#AceNewsReport – Feb.26: For far too long, our nation’s indigenous people have experienced a high incidence of violent crime, much of it directed at women and children. To address this situation and find solutions to remediate it, in November 2019 President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Order 13898establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives:
‘Operation Lady Justice’s First Report on Increasing the Safety of American Indians and Alaska Natives’
Designated Operation Lady Justice (OLJ), the task force comprises seven members and is assisted by more than 150 representatives from components of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Assisted by Executive Director Marcia Good of DOJ’s Office of Tribal Justice, who coordinates day-to-day functions, the task force was divided into 10 working groups, each of which focuses on a directive of the EO through activities such as the following:
Consulting with tribal leaders and community members on the scope and nature of the issues regarding missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives
Developing model protocols and procedures for new and unsolved cases of missing and murdered persons, including collecting, sharing, and using data
Establishing a multidisciplinary and multijurisdictional team including tribal law enforcement, DOJ, and DOI to review cold cases
Identifying best practices for law enforcement response
To document its progress, the task force is required to submit two reports: one at the end of the first year of work, and another at the conclusion of operations in November 2021. The first report, published in December 2020, detailed the task force’s accomplishments in six areas mandated by the EO.
1. Administration of OLJ
Among the accomplishments in this area was the establishment of the Operation Lady Justice web site with links to listening session transcripts, recordings, and a wide variety of resources compiled by the working group including fact sheets on topics such as victim services and Amber Alerts for missing children.
The task force also provided regular briefings to the White House and government organizations and coordinated their activities with other federal efforts, such as those focused on human trafficking.
As a logo for the OLJ program, the task force adopted Choctaw Nation artist DG Smalling’s painting entitled Lady Justice.
2. Listening Sessions and Meetings
The task force listened and discussed issues with tribal leaders, impacted families, and community members in 17 sessions hosted by organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, and DOJ’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council.
In “a national call to action,” 10 virtual sessions hosted by the DOJ’s Office of Community Policing Services (COPS Office), the task force and other stakeholders discussed challenges and successful approaches to addressing missing American Indian and Alaska Native cases with tribal law enforcement leaders from across the country.
3. Model Protocols and Procedures
Working with the Attorney General’s Initiative on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP Initiative) to develop protocols and procedures, this team gathered input from tribal leadership, law enforcement, and community members.
Based on this feedback, they drafted six model guides for tribes to use in developing response plans for missing persons cases. Focused on topics such as Community Outreach, Victim Services, and Media Communications, they will provide practical guidance for tribal needs, resources, and culture.
4. Cold Case Teams
As part of OLJ, DOI established seven teams dedicated to reviewing cold cases involving missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The Cold Case working group has compiled and presented training for these new investigators and other team members on topics such as forensics (with a focus on DNA), trauma-informed victim services, and the effective use of resources such as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) and the FBI lab. They also provided guidance for leveraging grant funding for testing and investigations and for offering victim-centered services to families during cold case investigations.
To provide guidance for cold case investigations, the COPS Office provided funding for the development of protocols for operational investigations in tribal jurisdictions as well as for procedures for capturing data and performing investigations of missing and murdered native persons.
5. Best Practices
To improve clarity about roles, authorities, and jurisdiction in cases involving missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native persons, this team is developing and publishing best practices guidance for federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and also facilitating cooperative multijurisdictional agreements on trauma-informed response to victims.
Also, as a special project under the COPS Office’s Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC), an OLJ team worked with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to reinvigorate the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program to develop a training curriculum for tribal law enforcement. Now titled the Volunteer Engagement Program, it is being piloted by several tribes, and OLJ anticipates that additional tribes will adopt it in the future. By implementing this program, tribes can hire and manage volunteers to help in missing person cases.
6. Education and Outreach Campaigns
This working group supported the development of the OLJ website, which describes OLJ and all outreach events in addition to providing links to resources for tribal law enforcement, communities, and victims and their families.
The team also worked to raise awareness of the OLJ Task Force through publication of op-eds in a variety of media while also developing and executing an education and outreach campaign for tribal communities most affected by crime.
As a result of their efforts, an entire issue of the DOJ Journal of Federal Law and Practice, a scholarly publication for the field, has been dedicated to the issues surrounding missing or murdered American Indian and Alaska Native people. The January 2021 edition will feature approximately 25 articles on the topic, with numerous Federal, Tribal, and other authors covering a wide range of topics that impact the response to these cases.
Continuing Projects and Plans for the Coming Year
OLJ will continue to work with other government agencies and tribal law enforcement in all key areas to improve investigations and information sharing and to ensure a more effective response to the complex and critical problem of missing American Indian and Alaska Native people.
In meetings with the task force, many American Indians and Alaska Natives spoke about the numerous challenges they face in the areas of missing persons and murder investigations. But in doing so, they also expressed the belief that the best solutions for tribes comes from the tribes. They need to have a voice in this process, and they will continue to have it in all OLJ task force efforts going forward.
Some Suggestions from Listening Sessions with Tribal Leaders and Members
Develop programs to address intervention and prevention
Establish a national alert system for adults similar to Amber Alert
Improve interagency collaboration
Increase access to the Tribal Access Program, as well as to Amber, Ashanti, and Silver Alerts in Indian communities
Increase state and local training on tribal issues, including enforcement of tribal court orders of protection
Investigate the root causes of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives
Make data on missing persons and murder cases available to the public
#AceFinanceReport – Feb.25: The Victorian Government on Sunday announced a $143 million “Circuit Breaker Support Package” designed to help businesses, including sole traders, that lost income as a result of the five-day lockdown:
#Coronavirus Report: Victorian Government announces support package for businesses hit by coronavirus lockdown’
Restaurants, florists, musicians, artists, wedding celebrants, the events sector and accommodation providers will be among the industries receiving support, Victorian Trade Minister Martin Pakula said.
“They are the businesses that were most profoundly affected by that lockdown and they are the businesses that we are primarily targeting in this support,” he said.
One-off payments and travel vouchers expanded
The package includes $92 million for a program that will provide grants of $2,000 to eligible small businesses, including sole traders.
Applications for the Business Costs Assistance Program open on Monday, and are open to businesses with an annual payroll up to $3 million that incurred costs as a result of the five-day lockdown.
Licensed hospitality venues that have previously been recipients of the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund program will receive an automatic $3,000 payment, Mr Pakula said.
Businesses which get that payment will not be eligible for the Business Costs Assistance Program.
A program that provided support to regional Victorian accommodation businesses is also getting re-booted.
Under the new $16.2 million Victorian Accommodation Support Program, accommodation providers whose bookings were cancelled due to the lockdown could be eligible for payments.
Businesses need to demonstrate they saw cancelled bookings between February 12 and February 17 to be eligible.
Accommodation providers with 10 or fewer cancelled nights will get $2,250, and those with 11 or more cancellations will get $4,500.
A popular regional travel voucher program, which ran out of vouchers in under 30 minutes last time it went live, will also be expanded to include Metropolitan Melbourne.
The Melbourne Travel Voucher Scheme will be launched soon and provide 40,000 vouchers to support travel in metropolitan areas, while an extra 10,000 vouchers will be allocated to regional areas.
Employment Minister Jaala Pulford said the measures were about providing tailored support to specific businesses affected by the lockdown.
“The weekend that circuit breaker coincided with was a weekend that’s often really busy,” she said.
“Mid-summer, great weather for weddings, Valentines Day, Lunar New Year, lots of occasions where people could be expecting to get together and do wonderful things with their loved ones.”
Package welcome but events industry calls for more support
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said last weekend was “devastating for business” and welcomed the support package.
“We think it strikes the right balance in terms of getting support to those industries that need it the most,” he said.
However, he said businesses needed certainty, to help them plan if other lockdowns were announced in the future.
“We understand the virus continues to move, but what we want to see is the parameters that are going to be in place, so that businesses understand that if we start to see cases climb, then we can start to get prepared for a level of lockdown,” he said.
Save Victorian Events, a campaign that started in July 2020, said the events industry was facing a “catastrophe” and needed more targeted support.
“A snap survey overnight has shown this [lockdown] has already caused many events — as far out as September — to be cancelled or moved interstate because the little confidence in holding events in Victoria that was left is now gone,” the group said in a statement.
“We expect this to get worse as the week progresses.”
‘Tunisia: Police Arrest, Using Violence Against LGBTI Activists targeting involved arbitrary arrests, physical assaults, threats to rape and kill, and refusing access to legal counsel’
‘UN Experts Should Investigate Individuals who also smeared them online based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and posted their photos with messages inciting violence against them’
December 10, 2020
“ LGBTI activists who persist in protesting are terrified that security forces will single them out at protests, round them up, and abuse them with impunity,” said Rasha Younes, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces have an obligation to protect the right of peaceful protest, not harass activists whose bold engagement has contributed to Tunisia’s reputation as a regional leader in its progress on human rights.”
The recent accounts of abuse were provided against the backdrop of increased persecution of LGBTI people during the Covid-19 pandemic in Tunisia, where homosexuality is criminalized, and an intensified crackdown on LGBTI organizing in recent years.
The protests, which began in many regions on January 15, 2021 and have been largely peaceful by day, were sparked by declining economic conditions, exacerbated by the pandemic, and fueled by the police’s use of excessive force in response which resulted in one man’s death and numerous injuries.
Insaf Bouhafs, the LGBTI program coordinator at Avocats Sans Frontières(Lawyers Without Borders), told Human Rights Watch that ASF has documented over 1,600 arrests, about 30 percent of them children, at protests. In a report reviewed by Human Rights Watch, ASF documented unsanitary conditions and overcrowding in Bouchoucha detention center in Tunis, in violation of the government’s own hygiene and social distancing regulations to combat the spread of Covid-19, as well as global guidelines. The report says that children were detained alongside adults, which international law prohibits. Many remain detained in abusive conditions, subjected to physical violence by prison authorities.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 LGBTI rights activists, who said they were abused by authorities in distinct incidents, 5 lawyers who represented some of the victims in these cases, and an activist who said he fled the country to escape police persecution. Human Rights Watch also reviewed online footage of apparent police violence, as well as statements by individuals and nongovernmental organizations, and visual media provided by victims documenting incidents of violence and online harassment.
All activists interviewed said police verbally harassed them and threatened them with violence, including three threatened with rape and five threatened with death. Seven said security forces arbitrarily arrested them, and eight said they were harassed online. Nine said they were physically abused at protests or in arbitrary detention, and three said police intimidated them, followed them in the street, and searched for them in their neighborhoods, prompting them to relocate.
As a result of the online harassment, people interviewed said they felt they had to leave their homes and neighborhoods and delete their social media accounts. One activist said he fled the country after police arbitrarily detained and beat him, and his home address and phone number were posted online.
A February 5 statement by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said he had met with security forces, commended their “professionalism in dealing with protests,” and warned against protesters’ attempts to “lure security forces into using violence against them.”
Rania Amdouni, 26, a queer feminist activist, told Human Rights Watch, “I don’t feel safe, even in my apartment. Police came looking for me in my neighborhood. My life is threatened, and my mental health is deteriorating. People are staring at me in the street and harassing me online.” She said she received an online message saying, “We will find you at the protests and we will terrorize you.”
Police arrested a 23-year-old queer activist on February 8, took him to an undisclosed location, and then denied him the right to call a lawyer. A security officer in Mornag prison repeatedly punched him and said, “We will keep you here for 10 years, and your torture will be our duty,” his lawyer told Human Rights Watch. The activist was detained for 10 days in an overcrowded cell, on a charge of “assaulting a public official,” punishable by up to 10 years. On February 17, the First Instance Tribunal in Tunis imposed a five-month suspended sentence in the case.
A 29-year-old intersex queer activist was arbitrarily arrested and harassed by police at a peaceful protest because, they said, they were carrying a banner that provoked an officer. “I realized that they [police officers] are just a gang of men who could physically and sexually assault me with impunity,” they said.
Saif Ayadi, a social worker at Damj Association for Justice and Equality, a Tunis-based LGBT rights group, said, “Police are using homophobic chants in protests against us, calling us ‘faggots’ and ‘sodomites’ who deserve to be killed. They are trying to use our identities to discredit the [general] protest movement, but we are the movement, and our demands are intersectional.”
Human Rights Watch and Damj Association sent a letter to the UN special rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, free expression, and privacy, and on the situation of human rights defenders, as well as the UN independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and EU member states.
The groups urged officials to press the Tunisian government to hold their security forces accountable for violations of international law and ensure that authorities refrain from using unjustified grounds, such as vague “morality” claims, to curtail basic freedoms of sexual and gender minorities, and undermine the rights to free assembly, association, and expression.
The enforcement of the right to privacy, protected under Tunisia’s constitution, provides a critical safeguard against online discrimination, particularly “outing” LGBTI people. The criminalization of homosexuality, under article 230 of the penal code, leaves LGBTI people in Tunisia particularly vulnerable to such discrimination, the consequences of which may lead to ostracization, expulsion from housing, and dismissal from jobs, Human Rights Watch said.
Tunisian authorities should investigate allegations of police violence against activists and immediately release and drop all charges against protesters based on their peaceful assembly, sexual orientation, or gender identity, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should take appropriate measures to prevent and punish speech that incites to violence.
“Tunisian authorities should take note that police repression will not silence activists who have the right to peacefully protest without intimidation and organize without official interference,” Younes said. “UN officials and Tunisia’s allies should press the Tunisian government to immediately halt these abuses and hold security forces accountable.”
Reported Online Harassment, Arbitrary Arrests, Ill-Treatment in Police Custody
Ahmed El-Tounsi, 38 El-Tounsi, a transgender man and LGBT rights activist, said he was leaving a media interview in Le Passage, in downtown Tunis, on February 9 when police forced him into a police vehicle and attacked him. Police told El-Tounsi that they had seen him at protests, and proceeded to beat him “from every direction,” he said. When they saw the mismatch between his ID and gender expression, police officers cursed him and ridiculed his appearance.
Officers then took him to Bab Souika police station and invited other police officers to attack him: “Come meet the sodomite who defends faggots,” El-Tounsi said police told him. “They all began beating me, threw me to the ground, and kicked me,” he said. The police then pushed El-Tounsi out of the station, he said: “I managed to run away. I was terrified.”
Chahine, 23 On February 8, at 12:30 p.m., police arrested Chahine, a queer activist, on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, and took him to an undisclosed location, his lawyer said. Legal representatives from the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LTDH) said they contacted at least four detention centers, as well as the Interior Ministry, to inquire about Chahine’s arrest, but all denied that he was in police custody.
Damj Association, which documented his case, said that the police denied Chahine the right to call a lawyer. He spent 24 hours in pretrial detention in Bouchoucha police station, then was transferred to Mornag prison, northeast of Tunis, where he was detained for 10 days in an overcrowded cell, his lawyer said.
His lawyer said that a security officer at Mornag prison repeatedly punched Chahine in the face and told him, “We will keep you here for 10 years, and your torture will be our duty.” Chahine said that the head of Mornag prison said, “These faggots have filled the prisons. They think they now have a voice.”
LTDH, Damj, and the lawyer said that police questioned Chahine without the presence of a lawyer, and that within 24 hours of his arrest, the public prosecutor, based on the police report, ordered him detained on a charge of “assaulting a public official while performing their duty,” punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. On February 17, the First Instance Tribunal in Tunis issued a five-month suspended sentence in Chahine’s case. The lawyers plan to appeal.
“Damino,” 29 Damino, 29, an intersex and queer activist, said that on January 26, 2021, they were at a peaceful protest on a street in Bardo, near Tunisia’s parliament, carrying a banner that says, “The system is corrupt from the ruler to the government.” A Facebook video shows people who appear to be police in civilian clothes forcefully removing Damino from the protest.
Damino said police accused them of “insulting a police officer,” took them to the barricades near a police station, harassed them based on their intersex identity, and said, “We will do whatever we want with you.” Damino said one officer told his colleague, “Try not to leave a mark when you beat her.”
“I was terrified because I realized that they are just a gang of men who could physically and sexually assault me with impunity,” they told Human Rights Watch.
Since then, Damino said, the same officers had been following them at protests and near their residence. One told them, “If you protest again, we will find you and do to you what we threatened we will,” they said.
Hamza Nasri, 28 On January 18 at 3 p.m., National Security officers arrested Nasri, an LGBT rights activist and Damj member, at a peaceful protest for “insulting a police officer” and “committing an immoral act in public,” both punishable by up to six months in prison, because he had raised his middle finger at police during the protest. Nasri said he spent three days in Bouchoucha detention center, after which he was provisionally released, pending trial, which has not been scheduled.
Makram Jmem, 24 On January 23, at 4:30 p.m., Jmem and other activists, including Ayadi, were leaving a meeting when security officers attacked them from behind, beat them, and forced them into a police vehicle, Jmem said.
The police took Jmem and Ayadi to the 7 eme police station in Tunis, where, Jmem said, officers demanded to search their phones and verbally abused them when they refused, including calling them “faggots” and harassing them based on their presumed sexual orientation. Jmem said officers photographed them without their consent, then released them without charge.
On January 30, at 2 p.m., after an altercation between protesters and security forces, Jmem said, his photo and contact information were posted online. Jmem said he immediately deleted his social media accounts and fled Tunisia for fear that he would be targeted and harmed by security forces. Jmem told Human Rights Watch that in 2018, he was detained for “sodomy” under article 230 and imprisoned for three months.
“Mariam,” 25 “Mariam” (whose real name is not being used for her protection), has been active in the protests, and said that on February 1 four police officers, two in civilian clothing, arrested her on the street:
They threw me in the police car, took me to a deserted street and started beating me. They punched me in the eye, slapped, and kicked me. They took my phone and sent insulting messages to my friends and family. Then they pushed me on the street.
Mariam said that her private information was published on Facebook, including her home address and phone number. She received dozens of calls and voice messages, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, threatening rape and murder, and calling her a “whore” who “deserves to be gang raped.”
On February 4, police arrested her and took her to Bouchoucha detention center, where she spent the night. They accused her of “insulting a police officer” because she had raised her middle finger at a protest.
At the station, a woman officer stripped her and searched her, then told her to “open her legs” so she could “look inside your vagina.” “When I refused, she pulled my hair, banged my head into the wall repeatedly, slapped me, and cursed me,” Mariam said.
“I’m getting harassed at work, the landlord wants me out of the house, I’m terrified to go on the street alone,” she said.
She was provisionally released on February 5, pending trial.
Rania Amdouni, 26 Amdouni, a queer feminist activist, said she has been subjected to online harassment, bullying, and incitement to violence, including death and rape threats. Human Rights Watch has seen many of the posts, including some with her photos alongside personal and contact information. She said that her social media accounts have been hacked multiple times.
Since January, Amdouni has received hundreds of messages on Facebook, some of which Human Rights Watch reviewed, threatening her over her LGBT rights activism and gender expression. One man in a message to Amdouni, said, “We will find you at the protests and we will terrorize you.”
My life is threatened, I don’t feel safe, even in my apartment. Police came looking for me in my neighborhood. My physical safety is threatened, and my mental health is deteriorating. People are staring at me in the street and harassing me online.
On January 11, police searched for Amdouni at her residence, which prompted her to leave her neighborhood and hide out, she said. She also has since deleted her social media accounts.
On January 30, during a peaceful protest, police officers beat her on her chest, calling her a “faggot” who “defends sodomites,” she said. Later, police launched tear gas at the crowd while beating protesters, including Amdouni, with batons, she said.
On February 6, Amdouni said, a group of men attacked her after she raised a rainbow flag at a peaceful protest in Tunis. She said police watched the attack, taunting her, but did not intervene.
“Theresa,” 21 On February 2, at 12 p.m., Theresa, a transgender woman, said police beat and ridiculed her during a protest in Tunis organized by the police, due to her gender expression. Activists said security forces have organized multiple protests to demand an “end to violence against them by protesters and protection of their dignity.” Human Rights Watch reviewed a video that shows the moment police officers attacked Theresa and threw her to the ground. She said:
I had no idea that it was a police protest. One of them said, “You are not one of us, you faggot scum. You and all the sodomites like you are the reason God has not blessed us with rainy seasons!” A large group of officers began beating me, threw me to the ground, and stomped on my head, then kicked me while I was begging them to stop. I ran away, but I’m terrified to leave my house.
Intensified Crackdown on LGBT Organizing
Ayadi said that people he believes to be police officers entered his residence in downtown Tunis on December 22, 2020 during his absence and tampered with his work files and devices. No valuables were taken. Human Rights Watch reviewed images of the apartment, which show a broken door and scattered files.
On the same day, police officers took a staff member of Damj from the street in Barcelone Square in Tunis and beat him in a police vehicle to compel him to share information about the association’s activities, he said. After three hours of interrogation, he said, police pushed him out of the vehicle near the Bab Alioua metro station.
Other staff members of the association told Human Rights Watch that the police frequently harass and intimidate them on the street or near Damj’s offices, including questioning them about the organization’s activities.
Badr Baabou, director of Damj, said unidentified people had burglarized his house in Nahj el-Bacha, Tunis, four times since 2018, stealing electronic devices, including his personal and work laptops. Baabou said his neighbors told him in March 2020 that police officers were watching his apartment and asked both his landlord and some of his neighbors about his work and whereabouts. He said that police told the neighbors, “This time it’s a light search, next time we will burn the house down,” Baabou said. “I have to keep staying at different places because I don’t feel safe anywhere.”
Baabou said that Damj’s offices have been broken into on multiple occasions, most recently in December 2019 when the office in the city of Sfax was burglarized and files taken. Baabou believes police officers most likely were behind the break-in because police in Sfax had threatened to raid the office.
Increased Abuses, Persecution of LGBT People
On December 8, Tunisian police arrested two LGBT activists during a peaceful demonstration in front of the Tunisian parliament. The two were taken to the Bardo police station, then transferred to the Bouchoucha detention center, held for two days then conditionally released, pending investigation. The public prosecutor charged them with “damaging property,” punishable by up to three years, after they “banged on the windshield” in an attempt to stop a parliament member who had driven into a crowd of peaceful protesters, they said.
In October, police attacked and arrested three demonstrators, including LGBT activists, who were peacefully protesting a draft law that would limit criminal accountability for the use of excessive force by the security forces. The activists were accused of “protesting without a permit,” and “violating the state of emergency law.” They await trial.
Ayadi said that in 2020, Damj provided legal assistance to LGBT people at police stations in 116 cases and responded to 185 requests for legal consultations. “These figures are five times higher than those we recorded in 2019, indicating an alarming increase in the persecution of LGBT people during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
The group said that since the Tunisian revolution in 2011, they have recorded 1,458 convictions, ranging between one month to three years in prison, based on article 230.
The constitution allows for a lawyer to be present during interrogations and requires taking detainees before a prosecutor within 48 hours, immediately informing them of the reason for their arrest, and allowing them to contact a lawyer and family member. The constitution also prohibits “mental and physical torture.”
The right to privacy and nondiscrimination are reflected in Tunisia’s 2014 constitution. Article 24 obligates the government to protect the rights to privacy and the inviolability of the home. Article 21 provides that “All citizens, male and female, have equal rights and duties, and are equal before the law without any discrimination.”
1 In 5 Young People Vapes, MDH Survey ShowsFebruary 23, 2021The results of the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, released Tuesday, also show that 70% percent of those users report signs of nicotine dependence. 1 In 5 Young People Vapes, MDH Survey Shows
#AceNewsReport – Feb.23: Two other people also died, including an Italian national police officer and a driver, Italy’s foreign ministry said as it announced Attanasio’s death:
‘Italian Ambassador To DRC Is Killed In Attack On Food Aid Convoy: The attackers struck near Goma, as Attanasio rode in a U.N. World Food Program convoy near the DRC’s eastern borders with Rwanda and Uganda: The ambassador was part of a delegation visiting a feeding program at a school’
By Bill Chappell
Monday, February 22, 2021 • 8:51 AM EST
Updated at 8:50 a.m. ET
“A number of other passengers travelling with the delegation sustained injuries during the attack,” the World Food Program said. It added that the road the group was on “had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.”
The exact circumstances around the attack remain unclear, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said as he announced Attanasio’s death. He said Italy is now mourning a shocking loss, and will spare no effort to learn what happened.
Goma is the capital of North Kivu province, which in recent years has been hard-hit by Ebola. New deaths from the virus have been recorded in recent weeks, signaling a new outbreak — a troubling setback, after a prolonged outbreak was finally declared over last summer.
In addition to health emergencies, people who live in North Kivu also suffer from conflict and unrest. For years, heavily armed militia groupshave fought over the province’s rich mineral resources, spawning massacres and other violence that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The attack on the food aid convoy comes months after the U.N. World Food Program won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its work to help people cope with food insecurity that results from conflict and crises.
#AceNewsReport – Feb.23: The code is structured so that if Facebook and Google do not sign commercial deals with traditional media outlets the Treasurer can “designate” them, and force them to pay for access to news content:
Facebook to reverse news ban on Australian sites, government to make amendments to media bargaining code:
It follows days of negotiations between the government and the social media company, including discussions between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg: Mr Frydenberg also confirmed the government was looking to bring back its advertising on Facebook after withdrawing it in the wake of the news ban
‘Mark Zuckerberg said to me today [restoring pages] will occur in coming days,” Mr Frydenberg said’
Published: Feb.23: 2021: 3m 58s
The government promised to make further amendments to the code, including giving Facebook more time to strike those deals.
A number of non-news pages were swept up in the ban, including community organisations and the Bureau of Meteorology.
Facebook said in a statement that it was “pleased” the company was able to reach an agreement with the government.
“[We] appreciate the constructive discussions we’ve had with Treasurer Frydenberg and Minister Fletcher over the past week,” it said.
“After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.
“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days.”
But the company’s vice president Campbell Brown said Facebook was retaining its right to take Australian news content down again in the future.
Zuckerberg to engage with ‘commercial players’
Mr Frydenberg thanked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for engaging in “constructive” discussions over the code, saying the company had “refriended” Australia.
“It has been a difficult process, but these are really important issues,” he said.
The Treasurer said Mr Zuckerberg had told him that he intended to sign commercial deals with news publishers.
“Facebook is now going to engage good faith negotiations with the commercial players,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“They are pretty advanced with a number of parties.”
He said he hoped businesses would “sit at the table” and hopefully sign off on the deals.
Facebook News service flagged for Australia
Seven West Media, Nine, News Corp and the Guardian have all struck content deals with Google to show their content on its News Showcase platform.
Seven West was the first to move after the announcement from the government and Facebook, saying it had signed a “letter of intent” with the tech company — sorting out the finer details of its deal in the next few months.
Facebook wants to bring its Facebook News service to Australia, but has yet to sign any deals with local publishers.
The amendments to the code include a range of changes, including that final offer arbitration — something both Google and Facebook were strongly opposed to — is considered “a last resort where commercial deals cannot be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months”.
Final offer arbitration would mean if a deal could not be reached, both the news publisher and the digital platform would present their proposed deals to an independent mediator, who would then pick one and that would become binding under law.
The Treasurer will also have to give advance notice to a platform if it is going to be “designated” or included under the code, and also has to take into account any deals the company has done.
#AceHealthReport – Feb.22: Much has been said of the politics surrounding the mission to investigate the viral origins of COVID-19. So it’s easy to forget that behind these investigations are real people.
I was the Australian doctor on the WHO’s #COVID19 mission to China. Here’s what we found about the origins of the coronavirus: As I write, I am in hotel quarantine in Sydney, after returning from Wuhan, China. There, I was the Australian representative on the international World Health Organization’s (WHO) investigation into the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Dominic Dwyer is the director of public health pathology at NSW Health Pathology, Westmead Hospital and University of Sydney. This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
As part of the mission, we met the man who, on December 8, 2019, was the first confirmed COVID-19 case; he’s since recovered.
We met the husband of a doctor who died of COVID-19 and left behind a young child. We met the doctors who worked in the Wuhan hospitals treating those early COVID-19 cases, and learned what happened to them and their colleagues.
We witnessed the impact of COVID-19 on many individuals and communities, affected so early in the pandemic, when we didn’t know much about the virus, how it spreads, how to treat COVID-19, or its impacts.
We talked to our Chinese counterparts — scientists, epidemiologists, doctors — over the four weeks the WHO mission was in China.
We were in meetings with them for up to 15 hours a day, so we became colleagues, even friends.
This allowed us to build respect and trust in a way you couldn’t necessarily do via Zoom or email.
Animal origins, but not necessarily at the Wuhan markets
It was in Wuhan, in central China, that the virus, now called SARS-CoV-2, emerged in December 2019, unleashing the greatest infectious disease outbreak since the 1918-19 influenza pandemic.
Our investigations concluded the virus was most likely of animal origin. It probably crossed over to humans from bats, via an as-yet-unknown intermediary animal, at an unknown location.
Such “zoonotic” diseases have triggered pandemics before. But we are still working to confirm the exact chain of events that led to the current pandemic.
Sampling of bats in Hubei province and wildlife across China has revealed no SARS-CoV-2 to date.
We visited the now-closed Wuhan wet market which, in the early days of the pandemic, was blamed as the source of the virus. Some stalls at the market sold “domesticated” wildlife products.
These are animals raised for food, such as bamboo rats, civets and ferret badgers. There is also evidence some domesticated wildlife may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.
However, none of the animal products sampled after the market’s closure tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
We also know not all of those first 174 early COVID-19 cases visited the market, including the man with the earliest onset date, who was diagnosed in December 2019 .
However, when we visited the closed market, it’s easy to see how an infection might have spread there. When it was open, there would have been around 10,000 people visiting a day, in close proximity, with poor ventilation and drainage.
There’s also genetic evidence generated during the mission for a transmission cluster there. Viral sequences from several of the market cases were identical, suggesting a transmission cluster.
However, there was some diversity in other viral sequences, implying other unknown or unsampled chains of transmission.
A summary of modelling studies of the time to the most recent common ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 sequences estimated the start of the pandemic between mid-November and early December.
There are also publications suggesting SARS-CoV-2 circulation in various countries earlier than the first case in Wuhan, although these require confirmation.
The market in Wuhan, in the end, was more of an amplifying event rather than necessarily a true ground zero. So we need to look elsewhere for the viral origins.
Frozen or refrigerated food not ruled out in the spread
We spoke to the scientists there. We heard that scientists’ blood samples, which are routinely taken and stored, were tested for signs they had been infected. No evidence of antibodies to the coronavirus was found. We looked at their biosecurity audits. No evidence.
We looked at the closest virus to SARS-CoV-2 they were working on — the virus RaTG13 — which had been detected in caves in southern China where some miners had died seven years previously.
But all the scientists had was a genetic sequence for this virus. They hadn’t managed to grow it in culture. While viruses certainly do escape from laboratories, this is rare.
So, we concluded it was extremely unlikely this had happened in Wuhan.
A team of investigators
When I say “we”, the mission was a joint exercise between the WHO and the Chinese health commission. In all, there were 17 Chinese and ten international experts, plus seven other experts and support staff from various agencies.
We looked at the clinical epidemiology (how COVID-19 spread among people), the molecular epidemiology (the genetic makeup of the virus and its spread), and the role of animals and the environment.
The clinical epidemiology group alone looked at China’s records of 76,000 episodes from more than 200 institutions of anything that could have resembled COVID-19 — such as influenza-like illnesses, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.
They found no clear evidence of substantial circulation of COVID-19 in Wuhan during the latter part of 2019 before the first case.
Where to now?
Our mission to China was only phase one. We are due to publish our official report in the coming weeks. Investigators will also look further afield for data, to investigate evidence the virus was circulating in Europe, for instance, earlier in 2019.
Investigators will continue to test wildlife and other animals in the region for signs of the virus. And we’ll continue to learn from our experiences to improve how we investigate the next pandemic.
Irrespective of the origins of the virus, individual people with the disease are at the beginning of the epidemiology data points, sequences and numbers.
The long-term physical and psychological effects — the tragedy and anxiety — will be felt in Wuhan, and elsewhere, for decades to come.
#AceNewsReport – Feb.22: The release comes only days after Facebook blocked Australians from viewing and sharing “news content” on its platform, leading experts to predict that misinformation would spread more rapidly in the news vacuum.
‘Facebook, Google, Twitter release industry code to fight spread of disinformation and to block all those who disagree with the #Truth being read and heard’
ABC News: updated 6h ago
The code could change the experience of using social media in Australia, with more pop-up warnings about fake news, as well as better systems to report misinformation.
Misinformation is false or misleading information, and disinformation is the same, but spread with an intent to mislead.
In December 2019, the Australian Government asked the digital industry to develop a code to address disinformation. A pandemic later, these companies, represented by the industry association DIGI, have now released a final version.
Under the code, which is voluntary, all signatories commit to develop and implement measures to deal with mis- and disinformation on their services.
The current signatories are Twitter, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, TikTok and Redbubble (an online marketplace for user-submitted art).
The emphasis of the code is on outcomes rather than specific actions: signatories will choose how to best address misinformation on their service.
The code gives examples of what they may do, including labelling false content, demoting the ranking of content, prioritising credible sources, suspension or disabling of accounts and removal of content.
The signatories will each publish an annual report on their progress.
The Australian media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which is tasked with overseeing the development of the code, criticised this lack of specific measures or targets when DIGI released a draft version of the code in October 2020.
The ACMA has the power to recommend the government introduce mandatory regulation if the code isn’t up to scratch.
But commenting today on the release of the final version, which experts say is much the same as the draft one, the ACMA was broadly positive.
ACMA chairwoman Nerida O’Loughlin said she welcomed the code as a flexible and proportionate approach to dealing with mis- and disinformation online.
“The code anticipates platforms’ actions will be graduated and proportionate to the risk of harm,” she said.
“This will assist them to strike an appropriate balance between dealing with troublesome content and the right to freedom of speech and expression.
“Signatories will also publish an annual report and additional information on actions that they will take so that users know what to expect when they access these services.”
Government will be ‘watching carefully’ for action
The code also contains a range of non-mandatory objectives including having better systems for reporting incidents of misinformation, and disallowing fake news accounts from collecting advertising money.
Andrea Carson, an associate professor in communication at La Trobe University, said the code was a good start and the companies should be given a chance to show how they will address disinformation.
“It’s too premature to speak too much about it until we give the code a go and see how serious and sincere the companies are,” she said.
“The platforms are still teenagers and it’s taken a while for the laws to catch up and now we’re getting into that space.”
The ACMA will report to the government no later than 30 June 2021 on initial compliance with the code and its effectiveness.
Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said the government “will be watching carefully to see whether this voluntary code is effective”.
The European Union oversaw the introduction of a voluntary industry code for disinformation in 2018, but is now looking at mandatory regulation.
A May 2020 independent review of the EU code found the self-regulatory nature of the agreement made it difficult for the platforms to be held to account for breaches in the code.
Reset Australia, an organisation working to counter digital threats to democracy, described the DIGI code as “pointless and shameless” and proposed in its place a public regulator with the power to issue fines and other penalties.
Reset Australia Executive Director Chris Cooper said companies such as Facebook were continuing to use algorithms that actively promote misinformation, despite committing to addressing the problem.
“This is a regulatory regime that would be laughed out of town if suggested by any other major industry,” he said.
“Industry should never be allowed to just write its own rules.”
‘ Myanmar threatened by militaryfor huge demonstrations across the country and given a warning to stop or suffer the consequences’
Images from photographers in the country and on social media Monday showed tens of thousands of peoplepacking the streets in Yangon, Mandalay, and Naypyidaw, as well as in towns and cities across the country, including in southeastern Dawei, in Shan state’s Taunggyi, in Ayeyarwady’s Pathein, Kachin state’s Myitkyina, and in one of the country’s poorest regions Chin state.
In an ominous statement Sunday evening, the military junta said it could use lethal force against protesters.
“It is found that protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” the State Administration Council — the name for the military junta now controlling the country — declared Sunday evening on state broadcaster MRTV.
A protester waves the National League for Democracy (NLD) flag while others take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on February 22.
Video from social media Sunday night and Monday morning showed barbed wire blocking roads to some foreign embassies in the largest city, Yangon, the focus point for many recent protests. Footage also showed what appeared to be police and military vehicles rolling through the streets.
Protesters called for all offices and shops to be closed on Monday, with activists urging all citizens to join the protest, known as the “Five Twos” — or the 22222 strike — in reference to Monday’s date.
“22.2.2021 will be a big historic day. Keep watching us and pray for us, friends,” leading protest activist group, the Civil Disobedience Movement said in a tweet Sunday.
For more than two weeks, thousands of people in villages, towns and cities across Myanmar have come out to peacefully protest or take part in a non-violent civil disobedience movement against the military takeover, calling for the generals to hand back power and release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically-elected officials.The junta has attempted to stop protests by imposing bans on gatherings of more than five people and curfews in certain areas and cutting the internet at night. They have also deployed troops to major cities, including members of elite counter-insurgency divisions documented to be engaged in human rights abuses and violent campaigns against ethnic minorities.
#AceNewsReport – The woman, who made a formal report at a police station in Canberra on Sunday, has come forward after Ms Higgins alleged last weekthat she was raped in the office of the then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds after drinks with the man in March 2019:
Fourth woman makes complaint about former staffer who allegedly raped Brittany Higgins
The fourth woman, who for now wishes to remain anonymous, told the ABC that when she learned the identity of Ms Higgins’s alleged rapist through staffer networks, she winced — she remembered him as being “really sleazy”.
Socialising after work in 2017 with colleagues at Canberra’s Public Bar, the favoured drinking hole of the political class, the woman said she was startled when the man who would later be identified as the staffer who allegedly raped Ms Higgins reached his hand under the table and stroked her thigh.
The woman said this was completely uninvited and the incident made her angry.
She said it wasn’t the first time she received unwanted attention or advances from men she worked with at Parliament, and it wasn’t the last.
“By that time, I was just so used to sexual harassment I just brushed it off,” she said.
She made her statement late yesterday afternoon at a local police station, and says within the hour she had been telephoned by a detective from the Australian Federal Police’s Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Team.
She says the officer asked her to come in and make a formal statement later in the week.
The woman said she was coming forward to support Brittany Higgins because, now that Ms Higgins has called in police, she knows what a hard road lies ahead in the criminal justice system.
Ms Higgins has said she felt pressure not to proceed with a formal complaint for fear of losing her job.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised for the way the matter was handled and said he had asked his staff what they knew about the incident.