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Lesotho firm first in Africa to be granted EU licence for medical cannabis | Employment

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A company in Lesotho has become the first in Africa to receive a licence to sell medical cannabis to the EU.

The country’s top medical cannabis producer, MG Health, announced it had met the EU’s good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards, allowing it to export cannabis flower, oil and extracts as an active pharmaceutical ingredient.

It will export its first batch to Germany later this year.

The GMP guidelines are the minimum requirements a manufacturer or producer must meet to ensure products are safe and of a consistent high quality. They are used to control the licensing for sale of food and pharmaceutical and medical products.

The company had hoped to receive accreditation last year, but Covid-19 restrictions prevented inspectors from travelling to Lesotho in June.

The company is optimistic accreditation will open doors to business with more EU countries and other international markets. It has already received inquiries from France, the UK and Australia.

A report in August last year forecast the European cannabis market will be worth $37m (£26m) by 2027.

Located 2,000m above sea level in the mountain region just outside the capital Maseru, the company employs 250 people on its 5,000 sq metre farm. But it has plans to increase its workforce to 3,000, “which is almost the entire population of the community”, said Nthabeleng Peete, the company’s community liaison manager.

“Corporate social responsibility developmental projects will also take off and eventually reduce crime and poverty among the villagers,” said Peete.

MG Health’s chief executive officer, Andre Bothma, said: “We are sitting in a rural area where there is hardly any income. More business for the company will create a knock-on effect on the locals too, because we also acquire some products and services from the villagers. Some supply us with vegetables, milk and beans, among other [products]. An increase in the workforce means an increase in the villagers’ income, too.”

The tiny mountain kingdom was the first in Africa to license the growing of medicinal cannabis in 2017. The crop is widely produced in the country, although cannabis possession and use is illegal.

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Polish TV sabotages Tusk press briefing

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Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk clashed with Polish propaganda outlet TVP in Warsaw Tuesday. A TVP reporter asked him why Tusk’s party wanted Poland to leave the EU. “This is beyond imagination … I won’t answer such absurdities,” Tusk, whose Civic Platform party is pro-EU, said, before a prickly exchange ensued. TVP also muted MEPs who said Poland should face EU rule-of-law sanctions in its coverage of a Strasbourg debate.

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Odyssey Marine Exploration: Spanish court shelves case against US treasure hunters that looted ‘Mercedes’ frigate | USA

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The history of the Spanish frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes includes two grievances and one victory. The first of the former was when the British Navy sunk it and its 275 crew members on October 5, 1804, off Portugal’s Algarve coast. The second offense came in May 2007, when the US treasure-hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration scooped up its cargo of 500,000 silver and gold coins from the shipwreck at the bottom of the sea.

Triumph came when the US justice system confirmed that the treasure belonged to Spain, in a ruling released in February 2012. But there was one more affront to come: a Spanish court has just definitively shelved a case into alleged crimes committed by the US treasure hunters as they were removing the coins. After a tortuous 14-year investigation, a courtroom in Cádiz has been left with no option but to let the probe die, albeit admitting its “bafflement” and “anger” over what it considers “unusual proceedings.”

At the same time as the legal process began in Florida to determine who was the rightful owner of the rescued treasure, Odyssey or Spain, a court in La Línea de la Concepción, in the southwestern Spanish province of Cádiz, began investigating whether the then-CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, Greg Stemm, and his team had committed any criminal offenses when they removed the haul from the shipwreck. Among the potential crimes were damaging an archeological site and smuggling.

Odyssey workers hoisting a cannon from the 'HMS Victory' shipwreck in 2009.
Odyssey workers hoisting a cannon from the ‘HMS Victory’ shipwreck in 2009.

The fact that the 500,000 pieces of silver and gold were returned to Spain in February 2012 – nearly 17 tons of material, which are now held in the ARQUA underwater archeology museum in Cartagena – is proof that the legal battle in the United States ended well for Spain. But the latest decision in the Spanish case, to which EL PAÍS has had access, leaves no doubt that the investigation into potential crimes has definitively been shipwrecked.

The three judges who were responsible for the case found that the shelving, which cannot be appealed, is based principally on the fact that the potential offenses have now exceeded the statute of limitations in Spain for trial. And the slow process of the probe, according to the judges’ writ, was due to the failure of the US justice system to respond to the letters rogatory sent in 2013, and that were needed if Stemm and the rest of the suspects were to be questioned by investigators.

“In terms of the lawsuit over the coins, the United States was on Spain’s side,” explains Ángel Núñez, a public prosecutor who specializes in cultural heritage and who was in charge of the case until 2009. “But it is true that when it comes to targeting one of their own nationals, they are not so willing to collaborate. And given that these were US citizens who are not at the disposal of the Spanish courts…”

The Spanish court probe into Odyssey had already entered into a tailspin before this latest ruling. In December 2016, another judge in La Línea dismissed the case. The private prosecution, which was brought by the company Nerea Arqueología Subacuática, appealed the decision but it was rejected. In a new attempt to not let the legal process die, archeologist Javier Noriega, one of the heads of this small company based in Málaga, took the case to the High Court of Cádiz province, in La Línea, the one that has definitively shelved the proceedings.

In their ruling, the judges add that they share “with the appellant his surprise, confusion and even anger for the, shall we call it, unusual proceedings with this case, at least since the year 2013.” The magistrates do not go so far as to specify what prompted them to feel this way.

Spanish Civil Guard officers watching the "Ocean Alert," a vessel owned by Odyssey Marine Explorations, near Gibraltar in 2007.
Spanish Civil Guard officers watching the “Ocean Alert,” a vessel owned by Odyssey Marine Explorations, near Gibraltar in 2007.ANTON MERES (REUTERS)

Archeologist Javier Noriega believes that he knows all too well what they are referring to. He and his colleagues decided to take up the case – represented by the attorney José María Lancho – as a “professional and moral obligation.” They have since seen how “all of these years can be summed up by the end: exceeding the statute of limitations.” “They avoided entering into the substance of what happened to Spain’s cultural heritage,” the expert complains.

These unusual proceedings in the investigation which the judges mention and that Noriega suffered first-hand were reported on in the Spanish press. In March 2012, a former legal representative for Odyssey, with no authority, entered the courtroom when the judge was absent and persuaded court workers to photocopy the entire findings of the legal investigation so far, as was reported by the Spanish daily Abc at the time. According to Abc, such an action would have allowed Odyssey to prepare a defense against the findings of Civil Guard investigators and decide whether or not to actually take part in the trial.

The actions of the representative were very serious, taking into account that the probe was counting on a protected witness: a diver who had been threatened for having denounced Odyssey, given that he had knowledge of some of its activities in Spanish waters.

Now Noriega, 46, is gloomy about the end of a process that has occupied a significant part of his career. “As people who love our profession, it’s frustrating,” he explains. “It ends up being a defeat for all of us, for culture and for society. And if as well as that, the person responsible has gone unpunished, because of the statute of limitations, that’s very sad.”

Despite the legal setback, the archeologist argues that the court probe contains “evidence of all kinds, archeological, from witnesses, technical, juridical, and a ton of resounding questions that deal with what supposedly happened with an overwhelming truthfulness.”

The expert believes that an opportunity has been missed by Europe to convey “a clear message to the thieves who have spent years destroying the history of those shipwrecks from the modern era all over the world.”

Odyssey Marine Exploration never had any interest in the Spanish frigate beyond the cargo of silver and gold that it was carrying. That was made clear by the destruction caused by the company in the archeological area where the remains of the 275 people killed in the attack in 1804 lay. “When an archeological site is plundered, it is destroyed forever,” states Noriega.

After the site was looted, ARQUA led a scientific excavation that was carried out in three campaigns – from 2015 to 2017 – in which the remains of the shipwreck were documented and the items that the treasure hunters left behind were removed. These included cannon, cutlery and other everyday objects from life on board. The expedition also achieved the challenge of descending 1,130 meters underwater, the maximum depth achieved until that point during a subaquatic arqueological mission by a European country.

While the damage done to a historical site such as the Mercedes shipwreck will not result in a trial or convictions, Núñez believes that the consequences of the process “were positive, from a legal and global point of view.” Noriega goes even further: “Spain and its coasts are, today, possibly the best protected and safest in the world with regard to the protection of cultural heritage against looting.”

Since the Odyssey case, the classification of offenses against historical heritage in Spain has improved, new archeological maps have been created, there is better coordination between administrations, and there is greater social awareness about this kind of offense. It was precisely these weaknesses that the treasure-hunting company Odyssey made use of to make off with the coins. In fact, the activity has presumably lost its appeal not just in Spain but also elsewhere, given that the American company has since abandoned its treasure-hunting activities and is now focusing on underground mining.



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Colombia found responsible for 2000 kidnap and torture of journalist | Colombia

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The Colombian state has been found responsible for the kidnap, torture and rape of a prominent journalist who was abducted while reporting on her country’s civil war, in a landmark ruling from the inter-American court of human rights.

Jineth Bedoya, who has been pursuing justice for over 21 years and now campaigns against sexual violence, was recognised by the court on Monday as having suffered “grave verbal, physical and sexual aggressions” for which the state was responsible. Before now, only three of her attackers had faced justice, receiving sentences in Colombian courts in 2019.

Following the announcement, while her legal team also celebrated the news, Bedoya tweeted on Monday evening: “18 October 2021 goes down in history as the day when a fight – which began over an individual crime – led to the vindication of the rights of thousands of women who are victims of sexual violence, and of women journalists who leave a part of themselves in their work.”

Jonathan Bock, director of Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), which has provided legal assistance to Bedoya, said: “This ruling sets a precedent that will remind governments that it is not possible to ignore violence against the press, and less that they can be tolerant of state agents who are perpetrators.

“This ruling gives society and female journalists the tools to make gender violence visible.”

Bedoya was abducted on 25 May 2000, outside the Modelo prison in Bogotá, where she was due to interview an incarcerated paramilitary leader. She was drugged and driven hours outside the city, where she was tortured and gang-raped.

“It’s difficult to understand what happened, all I know is that I wanted to die,” Bedoya told the Guardian in 2019.

When authorities failed to properly investigate the attack, Bedoya began probing independently, eventually securing the support of Flip and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil).

The inter-American court of human rights, which has jurisdiction over most Latin American states, ruled on Monday that Colombia was “internationally responsible for the violation of the rights to [Bedoya’s] personal integrity, personal freedom, honor, dignity and freedom of expression”.

The court also ruled that the Bedoya’s attackers could not have carried out the abduction and assault “without the acquiescence and collaboration of the state”, and that the government failed to protect Bedoya and her mother, Luz Nelly Lima, from threats and persecution in the years after the attack.

When the court heard Bedoya’s testimony in March, the Colombian government withdrew its representatives and called for the recusal of five of the six judges attached to the case. After a widespread backlash, the government later resumed its participation.

A peace deal signed in 2018 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) leftist rebel group formally ended five decades of war that left 260,000 dead and displaced more than 7 million, with state-aligned paramilitary groups and other leftist rebel armies contributing to the bloodshed.

Sexual violence, though widespread, was often obscured by other atrocities and tended to be ignored or met with impunity. Between 1985 and 2016 alone, more than 13,500 women were victims of sexual violence during the armed conflict, according to a report by the National Center of Historical Memory.

“Jineth Bedoya has been tirelessly seeking justice for more than 20 years,” read a statement from Cejil posted on Twitter. “The decision of the court is dignifying for Jineth, for female journalists who face gender violence, and for the thousands of victims of sexual violence of Colombia’s armed conflict.”



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