Human Rights

Making Juneteenth a holiday was the easy part — but will real justice follow?

After the United States Senate and House in quick succession passed a federal bill to make "Juneteenth" a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery, President Joe Biden wasted no time in signing the bill into law. "Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, expressing what has come to be his party's standard performative gesturing toward historic racial injustices by a party that likes to set itself apart from Republicans via lip service to liberal ideals.

To his credit, Schumer added, "But we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution." Ensuring "equal justice" is precisely the step that would carry real meaning and add teeth to the very short, one-page Juneteenth bill. So why is that critical aspect missing from the bill?

There are many historical accounts of how Juneteenth came about, but the most widely accepted one is that enslaved Black people in Texas were the last in the U.S. to know that they had the legal right to be free—two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. The revelation that freedom was at hand came from General Gordon Granger in Galveston on June 19, 1865, and if ever there was a declaration of American independence that carried any moral weight, it is the day that came to be known as Juneteenth—rather than the Fourth of July and the syrupy and blind patriotism that accompanies it.

When a wave of mass protests against racist police brutality swept the United States last summer after George Floyd's killing, corporate America began to acknowledge Juneteenth as an important day, "discovering" what many Black communities had commemorated for years. Then-President Donald Trump also took credit for publicizing it, saying with his usual audacious ignorance, "I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous. It's actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it." Since most white Americans had likely not heard of Juneteenth, in the 45th president's mind, that meant nobody had. Trump made the comments in the context of a controversial political rally that his reelection campaign scheduled for June 19, 2020, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the historical site of some of the nation's bloodiest racial violence.

A year later, Democrats, with their newfound political power, are trying to set themselves apart from Trump and the GOP. Rather than making aggressive efforts to pass a hefty infrastructure bill, a minimum wage increase, or important voting rights reform—all of which would more substantially benefit Black Americans—the party is now expecting credit for recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday that all Americans can mark.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas who sponsored the Juneteenth holiday legislation went as far saying, "what I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom." These words are as hollow as the declarations of a "post-racial" era when Barack Obama was elected to the presidency in 2008.

What Democrats are utterly failing to acknowledge is that when enslaved people were declared free, that freedom meant an abrupt end to the horrific injustices wreaked upon generations of Black Americans, but it also meant almost no accountability or justice to compensate for what was done to them, no payment for the centuries of stolen labor, no redress for the violence, terror, family separations, sexual assaults, grinding servitude, and other hard-to-imagine harms.

For Democrats to make a symbolic gesture toward racial justice without the financial redress that could actualize such justice is mere posturing. Melina Abdullah, a leader in the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter and a professor in Pan-African studies at California State University of Los Angeles, made a statement that cuts to the heart of what lawmakers need to hear, saying about Juneteenth, "White folks need to sit this one out. It's not yours. Your acknowledgment should come in the form of #reparations." She added, "And by 'white folks' I mean government, corporations, and the individual white families whose wealth is built on the stolen labor of Black folks." Her sentiments were widely echoed by other Black Americans on social media.

Neither party appears to have the political courage to truly respect the idea of racial justice for Black Americans. Democrats, who take great pride in the symbolism of their history-making half Black, half Indian Vice President Kamala Harris, are also going out of their way to censure and silence Somali American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota for speaking uncomfortable truths. The liberal party excels in performance over substance and in celebrating Black Americans as long as they help meet diversity quotas but remain subservient to the establishment.

In contrast, Republicans have brushed aside all pretense toward respecting racial equality altogether. The rabidly racist Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) almost objected to the Juneteenth bill, saying, "it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery." (One wonders what the senator would deem acceptable instead.) And in Texas, where the original Juneteenth celebrations began and where the day was declared a state holiday earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill championed by Texas Republicans to bar the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in state schools. It is precisely the academic framework of CRT that has helped to create a broad understanding of why Juneteenth is important, and it is also what can help make the case for why reparations must be central to racial justice.

Republicans and conservatives have fought hard to ensure that injustices arising from slavery remain the past and that there must be no accounting for it in the present day. (These are often the same people who righteously insist on preserving Confederate-era statues for the sake of history.) If only it were true that racial injustices ended when slavery ended. But American society has remained hostile to Black communities through persistent, ongoing, debilitating racial discrimination and injustices even today. There has been no serious federal acknowledgment in the form of accountability and compensation either of historic injustices or present-day discrimination. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are bold enough to embark on a project of reparations, and instead the two major parties remain emotionally invested in the myth of American exceptionalism.

Marking Juneteenth as a federal holiday is only the first step toward financial redress, not the last. The small town of Asheville, North Carolina, last year launched a program targeting Black residents for housing and business opportunities without actually dispensing what matters—money. The city of Evanston, Illinois, earlier this year went a bit further and began issuing $25,000 housing grants to Black residents to compensate for systematic housing discrimination along racial lines. Amherst, Massachusetts, is exploring pathways to reparations, and even states like California are considering steps for financial restitution.

Such efforts indicate that the countless Black academics, leaders, journalists and activists who have painstakingly made the case for reparations for decades might be seeing some vindication. Now if only federal lawmakers like Schumer, Ed Markey (D-MA), and Lee would use their political clout to move beyond performative gestures, we might believe they truly care about righting historical injustices in the service of full equality.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

How I accidentally amassed a trove of horrors

Recently, I wanted to show my wife a picture, so I opened the photos app on my phone and promptly panicked when I saw what was there.

It's not what you think.

A lot of people are worried about what's lurking on their smartphones. Compromising photos. Illicit text messages. Embarrassing contacts. Porn.

What I noticed was a video in the photo stream between a picture of a document I sent to an editor and a shot of my dog — a clip of a man in Burkina Faso having his lower arm chopped off.

The still image of that act is bad enough. The video is far worse. The victim lies on the ground, pleading, screaming as another man, swinging a machete, forces him to place his right arm on a wooden bench. The attacker is trying to make the amputation easier, allowing him to make a cleaner cut. But "easier" is a relative term. The assailant hacks away, again and again and again, taking time to taunt his victim. You watch it happen. Slowly. You see the anguish on the face of the man whose arm is bleeding but mostly intact, then hanging at an odd angle, then barely attached. The video runs one minute and 18 seconds. It seems longer. Far longer. You hear the tortured screams. You watch the final swing, then see the victim kicking his legs back and forth, writhing in agony on the ground.

I shudder to think how many similar videos and images lurk on my phone — saved in the photos, in the files, sitting in text chains from sources, colleagues, fixers, contacts. There's the man lying in a street in the Democratic Republic of Congo as an assailant with a machete attempts to cut off his leg below the knee. I still remember the exact sound of his cries even years after first viewing it. There's the video of the captured Kurdish fighters. I recall how the second woman to be killed — just before she's shot in the head — watches the execution of her comrade. She doesn't plead or cry or even flinch. Not once.

There's the bound man shot at point blank range and kicked, still alive, into a ditch. There are the women and children forced to march to their execution. "You are going to die," says the Cameroonian soldier, who refers to one of the women as "BH," a reference to the terrorist group, Boko Haram. He steers her off the road and a young girl follows. Another soldier does the same to a second woman who has a toddler strapped to her back. The soldiers force the women to kneel. One of those men directs the girl to stand next to her mother. He then pulls the girl's shirt over her head, blindfolding her. Gunshots follow.

Binging on War Porn

My career in journalism tracks the global proliferation of "war porn," a subject that TomDispatch first covered in 2006.

In the twentieth century, this particular genre consisted mostly of still photos that only rarely surfaced. The Japanese "rape" of Nanking. Murders by Nazis. Decapitations during Britain's "Malayan Emergency." Most of those images were trophy photos, taken by or with the consent of the perpetrators and they generally received only modest circulation. In rare cases, as in an execution in South Vietnam, they were documented by the press, made front-page news, and were sometimes even captured on film.

Such photos and footage have become ubiquitous over the last two decades. As mobile phone technology has improved, cell-phone prices have dropped, and social media and messaging platforms have proliferated, people in conflict zones from Syria to Myanmar — often the perpetrators of atrocities, sometimes the victims — have been increasingly able to share video and photographic documentation of human-rights violations. During the 2010s, the Islamic State flooded the online ecosystem with gruesome execution photos and videos. Israel's most recent attacks on civilians in Gaza have also provided a seemingly endless stream of traumatic images and video.

While news consumers may increasingly be subjected to horrific images, exposure to limited amounts is, in most cases, unlikely to cause lasting distress. Binging on such footage is a different story. A 2014 analysis of exposure to media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found that "repeated bombing-related media exposure was associated with higher acute stress than was direct exposure"; that is, those who consumed six or more hours a day of news coverage experienced greater stress than those who were at or near the actual bombing scene.

It's clear that immersion in atrocity content is bad for your mental health. But what if your job is to binge-watch trauma? The work of certain journalists, social media content moderators, human rights researchers, and other analysts now has them awash in graphic "user-generated content" (UGC) or eyewitness video that can leave a lasting mark on one's mind. The American Psychiatric Association's 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, its official manual, states that post-traumatic stress can be brought about by exposure to the graphic details of another individual's experience, including work-related exposure to disturbing television footage, movies, pictures, or other electronic media.

I've written articles based on video footage of executions and massacres. Sometimes atrocity photos figure in my reporting, so it's not surprising that sources often send me war porn. Still, I'm not immersed in such brutal scenes as regularly as some of my colleagues. In 2015, the Eyewitness Media Hub conducted a survey of people who often work with graphic UGC. Even then, more than half of the 209 respondents reported that they viewed distressing media several times weekly. Twelve percent of the responding journalists and almost a quarter of the human rights and humanitarian workers said they viewed such traumatic content daily.

"You witness it a lot more with UGC," said an anonymous senior editor at a news agency. "You're exposed to more intense visual material than battle-hardened war cameramen sitting in Sarajevo in the middle of the 1990s because it's coming at you from everywhere — even more so than, say, in Jerusalem. I was there at the height of the Intifada and there were body parts flying in and out of the office like nobody's business, but there's now a lot more of it."

Forty percent of Eyewitness Media Hub survey respondents said that viewing such traumatic content had a negative impact on their personal lives, leaving them with feelings of isolation, flashbacks, nightmares, and other stress-related symptoms. One quarter reported high or even very high "professional adverse effects."

In 2018, an anonymous staffer from Videre, an international charity that provides activists around the world with equipment, training, and support to gather video evidence of human-rights violations, offered a candid chronicle of the effects of two days of "cutting and splicing, frame by frame" video footage of a massacre of men, women, and children. "I went into auto-pilot: charred bodies, severed limbs," that staffer wrote.

"They ceased to be human. I needed not to think of their lost hopes and dreams. And for two days I edited. Headphones stuck deep in my ears. The sound of desperate cries crashing around my head… And then, I started sleeping badly — waking in the night, bad dreams. I was distracted at work. It all felt so futile. A couple of weeks later, I was out walking with my partner and I started to cry."

The next year, Casey Newton, writing for The Verge, offered a glimpse into the professional lives of Facebook's 15,000 sub-contractor-employed content moderators. After three and a half weeks of training — immersed in hate speech, violence, and graphic pornography — "Chloe" was asked to "moderate" a post in front of her fellow trainees. It was a video of a murder, a man stabbed again and again as he begged for his life. Chloe, her voice quivering, correctly informed the class that the post needed to be removed since section 13 of Facebook's community standards prohibits videos depicting murder.

As the next potential moderator took her place, Chloe left the room to sob. After that, the panic attacks began. They continued even after Chloe left the job and hers is not an isolated case. Last year, Facebook agreed to pay $52 million to 11,250 current and former moderators to compensate them for mental-health conditions resulting from the job. There is evidence to suggest that the situation may have worsened since then as Facebook has come under increased pressure to take action against online child abuse, forcing moderators to watch greater amounts of disturbing content.

"Even when the events depicted are far away, journalists and forensic analysts, deeply immersed in a flood of explicit, violent, and disturbing photos and video, may feel that it is seeping into their own personal headspace," reads a fact sheet on working with traumatic imagery provided by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma (where I was once a fellow) at Columbia University's Journalism School. "Intrusive recollections — re-seeing traumatic images one has been working with — are not unusual," wrote Gavin Rees, the Dart Center's senior advisor for training and innovation in a 2017 guide for journalists. "Our brains are designed to form vivid pictures of disturbing things, so you may experience images popping back into consciousness at unexpected moments."

A Hammer to the Skull

Days before I saw that traumatic arm-amputation clip on my phone, I was rummaging around for an old file in the digital folders of a cloud-storage service. I noticed a folder of mine labeled "Graphic photos DRC." I had uploaded those images — dozens of people butchered as if they were meat — while I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018. Back then, I needed to get the images off my phone but carefully labeled the folder as a warning to my editor back in the U.S., who was monitoring the material, about what lurked in that innocuous-looking digital version of a manila folder.

Not long after finding that cache of Congo carnage, I needed to contact a source via a messaging platform. I didn't realize that it was several years since we had communicated via that app and that our last "conversation," still sitting there, included a photo of the corpse of a colleague who had been shot through the head.

I have many other atrocity photos on thumb drives, portable hard drives, and external hard drives that sit on my desk. I know some of those photos by heart. A few from the research I did for my book Kill Anything That Moves on American war crimes in Vietnam have resided somewhere deep in the recesses of my skull for close to 20 years. Several of them that I found in the U.S. National Archives were glossy photos of the victims of an American ambush. The dead were officially reported as enemy troops, but the investigation and those photos made it clear that they were just average Vietnamese civilians — men, women, and children.

One image burned into my brain is of a young Vietnamese boy lying lifeless on a forest floor. His glassy eyes, still open, evoke an enigmatic sense of serenity. It could be an art photo if you didn't know that parts of his body had been obliterated by bullets and landmine fragments.

Newer photos stick with me, too, like one of a heap of mostly headless bodies that no one could mistake for art, for example. I could go on, but you get the picture — or rather, I got the pictures.

I once interviewed a Vietnam veteran who had kept grisly war trophies — a small collection of atrocity images — corpses of those his unit had killed, some visibly mistreated.

In Vietnam, a surprising number of American troops amassed such photos and made grim scrapbooks out of them. Some also collected actual body parts — scalps, penises, teeth, fingers and, most commonly of all, ears. For others, like this man, the preferred anatomical souvenirs were skulls.

That veteran had held onto those war "trophies" for most of his life but, ever more aware of his advancing age, he confessed to me that one day — soon, but not yet — he needed to burn the photos and take a hammer to the skull. He didn't want his daughter to find them when, after his death, she came to clean out his home.

For years, I wondered what it must have been like for that man to live with the skull of a Vietnamese man or woman, to wake up every morning with that specter of atrocity in his home. Only years later did I begin to grasp that I might have some idea of what that was indeed like.

I've never actively collected war trophies, of course. I've left every skull, every corpse that I've encountered as I found it. But I've nonetheless amassed a horrific collection of war porn, far larger than anything that Vietnam veteran had.

While I don't have a human skull in my closet, my atrocity collection is arguably far more gruesome. That veteran's collection is still and silent, but the screams of the victims, people being butchered alive on video, are part of my collection. His trophy skull sat on a shelf hidden from view, while my compendium of horrors is scattered about my computer, cloud storage, my phone, my message chains — the totality of my digital life.

That man's collection was finite and contained, the product of one war and one year of military service many decades ago. Mine lives with me and grows by the week. While I was writing this article, another video clip arrived. It's horrific. At first, I couldn't tell if the woman was dead or alive. The answer only became clear when… On second thought, you're better off not knowing.

Copyright 2021 Nick Turse

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch and a fellow at the Type Media Center. He is the author most recently of Next Time They'll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan and of the bestselling Kill Anything That Moves.

'The truth can't be hidden': Ilhan Omar hits back after Democrats target her for criticizing US and Israel

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota hit back Wednesday at the dozen fellow House Democrats who accused her of "equating" the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban after she pointed out that the U.S. and Israeli governments have committed human rights atrocities—an uncontroversial statement that the right-wing media and Republican lawmakers rushed to warp and sensationalize.

In a joint statement released late Wednesday, Democratic Reps. Brad Schneider (Ill.), Jake Auchincloss (Mass.), Ted Deutch (Fla.), Lois Frankel (Fla.), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Elaine Luria (Va.), Kathy Manning (N.C.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Dean Phillips (Minn.), Kim Schrier (Wash.), Brad Sherman (Calif.), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) claimed that by invoking U.S. and Israeli crimes against humanity, Omar was giving "cover to terrorist groups" and evincing "deep-seated prejudice."

"We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban," the lawmakers said.

The Minnesota Democrat was quick to defend herself on Twitter, slamming her colleagues for putting out a public statement demanding clarity on her comments without first contacting her privately to discuss the matter.

Citing an unnamed House Democratic aide, the New York Times reported Thursday that Omar had heard the Democratic lawmakers "were going to publicly call for a clarification of her remarks and reached out to them several times on Wednesday."

"They did not respond before their public chastisement," the aide told the Times.

Omar also accused the House Democrats of deploying "Islamophobic tropes" by claiming her remarks were fueled by "prejudice" against the U.S. and Israel.

The exchange stems from a tweet Omar posted earlier this week in which she demanded "the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity."

"We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban," Omar wrote.

The Twitter post includes a clip from Omar's questioning of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday.

Omar asked Blinken where victims of crimes against humanity are supposed to seek recourse if the U.S. doesn't support investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is currently probing alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In March, Blinken said the U.S. opposes the probe in the occupied territories on the grounds that the ICC has "no jurisdiction over this matter"—a position the secretary of state repeated during Monday's hearing.

And while the Biden administration lifted Trump-era sanctions imposed on ICC officials in retaliation for their war crimes probe in Afghanistan, the U.S. has yet to support the investigation.

In response to the attack from her fellow House Democrats, Omar said Wednesday that "citing an open case against Israel, the U.S., Hamas, and the Taliban in the ICC isn't comparison or from 'deeply seated prejudice.'"

"You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims," Omar added, "but history has taught us that the truth can't be hidden or silenced forever."

On Thursday, Omar's allies in the House and progressive advocacy groups came to her defense. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman ever elected to Congress, tweeted that she is "tired of colleagues (both D+R) demonizing Ilhan Omar."

"Their obsession with policing her is sick," Tlaib continued. "She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible. That's better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics."

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) also weighed in on Omar's side:

IfNotNow, a progressive Jewish advocacy organization, said Thursday that the House Democrats "using Islamophobic tropes to smear Ilhan Omar do not represent the American Jewish community."

"They are more interested in protecting Israeli occupation and apartheid than working towards Jewish safety and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis," the group added.

In a statement, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that "although we expect far-right, Islamophobic voices to target Rep. Omar for speaking up on human rights, it is shameful for her own colleagues in the House to join them in doing so."

"Rep. Omar stated an indisputable fact: various actors in the Middle East, including our own government, have committed atrocities and should face accountability for their conduct in the appropriate international forums," said Mitchell. "There is nothing 'prejudiced' about this observation."

'Which side are you on?': Protesters call on Biden to stop Line 3

In what organizers are calling the largest-ever demonstration of its kind in Minnesota history, more than 2,000 Indigenous-led water protectors on Monday continued nonviolent, direct action protests against the planned replacement and expansion of Enbridge's Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Stop Line 3 campaigners said over 1,000 water protectors marched with Indigenous leaders to the headwaters of the Mississippi River on the third day of the Treaty People Gathering—which organizers billed as "the beginning of a summer of resistance"—to participate in a treaty ceremony at a proposed Line 3 crossing site.

The $9 billion pipeline project—which if completed will carry up to 750,000 barrels of crude tar sands oil, the world's dirtiest fuel, from Alberta to the port of Superior, Wisconsin—is slated to traverse Anishinaabe treaty land without tribal consent. The proposed pipeline route crosses more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands, raising serious concerns not only about the project's impact on the climate emergency, but also about leaks and other accidents opponents say are all but inevitable.

South of the Mississippi headwaters gathering, over 500 activists in coordination and solidarity with the Indigenous women and two-spirit-led Giniw Collective shut down a Line 3 pumping station at Two Inlets, northwest of Park Rapids, with some demonstrators locking themselves to construction equipment.

A low-flying helicopter protesters said belongs to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security kicked up a large dust cloud in an apparent effort to intimidate and disperse activists from the pump station protest site. Water protectors continued their resistance even as police clad in riot gear arrived at the station and reportedly began arresting demonstrators later in the afternoon.

Treaty People Gathering participants are calling on President Joe Biden to cancel Line 3 like he rescinded the federal permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day of office following years of grassroots organizing and pressure by opponents. However, Biden has disappointed activists by refusing to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), another highly controversial project that was the site of massive resistance and brutal repression in 2016.

The New York Times reports some tribal leaders are hoping that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a pipeline opponent and the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history, will influence Biden's Line 3 decision. Haaland, who was chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party at the time, participated in the #NoDAPL protests at Standing Rock.

However, an Interior Department spokesperson declined to comment to the Times about any role that Haaland might potentially play in Line 3 policy.

Indigenous leaders stressed their ancient connection to the land and water that they say are imperiled by the pipeline.

"Our ancestors made agreements to take care of this water and land forever together, and now is our time to do that," protester Winona LaDuke, a two-time vice presidential candidate on Ralph Nader's Green Party ticket and co-founder and executive director of the Indigenous environmental advocacy group Honor the Earth, said in a statement.

Stop the Money Pipeline communications coordinator Jackie Fielder drew attention to the financial institutions bankrolling the Line 3 project:

Giniw Collective co-founder Tara Houska said in a statement that, "Our Mother is calling out, and it's time for us to listen or do the work to remember how."

"It's also time for us to all stand with our words," added Houska. "The situation is urgent, it requires urgent response. Find your bravery, find your community, find your truth. Stand with us and Stop Line 3."

LaDuke and Houska were two of the numerous prominent activists present at Monday's protests. Others included co-founder Bill McKibben; Indigenous organizers Dawn Goodwin, Taysha Martineau, Nancy Beaulieu, and Simone Senogles; and actor/activists Rosanna Arquette and Jane Fonda.

"For years we have tried to assert our sovereignty and speak out against Line 3," said Goodwin, co-founder of the RISE Coalition. "We still have time to save our sacred waters and land—our life sources."

Motioning toward the crowd of pumping station protesters, Fonda told the Associated Press that "this is important; this is what we need," as she held up a sign with Biden's image reading, "Which side are you on?"

Late last month, over 300 advocacy organizations delivered a letter to Biden imploring him to direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to suspend or revoke Canada-based Enbridge's Line 3 Clean Water Act Section 404 permit.

"Your unprecedented goals for climate action, for federal respect of tribal sovereignty, for environmental justice, and for science all demand you revoke or amend the Line 3 presidential permit," the letters' signatories asserted.

According to the Associated Press, the Minnesota Court of Appeals is expected to rule by June 21 whether Enbridge has proved the long-term necessity of the Line 3 project. With the climate emergency in mind, Houska told the Times that she recently told White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy that "you can't cancel Keystone XL and then build an almost identical tar sands pipeline."

Underscoring what climate campaigners and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres have called the "suicidal" nature of fossil fuel expansion, scientists working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii reported Monday that atmospheric carbon dioxide reached a monthly average level of 419 parts per million in May, which is not only the maximum reading ever recorded but also the highest concentration the planet has experienced in over four million years.

The Supreme Court issues ruling affirming the sovereignty of American Indian tribes

by Kirsten Carlson, Wayne State University

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the sovereign power of American Indian tribes on June 1, 2021, ruling that tribal police officers have the power to temporarily detain and search non-Indians on public rights-of-way through American Indian lands.

In most communities in the United States, the local government has the authority to investigate and prosecute both misdemeanor and felony crimes. And local police can detain and search individuals suspected of state and federal crimes, at least until handing them off to the appropriate authorities.

Tribal governments – the local governments in Indian country – have the power to prosecute tribal citizens on tribal lands. When it comes to non-Indians, though, the situation is different. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that tribal governments could not prosecute non-Indians for any crimes in Indian country. Tribal governments have to rely on state and federal governments to prosecute non-Indians – which doesn't happen often. Effectively, non-Indians have been able to commit crimes in Indian country with impunity.

Tribal police are often the first responders to reported crimes on tribal lands, regardless of whether the victims or the alleged perpetrators are American Indians or not. Now, with this latest ruling, the court has clarified that tribal police can search non-Indians suspected of state or federal crimes in Indian country and detain them until handing them off to federal or state authorities.

A tribal officer's encounter

Late one night in February 2016, Crow Nation police officer James Saylor stopped to examine a truck sitting on the side of Highway 212 on the Crow Reservation in Montana. He wasn't attempting to arrest the occupants, but rather thought they might need assistance.

When he approached the truck, however, Saylor noticed that the driver, Joshua James Cooley, had watery bloodshot eyes. Saylor also saw two semiautomatic rifles sitting on the front seat.

He ordered Cooley out of the truck, conducted a pat-down search, and called for backup from other officers. Saylor then noticed a glass pipe and a plastic bag of methamphetamine in the truck. Upon their arrival, federal and state officers instructed Saylor to seize the drug evidence. Federal officers eventually arrested Cooley.

A federal grand jury later charged Cooley with gun and drug charges under federal law. Cooley sought to defeat the charges by arguing that the drug evidence seized by Saylor could not be introduced into court because a Crow Tribe police officer lacked the authority to investigate crimes by a non-Indian.

Cooley's argument included a claim that the Supreme Court's 1978 ruling also limited the ability of tribal police officers to detain and search non-Indians in Indian country.

Federal Indian law attorneys feared that a Supreme Court decision limiting tribal policing authority would further undermine the safety of Indians and non-Indians living in Indian country. They worried such a ruling could hamstring the ability of tribal police to detain and search potential criminals.

Tribes have power on their lands

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Cooley. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the court, stated clearly that “no treaty or statute has explicitly divested Indian tribes of the policing authority at issue."

The new ruling built on another Supreme Court decision from 1981, declaring that a “tribe may … retain … power … over the conduct of non-Indians … within its reservation when that conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or health or welfare of the tribe."

The new ruling made clear that this case unmistakably affected the health or welfare of the tribe, saying that “deny[ing] a tribal police officer authority to search and detain … any person he or she believes may commit or has committed a crime would make it difficult for tribes to protect themselves against ongoing threats."

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This decision affirms the authority tribes have on tribal lands, and acknowledges the vital role that tribal governments play in keeping their communities safe.

It also reinforces Congress' recent efforts in the Tribal Law and Order Act and Violence Against Women Act to close legal loopholes that have allowed non-Indians to avoid accountability for crimes committed in Indian country.

The justices' focus on the practical importance of tribal sovereignty to ensure safety for everyone in Indian country signaled that non-Indians may be held responsible for crimes they may commit in Indian country.

Tribal police officers, like local police across the country, can detain and search non-Indians suspected of state and federal crimes in Indian country, including making suspects wait until state or federal officers arrive to take over the case. That decreases the likelihood of potential criminals getting away scot-free.The Conversation

Kirsten Carlson, Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The unchecked power of police unions

Police unions abuse collective bargaining to shield their members from accountability for the killings of unarmed Black people and other heinous misconduct. No progress can be made without reining in the unchecked power of police unions.

Look, I was Secretary of Labor. I'm in favor of unions. But police unionizing can have deadly consequences.

One study found that extending collective bargaining rights to Florida sheriffs' offices led to an estimated 40 percent increase in violent police misconduct.

Another study found that the protections built into the police union contracts in America's 100 largest cities were significantly correlated with the killing of unarmed civilians.

Another study suggests that the increase in police unionization from the 1950s through the 1980s resulted in "about 60 to 70" additional civilians killed by police each year — the majority of whom were people of color.

Experts believe the protections in police union contracts give too many officers the sense they can abuse their power.

Police contracts often have provisions allowing departments to erase disciplinary records within a few years, enabling officers with histories of misconduct to clear their records.

Others allow accused officers to access their investigative files before being questioned, letting them manipulate their story. Others set strict time limits for citizens to file complaints about officers; some prevent anonymous complaints from being investigated at all.

All these provisions allow officers with histories of misconduct to stay on the force.

Derek Chauvin, for instance, had at least 17 complaints lodged against him, and never faced any discipline beyond two letters of reprimand. Needless to say, other public sector employees are not afforded these extraordinary protections.

Even if an officer is fired, there's an extensive appeals process that usually works out in their favor.

In Philadelphia, 62 percent of officers fired from 2006 to 2017 were reinstated. In San Antonio, 70 percent were. When New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo was finally fired, five years after choking Eric Garner to death, the NYPD's largest union responded by threatening a work slowdown.

Police unions fight cities that enact even mild reforms, like establishing civilian review boards. The result? Review boards are notoriously ineffective by design.

Some police union contracts with cities forbid them even creating a review board. In the tragic case of Breonna Taylor, Louisville's review board could not start an investigation, take complaints from citizens, or recommend discipline for the officers. All it could do was make recommendations for policy or training changes.

It's the same in other cities: oversight boards have no investigative power, no subpoena power, and no discipline power.

Police unions also wield enormous political clout. A Guardian investigation found police unions spent about $87 million influencing state and local legislation over the past two decades, and at least $47.3 million on campaign contributions and lobbying at the federal level. In 2017, police unions spent $2 million to influence legislation in California alone.

Now, don't get me wrong. Stopping the abuses of police unions must not become a stalking horse for attacking public sector unions generally. But the unchecked powers of police unions urgently need to be addressed.

To start, lawmakers must change state labor laws to restrict the subjects police unions can bargain over.

They should limit negotiations to pay and benefits, not how police do their jobs, how and when they use force, and how and when they are disciplined.

For decades, police unions have shielded officers from accountability, bullied cities into doing their bidding, and attacked lawmakers who took them on. It's past time to ensure they can no longer block accountability under the guise of collective bargaining.

What the Tulsa race massacre destroyed

One hundred years after the worst instance of racist mob violence in 20th-century America, the Tulsa Race Massacre is finally getting the attention it is due. The 1921 terrorist attack by an armed white mob against a prosperous Black community is perhaps one of the clearest and most extreme illustrations of how many African Americans were stripped of their wealth for a generation.

In the span of just 24 hours, an army of deputized white men devastated the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, burning down what had been known as "Black Wall Street," and killing hundreds of residents and business owners. There has never been a full accounting of the murder and mayhem unleashed upon the community, and some estimates put the minimum death toll at 300.

While major media outlets are finally covering this dark incident as a symbol of historic white supremacist violence, a critical lesson of the Tulsa Race Massacre is how economic injustice was foisted upon Black America and how wealth was stripped out of the hands of those few Black Americans who found success within a capitalist system.

Professor Karlos K. Hill, department chair and associate professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is one of the nation's preeminent scholars on the history of racial violence and the author of The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History. He explained to me in an interview that "the Greenwood District [of Tulsa] was perhaps the wealthiest Black community in the country" and a "symbol of what was possible even in Jim Crow America." According to Hill, Greenwood's 11,000 Black residents lived in an area that was home to hundreds of successful businesses and included four millionaires and six near-millionaires—in today's dollars. It was Booker T. Washington who in 1913 famously called Greenwood the "Negro Wall Street."

In a single day, all that was built was destroyed. "The Greenwood District and its affluence drew the ear of whites," said Hill. He argued that the armed white mob and its supporters "saw in Greenwood not just [their own] resentment of Black economic wealth accumulation, but they saw in Greenwood the future." In other words, "the fear was, if Black people could have economic and political equality, then social equality would follow right behind." And that was a threat to the foundations of Jim Crow segregation.

One survivor of the massacre, 107-year-old Viola Fletcher, testified to Congress a few weeks ahead of the 100th anniversary and recalled growing up as a child in Greenwood in "a beautiful home" with "great neighbors and… friends to play with." "I had everything a child could need. I had a bright future ahead of me," she said. A few weeks after Fletcher turned seven, the armed men struck on May 31, 1921. After recounting the "violence of the white mob," and her memories of seeing "Black bodies lying in the street" and "Black businesses being burned," she went on to describe the grinding poverty she was thrown into as a result of the massacre.

Fletcher never made it past the fourth grade in school. The promising future that her family had worked hard to give her was obliterated in the ashes of the Tulsa Race Massacre. "Most of my life I was a domestic worker serving white families. I never made much money. To this day I can barely afford my everyday needs," she told lawmakers during her testimony.

The Tulsa Race Massacre was unusual in its scope, the ferocious speed of its destruction, and the extent of prosperity that was decimated. But it was not unusual in that there were relentless pogroms against Black communities, especially between the years of 1917 and 1923—so much so that one report characterized the period as "a reign of racial terror after World War I, when whites rose up to quash prosperous Black communities."

President Joe Biden's proclamation on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and his moving speech in Greenwood went much further than any president has ever gone to acknowledge the horrors of Tulsa and to offer a starting point for justice. Short of making a case for reparations, his announcement of "New Actions to Build Black Wealth and Narrow the Racial Wealth Gap" is also a far more progressive nod to systemic race-based economic injustice than we might expect from the White House.

While Hill admits that Biden's "plan is a good start," he maintains, "it's not sufficient." "We need to stay focused on reparations for victims, survivors, and descendants," he said. Indeed, the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, which was created more than two decades ago by the state of Oklahoma, recommended reparations that "involve compensation at the individual and community levels." In reflecting on what Fletcher's life might have been like had her family's wealth and her community not been burned to the ground, we can only imagine what was lost for her as an individual, and for generations of Black Americans like her as well as her descendants.

Today Black activists, leaders, and advocates are demanding a reckoning of racial violence and the systemic stripping of wealth from Black communities. The Movement for Black Lives, for example, explicitly calls for "economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access." There is a direct link between the U.S.'s macabre history of racialized violence and contemporary forms of systemic racism that are designed to suppress Black success and wealth building. Study after study proves ongoing discrimination against Black Americans in home mortgages, rental housing, employment, wages, and college admissions, so much so that it hurts the economy as a whole.

And yet white conservatives still refuse to accept that the American economic system is designed to benefit them at the expense of people of color and especially Black people. Hill maintained, "We need to think bigger and more aggressively about the ways in which systematic racism has not just reduced Black wealth but made it impossible to build."

The latest front in the right-wing culture war is a bizarre new campaign against the field of "critical race theory" being taught in academic institutions. In fact, in the same year when the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred—when a U.S. president finally gave an unprecedented acknowledgment of the event, and when the history of racist violence in Tulsa has finally begun to gain the prominence it deserves—the state of Oklahoma banned the teaching of critical race theory. Hill roundly denounced the move, saying, "it is so offensive that this state on the 100th anniversary of the race massacre would pass such a bill. It's so maddening, it's so frustrating, it's such a slap in the face." Perhaps because this is precisely the educational framework that can help young Americans analyze the history of racialized economic injustice, today's white conservatives see it as a threat to the maintenance of their racial and economic privilege.

During her testimony about surviving the Tulsa Race Massacre, Fletcher warned, "Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not… and our descendants do not."

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Biden criticized for 'woefully' undercounting civilians killed in US wars — just like past presidents

Human rights defenders on Wednesday accused the Biden administration of joining its predecessors in undercounting the number of civilians killed during U.S. wars, as the latest annual Pentagon report on noncombatants killed by American bombs and bullets was blasted as "grossly inadequate" by a leading ACLU official.

According to a Department of Defense report (pdf), U.S. forces killed 23 civilians last year during military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

However, the true number of civilians killed by U.S. attacks in 2020 was far higher, according to organizations that monitor such casualties. The U.K.-based journalistic monitoring group Airwars, for example, reported (pdf) between 34 and 36 civilian deaths caused by U.S.-led attacks on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria last year. Airwars also reported between seven and 13 civilians killed by U.S. forces in Somalia last year.

A December 2020 report by Neta C. Crawford of the Costs of War Project—a team of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians at Brown University's Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs in Rhode Island—found that at least 83 civilians were killed in 24 separate U.S. attacks in the first nine months of last year.

]While the discrepancy between the number of civilian casualties in 2020 acknowledged by the United States and figures reported by independent monitors and media is stark, it was even greater in 2019. That year, the Pentagon claimed responsibility (pdf) for 132 civilian deaths, while Airwars and the Costs of War Project reported more than 1,100 civilians killed by U.S.-led attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria alone.

The dramatic decline in civilians killed and injured by U.S. forces is the result of a major decrease in overall American bombing attacks in the at least six nations targeted in the so-called War on Terror. Airwars estimates U.S. warplanes and drones carried out approximately 1,000 strikes last year, down from around 3,500 bombings in 2019 and 13,000 airstrikes in 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration.

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, blasted the latest administration to undercount the number of civilians killed in U.S. wars.

"Almost 20 years into our country's unending conflicts, the Biden administration joins its predecessors in undercounting the number of civilians, likely all Black or Brown people, killed or injured in U.S. military operations overseas," Shamsi said in a statement. "Compared to credible independent media accounts, United Nations reporting, and rights groups' investigations, it is clear that the Defense Department's investigations and acknowledgment of civilian harm remain woefully inadequate."

"The grossly inadequate official accounting for the costs and consequences of the United States' lethal actions abroad prevents meaningful public oversight and accountability for wrongful deaths and perpetual war policies," Shamsi added. "Civilian victims, their families, and the American public deserve far better than this."

Successive U.S. administrations have attempted to undercount or conceal the true number of civilians killed during the War on Terror.

Former President Donald Trump—who infamously vowed to "bomb the shit out of" Islamic State militants and their families while subsequently loosening rules of engagement meant to protect civilians—signed a 2019 executive order revoking an Obama-era requirement that the director of national intelligence publish an annual report on civilian deaths caused by drone strikes in areas "outside of war zones" but under U.S. attack, including Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya.

'Systemic shortfalls' obscure true civilian cost of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS

During the tenure of former President Barack Obama, who dramatically escalated unmanned aerial drone strikes, CIA Director John Brennan claimed that not a single civilian was killed by airstrikes in Pakistan in a nearly one-year period in 2010-2011 during which the Bureau of Investigative Journalism counted dozens of casualties. Obama—under whom U.S. forces bombed medical facilities, homes, weddings, funerals, first responders, U.S. citizens, and allied forces—also redefined the term "militant" to include all military-age males in a designated strike zone in an attempt to artificially lower civilian casualty counts.

The administration of former President George W. Bush—who invaded Iraq under false pretenses and under whom the majority of civilian deaths in the War on Terror he started occurred—also repeatedly came under fire for undercounting civilian casualties. As Gen. Tommy Franks infamously declared on the eve of the Iraq invasion, "We don't do body counts."

While such an attitude makes it virtually impossible to tell exactly how many men, women, and children have been killed by U.S. forces over the past two decades of unending war, estimates range from around 500,000 (pdf) to well over one million (pdf).

Texas high school valedictorian scraps approved speech — and speaks out on new anti-abortion law

A Texas high school valedictorian's graduation speech garnered attention from Democratic lawmakers and rights advocates Wednesday after going viral on social media—not for the typical optimism contained in such addresses, but for the student's decision to go off-script and speak out against her state's assault on reproductive rights.

At Lake Highlands High School's graduation on Sunday in Dallas, Paxton Smith scrapped her valedictory address—which had been approved by school officials—and told her audience it felt wrong to her "to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state."

"Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions that take place after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest," Smith said, referring to Senate Bill 8, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month.

In addition to banning abortion care after six weeks of pregnancy, at which point many women don't yet know they're pregnant, the law allows any citizen to sue anyone who "aids or abets" a patient who has an abortion—including clinic employees, friends or family members who drive the patient to their appointment, or providers.

"I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions," said Smith. "Every girl here does. We have spent our whole lives working towards our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I'm raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams for myself will no longer be relevant. I hope you can feel how gut-wrenching it is, how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you."

Smith's speech begins at the 4:38 mark below:

Paxton Smith Speech at Lake Highlands Graduation

Smith won praise from lawmakers including Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and state Rep. Julie Johnson, both of whom applauded the graduate's "brave" decision to speak candidly about abortion care in a congressional district that has historically been solidly Republican before voters elected Democratic Rep. Colin Allred in 2018.

"It gives members of the Texas Women's Health Caucus hope to know that young women like Paxton Smith are out there to carry the torch," said Johnson.

Others on social media echoed the lawmakers' admiration, calling Smith "a force" and thanking her for articulating "the connection between a woman's achievements, opportunities, and control over her body."

This is courage. In one of the most conservative districts in Texas. I am in awe.

— Lauren Hough (@laurenthehough) June 2, 2021

"I refuse to give up this platform to promote complacency and peace, when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights," Smith said in her speech. "A war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent."

'A huge victory': Advocates cheer the end of Trump's cruel 'Remain in Mexico' asylum policy

Migrant rights advocates on Tuesday welcomed an announcement by the Biden administration that it is ending the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols—commonly known as the "Remain in Mexico" program—in a move to reverse yet another of former President Donald Trump's xenophobic and racist immigration policies.

In a memorandum (pdf) announcing the move, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote that the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP)—under which tens of thousands of Central American asylum-seekers were forced to wait in Mexico until their claims were reviewed—"does not adequately or sustainably enhance border management in such a way as to justify the program's extensive operational burdens and other shortfalls."

"It is certainly true that some removal proceedings conducted pursuant to MPP were completed more expeditiously than is typical for non-detained cases, but this came with certain significant drawbacks that are cause for concern," wrote Mayorkas. "The focus on speed was not always matched with sufficient efforts to ensure that conditions in Mexico enabled migrants to attend their immigration proceedings."

"I share the belief that we can only manage migration in an effective, responsible, and durable manner if we approach the issue comprehensively, looking well beyond our own borders," he added.

President Joe Biden suspended the MPP program on his first day in office as part of a raft of executive orders and other actions aimed at dismantling Trump's anti-immigrant policies. In the months since, the administration has ended the so-called Muslim ban, allowed families separated under Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy to remain in the U.S., raised the refugee admittance cap, preserved the Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and canceled contracts related to the construction of the Mexican border wall.

However, immigrant rights advocates have criticized the Biden administration for deporting hundreds of thousands of people—largely under a Trump-era policy called Title 42—as well as for jailing migrants including children in overcrowded facilities, and for seeking nearly $25 billion in funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in his proposed 2022 budget.

Democratic lawmakers and migrant advocates applauded Tuesday's policy shift.

Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif), who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations, published a joint statement calling MPP a "stain on our nation's history and our long-standing tradition of protecting refugees and asylum-seekers."

"Despite Republican efforts to misrepresent U.S. asylum law and smear those fleeing violence and seeking asylum, we must remember that it is completely legal to come to the U.S. border and seek asylum," Thompson and Barragán said.

"While the process has been underway to dismantle MPP and bring asylum-seekers in the country, more still needs to be done to help those hurt by the policy and we look forward to working with the administration on those efforts," they added. "We must ensure we have a just and humane asylum processing system."

Judy Rabinovitz, the lead ACLU attorney who challenged the MPP policy, said in a statement that "this is a huge victory."

"The forced return policy was cruel, depraved, and illegal, and we are glad that it has finally been rescinded," asserted Rabinovitz. "The administration must follow through on this announcement by ensuring that everyone who has been subjected to this policy can now pursue their asylum cases in the United States, in safety and without additional trauma or delay."

Rabinovitz added that Biden "must swiftly move to dismantle the Trump administration's other attacks on the asylum system, including the unconscionable Title 42 order."

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza 'may constitute war crimes,' says UN human rights chief

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday that Israel's most recent airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip—which killed more than 200 Palestinians and decimated civilian infrastructure—"may constitute war crimes," and also warned that preventing further escalations of violence depends on addressing the fundamental issues of displacement and ongoing occupation.

Michelle Bachelet's speech was delivered at a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council requested by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Palestine. The United States, which provided diplomatic and military support to Israel throughout its latest assault on the occupied Palestinian territories, "did not sign up to address the talks, where it has observer status, appearing to shun the ninth session held on Gaza since 2006," Reuters reported.

Israel's 11-day bombardment of Gaza killed over 240 Palestinians, injured nearly 2,000, displaced tens of thousands, exacerbated the Covid-19 pandemic, and caused a full-fledged humanitarian catastrophe with widespread hunger and lack of access to clean water.

The bombing campaign included "shelling, missiles fired from fighter aircraft, and attacks from the sea," Bachelet noted. "Although reportedly targeting members of armed groups and their military infrastructure, Israeli attacks resulted in extensive civilian deaths and injuries, as well as large-scale destruction and damage to civilian objects."

"Governmental buildings, residential homes and apartment buildings, international humanitarian organizations, medical facilities, media offices, and roads connecting civilians to essential services such as hospitals" were partially or totally destroyed, said the U.N. official.

"Despite Israel's claims that many of these buildings were hosting armed groups or being used for military purposes, we have not seen evidence in this regard," she added.

While it is "a violation of international humanitarian law to locate military assets in densely populated civilian areas or to launch attacks from them," Bachelet said in an apparent reference to Hamas, whose projectiles killed 10 people in Israel, "the actions of one party do not absolve the other from its obligations under international law."

Israel's attacks on the densely populated coastal enclave, home to two million people, "raise serious concerns of Israel's compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law," Bachelet noted. "If found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects, such attacks may constitute war crimes."

"Unlike Israeli civilians, who have the benefit of the 'Iron Dome' and professional military forces to assist in their protection," said Bachelet, "Palestinian civilians have virtually no protection against airstrikes and military operations." Furthermore, she continued, "they have no place to escape to, due to the Israeli land, air, and sea blockade that has been in place for the last 14 years."

Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, also addressed the Human Rights Council's 47 member states at Thursday's meeting in Geneva. He described Gaza as "the world's largest open-air prison," where residents are "cut off from the outside world" by Israel's "comprehensive and illegal" blockade.

The council-appointed independent expert said that Israel's "occupation has become as entrenched and as sustainable as it has because the international community has never imposed a meaningful cost on Israel for acting as an acquisitive and defiant occupying power." Stressing that Israel's occupation would not end "without decisive international action," Lynk reiterated his call for the latest escalation of violence to be investigated by the International Criminal Court.

Al Jazeera reported that during Thursday's meeting, the council debated a draft resolution to investigate Israeli violence in Gaza as well as "systematic" abuses of Palestinians throughout the occupied territories and inside Israel.

In her comments, Bachelet said that Palestinians "have the right to live safely and freely in their homes, with adequate and essential services and opportunities, and with respect for their right to life and physical integrity. The lived reality of the occupation, however, is that they are instead systematically deprived of fundamental rights and freedoms due to every human being."

While the high commissioner welcomed the May 21 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, she emphasized that "unless the root causes of this violence are addressed, it will sadly be a matter of time until the next round of violence commences."

As Bachelet acknowledged, it is impossible to understand Israel's recent deadly onslaught without taking into account its ongoing effort to forcibly expel Palestinians from the land they have lived on for generations.

The latest round of violence was sparked when Israeli security forces cracked down on Palestinians who were resisting Israeli settlers' state-backed effort to demolish and confiscate homes in the Al-Bustan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem. That was followed by a May 10 raid of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in which peaceful worshipers were attacked by security forces eager to repress Palestinian resistance to dispossession.

Just hours after the cease-fire was announced, Israeli police forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound once again, firing stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas at Palestinian worshipers and demonstrators. Moreover, the mass arrests of Palestinians who have participated in recent protests against ethnic cleansing have continued despite the truce.

"In Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, the risk of evictions remains and continues to fuel tensions," said Bachelet. "Such evictions should cease, in line with Israel's obligations under international law," she continued, urging "the Israeli authorities to immediately halt the process of evictions."

Bachelet noted that "while the shocking loss of life and destruction in Gaza has justifiably made headlines around the world, the alarming situation in the West Bank has gone unnoticed by many."

"Tension, protests, and violence, including the heavy use of force by Israeli Security Forces has reached levels not seen in years," said Bachelet, who added that she is "also extremely troubled by the documented incidents of settlers using live ammunition to attack Palestinians, in some cases alongside" soldiers.

As of May 24, according to Bachelet's office, 28 Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, including in annexed East Jerusalem, had been killed and roughly 6,800 injured this month as a result of Israel's assault.

"There must be a genuine and inclusive peace process to address these root causes and bring the occupation to an end," said Bachelet.

The high commissioner stressed that "in any such processes and for any resulting agreements, the respect and protection of human rights must be fundamental, including accountability for past human rights violations and abuses. Only when human rights are fully respected and protected can trust start to be built between the various communities and a durable, lasting, and just peace be achieved."

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