Monitor says 450 Yemeni civilians killed in December

Geneva-based human rights body records 450 civilian deaths, majority of them killed by Saudi-led coalition attacks.

    At least 450 civilians were killed in Yemen during December, according to a new report by a human rights monitor.

    The Geneva-based SAM Organisation for Right and Liberties, in its report published on Wednesday, said the killings were part of 1,937 violations committed throughout the country in December, including physical assaults, violation to press freedom, torture and arbitrary detention.

    The violations were perpetrated by “Houthis militia, Arab Coalition air force, military formations and groups loyal to the legitimate government”, it said.

    “SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties condemn all crimes included in this report which are considered as gross violations of the international humanitarian law and human rights law,” it added.

    Some 279 civilians died as a result of Saudi Arabia-led coalition air raids, in addition to the 121 killed by Iranian-backed Houthi fighters, the report noted.

    Saudi Arabia has been at war in Yemen since March 2015, when a coalition led by the oil-rich kingdom launched a campaign of aerial bombardment, aimed at countering Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and reinstating the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

    The rights monitor urged the Saudi-led coalition to “avoid targeting civilians and to review its rules of combat in accordance with the international laws and conventions”.

    A recent UN report on human rights abuses related to foreign intervention in Yemen documented a number of civilian casualties inflicted by Saudi-led coalition bombing.

    The panel examined 10 air attacks in 2017 that killed 157 people and found that the targets included a migrant boat, a motel and five residential buildings, according to a copy of the report shown to Al Jazeera.

    “Even if, in some cases, the Saudi-led coalition had targeted legitimate military objectives, the panel finds it highly unlikely that the IHL (International Humanitarian Law) principles of proportionality, and precautions in attack were met,” the report stated.

    To date, more than 10,000 people have died in the war in Yemen, according to the UN.

    Yemen’s cholera outbreak, a direct consequence of the conflict, has claimed about 2,000 lives and affected more than one million people since April 2017.

    More than two million people have been displaced since the war began.

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    Both sides largely sticking to Yemen ceasefire, more progress needed: U.N.

    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Both sides in the conflict in Yemen have largely stuck to a ceasefire agreed last month, but substantial progress is still needed before more talks can be held on ending the war, the U.N. special representative to the country said on Wednesday.

    Martin Griffiths told the United Nations Security Council he had met the leaders of the two sides in recent days and both had expressed determination to find a way forward.

    “I am pleased to report that both sides have largely adhered to the ceasefire we agreed in Stockholm,” Griffiths said. “There has been a significant decrease in hostilities since then.”

    He said while there had been some violence, it had been remarkably limited compared with in the lead-up to Stockholm.

    However, while there was a sense of tangible hope and optimism, there was also concern, Griffiths said.

    He said he and the leaders of both parties shared the view that “substantial progress, particularly on Hodeidah, is something we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations.”

    “I am still hopeful that we can proceed to a next round of consultations within the near future and I am working with both parties to make sure that that will happen at the earliest possible date,” he said.

    At the end of peace talks in Sweden, the United Nations said another round of consultations would be held in January on a wider truce in the country, a framework for political negotiations and transitional governing body.

    Griffiths said he had met the President of the Saudi-backed government Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted from the capital Sanaa in 2014, in Riyadh on Tuesday and with Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi, whose forces control most urban centers in Yemen including Sanaa and Hodeidah, on Sunday.

    A major challenge lies in securing an orderly troop withdrawal from Hodeidah, the main port used to feed Yemen’s 30 million people that has been the focus of fighting over the past year.

    Griffiths said the United Nations was working with both parties to finalize a list of prisoners to be exchanged as part of a prisoner swap agreed in December and he hoped a meeting of the supervisory committee for this could be held in Amman next Monday.

    He said work was continuing to try to secure support for the central bank and to reopen Sanaa airport before the next round of talks, both of which would significantly ease humanitarian suffering.

    The central bank, split into two rival head offices, has been slow to finance imports of food needed to fend off widespread hunger and is struggling to pay public-sector wages as foreign exchange reserves dwindle.

    Sanaa airport is in Houthi territory but access is restricted by the Saudi-led military coalition, which controls the air space. Hadi’s government wants international flights inspected before flying in or out of Sanaa, but the two sides did not reach agreement in Sweden on where that would happen.

    The war and the ensuing economic collapse has left 15.9 million Yemenis facing severe hunger.

    Western nations, some of which supply arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the war in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government, have pressed for an end to the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned an urgent humanitarian crisis.

    U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that while the Stockholm agreement was having an impact, the humanitarian situation remained “catastrophic,” with millions of Yemenis hungrier, sicker and more vulnerable than a year ago.

    He said that while the situation with fuel imports had improved, commercial food imports had plummeted in December and he called on the government and others to allow unimpeded flow of imports including humanitarian aid.

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    Sheikha Latifa: Former UN rights chief Mary Robinson defends comments on 'missing' royal

    On Christmas Eve, three photos showing Sheikha Latifa alongside Mary Robinson, an ex-United Nations high commissioner for human rights, were released by the UAE government.

    Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, fled the UAE in March and a video was circulated online in which she made allegations of abuse at the hands of her father.

    Until the release of the images with Mrs Robinson, the 33-year-old royal had not been seen in public for more than nine months.

    In an interview on Thursday, Mrs Robinson made claims that Latifa was mentally unwell and was in the “loving care of her family”.

    Mrs Robinson had been criticised for “reciting” the lines put out by the UAE.

    Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, whom Mrs Robinson said she had spoken to about the matter, criticised her comments.

    He claimed Mrs Robinson said Latifa was “‘a troubled young woman’, though I would be troubled too if I had tried to escape a gilded prison and was kidnapped back into it”.

    He continued: “I’m not sure that Mary Robinson, during such a short visit, would be capable of discerning the difference.

    “A brief interview in the presence of the family that allegedly kidnapped her, after who knows what treatment she had been subjected to during the past nine months of incommunicado detention, is no way to find out.”

    Radha Stirling, the chief executive of the Detained in Dubai group, said it was astonishing “the extent to which Ms Robinson appeared to be reciting almost verbatim from Dubai’s script”.

    On Friday morning, Mrs Robinson made a statement through her foundation, defending herself.

    She said: “I am dismayed at some of the media comments on my visit and I would like to say I undertook the visit and made an assessment, not a judgement, based on personal witness, in good faith and to the best of my ability.”

    Mrs Robinson added she attended the meeting “without hesitation” and “received extensive briefings” when she arrived in Dubai.

    She continued: “It was clear to me that Princess Haya had particular concern for the welfare of Sheikha Latifa whom she described as troubled and quite vulnerable.

    “During my time with her, Sheikha Latifa presented as a very likeable young woman with a wide range of interests but her vulnerability was apparent.”

    Speaking to the BBC Today programme on Wednesday, Mrs Robinson said she was invited by Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of the wives of the ruler of Dubai, who is not related by blood to Latifa, to “help with a family dilemma”.

    She explained: “The dilemma was that Princess Latifa is vulnerable, she’s troubled, she made a video that she now regrets and she planned an escape or was part of a plan of an escape.

    “It’s under circumstances that I think need to be examined.”

    Lawyers working on Princess Latifa’s case said they were sceptical of Mrs Robinson’s comments about the Emirati’s health.

    They told Sky News: “Sheikha Latifa has undoubtedly been through a traumatic experience of being abducted and returned to the UAE.

    “This has clearly had a very serious impact on her well being, despite being in good physical and mental health prior to her attempted escape, and appears now unable to speak for herself.”

    Mrs Robinson also repeated claims made by the UAE that a ransom note for $300m was issued after Princess Latifa left the country.

    She added: “I had lunch with her. She’s a very likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care that she’s receiving.”

    After the meeting Mrs Robinson claims she sent a report to Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, as well as having a phone conversation with Zeid Raad Al Hussein, who preceded Ms Bachelet in the post.

    She concluded: “I understand the concern and think it is a very complicated situation… but she is receiving psychiatric care and they don’t want her to endure any more publicity.

    “She is now in the care, the loving care of her family.”

    The UAE said the photos were taken on 15 December, some three weeks after it was reported that Mrs Robinson was quitting a high-profile event in Dubai in protest over the jailing of British academic Matthew Hedges.

    In her comments to the BBC, Mrs Robinson said she would now be attending the event to promote her climate change book.

    In response to Mrs Robinson’s comments, lawyers working on Latifa’s case said: “Despite the assurances given [by Mrs Robinson], serious concerns are still held.”

    They added: “[It] is quite disappointing to see a person of Mrs Robinson’s stature brushing over what are very serious complaints.”

    Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers also dispute the allegations of a ransom, calling them “wholly fabricated”.

    They said: “No explanation has been provided as to why Sheikha Latifa has been hidden from view for nine months, and even now, is prevented from speaking to anyone.”

    Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have backed the dramatic version of events put forward by those on the escape boat with the Princess.

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    UN sees tougher US relationship ahead without Haley as envoy

    NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – United Nations diplomats surprised by how they managed to cope with President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda are worried that things are only going to get tougher in 2019.

    It’s not State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert – Mr Trump’s pick to replace departing Ambassador Nikki Haley – who’s raising concerns.

    It’s her boss, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton, both of whom are expected to have more sway over Ms Nauert than they did over Ms Haley, the former South Carolina governor who reported directly to the President.

    Stoking those concerns are Mr Pompeo’s recent comments questioning the value of the UN, Mr Bolton’s scepticism of the organisation’s work dating back to his days as the UN envoy for President George W. Bush, and Mr Trump’s decision to downgrade the role of the next ambassador from Cabinet-level status.

    “Unlike Haley, I don’t think Nauert will be her own person,” said Dr Stephen Stedman, an international relations professor at Stanford University who’s worked for the UN.

    “Other missions will correctly perceive her as having little independent weight.”


    Mr Trump’s first two years haven’t been easy for the global body: the US has worked to lower the organisation’s spending, pulled out of the UN-sanctioned Iran nuclear deal, cut off funding for an agency supporting Palestinian refugees, withdrawn from the Human Rights Council, and worked to undermine the Paris climate change accord.

    Still, Ms Haley forged a strong relationship with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, finding ways to dovetail Mr Trump’s demands for UN spending cuts with Mr Guterres’ efforts to trim ineffective and expensive peacekeeping programmes.

    And at a time when Mr Trump was seen as equivocating on how hard to criticise Russia, Ms Haley was outspoken in attacking Moscow over its role in Syria, Ukraine, the poisoning of a former spy in the UK, and meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

    By stepping into a downgraded position, Ms Nauert may struggle to achieve similar success.


    A Western European diplomat at the UN, who asked not to be identified criticising the US, said Ms Nauert’s lack of diplomatic experience – before serving as State Department spokeswoman she was best known as an anchor at Fox News – means she’ll depend more on instructions from Washington.

    Ms Nauert declined to comment. A person close to Ms Nauert who asked not to be identified discussing her nomination, downplayed criticism of her experience and instead cited her close working relationship with Mr Pompeo, including joining him on three trips to Pyongyang as well as visits to countries such as Israel and Afghanistan.

    Yet the UN envoy change comes as Pompeo signals a hardening view of the UN.

    He said in a speech in Brussels on Dec 4 that the body “was founded as an organisation that welcomed peace-loving nations. I ask: Today, does it continue to serve its mission faithfully?”

    “The UN’s climate-related treaties are viewed by some nations as simply a vehicle to redistribute wealth,” Mr Pompeo said in a speech entitled, Restoring the Role of the Nation-State in the Liberal International Order.

    “Anti-Israel bias has been institutionalised. Regional powers collude to vote the likes of Cuba and Venezuela onto the Human Rights Council.”

    A huge issue looming for Ms Nauert, if she wins confirmation, will be sustaining tough international sanctions on North Korea. That’ll require intense behind-the-scenes jockeying with rival ambassadors from Russia and China, instead of the front-of-the-camera type of work Ms Nauert has been accustomed to.


    Her supporters say Ms Nauert, 48, has shown herself to be a quick study. She leveraged her contacts with the White House – notably, Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner – to survive the tumultuous early months of her tenure, when her first boss, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, shunned her and she considered quitting.

    That paid off when Mr Tillerson was fired in March and Ms Nauert was appointed acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.

    The designation made her one of the most senior officials in a pared-down department, and put her in charge of US outreach across the globe.

    That included oversight of about 950 employees and a budget of US$1.2 billion (S$1.65 billion).

    Mexican Ambassador to the UN Juan José Gómez Camacho said he isn’t worried that Ms Nauert’s appointment may reflect a change in America’s stance toward the organisation.

    “Nauert will be a great diplomat and a great communicator,” Mr Gómez Camacho said in an interview. “Ambassadors represent countries and their specific policies, so I assume she will be representing the same policies advanced by Nikki Haley.”


    While Ms Nauert hasn’t spoken publicly about what her agenda will be, her priorities at the State Department suggest some possibilities.

    In 2017, she visited Rohingya refugees who’d fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. She also championed the cause of the White Helmets, the volunteer rescue force in Syria, and frequently tangled with Russia on Twitter.

    A person close to Ms Nauert, who asked not to be identified discussing her nomination, said she would carry on Ms Haley’s efforts to “reform” the UN and defend Israel, as well as emphasise issues of human rights and religious freedom.

    First, though, Ms Nauert has to get through the Senate confirmation process. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed a common concern among foreign policy commentators and policy makers when he questioned on CBS’s Face the Nation whether she has the experience needed to do the job effectively.

    But Ms Nauert’s supporters are optimistic. They say she’s learned a lot about foreign policy in her time at the State Department.

    “She’s terrific. I think she’s a fast learner. Quick. Fresh eyes, which I think the UN desperately needs,” said Mr Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK and owner of the New York Jets NFL team.

    Ms Nauert will be “somebody who can follow the great example of Nikki Haley and what she did”, Mr Johnson said.

    “She went in with fresh eyes, and I think she accomplished an incredible amount in a short period.”

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    'We are not prepared to die,' says Maldives as small island states pile on pressure at UN climate talks

    KATOWICE, Poland – Small island nations, among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, are piling pressure on big polluting nations at UN talks in Poland to commit to deeper emission cuts.

    Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, agriculture and deforestation are driving up global temperatures, fuelling more extreme weather and causing sea levels to rise. Many small island states fear being wiped off the map by higher sea levels and more powerful storms, as well as destruction of coral reefs that are the lifeblood of their tourism and fishing industries.

    The Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati and many others are among the most vocal nations at the Dec 2 to 14 climate talks in Katowice in Poland, urging big polluting nations and wealthy states to show more courage and ambition in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

    They also want stronger support from the conference, called COP24, for the UN climate panel’s October special report outlining the need to keep global warming to 1.5 deg C. That report said deeper emission cuts of about 45 per cent had to be made globally by 2030 to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 deg C, a level long backed by small island states.

    On Thursday (Dec 13), COP23 president and Prime Minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama made an impassioned plea for nations to ramp up their ambition to curb global emissions.

    He said: “We call for the meaningful inclusion of the IPCC’s special report on 1.5 deg C warming in the COP24 decision text. We express deep concern that the findings of the special report, which concluded that the effects of human-induced climate change are worse than previously projected, and that the risk to precincts from loss and damage are extensive.”

    The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have tried to water down the report’s importance, triggering condemnation.

    “We are not prepared to die and the Maldives has no intention of dying. We are not going to become the first victims of the climate crisis. Instead, we are going to do everything in our power to keep our heads above water,” Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, told reporters at an event hosted by the Marshall Islands on Thursday.

    The president of the Marshall Islands, Dr Hilda Heine, said small island states are willing to increase their national climate action plans pledged in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to ensure they play their part in curbing climate change.

    “As poor and vulnerable countries, we have committed to do all we can to take greater actions by 2020. We did so not to miss the chance to prevent the most dangerous levels of warming, not to go above 1.5 degrees. We have decided to act despite our limited capacities and we expect the world to also act.”

    The Marshall Islands is chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a grouping of 48 nations.

    Ms Genevieve Jiva, coordinator for the Pacific Islands for the Climate Action Network, said at a separate venue: “It is very clear that climate change will impact us (islands) the first and the worst, despite the fact that we have done very little to cause this problem, and this has given us a sense of urgency and determination to lead. Even though we may be seen as small in the international arena, when we speak, we often speak with one voice.”

    The climate talks in Katowice aim to agree a set of rules, or rulebook, that will allow the 2015 Paris Agreement – a framework for keeping global warming to well below 2 deg C – to go into force by 2020. The hope is that the rulebook will be agreed by the end of the week.

    Under the Paris pact, nations are meant to ramp up their national plans, called nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, every five years. At COP24, there is great focus on the conference ending with a decision to urge nations to pledge greater ambition in the next set of action plans for 2020.

    “Rather than empty promises here, we need a COP decision that will commit countries to increasing their ambition,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.

    “That means phasing out coal, going to 100 per cent renewables. But they need to send a signal to the world that they are responding to this report and they will increase their ambition and sign it in 2020,” she said on Thursday, referring to the UN climate panel report.

    Mr Nasheed, head of the Maldives delegation, said the UN talks process had achieved little in 24 years since the first annual climate meeting under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was held.

    “We are still using the same old dinosaur language, still making the same tedious points. Perhaps now it is time to tell ourselves some hard truths. Carbon emissions keep rising, rising and rising and all we seem to be doing is talking, talking and talking. We are not winning the battle.”

    “Half of the problem is that we are still begging the big polluters to stop polluting on ethical grounds. But they were not listening to us. They never were. So instead, rather than asking for (emissions) cuts, perhaps we should be demanding an increase in investments in clean energy,” he said of a possible way to shift global action on climate change.

    “We should ask the big emitters to invest so much into clean energy they will stop investing in and using fossil fuels. We need to reframe what we are demanding. Let’s demand something positive rather than something negative.

    “We have spent 24 years on the same language on the same views. I have a daughter who is 21 and we have not achieved anything.”

    At the Marshall Islands event, Ms Morgan said that people were no longer waiting for global consensus.

    “They are suing their governments, they are suing the carbon major companies, they are blocking roads and bridges, they are organising school strikes and this is only the beginning.”

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    US lashes out at ‘predatory’ China, Russia in Africa

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States lashed out on Thursday (Dec 13) at “predatory” Chinese and Russian involvement in Africa as it announced a leaner footprint on the continent that insists on accountability in trade and peacekeeping.

    In a speech billed as unveiling a new US strategy on Africa, national security adviser John Bolton echoed Trump’s “America First” philosophy, showing a distrust of international institutions and a sense of stark competition with rival powers.

    Bolton denounced China for its aggressive quest for natural resources and its rising military and maritime presence – warning that the balance of power in the Horn of Africa could shift to Beijing – and accused Russia of using the continent to seek past imperial glory.

    “The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa, threaten the financial independence of African nations, inhibit opportunities for US investment, interfere with US military operations and pose a significant threat to US national security interests,” Bolton said at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

    He said that China used “bribes, opaque agreements and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands.” 

    China has found ready partners in part by promising not to interfere in internal affairs.

    Abe Denmark, a former assistant secretary of defense now at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, called Bolton’s approach on China “particularly self-defeating” and said it may drive more African nations towards Beijing.

    “Can’t we just engage Africa on its own merits and not make it part of the grand China competition chessboard?” he tweeted.

     Self-reliance over aid

    Bolton also told African governments to expect a tighter-fisted approach to aid, with an end to “indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent.”

    “All US aid on the continent will advance US interests, and help African nations move toward self-reliance,” Bolton said.

    Trump has vowed to slash foreign aid across the world and is not known for his interest in Africa, notoriously being quoted by lawmakers as calling some African countries “s***holes” when discussing immigration to the United States.

    But Bolton said that the tycoon turned president’s “transactional history” of “making deals that are mutually beneficial” should be an encouraging sign to African nations.

    Bolton announced, with few immediate details, an initiative called “Prosper Africa” to boost US private sector investment across the continent with a goal of offering “high-quality, transparent, inclusive” trade.

    Bolton said the approach showed how the United States is “the least imperial power in the history of the world.”

    “In America’s economic dealings, we ask only for reciprocity, never for subservience,” he said.

    Bolton also warned that the United States was considering cutting off aid to South Sudan, which has benefited from US largesse since its independence in 2011, unless its “morally bankrupt leaders” end their internal fighting.

    Criticism of UN peacekeeping

    The competition with China and Russia comes as Washington prepares to dial down its already modest military response to the spread of Islamist militant groups in Africa.

    Instead, Washington wants regional players to take more responsibility for their own security.

    Bolton cited as an example the so-called G5 Sahel – a security force backed by the United States which consists of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

    But Bolton, known for his hawkish criticism of the United Nations, said the United States would seek to “streamline, reconfigure or terminate” UN peacekeeping missions unless they “facilitate lasting peace.” 

    “Our objective is to resolve conflicts, not freeze them in perpetuity,” he said.

    Bolton accused the world body of creating peacekeeping missions and then not looking further at how to resolve the underlying conflicts.

    “We will not provide legitimacy to missions that give large payouts to countries sending poorly equipped soldiers who provide insufficient protection to vulnerable populations on the ground,” Bolton said.

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    Heather Nauert's rise from television journalist to UN ambassador nominee

    State Department spokesman Heather Nauert, 48, spent most of her professional life in television journalism, making a name for herself as a pundit, reporter and anchor at Fox News, where she worked for nearly two decades before being picked for the government role last year.

    The soon-to-be United States ambassador to the United Nations was with Fox News from 1998 to last year, apart from a two-year break from 2005 to 2007 when she worked as an ABC News correspondent.

    The Illinois native and daughter of an insurance executive attended Arizona State University, making her first foray into television when she landed a summer internship hosting a country music video programme in Washington in 1992.

    She stayed on in the capital to finish school at Mount Vernon College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication.

    Over the next few years, she worked for small businesses and insurance companies as a lobbyist, and as a government affairs consultant for trade associations and corporations.

    Ms Nauert ventured again into TV in 1995 when she joined a political talk show called Youngbloods on a local conservative cable network, and a year later when she landed a stint as a business news reporter for a US Chamber of Commerce programme.

    But her big break came in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, when television networks were eager to showcase more young conservative female pundits, the Washington Post said in a profile of Ms Nauert published in 2000.

    She impressed producers during her turns on TV and Fox News offered her a contract that year.

    Ms Nauert also went to Columbia University to get a master’s degree in journalism in 2000.

    At Fox, she oversaw breaking news and covered foreign and domestic crises, interviewing senior elected and military officials, according to her profile on the State Department website.

    She also had TV experience of a different kind, playing herself in three episodes of the TV drama 24 in 2010.

    By 2012, she was a news presenter on Fox and Friends, the daily morning show which President Donald Trump watches regularly.

    She was in the thick of things during the 2016 election season, reporting on the presidential primaries, the Republican and Democratic conventions, presidential debates and the inauguration.

    Ms Nauert was chosen to be State Department spokesman in April last year and was promoted to its fourth-highest post in March this year, becoming Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

    She remained acting Under Secretary until Oct 10 – the maximum period she could legally serve – but coincidentally it fell on the day after outgoing UN ambassador Nikki Haley announced her resignation.

    The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs post is currently vacant.

    Her stint as State Department spokesman was not without misstep, with her comments in July calling the D-Day invasion of Normandy evidence of the “strong relationship” between the US and Germany drawing criticism.

    Ms Nauert is married to investment banker Scott Norby, with whom she has two children.

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    US scraps UN meeting on North Korea human rights

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States has dropped a bid to hold a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea’s human rights record after failing to garner enough support for the talks, diplomats said Friday (Dec 7).

    The decision to scrap the meeting held every year since 2014 also comes as the United States is seeking a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    North Korea had written to council members last month to urge them to block the US request for the meeting that shines a spotlight on Pyongyang’s dismal record.

    The US has, every year since 2014, garnered the nine votes needed at the council to hold the meeting, despite opposition from China.

    But diplomats said that only eight countries supported the US request this year, with non-permanent member Ivory Coast refusing to bow to pressure to lend its backing.

    China, which has strong expanding ties in Africa, has argued that the Security Council is not the venue to discuss human rights as a threat to international peace and security.

    Every year, China had requested a procedural vote but failed to derail the meeting due to the nine “yes” votes secured by the United States.

    “They don’t have the numbers this year,” a Security Council diplomat told AFP. “Cote d’Ivoire is not on board,” he added, using the official name of Ivory Coast.

    The meeting had been tentatively set for Monday.

    Swimming against the current

    North Korean Ambassador Kim Song last month told council members that criticism of Pyongyang’s human rights record would “swim against the current trend” of rapprochement and “stoke confrontation.” A historic summit between Trump and Kim in June opened up dialogue on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula between the two countries after months of military threats.

    A second summit is expected to be held next year, but North Korea has taken few concrete steps to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

    The Security Council has slapped a series of tough economic sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear tests and ballistic missile firings.

    The United States maintains that UN sanctions will remain in place until North Korea has fully scrapped its weapons programs.

    A landmark 2014 report by a UN Commission of Inquiry documented human rights abuses on an appalling scale in North Korea, describing a vast network of prison camps where detainees are subjected to torture, starvation and summary executions.

    The report accused leader Kim Jong Un of atrocities and concluded that he could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

    North Korea has rejected the report as a fabrication, based on testimony from dissidents living in exile.

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    Trump to nominate State Department spokeswoman for U.N. ambassador: White House officials

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, two White House officials said on Thursday, tapping someone with no prior policy or political experience to deal with some of the world’s thorniest issues.

    The decision was expected to be announced on Friday morning, the officials said, requesting anonymity.

    Nauert, whose nomination would require Senate confirmation, is a former Fox News Channel correspondent and anchor. She became the State Department’s spokeswoman in April 2017 and was named earlier this year as the acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.

    If confirmed, Nauert, 48, would succeed Nikki Haley, who said in October she would be leaving the U.N. post at the end of the year.

    A senior White House official said late on Thursday that the U.N. ambassador post would not remain part of the Cabinet, as it has been under Haley.

    The State Department declined to comment and Nauert did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Nauert, who earlier this year had been considered a possible successor to White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, gained experience on diplomacy by working at the State Department, but she lacks the political and policy credentials of Haley, a former South Carolina governor.

    Having the direct support of the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could buttress her image, however, among global diplomats at the United Nations, who have bristled at Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

    She will face a variety of challenges if confirmed for the job, including championing U.S. efforts to contain Iran’s influence in the Middle East and ensuring the global body maintains tough sanctions on North Korea as Washington tries to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

    Trump has been critical of the United Nations, complaining about its cost to Washington and criticizing it for focusing on bureaucracy and process rather than results.

    He pulled the United States out of the U.N. human rights body in September, citing bias toward Israel, and his administration has cut funding for the U.N. refugee agency and last year proposed U.S. funding cuts for aid and diplomacy that could curb the work of the global body.

    But Trump has also used the United Nations to try to advance his foreign policy agenda on Iran and North Korea.

    The administration has also worked through the United Nations to try to find a political solution to the wars in Syria and Yemen, two issues that will confront Nauert.

    The president is weighing a number of other end-of-year staff changes, including replacing Chief of Staff John Kelly, two of Trump’s advisers said on Thursday.

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    Spurt in sexual violence in South Sudan as more than 150 women, girls raped: UN

    UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – More than 150 women and girls have come forward in the past 12 days to seek help in South Sudan after they were raped or suffered other forms of sexual violence, the heads of three UN agencies said on Monday (Dec 3).

    Armed men, many in uniform, carried out the attacks near the northern city of Bentiu, according to a joint statement from Ms Henrietta Fore, who heads the UN children’s agency Unicef, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock and the director of the UN Population Fund, Ms Natalia Kanem.

    The three agencies condemned “these abhorrent attacks” and called on South Sudan authorities to ensure the perpetrators face justice.

    Doctors Without Borders (MSF) last week said 125 women and girls had been raped while walking to emergency food distribution centres set up by international aid agencies.

    At war since 2013, South Sudan has seen horrific levels of sexual violence.

    In the first half of 2018, some 2,300 cases were reported, the vast majority of those targeting women and girls. More than 20 per cent of the victims were children, the UN statement said.

    The three agencies said the actual number of rapes was far higher because the violence is severely underreported.

    As well as being raped, MSF said many of the victims were “whipped, beaten or clubbed with sticks and rifle butts” and robbed of their clothes, shoes, money and the ration cards entitling them to food aid.

    “In more than three years of working in South Sudan, I have never seen such a dramatic increase in survivors of sexual violence arriving at our programmes looking for medical care,” said Ms Ruth Okello, a MSF midwife in South Sudan.

    A UN panel of experts last month said in a report to the Security Council that there were “alarming levels” of sexual violence and human rights abuses in South Sudan.

    The council is due to discuss the crisis in South Sudan on Dec 18.

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