From France 24:
Above: some of the bodies at the dockside
Italy calls for EU help after Lampedusa boat tragedy
Italy has asked for help from the European Union to deal with refugee arrivals in the wake of the sinking of a boat carrying migrants off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, in which it is feared 300 or more people could have died.
Around 500 people, believed to be mostly Eritreans and Somalis, were aboard the 20-metre boat when it capsized and sank on Thursday morning when the vessel was around half of a mile from the island.
By Friday afternoon, 111 bodies, including at least three children and two pregnant women, had been recovered.
But with only 155 survivors plucked from the water almost 24 hours after the disaster, there were fears that the final toll could rise significantly higher in what is one of the worst migrant tragedies to strike the Mediterranean in recent years.
“Two motorboats remained in the area overnight and this morning divers resumed work but we expect to recover more than a hundred [more] bodies from the ship,” coast guard official Floriana Segreto told Reuters.
Meanwhile, a ferry arrived early on Friday with a truck carrying about 100 coffins and four hearses for the dead, who are now lined up along the floor of a hangar at the airport.
“Seeing the bodies of the children was a tragedy,” Pietro Bartolo, a local doctor, told the AFP news agency. “In many years of work here, I have never seen anything like this,” he said.
‘A European tragedy’
Italy is one of the most common destinations for refugees trying to reach Europe from northern Africa and the Middle East.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.
Migrants frequently head for Lampedusa, just 113 km (70 miles) from the coast of Tunisia, and are often found in dangerously overcrowded boats before being taken ashore by the Italian coastguard.
There have mean numerous accidents involving migrant boats attempting to reach Italy and last year almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the route between Sicily and Tunisia, according to UN figures.
Italy has pressed the EU for more help to fight the crisis, which it says concerns the entire 28-nation bloc.
“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” said Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday.
“Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”
The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroemn called on EU countries to do more to take in refugees, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean crossings.
A redoubling of efforts is needed to “fight smugglers exploiting human despair”, she said in a tweet.
‘These deaths did not need to happen’
Meanwhile, repressive policy towards illegal immigrants by Italy and other European countries could have also contributed to the tragedy, a UN official said Thursday.
François Crepeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, said that by closing their borders to refugees, European countries are only giving more power to human traffickers.
“Treating irregular migrants only by repressive measures would create these tragedies,” he told reporters. “These deaths did not need to happen.”
In Italy, migrants can work legally only if they have a work permit and a contract before they arrive – a policy pushed through by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Migrants who arrive in Lampedusa are processed in centres, screened for asylum and often sent back home.
Crepeau was speaking at the start of a two-day debate at the UN General Assembly on international migration.
At the start of the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his “deep condolences” and said he hoped the Lampedusa tragedy would be a “spur to action.”
The UN chief said protecting migrants’ rights, fighting against exploitation and improving the public perception of migrants were all crucial.
Pope Francis, who visited the island in July on his first papal trip outside Rome, also expressed his sadness over the incident.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘shame’,” Francis said in unscripted remarks after a speech in the Vatican. “Let us unite our strengths so that such tragedies never happen again.”
On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called for a national day of mourning and a minute of silence to be held in all schools to mark the tragedy.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
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Cartoon from the Guardian
The international ruling classes are clearly in a quandary over Syria. But so is the serious left (the word “serious” meaning discounting Assad-supporters and hypocritical fake-Westphalians who’ve been looking forward to western intervention for the past two years and more, just so’s they can have something to protest about).
Shiraz Socialist does not oppose foreign intervention in principle, especially when a country is descending into sectarian mass-murder. Also, the use of chemical weapons should be recognised as a “red line” and, if possible, the perpetrators punished.
The problem with regard to Syria is not any “principled” objection to “outside” intervention, but the fact that the opposition seems to be a bunch of sectarian Islamists who are already attacking Kurds, Allowites, Christians, Shias and others.
The best result now would be a cease-fire arrived at by a conference brokered and enforced on the ground by the UN, Arab League or, indeed, NATO. Frankly, that’s not very likely.
It looks like Labour are going to opposes unilateral military action http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/douglas-alexander-warns-cameron-vote-must-be-held-syria-and-labour-could-oppose-gov
The left in general, perhapd due to the bank holiday, has yet to react. There are a few voices though – Owen jones opposes military action but, against all the evidence, appears to doubt that the Assad regieme launched the chemical attack. He calls on the international court to bring charges and for UN peace talks: “There’s no question that those who use chemical weapons must be arraigned in an international court. But a UN-brokered peace process involving all the local and regional players remains the only solution.” http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/for-the-syrians-sakes-and-for-our-own-we-must-not-intervene-8784220.html
The wretched Lindsey German and ‘Stop the War’ are entirely predictable. They call it a proxy war but conveniently only mention the Western and Saudi arming of the rebels, not Russia or Iran who have been sending arms and troops to aid Assad. They call for peace talks, but really they’re in support of Assad: http://www.stopwar.org.uk/news/attack-in-syria-no-pretext-for-intervention
Others (eg: Galloway) are spreading conspiracy theories about who did the gassing: Mossad, Al Quida, the FSA, Turkish intelligence, Saudi Intelligence- take your pick.
Assad supporter John Wight at the Socialist Unity blog thinks it’s all of them conspiring to take out Assad because he is part of the “Axis of Resistance”:
A few voices of sanity, solidarity and common decency:
From A World At School
16 years old today…
…and here’s her inspirational speech to the UN today:
Shame, shame, shame on those people on the so-called “left” who’ve ever expressed any degree of sympathy, support for, or ‘contextualisation’ of the actions of, the child-killers and gynophobic barbarians of the Taliban: yes, I mean you fucking shower, the SWP, Workers Power, the ISG and degenerate ‘Labour’ MP Jeremy Corbyn.
Here’s something I’d hope we can all agree on:
From A World at School/ Stand with Malala
Last October, people across the globe united to send thoughts of hope and love to a brave young girl fighting for her life in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate Malala Yousafzai because of her strong voice in the fight for women’s rights and youth education. Their gunmen boarded her school bus and shot her in front of her peers – but Malala survived and she hasn’t stopped fighting.
Last weekend we were reminded of the need to continue to stand behind Malala and her cause once again. 14 young female students were massacred as a bus taking them home from university in Quetta, in western Pakistan, was blown up by extremist militants.
On July 12 – less than a year after she was attacked – Malala will mark her 16th birthday by speaking at the UN. She’ll be delivering to the highest leadership of the UN a set of education demands written for youth, by youth.
Join in uniting for Malala – and for girls’ education – once again.
Sign the letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledging your support to her cause.
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As the US begins talks with the Taliban, Amnesty’s 2011 message on women’s rights must be remembered:
Above: this must never be forgotten
“We all want stability and peace, but not at the price of women’s rights. We’re told that women’s rights are a development issue, not a security issue. But women’s rights are part of what the fighting is all about.”
-Afifa Azim, coordinator of the Afghan Women’s Network, an umbrella organization of over 84 NGOs and 5,000 individual members.
“We will not abandon you, we will stand with you always…[it is] essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled in the reconciliation process.” -US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton speaking to female Afghan officials in 2010
Hard-won gains for women could be seriously compromised as the Afghan government and its international partners pursue reconciliation and peace negotiations with leaders of the Taleban and other insurgent groups, without ensuring mechanisms to guarantee human rights.
Many Afghan women fear that their rights may be sacrificed in the search for a settlement with Taleban leaders. In areas they currently control, the Taleban continue to curtail women’s human rights severely. They have carried out a concerted attack on girls’ education and have murdered women prominent in public life. Afghan women’s human rights defenders fear that their newly won rights will be severely eroded if the Taleban are brought back into government.
Read more in Afghanistan: Don’t trade away women’s human rights
Amnesty International urges the U.S. government to adopt an action plan for Afghan women to ensure that their rights are not traded away in the reconciliation process. The U.S. should make clear that human rights are non-negotiable and ensure local women are included in the transition process and that mechanisms are in place to uphold those rights after any agreement is reached.
Watch Video: Afghanistan 10 Years On: Slow Progress and Failed Promises
The global union federation IndustriALL (of which Unite and the USW are major affiliates) has been running a campaign to support workers in the Bangladesh textile and garment industry.
Below, Tony Burke (writing yesterday at Left Foot Forward) gives some more backround:
The tragedy in the Bangladesh garment industry at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, which has claimed the lives of over 1,000 workers when a building that housed eight factories collapsed, has lead to outrage across the world.
Condemnation has come from all quarters. Governments, NGOs and customers who have been wringing their hands saying “we must put a stop to this – but how do we do it?”.
Those persons condemned include the building’s owner, (who went on the run and now faces with calls from workers for his execution); the owners of the factories; the builders themselves (now all under arrest); but also the Western customers, such as Primark, Mango and others who allegedly ignore abuses of millions workers in the garment industry in order to produce cheap clothing for sale in the West.
The Rana Plaza tragedy follows on from the deadly fire which killed over a hundred workers at Tazreen Fashions in late 2012. And this week eight more workers were killed in a fire at a clothing factory.
Mass industrial manslaughter
The global manufacturing union federation IndustriALL has correctly described the Rana Plaza tragedy as “mass industrial manslaughter”.
Seeing large cracks appear in the building, workers at Rana Plaza evacuated the building – only to be forced back to work by the factory owners.
At Tazreen escape and entry doors and windows were locked shut and workers could not escape the blaze.
IndustriALL has been running a long-term campaign to support workers in the Bangladesh garment industry. There are around 100,000 Bangladesh companies associated with the garment industry, employing up to four million workers who feed the West’s insatiable appetite for cheap clothes. The industry itself is worth 20 billion US dollars .
According to BRAC, one of the leading NGOs in Bangladesh, the country has a safety inspection force of just 18 people.
IndustriALL reports that there are 39 unions in the national garment industry, and too many times they have failed to co-operate with each other. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Egyptian women wave a flag showing pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut and anti-Muslim Brotherhood banners during a demonstration in Cairo, marking this year’s International Women’s Day.
by Ophelia Benson (Butterflies and Wheels)
The Muslim Brotherhood has issued a statement denouncing a proposed statement by the UN Commission on the Status of Women because it “contradicts principles of Islam and destroys family life and entire society.”
The 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), taking place from March 4 to 15 at UN headquarters, seeks to ratify a declaration euphemistically entitled ‘End Violence against Women’.
That title, however, is misleading and deceptive. The document includes articles that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family, the basic building block of society, according to the Egyptian Constitution.
This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.
Ah yes good old “moral specificity” that makes it ok to pretend women are inferior and subordinate, along with good old pseudo-anti-imperialism used to shore up theocratic imperialism. It’s a cute trick, pretending that rights for women amount to “intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries.”
A closer look at these articles reveals what decadence awaits our world, if we sign this document:
3. Granting equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships.
4. Granting equal rights to homosexuals, and providing protection and respect for prostitutes.
5. Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.
6. Equal inheritance (between men and women).
That’s decadence, is it? Not treating women who have non-marital sex as having no rights – that’s decadence? Not treating marital rape as perfectly fine is decadence?
7. Replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.
Jesus god – it’s decadent to treat women and men as equals as opposed to making men the guardians of their wives, as if women were children?
8. Full equality in marriage legislation such as: allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and abolition of polygamy, dowry, men taking charge of family spending, etc.
9. Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges, and sharing all property after divorce.
10. Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.
These are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution; they would subvert the entire society, and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance.
The Muslim Brotherhood urges the leaders of Muslim countries and their UN representatives to reject and condemn this document, and to call upon this organization to rise to the high morals and principles of family relations prescribed by Islam.
And these are the people who are in power in Egypt, along with the Salafists, who are even worse.
What description would fit the refusal to allow people to run, simply because of their gender? What would you call such fundamental discrimination and denial of basic human rights to 50% of the population? Surely not ”apartheid” ?
Gaza marathon: UN cancels race over Hamas ban on women
Hamas has provided security for the previous marathons, in which men and women have run
From the BBC website:
The UN agency which organises Gaza’s marathon has cancelled the event, blaming the refusal of the territory’s governing Islamist Hamas movement to allow women to run.
The marathon was scheduled for Sunday and would have been Gaza’s third.
Hamas said the marathon could go ahead if “local traditions” were respected.
Conservative elements in Gaza have sometimes complained about mixing between the sexes, especially in schools and at sporting events.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) said in a statement that it had taken “the disappointing decision” after “discussions with the authorities in Gaza who have insisted that no women should participate”.
Unrwa “is working on a programme of other events, which will be forwarded to those interested as soon as possible,” the statement adds.
“We regret this decision to cancel the marathon but we don’t want men and women running together,” Abdessalam Siyyam, cabinet secretary of the Hamas government, told AFP news agency.
“We did not tell Unrwa to cancel the marathon and we haven’t prevented it, but we laid down some conditions: We don’t want women and men mixing in the same place,” he added.
The Palestinian territory is almost exactly marathon length from top to bottom.
Last year, thousands of runners braved freezing conditions to take part, including some women. Palestinian runner Nader al-Masri won the event on its first two occasions.
In previous years, Hamas has supported the race and provided security.
In the past there have been attacks on the UN’s summer camps for children in Gaza after complaints that boys were allowed to mix with girls, the BBC’s Jon Donnison reports.
The marathon was due to be part of the UN’s fundraising efforts in order to run those camps, our correspondent adds.
In response to UN vote, Israel to build 3,000 new homes in settlements
Netanyahu orders thousands of new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; controversial plans for new construction in the E1 area near Jerusalem will be advanced, contrary to commitments made to the Obama administration.
Israel plans to build some 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements in response to the Palestinians’ successful bid for recognition at the UN General Assembly this week, a senior diplomatic source told Haaretz on Friday.
According to the source, Israel also plans to advance long-frozen plans for the E1 area, which covers an area that links the city of Jerusalem with the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.
If built, the controversial plan would prevent territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank, making it difficult for a future Palestinian state to function.
In the beginning of his term, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the Obama administration a commitment that Israel would not build in the area. Both of his predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, also promised the U.S. administration that Israel would not build in E1.
The source said Israel would advance building plans for another several thousand housing units in settlement blocs in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, while weighing additional measures.
He added that the construction would be carried out according to the map of Israel’s strategic interests.
In a historic session of the United Nations in New York Thursday, exactly 65 years after passing the Partition Plan for Palestine, the General Assembly voted by a huge majority to recognize Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member state with observer status in the organization. Some 138 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 41 abstained and 9 voted against: Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, U.S., Panama, The Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru, and Micronesia.
Following the vote, U.S. UN envoy Susan Rice said the resolution does not establish Palestine as state, that it prejudges the outcome of negotiations, and ignores questions of security.
I cannot improve upon the verdict of Sean Matgamna (about the Mavi Marmara massacre, but equally applicable to this latest act of brutality and folly):
“An impersonator who looks like the country’s leader murders him, takes his place, and thereafter deliberately leads the state to defeat and catastrophe. That was the plot of a Hollywood film I saw long ago.
“Sometimes it is almost tempting to think up some such tale to account for Israel’s behaviour – to conclude that a bitter enemy of the Jewish state and of its best immediate and long-term interests has somehow got control in Jerusalem and works relentlessly to undermine Israel.
“The self-righteous but too often senseless eternal prattle about “terrorists” with which the Israeli governments respond to criticisms only adds an extra element of repulsiveness to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.”
The Graun, presumably embarrassed by posh-boy Stalinist Seumas Milne’s support for Russia and China in defending Assad, has now published a corrective by Middle East editor Ian Black. He doesn’t name Milne, but his statements that “For some, however, principled objections to western policy clearly weigh more heavily than the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of a government that used deadly force,” and ”the cartoon book claim that ‘the west’ (conspiring with compliant Arabs) has malevolently blocked an agreement that a principled Russia tirelessly supported does not stand up to scrutiny,” must surely be aimed at the Graun‘s resident public school Stalinist:
Above: Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin votes against a draft resolution on Syria in New York. Photograph: Shen Hong/ Shen Hong/Xinhua Press/Corbis
For the record, Russia and China failed Syria
Apportioning blame for the failure to find a diplomatic solution in Syria is useless, but it is worth stating who was responsible
By Ian Black, Middle East editor
Kofi Annan has just three weeks left to serve out his time as the UN envoy for Syria. Understandably disappointed at the failure of what others had called “mission impossible” – a description he came to agree with – he lamented two aspects of the crisis: its increasing militarisation and the disunity of the security council. Earlier, in a Guardian interview, he had deplored the “destructive competition” of the five big powers who still sit round the world’s “top table” on New York’s East river.
It bears repeating that Syria is first of all a human tragedy, with thousands of dead and many thousands more lives ruined in the bloodiest chapter of what in happier or more naive times and circumstances was called the Arab spring. Feelings are running high. For some, however, principled objections to western policy clearly weigh more heavily than the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of a government that used deadly force from the moment protests erupted in Deraa in March 2011.
It is a moot point whether diplomacy could ever have succeeded in ending the carnage. Syria, it has been wisely observed, is where the Arab uprisings met the cold war and the Sunni-Shia divide. Regional and international rivalries worsened by the Libyan crisis last year, sectarian incitement and a fight to the death for regime survival all make for a toxic mixture.
For most elements of Syria’s fractured opposition, Assad’s acceptance of Annan’s six-point peace plan was only ever a way to buy time, exploit divisions and carry on killing. The regime barely observed a ceasefire that notionally began in April or implemented any of the plan’s other five conditions. The armed opposition accepted it but carried on fighting even as mass peaceful protests continued.
Yet the cartoon book claim that “the west” (conspiring with compliant Arabs) has malevolently blocked an agreement that a principled Russia tirelessly supported does not stand up to scrutiny. (Nor does the closely related and deeply patronising notion that Syrians who are prepared to risk all for freedoms others take for granted are mere puppets in the hands of others.)
In June, Annan decided to try to jump-start a political transition. In his draft statement of principles for the Geneva conference on 30 June, the key passage sought the widest possible consensus on forming a unity government in Damascus – a negotiated way out of the escalating confrontation. The language he proposed was deliberately vague and fudged the burning question of whether Assad had to go. It was a model of diplomatic ambiguity that could mean different things to different people but – perhaps – serve as a basis for movement. Russia rejected it. The final Geneva text was even blander, accommodating Moscow’s objections to say that a transitional unity government could be formed by “mutual consent”. Annan hailed the agreement. But the truth was that it gave Assad and his supporters a veto over their own departure. It was hardly going to convince their opponents that a deal could be done.
Violence on the ground rapidly outstripped this agonisingly convoluted diplomacy. No element in the opposition is currently prepared to even consider Annan’s plan, the Geneva principles or a transition that leaves Assad or his closest supporters in place. That is as true of groups such as the National Coordination Bureau and Building the Syrian State, which once advocated talks with the government, and still spurn violence and foreign intervention, as it is of the Muslim Brotherhood or extremist Salafis now fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army.
In mid-July Britain drafted a new UN resolution that repeated the call for a “Syrian-led political process” (language supported by Russia). Nowhere did it advocate “forced regime change” as the blame-the-west brigade falsely claims. It was tabled under chapter 7 of the UN charter to trigger sanctions in the event of noncompliance with Annan’s plan – specifically the withdrawal of heavy weapons. It used article 41, which excludes military action. Russia and China vetoed the resolution. The US, Britain and France supported it. Pakistan and South Africa, nonpermanent members of the council, abstained. India, not part of the nefarious “west,” was among the 11 others that supported it.
Annan, insist UN diplomats, also wanted a security council resolution – and told Vladimir Putin so – since without it there was no means of applying any pressure to Assad. And lest there be any doubt about where he stood, Annan stated publicly when he announced his resignation that Assad would “sooner or later” have to go. He singled out the Syrian government for blame and castigated Russia, China and Iran for failing to use their influence with Assad.
No one can be sure whether unity at the world’s “top table” could have stopped the downward spiral of this terrible crisis. Syria’s agony certainly shows no sign of ending any time soon. The blame game may be useless. But it is worth stating for the record who did what and who was largely responsible for the most recent failure of diplomacy by what passes for the international community.