IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur express deep concern over complaints of espionage of journalists, human rights defenders, judges, and political leaders in Colombia

WASHINGTON.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression express deep concern over allegations of an alleged network of illegal espionage of the media, journalists, human rights defenders, judges, and political leaders, which would have been developed by state agents in Colombia. The IACHR urges the State to carry out an exhaustive and independent investigation regarding these activities and those responsible.

According to a journalistic investigation, these activities would have been carried out through special equipment that allows to capture cell phone calls and the installation of malware called "Invisible Man" on hacked devices. Among the victims would be the director of the magazine SEMANA Alejandro Santos, Judge Cristina Lombana, and Judge Carlos Reyes, both of the Supreme Court, likewise telephone calls and text messages from several journalists and activists would have been intercepted. According to the information available, the complaints would involve agents from the Army Cyber Intelligence Battalion [batallones de ciberinteligencia militar] (Bacib) and the Army's Information Security Counterintelligence Battalion [batallón de contrainteligencia de seguridad de la información del Ejército] (Bacsi).

On December 18, a commission of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Office of Special Investigations of the Attorney General's Office, raided the facilities of the Army Cyber Intelligence Battalion in Facatativá, in search of evidence regarding the complaint of illegal surveillance. Officers who were at the facility would have denied illegal activities and having software or computer tools. The Attorney General's Office would have confiscated several equipment.

The Prosecutor's Office and the Colombian Attorney General's Office announced on Tuesday, January 14 that they will initiate an investigation to establish if these illegal activities were carried out and if the former Army Chief, Nicasio Martínez, was involved or knew the facts. "We will first have to look at what systems are used, if they have been used, and the tasks and results of that internal audit to start making a decision," said Fabio Espitia, attorney general in charge. Colombian President Iván Duque, and Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, announced an internal investigation to establish whether there were illegal interceptions of Supreme Court judges, politicians, and journalists by Army offices.

The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur remind that the use of any surveillance program or system in private communications must be established clearly and precisely by law, be truly exceptional, and be limited according to what is strictly necessary for the fulfillment of imperatives purposes such as the investigation of serious crimes defined in the legislation, and have prior judicial control. The surveillance of communications and interference with privacy that exceed what is stipulated by law, with purposes other than those authorized by law, or those that are carried out clandestinely, must be drastically sanctioned.

In recent years in Colombia, the illegal use of interceptions by various intelligence and cybersecurity services has been reported, such as the cases of the "Chuzadas del DAS" and the Andromeda Operation in 2018, the latter on interceptions of Peace negotiators. Investigations into the activities of DAS progressed slowly, as far as Operation Andromeda there are no results to date.

On both occasions, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur recalled that illegitimate interference includes as well those carried out against human rights defenders, journalists, and the media both for political reasons and to know their information sources. The IACHR urges the State to guarantee a thorough and independent investigation regarding the facts denounced and, where appropriate, prosecute and punish those responsible. In particular, the Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the State to investigate the possible linking of state entities in these events and, to that end, to have all legal and institutional mechanisms at their disposal to provide guarantees of independence and impartiality to the investigation, in consultation with those affected.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, issued in 2019 a report on "The Surveillance Industry and Human Rights" and noted that journalists are exposed to these surveillance methodologies, becoming deliberate targets of the same. He stressed that the three main types of surveillance are intercepting communications, hacking electronic devices (mobiles and computers), and monitoring mass communication flows. Selective surveillance encourages self-censorship and directly undermines the ability of journalists and human rights defenders to conduct their investigations and forge and maintain relationships with their sources of information.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the aim of encouraging the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given its fundamental role in consolidating and developing the democratic system.

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Trump Says Killing of Iran’s Quds Force Commander Overdue

BAGDAD, (JEFF SELDIN-VOANOEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump is defending the U.S. airstrike that killed one of Iran's most powerful generals, brushing aside threats from Tehran that it will exact a harsh revenge.

In his first comments since defense officials confirmed the U.S. carried out the airstrike near Baghdad International Airport in Iraq early Friday (local time), Trump blamed the Quds Force commander for the deaths of thousands of Americans, and said the strike was long overdue.

Burning debris are seen on a road near Baghdad International Airport, which according to Iraqi paramilitary groups were caused…
US Kills Commander of Iran’s Elite Quds Force

General Qassem Soleimani was among at least seven killed outside Baghdad International Airport
"General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more," Trump tweeted Friday.

"Soleimani was both hated and feared," the president added. "He should have been taken out many years ago!"

General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more...but got caught! He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number....

 "He was actively plotting in the region to take actions — a big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens, if not hundreds, of American lives at risk," Pompeo said of the Quds Force commander. "We know it was imminent."

Pentagon officials confirmed the strike on Soleimani in a statement late Thursday (local time), saying the action was carried out on Trump's order.

It further described the strike as a "decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad," and warned, "The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world."

Iraqi officials have said the strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. They said other top officials may have been killed, as well.

Iran Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called for three days of national mourning and has promised a harsh response.

"All Enemies should know that the jihad of resistance will continue with a doubled motivation, and a definite victory awaits the fighters in the holy war," he said in a statement carried on Iranian television.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif labeled the U.S. strike an "act of terrorism," tweeting it was an "extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation."

How or when Iran may respond to the strike is unknown. U.S. defense and intelligence officials have long warned about Iran's penchant for using asymmetric techniques, like terrorism and cyber attacks, to target the U.S. and Western nations.

But in the hours since images of Qassem Soleimani first started spreading on social media, U.S. officials have been reaching out to allies to prepare for what may come next.

The State Department said Pompeo phoned British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to discuss the "defensive action to eliminate" Soleimani, and thanked them for their "recent statements" recognizing the continuing aggressive threat from Iran and its Quds force. The secretary of state also spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Chief of Staff General Bajwa on Friday.

"I don't think Iran would want that to happen. It would go very quickly," President Trump told reporters Tuesday.

Still, defense officials have been preparing for new attacks.

The U.S. has already deployed 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait to help bolster the defense of U.S. bases and personnel in the region. Defense officials said Thursday more troops would be sent as needed.

VOA's VOA Persian Service and White House Correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this report.


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Irán, Irak, Presidente Donald Trump,, The United States, GeneralQassem Soleimani

  Treasury Removes Sanctions Imposed on Turkish Ministries and Senior Officials Following Pause of Turkish Operations in Northeast SyriaSyria

WASHIGTON.- Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) removed sanctions imposed on the Government of Turkey’s Ministry of National Defence and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, as well as the Minister of National Defence, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, and the Minister of the Interior, following Turkey’s pause in military operations in Syria as agreed to with the United States on October 17, 2019 (the October Ceasefire).

“As a result of the ceasefire, and at the direction of President Donald J. Trump, Treasury is delisting two Turkish ministries and three of the country’s senior officials,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

On October 14, 2019, OFAC designated Turkey’s Ministry of National Defence and Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources for being a subdivision, agency, or instrumentality of the Government of Turkey.

OFAC simultaneously designated Hulisi Akar, Minister of National Defence, Suleyman Soylu, the Minister of Interior, and Fatih Donmez, the Minister of Energy pursuant to E.O. 13894 of October 14, 2019, for being a current or former official of the Government of Turkey. Today’s action, taken in consultation with the U.S. Department of State, is a direct result of Turkey’s adherence to the terms of the October Ceasefire.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property, which had been blocked solely as a result of these designations, are unblocked and all otherwise lawful transactions involving U.S. persons and these entities and individuals are no longer prohibited.


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Syria, The United States

U.S. lauds Taiwan's democracy, blasts China's 'antipathy to liberty'

WASHINGTON, (CNA).- United States Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday praised Taiwan as a beacon of Chinese culture and democracy, while criticizing China as failing to honor its trade commitments and to observe the right to freedom.

In a speech at the Frederic V. Malek Public Service Leadership Lecture, Pence reaffirmed the U.S.' support for Taiwan.

The U.S. "stood by Taiwan in defense of her hard-won freedoms," he said. "We've authorized additional military sales and recognized Taiwan's place as one of the world's great trading economies and beacons of Chinese culture and democracy."

In China, meanwhile, millions of ethnic and religious minorities are struggling against the Communist Party's efforts to eradicate their religious and cultural identities, Pence said.

Furthermore, China has been turning up the pressure on the democracy in Taiwan over the past year, using checkbook diplomacy to induce two more nations to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, he said, referring to the Pacific nations of the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.

The international community should not forget that "its engagement with Taiwan does not threaten the peace," Pence said. "America will always believe that Taiwan's embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people."

He however reaffirmed the U.S' one China policy, saying it was built on the basis of the three joint communiqués with China and the Taiwan Relations Act.

It was Pence's second public criticism of China in a year, following his remarks in October 2018 at the Hudson Institute on U.S. policy toward China.

In his speech Thursday on the U.S.' relationship with China, Pence again blasted Beijing as suppressing freedom of speech and religion, engaging in unfair trade practices, and stealing U.S. intellectual property.

China has also broken its 2015 pledge not to "militarize" the South China Sea, he said, adding that China has deployed advanced anti-ship and anti-air missiles at military bases constructed on artificial islands in the area.

"But nothing in the past year has put on display the Chinese Communist Party's antipathy to liberty so much as the unrest in Hong Kong," Pence said.

The vice president further said China was trying to "export censorship," as evidenced by the removal of Houston Rockets sneakers and other merchandise from several Nike stores in China amid a furor over a tweet by the basketball team's general manager in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

"By exploiting corporate greed, Beijing is attempting to influence American public opinion, coercing corporate America," Pence said.

Nonetheless, the U.S. is not seeking confrontation with China, but rather wants to see a level playing field, open markets, fair trade, and respect for American values, he said.

"We are not seeking to contain China's development," Pence said.

"We want a constructive relationship with China's leaders, like we have enjoyed for generations with China's people. And if China will step forward and seize this unique moment in history to start anew by ending the trade practices that have taken advantage of the American people for far too long, I know President Donald Trump is ready and willing to begin that new future."

He said the U.S is reaching out to China in the hope that Beijing will reach back, "this time with deeds, not words, and with renewed respect for America."

In Taipei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed thanks for Washington's consistent support, saying Taiwan will continue to work with like-minded nations to protect democracy and international order.

(By Chiang Chin-yeh, Elaine Hou and Elizabeth Hsu)


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The United Sates,, Taiwán, United States Vice President Mike Spence

  Treasury Launches the Counter-Hizballah International Partnership (CHIP) to Thwart Illicit Financial Activity

WASHINGTON.- This week the Treasury Department convened the first meeting of the Counter-Hizballah International Partnership (CHIP) to build multilateral cooperation for targeting Hizballah’s global financial networks. Over 30 countries representing the Middle East, the Western Hemisphere, Europe, Asia, and Africa participated in this event, which was held on the sidelines of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund Fall Meetings.

“Hizballah leverages a network of financiers and supporters around the world to fund its violent agenda. The CHIP unites the international community in an aggressive campaign to confront Hizballah’s evolving schemes to better protect the international financial system from exploitation,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

“The CHIP is an important initiative to share information and build capacity among our partners to more effectively leverage all available financial tools against Hizballah.”

At the meeting, the United States condemned Hizballah’s abuse of the international financial system and identified impact-oriented steps countries should take to stem this abuse, including information sharing information among financial intelligence units, strengthening terrorism finance risk assessments, developing targeted financial sanctions regimes, and prosecuting terrorists and their financial facilitators.

Participating countries noted the importance of raising Hizballah in international fora to build momentum and ensure coordination of efforts. The next steps for meeting participants will be to send technical experts to the Law Enforcement Coordination Group (LECG), which will next convene December 17-18 in The Hague, Netherlands.

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The United Sates,, Hizballah, OFAC The United States