The United Nations Human Rights Council is holding an emergency session on Syria today amidst the ongoing deadly crackdown by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Ahead of the meeting, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said the death toll in Syria is likely far above the United Nations’ estimate of 4,000.
Navi Pillay: "With regard to statistics, yeah, I will be giving a statistic, but even the statistic I am going to give tomorrow is going to be conservative. We are placing the figure at 4,000, but really the reliable information coming to us is that it’s much more than that. I have said that as soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms—I said this in August before the Security Council—that there’s going to be a civil war, and at the moment, that’s how I am characterizing this."
European leaders are preparing to unveil their plans for addressing the sovereign debt crisis that’s threatened to tear apart the eurozone. Both France and Germany are expected to push for changes to the eurozone treaty, including centralized oversight of national budgets and tighter reins on debt. In a speech on Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said radical changes are needed in order to save the euro.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "Let me say it here: Europe must be rethought, refounded. It is urgent. The world won’t wait for Europe. If Europe doesn’t change fast enough, the history of Europe will be written without it. This is France’s conviction, and it is Germany’s conviction. We must discuss our budget policy, not so that they should be the same everywhere when situations are different, but so that they can converge rather than become more distant. Let’s examine our budgets, with punishments that are more automatic, more rapid and more strict for those who do not respect their commitments."
As Europe weighs new measures to prop up the euro, a new United Nations report is warning the world could fall into a new global recession if countries enact harsh austerity policies and fail to stimulate their economies. Jomo Sundaram of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs warned the global economy is facing a pivotal year.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram: "The situation in the world is rather grim. We have a situation where we may well be at risk of a double dip. We are also—in any case, it is very likely that there will be a further slowdown. We know that this has been the case in much of the developed world, but it is also likely to affect much of the developing world."
In news from Pakistan, the militant group al-Qaeda is claiming to be holding in captivity a U.S. citizen who was seized in Lahore nearly four month ago. The citizen, Warren Weinstein, is a former worker for USAID. Al-Qeada says it will free him if the United States stops air strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other demands.
The United States has officially handed formal control of its largest military base in Iraq to the Iraqi government. The transfer of Camp Victory marks the latest step in the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the month. The Obama administration announced the pullout earlier this year after the Iraqi government refused to grant U.S. troops immunity for a longer stay. At a ceremony marking the handover of Camp Victory, Vice President Joe Biden praised the U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.
Vice President Joe Biden: "All of you sitting before me today have laid the foundation for a long-term strategic partnership between our nations, and also for an Iraq that, against all odds, can serve as a source of stability, not only for its people, but here in the region and for years to come. I think it’s fair to say almost no one thought that was possible a few years ago."
Despite the withdrawal, the U.S. is leaving behind thousands of private contractors. U.S. troops are expected to be stationed in nearby Gulf states and could ultimately return under the rubric of "military training" for the Iraqi army.
The Senate has unanimously approved new sanctions against Iran, targeting foreign companies that do business with the Iranian central bank. It is unclear if President Obama will sign the measure into law should it reach his desk. The Senate move follows a vote by the European Union on Thursday to also impose new sanctions on Iran, expanding a list of targeted Iranian companies and individuals.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has wrapped up a landmark visit to Burma, the most high-level visit by a U.S. official in over 50 years. On Thursday, Clinton told the ruling junta the United States will loosen curbs on international aid and development programs in response to recent steps toward a more open political process. Clinton later met with the Burmese pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San Suu Kyi: "Before we decide what steps to take, we have to find out what our greatest needs are. And of course, two of the greatest needs in this country are rule of law and a cessation to civil war. All hostilities must cease within this country as soon as possible."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Democracy is the goal. That has been the goal from the very beginning. And yet we know that it has been a long, very difficult path that has been followed. We do see openings today."
The Obama administration has unveiled a new target to expand global AIDS treatment to six million people, up from the earlier goal of four million. President Obama made the announcement at an event marking World AIDS Day.
President Obama: "We know that treatment is also prevention. And today we’re setting a new target of helping six million people get treatment by the end of 2013. To Congress, keep working together, and keep the commitments you’ve made intact. At a time when so much in Washington divides us, the fight against this disease has united us across parties and across presidents, and it shows that we can do big things when Republicans and Democrats put their common humanity before politics. So we need to carry that spirit forward."
Massachusetts has filed suit against five major banks over their alleged negligence in dealing with struggling homeowners. The lawsuit targets Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and GMAC. The banks are accused of "unlawful and deceptive" foreclosure practices including unlawful foreclosures, false documentation, robo-signing, and deceptive practices around modifying loans. The lawsuit could complicate the ongoing talks between banks and state prosecutors nationwide over reaching a comprehensive settlement over the same allegations. Details of the settlement had been expected sometime this month.
Dozens of Occupy protesters marched in Washington, D.C. on Thursday to protest a Democratic Party fundraiser for the 2012 campaign. Chanting "We are the 99 percent," protesters criticized the Democratic Party for its ties to Wall Street.
Protester: "We are here to show that the Occupy movement is nonpartisan. As a matter of fact, homeboy just said it perfectly: the Democrats are not going to save us, we are going to save ourselves. The Democrats have just a hand in this as the Republicans do. As a matter of fact, our entire political process is mired in a myriad of corporate interests, and we know it. The Democrats just like to play it off like they’re a party for the people, but they’re really not. They’re playing along with it, too, and we know that."
Earlier on Thursday, the Occupy Wall Street movement staged parallel rallies in Pennsylvania and New York City to protest the recent shipments of tear gas from a U.S. firm to the military government in Egypt. Egyptian forces have used U.S.-made tear gas in an attempt to break up the mass protests against military rule in Tahrir Square. In Pennsylvania, demonstrators rallied at the factory of the company Combined Systems, where the tear gas is produced. Protesters in New York City, meanwhile, rallied outside the Egyptian consulate.