Following reports that dozens of children have been killed in violence this week alone in Syria, a senior United Nations official on Friday stressed the need for unconditional evacuations of sick and wounded children from East Ghouta and other sieged areas.“The violence shows no sign of abating,” said UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore in a statement. “For children who remain trapped under siege and under wanton, heavy violence across Syria, life is a living nightmare. They are struggling just to stay alive.”Violence is intensifying in several parts of Syria, and in East Ghouta alone, hundreds of children are in urgent need of medical evacuation, she said, noting that four years of siege have crumbled health and other basic services and over the past few months, malnutrition has increased five-fold.Evacuation of sick children 'not a bargaining chip'“Children, wherever they are in Syria, must have access to healthcare. The evacuation of sick and wounded children from besieged areas should be a given, not part of bargaining efforts,” she warned.“I am heartbroken by what the children of Syria continue to suffer because of actions taken by adults – actions that show total disregard for the protection, safety and wellbeing of children,” she added.Protection of children must be paramount at all times, and schools, hospitals and playgrounds should be places of safety, never targets, she stressed, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Syria.-UN NEWS CENTRE
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken the first step in an investigation into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war, which has left thousands of people dead.Duterte's office announced on Thursday that it has received a notice that the international tribunal "is opening preliminary examination" into the deaths to determine if the gravity of the crimes fall under its jurisdiction.The case stems from a complaint filed before the international court last year accusing Duterte of ordering the killings "repeatedly, unchangingly, and continuously".Harry Roque, Duterte's spokesman told reporters in Manila, that the president "welcomes" the move, but added that it is "intended to embarrass" him."The president has said that he welcomes this preliminary examination, because he is sick and tired of being accused of the commission of crimes against humanity," Roque said.Under the ICC rules, it has jurisdiction over four main crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.In a statement posted online on Thursday, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda confirmed the report, saying that she has "closely followed" the situation in the Philippines since 2016. "While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations," she said. Bensouda also gave an assurance that she is undertaking her work "with full independence and impartiality".But Roque dismissed the ICC process as "a waste of time", and argued that the Philippines' war on drugs cannot be considered as a "crime against humanity", because it is a "legitimate police operation" to protect the state.He also said the Philippine courts are capable of undertaking the complaints, making it unnecessary for the international court to step in. More than 12,000 killedAn opposition senator and a congressman, who joined in filing the ICC complaint last year, has said that Duterte's "shoot to kill" order has become part of the president's "national policy".According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published in January 2018, more than 12,000 people have been killed since Duterte took office in June 2016. Other estimates put the death toll as high as 14,000. The Duterte administration has disputed these numbers, claiming that 3,906 "drug personalities" were killed during police operations from July 1, 2016 to September 26, 2017.While the government insists that all the killings were lawful, Duterte has been repeatedly quoted saying in public that he "will kill more if only to get rid of drugs".He also admitted killing people during his 22 years as mayor of Davao, a city in the southern island of Mindanao. Duterte vowed not only to "pardon" police officers convicted of drug killings, but also reinstate and promote them. Critics have said that Duterte's public declarations have allowed police to indiscriminately kill suspects, and heightened the culture of impunity in the country. An Al Jazeera investigation revealed that police officers were involved in attempted killings of unarmed drug suspects who had already surrendered to authorities.Another special report also detailed the killing of children by police officers. In recent weeks, police officers have been charged with murder.Duterte was also quoted as saying that innocent civilians and children killed in the drug war were "collateral damage".'Not above the law'In Manila, Antonio Trillanes, the opposition senator and ICC petitioner, said the decision of the international court is a welcome news."This development should jolt Duterte into realising that he is not above the law," Trillanes posted on social media. "More importantly, this is the first step for the victims' families' quest for justice."The "preliminary examination" is an "important step towards accountability for the thousands of killings in the so-called war on drugs," HRW Philippines said in a statement to Al Jazeera.Earlier, HRW criticised the Duterte administration for failing to make "genuine efforts to seek accountability for drug war abuses"."There have been no successful prosecutions or convictions of police implicated in summary killings despite compelling evidence of such abuses."In the past, Duterte had declared that he "will not be intimidated" by the international tribunal, and dismissed it as "bulls***". He also threatened to withdraw the Philippines' membership in the court calling it "useless".-AL JAZEERA
NAIROBI, Kenya — The two men were political allies.But they had a falling out over the direction of newly independent Kenya — especially over land and power — and became bitter adversaries.Now their sons are fighting a modern adaptation of the same battle as they vie to lead the country, pushing one of Africa’s youngest and most vibrant democracies to the brink of a constitutional crisis.“History is not exactly repeating itself,” said Maina Kiai, a human rights lawyer in Kenya, describing the eerie political parallels between past and present, “but it certainly is rhyming.”Politically, Kenya is deeply — and evenly — divided between Uhuru Kenyatta, the president, and his longtime political rival, Raila Odinga. In last year’s election, Mr. Kenyatta won slightly more than half the votes, and Mr. Odinga slightly less. Those results were tossed out in a historic decision by the Supreme Court, which cited widespread irregularities.The court ordered a do-over of the polling, which Mr. Kenyatta won. But Mr. Odinga has not accepted the result, and even “inaugurated” himself as “the people’s president” at the end of January.In recent weeks, supporters on both sides have hardened their claims that their man is the only legitimate leader.Mr. Odinga’s followers threaten to secede from the country if his main demands — dialogue and a path to new elections this year — are not met. Mr. Kenyatta’s followers say the opposition leader committed treason by staging his mock inauguration to undercut the legitimacy of the real one.It didn’t start out like this.Jomo Kenyatta, the father of the current president, was a Kenyan freedom fighter, the living embodiment of African nationalism, and, therefore, the British colonial government’s most hated man. He spent the last decade of Kenya’s colonial rule in prison.Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the father of Raila Odinga, negotiated independence with the British. The colonial rulers wanted Mr. Odinga to lead the new Kenya, but Mr. Odinga had other ideas: He demanded Mr. Kenyatta’s freedom — and his appointment as Kenya’s first head of state.“Kenyatta would not have been released, and he wouldn’t have been made prime minister, if it hadn’t been for Odinga’s backing,” said Daniel Branch, a professor of history at the University of Warwick and an expert on post-colonial Kenyan politics. “The two men always admired each other.”Willy Mutunga, who was chief justice of the Supreme Court from 2011 to 2016, believes Mr. Odinga was motivated by more than mere admiration. “I think he genuinely believed that the country was going to be better off with somebody who had become a legend,” he said.And so, in 1964, when Kenya became a republic, Jomo Kenyatta became its president, and Jaramogi Odinga vice-president.Not long after, though, things fell apart.The elder Mr. Kenyatta became a pro-Western capitalist, entrenching the wealth of his family and his ethnic community from his presidential perch. The elder Mr. Odinga advocated sharing state resources — especially the land the British settlers would leave behind — among Kenya’s many ethnic communities.“There was a dramatic departure between Odinga’s father and Kenyatta’s father,” said John Githongo, a longtime civil rights activist and a former federal civil servant. “In a sense, that old fight is ongoing now.”That fight was, and remains, partly about land, and partly about power.Mr. Kenyatta wanted to sell the British settler lands to Kenyans of means, and to concentrate political power in the presidency.Mr. Odinga wanted to redistribute land among those marginalized by the colonial government, and to have a decentralized power system that would allow neglected regions more autonomy and a share of the state coffers.These differences ultimately undermined the founding fathers’ alliance. In the end, Mr. Kenyatta set up a buyback scheme, which meant the land “went more or less to the political elites,” said Odenda Lumumba, the chief executive officer of the Kenya Land Alliance, a national land rights group based in Nanyuki. “The political elites, to protect themselves, attracted their ethnic tribes around them.”Mr. Kenyatta brokered land deals that benefited his fellow Kikuyus, and his own family. His government blocked repeated efforts by Parliament to limit land ownership, and his family amassed vast tracts of land, tea and coffee plantations, and stakes in ruby mines, among other riches, according to a 1978 dossier that the C.I.A. declassified last year.In 1966, Mr. Odinga split with Mr. Kenyatta and started a new political party. It was banned three years later, and Mr. Odinga was jailed for more than a year.After Mr. Kenyatta’s death in 1978, his handpicked successor, Daniel Arap Moi, banned other political parties, largely to keep Mr. Odinga out of politics.His government also cracked down on dissent, harassing and jailing opposition figures and democracy advocates, censoring the press, canceling the passports of perceived “enemies” of his government — all moves the younger Mr. Kenyatta has reinstated, in these last weeks, as he battles with the younger Odinga.By the time Kenya held its first competitive election, in 2002, political leadership had passed from Kenya’s founding fathers to their sons. Mr. Moi, who had run the country for 24 years, had groomed Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor, and Raila Odinga picked up his father’s fight after he died in 1994.In that election, Mr. Odinga’s party won, and Mwai Kibaki became president. But by 2013, Mr. Kenyatta defeated Mr. Odinga in a presidential election. Now he has won re-election — twice.It can feel, some here say, more like a family dynasty than a democracy.“Mr. Kenyatta is the fourth president of Kenya,” said Mr. Mutunga, the former chief justice. “He is also the son of the first president, the political protégé of the second president, and the godson of the third president.”Many here say Mr. Kenyatta’s interests look similar to his father’s.“Uhuru Kenyatta represents, in some respects, the continuation of an old order,” said Mr. Githongo, the civil rights activist. “And Odinga has always represented a change from that.”Mr. Kenyatta’s family’s land holdings have ballooned, to an estimated half-million hectares, or about 10 percent of the country, and corruption in his administration is rife. His first administration decentralized some of power shored up in Nairobi, but complaints about the financial support for Kenya’s new counties are widespread.Many say budgets are slow to come, or never appear. Concerns about the central government’s fiscal responsibility became so bad last year that the United States suspended $21 million in aid to the Ministry of Health, citing corruption and poor accounting.Mr. Odinga’s central political argument today is that over generations, many Kenyans have been left by circumstances — their geographic location, their ethnic groups, their landlessness — on the outside of power. He speaks often of marginalization and disenfranchisement, of economic grievances and historical injustices, code words that tap into decades’ worth of disappointments and frustrations first articulated by his father.“What has always happened is the instrumentalization of grievance,” said Patrick Gathara, a political analyst in Nairobi. “People know they’re being treated unfairly, but politicians put a veneer. They substitute their problems for the people’s problems.”Source: The NewYork Times.
Burundians are being forced to sign up to vote in a May referendum on extending presidential term limits, Burundian opposition figures and residents say, although the government denies the allegations.The constitutional amendment would extend the presidential term to seven years from five, allowing President Pierre Nkurunziza to run again in 2020. It would limit the president to two consecutive seven-year terms, but won’t take into account previous terms, potentially extending his rule to 2034.The deputy chairman of the opposition FRODEBU party, Léonce Ngendakumana, told Reuters on Saturday citizens were being intimidated into signing up to vote in a week-long registration exercise which ends on Saturday.”Checkpoints have been set up, likely by youths of the ruling party, to check receipts (of registration). Students who have not been registered are sent back to do so,” Ngendakumana said.“This referendum is organized in total opacity and extreme intimidation. A referendum held in such conditions will result to a biased outcome.”Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 after a peace deal ended a decade of civil war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels, in which 300,000 people were killed.He ran for a third term in 2015, which opponents said violated the terms of the peace deal, sparking clashes resulting in hundreds of deaths. Nearly 430,000 people have fled the tiny East African nation of 10.5 million.REGISTRATION DRIVEA traveller who requested anonymity confirmed to Reuters he had been stopped at a roadblock near the Rwandan border and asked to confirm he had registered. Reuters spoke to people who also reported roadblocks in central Karusi province. Five people in total told Reuters about roadblocks in three different locations.The registration drive also targeted 16-year-olds, since they will be able to vote in the 2020 elections. A memo displayed at the Bururi secondary school in the south of the country said: “Whatever service you are requesting will be conditional on a receipt confirming that you registered (to vote)”.Thérence Ntahiraja, the interior minister’s assistant, told Reuters compulsory registration is illegal. “Enrolment just like voting is a voluntary act. I think the perpetrators of those incidents are over-zealousness people,” he said.Two days ago, the minister for interior urged officials to get potential voters to register. “We are asking the administration ... if necessary to go door to door to see if all the people of the voting age have registered. Of course they will not force them,” Pascal Ndayiragije said on state radio.The constitutional amendment being voted on in May also changes other government powers. It will replace two vice-presidencies with a prime minister from the majority party, who will be head of the government. Parliament will be able to pass laws with a majority rather than the two-thirds of votes currently needed.The opposition can still nominate a vice president, but he will have no powers.Source: Reuters
February 20, 2018, 2:39 am
today in history
February 9, 2008: Turkey's parliament has approved the two constitutional amendments that will ease the ban on women wearing Islamic headscarves in universities.