Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has lost thousands of antiquities to looters and ISIS fighters. Museum director Qahtan al-Abeed tells Renee Montagne that the new institution signifies progress.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2016/09/30/496032457/saddam-husseins-basra-palace-transformed-into-museum?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Van Gogh’s Seascape at Scheveningen, 1882, was stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002.

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Van Gogh’s Seascape at Scheveningen, 1882, was stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002.

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Anti-mafia police in Naples, Italy, have recovered two paintings by Vincent van Gogh that were stolen from a museum in Amsterdam more than a decade ago.

The Van Gogh Museum announced Friday that a curator inspected the two works, at the request of Italian authorities, and “drew a firm conclusion: ‘They are the real paintings!’ “

The two canvases, a seascape and a painting of a church, were stolen from the museum in 2002 in a widely publicized heist. They’ve been missing ever since.

The director of the Van Gogh Museum, Axel Rüger, said the museum owed a debt of gratitude to Dutch and Italian authorities.

“The paintings have been found!” he said in a statement. “That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for.”

The Associated Press reports that the paintings were found during a raid of the Camorra crime clan as part of a crackdown targeting cocaine trafficking. The “priceless” paintings and tens of millions of euros worth of property were seized by police.

The paintings had suffered some damage but appear to be in “relatively good condition,” the Van Gogh Museum said.

The paintings were stolen in 2002. A report in London’s The Independent that week described a bold theft — burglars climbing a ladder to access the roof, smashing a reinforced glass window with a hammer or an ax and dropping into the heavily secured museum shortly before 8 a.m.

Van Gogh’s Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884-1885, was one of two paintings recovered by Italian anti-mafia police, the Van Gogh Museum announced Friday.

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Van Gogh’s Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884-1885, was one of two paintings recovered by Italian anti-mafia police, the Van Gogh Museum announced Friday.

Van Gogh Museum

An alarm went off as soon as the window was broken, but the thieves snagged the paintings and shimmied down a rope to the street before security could reach them.

Police had “no leads” at the time, the Independent reported. Investigators were “baffled” that the burglars evaded infrared systems and cameras to escape without a trace, the BBC said.

The paintings in question aren’t among Van Gogh’s most famous, but they have huge “art historical” value, the Van Gogh Museum says.

Seascape at Scheveningen, painted in 1882, is an early work and one of only two seascapes that Van Gogh painted while he was in The Hague, the museum says.

Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen is the only painting in the Van Gogh Museum’s collection still in its “original stretcher frame,” which is covered in splashes of paint that appear to be from Van Gogh cleaning his brush. Van Gogh painted it in 1884 for his mother, and added churchgoers in mourning garb in 1885, after his father’s death.

“The strong biographical undertones make this a work of great emotional value,” the museum said.

It’s not clear what will happen to the canvases, but Rüger says he hopes they will eventually return to the museum in Amsterdam, after the Italian police investigation ends.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/30/496045362/2-stolen-van-goghs-recovered-by-anti-mafia-police-in-italy?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

People gather at bank of the Cauvery River in the state of Tamil Nadu.

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People gather at bank of the Cauvery River in the state of Tamil Nadu.

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“I am thirsty,” the river complains, “from quenching your thirst. I am tired from the turns along the way.”

That’s what the 475-mile Cauvery River in India says in a song called “Pyaasi’ (the Hindi feminine adjective for ‘thirsty’). A young musician wrote the song during a drought in 2009, when the two states through which the river flows were arguing over rights to its water.

Seven years later, India is again suffering from a drought, the states are still quarreling over the river and the song is getting another round of attention on India’s social media and blogs.

The musician, Vasu Dixit, was inspired by a heated dispute he heard in the general compartment of an express train. For an hour and a half, he recalls, a group of young men from the Raitara Sangh, a farmer’s group, argued with an older lady, an ascetic of some sort dressed in traditional robes of saffron, over which state had rights to the river: Karnataka, where it originates, or the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu that it enters.

The old lady was saying, “Water is nature, it should flow, it’s not something you should have control over.”

The young men angrily countered, “But what to do we do if we don’t have any? Besides, it starts flowing from our lands.”

In that year, India was reeling from its third driest monsoon — or rainy — season since 1901. The rivers were low. There was not enough water for farmers in Karnataka, but, owing to treaties that go as far back as 1892, the state was beholden to let Tamil Nadu have some of its waters.

The topic wasn’t new to Dixit. “Every two years this issue boils over about who should have how much water.” But what got him thinking was when the lady said, —-

Dixit, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the band Swarathma, had a tune he’d started composing with the band. “I was still on the train, the tune and this old lady’s thought came together.” Based on that exchange Dixit wrote ‘Pyaasi.’

In 2016, several states are facing drought conditions. Both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka don’t have enough water for drinking, let alone irrigation. In absolutes, according to the Central Water Commission, 93 percent of Tamil Nadu’s districts have an agricultural drought — reservoirs, lakes, and rivers are dry. Next door, 90 percent of Karnataka faces the same situation, according to the state’s Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre.

The issue of river rights is back in the news this month because the state of Tamil Nadu sued Karnataka for not upholding its agreement to share about 17 thousand million cubic feet of water each month. Karnataka dug its heels in and said there’s not enough water to go around.

In two judgments, the Supreme Court ordered the state of Karnataka to release about 200,000 cusecs of water in September — a cusec is about 7.5 gallons. That would add up to more than 25 percent of the river’s total water stock. The ruling brought people in Karnataka’s state capital of Bengaluru out to the streets in protest, burning buses, attacking Tamil residents and rioting.

“We feel like nature belongs to us, we have a right of ownership over it, something we address through the lyrics of ‘Pyaasi’” says Jishnu Dasgupta, bass guitarist for Swarathma. “Then we use it to beat up people we didn’t like anyway.”

Lyricist Dixit was 11 years old in 1991, the single most violent year for Cauvery disputes, marked by riots, curfew, and massive violence against the minority Tamil community that lives in Karnataka. That tension is reflected in the song. “The river asks, ‘Kahan se aayee, kahan hai jaana, kiski boli bolna hai ab?’ I’m coming from here [Karnataka] and then I reach Tamil Nadu, so what language should I speak?”

Residents in Bangalore are also dealing with another sobering fact: A new report by IndiaSpend, a data journalism site, says that half of the Cauvery water it gets is lost to leaks in the city’s pipes and drains.

There seems to be no respite in sight. “Unless both states come off their hard-line positions there is no solution,” S. Janakarajan, professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Adyar, and president of the South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies. “A river is nobody’s private property. The river doesn’t know Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, it doesn’t know boundaries. This is what we need to tell the younger generation — whether it’s Indus [river] water between India and Pakistan, or the Cauvery, it flows.”

Humans create problems and conflict, he adds. “That is the biggest issue.”

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/09/30/495923062/music-why-a-rivers-sad-but-beautiful-song-is-big-on-social-media?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

A bridesmaid dashed to a neighboring home looking for sewing supplies, but got one better — a master tailor. A Syrian refugee had only been in Canada for four days. He was thrilled to save the day.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2016/09/29/495882703/maine-teen-stopped-for-driving-twice-the-speed-limit-on-i-95?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to provincial leaders in Ankara on Thursday.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to provincial leaders in Ankara on Thursday.

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Turkey’s national security council is recommending a three-month extension of the state of emergency imposed following a failed coup attempt in July.

The council is chaired by the Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has presided over tens of thousands of dismissals and arrests of opposition leaders, journalists and others since the initial state of emergency went into effect on July 20, NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports.

He reports for NPR’s Newscast unit: “When the state of emergency was imposed after the coup was put down, officials said they hoped it would be a one-time, three-month override of the protections in Turkey’s constitution,” but that “critics say the emergency powers have been used not just to go after coup plotters, but to silence dissenting voices and enact measures Erdogan’s party was unable to get through parliament previously.”

Erdogan also declared that July 15, the day of the failed coup, would be recognized as a national day of “democracy and freedom.”

Speaking to a group of provincial leaders in Ankara, Erdogan said: “It would be in Turkey’s benefit to extend the state of emergency for three months. They say one year isn’t right for Turkey. Let’s wait and see, maybe 12 months won’t be enough,” according to Reuters.

As Peter has reported, the attempted coup has strained the already-complicated relationship between the U.S. and Turkey. The Turkish government blames the uprising on an aging cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. “America watched with dismay as the Turkish government, which it once hailed as a democratic model, arrested thousands, sacked tens of thousands more from their jobs and squashed dissent,” Peter says.

In August, Vice President Biden denied any U.S. involvement in the coup and reiterated American support for Turkey’s government during a trip to the country, calling the U.S. relationship with Turkey a model partnership. The two countries are working together to fight the Islamic State, and the U.S. Air Force has long operated out of Incirlik Air Base near the Syrian border.

But the U.S. State Department has expressed concern about the suspension of constitutional rights under the state of emergency. Last month, spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau said at a press conference:

“We urge Turkey to abide by its constitutional commitment to fundamental principles such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, due process, judicial independence. These are key parts of any healthy democracy and a key part of Turkey’s own constitution.”

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/29/495905837/turkeys-president-recommends-extending-state-of-emergency?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid were hit by airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria, last week. Twenty people were killed, including 12 aid workers.

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Trucks carrying humanitarian aid were hit by airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria, last week. Twenty people were killed, including 12 aid workers.

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Winter clothes, blankets, food and medical supplies. In an act of humanity, a U.N. aid convoy was carrying these precious necessities to a neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria, cut off by war. The convoy never made it.

Last week, 18 of the 31 trucks were bombed, killing 20 people, including 12 aid workers. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack “sickening, savage and apparently deliberate” at an address at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The U.S. blamed Russia for the attack; Russia blamed the U.S. and Syria.

There are rules against this kind of attack, and the rules are simple: Don’t target medical facilities. Don’t harm doctors and medical workers. Don’t harm civilians, including aid workers. They’re outlined in a raft of domestic and international laws. This includes the Geneva Conventions, a treaty ratified by 196 nations after World War II, and several U.N. Security Council and U.N. Human Rights Council resolutions.

Yet aid workers are operating in environments that are increasingly hostile to them, says Anaïde L. Nahikian, who runs Harvard’s Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action. In October 2015, U.S. planes bombed a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 42. In July, South Sudanese soldiers brutally gang-raped foreign aid workers. And the number of reported kidnappings of aid workers each year quadrupled to 121 from 2002 to 2014.

In the past few years, almost no one has been arrested or jailed for these atrocities or prosecuted at the International Criminal Court or ad hoc U.N. tribunals. The message to violators is that they can act with impunity, says Patricia McIlreavy, vice president of humanitarian policy at InterAction, a coalition of global NGOs. “I don’t know of any punishments that have been meted out,” she says.

“Warring parties today have a license to kill — without consequences or accountability for their actions,” says Shannon Scribner, associate director of humanitarian programs and policy at Oxfam America. “[The world's] standards no longer carry much weight.”

“It’s a race to the bottom,” she adds.

Aid groups are wondering if anything can be done to stop it.

The U.N. Security Council would be a logical place to turn. But in fact, Scribner says the council, whose mission is to maintain peace and security, is partly to blame for the lack of consequences. “They can’t even bring [peace-building] resolutions to a vote because they’re blocked by one of the five permanent members [China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.] who themselves are committing these violations,” she says. Russia and the U.S., for example, have not been able to agree on cease-fires in Syria in recent talks.

In the wake of last week’s Aleppo blast, the humanitarian sector expressed more doubts about the Security Council’s credibility. Although it passed a resolution in May condemning attacks on medical facilities, hospitals and humanitarian operations continue to be targeted — 19 of MSF’s operations in Syria, for example.

Aid groups are calling for the Security Council to, essentially, do its job: punish the violators. In a speech Wednesday, MSF President Joanne Liu told the Council: “We call on you to immediately enact the absolute prohibition of attacks on medical facilities. Even if those you see as enemies are being treated in them.”

There have also been calls for the U.S. to play a role. InterAction released a report in February urging President Obama to make sure U.S. armed forces do a better job protecting civilians and to pressure foreign forces to comply with the laws. “The U.S. should not underestimate its power of its example and leadership,” the report said.

But, in fact, the U.S. has set an example that has been criticized. After U.S. troops bombed the MSF hospital in Kunduz, the U.S. government conducted its own investigation, calling the attack an “accident,” not a “war crime.” There were reprimands for 16 personnel, ranging from suspension to removal. In a public statement, MSF said the punishments were “out of proportion to the destruction.”

Currently, “parties responsible for committing war crimes can investigate themselves,” says Scribner. “It’s not against the law, but it doesn’t allow for truly independent investigations.”

There’s a 1991 solution to this 2016 problem. Twenty-five years ago, the Geneva Conventions set up the framework for an International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission. The idea would be to establish an an unbiased group of seven individuals from countries not involved in the conflict under investigation. They’d gather facts and evidence on war crimes. But first, one of its 76 signatory states must sponsor an investigation. That’s never happened — not even after MSF called on the Commission to investigate the Kunduz attack last October. MSF’s Liu, at a speech in Geneva, accused governments of being “too polite or afraid to set a precedent.”

Aid groups are now turning to the public. Action Against Hunger, for example, is seeking support for the creation of a U.N. Special Procedure to report and document attacks on medical facilities and humanitarian workers. And Oxfam is asking for signatures for a petition to convince world leaders, like the U.K. and the U.S., to stop selling arms to countries like Saudi Arabia that have used them to attack schools, hospitals and aid facilities in Yemen.

The problem is keeping the effort going. “We have short attention spans,” says Helen Durham, head of international law and policy for the International Committee of the Red Cross. “We see something terrible and then it disappears. We need to keep saying that these protections are valuable, they’re worthy, and they speak to our common humanity.”

“And keep expressing outrage when the laws are breached,” she adds.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/09/29/495829011/why-is-no-one-punished-for-attacks-on-aid-workers?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world









The last surviving leader of Israel’s founding generation, Shimon Peres was a three-time prime minister, the architect of the country’s secretive nuclear program and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.

Peres, who died Tuesday at 93 according to Israeli officials, was at the center of recurring Middle East dramas throughout his more than six decades of public life. Still in his mid-20s, Peres was put in charge of securing weapons for the main paramilitary in Israel’s 1948 war of independence, and he remained in prominent roles until he stepped down as the country’s president in 2014, at age 90.

In a remarkable career filled with great triumphs and bitter setbacks, he held more senior positions than any other Israeli, often at pivotal moments in the country’s turbulent history. In addition to his tenures as president and prime minister, he served as foreign minister (three times), defense minister (twice), finance minister and transportation minister in Israel’s ever-rotating coalition governments.

However, Peres was unable to obtain the prize he sought most: an Israel fully at peace with its Arab neighbors. And while Peres was celebrated internationally, he always struggled in Israeli elections, and many Palestinians felt his actions fell far short of his dovish proclamations.

Immigrant from Eastern Europe

Like many of Israel’s founders, Peres’ story began in a tiny Eastern European town. He was born Aug. 2, 1923, in Wiszniew, Poland, which is now Vishnyeva, Belarus. His family immigrated a decade later to what was then called Mandatory Palestine, under British rule.

In the first major Arab-Israeli war, in 1948, Peres played a key role in procuring arms for the Haganah, a militia that evolved into the Israeli military following the country’s independence. Peres was rapidly promoted within the Defense Ministry, becoming director general several years later at age 29.

That made Peres a central figure during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, when Israel, Britain and France joined forces in a bid to seize the crucial waterway from Egypt. While the military operation was a success, the political blowback from the U.S. and the Soviet Union forced those three countries to retreat and return the canal to Egypt.

This episode reflected Peres’ more aggressive side during his younger years. Yossi Beilin, who would become a Peres ally and negotiate the secret Oslo Accord with the Palestinians in the 1990s, described Peres as “more hawkish than others” for decades.

Architect of Israel’s nuclear program

Peres, meanwhile, would also make his mark as the man who developed Israel’s nuclear program during the late 1950s.

“It was Shimon Peres who persuaded [Israel's first prime minister] David Ben-Gurion in 1956-57 that the time was right to initiate the nuclear project. From the beginning Peres was entrusted by Ben-Gurion to lead Israel’s pursuit of a nuclear capability,” wrote Avner Cohen, a leading authority on Israel’s nuclear program.

Ben-Gurion and Peres believed a nuclear deterrent was crucial for the small, fledgling country surrounded by much larger Arab states. Peres rapidly built the program by working closely with France, a leading ally of Israel’s at the time.

“Of all the countries engaged in nuclear research and development, only France might be prepared to help us,” Peres would later write. “I believed, therefore, that all our diplomatic efforts should be focused on France.”

Israel does not discuss details of its nuclear program to this day, but according to the CIA and others it is widely believed to have 100 or more nuclear weapons.

Throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Peres moved from one top government job to another as coalition governments formed, fell apart and formed again. He was never far from the action whether it was a military, diplomatic or economic matter.

In the 1980s, Israel’s economy crashed as inflation spiked to more than 400 percent a year. Peres negotiated with union leaders, major employers and central bank officials and forged deals to cut wages and freeze prices, moves that helped stabilize the economy. In the years that followed, he would be a leading advocate of the country’s high-tech sector.

Peres first served as prime minister for just two months in 1977. He held the job again, from 1984-86, in an unusual arrangement brought on by a deadlocked election between his left-leaning Labor Party and the right-leaning Likud Party. Peres led the country for the first two years of a four-year term and was then replaced by the hawkish Yitzhak Shamir.

Secret peace talks

In 1987, the Palestinians launched an uprising, or intifada, that would last for six years. That was one of several developments, along with the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, that led to a major international push to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israelis and Palestinians held secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway, and reached an interim deal that was signed on the White House lawn in 1993. With President Clinton presiding, Israel was represented by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Peres, then the foreign minister, and the Palestinians by their leader, Yasser Arafat.

The agreement called for talks to permanently end the conflict, and though that deal still needed to be negotiated, the three men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (from left), Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin pose with their medals and diplomas after receiving the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1994. The three were awarded the prize for “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.”

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Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (from left), Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin pose with their medals and diplomas after receiving the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1994. The three were awarded the prize for “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.”

AP

“Let us become a civic community,” Peres said in his speech on the White House lawn. “Let us bid once and for all farewell to wars, to threats, to human misery. Let us bid farewell to enmity, and may there be no more victims on either side.”

But it was not to be. The negotiations were fraught from the beginning. Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli ultra-nationalist in 1995. Peres took over as prime minister, but seven months later, he lost a tight election to the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu and the peace talks largely stalled.

In 2000, the Palestinians launched a second uprising that would leave almost 1,000 Israelis and several thousand Palestinians dead over the next five years.

Peres issued repeated calls to revive negotiations, but he faced increasingly skeptical, if not outright hostile responses from both sides. He suffered repeated political bruises, said Collette Avital, who worked closely with him in the Foreign Ministry.

“He was the most hated man in Israel for many, many years. Nobody trusted him, nobody liked him, except a few of us,” Avital said.

While many Israelis criticized him for pursuing peace talks, some Palestinians distrusted him as a peacemaker.

Abdullah Abdullah, a longtime Palestinian foreign affairs official, said many Arabs were killed during Peres’ time in office. He recalled a 1996 fight between Israel and the Lebanese group Hezbollah. During that battle, the Israeli military fired artillery that killed more than 100 civilians taking shelter in a United Nations compound in southern Lebanon.

“Like makeup on an ugly face, he beautifies the face, the crimes of Israel,” Abdullah said of Peres.

Elder statesman

Peres served in the mostly ceremonial position of president from 2007 to 2014, and celebrated his 90th birthday while still in office. Beilin says that in that role, Peres became an elder statesman respected both at home and abroad, rising above the hurly-burly of daily politics.

“In a way, he became the father of the nation. Belatedly. He had been so controversial. And suddenly he became a consensus [builder],” said Beilin. “Which was really a prize he deserved after all these years.”

President Obama said in a statement Wednesday that Peres “was guided by a vision of the human dignity and progress,” and that he changed the course of history through his moral foundation and “unflagging optimism.”

Peres suffered from a stroke two weeks ago and died Tuesday. His body will lie in state at Israel’s parliament on Thursday, and his funeral will be held Friday.

President Obama, Prince Charles and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, as well as other heads of state, will attend the funeral, Israel’s Foreign Ministry says.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/09/27/464330504/shimon-peres-the-last-of-israels-founding-fathers-dies-at-93?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, speak with Kaitlyn (left) and Terry Strada — whose husband, Thomas, died in the Sept. 11 attacks — after a May 17 news conference concerning the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act in Washington.

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Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, speak with Kaitlyn (left) and Terry Strada — whose husband, Thomas, died in the Sept. 11 attacks — after a May 17 news conference concerning the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act in Washington.

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The Senate voted Wednesday 97-1 to override one of President Obama’s vetoes for the first time in his presidency.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) would, among other things, give families of Sept. 11 victims the right to sue Saudi Arabia for aiding or financing the terrorism attacks. The House is likely to take up the same vote by the end of this week.

Families of Sept. 11 victims have demanded a right to seek monetary compensation from Saudi Arabia since the attacks, and versions of this bill have been floating around the Capitol as far back as 2009 — but the legislation never reached the floor until this year.

It sailed through both chambers without any opposition, but did so without a formal tally of votes. Passage of JASTA was done by so-called “unanimous consent” in the Senate, and by voice vote in the House.

A vote to override a presidential veto will require members to go on record individually as a yes or no vote — and that might explain why many lawmakers in both chambers seem to just be getting started studying the details of the bill.

What does this bill do?

JASTA would allow a lawsuit against any country by any U.S. citizen who claims the country financed or otherwise aided and abetted a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Liability would attach only if the plaintiff could show the country acted with knowledge in providing this support.

Congress already has allowed Americans to sue countries that have been designated as “state sponsors of terrorism,” but currently, that list includes only three countries — Iran, Syria and Sudan. The White House says that designation is assigned only after very careful review by national security, intelligence and foreign policy officials, and that such designations should not be left to private litigants and judges.

The concerns voiced by the White House, some lawmakers

There’s been talk about the principle of “sovereign immunity” and how this bill might erode that principle.

Under the principle of “sovereign immunity,” a country should remain immune from lawsuits in the courts of another country. It’s a long-held principle of international law. And although there are some very limited exceptions to that principle, some lawmakers and the White House believe JASTA creates a dangerously wide exception.

The fear is that other countries might reciprocate and enact laws that would drag U.S. government officials or members of our military into lawsuits in foreign courts under the theory that those people aided and abetted some injury abroad.

And to Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, that would expose the U.S. to tremendous liability.

“Let’s face it. We’re the greatest nation on earth. We have more involvements around the world than any country,” said Corker. “We’ve got assets deployed all around the world more than any country. So if sovereign immunity recedes, we’re the nation that is most exposed.”

In his veto message, President Obama said there could be lawsuits against the United States for “actions taken by members of an armed group that received U.S. assistance, misuse of U.S. military equipment by foreign forces, or abuses committed by police units that received U.S. training.” However without merit these claims may be, the White House argues, they would still suck up resources and increase the country’s legal exposure.

Allowing Sept. 11 families a day in court

Supporters of the bill say it’s a little alarmist to think this bill is going to corrode the principle of sovereign immunity and invite a flood of retaliatory litigation against the U.S. They point out sovereign immunity is not absolute — there are already, after all, exceptions to it.

And most importantly, they argue, all JASTA ultimately does is give Sept. 11 victims a chance to be heard in court.

“The issue is fundamentally about, is whether someone would have the opportunity to raise their concerns in the judicial system. It’s not a judgment about how a case would come out,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a senior member of the Intelligence Committee. “It seems to me that it is appropriate — particularly in light of the families — that they should have a chance to raise their concerns in court. “

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2016/09/28/495709481/sept-11-lawsuits-vote-today-could-be-first-reversal-of-an-obama-veto?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Members of a joint investigation team present the preliminary results of the criminal investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014. The investigators said Wednesday they have confirmed that MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile fired from rebel-held areas in Ukraine.

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Members of a joint investigation team present the preliminary results of the criminal investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014. The investigators said Wednesday they have confirmed that MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile fired from rebel-held areas in Ukraine.

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A Dutch-led team of international investigators has concluded that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed in July 2014, was shot down by a Russian Buk missile that had been transferred into rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

After the shooting, the surface-to-air missile launcher was transferred back to Russia.

The crash of MH17 killed all 298 people aboard. The preliminary results of the international criminal investigation were announced on Wednesday in the Netherlands. Investigators said they were confident about the type of weapon used and where it was fired from — but that the investigation into who exactly was responsible for the missile launch will take more time.

There are more than 100 suspects, investigators say. The next phase of the investigation will involve interviewing suspects and tracing the chain of command within the separatists in Ukraine, to identify who gave the order to fire the missile.

An earlier investigation by the Dutch Safety Board had already concluded that the crash was the result of a missile launched from a region in Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Earlier this year, a report from a group of volunteer citizen journalists had implicated Russia in the missile launch.

Russia has repeatedly denied sending military equipment and personnel across the border into Ukraine. Moscow has previously suggested that MH17 might have been shot down by another plane.

Now Russia maintains that if the plane were brought down by a surface-to-air missile, it must have been fired from somewhere other than the rebel-held areas identified by investigators, Reuters reports. The Kremlin said, before the Wednesday report’s findings were announced, that it has new radio-location data that show the missile couldn’t have been fired from rebel territory.

The report from the Joint Investigation Team, which consisted of investigators from the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Malaysia and Ukraine, used forensic data, witness accounts and intercepted phone calls to determine the weapon used and the location of the missile launch.

Fragments of a Buk missile were found at the crash site, including a piece of metal lodged in the frame of a cockpit window, investigators say.

They said that phone calls showed pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine requesting that the surface-to-air missile system be delivered and reporting its arrival from Russia, and that witnesses described seeing the Buk missile system in transit to the rebel territories. Shortly after the missile was fired, the Buk system was reloaded onto a truck and taken back into Russia.

Witnesses near the identified launch site — on farmland near Pervomaiskyi — saw and photographed the condensation trail of the missile, the report says.

The investigators also said they could conclusively reject the possibility that another plane, instead of a surface-to-air missile, shot down the plane. Radar data from Russia and Ukraine, as well as information provided by the U.S., show no other aircraft near the flight at the time of the crash, investigators say.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/28/495747649/flight-mh17-was-shot-down-by-missile-moved-from-russia-investigators-say?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Visitors look at the China-North Korea Friendship Bridge across the Yalu River from Dandong, in northeast China. A company operating from Dandong is under fresh sanctions by the U.S.

Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images


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Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Visitors look at the China-North Korea Friendship Bridge across the Yalu River from Dandong, in northeast China. A company operating from Dandong is under fresh sanctions by the U.S.

Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. is targeting a Chinese company and the people who run it for allegedly helping North Korea with its nuclear weapons program. It closely follows the North’s fifth nuclear test, which took place earlier this month.

“Each new nuclear test…spurs this kind of scramble to do something,” says John Delury, a professor of international relations at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “And sanctions is the kind of preferred choice.”

Targeted sanctions will hit a Chinese conglomerate based on the North Korean border — Dandong Hongxiang Development Company. The U.S. Department of the Treasury says the firm has helped sanctions-blacklisted North Korean companies procure raw materials that could be used for nuclear weapons.

The same company — along with three officials and the woman who runs it, Ma Xiaohong — has also been indicted on U.S. charges it served as a front for North Korean businesses trying to bank and trade, prohibited under sanctions.

Chinese police announced a week ago they have launched a criminal investigation against the same company for “grave economic crimes.”

“This has long been a struggle, is trying to get at the most sensitive firms and the most sensitive activities, which is nuclear proliferation,” says Kent Boydston, a research analyst at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“There were other activities they were involved in – trade – that wouldn’t necessarily be illicit trade in of itself,” says Boydston. “But because these organizations, these networks, these people are so interconnected with each other, it really begs the question of: if you allow one activity that seems licit, then are you really just aiding and abetting an illicit activity?”

Stopping this particular conglomerate may plug one hole in current sanctions imposed on North Korea. But the question of whether it will effectively slow North Korea’s nuclear advancement remains. Delury says this is probably too little too late.

“That said, every further step [North Korea makes] worsens our security. Both Americans and South Koreans. So it doesn’t mean you just throw up your hands and do nothing,” Delury says.

The debate continues about what to do next. One thing is clear: sanctions have not succeeded in halting North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/09/27/495587211/u-s-targets-chinese-company-for-supporting-n-korean-nuclear-program?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world