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U.N. rights forum agrees to investigate abuses in Ethiopia

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The U.N. Human Rights Council voted on Friday to establish an independent investigation into abuses in the Ethiopian conflict, after a senior U.N. official said there had been violations on all sides and mass arrests under a government crackdown.

Ethiopia said it was “extremely disappointed” by the move and vowed not to cooperate, describing the mechanism as “politically motivated”.

The resolution, brought by the European Union and backed by Western states, passed despite objections from Ethiopia, which dismissed accusations of abuses and said it had already cooperated in investigations into the year-old war.

“A number of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity, and urgently require further investigations by independent experts,” the EU delegation to the U.N. in Geneva said in a statement welcoming the decision.

The resolution establishes a three-member panel of experts for one year to collect evidence and identify those responsible for violations with a view to future prosecutions.

“Ethiopia would like to reiterate that it will not cooperate with the established mechanism imposed upon it against its consent,” the government said in a statement.

“No more to double standards; no more to unilateral coercive measures; and no more to meddling in internal affairs under the pretext of human rights.”

Earlier, Ethiopia’s envoy to the U.N. in Geneva Zenebe Kebede denounced what he said was a series of abuses by rebellious forces from the northern Tigray region.

Thousands of civilians have died and millions have fled in the conflict between the federal government and rebellious forces including fighters loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for nearly 30 years.

There was no immediate comment from the TPLF on Friday. In the past, it has said some individual soldiers or militias may have committed abuses that should be investigated but that regular Tigrayan forces are well disciplined.

‘GRAVE CONCERN’

The vote on the motion after a day-long special session was 21 states in favour, 15 against including China and Russia, with 11 abstentions at the 47-member forum in Geneva.

The African Group of countries had also called for the resolution to be rejected, saying that the proposed investigative mechanism was “counterproductive and likely to exacerbate tensions”.

But six African countries including Senegal and Sudan broke ranks and abstained.

The U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada al-Nashif, told the session that all sides in the deepening conflict in northern Ethiopia are committing severe human rights violations and should pull back from the war.

An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people are detained, including nine U.N. staff, under a state of emergency and its “excessively broad provision” declared by the government last month, she said.

“Many are detained incommunicado or in unknown locations. This is tantamount to enforced disappearance, and a matter of very grave concern,” she said.

Ethiopia’s Zenebe did not comment directly on the detentions. But he said that the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission had already worked with the U.N rights office to investigate accusations of abuses, and was ready to do so again.

That joint investigation published last month found that all sides in Tigray’s conflict had committed violations that may amount to war crimes.

Some Tigrayans groups criticised the investigation, saying it had ignored many widely-reported and well-documented mass killings. The government also complained it had not covered crimes committed by Tigrayan forces in Amhara region. But the report said it could not be an exhaustive list of all crimes.

The U.S. State Department on Friday said Washington is “gravely concerned” by unconfirmed reports alleging mass detentions, killings and forced expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in western Tigray by Amhara security forces.

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Louise Heavens and Grant McCool)

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Britain’s MI5 spy service warns lawmakers over Chinese agent of influence

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Britain’s domestic spy service MI5 has warned lawmakers that the Chinese Communist Party has been employing a woman to exert improper influence over members of parliament.

MI5 sent out an alert and picture of the woman named Christine Lee on Thursday alleging she was “involved in political interference activities” in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who circulated MI5’s alert to lawmakers, said MI5 had found that Lee “has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China“.

Hoyle said Lee had been involved with the now disbanded all-party parliamentary group, Chinese in Britain.

Britain’s interior minister Priti Patel told reporters that Lee’s behaviour was currently below the criminal threshold to prosecute her, but she said that by putting the alert out the government was able to warn lawmakers about Lee’s attempts to improperly influence them.

Patel said it was “deeply concerning” that an individual working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party had targeted lawmakers.

Lee is the founder of a law firm, which has offices in London and Birmingham, according to a government official. A woman who answered the phone at the Birmingham office said: “We are not taking any calls now”. A request for comment left at the London office went unanswered.

The law firm lists on its website one of its roles as legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in Britain.

The Chinese embassy in London said in a statement that China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

“We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament,” it said. “We firmly oppose the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK.”

POLITICAL DONATIONS

Barry Gardiner, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said he had received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Lee and said he has been liaising with intelligence services “for a number of years” about her.

“They have always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner employed Lee’s son as a diary manager but he resigned on Thursday.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain’s governing Conservative Party who has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang, called for an urgent update from the government on the issue.

He questioned why the woman had not been deported and called for a tightening of the accreditation process for people gaining access to parliament, which he said was too lenient.

Lee is listed under the Christine Lee & Co law firm as a British national in financial filings with Companies House, Britain’s corporate registry.

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood told parliament of her alleged activity: “This is the sort of grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China.”

Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Last year MI5 urged British citizens to treat the threat of spying from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as terrorism.

British spies say China and Russia have each sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as to interfere in domestic politics and sow misinformation.

The Chinese ambassador to Britain was banned from attending an event in the British parliament last year because Beijing imposed sanctions on lawmakers who highlighted alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang.

China placed the sanctions on nine British politicians in March last year for spreading what it said were “lies and disinformation” over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s far west.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christopher Cushing)

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Microsoft board to review sexual harassment, discrimination policies

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Microsoft Corp will review the effectiveness of its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies and practices in response to a shareholder proposal that passed at its latest annual meeting, the company’s board said on Thursday.

The review will produce a transparency report with results of any sexual harassment investigations in recent years against the company’s directors and senior executives, including allegations that a board committee probe beginning in 2019 involved Bill Gates, the board said.

Data on the number of cases investigated and their resolution is also expected to be part of the review along with steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

Microsoft said last year it conducted a probe into co-founder Bill Gates’ involvement with an employee almost 20 years ago after the company was told in 2019 that he had tried to start a romantic relationship with the person.

Gates stepped down from the Microsoft board in 2020. In previous public comments, a spokesperson for Gates has denied that his departure was linked to the probe.

A request for comment sent to Bill Gates at his Gates Foundation email address was not immediately returned.

Microsoft‘s board said it has hired outside law firm Arent Fox to assist in the review, at the end of which Arent would make public a version of the report detailing its findings and recommendations.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco and Mehr Bedi in Bangalore; Editing by Richard Chang and Shailesh Kuber)

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Canada opens probe into Tesla’s heating system following consumer complaints

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Canada’s auto safety regulator said on Thursday it has opened an investigation into the heating system of Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles following 16 consumer complaints about its performance during cold weather.

Transport Canada said it is concerned that a malfunctioning heating and air-conditioning system “may affect windshield defogging/defrosting and therefore driver visibility.”

“A company is required to notify Transport Canada and all current owners when they become aware of a defect that could affect the safety of a person. … These notices are commonly referred to as ‘safety recalls,’” it said.

The regulator said it has informed Tesla of the investigation.

Tesla did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. In 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Model Y heat pump is some of the best engineering I’ve seen in a while.”

A number of Tesla owners complained that the heat pumps are failing in extreme cold temperatures, according to Drive Tesla Canada, a Tesla news provider. The report said the heating problems happened even after Tesla early last year replaced faulty sensors in heat pumps in some 2020-2021 Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to address the issue.

The U.S. safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, did not have an immediate comment on the issue.

 

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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