GENEVA

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet holds a news conference in Mexico City
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet holds a news conference at Centro Cultural Espana in downtown Mexico City, Mexico April 9, 2019 REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

April 24, 2019

By Stephanie Nebehay and Sylvia Westall

GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) – The U.N. human rights chief on Wednesday condemned the beheadings of 37 Saudi nationals across the kingdom this week, saying most were minority Shi’ite Muslims who may not have had fair trials and at least three were minors when sentenced.

Saudi Arabia, which said on Tuesday it had carried out the executions over terrorism crimes, has come under increasing global scrutiny over its human rights record since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate and the detention of women’s rights activists.

“It is particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement issued in Geneva.

She said United Nations rapporteurs had expressed concern about a lack of due process and fair trial guarantees amid allegations that confessions were obtained through torture.

Amnesty International said late on Tuesday the majority of those executed in six cities belonged to the Shi’ite minority and were convicted after “sham trials”, included at least 14 people who had participated in anti-government protests in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province in 2011-2012.

It said in a statement that one of them, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, was arrested when he was 16, making his execution a “flagrant violation of international law”.

London-based Amnesty said 11 of those executed had been convicted of spying for the kingdom’s arch-adversary, Shi’ite Muslim Iran, and sentenced to death in 2016.

The Shi’ite-majority Eastern Province became a focal point of unrest in early 2011 with demonstrations calling for an end to discrimination and for reforms in the Sunni Muslim monarchy. Saudi Arabia denies any discrimination against Shi’ites.

TERRORISM CHARGES

The Saudi government’s press office did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on Bachelet’s remarks or the Amnesty report. Authorities have said the men were executed for “extremist terrorist ideologies”, forming “terrorist cells to corrupt and disrupt security” and inciting sectarian strife.

Bachelet called on Riyadh to review counter-terrorism laws and halt pending executions, including of three men on death row – Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdulla al-Zaher – whose cases she said had been taken up by the U.N. rights system.

Amnesty said the kingdom has stepped up the rate of executions in 2019, with at least 104 people put to death since the start of the year compared to 149 for the whole of 2018.

Tuesday’s mass execution was “another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within” the country’s Shi’ite minority, said Lynn Maalouf, the group’s research director for the Middle East.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the executions heightened doubts about respect for the right to a fair trial in Saudi Arabia and could fuel sectarian violence.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said at least 33 of the 37 men put to death were Shi’ites and it was the largest set of executions in the kingdom since January 2016.

It said one of the men convicted of protest-related offences, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, was arrested in 2012 as he was about to board a plane bound for the United States to attend university.

“Mass executions are not the mark of a ‘reformist’ government, but rather one marked by capricious, autocratic rule,” HRW’s Middle East director Michael Page said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels with additional reporting and writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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FILE PHOTO: The Credit Suisse logo is pictured on a bank in Geneva
FILE PHOTO: The Credit Suisse logo is pictured on a bank in Geneva, Switzerland, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

April 24, 2019

By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

ZURICH (Reuters) – Credit Suisse set a positive tone for this quarter’s European bank results on Wednesday, lifting its net profit as gains in equities and deeper ties between trading and private banking helped offset lower revenue.

Switzerland’s second-biggest bank bucked market expectations of a profit dip and said it gained market share in equities trading during a quarter in which major U.S. rivals such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley saw revenue slides in this business.

Its Global Markets trading unit, the focus of much criticism in recent years, increased equity trading, with Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam saying Credit Suisse was “moving up the ranks in equities”. But a slide in its Asian unit brought overall group revenue from equities sales and trading down by 5 percent.

Wednesday’s results also included a forecast that Credit Suisse was cautiously optimistic about the second quarter.

Although Credit Suisse last year wrapped up a three-year overhaul with its first annual profit since 2014, volatile earnings and high headcount in its trading division meant it faced questions over whether it was downsized enough.

“Global Markets has been the main cause of consensus earnings downgrades over the past year and with these results has now shown signs of stabilizing,” Citi analysts said.

However, in the first quarter Credit Suisse said the unit increased equity sales and trading by 4 percent, while fixed-income sales and trading fell by just 2 percent, notably less than at U.S. investment banks.

Credit Suisse shares rose by more than 3 percent to a six-month high following the results, in which it confirmed its full-year profitability target but noted it would need supportive markets, and a pickup in revenues, to hit its goals.

Last month Swiss rival UBS forecast first-quarter revenues would fall by about a third in its investment bank and by 9 percent in wealth management, its largest business.

UBS is looking to cut costs further as CEO Sergio Ermotti sounded a pessimistic note on profitability for the year.

Analysts expect first-quarter profit at UBS, which is Switzerland’s biggest bank, to have nearly halved when it reports on Thursday.

(This story corrects net profit figure to 749 million Swiss francs in first bullet point, adds dropped word “group”, paragraph 3)

(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields and Alexander Smith)

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Mohib Ullah, a leader of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, talks on the phone in Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar
Mohib Ullah, a leader of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, talks on the phone in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

April 24, 2019

By Simon Lewis, Poppy McPherson and Ruma Paul

KUTUPALONG REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh (Reuters) – It was after Mohib Ullah scored his first political victories that the death threats began in earnest. On a recent morning, the Rohingya refugee leaned back on a plastic chair in the Bangladesh camp where he lives, and translated the latest warning, sent over the WhatsApp messaging app.

“Mohib Ullah is a virus of the community,” he read aloud, with a wry chuckle. “Kill him wherever he is found.”

The 44-year-old leads the largest of several community groups to emerge since more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar after a military crackdown in August 2017.

In the refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district a nascent civil society is emerging among the Rohingya, who spent decades under apartheid-like restrictions in Myanmar.

Some campaigners are seeking justice for alleged atrocities in Myanmar, a small cadre of women are raising their voices for the first time, and others are simply working to improve life in the new city of tarpaulins and bamboo that, after the latest influx, is home to more than 900,000 people.

Mohib Ullah himself was invited to Geneva last month, where he told the United Nations Human Rights Council the Rohingya want a say over their own future.

But the political awakening has been accompanied by a surge in violence, with militants and religious conservatives also vying for power, more than a dozen refugees told Reuters. They described increasing fear in the camps, where armed men have stormed shelters at night, kidnapped critics and warned women against breaking conservative Islamic norms.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, which sparked the 2017 crisis with attacks on security posts, is resurgent in the camps, refugees say, alongside several other armed groups. The group is also known as Harakah al-Yaqin – the movement of faith.

“In the daytime, the al-Yaqin guys become normal people,” said one young woman, who like other refugees requested anonymity to speak about the group without fear of reprisals. “They mix with everyone else. But at night it’s like they have a kind of magical power.”

DIALOGUE, AND THREATS

Reuters conducted dozens of interviews with UN staff, diplomats, Bangladeshi officials and researchers about the forces competing for influence in the world’s largest refugee settlement.

While some are hopeful the stateless Rohingya are beginning to find a political voice, there are also fears that a turn to violence threatens to make solving the refugee crisis through dialogue impossible and could bring more instability.

“Refugee camps in many parts of the world are becoming recruitment grounds for terrorists,” said Mozammel Haque, the head of Bangladesh’s cabinet committee on law and order. “God forbid, if something like that happens, this will not only affect Bangladesh but the whole region.”

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer calls seeking comment. Zaw Htay said during a press conference in January that Myanmar had complained to Bangladesh over what he said were ARSA bases inside Bangladesh.

The frontline in the struggle for the Rohingyas’ future are the bamboo huts where refugees take shelter from the heat and dust of the camp to voice their views. In the makeshift office of his group, the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, or ARSPH, Mohib Ullah convenes an open meeting each morning.

“We couldn’t gather more than five people in Myanmar, so when we have this kind of huge gathering it makes us very happy,” said 57-year-old Abdul Fayez, one of several dozen refugees gathered cross-legged on the floor at a recent meeting.

ARSPH made its name documenting alleged atrocities the Rohingya suffered in Myanmar. Mohib Ullah went from hut to hut to build a tally of killings, rape and arson that has been shared with international investigators. [nL4N1V846E]

Last year it won a victory with a campaign for the refugees to have more say in the process of issuing identity cards, calling a general strike in the camps in November that forced Bangladeshi officials and UN staff to meet ARSPH leaders.

It now says its main goal is to give the Rohingya a voice in international talks on their future.

But not everyone agrees with ARSPH’s approach. Hardliners in the camps argue for a more assertive stance in talks on the terms under which the refugees might return to Myanmar.

“We are flexible, we want to negotiate,” said a senior leader of ARSPH, who requested anonymity. “But we fear we may be harmed because of this.” ARSA was among Mohib Ullah and ARSPH’s antagonists, the leader said.

    Mohib Ullah was involved in local politics back in Myanmar, drawing accusations from opponents that he worked too closely with the hated government. “If I die, I’m fine. I will give my life,” Mohib Ullah told Reuters.

NIGHT TERRORS

Bangladesh security forces patrol the perimeter of the camps to stop refugees slipping out. But, especially at night, the warren-like interior is run by violent men, refugees told Reuters.

In at least some parts of the camps, those men claim affiliation to ARSA, said more than half a dozen refugees. UN officials and NGO workers monitoring the group’s activities say it is unclear how many of those men are under orders from the group’s leadership. But some of them have asked wealthier refugees and shopkeepers to pay regular taxes, saying the money will be used to fight back in Myanmar, refugees said.

One refugee, who volunteers as an aid worker in the camps, told Reuters he had witnessed a kidnapping in January by men he believed to be from ARSA.

Men with wooden sticks moved swiftly into an area of the camps known as Jamtoli and took away a man who refused to attend one of the group’s meetings, he said. “They just carried him off like a goat to the slaughter.”

Reuters was unable to corroborate the incident or find out what happened to the man, but five refugees from the same area said men they knew had been involved in ARSA attacks inside Myanmar were now involved in kidnappings in Jamtoli.

Reuters was unable to reach ARSA for comment.

Researchers for Fortify Rights have also gathered testimony that ARSA had abducted at least five Rohingya refugees in recent months, the campaign group said on March 14.

A posting from a Twitter account previously used by the group called the Fortify Rights report “shallow, shoddy, and not aptly verified” and denied allegations that ARSA was involved in criminal activity.

Police have recorded an escalation in violence in the camps in recent months, said Iqbal Hossain, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar.

“So far we have not found any link to any militant groups,” said Hossain, adding there were just 992 officers policing the camps.

In response to Reuters’ questions about reports of ARSA involvement in the violence, the UN refugee agency cited police reports that found most violence and threats in the camps were carried out by “criminal elements or related to personal vendettas”.

Two UN officials and several researchers working regularly in the camps told Reuters ARSA was behind at least some of the violence, however, citing sources among the refugees.

“YOU DIDN’T LISTEN”

ARSA launched three attacks across the border in Myanmar early this year, according to state media there, and in February vowed to continues its armed campaign.

ARSA propaganda portrays the group as ethnic freedom fighters and does not emphasize a religious agenda. But some refugees and a report by an international NGO seen by Reuters say its members, together with Islamic leaders, have promoted ultra-conservative religious practices.

Four women told Reuters they had received threats for going out to work for aid groups in the camps, where many have begun doing paid work for the first time in their lives.

Three said men from ARSA, backed up by religious leaders, issued the threats. Fortify Rights also said it had gathered testimony linking ARSA to the threats against women working. ARSA on Twitter denied that, insisting it “has no activities/objectives except for defending Rohingyas’ legitimate rights”.

UN officials and aid workers discussed the threats at a series of meetings of the “protection sector working group” in Cox’s Bazar, according to minutes.

“There is a complex combination of factors that have contributed to the threats and restrictions on women in refugee camps, which we are all seeking to address,” the UN refugee agency said.

Mohammed Kamruzzaman, an education sector specialist at Bangladeshi aid group BRAC, told Reuters that 150 of its female teachers had stopped coming to work in late January after receiving or hearing about the “violent threats”.

One woman in her late 30s told Reuters she had received a phone call in late January telling her she must immediately quit her job at BRAC. Two nights later a group of about 10 men, dressed in black and wearing masks barged into her shelter.

“They said, ‘We told you not to go out and work, you didn’t listen’,” she said. “One of them beat me with a stick on my back.”

Another young woman, who was also threatened, summed up the divide in the camps.

“We are just doing something good for our community,” she said. “Some people support them, but many feel like us. They put superglue over our mouths.”

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Poppy McPherson and Ruma Paul; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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FILE PHOTO: Iran's Oil Minister Zanganeh arrives for an OPEC meeting in Vienna
FILE PHOTO: Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh arrives for an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo

April 23, 2019

(Reuters) – The United States has made a bad mistake by politicizing oil and using it as a weapon, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in a parliamentary session on Tuesday, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

“America has made a bad mistake by politicizing oil and using it as a weapon in the fragile state of the market,” Zanganeh said, according to IRNA.

Oil prices on Tuesday hit their highest level since November after Washington announced all waivers on imports of sanctions-hit Iranian oil would end next week, pressuring importers to stop buying from Tehran and further tightening global supply.

Zanganeh added that the United States will not be able to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero.

“With all our power, we will work toward breaking America’s sanctions,” Zanganeh said in parliament, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).

The United States on Monday demanded that buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions, ending six months of waivers which allowed Iran’s eight biggest buyers, most of them in Asia, to continue importing limited volumes.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; editing by Jason Neely and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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Over 4000 exoplanets have been discovered since the first one in 1995, but the vast majority of them orbit their stars with relatively short periods of revolution.

Indeed, to confirm the presence of a planet, it is necessary to wait until it has made one or more revolutions around its star.

This can take from a few days for the closest to the star to decades for the furthest away: Jupiter for example takes 11 years to go around the sun.

Only a telescope dedicated to the search for exoplanets can carry out such measurements over such long periods of time, which is the case of the EULER telescope of the Geneva University (UNIGE), Switzerland, located at the Silla Observatory in Chile.

These planets with long periods of revolution are of particular interest to astronomers because they are part of a poorly known but unavoidable population to explain the formation and evolution of planets. An article published by the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“It took 20 years and many more observers,” says Emily Rickman, first author of the study and a researcher in the Astronomy Department of the UNIGE Faculty of Science. “This result would have been impossible without the availability and reliability of the CORALIE spectrograph installed on the EULER telescope, a unique instrument in the world.”

Since 1995, when the first exoplanet was discovered, about 4000 planets have been found.

The vast majority of them are massive planets close to their stars which are the easiest to detect relying on the current technology. However, planets with long periods of revolution are of great interest to astronomers.

Being farther away from their stars, they can be observed using direct imaging techniques.

Indeed, to date, almost all planets have been discovered using the two main indirect methods: radial velocities, which measure the gravitational influence of a planet on its star, and transits, which detect the mini eclipse caused by a planet passing in front of its star.

Planets directly observed

The EULER telescope is mainly dedicated to the study of exoplanets.

Since its commissioning in 1998, it has been equipped with the CORALIE spectrograph, which allows astronomers to measure radial velocities with an accuracy of a few meters per second for the detection of planets with a mass as small as Neptune’s.

“As early as 1998, a planetary monitoring programme was set up and carried out scrupulously by the many UNIGE observers who took turn every two weeks in La Silla for 20 years,” says Emily Rickman.

The result is remarkable: Five new planets have been discovered, and the orbits of four others have been precisely defined.

All these planets have periods of revolution between 15.6 and 40.4 years, with masses ranging approximately from 3 to 27 times that of Jupiter.

This study contributes to increasing the list of 26 planets with a rotation period greater than 15 years, “but above all, it provides us with new targets for direct imaging,” concludes the Geneva researcher.


What can we learn from the ancient Greeks that we can apply today?

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FILE PHOTO: The World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters are pictured in Geneva
FILE PHOTO: The World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters are pictured in Geneva, Switzerland, July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

April 19, 2019

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s Commerce Ministry said on Friday that it regrets a ruling by a World Trade Organization panel that its administration of tariff-rate quotas for rice, wheat and corn violated its accession commitments.

A WTO dispute panel ruled on Thursday that under the terms of China’s 2001 WTO accession, Beijing’s administration of the tariff rate quotas (TRQs) violated its obligation to administer them on a “transparent, predictable and fair basis”.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch, Wang Jing and Winni Zhou; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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A WTO logo is pictured on their headquarters in Geneva
FILE PHOTO: A World Trade Organization (WTO) logo is pictured on their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, June 3, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

April 18, 2019

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States won a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on Thursday against China’s use of tariff-rate quotas for rice, wheat and corn, which it successfully argued limited market access for U.S. grain exports.

The case, lodged by the Obama administration in late 2016, marked the second U.S. victory in as many months. It came amid U.S.-China trade talks and on the heels of Washington clinching a WTO ruling on China’s price support for grains in March.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Michael Shields)

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Women stand in line to get fuel at al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate
Women stand in line to get fuel at al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Photo

April 18, 2019

GENEVA (Reuters) – A senior United Nations relief official called on governments on Thursday to help resolve the fate of 2,500 foreign children being held among 75,000 people at al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria after fleeing Islamic State’s last stronghold.

“Children should be treated first and foremost as victims. Any solutions must be decided on the basis of the best interest of the child,” Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told a Geneva briefing.

Solutions must be found “irrespective of children’s age, sex or any perceived family affiliation”, he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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A logo of Honeywell is pictured on their booth during EBACE in Geneva
FILE PHOTO: A logo of Honeywell is pictured on their booth during the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

April 18, 2019

(Reuters) – Honeywell International Inc on Thursday reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit and raised it full-year financial forecast as a boom in air travel drove demand for its aircraft parts used in the commercial airline industry.

The company now expects 2019 sales of $36.5 billion and $37.2 billion, up from $36.0 billion to $36.9 billion. Profit forecast was raised to a range of $7.90 to $8.15 from a range of $7.80 to $8.10 per share.

Honeywell earned $1.92 per share in the first quarter, beating analysts’ average estimate of $1.83 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitv.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru)

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FILE PHOTO: A Toyota logo is displayed at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show
FILE PHOTO: A Toyota logo is displayed at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy/File Photo

April 17, 2019

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp said on Wednesday it will begin building in Brazil a new version of the Corolla sedan that will run on electricity, ethanol and gas, the first vehicle of its kind to be built in Latin America.

Toyota said in a statement that it made the decision to build the Corolla in Brazil in part thanks to a package of tax incentives passed by the country’s Congress, known as Rota 2030. Unlike in most markets around the world, ethanol is a common car fuel in Brazil.

(Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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