Fears Mount That New Jersey Shooting Might Have Been Anti-Semitic Attack

Fears mounted Wednesday that a deadly shooting at a Jewish market in Jersey City was an anti-Semitic attack as authorities recounted how a man and woman deliberately pulled up to the place in a rental van with at least one rifle and got out firing.

A day after the gun battle and standoff that left six people dead — the two killers, a police officer and three people who had been inside the store — state and federal law enforcement officials warned they have not established the motive for the attack.

“The why and the ideology and the motivation — that’s what we’re investigating,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said, adding that authorities are also trying to determine if anyone else was involved.

But Mayor Steve Fulop said surveillance video of the attackers made it clear they targeted the kosher market, and he pronounced the bloodshed a hate crime against Jews, as did New York’s mayor and governor.

Also, investigators believe the two dead attackers — who were believed to be a couple — identified themselves in the past as Black Hebrew Israelites, a movement whose members have been known to rail against whites and Jews, according to a law enforcement official who was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In addition, authorities have found social media postings from at least one of the killers that were anti-police and anti-Jewish, the official said. The FBI on Wednesday searched the Harlem headquarters of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, which is the formal name of the Black Hebrew group, according to the official.

The killers were identified as David N. Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50 — both of them also prime suspects in the slaying of a livery driver found dead in car trunk in nearby Bayonne over the weekend, Grewal said. Anderson served about four months in prison in New Jersey on weapons charges and was paroled in 2011, authorities said.

Jersey City's mayor Steven Fulop, right, and the Director of Public Safety James Shea talk to reporters across the street from…
Jersey City’s mayor Steven Fulop, right, and the Director of Public Safety James Shea talk to reporters across the street from a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J., Dec. 11, 2019.

Two of the victims at the store were identified by members of the Orthodox Jewish community as Mindel Ferencz, 31, who with her husband owned the grocery, and 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student from Brooklyn who was shopping there. The Ferencz family had moved to Jersey City from Brooklyn. Authorities identified the third victim as Miguel Douglas, 49.

“The report from the Jersey City mayor saying it was a targeted attack makes us incredibly concerned in the Jewish community,” said Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil rights organization. “They want answers. They demand answers. If this was truly a targeted killing of Jews, then we need to know that right away, and there needs to be the pushing back on this at the highest levels possible.”

The bloodshed in the city of 270,000 people across the Hudson River from New York City began at a graveyard, where Detective Joseph Seals, a 40-year-old member of a unit devoted to taking illegal weapons off the street, was gunned down by the assailants, authorities said. They then drove the van about a mile to the kosher market.

Grewal said that within seconds of pulling up to the market, Anderson got out with a rifle and immediately began shooting, and Graham followed him into the store. He would not say whether Graham had a weapon.

A pipe bomb was found in the van, FBI agent Gregory Ehrie said.

Jersey City’s mayor said it was clear that the killers deliberately made their way toward the kosher market, passing many other possible targets along the way, and calmly and promptly opened fire.

“We shouldn’t parse words on whether this is a hate crime at this point. This was a hate crime against Jewish ppl + hate has no place,” he tweeted, adding: “Some will say don’t call it anti-semitism or a hate crime till a longer review but being Jewish myself + the grandson of holocaust survivors I know enough to call it what this is.”

A man measures a window broken by a bullet at the Sacred Heart School, across the street from a kosher supermarket where a…
A man measures a window broken by a bullet at the Sacred Heart School, across the street from a kosher supermarket where a shooting took place a day earlier, in Jersey City, N.J., Dec. 11, 2019.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio likewise said the attack was a “premeditated, violent, anti-Semitic hate crime,” while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it a “deliberate attack on the Jewish community.” They announced tighter police protection of synagogues and other Jewish establishments in New York as a precaution.

The drawn-out battle with police filled the streets with the sound of high-powered rifle fire and turned the city into what looked like a war zone, with SWAT officers in full tactical gear swarming the neighborhood. The attackers were killed in the shootout with police.

A fourth bystander was shot at the store when the attackers burst in, but escaped, Grewal said. His name was not released.

Rabbi Moshe Shapiro said he spoke with the survivor at a hospital. “He said the guy next to him fell to the ground,” Shapiro said. “He suffered two gunshot wounds but managed to run out of the store and climb over fences.”

In the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, 11 people were killed in an October 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last April, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue north of San Diego, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.

The kosher grocery is a central fixture in a growing community of Orthodox Jews who have been moving to Jersey City in recent years and settling in what was a mostly black section of Jersey City, causing some resentment.

Mordechai Rubin, a member of the local Jewish emergency medical services, said the small Jewish community has grown over the past three or four years, made up mostly of people from Brooklyn seeking a “nicer, quieter” and more affordable place to live. Next to the store is a synagogue with a school and day care center where 40 students were present at the time of the shooting, he said.

“It’s unfortunate what happened, but we don’t even want to think about what would have happened if they made their way up to the day care or to the synagogue,” he said.

Authorities also warned that several fake Go Fund me pages have popped up purporting to be raising funds for the family of the slain officer, a father of five.

Inventor of Bar Code Dies at 94 

George Laurer, who invented the universal product code, has died at his home in North Carolina. He was 94. 

The UPC or bar code is the unique marking — made up of black stripes of varying thicknesses and a 12-digit number — allotted to products sold worldwide. It allows retailers to identify each product and its price by using a scanner. 

Laurer, who died Dec. 5, was working as an electrical engineer at IBM when he was assigned to the project, an idea pioneered by colleague Norman Woodland, who died in 2012.

Laurer brought Woodland’s idea to fruition in the 1970s with the help of lasers and computers. 

Laurer said retailers spent millions in time and labor putting price tags on every item. The bar code allowed them to reduce pricing errors and keep an accurate count of inventory. 

The first product scanned, in June 1974, was a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum. It is now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington. 
 

Gabon Steps Up Counter-Poaching Efforts to Save Elephants

More than 70% of the African forest elephant species has been wiped out, primarily by poachers slaughtering them for their ivory.  Park rangers are on the front lines defending them. But in the Central African country of Gabon these park rangers, also known as eco-guards, aren’t going it alone. Now the U.S military is joining the fight by helping to train the rangers who protect the elephants. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb gives us an exclusive look at the counter-poaching effort in central Gabon.

Most Jailed Journalists? China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt Again Top Annual CPJ Report

The number of journalists imprisoned globally remains near a record high, according to an annual survey released Wednesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which identifies China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as the world’s largest jailers of reporters.

“For the fourth consecutive year, hundreds of journalists are imprisoned globally as authoritarians like Xi Jinping, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Mohammad bin Salman, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi show no signs of letting up on the critical media,” says CPJ’s 2019 Prison Census.

Although the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide slipped from 253 to 245 in 2019, the New York-based press freedom watchdog also says that journalists charged with reporting “false” or “fake news” continues to climb.

“The number charged with ‘false news’ rose to 30, compared with 28 last year,” says the report, explaining that the charge, most prolifically levied in Egypt, “has climbed steeply since 2012, when CPJ found only one journalist worldwide facing the allegation.”

“In the past year, repressive countries, including Russia and Singapore, have enacted laws criminalizing the publication of ‘fake news.’”

This year’s census marks the first time since 2015 that Turkey did not rank as the world’s largest jailer, in part because Ankara, “having stamped out virtually all independent reporting, released journalists awaiting trial or appeal.”

China — second only to Turkey as one of the world’s most repressive media environments for years — has 47 journalists in prison, the same number as it did in 2018, which largely resulted from reporters attempting to document large-scale persecution of the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang.

“In one recent Chinese case, Sophia Huang Xueqin, a freelancer who formerly worked as an investigative reporter at Chinese outlets, was arrested in October shortly after describing on her blog what it was like to march with the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong,” the report states.

Saudi Arabia, “where the number of journalists jailed has risen steadily since 2011,” the report states, is currently holding 26 reporters behind bars amid allegations of torture.

A Turkish police officer walks past a picture of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prior to a ceremony, near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, marking the one-year anniversary of his death, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019.

The growing number of arrests and documented abuse, say CPJ researchers, reflect a brutal crackdown on dissent under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom U.S. and UN officials blame for the October 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul.

The crown prince told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” in September accepted responsibility for Kashoggi’s murder, but denied that it was done on his order. 

Most of the 26 reporters currently imprisoned in Egypt, CPJ reports, are prosecuted en masse, brought before a judge in groups, typically to face charges of terrorism and “fake news” reports.

Egyptian government officials, much like their counterparts in Turkey, China, Russian, and Iran, typically insist they target only reporters who aim to destabilize their respective countries.

CPJ’s 2019 census also says Iran saw an uptick of journalist incarcerations in 2019, as did Russia, which now has seven reporters in state custody.

“Of 38 journalists jailed in sub-Saharan Africa, the bulk remain in Eritrea, where most have not been heard from for nearly two decades,” the report says, adding that Cameroon has the second worst record of African nations, while evidence of free-speech safeguards are backsliding in Ethiopia and Nigeria.

Three journalists are jailed in the Americas, with incarcerations in Venezuela, Honduras, and Cuba.

“The highest number of journalists imprisoned in any year since CPJ began keeping track is 273 in 2016,” the report states. “After China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the worst jailers are Eritrea, Vietnam, and Iran.”

CPJ’s annual census does not account for disappeared journalists or those held by non-state actors. The survey accounts only for journalists in government custody as of 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2019.

Afghan Government Downplays Media Report; Analysts Have Mixed Reactions

The Afghan government, claiming progress in the ongoing war against militants, is downplaying The Washington Post’s recent report that said U.S. officials made overly optimistic statements about the war that they knew to be false.

The Washington Post this week published a trove of government documents, revealing that U.S. officials made false statements and hid evidence about the years long conflict.

Fawad Aman, a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, downplayed the Post report, telling VOA Tuesday that the Afghan forces have made tremendous progress in fighting the militants.

“If we have a comparative glance at the war in Afghanistan, we have had tremendous progress in the past two years,” Aman told VOA.

“For instance, we destroyed IS-K (Islamic State-Khurasan) in eastern Afghanistan. In addition, due to our military operations, Taliban suffered many casualties this year. Taliban’s offensive capabilities have been taken away from them. We are progressing well and Afghan security forces are making progress and we are optimistic about the future,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has denied intentionally misleading the public about the war in Afghanistan.

“There has been no intent by DoD (Department of Defense) to mislead Congress or the public,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell wrote to VOA on Monday. “The information contained in the interviews was provided to SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) for the express purpose of inclusion in SIGAR’s public reports.”

Implications of the revelation

Analysts have had mixed reactions, however, about whether the recent report reveals anything major that has not been published over the years by the U.S. government’s watchdog, tasked with overseeing U.S. military expenditure in the country. The report has also renewed debate over U.S. engagement in Afghanistan,

Michael Semple, a longtime expert on Afghanistan, said he thinks that, except for some details, the new report does not reveal anything that was not already known.

“For anyone who has followed Afghanistan closely …, there is nothing new in the latest Washington Post report. A bit more detail, yes, and an updated commentary,” Semple said.

“The main themes in the interviews the WP (Washington Post) obtained were confusion, private pessimism, public optimism and corruption,” he added. “But these themes have been debated for the past 18 years. And to be fair to the Inspector General, who commissioned these interviews, his team has already published a useful series of reports based on the interviews.”

SIGAR was created by the U.S. Congress to provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction efforts.

More debates?

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Wilson Center, echoes Semple’s assessment. However, he said the revelations would likely lead to more debates on Afghanistan in the U.S. Congress.

“The Afghanistan papers don’t reveal much that wasn’t already known,” Kugelman said.

“I imagine these new documents will prompt members of Congress to convene hearings to ask what went wrong,” he added.

Some members of Congress are already talking about the details released in the newspaper’s report.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said Tuesday the U.S. should leave Afghanistan.

“…Our troops deserve so much better, and the public deserves honesty from the Pentagon. We need to declare victory and leave now! U.S. officials misled the public about the war in Afghanistan, confidential documents reveal,” Paul said on Twitter.

This is a MUST READ. Our troops deserve so much better, and the public deserves honesty from the Pentagon. We need to declare victory and leave now! U.S. officials misled the public about the war in Afghanistan, confidential documents reveal. https://t.co/CwfbIsPobP

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) December 10, 2019

Keeping the truth from Americans

Jason H. Campbell, a policy researcher at Washington-based Rand Corp., believes the report highlights U.S. limitations versus an effort to conceal the truth.

“My big takeaway from the Post story is that this is more indicative of the limitations of the U.S. bureaucracy than an indictment on some nefarious and coordinated effort to keep the truth from the American people,” Campbell said.

“Fundamentally, when engaging in a counterinsurgency effort that is a ‘war of choice’ (insofar that there is no immediate and monumental threat to the U.S. homeland), as a bureaucracy you’re constantly redefining what you’re willing to live with and inherently averse to the risks associated with a full withdrawal,” he added.

“Ultimately, however, the political risk of folding up the tents in Afghanistan was collectively seen as greater than sustaining some level of effort so long as there was some progress to point to,” Campbell said.

Matt Dearing, an assistant professor at the Washington-based National Defense University, agreed with Cambell’s assessment. He added, if anything, the papers reveal the frustrations among “stability practitioners” toward unclear policies.

“The Afghanistan papers are a raw display of the frustrations stability practitioners faced – a state-building strategy based on faulty assumptions, unclear vision and goals from policymakers, inconsistent partners, and the inability to forecast beyond one-year deployments,” Dearing said.

“These revelations might be a shock to the vast majority of Americans, but for those who served in Afghanistan, these frustrations are all too real,” he said.

Sanctuaries in Pakistan

Some experts charge that the issue of sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, which has continued to fuel the Afghan war and played a key role in its perpetuation, has been largely ignored in the recent report.

“The report also doesn’t cover many other issues, such as complaints or concerns from many military and civilians experts on Taliban sanctuaries, their network of support, and other political matters such as in early times of the war when Talban were ready for talks with the Afghan government,” said Sher Jan Ahmadzai, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“Those and many others were many opportunities gone in vain,” Ahmadzai added.

Peace talks

Since 2018, the U.S. has stepped up efforts to seek a negotiated settlement to the war and has since engaged in direct talks with the Taliban. Those talks fell apart in September 2019 after Trump canceled the negotiations, citing increased violence in Afghanistan perpetrated by the militants in an attempt to gain more leverage at the negotiating table.

Both sides restarted negotiations Saturday after a three-month delay. Some experts believe the recent revelations would not harm the talks.

“I do think there will be increased public support in the U.S. for peace talks, because Americans, now understanding how messy this war has become, will want their government to expedite plans to leave Afghanistan,” Kugelman, of the Wilson Center, said.

The Afghan war has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members and cost Washington nearly $1 trillion.

VOA’s Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this story.

Haitian Slums Descend into Anarchy as Crisis Sparks Worst Violence in Years

Venite Bernard’s feet are bloodied and torn because, she said, she had no time to grab her sandals when she fled her shack with her youngest children as gangsters roamed the Haitian capital’s most notorious slum, shooting people in their homes.

Now the 47-year-old Bernard and her family are camped in the courtyard of the town hall of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, along with more than 200 others, fleeing an outbreak of violence that is part of what civic leaders say is the country’s worst lawlessness in more than a decade.

“Bandits entered the homes of some people and beat them, and they were shooting,” Bernard said through her tears, lying on a rug in the shade of a tree. “Everyone was running so I left as quickly as I could with the children.”

United Nations peacekeeping troops withdrew from Haiti in 2017 after 15 years, saying they had helped to re-establish law and order in the poorest country in the Americas, where nearly 60 percent of the population survives on less than $2.40 a day.

But that left a security vacuum that has been exacerbated over the past year by police forces being diverted to deal with protests against President Jovenel Moise.

“With limited resources, they have been unable to contain the activity of gangs as they might have wished,” said Serge Therriault, U.N. police commissioner in Haiti in an interview.

Demonstrators loot a burning truck after the wake of demonstrators killed during the protests to demand the resignation of Haitian president Jovenel Moise in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 19, 2019.
Demonstrators loot a burning truck after the wake of demonstrators killed during the protests to demand the resignation of Haitian president Jovenel Moise in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 19, 2019.

An economic downturn with ballooning inflation and a lack of investment in low income districts has also helped boost crime, turning them into no-go areas.

The situation – which diplomats fear represents a growing threat to regional stability that could have knock-on effects on migration and drugs and weapons trafficking – is causing alarm in international circles.

The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on Haiti on Tuesday, its first in 20 years.

Moise’s critics say he has lost control of the country and should resign. The 51-year old says the situation is already calming down and he will carry out his full term.

Residents say gangs fight over territory where they extract “protection” fees and carry out drugs and arms trades.

Politicians across the spectrum are using the gangs to repress or foment dissent, providing them with weapons and impunity, according to human rights advocates and ordinary Haitians.

“When those in power pay them, the bandits stop the population from participating in the anti-government protests,” said Cite Soleil resident William Dorélus. “When they receive money from the opposition, they force people to take to the streets.”

Both opposition leaders and the government deny the accusations.

Impunity Breeds Crime

Moise said in an interview with Reuters last month he was working on strengthening Haiti’s police force and had revived a commission to get gang members to disarm.

“Allegations of unlawful violence will be investigated and responded to by our justice system as a matter of priority,” the presidency wrote in a statement to Reuters on Tuesday.

Critics say, however, that under his watch, authorities have failed to prosecute gang leaders, effectively giving the criminals carte blanche and weakening the authority of police.

“Every time the police stop a gangster, there is always the intervention of some authority or another to free them,” said Pierre Esperance, who runs Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) that monitors rights violations.

Esperance, who addressed Tuesday’s Congress hearing, said more than 40 police officers had been killed this year, compared with 17 last year.

A boy eats next to makeshift shelters at La Saline neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 8, 2019.
A boy eats next to makeshift shelters at La Saline neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 8, 2019.

The most high-profile case of apparent impunity is the massacre a year ago in the neighborhood of La Saline, a hotbed of mobilization against Moise’s government, according to rights advocates.

Over two days, gangs killed at least 26 people while police failed to intervene, according to a U.N. report. Eyewitnesses cited in the report say they saw a senior government official with the gang members.

“These allegations raise the possibility of a complicity between the gangs and state authorities,” the U.N. wrote.

The government eventually fired the official, who denied any involvement. Neither he nor anyone else has been arrested or prosecuted over the massacre.

“This dossier (on the La Saline massacre) is in the hands of the justice system,” Moise told Reuters.

Lo Saline residents say they feel abandoned to their fate.

“We never received an official visit after these events,” said Marie Lourdes Corestan, 55, who said she found her 24-year old son’s corpse among a pile of mutilated bodies and whose house was burnt down. “The bandits said they would come back and not distinguish between children, women, and men.”

There have been six massacres since Moise took office, according to the RNDDH, the most recent one last month.

The U.N.’s Therriault said a recent waning of protests was allowing police officers to regain a grip on the overall security situation and Cite Soleil Mayor Jean Hislain Frederic said authorities hoped to convince people to return home next week.

But many, including Bernard, who has been unable to locate her two eldest sons, say they are too afraid.

“I hope my boys are not dead,” she said. “I wish for the end of this violence, and that God helps us to find somewhere to live.”

Finland’s Parliament Picks World’s Youngest Sitting PM

Finland’s parliament chose Sanna Marin as the country’s new prime minister Tuesday, making the 34-year-old the world’s youngest sitting head of government.

Marin is heading a five-party, center-left coalition. The four other parties in the coalition are headed by women _ three of whom are in their early 30s.

The Nordic country’s Parliament, the 200-seat Eduskunta approved Marin in a 99-70 vote. The government has a comfortable majority of 117 seats.

President Sauli Niinisto will formally hand Marin her mandate later Tuesday, after which she will officially become prime minister.

The appointment of Marin and her new government on Tuesday allows Marin to represent Finland at the European Union summit in Brussels later this week . Finland currently holds the bloc’s rotating presidency until the end of the year.

       

 

 

Algerian Court Convicts Two Ex-Prime Ministers of Corruption

Two former prime ministers of Algeria were convicted and sentenced to prison Tuesday for corruption-related charges in a landmark trial, unleashing cheers of joy from pro-democracy activists who want an overhaul of the gas-rich country’s political system.
                   
The verdict came amid high political tensions just two days before a controversial presidential election to replace President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, pushed out of office in April after 20 years in power.
                   
Protesters gathered outside and inside the courthouse in Algiers Tuesday to hear the verdict against Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, some shouting “Gang of gangsters!” and many waving or wearing Algerian flags. Police surrounded the courthouse.
                   
Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years in prison and $16,000 in fines. Sellal was sentenced to 12 years in prison and $8,000 in fines. The men, who deny wrongdoing, have 10 days to appeal.
                   
Both served under Bouteflika. Protesters rose up against Bouteflika earlier this year in part because of anger at corruption.
                   
Four other former government ministers and businessmen were also convicted in the case, which focused on a car manufacturing corruption scandal, allegedly involving huge bribes, inflated invoices and dodgy loans. Bouteflika’s former campaign manager was acquitted.
                   
Unusually, the trial was televised, as authorities sought to show the public that they are taking protesters’ concerns about corruption, transparency and accountability seriously.
                   
Thursday’s presidential election loomed over the trial. Algerian authorities are hoping the trial will help convince the public that they are serious about reforming themselves and persuade people to go out and vote.
                   
Algeria’s peaceful, 9-month-old protest movement dismisses the election as a sham because it’s organized by the existing power structure. Protesters want a whole new political system instead.
                   
“It’s a historic trial,” law professor Rachid Lerari told The Associated Press. “Future leaders will think twice before using public money” for private gain.

Hearings Open at UN Court Over Myanmar’s Rohingya Crackdown

The International Court of Justice opened a historic three-day hearing Tuesday into accusations of genocide brought against Myanmar over the military’s brutal 2017 crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims.  

The hearings are based on a lawsuit filed last month at the United Nations-sponsored court in The Hague by the small West African nation Gambia, on behalf of the 57-member Organization for Islamic Cooperation.  Gambia is accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.  

FILE – Some Rohingya men have just arrived from Myanmar, at an unidentified place in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh.

More than 700,000 Rohingyas fled across the border into Bangladesh in August 2017 to escape a scorched earth campaign launched by the Myanmar military in response to attacks on security posts by Rohingya militants in western Rakhine state.  A U.N. investigation concluded the campaign was carried out “with genocidal intent,” based on interviews with survivors who gave numerous accounts of massacres, extrajudicial killings, gang rapes and the torching of entire villages.

“All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity” Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou urged the court in an opening statement.

Myanmar will be defended at the IJC by de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her official role as foreign minister. She is expected to reiterate her government’s claim that the military was targeting Rohingya militants when she addresses the court on Wednesday.

Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy stand against Myanmar’s then-ruling military junta, which placed her under house arrest for 15 years until finally freeing her in 2010.  But her defense of the military’s actions against the Rohingyas has wrecked her reputation among the international community as an icon of democracy and human rights.  

The Rohingya were excluded from a 1982 citizenship law that bases full legal status through membership in a government-recognized indigenous group. The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, effectively rendering the ethnic group stateless.

 

Trump, Dems in Tentative Deal on North American Trade Pact

House Democrats have reached a tentative agreement with labor leaders and the White House over a rewrite of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal that has been a top priority for President Donald Trump. That’s according to a Democratic aide not authorized to discuss the talks and granted anonymity.

Details still need to be finalized and the U.S. Trade Representative will need to submit the implementing legislation to Congress. No vote has been scheduled.

The new, long-sought trade agreement with Mexico and Canada would give both Trump and his top adversary, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a major accomplishment despite the turmoil of his likely impeachment.

An announcement could come as early as Monday. Pelosi, D-Calif., still has to officially sign off on the accord, aides said. The aides requested anonymity because the agreement is not official.

The new trade pact would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated most tariffs and other trade barriers involving the United States, Mexico and Canada. Critics, including Trump, labor unions and many Democratic lawmakers, branded NAFTA a job killer for America because it encouraged factories to move south of the border, capitalize on low-wage Mexican workers and ship products back to the U.S. duty free.

Weeks of back-and-forth, closely monitored by Democratic labor allies such as the AFL-CIO, have brought the two sides together. Pelosi is a longtime free trade advocate and supported the original NAFTA in 1994. Trump has accused Pelosi of being incapable of passing the agreement because she is too wrapped up in impeachment.

Democrats from swing districts have agitated for finishing the accord, in part to demonstrate some accomplishments for their majority.

By ratifying the agreement, Congress could lift uncertainty over the future of U.S. commerce with its No. 2 (Canada) and No. 3 (Mexico) trading partners last year and perhaps give the U.S. economy a modest boost. U.S. farmers are especially eager to make sure their exports to Canada and Mexico continue uninterrupted.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last year negotiated the replacement agreement with Canada and Mexico. But the new USMCA accord required congressional approval and input from top Democrats like Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who have been engaged in lengthy, detailed negotiations over enforcement provisions and other technical details.

The pact contains provisions designed to nudge manufacturing back to the United States. For example, it requires that 40% to 45% of cars eventually be made in countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour — that is, in the United States and Canada and not in Mexico.

The trade pact picked up some momentum after Mexico in April passed a labor-law overhaul required by USMCA. The reforms are meant to make it easier for Mexican workers to form independent unions and bargain for better pay and working conditions, narrowing the gap with the United States.

Mexico ratified USMCA in June and has budgeted more money later this year to provide the resources needed for enforcing the agreement.