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The Nobel committee should resign over the atrocities in Tigray | Kjetil Tronvoll

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The war on Tigray in Ethiopia has been going on for months. Thousands of people have been killed and wounded, women and girls have been raped by military forces, and more than 2 million citizens have been forced out of their homes. Prime minister and Nobel peace prize laureate Abiy Ahmed stated that a nation on its way to “prosperity” would experience a few “rough patches” that would create “blisters”. This is how he rationalised what is alleged to be a genocide.

Nobel committee members have individual responsibility for awarding the 2019 peace prize to Abiy Ahmed, accused of waging the war in Tigray. The members should thus collectively resign their honourable positions at the Nobel committee in protest and defiance.

The committee justified awarding the Nobel to Ethiopia’s premier for his “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”. Today, Eritrean forces, along with Ethiopia’s federal and Amhara regional state forces are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in what Abiy characterises as a “law enforcement operation” in Tigray.

The war began last November, when federal soldiers entered Tigray alongside Eritrean forces, claiming the objective was to arrest the elected regional government and leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front party (TPLF) for rebellion. The Tigray leadership withdrew from the regional capital, Mekelle, into the mountains, with thousands of combat-ready troops. It was clear from the outset that war was inevitable, as Tigrayans would not submit to the centralising policies of Abiy, which they believe undermine their constitutionally enshrined autonomy.

The campaign has become increasingly repugnant. The US has criticised Abiy for ethnic cleansing. Numerous massacres of civilians have been revealed, and rape of women and girls has been systematically carried out to “cleanse the blood line”, as soldiers have reportedly said, and break spirits. Civil infrastructure, such as hospitals, water facilities, schools and universities have been direct targets of bombings and looting, with the aim to destroy capacity to govern.

Even worse is the humanitarian consequence. Today, 5.2 million Tigrayans, about 85% of the region’s population, need aid to survive, but it is not reaching them. Food and emergency assistance from the UN and international organisations is obstructed by federal red tape and Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. Hundreds of thousands are in danger of dying from starvation this summer. We may soon again see images of mass death in Tigray, similar to those from the famine that took place during the Ethiopian civil war and inspired the Live Aid concert in 1985.

Human rights experts believe there is reason to declare genocide in Tigray, when analysing the political intentions behind the systematic mass murders of civilians, sexual violence and more. The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox church has said that the government is carrying out a genocide. The final legal conclusion must however be for a future international criminal tribunal.

What then is the responsibility of the Nobel committee towards someone who uses the prize to legitimise genocidal warfare against his own people? Did they undertake a comprehensive risk assessment before giving the prize to an incumbent prime minister who was not democratically elected in a country that has always been an authoritarian state? Or is this, in hindsight, something the committee could not have foreseen?

Already, in early 2019, the reforms in Ethiopia and the peace process with Eritrea were known to have lost momentum. Liberal political reforms in the country were backsliding. Some also warned that the peace prize itself could destabilise rather than consolidate the region.

After the war began, I had a call from a high-ranking Ethiopian official: “I will always hold the Nobel committee responsible for destroying our country,” he said. “After Abiy received the peace prize, he viewed this as a recognition of his politics and would no longer listen to objections or the dangers of recentralised power in Ethiopia.”

There is international criticism of Abiy’s candidature and the committee’s “non-stance” on any crimes against humanity by military forces under the command of a Nobel laureate. But the committee has stayed silent, carrying on a century’s tradition of refusing to discuss the judging process. Last year, in reaction to Abiy’s decision to postpone the 2020 elections indefinitely, the Nobel committee came out in defence of the laureate, reasserting its position on the prize. Now, after the outbreak of war, members of the committee remain disinclined to discuss their original assessment.

Initiatives by Ethiopian diaspora organisations to hold the Nobel committee legally liable for the award’s consequences have further damaged the reputation of the Nobel prize.

On the guidelines enshrined in Nobel rules is that once a prize is awarded, it cannot be withdrawn. So how could the committee express its condemnation of the war and the politics of Abiy should it wish to? All members have an individual responsibility – it is not officially known whether any voted against. They should therefore acknowledge this, collectively resign, and let the Norwegian parliament appoint a new committee.

As a collective action, it would be perceived as taking responsibility for the error – and as a protest against the war.

At the same time, the Nobel Institute should upgrade its expertise, undertake comprehensive risk assessments and analyse relevant conflicts and contexts on which awards are based. It seems clear that procedures failed in awarding Abiy the prize.

In appointing a new committee, Norway’s political parties must drop the tradition to nominate retired politicians. This would provide the much-needed arm’s length between the prize and the Norwegian political elite. International members should be brought in, with expertise in what the prize is actually about: war and peace, international law, human rights. The Nobel name carries international weight and a committee with world-class capabilities should protect it.

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Covid-19: Italian and Spanish PMs meet in Madrid ahead of EU recovery fund summit | International

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Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, was in Madrid on Wednesday for a meeting with his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), to discuss their countries’ joint strategy for an upcoming summit on the European Union’s coronavirus recovery fund.

Spain and Italy, the two European countries to be hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, are joining forces against the so-called “frugal” countries – Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark – which oppose the idea of a €750 billion fund, of which €500 billion would be non-recoverable grants and the rest made up of loans.

Sánchez and Conte have shared interests, as their countries stand to benefit the most from the fund, according to Italian and Spanish sources who added that Germany and France back this position as well.

“This time Italy, Spain, France and Germany are clearly in sync. We all support the European Commission’s proposal,” said Spanish sources.

“With the meeting held today with @GiuseppeConteIT we are relaunching relations between Spain and Italy. We agree that the good understanding between our countries must be taken to the political arena. We hope to hold a new Italian-Spanish summit in 2020,” tweeted Spain’s Sánchez on Wednesday.

Conte and Sánchez will be traveling separately in the coming days to the Netherlands and Germany, and the Spanish leader is also planning a stop in Sweden, whose government wants to replace some of the EU fund grants with loans, according to Spanish sources. The Spanish and Italian PMs are hoping to arrive at the July 17-18 summit in Brussels with a strong negotiated position that will leave little room for resistance from the “Frugal Four.”

Wednesday’s meeting also served to reinforce bilateral ties that had been weak for years. The last time that the leaders of both countries had come together was in 2014, when then-prime ministers Enrico Letta and Mariano Rajoy met in Rome.

English version by Susana Urra.



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‘Where should we go?’: thousands left homeless as Karachi clears waterways | Global development

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Maqsooda Bibi, 62, did not know the house she had lived in all her life would be demolished, forcing her whole family to become homeless. But on Monday, Pakistan’s supreme court backed the Sindh government in bulldozing her home and hundreds of others, legalising the eviction of thousands who live along narrow waterways – nullahs – that crisscross Karachi.

The verdict came as Bibi and hundreds of others held a protest outside the court. “We hoped that the court would ask the government not to make us homeless, but it did the opposite. Our children also protested on Sunday and urged the supreme court to stop demolition. It seems no one here cares for the future of the poor.”

At least 8,000 houses are being knocked down along the nullahs. The work, which began in February, is in response to the 2020 Karachi floods that saw choked up nullahs overflow and swamp the city. Improvements to Karachi’s water and sewage systems are being financed by the World Bank.

As people watched their homes being turned into rubble, civil society organisations approached the court to try to stop the evictions. They said the houses were not to blame for blocking the waterways.

But on Monday the supreme court rejected the petition.

While dozens of people told the Guardian they were renting their homes, the court said any leasing of land along the nullahs was illegal. Activists and writers have termed the decision “unjust”. Writer Fatima Bhutto, of the Bhutto political dynasty, tweeted: “The supreme court’s decision is a tragedy.”

Maqsooda Bibi, on right, attempts to keep cool during a protest in Karachi against the demolitions.
Maqsooda Bibi, on right, attempts to keep cool during a protest in Karachi against the demolitions. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch

In an editorial, Pakistan’s largest English-language daily, Dawn, said: “The demolition of houses situated within nine metres on either side of the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs will continue. When this exercise is completed (before this year’s monsoon, according to the plan), at least 100,000 people would perhaps have been rendered homeless. As many as 21,000 children would be out of school and living under the open sky.”

Bibi’s house was her family’s home for five decades. She shared it with four daughters and three sons-in-law. “We all started living on the lawn after they demolished our house but they will snatch the lawn now. At first, they took our shelter, now they will take our land,” she says.

Muhammad Shahid is a heart patient whose house was bulldozed a month ago. He expected justice from the court. He was at home when his house was bulldozed at around 11am one morning.

“We are helpless. Where should we go? We can’t die or live. I had my angiography done and now I can’t work. My children aren’t educated enough. My wife had a paralysis attack,” says Shahid. He says that even he has not got the 90,000 Pakistani rupees (£410) promised by the government.

Muhammad Shahid on the rubble where he used to have two rooms that were bulldozed.
Muhammad Shahid stands where two rooms belonging to him were bulldozed. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch

Muhammad Aslam did receive some compensation for the loss of his house. But he says it is not enough. He says: “I want to return the amount because it is of no use for four families.” He lives with 28 others in one room and a tent after his two-storey house was bulldozed. “We are troubled in all ways, there is no gas or electricity or even sanitation. This isn’t living,” says Aslam.

Architect and urban planner Arif Hasan says the government had no “proper plan”. “They are not doing it merely to stop the flood but to make long roads along the nullahs connecting the Lyari expressway with the northern bypass, displace poor and benefit the rich.” He says the World Bank should denounce the Sindh government, as forced evictions are against the bank’s policies.

Muhammad Abid Asghar was one of the first to lose his home, on 2 February. With others, he established Gujjar Nala victims committee and, with activists of Karachi Bachao Tehreek (Save Karachi Movement), went to the Sindh high court.

Bulldozed and damaged houses in Gujjar nullah as the demolitions progress.
Bulldozed and damaged houses in Gujjar nullah, Karachi, as the demolitions progress. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch

After chalking slogans against the demolitions on walls around the city, the activists say they were called by the World Bank team for a meeting in April.

“We had believed the bank was funding the evictions, but the World Bank denied it. They assured us that no leased houses would be bulldozed.”

Sindh minister for information, Nasir Hussain Shah, also says the World Bank is not linked to the evictions. “The government will help residents in rehabilitation,” he says, adding that “not more than 5%” of residents were against the demolition works.

The World Bank did not respond to a request for comment.

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China calls Nato statement ‘slander’

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The Chinese mission to the EU denounced a Nato statement that declared Beijing a “security challenge,” saying China is actually a force for peace but will defend itself if threatened, AP reports. The Chinese news release said the Nato statement was a “slander on China’s peaceful development, a misjudgment of the international situation and (Nato’s) own role, and a continuation of the Cold War mentality and organisational political psychology.”

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