United Nations, Dec 4 (AP/UNB) — More than 150 women and girls have sought treatment in the past 12 days for rape and other acts of sexual violence near Bentiu, the second-largest city in South Sudan, U.N. officials said Monday.
A joint statement from the U.N. humanitarian chief and the heads of the U.N. children's agency and the U.N. population agency condemned the "abhorrent attacks."
They said that "the assailants have been described as armed men, many in uniform."
A U.N. statement said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attacks. "These horrific acts are a distressing reminder of how, despite recent recommitments by South Sudan's leaders to a cessation of hostilities and a revitalized peace agreement, the security situation for civilians remains dire, especially for women and children," the statement said.
Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and U.N. Population Fund Executive Director Natalia Kanem called on authorities "to publicly denounce the attacks and ensure that those responsible for these crimes face justice."
In the first half of 2018, they said, some 2,300 cases of gender-based violence were reported to medical and aid groups in South Sudan, the vast majority perpetrated against women and girls and over 20 percent against children.
"The actual number of cases is far higher, as gender-based violence continues to be severely under-reported," the U.N. officials said.
"Humanitarian workers are providing critical, life-saving assistance and services to the survivors of the attacks," they said. "We call on the authorities to ensure the protection and safety of both civilians and aid workers, to ensure that further such horrendous violations are prevented and that assistance reaches those in need."
Humanitarian workers have warned of higher rates of sexual assault as growing numbers of desperate people try to reach aid.
Doctors Without Borders said Saturday the "dramatic increase" in sexual violence occurred as the women and girls walked to a food distribution site in Bentiu in Unity state.
They were robbed of clothing and shoes, and even their ration cards for food distribution were seized and destroyed, the group said.
Ruth Okello, a midwife with Doctors Without Borders who treated some of the survivors, called what happened "indescribable" and said those targeted include pregnant and elderly women and girls as young as 10.
Before the latest attacks, the medical charity said its Bentiu clinic treated 104 survivors of sexual assault in the first 10 months of this year.
There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But it plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.
Sexual violence has been widespread in the country's civil war.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 didn't stop the fighting, and neither did cessation of hostilities agreement in December 2017 and a declaration on June 27. A Sept. 12 power-sharing agreement signed in neighboring Sudan has so far been fraught with delays, missed deadlines and continued fighting in parts of the country.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and forced over 4 million to flee their homes — more than 1.8 million of them leaving the country in what has become one of the world's fastest-growing refugee crises.
A U.N. panel of experts circulated a report last week saying that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and U.N. human rights experts recently "corroborated accounts by victims and witnesses of women and girls as young as 12 years having been abducted by opposition forces and paraded for commanders to choose as 'wives'."
Three of Machar's commanders in charge of forces committing the offenses have been identified, the panel said. They were not named.
Washington, Dec 3 (AP/UNB) — Last year's Kennedy Center Honors ceremony was almost overshadowed by controversy surrounding the sitting president. This year's event took place in the shadow of the death of a former commander-in-chief.
Sunday night's ceremony honoring lifetime artistic achievement featured multiple tributes to former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday night at age 94.
The night kicked off with an extended standing ovation in Bush's memory at the request of hostess Gloria Estefan.
"I think it's appropriate to recognize the passing of a wonderful man who dedicated his life to service and who graciously attended this event many times during his administration, laughing, applauding, singing along and even shedding a tear from right up there in the presidential box," said Estefan, who recalled being invited to the White House and how Bush "literally spent 45 minutes patiently talking to my eight-year-old son" about how the government worked.
Within days of that White House visit, Estefan's tour bus was in a serious accident that left her nearly paralyzed and President Bush called her in the hospital, she said.
For the second straight year, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump declined an invitation to the awards. They returned to Washington before dawn Sunday from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.
The Trumps skipped last year's ceremony after several of the honorees — most notably leftist television producer Norman Lear — threatened to boycott if he attended. This year, nobody issued that kind of overt threat, but the Trumps still announced three weeks ago that they wouldn't attend.
David Rubenstein, the chairman of the board for the Kennedy Center, said after intermission that he often thinks about the values Bush brought to public service.
"I never met a more decent man, a more philanthropic person, a more genuine person," Rubenstein said.
Bush attended the Kennedy Center Honors for most years during his presidency — and even afterward, during his son's presidency — but like other leaders, he was pulled away by major issues that demanded his time. Bush didn't attend in 1989 because he was at a summit in Malta. Jimmy Carter missed the 1979 awards because of the Iran hostage crisis. Bill Clinton was on his way to a conference during the 1994 Kennedy Center awards.
Trump, however, is the first president to miss them twice.
Had he gone to the Kennedy Center, he might have faced opposition from at least some of the honorees, including Cher and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Trump and his administration have put unprecedented distance between themselves and the arts and science communities. No arts or humanities medals have been announced or handed out since September 2016, when Barack Obama was president — the longest gap by months since the awards were established in the mid-1980s.
This year's honorees for lifetime achievements in the arts were Cher, composer Philip Glass, country music legend Reba McEntire and jazz icon Wayne Shorter. An unprecedented special award went to the co-creators of "Hamilton" for their genre-bending musical.
McEntire was introduced by music star Kelly Clarkson, who performed McEntire's hit song "Fancy."
"Sometimes when we meet our heroes, it doesn't always pan out," Clarkson told McEntire, "but my friendship with you became one of the highlights of my life."
Shorter was hailed by the Kennedy Center for a six-decade career that included collaborations with Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell.
Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center's artistic director for jazz, described Shorter's music in celestial terms.
"His sound holds a special place in the galaxy," Moran said. "I can safely say that somewhere in the galaxy right now, a band is playing one of his pieces."
Glass received his tribute from a fellow Kennedy Center Honors recipient: singer-songwriter Paul Simon.
"He can rightfully be described as one of our greatest modern composers," Simon said.
Simon praised Glass for his eclectic body of work, "never settling into one particular style, always developing and exploring."
This year's event contained a break from tradition by honoring an actual contemporary work of art — the blockbuster musical "Hamilton" — in addition to lifetime achievement awards for late-career artists. Writer and actor Miranda, director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and music director Alex Lacamoire were honored as "trailblazing creators of a transformative work that defies category."
Comedian Whoopi Goldberg kicked off a tribute to Cher in a flowing sparkly gown that she joked came from the pop music icon's closet.
"She is the true original," Goldberg said. "She not only marched to the beat of her own drum — honey, she is a one-woman band!"
The evening ended with Cyndi Lauper, a longtime friend of Cher's, performing "If I Could Turn Back Time."
The Honors tribute performers are always kept secret from the recipients, and this was no exception. When Lauper appeared, Cher yelled from her seat, "You told me you were going to Los Angeles!"
Lauper shrugged onstage and said, "I lied."
Tokyo, Dec 3 (AP/UNB) — Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday to take concrete steps toward complete denuclearization and gain the trust of the international community if he wants sanctions lifted.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, said "this is the time" to achieve North Korea's denuclearization after nearly a quarter century of unsuccessful efforts, and that the North and the world should not lose this opportunity.
"I'd like to really advise the North Korean leader that the world is ready" to help his country, Ban told The Associated Press, specifically citing South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. He said denuclearization is important for a better future for the two Koreas, including reconciliation and reunification.
"I hope this is the time, please do not lose this opportunity," he said.
Kim sharply raised tensions with nuclear and missile tests last year, but suddenly reached out to South Korea and the United States this year with a vague nuclear disarmament pledge.
North Korea is seeking security guarantees from the U.S. and relief from international sanctions.
U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in say tensions have eased significantly since then, but Ban, who is in Tokyo for a World Bank event, said the crisis is not over and that North Korea should fully disclose its nuclear weapons inventory to a trusted international organization such as the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"The crisis is still continuing because of North Korea's development of nuclear, missile and weapons program and materials. It is North Korea which should clearly state and show by taking actions, then I am sure that there will be no reason why the Security Council of the United Nations will continue to impose the sanction on North Korea," Ban said.
South Korea's Moon has facilitated a series of high-level talks between the U.S. and North Korea, including a summit between Trump and Kim in June, and has met Kim three times this year. After their third meeting in North Korea's capital of Pyongyang in September, Moon said Kim agreed to make a reciprocal visit to Seoul this year. If that happens, he would be the first North Korean leader to do so since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, though the plan is still unclear.
Trump recently said he is likely to hold a second summit with Kim in January or February. Ban said he hopes their second summit will occur at a time when the international community feels confident about North Korea's commitment to denuclearization.
Dhaka, Dec 3 (UNB) - In his public writings, Jamal Khashoggi's criticism of Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was measured. In private, the Washington Post columnist didn't hold back.
In more than 400 WhatsApp messages sent to a fellow Saudi exile in the year before he was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Khashoggi describes bin Salman -- often referred to as MBS -- as a "beast," a "pac-man" who would devour all in his path, even his supporters, reports CNN.
CNN has been granted exclusive access to the correspondence between Khashoggi and Montreal-based activist Omar Abdulaziz. The messages shared by Abdulaziz, which include voice recordings, photos and videos, paint a picture of a man deeply troubled by what he regarded as the petulance of his kingdom's powerful young prince.
"The more victims he eats, the more he wants," says Khashoggi in one message sent in May, just after a group of Saudi activists had been rounded up. "I will not be surprised if the oppression will reach even those who are cheering him on."
The exchanges reveal a progression from talk to action -- the pair had begun planning an online youth movement that would hold the Saudi state to account. "[Jamal] believed that MBS is the issue, is the problem and he said this kid should be stopped," Abdulaziz said in an interview with CNN.
But in August, when he believed their conversations may have been intercepted by Saudi authorities, a sense of foreboding descends over Khashoggi. "God help us," he wrote.
Two months later, he was dead.
Abdulaziz on Sunday launched a lawsuit against an Israeli company that invented the software he believes was used to hack his phone.
"The hacking of my phone played a major role in what happened to Jamal, I am really sorry to say," Abdelaziz told CNN. "The guilt is killing me."
Omar Abdulaziz believes Saudi authorities intercepted private messages between him and Jamal Khashoggi.
SIM cards and financial support
Abdulaziz began speaking out against the Saudi regime as a college student in Canada. His pointed criticisms of government policies drew the attention of the Saudi state, which canceled his university scholarship. Canada granted him asylum in 2014 and made him a permanent resident three years later.
In almost daily exchanges between October 2017 and August 2018, Khashoggi and Abdulaziz conceived plans to form an electronic army to engage young Saudis back home and debunk state propaganda on social media, leveraging Khashoggi's establishment profile and the 27-year-old Abdulaziz's 340,000-strong Twitter following.
The digital offensive, dubbed the "cyber bees," had emerged from earlier discussions about creating a portal for documenting human rights abuses in their homeland as well an initiative to produce short films for mobile distribution. "We have no parliament; we just have Twitter," said Abdulaziz, adding that Twitter is also the Saudi's government's strongest weapon. "Twitter is the only tool they're using to fight and to spread their rumors. We've been attacked, we've been insulted, we'd been threatened so many times, and we decided to do something."
The pair's scheme involved two key elements that Saudi Arabia might well have viewed as hostile acts. The first involved sending foreign SIM cards to dissidents back home so they could tweet without being traced. The second was money. According to Abdulaziz, Khashoggi pledged an initial $30,000 and promised to drum up support from rich donors under the radar.
In one exchange, dated May this year, Abdulaziz writes to Khashoggi. "I sent you some ideas about the electronic army. By email."
"Brilliant report," Khashoggi replies. "I will try to sort out the money. We have to do something."
A month later, another message sent by Abdulaziz confirms the first $5,000 transfer has arrived. Khashoggi replies with a thumbs up.
But in early August, he says he received word from Saudi Arabia that government officials were aware of the pair's online project. He passed the news to Khashoggi.
"How did they know?" asks Khashoggi in a message.
"There must have been a gap," says Abdulaziz.
Three minutes pass before Khashoggi writes back: "God help us."
Abdulaziz first spoke publicly about his contact with Khashoggi last month after researchers at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab reported his phone had been hacked by military-grade spyware.
According to Bill Marczak, a research fellow at the Citizen Lab, the software was the invention of an Israeli firm named NSO Group, and deployed at the behest of the Saudi Arabian government.
Marczak said at least two other Saudi dissidents have been targeted with NSO tools: an activist named Yahya Assiri and a staff member who had been involved in Amnesty International's work on Saudi Arabia.
Danna Ingleton, an Amnesty deputy program director, said its technology experts studied the staff member's phone and confirmed it was targeted with the spyware. Amnesty is currently exploring potential recourse against NSO Group and last week wrote a letter to the Israeli Ministry of Defense requesting it revoke NSO's export license, Ingleton said.
On Sunday, Abdulaziz's lawyers filed a lawsuit in Tel Aviv, alleging NSO broke international laws by selling its software to oppressive regimes, knowing it could be used to infringe human rights. "NSO should be held accountable in order to protect the lives of political dissidents, journalists and human rights activists," said the Jerusalem-based lawyer Alaa Mahajna, who is acting for Abdulaziz.
The lawsuit follows another filed in Israel and Cyprus by citizens in Mexico and Qatar.
In a statement, NSO Group says its technology helps governments fight crime, and is fully vetted and licensed by the Israeli government. "Our products have a long track record of assisting governments in preventing suicide bombers, stopping drug lords and sex traffickers, and helping safely return victims of kidnapping," the statement said.
"If there is suspicion of misuse, we investigate it and take the appropriate actions, including suspending or terminating a contract," it adds.
'Tyranny has no logic'
The fact Abdulaziz's phone contained spyware means Saudi officials would have been able to see the same 400 messages Abdulaziz exchanged with Khashoggi over the period.
The messages portray Khashoggi, a Saudi former establishment figure, becoming increasingly fearful for his country's fate as bin Salman consolidates his power.
"He loves force, oppression and needs to show them off," Khashoggi says of bin Salman, "but tyranny has no logic."
Such discussions could be considered treasonous in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the world's worst records for free speech. In a sign Khashoggi and Abdulaziz were mindful of their security in exile, they flitted back and forth between phone calls, voice messages and chats on WhatsApp and other encrypted platforms like Telegram and Signal.
As Khashoggi speculated about bin Salman's future, Abdulaziz was already in the crown prince's sights and was about to receive a visit with a message right from the top.
'Message from MBS'
Last May, Abdulaziz said two Saudi government emissaries asked to meet with him in Montreal. He agreed and says he secretly recorded 10 hours of their conversations over the course of their five-day stay. He shared them with CNN.
Speaking in Arabic, the men, referred to only as Abdullah and Malek, tell Abdulaziz they have been sent on the orders of bin Salman himself, bypassing the usual channels like the Security Ministry. Bin Salman watches him on his Twitter feed, they say, and wants to offer him a job.
"We have come to you with a message from Mohammed bin Salman and his assurance to you," one of them says.
Abdelaziz's recorded messages are telling because Saudi Arabia has always claimed its crown prince had nothing to do with plots like the one leading to Khashoggi's death, blaming that incident on a failed rendition attempt, masterminded by advisers and subordinates from the security staff.
Chillingly, the men mention also Saud al Qathani, bin Salman's powerful social media enforcer -- fired and under investigation in Saudi Arabia amid claims by Turkey that he was the mastermind of Khashoggi's murder.
"If Saud al Qathani himself hears your name, he will immediately know and you can meet with Prince Mohammed directly," says one other man.
Then they recommend Abdulaziz visits the Saudi embassy to pick up some paperwork.
Poignantly, Abdelaziz says it was possibly Khashoggi's advice that saved his life.
"He told me not to go and only to meet them in public places."
On October 2, Khashoggi did the opposite. It was the last time he checked his WhatsApp messages.
Katowice, Dec 3 (AP/UNB) — Negotiators from around the world opened the United Nations' annual climate change conference Sunday in a Polish city built around mining coal, widely seen as a main culprit behind global warming.
Arriving for two weeks of talks on tackling climate change, conference participants cast off hats, scarves and heavy coats as they entered cavernous halls in Katowice heated by coal-fired power plants nearby.
Coal is center-stage at the U.N. summit, which is taking place three years after a landmark deal in Paris set a goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
While the Polish government claims Katowice is in the process of transforming into a green city , power plant chimneys pumped plumes of smoke into a dull December sky and monitoring sites showed elevated levels of air pollution.
Poland, which is presiding over the meeting, plans to use Monday's official opening event to promote a declaration calling for a "just transition" for fossil fuel industries that face cuts and closures amid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental activists have expressed concerns about the non-binding declaration, arguing that it could be cited as justification for propping up dying industries instead of investing in renewable energy sources. Some also have questioned why coal companies are among the meeting's sponsors.
Poland's deputy environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, who is chairing the conference, urged envoys from almost 200 nations to use the time between Sunday and Dec. 14 to make progress on fleshing out the 2015 Paris agreement.
"We are here to enable the world to act together on climate change," he said. With further meetings next year meant to build on what's decided in Katowice, Kurtyka urged all countries to "show creativity and flexibility."
"The United Nations secretary-general is counting on us, all of us to deliver," he added. "There is no Plan B."
The World Bank Group said Monday it is doubling funding for poor countries preparing for climate change to $200 billion over five years. It said about $50 billion will be earmarked for climate adaptation, a recognition that some adverse effects of global warming can't be avoided anymore but require a change in practice.
The meeting, known as COP24, received a boost over the weekend when 19 major economies at the G-20 summit affirmed their commitment to the Paris accord. The only holdout was the United States, which announced under President Donald Trump that it is withdrawing from the climate pact.
"Despite geopolitical instability, the climate consensus is proving highly resilient," said Christiana Figueres, a former head of the U.N. climate office.
"It is sad that the federal administration of the United States, a country that is increasingly feeling the full force of climate impacts, continues to refuse to listen to the objective voice of science when it comes to climate change," Figures said.
She cited a recent expert report warning of the consequences of letting average global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).
"The rest of the G-20 have not only understood the science, they are taking actions to both prevent the major impacts and strengthen their economies," said Figueres, who now works with Mission 2020, a group that campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While the United States is withdrawing from the climate pact, the State Department said it is sending a delegation to the Katowice conference.
The meeting in Katowice is regarded as a key test of countries' willingness to back their lofty but distant goals with concrete measures, some of which are already drawing fierce protests . At the top of the agenda is the so-called Paris rulebook , which will determine how governments record and report their greenhouse emissions and efforts to cut them.
Separately, negotiators will discuss ramping up countries' national emissions targets after 2020, and financial support for poor nations that are struggling to adapt to climate change.
The shift away from fossil fuels, which scientists say has to happen by 2050, is expected to require a major overhaul of world economies.
"The good news is that we do know a lot of what we need to be able to do to get there," said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute.
Waskow, who has followed climate talks for years, said despite the Trump administration's refusal to back this global effort the momentum is going in the right direction.
"It's not one or two players anymore in the international arena," he said. "It's what I think you could call a distributed leadership, where you have a number of countries — some of them small or medium-sized — really making headway and doing it in tandem with cities and states and businesses."
Not far from the meeting venue, Polish anti-coal activists held a small protest Sunday. It was dwarfed by marches in Brussels, Berlin and Cologne over the weekend calling for greater action to curb climate change.
But the governor of Germany's most populous state said Sunday it was premature to set a firm date for phasing out the use of coal-fired power plants. Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, told the Funke media group that Germany's decision to stop mining and burning lignite coal "must be considered seriously and decided with broad consensus."
German officials had hoped to present a blueprint for the country's exit from coal at the meeting in Katowice, but an expert committee delayed issuing its recommendations until next year.