The Czech government has downplayed the significance of Russia’s lethal attack on a Czech weapons depot in 2014, but further retaliatory measures, including at EU level, could follow.
“It was not an act of state terrorism. [Russian] agents attacked the goods of a Bulgarian arms dealer, who probably sold them to parties fighting against Russia. The ammunition was to explode along the way [to the warehouse],” Czech prime minister and business tycoon Andrej Babiš said on TV on Monday (19 April).
“But it is, of course, unacceptable that they carried out this operation here, which they messed up,” he added.
He spoke following a government meeting in which he shared classified evidence from a recently completed investigation into the incident seven years ago, which killed two Czech citizens.
The pro-Russian Czech president, Miloš Zeman, a political ally of Babiš, has said nothing.
Earlier the same day, speaking at an EU foreign affairs ministers’ video-conference, the Czech Republic’s acting foreign minister, Jan Hamáček, did brief his peers on the attack.
He asked for EU “solidarity”, which was duly expressed in two brief statements, one by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and a second one by a European Commission spokesman.
But according to diplomatic sources, Hamáček did not ask for any concrete actions, such as coordinated expulsions of Russian diplomats by other EU countries.
“They called for solidarity in general, not for specific measures”, an EU diplomat told EUobserver.
When asked why the EU reaction had been so muted for now, the diplomat added: “Because common sense is not common practice [in Europe]”.
Prague has so far expelled 18 Russian diplomats as a response, prompting Russia to expel 20 Czech ones in retaliation.
But the developments were widely seen as disproportionate, given that Russia had over 120 diplomats in the Czech Republic, while the Russian move left just a handful of Czech ones in Moscow.
And for some commentators, Babiš and Hamáček’s manoeuvring on Monday was because they were taken aback by Russia’s firm response.
“It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise that they decided to do so [expel the 18 Russians]. And now it seems as if they are afraid of their vigorous approach,” Petr Kolář, the Czech Republic’s former ambassador to the US, told Czech media on Monday.
“I think that the way we are approaching this now embarrasses not only me and some colleagues, but also allies abroad. I think they [EU and Nato allies] expected a much more emphatic continuation of how we started,” he added.
“The Czech public must also be confused,” Kolář said.
The Czech side is expected to brief Nato ambassadors at a meeting of the allies’ North Atlantic Council later this week.
And for one EU diplomat, further reactions both in the Czech Republic and in the West could still follow.
“I have a feeling that this is just the beginning,” the diplomat said.
For its part, the foreign policy committee of the Czech senate asked the Czech government, also on Monday, to reduce the number of Russian diplomats in the country to just one – the Russian ambassador himself.
The Czech trade minister, Karel Havlíček, also indicated that Russian firm Rosatom will be excluded from a tender to build a nuclear power plant in the country.
But for some Nato countries, the 2014 incident should be treated at least as gravely as Russia’s attempt to assassinate a former Russian spy in the UK in 2018, when Europe and the US collectively expelled over 300 Russian envoys.
The Czech explosion “was a direct attack on a Nato-member country”, Tom Tugendhat, a British MP who chairs the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told the Sky News broadcaster over the weekend.
“If this was not an act of war, then I have trouble understanding what should be considered as one,” he added.
Bereaved then evicted by in-laws: Kenya’s widows fight disinheritance | Global development
Within months of the death of her husband in 2014, Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, from Meru, eastern Kenya, was told that his bank accounts had been frozen, and she had been forced out of her home by her in-laws.
The pregnant 37-year-old was left with no resources to fight back, and returned to her parents’ home. “It was traumatising, and I went into depression for five years,” says Kimathi.
Her experience is far from unique. While Kenya protects widows’ inheritance in theory, the patriarchal culture and the influence of colonial legislation that restricted married women’s property rights means the law is often not enforced.
“There is an entire parallel system operating outside succession laws,” says Roseline Njogu, a Kenyan lawyer. “Years of law reform have led us to formal equality, but equality of law doesn’t mean equality of power, and that’s where we get tripped up.”
Human rights groups report that discriminatory practices in marriage limit women’s capacity to own land. According to the Kenya Land Alliance, only 1% of land titles are registered to women, and another 6% are registered jointly with a man.
While children have equal inheritance rights, land is more often passed on to sons, leaving daughters with fewer assets, and making a future wife vulnerable to eviction if her spouse’s family regard the property as theirs.
For young widows such as Kimathi, it can be even harder to hold on to marital property. “You’re considered less entitled to it because you’re expected to remarry,” she says.
But a fightback is under way. Grassroots organisations are emerging all around the country to build community awareness of women’s legal rights. One group, the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization (CTWOO), has offered legal advice and support to nearly 500,000 widows since 2013.
The NGO is trying to address disinheritance at its roots. It works with other groups to increase financial and legal literacy across the country, especially among married couples, encouraging them to discuss finances openly, and to write wills.
The founder, Dianah Kamande, says that – contrary to popular belief – most dispossessed widows are middle-class, like Kimathi, not poor. The poor usually have less property, and the rich have access to lawyers.
Kamande says death and estate planning are still taboo topics for many married couples, and that some people obscure their wealth. “Men keep lots of secrets about money from their wives, and trust their mothers and siblings more – who in turn disinherit the wife and children,” she says.
The country’s Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority says it has 50bn Kenyan shillings (£347m) in unclaimed assets, and about 40% is money left by people after they die. Concerned by the rising number of unclaimed assets, research by the authority found roughly 43% of Kenyan respondents said they would not disclose their financial assets to anyone – even people they trusted.
“There’s secrecy around financial investments. For many of the people who find out about the assets left by their spouse, it’s a eureka moment,” says Paul Muya, of the UFAA.
Five years after being widowed, Kimathi’s life was still on hold. She had looked into hiring a lawyer but could not afford it. Without access to the family property, it was difficult for her and her son to get by, and she had to rely on help from her parents and sister.
But through the CTWOO, she found out that she did not need a lawyer to access the courts. She filed a claim, and within a year had gained access to almost all of her dead husband’s property. Last year, Kimathi opened a bar and restaurant in Kitui, 110 miles east of Nairobi.
“It was a huge relief to get the money. Being a widow in Kenya is financially and socially isolating, and knowing what that’s like pushed me to help others in the same situation,” says Kimathi, who now volunteers with a widows’ support group.
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WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech
Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.
The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.
The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.
The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.
Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.
The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.
The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.
Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.
Jury calls for sweeping reforms to Canada’s approach to femicide | Canada
A community in rural Canada has made a series of transformative recommendations at a coroner’s inquest that – if adopted – could position the country’s most populous province as a leader in preventing femicides, particularly those carried out by an intimate partner.
The jury in Renfrew County, Ontario, just west of Canada’s capital, delivered 86 recommendations this week in a unanimous verdict on the deaths of three local women, who were killed by the same man on a single morning nearly seven years ago.
The boldest was to have the Ontario government “formally declare intimate partner violence as an epidemic” that requires “significant financial investment” and deep systemic change to remedy.
Since the triple homicide on 22 September 2015, 111 women in Ontario have been murdered by their current or former partner, the inquest heard. Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner, according to Statistics Canada.
The jury also recommended official prominence be given to the word “femicide” – to have it be listed as a manner of death by coroners in the province and added to the criminal code of Canada to underscore the misogyny beneath the killings of women and girls because of their gender.
“A lot of the recommendations are groundbreaking,” said Pamela Cross, a lawyer and expert on intimate partner violence in Ontario who testified at the inquest.
The inquest, which heard from nearly 30 witnesses over three weeks, was meant to examine the systems that broke down in the weeks, months and years leading up to the day Basil Borutski got in a borrowed car, drove to Carol Culleton’s cottage and strangled her with a coaxial cable, then moved on to Anastasia Kuzyk’s house where he shot her to death and then to Nathalie Warmerdam’s farm where he shot her too.
All three women had previously been in an intimate relationship with Borutski. He had been in and out of jail for assaulting Kuzyk and Warmerdam and was on probation at the time of the murders and subject to a weapons ban.
Borutski had been flagged as “high risk” two years before the triple homicide, the inquest heard, and exhibited 30 out of 41 risk factors identified by Ontario’s domestic violence death review committee – including a deep sense of victimhood and the ability to convince new partners he was innocent and unfairly targeted by police in his prior convictions.
Police witnesses told the jury Borutski was very good at “manipulation” and constantly flouted court orders, including never showing up to a mandated partner assault response program.
The jury heard from family members, including Valerie Warmerdam, Nathalie’s daughter, who painted a nuanced and empathetic picture of Borutski as a troubled stepfather. It heard from a frontline worker who described Warmerdam and Kuzyk’s constant terror that Borutski would kill them or harm their family.
The inquest jury demanded decision-makers make “significant financial investments” in ending violence, have police all use the same records management system and create clear guidelines for flagging high-risk abusers. It urged the study of disclosure protocols like Clare’s Law, which is used in the United Kingdom and in parts of Canada to allow a concerned person to check if their partner has a police record of intimate partner violence.
Valerie Warmerdam welcomed the verdict, but underscored the need for action on the part of governments who will receive these recommendations in the wake of the inquest. “I want change,” she said. “These recommendations are a good start, if they are actioned. That’s a big if.”
Kirsten Mercer, counsel to End Violence Against Women Renfrew County (EVA), noted that it was the jury themselves who added the epidemic recommendation among 13 others, including creating a registry of high-risk offenders akin to the sex offenders registry, and exploring electronic monitoring of those charged or found guilty of an IPV-related offence.
“The jury has asked that we tell the truth about intimate partner violence,” Mercer told the media after the verdict. “The jury has asked that we put our money where our mouth is.”
The idea to add femicide to the coroner’s list of manners of death and to the Criminal Code of Canada came from the joint submission. Countries in Latin America have already added this as a criminal offence, she said, and should be looked to as a model for how to do it here.
Accountability was a priority for this jury, Mercer said. The verdict called for the creation of an accountability body akin to the United Kingdom’s domestic abuse commissioner and a specific committee to make sure this verdict does not just languish in decision-makers’ inboxes.
“We are not going to wait forever any more.”
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