Geneva, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — U.N.-backed investigators who examined a crackdown by Myanmar security forces that caused hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh issued a searing critique Tuesday of the United Nations' own response to the human rights crisis.
In a 432-page report, the members of a "fact-finding mission" on Myanmar fleshed out preliminary findings and recommendations released in a shorter version three weeks ago.
The investigators reiterated that senior Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya during a deadly crackdown that erupted in August 2017 following militant attacks on security posts in Rakhine state.
The full report also provided new details about the investigators' concerns about the how the United Nations reacted during that spasm of violence. The investigators pointed out the "only statement" from the U.N. resident coordinator's office "was to condemn the ARSA (militant group) attacks and losses suffered by the Myanmar security forces."
The fact-finding mission was created by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council in March 2017 after years of abuses against ethnic minorities in Myanmar, with a focus on the period since 2011 when the country began opening up after decades of isolation under a long-ruling military junta.
Though the investigators looked at the treatment of minority groups across the Southeast Asian nation, their mandate came just six months before crackdown against the Rohingya in Rakhine, injecting the mission with far greater importance to help detail those abuses, crimes and human rights violations.
The full report provides a detailed analysis of violence in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, much of which has been documented and made public through collection of witness accounts, satellite imagery and other sources of information. It pointed to allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes on the part of the military and other security forces, including murder, torture, pillaging, execution without due process, rape, sexual slavery and taking hostages.
It said some acts by ethnic armed groups and the Rohingya militant organization ARSA could also constitute war crimes.
Crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide can be considered by international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court, but Myanmar is not a party to the ICC and its government has snubbed a ruling by the court's judges that said the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes against the Rohingya.
The investigators decried little or no response from the Myanmar government to their findings, which were provided to it in advance.
On Tuesday, Myanmar has a chance to respond directly to the allegations: its new ambassador in Geneva, Kyaw Moe Tun, was set to speak during an "interactive dialogue" at the Human Rights Council, after the fact-finding team shared some of its findings with the 47-member body.
The full report's critique of the United Nations focused not only on its response to Rohingya crisis, but its efforts across the country.
For example, the investigators noted that the U.N. had rolled out a "Human Rights Up Front Action Plan" in Myanmar in 2013, but said its "human rights driven" approach was "rarely, if ever, pursued."
"Rather, it was largely 'business as usual', with development goals and humanitarian access prioritized only," the authors wrote.
They cited allegations that some U.N. personnel who tried to pursue a human rights agenda "were ignored, criticized, sidelined or blocked in these efforts."
They alluded to criticism from Fieldview Solutions, an outside group that works to advance human rights, in July that cited some in U.N. and humanitarian circles for not doing enough to expand their "political space" in Myanmar, and alleging: "The Myanmar government has learned that it can count on U.N. and humanitarian self-censorship."
The U.N. experts said they regretted that some U.N. entities and staffers showed "a lack of cooperation" with their work, and "appeared to view it as a threat, rather than a means to address the most deep rooted human rights challenges facing Myanmar."
"This attitude and approach must change," they added.
The investigators did acknowledge that some people in the country had faced "intimidation and reprisals" for their "engagement" with the United Nations.
The team reiterated their urgent call for "a comprehensive, independent inquiry into the United Nations' involvement in Myanmar since 2011, with a view to establishing whether everything possible to prevent or mitigate the unfolding crises was done," as well as drawing lessons and — "as appropriate" — making recommendations on accountability.
They also said a second fact-finding mission should be authorized to examine the continued threats to human rights of the Rohingya and others throughout Myanmar.
The investigators bemoaned that "there has been no review of what happened, of where the approach taken had some positive effect and where it did not, and of how the U.N'.s approach could be improved in future crises."
Moscow, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) —Russia's Defense Ministry says one of its reconnaissance aircraft with 15 people on board has been brought down by a Syrian surface-to-air missile over the Mediterranean Sea. Rescuers are searching for wreckage but do not expect survivors.
The Russian military said on Tuesday that the plane was hit by accident by one of the missiles, which were aimed at four Israeli fighter jets that were attacking targets in the coastal province of Latakia late on Monday.
Russia said the Israeli aircraft "pushed" the Russian plane into the line of fire. The ministry accused the Israeli army of "intentional provocation" and said Israel did not warn Russia of its operation in the area until one minute before the strike.
Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and it has two military bases in the country, including one close to the Mediterranean coast.
Russia's military says one of its aircraft with 14 people on board has disappeared over Syria's Mediterranean Sea coast.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the Il-20 jet went off radar 35 kilometers (22 miles) away from the coast late Monday as it was returning to the Russian base near the city of Lattakia. The military said the plane disappeared as four Israeli fighter jets were attacking targets in the area.
Officials did not immediately say if the plane was shot down.
Washington, Sep 18 (AP/UNB)— The U.S. will slash the number of refugees it will accept for a second straight year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, insisting amid criticism from human rights groups that the country is still committed to providing sanctuary to people fleeing the world's danger zones.
Up to 30,000 refugees will be allowed into the country next year, down from a cap of 45,000 this year. It will be the lowest ceiling on admissions since the program began in 1980. The announcement Monday came despite calls from global humanitarian groups that this year's cap of 45,000 was too low.
Pompeo sought to head off potential criticism of the reduction by noting that the U.S. would process more than 280,000 asylum claims in addition to more than 800,000 already inside the country who are awaiting a resolution of their claims.
"These expansive figures continue the United States' long-standing record as the most generous nation in the world when it comes to protection-based immigration and assistance," he said.
The 30,000 cap is the maximum number of refugees the U.S. will admit during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The actual number allowed in could be lower. So far this year, the U.S. has only admitted 20,918 refugees for the fiscal year set to end in two weeks, according to State Department records.
President Barack Obama raised the ceiling to 110,000 in 2017, but the pace slowed dramatically after President Donald Trump took office and issued an executive order addressing refugees. In 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration, the U.S. welcomed nearly 85,000 refugees.
Pompeo said the lower ceiling reflected commitment to aiding families forced to flee their homes by war, persecution or natural disasters while "prioritizing the safety and well-being of the American people." He cited the case of an Iraqi refugee who was arrested in California for killing a policeman in his homeland while fighting for the Islamic State organization.
"This year's proposed refugee ceiling must be considered in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States," he said, citing U.S. contributions to foreign aid and other forms of humanitarian assistance.
Amnesty International accused the Trump administration of "abandoning" refugees with the lower cap.
"This is the lowest goal in the history of the program, and compounded by this administration's history of creating road block after road block for refugees to arrive, this must be perceived as an all-out attack against our country's ability to resettle refugees both now and in the future," said Ryan Mace of Amnesty International.
Worldwide, there were some 25.4 million refugees last year, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, with many more people internally displaced within their home countries. Most aid groups and governments advocate resettlement as a last resort, preferring to allow refugees to return to their homes if conditions improve, rather than permanently moving to another country.
During the ceiling announcement Monday Pompeo advocated U.S. efforts "to end conflicts that drive displacement in the first place and to target the application of foreign aid in a smarter way."
Trump has made limiting immigration a centerpiece of his policy agenda. The Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy that forcibly separated families at the U.S. southern border sparked outrage among Republicans and Democrats alike. Last year Trump temporarily banned visitors from a handful of Muslim-majority nations, and insists he'll build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump has linked increased immigration to increased crime in the United States. Yet, according to resettlement agencies in the United States, the U.S. vetting process is one of the world's toughest. Of the 3 million refugees admitted to the U.S. since 1975, not one has been arrested for carrying out a lethal terror attack on U.S. soil, according to resettlement agencies.
Most applicants to the U.S. refugee program spend at least three years being interviewed, undergoing biometric checks and medical exams, and filling out paperwork. Cases are screened by the Defense Department, FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.
After they are resettled, refugees continue to undergo security checks in the United States for five years or more.
The Trump administration added requirements, including longer background checks and more screenings for females and males between 14 and 50 from certain countries, including Iraq.
Gaza City, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Gaza's Health Ministry says 26 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire during a mass protest on the border with Israel.
Thousands gathered Monday on the beach along the border fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israel to demonstrate against Egypt and Israel's blockade.
The Israeli military says protesters burned tires and threw rocks and explosives at troops on the border, who responded with tear gas and live fire.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group ruling Gaza since 2007, has led weekly protests since March to lift the blockade that has crippled the territory's economy.
Israeli fire has killed at least 131 Palestinians since protests began. Israel and Hamas came to the brink of full-blown conflict last month, and Hamas is widening protests as Egyptian-mediated ceasefire negotiations have stalled.
Damascus, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Loud explosions shook Syria's coastal province of Latakia late Monday, sending orange flames into the sky in what Syrian state media said was an Israeli attack on a state company for technical industries that injured 10 people.
Explosions continued for nearly a half hour, said state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV, which aired footage showing streaks of white light flashing across the sky. An unidentified military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defenses intercepted some missiles heading for the provincial capital of Latakia from the sea.
Al-Ikhbariya said all two of the injured were hospitalized and the rest were released after treatment.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which initially reported the explosions, also reported 10 wounded, saying all of them were soldiers and some were in critical condition.
The war monitoring group said the target appeared to be an ammunition depot that in the compound of the state Institute for Technical Industries. The group it was not clear if the depot was for Iranian or Syrian forces.
The strikes followed a similar attack on Damascus International Airport late Saturday, which Syrian state media also blamed on Israel. A military official quoted then on state media said Syrian air defenses intercepted some missiles coming from the sea.
Other attacks were reported on Sept. 4 that targeted sites in the coastal Tartus area and in Hama province. The Observatory said at the time that the Sept. 4 attacks were believed aimed at Iranian military posts.
Israel is widely believed to have been behind a series of airstrikes mainly targeting Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Syria that have joined the country's war fighting alongside the government. Israel rarely acknowledges attacks inside Syria, but has said it will use military action to prevent weapons transfers to its enemies. Earlier this month, an Israeli military official said the Jewish state has struck over 200 Iranian targets in Syria over the past 18 months.
U.S. and Israeli officials have said that Iran and Hezbollah should end their armed presence in Syria. Israel says it will not tolerate Iran's growing presence in Syria.
Monday's attack came hours after Russia and Turkey announced an agreement that effectively prevents a Syrian government offensive against Idlib, a rebel-held area in northwestern Syria.