Famine stalks millions in South Sudan after droughts, floods: U.N.

Famine stalks millions in South Sudan after droughts, floods: U.N.
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Famine threatens the lives of up to 5.5 million people in South Sudan, where droughts and flooding have destroyed crops and livestock, compounding “intense political instability”, the United Nations warned on Thursday.

The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it needed $270 million urgently to provide food to hungry South Sudanese in the first half of 2020 and avert mass starvation in the world’s youngest country.

“Every factor is in place for there to be famine in 2020 unless we take immediate action to expand our deliveries in areas affected by floods and other areas affected by food loss,” Matthew Hollingworth, WFP country director, told Reuters.

“We need to pre-position food around the country in the next two to three months,” he said, noting that road access to many remote communities would be impossible after the rainy season sets in.

The government declared a state of emergency in late October in Bahr El Ghazal, Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria after months of flooding, WFP said in a statement.

Nearly 1 million people are directly affected by the floods and the waters have not receded in many places, it said.

“The scale of the loss from the harvest is enormous,” Hollingworth said, speaking by telephone from Juba.

Fields with 73,000 tonnes of sorghum, millet and corn have been lost as well as tens of thousands of cattle, chickens and goats on which families depended for survival, he said.

Acute malnutrition rates in children under the age of five have risen from 13% in 2018 to 16% this year, Hollingworth said, adding: “They have gone above the global emergency threshold of 15%.”

Water-borne diseases are spreading, although no cholera has been detected, he said.

“It can only get worse because of the situation and environment people are living in,” he said.

Civil war broke out in oil-producing South Sudan in 2013, less than two years after the country gained independence from Sudan following decades of war. The conflict that has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

Inter-communal fighting still occurs in pockets hit by the flooding, Hollingworth said.

“Hunger and desperation bring instability when resources are stretched to the extent that makes an already unstable situation much worse. It is a wake-up call for us all,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

U.S. ready to be flexible with North Korea, warns against provocations: Trump’s U.N. envoy

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States is “prepared to be flexible” in negotiations aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs but Pyongyang must engage and avoid provocations, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft said on Wednesday.

“We have not asked North Korea to do everything before we do anything,” Craft told reporters before a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea.

“We are prepared to be flexible, but we cannot solve this problem alone. The DPRK must do its part and it must avoid provocations. It must engage in this process,” she said.

The United States requested the meeting of the 15-member council as concerns grow internationally that North Korea could resume nuclear or long-range missile testing – suspended since 2017 – because denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given U.S. President Donald Trump until the end of 2019 to show flexibility. North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, declared on Saturday, however, that denuclearization was off the table.

Trump then warned that Kim risked losing “everything” if he resumes hostility and that North Korea must denuclearize. Trump and Kim have met three times since June 2018, but no progress toward a deal has been made.

U.S. top nuclear negotiator Stephen Biegun met privately with U.N. Security Council ambassadors on Wednesday ahead of the public meeting.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

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)

Explainer: Why have North Korea-U.S. denuclearization talks stalled?

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – Negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been at a standstill after a working-level meeting with the United States in October in Stockholm collapsed.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set a year-end deadline for Washington to change its stance in the negotiations, a deadline U.S. officials have downplayed as artificial.

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, says denuclearization is now off the table.

Here are the competing demands that lead to the deadlock:

HOSTILE POLICY

A North Korean envoy accused U.S. officials of sticking to their “old viewpoint and attitude” when he broke off the Stockholm talks.

Little was known about what North Korea and the United States specifically sought and offered during that meeting.

But Pyongyang has been demanding U.S. corresponding action to its proposed dismantling of a nuclear testing venue, including the lifting of crippling sanctions.

North Korea offered to abolish its Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for the revocation of key five U.N. resolutions during a failed summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in February in Vietnam.

But the Americans argued decommissioning Yongbyon did not suffice, calling for Pyongyang to transfer nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the United States.

North Korea had also said it dismantled its Sohae missile launch site as an initial step toward denuclearization, but the facility was used on Sunday for what Pyongyang said was a “very significant test”.

North Korea has stepped up calls for the United States to an end to joint military drills with South Korea, as well as retracting its “hostile policy” including criticizing Pyongyang’s human rights record.

‘COMPLETE, VERIFIABLE, IRREVERSIBLE’

U.S. officials came to Stockholm seeking a “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea, and pushed for a moratorium on weapons tests as a first step, a diplomatic source in Seoul told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Although some media reports said the United States had planned to propose temporarily lifting sanctions on coal and textile exports, the source said the Stockholm talks did not get into details.

Washington and Seoul have contemplated possible areas where sanctions be eased on the conditions they can be immediately put back if needed, such as a resumption of South Korean tours to the North.

North Korea, in contrast, has sought a “systematic guarantee” for the lifting of sanctions, singling out five U.N. resolutions at the Hanoi summit, the source said.

The five U.N. resolutions, adopted in 2016 and 2017, chiefly limited North Korea’s mineral exports and banned financial transactions, which were expected to prevent Pyongyang from earning at least $1 billion a year.

“But the Americans can’t take the risk of easing sanctions first, having already given a lot of gifts to Kim without substantial progress on denuclearization, including summits,” the source said.

“Sanctions are basically all they have to press North Korea.”

U.S. negotiators tried to fix a date for the next round of talks when the Stockholm meeting fell apart, but North Korean officials were uncooperative, the source said.

DEADLINE

As the year-end deadline approaches, North Korea has ratcheted up tensions, firing dozens of missiles and warning Kim might take a different path if diplomacy with the United States fails.

Kim was “displeased” at Trump’s remarks Tuesday he could use military force against North Korea “if we have to”, a top North Korean commander said on Wednesday, warning of “prompt corresponding actions”.

Trump’s re-election battle and the impeachment inquiry against him may have emboldened Kim to overestimate North Korea’s leverage, the diplomatic source said.

Recent weapons tests raised concerns North Korea could resume nuclear and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017. Analysts described last month’s launch of shorter range weapons as a Thanksgiving reminder for Trump.

“North Korea is pushing the envelope little by little with the tests, and the Americans are saying if those tests were not a big deal, but they’re not OK,” the source said.

“If there’s no progress until year-end, North Korea would have to do something, maybe an intercontinental ballistic missile test. Then the United States has no option but to respond even more sternly, and in a worst-case scenario, the negotiations could break down for good.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

U.N. human rights chief denounces Iran security forces for using ‘severe violence’ against protesters

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iranian security forces have shot at protesters from helicopters and a rooftop and have aimed at peoples’ heads in using “severe violence” to quell anti-government unrest last month, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Friday.

They have also fired at protesters as they were running away, Bachelet said in a statement, citing verified video footage.

The U.N. Human Rights Office has received information indicating that at least 208 people have been killed, including 13 women and 12 children, during the demonstrations and at least 7,000 people arrested, the statement said.

More than twice that number may have been killed, according to unconfirmed reports, according to the statement.

Iranian authorities confirmed for the first time this week that security forces killed demonstrators during what rights groups have said was the deadliest anti-government unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“All in all, the picture now emerging from Iran is extremely disturbing,” Bachelet said.

One of the worst incidents took place in the city of Mahshahr in southwest Iran on Nov. 18 when security forces fired at protesters with machineguns, killing at least 23 and possibly many more, the United Nations statement said.

Security forces have used water cannon, tear gas, batons, and live fire against unarmed demonstrators who posed no imminent threat of death or serious injury, it said.

“Verified video footage indicates severe violence was used against protesters, including armed members of security forces shooting from the roof of a justice department building in one city, and from helicopters in another,” Bachelet said.

“We have also received footage which appears to show security forces shooting unarmed demonstrators from behind while they were running away, and shooting others directly in the face and vital organs – in other words shooting to kill.”

These were serious violations of human rights, Bachelet said. Iranian authorities must act with greater transparency and carry out independent investigations, including into the killing of protesters and deaths and ill-treatment in custody, she said.

“And those responsible must be held accountable,” she said.

The senior U.S. diplomat for Iran said on Thursday that Iranian security forces may have killed more than 1,000 people,

The unrest began on Nov. 15 after the government abruptly raised fuel prices and rapidly spread to over 100 cities and towns and turned political with young and working-class protesters demanding clerical leaders step down.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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)

Iran breaches another nuclear deal cap, on heavy water stock: IAEA report

Iran breaches another nuclear deal cap, on heavy water stock: IAEA report
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has breached another limit of its nuclear deal with major powers by accumulating slightly more than 130 tonnes of heavy water, a substance used in a type of reactor it is developing, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Monday.

The limit is the latest in a series imposed by the deal that Iran has exceeded in protest at Washington’s withdrawal from the deal last year and its imposition of punishing economic sanctions against Tehran.

Heavy water is not as sensitive as uranium, which Iran is enriching in a quantity and to a level of purity beyond limits in the deal. However, the 2015 deal says Iran should not have more heavy water than it needs, specifying this is estimated to be 130 metric tonnes.

“On 16 November 2019, Iran informed the Agency that its stock of heavy water had exceeded 130 metric tonnes,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to member states obtained by Reuters.

“On 17 November 2019, the Agency verified that the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) was in operation and that Iran’s stock of heavy water was 131.5 metric tonnes.”

Heavy water is, among other things, used as a moderator to slow down reactions in the core of nuclear reactors like one Iran has been developing at Arak.

Since that reactor could eventually have produced plutonium, which can also be used in atom bombs, the deal required Iran to remove its core and fill it with concrete. The reactor is now being redesigned with a view to reducing any weapons proliferation risk.

It is not the first time Iran has breached the heavy-water cap. Iran first went over that limit in 2016 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear/iran-once-again-exceeds-a-nuclear-deal-limit-iaea-report-idUSKBN1342T1, soon after the deal went into force and well before the U.S. withdrawal in 2018. Major powers then agreed Iran could store its excess heavy water outside the country while it sought a buyer for it.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Catherine Evans)

U.S. raps global health summit over abortion, sex education

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Ten countries – including the United States, Brazil and Egypt – criticised a global conference on sexual and reproductive health on Thursday, saying it promoted abortion and sex education.

Heads of state, financial institutions and donors were among the 9,500 delegates in Nairobi this week to address maternal mortality, violence against women and voluntary family planning.

But 10 of the United Nation’s 192 member states said they did not support the International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) use of the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” as it could be used to promote abortion.

Valerie Huber, senior policy advisor with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said not all countries had been fully consulted ahead of the event, organised by the United Nations, Denmark and Kenya.

“There is no international right to abortion. In fact, international law clearly states that everyone has the right to life,” said Huber.

“We cannot support sex education that fails to adequately engage parents and which promotes abortion as a method of family planning,” she said in a joint statement on behalf of the group.

In 2017, President Donald Trump reinstated a decades-old, U.S. government policy that restricts international aid to charities that support abortion.

The so-called global gag rule has forced the closure of health clinics, outreach programs and refugee services by charities, risking the health of millions of women, reproductive rights experts said.

UNDER ATTACK

Sexual and reproductive rights campaigners said the U.S.-led statement was discouraging with women’s rights already threatened by far-right, populist rhetoric across the world, including moves to restrict abortion in the United States.

The ICPD conference marks 25 years since a landmark summit in Cairo when nations agreed to address issues such as maternal health, violence against women and equal opportunities.

Every day, more than 800 women die from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). More than 230 million women want to prevent pregnancy but are not using modern contraception.

One in three women globally have faced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the UNFPA.

Organisers of the Nairobi summit denied any suggestion the event was exclusively focused on abortion or sex education.

“I believe their statement is based on some misunderstandings of what this is about,” IB Petersen, Denmark’s special envoy for the ICPD, told a news conference.

“This is not a pro-abortion summit – it is about the ICPD program of action – abortion is part of that.”

Petersen said the summit had already yielded results, citing a pledge by Kenya to end female genital mutilation by 2022.

Almost $10 billion in investments has also been pledged by countries – including Britain, Norway, Germany and Denmark – and a host of private organisations.

The UNFPA estimates countries need about $264 billion to end maternal deaths, gender-based violence, child marriage, and provide family planning to all women by 2030.

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens and Lyndsay Griffiths. 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)

Strikes on Syrian medical facilities appear deliberate: U.N.

Strikes on Syrian medical facilities appear deliberate: U.N.
By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 60 medical facilities have been hit in Syria’s Idlib province in the past six months, including four this week, and appear to have been deliberately targeted by government-affiliated forces, a U.N. rights spokesman said on Friday.

Idlib in Syria’s northwest, the target of a Russian-backed offensive launched this summer to capture it and surrounding areas, is part of the last major rebel bastion in Syria’s 8 1/2-year war.

Since April 29, 61 medical facilities have been hit there, including some that were struck several times, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told journalists.

“We can’t determine if every single attack is deliberate but the large scale of these attacks…strongly suggests that government-affiliated forces conducting these strikes are, at least partly, if not wholly, deliberately striking health facilities,” he said at a Geneva news briefing.

“They can’t possibly all be accidents,” he told Reuters later. He said that, if it is proven that any or some of these were deliberate, they would amount to war crimes.

Damage was reported at the Kafr Nobol hospital on Nov. 6 – which had also been hit in May and July – and two air strikes also directly hit the al-Ikhlas hospital in southern Idlib, incapacitating it this week, Colville said.

Pressure is building for an investigation into attacks on Syrian hospitals amid allegations that hundreds have taken place over the course of the 8-1/2 year conflict.

The United Nations passes on information provided by NGOs about the location of medical facilities along with other data to parties to the conflict. The aim of this is to avoid attacks on such facilities, which are protected under international humanitarian law, but it has been criticized as a means of facilitating exactly the opposite.

Syria’s war has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and forced 13 million people from their homes, half of whom have left their wrecked country.

Since a Turkish-led offensive across Syria’s northern border a month ago to push out Kurdish YPG fighters, at least 92 civilians have been killed in northern and northeastern Syria, Colville added.

That offensive displaced 200,000 people, of whom nearly half of them remain displaced are dispersed across camps and shelters, Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, said on Friday.

A U.N.-backed panel met for the first time in Geneva this week, with delegates from the government, opposition and civil society, in what the United Nations says is an important step on the long road to political rapprochement in Syria.

(Additional reporting by Marina Depetris; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Pompeo says U.S. troubled by reports of China harassing families of Uighur Muslim activists

Pompeo says U.S. troubled by reports of China harassing families of Uighur Muslim activists
By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States remains deeply troubled by multiple reports that the Chinese government has “harassed, imprisoned, or arbitrarily detained” family members of Uighur Muslim activists and survivors of Xinjiang internment camps who have made their stories public, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

“In some cases, these abuses occurred shortly after meetings with senior State Department officials,” Pompeo said in a statement, reiterating Washington’s call for Beijing to release those detained.

China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills. The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained.

China has denied any mistreatment of Uighurs, and insists Xinjiang is its internal affair.

Any escalation of tensions between Beijing and Washington worries investors, as the world’s two largest economies are also embroiled in a 15-month old trade war. Beijing also views U.S. support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as interfering with its sovereignty.

In his statement, Pompeo referred to several individuals whose families he said were directly impacted by the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighurs, including Zumrat Dawut, who was one of the speakers at an event in New York on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in September.

Dawut had spoken on how she was detained by Chinese authorities earlier this year and was kept in a camp.

“Most recently, Ms. Dawut learned her elderly father, who was reportedly detained and interrogated multiple times by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang in recent years, recently passed away under unknown circumstances,” Pompeo said.

The U.S. government last month widened its trade blacklist to include some of China’s top artificial intelligence start-ups and announced visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials it believes responsible for the detention or abuse of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang region.

“We once again call on Beijing to cease all harassment of Uighurs living outside of China… and to allow families to communicate freely without repercussions,” Pompeo said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)