Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] has called [press release] Tuesday for an independent investigation into possible war crimes surrounding the destruction of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders [advocacy website] in Yemen. According to local sources, the Saudi-Arabia led coalition committed up to six consecutive airstrikes Monday on Haydan Hospital, located in the Haydan Directorate in Sa'da governorate of Northern Yemen. The hospital housed more than 20 people at the time, including three patients and various medical and staff members. Seven people were injured in the attack. AI urged a prompt investigation and called on the UK to stop supplying arms to Saudi Arabia and other coalition members.
This airstrike comes on the heels of several attacks by the Saudi-Arabia led coalition condemned by human rights organizations. In August AI claimed that both Huthi militias and anti-Huthi armed groups have indiscriminately killed and wounded civilians with unlawful airstrikes [JURIST report] in civilian neighborhoods. AI contends that all parties to the conflict have also engaged in ground crossfire in civilian areas, and believes that these attacks may amount to war crimes, calling for an independent UN commission to investigate. In May Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] publicized the Saudi-Arabia led coalition's use of cluster bombs in additional Yemeni airstrikes and the forced evacuation of Northern Yemen residents [JURIST reports]. The UN also reported that the intense fighting in Yemen has claimed the lives of 551 civilians [JURIST report], including 115 children. In April HRW condemned both the targeting of an additional hospital [JURIST report] by the two factions and the destruction [HRW press release] of an international aid organization's warehouse [JURIST report]. Also in April the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, urged Yemeni combatants to report attacks resulting in civilian casualties [JURIST report] so that they can be investigated and international human rights law can be upheld. As early as March HRW expressed concern[press release] over the number of civilian deaths resulting from the Saudi-Arabia led bombing [JURIST report] of Yemen's capital, Sanaa.
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdul Mohsen bin Walid bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, wascaught attempting to smuggle drugs out of Lebanon using a private plane, in what is currently the biggest airport drug bust at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, in Beirut. Along with him were four other Saudi nationals who allegedly tried to load the Saudi-bound plane with two tons of Captagon amphetamine pills (in 40 boxes). They were arrested on Monday, September 26.
Ensaf Haidar, exiled wife of Raif Badawi, says she has been warned her husband will receive the next round of lashes soon.Saudi Arabia is to resume the flogging of Raif Badawi, the blogger whose first 50 lashes became the centre of an international outcry, his wife says she has been told.
Ensaf Haidar, who is now living in Canada with the couple’s children, said the same “informed source” who originally tipped her off to the flogging of her husband in January had told her the punishment was about to resume.
If the statement is true, it will be a snub to Britain, which privately and publicly has intervened in the case, and especially the Prince of Wales, regarded as one of the kingdom’s “oldest friends”, who raised Mr Badawi’s case personally with King Salman on a visit in February.
It may also be a response to the government's decision to drop a contract with the Saudi prison system worth £5.9 million, believed to have been taken in protest at Saudi Arabia's human rights record.
The flogging, which was suspended after the first 50 of 1,000 lashes were administered for health reasons, has not been resumed since.
“I was informed by an informed source, that the Saudi authorities have given the green light to the resumption of Raif Badawi’s flogging,” Mrs Haidar said, in a statement on a website set up in honour of her husband.
“The informed source also said that the flogging will resume soon but will be administered inside the prison.”
Mr Badawi was a liberal who was part of a brief flowering of dissent and political debate in the kingdom in the last decade.
That came to an abrupt halt with the Arab Spring, when liberals were seen as more of a threat to ruling regimes around the region rather than as a bulwark against hardline Islamism.
Mr Badawi, who ran a blog and wrote articles in particular criticising the country’s religious establishment, was arrested in May 2012 and sentenced in May last year to ten years in prison, a 10-year travel ban, and a ban on appearing on media outlets, as well as the 1,000 lashes.
The first 50 of the lashes were administered in a public square in Jeddah in January, and prompted international concern. The UN commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Al-Hussein, called the sentence “cruel and inhuman punishment”, while key Saudi allies Britain and America also issued statements of concern.
After the Prince of Wales’s intervention, it was hinted to journalists that King Salman may have used his ruler’s prerogative to intervene to suspend the flogging.
However, since then, relations between Britain and Saudi Arabia have soured.
Earlier this month, Michael Gove, the justice secretary, announced he was cancelling a contract to provide training to the Saudi prisons system, in theory part of its reform process.
Although no reason was given, it was widely held to be a response to a campaign in another prominent human rights case, that of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a Saudi Shia sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion for taking part in protests when he was just 17, in 2012. That campaign was led by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader.
In Monday’s Daily Telegraph, the Saudi ambassador to London reacted with fury to the suspension, accusing Mr Corbyn of “breaching respect” and demanding that issues of internal policies and trade be kept separate.
The resumption of Mr Badawi’s flogging may be a response to that campaign.
Mrs Haidar added: “I do not understand this decision especially as Raif’s case is still being reviewed by the supreme court according to a senior source in the Saudi Ministry of Justice and according to the statement of UK Foreign Office minister, Tobias Ellwood, who told the House of Commons in July that my husband’s case was still being examined by Saudi judges.”
She has warned that Mr Badawi may not be physically strong enough to bear the full punishment, even if as planned it is spread out over 20 weeks.
“I call on his Majesty King Salman to gracefully end my husband’s ordeal and to pardon him,” she added. “I also appeal to his Majesty to allow him to be deported to Canada to be reunited with his family and children, who have been deprived of their father for more than four years.”
There was no immediate response from either the Saudi Arabian embassy or the ministry of the interior.
Whether the death toll from the recent earthquake runs into the thousands or is limited to the hundreds, the ugly truth is that no lessons have been learnt, says Dawn.com's Atika Rehman.
It was utter pandemonium. The earth shook for one full minute last Thursday and jolted remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, leaving nearly 300 dead and thousands injured.
People ran for their lives, stumbling down steps and hurling themselves out of homes and buildings. Eyewitnesses describe a doomsday scenario, where buildings shook like pendulums and people made a wild dash for narrow exits. As the horrific realization of what had happened slowly registered, many fell to the ground in supplication, their lips quivering with prayers of thankfulness for their survival.
The panic was not misplaced. The scene was reminiscent of the horror that hit a decade earlier, when a violent earthquake devastated large swaths of northern Pakistan on an October morning. At an astounding 75,000, the death toll was catastrophic.
In comparison to the enormous human tragedy of 2005, this week's earthquake was a lucky escape. Had the earthquake been less deep or the epicenter closer to urban areas, the loss of life could have been exponentially higher.
No lessons learnt
But whether the death toll runs into the thousands or is limited to the hundreds, the event raises questions about Pakistan's approach towards natural disasters. And the ugly truth is that no lessons have been learnt.
A senior doctor from the Pakistan Medical Association recently wrote about the shock he felt when he returned this year to Muzaffarabad, a Pakistani city flattened by the 2005 quake. "I was shocked to see that in every city and town, there were new multi-storied buildings constructed in violation of laws without any consideration for public safety," Shershah Syed writes.
He says he saw a newly made seven-storey building that could not withstand even a medium-sized earthquake, a clear indication of the government's indifference.
Even in the capital city of Islamabad which saw the deaths of over 70 that fateful day when a 10-storey building crumbled, building rules have not been enforced. Contractors and building companies continue to use inadequate material during construction, and despite the high risk, the government is taking no measures to prevent this wrongdoing.
The state's casual attitude towards natural disasters and climate change issues is appalling; the single earthquake of 2005 wiped out more people in one jolt than Pakistan has lost in nearly a decade of terror attacks. Why then, is an explosive issue like environmental disasters so low on the country's list of priorities?
One excuse is that the state has its hands full when it comes to "emergencies." From issues such as polio and education to national security, Pakistan has an exhaustive list of problems - all of which need urgent attention.
But while the state has swung into action to battle terrorism by going beyond rhetoric and taking substantial steps in the shape of raids and operations, the fight for other issues is limited to platitudes.
Not political enough
Senior Pakistani journalist Khurram Hussain explains the reasons behind this. "One, it's not political so gets ignored. Two, there's an attitude that these are acts of God so nothing can be done to prepare or safeguard the population. Three, there is no scientific community in the country which would otherwise serve as the main voice raising the alarm," he says.
"Public discourse is dominated by television, and natural disasters only make for good TV after they have happened, not before."
Veteran environmental journalist Rina Saeed explains the media's neglect when she writes: "Journalists in Pakistan are largely unaware of the science behind climate change, future projections by scientists and what is happening at the global level - there was only one reporter from Pakistan covering the Copenhagen Summit.”
“Most have no clue about the importance of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference 2015 or COP21 in Paris."
It is an inexorable vicious cycle. There are floods, earthquakes and heat waves. People are dying silently. But the tragedies continue to be met with indifference. The state has failed to address climate change or even create awareness through television and radio broadcasts.
The media continues to ignore the state's criminal lack of interest. Citizens are so clueless, they have no idea how a building should be evacuated in the event of an earthquake. Does one run towards an exit? Or hide under a stairwell? Should you jump off a roof when it strikes? The answers are a discomforting chorus of 'yes' and 'no.'
Many earthquake survivors in Afghanistan and Pakistan were spending a third night without shelter in plummeting temperatures on October 28, as rescuers struggled to reach remote mountainous regions.
The October 26 quake triggered landslides and levelled thousands of homes in both countries, killing more than 380 people, injuring hundreds more, and forcing thousands of survivors to camp out in the open.
In the worst-hit province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, desperate victims appealed for blankets, warm clothes, and food.
Afghan and Pakistani authorities warn that the number of casualties could spike with rugged terrain, severed communication lines, and an unstable security situation impeding relief efforts.
Afghanistan's sparsely populated Badakhshan Province was identified as the epicenter of the quake.http://www.rferl.org/content/afghanistan-pakistan-quake-victims-shelter/27332236.html
Extremists attacked teachers and students in Federal Urdu University for opposing Daesh
A group of extremists attacked teachers and students in Federal Urdu University for opposing Daesh and Taliban during the study circle organized by the Progressive Youth Alliance and Peoples Students Federation at Abdul Haq Campus of the university. The extremists threatened to kill teachers and students and labeled them as “Kafirs’. Issues regarding different educational systems, increasing fees, students’ issues and national and international situation are brought under discussion in the study circle. According to details, Progressive Youth Alliance and Peoples Students Federation have been organizing study circle at the Abdul Haq Campus of Federal Urdu University Karachi since past two years but last week, the situation became worst when Daesh and its activities were opposed and condemned during the discussion. On this, extremist members of Jamiat attacked the participants of study circle, blamed them as ‘Kafirs’ and threatened to kill them. They also targeted teachers of the university and declared the education given in some departments of the university as against the religion. Those extremist elements also directly threatened the teachers and blamed them for promoting anti-Islam ideologies and for leading the anti-Islam study circle.
It should be clear that extremist elements have been preparing grounds for international terrorist organizations in major universities of Pakistan. Such elements are also present in University of Karachi, Federal Urdu University of Karachi and in N.E.D University and they have been spreading and promoting extremist literature and ideology.
By MOHAMMAD YOUSAF and LYNNE O'DONNELL
Residents in a northwestern Pakistani town that was among the worst-affected by this week's massive earthquake were seeking government help Wednesday to rebuild their damaged homes, after spending the second straight night with relatives.
Authorities said Monday's quake damaged 8,453 homes and 113 schools in Pakistan's impoverished northwest.
Rescuers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are struggling to reach regions stricken by the magnitude-7.5 quake, which was centered in Afghanistan's sparsely populated Badakhshan province that borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China. The quake left at least 258 people dead in Pakistan, 115 in Afghanistan and three on the Indian side of the disputed region of Kashmir.
Casualty figures are likely to leap once relief workers return from remote villages that can be accessed only by foot or donkey.
The earthquake, with its epicenter close to the Badakhshan district of Jarm, damaged many of the few existing roads, officials said. Dropping aid by air will be the only way to reach many of the needy, but those operations are not likely to start for many days, until survey teams on foot return and report on the damage.
The Pakistani town closest to the epicenter is Chitral, and one of the worst-affected towns is Shangla, where 70-year-old Zurqun Nain said his extended family was living at a relatives' home after the quake damaged his house. "I had my own home before the earthquake. Now I am homeless at this old age," he said.
Another resident, Said Alam, said his family was still waiting for government help.
Monday's quake shook buildings in the capital, Islamabad, and cities elsewhere in Pakistan and Afghanistan for up to 45 seconds in the early afternoon, creating cracks in walls and causing blackouts.
The earthquake destroyed more than 7,600 homes across Afghanistan and injured 558 people, according to a statement from President Ashraf Ghani's office after he had met with disaster management officials. He ordered the military to make assets available for the relief effort.
Badakhshan Gov. Shah Waliullah Adeeb said more than 1,500 houses there were either destroyed or partially destroyed. The province's casualty figures of 11 dead and 25 injured "will rise by the end of the day, once the survey teams get to the remote areas and villages," Adeeb said.
Food and other essentials were ready to go, he said, but "getting there is not easy." Many people in stricken areas were sleeping outdoors, braving freezing temperatures for fear of aftershocks.
Afghan authorities said they were scrambling to access the hardest-hit areas near the epicenter, located 73 kilometers (45 miles) south of Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan province.
Badakhshan is one of the poorest areas of Afghanistan and frequently hit by floods, snowstorms and mudslides. Its valleys and mountains make access to many areas by road almost impossible at the best of times. It often has big earthquakes, but casualty figures are usually low because it is so sparsely populated, with fewer than 1 million people.
The Taliban issued a statement calling on all Afghans "not to hold back in providing shelter, food and medical supplies" to earthquake victims and said its fighters would also lend a hand.
The insurgents, fighting to overthrow the Kabul government for 14 years, have built a presence in northern provinces this year, notably in Badakhshan. Some districts, including Jarm, have been seized briefly by Taliban gunmen. Officials have said it is part of their strategy to take control of strategically insignificant areas to force the Afghan government to spread its military resources ever-thinner in the fight to defeat the insurgency.
In Pakistan, the picturesque Swat Valley and areas around Dir, Malakand and Shangla towns in the mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were hard-hit by the earthquake. Officials said 202 of the dead were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
President PPP Overseas Senator Dr. Rehman Malik and MPA Makhdoom Rafiquz Zaman called on Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party at Bilawal House separately on Tuesday.
Senator Malik gave briefing about the organizational matters of the PPP Overseas and discussed with him strategy to make PPP Overseas as a vibrant wing of the Party and political matters of the country.
They expressed sympathy with the people of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa adding that PPP will utilize all the available resources to play its part in the relief and rehabilitation. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that he has already issued instructions to the KPK Branch of the Party in this regard.
PPP MPA Makhdoom Rafiquz Zaman apprised the Chairman about the political and Local Government election situation in Matiari district. He informed that the Party candidates already won unopposed from two Union Councils of the district. He said PPP candidates are poised to stage a big win in the districts despite alliances of some opponent individuals and smaller parties.