Spanish authorities harass Kokorev despite his worsening health

By Martin Banks

 

EU Political Report (19.02.2020) – https://bit.ly/2SVZwfQ – Respected businessman Vladimir Kokorev has been kept in “abusively” long pretrial detention and, though finally released, is still summoned to court every week despite repeated emergency hospitalization.

 

Since his release in 2018 from nearly 2.5 years of pretrial detention in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Canary Islands), the health of the retired 65-year old Spanish businessman of Jewish and Russian heritage has continued to worsen.

 

During his detention from September 2015 until mid January 2018, Vladimir Kokorev struggled in prison with his health, but failed to get appropriate medical treatment, according to the Brussels based Human Rights NGO, Human Rights Without Frontiers.

 

The one time he was taken to a hospital, he remained handcuffed and the armed guards accompanying him refused to remove his manacles, even when it was requested by a nurse. His lawyer was unsuccessful in getting his release on medical grounds. Shortly after his release, he had to undergo a serious heart surgery.

 

Despite his worsening health, the investigating magistrate Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano, who ordered his arrest and pretrial imprisonment more than 5 years ago on vague charges of “money laundering”, insists that Mr. Kokorev appear weekly before the Court and personally attend formal hearings. His son, Igor, denounces that it is “unheard of that a person in his condition is forced to appear before a Court for mere formalities, that might as well be carried out at his home”.

 

Igor Kokorev explained to this website the impact the trauma is having on his family.

Speaking exclusively to EU Political Report, he said, “My father’s health is very bad and it’s getting worse. He has a heart condition, constant chest pains, sometimes even while resting, severe hypertension and diabetes. He can barely move around the one-bedroom apartment my parents are living at, he depends on my mother for everything.

 

“According to doctors he has 30% of not surviving until the end of the year, 80% of passing away within the next 10 years. That provided that his condition does not get worse, but they can’t help but acknowledge that it will, the only question is how fast and how worse it gets. A substantial risk factor is stress, and he is under a lot of stress from the pretrial proceeding, especially worrying about what is going to happen to his family.

 

And the Canarian judges are making a show of how they don’t care. Their position, which they make abundantly clear every chance they get, is that there is no health issue worthy of consideration. The same way they don’t want to acknowledge that they made a terrible mistake relying on shoddy and dishonest police work, when we have already shown that some of the evidence was outright fabricated by the two investigators in charge.”

 

The most recent example was an episode that took place just a few weeks ago when he was ordered to appear in court while clearly in very bad health.

 

His son said, “The Court required my father to appear before the judge though he was in no condition to go anywhere. We asked the Judge to just go with the clerk to his home and do whatever she has to do there. She told our lawyer that if my father doesn’t come right now, she will have him brought to the Court in handcuffs and thrown back into prison. It was no idle threat: a few days later our court agent received a court order issue by the judge to have my father arrested and brought into the Court. We had no choice but give my father an extra dose of medication to lower his blood pressure and take him to the Court.

 

“We went with him alone, because my mother could not take it. It was surreal. It was obvious that my father, sitting on that wheelchair, holding one hand on his chest and from time to time inhaling shots of nitroglycerine out of a spray, was not understanding anything of what was going on. Then they made him sign papers, and they actually made a point of putting there that he said he understood everything. I protested and the Judge literally told me “Ah, it’s OK, let’s take it out, it’s not going to help you anyway””.

 

He said, “After the hearing I took my father to the hospital because he had chest pains and his blood pressure shot up, despite all the extra medication he had taken. Once again, they had to do a scan to rule out a heart attack. But as he did not actually die, or have a stroke, or a heart attack, as far the Judge is concerned everything is fine. My father is now again at the hospital and he will be under observation for at least a week.”




Eastern Europe gives more to the West than it gets back

By Clotilde Armand

 

Financial Times (12.02.2020) – https://on.ft.com/2SV6S34 – When EU leaders meet next week about the bloc’s next seven-year budget they will be trying to solve a €1tn riddle based on a series of misconceptions.

 

The budget talks are often miscast as a showdown between whining eastern and central European countries asking for more cash and frugal northerners insisting their generosity has limits. The richer countries paint themselves as charitable souls and criticise eastern European voters for electing Eurosceptic autocrats who pocket large EU cheques while railing against Brussels.

 

But look at the bigger picture and a different story unfolds. Much of the wealth in Europe flows from poorer countries to richer ones — not the other way around. Start with the brain drain. Europe’s periphery is haemorrhaging young bright workers whose education was paid for by taxpayers in their home countries.

 

Between 2009 and 2015, Romania lost half of its doctors. Every year, around 10 per cent of those that remain are actively recruited by human resources agencies seeking practitioners to treat greying western European countries.

 

This is not just a Romanian affair. Poland lost at least 7 per cent of its nurses and physicians in a decade. Surveys of Polish medical students show that more than half plan to leave after graduating. In Bulgaria that figure is 90 per cent. Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, has already lost 5 per cent of its health practitioners.

 

This exodus is a de facto transfer of wealth — and a big one. A single doctor’s education costs the Romanian public coffers around €100,000.That spending does not appear in the EU budget negotiators’ spreadsheets but it should. The annual drain of doctors alone represents more than a quarter of the funding that the EU sets aside each year to help Romania catch up with the rest of the club.

 

Rich countries wishing to slash EU funds for poorer regions also leave out other important factors from the budget equation, such as transfers of private money. The profits western European companies make in central and eastern Europe far outstrip the public funding that is transferred to the east.

 

From 2010 and 2016, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia received EU funds roughly equivalent to 2 to 4 per cent of their gross domestic products. But the outflow of profits and property incomes to the west from these countries over the same period ranges from 4 to 8 per cent of GDP.

 

These days, French voters may be fretting about Polish plumbers, but eastern European voters are getting nervous about French chief executives. At home in Bucharest, I shop in a French-owned supermarket, and my phone operator and my water company are French.

 

I pay my gas bill to a French multinational, through a French bank of course.

 

EU membership has brought immense benefits to central and eastern Europe, but western economies also profited handsomely from the enlargement process. It is high time politicians in the west explained that fact to their constituents — EU money is not charity. It is a quid pro quo.

 

The idea that there are winners and losers in the EU budget game is simply wrong — we all benefit from the single market. This trope is also politically dangerous. When eastern Europe joined the EU, an unspoken pact was concluded. The east removed trade barriers, allowing western companies to carve out a share of their economies. In exchange, the west promised to transfer EU funds eastward so the former communist bloc could build the infrastructure it desperately needed.

 

The west made profits; the east made progress. The deal was mutually beneficial. But if the west starts reneging on those promises now, they risk tearing up the European social contract.

 

(*) The writer, a Romanian MEP, is a member of the budget committee and sits with the centrist Renew Europe group.




SPAIN: High rates of poverty a political choice, says UN rights expert

MADRID (7 February 2020) – Spain is utterly failing people in poverty, whose situation now ranks among the worst in the EU, said the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, at the end of his official visit to the country.

 

“Although Spain is thriving economically, far too many people are struggling,” Alston said. “The post-recession recovery has left many behind, with economic policies benefiting corporations and the wealthy, while less privileged groups suffer fragmented public services that were severely curtailed after 2008 and never restored. The bright spot in the situation is that the new coalition Government is firmly committed to achieving social justice, but the challenges are great.”

 

26.1 percent of people in Spain, and 29.5 percent of children, were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2018. More than 55 percent had some degree of difficulty making ends meet, and 5.4 percent experienced severe material deprivation. The unemployment rate of 13.78 percent is more than double the EU average, and has topped 30 percent for those below age 25.

 

“Spain today needs to take a close look in the mirror,” Alston said. “What it will see is not what most Spaniards would wish for nor what many policymakers would intend. Deep widespread poverty and high unemployment, a housing crisis of stunning proportions, a completely inadequate social protection system that leaves large numbers of people in poverty by design, a segregated and increasingly anachronistic education system, a fiscal system that provides far more benefits to the wealthy than the poor, and an entrenched bureaucratic mentality in many parts of the government that values formalistic procedures over the well-being of people.”

 

“People in poverty have been largely failed by policymakers, and social rights are rarely taken seriously. Low cost housing is almost nonexistent and the system for providing social assistance is broken, impossible to navigate, and leads to wealthy families benefitting more from cash transfers than poor families. Meanwhile companies are paying half as much in taxes as they did before the crisis despite strong profits.”

 

“I visited areas I suspect many Spaniards would not recognize as a part of their country,” Alston said. “A shantytown with far worse conditions than a refugee camp, without running water, electricity, or sanitation, where migrant workers have lived for years without any improvement in their situation. Neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where families raise children with a dearth of state services, health clinics, employment centers, security, paved roads or even legal electricity.”

 

“The word I heard most frequently over the past two weeks is ‘abandoned,'” the expert said. “I met people who lost their savings during the crisis, who have to choose between putting food on the table and heating a home, and who are staring down the prospect of eviction, unable to find affordable housing. Almost everyone I met was avidly seeking decent work.”

 

“Certain groups are particularly neglected by policymakers, impacted by structural discrimination and experience disproportionately high rates of poverty. Spain has one of the largest Roma communities in the EU, nearly half of whom are in severe poverty. Women, people in rural areas, migrants, domestic workers, and people with disabilities are all extremely underserved by current policies and unfairly impacted by poverty.”

 

The UN expert travelled to Madrid, Galicia, Basque Country, Extremadura, Andalucía and Catalonia, and met with individuals affected by poverty, government officials at the municipal, autonomous community and central level, as well as activists, academics and representatives of civil society organisations. He visited numerous community centers and schools, NGO offices, a center for people with disabilities, a social services office, an informal settlement for migrant workers, a privatized housing block, a domestic worker center and several Roma communities.

 

“Spain now needs innovative leadership at the national level, backed up with resources to encourage the autonomous communities to support far-reaching reforms. With its embrace of social rights and fiscal justice, and prioritization of the most vulnerable, the new government’s message is a welcome one, but its actions must live up to that rhetoric,” Alston said. “Poverty is ultimately a political choice, and governments can, if they wish, opt to overcome it.”

 

His final report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2020.

 

Photos from the Rapporteur’s visit are available for press use here.

 

ENDS

 

Philip Alston (Australia) took up his functions as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

 

Follow the Special Rapporteur

on Twitter @Alston_UNSR and Facebook at www.facebook.com/AlstonUNSR

UN human rights, Country Page: Spain

 

For more information and media requests, please contact: Junko Tadaki (+41 79-201-0123; jtadaki@ohchr.org) and Bassam Khawaja (+1 646 886 7211; bassam.khawaja@nyu.edu)

 

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: The Media Unit (+ 41 22 928 9855 / mediaconsultant2@ohchr.org)

 

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.




North Korean dissident Thae Yong-ho running for seat in South Korean parliament

Asia News (11.02.2020) – http://bit.ly/2Hh6arE – The former high-ranking diplomat, who will run for a conservative party in a Seoul constituency, is critical of the Moon Jae-in administration. If elected he will work for Korean unification. Over the past two decades, 33,000 North Koreans have sought asylum in South Korea, but few are prominent members of the North Korean regime.

 

Thae Yong-ho, a high-profile North Korean dissident, is running in South Korea’s parliamentary election on 15 April.

 

The conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP), the main opposition to President Moon Jae-in and his centrist Democratic Party, made the announcement today Thae is expected to run in Gangnam, a wealthy constituency in Seoul where conservatives have been traditionally strong.

 

If elected, he will become the second defector from North Korea to win a parliamentary seat in South Korea – the first was Cho Myung-chul who was elected in 2012 with the LKP.

 

The North Korean defector said he wants to work for the unification of the two Koreas, which have been divided along the 38th parallel since the end of the Second World War.

He explained that he decided to run after the South Korean government deported two North Koreans back to the communist north. The two fishermen are accused of killing 16 fellow crew members on their fishing boat and then fleeing to the South.

 

Thae, a former deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, is convinced that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will never give up his nuclear arsenal.

 

He joined the LKP because in his view Moon’s policy of overture towards Pyongyang is unrealistic.

 

The South Korean president has tried to mediate between the United States and North Korea, partly following the Sunshine Policy of his liberal predecessors.

 

Thae escaped to South Korea with his family in 2016; back in North Korea, the communist regime has accused him of stealing public funds.

 

According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, more than 33,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea in the past 20 years.

 

Most (24,000) are women who fled rural areas to escape poverty. A few North Korean government officials and members of the armed forces have requested political asylum in the South.

 

The highest ranking official to do so was Hwang Jang-yop, a senior member of the ruling Workers’ Party. He was very close to Kim Jong-il, the father of North Korea’s current strong man. He passed away in 2010.




North Korean Workers Return to China as Coronavirus Epidemic Spreads

RFA (05.02.2020) – http://bit.ly/31K1Zy3 – Despite the novel coronavirus (nCoV) epidemic in China, North Korean workers who returned home for the Lunar New Year holiday are returning across the border in large groups, sources familiar with the situation told RFA.

 

Sources say that the workers are being placed in harm’s way because North Korea is desperate for foreign currency.

 

“A group of young women who looked like North Korean workers arrived here in China at about 3:00 p.m. yesterday,” a resident of the city of Dandong, on the Sino-Korean border, told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday.

 

The source, who lives in an apartment building across from the Dandong maritime customs office, said the office was totally empty when they arrived because of the coronavirus outbreak.

 

“About 50 of the workers got on a large bus and a van that was waiting in front of the customs office and left for somewhere,” the source said.

 

“Their legal status in China should have expired sometime before the Lunar New Year (Jan. 25), so they probably returned to North Korea. So they are believed to be reentering China,” the source added.

 

New Year’s Exodus

 

Prior to the Lunar New Year holiday, the source said there was a mad dash for many North Koreans in China to get home.

 

“An average of more than 500 North Korean workers per day were returning to North Korea between Jan. 20 to 24,” said the source.

 

“They went home to renew their visas to stay in China, even though the coronavirus situation [exploded],” the source said.

 

The source believes that a steady stream of North Koreans will continue to show up in Dandong in the coming weeks.

 

“I expect that North Korean workers that complete the visa renewal process will continue to come to China,” said the source.

 

“Even though people are prohibited [by the North Korean government] from traveling to and from China, because of the virus, it seems that workers who earn foreign currency will be granted exceptions,” the source said.

 

RFA reported on Jan. 29 that trade was suspended between Dandong and Sinuiju, the North Korean city on the southern side of the Yalu.

 

A Chinese citizen living in Sinuiju told RFA Wednesday that the group of female workers had been spotted there prior to the Lunar New Year.

 

“They entered Sinuiju en masse about a week before the New Year, and they were put in isolation, nine to a single hotel room,” the second source said.

 

“The reason they are going back to China in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic is because they are in a hurry to earn foreign currency. On top of that, they need to vacate the isolation rooms for the next group of workers,” said the second source.

 

The second source was critical of North Korean authorities, who have very publicly tightened up the border and placed many people in quarantine over the past few weeks.

 

“I would like to ask why they are sending the workers to China when the virus is still totally out of control. Are they not interested in the safety of these young women?” said the second source.

 

“It seems pretty obvious at this point that the authorities are only initiating quarantine procedures to protect Kim Jong Un and the Pyongyang elite [rather than the people.]”

After the initial breakout in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, China has seen the number of confirmed nCoV cases nationwide balloon to 24,405, with 492 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon. Outside of China there are 226 confirmed cases and two deaths.

 

North Korea has not reported a confirmed case.

 

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.




Serbian President accused of negationism about Kosovo

A lawyer from Kosovo filed a criminal complaint against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, accusing him of spreading hatred by claiming that a 1999 massacre of ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo was fabricated.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: EPA-EFE/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV/POOL.

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (13.02.2020) – Lawyer Tome Gashi filed a criminal complaint against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at Kosovo’s Special Prosecution in December 2019, alleging that he systematically denies the Recak massacre of January 1999, where Serbian occupying forces killed 45 Albanian civilians.

In a statement made on 4 December 2019, Serbian President Vucic accused the former head of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, US Ambassador William Walker, of faking the Recak/Racak massacre.

 

The massacre of Recak/Racak

On the morning of 15 January 1999, Serbian security forces surrounded the village of Recak/Racak and began attacking it.

They raided the houses in the village one by one. Some locals tried to hide, but were discovered, beaten, and then shot. A total of 45 villagers were killed.

Serbia initially claimed that the victims were all fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was not the case.

By the time journalists arrived, the cold, stiff bodies had been laid out on the mosque floor. Women and children were wailing. It was an appalling, unforgettable scene.

An ethnic Albanian grandfather shows the bodies of Racak villagers to his grandchild whose father is among the victims (Reuters).

OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission

William Walker, the head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, went to the scene of the massacre the next day. As soon as he arrived and saw the horror, he immediately called the action a “crime against humanity.”

On 18 January 1999, the Belgrade authorities made him persona non grata.

Walker’s testimony was a factor in NATO’s subsequent decision to bomb Yugoslavia from 24 March to 10 June 1999 to pressure Serbian forces to end their military campaign in Kosovo.

“This incident, my reaction on it, and the reaction from Serbia’s government, produced an international tsunami with reports on what was happening in Kosovo,” Walker told Voice of America on 12 January 2019.

“I know why I went to Recak in the morning of 16 January. I went there only a few hours after the massacre occurred. I saw on that frosty morning bodies and what happened to those men and boys. The Belgrade government came in the first day with different versions… They even pretended that I went there and changed the clothes of more than 40 victims to clothing pierced with bullets. Those explanations were ridiculous,” he told Balkan Insight on 15 January 2019, the 20th anniversary of this mass killing.

On 24 November 2008, William Walker became an honorary citizen of the Republic of Albania, a title then given to him by President Bamir Topi. On 15 January 2009, on the 10th anniversary of the Racak massacre, he was awarded the Golden Medal of Freedom by the President and Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo.

 

Serbian Member of Parliament in Kosovo sentenced to 2 years in prison

Vucic’s comments came after the Pristina Basic Court convicted Kosovo Serb MP Ivan Todosijevic of incitement to ethnic, racial or religious intolerance for claiming that the Racak/Recak massacre was staged.

 

On 5 December 2019, Todosijevic, a former minister in the Kosovo government, was sentenced by a first instance court to two years in prison for saying that the Racak massacre of Albanians in Kosovo was “fabricated” by “Albanian terrorists.”

 

Todosijevic was elected as an MP with the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista bloc in October 2019 and was previously a minister for administration and local government in the Kosovo government.

He was fired in March 2019 for his comments at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia:

“The reason for the [NATO] aggression in our country was the so-called humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo and the fabricated Racak [massacre], and the Albanian terrorists are the ones who made all this up and committed the biggest crimes in Kosovo,” Todosijevic said.

 

EU accession

This negationist campaign jeopardizes the progress achieved in the dialogue between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia, which is being facilitated by the EU. It also puts the future of this dialogue and Serbia’s accession to the EU into question.