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SEE IT: ‘Prophets’ who prophesied second term for President Trump and those who got it right

Many pastors from around the world said before the United States presidential election that God told them defeated American President Donald Trump would win a second term in office. Trump lost to Joe Biden, a 77-year old Catholic from Delaware.

Some pastors, however, got it right, including Nigerian Nigerian Prophet T.B. Joshua who released a video message two days to the American presidential election and said the United States will have “a new President”.

Below is what they said.

U.S. ‘appalled by persecution of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong’

The United States government said on Thursday it was “appalled by the Hong Kong government’s political persecution of Hong Kong’s courageous pro-democracy advocates.”

“The use of courts to silence peaceful dissent is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes and underscores once again that the Chinese Communist Party’s greatest fear is the free speech and free thinking of its own people,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“Hong Kong historically benefitted from a free and open system that celebrated the peaceful advocacy of citizens like Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam, and Jimmy Lai.

“Hong Kong’s people should be free to exercise the rights guaranteed to them under the Basic Law; the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-registered treaty; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their struggle to resist the CCP’s denial of their fundamental rights will stand throughout history as a testament to the human spirit.

“The United States will continue to work with our allies and partners around the world to champion the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and all those who suffer under the CCP’s repressive rule. We stand with Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam, Jimmy Lai, the people of Hong Kong, and all the people of China,” Pompeo added.

Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam were sentenced on December 2, 2020, to 13-and-a-half months, 10 months, and 7 months respectively for inciting, organizing, and participating in an unauthorized assembly, an offense under Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance.

The charges stem from speeches the trio made to crowds at the Hong Kong Police Headquarters on June 21, 2019, part of the six-month pro-democracy protests in 2019.

“Hong Kong is descending at a dizzying pace from a city of freedoms to a mainland Chinese city that criminalizes peaceful protests,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Hong Kong authorities should quash the convictions of these activists immediately and drop all further cases involving peaceful political activity.”

On June 21, 2019, a crowd of about 10,000 people had gathered outside the Hong Kong Police Headquarters calling for the chief of police, Lo Wai-chung, to speak to them. The crowd surrounded the headquarters for over 15 hours, refusing to let officers in or out of the station, while pelting eggs at the building and at the officers standing guard. The protesters were demanding an explanation and accountability for police brutality during a protest on June 12, when police fired teargas, beanbag rounds, and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters and beat them with batons.

In the court judgment handed down on December 2, the presiding magistrate stated that although “nobody got hurt” during the June 21 protest, “There was a potential possibility … of it escalating into violence.” She justified her decision by saying that in leading “derogatory” chants toward police officers, the trio “had challenged police power” and that the obstruction of traffic and public services was “more serious than in other unauthorized assemblies.”

Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance requires organizers to notify police of demonstrations involving more than 30 people at least seven days in advance and requires organizers to get a “notice of no objection” from the government before proceeding. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has criticized the law, saying that “it may facilitate excessive restrictions” on basic rights. Human Rights Watch has urged the Hong Kong government to amend the law to bring it into conformity with international standards on freedom of assembly.

In another case, on December 3, the pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was denied bail in a case in which his printing business allegedly violated the terms of an office lease. An influential figure in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and a longstanding critic of the Chinese Communist Party, Lai, 72, will now be held in custody until his court appearance in April 2021. Lai faces at least four other charges under the Public Order Ordinance for his peaceful participation in various 2019 protests.

Since the Chinese government imposed a sweeping and draconian National Security Law on June 30, Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have accelerated the use of the criminal law to target critics. The law created specialized secret security agencies, denies fair trial rights, provides sweeping new powers to the police, increases restraints on civil society and the media, and weakens judicial oversight.

In just several months, the government has used arrests, intimidation, and encouragement of people to report on one another to purge people who promote democracy in Hong Kong from key sectors of society including education, the media, and the legislature. Four pro-democracy members of the legislature have been expelled, while other pro-democracy legislators resigned in protest. On December 3, Ted Hui, a pro-democracy legislator who gained prominence during the 2019 protests for standing with protesters on the front lines, announced that he and his family have had to leave Hong Kong for their safety and for him to avoid long, arbitrary prison sentences.

“The speed and intensity with which Beijing is moving to reshape and control Hong Kong is frightening,” Wang said. “Governments should work together to impose targeted sanctions on those Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for abuses, and to create an international human rights monitoring mechanism specifically on China at the United Nations.”

In first sit down interview since defeating President Trump, President-elect Biden identifies the four crises he’ll face

U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday identified the four crises his incoming administration will face when he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn into office on January 20, 2021.

Biden identified COVID-19, the economic crisis, racial inequalities and climate change as the four biggest challenges he and Harris will have to grapple with.

Biden and Harris chose CNN for their first sit down interview since they defeated President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the November 3 presidential election.

They beat Trump and Pence by more than 6.2 million votes, one of the widest margins in U.S. presidential elections. They secured 306 electoral votes to beat Trump and Pence who got only 232.

Biden said he would institute a mask mandate for the first hundred days of his administration to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

He said he supports the current bill being discussed by the Democrats and Republicans to pass a $908 billion coronavirus relief bill, adding that more money would be needed when he’s sworn into office.

On the reopening of schools and small businesses, Biden said he wants them to remain open, but that should be done safely and with the provision of the resources they need.

He said schools nationwide can reopen safely with a $100 billion budget, adding that without the resources needed, reopening would be difficult.

Biden disclosed that he had asked infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay on the job and be his top adviser on the current pandemic.

On President Donald Trump and the world, Biden said he was worried about the damage being done to the image of the United States as a country of laws and democracy.

He said he would rebuild relations with allies that were damaged by the outgoing President.

Hong Kong should drop cases against democracy activists, including Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam – HRW

Hong Kong authorities should drop all criminal cases and release from custody those arrested or convicted for their peaceful participation in pro-democracy protests, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. These include Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam, who were sentenced on December 2, 2020, to 13-and-a-half months, 10 months, and 7 months respectively for inciting, organizing, and participating in an unauthorized assembly, an offense under Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance.

The charges stem from speeches the trio made to crowds at the Hong Kong Police Headquarters on June 21, 2019, part of the six-month pro-democracy protests in 2019.

“Hong Kong is descending at a dizzying pace from a city of freedoms to a mainland Chinese city that criminalizes peaceful protests,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Hong Kong authorities should quash the convictions of these activists immediately and drop all further cases involving peaceful political activity.”

On June 21, 2019, a crowd of about 10,000 people had gathered outside the Hong Kong Police Headquarters calling for the chief of police, Lo Wai-chung, to speak to them. The crowd surrounded the headquarters for over 15 hours, refusing to let officers in or out of the station, while pelting eggs at the building and at the officers standing guard. The protesters were demanding an explanation and accountability for police brutality during a protest on June 12, when police fired teargas, beanbag rounds, and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters and beat them with batons.

In the court judgment handed down on December 2, the presiding magistrate stated that although “nobody got hurt” during the June 21 protest, “There was a potential possibility … of it escalating into violence.” She justified her decision by saying that in leading “derogatory” chants toward police officers, the trio “had challenged police power” and that the obstruction of traffic and public services was “more serious than in other unauthorized assemblies.”

Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance requires organizers to notify police of demonstrations involving more than 30 people at least seven days in advance and requires organizers to get a “notice of no objection” from the government before proceeding. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has criticized the law, saying that “it may facilitate excessive restrictions” on basic rights. Human Rights Watch has urged the Hong Kong government to amend the law to bring it into conformity with international standards on freedom of assembly.

In another case, on December 3, the pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was denied bail in a case in which his printing business allegedly violated the terms of an office lease. An influential figure in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and a longstanding critic of the Chinese Communist Party, Lai, 72, will now be held in custody until his court appearance in April 2021. Lai faces at least four other charges under the Public Order Ordinance for his peaceful participation in various 2019 protests.

Since the Chinese government imposed a sweeping and draconian National Security Law on June 30, Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have accelerated the use of the criminal law to target critics. The law created specialized secret security agencies, denies fair trial rights, provides sweeping new powers to the police, increases restraints on civil society and the media, and weakens judicial oversight.

In just several months, the government has used arrests, intimidation, and encouragement of people to report on one another to purge people who promote democracy in Hong Kong from key sectors of society including education, the media, and the legislature. Four pro-democracy members of the legislature have been expelled, while other pro-democracy legislators resigned in protest. On December 3, Ted Hui, a pro-democracy legislator who gained prominence during the 2019 protests for standing with protesters on the front lines, announced that he and his family have had to leave Hong Kong for their safety and for him to avoid long, arbitrary prison sentences.

“The speed and intensity with which Beijing is moving to reshape and control Hong Kong is frightening,” Wang said. “Governments should work together to impose targeted sanctions on those Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for abuses, and to create an international human rights monitoring mechanism specifically on China at the United Nations.”

U.S. must stop vilifying immigrants, says Biden homeland security nominee Alejandro N. Mayorkas

The United States “must stop vilifying” immigrants, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said on Thursday, adding the country must also “bring to an immediate end the inhumane and unjust treatment of immigrants.”

“There is no more powerful and heartbreaking example of that inhumanity than the separation of children from their parents,” Mayorkas said in remarks to the American Business Immigration Coalition.

“Immigrants have been essential to our communities’ ability to survive the current pandemic — serving our nation in vast numbers as health care workers, researchers, and scientists; as delivery drivers, care givers, and clerks; and in so many other critical roles — and they will be vital to our economic recovery from this crisis.”

Mayorkas said America can modernize its immigration system to allow economic growth while protecting the rights, wages, and working conditions of all workers.

“A fair and orderly system that keeps our families together and our communities safe,” he said.

Read the full remarks by Nominee for Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas to the American Business Immigration Coalition

Josh, thank you very much for the warm welcome. 

I had the pleasure of working with Josh when I served as the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Josh — quite frankly — proved the power of the public-private partnership, as he convened a wide array of business and other community leaders throughout Chicago to address with our agency the city’s and our country’s immigration needs and challenges. Thank you very much, Josh.

Good afternoon. I am honored to join you today.

For more than 200 years, our country’s bipartisan tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has kept us dynamic and entrepreneurial. It has strengthened our families — including my own — our communities, our economy, and our nation.

When I was very young, the United States provided my family a place of refuge. In 1960, my father moved us from Cuba to Miami because he did not want to raise us in a communist country. He believed in democracy, and he understood the perils and the challenges of living otherwise.

I am proud to have had the privilege of serving in the federal government for almost twenty years, to have had the opportunity to give back to the country that has given my family and me so very much.

Now, as Josh mentioned, I have been nominated to be the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to help oversee the protection of all Americans, fulfilling our promise as a nation of immigrants and administering our immigration system with integrity, in a way that is humane and secure.

It is an honor to be nominated and entrusted by the president-elect to serve. I will work day and night to protect our security here at home and to fulfill the promise of our proudest traditions.

Today, our immigration system is badly broken — and we all know it. The cost of that broken system is incalculably high. It represents a profound toll not only on families seeking to contribute to our nation and forge their own American dream, but on our economic prosperity and our moral authority as well. 

As President-elect Joe Biden takes office, he has committed to fixing this broken immigration system. He knows that will require working with members on both sides of the aisle to find solutions that reflect the values we as Americans all share.

He knows that our solutions must reflect the broad sweep and impact of immigration across issues and constituencies, because key sectors of our economy — from agriculture to technology, rely on immigration. And he knows that immigrants are a key driver of economic growth.

We must stop vilifying these communities. We must bring to an immediate end the inhumane and unjust treatment of immigrants. There is no more powerful and heartbreaking example of that inhumanity than the separation of children from their parents.

Immigrants have been essential to our communities’ ability to survive the current pandemic — serving our nation in vast numbers as health care workers, researchers, and scientists; as delivery drivers, care givers, and clerks; and in so many other critical roles — and they will be vital to our economic recovery from this crisis.

We can all agree that our country needs a modern immigration system to allow our economy to grow, while protecting the rights, wages, and working conditions of all workers.

A fair and orderly system that keeps our families together and our communities safe.

Because creating a new immigration system will help create jobs, raise wages, and grow our economy. Not just for immigrant communities, but for all our families across this great country.

Our history and the facts demonstrate that immigrants contribute to and are a fundamental part of our economy and our society.

But of course, this issue is about more than figures on a balance sheet. On the base of the Statue of Liberty, it is written: that “from her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.”

Immigration is a foundational part of who we are, and who we have always been as Americans, from our very earliest days. It is an issue especially ripe for bipartisan solutions, because it speaks to our common history as a people, and because it serves the interests of each of us to further that distinctly American tradition.

We are a nation built on the energy, aspirations, and ideas of immigrants and the generations that followed them. A Biden administration will center an immigration agenda that is humane, fair, strengthens our nation and its economy, and keeps our families and communities safe.

And we will roll up our sleeves, starting on day one, to fix what is broken, to keep families together, to build an immigration system that works for all of us.

Thanks very much for allowing me to be a part of this today.

Biden: We can and must do more for people with disabilities – statement

Statement by President-elect Joe Biden on United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today, Jill and I join with communities, advocates, and activists around the world to celebrate the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities and to recommit ourselves to upholding the civil rights of persons with disabilities around the globe. 

This day is an even more necessary reminder of this fight as the world struggles to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic — a crisis that has uniquely and disproportionately impacted the global disability community. As we combat the pandemic and rebuild our economy, we can’t just build back to the way things were. We have to build a stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive society. That means providing access to high-quality, affordable health care, protecting and strengthening economic security for Americans with disabilities, and ensuring that students with disabilities have the resources necessary to mitigate the significant effects this pandemic has had on their education. We must ensure that people of color with disabilities have a fair shot and are treated equally. And, as the global pandemic underscores how connected we are to communities across the globe, we must also recognize the ways we can champion and promote inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities everywhere. 

On this day and every day of our administration, we will be fully committed to dignity, equity, and civil rights for all people with disabilities — who will have a voice and will be at the table in our administration for the critical work ahead.

Democrats and Republicans finally get serious about COVID-19 relief deal before Christmas

The Democrats and the Republicans are finally serious about reaching a COVID-19 deal before Christmas, as new cases increase and hospitalizations and deaths expand across the country.

On Wednesday, more than 2800 COVID-19 deaths were reported in the United States, the highest daily death toll since the pandemic began early this year. With more than 100,000 Americans hospitalized, 20,000 of them in intensive care units and nearly 7,000 on ventilator, several states are reinstating the strict restrictions that were implemented in March and April to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Those restrictions come with economic pains – unemployment, business closures, evictions – that necessitate a fresh stimulus package from the federal government.

On Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held talks about a possible pre-Christmas relief deal, with both sides expressing a desire to quickly pass a legislation.

“The Speaker and Leader McConnell spoke at 12.45 p.m. today by phone about their shared commitment to completing an omnibus and COVID relief as soon as possible, Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said on Thursday afternoon.

ON Tuesday, McConnell told reporters that additional COVID-19 funding would likely be added to the expected $1.4 trillion Omnibus spending package that would fund the federal government beyond December 11 through fiscal 2021, which ends on September 30. And on Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi told reporters “we will have an engagement” on coronavirus package funding by December 11, the date government funding is set to expire.

The Democrats and Republicans support a compromise proposal unveiled on Tuesday of $908 billion coronavirus relief bill that would include $160 billion funding for state and local governments.

The proposal would provide $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance, $288 billion in new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives small businesses access to loans, and $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution as well as virus testing and tracing.

The proposal would provide a weekly unemployment benefit of $300 to Americans who have lost their job due to COVID-19.

The proposal was presented to McConnell in his capitol office by four GOP senators – Sens Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Makowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) and Bill Cassidy (La).

52,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Africa from 2.1 million infections, the lowest death toll in the world

More 52,500 people have died from COVID-19 in Africa from over 2.1 million infections, according to the latest data released by the Africa CDC.

The data show the continent of 1.3 billion people recorded less than 200 deaths on Wednesday.

Africa has been less impacted by the coronavirus than other continents, and many reasons have been given for the low death toll, including its younger population, and the lack of controversy over public health measures such as social distancing and wearing of face masks.

Most of the cases in Africa have come from southern and northern Africa, followed by Eastern and Western Africa.

Central Africa has the lowest number of cases at the moment. The region has recorded only a little over 66,000 cases since the pandemic began.

Overall, about 48 000 new cases and just under 1000 new deaths were reported last week; a 3% and -10% change from the previous week, respectively, according to weekly data released by the World Health organization.

The highest number of new cases and deaths were reported from South Africa (19 730 new cases, 333 new cases per 1 million), Algeria (7438 new cases, 170 new cases per 1 million), Kenya (6201 new cases, 115 new cases per 1 million), Ethiopia (3578 new cases, 31 new cases per 1 million), and Uganda (2277 new cases, 50 new cases per 1 million), which collectively account for 81% of all new cases in the Region.

Southern Africa:

For the past three weeks, cases in South Africa have increased by over 20% week-on-week, and last week 19 730 new cases were reported (3500 more than the previous week).

The WHO said the rise in new cases in the Western Cape (including in Cape Town) and Eastern Cape provinces remain a cause for concern. As of 30 November, Gauteng, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, and Kwa-Zulu-Natal provinces have reported 79% of total cumulative cases.

Eastern Africa:

In East Africa, Ethiopia reported 3578 new cases (31 new cases per 1 million) and 59 deaths (0.5 new deaths per 1 million) in the past week. The number of new cases being reported from Ethiopia has fallen considerably since a peak at the end of August when there were over 10 000 new cases per week. This week the number of new cases rose by 18%, while new deaths fell by 17% from the previous week.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned that a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding as thousands of refugees in the Tigray region seek safety in eastern Sudan. At the 70th Session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa held last week, Ethiopia’s Minister of Health highlighted the need to continue to be vigilant in COVID-19 testing, isolation and treatment, and maintaining strong communication on public health and social measures.

Central Africa:

In Central Africa, Cameroon reported 589 new cases (22 new cases per 1 million) and 2 new deaths (0.1 new deaths per 1 million) in the past week.

Since first declaring cases on March 6, new cases rose to peak at around 2000 cases per week at the end of June and in early July. However, the number of new cases declined in July and have averaged below 400 per week since early August.

For the past two weeks cases have risen above this average, with 836 new cases two weeks ago and nearly 600 cases reported this last week.

Last week UNHCR warned that as the pandemic continues, a lethal mix of state at home orders, deepening poverty and economic duress is unleashing a wave of violence against refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls. UNHCR report that in North-West and South-West Cameroon where the security situation remains volatile, a staggering 26% of gender-based violence incidents logged since the onset of the pandemic relate to children.

President-elect Biden appoints Brian Deese as Director of the National Economic Council

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announced on Thursday that veteran economic and climate expert Brian Deese will be appointed to serve as Director of the National Economic Council, a top White House advisory position created in 1993 to help inform, design, and coordinate the economic components of the president’s policy agenda.

A former Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and senior advisor to President Obama, Deese played a leading role both in rescuing the U.S. auto industry and in negotiating the landmark Paris Agreement on climate during the Obama-Biden administration. In his new role, Deese will help President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris lift America out of the current economic downturn and build back better — creating an economy that gives every single person across America a fair shot and an equal chance to get ahead. 

“Brian is among the most tested and accomplished public servants in the country — a trusted voice I can count on to help us end the ongoing economic crisis, build a better economy that deals everybody in, and take on the existential threat of climate change in a way that creates good-paying American jobs,” said President-elect Joe Biden.

President Barack Obama receives an economic briefing from Brian Deese, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, at the Fisher House at Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark, Massachusetts, August 24, 2011.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama receives an economic briefing from Brian Deese, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, at the Fisher House at Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark, Massachusetts, August 24, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Read full announcement below

Brian Deese, Director of the National Economic Council

Brian Deese will serve as Director of the National Economic Council, advising President-elect Biden on domestic and international economic policy and coordinating the economic agenda of the Biden-Harris Administration. A former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama who was instrumental both in engineering the rescue of the U.S. auto industry and in negotiating the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, Deese is a crisis-tested advisor with broad experience in accelerating economic prosperity, empowering working Americans, and harnessing the economic opportunities that come from building a clean energy economy and combating the climate crisis. 

Deese has held a variety of key roles helping national leaders navigate some of the biggest challenges of this generation. During the Obama-Biden Administration, he served as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy after the 2008 financial crisis, as Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, and as Deputy Director and Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget. In his role as Global Head of Sustainable Investing at BlackRock, Deese has worked to drive greater focus on climate and sustainability risk in investment portfolios and create investment strategies to help accelerate the low-carbon transition. Deese received his bachelor of arts from Middlebury College, and his JD from Yale Law School.

U.S. marks another grim milestone with 2800 coronavirus deaths in one day

The United States marked another grim milestone on Wednesday with over 2800 coronavirus deaths in a single day, the highest since the pandemic began early this year.

On Tuesday, about 2600 people died of coronavirus in the United States, a number close to a record set in Mid-April when more than 2600 Americans were killed by the respiratory illness in a single day.

About 13.9 million people have contracted coronavirus in the United States and more than 273,000 of them have already died.

Right now, more than 100,000 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 across the country, the highest number of hospitalizations since the outbreak began early this year.

There are nearly 20,000 patients in intensive care units and about 7000 of them on ventilator, according to the new data collected by The COVID Tracking Project.

The data show that the number of hospitalizations has been dramatically increasing since the end of October, with about 60,000 hospitalizations since then.

The grim milestones in deaths and hospitalizations come as health officials continue to warn that the weeks and months ahead may be the deadliest, especially with new surges tied to holiday travel and lockdown fatigue.

Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday that 180,000 more people could die of in the United States before the month of February.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” the CDC director said in a Q&A with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Redfield said Americans could help change the course of the pandemic and reduce the spread of the coronavirus by following public health measures, including wearing of face masks, social distancing, staying at home and gathering only in small groups outdoors rather than indoors.

Pfizer has already applied for an emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not scheduled to meet until December 10 to discuss a possible authorization. A week later, the FDA will meet again to discuss the Moderna vaccine.

Both vaccines are not expected to be widely available to the general public until February or April next year, meaning that social distancing, wearing of masks, testing, isolating and treating patients remain our best weapons against the respiratory disease.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and others have been warning against COVID fatigue, saying now was not the time to let up with help on the horizon.

Equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines to generate $153 billion economic benefits in 10 major economies

As world leaders gather virtually at the Special Session of the General Assembly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, new data published today finds that leaving low- and lower-middle-income countries (LLMICs) without access to vaccines amid the COVID-19 pandemic will cause significant economic damage that puts decades of economic progress at risk – for both LLMICs and advanced economies alike.

The report by the Eurasia Group analyses ten major economies – Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Qatar, South Korea, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States – to assess  the economic benefits to advanced economies of contributing to the work of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

The ACT Accelerator, led by WHO and partnering with the world’s leading international health organizations, is a unique global collaboration which supports the development and equitable distribution of the tests, treatments and vaccines the world needs to fight COVID-19. However, the programme still has a significant funding gap of US$28.2 billion – with $US 4.3 billion needed urgently to fast-track critical areas of work. If that shortfall isn’t met, low- and low-middle income countries will have delayed access to these vital tools in 2021, which will result in a protracted pandemic, with severe economic consequences, not just for these countries by also for the wider global economy.  

The report, which was commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, finds that the economic benefits of a global equitable vaccine solution alone for the 10 countries included in the analysis would be at least $153 billion in 2020-21, rising to $466 billion by 2025. This is more than 12 times the $38 billion estimated total cost of the ACT Accelerator. This figure was compiled using the expected negative effects of sustained coronavirus outbreaks in LLMICs, based on the downside and baseline scenarios of the IMF’s October 2020 World Economic Outlook forecasts.

So far, the 10 countries featured in the report have contributed $2.4 billion to the work of the ACT Accelerator, with the U.K. committing just over US$ 1 billion, and Germany, Canada, Japan and France committing US$ 618 million, US$ 290 million, US$ 229 million and US$ 147 million respectively.

In just seven months, the ACT Accelerator’s progress has been significant: over 50 diagnostic tests have been evaluated and new rapid antigen diagnostics have been developed and being made available for LMICs; life-saving Dexamethasone treatments are being rolled out, research into monoclonal antibody treatments is advancing; and through the Health Systems Connector, the health system requirements for delivery of COVID-19 tools have been mapped in 4 out of 6 world regions.

COVAX, the Vaccines Pillar of the ACT Accelerator, has the world’s largest and most diverse portfolio of vaccines. It aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every participating country. Working with 189 countries, COVAX is supporting the development of 9 vaccine candidates through CEPI, 8 of which are in clinical trials.COVAX has secured hundreds of millions of doses of three promising candidates, including at least 200 million doses for LICs, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This new report emphasizes the funding urgency and the return on investment for donor countries of the work of the ACT Accelerator, which published its Urgent Priorities and Financing Requirements on 10 November.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, called on countries to commit to the work of the ACT Accelerator, stating that, “The ACT Accelerator is the global solution to ending the acute phase of the pandemic as quickly as possible by ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 tools. Contributing to the ACT Accelerator it is not just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing for all countries – socially, economically and politically.”

Alexander Kazan, Managing Director for Global Strategy at Eurasia Group and one of the authors of the report said, “There is a clear humanitarian and ethical case for supporting the ACT Accelerator and the Covax facility, along with the obvious economic gains it would bring to developing countries; doing nothing risks reversing years if not decades of economic progress. But our analysis shows that the program is likely to yield economic and other returns for major donor countries as well. The ACT Accelerator is a unique opportunity to save lives, repair the global economy, and build diplomatic capital that will last a generation.”

Hassan Damluji, Deputy Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, commenting on the report’s findings said, “The moral case for an equitable  global solution to the COVID-19 crisis has always been clear, but with high-income countries reeling from a huge shock, their governments are increasingly focusing on investments that can help their own economies to rebound. This report adds to the body of evidence that shows that the ACT Accelerator is precisely one of those investments. It is both the right thing to do, and an investment that will pay dividends by bringing the global economy back from the brink, benefiting all nations.”

Battle for U.S. senate: worries over equitable voting access in Georgia runoffs

State and local election officials in Georgia should take immediate steps to ensure that every voter in the state has easy and equitable access to absentee ballot drop boxes in the lead up to the January 5, 2021, Senate runoff elections, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday as it released a new data analysis of the issue.

Human Rights Watch said it determined that there are significant inequities between voters’ access to drop boxes, by looking at the number of drop boxes per eligible voter in each of Georgia’s 159 counties, the number of drop boxes per square mile in each county, and the 14-day new Covid-19 case rate in each county.

The analysis is based on a list of locations for ballot drop boxes compiled by the nongovernmental organization All Voting is Local and other groups. Human Rights Watch supports these groups’ request to state and county officials, to install more absentee ballot drop boxes, specifically one box per 15,000 eligible voters, ahead of the January 5 election.

A voter drops their ballot off during early voting, October 19, 2020, in Athens, Georgia. © AP Photo/John Bazemore
A voter drops their ballot off during early voting, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Athens, Ga. With record turnout expected for this year’s presidential election and fears about exposure to the coronavirus, election officials and advocacy groups have been encouraging people to vote early, either in person or by absentee ballot. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

“The right to safely cast a ballot should not be determined by what county you live in,” said Alison Leal Parker, US managing director at Human Rights Watch. “Georgia’s election officials should set up more drop boxes in counties that need them so that people can cast their votes safely and efficiently in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A record number of Georgians, 940,000, are reported to have requested absentee ballots to participate in the runoff, which will decide two US Senate races and may affect the balance of power in Congress. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger encouraged voters to use drop boxes during the November 3 general election, due to the Covid-19 pandemic; a rationale that has become even more pressing given rising new case rates in the state since early November, Human Rights Watch said.

On November 23, Georgia’s bipartisan election board decided to extend the use of ballot drop boxes through election day. Their use had been scheduled to end in late December.

Human Rights Watch’s data analysis shows that counties in Georgia with high rates of confirmed new Covid-19 cases have very few ballot drop boxes per eligible voter. Out of the 30 counties in Georgia with the highest rates, the vast majority (22 counties) have only one ballot drop box. Two counties out of the 30 do not have a single drop box.

While voting absentee by mail is also an option for Georgia voters, many voters prefer drop boxes due to conflicting information on the reliability of the US Postal Service. And due to historical disenfranchisement, especially among Black and brown voters, many prefer to have visual confirmation that their votes were delivered by placing their ballots in a drop box, Human Rights Watch said.

Covid-19 aside, Georgia’s counties show a vast range in accessibility of ballot drop boxes per eligible voter. There are no ballot drop boxes available in 15 counties that are home to about 150,000 (2 percent) of the state’s eligible voters. Of counties with drop boxes, Henry, Forsyth, Columbia, and Coweta counties are the four least accessible, with just one ballot drop box for 100,000 – 150,000 eligible voters. Quitman, Webster, Clay, and Baker counties are the four most accessible, with one for every 2,000 eligible voters.

One-third of eligible voters in Georgia live in a county with just one drop box, Human Rights Watch said. Of the 30 geographically largest counties in the state, about three-quarters, or 22, had only one drop box. An extreme example is Burke County, with one drop box per 827 square miles. One large county, Meriwether, does not have a single drop box. In Georgia, according to 2017 data, 7 percent of all households and 12 percent of Black households did not have access to a vehicle, making these distances especially problematic for absentee voters, given the lack of public transport, especially in rural areas.

“Rural or urban, Black or white, rich or poor, every US citizen has the human right to vote,” Parker said. “With its Senate run-off election, Georgia has a landmark opportunity to hold a second credible election in the space of just a few months. It should install more ballot drop boxes to make sure that happens.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris names new White House senior staff

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday announced new members of her White House senior staff.

Harris named Hartina Flournoy as Chief of Staff to the Vice President, Rohini Kosoglu as Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President and Nancy McEldowney as National Security Advisor to the Vice President.

Her office said “these public servants reflect the very best of our nation, embody the president and vice-president-elect’s commitment to building a team that looks like America, and have the experience to hit the ground running on day one.”

“Leading my office as Chief of Staff will be Tina Flournoy, whose deep experience, public policy expertise, and accomplished career in public service make her uniquely qualified for this important position. Tina brings a strong commitment to serving the American people, and her leadership will be critical as we work to overcome the unprecedented challenges facing our nation. Serving as my National Security Advisor will be Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, whose distinguished Foreign Service career and leadership abroad will be invaluable as we keep the American people safe and advance our country’s interests around the world. And serving as my Domestic Policy Advisor will be Rohini Kosoglu, who is not only an expert on some of the most important issues facing the American people, but also one of my closest and most trusted aides from the Senate and presidential campaign,” said Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

She added, “Together with the rest of my team, today’s appointees will work to get this virus under control, open our economy responsibly and make sure it lifts up all Americans, and restore and advance our country’s leadership around the world.”

Biographies of the appointees are listed below in alphabetical order:

Hartina Flournoy, Chief of Staff to the Vice President

Tina Flournoy currently serves as Chief of Staff to former President Bill Clinton. Prior to joining President Clinton’s team, Flournoy was Assistant to the President for Public Policy at the American Federation of Teachers, an international union representing over 1.6 million members, where she directed the work of the legislative, political, field and mobilization, and human rights and community outreach departments. Flournoy has held a number of positions in the Democratic Party over the past three decades, including serving as the head of Governor Howard Dean’s Democratic National Committee transition team; traveling chief of staff to 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Joseph Lieberman; Finance Director for the Gore 2000 Presidential Campaign; Deputy to the Campaign Manager in the 1992 Clinton-Gore Presidential Transition Office; and, in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel during the Clinton-Gore Administration. She also served as General Counsel for the 1992 Democratic National Convention and Counsel for the Democratic National Committee under Chairmen Paul Kirk and Ron Brown. After law school, Flournoy served as law clerk to the Honorable Julia Cooper Mack of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Originally from Georgia, Flournoy is a graduate of Georgetown University and Georgetown University Law Center.

Rohini Kosoglu, Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

Rohini Kosoglu currently serves as Senior Advisor to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on the Biden-Harris Transition Team and previously served as Senior Advisor on the Biden-Harris Campaign. Before that, she was a Spring 2020 resident fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Kosoglu has a dedicated career in public service and was the first South Asian American woman to serve as Chief of Staff in the United States Senate. She served as Vice-President Elect Harris’ Chief of Staff for her Senate office and later for her presidential campaign. Before that, she was Policy Director for U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, where she oversaw economic, health care and budget issues. She has negotiated several bipartisan bills into law and served as a senior health care advisor during the drafting and passage of the Affordable Care Act. She also previously served as a legislative aide to U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Originally from New Jersey, Kosoglu is a graduate of the University of Michigan and George Washington University and is a mother to three young children.

Nancy McEldowney, National Security Advisor to the Vice President

Ambassador Nancy McEldowney served for over 30 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including as U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria and as Chargé d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Turkey and Azerbaijan. During her time at the Department of State, she served as Director of the Foreign Service Institute, where she led the foreign affairs training facility for the U.S. government, and also served as Interim President and Senior Vice President of the National Defense University. Earlier in her career, she was a leading policy advisor on Europe, including working for President Clinton as Director of European Affairs on the National Security Council staff, and as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, where she led the U.S. government’s engagement with NATO, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Ambassador McEldowney is a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy and is on advisory boards for Soldier Strong, Foreign Policy for America, National Security Action, and the US Diplomatic Studies Foundation. Most recently, Ambassador McEldowney served as a Distinguished Professor and Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Originally from Florida, Ambassador McEldowney is a graduate of New College of Florida, Columbia University and the National Defense University.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari repressing human rights and getting away with it – opinion

Written by Kolawole Olaniyan

President Muhammadu Buhari is failing to live up to his promises to ensure respect for human rights, obey the rule of law, and tackle corruption. Since assuming office in May 2015, Mr Buhari’s government has consistently flouted constitutionally and internationally guaranteed human rights. The growing crackdown on peaceful dissent, and the signing into law of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 to squeeze civic space and impose restrictions on civil society suggest that this brutal repression will only escalate under his watch.

There was a further intensification of repression of human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, in October when #EndSARS protesters participating in demonstrations to end police violence and corruption were reportedly harassed, intimidated, attacked and killed in several parts of Nigeria.

Since the national protests, authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained many of the leaders of the protests, blocked their bank accounts, and otherwise restricted their human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and movement.

It’s not the first time Mr Buhari’s government has repressed human rights. Authorities continue to flagrantly suppress human rights and disobey the rule of law. For example, journalist and leader of #RevolutionNow protest Omoyele Sowore is still being restricted to Abuja, despite the decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declaring his detention and prosecution unlawful.

Amnesty International has in several reports documented cases of gross violations by the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS], including corruption, torture and other ill-treatment. Many of these cases are neither investigated nor prosecuted. Similarly, horrific cases of police violence and corruption are reported daily by victims before judicial panels set up by state governors to probe allegations of human rights violations by SARS.
For example, the Lagos State judicial panel of inquiry has heard a story of Ndukwe Ekekwe, who was allegedly pushed from a two-storey building by officers of SARS. Mr Ekekwe has had to use a wheelchair since then.

In another case, Chukwu Vincent told the panel how his cousin, Basil Ejiagwa, who is now dead, suffered loss of memory and eventually developed a brain tumour after he was tortured by SARS operatives in May 2014. A Federal High Court in Lagos in April 2019 reportedly ordered the authorities to pay Basil and his family N40 million as compensation but the order has so far been ignored.

The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party guarantee the rights to life, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and prohibit criminalization of dissenting voices.

Yet, authorities routinely crackdown on human rights, and security agents use unlawful force to stop peaceful protests. The failure to hold suspected perpetrators to account is an attack on human rights, and on the victims who have endured horrific abuses.
Judicial review is what protects people’s rights from the overbearing might of the state but the government’s disdain for the judiciary and the rule of law is underlined by its repeated disregard for court orders.

That is why, for instance, many in Nigeria have trouble taking seriously repeated promises by Mr Buhari to respect human rights, obey the rule of law, and tackle corruption. Mr Buhari’s government is continuing repression and ignoring the rights of the people. And it is getting away with it.

It shouldn’t be like this. The truth is that Mr Buhari has failed to fulfil his promises to the people.
Human rights provide people with invaluable protections against the power of the state. Human rights include the rights to speak freely, not to be arbitrarily detained, to peacefully protest, and so on. They are the bedrock of a healthy and corruption-free society.

As former South African president Nelson Mandela once stated: “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”. Therefore, Mr Buhari has to publicly recommit to human rights, the rule of law, and the fight against corruption. He should make clear that his government won’t tolerate impunity for repression and human rights violations and abuses, not only in words but in action.

Mr. Buhari and his government should immediately lift the restriction on Mr Sowore, and allow him to re-join his family; drop bogus charges against activists and peaceful protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release all those still being detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.

Mr. Buhari should immediately send back CAMA 2020 to the National Assembly so that this draconian law can be repealed and brought into conformity with the country’s international human rights obligations. And he should instruct his Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN to obey all court orders, including those obtained by anti-corruption watchdog Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), and human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN.

Mr. Buhari and his government ought to learn from John Locke’s dictum that “Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins”. Rather than continuing to repress human rights, the government should show that it can genuinely tackle systemic corruption and advance people’s well-being.Civil society groups, human rights defenders and activists should continue to put pressure on the government to ensure the realization of human rights to which Nigeria has subscribed, and to end the general erosion of rights.

Now is the time for Nigeria’s international partners to speak out on the ongoing repression and crackdown on human rights in the country, and to push for the government to respect and protect the rights of its own people.  

Doing this will boost the brave people trying to speak up for human rights in the prevailing tough environment in the country. It is essential for freedom, justice, dignity and accountability in Nigeria.

Kolawole Olaniyan, author of Corruption and Human Rights Law in Africa, is legal adviser at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat, London.

U.S. under COVID-19 siege with an American dying every 35 seconds – opinion

The most incompetent American, President Donald John Trump, 74 years old, is missing in action, at a time when the country is under COVID-19 siege.

An American now dies of COVID-19 every 35 seconds. In the past 48 hours, Tuesday and Wednesday alone, more than 5300 Americans have been killed by the deadly respiratory disease.

Only today, more than 2700 Americans have died. Yesterday, Tuesday, more than 2600 Americans died of COVID-19. More than 100,000 Americans are currently hospitalized, nearly 20,000 of them are in intensive care units, and about 7,000 are on ventilator.

This is not fiction, this is reality. This is, sadly, happening. The head of the CDC says between now and February, about 200, 000 more Americans are likely to be killed.

This is happening as the President spends time playing golf, whining over an election defeat and spreading baseless election fraud allegations.

On Wednesday, he released another video message with wild conspiracy theories that have been debunked by election officials and dismissed by all the judges, Republicans and Democrats.

There are two vaccines, one from Pfizer, the other from Moderna, both drugmakers have already applied for an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. But the FDA would meet on December 10 to review the Pfizer’s application and a week later for Moderna.

The CDC has also recommended that the first vaccine doses should go to healthcare workers, nursing homes and long-term care facilities. It will take several months before the general public can be vaccinated.

At a time the country is bleeding, the President has shown no interest in passing a COVID-19 relief bill that can strengthen hospitals, schools, small businesses and the unemployed.

There can only be on President at a time. Joe Biden will only be sworn into office in 49 days, at noon on January 20, 2021. For now, Americans are on their own.

Paraguay accused of destroying crucial evidence in killing of Argentinian girls

Authorities in Paraguay destroyed crucial evidence in the killing of two 11-year-old Argentinian girls by state forces and violated their own investigative protocols and international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday, adding that the Paraguayan government should ensure an independent, prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the killings.

On September 2, 2020, members of the Joint Task Force, a military-led elite unit that includes police and counter-narcotics agents, allegedly killed Lilian Mariana Villalba and María Carmen Villalba during an operation against a camp of the Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army or EPP), an armed group, in a forested area about 360 kilometers northeast of Asunción. The mother of one of the girls, who were cousins, told Human Rights Watch that the girls were born and lived in Argentina but were in the camp visiting their fathers, who are members of the armed group.

“All signs indicate that the investigation into the killings has been woefully inadequate,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The Paraguayan government should immediately allow Argentinian forensic experts to conduct an autopsy and grant them and the victims’ families full access to the evidence. The longer the government delays exhumation, the more likely that any evidence from the remains will be lost.”

Shortly after the raid, Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez traveled to the campcalled the operation “successful in every sense,” and said that two female members of EPP had been killed. Nobody else was killed. One Task Force agent was slightly injured.

Human Rights Watch reviewed the authorities’ public statements about the case and publicly available evidence. In response to a Human Rights Watch request, the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), an international group of pre-eminent forensic experts, provided its expert opinion on some elements of the investigation.

Human Rights Watch found that irregularities have marred the investigation into the killings from the very beginning, including that the authorities:
 

  • Hastily buried the victims without an autopsy
  • Burned the victims’ clothing
  • Maintain, based on an unreliable forensic test, that one of the 11-year-old victims had fired a gun
  • Made a shooting range determination that cannot be substantiated based on forensic evidence
  • Barred a representative of the families from a forensic examination of the remains and denied them access to the investigation


Onder Ozkalipci and Karen Kelly, two forensic medical experts affiliated with IFEG who have extensive international experience, concluded that the destruction of the girls’ clothing “represents the destruction of crucial evidence that violates the most basic and fundamental criminal investigative and forensic principles.”

International standards that mandate an effective investigation in all cases of killings by state forces require preserving such evidence. The director of forensic science at Paraguay’s Prosecutor’s Office, Pablo Lemir, said in a September 7 radio interview that clothing is “key for criminal investigations” and must be preserved under the country’s own protocol.

Cristian Ferreira, the Paraguayan forensic expert who first examined the bodies, told the media that the girls were shot from the front and then from the back and the side, leaving the bodies face down on the ground. “The position of the bodies shows both [girls] were obviously fleeing” the state forces attacking the camp, the expert said. The authorities have not released any images of the bodies as they were found.

Ferreira said that, based on his external examination of the injuries, the victims had been shot from a distance of between 10 and 20 meters. In contrast, the two IFEG experts said that forensic analysis cannot determine shooting distances exceeding approximately 1.5 meters, since “bullets fired from 1.5, 50 or 150 meters will produce gunshot entrance wounds with identical appearances.”

Police conducted a paraffin test to identify gunshot residue on the victims’ hands and thus determine whether they had fired a gun. A prosecutor said it was positive for one of the girls and negative for the other. But the IFEG experts asserted paraffin tests are unreliable and that their value is “marginal, at best,” as a variety of substances can trigger a positive result – beans, lentils, and other leguminous plants, urine, fertilizer, tobacco, fingernail polish, soap, and even tap water.

The Paraguayan government spent days insisting that the victims were much older than they really were, despite evidence provided by their families and corroborated by the Argentinian government. Because of the controversy surrounding their age, Paraguayan officials exhumed the bodies and, after DNA and bone analysis, Lemir confirmed the girls were 11 years old.

After that examination of the remains, Lemir said that one girl was shot seven times – from the front, the back, and the side – while the other girl was shot twice, from the front and the side. A lawyer representing the victims’ families told Human Rights Watch that the authorities did not allow her to be present during a forensic examination on September 5 and have continued to deny her access to the investigation, in violation of international human rights standards.

On September 15, the Argentinian government asked Paraguay to authorize the Argentinian Team of Forensic Anthropology (EAAF, in Spanish), a well-respected group of professionals with experience in forensic investigations around the world, to exhume the bodies and conduct an autopsy. They have not received authorization. The two IFEG experts recommended exhuming the bodies “in haste” to preserve any remaining evidence, given the deterioration of remains over time.

On September 9, the Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinating Group (Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay, Codehupy), a coalition of human rights organizations, sent a letter to Paraguay’s Congress requesting the creation a commission to investigate the case. Congress has not responded yet, according to the coalition. Human Rights Watch supports its petition.

EPP is an armed group allegedly responsible for homicides and several kidnappings, including the September 9 kidnapping of former vice president Óscar Denis, who remains missing.

Paraguay’s international human rights obligations require it to conduct thorough, prompt, and impartial investigations into killings by state agents. The international standard for conducting autopsies and other forensic analysis is the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention of Extra-legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions, known as the Minnesota Protocol. Paraguayan authorities have not complied with the basic investigative steps laid out by that protocol, Human Rights Watch said.

“Paraguay’s authorities attribute very serious crimes to members of the EPP, who, if proven guilty after an independent investigation and trial, should be held accountable,” Vivanco said. “But state action also needs to be within the bounds of the law. Any killing by state forces should be thoroughly investigated.”

Bangladesh urged to halt Rohingya relocations to remote island

The Bangladesh government should immediately halt imminent relocations of Rohingya refugees to remote Bhasan Char island, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday. The authorities have reportedly prepared a list of 4,000 Rohingya refugees to be relocated, beginning with transfers to the port city of Chattogram on December 3, 2020.

The Bangladesh government should commit to a transparent relocation process, fully informed consent of transferred refugees and freedom of movement on and off the island, and heed the United Nations’ call for a prior independent technical and protection assessment.

“The Bangladesh government is actively reneging on its promise to the UN not to relocate any refugees to Bhasan Char island until humanitarian experts give a green light,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “If the government were genuinely confident in the habitability of the island, they would be transparent and not hastily circumvent UN technical assessments.”

In a statement on December 2, the United Nations said that it had not been involved in preparation for this transfer to Bhasan Char and that “any relocations to Bhasan Char should be preceded by comprehensive technical protection assessments,” reiterating that the UN stood ready to proceed with such assessments “if permitted by the Government.” European Union Ambassador Rensje Teerink said that the EU would not comment on relocation to Bhasan Char until the UN had been allowed to complete technical and humanitarian missions to the island. The UN also said that the government should respect commitments to ensure any relocation is voluntary.

Though the government claims that any relocation will be voluntary, Human Rights Watch recently spoke with 12 families who said their names were on the list, but that they had not willingly volunteered to relocate. Some refugees on the list have fled out of fear of forced relocation.

“I have no idea how my name appeared there, but I never voluntarily put my name on that list,” one refugee said. “I only learned I was on the list after the Camp-in-Charge [camp authority or CiC] called me to his office and told me. After that, I fled from my shelter. I am hearing now that the CiC volunteers and majhis (community leaders) are looking for me and my family. I am afraid that if they find me, they will force me to go.”

Another refugee said, “My name appeared on the list so now the CiC has threatened me, saying that since my name is there, I must go. He said, even if I die, they will take my body there [to Bhasan Char]. I don’t want to go to that island.”

The government has provided limited information to refugees about the actual conditions on the island, and there are some allegations that the authorities may have offered misleading information and incentives to move there. One refugee told Human Rights Watch that he put his name on the list because camp leaders told him that those on the list would be given priority to repatriate to Myanmar, and would be given 5,000 taka (US$59). But he has changed his mind about wanting to relocate since he heard about those currently detained on the island, and that they are being held in “prison-like facilities” and don’t have freedom of movement.

Some refugees said that they willingly volunteered to go to Bhasan Char because they were told by the majhis and CiC volunteers that they would be able to choose livelihood opportunities, such as fishing or farming, that they would have better access to health facilities, and that their children would get education.

However, the conditions on the island for the over 300 Rohingya refugees currently held there is poor, Human Rights Watch said. Those on the island say they are denied freedom of movement and have no access to sustainable livelihoods or education. Refugees on the island said Bangladesh authorities beat them when they went on hunger strike, pleading to be allowed to leave the island and return to the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Healthcare workers in Cox’s Bazar and refugees who previously visited the island expressed serious concerns about the lack of adequate medical care on the island. One refugee who visited the island during a “go and see” visit in September said “if anyone becomes critically ill, the closest option is a hospital that is a minimum three-hour journey by boat,” which would be potentially impossible during monsoon season. He said some refugees on the island told him that a few days before the visit, one of the refugees had fallen unconscious, and the authorities had transported him by naval helicopter to Chattogram for medical care.

That incident indicates that the island likely does not have adequate healthcare facilities and that there is no sustainable plan in place for responding to medical emergencies, particularly if thousands of refugees are moved to the island, Human Rights Watch said. Some of the refugees who visited Bhasan Char also said that women and girls on the island do not have access to proper sanitary supplies to maintain safe menstrual hygiene.

“Donor governments engaged in the Rohingya crisis response such as the US, UK, Japan, Australia, and Canada should take a clear stand against this rash move to relocate Rohingya to Bhasan Char,” Adams said. “Decisions to move after the completion of technical assessments need to be voluntary and fully informed.”

Armenian prisoners of war badly mistreated in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani forces have inhumanely treated numerous ethnic Armenian military troops captured in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday. They subjected these prisoners of war (POWs) to physical abuse and humiliation, in actions that were captured on videos and widely circulated on social media since October.

The videos depict Azerbaijani captors variously slapping, kicking, and prodding Armenian POWs, and compelling them, under obvious duress and with the apparent intent to humiliate, to kiss the Azerbaijani flag, praise Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, swear at Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and declare that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan. In most of the videos, the captors’ faces are visible, suggesting that they did not fear being held accountable.

“There can be no justification for the violent and humiliating treatment of prisoners of war,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Humanitarian law is absolutely clear on the obligation to protect POWs. Azerbaijan’s authorities should ensure that this treatment ends immediately.”

Although some of the prisoners depicted in videos Human Rights Watch reviewed have, in subsequent communications with their families, said they are being treated well, there are serious grounds for concern about their safety and well-being.

International humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict, requires parties to an international armed conflict to treat POWs humanely in all circumstances. The third Geneva Convention protects POWs “particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

The armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated on September 27, 2020, with Azerbaijan’s military offensive. Hostilities ended on November 10 with a Russia-negotiated truce.

While exact numbers are unknown, Armenian officials in Yerevan told Human Rights Watch that Azerbaijan holds “dozens” of Armenian POWs. Armenia is known to hold a number of Azerbaijani POWs and at least three foreign mercenaries. Human Rights Watch is investigating videos alleging abuse of Azerbaijani POWs that have circulated on social media and will report on any findings.

Dozens of videos alleging abuse of Armenian POWs have been posted to social media. Human Rights Watch closely examined 14, and spoke with the families of five POWs whose abuse was depicted. The videos were posted to Telegram channels, including Kolorit 18+ and Karabah_News, and to several Instagram accounts. None of the videos have metadata that could confirm the time and location where they were recorded attached, as it was stripped when the videos were uploaded to Telegram and other platforms. But Human Rights Watch is confident that none of these videos were posted online before October-November 2020.

Human Rights Watch also examined numerous other images and legal documents, and spoke with two lawyers, Artak Zeinalyan and Siranush Sahakyan, who represent the families of close to 40 POWs in requests filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for interim measures (urgent measures to protect people whose cases are pending with the court and who are at “imminent risk of irreparable harm”). The court granted all the requests on behalf of individual POWs to instruct the Azerbaijan government to provide information on the POWs, the lawyers said.

The families confirmed that they saw their loved ones in the videos, provided photographs and other documents establishing their identity, and confirmed that these relatives were serving either in the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, or the Armenian armed forces.

Sergey Martirosyan lost contact with his son, Michael, 21, after an October 17 phone call. On October 25, Sergey saw a video on Telegram depicting eight Armenian soldiers abused by Azerbaijani military. The soldiers lay on the ground, blindfolded and restrained, as their captors kicked, dragged, and stepped on them, and prodded them with a sharp metal rod. At the 1:28 mark, the camera zooms in on a soldier who repeats, moaning, “I will tell everything,” in Russian, as Azerbaijani soldiers kick him at least seven times, step on his head and leg, and prod him.

Sergey said he immediately recognized his son’s voice, physique, hair, and certain facial features. He contacted the ICRC and local authorities. On November 9, after the ECtHR’s intervention, Sergey received a brief phone call from Michael, who said he was being held in Azerbaijan and receiving treatment for leg wounds in a medical facility.

Hranush Shahbazyan lost contact with her husband, Ludvig Mkrtchyan, 51, after an October 13 phone conversation. On November 12, her husband’s brother sent her the same video in which Martirosyan appears. She recognized Mkrtchyan’s voice, bald head, and physique. When the video opens, Mkrtchyan is lying curled up on his side, with his stomach and back partly exposed, and an apparent puncture wound on the left side. During the 00:58–1:25 segment, two Azerbaijani soldiers repeatedly kick and poke him with the metal rod on his head, back, stomach, and legs, as he pleads with them not to hurt him.

According to Shahbazyan, on November 20, after the ECtHR’s intervention, the ICRC informed her that they visited her husband. Shahbazyan showed Human Rights Watch a letter she received that Mkrtchyan had dictated. Shahbazyan said she was reassured of his identity when a few days later he confirmed the pet name for their daughter.

The lawyers said that family members who are their clients had identified three other servicemen depicted in the video: Valery Hayrapetyan, Arman Harutyunyan, and Armen Martirosyan (not related to Michael Martirosyan).

Shirak Sargsyan lost contact with his son, Areg, 19, on October 2. On October 8, a relative alerted the family to two videos that show Areg lying on top of an Azerbaijani tank and then sitting on the same tank and, on his captor’s orders, shouting “Azerbaijan” and calling Pashinyan names.

In mid-October, three more videos with Sargsyan appeared on social media. One shows Sargsyan, apparently on the back seat of a vehicle, wearing a flowery smock and a thick black blindfold, and repeating, on his captors orders, “long live President Aliyev,” and “Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” and cursing Pashinyan. Sargsyan’s family and lawyers also saw him in a news story by the Azerbaijani broadcaster Kanal 1: sitting in a hall, looking disoriented and distressed, he speaks under duress, condemning Pashinyan, including for sending him to war. His voice shakes, his breathing is heavy, and his lower legs are bandaged.

Sargsyan’s family said that on October 17, Azerbaijani authorities facilitated an ICRC visit with him. He was allowed to write a letter to his family twice and to call them briefly on October 17.

On October 18, Azerbaijani media and official sources reported that government officials visited three captured Armenian servicemen, including Sargsyan, in a hospital where they appeared to be getting medical treatment. The servicemen, who were photographed and filmed on video, expressed “gratitude” for their treatment.

On October 22 and 23, at least six videos were circulated on social media showing five captured Armenian soldiers ill-treated and humiliated by Azerbaijani servicemen. In the videos, the Azerbaijani captors, dancing, apparently in celebration of a military victory, slap one of the prisoners on the head, make them kneel, clap, and say “Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” and force at least three of the prisoners to kiss the Azerbaijani flag. Zeinalyan and Sahakyan, the lawyers, said that the prisoners’ relatives contacted them, identifying the five as Eric Khachaturyan, Robert Vardanyan, Narek Sirunyan, Arayik Galstyan, and Karen Manukyan.

Human Rights Watch spoke with family members of Khachaturyan, 18, and Vardanyan, 20.

Khachaturyan’s father, Saribek, lost contact with his son on October 12. Several days later he learned that his son had been wounded. He had no further information until November 22, when a neighbor showed him a video in which he recognized Eric. Later, the family saw him in another four videos. The videos show Eric’s captors holding him by the neck and slapping his head as they attempt to force him to say “Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” to kiss the Azerbaijani flag, and to kneel and clap, together with Vardanyan and another prisoner, as their captors are dancing.

Robert Vardanyan’s mother, Varduhi Parunakyan, said that her last contact with her son was on October 8. Later, she learned that Vardanyan had been wounded and that he, together with Khachaturyan and three others, were captured while awaiting a rescue team.

In the videos, Vardanyan is forced to kiss the Azerbaijani flag after Khachaturyan and another prisoner have done so, kneel on the ground and clap, together with Khachaturyan and another prisoner, as their celebrating captors are dancing; and to say repeatedly “Karabakh is Azerbaijan.” In the “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” video, he is indoors, his face is bruised and dirty, and one of his captors is pressuring him to speak louder; whereas in the “celebration” video he is outdoors and his face is clean and unmarked by bruises.

On November 27, the ECtHR requested information from Azerbaijani authorities regarding the five soldiers’ whereabouts. Azerbaijan has not yet provided a response.

“It is telling that some of the servicemen who carried out these abuses had no qualms about being filmed,” Williamson said. “Whether or not the soldiers thought they would get away with it, it is essential for Azerbaijan to prosecute those responsible for these crimes on the basis of both direct criminal liability and command responsibility.”

Coronavirus hospitalizations top 100k in US

More than 100,000 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States, the highest number of hospitalizations since the outbreak began early this year.

There are nearly 20,000 patients in ICU and about 7000 of them on ventilator, according to the new data collected by The COVID Tracking Project.

The data show that the number of hospitalizations has been dramatically increasing since the end of October, with about 60,000 hospitalizations since then.

The grim milestone comes as health officials continue to warn that the weeks ahead may be the deadliest, especially with new surges tied to holiday travel and lockdown fatigue.

Pfizer has already applied for an emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not scheduled to meet until December 10 to discuss a possible authorization. A week later, the FDA will meet again to discuss the Moderna vaccine.

Both vaccines are not expected to be widely available to the general public until February or April next year, meaning that social distancing, wearing of masks, testing, isolating and treating patients remain our best weapons against the respiratory disease.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and others have been warning against COVID fatigue, saying now was not the time to let up with help on the horizon.

Trump releases video message he labeled “the most important speech I’ve ever made” full of lies

U.S. President Donald J. Trump on Wednesday released a video message he labeled “the most important speech I’ve ever made” which was full of baseless election fraud allegations he has failed to prove in court.

Mr. Trump has continued to claim on the social media that the 2020 presidential election he lost to Joe Biden was rigged. However, in the court of law, his lawyer has brought other allegations that have been thrown out, denied or dropped.

Mr. Trump has failed to prove his case and all the contested battleground states have certified their results.

In the video message, Mr. Trump repeated the same voter fraud claims, that were quickly disputed by Twitter.

Biden releases statement on 50th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency

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More than fifty years ago, with rivers burning, pollution in air, and the public health and safety at risk, ordinary Americans marched, protested, and petitioned their government to better safeguard the wellbeing of our nation. Eventually President Nixon, a Republican, and with the support of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and on this day in 1970, the first EPA Administrator was confirmed. 

EPA’s mission is forged by science and a moral conviction that all Americans have a right to clean air, clean water, and safe and healthy communities, and that a sustainable environment also means a strong economy.

While it’s been hard fought and never guaranteed, we have made tremendous progress toward that mission as a nation. And fifty years later, more Americans voted and engaged in the political process than ever before and continue to expect and demand that we meet the most pressing issues of our time.

The Biden-Harris Administration will control the pandemic, revive the economy, and build back better by bringing together industry, labor, environmental organizations, and cities and states — and Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Together, we will combat the climate crisis with bold, progressive action. We will strengthen our clean air and water protections, hold polluters accountable for their actions, and deliver environmental justice in low-income communities and communities of color across America and tribal lands. We will celebrate the outstanding public servants and patriots who have given meaning and impact to the EPA’s founding values and vision through their dedicated work. 

And, together, we will reassert the EPA’s place as the world’s premier environmental protection agency that safeguards our planet, protects our lives, and strengthens our economy — guided by science and a belief there is nothing beyond our capacity as a nation when we work together as a people. 

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