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UN told Myanmar has gone from ‘bad to worse to horrific’ | Human Rights News

Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews says the people of Myanmar are increasingly frustrated with an international community they feel has failed them.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has said that conditions for Myanmar’s 54 million people have gone from “bad to worse to horrific” since the military seized power last year.

Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Andrews said the international response to the crisis caused by the February 2021 coup had “failed” and that the Myanmar military was also committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual violence, torture, deliberate campaign against of civilians, and murder.

Andrews was addressing the council on Wednesday, a day after it emerged that at least 11 children had been killed in a helicopter attack on a school in north-central Sagaing where the armed forces claimed anti-coup fighters were hiding.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis when Senior General Min Aung Hlaing arrested re-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power on the day the new parliament was due to sit.

People took to the streets in mass protests and began a nationwide movement of civil disobedience to which the military responded with force, leading some civilians to take up arms. More than 2,300 people have been killed since the coup and thousands arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a civil society group monitoring the situation.

Andrews told the Human Rights Council that 295 children were among those in detention, while at least 84 political prisoners were on death row.

The military caused outrage in July when it hung four pro-democracy activists, including a prominent former member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, marking the first use of the death penalty since the late 1980s.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing secured a much coveted meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok earlier this month [File: Valery Sharifulin/Sputnik via AFP]

Earlier this week, the head of the UN team investigating human rights abuses in Myanmar also spoke to the Human Rights Council, telling member states that the scope and scale of alleged international crimes taking place in Myanmar had “broadened dramatically”.

Nicholas Koumjian of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) told the council that incidents following the coup were now also a “major focus” of its investigations.

Senior generals and those with links to the military have been hit with western sanctions, as well as some of the military’s own businesses, while some international businesses have pulled out of the country.

In response, the generals have deepened ties with Russia, which has also been isolated over its invasion of Ukraine.

Given the situation, Andrews said the international community needed to take “stronger, more effective action to deprive the junta and its forces of revenue, weapons and legitimacy”.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997, has been leading diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, but the generals have ignored the five-point consensus that was agreed in April 2021.

As a result ASEAN has barred military appointees from its annual summit, but earlier this week Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the group needed to consider whether more needed to be done and whether the consensus should be “replaced with something better”.

Saifuddin has also argued that ASEAN should engage with the National Unity Government (NUG) set up by the elected officials who were pushed from power, drawing an angry rebuke from the Myanmar military.

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US to impose additional ‘costs’ on Iran amid protests, Biden says | Politics News

US president says he is ‘gravely concerned’ by reports of crackdown on protests in Iran over death of Mahsa Amini.

US President Joe Biden has said his administration will impose “further costs” on those responsible for violence against Iranian protesters, who have taken to the streets for more than two weeks in anger over the recent death of a 22-year-old woman in Tehran.

In a statement on Monday evening, Biden said he was “gravely concerned about reports of the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Iran, including students and women, who are demanding their equal rights and basic human dignity”.

“This week, the United States will be imposing further costs on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protestors. We will continue holding Iranian officials accountable and supporting the rights of Iranians to protest freely,” he said.

The ongoing protests in Iran were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested in mid-September by the country’s so-called morality police for wearing “unsuitable attire” in the capital.

Amini’s death prompted an outpouring of anger against the Iranian government, with demonstrators demanding more civil liberties, including an end to the dress code imposed on women.

Dozens of people are believed to have been killed, while many others also have been arrested, but the authorities have not released an official tally.

On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made his first comments on the anti-government protests, accusing the US and Israel of being responsible for the unrest and seeking to stop Iran’s “progress”.

“I say explicitly that these riots and this insecurity were a design by the US and the occupying, fake Zionist regime [Israel] and those who are paid by them, and some traitorous Iranians abroad helped them,” Khamenei told graduating cadets at a police university in Tehran.

The Iranian authorities also have denied reports that Amini was beaten in custody.

Tehran’s police chief, Brigadier-General Hossein Rahimi, said last month that she was detained for wearing tight trousers and wearing her headscarf improperly, but that claims she was mistreated were “completely false”.

Still, the US and its allies have condemned Iran for Amini’s death and the government’s response to the subsequent protests — and large rallies have been held around the world in solidarity with the Iranian demonstrators.

Last week, Washington sanctioned Iran’s “morality police”, as well as seven leaders of Iranian security organisations that it said “routinely employ violence to suppress peaceful protestors and members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, women’s rights activists, and members of the Iranian Baha’i community”.

Canada on Monday also sanctioned top Iranian security officials for what it said were “gross human rights violations”.

This included the “systematic persecution of women and in particular, the egregious actions committed by Iran’s so-called ‘Morality Police,’ which led to the death of Mahsa Amini while under their custody”, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said in a statement.

Biden’s promise to impose more “costs” on Iran comes as talks to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have stalled.

The multilateral pact, which former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, had seen Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting international sanctions against its economy.

While Biden had pledged to restore the deal, indirect talks have so far failed — and the US administration has continued to pile on a variety of sanctions against Tehran.

Late last week, the Biden administration promised to impose financial penalties on Iran on a “regular basis” in an effort to “severely restrict” Iranian oil and petrochemical exports.

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Credit Suisse sees shares sink over restructuring concerns | Business and Economy News

Credit Suisse Group AG saw its shares slide by as much as 11.5 percent and its bonds hit record lows on Monday before clawing back some of the losses amid concerns about the lender’s ability to restructure its business without asking for more money.

The situation prompted Swiss regulator FINMA and the Bank of England in London, where the lender has a major hub, to monitor what was happening and work closely together, one source familiar with the matter said.

Some analysts and industry sources said the bank had enough capital and cash to deal with any crises. One analyst said investors feared the bank’s ability to execute on a turnaround strategy, which it is due to reveal on October 27.

Broader market malaise is also likely adding to investor worries, they said. Global financial markets have been particularly fragile of late, where rapidly rising interest rates, policy inconsistencies, recession fears and the war in Ukraine have unnerved investors.

“The key issue is the viability of the bank following its upcoming strategic review,” wrote ABN AMRO analyst Joost Beaumont, who added that adverse market conditions have raised the “execution risk of any strategic review”.

The Bank of England, FINMA and the Swiss finance ministry declined to comment.

Analysts at Citi said that widening credit spreads could exacerbate market fears and damage counterparty confidence, as well as drive funding costs higher.

“In the long-term the further the share price falls the more dilutive any capital raise becomes (and vice versa), which constrains the magnitude of any investment banking restructuring that CS can undertake,” the analysts said.

Strategy review

Credit Suisse, one of the largest in Europe and one of Switzerland’s global systemically important banks, has had to raise capital, halt share buybacks, cut its dividend and revamp management after losing more than $5bn from the collapse of investment firm Archegos in March 2021, when it also had to suspend client funds linked to failed financier Greensill.

In July, Credit Suisse announced its second strategy review in a year and replaced its chief executive, bringing in restructuring expert Ulrich Koerner to scale back investment banking and cut more than $1bn in costs.

The bank is considering measures to scale back its investment bank into a “capital-light, advisory-led” business, and is evaluating strategic options for the securitised products business, Credit Suisse has said.

Citing people familiar with the situation, Reuters reported last month that Credit Suisse was sounding out investors for new cash as it attempts its overhaul.

Falling shares

Credit Suisse shares fell as much as 11.5 percent before coming off early lows to end down just 1 percent. Its international bonds also showed the strain, with euro-denominated bonds dropping to record lows before clawing back some losses in the afternoon.

The embattled lender’s longer-dated bonds suffered the sharpest declines.

Spreads on Credit Suisse’s US dollar bonds were quoted on Monday morning about 40 to 90 basis points wider across their outstanding bonds. One basis point (bps) is one-hundredth of one percentage point.

“It is pretty ugly for CS bonds,” one syndicate banker said.

Credit Suisse credit default swaps (CDS) soared higher on Monday, adding 105 basis points from Friday’s close to trade at 355 bps, their highest level in at least more than two decades. The CDS measure the cost to insure the bank’s bonds and were a much lower 57 bps at the start of the year. Monday’s spike was an indication of how risky investors find the bank now.

Bank executives spent the weekend reassuring large clients, counterparties and investors about its liquidity and capital, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

That followed Chief Executive Koerner’s telling staff last week that the bank, whose market capitalisation dropped to a record low of 9.73 billion Swiss francs ($9.81bn) on Monday, has solid capital and liquidity.

Some investors said they were not panicking.

“They’ll be recapitalised by the public markets if the environment is good in a month or two, or they’ll be backstopped by the Swiss government if the environment is bad,” said Thomas Hayes, chairman and managing member of New York-based Great Hill Capital.

Liquidity ‘healthy’

JPMorgan analysts said in a research note on Monday that, based on its financials at the end of the second quarter, they view Credit Suisse’s capital and liquidity as “healthy”.

Credit Suisse had total assets of 727 billion Swiss francs ($732.7bn) at the end of the second quarter, of which 159 billion Swiss francs ($160.3bn) was cash and due from banks, while 101 billion Swiss francs ($101.8bn) was trading assets, it noted.

Still, investors are questioning how much capital the bank may need to raise to fund the cost of restructuring, analysts at Jefferies wrote in a note to clients on Monday. Also, the bank is now potentially a forced seller of assets, they said.

Deutsche Bank analysts in August estimated a capital shortfall of at least 4 billion Swiss francs ($4.03bn).

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US Supreme Court begins session amid crisis of public trust | Courts News

Recent survey finds just 47 percent of Americans trust US top court, which is taking up new set of contentious cases.

The US Supreme Court has begun a new session with public confidence in its work at an all-time low, according to a recent poll, as the top court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion continues to divide the United States.

The Supreme Court began a new term on Monday, hearing arguments in an environmental dispute, welcoming a history-making justice to the bench and taking up some new cases to be decided in the next nine months.

But late last week, a Gallup survey found that just 47 percent of Americans trusted the institution — down from the previous low of 53 percent, and 20 percentage points lower than two years ago.

A record-high 58 percent of respondents also said they disapproved of the Supreme Court’s work, according to the poll.

The findings come as the Supreme Court is more diverse than ever, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett reported on Monday from Washington, DC, where new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman to serve on the bench.

“[Brown Jackson] is only the third … African American [who] has sat on this court, which is significant in and of itself. The makeup of the court now looks more like the United States,” said Halkett, adding that the Supreme Court still has a conservative majority, however.

While conservative and liberal justices have continued to insist that the body is not political, the court’s perceived impartiality has suffered since it overturned its landmark Roe v Wade abortion rights decision in June.

That ruling set off condemnation and mass protests by reproductive rights advocates across the US, as well as a wave of restrictive abortion laws in Republican-led states.

It also fuelled calls among Democrats and other legal observers to expand the number of seats on the top court as a way to balance against its conservative stance.

According to the recent Gallup poll, 71 percent of Democrats said the Supreme Court was “too conservative”, as did 46 percent of independents. A majority of Republicans, meanwhile, said the court’s ideology was “about right”.

That polarisation shows few signs of abating, with the court’s 6-3 conservative majority expected to hear cases on several contentious topics during the upcoming session, such as gay rights, racial justice, elections, and environmental protection.

On Monday, the court heard arguments in a case that could limit the scope of a landmark federal environmental law — the Clean Water Act of 1972 — as they consider for a second time a married Idaho couple’s bid to build on property that the US government has deemed a protected wetland.

Another case scheduled for this term involves a website designer who has argued that their religious beliefs are being violated by equal protection laws that deny companies the right to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Another case could have substantial implications for the US electoral system, handing more power over the process to state legislatures.

This comes amid rising concerns over the future of US elections as a growing number of Republican candidates have embraced false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

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