Skip to main content

The Associated Press

GENEVA — The United States announced plans Monday to reengage with the much-maligned U.N. Human Rights Council that former President Donald Trump withdrew from almost three years ago, as the Biden administration reverses another Trump-era move away from multilateral organizations and agreements.

The U.S. charge d'affaires in Geneva, Mark Cassayre, told an organizational meeting of the U.N.'s main human rights body that the United States will return as an observer. U.S. diplomats say that step comes with an eye toward seeking election as a full member.

"The Biden administration believes in a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights and equality," Cassayre told an organizational meeting of the council. "Effective use of multilateral tools is an important element of that vision."

The decision is likely to draw criticism from conservative lawmakers and many in the pro-Israel community, who have derided the council and echoed Trump administration complaints that it was too quick to overlook abuses by autocratic regimes and governments — and even accept them as members. 

Cassayre, the top U.S. diplomat in Geneva, said the most effective way to reform and improve the Geneva-based body was "to engage with it in a principled fashion."

"While recognizing the council's flaws, we know that this body has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world," he said. "By being present at the table, we seek to ensure it can live up to that potential."

Trump pulled out of the council in 2018 due to its disproportionate focus on Israel, which has received by far the largest number of critical council resolutions against any country, and because it failed to meet an extensive list of reforms demanded by then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

Besides the council's persistent focus on Israel, the Trump administration took issue with the body's membership, which currently includes China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela, all of which have been accused of human rights abuses.

Since taking office last month, President Joe Biden has rejoined both the Paris accord and the WHO and has signaled interest in returning to the Iran deal as well as UNESCO. 

Senate to begin impeachment trial

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial is opening this week with a sense of urgency — by Democrats who want to hold the former president accountable for the violent U.S. Capitol siege and Republicans who want it over as fast as possible.

Scheduled to begin Tuesday, just over a month since the deadly riot, the proceedings are expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated trial that resulted in Trump's acquittal a year ago on charges that he privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on a Democratic rival, Joe Biden, now the president. This time, Trump's Jan. 6 rally cry to "fight like hell" and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see. While Trump very well could be acquitted again, the trial could be over in half the time.

Details of the proceedings are still being negotiated by the Senate leaders, with the duration of opening arguments, senators' questions and deliberations all up for debate. 

So far, it appears there will be few witnesses called, as the prosecutors and defense attorneys speak directly to senators who have been sworn to deliver "impartial justice" as jurors. Most are also witnesses to the siege, having fled for safety that day as the rioters broke into the Capitol and temporarily halted the electoral count certifying Biden's victory. 

Defense attorneys for Trump declined a request for him to testify. Holed up at his Mar-a-Lago club, the former president has been silenced on social media by Twitter without public comments since leaving the White House, 

Water fired at crowd as anti-coup protests swell in Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar — Police fired a water cannon Monday at hundreds of protesters in Myanmar's capital who are demanding the military hand power back to elected officials, as demonstrations against last week's coup intensified and spread to more parts of the country.

The demonstrations in Naypyitaw, ongoing for several days, are especially significant since the city, whose population includes many civil servants and their families, has no tradition of protest and has a heavy military presence. 

A protest also swelled at a major downtown intersection in the country's largest city, Yangon, with people chanting slogans, raising a three-finger salute that is a symbol of resistance and carrying placards saying, "Reject the military coup" and "Justice for Myanmar."

There were also reports of new demonstrations in towns in the north, southeast and east of the country, as well as in the city of Mandalay, where there was a procession of marchers and motorbikes. 

"We do not want the military junta," said Daw Moe, a protester in Yangon. "We never ever wanted this junta. Nobody wants it. All the people are ready to fight them."

Around the globe, virus cancels spring travel for millions

FRANKFURT, Germany — They are the annual journeys of late winter and early spring: Factory workers in China heading home for the Lunar New Year; American college students going on road trips and hitting the beach over spring break; Germans and Britons fleeing drab skies for some Mediterranean sun over Easter. 

All of it canceled, in doubt or under pressure because of the coronavirus. 

Amid fears of new variants of the virus, new restrictions on movement have hit just as people start to look ahead to what is usually a busy time of year for travel.

It means more pain for airlines, hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations that were already struggling more than a year into the pandemic, and a slower recovery for countries where tourism is a big chunk of the economy.

Colleges around the U.S. have been canceling spring break to discourage students from traveling. After Indiana University in Bloomington replaced its usual break with three "wellness days," student Jacki Sylvester abandoned plans to celebrate her 21st birthday in Las Vegas.

Immigrants, activists worry Biden won't end Trump barriers

HOUSTON — For nearly 17 months, the Trump administration tried to deport the mother and daughter from El Salvador. The Biden administration may finish the job.

They are being held at a family detention center in remote Dilley, Texas, but have repeatedly been on the verge of deportation. The Friday before Christmas, both were driven to the San Antonio airport and put on a plane, only to be pulled off when lawyers working for immigrant advocacy groups filed new appeals. 

"I have faith first in God and in the new president who has taken office, that he'll give us a chance," said the mother, who goes by the nickname "Barbi." Her daughter was 8 when they crossed the U.S. border in August 2019 and will turn 10 in a few weeks. "It's not been easy." 

It's unlikely to get easier anytime soon. 

President Joe Biden rushed to send the most ambitious overhaul of the nation's immigration system in a generation to Congress and signed nine executive actions to wipe out some of his predecessor's toughest measures to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border. But a federal court in Texas suspended Biden's 100-day moratorium on deportations, and the immigration bill is likely to be scaled back as lawmakers grapple with major coronavirus pandemic relief legislation as well a second impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump. 

Israeli PM pleads not guilty as corruption trial resumes

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty on Monday as his trial on corruption charges resumed in a Jerusalem courtroom just weeks before national elections in which he hopes to extend his 12-year rule.

Netanyahu was indicted last year for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. In recent months, Israelis have held weekly protests calling on him to resign over the charges and criticizing his government's response to the coronavirus crisis. Protesters gathered outside the courthouse could be heard inside the room where the hearing was being held.

He stands accused of accepting lavish gifts from wealthy friends and offering to grant favors to powerful media moguls in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family. The latest hearing was postponed last month due to lockdown restrictions on public gatherings.

Israel's longest serving leader is also the first sitting prime minister to go on trial for corruption. Israeli law requires Cabinet ministers to resign when charged with criminal offenses, but does not specifically address the case of a prime minister under indictment. 

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges against him as a "witch-hunt" orchestrated by biased law enforcement and media. He has refused to step down and has used his office as a bully pulpit against critics and the criminal justice system. 

Election turmoil splits West Virginia city's evangelicals

BLUEFIELD, W.Va.— If you're Christian in Bluefield — and most everyone is, in this small city tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains — you have your choice.

You can follow Pastor Doyle Bradford of Father's House International Church, who has forcefully backed Donald Trump — doubting Trump's defeat in November and joining some congregants at the Jan. 6 "Save America" rally that degenerated into the Capitol riot.

Or you can go less than 3 miles away next to the rail yard, to Faith Center Church, where Pastor Frederick Brown regards Bradford as a brother — but says he's seriously mistaken. Or you can venture up East River Mountain to Crossroads Church, where Pastor Travis Lowe eschews Bradford's fiery political rhetoric, seeking paths to Christian unity.

The three churches have much in common. All of them condemn the desecration of the Capitol and pray for a way to find common ground.

But they diverge on a central issue: What is the role of evangelical Christianity in America's divisive politics? 

Credit or blame Brady for all things Super Bowl

Credit Tom Brady. Or blame him.

When it comes to the Super Bowl's most successful performer, it all depends upon your perspective. 

Credit the quarterback, now 43, for his dominance of America's most popular sporting event like no one before him. 

Blame him for making the collection of NFL championships rings seem too routine.

Credit Brady as the overwhelming reason for New England's pro football dynasty.