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UN experts warn of impact of abortion bans on US minorities

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UN experts warn of impact of abortion bans on US minorities

GENEVA (AP) — Independent U.N. human rights experts expressed concerns Tuesday about the adverse impact on the rights of racial and ethnic minorities from the U.S. Supreme Court decision that stripped away constitutional protections for abortion in the United States.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also called on the Biden administration and state governments to do more to buttress those rights.

The committee, a group of independent experts who work with the U.N. human rights office, said it was concerned about higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity — among many concerns about the rights of Blacks, Latinos, Indigenous peoples, foreign-born migrants and others in the United States.

The calls came as part of a regular review of U.N. member states by the committee. The U.S. was among seven countries to be considered this summer. A large delegation of U.S. officials, including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, traveled to Geneva earlier this month for hearings that fed into the committee’s thinking about the rights of ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S.

“The committee was deeply concerned about the disparate impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly those with low income,” committee member Pansy Tlakula told reporters.

“It recommended that the state party should take further steps to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

The committee said it received hundreds of submissions and comments from advocacy groups in the United States over issues like reproductive rights, police brutality, education, voting rights and reparations for slavery — an issue that was taken up for the first time by the panel amid signs that a push for such reparations may be gathering momentum.

“It would have been impossible to have an honest, interactive dialogue with the United States without including the issue of reparatory justice,” committee chairperson Verene Shepherd said, presenting the committee’s report. “I fully believe that with the pressure in the United States now around the question of reparatory justice, that the federal government will act.”

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She also lamented “pushback” against critical race theory — the idea that racism is systemic in U.S. institutions that serve to perpetuate white dominance in society — and “the issue of refusal to have a conversation around slavery.” She said that issue was “impossible to ignore.”

Tlakula of South Africa, another of the committee’s 18 international members, said the United States hadn’t set any timetable for enactment of any reparations. But she did say the committee had asked the United States to report back within a year on any steps taken to mitigate the impacts of the abortion restrictions and gun violence on racial minorities.

In its report, the committee ran the gamut of concerns and assessments — including praise for recent legislation and executive orders to improve the rights of minorities, and calls for a “national action plan” to combat systemic racism and racial discrimination and an effort to limit the impact of gun violence on such minorities.

It urged consideration of new laws or a review of existing ones to help fight excessive use of force by law enforcement, and called on the U.S. to adopt “all necessary measures” — including at the federal level — to ensure that all people can vote. It expressed concerns about an increase in new legislation with a “disproportionate impact” on minorities.

While noting some steps by the White House to address high maternal mortality rates, it said: “the committee is concerned that systemic racism along with intersecting factors such as gender, race, ethnicity and migration status have a profound impact on the ability of women and girls to access the full range of sexual and reproductive health services in (the U.S.) without discrimination.”

The concerns came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June to strip away women’s constitutional protections for abortion that had been enshrined for nearly a half-century under Roe v. Wade, which paved the way for abortion bans in some states.

The committee, referring to the recent court decision, called on the United States to adopt “all necessary measures” at both state and federal level “to address the profound disparate impact of (the decision) on women of racial and ethnic minorities, Indigenous women and those with low incomes,” and provide safe, legal access to abortion under existing U.S. commitments to human rights.

It called on the U.S. to ensure that women seeking an abortion — or the health care providers who assist them — “are not subjected to criminal penalties.”

Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the committee’s conclusions “should serve as yet another wake-up call for the United States to vigorously combat and eliminate systemic racism.”

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“The U.N. provided a blueprint to address structural discrimination; now the Biden administration must act to build out our domestic human rights infrastructure,” he said.

The ACLU also hailed the committee’s call to provide redress for slavery, Dakwar added.

“The legacies of colonialism and slavery have a real-world lingering impact on present day racial disparities and injustices and we must address them head on,” he said.

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Muhammad Yunus: Nobel Peace Prize winner sentenced to 6 months in jail

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Muhammad Yunus: Nobel Peace Prize winner sentenced to 6 months in jail

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A labor court in Bangladesh’s capital Monday sentenced Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating the country’s labor laws.

Yunus, who pioneered the use of microcredit to help impoverished people, was present in court and was granted bail. The court gave Yunus 30 days to appeal the verdict and sentence.

Grameen Telecom, which Yunus founded as a non-profit organization, is at the center of the case.

Sheikh Merina Sultana, head of the Third Labor Court of Dhaka, said in her verdict that Yunus’ company violated Bangladeshi labor laws. She said at least 67 Grameen Telecom workers were supposed to be made permanent employees but were not, and a “welfare fund” to support the staff in cases of emergency or special needs was never formed. She also said that, following company policy, 5% of Grameen’s dividends were supposed to be distributed to staff but was not.

Sultana found Yunus, as chairman of the company, and three other company directors guilty, sentencing each to six months in jail. Yunus was also fined 30,000 takas, or $260.

Yunus said he would appeal.

“We are being punished for a crime we did not commit. It was my fate, the nation’s fate. We have accepted this verdict, but will appeal this verdict and continue fighting against this sentence,” the 83-year-old economist told reporters after the verdict was announced.

A defense lawyer criticized the ruling, saying it was unfair and against the law. “We have been deprived of justice,” said attorney Abdullah Al Mamun.

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But the prosecution was happy with what they said was an expected verdict.

“We think business owners will now be more cautious about violating labor laws. No one is above the law,” prosecutor Khurshid Alam Khan told The Associated Press.

Grameen Telecom owns 34.2% of the country’s largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norway’s telecom giant Telenor.

As Yunus is known to have close connections with political elites in the West, especially in the United States, many think the verdict could negatively impact Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S.

But Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen on Monday said relations between Bangladesh and the U.S. would likely not be affected by an issue involving a single individual.

“It is normal not to have an impact on the state-to-state relations for an individual,” the United News of Bangladesh agency quoted Momen as saying.

The Nobel laureate faces an array of other charges involving alleged corruption and embezzlement.

Yunus’ supporters believe he’s being harassed because of frosty relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh’s government has denied the allegation.

Monday’s verdict came as Bangladesh prepares for its general election on Jan. 7, amid a boycott by the country’s main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s arch-enemy. The party said it didn’t have any confidence the premier’s administration would hold a free and fair election.

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In August, more than 170 global leaders and Nobel laureates in an open letter urged Hasina to suspend all legal proceedings against Yunus.

The leaders, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and more than 100 Nobel laureates, said in the letter that they were deeply concerned by recent threats to democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.

Hasina responded sharply and said she would welcome international experts and lawyers to come to Bangladesh to assess the legal proceedings and examine documents involving the charges against Yunus.

In 1983, Yunus founded Grameen Bank, which gives small loans to entrepreneurs who would not normally qualify for bank loans. The bank’s success in lifting people out of poverty led to similar microfinancing efforts in other countries.

Hasina’s administration began a series of investigations of Yunus after coming to power in 2008. She became enraged when Yunus announced he would form a political party in 2007 when a military-backed government ran the country and she was in prison, although he did not follow through on the plan.

Yunus had earlier criticized politicians in the country, saying they are only interested in money. Hasina called him a “bloodsucker” and accused him of using force and other means to recover loans from poor rural women as head of Grameen Bank.

In 2011, Hasina’s administration began a review of the bank’s activities. Yunus was fired as managing director for allegedly violating government retirement regulations. He was put on trial in 2013 on charges of receiving money without government permission, including his Nobel Prize award and royalties from a book.

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Kim Jung Un says military should ‘annihilate’ US and SKorea if provoked…

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Kim Jung Un says military should ‘annihilate’ US and SKorea if provoked…

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his military should “thoroughly annihilate” the United States and South Korea if provoked, state media reported Monday, after he vowed to boost national defense to cope with what he called an unprecedented U.S.-led confrontation.

North Korea has increased its warlike rhetoric in recent months in response to an expansion of U.S.-South Korean military drills. Experts expect Kim will continue to escalate his rhetoric and weapons tests because he likely believes he can use heightened tensions to wrest U.S. concessions if former President Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidential election in November.

In a five-day major ruling party meeting last week, Kim said he will launch three more military spy satellites, produce more nuclear materials and develop attack drones this year in what observers say is an attempt to increase his leverage in future diplomacy with the U.S.

In a meeting Sunday with commanding army officers, Kim said it is urgent to sharpen “the treasured sword” to safeguard national security, an apparent reference to his country’s nuclear weapons program. He cited “the U.S. and other hostile forces’ military confrontation moves,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Kim stressed that “our army should deal a deadly blow to thoroughly annihilate them by mobilizing all the toughest means and potentialities without moment’s hesitation” if they opt for military confrontation and provocations against North Korea, KCNA said.

In his New Year’s Day address Monday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said he will strengthen his military’s preemptive strike, missile defense and retaliatory capabilities in response to the North Korean nuclear threat.

“The Republic of Korea is building genuine, lasting peace through strength, not a submissive peace that is dependent on the goodwill of the adversary,” Yoon said, using South Korea’s official name.

At the party meeting, Kim called South Korea “a hemiplegic malformation and colonial subordinate state” whose society is “tainted by Yankee culture.” He said his military must use all available means including nuclear weapons to “suppress the whole territory of South Korea” in the event of a conflict.

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South Korea’s Defense Ministry warned in response Sunday that if North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, South Korean and U.S. forces will punish it overwhelmingly, resulting in the end of the Kim government.

KCNA said North Korean officials held talks on Monday to implement an order by Kim to disband or reform organizations handling relations with South Korea to fundamentally change the principle and direction of the North’s struggle against the South. There was no immediate explanation of how that might alter inter-Korean relations, which have been stalled for an extended period.

Experts say small-scale military clashes between North and South Korea could happen this year along their heavily armed border. They say North Korea is also expected to test-launch intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the mainland U.S. and other major new weapons.

In 2018-19, Kim met Trump in three rounds of talks on North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal. The diplomacy fell apart after the U.S. rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle his main nuclear complex, a limited step, in exchange for extensive reductions in U.S.-led sanctions.

Since 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 missile tests, prompting the U.S. and South Korea to expand their joint military exercises. North Korea has also tried to strengthen its relationships with China and Russia, which blocked efforts by the U.S. and its partners in the U.N. Security Council to toughen U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its weapons tests.

KCNA said Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged New Year’s Day messages on Monday on bolstering bilateral ties. North Korea faces suspicions that it has supplied conventional arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine in return for sophisticated Russian technologies to enhance the North’s military programs.

Estimates of the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal vary, ranging from about 20-30 bombs to more than 100. Many foreign experts say North Korea still has some technological hurdles to overcome to produce functioning nuclear-armed ICBMs, though its shorter-range nuclear-capable missiles can reach South Korea and Japan.

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Sen. Fetterman says he thought news about his depression treatment would end his political career

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Sen. Fetterman says he thought news about his depression treatment would end his political career

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John Fetterman acknowledges having “dark conversations” about harming himself before he hit “the emergency brake” and sought treatment for depression.

He remembers thinking about his three school-age kids. “I can’t be a blueprint for my children. I can’t let them be left alone or not to understand why he would have done that,” the first-term Pennsylvania Democrat told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in a deeply personal and introspective interview taped before the broadcast that aired Sunday.

So he checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, last Feb. 15. “There was nowhere else to go,” he said, describing how he often felt during his stay that “there wasn’t any hope sometimes and like, ‘What do I have left?’”

He also wondered whether he would survive politically.

“When it got released where I was and where it was going, it was a big story. And so, I had assumed that that would be the end of my career,” he said

When he sought treatment for clinical depression, Fetterman was still coping with the effects of the stroke he had in May 2022, during his campaign for one of the Senate’s most contested seats. “My heart technically stopped, and it was a very touch-and-go situation,” said Fetterman, 54. A pacemaker was implanted with a defibrillator to manage two heart conditions, atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy.

His victory over Republican Mehmet Oz had helped Democrats keep control of the Senate and made him a national figure. It was the height of his political career. But he couldn’t make it out of bed at his home in Braddock, in western Pennsylvania.

“I really scared my kids, and they thought, ’You won, Dad. Why aren’t we enough? Why are you still so sad? Why are you even more sad?’ And it was hard for — to explain why I was. And, of course, a 9-year-old child wouldn’t understand that. And it was awful,” Fetterman said.

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So much so that he said he “pleaded not to go down to D.C.” later that November for orientation sessions in Washington for newly elected lawmakers.

His favorite holiday was nearing, yet he was unable to think about getting Christmas presents for his children and “dreading” his swearing in on Capitol Hill early in the new year.

Within two months, he was at Walter Reed. Aides had described the new senator as being withdrawn and uninterested in eating, discussing work or the usual banter with staff.

“This is a conversation that I’ve had with myself and anybody that knows they’re unable to address their depression, is they start to have dark conversations with themself about self-harm,” Fetterman said. “And things continued to kind of tick off the list. And then I kind of hit the emergency brake.”

He added, “I knew I needed help.”

Before checking into Walter Reed, Fetterman had never publicly discussed his battle with depression. He has since said that he has experienced it on and off throughout his life.

He left Walter Reed at the end of March after six weeks of inpatient treatment with his depression “in remission,” according to a statement from his office.

Doctors describe “remission” as when a patient responds to treatment so that they have returned to normal social function and they are indistinguishable from someone who has never had depression.

Fetterman has since become a visible presence in the Capitol, bantering with reporters, joking with Senate colleagues and speaking up at Senate hearings.

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To others who are now “facing a really dark holiday time,” Fetterman offered this guidance: “I know that last year’s was desolate. And this year’s might be desolate. Next year’s can be the best ever. And that’s what happened for me.”

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