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Curated by Peter Hulm

News from 2020 not involving COVID-19, unless it predicts the impacts. See also: POST-COVID for assessments and reports on what comes next.

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Non-COVID news in May 2020

U.S. Charges North Koreans in $2.5B Sanctions-busting Scheme

The Justice Department has accused a network of North Korean and Chinese citizens of secretly advancing North Korea's nuclear weapons program by channeling at least $2.5 billion in illicit payments through hundreds of front companies.

ap via haaretz (LINK)


Trump postpones G-7 meeting again till September and plans to invite four more countries

The president said he would invite Australia, India, Russia and South Korea for an enlarged summit in September.

politico (LINK)


Microsoft Is Replacing MSN's Contract Journalists with AI

Roughly 50 staffers received the news that their contracts would not be renewed after their June 30 expiration date. All are employed through outside agencies, including 27 writers with the UK's PA Media Group, according to a Guardian report.

A Microsoft statement said: "These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic."

gizmodo (LINK)


Listing of international organizations around the world

List of important International Organizations with their headquarters, foundation years, heads and purpose.

bankexamstoday (LINK)


U.K. Premier's advisor Dominic Cummings fact-checked

"On Monday, when addressing the press, Mr Cummings claimed: 'Last year, I wrote about the possible threat of coronaviruses and the urgent need for planning.'' However, his blog on pandemics from last year was only updated to include a paragraph on coronaviruses on 14 April this year."

fullfact (LINK)

China / U.S.A.

Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue launches podcast series, 'The US-China Conversation'

In a period of unprecedented tension between China and the United States, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue is launching a new podcast series, 'The US-China Conversation,'' to provide a platform for American and Chinese experts to discuss jointly and frankly future relations between these two powers.

In the pilot episode HD's Asia Director, Michael Vatikiotis speaks about the state of the US-China bilateral relationship and what could be done to put relations on a better footing to former Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton, and Professor Da Wei of the University of International Relations in Beijing.

The idea for this series stemmed from a virtual dialogue between experts from China and the United States convened by HD in April.

hdcentre (LINK)

China / Rights

Chinese security forces could be deployed in Hong Kong under new law

Hong Kong officials indicate powers will be used to try to suppress pro-democracy protests

theguardian (LINK)

China moves to impose controversial Hong Kong security law

The law to ban "treason, secession, sedition and subversion" could bypass Hong Kong's lawmakers. The draft law was submitted at the annual National People's Congress (NPC), which largely rubber-stamps decisions already taken by the Communist leadership, but is still the most important political event of the year.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region and an economic powerhouse, was required to introduce security legislation after the handover from British control to Chinese rule in 1997.

bbc (LINK)

US sanctions Chinese entities over human rights violations

The US says it will penalize 33 Chinese entities for human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minority groups. The move comes after China imposed a law that would quell the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

dw (LINK)


Strategic hot spot Greenland sparks global tug-of-war

The US has always seen Greenland under its sphere of influence. But the island's increasing independence is threatening that. As it becomes more global, China and Russia see a chance to control the Arctic.

"This summer the US is reopening its diplomatic mission in Nuuk for the first time since 1953, as well as offering the island nation $12 million (€11 million) in investments. The money will be used to boost the territory's mineral industries, tourism and education."

dw (LINK)

Related GLOBAL-GENEVA piece POLAR FOCUS: The view from Greenland (LINK)

U.N. / Climate

Cyclone Amphan's impact: flash updates

Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh: 10 million peole affected, 17 people have died, 55,667 houses totally destroyed.

"The Sundarbans [mangroves] contributed to reduce the impact. Preliminary reports indicate damages in Cox's Bazar fairly minimal. Satkhira by far the hardest hit district."

UN news from 21 May: "It is believed that around 10 million people in Bangladesh are impacted by the cyclone, with half a million families potentially having lost their homes. The cyclone, which lashed coastal areas with brutal winds and rain, left at least 84 people across India and Bangladesh dead, according to news reports." (LINK)


Robbed of Their Island in the Indian Ocean, Chagossians Linger in a Pandemic-Shadowed Limbo

Exactly one year ago, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Britain to return the Chagos Archipelago, a cluster of islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, to Mauritius, an island-nation off the southeast coast of Africa.

The resolution endorsed an International Court of Justice's advisory opinion that had been requested by a 2017 General Assembly resolution. The 2019 resolution demanded that "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland withdraw its colonial administration from the Chagos Archipelago unconditionally within a period of no more than six months from the adoption of the present resolution, thereby enabling Mauritius to complete the decolonization of its territory as rapidly as possible."

Six months went by — without a withdrawal. As part of the process, UN Secretary-General António Guterres was asked to produce a report on the resolution's implementation before the end of April 2020. As of May 21, the report was nowhere to be found.

passblue (LINK)

U.S. politics

Michael Cohen Released From Prison Due To Coronavirus Concerns

Cohen, 53, who once proclaimed he "would take a bullet for the president," was sentenced in 2018 to a three-year federal prison term following guilty pleas to a number of financial and political crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.

He had been serving at a medium-security federal correctional institution in Otisville, N.Y., more than 75 miles northwest of New York City. He was scheduled to be released in November 2021.

It is unclear why Cohen was let out Thursday. His release was originally granted in April but had been delayed.

npr (LINK)


Kendall Jenner to pay $90,000 settlement for promoting fraudulent Fyre Festival slated for Bahamas

Jenner, who was among several celebrities to post about the fraudulent music event, was paid $275,000 to endorse the festival in 2017. She was sued in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York in August 2019 by Gregory Messer, who argued that Jenner did not only fail to disclose to her followers that she would be paid for advertising Fyre Festival, but that she led them to believe the festival would be filled with famous models on an 'exotic private island with first-class culinary experiences and a luxury atmosphere.'

nbcnews (LINK)


Latest UK 'terrorism' legislation criticised by rights groups

A further tightening of measures against people who have not been convicted undermines British justice, say campaigners.

aljazeera (LINK)


Mike Pompeo rips into Beijing with a litany of US grievances

China's domestic and foreign policies 'make it more difficult to assess that Hong Kong remains highly autonomous from mainland China', secretary of state says. Also cited in a press briefing are Huawei, 5G, Taiwan, the South China Sea and the coronavirus response, among other topics.

scmp (LINK)

Oil gains on signs of improving demand, drawdown in inventory

The uptick in crude prices has been largely motivated by severe output cuts and the easing of coronavirus lockdowns.

aljazeera (LINK)


Hurricanes are getting stronger, more dangerous and forming earlier. Here's how we can prepare

Research indicates that the likelihood of a tropical cyclone becoming a Category 3 or stronger storm has increased 8% per decade as a result of climate change.

  • Create a plan for this hurricane season that accounts for coronavirus. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has updated guidelines for steps people can take now to prepare, including stocking up on food and water in addition to personal protective equipmesnt and hand sanitizer. The National Hurricane Center updated storm surge maps and forecast timing to help emergency managers make more informed decisions sooner.
  • Develop a long-term resilience plan for future hurricane seasons and climate change: Every $1 spent on disaster mitigation saves $6 in disaster recovery.
  • Build natural infrastructure to buffer from storm surge and sea level rise: A recent study found that a square kilometer of wetlands is worth approximately $1.8 million a year on average in storm protection. The study also found that Florida could have reduced damages by $430 million if it had maintained wetlands where Hurricane Irma made landfall.

edf (LINK)


Man sentenced to death in Singapore on Zoom call

A judge in Singapore has sentenced a man to death via a Zoom video-call for his role in a drug deal, one of just two known cases where a capital punishment verdict has been delivered remotely.

reuters (LINK)

Missouri carries out first U.S. execution since pandemic began

A Missouri man convicted of murdering an elderly woman three decades ago was put to death in Missouri on Tuesday, marking the first execution in the United States since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

reuters (LINK)

Environment / Science

Water: 38,047 science articles free online from IWA

"IWA Publishing is a leading international publisher on all aspects of water, wastewater and environment, spanning 15 industry-leading journals and a range of books, digitally available on IWAPOnline."

iwaponline (LINK)


US plans largest naval war practice off Hawaii in August

Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) [is] coming to the waters off Hawaii August 17-31, 2020 bringing 26 nations, 25,000 military personnel, up to 50 ships and submarines and hundreds of aircraft.

opednews (LINK)


66% of Americans Are Worried About Global Warming

In all, 73% of Americans think global warming is happening—tying the highest total from previous surveys. Only 10% think it's not happening, leaving 17% unsure. Some 62% of respondents think global warming is mostly human-caused, up from a low of 46% in 2012, while 29% think the warming is mostly due to natural changes in the environment.

medium (LINK)


Prices for telecommunication services continue to decline but affordability is not all

The latest statistics from ITU confirm that affordability may not be the only barrier to Internet uptake, and that other factors such as low level of education, lack of relevant content, lack of content in local languages, lack of digital skills, and a low-quality Internet connection may also prevent effective use.

"Keeping telecommunication and digital services as affordable as possible has always been important to ensure broader Internet uptake, especially for lower-income households and consumers," said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. "In the face of COVID-19, this is more vital than ever. People who do not have access to the Internet may not be able to access information about how to protect themselves from coronavirus, telework, learn remotely and connect with families and friends during quarantine."

itu (LINK)


Australia won't retaliate against China barley tariffs but reserves right to appeal to W.T.O.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says Australia is not in a trade war with China, and will not retaliate after the economic superpower confirmed it would set an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley, effectively crippling exports to the lucrative Chinese market.

The tariffs, based on claims Australia subsidised its farmers and sold barley into China below the cost of production, were flagged earlier this month and confirmed overnight. They effectively put an end to barley trade with China – Australian barley growers' most lucrative market – which in 2018 was worth $1.5 billion.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia reserved the right to appeal against the tariffs, which will last for five years, at the World Trade Organization.

abc (LINK)


Small Island Developing States need urgent help to build resilience in transport and coastal infrastructure — U.N.

The new U.N. report summarizes a debate held during the global climate conference in Madrid in December 2019 and links to an UNCTAD study on impacts and adaptation in the Caribbean as well as one published on 28 April 2020 compiling policies and practices.

Singapore, for example, has mandated that the new Tuas Port Terminal will be built more than 5 m higher than the mean sea level and the new Changi Airport Terminal 5 is to be built 5.5 m above the mean sea level to ensure the continued resilience of port and airport services.

The new report also highlights Grenada's ambition, with technical support from New York University and financial support from the Global Climate Facility, to transform Saint George's, its capital, into the "first climate resilient, climate smart city in the Caribbean region". The work aims to build climate resilience and generate economic opportunities through deploying both engineering solutions as well as ecosystem-based adaptation strategies.

The United Nations Environment Programme statement on the report notes: "While SIDS are demonstrating leadership in tackling climate change and building climate resilience, they need urgent assistance to address their financial, technology and capacity gaps. Improving SIDS' resilience to climate change can provide major opportunities in terms of overall national sustainable development, which should be front of mind as the international community comes together to support the post-COVID recovery."


Economy / Environment

Swiss Sustainable Funds Awards 2020 names finalists for 9 June 2020

Categories include: World shares, Swiss shares, European shares, Emerging Country shares and thematic shares, global bonds and corporate bonds.

Global shares

  • DPAM INVEST B Equities World Sustainable A
  • LO Funds - Generation Global (USD) I A
  • RobecoSAM Global Gender Equality Impact Equities C
  • RobecoSAM Sustainable Healthy Living Fund C
  • Schroder ISF Global Sustainable Gro C Acc

Swiss shares

  • Cadmos - Swiss Engagement B
  • GAM Swiss Sustainable Companies D
  • Swisscanto (CH) EF SMC Switzerland (I) AA CHF
  • Synchrony Small & Mid Caps CH A
  • Vontobel Fund (CH)-Ethos Eq Swiss Mid & Small A

letemps (LINK)

U.N. / SDGs

IT for SDGs: The impact of COVID-19

Audrey Azoulay, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighted that while digital technologies and distance learning strategies were deployed at record speeds to enable continued education for the estimated 1.5 billion children around the world affected by school closures, 40% of school children don't have access to digital technologies, rising to 80% in sub-Saharan Africa.

"If we were to implement only digital solutions, it would exacerbate the very inequalities that the Agenda 2030 seeks to fight," said Azoulay."

itu (LINK)


No, you don't have a "lizard brain": Why the Psychology 101 model of the brain is all wrong

"This belief, although widely shared and stated as fact in psychology textbooks, lacks any foundation in evolutionary biology."

salon (LINK)

U.N. / Crime

Félicien Kabuga: Rwanda genocide suspect arrested in France

Mr Kabuga was detained in a dawn raid in Asnières-sur-Seine, where he had been living under a false identity. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has charged the 84-year-old with genocide and crimes against humanity.

bbc (LINK)


China asks US to stop 'unreasonable suppression' of Huawei

The Trump administration had moved to block global chip supplies to blacklisted telecoms equipment company Huawei.

aljazeera (LINK)


Iran sentences French-Iranian academic to 5 years in prison

Iran sentenced French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah to five years in prison on national security charges, her lawyer said, adding that she plans to appeal.

The case of Adelkhah and her French colleague and partner Roland Marchal, who were arrested together in June last year, has been a thorn in relations between Tehran and Paris for months.

Marchal was released in an apparent prisoner swap in March that drew strong criticism from the United States. The 61-year-old Adelkhah has remained in custody ever since her arrest.

The academic was "sentenced to five years for gathering and conspiring against national security, and one year for propaganda against the Islamic republic", her lawyer Said Dehghan told AFP, adding that they were to be served concurrently.

channelnewsasia (LINK)


Digital Overload: Average Adult Will Spend 34 Years Of Their Life Staring At Screens

A poll of 2,000 British adults, commissioned by Vision Direct, found that the typical person will spend a staggering 34 years looking at phones, computers, or televisions. During the typical adult lifespan, from ages 18-81, researchers say a person will be glued to their screens for over 13 hours a day.

studyfinds (LINK)


WTO head steps down a year early as downturn looms

Mr Azevedo said his early departure as the WTO's director-general was a "personal decision" that was in the best interests of the organisation. Asked about Mr Azevedo's exit, Mr Trump, who had previously said the US would leave the organisation if it didn't change, said he was "OK with it". "We've been treated very badly... They treat China as a developing nation. Therefore China gets a lot of the benefits that the US doesn't get," he added.

bbc (LINK)

The WTO and the demise of multilateralism

Resignation "does not bode well for the international trading system, multilateralism and International Geneva."

swissinfo (LINK)


Afghanistan: Gunmen attack Doctors Without Borders clinic in Kabul

Gunmen stormed a Doctors Without Borders medical clinic in the western part of the Afghan capital city of Kabul on Tuesday, setting off a gun battle with police and security forces, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry. At least 13 people — including two infants — were killed in in the attack on Dasht-e-Barchi Hospital, and 15 others were wounded, officials said.

dw (LINK)


At WIPO, a setback for China with a little help from the EU and the US

On May 8, Daren Tang was confirmed as Director General (DG) of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for a six-year term starting in October 2020. Succeeding Australian Francis Gurry, he is the first Singaporean to lead a UN agency and WIPO's first Asian DG. His appointment is seen as a win for the US, who coordinated a pushback against increasing Chinese influence at the top of UN agencies.

thegenevaobserver (LINK)

Chomsky, Sanders, Klein, Varoufakis and Others Launch Progressive International

A coalition of left-leaning intellectuals, activists, and political leaders from around the world officially launched Monday the Progressive International with the support of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 and the Sanders Institute.

At launch, the Progressive International is supported by an interim Council of over 40 advisors, including Iceland's Prime Minister Katriin Jakobsdottir, intellectual Noam Chomsky, former Greek Minister of Economy Yanis Varoufakis, author Naomi Klein, and many others.

From Latin America, political leaders such as the Ecuadorean ex-president Rafael Correa; former Brazilian presidential candidate Fernando Haddad; former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim; Bolivian former Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera are part of the founding members.

The idea was born in December 2018, when the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25) and the Sanders Institute issued an open call proclaiming "it is time for progressives of the world to unite."

In September, the Council will meet for the inaugural Summit of the PI in Reykjavik, Iceland, hosted by the Prime Minister of Iceland and the Left-Green Movement, to analyze the challenges of the 21st century and consider proposals from the PI membership for its strategic direction.

telesurenglish (LINK)


US blocks vote on UN's bid for global ceasefire over reference to WHO

Security council had spent weeks seeking resolution but Trump administration opposed mention of organization

theguardian (LINK)


Authorities Recover 19,000 Artifacts in International Antiquities Trafficking Sting

Afghan customs officials intercepted almost 1,000 cultural artifacts headed for Istanbul. The list of recovered items includes fossils, paintings, ceramics, historical weapons, a Roman lion carved out of limestone, and a frieze (or carved, horizontal wall panel).

smithsonianmag (LINK)

China / Rights

Hong Kong's mass arrests are giving police crucial intelligence: people's phones

Vaguely worded search warrants [grant] police extensive and effectively unlimited access to digital devices confiscated from people arrested in connection to the protests. (LINK)

China / media

U.S. tightens visa rules for Chinese journalists in retaliatory move

In issuing the new regulation on Friday, the Department of Homeland Security cited what it called China's "suppression of independent journalism".

reuters / (LINK)

U.N. / Aghanistan / migrants

UN seeks answers in 'disturbing' case of drowned Afghan migrants

Alleged torture by Iranian border guards has raised diplomatic tensions during the already tense pandemic.

zenger (LINK)


'Never Seen Anything Like This': Experts Question Dropping of Flynn Prosecution

"Abandoning the case is the latest step in a pattern of dismantling the work of the Russia investigators. A former prosecutor likened it to eating the department from the inside out."

nytimes (LINK)

Putin's People by Catherine Belton review – a groundbreaking study that follows the money

"A fearless, fascinating account of the emergence of the Putin regime also shines a light on the current threats posed by Russian money and influence."

theguardian (LINK)

U.N. / Rights

Venezuela must offer concrete steps to end humanitarian crisis, say UN experts

"In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States should immediately lift blanket sanctions, which are having a severe impact on the human rights of the Venezuelan people."

"The experts were alarmed by reports that journalists, lawyers and medical workers have faced retaliation and even been detained for raising concerns about conditions in the country. Anyone arbitrarily detained should be released immediately, and the government should investigate these allegations."

ohchr (LINK)


Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro 'no longer democracies': Report

Hungary, Serbia, and Montenegro can no longer be called democracies after unprecedented democratic backsliding, a democracy watchdog has said.

Freedom House also reported a "stunning democratic breakdown" across the 29 countries it surveyed from Central Europe to Central Asia, noting there are now "fewer democracies in the region today than at any point since the annual report was launched in 1995".

The decline of the European Union member Hungary, once a "democratic frontrunner" in 2005, was "the most precipitous ever tracked" by the group [Freedom House], which is mainly financed by the US government.


Trump vetoes Congress resolution to limit his right to war with Iran

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday vetoed what he called a "very insulting" congressional resolution seeking to limit his war powers in Iran. In a statement, Trump said he had used his veto because the resolution – a rare bipartisan rebuke to the president approved in March – was based on "misunderstandings of facts and law".

news wires / france24 (LINK)


DR Congo shelters 1 in 10 of the world's internally displaced people

Close to 1.7 million people fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2019, putting the country on top of the list of most newly internally displaced in Africa, and second globally after Syria.

nrc (LINK)


The Dumbest Aspects of the Apparent Coup Attempt in Venezuela

It should go without saying that if you're involved in an alleged attempt to overthrow a government already prepared for interference from a well-funded opposition leader, you should keep it offline. But Silvercorp, the private contractor employing the pair of mercenaries, tweeted about the operation on Sunday while it was still in motion

The Trump administration — gung-ho for the removal of Maduro during a power struggle last year led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó — may not be thrilled to learn that Silvercorp apparently did security for the president's rallies in 2018.

nymag (LINK)

19 million children internally displaced by conflict and violence in 2019, highest number ever

According to the report, there were 12 million new displacements of children in 2019, 3.8 million of them were caused by conflict and violence, and 8.2 million by disasters linked mostly to weather-related events like flooding and storms.

unicef (LINK)

U.N. / Media

Secretary-General's remarks to High-Level Dialogue on Press Freedom and Tackling Disinformation in the COVID-19 Context

"A recent analysis found that more than 40 percent of posts about COVID-19 on one major social media platform were posted by bots — automated programmes disguised as people." (LINK)

Journalists provide 'antidote' to COVID-19 misinformation, UN chief says ahead of World Press Freedom Day

2020 Theme: Journalism without Fear or Favour (LINK)

A UN independent human rights expert reported that since the start of the disease outbreak, he has received "alarming accounts" of retaliation against journalists, under the guise of spreading disinformation (LINK).

Roughly 250 journalists worldwide are currently behind bars, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists. (LINK)

Egypt has made journalism a crime with crackdown, says Amnesty International

Egyptian government using pandemic to tighten control of media and quash dissent, rights group reports

theguardian (LINK)


Trump's New Press Secretary Tells Reporters At Her First Briefing She Won't Lie To Them, Then Lied Three Times

For example, a reporter asked her why Trump would call the armed militia protesteurs in Michigan "very good people". She said, "The president was referencing generally that in this country, you have a First Amendment right to protest." But his tweet clearly did not reference anything about the First Amendment.

refinery29 (LINK)

Rights / Sport

Court dismisses U.S. women's equal pay in soccer claim

The lawsuit was filed by 28 women's national team players last year against the US Soccer Federation (USSF).

Giving its ruling, the court said: "The women's team has been paid more on both a cumulative and an average per-game basis than the men's team over the class period."

bbc (LINK)


North Korea's Kim Reappears In Public After Speculation About His Health

Kim attended a ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer plant in Sunchon, a town about 45 km (28 miles) north of the capital, Pyongyang, Yonhap said, citing North Korean media. Kim was last reported in public on April 11 at a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers Party, Yonhap said.

npr (LINK)


Jeffrey Epstein visited Harvard more than 40 times after he was convicted of sex charges involving a minor in Florida

"He had no official Harvard affiliation, yet Jeffrey Epstein had his own office, key card and Harvard phone line. He would often swing by on weekends to host dinners with academics he wanted to meet."

nytimes (LINK)

Joe Biden 'unequivocally' denies sexual assault allegation from former staffer

Biden's first public remarks on the allegation by former staffer Tara Reade were: "I'm saying unequivocally, it never, never happened." (LINK)

Non-Covid News in April 2020

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