EU migrant policy: Lawyers call it a crime against humanity

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More than 40,000 people have been intercepted in the Mediterranean and taken to detention camps and torture houses under a European migration policy that is responsible for crimes against humanity, according to a legal document asking the International Criminal Court to take the case Monday.

The request filed with the ICC alleges that European Union officials are knowingly responsible for migrant deaths on land and at sea, as well as culpable for rapes and torture of migrants committed by members of the Libyan coast guard, which is funded and trained at the expense of European taxpayers. The filing names no specific EU officials but cites an ongoing ICC investigation into the fate of migrants in Libya .

“We leave it to the prosecutor, if he dares, if she dares, to go into the structures of power and to investigate at the heart of Brussels, of Paris, of Berlin and Rome and to see by searching in the archives of the meetings of the negotiations who was really behind the scenes trying to push for these policies that triggered the death of more than 14,000 people,” said Juan Branco, a lawyer who co-wrote the report and shared it with The Associated Press. He was referring to the deaths and disappearances at sea, which come on top of the interceptions by the Libyan forces.

The ICC is a court of last resort that handles cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide when other countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute. It is up to the prosecutor, who receives many such requests, to decide whether to investigate and ultimately bring a case.

The first crime, according to the document, was the decision to end the Mare Nostrum rescue operation near the end of 2014. In one year, the operation rescued 150,810 migrants in the Mediterranean as hundreds of thousands crossed the sea. [See also] As a result, deaths in the Mediterranean then soared.

Omer Shatz, the other lead lawyer responsible for the document, said internal EU documents showed officials hoped that ending Mare Nostum would create a deterrent effect. “Deterrent effect – what does it mean? It means sacrifice the lives of some, in this case of many, to change the behavior of others, to discourage others from doing the same thing.”

[Associated Press]

The economic cost of devastating hurricanes and other extreme US weather

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June marks the official start of hurricane season. If recent history is any guide, it will prove to be another destructive year thanks to the worsening impact of climate change. 

But beyond more intense hurricanes and explosive wildfires, the warming climate has been blamed for causing a sharp uptick in all types of extreme weather events across the United States, such as severe flooding this spring and extensive drought in the Southwest in recent years.

Late last year, the media blared that these and other consequences of climate change could cut U.S. GDP by 10% by the end of the century – “more than double the losses of the Great Depression,” as The New York Times intoned.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2018 hurricanes Michael and Florence each caused about US$25 billion in damages, contributing to a total toll of $91 billion from that year’s weather and climate disasters. In 2017, the NOAA’s total was even bigger: $306 billion, due to the massive destruction from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. 

But these tallies are not really valid measures of economic damage. Instead, they simply reflect estimates of what people think will need to be invested to rebuild what was damaged or destroyed in the storms, floods or fires. To really understand the economic costs of an extreme weather event, it’s important to consider all the investment that is being “crowded out” or lost to cover those rebuilding costs. Put another way, there’s only so much money to go around. And that $25 billion being used to rebuild means $25 billion is not being used for other public and private investment opportunities that are more forward-looking or more likely to promote growth.

If similar experiences in extreme events occur for the next 10 years – which is not a bad assumption given that four of the most expensive years in history have occurred in the last five – U.S. GDP in 2029 would be about 3.6% lower than it would have been otherwise, based on my calculations using growth accounting. 

That amounts to an economy that’s $1 trillion poorer as result of these extreme weather events crowding out productive investment. This is the real cost of a world in which these types of massively destructive disasters happen more frequently. 

[Prevention Web – Excerpts of article by Gary W. Yohe, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University]

Activists worried about a “chilling effect” now that the US government is prosecuting a humanitarian aid worker

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The jury trial of humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren on felony charges of harboring and transporting undocumented migrants began in Tuscon, Arizona, on Wednesday. Warren is alleged to have acted to “conceal, harbor and shield from detection” a pair of migrants who had illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico by feeding them and providing access to a shelter for several days.

Activists are livid that the Department of Justice is applying smuggling statutes to a charitable organization for providing food and shelter, and there are growing concerns that this case could set a precedent for charging community organizations with similar crimes.

The increasingly adversarial relationship between immigration agents and non-profits on the front lines of the migration crisis underscores not only the government’s inability to cope with the influx of migrants from Central America but also, as highlighted in the Warren case, the operational risk of providing services to the Hispanic community.

“All of the prosecutions of the No More Deaths activists implicate the kind of basic humanitarian aid that many organizations are giving throughout the country,” Katherine Franke, director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project at Columbia Law School, told Newsweek. “By the terms of these charges, if someone puts out food or water or any other aid, they risk federal prosecution.”

Franke, who filed an amicus brief in support of Warren’s religious claim to humanitarian aid work, said that the prosecution sends a “troubling message” to religious workers like Warren “who are interested in the sanctity of life.”

[Newsweek]

Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina dying while seeking safety

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Thousands of people trapped in Bosnia and Herzegovina desperately need humanitarian assistance and some are dying while trying to find shelter, says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Current transit centers, holding around 3,500 people, are full so thousands are sleeping rough.

Indira Kulenovic, operations manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said: “People are sleeping in parks, in carparks, on the footpath, and in dangerous buildings. A few weeks ago three migrants sheltering in an abandoned building burned to death when a candle they were using caused a fire. Soon after, another fell from the top floor of a building he was sheltering in. Psychological stress among migrants is high – just last week one man set himself on fire in desperation. The situation is dire,” Kulenovic said.

The Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina has six mobile teams providing people on the move with food, water, clothes, blankets, psychosocial support and first aid. The mobile teams are also distributing information on active landmine fields to warn migrants of the dangers of unexploded ordinances. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in Europe.

Red Cross volunteers are working in five migrant centers across the country, preparing meals for 3,000 people a day, with food supplies provided by IOM. They are also providing clothing, bedding, tents, hygiene items and first aid.

The Secretary General of the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mr Rajko Lazic said that, despite the best efforts of aid agencies to provide food and shelter, living conditions for many people remain inadequate in the centres, and worse for the people outside. “Our teams are doing what they can but they are stretched to the limit and the situation has reached a critical point. This is a humanitarian crisis,” Mr Lazic said.

[IFRC]

US “emergency” arms sales to Mideast nations under fire

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The UN Security Council met last week to discuss the deaths and devastation caused to civilians in ongoing military conflicts and civil wars, the killings in Yemen and the air attacks on hospitals, schools, mosques, and market places—whether deliberate or otherwise– were singled out as the worst ever.

But the destruction and irreparable damage to civilian infrastructure and human lives were caused by weapons provided by some of the permanent members of the Security Council, including the US, France and UK.

And last week, in defiance of US Congressional opposition to arms sales to some of the warring Middle Eastern nations, the Trump administration went one better: it justified the proposed sale of a hefty $8.1 billion dollars in American arms to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia under a so-called “emergency notification”. All three countries are part of a Saudi-led coalition unleashing attacks on Yemen … and the new weapons systems are expected to add more fire power to the coalition.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies, told IPS this is not about deterring Iranian aggression and it is certainly not an “emergency.” “It’s about the profits of American arms manufacturers at the expense of countless Yemeni lives.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council May 23 that civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties in conflict, with more than 22,800 civilians dying or being injured in 2018 in just six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

London-based Amnesty International said parties to armed conflict unlawfully kill, maim and forcibly displace millions of civilians while world leaders shirk their responsibility and turn their backs on war crimes and immense suffering.

[IPS]

MacKenzie Bezos, worth nearly $37 billion, will give half her fortune to charity

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The newly minted billionaire MacKenzie Bezos has signed the Giving Pledge, which encourages the world’s richest people to dedicate a majority of their wealth to charitable causes, either during their lifetimes or in their wills.

The initiative was launched by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010 and has so far attracted the support of 204 individuals and families. 

MacKenzie Bezos became one of the richest people in the world following her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos earlier this year. She ranks 22nd on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Her personal fortune is now worth an estimated $36.6 billion. Her former husband leads the global rankings with a net worth of roughly $114 billion.

MacKenzie Bezos said in a letter announcing the move that “I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. …My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty,” she said in the letter, which was published Tuesday.

MacKenzie Bezos was one of 19 new Giving Pledge signatories announced on Tuesday. The group also included Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, Paul Sciarra, the co-founder of Pinterest and Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange.

“The generosity of this group is a reflection of the inspiration we take from the many millions of people who work quietly and effectively to create a better world for others, often at great personal sacrifice,” Buffett said in a statement on Tuesday.

[CNN]

Malta rescues 216 migrants in upsurge of Mediterranean crossings

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A Maltese armed forces patrol boat picked up more than 200 migrants from two dinghies in the Mediterranean and brought  them to Malta on Saturday, a spokesman said.

At least one pregnant woman and a number of children were believed to be among the 216 rescued migrants. Their nationality was not known.

An AFM spokesman said a patrol boat had been deployed to a sinking dinghy south of Malta on Friday. After picking up the migrants, it was diverted to a second dinghy while on its way to Malta, picking up those migrants as well.

The armed forces said that with good weather conditions prevailing, departures of migrants from Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria had increased in the past two days, resulting in 12 migrant boats arriving in Sicily, Sardinia, and Lampedusa.

The Libyan coast guard said on Friday it had rescued 290 migrants from inflatable rafts near the capital Tripoli.

[Reuters]

Global sea levels could rise by much more than previously predicted

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Global sea levels could rise by over 6 feet by 2100––twice as much as had previously been predicted––threatening major cities and potentially flooding hundreds of millions of people, a study published Monday warned.

The implications for coastal populations around the world could be severe if the predictions in the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences prove accurate. In the worst-case scenario, where global emissions are not curtailed and the climate warms by 5°C (9° Fahrenheit), the report authors predict sea levels could rise by as much as 7.8 feet (2 meters).

Large parts of low-lying countries like Bangladesh would become uninhabitable, while critical areas for food production would be lost. Major cities, including New York and London, would also be threatened, according to the study.

Shanghai, Mumbai and some island nations could become permanently flooded, according to that scenario. Almost 1.8 million square kilometers (about 700,000 square miles) of land, including some used for farming, could be permanently flooded.

“There are roughly 240 million people in the world who would be flooded if we had 7.8 feet of sea level rise,” says Bob Kopp, a climate and sea level scientist with Rutgers University in New Jersey and a co-author of the study. “Most of them are in Asia.”

But it “would also have fairly significant implications for coastal cities in the U.S. like New Orleans and Miami where a large chunk of economic activity is exposed to flooding, as well as other cities like New York and Boston.”

Reports of the rate of glacier melt in Greenland and Antarctica is accelerating at a faster than expected rate. The world is facing a risk of sea level rise “substantially higher than were in the 2013 assessment report of the IPCC,” Kopp says.

[TIME]

Malaria vaccine begins wide-scale testing in Malawi

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Malaria cases appear to be on the rise again after a decade of success in combating the deadly disease.

RTS,S — the only malaria vaccine to successfully pass clinical trials — will now be made available to 360,000 children in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana in the first round of implementation testing.

Immunologist Faith Osier spoke to the Sierra Leone Times about the process and next steps for her work, tracking the efficacy and potential side effects of the vaccine, the results of which are expected in 3-5 years.

“While we wait, the scientific effort to develop a more effective vaccine will continue as vigorously as ever,” she said. “Researchers like myself are energized by the limited success of the current vaccine and are convinced that we can do better.”
Watch Faith Osier’s TED Talk.

Global electricity access up but sustainable development goals are not being met

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A new report produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) and released this week says that despite significant progress in recent years, the world is falling short of meeting the global energy targets set in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030.

Ensuring affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 remains possible but will require more sustained efforts, particularly to reach some of the world’s poorest populations and to improve energy sustainability, according to the report.

Notable progress has been made on energy access in recent years, with the number of people living without electricity dropping to roughly 840 million from 1 billion in 2016 and 1.2 billion in 2010. India, Bangladesh, Kenya and Myanmar are among countries that made the most progress since 2010.

However, without more sustained and stepped-up actions, 650 million people will still be left without access to electricity in 2030. Nine out of 10 of them will be living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Following a decade of steady progress, the global electrification rate reached 89 percent and 153 million people gained access to electricity each year. However, the biggest challenge remains in the most remote areas globally and in sub-Saharan Africa where 573 million people still live in the dark.

[Renewable Energy World]