Qatar told to end abuse of migrants
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) had given another eight months to Qatar to implement new labour reforms designed to end the abuse of migrant workers. The United Nations agency dealing with labour issues said that it was deferring until November a decision on whether to investigate Qatar for forced labour violations involving migrant workers. Failure to do so could mean the Gulf country would potentially face an investigation by the UN labour watchdog in the lead up to hosting the 2022 World Cup. Around 90 percent of the Gulf state’s 2.5 million population were migrant workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Many of the migrants in Qatar were working to build stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 Fifa World Cup, and Doha had faced severe criticism in recent years for exploiting the workers, with rights activists and trade unions complaining about abuses like low pay, squalid living conditions, poor health and safety standards and migrants having their salaries withheld and passports confiscated. The UN last year in March 2016 had given Qatar a year to end migrant worker slavery. In December last year, Qatar announced the end of its controversial “kafala” system, touted as the biggest labour reform undertaken by Gulf emirate. “Kafala is now replaced with ‘a modernised, contract-based system that safeguards workers’ rights and increases job flexibility’,” Doha had said, describing the move as a latest step towards improving and protecting the rights of every expatriate worker in the Gulf emirate. “Kafala” was a labour sponsorship system that forced foreign workers to seek their employer’s permission to change jobs or leave the country, meaning an individual’s right to work and legal presence in the host country was dependent on his or her employer, rendering him or her vulnerable to exploitation.
Military arsenal fire in Ukraine
A report from Kiev said that around 20,000 people were evacuated on Thursday in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region near the border with Russia after a massive fire at a military arsenal. The fire at the depot in Balaklia, which held large-calibre artillery rounds and was one of Ukraine’s largest, erupted early on Thursday, prompting the evacuation and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman to fly to the area to monitor the blaze, which was still raging. An area the size of 40 kilometres around the depot had been closed for flights. Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said at a briefing that the fire had likely been staged by Russian or separatist saboteurs who probably used a drone. Poltorak said there was no immediate word on casualties. The separatist authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk rejected Poltorak’s accusations, arguing in statements carried by the Interfax news agency that the blaze was likely rooted in corruption and incompetence among the Ukrainian military. There had been a fire at the same arsenal in 2015. Ukraine’s chief military prosecutor, Anatolii Matios, also said on Facebook that the blaze was sparked by an act of sabotage and dismissed charges that the fire was an attempt to cover up ammunition theft from the depots, saying it had been protected by nearly 1,000 guards.
Toughened stance on Iran
Iran would face tighter U.S. sanctions over ballistic missile launches and other non-nuclear activities under a bill announced by a bipartisan group of senators, echoing a harder line on Tehran espoused by Republican President Donald Trump. The bill had seven Republican and seven Democratic sponsors, and aides said it had a good chance of eventually becoming law. It would set mandatory sanctions for anyone involved with Iran's ballistic missile programme. And it would apply sanctions to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), putting into law sanctions imposed via executive order on individuals tied to what the bill's sponsors described as Iranian support for terrorism. The legislation would also require the U.S. president to block the property of any person or entity involved in specific activities that violated the U.N. arms embargo on Iran. Iran had suggested about past proposed sanctions bills that they would violate the international nuclear agreement reached during the administration of former President Barack Obama. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, a co-author of the measure, told Reuters the new bill had been written not to interfere with that accord. In February, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 25 individuals and entities in Iran, which it said were just "initial steps" in its effort to counteract what it saw as provocations. Menendez said the bill was intended to take a "regional" strategy because of the breadth of Iran's activities.
Venezuela cautioned on elections
A group of 14 nations urged Venezuela to hold elections and release "political prisoners," in a joint statement that kept open the option of seeking to suspend the South American country from the Organization of American States. The statement, which Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said was aimed at encouraging Venezuela to "re-establish democracy," called for dialogue and negotiation to resolve a crisis in the oil-exporting country, which was suffering severe food and fuel shortages. Suspending Venezuela from the OAS was a last resort, the nations said, and something that should be avoided unless other diplomatic efforts had been exhausted. The statement said "We reiterate that inclusive and effective dialogue is the right path to achieve lasting solutions to the challenges faced by the Venezuelan people,". Venezuela had jailed around 100 government opponents it accused of inciting violence and planning the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro. The declaration by the 14 nations called for the separation of powers, the rule of law and the establishment of an electoral calendar for postponed elections. The group that signed the declaration, which included regional powerhouses the United States, Mexico, Canada and Brazil, also called on Venezuela to recognize the legitimacy of the country's national assembly, which had been defanged by Maduro's government since the opposition won a majority in 2015. The pressure by countries, including several former Venezuelan allies who had elected right-of-center governments in recent years, followed a call by the head of the OAS to expel Venezuela if it did not hold general elections quickly, a move that would require the support of two-thirds of the Washington-based body's 34 General Assembly members.