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Former Colombia leader asks pardon for army killings of civilians | Armed Groups News

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Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday asked for forgiveness for the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people committed by the country’s armed forces partly during his time as defence minister.

Santos, who in 2016 signed the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which created the commission, testified to Colombia’s truth commission about the so-called “false positives” scandal, when soldiers murdered civilians and registered them as fighters killed in combat to receive rewards.

The country’s transitional justice court has said at least 6,402 people were killed and falsely presented as rebels between 2002 and 2008, during the term of ex-President Alvaro Uribe. Some victims groups allege the figure could be higher.

Colombia’s new President Ivan Duque greets outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos in Bogota, Colombia on August 7, 2018 [File: Cesar Carrion/Courtesy of Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

Santos served as defence minister under Uribe for nearly three years between 2006 and 2009 and was in the post when the killings were uncovered.

“The chapter of the false positives is one of the most painful moments I’ve had in my public life and is an indelible stain on the honour of the army,” said Santos, adding he regretted that mothers lost children to the practice during his time as minister.

Pressure to produce high kill counts, backed by Uribe, was to blame, he said, and the army should ask forgiveness.

“This should never have happened,” Santos said. “I recognise that and ask forgiveness from all the mothers and their families, victims of this horror, from the depths of my soul.”

Santos said when he first heard rumours of the killings, he did not believe them.

Once it became clear the rumours were true, Santos said he issued orders privileging demobilisations and captures over kills, changed protocols for handling combat deaths and modified criteria for awarding medals.

The results of an internal investigation left him stunned, Santos said.

“I had perhaps never felt with such force a combination of anger and intense pain, with such deep sadness.”

Dozens of military officials were removed from their posts, he said, and changes to protocol led to a precipitous descent in murders committed by the army.

The victims group False Positive Mothers of Colombia had earlier urged Santos to ask forgiveness.

“Today, we hope little from you. [Santos] tell the truth. Ask forgiveness from every mother whose children were taken away by Uribe, [Former Colombian National Army General Mario Montoya] and yourself. Today you can change history. For the memory of our children tell the truth,” the group tweeted.

Dozens of army officials have been detained and convicted of involvement in the killings.

The 2016 peace deal with the FARC fighters won Santos the Nobel Peace Prize and saw some 13,000 FARC members demobilise.

FARC leaders also admitted in April to policies of kidnappings they called “unjustifiable”. Roughly 21,396 people were kidnapped or taken hostage by the FARC between 1990 and 2015, according to figures from the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a court that oversees the peace process between FARC and the Colombian state.

The JEP charged former FARC commanders with war crimes in January.

The conflict between the Colombian government and armed rebel forces, including FARC, lasted 50 years and left 260,000 dead and millions displaced.

Ex-combatants of the disbanded FARC and social activists march to demand the government guarantee their right to life and compliance with the 2016 peace agreement, in Bogota, Colombia, on November 1, 2020 [File: Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

Santos is the third former president to give a contribution to the commission, whose mandate ends this year.

It is unclear whether Uribe – who vehemently opposed the peace deal – will eventually testify.

Right-wing President Ivan Duque who took office in 2018, has also been opposed to the deal. Some FARC fighters have continued fighting the government, leading to clashes and deaths, and imperilling the peace deal.

Ex-FARC commander and leader of the Comunes, the name the group adopted after it became a political party, sent an open letter to the US Congress in March, asking for assistance to save the peace plan.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News

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Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News

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Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Birmingham Classic: Ons Jabeur beats Daria Kasatkina to win first title

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Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur defeated Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in straight sets to win her first singles title at the Birmingham Classic.

World number 24 Jabeur triumphed 7-5 6-4 against the fourth seed to become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title.

In Berlin, Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova stunned Swiss fifth seed Belinda Bencic to win her first title.

The 22-year-old world number 106 battled back from a set down to win 1-6 6-1 6-3 in her first final.

Victories for Jabeur and Samsonova mean there have now been 10 first-time singles winners on the women’s Tour this year.

Jabeur broke Kasatkina’s serve three times to prevail in the first set, before successive breaks at the start of the second put the 26-year-old in control at 4-0.

Two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kasatkina recovered to 4-3, but Jabeur held on to win a singles final at the third attempt.

It was a breakthrough week for Samsonova in Germany, during which she also defeated seventh seed Victoria Azarenka of Belaurus in the semi-final.

World number 12 Bencic won the first five games as she dominated the opening set, but Samsonova matched that feat in the second before completing her comeback with breaks in the first and ninth games in the deciding set.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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