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Trudeau ‘sorry’ for Canada turning away Jewish refugees in 1939

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Trudeau ‘sorry’ for Canada turning away Jewish refugees in 1939
The apology came following the October 27 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, where 11 people were killed, including a Canadian woman [Chris Wattie/Reuters]
The apology came following the October 27 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, where 11 people were killed, including a Canadian woman [Chris Wattie/Reuters]

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has formally apologised for his country’s refusal to provide shelter to a ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees almost 80 years ago.

In May 1939, German ocean liner MS St Louis left Hamburg with more than 900 Jews fleeing the horrors of Nazi persecution in search of a safe haven for themselves and their families.

When Cuba, the United States and Canada turned the ship away, it returned to Europe where several countries took the refugees in and, according to historians and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), 255 of them were later killed in World War II, most of them in concentration camps. 

“We apologise to the 907 German Jews on board the St Louis as well as their families,” Trudeau said in a parliamentary sitting on Wednesday.

“We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. We are sorry for not apologising sooner.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Canada [file: Reuters/Chris Wattie]

“While decades have passed since we turned our backs on Jewish refugees, time has by no means absolved Canada of its guilt or lessened the weight or our shame.”

The apology came following the October 27 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, where 11 people were killed, including a Canadian woman.

Trudeau admitted that Jewish Canadians “are understandably feeling unwelcome and uncomfortable” and shared that 17 percent of all Canadian hate crimes target Jewish people and “discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continues at an alarming rate”.

“And I pledge to you all now, we will do more,” he said.

Shimon Koffler Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), applauded Trudeau’s “historic apology” and his pledge to expand security measures for Jewish institutions.

“Acknowledging moments in our history when Canada failed our ideals will help us remain vigilant in upholding those values today,” CIJA said in a press release.

Trudeau, a Liberal, has made a number of apologies for Canada’s historical failings.  

Last week the prime minister visited hundreds of indigenous people in British Columbia to apologise for the hanging of six chiefs 150 years ago.

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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A year after Mugabe, hopes for a new Zimbabwe still low

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A year after Mugabe, hopes for a new Zimbabwe still low

Harare, Zimbabwe – A year since a trio of army generals held former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe under house arrest as part of a 10-day military operation that enabled his protege, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to take power there are mixed feelings as to how different the proclaimed “new dispensation” is from Mugabe’s autocracy.

In an unprecedented show of support for the de facto coup, on November 18, 2017, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans marched the streets, demanding the veteran ruler step down.

Days later, just moments after a parliamentary impeachment hearing began, the then 93-year-old resigned after nearly four decades in power. But a year since President Mnangagwa’s inception, the hope some citizens had in the liberation fighter nicknamed “the Crocodile” now seems jaded.

Takudzwa Tawenga, 32, a self-employed artisan who participated in a mass anti-Mugabe protest on November 18, 2017, told Al Jazeera he was disappointed by the new regime.

“The day we marched, I really felt like Mnangagwa was the hope of the people, but it seems like the suffering we experienced under Mugabe hasn’t changed.

“It’s like the army just kicked out a dictator so they could enjoy power for themselves. There is nothing for us in this new dispensation,” he said.

Bitterness over the worsening state of the economy and the contentious aftermath of the July polls risks creating a rift between the people, the Crocodile, and the military they once hailed for ousting Mugabe.

Gun between people and the state 

On July 30, millions of Zimbabweans cast their ballots in the first election without Mugabe as a candidate. Mnangagwa won by a narrow and disputed margin of 50.6 percent against his younger rival Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance.

An independent commission of inquiry led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe is currently looking into the post-election violence that saw the military deployed onto the streets of the capital.

At least six people were shot dead and dozens more were wounded, but army commander Phillip Valerio Sibanda denied troops killed civilians and said the firing of “warning shots” was constitutional.

“They fired in the air but I do not believe any could have aimed shots at the civilians.

“We would have been very foolish as the defence forces to give orders to the troops to open fire on the civilians with all these people [election observers and foreign journalists] in the country,” Sibanda told the Motlanthe Commission on Monday.

Human rights observers have dismissed the army chief of staff’s testimony. Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera the commander’s claims were false.

“The blatant denials on the documented and video-recorded role of soldiers on 1 August is an insult to Zimbabweans. It is a blatant attempt to hide the truth and sweep things under the carpet,” he said.

Although Mnangagwa initiated the Motlanthe Commission and put a stagnant national peace body into motion in an attempt to chart a different path from Mugabe’s closed authoritarian style, he has struggled to break with the past.

According to Mavhinga the general approach of the security forces in the post-Mugabe era has been one of “arrogance, continued impunity, and lack of sincerity”. 

Despite promises of a new era, the blurred role of the military in state governance and party affairs continues to raise concern.

Piers Pigou, senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera although Mugabe was gone, the system of non-separation of powers between the state, the ruling party and the executive was still in place.

“There is still no effective civilian oversight of Zimbabwe’s military and intelligence community, which both retain in practice partisan loyalties to [ruling] Zanu-PF. Notwithstanding provisions in the constitution setting out non-partisan responsibilities, no significant action has been taken to alter this reality.

“Although there is a new sheriff in town, Mnangagwa, like Mugabe, must navigate around both security sector and ruling party interests,” he said.

But as Mnanagagwa struggles to balance the desires of those who helped him into power with his own, he also grapples with the dilemma of preventing the economy from collapsing. 

Nation on the brink

A recently introduced tax on all electronic transactions above $10 has sparked a wave of price rises in basic commodities such as bread, sugar and cooking oil and spurred fuel shortages.

The two percent levy aroused fears of a return to the hyperinflation era under Mugabe, when the Zimbabwe dollar rapidly devalued and price increases became uncontrollable. 

WATCH: Is Zimbabwe’s new tax generating shortages and uncertainty?

Under a multiple currency regime adopted in 2009, the US dollar is used in daily transactions. However, because of cash shortages a local surrogate currency known as bond notes are more commonly used, but even this is in extremely short supply and of lesser value.

On the black market the coveted US dollar currently trades at an average of US$1: $3,20 although the official rate is 1:1.

For Margaret Moyo, 47, a shopkeeper, keeping up with the price increases has made life difficult.

“I can’t keep up with the cost of things anymore. When I go out to order my goods some suppliers now demand US or they say the price is double if you are paying with bonds.

“This money is worthless, we are back to the Zim [Zimbabwe] dollar days again,” she said.

Despite a public outcry against the rising cost of living and the devaluing of the local surrogate currency, the government is pressing ahead with its reforms to widen the tax base.

President Mnangagwa has urged citizens to grit through a Transitional Stabilization Programme, which is part of his long-term vision to transform Zimbabwe into a middle-income country by 2030.

“[T]here are pains to be borne and sacrifices to be made before things start looking up for the ordinary man in the street.

“We must all gird for belt-tightening measures, leaders and ordinary citizens alike,” he wrote in a Sunday column in the state press. 

Hope in re-engagement

After years of isolation under Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s hope for a lifeline may lie in re-engagement with the international community. However, following the election controversy, the US renewed targeted sanctions urging the post-Mugabe regime to demonstrate greater efforts towards reform.

Pigou told Al Jazeera that Mnangawa’s efforts to change from the authoritarian order of the past will be under close scrutiny if relations with the West are to improve.

“[T]he international community is primarily interested in an economic dispensation that actively promotes fiscal transparency and accountability, and that upholds the rule of law and protection of property rights… With some form of electoral mandate, the months ahead will be crucial for seeing how the Mnangagwa administration translate promises into action,” he said.

Follow Tendai Marima on Twitter and Instagram: @i_amten

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Sri Lanka parliament ‘votes against newly appointed PM Rajapaksa’

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Sri Lanka parliament ‘votes against newly appointed PM Rajapaksa’

Sri Lanka’s parliament passed a no-confidence motion against newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government on Wednesday, opposition lawmakers said, throwing the country deeper into crisis.

The move comes a day after the Supreme Court overturned a presidential decree dissolving the legislature and calling for snap elections.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ruled that a majority of the 225-member assembly supported a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa, 72, who was appointed prime minister on October 26 in place of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

I rule that this House does not have confidence in the government (of Rajapaksa)

Karu Jayasuriya, the Speaker

“The ayes have it,” the Speaker announced over his public address system  “I rule that this House does not have confidence in the government (of Rajapaksa).”

Opposition leader R Sambanthan told Reuters that the motion presented by an opposition party was taken to a voice vote and had the majority support.

Chaotic scenes

Amid chaotic scenes, Rajapaksa, a former controversial president, and his legislator son Namal walked out of the chamber just before the Speaker called for a vote.

Members of Parliament loyal to Rajapaksa attempted to grab the mace, the symbol of authority of the legislature, to disrupt the vote, but Jayasuriya went ahead.

Jayasuriya, the parliament Speaker, has opposed president’s decision to appoint Rajapaksa [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

The result does not automatically mean that Wickremesinghe, whose United National Party (UNP) is the biggest in parliament, has won the constitutional showdown.

President Maithripala Sirisena retains the power to choose the next prime minister.

Sirisena’s October 26 decision has left the South Asian island nation with two prime ministers, with Wickremesinghe holed up in the official residence and refusing to step down.

The UNP had “vehemently” rejected the sacking of the parliament and demanded a House vote to prove that the deposed leader still had the backing of at least 113 legislators.

The United States, European Union and other members of the international community have raised concerns over the crisis.

Only China has recognised the appointment of Rajapaksa, who during his decade as president until 2015 relied heavily on Beijing for diplomatic and financial support.

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40 years on, Khmer Rouge leaders face genocide verdict

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40 years on, Khmer Rouge leaders face genocide verdict

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Vang Tam, 65, is in little doubt over what he would do if he ever encountered the Khmer Rouge responsible for the death of his parents and four siblings in the 1970s.

“Even if I died, I would take his head off. I’d do whatever,” he shouts, dragging on a cigarette inside his floating home on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap river.

“Our ancestors were executed near the mountains, I was the only one not killed.”

Tam is an ethnic Vietnamese fisherman who was born in Cambodia. Like hundreds of thousands of others, he was evacuated to Vietnam soon after the Maoists under Pol Pot took control of Cambodia, but many of his family stayed behind.

When he returned home in 1980, after the Vietnamese had overthrown the Khmer Rouge, he discovered about 40 of his family were dead.

Those who hadn’t been executed had died from overwork or starvation.

On Friday, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), better known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, will hand down its verdict on whether the regime’s “Brother Number Two,” Nuon Chea, 92, and its head of state, Khieu Samphan, 87, committed genocide against ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims, another minority.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan on screen in the media centre at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal [Pring Samrang/Reuters] 

Judges will also rule on whether the two men are guilty of crimes against humanity related to prisons, worksites, forced marriages and sexual violence.

The court sentenced both men to life terms in 2014 for crimes against humanity for their role in the forced evacuation of cities soon after the Khmer Rouge took power.

Accountability

Friday’s decision comes with the tribunal facing widespread criticism for lengthy delays, government interference, and corruption.

While some argue the court has delivered long-awaited justice for victims, others have labelled the process a waste of time and money with convictions against only three people in 12 years.

Opinion was split among Cham and ethnic Vietnamese survivors of the regime interviewed by Al Jazeera. Many know nothing about the tribunal.

Sa Rom Ly, 62, a Cham who managed to survive mass purges in Kampong Cham by pretending he was ethnically Khmer, said he was sure the Khmer Rouge attempted to wipe out his people – something prosecutors have been attempting to prove.

“The Khmer Rouge wanted to get rid of Cham because of our religion,” he said, adding he supported the tribunal.

“We are happy that the ECCC held a trial of the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge because it can help hold them accountable for their actions,” he said.

“They deserve to be punished because they were the ones who ordered the regional chiefs to execute people and they followed their orders. If not, they would be killed too.”

Talking after prayers at a mosque in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district, Kop Math, 64, recounted similar brutality meted out to Chams in Battambang after they had been evacuated from the capital.

“My father sneaked away to pray but they spotted him and took him away to be killed,” said Math, who lost 16 of his 20 close family members.

Math, who visited the tribunal twice during the genocide segment, said he believed the court was delivering true justice to the victims, but he wanted to see more people in the dock.

“I think they should bring regional commanders to justice … but we don’t want the lower levels. If we demand [the lower levels] to be brought to justice this could result in confrontation,” he said.

Kop Math sits outside a mosque in Phnom Penh [George Wright/Al Jazeera]

Looking for justice

Down a winding alley that runs alongside the Mekong River, El Los, 72, explained how he lost all his parents and siblings after being told they had been taken away on a boat and executed in Kampong Cham.

Los said he knew nothing of the tribunal but that all Khmer Rouge, from top to bottom, should be made to pay for their crimes.

“We really want to find justice but where are they? We are suffering but what can we do?” he said. “The lower levels point and say they were following orders – but all should be held accountable.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who helped overthrow Pol Pot after defecting to Vietnam, has been vocal in his opposition to further trials, claiming it could plunge Cambodia back into civil war.

Cambodia’s court upholds Khmer Rouge life sentences

Both Cambodian and international judges sit in the court and both sides have to agree on decisions. Local judges and prosecutors have been accused of being under the influence of the government, especially in ongoing investigations of mid-ranking former Khmer Rouge.

The fact such a small number from the regime have been brought to justice is a common frustration among many Cham survivors, explained Farina So, principal deputy director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia and author of The Hijab of Cambodia.

The Cham researcher said although the tribunal – particularly the genocide case – was important to many Cham, creating public forums for dialogue between victims and perpetrators and their children was vital in helping communities reconcile.

“It’s also effective because you need to get things out of the court and into the community. Then they can discuss openly without fear,” So said.

‘Just a show’

Back on the Tonle Sap river, barely any of the 15 ethnic Vietnamese interviewed said they knew about the tribunal.

“Nobody talks about it. I have no idea what this court is,” said Chroeng Yan, whose father was clubbed to death by a Khmer Rouge soldier.

Vang Tam, one of the few who was aware of the court, was scathing in his analysis.

“It’s just a show, it’s meaningless,” he said.

His friend sitting next to him, Veeng Thhan Yoeng, 65, interjected.

“About 40 of my relatives were killed… I don’t think we can get justice,” he said. “We want to see more on trial.”

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