weiwei, members of the banned spiritual motion Falun Gong and a journalist arrested for supported protests in Hong Kong.

The UN’s working group on arbitrary detention previously told China to release Liu Xia, the wife of the Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in detention in July. Liu Xia has been under house arrest since 2010, when her husband won the award, despite never being charged with a crime.

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