Hillel Neuer at the Times of Israel:
The UK, France, Germany and other EU states voted yesterday for a UN resolution, co-sponsored by the Arab group of states and the Palestinian delegation, that singled out Israel at the annual assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) as the only violator of “mental, physical and environmental health,” and commissioned a WHO delegation to investigate and report on “the health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory” and in “the occupied Syrian Golan,” and to place it on the agenda again at next year’s meeting.
By contrast, the UN assembly did not address Syrian hospitals being bombed by Syrian and Russian warplanes, or millions of Yemenis denied access to food and water by the Saudi-led bombings and blockade, nor did it pass a resolution on any other country in the world. Out of 24 items on the meeting’s agenda, only one, Item No. 19 against Israel, focused on a specific country.
The UN reached new heights of absurdity by enacting a resolution which accuses Israel of violating the health rights of Syrians in the Golan, even as in reality Israeli hospitals continue their life-saving treatment for Syrians fleeing to the Golan from the Assad regime’s barbaric attacks....
Antony Loyd in the Times (£):
British special forces fired a missile to destroy an Islamic State truck packed with explosives in Libya this month, it can be revealed.
The attack, which helped Libyan militias to halt the terrorists’ advance on the strategic city of Misrata, is the first evidence that British soldiers have a combat role against Isis in Libya. The disclosure prompted claims from MPs that parliament was being bypassed over Britain’s role in the civil war.
Commander Mohammed Durat, a leading military figure in Misrata, revealed details of the attack. “My unit works just with the English. I have met with them personally and they have destroyed two suicide vehicles that were targeting my fighters,” he said.
Local militiamen were fleeing from an approaching vehicle designed to be used as a bomb at a bridge on the road to Misrata when British special forces destroyed it. “The Americans and English are working here together helping us,” Commander Durat said....
Ill equipped to deal with Isis’s ruthless tactics and the fast-moving armoured vehicles used in suicide attacks, Libyan fighters east of Misrata suffered a series of battlefield defeats this month. Isis has been trying to extend its territory west along the Mediterranean from its stronghold in Sirte.
On May 12 at Shaddadah Bridge, 50 miles south of Misrata, Libyan fighters abandoned their positions in panic at the approach of a suicide vehicle. British special forces — from either the Special Air Service or Special Boat Service — destroyed it with what is believed to be a Javelin missile. The move allowed the Libyans to regroup.
Yesterday MPs claimed that special forces were being used in conventional combat roles to get around the need for parliament’s approval. “The convention that we don’t comment on special forces operations or seek parliamentary authorisation will be undermined if they are used as conventional forces,” Crispin Blunt, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said.
Emily Thornberry, shadow defence secretary, said that when special forces were deployed in “quasi-conventional” combat roles “it is right to have some form of parliamentary scrutiny of the strategy behind those deployments”.
The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces operations.
Something to celebrate, surely. Though we can be fairly sure that, were this to be debated in the Commons, Labour under Corbyn would be strongly opposed.
The house opposite to ours has a "Stop Bombing Syria" sign displayed prominently in the window (from the Stop the War mob). Well, this is Corbyn's home turf, Islington North. I've been meaning to ask who it's addressed to - any passing Russians, perhaps? Assad? - but can't quite be bothered. Presumably it'll now be joined by a "Stop Bombing Libya" sign. They won't be able to see out of their window for all the virtue-signalling.
The case of Erin Bisson:
A transgender woman has won her bid to have a ferry firm remove the words "ladies" and "gents" from its toilets.
Erin Bisson, from Jersey, launched legal action for discrimination against Condor Ferries after a member of staff told her to use a disabled loo.
She had also said the use of words rather than symbols on toilets amounted to indirect discrimination.
The firm admitted discrimination at the island's Employment and Discrimination Tribunal on Friday.
In its first decision taken since the island introduced gender discrimination laws in 2015, the tribunal found Ms Bisson's complaints against Condor of direct and indirect discrimination because of her gender reassignment to be "well-founded".
When she called the company in September to ask which toilets she should use, Ms Bisson said a staff member "advised me I should be using the disabled toilets".
She claimed this had amounted to direct discrimination.
So, this Erin Bisson: does she ring beforehand every time she goes out - to the pub, to a restaurant, to an art gallery - to ask which toilet she should use? If she's caught short in the park, does she quickly put in a call to the local council to check whether she should be heading to the Ladies or the Gents? It seems like a trick question. If they don't unhesitatingly reply "Ladies, of course", then, hey, we have a discrimination case on our hands.
We can agree that the ferry company's response, to suggest that she should use the disabled toilets, may not have been the wisest move in the circumstances. I'd have said, "well, what do you normally do?"
Symbols it is now, then, instead of words. I don't really see the difference myself. Is it because there's still some slight element of ambiguity with symbols? People who wear trousers, use this toilet; people who wear skirts, this other one? What about women (untransgendered women, that is) who wear trousers or jeans? Oh dear. What do the philosophers think?
But no doubt it marks a great leap forward in our brave new gender-fluid society.
Michael Totten, on diverging pathways at the top of South America:
When the Cold War ended, Colombia was a crime-infested war zone while Venezuela, its neighbor to the east, was an island of sanity and stability. Colombia is now one of the world’s hottest new tourist destinations while Venezuela is on the brink of collapse.
For more than a half-century, Colombia suffered a bewildering multisided conflict that killed more than 200,000 people—the vast majority of them civilians—and displaced roughly five million. It was a no-go zone fractured by a communist insurgency that kidnapped and murdered tens of thousands, right-wing death squads that butchered people with chainsaws, and murderous drug cartels that often wielded more power than the government.
Meanwhile, during most of that period, Venezuela held democratic elections and experienced considerable, if uneven, economic growth. Throughout Latin America, Soviet-backed insurgencies battled it out with military regimes sponsored by the United States, but Cuba’s attempt to foment communist revolution in Venezuela fizzled.
After the Berlin Wall fell, pro-Soviet forces all but evaporated everywhere except in Colombia where the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) swapped Moscow’s largesse with drug money.
If one had to choose where to invest at the time, the smart money would have been on Venezuela. It had a small middle class and a great deal of poverty, but that was hardly unique in South and Central America. What set it apart was its vast oil reserves—more than any other country on earth—and its relative political stability.
The current United Socialist Party government led by Nicolás Maduro, and formerly Hugo Chávez, could have done amazing things for the country with that vast oil wealth. Instead, the party has done its damndest to import Fidel Castro’s Cuban model of socialism— Chávez called Castro his mentor—and turn Venezuela into a totalitarian anthill.
They never quite pulled it off, never quite managed to create a state powerful enough to smother every human being under its weight. Rather than molding Venezuelan society into a Stalinist Borg-hive, both—but Maduro especially—presided over a near-total collapse into anarchy, squalor and crime.
Last week the Washington Post called Venezuela a failed state. “The government has tried to control the economy to the point of killing it — all, of course, in the name of ‘socialism’…Venezuela has gotten something worse than death. It has gotten hell. Its stores are empty, its hospitals don't have essential medicines, and it can't afford to keep the lights on.”
The inflation rate is almost 500 percent this year and is expected to exceed 1,500 percent next year. A hamburger costs 170 dollars. Everything is in short supply. “Venezuela reaches the final stages of socialism,” David Boaz writes. “No toilet paper.” Even hotels are asking guests to bring their own, which is almost impossible unless they’re coming in from abroad.
Violent crime has spread throughout the country, even to rural areas. Police officers don’t even attempt to suppress or solve crime, partly because they’re too busy protecting the crooked and oppressive government from its furious subjects, but also because crime is as ubiquitous in Venezuela right now as the heat and humidity. Last week, a fed up mob doused a man with gasoline and burned him alive for mugging another man and stealing the equivalent of five dollars.
Hellish Colombia, meanwhile, has improved so dramatically over the same period of time that it’s hardly even recognizable anymore....
North Korean agents are said to be closely watching the movements of South Korean citizens at hotels and airports in China’s cities of Dandong and Shenyang in Liaoning Province, as well as Yanji City in Jilin Province, Daily NK has learned. This follows alleged orders from Kim Jong Un to carry out an act of "comparable retaliation" against what Pyongyang claims to be Seoul’s group abduction of its workers from a restaurant in China this past April.
A source in China who is close to North Korean affairs confirmed hearing of the leader issuing orders to kidnap "multiple times the number" of restaurant workers that defected to the South. This suggests that the possibility of Pyongyang abducting South Korean citizens in the border area of China may be more than an empty threat, and people in those regions should exercise caution for their personal safety.
This is why state security anti-espionage agents and abduction agents from the General Reconnaissance Bureau have been dispatched to the border area, added the source.
“There are at least 300 agents, and this is said to be the largest ever dispatch in history. They appear to be intently looking for ways to achieve the goal,” the source said, “by keeping a close watch on flights headed to South Korea from places like Dandong, Shenyang, and Yanji to settle on targets.”
“Their main areas of focus are places popular with South Koreans, like restaurants and hotels that require passports to be presented by the customers,” he added. “Even the Chinese public security forces are feeling uneasy with their conspicuous activity going on in multiple areas."
The main targets of interest are said to be South Korean missionaries and aid workers interested in helping North Koreans, as well as defectors that the North Korean state has labeled as traitors.
North Korean forced laborers, in the heart of the European Union? It sounds impossible to believe. But a VICE investigation has found extensive evidence of North Koreans working in conditions of forced labor in Poland, with their wages funding the DPRK regime.
We were able to confirm that North Koreans are employed as manual workers in multiple locations across the country with their salaries apparently traveling through a network of companies directly into the pocket of the dictatorial Workers' Party.
VICE gained access to confidential documents such as service contracts, payment records, registers of persons, passport copies, and excerpts from a population register smuggled out of North Korea, the latter indicating a Polish company may be being run by a high-ranking member of the North Korean military.
The investigation was sparked by the death of a North Korean working as a welder at a major shipyard in the Gdansk region. He suffered 95 percent burns in an accident that was only possible because of inadequate working equipment and unsafe practices, the yard's responsible work inspector Tomasz Rutkowski told us.
After obtaining a copy of the official accident report by the Polish National Labor Inspectorate (PIP), we unraveled a complex web of organized exploitation, bureaucratic chaos, official indifference, and political ignorance that extends all the way to the European Commission. Most of all, the investigation shines a light on working conditions that appear to meet the definition for forced labor as laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights and by the International Labor Organization — labor that companies across Europe are profiting from as leader Kim Jong-un fills his coffers with foreign currency.
The scrupulously documented half hour film - it's in German, but you can set up English subtitles - is worth watching.
See also Joshua Stanton - Stop saying N. Korean overseas laborers aren’t slaves. They are, and here’s proof.
More North Korean restaurant workers in China are reported to have defected, following the thirteen last month. At the moment the details are unclear. The BBC:
A group of North Koreans working at a state-run restaurant overseas have defected, South Korea has confirmed.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said that the workers had "broken away", but refused to comment further. It said they would now come to South Korea.
Yonhap News Agency, citing an unidentified source, said the defectors had been in China but were currently in a third country in South East Asia.
This would be the second restaurant defection this year.
In April, a group of 13 North Koreans workers defected to South Korea from a restaurant in Ningbo, China.
The South Korean Chosun Ilbo:
A source in China said Chinese security forces are investigating the incident. There are conflicting reports on when and where the workers escaped, as well as their exact number.
Jang Jin-sung, a defector who edits the magazine New Focus International, said they were three women in their 20 who escaped from a restaurant in Shanghai.
But an intelligence source said that information "lacked credibility." Another source said they were two or three workers from a restaurant in Xian. The government merely said it is checking the information.
North Korea is reeling under tougher international sanctions following its latest nuclear test and putting pressure on restaurant staff abroad to send back more money for the regime. But since the latest UN Security Council resolution, North Korean restaurants overseas has seen fewer and fewer customers, and the once-desirable jobs are becoming a slog.
North Korea runs around 130 restaurants overseas which at one time generated some US$40 million a year. Some 90 are in China, nine in Russia, seven in Cambodia and four in Vietnam.
Seoul has asked South Korean travelers, who often make up the bulk of customers, to avoid the restaurants, which has led to several shutting down.
But North Korean officials apparently keep forcing those that stay open to send more cash back to Pyongyang.
"North Korean workers are quickly summoned back to Pyongyang and punished if they don't achieve their quota," a source said. "The latest defections were probably triggered by increasing pressure to meet quotas."
Restaurant staff usually come from privileged families and are aware of the world around them. "They probably felt there's no hope for North Korea," a government source here speculated.
Whatever the reason, it's another blow for the increasingly beleaguered Kim Jong-un. Pyongyang made a huge deal over the last restaurant defections, insisting that they'd been kidnapped by the South Koreans.
Egyptian political commentator Nabih Al-Wahsh accuses Israel of downing EgyptAir Flight 804, and calls for Egyptians and other Arabs to kill any Israeli they come across and to mutilate their bodies:
"The despicable Zionist entity does not abide by norms or agreements. It exported AIDS into Egypt, as well as aphrodisiac bubblegum, and all kinds of catastrophes..."
"I call to form death squads that will hunt down any Israeli, anywhere in the world."
Life is going to get even more exciting for the residents of Gaza. From the Jerusalem Post:
Hamas announced on Sunday that they will begin executing criminals in public in the Gaza Strip, according to AFP.
"I ask that they (the executions) take place before a large crowd," Hamas Attorney General Ismail Jaber was quoted as stating.
The families of the men awaiting their public execution were reportedly rallying on Sunday in support of the execution of their relatives.
While Hamas has implemented capital punishment in the past for crimes such as collaborating with Israel, the most recent public execution was in 2014 after Operation Protective Edge, when Hamas murdered fourteen men by firing squad outside the main mosque in Gaza City.
According to Palestinian law, the death penalty can be implemented in cases of collaboration with Israel, drug trafficking and murder.
In April, Hamas sentenced five Palestinians to death after finding them guilty of “collaboration” with Israel.
Sources in the Gaza Strip said that one of the sentenced was born in 1964 and had been collaborating with Israel since 2008. They said the man had provided Israel with information about Hamas tunnels and the nature of their work.
Meanwhile, again from the Jerusalem Post, Mosab Hassan Yousef, aka, the Green Prince - the son of West Bank Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who helped the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) thwart attacks from 1997 to 2007, converted to Christianity, and fled to the US where he was granted political asylum - has been speaking at the JP conference in New York:
He mentioned that he was raised to believe that Jews are the enemies of humanity and the Palestinians.
However, he continued, that was “until I came to experience what the Jewish nation really is...through witnessing the true democratic model in an ocean of darkness.”
Yousef recounted how he had witnessed a Palestinian mother send her five children on suicide attacks and how she would bless each one. The former Israeli spy said the mother did this to gain respect in society.
The collective mind of society is representing something, an ideology, a culture, a state of consciousness that is stuck in the 6th and 7th centuries in a tribal lust for power, he said.
“We cannot fool ourselves,” he continued, but “there is an Islamic problem,” going on to mention various radical Islamic terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and Islamic State.
“All of them are killing by the name of Allah,” he said adding that other religions do not act in such ways. “There is an Islamic problem and I think humanity needs to stand against this danger.”
Political correctness means to bury your head in the sand, but "the truth is that we are afraid and we are trying not to provoke them more, we are trying not to create a religious war. But there has been a religious war whether you like it or not.”
This threat needs to be faced with “courage,” said Yousef.
"To tell them no, Islam is a religion of peace. We just create the perfect climate for terrorists to keep on growing." Islam is a belief system and the world should unify against it just as it did against Nazism, he went on to argue.
“When the president of the free world stands and says ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ he creates the climate...to create more terrorism,” asserted Yousef.
The Jewish people were able to overcome the Holocaust and instead of playing the victim card, built a democratic state, which sets a great example, concluded Yousef.
“I came from hell,” and “I love what Israel stands for.”
As Tim Montgomerie notes, in the Times [£], the shortly-to-be-published Chilcot report will concentrate on the invasion itself, and the early years of the occupation, while ignoring the most significant cause of the current chaos in Iraq - Obama's premature withdrawal:
Bush is not the only president who declared the Iraq war to have been a success, or who has questions to answer about US involvement there. Mr Obama may never have appeared before a “mission accomplished” banner but in late 2011, as the final US troops left Iraq, he celebrated “an extraordinary achievement”. He claimed: “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”
Arrogantly overruling his generals and “the various leadership factions in Iraq” who, according to Leon Panetta, his CIA chief, all “wanted some US forces as a bulwark against sectarian violence”, Obama walked away, providing a contrast with the most successful postwar interventions. To this day there are US military bases in Germany, South Korea and Japan, testifying to the stamina that peacekeeping requires.
Yesterday’s Sunday Times suggested that Chilcot’s report will criticise nearly everyone involved in the build-up to Iraq. As well as Tony Blair and his foreign secretary, Jack Straw, it will take the long knives to the knights: the UK ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer, General Sir Mike Jackson, and the former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove are all set for censure.
Yet the post-Bush, post-Blair stages of the Iraq story are likely to go unexamined. When Chilcot started meeting there were still US troops in Iraq. Seven years and 2.6 million of his report’s words later, more than 5,000 have had to return. Islamic State filled the security vacuum that Obama created, while American soldiers are countering the barbarians who murdered 200 Iraqis in sectarian bombings in Baghdad a week ago. At the end of last month the nation’s parliament was ransacked after Shia protesters stormed the supposedly impenetrable green zone where foreign embassies are also located.
None of this garners much attention these days because, in so far as our responsibilities to Iraq are ever discussed, it is only in the context of the decision to invade and trying to point the finger at “Bliar”.
Answering the big question posed by Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq — do the free world’s current leaders have the grit to persevere in the fight against Islamic militancy? — doesn’t, of course, need a grand report. The answer is no.
We've heard about Korean reunification from the point of view of the South Koreans. But how do the North Koreans feel? As it happens the official Rodong Simmun news agency now has an article on that very subject - DPRK Government, Political Parties, Organizations Call for Accelerating Final Victory of Independent Reunification. So....deep breath....
Supreme leader Kim Jong Un clarified a new line and policies of national reunification to overcome the prevailing difficulties and comprehensively indicated the ways of implementing them at the Seventh Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea.
As soon as the new line and policies of national reunification were made public, they evoked a lively response. This being a hard reality, only the south Korean authorities and a few other separatists dared make reckless remarks going against the trend of the times, chilling the hard-won atmosphere. The DPRK government, political parties and organizations in a joint statement Monday clarified the following principled stand at home and abroad:
Everybody should wholeheartedly uphold the line and policies of independent reunification set forth by the peerlessly great man out of ardent patriotism.
They comprehensively deal with the principle of national independence, the principle of the great national unity and the ways of ensuring peace on the Korean peninsula and realizing the federal formula acceptable to everybody in the north and the south, and all other theoretical and practical issues which the Korean nation has sought at the cost of blood and whose truth has been proved in practice in the course of the arduous and protracted struggle for national reunification.
If all Koreans adhere to and carry out the line and policies, they can smoothly attain the goal of reunification, their desire, but if they fail to do so, they will neither be able to get rid of the permanent division and danger of a war nor escape from self-destruction in the long run.
If they have a true will to solve the issue of national reunification, everyone should not turn a deaf ear to the stark truth of history but sympathize and absolutely support the new line of national reunification. If the fair and reasonable line and policies for national reunification which the entire nation supports and all people welcome are criticized and denied categorically, there will be nothing to be done any more between the north and the south.
If the south Korean authorities come out with any proposal from the stand of national independence and great national unity, we will candidly discuss it, though our new Juche-oriented line and policies are the most just and fair and aboveboard offer for reunification. This is our stand.
The government, political parties and organizations of the DPRK will make responsible efforts to implement the line and policies for independent reunification set forth at the Seventh Congress of the WPK, holding fast to them as a unique and supreme reunification programme of the nation, and take initiatives for necessary practical measures....
On it goes on....and on...
It's not clear quite what new line is being offered here. Sweep away the bombast, in fact, and there's nothing at all. It's almost completely content-free. All noise, no signal. Imagine having this as your only source of news.
But if you read on - if you can face it - we can see what's prompted this: the suggestion that reunification can only proceed after denuclearisation. And it's clear how important the nuclear issue is for the peerlessly fat man. It's a virility issue writ large. There's no way he's going to give up his nuclear weapons. In fact there's no way he's going to give up anything. Compromise is not possible.
Which is why it was surprising to see Aidan Foster-Carter's piece at CiF last week - At last a good idea from Donald Trump: dialogue with North Korea. Foster-Carter is a well-respected North Korean expert, so his suggestion that talking with Kim Jong-un might prove to be a good idea is - to me at least - an odd one. Especially as there are so many signs now - dissidence within, mass defections, increasingly effective sanctions - that things are not going well in Pyongyang. But it's worth a read.