Brussels Approves Groundbreaking Import Ban on Goods Linked to Deforestation

Companies exporting products like chocolate, timber and palm oil will soon face tough new European Union regulations to ensure these goods aren’t linked to deforestation. The measures are a first for Europe and the world — and may set a global precedent.

Environmentalists are hailing the groundbreaking legislation endorsed by the European Union early Tuesday. It will, however, need to be formally passed by the EU’s parliament and member states, a move likely to occur early next year. 

European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz called the measure a crucial step forward in protecting the environment and Europe’s green commitments. 

The draft law targets imports of goods like coffee, cocoa, meat, palm oil and soy, which are linked to deforestation. Companies will need to show where and when these items were produced, and verify they weren’t grown on land deforested after 2020. 

“I think it can’t be understated how groundbreaking this law is,” Jahnz said. “It’s really the first of its kind in the world.”

“There’ll be a direct impact from it,” said John Hyland, a Brussels-based spokesman for the European Unit of Greenpeace. “It will stop some chainsaws and bulldozers clearing forests and it will stop companies profiting from deforestation in Europe.”

But Hyland also said the legislation has drawbacks. Environmentalists consider its definition of forest degradation to be weak, allowing logging industries, for example, to continue cutting down trees in many places. Green groups say they hope the restrictions will be widened to include other crucial ecosystems like wetlands and savannas. 

Greenpeace said it believes the measure may prompt other countries and companies to adopt similar due-diligence standards. 

“All these companies that want to sell in Europe — which is a huge market — they’ll be forced to collect this information,” said Hyland. “And once they’re collecting this information, other countries — it’s much easier for them to ask for this information too. And companies will want to have their competitors brought up to the same standard they are as well.” 

Deforestation is a massive and alarming problem worldwide — especially in the Amazon and Congo basin where the forests are crucial for fighting climate change.

The United Nations estimates the world has lost 420 million hectares of forest over the past three decades.

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Al Jazeera Takes Slain Journalist’s Case to ICC

TV network Al Jazeera submitted the case of slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, saying she was killed by Israeli forces.

The Qatar-based channel said it had “unearthed new evidence” on the death of the Palestinian-American, shot while covering an Israel army raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank on May 11.

Any person or group can file a complaint to the ICC prosecutor for investigation, but The Hague-based court is under no obligation to take on such cases.

Al Jazeera said its submission highlighted “new witness evidence and video footage (that) clearly show that Shireen and her colleagues were directly fired at by the Israeli Occupation Forces.”

“The claim by the Israeli authorities that Shireen was killed by mistake in an exchange of fire is completely unfounded,” the channel said.

An AFP journalist saw a lawyer representing Al Jazeera’s case entering the ICC’s headquarters to hand over their submission.

The ICC last year launched a probe into war crimes in the Palestinian territories, but Israel is not an ICC member and disputes the court’s jurisdiction.

The Israeli army conceded on September 5 that one of its soldiers had likely shot Abu Akleh after mistaking her for a militant. Israel said it would not cooperate with any external probe into Abu Akleh’s death.

“No one will investigate IDF (Israeli military) soldiers, and no one will preach to us about morals in warfare, certainly not Al Jazeera,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.

‘Complete cover-up’

The veteran reporter, who was a Christian, was wearing a bulletproof vest marked “Press” and a helmet when she was shot in the head in the Jenin refugee camp, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Her niece, Lina Abu Akleh, urged the ICC to investigate the journalist’s death.

“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear; we expect the ICC to take action,” she told a press conference in The Hague, adding that they had asked for a meeting with prosecutor Karim Khan.

“My family still doesn’t know who fired that deadly bullet and who was in the chain of command that killed my aunt.”

Lawyer Rodney Dixon said there had been a “complete cover-up” by Israel over Abu Akleh’s death.

He alleged that her killing was part of a “systematic and widespread campaign” against Al Jazeera by Israel that included the bombing of a Gaza building housing Al Jazeera’s office last year.

“There’s a clear attempt to shut Al Jazeera down and silence it,” Dixon said at the news conference. “We are hopeful that there will now be justice for Shireen.”

Dixon said they had not yet had a formal meeting with the prosecutor’s office but had handed over evidence, including some on memory sticks, to the ICC’s evidence unit.

After receiving complaints from individuals or groups, the ICC prosecutor decides independently what cases to submit to judges at the court.

Judges decide whether to allow a preliminary investigation by the prosecutor, which can then be followed by a formal investigation, and if warranted, charges.

In the majority of cases such complaints do not lead to investigations, according to the ICC.

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Ukrainian Community in Indiana Bands to Help Motherland

According to the U.S. census, there are over a million Americans of Ukrainian descent. They are a diverse group, but Russia’s war on Ukraine has brought many of them together. Iryna Matviichuk visited one small group in Indiana, in this story narrated by Anna Rice.

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Belarus Opposition Figure Returned to Prison After Surgery

Maria Kolesnikova, a prominent member of the Belarusian opposition serving an 11-year prison sentence for helping stage anti-government protests, was taken back to prison after undergoing an operation for a perforated ulcer, her father said Monday. 

Alexander Kolesnikov was able to visit his daughter for about 10 minutes and found her weak but “her mood is good and she even tried to smile,” he told The Associated Press. 

Maria Kolesnikova, 40, has been in custody since September 2020 when she tore up her passport at the border to prevent her forced expulsion from Belarus amid massive protests challenging the reelection of the country’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko. 

She was convicted in September 2021 on charges of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organization and calling for action that threatened the security of the state. 

Belarus was shaken by massive protests after the disputed August 2020 reelection of Lukashenko, which the opposition and the West denounced as a rigged sham. Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. 

Kolesnikova helped coordinate opposition protests and resisted authorities’ attempts to force her to leave the country. When officers of the Belarusian security agency drove her to the border with Ukraine in September 2020 to forcibly expel her, she ripped up her passport and walked back into Belarus to face arrest. 


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Pakistan: Russia to Sell ‘Discounted’ Petroleum Products to Islamabad

Pakistan said Monday that Russia had decided to export crude oil, gasoline and diesel to the South Asian nation at discounted prices.

Deputy Minister for Petroleum Musadik Malik shared the details at a news conference in Islamabad after visiting Moscow last week where he met with his Russian counterparts.

“An inter-governmental delegation ed by Russian energy minister will visit Pakistan next month and we will try to firm up all the details I have shared with you so we can sign the agreement to buy crude oil, petrol and diesel at a discounted rate,” Malik said.

He did not share specifics such as the discount offered by Moscow or how soon Islamabad would be able to import Russian petroleum products.

“The discounted rate will be the same as the rate being offered to other countries in the world,” Malik asserted.

The minister said his talks “turned out to be more productive than expected” and they were driven by Pakistan’s “national interest” requiring the government to overcome domestic energy shortages from all possible sources.

Malik said Pakistan was also interested in buying liquefied natural gas, or LNG, but that Russian state-owned companies’ supplies of the product are tight at present.

“Russia is in the process of installing new production units and has invited Pakistan to initiate talks on long-term contracts to buy LNG,” he said. Malik added that Russian officials also arranged his delegation’s talks with private companies in Moscow on importing LNG.

There were no immediate comments from Moscow on possible energy deals with Pakistan.

Pakistan has struggled to meet its LNG supply needs as its gas reserves shrink by as much as 10% a year. The county’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves have constrained its ability to purchase fossil fuels from abroad.

Meanwhile, Malik said neighboring Iran had decided to donate nearly a million kilograms of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in “humanitarian aid” to Pakistan this winter. “It will reach the country within the next 10 days,” he said. 


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Brussels Reopens Painful Page With Start of Trial Over 2016 Terror Attacks

Belgium reopened a painful chapter in its recent history Monday, as the trial opened for alleged conspirators in the 2016 terror attacks around Brussels that killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more.

Ten men stand accused of involvement in the March 2016 suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and a metro station — attacks authorities blamed on the Islamic State militant group.

Those on trial allegedly directed or aided the attacks, in which two homemade bombs exploded at the airport and another in a packed subway station.

The three suicide bombers died, along with nearly three dozen victims from a raft of different countries.

Five of the defendants also stood trial in Paris over the 2015 attacks in the French capital that killed 130 people. Among them is Salah Abdeslam, now serving life in prison as one of the Paris assailants.

The Paris and Brussels attacks — which investigators believe were authored by the same Belgium-based terrorist cell — count among the deadliest of a spate of Islamist terrorist assaults around Europe a few years ago.

At the trial’s opening Monday, defendant Mohamed Abrini complained of being humiliated by the security measures that he described as state vengeance. He warned the defendants might remain silent during this trial in response.

Valerie Gerard, a lawyer for Life4Brussels victims association, said the trial stirred up painful memories. She said some association members wanted to assist and even testify at the trial; others want nothing to do with it.

Also grueling, she said, were the tangled procedures for the victims to get compensation for the attacks.

The spate of terror attacks in Europe a few years ago has given way to other crises — including COVIC-19 and now the war in Ukraine. The trial’s hearings may take up to eight months, with a jury deciding on the verdict.

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EU Slaps Oil Embargo on Russia With Price Cap, Uncertain Impact

A European Union embargo against maritime shipments of crude oil from Russia went into effect Monday, along with a price cap agreed to by the Group of Seven leading industrialized economies and Australia. 

Targeting seaborne deliveries that make up two-thirds of the EU’s crude imports from Russia, the embargo counts among a raft of steadily tougher EU sanctions against Moscow for its war in Ukraine. Some analysts call it Europe’s most significant step to date in reducing its dependency on Russian energy — which is helping fund the war.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced the oil embargo in early May, as the weather was becoming warmer, and chances of an energy crunch seemed far away. 

“This sends another important signal to all perpetrators of the Kremlin. We know who you are. We will hold you accountable. You’re not getting away with this. Putin must pay a price — a high price — for his brutal aggression,” she said. 

Now, as winter sets in, European governments are warning of possible energy shortages — especially since Moscow has sharply curbed exports of its all-important gas.

Thierry Bros, an energy expert and professor at Sciences Po University in Paris, summed up the challenge facing Europe: “We have to think about how can we hurt Russia in a way that hurts us less than Russia.”

The EU previously enacted a less significant coal embargo against Moscow. Along with this new oil embargo, Western nations set a $60-a-barrel price cap for Russian crude exports, hoping to enforce it by requiring the mostly Western-based shipping insurers and others in the industry to abide by it.

Bros is among those who have voiced skepticism.  

“Because it’s [oil] a fungible commodity like coal, Russia has the ability to reroute this to Asia and provide it as a discount to India and the Chinese. So, the oil embargo is going to be difficult for us as Europeans, and the oil product embargo is going to be even more difficult,” Bros said.

This coming February, Brussels also enforces a ban against refined Russian oil products such as gas, jet fuel and diesel. Some believe it may prove more effective in hurting Russia’s pocketbook. But Bros points to shortfalls. For example, he said, European vehicles still depend on Russian diesel. Finding alternatives may not be so easy.  

Meanwhile, critics suggest there may be wiggle room for cheaters to flout the new crude oil embargo. The $60 cap for Russia’s crude is also controversial for a mix of reasons. Some believe it’s too high.  

“I’m very worried that we democracies are trying to fiddle free markets. … Once you do this, you’re putting a risk on free markets. I think it’s wrong to do this,” Bros said.  

Russian oil exports to the EU have already fallen sharply this year. Moscow, however, has earned more from its overall oil exports than last year, largely because prices have risen since the start of the war in Ukraine.  


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With Eye on Qatar, Female Football Players in Spain Savor Freedoms

The World Cup has brought attention to Qatar’s record on women’s rights. While it surpasses that of most Gulf nations, women’s football remains undeveloped – something that has caught the attention of female athletes – including a group of players in Spain. Jonathan Spier narrates this report from Alfonso Beato in Barcelona.

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Belgium Starts Trial Into Brussels Bombings

Belgium begins proceedings Monday in its largest ever trial to determine whether 10 men played a part in the Islamist suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016 that killed 32 people and injured over 300.

More than six years after the attacks, presiding judge Laurence Massart will confirm on Monday the identity of all parties to the case, including the defendants and lawyers representing around 1,000 people affected by the attacks claimed by Islamic State.

She will then address the jury, selected from a pool of 1,000 Belgians last week in a process lasting 14 hours.

The Brussels bombings’ trial has clear links to the French trial over the November 2015 Paris attacks. Six of the Brussels accused were sentenced to jail terms of between 10 years and life in France in June, but the Belgian trial will be different in that it will be settled by a jury not judges.

The twin bombings at Brussels Airport and a third bomb on the city’s metro on March 22, 2016 killed 15 men and 17 women – Belgians, Americans, Dutch, Swedish and nationals of Britain China, France, Germany, India, Peru and Poland, many based in Brussels, the home to EU institutions and military alliance NATO.

Nine men are charged with multiple murders and attempted murders in a terrorist context, with potential life sentences, and all 10 with participating in the activities of a terrorist group.

They include Mohamed Abrini, who prosecutors say went to the airport with two suicide bombers, but fled without detonating his suitcase of explosives, and Osama Krayem, a Swedish national accused of planning to be a second bomber on Brussels’ metro.

Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the Paris trial, is also an accused, along with others prosecutors say hosted or helped certain attackers. One of the 10, presumed killed in Syria, will be tried in absentia.

In accordance with Belgium court procedure, the defendants have not declared whether they are innocent or guilty.

Prosecutors are expected to start reading from the 486-page indictment on Tuesday before hearings of some 370 experts and witnesses can begin.

The trial in the former headquarters of NATO is expected to last seven months and is estimated to cost at least $36.9 million.

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