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A meeting of the Arab League in Cairo this Sunday should provide a key opportunity to clarify ongoing allegations about serious human rights violations in Syria, Amnesty International said today.
Ahead of the meeting, numerous Syrian human rights activists have told Amnesty International that grave human rights concerns remain despite the presence of an Arab League observer mission in the country since 26 December 2011.
These include the Syrian security forces' apparent killings of scores of protesters and other individuals since the observers arrived - Amnesty International has the names of 134 people killed in this way since the observer mission began, but the actual figure may be considerably higher. Many more have been arrested for their real or suspected involvement in the pro-reform movement, while the Syrian authorities have failed to release thousands of others similarly detained.
Reports of a deadly bomb blast in Damascus today highlight the deteriorating security situation, while Syrian opposition groups critical of the Arab League mission have called for mass protests to urge UN action on Syria.
"It was a very welcome development for the Arab League to launch this mission to monitor the situation on the ground in Syria and witness the impact of months of serious human rights violations during the bloody crackdown on pro-reform protesters," said Ann Harrison, Interim Deputy Programme Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
"When they report on their preliminary findings this Sunday, we hope those findings will be made public to give the international community a clear picture of the current situation on the ground in Syria, where human rights violations appear to be continuing unabated."
The observer mission is in Syria to monitor the government's implementation of an agreement reached with the Arab League in late November to help restore calm.
It is the first time a formal mission of observers has been allowed into Syria since the crackdown on pro-reform protesters began last March.
In recent weeks, Syrian opposition activists have repeatedly contested statements made by Arab League officials in the media and elsewhere.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi stated that Syrian authorities had released more than 3,500 political prisoners, but it remains unclear what evidence led to this statement.
No list of released prisoners has been made public and Syrian activists have told Amnesty International that they believe the number of such prisoners released was much lower, adding that scores or hundreds of additional political activists were arrested in the last week, including in Aleppo, Latakia and Daraya.
There are also reports that a large number of detainees may have been moved around or taken to hidden detention centres to prevent Arab League observers from seeing them.
As for the withdrawal of military equipment and personnel, all the activists who spoke with Amnesty International said that tanks were often just moved away for the duration of the observers' visits and that pro-government snipers remain in many residential areas, where they continue to threaten protesters and others going about their daily business.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on President Bashar al-Assad's government to bring an end to the violence, including crimes against humanity perpetrated since the fierce crackdown on Syrian pro-reform protesters began in March 2011. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations should be granted access to the country.
The organization has also called on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, as well as to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Syria and freeze the assets of President al-Assad and others involved in ordering or perpetrating serious human rights violations.
The Security Council is expected to discuss Syria again on 10 January.
"By their mere presence in Syria, the Arab League's observer mission has given encouragement to the protesters to return to the streets in larger numbers and given more visibility to human rights concerns, but robust action is now needed to stop the violence," said Ann Harrison.
"A strong Arab League condemnation of the al-Assad government's violations would further build the case for decisive UN action to deliver justice and accountability for the brutal crackdown."
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.
The head of the major U.S. military contractor said the Pentagon top-line in the debt ceiling deal is "as good an outcome as our industry or our company could ask for at this point."
The head of the top weapons contractor in the United States said Thursday that he's happy with the debt ceiling agreement negotiated by the congressional Republicans and the Biden White House, a deal that proposes a military budget increase while imposing two years of caps on other discretionary federal spending—impacting funding for education, housing, and more.
James Taiclet, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, said at a conference that the bill now awaiting President Joe Biden's signature is "as good an outcome as our industry or our company could ask for at this point," noting that it calls for "3% growth for two years in defense where other areas of the budget are being reduced."
"I think we're in a real strong position at this point," said Taiclet, adding that "there's sufficient funding in the president's budget."
Biden's $886 billion military spending request for fiscal year 2024—a $28 increase over current levels—is the topline military budget number set by the debt ceiling legislation, though war hawks in both parties are already exploring ways to dump even more money into the Pentagon's overflowing coffers.
If finalized in the appropriations process, military outlays will account for close to 56% of the U.S. federal government's total discretionary spending in fiscal year 2024, Lindsay Koshgarian of the National Priorities Project noted Thursday.
"This represents a massive shift of resources away from domestic programs and toward the military: the already-gargantuan military budget will increase by $28 billion (3.3%), while domestic spending will take a cut of $63 billion (8.2%)," Koshgarian wrote. "Cuts to many domestic programs will need to go deeper, because domestic spending includes veterans' programs, which are protected from cuts in the current deal."
"The only reason there’s a budget deal at all right now is because House Republicans threatened to tank the economy by refusing to allow the U.S. to pay its bills unless they got cuts for programs they don't like," she added. "They succeeded, and as others have shown, the people to pay the price will be the poorest and most down on their luck. Worse, the current deal could set a new precedent for more of the same: unnecessary military increases while domestic programs are slashed."
Lockheed Martin, one of the contractors that has been price-gouging the Department of Defense for years, is poised to be one of the top beneficiaries of the larger Pentagon budget—much of which will likely wind up benefiting private companies.
As Responsible Statecraft's Eli Clifton reported Thursday, Lockheed "received 73 percent of its net sales from the U.S. government in 2022 and invested $13 million in lobbying the federal government."
"Their lobbyists heavily focus their efforts on the defense budget," Clifton added, citing OpenSecrets.
William Hartung, senior research fellow at Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said Friday that the newly passed debt limit deal "unnecessarily privileges the Pentagon over other essential programs."
"There's no reason to exclude the Pentagon from the budget freeze," he added. "Congress should push the current proposed military spending total of $886 billion back to FY2023 levels in the appropriations process that will play out over the course of this year."
"I wonder how it feels to have a group of people challenge your pay and worth," said one labor leader sarcastically.
Television writers who have been on strike for a month applauded a vote at Netflix's annual shareholder meeting on Thursday in which the streaming company's investors rejected an executive pay package that critics said exemplified the greed of Hollywood CEOs and their unfair treatment of the workers behind their lucrative content.
A majority of the shareholders voted against a pay package for executives including co-CEOs Greg Peters and Ted Sarandos as well as Netflix co-founder and board chair Reed Hastings.
Under the proposed pay package, Sarandos would earn up to $40 million in base salary, a bonus, and stock options, while Peters would take home $34.6 million.
"I wonder how it feels to have a group of people challenge your pay and worth,"
tweeted labor leader Lindsay Dougherty sardonically. Dougherty is secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399 and represents more than 6,000 TV and film workers.
Meredith Stiehm, president of the Western branch of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), noted in the union's letter to studio executives last week that the shareholders were also asked to give retroactive approval to the company's 2022 CEO pay package, which amounted to $166 million.
"While investors have long taken issue with Netflix's executive pay, the compensation structure is even more egregious against the backdrop of the strike," wrote Stiehm, noting that in contrast to the executives' annual pay, "the proposed improvements the WGA currently has on the table would cost Netflix an estimated $68 million per year."
Thursday's vote was non-binding, and could be overturned by the company's board of directors, but writer Jelena Woehr tweeted that shareholders' rejection of Netflix's pay structure could ultimately pressure TV studios to meet the demands of the WGA, including higher residual pay and better compensation for writers who are hired before a show has been given a greenlight for production.
\u201cThis is a fairly mild action but if they get mad enough about watching their shares lose value, activist investors can start causing a lot more trouble, and I suspect by fall they will\u2026\u201d— Yell in a Strike (@Yell in a Strike) 1685661537
The WGA West noted that executive pay packages rarely fail to get approval from shareholders.
\u201cInstead, this money paid the top Netflix execs who are creating risk for the company and shareholders by not offering writers a fair deal. 3/6\u201d— Writers Guild of America West (@Writers Guild of America West) 1685659853
"Shareholders should send a message to Comcast that if the company could afford to spend $130 million on executive compensation last year," she wrote, "it can afford to pay the estimated $34 million per year that writers are asking for in contract improvements and put an end to this disruptive strike."
"Your termination of my employment will not stifle workers' organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement," said Jennifer Bates.
Amazon on Friday fired Jennifer Bates, a warehouse worker and lead spokesperson of the unionization campaign in Bessemer, Alabama, without cause.
The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) described Bates as the "woman who lit the spark of the current rise of labor activism." Her termination comes as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to investigate RWDSU's claims that Amazon violated federal labor law in order to vanquish a union drive broadly supported by local residents.
According to RWDSU, the firing of Bates also comes amid a "monthslong worker's compensation nightmare. Bates continues to suffer from crippling injuries received while working at Amazon, which she spoke out about during the unionization effort, and for which has lengthy documentation." The union added that "Bates hit three years of service this May, an ominous number for Amazon workers whose pay scales top out after three years."
"Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we've seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue."
"I went to work for Amazon because I believed in the future world of work, but at Amazon there is no future for workers like me," Bates said in a statement. "I have tirelessly worked for Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama since it opened. Everything hurts and it's permanently changed my life forever, but I stayed because I believe Amazon can be better, and I believe with a union we can build a brighter future for workers across the company."
"I've given my back to Amazon these past three years. I've given my arms and shoulders to Amazon these past three years. And I've given every fiber of my soul into organizing Amazon these past three years," said Bates. "For them to treat me like this is unfathomable."
"But let me be clear, Amazon, your termination of my employment will not stifle workers' organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement," she stressed. "We are a movement, we will not be stopped, and I know my union, recognized or not by you, has my back. We will fight this, I will not be silenced, we will not be stopped."
\u201cBREAKING: Jennifer Bates (@Jennife67173021), the lead worker spokeswoman of the @BAmazonUnion drive, received notice she had been terminated by the company amid a several months long workers compensation nightmare. \nFull statement: https://t.co/tom8PZfxmK\u201d— RWDSU (@RWDSU) 1685711494
RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum lamented that "Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we've seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue, for which there is ample documentation."
The issue "can and should be easily resolved by a human," said Appelbaum. "Instead, Jennifer Bates is being subjected to termination by AI due to a glitch in the company's own software."
"Outrageously, Jennifer's is just one example of horror stories burdening thousands of Amazon workers every day," Appelbaum continued. "Workers suffer from life-altering injuries through their work at Amazon, including repetitive motion injuries and 911 emergencies, which send workers to the hospital regularly, some never to return again. Continually nameless faceless HR is either nowhere to be found or excessively difficult to track down."
"Amazon spared no expense in its union-busting throughout the Bessemer campaign, and today is just another in a litany of examples of how this company will stop at nothing to stifle workers' efforts to unionize," the union leader noted. "Amazon blatantly broke the law throughout the campaign, knowing that any potential penalty would be insignificant. Amazon's goal was to prevent—by any means—its employees from having a collective voice through a union in Bessemer."
"Labor law reform is critical if workers are to find any hope," he added. "Amazon's behavior must not be tolerated."
"Amazon spared no expense in its union-busting throughout the Bessemer campaign, and today is just another in a litany of examples of how this company will stop at nothing to stifle workers' efforts to unionize."
In the spring of 2021, RWDSU came up short during its initial organizing drive at Amazon's BHM1 warehouse in Bessemer—the first union election at one of the e-commerce giant's facilities in United States history.
Afterward, the union filed 23 complaints with the NLRB, accusing Amazon of illegally threatening employees with loss of pay and benefits, installing and surveilling an unlawful ballot collection box, and expelling pro-union workers from captive audience meetings during which management argued against collective bargaining.
The NLRB eventually threw out the results of the first election and supervised a new vote in the spring of 2022. The results of the second election were inconclusive. Although there were 118 more votes against unionization than for it, the final outcome hinges on how the director of the NLRB's Region 10 office decides to count 416 challenged ballots.
Following last year's contested vote, RWDSU lodged 21 objections to Amazon's conduct during the election with the NLRB, accusing the company of yet again interfering with the rights of its employees to organize for better conditions without fear of retaliation.
"Workers at Amazon have endured an insanely and needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace; with Amazon doing everything it can to spread misinformation and deceive workers," Appelbaum said Friday. "Today’s news is shockingly just another case of Amazon's misconduct in a growing mountain of [unfair labor practices], objections, and charges against Amazon."
"The company violated the law in the first election and did so again in the re-run election, and now is firing union leaders in the facility to all but extinguish any embers of union support in the facility," said Appelbaum.
"We will continue to hold Amazon accountable and ensure workers' voices are heard," the union leader emphasized. "Amazon's behavior must not go unchallenged, and workers in Bessemer, Alabama must have their rights protected under the law. We urge the NLRB to carefully review Jennifer's case, when it's filed, and the countless other issues at hand to ensure no company, not even with the bottomless pockets of Amazon, is allowed to act above the law."