Yangon, Aug 27 (AP/UNB) — A Myanmar judge delayed the verdict that had been expected Monday against two Reuters journalists accused of possessing official documents illegally in a case that has drawn attention to the faltering state of press freedom in the troubled Southeast Asian nation.
The verdict was postponed to Sept. 3. The judge who announced the delay did not give a reason.
Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone have pleaded not guilty to violating Myanmar's colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. They were arrested in December and have been detained since then after being denied bail.
The reporters contend they were framed by police while reporting on Myanmar's brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine that has drawn international condemnation.
About 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh after the crackdown began last August, and Myanmar's army has been accused by human rights groups and U.N. experts of committing massive human rights violations amounting to ethnic cleansing, and possibly genocide.
The two reporters for the international news agency had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya by soldiers, police and Buddhist civilians. In a rare instance of security forces being punished for extrajudicial killings, Myanmar's government later announced that seven soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor for the killings.
The government has denied any widespread abuses but continues to restrict access in Rakhine. It insists the crackdown was a justified response to coordinated surprise attacks by Rohingya militants that killed dozens of security personnel.
Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, and Wa Lone, 32, both testified to suffering harsh treatment during their initial interrogations. They lost several appeals for bail to be set.
The court also formally charged the reporters even though a police captain called as a prosecution witness during an initial phase of the trial testified that his commander had order that documents be planted on the journalists to entrap them.
After his testimony, the police whistleblower, Moe Yan Naing, was jailed for a year for violating police regulations and his family kicked out of police housing.
The documents presented as evidence in court appeared to be neither secret nor sensitive. The reporters testified they did not solicit or knowingly possess any secret documents.
"The evidence before the court is clear: Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are two honest reporters who did not commit a crime. Imprisoning them for even one more day would be unlawful retribution for their truthful and important journalism," Reuters said in a statement after the trial's closing arguments were delivered last week.
The case has dissipated hope for a new era of freedom of expression under the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party came to power in 2015 after five decades of military control. The case of the Reuters reporters is only the latest under her administration where the courts have aggressively pursued legal charges against dozens of journalists, along with other attempts to suppress and discredit the media.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Myanmar to immediately release the two Reuters journalists.
Pompeo tweeted that he had raised U.S. concerns about the two reporters' detainment when he met with Myanmar officials on the sidelines of a regional gathering in Singapore.
Tokyo, Aug 27 (AP/UNB) — North Korea has expelled a Japanese tourist who had been detained by authorities on unspecified charges, the official Korean Central News Agency said late Sunday.
A two-sentence report said that Tomoyuki Sugimoto had been "kept under control" for questioning about "his crime." It did not say what he had been accused of.
Authorities decided "to leniently condone him" and expel him on the principle of humanitarianism, the North Korean news agency said.
The Japanese government confirmed about two weeks ago that it was looking into reports that one of its citizens was being held. It has not identified him by name.
Japan's Kyodo News service, citing a government source, said the man was believed to be a videographer and may have been suspected of shooting video of a military facility while on a group tour to Nampo, a western port city.
The government had sought his release through the North Korean embassy in Beijing, Kyodo said. Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Geneva, Aug 27 (AP/UNB) — Investigators working for the U.N.'s top human rights body said Monday that top Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims.
The call, accompanying a first report by the investigators, amounts to some of the strongest language yet from U.N. officials who have denounced alleged human rights violations in Myanmar since a bloody crackdown began last August.
The three-member "fact-finding mission" working under a mandate from the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council meticulously assembled hundreds of accounts by expatriate Rohingya, satellite footage and other information to assemble the report.
The U.N.-backed Human Rights Council created the mission six months before a rebel attack on security posts set off the crackdown that drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
Through hundreds of interviews with expatriate Rohingya and use of satellite footage, the team compiled accounts of crimes including gang rape, the torching of hundreds of villages, enslavement, and killings of children — some before their eyes of their own parents. The team was not granted access to Myanmar and has decried a lack of cooperation or even response from the government, which received an early copy of the report.
The team cited a "conservative" estimate that some 10,000 people were killed in the violence, but outside investigators have had no access to the affected regions — making a precise accounting elusive, if not impossible.
Above all, the investigators said the situation in Myanmar should be referred to the International Criminal Court, and if not, to a special tribunal. Last week, Myanmar's government rejected any cooperation with the ICC, to which it is not a party. China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto power over whether the issue will be brought before the ICC, has been reticent about condemning Myanmar's government during the crisis.
U.N. officials and human rights watchers have for months pointed to evidence of genocide in Myanmar, and the United States late last year said that "ethnic cleansing" was occurring in Myanmar. But few experts have studied the issue as in-depth and in such an official way as the fact-finding team, with a mandate from a body that has Myanmar's approval: The country is among the 47 members of the Human Rights Council.
The United Nations does not apply the word "genocide" lightly. The fact-finding team's assessment suggests the crimes against the Rohingya could meet the strict legal definition — which was last met over crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda nearly a quarter-century ago.
Human rights watchers say determining "genocidal intent" is perhaps the most difficult criteria to meet: In essence, it's the task of assessing the mindsets of perpetrators to determine if ethnicity, race, religion or another attribute had motivated them.
"The crimes in Rakhine state, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts," the report said, alluding to a region of Myanmar that is home for many Rohingya.
Adding into their assessment: The extreme brutality of the crimes; "hate rhetoric" and specific speech by perpetrators and military commanders; policies of exclusion against Rohingya people; an "oppressive context;" and the "level of organization indicating a plan for destruction."
The investigators cited six Myanmar military leaders by name as "priority subjects" for possible prosecution, led by the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing. A longer list of names is to be kept in the office of the U.N. human rights chief for possible use in future judicial proceedings. The United States and European Union have already slapped sanctions on some Myanmar military leaders, though Min Aung Hlaing is not among them.
The authors called for the creation of a special body, or "mechanism," to keep watch on the still-evolving human rights situation in Myanmar. They said the United Nations' own role in the country since 2011 should be reviewed to see if the world body did all it could to prevent such a crisis. They also faulted Aung San Suu Kyi for not using her role as head of Myanmar's government, nor her "moral authority" — she is a Nobel peace prize laureate — to stop the events in embattled Rakhine state.
Chicago, Aug 26 (AP/UNB) — Eight people, including six children, were killed when a fire broke out before dawn Sunday at a Chicago apartment in one of the deadliest fires in the nation's third-largest city in years, officials say.
Two other people were hospitalized in very critical condition, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt said. Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago told reporters that one of the children who died was an infant. Officials have not released the names or ages of the victims.
"We have not had this in many, many, many years — this amount of fatalities and injuries in one location," Santiago said.
Officials say firefighters were called around 4 a.m. to the fire in the largely Hispanic Little Village neighborhood on the city's southwest side. At least two buildings caught fire, one of them a coach house. The cause of the blaze hasn't been determined.
Video showed smoke coming from windows of the three-story building's stone facade, with flames engulfing the coach house at the back. Police officers helped push a stretcher toward an ambulance, while a paramedic simultaneously performed CPR. One woman lay on a street crying while someone tried to comfort her.
Those killed were all from the same residence, Merritt said. He said investigators have not found working smoke detectors.
At least one firefighter was injured and was hospitalized in good condition.
Geneva, Aug 18 (AP/UNB) — Kofi Annan, one of the world's most celebrated diplomats and a charismatic symbol of the United Nations who rose through its ranks to become the first black African secretary-general, has died. He was 80.
His foundation announced his death in Switzerland on Saturday in a tweet , saying he died after a short unspecified illness.
"Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy," the foundation said.
Annan spent virtually his entire career as an administrator in the United Nations. His aristocratic style, cool-tempered elegance and political savvy helped guide his ascent to become its seventh secretary-general, and the first hired from within. He served two terms from Jan. 1, 1997, to Dec. 31, 2006, capped nearly mid-way when he and the U.N. were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.
During his tenure, Annan presided over some of the worst failures and scandals at the world body, one of its most turbulent periods since its founding in 1945. Challenges from the outset forced him to spend much of his time struggling to restore its tarnished reputation.
His enduring moral prestige remained largely undented, however, both through charisma and by virtue of having negotiated with most of the powers in the world.
When he departed from the United Nations, he left behind a global organization far more aggressively engaged in peacekeeping and fighting poverty, setting the framework for the U.N.'s 21st-century response to mass atrocities and its emphasis on human rights and development.
"Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good," current U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. "It is with profound sadness that I learned of his passing. In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination."
Even out of office, Annan never completely left the U.N. orbit. He returned in special roles, including as the U.N.-Arab League's special envoy to Syria in 2012. He remained a powerful advocate for global causes through his eponymous foundation.
Annan took on the top U.N. post six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and presided during a decade when the world united against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks — then divided deeply over the U.S.-led war against Iraq. The U.S. relationship tested him as a world diplomatic leader.
"I think that my darkest moment was the Iraq war, and the fact that we could not stop it," Annan said in a February 2013 interview with TIME magazine to mark the publication of his memoir, "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace."
"I worked very hard — I was working the phone, talking to leaders around the world. The U.S. did not have the support in the Security Council," Annan recalled in the videotaped interview posted on The Kofi Annan Foundation's website.
"So they decided to go without the council. But I think the council was right in not sanctioning the war," he said. "Could you imagine if the U.N. had endorsed the war in Iraq, what our reputation would be like? Although at that point, President (George W.) Bush said the U.N. was headed toward irrelevance, because we had not supported the war. But now we know better."
Despite his well-honed diplomatic skills, Annan was never afraid to speak candidly. That didn't always win him fans, particularly in the case of Bush's administration, with whom Annan's camp spent much time bickering. Much of his second term was spent at odds with the United States, the U.N.'s biggest contributor, as he tried to lean on the nation to pay almost $2 billion in arrears.
Kofi Atta Annan was born April 8, 1938, into an elite family in Kumasi, Ghana, the son of a provincial governor and grandson of two tribal chiefs.
He shared his middle name Atta — "twin" in Ghana's Akan language — with a twin sister, Efua. He became fluent in English, French and several African languages, attending an elite boarding school and the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. He finished his undergraduate work in economics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1961. From there he went to Geneva, where he began his graduate studies in international affairs and launched his U.N. career.
Annan married Titi Alakija, a Nigerian woman, in 1965, and they had a daughter, Ama, and a son, Kojo. He returned to the U.S. in 1971 and earned a master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. The couple separated during the 1970s and, while working in Geneva, Annan met his second wife, Swedish lawyer Nane Lagergren. They married in 1984.
Annan worked for the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa in Ethiopia, its Emergency Force in Egypt, and the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, before taking a series of senior posts at U.N. headquarters in New York dealing with human resources, budget, finance, and staff security.
He also had special assignments. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, he facilitated the repatriation from Iraq of more than 900 international staff and other non-Iraqi nationals, and the release of western hostages in Iraq. He led the initial negotiations with Iraq for the sale of oil in exchange for humanitarian relief.
Just before becoming secretary-general, Annan served as U.N. peacekeeping chief and as special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, where he oversaw a transition in Bosnia from U.N. protective forces to NATO-led troops.
The U.N. peacekeeping operation faced two of its greatest failures during his tenure: the Rwanda genocide in 1994, and the massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995.
In both cases, the U.N. had deployed troops under Annan's command, but they failed to save the lives of the civilians they were mandated to protect. Annan offered apologies, but ignored calls to resign by U.S. Republican lawmakers. After became secretary-general, he called for U.N. reports on those two debacles — and they were highly critical of his management.
As secretary-general, Annan forged his experiences into a doctrine called the "Responsibility to Protect," that countries accepted — at least in principle — to head off genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes.
Annan sought to strengthen the U.N.'s management, coherence and accountability, efforts that required huge investments in training and technology, a new whistleblower policy and financial disclosure requirements.
In 1998, he helped ease a transition to civilian rule in Nigeria and visited Iraq to try to resolve its impasse with the Security Council over compliance with weapons inspections and other matters. The effort helped avoid an outbreak of hostilities that seemed imminent at the time.
In 1999, he was deeply involved in the process by which East Timor gained independence from Indonesia, and started the "Global Compact" initiative that has grown into the world's largest effort to promote corporate social responsibility.
Annan was chief architect of what became known as the Millennium Development Goals, and played a central role in creating the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.N.'s first counter-terrorism strategy.
Annan's uncontested election to a second term was unprecedented, reflecting the overwhelming support he enjoyed from both rich and poor countries. Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, which disburses Ted Turner's $1 billion pledge to U.N. causes, hailed "a saint-like sense about him."
In 2005, Annan succeeded in establishing the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council. But that year, the U.N. was facing almost daily attacks over allegations about corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, bribery by U.N. purchasing officials and widespread sex abuse by U.N. peacekeepers — an issue that would only balloon in importance after he left office.
It emerged that Annan's son, Kojo, had not disclosed payments he received from his employer, which had a $10 million-a-year contract to monitor humanitarian aid under the oil-for-food program. The company paid at least $300,000 to Kojo so he would not work for competitors after he left.
An independent report criticized the secretary-general for being too complacent, saying he should have done more to investigate matters even if he was not involved with the awarding of the contract.
World leaders agreed to create an internal U.N. ethics office, but a major overhaul of the U.N.'s outdated management practices and operating procedures was left to Annan's successor, Ban Ki-moon.
Before leaving office, Annan helped secure a truce between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, and mediated a settlement of a dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi peninsula.
At a farewell news conference, Annan listed as top achievements the promotion of human rights, the fighting to close the gap between extreme poverty and immense wealth, and the U.N. campaign to fight infectious diseases like AIDS.
He never took disappointments and setbacks personally. And he kept his view that diplomacy should take place in private and not in the public forum.
In his memoir, Annan recognized the costs of taking on the world's top diplomatic job, joking that "SG," for secretary-general, also signified "scapegoat" around U.N. headquarters.
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke called Annan "an international rock star of diplomacy."
After leaving his high-profile U.N. perch, Annan didn't let up. In 2007, his Geneva-based foundation was created. That year he helped broker peace in Kenya, where election violence had killed over 1,000 people.
He also joined The Elders, an elite group of former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, eventually succeeding Desmond Tutu as its chairman after a failed interlude trying to resolve Syria's rising civil war.
As special envoy to Syria in 2012, Annan won international backing for a six-point plan for peace. The U.N. deployed a 300-member observer force to monitor a cease-fire, but peace never took hold and Annan was unable to surmount the bitter stalemate among Security Council powers. He resigned in frustration seven months into the job, as the civil war raged on.
Annan continued to crisscross the globe. In 2017, his foundation's biggest projects included promotion of fair, peaceful elections; work with Myanmar's government to improve life in troubled Rakhine state; and battling violent extremism by enlisting young people to help.
He also remained a vocal commentator on troubles like the refugee crisis; promoted good governance, anti-corruption measures and sustainable agriculture in Africa; and pushed efforts in the fight against illegal drug trafficking.
Annan retained connections to many international organizations. He was chancellor of the University of Ghana, a fellow at New York's Columbia University, and professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
Annan is survived by his wife and three children. Funeral arrangements weren't immediately announced.