Tag Archives: United Nations

UK Judge Refuses to Revoke Assange Arrest Warrant

London, United Kingdom— Despite a United Nations panel finding that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is “arbitrarily being detained” and Swedish prosecutors dropping their criminal investigation and request for extradition, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will continue to face arrest if he attempts to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after a UK judge upheld a warrant for breaching his formal bail conditions in the UK. Assange maintains that he was forced to seek political asylum in the embassy to avoid political persecution.

A report by The Guardian noted that Senior district judge Emma Arbuthnot was not swayed by the legal argument put forth by Assange’s legal team that his prosecution was not in the public interest to arrest him for bail jumping. It is worth noting that if there is a secret indictment in the U.S., the pretense of arresting Assange for bail jumping could be used to extradite him to the U.S. to face charges.

“I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr. Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years,” Arbuthnot stated. “Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices. He should have the courage to do the same. It is certainly not against the public interest to proceed.”

The warrant upheld by the judge was due to Assange’s seeking of political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012, to avoid Sweden’s attempts to extradite him over the investigation into allegations of sexual assault; the allegations were steadfastly denied by Assange and the investigation of the allegations was dropped in May 2017.

It has been suggested in earlier reports that there is a sealed secret grand jury indictment for Assange in the U.S., indicating the posibility that the attempted extradition to Sweden over rape charges, which he had steadfastly denied, were a strategic means of extraditing him to the U.S. by proxy.

Before Tuesday’s hearing, Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said that U.S. government had clear intentions of prosecuting WikiLeaks.

“The UK FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] refuses to confirm or deny whether there is an extradition request for Mr Assange,” she said. “In our recent FoI challenge against the CPS […] the CPS refused to disclose certain material because it would ‘tip off’ Mr Assange about a possible US extradition request. It is time to acknowledge what the real issue is and has always been in this case: the risk of extradition to the US.”

[RELATED: Julian Assange Calls on British and Swedish Governments to Drop Investigations]

Further revealing the deeply politicized nature of Assange’s detainment, just last month, after being granted citizenship by the Ecuadorian government, Ecuador applied for diplomatic status for the WikiLeaks founder. If awarded diplomat status, Assange could claim diplomatic immunity— which would theoretically grant him legal immunity— thus allowing him to leave the embassy without being arrested. The British Foreign Office turned down the request by Ecuador.

Assange’s lawyers had argued that the warrant should be withdrawn for numerous reasons, including the fact that Sweden was no longer seeking extradition and that arresting him would not be in the public interest or proportionate— noting his six years in the embassy were “adequate, if note severe” enough punishment— citing the UN panel ruling that his detention was “arbitrary.”

The Guardian reports that Assange attorney Mark Summers QC noted attempts by the UK government to maintain Assange’s detention— despite evidence that Sweden requested a withdrawal of the European arrest warrant for Assange— referring specifically to the fact that Sweden in October of 2013 advised Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyers that it was necessary to withdraw the Swedish arrest warrant on grounds of proportionality. It wasn’t until 2017, four years later, that CPS chose to do abide by the request.

Additionally, Summers argued that Assange was justified in seeking refuge in the embassy, as he had a valid fear that US authorities were seeking to arrest him for WikiLeaks’ publication of secret documents.

Saudis Say They Will Soon Scale Back Yemen War

by Jason Ditz

Saudi Arabia’s military spokesman today announced their intention to scale back military operations against Yemen at some point in the future. They suggested this would happen soon, but that airstrikes against Yemen would continue.

The announcement comes as UN officials took the Saudi military to task for a series of Tuesday airstrikes against a Yemeni marketplace, killing at least 119 civilians. This was the latest in a number of embarrassing incidents of major civilian deaths in Saudi attacks.

[RELATED: Saudi Airstrikes Hit Yemen Market, Killing at Least 41 Civilians]

The US praised the announcement, saying they’d been concerned about the loss of innocent life in Yemen, and welcome the Saudi statement for vowing to bring stability to the country they attacked last year. The US, of course, has participated in the Saudi war, both refueling Saudi warplanes during airstrikes and participating in the naval blockade.

The Saudi war’s stated goal was to reinstall Yemen’s President Hadi, who was appointed to a two-year term in office in early 2012, and resigned in January of 2015 after spurning Shi’ite calls for elections. The Saudis insist Hadi remains the legitimate ruler of Yemen, and expected to put him back in power quickly. A year into the war, however, they only control the city of Aden and some of the surrounding area.

Syria Peace Talks Begin in Geneva, With ‘No Plan B’

by Jason Ditz

The latest round of Syrian peace talks began Monday in Geneva, with UN officials saying there is no plan for the government and rebels to actually meet face-to-face at all during the talks, with the UN simply ferrying messages back and forth.

The talks come amid an ongoing ceasefire, with UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura warning ominously that the only plan B is to return to war, “and to an even worse war than we had so far.” Still, the talks appear to be an uphill battle.

That’s because the rebels are demanding an immediate ouster of President Bashar Assad and the installation of a “transitional government,” which they of course intend to dominate. Syrian government officials have urged the talks to go slow, and deal with other issues, saying Assad’s ouster is a “red line.”

The Russian proposed plan which formed the basis for the talks was to unify government and rebels, pen a new constitution, and hold free elections. The rebels have so far expressed an aversion to that plan unless they are guaranteed that Assad, and potential other top officials, are barred from taking part in the vote.

UN Report Warns of Low Numbers of Bees and Pollinators

Last Friday, a new examination of several studies on the decline of pollinators was approved by a congress of 124 nations meeting in Kuala Lumpur. The report was conducted by a team of scientists from around the world who worked with the United Nations for more than two years to assess the Earth’s biodiversity.

The study will help provide world leaders with an idea of what is happening to the Earth’s biodiversity and what can be done to prevent a loss of diversity. The researchers found that many species of wild bees, butterflies and other pollinators are quickly moving towards extinction.

“We are in a period of decline and there are going to be increasing consequences,” said report lead author Simon Potts, the director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research at the University of Reading in England.

One of the consequences would be a loss of food that is dependent on pollinators including fruits, vegetables, coffee, and chocolate. The report states that 2 out of 5 species of invertebrate pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are on the path toward extinction. Vertebrate pollinators, such as hummingbirds and bats, are facing extinction at a rate of 1 out of 6 species.

The report pointed out a handful of sources for the decline in biodiversity, including pesticide use, habitat loss to cities, disease, parasites and pathogens, and global warming.

“The variety and multiplicity of threats to pollinators and pollination generate risks to people and livelihoods,” the report stated. “These risks are largely driven by changes in land cover and agricultural management systems, including pesticide use. Pesticides, particularly insecticides, have been demonstrated to have a broad range of lethal and sub-lethal effects on pollinators in controlled experimental conditions.”

One of the more controversial class of pesticides are known as neonicotinoids. The “neonics” are a class of pesticide that has previously been linked to declines in bee populations. Neonics were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Several studies have indicated that neonics may cause harm to local pollinators.

Commercial beekeepers began reporting around 2006 what is now known as colony collapse disorder, where entire colonies of bees die off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world.

Potts did state that the number of managed hives has risen slightly from 2.5 million in 2012 to 2.7 million in 2016. Between 1961 and 2012, the United States saw an estimated loss of 3 millions hives due to colony collapse disorder.

Although pesticides are only one of several possible sources responsible for the threat to pollinators, it should be noted that the United States has experienced controversy over neonicotinoid research.

In May 2015, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment sent a letter to officials with the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.

The groups said they were concerned about a report from Reuters that detailed threats to scientists who spoke out about the dangers of the pesticide. These threats included suspension without pay and threats of damage to careers. The scientists filed a petition in March 2015 seeking more protection.

Will the United Nations report affect the United States’ use of pesticides? What steps can individuals take to remedy the situation? These are important questions for each of us to ponder. The loss of biodiversity and subsequent loss of food diversity is a reality that all humanity will soon have to face. The more prepared and educated we are the more likely we will be able to care for and protect our families well into the future.

UN Declares Syria Talks ‘Paused,’ But Both Sides Argue They Never Started

by Jason Ditz

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura today declared a “pause” of the Geneva-based Syrian peace talks, saying both sides need to do more before there can be a serious effort. Mistura added he didn’t want talks just for the sake of talks.

The talks cap a week and a half process in which talks were initially scheduled for last Monday, invites were sent out Tuesday, rebels declined the invitation Wednesday and then showed up over the weekend insisting they weren’t officially “at” the talks, and both sides disputing assessments from earlier this week that the talks had “formally begun.” Indeed, to this point neither side was willing to concede that talks ever happened at all.

The effort was long delayed over arguments among nations over who would be allowed to attend, with Turkey threatening to boycott the talks if any Kurds were allowed in. The Kurds showed up over the weekend too, but were told to leave.

The US, for its part, insists the pause is wholly Russia’s fault with a faction of them continuing airstrikes in Syria during the talks, even though there was never a ceasefire agreed to beforehand and US warplanes too continued airstrikes throughout the period.

Saudi Airstrikes Pound Yemen as Ceasefire Falters

by Jason Ditz

Saudi warplanes tend to kill a few dozen people in Yemen on any given day, and despite the newly minted ceasefire today was no different, with Saudi warplanes pounding Houthi targets in several provinces across Yemen. The Saudis did not deny this.

Rather, Saudi officials say they were “responding” to Houthi hostility and that if anything their airstrikes proved that the Houthis are not to be trusted in the ongoing peace talks in Geneva. The UN has a total blackout on media coverage at the talks, so there is needless to say no news there.

Still, fighting on the ground has slowed, if not totally stopped, so there is some relative calm in some parts of Yemen. Saudi officials, however, say this too could “collapse at any moment” with a full resumption of hostilities.

A prisoner swap between the two sides, meant to be a confidence-building measure, was also halted by armed tribesmen in the Bayda Province, who blocked access to the site of exchange, demanding that their own tribesmen also be released in the deal.

Rebels, Civilians Withdraw From Last District as Syrian Govt Retakes Homs

by Jason Ditz

272 Syrian rebel fighters and 447 civilians were evacuated from the al-Waer District of the city of Homs today, the last district which was out of the control of the Syrian government. The evacuation was overseen by the UN as part of a deal that returned the city to government control.

Homs has been contested for several years, and the recent Syrian military offensive in the area had added pressure to the blockaded neighborhood, virtually obliging them to negotiate a handover. UN officials are expressing hope that deals like this one can reduce fighting in heavily populated areas and provide a basis for broader peace talks in the future.

One diplomat was quoted by Reuters as saying the Waer ceasefire, negotiated by local factions, was serving as the basis for more ceasefires, and that some are talking about as many as 40-50 more local ceasefires being discussed in the near future.

The exact composition of the various rebel factions who evacuated the district is not apparent, but reportedly included at least some members of al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra. The rebels were allowed to flee north into other rebel-held territory.

US Seeks to Cut Europeans Out of Syria Peace Talks

by Jason Ditz

With the UN General Assembly setting up a growing call for international negotiations on ending the Syrian Civil War, the Obama Administration is taking a risky position, reportedly trying to keep all Western European nations from taking part in the negotiations.

The international nature of the talks had most assuming that the P5+1 would be formally involved, as they were with the Iran nuclear negotiations, but while the US is okay with Russia being at the talks, they want to cut out the other four,meaning China and all three EU members would be sidelined.

The US is envisioning a five-nation effort, led by them, and including Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. The assumption from this is likely that Turkey and Saudi Arabia will back the US position, giving them a 3-2 majority at the negotiating table.

Russia is likely to make a lot of diplomatic points with their position, which urges the inclusion of all P5+1 members as well as several other Middle Eastern states, including Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.

US officials are defending their position as believing that the talks will be easier if they restrict it to those “directly involved” in Syria, but this must inevitably raise the question of whether the US is really “involved” in any way that France, for instance, is not.

The real risk of including France, Germany, and Britain is the appeal to reasonableness they are liable to bring to the table, as the US can count on the Saudis and Turkish government to both unconditionally spurn any unity deal that keeps Assad in power in any form, while the European nations are more likely to push for some sort of compromise deal that starts a transition.

Obama Takes Netanyahu ‘at his word’ In His Promise To Prevent Palestinian Statehood

On Friday, President Obama addressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian State in his attempt to garner support for a fourth term as Prime Minister.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama said he took Netanyahu “at his word” when he said that a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine would not be reached under his watch.

We’re going to make sure, regardless of disagreements we have on policy, that our military and intelligence cooperation to keep the Israeli people safe continues and that cooperation also helps the American people stay safe,” Obama said. “But we are going to continue to insist that, from our point of view, the status quo is unsustainable. And that while taking into complete account Israel’s security, we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region.”

Reuters reported that despite the “the urgency of renewed, structured and substantial efforts towards peace” expressed by the European Union, the United States will not speak at the annual United Nations debate on Israeli violations in Palestinian territories on Monday.

During an interview with Israeli news website NRG last week, Netanyahu promised that if re-elected as Israeli Prime Minister he would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian State in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

“I think anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state and to evacuate territory is giving radical Islam a staging ground against the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

With opinion polls prior to the election showing Netanyahu’s Likud falling behind Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, he urged citizens to vote, claiming that the right-wing government is in danger, due to the fact that “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls,” and “Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”

Netanyahu won in a narrow victory on Wednesday with his Likud party winning 30 seats and surpassing Herzog’s Zionist Union, which won 24 seats.

Obama told the Huffington Post that when he called Netanyahu on Thursday to congratulate him on the Likud party’s victory, he said that given Netanyahu’s statement prior to the election, “it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”

We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions,” Obama said. “That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly.

Fact Check: Holes in Hillary’s Email Story

Hillary Clinton addressed her use of private email to conduct government business during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, from 2009 to 2013, at a press conference at the United Nations on Tuesday. 

“When I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two,” Clinton said.

While Clinton said that she used her private email for “convenience,” in order to carry just one device, she made a comment about using two different devices in an interview two weeks before.

At the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women on Feb. 24, Clinton was asked if she preferred an iPhone or an Android. “iPhone,” Clinton responded. She then added, “Okay – in full disclosure – and a Blackberry.”

There are reasons when you start out in Washington on a Blackberry you stay on it in many instances,” Clinton said. “I don’t know, I don’t throw anything away. I’m like two steps short of a hoarder. So I have an iPad, a mini iPad, an iPhone and a Blackberry.”

While Clinton claimed at her press conference that she did not want to deal with the hassle of carrying two devices to keep up with her emails, she also revealed that she did go through the hassle of deleting about half, or 30,000 of her emails, which she categorized as personal and “chose not to keep.”

In going through the emails, there were over 60,000 in total, sent and received. About half were work-related and went to State Department, and about half were personal that were not in any way related to my work,” Clinton said.

Clinton also made a comment about her the fact that while she did not use proper protocol, and her own emails were not saved onto the government system, the government employees she corresponded with were using the correct addresses, and their overall correspondence was recorded.

The vast majority of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department,” Clinton said.

During the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, Clinton made a comment about deciphering between which emails were “work-related” and which ones were personal.

The process produced over 30,000 you know, work emails, and I think that we have more than met the requests from the State Department,” Clinton said. “The server contains personal communications from my husband and me, and I believe I have met all of my responsibilities and the server will remain private and I think that the State Department will be able, over time, to release all of the records that were provided.

Clinton claimed that the server contains “personal communications” between her and her husband, and she added that the private server, which has been traced back to her home in Chappaqua, New York, was “set up for President Clinton’s office.”

However, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Bill Clinton “still doesn’t use email,” and “has sent a grand total of two emails during his entire life,” both while he was president.


Man arrested in Saudi Arabia for filming the beheading of a woman

The Saudi Arabian police have arrested the man who filmed the public beheading of a woman in the streets of Mecca.

The footage, according to the Independent, showed Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Bassim being dragged through the streets of Mecca before four police officers surrounded her in the street. A man in a white robe then steps forward with a curved sword and deals three blows to Bassim’s neck, severing her head from her body.

Bassim was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering her stepdaughter, according to Mediaite, but she claimed her innocence in the video up until the first sword blow met her neck.

“I did not kill. There is no God but God. I did not kill,” Bassim said while the police and executioner surrounded her. “This is injustice… I did not kill.”

After the public execution, the footage of the event was posted online by a human rights activist group in order to draw attention to the judicial system in place in the country. A UN investigation into the trials which have led to executions in Saudi Arabia called the trials “grossly unfair,” according to the Daily Mail.

Once the Saudi government saw the video online, an unnamed man was brought into custody, and a Saudi official told the New York Times, the man will face charges related to cyber-security.

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), an organization based in Mecca, according to VICE News, said the dissemination of the footage is a crime and they want the person who filmed the execution punished.

“Those who disseminated the clip are not less guilty than those who filmed the execution,” said Mohammed Al Sahli, a member of the NSHR.

Other videos have been circulating online depicting public executions in Saudi Arabia. According to the Times of Israel, 10 people have been executed publicly this year already, while the number of public executions in 2014 was 87.

Palestine Reaches Out to International Criminal Court, Accuses Israel of War Crimes

Following the vote by members of the United Nations to deny the resolution to recognize Palestinian statehood on Tuesday, Palestine reached out to the International Criminal Court on Wednesday, accusing Israel of committing war crimes when it declared war on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014.

RT reported that along with letters of accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request to investigate Israel’s use of force starting June 13, 2014.

They attack us and our land every day, to whom are we to complain? The Security Council let us down – where are we to go?” Abbas said.

According to the Associated Press, Abbas’ decision to turn to the ICC signals a shift in Palestine’s relations with Israel, turning them “from tense to openly hostile,” due to the fact that Palestine’s ultimate goal is to “pressure Israel into withdrawing from the territories and agreeing to Palestinian statehood.”

PressTV reported that while Israel has launched three wars on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since 2008, Palestine is reaching out to the ICC for the “latest military aggression against Gaza,” claiming that the Israeli Defense Forces committed war crimes in the summer of 2014 when they “used advanced weapons to kill over 2,140 Palestinians and destroy thousands of homes.”

According to Reuters, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened that Israel would  “take steps in response,” and urged the ICC to reject Palestine’s bid to become a full member, claiming that Palestine does not “rank as a state.

“We expect the ICC to summarily dismiss the Palestinian Authority’s duplicitous application because the Palestinian Authority is not a state, it is an entity that is allied with a terror organization, Hamas, which commits war crimes,” Netanyahu said.

Following the news of Palestine’s bid to the ICC, the U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke released a statement saying that the United States was “deeply troubled” by the decision, and that Palestine’s actions would not help peace efforts in the region.

It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people,” said Rathke. “Actions like this are not the answer.

RT reported that Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center Director, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, said that the Gaza War “will be at the heart of the accusations,” and that if found guilty of war, Israel will suffer in terms of international relations.

“Israel will of course try to defend itself, but chances are they will lose,” said Darshan-Leitner. “And if they lose and they’re convicted for war crimes, it would be a game-changer. It would drop Israel to the bottom tier internationally.”

As previously reported, the resolution Palestine presented to the United Nations called for recognition of statehood, an end of Israeli occupation by 2017, the restoration to the 1967 borders, the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and the call for a third party to oversee Israeli withdrawal.

The resolution failed to pass, due to the fact that it only received eight out of the nine votes needed. Palestine pushed for the vote to happen before January 1, 2015, even though after January 1, the U.N. Security Council would have received five new members who were all likely to have passed the resolution.

This raises the question of whether Palestine pushed for an early vote so that they would still be able to push for Israel to be investigated for war crimes. Ben Swann was joined by Reema Abu Hamdieh on RT America to discuss:

Russia and North Korea Accuse the U.S. of Human Rights Violations in Ferguson

An outbreak of protests were reignited on Monday, after the Grand Jury announced its decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Those protests, which in some cases led to rioting and looting, were met by a militarized police force in the city of Ferguson.

The United States’ response to the protests has drawn criticism from countries like Russia and North Korea, which have been previously criticized by the U.S. for human rights violations.

The Guardian reported that both officials in Moscow and pro-Kremlin bloggers are comparing the recent events in Ferguson to “the Maidan protests in Kiev which began a year ago and ended in February with the overthrow of the Ukrainian president,” and claiming that there is a “double standard in Washington supporting the protesters in Kiev but clamping down on them at home.”

A statement from the human rights commissioner for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Konstantin Dolgov, criticized the United States for using “military methods against peaceful civilians,” which are only “likely to further inflame the situation.

Such a massive explosion of public indignation and the disproportionate reaction of law enforcement bodies confirm again that this is no isolated incident but a systemic flaw in American democracy, which has failed to overcome a deep racial split, discrimination and inequality.

Dolgov went on to say that the United States should focus more on the problems it has in its own country, before criticizing other countries:

The recent events in Ferguson are the latest and most worrying sign yet to American authorities that it is finally time for them to focus on the serious internal problems they have with human rights, using the recommendations of international human rights organizations, rather than using their efforts on pointless and fruitless lectures and propagandistic moralizing with regards to other countries.

A spokesman for the North Korea Foreign Ministry also released a statement criticizing the United States for its inconsistent human rights standards:

This is clear proof of the real picture of the U.S. as a tundra of human rights, where extreme racial discrimination acts are openly practiced,” said the spokesman. “The great irony is that the U.S. tries to measure other countries with its wrong human rights standard, though it is a typical human rights abuser.

Yahoo News reported that North Korea’s criticism came just a week after the United Nations “adopted a landmark resolution urging the Security Council to refer North Korea’s leaders to the International Criminal Court for possible indictment on crimes against humanity.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, released a statement urging the United States to practice “restraint,” and to find a “determined effort to root out institutionalized discrimination.”

It is clear that, at least among some sectors of the population, there is a deep and festering lack of confidence in the fairness of the justice and law enforcement systems,” said Zeid. “I urge the U.S. authorities to conduct in-depth examinations into how race-related issues are affecting law enforcement and the administration of justice, both at the federal and state levels.”

Michael Brown’s Parents Testify Before U.N. Committee Against Torture

On Tuesday, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden addressed the United Nations Committee against Torture, in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of a delegation of human rights advocates, in an attempt to raise awareness about the death of their son Michael Brown.

Although he was unarmed, Michael Brown (18) was shot and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson (28), during a confrontation on August 9, which sparked riots that were met with a militarized police force in the town of Ferguson, Missouri.

According to CNN, the teenager’s parents reached out to the U.N. Committee against Torture, which “works against cruel or degrading treatment or punishment by government authorities,” because they want the world to know “what’s going on in Ferguson.

We need answers and we need action,” said McSpadden. “We have to bring it to the U.N. so they can expose it to the rest of the world, what’s going on in small town Ferguson.

Michael Brown Sr. said they hoped to offer an outlook “on what’s going on in the United States and all over the world with the police, police brutality, no justice.

Regarding their trip to Geneva, McSpadden said that it had been a “great experience.”

We’ve been received very well,” said McSpadden. “They’ve given us a lot of love and support since we’ve been here. Everything seems to be positive.

As the grand jury determines its verdict on whether Wilson will be indicted on murder charges for Brown’s death, Ferguson residents prepare for the worst.

ABC News reported that Metro Shooting Supplies, a store in a town near Ferguson, “has been selling between 30 and 50 guns daily,” for the last three weeks, which is a “nearly 300 percent increase” over regular sales of 10 to 15 guns per day.

According to the Huffington Post, while Brown’s parents are saying “Wilson got away with murder,” and they are calling “for his immediate arrest,” they are also asking Ferguson residents to “pause, plan and prepare” in response to the grand jury decision, rather than acting out impulsively.

We don’t want anyone acting irrational or acting before thinking,” said McSpadden, who went on to say that those actions wouldn’t serve a purpose. “We’re trying to get a message across,” McSpadden explained.

USA Today reported that Brown Sr. and McSpadden believe that if Wilson is indicted, it will “send a message around the world that police must change their tactics.”

We are praying for an indictment,” said McSpadden. “To me that would mean that the police did do their investigation fairly and it was unbiased.

When asked about life after the death of their son, Brown Sr. told CNN that he and his wife are staying strong.

“It’s a situation where I’m surprised we haven’t even lost our mind yet,” said Brown Sr. “But we’re being strong. Hopefully, justice will prevail.”

UN Official Accuses US States of Violating International Law By Legalizing Pot

In the United States, decades-old marijuana prohibition laws are crumbling, state-by-state and city-by-city. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Voters in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, recently approved a referendum legalizing recreational cannabis. 23 US states now allow patients to seek treatment with medical marijuana. With polls showing that a majority of Americans approve of pot legalization, it is clear that the issue has hit a tipping point.

However, officials at the United Nations are none too pleased with the US for allowing states to reverse course on pot prohibition. According to Reuters, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director Yury Fedotov denounced recent legalization efforts in Oregon and Alaska in comments to reporters on Wednesday. Said Fedetov, “I don’t see how (the new laws) can be compatible with existing conventions.” The International Narcotics Control Board, an organization which enforces UN anti-drug conventions, has previously criticized Uruguay for legalizing marijuana in 2013.

Fedetov expressed his concerns that the recent electoral outcomes in Alaska and Oregon represent a growing trend towards legalization. When reporters asked him what the UNODC intends to do about American states’ alleged violations of international drug conventions, he indicated that he would confront the issue next week in meetings with various UN bureaucracies and the US State Department. State Department official William Brownfield recently called on the UN to take a more flexible approach in dealing with nations that are overturning pot prohibition laws.

Last February, Evan Mulch at BenSwann.com reported on how the United Nations’ Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 made US enforcement of marijuana prohibition a matter of international law, though international laws in general are tough to enforce on a superpower like the United States. The Obama administration originally fought against state-level marijuana legalization movements, but that policy was inevitably reversed, and administration officials are now beginning to let states set their own policies when it comes to cannabis prohibition.

This spat between the US and the UN shows the challenges that activists face when working to repeal laws that have been codified at multiple levels of government. When the sovereignties of local, state, and national governments are threatened by the decisions of un-elected officials at international treaty organizations, the voices of voters are effectively silenced.

On a related subject, Ben Swann’s latest Truth in Media episode, seen below, deals with the federal government’s own hypocritical approach to medical marijuana, as it claims that cannabis is not medicine yet holds a patent on medical cannabis.

United Nations General Assembly condemns U.S. Cuba embargo

UNITED NATIONS, October 31, 2014 – On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the 23rd year in a row to condemn the United States’ embargo of Cuba. The vote passed at a margin of 188-2 with only the U.S. and Israel voting against it.

The resolutions of the General Assembly are unenforceable and largely symbolic, but the annual vote has given Cuba a global stage to remind the world of the effects of the 42 year old embargo by the United States. After 42 years, many U.S. citizens have demonstrated a marked shift in attitude towards the embargo, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has voiced support for ending it.

Ronald D. Godard, a senior U.S. adviser for Western Hemisphere affairs defended the U.S. embargo and stated, “the Cuban government uses this annual resolution in an attempt to shift blame for the island’s economic problems away from its own policy failures.”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki brushed off the vote and stated, “the U.S. has a right to make its own decisions about its economic relations with other countries.” Psaki also stated, “the U.S. doesn’t think this annual U.N. debate does anything to advance a constructive discussion about the issue.”

According to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla the embargo has cost Cuba over 1.1 trillion since its inception in 1960.


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Critics Call New UN Anti-Terror Resolution “Global Patriot Act”

In the above-embedded video, Abby Martin of RT‘s Breaking the Set brought to light some of the concerns that civil liberties advocates have raised regarding the United Nations Security Council’s newly-passed anti-terrorism measure Resolution 2178, which is aimed at stopping the flow of funding to and preventing the travel of foreign fighters who attempt to cross borders to join terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda on the battlefield. RT correspondent Marina Portnaya also participated in the discussion, which considered the possible unintended consequences of the resolution’s vaguely-worded language, including fears that the text could be used by member states to target political activists.

Marina Portnaya told Martin, “…the resolution requires all UN member states to take a series of measures to prevent the movement and recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters. So, for example, law enforcement agents now have the authority to prevent and suppress what they deem as recruiting, organizing, transporting, or equipping of individuals who travel to a foreign country for the purpose of committing terrorist attacks. Officials can prevent people from traveling if they have ‘credible information that provides reasonable grounds,’ but what that actually means we don’t know because that statement wasn’t defined in the resolution.”

While UN resolutions are sometimes ignored by member states, Reuters pointed out the fact that the UN Security Council claims legal authority to enforce the measure “with economic sanctions or force” through Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Practically speaking, UN resolutions are typically more strictly enforced on smaller nations with limited military power, rather than on superpowers like those on the Security Council.

According to NPR, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2178 on September 24. Portnaya expressed her belief that the resolution passed swiftly due to the political reality that member states did not want to be seen as voting against a measure aimed at stopping ISIS’ rampage across Syria and Iraq.

In the video above, Portnaya outlined some concerns that civil liberties activists have expressed about the text, “If you read the text of the resolution, it requires governments to grant law enforcement authorities a wider scope to monitor and suppress the travel and other activities of suspected foreign terrorists, but how each country defines potential terrorists or jihadists is different. This could allow countries to monitor more people in the name of international security. Additionally, Human Rights Watch says the resolution is rampant with potential due process violations because the text doesn’t articulate the process in which suspects would be denied their right to travel, and some critics say that some provisions of the resolution actually promote the idea that people can be prosecuted for their thoughts and beliefs, but not their actions. So basically, this resolution does not specifically detail what exact criminal conduct is a prerequisite for detention.” She also voiced concerns that “[member states] could include a traveler’s previous itinerary for potential grounds for detention,” fearing that this might lead authorities to profile individuals who travel to places like the Middle East or North Africa.

The BBC notes that Resolution 2178 may be difficult to enforce, as each nation has its own anti-terrorism policies. Critics have compared its language to the USA PATRIOT Act, which has been blamed for authorizing a wide range of civil liberties abuses by the US government against its citizens.

Bush’s “Axis of Evil” Becomes Obama’s “Network of Death”

When Barack Obama ran for President of the United States in 2008, he was adamant about setting himself apart from President George W. Bush. However, given Obama’s recent announcements regarding the war in the Middle East, it has left many wondering just how different Obama is from his predecessor.

In his campaign for election in 2008, and in his campaign for re-election in 2012, Obama emphasized the fact that he intended to “end the war in Iraq.”

While Obama followed through on his promise, and all troops were removed from Iraq by December 2011, his recent decision to attack Islamic State militants in both Iraq and Syria via airstrike has left the country wondering whether ground troops returning to Iraq will be the next step.

Despite his attempt to set himself on the opposite end of the spectrum from Bush, Obama’s latest strategy has many looking back at Bush’s actions prior to sending ground troops into Iraq in 2003.

In January 2002, President Bush gave a State of the Union Address, in which he warned the American people of the danger posed by the Iraqi regime, and insisted that the United States must take action.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

Bush vowed that the United State would work closely with their “coalition” to deny terrorists and their state sponsors “the materials, technology and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction.

Bush also highlighted the fact that Americans should fear the Iraqi regime, because of its hostility toward America, and its support for terror.

This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children,” said Bush. “This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.”

On Wednesday, President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly, to garner support for his war against the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

 “There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

Both Bush and Obama vowed that the United States would not be alone, but would instead work closely with a coalition. In the same way Bush used the tactic of fear, and described why Americans should be wary of the Iraqi regime, Obama highlighted the gruesome actions of the Islamic State.

Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death,” said Obama. “In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world.

Obama also mirrored his predecessor, when he used the phrase “network of death,” which has a similar context to the “axis of evil” used by Bush.

However, a former White House speechwriter, Michael Gerson, who helped to coin Bush’s “axis of evil,” claimed that “When dealing with an ideology that inspires beheadings and mass murder, the English language only offers so many words that carry sufficient moral weight. ‘Evil’ and ‘death’ are two of them.

Egypt, China, Iran Criticize US Over Crackdown on Ferguson Protesters

“The eyes of the world are watching,” said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon last Saturday when he announced a curfew in Ferguson, MO. Ever since the controversial officer-involved shooting death of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown, police, National Guard troops, protesters, and a handful of violent agitators have clashed in scenes that remind viewers of footage from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. The militarized police response in Ferguson has been widely criticized by American politicos, both on the left and the right, inspiring a national conversation over the militarization of domestic police forces.

According to ABC News, political figures from around the world have also piled on to condemn the harsh crackdown on protesters and journalists in Ferguson. Quite ironically, some of the voices calling for restraint come from Egypt, China, and Iran, nations that have often been criticized by US officials over human rights abuses. Though Russia did not join other nations in criticizing the US, anti-Putin activists in Russia did, fearing that Putin himself would point to police tactics in Ferguson to justify future escalations against demonstrators.

Grand Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, tweeted, “Today like previous years, African-Americans are still under pressure, oppressed and subjected to discrimination. #Ferguson.” The barrage of tweets from his account continued, saying, “Racial discrimination is still a dilemma in the U.S. #Ferguson,” and also pointing out, “Look at how US govt treats black community! It’s not about 50-100 years ago but it’s about today!”

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency released an article condemning the US response to Ferguson protesters. “The Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that even if in a country that has for years tried to play the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home,” reads the op-ed. It also said, “…it is undeniable that racial discrimination against African Americans or other ethnic minorities, though not as obvious as in the past, still persists in every aspect of US social lives, including employment, housing, education, and particularly, justice.”

The Xinhua commentary also touched on the NSA controversy, “…the US human rights flaws extend far beyond racial issues. As revealed by famous whistleblower Edward Snowden, the US government has hacked into emails and mobile phones of ordinary Americans as well as leaders of other countries, including traditional US allies.” Criticism of US drone strikes came next in the commentary by China’s press agency, “What’s more, Uncle Sam has witnessed numerous shooting sprees on its own land and launched incessant drone attacks on foreign soil, resulting in heavy civilian casualties.” The piece concluded, “Each country has its own national conditions that might lead to different social problems. Obviously, what the United States needs to do is to concentrate on solving its own problems rather than always pointing fingers at others.”

Egypt’s foreign ministry also capitalized on the opportunity to criticize the US over Ferguson, saying it would keep an eye on the situation and urging restraint. A recipient of US aid, Egypt’s government was widely criticized, even by the US, for its own crackdowns on demonstrators during tumultuous protests in 2011 and 2013.

US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf defended America’s human rights record, claiming that the Ferguson crisis has been dealt with “openly and honestly” despite the realities on the ground that journalists have been jailed by police and authorities declared a no-fly zone over the protests, preventing news helicopters from providing coverage. She also slammed comparisons by reporters between the US and nations like Egypt, China, and Iran.

Additionally, a spokesman for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reminded American officials to respect the free speech rights of protesters in Ferguson, and Amnesty International responded to the controversy by deploying human rights observers to the US for the first time in world history.

Conflict in Gaza Changing but Not Ending, More Civilians Dead, Tunnels Nearly Destroyed

On Sunday, news that Israel was redeploying a large number of its troops out of Gaza, was followed by news that another United Nations school had been hit by an Israeli airstrike. This airstrike on a UN facility that was being used to house displaced Palestinian civilians was added to the list as the seventh one that Israel has launched in the four weeks since their operation began.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 10 individuals were killed, and about three-dozen were injured at a UN boys’ school in the southern Gaza City of Rafa, as a result of the Israeli airstrike.

According to The New York Times, “Witnesses near the school, where about 3,000 Palestinians had sought shelter, said that those killed or hurt were waiting in line for food supplies when a missile hit.”

Although the Israeli Army claimed that their original target was “three members of Islamic Jihad on a motorcycle near the school,” the US State Department called the shelling “disgraceful.”

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said, “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”

The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed,” said Psaki. “We once again stress that Israel do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, called Sunday’s airstrike a  “moral outrage and a criminal act” and he said that those responsible were in “gross violation of international humanitarian law” and should be held accountable.

While Israel has said that “thousands” of its troops had been deployed into Gaza, it has never given an exact number. A spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said that there would be “substantial redeployments of the troops on the ground who will be regrouping, receiving further orders,” due to the fact that the destruction of Hamas’s tunnel network is just days from being complete.

It’s changing gears but it’s still ongoing,” said Lerner, in reference to the fact the large numbers of Israeli ground troops who were moving to positions just inside Gaza, while others were redeploying to Israel.

Colonel Lerner also addressed the death of Second Lt. Hadar Goldin. At first, Israel announced that Hamas militants kidnapped Goldin during the early hours of an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire on Friday. This supposed kidnapping put an end to the ceasefire.

However, on Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that Goldin had most likely been killed when his unit were trying to destroy a tunnel, and were ambushed by three Hamas militants, one of which exploded a suicide belt.

We can’t determine if he was killed on the ground or from the blast,” said Colonel Lerner, the army spokesman. “The indications on the ground are that he was killed in the initial attack.”

The Huffington Post reported that although Netanyahu has “vowed to press on against Hamas,” he is redeploying troops due to that fact that he is coming under “international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll.”

We promised to return quiet to Israel and that is what we will do,” said Netanyahu. “We will continue to act until that goal is reached, however long it will take and with as much force as needed.

Netanyahu also warned that Hamas “will pay an intolerable price” if it keeps fighting.

In addition to the airstrike, which hit the UN school, several more Israeli airstrikes occurred in Gaza on Sunday, killing 71 Palestinians. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the 1,822 Palestinians have been killed and 9,370 have been injured. The New York Times reported that 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

According to International Business Times, while delegations from Hamas and Islamic Jihad arrived in Cairo on Sunday to participate in negotiating a ceasefire, which was organized by United States and Egyptian officials, Israeli officials still have yet to send a delegation.

Attempts by both the United States and United Nations to secure a permanent ceasefire have been criticized by those such as Yochanan Gordon, a blogger for the Times of Israel. In an article, which was deleted shortly after it was posted and received heavy criticism, titled “When Genocide is Permissible,” Gordon accused the US and the UN of being “completely out of touch.

Gordon also criticized networks such as CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera for only focusing on the “majority of innocent civilians who have lost their lives.” Gordon concluded his controversial blog piece, saying, “If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?

(Although it was originally deleted, if you are interested in reading Gordon’s full article, you can find it here)

A similar attitude was evidenced in an article by The Jerusalem Post’s Martin Sherman, who claimed that, “The only durable solution requires dismantling Gaza, humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region.

On Sunday, Israel announced that it would hold a temporary ceasefire on Monday, from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. in northern areas of the Gaza Strip. However, Israeli officials warned that they would respond if Hamas fired any rockets during those seven hours.