France Returns Skulls Of Algerians Who Fought Colonisation

File: UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. AFP.

 

Algeria on Friday received the skulls of 24 resistance fighters decapitated during colonial France’s conquest of the North African country that had been lying in storage in a Paris museum.

The return of the remains, viewed as war trophies by French colonial officers, comes amid a worldwide reexamination of the legacy of colonialism since the May 25 killing of 46-year-old African American George Floyd by a white police officer in the United States.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to make amends for “centuries of violence and discrimination”.

The skulls were flown into Algiers airport from France on a Hercules C-130 transport plane, escorted on arrival by Algerian fighter jets, an AFP correspondent said.

To a 21-gun salute, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and a military guard of honour gave the war “heroes” an official welcome.

The remains, in a coffin draped with the Algerian flag, were brought out of the aircraft and carried shoulder-high by soldiers as a military band played a funeral march.

Tebboune bowed in front of each coffin and a Muslim cleric recited a prayer for the dead.

“The city is incredibly silent as the sirens of boats echo across the port of Algiers,” in tribute to the resistance fighters, an Algerian tweeted.

The coffins will be taken to the Palace of Culture in Algiers where they will be on display Saturday for the public to pay their respects.

On Sunday, Algeria’s 58th anniversary of independence, the skulls will finally be laid to rest in the martyrs’ section of the capital’s El Alia Cemetery, local media reported.

France’s 132 years of colonial rule, and the brutal eight-year war that ended it, have left a lasting legacy of often prickly relations between the two governments and peoples.

The French presidency, in a statement to AFP, said the return of the remains was a gesture of “friendship” as part of efforts to “reconcile the memories of the French and Algerian people”.

Announcing the repatriations on Thursday, Tebboune said the decapitated fighters “had been deprived of their natural and human right to be buried for more than 170 years”.

‘Heroes’

He paid tribute to them as “heroes who confronted the brutal French occupation between 1838 and 1865”.

“The savage enemy decapitated them in reprisals before transferring their skulls overseas so that their graves would not become a symbol of the resistance,” Tebboune added.

One of the leaders whose remains were returned is Sheikh Bouzian, a revolt leader who was captured in 1849 by the French, shot and decapitated.

The skull of prominent resistance leader Mohammed Lamjad ben Abdelmalek, also known as “Cherif Boubaghla” (or the man with the mule), was also among those to be returned.

Historian Malika Rahal welcomed the news.

“The martyrs are returning home,” she said in a tweet.

“The body parts of those who fought the conquest of their country are returning home after a very long stay in cardboard boxes at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.”

Emmanuel Macron, the first French president to be born after the 1954-62 independence war in which 1.5 million Algerian died, made his first official visit to the country in December 2017, saying he came as a “friend”.

At the time, he told news website Tout sur l’Algerie that he was “ready” to see his country hand back the skulls.

‘Cardboard boxes’

Algeria had officially asked for their return in 2018, as well as requesting the handover of colonial archives.

Algerian and French academics have long campaigned for the return of the skulls.

Algerian historian Ali-Farid Belkadi was the first to call for their return in 2011 after undertaking research work at the Musee de l’Homme.

At the time, he said the skulls were kept in “vulgar cardboard boxes that resemble shoeboxes”.

In December 2019, Macron said that “colonialism was a grave mistake” and called for turning the page on the past.

During his presidential election campaign, he had created a storm by calling France’s colonisation of Algeria a “crime against humanity”.

‘Endemic Racial Discrimination’ Exposed In US – UN Rights Chief

In this file photo taken on September 23, 2019 flags of the United Nations and the United States of America are seen in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP
In this file photo taken on September 23, 2019 flags of the United Nations and the United States of America are seen in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP

 

The UN rights chief said Tuesday the coronavirus pandemic’s disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities in the US and protests triggered by George Floyd’s death had laid bare “endemic inequalities” that must be addressed.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, raised the situation in the United States and a range of countries, saying data shows the COVID-19 crisis has had a worse impact on racial and ethnic minorities.

“This virus is exposing endemic inequalities that have too long been ignored,” she said in a statement.

Similar inequalities were also fuelling the widespread protests in hundreds of US cities over the police killing in Minneapolis last week of Floyd, an unarmed black man.

“In the United States, protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd are highlighting not only police violence against people of colour, but also inequalities in health, education, employment and endemic racial discrimination,” Bachelet said.

She noted the virus death rate for African Americans is reported to be more than double that of other racial groups in the United States.

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Her statement also highlighted the situation in Britain, where government data for England and Wales shows a death rate for blacks, ethnic Pakistanis and Bangladeshis that is nearly double that of whites.

And she pointed to Brazil, where people of colour in Sao Paulo are 62 percent more likely to die from the virus than whites, and in France’s heavily minority-inhabited Seine Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, which has reported higher excess mortality than other areas.

– ‘Urgent steps needed’ –

“The appalling impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities is much discussed, but what is less clear is how much is being done to address it,” Bachelet said.

“Urgent steps need to be taken by states, such as prioritising health monitoring and testing, increasing access to healthcare, and providing targeted information for these communities.”

She said the disparities likely resulted from a range of factors linked to marginalisation, discrimination and access to healthcare, along with economic inequalities, overcrowded housing and environmental risks.

“People from racial and ethnic minorities are also found in higher numbers in some jobs that carry increased risk, including in the transport, health and cleaning sectors,” the statement said.

Bachelet stressed that such factors were likely playing a devastating role in many countries, but lamented that a vast majority of states do not disaggregate data by ethnicity, making it difficult to get to the root of the problem.

“Collection, disaggregation and analysis of data by ethnicity or race, as well as gender, are essential to identify and address inequalities and structural discrimination that contribute to poor health outcomes, including for COVID-19.

“The fight against this pandemic cannot be won if governments refuse to acknowledge the blatant inequalities that the virus is bringing to the fore,” Bachelet warned.

AFP

#HumanRightsDay: We Have A Duty To Ensure Young People’s Voices Are Heard – UN

The United Nations in commemoration of Human Rights Day says it is the duty of everyone to ensure that the voices of young people are heard.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a statement issued in Geneva on Monday said the world owe a debt of gratitude to children, teenagers and young adults who have been standing up and speaking out more and more loudly about the crisis facing our planet.

“We have a duty to ensure young people’s voices are heard.

“All human beings have a right to participate in decisions that have impact on their lives. In order to ensure more effective decision-making, and to build greater trust and harmony across their nations, the leaders of every society should be listening to their people – and acting in accordance with their needs and demands,” the statement read in part.

She also shared on her Twitter picture from her meeting with popular teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg noting the importance of giving audience to young people

“We have a duty to ensure young people’s voices are heard. I had the pleasure to meet @GretaThunberg for & we had an inspiring conversation. She is a living proof that we all have a role to play to create the future we want. We need to !she posted.

The United nations a tweet also stressed that young people are drivers of political, economic and social transformation and their participation is essential for achieving Global Goals.


Bachelet however stressed that young people are rightly pointing out that it is their future is at stake and they cannot be left alone to handle these challenges.

According to her, joint effort is needed to tackle these challenges.

young people will have to bear the full consequences of the actions, or lack of action, by the older generations who currently run governments and businesses, the decision-makers on whom the future of individual countries, regions and the planet depends.

“It cannot, of course, be left to young people alone to tackle the climate emergency, or indeed the many other human rights crises that are currently causing simultaneous turbulence in so many countries across the world.

“All of us must stand together, in solidarity, and act with principle and urgency.

“We can, and must, uphold the painstakingly developed universal human rights principles that sustain peace, justice and sustainable development. A world with diminished human rights is a world that is stepping backwards into a darker past, when the powerful could prey on the powerless with little or no moral or legal restraint,” she concluded.

Sri Lanka Army Chief’s Appointment Violates Human Rights – UN

Sri Lanka army 58 division chief, Brigadier Shavendra Silva (R) marches to collect his scroll from Sri Lanka army chief Sarath Fonseka (L) in Colombo on May 28, 2009. Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday she is “deeply troubled” by Sri Lanka’s appointment of an accused war criminal as army chief, as global concern mounts over the nomination.

Major General Shavendra Silva, 55, was elevated to the army’s second-highest position of chief of staff in January before his latest promotion by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan army.

“The promotion of Lieutenant-General General Silva severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability,” Bachelet said in a statement.

Silva, who commanded an army division in the long-running civil war with Tamil separatists, has been accused by the United Nations of war crimes during the conflict’s final stages.

“I am deeply troubled by the appointment … despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war,” Bachelet said.

The US embassy in Colombo, along with civil society groups, have also criticised the appointment as a move likely to undermine reconciliation efforts.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces crushed the separatist rebels in 2009 in a no-holds barred offensive that ended a 37-year war which killed 100,000 people.

There were mass atrocities against civilians in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil north towards the end of the conflict, with rights groups saying some 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed by government forces.

A UN report said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.

AFP

Michelle Bachelet Inaugurates Construction Of World’s Largest Telescope

Construction began in Chile on Friday on the European Extremely Large Telescope, which when completed will be the world’s largest optical telescope, some five times larger than the top observing instruments in use today.

The size of the ELT has the potential to transform our understanding of the universe, say its backers, with its main mirror that will measure some 39 meters (43 yards) across.

The head of the European Southern Observatory, Tim de Zeeuw, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet were on hand for the ceremony to inaugurate construction.

Located on a 3,000 meter-high mountain in the middle of the Atacama desert, it is due to begin operating in 2024.

Among other capabilities, it will add to and refine astronomers’ burgeoning discoveries of planets orbiting other stars, with the ability to find more smaller planets, image larger ones, and possibly characterise their atmospheres, a key step in understanding if life is present.

The dry atmosphere of the Atacama provides as near-perfect observing conditions as it is possible to find on Earth, with some 70 percent of the world’s astronomical infrastructure slated to be located in the region by the 2020s.

The ELT is being funded by the European Southern Observatory, an organisation consisting of European and southern hemisphere nations. Construction costs were not available but the ESO has said previously that the ELT would cost around 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) at 2012 prices.

Huge Earthquake Off Chile’s North Coast Sparks Tsunami

People are evacuated from their shelter after a tsunami alarm at Antofagasta cityA major earthquake of magnitude 8.2 struck off the coast of northern Chile on Tuesday, causing five deaths and triggering a tsunami that pounded the shore with 2-meter-tall waves.

Officials said the dead included people who were crushed by collapsing walls or were killed by heart attacks.

The government evacuated Chile’s northern coast and President Michelle Bachelet declared the area a disaster zone, promising troops and police reinforcements to maintain public order while damage was repaired after landslides blocked roads.

“We’re leaving with the children and what we can, but everything is clogged up by people fleeing buildings by the beach,” said 32-year old Liliana Arriaza, who was driving away with her three children.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was shallow at 12.5 miles below the seabed and struck about 100 km northwest of the mining port of Iquique near the Peruvian border.

Mining in the world’s No. 1 copper producer did not appear significantly interrupted, but about 300 prisoners took advantage of the emergency and escaped from a female penitentiary in Iquique.

About 26 of the women were soon recaptured, authorities said, while security forces fanned out through the area amid reports of power outages and isolated looting.

Photos showed Chileans calmly evacuating coastal areas on foot, with policemen helping bundled-up elderly people and some residents loading up vehicles with their belongings.

Some schools were being used to shelter people, and classes were canceled in most of the country on Wednesday. LATAM Airlines said it had canceled some flights to and from Antofagasta, Iquique and Arica in northern Chile.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the quake generated a large tsunami with the biggest wave reported at about 2 meters. The Chilean navy said the first big wave hit the coast within 45 minutes. Early on Wednesday Chilean authorities canceled their tsunami warning for most coastal areas.

Jonathan Vows To Empower More Women

President Goodluck Jonathan has pledged that his Administration will not rest on its oars over the economic and political empowerment of Nigerian women, but will do more before the expiration of its tenure to give women even greater access to elective offices and opportunities for wealth creation.

Speaking after being commended by the United Nations Under-Secretary and Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet for appointing women to very important positions in the Federal Government, President Jonathan said that he was determined to take women empowerment a step further by working to ensure that more women contest and win future elections in the country.

President Jonathan also assured Ms Bachelet who was the first female President of Chile that the Federal Government remains fully committed to taking Nigeria as far as is possible towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

Reaffirming his personal commitment to the accelerated reduction of maternal and infant mortality, the president said that he has directed that a comprehensive status report on Nigeria’s current standing on the achievement of the MDGs be produced with a view to identifying urgent actions that need to be taken to move the country rapidly towards their attainment.

Ms Bachelet, who was accompanied to the Presidential Villa by Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Joy Ogwu, recommended and endorsed the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund by Nigeria, saying that from her personal experience as President of her country, she had learnt that savings and investments made under such funds were very important for countries which rely on extractive industries.

She praised President Jonathan for having already done a lot to fulfil his campaign promises on the empowerment of Nigerian women, including the appointment of the first female Chief Justice of the Federation and female ministers for very important ministries such as Finance, Petroleum, Communications Technology, Education, Water Resources, Housing, Environment, Power and Defence.

The United Nations Women Executive Director thanked Nigeria for being one of the strongest political and financial supporters of her agency in Africa.

She also applauded President Jonathan’s efforts as co-Chair of the United Nations Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children, and called for Nigeria’s support for the UN’s new initiative for the prevention of violence against women.