Kuala Lumpur, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's government has come under renewed pressure to outlaw child marriages after another case of a child bride surfaced in a rural state, the second in two months.
The New Straits Times newspaper reported that a 15-year-old teenager became the second wife of a 44-year-old Muslim man in northeast Kelantan state. It says the union was approved by the Shariah court with her parents' consent. The case came two months after a Kelantan rubber trader married an 11-year-old girl as his third wife.
Muslim girls under the minimum legal marriage age of 16 can wed with the consent of the Shariah court and their parents.
The case has sparked outrage among rights groups. UNICEF in a statement received Wednesday urged Malaysia to bring legislative change to ban the practice.
Pyongyang, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced a sweeping set of agreements after their second day of talks in Pyongyang on Wednesday that included a promise by Kim to permanently dismantle the North's main nuclear complex if the United States takes corresponding measures, the acceptance of international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and a vow to work together to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.
Declaring they had made a major step toward peace on the Korean Peninsula, the two leaders were side by side as they announced the joint statement to a group of North and South Korean reporters after a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning.
"We have agreed to make the Korean Peninsula a land of peace that is free from nuclear weapons and nuclear threat," Kim said as he stood by Moon's side at the guesthouse where Moon is staying. "The road to our future will not always be smooth and we may face challenges and trials we can't anticipate. But we aren't afraid of headwinds because our strength will grow as we overcome each trial based on the strength of our nation."
Kim and Moon earlier smiled and chatted as they walked down a hallway and into a meeting room to finalize the joint statement, which also said that the leaders would push for a Korean Peninsula without nuclear weapons and to "eliminate all the danger of war." They agreed that Kim would visit the South in the near future.
The statement caps off the third summit between Kim and Moon, who is under increasing pressure from Washington to find a path forward in its efforts to get Kim to completely — and unilaterally — abandon his nuclear arsenal.
But while containing several tantalizing offers, it appears to fall short of the major steps many in Washington had been looking for — such as a commitment by Pyongyang to provide a list of the North's nuclear facilities, a solid step-by-step timeline or an agreement to allow international inspectors in to assess progress or discover violations.
The question is whether it will be enough for President Donald Trump to pick up where Moon has left off.
Trump has maintained that he and Kim have a solid relationship, and both leaders have expressed interest in a follow-up summit to their meeting in June in Singapore. North Korea has been demanding a declaration formally ending the Korean War, which was stopped in 1953 by a cease-fire, but neither leader mentioned it as they read the joint statement.
In the meantime, however, Moon and Kim made concrete moves of their own to reduce tensions on their border.
According a joint statement signed by the countries' defense chiefs, the two Koreas agreed to establish buffer zones along their land and sea borders to reduce military tensions and prevent accidental clashes. They also agreed to withdraw 11 guard posts from the Demilitarized Zone by December and to establish a no-fly zone above the military demarcation line that bisects the two Koreas that will apply to planes, helicopters and drones.
Though not directly linked to security, the leaders' announcement that they would seek a joint Summer Olympics was a significant move in terms of easing tensions and building trust. It also flows from the North's decision to participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Games in February, which was regarded as a success for both sides.
Other agreements aimed at removing some longstanding irritants from their relations — such as allowing more contact between families divided by the Korean War. Moon also appeared to be making good on his proposals to help build up the North's infrastructure and open cross-border rail links.
Unlike Trump's initial tweets praising the summit, the news brought a quick and negative response from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who tweeted he was concerned the visit would undermine efforts by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to impose "maximum pressure" on Pyongyang.
"While North Korea has stopped testing missiles and nuclear devices, they have NOT moved toward denuclearization," he tweeted.
With the main business of the day over, North Korea was expected to hold a huge mass games spectacle in the evening, with Moon as the special guest.
The North had put the iconic games, which feature tens of thousands of performers dancing and flipping placards in unison to create giant mosaics and slogans, on a back burner for the past several years, but revived them for this month's celebrations of its 70th founding anniversary. In a performance for the anniversary, a giant photo of Moon and Kim shaking hands at their first summit in April was projected onto one side of the stands in Pyongyang's 150,000-seat May Day Stadium.
Kim has gone all out to make Moon's visit a memorable one.
On Tuesday, the first day of the summit, he greeted Moon and his wife at Pyongyang's airport and then rode into town with Moon in an open limousine through streets lined with crowds of North Koreans, who cheered and waved the flag of their country and a blue-and-white flag that symbolizes Korean unity.
The summit talks began at the ruling Workers' Party headquarters where Kim and Moon were joined by two of their top deputies — spy chief Suh Hoon and presidential security director Chung Eui-yong for Moon, and for Kim, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, and senior Workers' Party official Kim Yong Chol, according to Moon's office.
At the start of their meeting Tuesday, Kim thanked Moon for brokering the June summit with Trump.
"It's not too much to say that it's Moon's efforts that arranged a historic North Korea-U.S. summit. Because of that, the regional political situation has been stabilized and more progress on North Korea-U.S. ties is expected," Kim said, according to South Korean media pool reports and Moon's office.
Moon responded by expressing his own thanks to Kim for making a "bold decision" in a New Year's speech to open a new era of detente and send a delegation to the South Korean Winter Olympics in February.
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."
Islamabad, Sept 18 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan has pledged to grant citizenship to Pakistan-born children of Afghan and Bengali refugees who have been living in the country for decades.
Khan, in his first visit to commercial hub Karachi city, said hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Bangladeshis live in the country without the benefits of its social security system.
Addressing a fundraiser for dam construction, Khan said the children's lack of documentation and education has prevented them from getting jobs, so they turn to crime. He said his government will grant them citizenship.
His comments drew criticism from the opposition Pakistan People's Party on Monday. Provincial minister Saeed Ghani said Pakistan could not afford the move.
UN reports say Pakistan has the largest refugee population in the world, mostly from Afghanistan.
United Nations, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — The U.N. envoy for Afghanistan said Monday that the war-torn country is in its best position since 2001 to start the process leading to peace talks with the Taliban.
Tadamichi Yamamoto told the U.N. Security Council that the road ahead will be most difficult, requiring "resilience and persistence."
He said Afghan government efforts, "which we hope would be reciprocated by the Taliban," need to be reinforced by regional and other key countries — and by confidence-building measures that could include prisoner releases and technical assistance in contested areas on agriculture, education and health.
Taliban officials said last week they are ready for a second round of talks with the U.S., possibly this month.
Yamamoto said he remains very concerned about security and political challenges to Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections since 2010, scheduled for Oct. 20.
"Operationally and technically, the preparations are on track," he said, but "political challenges could jeopardize the tight timelines and derail the elections unless all political leaders engage constructively and peacefully to ensure the elections are held on time."
The United Nations is also aware "of real fraud which might take place, as well as allegations of fraud which may have the tactical purpose of discrediting already difficult elections," Yamamoto said.
He said the elections, plus the presidential vote set for next April, will be a test for Afghanistan's young democratic institutions. The Independent Election Commission, which is in the lead, will be looked on to perform with "the highest degree of integrity, professionalism and with full accountability to the Afghan people," he added.
While the Taliban has said it is ready for more talks with the U.S., both the U.S. and Afghan governments have insisted that negotiations on Afghanistan's future be Afghan-led. Direct talks between Washington and the Taliban are viewed as a stepping stone toward Afghan-to-Afghan talks.
"Whatever setbacks may lie ahead, we are in a better position now than at any time in the past 17 years to commence the process which would lead to talks for a negotiated end to the conflict," Yamamoto told the council.
He said that "all sides must realize that there is no military solution to the conflict."
An upsurge in attacks and the highest civilian casualty toll ever recorded by the U.N. in the first six months of 2018 underscore the difficulties Afghan forces face in trying to secure the country on their own. The Afghan forces have struggled to combat both the Taliban and an Islamic State affiliate since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014.
Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador, Mahmoud Saikal, said the government is "keenly following" the envisioned U.S. talks with the Taliban.
"Lately, through increased diplomatic engagement with various partners, we have strengthened regional and international consensus in support of peace efforts," he said.
But, he said, real progress toward peace won't be possible "unless the consistent pattern to manipulate, misuse opportunities and deception for strategic gains comes to an end."
For nearly 25 years, Saikal said, "Afghanistan has turned into the site of what I term a 'geographical genocide target' of certain circles within our region," which he didn't identify.
He said regional and international support for the Afghan-led peace process "is vital" to its success.