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Burundian journalist Jean Bigirimana disappeared for 1,500 days | Burundi News



The last time Jean Bigirimana’s family saw or heard from him was 1,500 days ago.

The Burundian reporter and father of two went missing on July 22, 2016, allegedly after being arrested by the country’s National Security Service in Bugarama, some 45km (28 miles) from the capital, Bujumbura.

Later that day, one of Bigirimana’s colleagues at the independent Iwacu newspaper received an anonymous phone call alerting him them of the arrest.

Unlike dozens of other Burundian journalists, Bigirimana had decided against fleeing the country in the aftermath of the widespread violence that erupted in 2015 following late President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision to seek a third term in office.

Rights groups at the time had documented a series of kidnappings, arrests and killings of civil society activists, journalists and others by government forces, armed opposition groups and unidentified attackers.

More than four years since Bigirimana’s enforced disappearance, the agony of his family is “unimaginable“, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa, said in a statement on Sunday marking the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. 

“The Burundian government’s failure to account for him is an affront to the principles of truth, justice and accountability,” Muchena added, urging the new goverment of President Evariste Ndayishimiye to “end the practice of enforced disappearances immediately” and prosecute perpetrators of such acts.

“Families have the right to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones.” 

Amnesty also called on Burundi’s government to ratify the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. To date, 63 countries have done so.

In a report last year, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said security forces, police and the governing party’s youth league had continued to commit serious human rights abuses.

Noting reports of “numerous disappearances”, the UN investigators said they were “deeply concerned about the frequence of such disappearances” and called on the government to set up an independent body with a mandate to investigate cases of disappearance reported since April 2015, locate potential mass graves and exhume and identify the remains.

‘Families risk reprisals’

Every year on August 30, families, activists and humanitarian groups around the world mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances to draw attention to a practice that is frequently being used “as a strategy to spread terror within the society”, according to the UN.

In 1980, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was established to assist relatives to determine the fate of their disappeared family members. To date, some 55,000 disappearances have been registered with the body.

But Bernard Duhaime, professor of law at the University of Quebec and member of the working group, said this figure was just “the tip of the iceberg”.

He noted that it was almost impossible to assess the extent of disappearances worldwide due to their “clandestine nature”. 

“It is an intentionally hidden crime by nature,” said Duhaime.

The working group typically receives disappearance reports from family members or organisations around the world. It then transmits this information to the relevant governments requesting them to carry out investigations. Since the issuing of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 1992, the body has also has been mandated with monitoring the states’ compliance with their obligations under the declaration.

But Rachel Nicholson, Amnesty’s Burundi researcher, said reporting disappearances to international bodies such as the working group or the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances could be dangerous for relatives seeking the truth.

“Families reporting a disappearance risk reprisals,” said Nicholson. “They have to be very brave to do so.”

‘No closure’

The extent to which disappearances can remain a burning political issue and tear at the social fabric is vivid in the case of Nepal, where 2,500 disappearances have been registered to the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), which was established to probe such cases in the country following the end of a decade-long civil war in 2006.

Commenting on the situation in Nepal, human rights activist Ram Bhandari said the issue of disappearances still haunts the country.

“The government is fully betraying victims and survivors and has not been honest about implementing the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to address the legacy of forced disappearances,” argued Bhandari, founder of the Network of Families of the Disappeared in Nepal. 

“After years of state denial there is still no closure for families or for society. This might turn into revenge and a cycle of violence.”

According to Eva Nudd, who runs the enforced disappearances project at victims-rights organisation Redress, lack of access to justice is one of the most difficult consequences of disappearances for families to live with. In her view, this is particularly acute in countries such as Sudan and Algeria where alleged perpetrators have received immunity.

Nudd said one of the biggest problems with the definition of enforced disappearances is that such disappearances are defined as being committed by a state – whereas now non-state actors are increasingly becoming perpetrators of disappearances, as is evident in countries such as Libya and Sudan. 

While families are further deprived of the ability to exercise funeral rites and traditions associated with burials, Nicholson said one of the practical problems flowing from disappearances is obtaining documentation for the children of a disappeared person.

She described disappearances as a “continuing violation” since their effects are “felt by families for years and years”. Meanwhile, the time-consuming burden of looking for the disappeared person also mostly falls on women who then struggle to carry out their other daily duties.

“In Nepal, however, women have been allowed access to social services without having to produce death certificates,” noted Nudd. 

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‘Almost 180-degree turnaround’: More Black Americans open to jabs | Coronavirus pandemic News




More Black people in the United States say they are open to receiving coronavirus vaccines, a new survey shows, an encouraging sign that one community leader described as “almost a 180-degree turnaround” from earlier in the pandemic.

According to the late March poll by the Associated Press news agency and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about 24 percent of Black people said they would probably or definitely not get vaccinated.

That is down from 41 percent in January, and is similar to the proportion of white people (26 percent) and Hispanic Americans (22 percent) who also say they do not plan to get jabs.

The findings come as US President Joe Biden’s administration works to speed up inoculations to try to outpace a recent rise in infections, after he promised that all adults would be eligible for a jab by April 19.

Public health experts had raised concerns about the need to ensure that Black and other communities of colour in the US, which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, had equitable access to vaccines.

Local leaders said vaccine hesitancy was fuelled in part by decades of institutional discrimination in healthcare and other public services.

Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told AP that attitudes among Black people have taken “almost a 180-degree turnaround” as outreach campaigns have worked to combat misinformation.

Benjamin said Black physicians, faith leaders and other organisers have helped get targeted messaging to the community “in a way that wasn’t preachy”.

“They didn’t tell people, ‘You need to get vaccinated because it’s your duty.’ They basically said, ‘Listen, you need to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family,’” he said.

Mattie Pringle, a 57-year-old Black woman from South Carolina who previously had doubts about taking the vaccine, said she changed her mind after a member of her church urged her to reconsider. She got her first jab last week.

“I had to pray about it, and I felt better after that,” Pringle told AP.

Medical and public health experts have continued to urge people in the US to get vaccinated in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which has killed more than 561,000 people across the country – the highest death rate in the world.

The US, which has reported over 31 million cases to date, has authorised three vaccines for emergency use: the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson jabs.

So far, more than 178.8 million vaccine doses have been administered countrywide, while 68.2 million people are considered fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Recent surveys have shown that more Americans in general say they intend to get vaccinated than previously did.

The Pew Research Center reported in early March that 19 percent of US adults said they had already received at least one dose, while another 50 percent said they probably or definitely would get vaccinated.

“Taken together, 69 percent of the public intends to get a vaccine – or already has – up significantly from 60 percent who said they planned to get vaccinated in November,” it said.

Other recent surveys show that attitudes towards vaccines are split along political lines. A survey at Monmouth University released last month found that 36 percent of Republicans said they would avoid the vaccine compared with just six percent of Democrats.

That prompted top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, to call on former President Donald Trump to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, experts are urging Americans to take whichever vaccine is available to protect themselves and avoid delays.

“When people come in, I always advise them to get the vaccine that’s available because you never know what vaccine is going to be available the next time,” Reham Awad, a pharmacy intern in the Chicago area, told Al Jazeera this week.

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Erdogan urges end to Ukraine tension, offers Turkey’s support | Conflict News




Turkish president says tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over Donbass conflict have to be resolved through dialogue.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the “worrying” developments in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region to come to an end after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart in Istanbul, adding Turkey was ready to provide any necessary support.

Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held talks in Istanbul on Saturday amid tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over the long-running conflict in Donbass.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Zelenskyy, Erdogan said he hoped the conflict would be resolved peacefully, through dialogue based on diplomatic customs, in line with international laws and Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“Our main goal is that the Black Sea continues to be a sea of peace, tranquility and cooperation,” Erdogan said.

Zelenskyy said the views of Kyiv and Ankara coincided regarding the threats in the region and as well as responses to those threats.

Erdogan stressed that Turkey’s cooperation with Ukraine in the defence industry, which was the main item on the meeting’s agenda, was not a move against any third countries.

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Ukraine was purchasing Turkey’s military drones.

She also said that “new generation drones will be equipped with the Ukrainian engines”.

Regional tensions

Zelenskyy’s visit to Turkey comes amid renewed tensions in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

In a visit to troops there this week, Zelenskyy said breaches of a July truce were increasing.

Separatist authorities have also accused Ukrainian forces of violating the ceasefire.

Russia has reinforced its troops along the border and warned Ukraine against trying to retake control of the separatist-controlled territory.

Kyiv rejects that it is preparing for an offensive. The Russian military buildup has raised concerns in the United States and Europe.

The Turkish and Russian presidents spoke on the phone on Friday. Among the issues discussed was Ukraine.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin expressed concern that Ukraine “recently resumed dangerous provocations on the contact line”.

Turkey is a NATO member. But Erdogan and Putin have forged a close personal relationship, sealing energy and trade deals.

They have also negotiated for opposing sides in conflicts, including Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Erdogan’s office also said he would discuss with Zelenskyy the living conditions of Crimean Tatars, who have ethnic links to Turks. Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

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Libya kicks off delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive | Coronavirus pandemic News




Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah receives shot on live television, urges Libyans to register online for their own vaccinations.

Libya has launched its delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive, with Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, prime minister of the country’s new unity government, getting his shot on live television.

Officially, Libya has registered a total of about 167,000 coronavirus cases, including more than 2,800 deaths, out of a population of seven million. Its healthcare system has struggled to cope during the pandemic, strained by years of political turmoil and violence.

After the vaccination of Dbeibah on Saturday at the headquarters of Libya’s Centre for Disease Control on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli, Health Minister Ali al-Zenati was next to receive a jab.

Libya has so far received 200,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, alongside more than 57,600 AstraZeneca shots, the latter delivered through the COVAX programme for lower and middle-income countries.

Dbeibah urged fellow citizens to register online for their own vaccinations. He has earmarked the vaccination campaign as a policy priority, alleging that the delivery of the shots was hindered by outgoing authorities.

“The arrival of vaccines has been delayed by political, not financial, considerations,” he said.

Dbeibah’s interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Dbeibah was selected earlier this year through a United Nations-sponsored Libyan dialogue to lead the country to national elections in December.

His government replaces two warring administrations based in Tripoli and the country’s east, the latter loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Hafar. The rival authorities have given their backing to the new administration, adding to tentative hopes that Libya can exit a decade of crisis.

‘Better late than never’

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that two new variants of the coronavirus are present in Libya, which has lately been detecting about 1,000 new daily infections.

No lockdown measures are currently in place, and while masks are obligatory in public places, the measure is widely flouted.

“I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never,” shop owner Ali al-Hadi told Reuters news agency, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.

Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.

“We hope the health ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients,” said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33.

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