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Evidence suggests Iran missile shot down plane: Johnson

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Boris Johnson

London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that there was a “body of information” to suggest an Iranian surface-to-air missile brought down a Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed near Tehran earlier this week.

Johnson’s comments on Thursday came the same day his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau said that he had seen evidence that suggested Iran’s missiles brought down the Kiev-bound Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 shortly after taking off from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all the 176 people on board, the BBC reported.

In a statement on Thursday night, Johnson said that the UK government was working closely with Canada and other international partners affected by the crash and that “there now needs to be a full, transparent investigation”.

“The UK continues to call on all sides urgently to de-escalate to reduce tensions in the region,” he said, adding that four Britons were among the victims.

It was previously reported that three British nationals – two engineers and an owner of a local dry cleaning business – had died. But Downing Street confirmed later that there was a fourth victim also.

Beside the Britons, 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans and three Germans were on board.

Echoing Johnson’s statement was Security Minister Brandon Lewis, who told the BBC that the UK agreed with the Canadians that the plane was shot down by a missile, adding it was “unintentional”.

But in response, an Iranian official also told the BBC that the reports of Iran shooting down the plane were “US propaganda”.

“Their claim without providing hard evidence to international community is worthless,” he added.

Meanwhile on Friday morning, the UK Foreign Office hardened its travel advice for Iran for the second time in a week.

It now advises against all travel to Iran and against all air travel “to, from and within the country”.

Wednesday’s crash took place just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq, which were in retaliation to the killing of Iran Major General Qasem Soleimani in a US drone attack in Baghdad on January 3.

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UN chief stresses local communities in decolonisation process

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Antonio Guterres

United Nations, Feb 22 : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stressed that the decolonisation process should be guided by the needs of the local communities and the world has the responsibility to amplify their voices.

Guterres made the remarks at the first meeting of the 2020 session of the Special Committee on Decolonisation, a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly.

The UN chief said currently, 17 territories are on the list of non-self-governing territories, and the world must not forget that the people in those territories are still waiting for the promise of self-government to be fulfilled, Xinhua news agency reported.

He said the decolonization agenda is moving ahead, albeit at a slow pace, and noted that in September, New Caledonia will hold its second referendum on independence, following a first referendum in 2018.

“Decolonisation is a process that has to be guided by the aspirations and needs of the communities living in the territories,” he said, adding their concerns are varied and “it is our collective responsibility to amplify their voices.”

In particular, he said the vast majority of the territories are small islands on the frontlines of climate change and many have faced devastating natural disasters, while others are struggling to build sustainable and self-sufficient economies.

Addressing the members of the committee, Guterres said, “We must continue to serve as a forum for meaningful dialogue between territories and administering powers to enable the peoples of the territories to make informed decisions about their future.”

He pledged to work with the committee as it makes another push to eradicate colonialism “once and for all.”

At the organisational meeting of the committee, Keisha McGuire, permanent representative of Grenada to the UN, was re-elected as its chair for the 2020 session.

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US Panel on Religious Freedom Says, CAA will cause Muslims to face exclusion

“Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a done deal. It’s not going to change. The Prime Minister has also made it clear that India will not budge an inch on this issue,” said an official source in response to the USCIRF’s comments on the CAA and the NRC.

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Shaheen Bagh

New Delhi: Days before United States President Donald Trump is due in India, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a fact sheet on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

“There are serious concerns that the CAA serves as a protective measure for non-Muslims in case of exclusion from a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC),” the USCIRF says. “This purpose is evident from ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians’ rhetoric. With the CAA in place, Muslims would primarily bear the punitive consequences of exclusion from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which could include ‘statelessness, deportation, or prolonged detention,’ according to three United Nations Special Rapporteurs.”

However, official sources in New Delhi said the Citizenship Amendment Act was an internal matter that would stay. “Citizenship Amendment Act is a done deal. It’s not going to change. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also made it clear that India will not budge an inch on this issue,” said the source in response to USCIRF’s comments on the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

On the possibilities that US President Donald Trump might raise uncomfortable issues like mediation during visit, an official spokesperson said, “On all these issues our position is well known to the U.S. side. Time and again we have communicated with them — the State Department, the White House and the Congress — about our sensitivities. Our position is well known and we hope that things will go on smoothly during the visit. And, we don’t see any such problem.”

The report raised serious concerns about comments from various BJP leaders about the party’s intention to create a new, exclusively Hindu country in India.

The USCIRF report also highlighted comments from various members of the ruling BJP who expressed plans to exclude Muslims from India.

“Hindutva political rhetoric questions the legitimacy of Muslims’ Indian citizenship and perpetuates the further marginalisation of this faith community. The Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, for example, promised in 2005 to cleanse India of other religions, calling this the ‘century of Hindutva’,” said the USCIRF.

The USCIRF report also cited extensively from concerns expressed by the UN reports and observations that have described the controversial new citizenship law as biased against the minority Muslim community of India.

A Wednesday tweet from the USCIRF— which is an independent bi-partisan commission established by the U.S. Congress — calls the CAA “a significant downward turn in religious freedom” in India.

The USCIRF fact sheet says of the CAA: “The law’s passage sparked large-scale protests across the country that provoked a harsh and deadly crackdown by police forces.”

“A wide variety of political parties, non-governmental organisations (NGO), and religious groups also submitted petitions to the Supreme Court of India challenging the CAA’s constitutionality, arguing that it, in particular, violates Section 14 (equality before the law) of the Indian Constitution… Alongside the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee similarly expressed their concern about the law,” the fact sheet says. There is also a reference to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s comments. He is quoted as saying the government would “selectively throw out all infiltrators.”

On Friday morning, USCIRF tweeted out a fact sheet on religious freedom in China, saying, “USCIRF’s new fact sheet on China’s regulation of religious groups provides a brief overview of the new regulation and explains why it marks a significant escalation in the Chinese government’s ongoing crackdown on religious freedom.”

https://twitter.com/USCIRF/status/1230525623015288832?s=20

India is a Tier 2 country in terms of religious freedom (the second poorest ranking group) and China is a Tier 1 ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (the category that fares poorest in terms of religious freedoms) as per current U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) rankings.

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US honours Indian democracy for robust debate on CAA: Pompeo

So far, President Donald Trump’s administration has not taken a stand on the CAA, although the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said last week that it was “deeply troubled” by it, adding that Washington should sanction Home Minister Amit Shah.

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Resolution against CAA

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has noted that there was a “robust debate” within India over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) and that Washington honours Indian democracy.

Asked by a reporter about Washington’s reaction to the CAA, Pompeo said: “We honour Indian democracy as they have a robust debate inside of India on the issue that you raised, and the US will be consistent in the way that we respond to these issues, not only in India but all across the world.

“We care deeply and always will about protecting minorities, protecting religious rights everywhere.”

At a joint news conference attended by Pompeo, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister after their 2+2 Strategic Dialogue in Washington on Wednesday, the reporter asked Jaishankar: “Why make religion a factor in deciding who gets fast-tracked for citizenship?”

Defending the CAA, Jaishankar explained: “If you had followed the debate on that particular legislation carefully, you would see that it is a measure which is designed to address the needs of persecuted religious minorities from certain countries.

“If you look at where – what those countries are, and therefore what the minorities are, perhaps you’d get – you’d understand why certain religions were identified in terms of categorising those who had come across.”

So far, President Donald Trump’s administration has not taken a stand on the CAA, although the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said last week that it was “deeply troubled” by it, adding that Washington should sanction Home Minister Amit Shah.

https://twitter.com/USCIRF/status/1230146257890480128?s=20

But the Commission does not have the power to sanction anyone or any government but can make recommendations that can be followed up by the government or Congress.

The CAA aims to give refuge and faster citizenship to give refuge to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains fleeing religious persecution from the officially Islamic Pakistan and Afghanistan and Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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