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Azerbaijan human rights situation ‘urgent’

Photo by Flickr user bowers8554

Photo by Flickr user bowers8554

The state of human rights in Azerbaijan requires “urgent attention,” the commissioner of a European watchdog organization said Wednesday.

Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights at the 47-nation Council of Europe, said in a press release Wednesday that “no progress” had been made to curtail human rights abuses since the COE reported on them in August.

In particular, Muižnieks highlighted government crackdowns on freedom of expression, citing “[u]njustified and selective criminal prosecution of people expressing dissenting views, including journalists, bloggers and activists.”

“This is unacceptable,” the Commissioner said.

The release likewise charged the governing New Azerbaijan Party, headed by President Ilham Aliyev, with restricting freedom of association and assembly, and violating property rights, accusations the Azeri government denies.

“There are no problems with human rights in Azerbaijan,” said New Azerbaijan Party deputy executive secretary Mubariz Gurbanly. “Those who talk about human rights violations in our country are biased and try to blacken Azerbaijan’s image.”

The post Azerbaijan human rights situation ‘urgent’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Why the White House is turning its attention to Asia

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GWEN IFILL: For more on what’s become of the Asia pivot, I’m joined by Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs during President Obama’s first term, and Michael Auslin, a resident scholar of Asian studies and director of Japan studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

So, Kurt Campbell, what is the stated and the actual purpose of this visit at this point?

KURT CAMPBELL, Former State Department Official: I think it’s pretty clear-cut, actually.

The president’s going to reassure friends and allies in Asia to underscore that this pivot, this rebalance to Asia is significant, it’s going to continue, and that there is a deep recognition, I would argue a bipartisan recognition, that the lion’s share of the history of the 21st century is going to be written in Asia, and we want a large part of that overall picture.

And I think the trip, it is the first time the president has gone to Asia when it’s not part of a multilateral summit. And so, in each one of these countries, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, he has discrete tasks, build stronger relationships with each of these leaders, but overhanging the whole set of challenges in each of the countries is how he manages the relationship with China.

He’s got to walk a fine line. He’s got to send a message of resolve and determination. But he’s also got to make clear that we’re prepared, in fact, we need to work with China going forward.

GWEN IFILL: Michael Auslin, as you look at the president’s itinerary, what is significant about where he is going, each of these separate, discrete places, and where he is not going?

MICHAEL AUSLIN, American Enterprise Institute: Well, he has got two key allies that he’s going to first in Japan and then South Korea.

And very importantly, these two have had terrible relations over the past years. One of the big things he needs to do is to try to get them to work together. And so I think that is sending a message that he is going to them first.

He is going to Malaysia, where he has had an excellent first term working with Prime Minister Najib and trying to maintain that and build on it, and, of course, the Philippines, where, as your report noted, we have a very tense, very long relationship with them, but one we’re on the cusp, potentially, of moving into a new era, getting new access to our forces and our bases.

GWEN IFILL: But if China such a big deal, as Kurt Campbell says, why not China on this trip?

MICHAEL AUSLIN: Well, the president goes to China. He has been to China before. And I think there are times that you go and you talk with allies and partners and friends and times that you don’t.

I think that what you see among our allies and friends is a real concern about the substance of the pivot. Is it being adequately resourced? Is it just rhetoric? And the president has said it now for several years. And, obviously, there’s still concerns.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about that, Kurt Campbell. What is significant about — you have written that he is reformulating priorities, his turn is finally occurring.

KURT CAMPBELL: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: What is the evidence of that?

KURT CAMPBELL: Well, look, this is not something that you can measure immediately, right?

It’s going to take a significant period of time. The stepping up of our game involves diplomatic engagement. I think Michael rightly points out why we are visiting these countries. To give you a sense, this is the first visit of a president of the United States to Malaysia since 1967. The streets of Kuala Lumpur were dirt and there were water buffaloes roaming around.

Malaysia is like our 10th or 11th largest trading partner, right? So there’s a diplomatic component. There’s an economic component. The president is going to be underscoring the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There are a number of people-to-people exchanges.

We tend to focus on the military dimension, which is undeniably important. But, frankly, we have the resources. Part of what is going to need to take place is a reformulation of some of our capabilities. We’re going have to focus more on naval, air assets, and a little bit less on army and ground forces. And that’s going to take time.

GWEN IFILL: But what — to what degree, Michael Auslin, has this been overshadowed by administration attention elsewhere, especially in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan and Iraq and now with Ukraine?

MICHAEL AUSLIN: It has.

It’s one of, I think, the problems with the rhetorical flourishes of the pivot, is that regional powers choose to turn away, so to speak, from other areas and focus on one area, not a superpower. And if diplomacy is measured in inches, the problem is that pivot, in perception in Asia, is measured in centimeters.

I think one of the biggest issues — and we can all agree that the execution of the pivot hasn’t been to the level that we all had hoped. Senator Menendez released a report on that last week. Our top commanders in the region have said the same.

But I think the bigger issue is that we never fully articulated what the goal of the pivot was. If we needed it, what was it for? Is it to control China or counter China? Is it to ensure American political or military dominance? We never quite explained what it was for, and therefore everyone could read into the pivot what they wanted, and everyone could be disappointed when it didn’t live up to their expectations.

GWEN IFILL: Kurt Campbell, you’re one of the — we keep using the word pivot, but you are one of the architects of this.

KURT CAMPBELL: Yes.

Look, all I would say is that, during the first term, right, if you look at the previous 12 or so years, no strategic statements, no detailed arguments about what the United States was about. Several important articles and speeches by Secretary Clinton. Very clear statement of President Obama what we were trying to accomplish in Asia.

I believe that they have laid out a very clear game plan for what we’re going to need to do that involves the kind of difficult choices with respect to building a relationship with China.

GWEN IFILL: But economic issues, diplomatic issues, power…

KURT CAMPBELL: Everything.

GWEN IFILL: Geopolitical power issues?

KURT CAMPBELL: Look, 50 percent of the world’s economy now is focused in Asia.

We cannot be a prosperous nation unless we step up our game economically. We are going have to export more to the largest growing middle classes in the world. There’s going to be more investment from Asia into the United States. And I think, as Michael indicated, there are huge security challenges in Asia.

And we have kept the peace there for decades. Our role is still important. So I think our role is vital. If anything, it’s going to go up over time. And I think there’s a broad recognition that this will not take, you know, a couple of years. It will take a decade or more to step up our game substantially.

GWEN IFILL: But Michael Auslin, do our partners in this effort, at this point, halfway through the second term almost, do they trust to us execute this pivot in a way that will benefit them, as well as the Asian — the nation’s directly involved?

MICHAEL AUSLIN: Well, I think, as Kurt said, it’s going to take a long time. But, unfortunately, the sands, the waters are shifting in Asia as we are moving more of our focus there.

You know, Admiral Locklear, commander of Pacific Command, testified before Congress last month that the balance of power in Asia is shifting against us and towards the Chinese. That is what our allies are looking at right now. It is another issue. Gwen, I think of form vs. function.

We can have all the forms of moving 60 percent of the Navy to Asia. The question is, what for? Again, we haven’t fully articulated why we’re there. And one of the key issues, which we mentioned here in the report, the territorial disputes. That’s what our Asian friends and allies concern themselves with. That is what they care about. And if we don’t get involved or show that we are getting more involved, then, to them, the pivot means nothing.

Now, the president had a very strong statement in the

Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun yesterday where he stated that it comes under Article 5, the Senkakus. And that should begin moving the needle on their concern. But the fact is, they have watched this for a while. The Philippines, the Vietnamese, everyone has seen us talk about what we’re going do. But they’re dealing with its daily effects of what China is doing and waiting for us to get involved.

KURT CAMPBELL: Gwen, can I just…

GWEN IFILL: One final — briefly.

KURT CAMPBELL: Look, one narrow measurement on military power, absolutely, power shifting more towards China, but we have many other assets in Asia, a lot of friends.

I will trade — I will take our friends, our structure of engagement over the one close friend that China has, which is North Korea.

GWEN IFILL: Kurt Campbell, chair and CEO the Asia Group, and Michael Auslin, AEI director of Japan studies, thank you both very much.

KURT CAMPBELL: Thank you, Gwen. It’s great.

The post Why the White House is turning its attention to Asia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Obama kicks off four-nation Asia tour with visit to Japan

Obama Asia visit

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GWEN IFILL: President Obama’s trip to reassure allies in Asia kicked off with handshakes, smiles, sushi, and angry words from China and North Korea.

When the president landed in Tokyo in the evening, he was the first U.S. leader to visit Japan in nearly two decades. Mr. Obama was greeted by U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, who joined him for a sushi dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Tokyo is the first stop on a four-nation Asian tour, delayed six months by last fall’s government shutdown in Washington.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When I announced our desire to pivot and focus on the Asia Pacific region...

GWEN IFILL: The trip is also the latest step in a stated policy shift toward Asia, and away from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama laid out that goal 18 months ago while visiting Thailand.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Once, I think, we had not had the same kind of presence in a region that is growing faster, developing faster than anyplace else in the world.

GWEN IFILL: But that presence and focus has taken a back seat to other international concerns in the Middle East, and now in Ukraine, as a resurgent Russia flexes its muscle. Still, many in Japan hope the president’s trip will yield results.

TORU NAKAMURA, Government Worker (through interpreter): Hopefully, he can improve Japan-China-South Korea relations and do something about TPP.

GWEN IFILL: TPP is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a mammoth trade deal being negotiated among the U.S., Japan and 10 other nations. It would account for 40 percent of global trade.

The president also plans stops in South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. But he will not be traveling to China, the emerging dominant power in the region. There have been growing tensions between Beijing and Tokyo over a disputed chain of islands. The U.S. sides with Japan, and Chinese officials accused Washington today of trying to cage their nation.

QIN GAN, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, China (through interpreter): The U.S. should be discreet in words and deeds to play a constructive role, to contribute to regional peace and stability.

GWEN IFILL: In South Korea, President Obama will arrive in the shadow of national calamity, the sinking of a ferry with hundreds of schoolchildren aboard.

The visit has also incurred the wrath of North Korea, amid reports it may be preparing for another nuclear test.

MAN (through interpreter): Obama’s trip is a reactionary and dangerous one, as it is aimed at escalating confrontation and bringing dark clouds of a nuclear arms race to hang over this unstable region.

GWEN IFILL: From Seoul, the president travels to Malaysia, where the government is under pressure over the failure to find a missing airliner after seven weeks.

And the president’s final stop, the Philippines, has seen sometimes-violent protests in recent days over plans for an expanded U.S. military presence

The post Obama kicks off four-nation Asia tour with visit to Japan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Will violent rivalry tip South Sudan toward famine?

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we take a closer look at this continuing crisis with Nancy Lindborg. She’s the assistant administrator for humanitarian assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development. She was recently in South Sudan. And Khalid Medani, he’s an associate professor of political science with a focus on Africa at McGill University. And he is originally from Sudan.

We welcome you both.

Nancy Lindborg, what is the latest on the situation there? 

NANCY LINDBORG, USAID: Well, as you have just seen, this is an absolutely horrifying attack.

And it is part of what we are seeing as an escalating series of killings that began last November. And it’s becoming a cycle of reprisals. It is targeting what we just saw, women and children, which is — that’s a war crime. The United States is supporting the U.N. commission of inquiry and we’re actively looking to identify individuals who might be charged under the recent sanctions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is at stake here? Are the aid agencies like USAID, where you are, are they able to keep people safe?

NANCY LINDBORG: There is a giant mobilization of humanitarian assistance under way in South Sudan, both to try to reach those people who have rushed to the U.N. compounds for safety.

There is also a huge number of people who are hard to reach in a country that has very few roads and is even in the best of times teetering on food insecurity. Our concern is that if we are not able to get assistance to people in the compounds, as well as in the hard-to-reach parts of South Sudan, that this country will tip over into famine and disease, as people are crowded into these compounds with very little ability to have clean water and sanitation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Professor Medani, help us understand the origin of this. We heard the country’s foreign minister say that the former vice president, Riek Machar, is behind this. Is that the case?

KHALID MEDANI, McGill University: I think that it is the case that his militia, which is organized around his Nuer ethnic group, is definitely behind it, despite claims to the contrary.

But I think that that is clearly evident with respect to the roots of the conflict that began on December 15. It is essentially a political rivalry between Riek Machar and the president, Salva Kiir, who is Dinka. So the origins and unfortunately the violence begins as early as December 15, at least in this latest stage.

And actually the Dinkas in Juba were the ones who initiated a lot of the violence against the Nuer in the capital. And, of course, it quickly expanded from the capital into the northern areas, in two primary states, Unity, where Bentiu is, and also in Malakal, which is a town in Upper Nile state.

So the fact is that as bad as this particular massacre is, there has been violence on both sides. And at the root of the conflict, of course, is this political rivalry between these two political leaders that are linked to these different ethnic groups.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much — so how much of this is political rivalry, as you are describing it, and how much of it is ethnic between these two different groups?

KHALID MEDANI: Well, I would say that it is — of course, the consequences have been, as we see, have to do with interethnic conflict of a very violent variety.

But at the very root, I think that the real crux of the problem is political. I mean, initially Salva Kiir dismissed Vice President Riek Machar, accusing him of trying engineer a military coup against him. And of course Riek Machar, who is the head of the Nuer militia, denied that and quickly took up arms against him.

So the political rivalry is very, very important. And also it’s very important to highlight that the great kind of levels of violence that we’re seeing or witnessing are essentially centered around the two main oil-producing states. Bentiu of course is the oil hub of Unity state, where a lot of the oil is exported.

And also we have — after this massacre, there was yet another one in — a smaller one in Bor, which is in Jonglei state, also. So what we see is that a lot of the violence is centered around the struggle over resources and oil on the part of both the opposition, the guerrillas and rebels, but also, of course, on the part of the government that is trying to retain these very oil-rich areas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Lindborg, from the perspective of the United States and other countries who are trying to calm things down from the outside, is there a concern that this could spiral out of control and become — even though the professor said it’s not purely an ethnic fight, clearly, that’s an element here — that this could become another version of Rwanda, where you had ethnic killing on a massive scale?

NANCY LINDBORG: Well, we’re — we’re clearly horrified at the massacres that have just occurred.

And the hope and the concern is that you have leaders right now who are choosing their own political power struggle over their people. They have the opportunity to pull that back. There are peace talks going on. We have just deployed our special envoy to Ethiopia to try to see if the peace talk process can bring these leaders back from the brink.

I was in Bor, the U.N. compound that had killings last week, when I was there just a few weeks ago. I met with a woman named Mary who had a two-day old baby, along with her five other children. She’s been on this compound since the violence in mid-December. We are looking at some of these places that will be underwater when the rains come. And if we are not able to reach the hard-to-reach areas through better access that is now you being blocked by both sides, we are looking at famine. These leaders need to care about their people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Professor Medani, we reported earlier that — and we have just referred to it again — the talks have broken down. What needs to happen for the two sides to come together, reach some kind of an agreement?

KHALID MEDANI: Well, unfortunately, as you could probably surmise from the actions of both on the part of the government and the rebels, is that they are trying essentially to establish facts on the ground.

Rebel leader Riek Machar has actually formally announced that his strategy is to try to take control of the oil-producing areas. So what they’re trying to do, of course, is to establish facts on the ground so they can have the upper hand in negotiation. This is one of the reasons that this conflict has spiralled out of control and wreaked so much havoc against the civilian population.

But I think in terms of your question, what is important is to have a much more vigorous kind of political, you know, settlement. And that requires really encouraging regional countries, Uganda, Kenya, and even Sudan up north, and of course the African Union, to energize this political process. So…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is that happening now?

KHALID MEDANI: It’s not happening now, unfortunately.

There is — of course, the U.S. administration has talked about the possibility of sanctions with respect to particular individuals. But right now, we have Ugandan troops in — on the ground, in South Sudan, on the side of the president, Salva Kiir, and so it is very difficult for them to play honest broker, so to speak.

So what we need is, I think, a much more energetic, regional effort that includes the African Union, but also these major players in the region who can really put pressure on these rebel groups, because in many ways they’re supporting them directly or indirectly. And that is I think what is very, very important and needs to happen for these peace negotiations to stick.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Professor Khalid Medani and Nancy Lindborg, we thank you both very much.

NANCY LINDBORG: Thank you.

KHALID MEDANI: You’re welcome.

The post Will violent rivalry tip South Sudan toward famine? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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