Spanish PM Announces Pardons for 9 Catalonian Separatists

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday he will pardon nine imprisoned Catalan separatists charged with sedition over their roles in a 2017 referendum on Catalan independence.The announcement came during a speech in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, about the future of the region.Sánchez said his Cabinet would approve the pardons Tuesday.  Twelve separatists were convicted and given long prison sentences for their roles in holding the banned secession referendum in 2017. They then declared independence a few days after the results. Unionists boycotted the referendum, which was held amid a large police presence intent on stopping it.One of the separatists, Oriol Junqueras, said pardons were being given because the government feared involvement in the cases by the European Union, which he said would likely have overturned the convictions.”With this action, we materially get nine people out of prison, but we symbolically add millions and millions of people to coexistence,” Sánchez said during his speech.The pardons have been a divisive issue in the rest of Spain, with national polling indicating 60% of Spaniards oppose them.Earlier this month, thousands opposed to the pardons took to the streets in Madrid to protest the idea and call for Sánchez’s resignation.

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Bachelet: Poverty, Inequality, Injustice Eroding Human Rights Worldwide

U.N. human rights chief Michele Bachelet has issued a stark warning that rising poverty, inequality, injustice and the erosion of democratic values were gravely setting back the cause of human rights around the world. Bachelet addressed delegates at the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s three-week session.In her opening remarks, Bachelet called for action to stop what she called the most wide-reaching and severe cascade of human rights setbacks in our lifetime.The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights backed up her assertion by zipping through the human rights records of dozens of countries around the world.No region escaped her withering gaze. She noted the Council would hold special interactive dialogues on several places of specific concern, including Iran, Myanmar, Venezuela and the occupied Palestinian territories. She expressed alarm at the sharp increase in violence and civilian harm in Afghanistan and warned the imminent withdrawal of international forces was creating fear for the future. She deplored the deterioration of freedoms of expression in Belarus and said reports of continued arbitrary arrests and torture of human rights activists was of great concern.“In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, I am deeply disturbed by continued reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations and abuses against civilians by all parties to the conflict, including extrajudicial executions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; sexual violence against children as well as adults; and forced displacement,” said Bachelet.In many other parts of Ethiopia, Bachelet warned alarming incidents of deadly ethnic and inter-communal violence and displacement were increasing polarization to a more dangerous level. She urged dialogue throughout the country to address these grievances. Even powerful, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council did not escape condemnation. The high commissioner criticized the application of China’s National Security Law in Hong Kong. She noted this was having a chilling impact on the territory’s civic and democratic space.  She reiterated her request for access to China’s Xinjiang region where an estimated one million Uyghur Muslims allegedly are being held in abusive internment camps.“In the Russian Federation, I am dismayed by recent measures that further undermine people’s right to express critical views, and their ability to take part in the parliamentary elections scheduled in September. Earlier this month, following closed hearings, a court in Moscow ruled that the Anti-Corruption Foundation led by the imprisoned opposition figure Aleksei Navalny was an “extremist organization.” she said.She urged Russia to uphold civil and political rights and to refrain from branding ordinary individuals, journalists, and non-governmental organizations as extremist or foreign agents. Bachelet called for concerted action to recover from these grave human rights setbacks. She said societies must restore systems of justice, reduce inequalities and lift people out of poverty through human rights-based development to create better, more resilient societies for future generations. 

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Rainstorms Bring Relief as Europe Suffers Deadly Heat Wave

Thunderstorms brought a much-needed cooldown to parts of Western Europe over the weekend as the continent sweltered under its first summer heat wave. Dozens of people were reported drowned as they sought relief from the heat.Forecasters predicted further downpours Monday moving westward toward Poland, which has seen five days of unusually hot weather.Germany’s national weather service DWD said temperatures in the west and north of the country dropped from over 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) over the weekend to about 20 C (68 F) after a night of heavy rain.After days of soaring temperatures, France was lashed by violent thunderstorms that sent a belltower crashing into the nave of a village church in central France. The storm also tore through vineyards and flooded homes and public buildings.Winds reached 137 kilometers per hour (85 mph) in Champagne country, felling trees and ripping off roofs. Huge hail stones damaged cars and homes in the east, and the French national weather service registered 44,000 lightning flashes on Saturday alone.No deaths linked to the storms have been reported but several countries reported drownings as people sought relief in pools, lakes and rivers.At least 15 people drowned in Poland over the weekend, which was also the hottest so far this year with temperatures reaching 35 C (96 F) — a rare occurrence in June. Rescuers say the most frequent causes of drownings are recklessness, overestimating one’s swimming abilities and going into the water after drinking alcohol.Police in the Netherlands said two bodies were found in recent days at different locations in the Waal River, a branch of the Rhine. There was no immediate confirmation of their identities, but authorities in neighboring Germany have been searching for two girls, aged 13 and 14, who went missing while swimming in the Rhine near Duisburg last week. A third teen was pulled out of the river Wednesday but couldn’t be resuscitated.In total, more than a dozen people have drown in Germany over the past week.Police in Austria said a 26-year-old man died Sunday after jumping from a 40-meter (131-foot) cliff at Wolfgangsee lake.Moscow has also been hit with a heat wave this week, with temperatures spiking above 30 C (86 F) on Sunday. Russia’s weather agency Rosgidromet warned Sunday that the unusually hot weather, with temperatures 7 C to 10 C higher than normal, is likely to persist in the Russian capital and the surrounding region through Friday.Russia’s public health watchdog recommended that employers cut working hours by one hour if the temperature indoors reaches 28.5 C, (83 F); by two hours if it reaches 29.5 C (85 F) and four hours if it reaches 30.5 C (87 F). There is little air-conditioning in Russia.

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Turkey Pushes for Role in Afghanistan After US Pullout 

Turkey is seeking to play a vital role in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US forces by offering to provide security to Kabul’s international airport. But Ankara faces formidable obstacles.FILE – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a joint news conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, Greece, May 31, 2021.Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says the operation and security of Afghanistan’s Kabul airport are vital not only to the country but also to the survival of all diplomatic missions, including Turkey’s.  Cavusoglu made the comments Sunday at an international meeting at the Turkish sea resort of Antalya.  Attending the Antalya meeting, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad  Haneef Atmar said he supports Turkey’s offer to provide security to Kabul’s airport. “We welcome it, and we will support it. We believe that this will be essential for the continuation of Turkish and NATO, as well as the international community’s support to Afghanistan,” he said.But Atmar played down any military role for Pakistan in the Turkish mission.Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — speaking at the NATO summit — said Hungarian and Pakistan forces would assist Turkey in providing security to the Kabul airport.  FILE – U.S President Joe Biden (R) speaks with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan prior to a plenary session of a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 14, 2021. (Photo by Olivier Matthys / Pool / AFP)The Taliban has said it opposes any foreign forces remaining in Afghanistan, but Ankara believes it can overcome such opposition.  While the Turkish military is part of U.S.-led NATO operations in Afghanistan, it has avoided armed confrontations.  Hikmet Cetin, who served as NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, says Turkey has successfully maintained good relations with all sides in the conflict. “When I was there, of course, I [talked] sometimes with the young generation of the Taliban. They respect Turkey very much because the relation between Turkey and Afghanistan started during the 1920s. But [the] Taliban, they were disagreeing with Turkey being part of the foreign military forces, part of NATO,” he said.Turkey is looking to its close allies Pakistan and Qatar to use their influence over the Taliban to ease their opposition to the proposed Turkish role.  FILE – Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in Islamabad, Pakistan, April 7, 2021.On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Mehmood Qureshi said Erdogan had invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for talks on Afghanistan. Qureshi warned the Afghanistan peace process was at a critical stage. The Taliban is stepping up its military operations across the country as American forces withdraw, a process that is due to be completed by September 11.  Turkish officials are in talks with Washington for financial and logistical support.  With Turkey’s relations with its many of its Western allies strained and in need of repair, the country’s airport initiative could provide crucial common ground, says Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara. “It’s very risky, but nothing can be better for American-Turkish relations to put Turkish troops in Kabul airport.  The key problem is [the] Taliban but they can make a deal,” he said.Analysts warn that with formidable obstacles remaining in the way of Turkey’s plans for the Kabul airport mission, time is running out before the September 11 deadline for U.S. withdrawal.  

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UNHCR Touts Higher Refugee Resettlements, Eventually

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says he looks forward to boosting global refugee resettlements after sharp declines caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and drastic cuts to resettlements in the United States under the former Trump administration.
 
“The whole pace will pick up in a few months,” Grandi told VOA’s Celia Mendoza Sunday in an interview coinciding with World Refugee Day. “In the whole of 2020, we only resettled 34,000 people (globally). The year before was more than 100,000. The drop was enormous.”
 
Grandi hailed the Biden administration’s lifting of the U.S. refugee cap from 15,000 in 2020 to 62,500 for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. But the U.N. refugee chief added that boosting the flow of refugees to receiving nations like the United States takes time.
 
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to get there (62,500 resettlements) that quickly. What is important is that there is an intention to get there,” Grandi said.
Grandi spoke as the global community observed World Refugee Day, designated by the United Nations to honor and celebrate the resiliency of those fleeing war, famine, ecological devastation and other life-threatening situations.  Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 10 MB480p | 14 MB540p | 19 MB720p | 40 MB1080p | 75 MBOriginal | 222 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioU.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement Sunday, “On this day, we reaffirm our sacred commitment to alleviate suffering through humanitarian relief and redouble our efforts to achieve lasting solutions for refugees—including through resettlement. We also recommit to engaging in diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the ongoing conflicts that compel refugees to seek safety elsewhere.”
 
There are more refugees today than there have ever been, according to UNHCR. In a statement, the organization said, “the number of people fleeing wars, violence, persecution and human rights violations in 2020 rose to nearly 82.4 million,” a 4% increase from 79.5 million at the end of 2019, which was then a record.
 
“And what is quite shocking,” UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Gillian Triggs told VOA, “is that over the last 10 years the numbers of people who are refugees or forcibly displaced has more than doubled. Something like 48% are children or youths, so we really have generations of children who are separated from their countries of origin.”
 
World Refugee Day was held globally for the first time on June 20, 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It was originally known as Africa Refugee Day, before the U.N. General Assembly officially designated it as an international day in December 2000.
 

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Russian-Estonian Film ‘Minsk’ Examines 2020 Crackdown in Belarus 

A Russian-Estonian film ‘Minsk’ looks at the Belarus government’s crackdown on protesters in August 2020. The movie – all 90 minutes of it – was filmed in one shot and will be released in time for the one-year anniversary of the brutal events. Iryna Solomko has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.Camera: Iryna Solomko  

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Suspect Arraigned in Killing of American Student in Russia

A court in central Russia on Sunday arraigned a suspect on murder charges in the death of an American woman who was studying at a local university.The body of 34-year-old Catherine Serou was found Saturday in a wooded area near the city of Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow. She had been missing since Tuesday.Her mother, Beccy Serou, of Vicksburg, Mississippi, told U.S. National Public Radio that her daughter had last texted her: “In a car with a stranger. I hope I’m not being abducted.”State news agency RIA-Novosti cited the local court as saying the suspect gave her a ride in his car, then took her to the wooden area and beat her and stabbed her “in the course of a dispute.” Russian news reports have identified the suspect as Alexander Popov and said he had a record of violent crimes.He faces up to life in prison if convicted of murder.Serou moved from California to Russia in 2019 to study law at Lobachevsky University in Nizhny Novgorod, news reports said.Beccy Serou told NPR that her daughter was in a hurry to get to a clinic Tuesday and may have gotten into a passing car.“I think that when she saw that the person wasn’t driving to the clinic, but instead was driving into a forest, she panicked,” Beccy Serou said. 

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Violators to Come Under Scrutiny at UN Human Rights Council 

Countries accused of abusing their peoples’ human rights will come under the lens of the U.N. Human Rights Council over the next three weeks.   Dozens of thematic issues and country reports on topics including the COVID-19 pandemic will be addressed during the session, which begins Monday.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, will present an oral update on the human rights crisis unfolding in Myanmar since the military coup there on February 1. Her report is likely to reflect condemnation of the military leaders’ violent crackdown on the civilian population and, what she sees as a looming threat of civil war in the country. The council also will hear updates on the human rights situation in other countries, including Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, South Sudan, and Syria. Separately, observers view events in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region as one of the most serious human rights issues around. The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, says reports of imminent famine, summary executions, rape and other atrocities perpetrated in Tigray warrant action by the Human Rights Council.  He is calling for the adoption of a resolution condemning these practices at this session. “A resolution should clearly name the governments,” he said. “We know that Ethiopian government forces have been major perpetrators of these crimes along with, as you mentioned, the Eritrean forces. It is important to recognize the Eritrean forces did not invade Tigray. They were invited in by the Ethiopian government.”   Violence erupted in Tigray in November when forces of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation front attacked federal military bases in the region. The Ethiopian government responded with the use of military force. High Commissioner Bachelet also will present a report on police violence and systemic racism against people of African descent. The death of African American George Floyd while in police custody in the United States last year triggered a special council session one year ago.   Roth says he believes the report should have a strong focus on the United States.  He adds, however, that systemic racism is a global problem and should be treated as such. “Our concern is really that the council creates some kind of mechanism to continue this. It is not just a one-off report, but there is a more systematic effort to address root causes and to push for accountability…I do not say that at all to try to minimize the situation in the U.S. The U.S. should be a critical focus of those efforts,” he said.  The council’s last session in February focused on efforts to combat COVID-19-related violations.  Bachelet will present a report on how states are responding to the pandemic. COVID-19 also will feature as a sub-theme into reports and panel discussions this session. 

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Airlines, Holiday Companies Ramp up Pressure on Britain to Ease Travel Rules 

Britain’s airlines and holiday companies are planning a “day of action” on Wednesday to ramp up pressure on the government to ease travel restrictions, with just weeks to go before the start of the peak summer season.Travel companies, whose finances have been stretched to breaking point during the pandemic, are desperate to avoid another summer lost to COVID-19. But with Britain’s strict quarantine requirements still in place that now looks likely.As the clock ticks down to July, Europe’s biggest airline Ryanair and Manchester Airports Group on Thursday launched legal action to try to get the government to ease the rules before the industry’s most profitable season starts.On Wednesday, June 23, pilots, cabin crew and travel agents will gather in Westminster, central London, and at airports across Britain to try to drum up support.Britain’s aviation industry has been harder hit by the pandemic than its European peers, according to data published by pilots trade union BALPA on Sunday.That showed daily arrivals and departures into the United Kingdom were down 73% on an average day earlier this month compared to before the pandemic, the biggest drop in Europe. Spain, Greece and France were down less than 60%. U.K. airports were also badly affected, with traffic in and out of London’s second busiest airport Gatwick down 92%, according to the data.The government had to balance the risks of foreign holidays bringing new variants of the virus into Britain, justice minister Robert Buckland told the BBC. Public Health England official Susan Hopkins said people should predominantly holiday at home this summer while the population is vaccinated. But time is running out for the industry, said the union.”There is no time to hide behind task forces and reviews,” said BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton.”BALPA is demanding that the U.K. Government gets its act together and opens the U.S. routes and European holiday travel destinations that it has blocked with no published evidence at all.”Over 45,000 jobs have already been lost in U.K. aviation, with estimates suggesting that 860,000 aviation, travel and tourism jobs are being sustained only by government furlough schemes. 

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