A day without women: strikes in Mexico and Argentina follow huge rallies

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Millions of women in Mexico and Argentina will stay away from offices, school and government offices on Monday, stepping up historic protests against gender violence that saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets over the weekend.

The one-day action dubbed “a day without us” is intended to show what life would be like if women vanished from society. In Mexico, the strike stems from a surge in disappearances of women and femicides, or gender-motivated killings of women.

FILE PHOTO: Women protest against gender violence and femicides at Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City, Mexico, February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

Femicides in Mexico jumped 137% in the past five years, government statistics show, as gang violence pushed the national murder tally to record heights. Most violent crimes go unsolved.

On Sunday, women took to the streets in unprecedented numbers across Latin America as part of International Women’s Day, demanding abortion rights and action from leaders to stem the violence.

The mostly peaceful protests saw anger boiling over into some outbreaks of violence, such as Molotov cocktails thrown at Mexico’s national palace, after the killing of a 7-year-old and the murder and skinning of a young woman shocked the nation.

The impact of Monday’s strike, in contrast, will stem from the absence of women in businesses, universities and government ministries. Not all women, however, will take part.

“We are tired of being victims, of being abused and mistreated. Enough is enough,” said Alma Delia Díaz, 45, a beautician in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec.

Diaz said she supported women making their voice heard, but personally could not miss a day’s work.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said government employees are free to join the walkout. But he has also accused political opponents of seeking to exploit Mexico’s security problems to undermine his administration.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Russia, Turkey may have committed war crimes in Syria, U.N. says

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Russia killed civilians in air strikes in Syria last year while rebels allied to Turkey carried out murder and pillage in Kurdish areas, U.N. investigators said on Monday – actions it said could amount to war crimes by both Moscow and Ankara.

A report by a U.N. commission found that Russia – the Syrian government’s main ally against rebels and militants – conducted air strikes on a popular market and a camp for displaced people that killed dozens of civilians in July and August.

“In both incidents, the Russian Air Force did not direct the attacks at a specific military objective, amounting to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas,” the report said.

It also described abuses by rebels allied to Turkey during an assault on Kurdish-held areas, and said that if the rebels were acting under the control of Turkish military forces, those commanders may be liable for war crimes.

Paulo Pinheiro, the commission’s chairman, said it had added names linked to the latest crimes to its confidential list of suspected perpetrators. It has received 200 requests from judicial authorities worldwide for information on crimes committed during Syria’s nine-year war, he told a news briefing.

In the report, which covered the period from July 2019 to February 2020, investigators denounced “deliberate” attacks by the Syrian government and allied forces on protected civilian sites, including hospitals and schools.

“There is a war crime of intentionally terrorizing a population to force it to move. We are seeing that picture emerging very clearly for example in Idlib where, because these places are being bombed, people are having to move out,” said panel member Hanny Megally.

Russian-backed Syrian government forces have thrust deep into Idlib province in the far northwest in a campaign to retake the last country’s significant rebel pocket. The onslaught has forced around one million civilians to flee.

Up to 10 children have died from the cold in the last weeks due to living in the open at the Turkish border, Megally said.

The U.N. report blamed Russia for an air strike in the city of Maarat al-Numan on July 22 when at least 43 civilians were killed. Two residential buildings and 25 shops were destroyed after at least two Russian planes left Hmeimim air base and circled the area, it said.

Weeks later, an attack on the Haas compound for displaced killed at least 20 people, including eight women and six children, and injured 40 others, the report said.

It also called on Turkey to investigate whether it was responsible for an air strike on a civilian convoy near Ras al Ain that killed 11 people last October. Turkey has denied a role in the strike, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said was conducted by Turkish aircraft.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Rape map and murdered women – welcome to South Africa’s Republic of Sexual Abuse

By Kim Harrisberg

JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It has its own currency, passports and a blood-stained map, but this is no ordinary country. Welcome to the Republic of Sexual Abuse, the creation of a group of campaigners in South Africa, where a woman is murdered every three hours.

The fictional country is the centrepiece of an exhibition held in a Johannesburg mall that seeks to raise awareness of South Africa’s high levels of violence against women – and inspire action against it.

It was thought up by Roanna Williams, executive creative director of the advertising agency Black River FC, after she saw women protesting against the violence from her office window.

“Most women in South Africa have a story of sexual abuse,” said Williams at the exhibition, which opened on Nov. 26 to coincide with the United Nations’ 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence.

“We are not just trying to shock, we are showing that this is everyone’s problem and we all need to act, not just during 16 Days of Activism, but 365 days of the year.”

Recent murders, rapes and kidnappings of South African women sparked mass protests in September where women called for justice for rape survivors.

Soon after, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a five-point plan to tackle violence against women, including media campaigns, strengthening the criminal justice system, and providing training for healthcare workers and counsellors.

The exhibition, run together with women’s rights group People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), includes a huge red map painted in fake blood with all the excuses men use to rape women – including “I was drunk”.

At the back of the exhibition, a warning sign marks the entrance to a bedroom where blood stained sheets hide behind a curtain. Recordings of cries and slaps fill the room.

“This room is where reality kicks in for people in the exhibition,” said Patricia Naha, a volunteer and counsellor with POWA, adding it showed women were not safe anywhere.

About 3,000 women in South Africa were murdered in 2018 – one every three hours and more than five times higher than the global average, according to the World Health Organization.

The number of recorded murders of women went up 11% between 2017 and 2018.

A video advertising South Africa as a tourist destination is played on repeat, with images of the country overlaid with jarring narration about sexual violence.

“Retreat to the spectacular bushveld,” a voice is heard saying over a video of zebra running through a national park. “Where women are dumped after being murdered,” the sentence continues.

Some men visiting the exhibition get defensive, said Clayton Swartz, Black River FC’s art director, but many leave taking pamphlets and asking how they can help.

“I am proud to be South African, but not with these rape stats,” said Swartz. “We want to encourage everyone to speak out.”

The exhibition, which has so far attracted thousands of visitors, is open until Dec. 10 at Rosebank Mall and the organisers are seeking corporate sponsors to help them take it across the country.

(Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Women seek to reclaim Delhi’s streets – but more men show up

By Annie Banerji

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – How can women reclaim the streets when they fear venturing out alone?

That was the challenge faced by the organisers of a street festival in New Delhi held to encourage Indian women to reclaim public spaces this week, as the country reeled from the latest gang rape and murder to hit the headlines.

“It seemed that most women came with their families, male friends or partners,” said Kiran, a police inspector who goes by one name, of the Step Out At Night festival organised by the city authorities on Thursday night.

“We hoped women would come without fear … but maybe this needs to be done more often to make them feel safe enough to do so,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

India has a grim record of sexual violence against women, with an average of some 90 rapes reported each day in 2017, according to latest federal data.

Thursday’s event came amid angry protests over the gang-rape and murder of a 27-year-old veterinarian near the southern city of Hyderabad last week.

Four suspects were shot dead during a reconstruction of the crime early on Friday by police who said they had tried to seize weapons. the killings drewing praise from many on social media but raised concerns over due process.

India strengthened its laws on sexual violence against women after the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus that led to an outpouring of anger.

But critics say enforcement remains weak. On Thursday, a rape victim was set alight by a gang of men as she made her way to court.

In Delhi, dubbed India’s “rape capital” due to high levels of sexual violence, hundreds of women turned out for the festival, which included music and dance performances and gender equality themed games including snakes and ladders.

One female lawmaker tweeted a photo from the festival which showed her eating street food with a small group of women and throngs of men in the background.

Nishtha Gupta, a 22-year-old Delhi University student who attended, said she had asked her brother to accompany her “because my parents feel better knowing he’ll be with me”.

“The idea behind the festival is great … to have more women be visible and present in public spaces, but that’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.

Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder of an app that provides safety-related information, said the festival was a positive first step for women to assert their right to public spaces.

“As long as there are more women in public spaces, it will be safer just by virtue of there being more women,” said Viswanath, whose app, Safetipin, was a co-organiser.

(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

World has not done enough over Khashoggi killing: U.N. investigator

By Jonas Ekblom and Jorrit Donner-Wittkopf

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The world has not done enough to ensure justice is done over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a special U.N. investigator said on Tuesday.

Agnes Callamard, the United Nations rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, called for more action from the European Union and the United States over Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi operatives at Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

“I think it is important to recognize that the international community so far has failed in its duty to ensure that there cannot be immunity or impunity for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” Callamard told reporters in Brussels.

Callamard is seeking an international criminal investigation instead of a Saudi trial, but Riyadh has rejected her request.

Hatice Cengiz, who had been due to marry Khashoggi, accompanied Callamard on a trip to Brussels which she said was intended to remind people they were still seeking justice.

Khashoggi was a U.S. resident and a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial over his death in secretive proceedings. A report by Callamard has called for the crown prince and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated.

The death caused a global uproar, tarnishing the crown prince’s image. The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, but Saudi officials say he had no role.

The EU called on the first anniversary of Khashoggi’s killing for “full accountability for all those responsible” and said there must be a “credible and transparent” investigation.

The United States has called for Saudi Arabia to show tangible progress toward holding those behind the killing to account.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

U.S. Supreme Court turns away murder case highlighted in ‘Serial’ podcast

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – A Baltimore man will remain behind bars for the 1999 murder of his former high school girlfriend after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected his bid for a new trial in a case that captured public attention after the podcast “Serial” raised questions about his prosecution.

The justices turned away an appeal by Adnan Syed, 39, who has been serving a life sentence since 2000 after being convicted in the strangling death of high school classmate Hae Min Lee. Maryland’s highest court in March ruled out a new trial for Syed despite his attorney’s failure to properly defend him.

Prosecutors said Syed killed the 17-year-old Lee in 1999 in the parking lot of a Best Buy store shortly after school, and then buried her body in a shallow grave later that evening. He was jealous, the state argued, because she had started dating someone else. Lee’s body was found three weeks later.

There were no eyewitnesses to the murder but one witness said he helped Syed bury the body. A jury in Baltimore convicted Syed of first-degree murder and other charges in 2000.

In 2015, a state court reopened the case to allow Syed to argue that his initial defense lawyer had been ineffective because she failed to contact and interview a witness, Asia McClain, who could have provided a potential alibi. McClain had said she remembered speaking with Syed at the school library during the time prosecutors had said Syed killed Lee.

A new trial was ordered for Syed after a state intermediate appeals court said the attorney’s incompetence resulted in impermissible prejudice to Syed’s defense.

Syed’s case won public attention in 2014 when it was the subject of the “Serial” podcast, produced by public radio station WBEZ Chicago and downloaded tens of millions of times. It has since inspired news articles and a documentary on HBO.

Last March, in a closely divided 4-3 ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, overturned that decision because the jury could have disregarded prosecutors’ timeline for when Lee was killed, but still believed that Syed murdered her.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

For Yazidis, Baghdadi’s death ‘doesn’t feel like justice yet’

For Yazidis, Baghdadi’s death ‘doesn’t feel like justice yet’
By Raya Jalabi

SHARYA CAMP, Iraq (Reuters) – Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death will mean nothing to 19-year-old rape victim Jamila unless the Islamic State militants who enslaved her are brought to justice.

Jamila, who asked not to be identified by her last name, is one of thousands of women from the Yazidi minority religion who were kidnapped and raped by IS after it mounted an assault on the Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq in August 2014.

“Even if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, it doesn’t mean Islamic State is dead,” Jamila told Reuters outside the tent that is now her temporary home in the Sharya camp for displaced Yazidis in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

“This doesn’t feel like justice yet,” she said. “I want the men who took me, who raped me, to stand trial. And I want to have my voice heard in court. I want to face them in court … Without proper trials, his death has no meaning.”

Baghdadi, who had led IS since 2010, detonated a suicide vest after being cornered in a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria, U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Sunday.

Inspired by his edicts to enslave and slaughter Yazidis, whom IS regard as infidels, his followers shot, beheaded and kidnapped thousands in a rampage which the United Nations called a genocidal campaign against them.

Along with thousands of other women and children, Jamila said she was enslaved by the militants and kept in captivity for five months in the city of Mosul along with her sister.

She was just 14 when she was seized. But her problems did not end after she and her sister managed to escape when, she said, their guards were high on drugs.

“When I first came back, I had a nervous breakdown and psychological problems for two years, so I couldn’t go to school,” she said.

Now instead of working or catching up on her years of lost schooling, she looks after her mother, with whom she shares her cramped tent at the camp.

“My mother can’t walk and has health problems so I have to stay and take care of her because my older siblings are in Germany,” she said.

NO PLANS TO GO HOME

The prospect of going home to Sinjar in northern Iraq is not an option for Jamila, and many others. The city still lies in ruin four years after the IS onslaught, and suspicion runs deep in the ethnically mixed area.

“Sinjar is completely destroyed. Even if we could go back, I wouldn’t want to because we’d be surrounded by the same Arab neighbors who all joined IS in the first place, and helped them kill us (Yazidis),” she said.

Thousands of men are being tried in Iraqi courts for their ties to IS. Iraq has so far not allowed victims to testify in court, something community leaders and human rights groups say would go a long way in the healing process.

“It is deplorable that not a single victim of Islamic State’s horrific abuses including sexual slavery has gotten their day in court,” said Belkis Wille, Iraq Researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Iraq’s justice system is designed to allow the state to exact mass revenge against suspects, not provide real accountability for victims.”

For some of the nearly 17,000 Yazidis at the Sharya camp, Baghdadi’s death was a first step in that direction though they fear the IS fighters who are still alive.

Mayan Sinu, 25, can dream of a new life after the camp as she and her three children have been granted asylum by Australia. But she also wants the men who shot her husband in the legs and dragged him off to be brought to justice. He has been missing since the incident five years ago.

“I hope Baghdadi is suffering more than we ever did, and my God we suffered,” said Sinu. “I wish he (Baghdadi) hadn’t blown himself up so I could have slaughtered him myself with my bare hands.”

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Police say 39 victims found dead in truck near London were Chinese

Police say 39 victims found dead in truck near London were Chinese
By Simon Dawson

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police were given extra time on Thursday to question a driver arrested on suspicion of murder after 39 people, believed to be Chinese nationals, were found dead in a refrigerated truck near London, in an investigation focused on human trafficking.

Officers searched three properties in the County Armagh area of Northern Ireland. The driver has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation said he was Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of the British province.

Paramedics and police found the bodies of 31 men and eight women on Wednesday in a truck container on an industrial estate at Grays in Essex, about 20 miles (32 km) east of London.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In the biggest tragedy, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck in 2000 at the port of Dover.

“We read with heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement, adding further clarification was being sought with police.

Essex police said their priority was ensuring dignity for the victims during their inquiry.

“Each of the 39 people must undergo a full coroner’s process to establish a cause of death before we move on to attempting to identify each individual within the trailer,” police said in a statement, saying that would be a time-consuming operation.

Police were given permission from local magistrates to detain the 25-year-old driver for an additional 24 hours on Thursday.

The trailer part of the truck arrived at Purfleet docks in Essex, southern England, from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge – as did the vehicle involved in 2000.

“ULTIMATE DREAM”

Its red cab unit, which had “Ireland” emblazoned on the windscreen along with the message “The Ultimate Dream”, entered Britain via Holyhead in north Wales, having started its journey in Dublin, police said.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct. 15 from its depot in County Monaghan at a rate of 275 euros ($305) a week, Irish broadcaster RTE said. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for, RTE added.

The discovery of the bodies was made at 1.40 a.m. just over an hour after the container arrived in Purfleet, not far from the industrial estate in Grays.

The vehicle has been moved to a secure site at nearby Tilbury Docks where forensic work can take place. Officials have set up a book of condolence at civic offices in Grays.

The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.

Shaun Sawyer, national spokesman for British police on human trafficking, said thousands of people were seeking to come to the United Kingdom illegally. While they were able to rescue many of those smuggled in, Britain was perceived by organized crime as a potentially easy target for traffickers.

“You can’t turn the United Kingdom into a fortress. We have to accept that we have permeable borders,” he told BBC radio.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were “upping their game” and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, albeit that may be complicated by Britain’s potential exit from the European Union.

“There is simply not enough being done in terms of security, in terms of the protection of vehicles across Europe,” Richard Burnett told BBC TV.

 

(Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Janet Lawrence amd Andrew Cawthorne)

Jury finds Dallas police officer guilty in shooting death of her neighbor

FILE PHOTO: Amber Guyger, who is charged in the killing of Botham Jean in his own home, arrives on the first day of the trial in Dallas, Texas, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jeremy Lock/File Photo

By Bruce Tomaso

DALLAS (Reuters) – A Dallas jury found former police officer Amber Guyger guilty on Tuesday of murder when she accidentally walked into a neighbor’s apartment thinking it was her own and shot him dead as he ate ice cream.

The Sept. 6, 2018, killing of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black PwC accountant, by a white officer sparked street protests, particularly when prosecutors initially opted to bring the lesser charge of manslaughter against Guyger, 31.

“We the jury unanimously find the defendant Amber Guyger guilty of murder as charged in the indictment,” Judge Tammy Kemp read aloud to the courtroom from the jurors’ statement. A sob, which sounded like it came from Guyger’s bench, cut the judge off and Kemp paused to address the courtroom: “No outbursts.”

Guyger, who spent four years on the force before the killing, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for the slaying. She took the rare step of testifying in her own defense during her trial, tearfully expressing regret for shooting Jean but saying she had believed her life was in danger when she pulled the trigger.

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I have to live with this every single day,” Guyger told the jury of eight women and four men.

In cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus asked her, “When you shot him twice, you intended to kill him, didn’t you?”

“I did,” Guyger responded, in a calm voice.

Prosecutors also argued that Guyger did little to help Jean even after realizing her mistake, calling the 911 emergency phone number for an ambulance but not administering first aid.

Hermus also told the jury that Guyger missed blatant clues that she was not in her own apartment – including the smell of marijuana smoke – because she was distracted after a 16-minute phone conversation on her commute with her former police partner. Guyger testified that the call was in relation to work.

The shooting stood in contrast to cases like the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Guyger shot Jean while she was off duty, rather than while responding to a reported crime.

In her testimony, Guyger told jurors that the shooting “is not about hate; it’s about being scared.”

Neither prosecutors nor the defense focused on race during the trial.

(Reporting by Bruce Tomaso in Dallas, additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

Motive elusive in Alabama boy’s slaying of his family

Police Lights

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A 14-year-old Alabama boy was charged with five counts of murder on Tuesday in the shooting deaths of his family including three younger children, Limestone County Sheriff’s officials said, in the latest high-profile gun crime.

Details emerged early Wednesday, but officials do not know why the boy took a gun and shot his father, stepmother and three siblings late on Monday, and then threw the gun away before calling the police to report that he heard gunshots.

The boy is accused of shooting his father, John Sisk, 38, an automobile repairman, stepmother Mary Sisk, 35, a teacher in Huntsville, Alabama, and three siblings who were not named by the sheriff’s office.

The children were only identified as his two stepbrothers, ages 6 and 6 months, and a 5-year-old stepsister, the sheriff’s office said in a release.

The shootings happened at the family home in Elkmont, Alabama, about 100 miles north of Birmingham, at about 10:30 p.m. Monday, officials said.

The youth then took the 9 mm pistol and threw it away on a nearby roadside, before calling the police to say he heard gunshots, officials said. It has since been found.

The boy later confessed to shooting his family, officials said.

“The 14-year old caller was interviewed and confessed to shooting all five members of his family in the residence,” the sheriff’s office said on Twitter.

The gun used in the homicides was in the home illegally, Sheriff’s spokesman Stephen Young told the media in a Tuesday news conference.

It was unclear where the teenager obtained the gun.

Young did not take questions from the media.

The boy is charged as a juvenile, which means his name and other details have not been released, but a prosecutor could ask a judge to try the youth as an adult.

“Unfortunately, we are facing a tragedy on the scale we aren’t used to in Limestone County, Alabama,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The boy is being held at a juvenile detention facility. It is unclear if he has an attorney.

The killings follow a rash of mass shootings in the United States, including a weekend one in Texas in which seven people were killed and 22 wounded, including a toddler.

Last month, a gunman killed 22 people and wounded 24 in El Paso, Texas, while another assailant killed nine and injured 27 in Dayton, Ohio.

Amid a renewed national debate, President Donald Trump said over the weekend that background checks on gun purchasers would not have prevented the recent violence.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Robert Birsel)