Senior South African figures slammed the United States yesterday for threatening to boycott a U.N. conference on racism and condemned the “evasive” language of draft declarations. National Assembly Speaker Frene Ginwala, attending a preparatory conference in Cape Town, said she found it unacceptable that the United States, which guaranteed freedom of speech in its Constitution, wanted to exclude Zionism and reparations for slavery from the agenda of the conference. The South African Non-Governmental Coalition earlier accused the United States of arrogance bordering on self-interest for threatening to boycott the conference. Its director said it’s ironic that the nation that claims to be the defender of the free world consistently uses its considerable economic and military might to pursue its own narrow interests.
The top U.S. official working on an international treaty to reduce cigarette smoking worldwide has resigned, at a time when the United States is embroiled in contentious negotiations with more than 150 countries on how to counter the rising global use of tobacco. Bush administration officials said yesterday that the negotiator, Thomas Novotny, has stepped down for personal reasons. But three people who have spoken with him in recent weeks said he had privately expressed distress over the administration’s decision to soften the U.S. positions on key issues, including restrictions on secondhand smoke and the advertising and marketing of cigarettes.
Colombian government troops pursued a battered guerrilla column through the mountains yesterday after reportedly killing about 60 rebels in one of the military’s biggest battlefield victories in years. U.S.-made Black Hawk helicopters were central in the attack. In addition, the chief of Colombia’s military said technical intelligence allowed the military to track the rebel column before the battle erupted. He did not say where the technical intelligence was coming from, but the United States can gain such information from its spy planes and satellite imagery. The U.S. Embassy said it had no immediate comment on whether the U.S. was providing this information.
The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal yesterday handed down its first conviction for genocide, finding a Bosnian Serb general guilty for the deaths of up to 8,000 Muslims at the U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica. The verdict and 46-year sentence for General Radislav Krstic could be a harbinger of more genocide trials of those at the top of the command chain in the Balkan Wars.
Italy’s interior minister yesterday ordered the transfer of three top police officials following a probe into the conduct of security forces at last month’s Group of 8 summit in Genoa. He did not explain the transfer, but the probe has focused on the legitimacy of a bloody police raid on a school serving as a media center and sleeping quarters for anti-globalization groups, and on allegations that arrested activists were beaten at a police station.
Meanwhile, international journalist bodies and media watchdogs have expressed grave concern over Italian prosecutors’ efforts to seize journalists’ photographs and video footage of protests at the G8 summit. Over the past week, Genoa state prosecutors have issued a series of orders to media organizations to hand over photos and TV cassettes of the demonstration in the city during the July 20 to 22 summit of world leaders. A spokesperson for Reporters Without Borders said, “We’re completely against the idea that journalists should be used in one way or another as a substitute to make up for the fact that the police or magistrates were not there. That is not our job.” He said, “If people realize that the work of photographers and cameramen will end up in the hands of police, then they will no longer be able to carry out their work. Obviously, it puts the journalists in danger.”
The FBI has opened civil rights investigations in seven cases in which Prince George’s County police shot or allegedly beat people, bringing to more than 30 the number of federal probes involving county officers in the past two years. An FBI spokesman said yesterday that four of the investigations will seek to determine whether police violated the civil rights of four men shot in separate incidents dating to 1997. All of the men were unarmed and shot in the back. Two of them died. The seven cases were detailed last month in a series of articles in The Washington Post which found that Prince George’s police shot and killed more people per officer than any other large police force in the nation from 1990 through 2000. Since 1990, Prince George’s officers have shot 122 people, 47 of them fatally. Top police officials have concluded that each of the shootings was justified.