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Human Rights Dialogue in Ashgabat

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Thursday, June 18:

1The European Union and Turkmenistan on Wednesday held a seventh round of Human Rights Dialogue in Ashgabat, allowing the discussion of a range of issues, including constitutional reform, conditions in detention, freedom of expression and freedom of movement. The EU welcomed Turkmenistan’s plan to create an Ombudsman institution, in the context of a broader constitutional reform process, and acknowledged its cooperation with the EU Rule of Law Platform in this regard. The EU took positive note of the release of a number of religious detainees in 2014, as well as the most recent presidential pardon in May 2015. Turkmenistan was also encouraged to use future pardons to release imprisoned political activists, human rights defenders, and members of peaceful religious groups. The EU urged Turkmenistan to ease restrictions on Internet access and to cease blocking websites, and sought clarification regarding reports of arbitrary evictions and renewed reports of the forcible dismantling of satellite dishes. Excessive restrictions on civil society, and interference with the right to freedom of religion or belief were also addressed as matters of concern for the EU.

2SPIEF 2015: Tendencies and expectations. “The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum may be devoted to finding new allies, experts say. Most likely, they will be found in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America. This year, Russian companies are preparing to conclude preferential agreements on international trade with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS member states, as well as Turkey, Israel, South Korea, India and Peru. Also the possibility of establishing a free trade zone with ASEAN and further development of the Eurasian Customs Union are actively discussed” writes Nina Lavrenteva for the Modern Diplomacy.

3Europe courting Iran for business bonanza. Western governments have started wooing Iran as their draconian sanctions on the resource-rich country – an energy superpower – appear all but crumbling. France, where European aviation behemoth Airbus is based, has invited Iran’s Minister of Transportation and Housing Abbas Akhoundi to the year’s biggest air show in Paris. Iran is planning a big order for commercial planes in order to renovate its aviation fleet which is creaking under years of restrictions. Akhoundi says up to 400 new aircraft at a price tag of $20 billion will be ordered. Addressing a conference at the International Diplomatic Academy in Paris, Akhoundi outlined Iran’s plans to spend $25 billion on improving its rail infrastructure and $30 billion on roads and motorways. After meeting Minister of Territorial Equality and Housing Sylvia Pinel, the Iranian minister said three French groups will be visiting Iran in the coming two months for transfer of their experience in urban development. [PRESSTV]

4Ali Hasanov: The supporters of this malicious campaign will not achieve their aim. “According to Azerbaijani media, some time ago, their representatives widely discussed the planned attacks from Europe and the USA, which is considered to be “from one hand”. They maintained that information from concrete documents showed that on January 15-16 in 2015 in Prague, the first outlines of an attack campaign on Azerbaijan were worked out, and that an International media support organization from Denmark was defined as the coordinator. İn parallel, the same campaign in the USA, was allegedly assigned to National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Azerbaijani media claim that different foundations of the USA and Europe, such as the foundation of Soros and USAID were defined as the supporters of this project also. That’s why these types of inflammatory articles from different western media organizations, which defend the same theses, are being met in Baku as well as internationally with irony” [Faiq Mahmudov, APA]

5Kazakh oil hunt gains momentum. ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) – the overseas arm of state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation- plans to invest $400 million in drilling activities in the Satpayev block in Kazakhstan. “The exploratory drilling will start next month,” OVL managing director N.K. Verma said today. He said the company had already invested $150 million in the block and had committed to shovel up to $400 million there. “While we have a 25 per cent stake in the block, we will be funding the entire exploration activity,” Verma said. OVL wanted to drill two exploration wells in Satpayev in 2014 and 2015 but had to postpone drilling because of a delay in the delivery of a rig.”There has been satisfactory progress on this project. We expect exploratory drilling to commence early next month,” oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said at the joint meeting of the India-Kazakhstan Inter-Governmental Commission here today.

6The judgment of the ECHR Grand Chamber directly confirms Armenia is an invader. “This is a major victory and a great achievement for Azerbaijan,” Rector of Azerbaijan University, PhD in Law Farid Ahmadov told APA in his remarks on the judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on the case of Chiragov and Others versus Armenia. F. Ahmadov said the claim of Chiragov and others have to do with the violation of Chiragov’s and others’ right to own property in Lachin district. According to the claim, the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territories brought about violation of property rights, which in turn means the violation of the first provision of the first protocol of the European Convention. The court judgment reflects this. The court confirms that the Armenia army exercises effective control over those territories, therefore Armenia bears responsibility for this. On the other hand, the case of Sargsyan and others versus Azerbaijan was related with the violation of the right to own property of Armenians deported from Azerbaijan. Simply, the Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Chiragov and others versus Armenia confirms the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia. [APA]

7NMDC banks on Modi’s visit to Kazakhstan. India’s largest iron ore miner NMDC is banking on government-to-government understanding for exploring greenfield mining projects in Kazakhstan, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits that country next month. During the two-day visit starting July 8, leaders of both countries will discuss the issue of exploration for iron ore, potash and coal to meet the growing needs in India and an agreement is expected to be inked. Ahead of the visit, the ministry of steels and mines has planned a Working Group that would study the partnership in details and would help in forming an MoU between the two countries. [The Financial Express]

8Tensions grow in Eastern Europe as Russia and Nato accuse each other of Cold War-style military intimidation. “International tensions are mounting in Eastern Europe, as both Russia and Nato accuse each other of Cold War-style sabre rattling and military intimidation amidst continuing military exercises, which Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said “are not a game” in a warning to Russia. The accusations come at a troubled time between the two powers, as Nato military exercises continue close to the Russian border, Putin announces the development of 40 new nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and the EU agrees to continue economic sanctions against Russia for another six months” writes Doug Bolton for the Independent.

9Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, will seek to cement economic, cultural, political and trade relations with Russia during his visit to Moscow this week. This was stated by Abdulrahman Al-Rassi, Saudi ambassador to Russia, who said the two countries have always enjoyed strong ties. Prince Mohammed would hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top officials. The visit would see the two sides create a structure for institutional bilateral dialogue, schedule mutual visits, cooperation on research and the media, and activate institutions such as the Saudi-Russian Business Council.

10Angela Corrias: Obsolete Media Clichés About Iran Are Tiresome. “As Iran’s tourism industry grows steadily, the corporate media’s stereotypical portrayal of Iran becomes unpopular and sometimes ridiculed by the Western citizens. An Italian journalist and photographer, who has traveled to Iran in the recent years three times, tells Fars News Agency that the media’s clichés about Iran are obsolete and tiresome. Angela Corrias believes that Iranians are civilized and educated people and hospitality is a significant part of their culture and life.“I find media trend of keeping using obsolete clichés quite tiresome. In Iran, I’ve always perceived a high level of education,” she said. “All my Iranian women friends are very independent, either studying or working, and by no means discriminated or kept at home by either their parents or husband, and to be honest this is not only my point of view. I know many people in Italy who have been to Iran and share my views.”

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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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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Lavrov: Russia had ‘no choice’ but to launch ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine

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Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of the Russian Federation addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-seventh session. UN Photo/Cia Pak

Faced with the “inability” of Western countries to negotiate and the Ukrainian Government’s “war against its own people” in the east, Russia had “no choice” but to launch what the Government refers to as its special military operation, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the UN General Assembly on Saturday.

The operation launched on 24 February had been carried out to protect Russians living in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and eliminate threats to Russian security, said Mr. Lavrov, that the EU and United States-led NATO military alliance had consistently created in the territory, since what he described as the “bloody coup” by the current “Kyiv regime”, in 2014.

“I am convinced that any sovereign, self-respecting State would do the same in our stead, which understands its responsibility to its own people.”

‘Throwing a fit’

Mr. Lavrov accused the West of “throwing a fit” over this weekend’s referenda being conducted in the Donbas and other Russian-controlled areas on becoming a part of the Russian Federation, countering that people there were simply following an order from Kyiv, to “get out and to go to Russia”.

The Russian Foreign Minister said the crises surrounding the war were growing, and the international situation was rapidly deteriorating, but instead of having an honest dialogue and searching for compromise, the West was “undermining confidence in international institutions” and encouraging negative tendencies within the United Nations as well.

He said the United States was trying to turn the whole world into its “backyard”, and together with its partners, punishing dissenters from its world view, through what he called “illegal unilateral sanctions” which violate the UN Charter, and hurt poor citizens in poorer countries, targeting their medicines, vaccines and food imports.

‘Provocations’

Attempts by the US to impose dividing lines, telling nations “you’re either with us or against us”, meant that instead of “honest dialogue” there was instead “disinformation, crude staging, and provocations”.

He praised the UN Secretary-General for mobilizing efforts to overcome the global food and energy crisis fuelled by the war but blamed the West for economic mismanagement in the pandemic, claiming that sanctions against his country amounted to an “economic war against Russia.”

He praised the Black Sea Grain Initiative to free up food and fertilizer from Ukraine, and Russia, to alleviate price inflation and supply, but said the poorest countries were still not benefitting, and again criticized the US and EU for not fully removing “obstacles” to Russian exports he said were trapped in European ports.

‘Russophobia’ claim

Mr. Lavrov told the Assembly that there was now a “crusade by the West against the objectionables”, with NATO seeing Russia as simply a threat to its domination of the region and beyond.

Furthermore, Russophobia, he said, had reached unprecedented proportions, with Western powers making no secret of their ambition to militarily defeat Russia, and try to “destroy and fracture Russia…What they want to do is to remove from the global map, a geopolitical entity, which has become all too independent.”

He warned countries beyond Europe and North America, that the Western alliance, in an effort to impose its will, was seeking to expand influence and hegemony further into Asia, South America, and Africa, and ended his remarks by quoting the hugely influential and charismatic second UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld:

Save humanity from hell

“The UN wasn’t created to take mankind to paradise, but rather to save humanity from hell. These are very topical words. They call upon us, to understand our individual and collective responsibility for creating conditions for a peaceful and harmonious development for our future generations, and everyone needs to show political will for that.”

Ending his speech on a conciliatory note, and a nod to a brighter future for multilateralism, he said he was convinced that the stability of the world order could be ensured, by returning to “the origins of UN diplomacy”, based on the key principle of “sovereign equality of States”.

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War crimes have been committed in Ukraine conflict

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Dozens of bodies near the cemetery in Bucha. Photo By Rodrigo Abd. Image source: war.ukraine.ua

Almost seven months to the day since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, UN-appointed independent human rights investigators said that war crimes have indeed been committed in the conflict.

The finding came in the first report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which was set up in March this year, at the request of Human Rights Council Member States.

Much of the Commission’s work focused on investigations in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy, where allegations of the most serious rights violations were made against Russian, or Russian-backed forces, early in the war.

Thorough investigation

Commission chairperson Erik Møse said that investigators visited 27 towns and settlements and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses. They also inspected “sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture”, as well as remnants of weapons.

Based on the evidence gathered so far during the Commission’s existence, we found out after having carried out the investigations in these four areas just mentioned, we found that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” he told journalists in Geneva.

That conclusion is in line with findings published earlier this year by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).

It documented unlawful killings – including summary executions of civilians – in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, by Russian armed forces while they controlled these areas in late February and March.

Brutal executions

Other key findings from the report include the surprisingly “large number of executions” in 16 towns and settlements, where “common elements” of the crimes included “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats”.

The report, delivered to the Human Rights Council earlier on Friday, also documented how explosive weapons had been used by the Russian Federation forces, “without distinguishing between civilians and combatants in populated areas”.

“We were struck by a large number of executions and other violations by Russian forces, and the Commission received consistent accounts of torture and ill-treatment.”

Sexual violence, including against children

Horrific allegations of sexual violence against Ukrainian communities – including children – were also found to be based in fact.

“The Commission investigated cases of sexual gender-based violence. It documented cases in which some Russian Federation soldiers made such crime,” said Commissioner Jasminka Džumhur.

Ukrainian forces were also responsible for human rights violations, said Commissioner Pablo de Greiff: “We have found two instances of ill-treatment of Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian soldiers, and we mentioned this in our statement. We have found obviously significantly larger numbers of instances that amount to war crimes on the part of the Russian Federation.”

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