Nikki Haley calls Human Rights Council UN's 'greatest failure' in bid to justify US exit

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has launched another attack on the UN human rights body, calling it a failure for listing such countries as China and Cuba among its members. She had no qualms about Saudi Arabia, though.

Haley was speaking at the Heritage Foundation think tank, explaining the reasons for the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, which had drawn almost unanimous condemnation, on Wednesday. She singled out Cuba, China and Venezuela as the countries whose presence supposedly tarnishes the council's credibility.

FILE PHOTO Los Angeles, California

 

Pointing at the Council's membership criteria as one of its two major problems, along with its supposed bias against US ally Israel, Haley said that since she took office and up until now "its members included some of the worst human rights violators – the dictatorships of Cuba, China and Venezuela all have seats on the Council."

She took particular aim at Venezuela, slamming the council for inviting the Latin American country's President Nicolas Maduro, who she labelled a "dictator," to address the body in 2015. Haley said it was no wonder Maduro received a standing ovation, as "62 percent of Council members were not democracies."

Accusing the Council of being fixated on Israel, Haley argued that it turns a blind eye to the situation in Venezuela, Cuba and China. She also included Zimbabwe, which is not a member of the HRC.

"[The Human Rights Council] has focused its attention unfairly, and relentlessly on Israel meanwhile it ignored the misery, inflicted by regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe and China."

She ultimately summed up her opinion of the UNHRC by branding it the UN's "greatest failure."

"Judging by how it has fallen short of its promise, the Human Rights Council is the UN's greatest failure. It has taken the idea of human dignity… and it has reduced it to just another instrument of international politics," she said.

Choosing the "undemocratic" UNHRC members to pick on, Haley preferred to step around Saudi Arabia, another major US ally, and its highly problematic record. The ultra-conservative kingdom has been embroiled in the bloodshed in Yemen, leading the three-year bombing campaign that resulted in numerous civilian casualties and prompted human rights activists to call for Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman's arrests for alleged war crimes.

 
© Fayez Nureldine 

In its recent report, Human Rights Watch said that at least 87 "apparently unlawful" raids were conducted by the Saudi-led coalition since the onset of the campaign that claimed about 1,000 civilian lives, destroying homes and civilian infrastructure. Internally, despite loosening some of its decades-old restrictions and allowing women to drive and go to stadiums, Riyadh continues its crackdown on dissent and is not in a hurry to abolish barriers that impede girls and women from making some basic decisions without the prior consent of a male relative.

The US formally announced its decision to quit the UNHRC in June, dismissing the international body as the "protector of human rights abuses and cesspool of political bias" for its criticism of Israel's clampdown on Palestinians. Its seat was taken by Iceland in a landslide vote in July.

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Migrants In US Custody Describe Life In 'Ice Boxes' And 'Dog Pounds'

During their detention last month in a US Customs and Border Protection facility in Laredo, Texas, Karen and her two young sons were constantly cold. The family, which fled violence in Honduras, slept on a hard floor in a holding cell without mattresses, she said, their clothes still wet from crossing the Rio Grande.

"I can only hold one at a time to keep them warm. Whoever I am not holding is cold," she said in one of more than 200 sworn statements filed this week in a long-running lawsuit challenging conditions for children in immigration custody.

The statements, which were taken in June and July and identify immigrants only by their first names, provide a rare window into life in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. Migrants like Karen and her children who crossed into the United States illegally, as well as those who applied for asylum at the border, are often held in such facilities before being released or transferred to longer-term detention centres.

A nursing mother named Serafin, who said she fled Mexico after a cartel member threatened to rape her and kill her baby, said she was given too little food at a facility in San Ysidro, California.

"I am not producing enough breast milk to feed my baby because I am not eating enough," she said in her statement. "My daughter cries a lot because she is hungry."

A woman named Mayra said her 9-year-old son became fearful after their detention in Nogales, Arizona, where he saw children separated from their parents.

"He saw someone bound with chains and asked me whether I would be chained in the same way," she said. "He wonders when we will get to the United States. I do not tell him that we are already here. He wouldn't believe that the United States would treat us this way."

4ronbkrgFew immigrants said that conditions were adequate, most described cold temperatures, too little food.

LONG-RUNNING LAWSUIT

The statements were taken by attorneys for plaintiffs in a case brought against the U.S. government in 1985 on behalf of 15-year-old Jenny L. Flores. A 1997 settlement in the lawsuit set standards for humane treatment of children in detention and ordered their prompt release in most cases.

This week, the plaintiffs filed papers alleging that the detention conditions described in the declarations violate the humane treatment standards set out in the settlement, including speedy release of children.

"We now see many in CBP custody for three to six days," up from two to three days in prior months, said Peter Schey, the lead attorney for plaintiffs in the Flores case.

Reuters was unable to speak directly to the migrants who gave declarations because they weren't fully identified in the filing, and most of them are still in detention.

CBP referred requests for comment on the migrant statements to the Department of Justice, which declined to comment. In the past, CBP has defended conditions in its facilities.

In a report filed in the Flores case last month, CBP juvenile coordinator Henry Moak Jr. said that the department makes extensive efforts "to ensure all minors in CBP custody are treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors."

He said parents and children he interviewed had "received meals and snacks; had access to drinking water, functioning toilets, and functioning sinks; and were held in rooms that were maintained at an appropriate temperature."

He also noted, however, that CBP should ensure that food was not kept past its expiration date and that custodial data was consistently entered into records.

Moak referred requests for comment to CBP.

'ICE BOXES' AND 'DOG POUNDS'

Reports of harsh conditions in CBP facilities have surfaced repeatedly for years, including again recently when the government began separating children and parents. The new declarations are remarkable both for the number of detainee voices and the consistency of detail in what they report.

While a few immigrants said that conditions were adequate, most described cold temperatures, too little food, difficult separations from their children and crowded cells without enough sleeping mats. They said latrines were dirty and lacked privacy and that lights stayed on day and night.

James Tomsheck, who served as assistant commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection for internal affairs from 2006 to 2014, told Reuters that the facilities were designed for brief stays.

oejtjgm8Reports of harsh conditions in CBP facilities have surfaced repeatedly for years. (Reuters)

"There is no question that the amount of time persons are being held at these, what are designed to be temporary detention facilities, has become much longer than it was intended."

Detainees refer to some of the facilities as "hieleras," Spanish for "ice boxes" because they are so cold. Larger spaces with indoor fencing are referred to as "perreras" or "dog pounds."

Children in the facilities were often held in separate cells from their parents, according to the statements.

A woman named Leydi, held in Chula Vista, California, described watching young children trying to touch their parents through metal fences.

"The mothers tried to reach their children, and I saw children pressing up against the fence of the cage to try to reach out," she said. "But officials pulled the children away and yelled at their mothers."

John Sandweg, acting director of ICE from 2013 to 2014, said the problems stem from the fact that holding areas were designed to lock up adults for just a few hours while CBP processed paperwork.

"They're inappropriate, frankly, for children," he said.

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CELAC and EU call for end of U.S. blockade of Cuba

The foreign ministers of the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) called Tuesday for the end of the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States, since "it has caused undue humanitarian consequences for the Cuban people." 

"We reiterate our rejection of the application of those coercive measures of a unilateral nature with extraterritorial effect," the ministers said in the statement signed after a meeting in Brussels of the EU and CELAC foreign officials. 

The ministers also reaffirmed their rejection of the application of the extraterritorial provisions of the Helms-Burton Act, approved by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, which states that any non-U.S. company operating in Cuba may be subject to legal reprisals. 

In this regard, representatives of the EU and CELAC stressed that the United Nations General Assembly had adopted a resolution condemning this blockade, which was only opposed by the United States and Israel. 

"These measures are damaging the legitimate development of commercial ties between Cuba, the European Union and other countries," concluded the EU and CELAC foreign ministers. 

Edited by Pavel Jacomino
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Majority of Americans think Trump mishandling Russia: Reuters/Ipsos poll

(Reuters) - More than half of Americans disapprove of the way U.S. President Donald Trump is handling relations with Russia, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted after his controversial summit and joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, Trump’s performance at the Helsinki summit, where Trump refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and cast doubt on the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, did not seem to have an impact on his overall approval rating.

Forty-two percent of registered voters said they approved of Trump’s performance in office in the latest opinion poll, compared with a daily average of between 40 and 44 percent so far in July.

The poll found that 55 percent of registered voters disapproved while 37 percent approved of his handling of relations with Russia.

Among Republicans, 71 percent approved of his handling of Russia compared to 14 percent of Democrats.

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Trump still enjoys broad support among Republican voters despite criticism from party leaders about his words and actions while standing alongside the Russian leader answering questions from reporters, the poll results showed.

Trump surprised even his supporters when he praised the Russian leader during the news conference for his “strong and powerful” denial of meddling.

On Tuesday, Trump attempted to calm the political storm following his remarks, saying he misspoke at the news conference and had full confidence in U.S. agencies. But he appeared to veer from his script to add: “It could be other people also - there’s a lot of people out there,” he said.

A majority of registered voters, 59 percent, agree with the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found. But only 32 percent of Republicans think that is true compared to 84 percent of Democrats.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll also revealed a distinct split among Republican and Democratic voters over whether Russia should be considered an adversary of the United States.

Overall, 38 percent of registered voters agreed that Russia is an enemy of the United States. About the same percent considered Russia “a competitor” while 8 percent said it was “a friend.”

However, half the Democrats said it was an enemy while only about one in three Republicans considered it so.

Forty percent of Democrats described Russia as an imminent threat while only 14 percent of Republicans agreed.

Overall, 27 percent of registered voters considered Russia an imminent threat. Only North Korea got a higher response on that question, 31 percent.

The poll also asked Americans whether they think authorities will find evidence of an illegal relationship between the Trump administration and Russia. A slim majority, 51 percent, said it was likely, while 77 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of Republicans did.

The same general split was true when asked if Trump or someone from his campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Overall, 52 percent of registered voters agreed. But 81 percent of Democrats said that was true versus 19 percent of Republicans.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll gathered responses from 1,011 registered voters throughout the United States, including 453 Republicans and 399 Democrats. The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 4 percentage points.

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Maduro Highlights Fidel Castro's Legacy in Sao Paulo Forum

Havana, Jul 17 (Prensa Latina) Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro highlighted today the legacy of Fidel Castro's resistance and struggle at the 24th Meeting of Sao Paulo Forum.

In a plenary session devoted to the thought of the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, during the last day of the three-day meeting, the President pointed out Fidel's commitment to unity and the defense of social justice and the dignity of the people.

At Havana's Conventions Center, Maduro also mentioned the example of the Cuban leader (1926-2016) as a creator and promoter of projects marked by justice, democracy and dignity, regardless of what those processes are called.

During his speech, the Venezuelan leader addressed the situation in his country, subjected to internal and external aggression, with the United States government as a protagonist, a crusade that includes the danger of a military aggression.

We have resisted the violence and the attacks of the most powerful empire, said Maduro, who recalled the interest of the powers, and in particular of Washington, in seizing the great resources of the South American country, including oil and gold.

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'Disgraceful,' 'Shameful': Trump's Defense Of Putin Finds Few Supporters

President Donald Trump's refusal Monday to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in the 2016 US presidential campaign sparked pointed criticism from Republican leaders, including several of Trump's legislative allies who warned that his actions could ultimately hurt national security interests.

At a joint news conference with Putin in Helsinki, Trump spoke admiringly of Putin's denials and said he did not "see any reason why" Russia would be a fault for election-year hacking, effectively siding with the Russian leader over the assessment of the US intelligence community.

Within hours of the event's conclusion, Republicans had joined Democrats in criticizing the president's comments. Many more in the president's party reasserted the findings of Russian culpability, distancing themselves from their leader.

"The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy."

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a Trump ally and a fierce critic of the FBI's investigation of election meddling, released a statement calling on top administration officials to tell Trump "it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success."

Republican senators also were quick in their criticism of Trump's statements. "Shameful," tweeted Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. "Bizarre and flat-out wrong," wrote Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska in reference to Trump's separate assertion that both countries were to blame for their deteriorating relationship. "Missed opportunity," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who added that Trump's answer "will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves."

Since Trump's inauguration, members of his party on Capitol Hill have stifled much of their criticism of the president to preserve their own electoral viability and their ability to maintain private channels of communication with him. Trump's statements on Tuesday threatened that stance perhaps more than at any time since his defense last summer of Nazi sympathizers in Charlottesville during a dispute over Confederate statues.

At the Capitol on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to respond to a reporter's questions about whether he was disappointed with Trump's statements.

"As I have said repeatedly, the Russians are not our friends and I entirely agree with the assessment of our intelligence community," he said as he walked into the Senate chamber.

Some of the sharpest words Monday came from senators who have focused on foreign policy, a position that has often left them at odds with a president intent on upending traditional U.S. relationships.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Trump's comments made the United States look "like a pushover."

"I think sometimes he forgets the fact that these intelligence agencies report and work for him," Corker said. "Time and time again, he makes decisions not based on what's good for the country but how someone treats him. And that was very evident today."

In a statement, Republican Sen. John McCain who is being treated for brain cancer in his home state of Arizona, said: "Today's news conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Russia experts warned that Trump's refusal to blame Putin for the election interference would fulfill what U.S. prosecutors have described as a central Russian goal of its covert campaign in the United States: to sow domestic discord.

"We are now going to fight amongst ourselves," said Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama. "We are not going to develop strategies to counter Russia. We are going to be diminished on the playing field."

Trump has not demonstrated a similar concern, as he has worked to shift his party's foreign policy focus.

In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney declared Russia the nation's "Number One geopolitical foe" - a position reflecting decades of Republican orthodoxy that was cheered at the time by conservatives who had criticized Obama for telling a Russian official that he would have "more flexibility" after his reelection.

When CBS News asked him on Saturday to identify the nation's "biggest foe" right now, Trump pointed to the European Union before mentioning Russia or China. (In a statement Monday, Romney, now running for a Senate seat in Utah, called Trump's words "disgraceful and detrimental to our democratic principles" and said his behavior "undermines our national integrity and impairs our global credibility.")

Yet Trump's stance has tilted public opinion, with Republicans becoming more favorable toward Russia.

A January poll by the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent of Republican-leaning voters viewed Russian power and influence as a major threat to the United States, down from 58 percent in 2015. By contrast, 63 percent of Democratic-leaning voters considered Russia as a major threat in January.

The nation's intelligence agencies, in a January 2017 assessment, concluded that Russians were responsible for stealing documents that were later released online from the Democratic National Committee and other senior Democratic officials. A federal criminal indictment was filed against a dozen Russians on Friday.

During the presidential campaign, Trump initially blamed the hacking of Democratic accounts on Democrats.

Even after winning the election, Trump refused to accept the view that Russia had targeted the campaign. "I don't believe it. I don't believe they interfered," he said weeks after his victory.

Since then, he has waffled, saying at times that it may have been Russia and at other times that he found Russian denials credible, as he did Monday. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said in Helsinki.

Last week, 97 senators voted for a nonbinding resolution that called for the Trump administration to "counter malign activities of Russia that seek to undermine faith in democratic institutions in the United States and around the world." Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, were the only senators to vote against the measure, which also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. McCain, who was absent, did not vote.

"This is not one of these issues with respect to the intelligence community that is questionable or unsubstantiated," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who wrote the resolution, noting that the Senate has been thoroughly briefed on the intelligence pointing to Russia's culpability. "And I have seldom heard any of my colleagues question that conclusion."

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., a Trump ally whose wife serves as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, wrote on Twitter on Monday afternoon that Trump must clarify his statements about Putin and the U.S. intelligence community.

"It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected - immediately," Gingrich wrote.

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Trump And Putin To Hold First Summit Talks As Twitchy West Looks On

Helsinki: After months of exchanging long-distance compliments, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin sit down on Monday for their first ever summit, a potential political minefield at home for the  US president but a geopolitical win for his Russian counterpart.

Neither side expects major breakthroughs from the talks in the Finnish capital beyond warm words, an agreement to begin repairing battered US-Russia relations, and maybe a deal to start talks on issues such as nuclear arms control and Syria.

The two men, who have praised each other's leadership qualities from afar, could also agree to start restocking their respective embassies and returning confiscated diplomatic property after a wave of expulsions and retaliatory action prompted by the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

Ahead of the summit, both sides talked down the event, however, with Trump telling CBS he was going in with "low expectations" and John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, saying on ABC's "This Week" that the United States was not looking for "deliverables" and that the meeting would be "unstructured."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia's RT TV station that he also had low expectations. He would regard the summit as a success if there was an agreement to merely reopen severed lines of communications across the board, he said.

For Putin, the fact that the summit is even happening despite Russia's semi-pariah status among some Americans and  US allies is a geopolitical win because, in Russian eyes, it shows that Washington recognises Moscow as a great power whose interests must be taken into account.

For Russia, it is also a powerful sign that Western efforts to isolate Moscow have failed.

But for Trump, whose White House victory was actively supported by 12 Russian military intelligence agents, according to a recent  US indictment, and whose entourage is still being investigated for possible collusion with Moscow, the meeting is freighted with domestic political risk.

"We can say confidently that Putin's political risks are lower than those of President Trump," said Andrey Kortunov, head of RIAC, a Moscow think-tank close to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

"Putin has less to lose and more to gain because he does not have a domestic opposition, a potentially hostile legislature, and is not begin investigated like Trump. But if you look at the  US media they mostly focus on potential risks. Nobody there really believes that any good can come out of this summit."

A probe over allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016  US presidential election has clouded Trump's presidency. Trump has denied any collusion with the Russians by his campaign and Russia denies it meddled.

The Helsinki summit is the capstone to a nearly week-long trip for Trump during which he has sown doubts about his commitment to the NATO military alliance, Washington's so-called special relationship with Britain, and  US relations with the European Union that he called "a foe" in trade terms.

Against that backdrop and swirling uncertainty about what Trump might do or say next, his summit with Putin, which will include a one-on-one session with the Russian leader with only interpreters present, has both  US allies and  US politicians worried lest he make hasty and sweeping concessions.

 US Fears

Some politicians in the West believe the summit is happening at one of the most crucial junctures for the West since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. Certain NATO allies fear Putin might seek a grand deal that would undermine the  US-led transatlantic alliance.

Trump has said that he will raise the alleged Russian election meddling with Putin but does not expect to get anywhere, has spoken vaguely about the possibility of halting NATO war games in the Baltic region, and has said repeatedly that it would be good if he could get along with Russia.

When asked last month if he would recognise Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, he replied: "We're going to have to see."

On Friday, 12 Russians were indicted on charges of interfering in the  US 2016 election, a development that prompted some Democratic leaders to call on Trump to cancel the Putin meeting, a demand he quickly dismissed.

On the summit's eve, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, a political opponent of Trump, said he had told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the Helsinki meeting was a mistake.

"First, I don't believe the meeting should take place but if it is going to happen, President Trump must press Putin hard on the issue of election interference. He can't simply raise it, accept Putin's denial and then let him off the hook," Schumer said in a statement.

"Second, the President must demand that the 12 Russians named in the indictment be sent to the  US to stand trial. And third, President Trump should not agree to weaken, lift, or curtail any of the sanctions on Russia."

Any Trump request for Russia to extradite hacking suspects is likely to fall on deaf ears, however, as the Kremlin, citing the Russian constitution, has a policy of not handing over suspects wanted by other countries.

Many Western politicians remain angry over Russia's annexation of Crimea, its backing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, and its support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

Other accusations, denied by Moscow, include that it meddled in European politics, supplied the weapon that shot down a passenger plane in 2014 over Ukraine, and was behind the poisoning of the former Russian spy in Britain.

Moscow would love to have  US sanctions - initially imposed over the Crimea annexation - eased and eventually lifted. But most in Russia do not expect the summit to produce such an outcome.

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Ralph Gonsalves Asks for Defense for Latin Countries

Havana, Jul 15 (Prensa Latina) The Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, called today in this capital to defend the governments of Nicaragua and Venezuela, and to support the people of Brazil.

'We have to support these sister nations with their successes and failures, that is the meaning of our struggle,' said Gonsalves, speaking on the opening day of the 24th Annual Meeting of the Sao Paulo Forum that takes place at the Convention Center until Tuesday.

'One day is Venezuela, anotherday, it is Brazil and then Nicaragua, we always remember the coup against the government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in June 2009,' Gonsalves explained.

'Now Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is in prison but the people support him because people continue to see him as their leader,' he said.

The Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines lamented the impact of the economic, financial and commercial blockade that Cuba suffers, as this policy of the United States affects in other latitudes.

He denounced how external agents conspire against governments and systematically practice interference in the internal affairs of countries.

To date Cuba has hosted two editions of the meeting, the one in 1993 and the one in 2001.

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