Hundreds of Mosul civilians killed by airstrikes were told not to flee by authorities – Amnesty

Hundreds of Mosul residents were killed by airstrikes in their homes following repeated instructions from Iraqi authorities not to leave, Amnesty International says. It adds coalition forces should have known they were likely to result in civilian deaths.

Citing numerous testimonies given by survivors and eyewitnesses, Amnesty said many people did not attempt to flee during the US-backed operation to retake the city from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) due to Iraqi authorities’ instructions. 

FILE PHOTO. © Khalid al Mousily

“Evidence gathered on the ground in east Mosul points to an alarming pattern of US-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside,” said Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis response adviser who carried out field investigations in Mosul.

She noted the increasingly high civilian death toll “suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”

The fact that the Iraqi authorities repeatedly told civilians not to flee the war-ravaged city in the midst of fighting, “indicates that coalition forces should have known that these strikes were likely to result in a significant numbers of civilian casualties,” the organization said, adding that “disproportionate attacks and indiscriminate attacks violate international humanitarian law and can constitute war crimes.”

Wa’ad Ahmad al-Tai, a resident of eastern Mosul, said these instructions were delivered via radio and through leaflets dropped from military aircraft.

“The government … told us [to] stay in our homes and avoid displacement,” he added.

Amnesty has also noted IS resorts to using civilians as human shields, which amounts to a war crime.

READ MORE: Civilian deaths in Mosul are miscalculations & mistakes – Iraqi President

“However, the IS’s use of human shields does not absolve Iraqi and coalition forces from their obligation not to launch disproportionate attacks,” said Rovera.

Amnesty has urged the Iraqi government and the US-led coalition to “immediately launch an independent and impartial investigation into the appalling civilian death toll resulting from the Mosul operation.”

The statement comes as the US-led coalition faces allegations that one of their airstrikes on March 17 killed dozens of civilians.

READ MORE: 307 civilians killed, 273 wounded in western Mosul since February 17 – UN human rights chief  

The US declared that its forces are not planning to change the way they conduct airstrikes despite the battle for Mosul entering more densely-populated areas in the western part of the city.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi president told RIA Novosti that “there is coordination between the US coalition and Iraqi security forces, but sometimes it fails,” civilian deaths being the result of “miscalculations” and “unintended mistakes.”

UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein made a statement on Tuesday condemning the “massive loss of civilian lives in western Mosul,” where at least 307 people have been killed and 273 wounded in just over a month.

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South African Anti-Apartheid Leader Ahmed Kathrada Dies

Ahmed Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment along with the Nelson Mandela; served 26 years and three months.

Ahmed "Uncle Kathy" Kathrada was hospitalised in Johannesburg earlier this month after surgery to relieve blood clotting in the brain. Earlier today, his foundation confirmed that the former colleague of late South African President Nelson Mandela had succumbed to post-surgical complications at the Donald Gordon Hospital in Johannesburg.

RELATED: South Africa Minister Urges Expropriation of White-Owned Land

Kathrada, who was a lifelong supporter of the African National Congress (ANC), Palestine and all things liberation-related, was sentenced to life imprisonment along with the Mandela. He was imprisoned for 26 years and three months – 18 of which were on the infamous Robben Island. He was then moved to Pollsmoor prison in 1982 before being released from jail on Oct. 15, 1989, at the age of 60.

The activist-turned-politician later served as parliamentary counselor in Mandela's first administration. "We are deeply saddened to learn this morning of the passing on of our dear friend and founding trustee, Ahmed Kathrada," wrote the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Twitter. "Hamba Kahle [farewell] Kathy."

Kathrada had dedicated his life to fighting the racial injustice of white-minority rule in South Africa. He was also one of the most senior ANC leaders to criticize President Jacob Zuma's presidency regarding allegations of government corruption and maladministration. “This is great loss to the ANC, the broader liberation movement and South Africa as a whole. Internationally, he was staunch in his support for the Palestinian struggle. "Kathy" was an inspiration to millions in different parts of the world,” Neeshan Balton director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation said.

RELATED: South Africa President Blasts Anti-Corruption Report as Unfair

Tourism minister and activist Derek Hanekom added that the passing of the “revolutionary mentor and dear friend” was a great lost. “Comrade Kathy was a gentle, humane and humble soul. He was a determined revolutionary, who gave his entire life to the liberation struggle in our country,” Hanekom shared.

Former Archbishop of Cape Town Reverend Desmond Tutu said in a short statement published on Facebook: "May Ahmed rest in peace and rise in glory. May he rejoice in many heavenly cups of hot chocolate with his old friends and comrades, Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi and Mahlaba, among them."

Kathrada was born to immigrant Indian parents in the Schweizer-Reneke province of South Africa, just before the Great Depression, in 1929. He became involved in politics at the tender age of 12 when he distributed leaflets for the Young Communist League of South Africa.

He was married to fellow anti-apartheid activist Barbara Hogan, who served 10 years in jail for high treason against the apartheid government.

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Mexican Police Caught Handing Over Youth to Armed Group

The video showed a group of police officers in a busy street hand over the handcuffed youths to a group of armed men. 

Policeman in Culiacan, the capital of Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa state, were filmed arresting eight young men before handing them over to what was believed to be an organized crime group, in an incident that echoes the circumstances that led to the disappearances of 43 students at Ayotzinapa teachers' college which sparked outcry more than two years ago. 

RELATED: Cuban Migrants File Abuse Complaint Against Mexican Officials

The video shot by neighbors on Wednesday night shows how the group of youths, bound with handcuffs, were arrested by agents on a busy street outside a restaurant. As the lights of the police car flashed, the youths were then put into the vehicles of the armed men, who were presumed to be part of one of the state's notorious criminal organizations. A number of people were seen walking around the area with large weapons.

Head of public security in Sinaloa, Victor Hugo Sanchez Mendieta, confirmed to media that police filmed in the video were municipal agents, who had actually admitted to handing over the arrested youth because they were threatened by the criminal group. 

Sanchez Mendieta said that the police involved in the incident had already been arrested and that an investigation would be initiated. It was thought that the incident could have been part of a “clone” operation where police members wear plain clothes and pose as members of organized crime groups.

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Sanchez Mendieta also encouraged citizens to denounce similar dishonest behavior by police. The identity and the current location of the youths that were handed over by the police remains unknown.

RELATED: Mexico 'Paramilitary Police' Accused of Torture, Killings: UN

Collusion between police and criminal organizations in Mexico is not rare. The incident in Culiacan bears a concerning resemblance to the infamous Ayotzinapa disappearances from 2014, which still remain unsolved. 

In the state of Guerrero, police from the town of Iguala pulled over 43 students from Ayotzinapa teachers' college on their way to attend a protest in Mexico City. 

Several independent investigations have uncovered evidence which not only challenges the official government claim that the students were murdered by a local drug gang, but also points to high levels of state involvement in the disappearances, including accusations that police handed the students over to criminals.

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Parents of Ayotzinapa 43 Take Mexico to Human Rights Tribunal

"The Mexican state has to account for the meager progress in the investigation and the search for our children,”the parents said in a statement.

On Thursday, the parents of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa teachers' college announced that they would take the Mexican attorney general's office to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 17, given the continued lack of progress in the investigation into the disappearance of their children over 2 years ago.

RELATED: Parents of Ayotzinapa 43 Pledge to 'Toughen up Their Actions'

In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, the Committee of Parents of the 43 said that they were canceling a scheduled meeting with the attorney general's office on Thursday and instead were taking their case to the regional international human rights body.

"Considering that the attorney general's office has offered no guarantees to respond to the proposals we made at the meeting last February 9, the IACHR is the appropriate forum before which the Mexican state has to account for the meager progress in the investigation and the search for our children," said the statement.

After their last meeting with the government on Feb. 9, the parents had promised to "toughen up our actions" if there was no progress in the case by March 9.

The 43 students — from the largely Indigenous teachers' college renowned for its activism — were on their way to a protest in Mexico City when they were pulled over by local police on Sept. 26, 2014. They have been missing ever since.

In the two years since the disappearance the parents, as well as several independent investigations have uncovered evidence which not only challenges the official government claim that the students were murdered by a local drug gang, but also points to higher level state involvement in the disappearance.

Just last week the Mexican-based representative to the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights slammed the attorney general's inquiry into problems with the investigation, calling it a whitewash and pointing to "serious violations" by various officials.

In their statement the parents said that they will now take the demands they had planned to present at Thursday's meeting to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 17 in Washington, D.C.

The statement was also signed by the students' committee of the Ayotzinapa teachers' college.

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ELN and Paramilitary Fighting Displaces Hundreds of Colombians

As the FARC begins to disarm, other paramilitary groups continue to fuel violence across the country.

Hundreds of Colombians were displaced in the country’s northwest over the weekend as fighting erupted between members of the National Liberation Army, ELN, and Colombia's paramilitary group, Gaitanistas Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AGC, commonly known as “Los Urabeños.”

RELATED: Colombia Pardons First FARC Troops Under Amnesty Law

According to reports, a group of around 200  “Urabeños” attempted to push out ELN forces from the Baudo region in the northwestern Choco province. They arrived in the Peña Azul community on Saturday by boat and started firing indiscriminately into the community while screaming that they had come to kill ELN troops.

Over 300 people were displaced by the fighting, including children and elderly, and fled north to Pie de Pato, according to AFP.

While it was unclear if there were any civilian casualties or injuries from the fighting, the ombudsman of the Choco department, Luis Enrique Murillo, warned that there were still eight families from Peña Azul who could not leave the community and whose location remained unknown.The region has been known as a stronghold of Colombia’s second-largest rebel army, the ELN, who have recently been seeking a peace deal with the Colombian government similar to the one reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country’s biggest rebel group.

“Los Urabeños” evolved from the officially disbanded  “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia,” or AUC, a right-wing group that supposedly demobilized between 2003 and 2006 during the government of former President Alvaro Uribe.

RELATED: Indigenous Bari Campesinos Face Colombia Paramilitary Violence

While peace between the FARC and the government was reached in November and the rebel group continues to demobilize, other paramilitary groups continue to operate throughout the country with deadly consequences.

The current government under Juan Manuel Santos has claimed that paramilitary groups do not exist and have demobilized. Yet paramilitary groups continue to wreak havoc in the vacuums created by the FARC,  leaving rural leaders and human rights defenders vulnerable, partially with the lack of state protection.

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‘Extrajudicial execution’: UN slams 1.5yr sentence for manslaughter of wounded Palestinian

The 18-month sentence handed down by a military court to an Israeli soldier who shot a wounded Palestinian man dead last year was “unacceptable” and “excessively lenient,” the UN human rights office has said.

“We are deeply disturbed at the lenient sentence given by the Tel Aviv Military Court earlier this week to an Israeli soldier convicted of unlawfully killing a wounded Palestinian,” UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. 

IDF Sergeant Elor Azaria’s act was “an apparent extrajudicial execution of an unarmed man, who clearly posed no imminent threat,” Shamdasani added, as cited by Reuters.

In March of 2016, the soldier shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif Elor, a Palestinian knife attacker, in the head after he had already been incapacitated.

Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 1.5 years behind bars on Tuesday, despite the prosecutors asking the judge for a three- to five-year punishment.

READ MORE: 'Constant fear': Activist who filmed Israeli soldier shooting Palestinian tells RT of death threats

The verdict caused outrage in Palestine, with government spokesman Tarek Rishmawi telling AFP that the “light ruling… is a green light to the occupation army to continue its crimes.”

According to the UN human rights spokeswoman, there’s a “chronic culture of impunity” for military crimes against Palestinians in Israel.

“This case risks undermining confidence in the justice system and reinforcing the culture of impunity,” Shamdasani said, adding that, under Israeli law, manslaughter can carry a maximum punishment of 20 years.

She also pointed out that, so far, Azaria is the only member of Israel’s security forces to have been brought to trial for this type of killing, while over 200 Palestinians were gunned down by Israeli troops since the new spike in violence began in the West Bank in September of 2015.

READ MORE: "You protect us, we protect you': Israel mulls legal immunity extension for IDF soldiers

The 18-month verdict “also stands in contrast to the sentences handed down by other Israeli courts for other less serious offenses, notably the sentencing of Palestinian children to more than three years’ imprisonment for throwing stones at cars,” the spokeswoman stressed.

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Spain's Podemos Snubs Argentina's Macri over Rights Abuses

Spanish lawmakers criticized the visit of Argentine President Mauricio Macri and the human right violations of his government.

Left parties in the Spanish Congress criticized Wednesday the presence of Argentine President Mauricio Macri, with one lawmaker greeting him with a shirt demanding the release of Milagro Sala, an Indigenous activist and lawmaker who was dubbed the first "political prisoner" of Macri's administration when she was arrested after a protest in January 2016.

RELATED: Macri Rejects UN's Call to Release Political Prisoner Sala

Macri also received a letter from the left-wing party Podemos party requesting the release of the activist, who has been in jail for more than a year. After his address to Congress, none of the Podemos lawmakers applauded.

In a second rejection to Macri’s visit, the same party announced its members will not participate in the state dinner that the Spanish king will offer on Wednesday in honor of the Argentine president, his wife Juliana Awada and his team. All parties in Congress are often invited for celebrations as part of official visits by presidents or heads of state.

Upon his arrival, President Macri also shook the hand of lawmaker Irene Montero, a spokesperson for Podemos, who wore a white t-shirt with a drawing of Sala and in black letters the phrase "Free Milagro."

Irene Moreno received Macri in the Spanish Congress with a t-shirt that asks "Freedom for Milagro Sala."

Montero called Macri "an offshore agent," referring to his use of tax havens revealed through the Panama Papers leak last year that identified Macri as one of a dozen global power players with assets in offshore companies.

"It’s not necessary to do those acts of honoring a president of the type of Macri," said Montero during a press conference Tuesday. She also accused him of being "responsible for human rights violations".

RELATED: Milagro Sala Trial: ‘I Apologize for Being Black and an Indian'

Meanwhile, Lawmaker Anton Gomez-Reino blasted the visit, saying that the Congress "is not a chamber of commerce in the service of the Popular Party of (Primer Minister Mariano) Rajoy and President Macri. Congress is not a platform for his friends’ businesses."

Iñigo Errejon, also from Podemos, said he was troubled by the fact that Macri called the parliamentary coup in Brazil against former President Dilma Rousseff “a political change.”

Meanwhile, back in Argentina various workers’ organizations called a massive protest in the capital city of Buenos Aires to protest the Macri government. The movements have also suggested that the may set up an encampment in the center of the capital city to continue the protest against also said they could set up a camp under the emblematic obelisk monument in the center of the city.

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Canada to Host Victims of Persecution, Terror and War

Ottawa, Jan 30 (Prensa Latina) Canada will welcome people fleeing persecution, terror and war regardless of their faith, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Diversity is our strength, Trudeau said this weekend in his Twitter account.

These statements contrast with the executive order of US President Donald Trump, which prohibits the entry of refugees to this country for four months.

According to the head of state, the measure, signed yesterday and that also makes it impossible to issue visas to citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days , aims to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States.

'We want to make sure we are not admitting the threats our soldiers are fighting abroad,' the Republican president said at the Pentagon's headquarters.

Trump's disposition accumulates inside and outside the United States a growing rejection by politicians, the media, intellectuals, celebrities and ordinary citizens.

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