UN Slams Extrajudicial Killings in Philippines’ So-Called War on Drugs

A report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council denounces the so-called war on drugs by the government of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, which has resulted in the killings of thousands of alleged drug suspects.The United Nations was not allowed to enter the Philippines to conduct its investigation. Therefore, its report is based on information gathered from hundreds of documents, civil society and government sources, as well as interviews with victims and witnesses.The material presents a chilling account of a five-year war against drugs waged by Duterte without regard for due process rights and the rule of law. Official government figures show at least 8,663 people have been killed. However, some estimates put the toll at more than triple that number.U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the report finds serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and incitement to violence were sanctioned from the highest levels of government. “The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic — and they are ongoing. We also found near-total impunity, indicating an unwillingness by the state to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice,” she said.Bachelet notes senior government officials acknowledge the draconian campaign has not been effective in reducing the supply of illicit drugs. She calls on the government to conduct independent investigations into the grave violations documented in the report.FILE – Families of victims of alleged extra-judicial killings in the so-called “war on drugs” remove portraits of their slain relatives, July 9, 2019, in Manila, Philippines.Philippines Minister of Justice, Menardo Guevarra said his government, like those of others, faces many problems, including drugs, corruption, criminality and terrorism.Speaking on a video link from Manilla, he told the council his country cherishes its newly won, hard-fought democracy. He said his government is deeply concerned about the inroads made by the drug trade and is committed to fighting this scourge, but always, he added, within the law and in full respect of human rights.“Our president ran and won on a campaign promise of a drug-free Philippines where our people are safe, and their rights protected. The president has discharged this mandate faithfully. After four years, the president and his anti-drug campaign enjoy the strong and widespread support or our people,” he said.Guevarra rejects claims that Philippine officials and security personnel operate within a climate of impunity. He said each case of wrongdoing is brought before authorities with the diligence it deserves. He also rejects calls for an independent investigative mechanism, noting the country’s Commission on Human Rights is a strong independent monitoring body, which serves that function. 

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Sahel Summit Agrees Need to Intensify Campaign Against Jihadists 

International and regional powers agreed at talks on Tuesday to intensify a military campaign against Islamist militants in the West African Sahel region, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying victory over the jihadists was within grasp. Militant attacks in the Sahel have increased over the last two years, especially in the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali known as Liptako-Gourma, where local authorities have been overrun. Mauritania hosted a meeting of the leaders of five Sahel nations plus France and Spain to plot future strategy in the scrubland south of the Sahara where since 2013 thousands of French troops have been helping countries counter insurgencies. “The heads of state stressed the need to intensify the fight on all fronts by national and international forces against terrorist groups,” the final communique said. French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during the closing press conference at the G5 Sahel summit on June 30, 2020, in Nouakchott.The so-called G-5 Sahel nations comprise Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad — all former French colonies. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also attended the summit, while other EU leaders joined by video. “We are all convinced that victory is possible in the Sahel. We are finding our way there thanks to the efforts that have been made over the past six months,” Macron said after the summit. Ahead of the summit, a joint statement by the United Nations and a group of aid organizations painted a dark picture of the situation on the ground. “The security situation in the Sahel countries has deteriorated considerably in recent months. Conflicts prevailing in the region are having unprecedented humanitarian consequences,” it said. The joint forces, led by France’s 5,100 troops, have so far targeted the regional affiliate of Islamic State, concentrating military efforts on Liptako-Gourma. French forces said this month that they had killed al Qaeda’s North Africa commander Abdelmalek Droukdel. But the G-5 force has been hampered by a lack of funding, equipment and coordination. France has long called for more help from its European allies for the mission, which it sees as essential to protecting the security of Europe’s southern flank. 

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Thousands Demand Justice for Protesters Killed During 2019 Anti-Bashir Protests

Hundreds of thousands marched in Sudan’s capital Tuesday, demanding justice for the people killed by security forces during last year’s street protests. Protest organizers say they need to keep pressure on the transitional government despite the ongoing risk of the COVID-19 pandemic.       Demonstrators waved Sudanese flags and held pictures of those killed during the 2019 protests. A similar demonstration took place one year ago today, when hundreds of thousands marched to condemn brutal attacks against pro-democracy protesters that left more than 100 people dead. Musatfa Abdallah was among those in the streets Tuesday, demanding punishment for those who attacked the protesters.By Whatsapp message, Abdallah said despite the health situation, youth are in the streets marching now demanding justice for the victims of the revolution and to correct the path of the transitional government generally. He said the demands are peaceful and legal, at least in terms of justice for the revolution victims.  Civilians chant slogans as members of Sudanese pro-democracy protest on the anniversary of a major protest in Khartoum, June 30, 2020.In April 2019, the military ousted Omar al-Bashir after four months of mass protests against his 30-year rule. A military council ruled the country for several months, until army leaders and protest organizations signed a power-sharing agreement that created a Sovereign Council to run the country until elections in 2022.  Human rights activist Alzain Othman said protesters want the people responsible for last year’s killings to be prosecuted.  Othman said protesters insisted on marching because they feel the government’s reluctance to punish anyone for the killings and the investigations have yet to achieve anything. This year’s protest is different from last year’s, he said, as last year it was against the military rule and this year it’s against even the civilians in the ministers’ council.  Sudan’s prime minister addressed the nation Monday on national TV, promising the government will make progress on the justice issue within two weeks. Riot police officers hold their position on June 30, 2020, against protesters near the Parliament buildings in Khartoum.Meanwhile, the Sudanese military is out in force, restricting citizen movement, especially on bridges and in central Khartoum. Hundreds of troops and heavy vehicles are surrounding military headquarters and blocking roads linking Khartoum to other cities.  Protest organizations called for this march, but asked that participants abide by restrictions to combat COVID-19, like wearing face masks and social distancing.  Sudanese health officials have confirmed more than 7,000 active cases of COVID-19.  The government says lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus will end in the first week of July. 

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In Rare Move, US Clears Limited Cooperation Between US Firms, Huawei

In a rare twist to Washington’s long-standing restrictions on the Chinese tech giant Huawei, the Commerce Department recently reversed its ban preventing U.S. firms from working with Huawei on developing new technical standards.The move was seen by many in China as an admission by President Donald Trump’s administration that it cannot ignore Huawei’s influential role in developing the technical standards critical for future technologies.  “America finally bowed its head” read a headline by Chinese network Phoenix TV.The new rule, announced by the Commerce Department on June 15, amends the Huawei “entity listing,” to allow American companies to collaborate with Huawei on setting standards that will determine the technical rules of the road for 5G and other emerging technologies.   “This action is meant to ensure Huawei’s placement on the entity list in May 2019 does not prevent American companies from contributing to important standards-developing activities despite Huawei’s pervasive participation in standards-development organizations,” the department said.  The situation with Huawei is no accident. For years, Beijing has focused on joining international standard-setting bodies, such as 3GPP and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which are little-known among the public, but make some of the most consequential decisions in modern telecommunications.
 3GPP and the future of your smartphone
 
Nestled in a quiet industrial park in southern France, a technology consortium with esoteric name, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP, sets the technical standards behind the world’s communication platforms, the fundamental building blocks for product development. As the primary global standard setting organization for the last 20 years, 3GPP helped create technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth as well as today’s 5G high-speed networks.
“Standards are not very sexy but extremely important,” Andrew Polk, partner at Beijing-based research and consultancy firm Trivium China, told VOA. “And it takes sustained long-term effort and attention. While western companies try to set standards, China has a long-term coordinated game plan to influence standards,” he said.FILE – A staff member holds a Huawei ‘Mate20 X 5G’ smartphone at the IFA 2019 tech fair in Berlin, Germany, Sept. 5, 2019.China’s leaders have long seen technology as a key to the country’s economic and military might, and have financially backed companies such as Huawei to become powerful global competitors that will help the country’s political and military goals. Critics say Beijing takes the same approach to setting technical standards.
 
“Beijing views standards as foundational to its goals to reshaping global governance and expand geostrategic power,” said Dr. J. Ray Bowen, analyst of Pointe Bello, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic intelligence firm.
 
Even though U.S. companies remain world leaders in most areas of technology, observers such as Dustin Daugherty, head of North America Business Development at Dezan Shira & Associates, a pan-Asia business consulting firm, say China’s strategy means “in the future the U.S. could fall behind a coordinated government effort in standard setting (such as from China).”
 China’s long-term plan
 
As of May, Chinese firms and government research institutes have accounted for the largest number of chairs or vice chairs in 3GPP, holding 16 of the 45 available leadership positions, according to VOA’s count based on the data release by 3GPP. By comparison, U.S. companies hold nine such leadership positions.
 
That’s up from a year ago, when 3GPP sent VOA a file showing that representatives from Chinese and U.S. companies each held 12 chair and vice chair positions.
While the 3GPP is the primary global group setting 5G standards, another major global organization, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), is now led by a formal Chinese government official Zhao Houlin.
 
Zhao, who began his career in China’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, was first elected as the secretary-general of ITU in 2014. He was reinstated in November 2018 for another four-year term.
 
Established in 1865, ITU is one of the oldest international organizations in the world and has historically avoided politics. However, Zhao publicly criticized Washington in its dispute with Huawei, the Chinese communications giant that U.S. officials say has deep links to the military. “I would encourage Huawei to be given equal opportunities to bid for business,” Zhao told reporters in Geneva earlier this year. “But if we don’t have anything then to put them on the blacklist – I think this is not fair.”FILE – Zhao Houlin, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, May 28, 2018.Under Zhao’s leadership, another Chinese national, Richard Li, serves as the chairman of a critical group with the ITU called Focus Group Technologies for Network 2030. Li, according to his LinkedIn Page, is still currently employed by Huawei as Chief Scientist and Vice-President of Network Technologies, is in charge of examining the world’s emerging technologies and 5G.
 
Doug Barry, the spokesperson for The US-China Business Council (USCBC), a private organization with the mission of promoting trade between the two countries, said there are companies that are concerned about the abuse of leadership positions by China, but so far he has not heard any examples of this happening in practice.
 
“Most international standards setting bodies have strong due process which makes it difficult for stakeholders to abuse leadership positions to force proposals through or block proposals,” said Barry.
 
Daugherty said because Chinese companies are among the most important international players in a variety of industries, including telecommunications, their presence in industry groups and standard setting bodies is logical. But he said there is an important difference between them and their counterparts from democratic countries.  
 
“Chinese companies (and by extension possibly their individual representatives on such bodies) may ultimately need to answer to Beijing’s priorities for strategically important issues,” said Daugherty.
 
In an interview with VOA, he said the politicization of such international bodies could conceivably lead to a decrease in legitimacy in international standard setting. “The damage could be immense,” he said.
 Flooded with proposals
 
Holding leadership positions is one part of Beijing’s strategy. Another part involves massive investments in submitting technical proposals to the international groups.
 
In a rare disclosure last September, Huawei said for one particular technical area alone, the company submitted 18,000 5G New Radio proposals. “If printed on A4 paper and piled up high, would stand a staggering 10 meters tall,” it said proudly on its official twitter account.FILE – A 5G logo is displayed on a screen outside the showroom at Huawei campus in Shenzhen city, in China’s Guangdong province, March 6, 2019.The U.S.-China Business Council said last February this is an issue of concern.  “Some companies and experts complained that Chinese stakeholders submit large numbers of proposals that are low-quality or irrelevant to market needs in some industries, including for products that China does not actually produce.”
 
The report titled “China in International Standards Setting” said this takes valuable time and resources away from considering serious proposals.
 
China also sends more people to attend international meetings that discuss, vote and make decisions on standards.
 
According to a report release last November by German intellectual property research firm Iplytics, Huawei dispatched over 3,000 engineers to participate in the 5G standard-setting process. American chipmaker Qualcomm sent 1,701 engineers to attend 3GPP meetings.
 
Dr. Melanie Hart, director for China Policy Center for American Progress, said the Chinese government is channeling state financial support to help Huawei and other Chinese firms send personnel to attend 3GPP meetings and flood the process with Chinese technical contributions.
 
“It is difficult for private companies from other nations to match that level of activity because sending engineers overseas to participate in 3GPP meetings and devoting R&D resources to develop 3GPP technical contributions are costly activities,” she testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission last March.   

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Former US Fighter Pilot Wins Kentucky Democratic Senate Primary

Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath won the Senate Democratic nomination in the U.S. state of Kentucky Tuesday, setting up a November contest against one of the most powerful political figures in the country, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
 
A week after voting ended and with the extended vote count nearly completed, McGrath defeated state lawmaker Charles Booker by a margin of about 45% to 43%, with other minor candidates splitting the remainder of the ballots.
 
McGrath, who lost a bid for a House of Representatives seat in 2018, faces an uphill fight against McConnell, a long-standing political fixture in the mid-South state and staunch supporter of President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda in Washington. But numerous national Democratic leaders, including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, are supporting her.
 
McGrath raised millions of dollars more than Booker, an African American, in campaign funds. But he drew close in the final weeks before the June 23 vote after national progressive Democratic politicians endorsed him in the wake of national protests against police abuse of minorities.  
 
McGrath and Booker had traded small leads since election day as local jurisdictions turned in their results from mail-in voting.
 
Kentucky received requests for nearly 900,000 such ballots, an unusually high number that came in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with voters opting to not risk their health by going to polling places.  
 
Some election experts are already saying that the extended vote counts in party primaries that have turned Election Nights into Election Weeks in the U.S. are a harbinger of what could happen in the Nov. 3 national election, when Trump is seeking reelection against his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
 
Other slow vote counts because of mail-in ballots in the June 23 Democratic congressional primaries in New York have left the political fate of two longtime House members in doubt.
 
Before counting the mail-in votes, former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman, who had never run for office before, held a lead of 61% to 36% over Congressman Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  
 
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, held a slight lead over lawyer and activist Suraj Patel before the mail-in ballots were counted in their race.
 
Results in both of the New York races could be announced later Tuesday.
 
Voters are headed to the polls in three other states Tuesday, with party primary elections in Colorado, Utah and Oklahoma.
 

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Drive-up US Citizenship Eases Backlog, But New Threat Looms

A 60-year-old U.K. citizen drove into a Detroit parking garage on a recent afternoon, lowered the window of her SUV to swear an oath, and left as a newly minted American.  It took less than 30 minutes.  Anita Rosenberger is among thousands of people around the country who have taken the final step to citizenship this month under COVID-19 social-distancing rules that have turned what has long been a patriotic rite of passage into something more like a visit to a fast-food restaurant.  “It was a nice experience in spite of the fact that I was in the car by myself with a mask on,” said Rosenberger, a sales manager for an electronics component company from suburban Detroit. “And I will say that I will remember this.”  Similar drive-thru ceremonies are being held around the country, but perhaps for not much longer. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says a budget crisis could force the agency to furlough nearly three-quarters of its workforce, severely curtailing operations as tens of thousands of people wait to become citizens. That could have potential political consequences, especially in states such as Michigan and Florida where the number of newly naturalized Americans already exceeds the narrow margin of victory for President Donald Trump in 2016. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you have several hundred thousand people who are not in a position to vote in this election but would have been if business had been progressing normally at USCIS,” said Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute. “That’s been everyone’s concern.”  In this June 26, 2020 photo, Vida Kazemi is sworn in as a U.S. citizen by Allen Chrysler, immigration services officer, during a drive-up naturalization ceremony in Laguna Niguel, Calif.The citizenship agency has not detailed publicly how it will operate if it doesn’t get $1.2 billion in emergency funding from Congress before Aug. 3. It said in a written response to questions that “all USCIS operations will be impacted by a furlough” that covers more than 13,000 workers. USCIS derives nearly all its $4.8 billion budget from fees it charges to people who apply to live or work in the country. Revenue was already in decline under Trump, whose administration has imposed a number of immigration restrictions. The agency says COVID-19 caused it to drop by half.  “The effects of the coronavirus pandemic are long reaching and pervasive, leaving few unscathed in its wake,” Acting Director Joseph Edlow said.  In written responses to questions, the agency says it would pay back the money it receives from Congress with a 10% surcharge on fees.  While the agency cites the pandemic for its budget woes, immigration experts and a USCIS employee union say other factors include administration policies of devoting more resources to vetting applications and searching for fraud. The administration has also halted a number of programs — including a recent freeze on H-1B visas for skilled workers — that provide an important source of revenue for USCIS.  “The agency has really moved away from its mission and become more of an enforcement agency that carries out the agenda of the Trump administration,” said Diego Iñiguez-Lopez, policy and campaigns manager for the National Partnership for New Americans, an immigrant advocacy organization. USCIS typically swears in 15,000 new citizens per week. The agency said there were about 110,000 people waiting to take the oath when they shut down in-person operations in March because of the virus. It said it expects to work through the backlog by the end of July, thanks in part to ceremonies like the one held at the federal building in Detroit or similar ones outside a minor league baseball stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, and a community recreation center near San Diego. Some in Congress have pushed to allow virtual swearing-in ceremonies, but the agency has refused. Behind those waiting for the ceremony are a long line of some 700,000 people who have submitted applications for naturalization, facing an average time to process that has risen to 10 months from six months in the last year of the Obama administration.  That backlog has a number of causes, including a surge in interest due to the election of a president who has made restricting immigration a centerpiece of his administration and the increased scrutiny of applications, said Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute. Acting Deputy Department of Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli presided over a naturalization ceremony Monday in Washington for 20 people, including an Afghan interpreter credited with saving five U.S. soldiers. “Welcome to you and your country from a grateful nation,” he said later on Twitter. In this June 26, 2020 photo, U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson, left, administers the Oath of Citizenship to Hala Baqtar during a drive-thru naturalization service in Detroit.Others who are sworn in are as varied as the country. Rosenberger, whose father brought her to the U.S. in 1968 so he could work for an electronics manufacturer, put off applying for citizenship for years in part because she liked having a U.K. passport. Then, when she did attempt it, her paperwork was lost. She re-applied in November. “I thought, the way this country is going I better get my citizenship now.”  Others are more recent arrivals. Mulugeta Turuneh came to the United States as a refugee from Eritrea in 2011 and settled in Iowa City, where he works as a truck driver. He took the oath Friday in Des Moines after a delay of several months because of the outbreak.  “God bless America,” Turuneh said afterward. “I’m so happy here. Everything is nice. Everything is cool.” Iris Lapipan, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines as a child in the 1990s, was among those naturalizing at a recreation center in El Cajon, California. She said she is looking forward to being able to travel outside the United States and participate in the election. She said she was leaning toward former Vice President Joe Biden. “I’m excited that I can vote, especially with what is going on now,” she said. Rosenberger is leaning the other way, saying she is generally conservative and would most likely support Trump. “Now that I’m a citizen I’m very excited about voting,” she said. “You have the right now, so use it.”   

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Bullet Sent to Reporter for Slovak Website Aktuality

Police in Slovakia are investigating after Peter Sabo, a reporter for the news outlet Aktuality, found a bullet in his mailbox.The threat against Sabo comes just over two years after the February 2018 murder of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, who worked for the same outlet.Sabo joined Aktuality a few months after the killing, to help continue Kuciak’s investigations. Sabo had recently reported on international tax fraud and drug crimes.  The outlet condemned the threat in an People gather at Slovak National Uprising square for a rally against corruption and to pay tribute to murdered Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, March 9, 2018, in Bratislava, Slovakia.Police said an investigation is under way, the International Federation of Journalists reported. The Slovak Minister of the Interior Roman Mikulec and President of Police Milan Lučansk were informed of the threat, Bárdy told the International Press Institute (IPI).  “This kind of intimidation must be taken seriously,” IPI deputy director Scott Griffen said in a FILE – Suspects in the 2018 slaying of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, are escorted by armed police officers from a courtroom in Pezinok, Slovakia, December 19, 2019.Kuciak had been investigating tax fraud of several businessmen who had connections to Slovak politicians and Kočner. He was shot dead along with his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, in their home in Velka Maca, a village east of the Slovak capital Bratislava.In the weeks after the murder, protests over corruption and the murder led to a series of high-profile resignations including of the prime minister.  Earlier this year, a court sentenced two people for the murder. Kočner is currently on trial accused of ordering the killing. He denies the charge. In a show of solidarity after the murder, Kuciak’s colleagues helped finish his unfinished work, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) founded the “Kocner Library” – an electronic archive made up of files police collected in their investigation into the businessman that journalists can use to further report on corruption.  

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Chinese Scientists Discover New H1N1 Virus Strain That Could Infect Humans

Scientists in China have identified a new strain of a flu virus in pigs that has the potential to infect humans and lead to a new pandemic.
 
In a paper published in the U.S.-based journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists say the new “G4” strain was discovered during a surveillance program of pig farms and slaughterhouses across 10 provinces between 2011 and 2018.   
 
The new virus is a variation of the H1N1 swine flu virus that killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world in 2009.   
 
The scientists discovered the G4 virus has already infected workers at various farms and slaughterhouses throughout China.  The new H1N1 strain can grow and quickly multiply in the cells that line the airways of humans, although there is no current evidence the illness can spread through human-to-human contact.   
 
But the researchers also found that although G4 is derived from H1N1, current flu vaccines do not provide any immunity from the new virus.
 
The research paper said that G4 have all the “essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.”  The scientists urged pig farmers to control the spread of the virus among pigs, and to closely monitor people who work with the animals.   
 
The study’s release comes as the world is in the grips of COVID-19 pandemic which has sickened over 10.2 million people worldwide and killed over 500,000 since it was first detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan.   

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