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Lewis Hamilton speaks out on human rights before Bahrain Grand Prix | Lewis Hamilton

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Lewis Hamilton has stated his belief that Formula One can no longer ignore human rights issues in the countries it visits, putting the sport’s chief executive, Stefano Domenicali, in an awkward position after he rejected calls to launch an independent inquiry into alleged human rights abuses associated with the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The F1 world champion was speaking before the season-opening race in Bahrain and was unequivocal in a stance he first displayed last year. “There are issues all around the world but I do not think we should be going to these countries and just ignoring what is happening in those places, arriving, having a great time and then leaving,” said Hamilton, before revealing that he takes the situation in Bahrain so seriously that he has spent the past few months educating himself on it.

“Coming here all these years I was not aware of all of the details of the human rights issues. I have spent time speaking to legal human rights experts, to human rights organisations like Amnesty,” the 36-year-old said. “I have been to see the UK ambassador here in Bahrain and spoken to Bahraini officials also. At the moment the steps I have taken have been private and I think that is the right way to go out about it but I am definitely committed to helping in any way I can.”

Hamilton has become an increasingly vocal campaigner, seen most strikingly with his support for the Black Lives Matter movement last year, and his latest backing for a cause is sure to draw similar attention. It is unlikely to go down well with Domenicali, however. Last Friday the Italian, who become F1’s new chief executive in September, rejected calls for an inquiry in Bahrain having been encouraged to establish one in a letter sent to him, the teams, the FIA and Hamilton by a group of 61 British MPs and a coalition of 24 human rights groups, led by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird).

“It is important to make clear that Formula 1 is not a cross-border investigatory organisation,” Domenicali wrote in response. “We are a sports rightsholder that has the important job of promoting our sport across the world in line with the policies I have set out above. Unlike governments and other bodies we are not able to undertake the actions you request, and it would not be appropriate for us to pretend we can.”

F1’s response was dismissed by Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the Director of Bird. “We simply do not accept that a multimillion pound business doesn’t have the resources or capacity to establish such an inquiry,” he said. “F1 should urgently review their position.”

On Thursday the Bahraini government issued a statement responding to the call for an inquiry by insisting it had put in place “internationally recognised human rights safeguards”.

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Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin

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US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.

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Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development

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Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.

The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.

Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.

In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.

The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.

An indigenous tree stands in habitat destroyed by charcoal makers
An indigenous tree, believed by local people to be ancient, stands in an area destroyed by charcoal makers in Nyakweri forest, Narok county, Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.

“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”

A mural of Prof Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace prize winner by Pius Kiio Kitheka also known as Waji Dice.
A mural of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who campaigned to protect Kenya’s forests. Photograph: Boniface Muthoni/SOPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”

She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.

In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”

Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.

Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.

“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.

Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.

Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.



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EU court set to rule on Hungary, Poland rule-of-law challenge

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The European Court of Justice will rule on 16 February on the legality of the new mechanism linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law, which was challenged by Poland and Hungary last year. The tool has been threatened against Budapest and Warsaw where governments oversaw a decline in EU democratic standards. The court’s adviser ruled last month that their challenges should be rejected.

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