UN in talks on withdrawing Congo peacekeepers from Central Africa

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday said he was in talks with authorities in Congo Republic on the fate of its troops who are facing accusations of misconduct while serving as peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.

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UN officials told AFP that the 629 troops serving in the MINUSCA force will be withdrawn as a result of the allegations of sex abuse, corruption and poor discipline.

Guterres was to announce the withdrawal during a press conference on Tuesday, but discussions were continuing with the government in Brazzaville, delaying the announcement.

The UN chief said he was engaged in “necessary contact with the authorities of the country before a public announcement of the measure.”

The decision follows a report by the UN commander of the MINUSCA force who warned that Brazzaville should either take steps to rein in the troops or be forced to repatriate them.

Lieutenant General Balla Keita of Senegal told UN headquarters that he had sent six letters of blame to the battalion commander already this year over alleged sexual abuse, fuel trafficking and lack of discipline.

The 629 peacekeepers deployed in Berberati, the country’s third-largest city, are Brazzaville’s only contribution to UN peacekeeping.

0:00 UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie slams peacekeepers over abuse Share UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie slams peacekeepers over abuse

Last year, 120 troops from the same contingent were sent back following allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) involving at least seven victims, six of whom were children.

Following a MINUSCA assessment of the Berberati base in March, Keita said there had been “no improvements in the behaviour of the Congolese battalion.”

“The battalion is notorious for SEA misconducts, fuel trafficking and poor discipline,” Keita wrote in a memo sent last month.

The memo and a 66-page UN assessment of the Congolese troops were released by the Code Blue Campaign of non-governmental organisations seeking to expose cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers.

Code Blue on Tuesday welcomed the decision to withdraw the Congolese troops.

“Your action will ensure that vulnerable women and children in Berberati will be safe from further predation by that particular battalion of severely undisciplined, unfit military personnel sent to the embattled country by the UN,” the coalition said.

With AFP

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Europe’s top rights court blasts Russian ‘gay propaganda’ law

The ruling was welcomed by gay activists in Russia who had lodged the case, but Moscow said it would appeal.

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The legislation had made “promoting non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors an offence punishable by a fine.

It was also an offence to say that gay relationships were equal to heterosexual ones.

The Strasbourg-based court said the Russian laws “reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia,” which was “incompatible with the values of a democratic society”.  

Although homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, prejudice is common and human rights activists allege widespread abuse. 

Three gay activists — Nikolay Bayev, Aleksey Kiselev and Nikolay Alexeyev — had staged protests outside a school, a children’s library and a government building holding banners that said homosexuality was not a perversion.

They were subsequently fined and appealed against the ruling in Russian courts. But their complaints — right up to the Constitutional Court — were unsuccessful. 

The Constitutional Court had said the ban was justified on the grounds of protection of morals and spoke of the potential dangers of “creating a distorted impression of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional marital relations”.

Related reading’These laws must be abolished’

The trio then filed applications with the European rights court in 2009 and 2012.

The Strasbourg court said the fines imposed on them breached articles in the European Convention of Human Rights regarding freedom of expression and discrimination.

It bordered Russia to pay 8,000 euros ($8,900) in damages to Bayev, 15,000 euros to Kiselev and 20,000 euros to Alexeyev.

Russia’s justice ministry said it would appeal, and was “preparing legal arguments explaining Russia’s position.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted to the ruling saying people were not legally pursued because of their sexual orientation, including the LGBT community.

“The only thing that we don’t want, is that someone imposes this orientation on Russian citizens who are minors,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

Alexeyev, who runs the GayRussia website, told AFP: “This is an enormous legal victory for the LGBT in Russia. The ruling is yet one more proof that LGBT activists are discriminated in Russia and their rights are violated.  

“These discriminatory laws now must be abolished,” he said in a statement, adding that they had no place “in a free, civilised and democratic and country in the 21st century”.  

Under the various Russian laws, if individuals use media or the internet for homosexual “propaganda” they can be fined up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000). Organisations can be fined up to one million rubles and risk being closed down for up to 90 days.

Foreign nationals who use media or the internet for propaganda can be fined up to 100,000 rubles, detained for up to 15 days and deported.

Related reading

Another law makes “public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed to the goal of offending religious feelings of the faithful” punishable with up to a year in jail and fines of up to 300,000 rubles.

The same actions committed in places of worship are punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles.

The ruling dismissed Russia’s defence that it was defending traditional values, said a statement from the court.

People had the right to “openly identify themselves as gay, lesbian or any other sexual minority, and to promote their own rights and freedoms,” it said.

The ruling also rejected Moscow’s claims that minors risked being swayed by others into becoming homosexual. Russia had provided no “science-based evidence” to support the claim, said the ruling.

Homosexuality was considered a crime in Russia until 1993 and categorised as a mental illness until 1999.

Heat not a worry for Suns star Ablett

Despite being battered and bashed by any Carlton player who came anywhere near him last weekend, Gold Coast midfielder Gary Ablett says he’s happy with the level of protection he’s receiving from his AFL teammates.

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Ablett endured a physical night in the 10-point loss to the Blues at Metricon Stadium, picking up 25 disposals but struggling to make his usual impact on the match as Ed Curnow in particular targeted the dual Brownlow Medallist.

The 33-year-old says there’s no doubt he pulled up sore from the match, but doesn’t believe his Suns’ teammates left him exposed.

“I knew early in the game that their focus was to try and limit my impact … I felt my teammates went out of their way to put a block on for me whenever they could,” Ablett said.

“They’ve obviously got a role to play as well and they need to focus on that.

“They did speak about after the game that if it was to happen again they would put more blocks on, so looking forward to that.”

Ablett says the best thing the Suns can do is fight fire with fire, applying the blowtorch to a key member of their opposition.

He says that was something the Suns failed to do against Carlton as Bryce Gibbs, Kade Simpson and Sam Docherty enjoyed plenty of the freedom to steer the visitors to victory.

“I’ve got no doubt we’ll have a target player this week,” he said.

“We probably did that earlier in the season and went away from it a little bit, I’m not sure why.

“We will target a player for them, I won’t tell you who that will be, but we’ll be making sure that they have a tough day.”

Smith to settle Qld Origin rookies’ nerves

Nothing will prepare Queensland’s four rookies for their State of Origin debut, Cameron Smith admits.

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But the Maroons captain says he will have a quiet word to settle them before Queensland looks to keep the series alive in Wednesday night’s Origin II in Sydney.

“I don’t think the amount of work that you can do on the field or even watching State of Origin can prepare you mentally for the game,” Smith said.

“You ask any debutant after they’ve played their first game and they say they couldn’t believe how fast it was, how physical it was and how much intensity it is played at for the entire match.

“You can see in the body language when they’re about to run out onto the field what they’re feeling.

“Most games that I play in I usually have a quick little chat before we run out just to make sure that everyone’s ready to go.

“I just want to make sure that their head space is right.”

Maroons selectors wielded the axe following Queensland’s record 28-4 game one loss in Brisbane, making seven changes – the biggest team shake up in 12 years.

Queensland now find themselves in the situation where they must blunt an unchanged, rampaging Blues pack with rookie Jarrod Wallace as starting prop and fellow debutant forwards Coen Hess and bolter Tim Glasby off the bench.

The Maroons starting front row has just one game’s experience after prop Dylan Napa made his debut in Origin I.

Smith said he backed them to make the step up for Queensland but would pull them aside ahead of Origin II just to ensure they were focused on the mighty task at hand.

“They’re all very good footballers in their own right,” he said.

“I just want to make sure that their mental preparation is right for the game.

“This is going to be the biggest game they’ve played in their entire career so there’s a lot of preparation that you need to do in your head to be ready for what’s coming.”

Qld dynasty once in a lifetime: Walters

Queensland coach Kevin Walters has hardly put up the white flag ahead of Wednesday night’s must win State of Origin game two in Sydney but even he admits Queensland’s decade of Origin dominance can’t last.

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In his second year at the helm, Walters is under the pump after Queensland’s record 28-4 game one loss in Brisbane.

Walters is confident the Maroons can bounce back following the return of playmaker Johnathan Thurston from injury and fullback Billy Slater, who was controversially overlooked for Origin I.

However, he made it clear to Maroons fans what Queensland had achieved recently is unprecedented.

“We are realists up in Queensland,” Walters said.

“We understand what happened previously at this level is a once in a lifetime event.

“I remember way back when it first started with (Maroons coach) Mal Meninga (in 2006).

“Winning one game was a big challenge, winning a series was a great achievement.”

Walters took over the Maroons reins last year after Meninga claimed nine of 10 series in charge, including a record eight straight.

He won his first Origin series on debut but Walters tried not to talk up expectations of another dynasty ahead of game two.

“We are still in the ball game. We are confident we will put in a good performance that will keep us alive,” he said of game two.

“I am not saying anything is over at the moment.

“Queensland loves winning Origin games, that’s what tomorrow night is all about – getting that elusive win.”

Walters will need to be at his best if the Maroons are to nail yet another series.

The last time the Maroons won in Sydney and Brisbane to win a series after losing the home opener was back in 1987.