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Russia cracked Snowden files: Identities of US and UK Spies Revealed

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Monday, June 15:

1Britain has been forced to remove some of its spies after Russia and China accessed the top-secret raft of documents taken by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, British media reported. The BBC and the Sunday Times cited senior government and intelligence officials as saying agents had been pulled, with the newspaper saying the move came after Russia was able to decrypt more than one million files.“It is the case that Russians and Chinese have information. It has meant agents have had to be moved and that knowledge of how we operate has stopped us getting vital information,” a Downing Street source said, according to the newspaper. An intelligence source told the Sunday Times: “We know Russia and China have access to Snowden’s material and will be going through it for years to come, searching for clues to identify potential targets.”

2The meetings of the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey in Baku during the opening of the first European Games shed little light on the prospects of processes taking place in the South Caucasus and other regions. The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan proceeded behind closed doors, and no statements were made after that or other meetings with their participation. Experts conclude that the three presidents have failed to reach agreement on various issues, including in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The expectation was that the three leaders would find some common language, as the policy of international isolation has been applied to all the three nations. Perhaps some separate agreements were reached, but there are so many contradictions in the interests of Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan now that these agreements will necessarily hit one of the sides. [ArmeniaNow]

3Azerbaijan as a Model of Civility in the Caspian Region. “almost everything about the way Azerbaijan is handling their transition from a Soviet Republic to a modern, sovereign nation is admirable. From their ambitious efforts to preserve their ancient history to their desire to promote peace and stability in the region to their ability to build and maintain diplomatic relationships with key players in the Caspian Sea region (and beyond), Azerbaijan appears to have a very promising future. Their approach may have the potential to change the way the West and the Muslim world relate” writes JJ Harper for the Modern Diplomacy.

4Iran eyeing $30bn Turkmen barter plan. Iran said on Sunday that it plans to offer a barter scheme to Turkmenistan through which it would pay for natural gas imports by gas industry equipment as well as technical services. Mohammad-Taqi Amanpour, an advisor to the petroleum minister of Iran on exports of equipment and technical services, told a forum in capital Tehran that the value of the barter scheme will be $30 billion for a period of 10 years. Amanpour also said that Iran has so far paid a maximum of $3 billion per year for importing natural gas from its northern neighbor.

5Baiting the Bear: U.S. Congressional Attitudes Keeping Russia the Enemy. “That mindset sets a fairly stark characterization: Russia is an aggressive and untrustworthy dictatorship that is an innate contradiction to American values. As such it will inevitably always be a threat to U.S. interests and global security” writes Dr. Matthew Crosston for the Modern Diplomacy.

6The Presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Turkmenistan will hold a meeting in Ashkhabad. Oxu.Az reports citing APA that the statement came from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He said the meeting is due in December. Noting that he met the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, Erdogan said more decisive steps will be taken for development of relations between the two countries.

7Boosts competitiveness of Kazakh small businesses. The EBRD helped Kazakhstan’s Almaty Ventilation Plant improve production and start exporting. Optimal air conditioning and ventilation are essential for maintaining a healthy environment and efficient use of energy. Producing quality ventilation and filtering systems is therefore not just hot air but a great business opportunity. The EBRD helped a Kazakh ventilation manufacturer improving production and start exporting its products. This project is currently funded by the Government of Kazakhstan as a core donor, by the United States and BG Kazakhstan.

8Kazakhstan beyond Borat. “Kazakhstan has been trying since the early years of independence to introduce the country to the awareness of the global community. Although reluctantly declaring independence from the Soviet Union, it has become vital for the country to differentiate itself from Russia to gain significantly in its soft power repertoire of tools. This process, along with the strategic positioning of the country, gave rise to the well- known Kazakhstan image of being able to balance the interests of many great powers, intersecting in the Central Asia, including Russia, China, US, EU, Turkey and Iran” writes Petra Posega for the Modern Diplomacy.

9Iran says it plans to establish a joint bank with Azerbaijan in the near future. Mohsen Pak Ayeen, the Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan, told Trend news agency on Sunday that the joint bank will be opened in Tehran. Pak Ayeen added that the issue will be discussed during a meeting between Valiollah Seif, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), and his Azeri counterpart in Tehran. Nevertheless, he did not specify when the meeting will take place. At present, non-oil trade between Iran and Azerbaijan amounts to $500 million, he said, adding that the figure will reach $2 billion if tourism revenues and other incomes are taken into account.

10Football, money and politics. “Football has long turned into something more than just a sport. It is now a real instrument of soft power and yet another sticking point between Russia and the West” writes Nina Lavrenteva for the Modern Diplomacy.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine.

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Iran: UN condemns violent crackdown against hijab protests

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Authorities in Iran must fully respect the rights of protestors calling for justice for Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in custody after being arrested for allegedly violating strict dress codes, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Tuesday. Later in the day, the UN chief said he was becoming “increasingly concerned” about reports of the death toll rising, “including women and children.”

OHCHR said it was very concerned about the continued violent response to the protests, as well as communications restrictions affecting phones, the internet and social media, Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva. 

Ms. Amini, 22, was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” in the capital, Tehran, on 13 September, for allegedly not wearing a hijab in full compliance with mandatory requirements.   

She fell into a coma shortly after collapsing at a detention centre and died three days later from a heart attack, according to the authorities.

In his statement released via his Spokesperson, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he had been following events closely, and he called on security forces to stop using “unnecessary or disproportionate force”.

He appealed for restraint, to avoid any escalation: “We underline the need for prompt, impartial and effective investigation into Ms. Mahsa Amini’s death by an independent competent authority.”

OHCHR’s Ms. Shamdasani noted that the Iranian Government had so far failed to launch an “adequate investigation” into the circumstances surrounding Ms. Amini’s death.  

Wave of demonstrations 

Since her death, thousands have joined anti-government demonstrations throughout the country. 

Security forces have responded at times with live ammunition, and many people have been killed, injured and detained in the protests. 

Violent response to protests 

On Saturday, State media put the number killed at 41, she added. However, non-governmental organizations monitoring the situation have reported a higher number of deaths, including of women and children, and hundreds injured across at least 11 provinces.  

“We are extremely concerned by comments by some leaders vilifying protesters, and by the apparent unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against protesters,” said Ms. Shamdasani. 

“Firearms must never be used simply to disperse an assembly. In the context of assemblies, they should only be used in cases of an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.”   

Number of arrests unknown 

Meanwhile, reports indicate that hundreds of people have also been arrested, including human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society activists, and at least 18 journalists. The Government has not announced the overall number of arrests.  

Ms. Shamdasani reported that in the province of Gilan alone, the police chief said 739 people, including 60 women, had been detained during three days of protests. 

OHCHR called on the authorities to ensure the rights to due process and to release all who have been arbitrarily detained.  

‘Persistent impunity’ for violations 

“We are concerned that the disruption to communications services has serious effects on people’s ability to exchange information, to carry out economic activities and to access public services,” she continued. 

“This undermines numerous human rights, notably the right to freedom of expression. We call on the authorities to fully restore Internet access.” 

OHCHR also expressed concern over “the persistent impunity with respect to human rights violations in Iran”, including the recurring deaths of protesters due to the alleged use of lethal force by security forces in November 2019, July 2021, and May of this year. 

“Our Office reiterates our call upon the Iranian authorities to fully respect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association, as a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Ms. Shamdasani. 

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South Sudan violence proliferating

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Children look out of a window in South Sudan. © UNMISS/Amanda Voisard

Deeply disturbing violence is escalating “all over” South Sudan, top independent UN human rights experts have warned.

Women and girls continue to be gang-raped and survivors have been described as “zombies, physically and emotionally dead”, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights in the world’s youngest nation.

Police the peace

In an alert, Commission chairperson, Yasmin Sooka, said that it was critical for the international community to monitor the country’s peace agreement, along with other reforms – including of the armed forces and the constitution.

Transitional justice bodies are also urgently needed, as per an agreement made four years ago by the country’s Government, the Commission noted.

Without these steps, we are likely to see millions more South Sudanese displaced or crossing borders, creating havoc for neighbouring countries and aid agencies,” Ms. Sooka said.

According to South Sudan’s 2018 peace agreement, elections have been postponed until late 2024.

Death threats

But conditions must be peaceful for a national poll to happen and South Sudanese people “who have questioned the government or exposed atrocities have received death threats, been detained or tortured”, the rights commission explained.

The panel noted that none of the three proposed transitional justice bodies agreed in 2018 have been created, namely the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, the Hybrid Court or the Compensation and Reparation Authority.

The independent rights panel – which was established by the Human Rights Council in 2016 – said that “women raped by armed forces while collecting firewood are threatened with death if they report it”.

Often, the police are too ill-equipped to do their job; “they cannot arrest a soldier who is better armed and protected the Commission said in a recent statement.

Justice denied

In a further illustration of the lack of justice for survivors, the rights investigators noted that in Unity State and rural parts of Western Equatoria, “there is no formal court to deal with serious crimes like murder and rape, only customary courts”.

During a visit this month to Western Equatoria, the Commission described seeing “very young girls with babies around military bases” and hearing “multiple accounts of soldiers from both government and opposition forces abducting women”.

Speaking at a Global Survivors Forum in New York at the weekend, hosted by Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, to examine best practice for reparations for sexual violence, inquiry Commissioner Andrew Clapham said: “Survivors in South Sudan, particularly those of repeated incidents of sexual violence, tell us again and again that criminal accountability is the only way to guarantee their safety and peace for the country. That’s why setting up the Hybrid Court is non-negotiable.”

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UNSC urged to act in face of ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Haiti

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file photo © WFP/Marianela González

The Security Council must act urgently to support Haiti as the gang, economic, and fuel supply crises there “intersect in altogether new and frightening ways”, the head of the UN Mission in the country, BINUH, said on Monday. 

Meanwhile, political stakeholders are still struggling to find common ground and define a path to elections against this backdrop, she added. 

Haitian-led solution critical 

“An economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis have converged into a humanitarian catastrophe. We must not lose hope, but rather combine our efforts to find a pathway to a better tomorrow,” said UN Special Representative Helen La Lime, speaking from the capital Port-au-Prince. 

“A Haitian-led political solution is the first necessary step to address the current crisis. To support Haitians in their effort towards a better future, this Council must take urgent action.” 

Gang violence continues to disrupt daily life in Haiti, driving more than 20,000 people from their homes. 

More than 1 million affected 

The UN estimates that at least 1.5 million people in the Caribbean country have been directly impacted by recent unrest, with gender-based violence, and in particular rape, being used systematically. 

The economic crisis has caused food prices to soar, while fuel is often available only on the black market. 

Protests broke out in Haiti after the Prime Minister announced on 11 September that the Government will reduce some $400 million in fuel subsidies in efforts to increase revenue for social programmes. 

By the following day, barricades had been erected throughout the country, prompting a nationwide shutdown, with the situation persisting in the capital for a full five days. 

One of the largest gang alliances also blocked the main fuel terminal there on 12 September. The siege lasted for over a week, despite concerted operations by the police over the weekend. 

Good offices role 

On the political front, Ms. La Lime said she has maintained good relations with all sectors of society and has encouraged dialogue. 

“While so-far inconclusive efforts have led to a perceived stalemate, national stakeholders have begun to re-engage with a renewed sense of urgency. In the past weeks, Government representatives, political groups, and civil society organizations launched new consultations on ways to forge a wider consensus on a path to elections. But we’re not there yet,” she said. 

Aid delivery hampered

The insecurity has also severely curtailed humanitarian access and made it “very difficult and dangerous” to deliver, according to Valerie N. Guarnieri, Deputy Executive Director at the World Food Programme (WFP). 

 “We expect food security to further deteriorate this year, surpassing the record high of 4.5 million people estimated to face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, including 1.3 million people in emergency,” she said. 

The gangs strangling the capitol are blocking access to fuel supplies and key logistics hubs, including ports and airports, as well as road access to other areas of the country.  

Protesters have also ransacked and looted humanitarian warehouses, with WFP losing one-third of its food stocks in just one week. UN agencies and partners estimate they have lost some $6 million during such attacks, which come at the peak of the hurricane season. 

Appeal for support 

Ms. Guarnieri stressed that WFP and other aid agencies intend to stay and deliver in Haiti despite the challenges, but will need greater assistance. 

“Simply put, we’re not in a position to support all of those that need our help due to the general lawlessness and operational environment,” she said. 

“Therefore, we’re looking forward to increased support from the Member States, from you, to further facilitate humanitarian access as well as protection of humanitarian actors, personnel and assets.”  

Fighting illicit trafficking 

The armed groups not only compromise stability and security, they also hamper efforts towards peace and lasting development, said Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC). 

Haiti is particularly vulnerable to the illicit traffic in commodities, particularly drugs, firearms and ammunition. due to its 1,500 kilometres of coastline and land border with the Dominican Republic. 

Ms. Waly said UNODC is supporting border management and is working to map out transnational criminal activities in Haiti, as well as their regional impact. 

They are also assisting the authorities in building capacity to inspect containers at strategic points such as ports and border crossings. 

“These efforts should ensure that customs revenue be effectively sent to activities to support border modernization and border management,” she said, speaking in French. 

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