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The Pakistani authorities should immediately lift a 24-hour curfew in place since May 18 in the Swat valley and adjoining areas of the Malakand Division of Pakistan's Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), Human Rights Watch said today. Severe shortages of food, water, and medicine are creating a major humanitarian crisis for the hundreds of thousands of civilians still trapped in the region where Pakistani armed forces are fighting Taliban insurgents.
Human Rights Watch has continued to receive persistent reports of ongoing civilian casualties from Pakistani artillery shelling and aerial bombardment as desperate civilians break the curfew in search of food and water or to flee hostilities. Even with a curfew in place, international humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to take all necessary measures to minimize civilian casualties.
"People trapped in the Swat conflict zone face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the Pakistani military immediately lifts a curfew that has been in place continuously for the last week," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government cannot allow the local population to remain trapped without food, clean water, and medicine as a tactic to defeat the Taliban."
Human Rights Watch investigations have established that thousands of civilians ordered by the army to vacate the villages of Guljaba and Aligrama, among others, of the Kabal sub-district of Swat remain trapped in Chakdara, a town in Lower Dir district. Speaking to Human Rights Watch on May 25, villagers reported that they were ordered out of their homes by the military authorities on May 22 and told to head for Chakdara and beyond to safe areas. However, once they reached Chakdara the same day, they were prevented from traveling further or going back. The town of Chakdara itself remains under 24-hour curfew and fleeing civilians reported that they were without shelter and lacked food, water, and medicines. The trapped civilians reported that many of them were suffering from dehydration and other health problems and their children were particularly weak and vulnerable.
Residents of Swat fleeing into the districts of Mardan and Swabi also reported a worsening humanitarian situation in these areas. They told Human Rights Watch that the prices of essential food items, when available, had risen tenfold, that scarcity of water had reached a critical point, and that the continuous curfew meant that residents risked their lives if they ventured out in search of food. Dead bodies lay unburied and the critically injured faced likely death as all medical facilities in the valley had shut down and medicines were unavailable.
"The Pakistani government should take all possible measures including airdrops of food, water, and medicine to quickly alleviate large-scale human suffering in Swat," said Adams. "Both sides should allow a humanitarian corridor that would let civilians escape the fighting and for impartial humanitarian agencies to evacuate and aid civilians at risk."
Human Rights Watch expressed concern about continued summary executions by the Taliban and civilian casualties from shelling by the Pakistani military. Internally displaced persons who had fled to Swabi district from Khwaza Khela village in Swat told Human Rights Watch that on May 18 the Taliban publicly beheaded in the local mosque a villager named Kalimoon Khan, who had joined 10 others in a delegation to a Pakistani military checkpost to request the military not bombard their village. The Taliban accused them of being informants for the Pakistan army and badly beat three of them, beheaded Khan, and threatened to hunt down and kill the rest. Human Rights Watch also spoke to a villager who described heavy shelling on May 19 that resulted in the deaths of 11 civilians from the village, none of whom were Taliban.
Separately, a resident of Charbagh village in Swat told Human Rights Watch that villagers were unaware of any Taliban presence in the village when, on May 12, the Pakistani military fired a missile that struck the central market, killing one resident instantly and injuring another. When villagers rushed to the scene to retrieve the casualties, another missile hit the same location, killing another nine civilians and wounding eight. The resident said that, after the second attack, villagers were too scared to come to the aid of the injured, but the screams of the injured proved difficult to ignore and 30 minutes later more villagers went to collect the bodies and administer to the wounded. A third missile then struck in the area. In total 19 civilians were reportedly killed and 30 wounded in these attacks, including two children who died of their injuries due to lack of medical care.
Human Rights Watch said that because the area where the fighting continues is a closed military zone with journalists and human rights monitors barred from entering, it is currently not possible to verify this information independently. Local journalists have left the area, and the army is not permitting Pakistani reporters or foreign correspondents to enter.
"Civilians continue to suffer at the hands of the Taliban and now their misery is being compounded by the military's disregard for civilians and refusal to allow them to leave the conflict zone," said Adams. "If the Taliban are to be truly defeated, Pakistan's military must act to ease the suffering of the people of Swat, not compound it."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"These findings fly in the face of Biden's preferred framing of international politics as a 'battle between democracies and autocracies,'" says the author of a new report.
President Joe Biden claims that the United States is leading "democracies" in a fight against "autocracies" to establish a peaceful international order, but his administration approved weapons sales to nearly three-fifths of the world's authoritarian countries in 2022.
That's according to a new analysis conducted by Security Policy Reform Institute co-founder Stephen Semler and published Thursday in The Intercept.
The U.S. has been the world's largest arms dealer since the end of the Cold War. Data released in March showed that the U.S. accounted for 40% of global weapons exports from 2018 to 2022.
As Semler explained:
In general, these exports are funded through grants or sales. There are two pathways for the latter category: foreign military sales and direct commercial sales.
The U.S. government acts as an intermediary for FMS acquisitions: It buys the materiel from a company first and then delivers the goods to the foreign recipient. DCS acquisitions are more straightforward: They're the result of an agreement between a U.S. company and a foreign government. Both categories of sales require the government's approval.
Country-level data for last year's DCS authorizations was released in late April through the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. FMS figures for fiscal year 2022 were released earlier this year through the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency. According to their data, a total of 142 countries and territories bought weapons from the U.S. in 2022, for a total of $85 billion in bilateral sales.
To determine how many of those governments were democratic and how many were autocratic, Semler relied on data from the Varieties of Democracy project at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, which uses a classification system called Regimes of the World.
"Of the 84 countries codified as autocracies under the Regimes of the World system in 2022, the United States sold weapons to at least 48, or 57%, of them," Semler wrote. "The 'at least' qualifier is necessary because several factors frustrate the accurate tracking of U.S. weapons sales. The State Department's report of commercial arms sales during the fiscal year makes prodigious use of 'various' in its recipients category; as a result, the specific recipients for nearly $11 billion in weapons sales are not disclosed."
"The Regimes of the World system is just one of the several indices that measure democracy worldwide, but running the same analysis with other popular indices produces similar results," Semler observed. "For example, Freedom House listed 195 countries and for each one labeled whether it qualified as an electoral democracy in its annual Freedom in the World report. Of the 85 countries Freedom House did not designate as an electoral democracy, the United States sold weapons to 49, or 58%, of them in fiscal year 2022."
Despite the White House's lofty rhetoric, it is actively bolstering the military power of a majority of the world's authoritarian countries, from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to dozens of others, including some overlooked by researchers at the University of Gothenburg.
For instance, the Varieties of Democracy project characterizes Israel as a "liberal democracy" even though human rights groups around the world have condemned it as a decidedly anti-democratic apartheid state. Washington, meanwhile, showers Israel with $3.8 billion in military support each year, resources that the government uses to violently dispossess and frequently kill Palestinians at will.
As Semler put it Saturday in his "Speaking Security" newsletter, "These findings fly in the face of Biden's preferred framing of international politics as a "battle between democracies and autocracies."
The president's narrative "lends itself more to a self-righteous foreign policy than an honest or productive one," Semler argued. "Dividing the world between democratic and autocratic countries—in the spirit of 'with us or against us'—makes conflict more likely and has had a chilling effect on calls for diplomacy and détente. It's also harder to cooperate with the international community while insisting you're locked in an existential fight with roughly half of them."
On the heels of strike-authorization votes by American and Southwest pilots, United pilots protested at airports across the U.S. on Friday to tell management that "enough is enough."
Following what the Air Line Pilots Association called "more than four years of empty promises," 3,000 off-duty United Airlines pilots represented by the union protested at major airports across the U.S. on Friday, demanding the finalization of a contract with higher pay and humane scheduling practices.
"Thousands of United pilots are picketing coast-to-coast today to deliver management a message they cannot ignore: Enough is enough," Capt. Garth Thompson, chair of the United ALPA master executive council, said in a statement.
"United management needs to stop slow-rolling negotiations... and do the right thing for their pilots."
"We have been stuck with an antiquated scheduling system and a contract nowhere near industry-leading standards," said Thompson. "We want United to succeed as industry leaders, and every day that passes without an agreement is another day the best and brightest future aviators go elsewhere."
United pilots—joined by ALPA president Capt. Jason Ambrosi, fellow ALPA pilots, and union supporters—demonstrated in front of terminals at airports in 10 cities as well as outside the company's flight training center in Denver.
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA president Sara Nelson was among those who participated in an act of solidarity.
"I am proud to stand here today to send United Airlines management a message that the airline's pilots have the full backing of their international union in their fight for the contract they have earned," said Ambrosi, who leads the 69,000-member union and joined a picket line in Chicago. "United management needs to stop slow-rolling negotiations that have dragged into their fifth year and do the right thing for their pilots."
Management has failed "to recognize the value pilots bring to the overall success of the airline," ALPA said. "United pilots were there for customers during one of the worst times for travel in recent history, and they also helped United Airlines emerge from the pandemic stronger than before."
Thompson, who called Friday's nationwide informational picket a "resounding success," stressed that "United pilots will always be there for our customers."
"Unfortunately," he added, "the same cannot be said about management, who seems to think that a last-minute cancellation of a United pilot's scheduled day off, or abrupt trip reassignments that extend into planned days off, is acceptable for a United pilot's family."
"This old pilot contract impacts our ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance," Thompson continued. "United pilots will deal with this adversity in our usual professional and safe manner. We will continue to work in 2023 despite staffing shortages in Air Traffic Control facilities, aggressive summer schedules, capacity constraints, and weather." However, he noted, "United pilots want the company and the public to know that the bold 'United Next' growth plans cannot work without an updated pilot contract."
"This old pilot contract impacts our ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance."
The action by United pilots comes in the wake of a pair of successful strike-authorization votes by pilots at other airlines.
On May 1, 95% of American Airlines pilots voted to authorize a strike. (Of the airline's 15,000 pilots, 96% participated, with 99% expressing support for a possible strike).
"We will strike if necessary to secure the industry-leading contract that our pilots have earned and deserve—a contract that will position American Airlines for success," said Capt. Ed Sicher, president of the Allied Pilots Association. "Our pilots' resolve is unmistakable. We will not be deterred from our goal of an industry-leading contract."
"The strike-authorization vote is one of several steps APA has taken to prepare for any eventuality and use all legal avenues available to us for contract improvement and resolution," Sicher noted. "The best outcome is for APA and management to agree on an industry-leading contract—achieved through good-faith bargaining—benefiting our pilots, American Airlines, and the passengers we serve."
On Thursday, 97% of Southwest pilots voted to authorize a strike. (Of the airline's 10,000-plus pilots, 98% participated, with 99% expressing support for a possible strike).
"This is a historic day, not only for our pilots but for Southwest Airlines," said Capt. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. "The lack of leadership and the unwillingness to address the failures of our organization have led us to this point. Our pilots are tired of apologizing to our passengers."
Murray and other union leaders have attributed Southwest's meltdown last winter to executives' yearslong refusal to invest in much-needed technological upgrades despite benefiting from billions of dollars in federal aid during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We want our passengers to understand that we do not take this path lightly," Murray said Thursday. "We want our customers to be prepared for the path ahead and make arrangements on other carriers so that their plans through the summer and fall are not disrupted."
United's 14,000 pilots could be next in line to vote on strike authorization.
As The Associated Pressreported Saturday, "Pilots at all three carriers are looking to match or beat the deal that Delta Air Lines reached with its pilots earlier this year, which raised pay rates by 34% over four years."
"United has proposed to match the Delta increase, but that might not be enough for a deal," AP observed. Citing Thompson, the outlet noted that "discussion about wages has been held up while the two sides negotiate over scheduling, including the union’s wish to limit United's ability to make pilots work on their days off."
The nation's pilots "are unlikely to strike anytime soon, however," AP reported. "Federal law makes it very difficult for unions to conduct strikes in the airline industry, and the last walkout at a U.S. carrier was more than a decade ago."
"Under U.S. law, airline and railroad workers can't legally strike, and companies can't lock them out, until federal mediators determine that further negotiations are pointless," the outlet explained. It continued:
The National Mediation Board rarely declares a dead end to bargaining, and even if it does, there is a no-strikes "cooling-off" period during which the White House and Congress can block a walkout. That's what President Bill Clinton did minutes after pilots began striking against American in 1997. In December, President Joe Biden signed a bill that Congress passed to impose contract terms on freight railroad workers, ending a strike threat.
Regardless of the legal hurdles to a walkout, unions believe that strike votes give them leverage during bargaining, and they have become more common. A shortage of pilots is also putting those unions in particularly strong bargaining position.
Although Congress is highly unlikely to permit an airline strike, disgruntled pilots could still cause disruption through "work to rule," Arthur Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University, told AP.
"They could say, 'We're not working any overtime,'" said Wheaton. "I don't anticipate the pilots trying to screw up travel for everybody intentionally, but bargaining is about leverage and power... having the ability to do that can be a negotiating tactic."
The Honduran foreign minister said his government is in contact with the family of the teen who died and "has requested that ORR and HHS carry out an exhaustive investigation of the case... and, if there is any responsibility, apply the full weight of the law."
After the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday confirmed that a 17-year-old Honduran in the United States without a parent or guardian died in government custody earlier this week, CBS Newsrevealed another recent death.
"CBS News learned that a 4-year-old child from Honduras in HHS custody died in March after being hospitalized for cardiac arrest in Michigan," according to the outlet. "The child, whose death has not been previously reported, was 'medically fragile,' HHS said in a notification to lawmakers at the time."
Meanwhile, CNNobtained the congressional notice for the 17-year-old, who was under the care of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and placed at Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services in Safety Harbor, Florida, on May 5.
As CNN detailed:
The teen was taken to Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor Wednesday morning after being found unconscious. He was pronounced dead an hour later despite resuscitation attempts.
The minor's parents and sponsor have been notified, according to the notice. An investigation by a medical examiner is underway and ORR said it will continue to receive more information on the death from the care provider.
CBS News reported that a U.S. official said there was "no altercation of any kind" involved in the teenage boy's death.
Honduras' foreign minister, Eduardo Enrique Reina, wrote in a series of tweets Thursday night that his government "regrets and offers its condolences for the death of the 17-year-old," whom he identified.
The Honduran government "is in contact with the family and has requested that ORR and HHS carry out an exhaustive investigation of the case... and, if there is any responsibility, apply the full weight of the law," he said, adding that the death "underscores the importance of working together on the bilateral migration agenda on the situation of unaccompanied minors, to find solutions."
HHS said Friday that it "is deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our heart goes out to the family, with whom we are in touch."
The ORR Division of Health for Unaccompanied Children "is reviewing all clinical details of this case, including all inpatient healthcare records," which "is standard practice for any situation involving the death of an unaccompanied child or a serious health outcome," HHS continued. "A medical examiner investigation is underway. Due to privacy and safety reasons, ORR cannot share further information on individual cases of children who have been in our care."
\u201cAsked about the 17-year-old migrant child who died in U.S. custody in Florida, White House Press Sec. Karine Jean-Pierre says a medical investigation is underway:\n\n\u201cOur hearts go out to the family ... I haven\u2019t actually spoken to the president about this.\u201d\u201d— The Recount (@The Recount) 1683917903
The Tampa Bay Timesreported that Bill Pellan, director of investigations for the District Six Medical Examiner Office, "said further details of the boy's death could not be released due to the ongoing investigation" while "the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office confirmed the active case and declined to release records."
The newspaper also noted that the death "is complicated by an ongoing dispute between the federal government and Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration, which in December 2021 announced that Florida will no longer license shelters that house migrant children."
DeSantis, a Republican expected to challenge former President Donald Trump for their party's 2024 presidential nomination, has gained national attention for his hostility toward migrants, from a widely condemned bill he signed into law on Wednesday to his role in flying South Americans to Martha's Vineyard last year.
Although the DeSantis administration's shelter decision enables Florida facilities "to operate without a license or state oversight," the Times explained Friday, HHS said that ORR still requires the sites to meet licensing standards and conducts its own monitoring and evaluation "to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our care."
The newly revealed deaths are rare, relative to the number of unaccompanied minors that enter the country. According to CBS: "Over an eight-month span in 2018 and 2019, six children died in U.S. custody or shortly after being released, including a 10-year-old girl who died while in the care of ORR. Her death was the first of a child in U.S. custody since 2010, officials said at the time."
\u201cThis death of a migrant CHILD in federal custody always mattered to the public under Trump. Under this administration, it hardly registers. Shameful.\u201d— Aura Bogado (@Aura Bogado) 1683907979
Reporting on both Honduran children's deaths comes as the U.S. government rolls out controversial migrant policies in response to the expiration of Title 42, which was invoked by the administrations of both Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden to deport millions of asylum-seekers under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.
After Biden's policies were announced last month, the International Refugee Assistance Project said that it "welcomes the expansion of family reunification parole programs and refugee processing in the Americas, but strongly opposes doing so as a trade-off for limiting the legal rights of people seeking asylum in the United States."
On Thursday, the ACLU, the civil liberties group's Northern California branch, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and National Immigrant Justice Center filed a legal challenge to the asylum ban in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
"The Biden administration's new ban places vulnerable asylum-seekers in grave danger and violates U.S. asylum laws. We've been down this road before with Trump," said Katrina Eiland, managing attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "The asylum bans were cruel and illegal then, and nothing has changed now."