The World Uighur Congress has asked Barrister Geoffrey Nice, who previously led the prosecution of ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic over the Balkans war, to investigate “ongoing atrocities and possible genocide” against the Uighur people in China's Xinjiang region.

A prominent British human rights lawyer is convening an independent tribunal in London to investigate whether the Chinese government's alleged rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in the far western Xinjiang region constitute genocide or crimes against humanity.

The tribunal is expected to reveal new evidence and testimony over several days' hearings next year. While the tribunal does not have government backing, it is the latest attempt to hold China accountable for its treatment of the Uighurs and ethnic Turkic minorities, who have been subject to an unprecedented crackdown since 2017.

Barrister Geoffrey Nice, who previously led the prosecution of ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic over the Balkans war and worked with the International Criminal Court, was asked by the World Uighur Congress to investigate "ongoing atrocities and possible genocide" against the Uighur people.

Allegations against China about potential genocide are "questions that should be asked and answered" but such claims have never been legally scrutinized in public, Nice told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Organizers are in the initial stages of gathering evidence, and expect to receive a substantial number of submissions from Uighurs exiled abroad over the next few months. New evidence that may emerge includes testimony from several former security guards who were involved in the Xinjiang detention camps.

"At the moment, the strongest evidence would appear to be evidence of incarceration and possibly evidence of enforced sterilization," Nice said.

A recent investigation by the AP found that the Chinese government is systematically forcing birth control on Uighurs and other Muslims in an apparent effort to reduce their population. The report found that authorities regularly subject minority women to pregnancy checks and force intrauterine devices, sterilization and abortion on hundreds of thousands. While scores have been thrown in detention camps for alleged "religious extremism," many others were sent to the camps simply for having too many children.

Such enforced sterilization practices could be found to breach the Genocide Convention, Nice said.

The London tribunal's judgment is not binding on any government. However, Nice said that the process will nonetheless be one way to address the lack of action in tackling the alleged abuses by "filling the gap with reliable information."

"There is no other way of bringing the leadership of the (Chinese) Communist Party collectively or individually to judgment," Nice said.

In July, lawyers representing exiled Uighur activists filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court against China, asking the court in The Hague, Netherlands, to investigate the forced repatriation of thousands of Uighurs from Cambodia and Tajikistan and alleged genocide in Xinjiang.

However, Beijing does not recognize the international court's jurisdiction, and Nice — who is not involved in that case — said it will likely focus more on the repatriating countries' culpability and less on that of Chinese authorities.

The World Uighur Congress, an international organization representing Uighur exiles, has provided initial evidence and funding to the London tribunal. Organizers expect to hold two public hearings in London next year, each lasting several days.

The tribunal will comprise of at least seven members who will act as jury. They include British property businessman Nicholas Vetch, one of the organizers. A verdict is expected by the end of 2021.

Darren Byler, an academic studying Uighurs at the University of Colorado, said that, despite its limitations, the tribunal is an important step because it can provide a "detailed and legal accounting of what has transpired," and add perspective to the prevailing U.S.-centric reaction to the issue.

"So far the world response to what is happening to the Uighurs and Kazakhs in Northwest China has been largely confined to unilateral actions by the United States and been associated with President Trump's more general anti-China position. An independent investigation conducted from outside of the U.S. will be helpful in adding an additional perspective," Byler said.

In July the Trump administration imposed sanctions on three senior Chinese Communist Party officials for alleged human rights abuses targeting Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other minorities in Xinjiang, including mass detention and forced population control./AP


Rwandan genocide mastermind Felicien Kabuga went before the French supreme court on Wednesday requesting an appeal of the body's decision to hand him over to international judges in Tanzania.

Kabuga, 84, was arrested in May 16 at his home in the Paris suburb of Asnieres-sur-Seine for his role as the alleged financier of the 1994 genocide that left over half a million to just over a million people killed.

Kabuga was also a part of the inner circle of former President Juvenal Habyarimana whose assassination ignited the carnage.

Currently in prison in Paris, Kabuga will learn of the court's decision by Sept. 30.

In 1997, the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda -- based in Tanzania -- had charged Kabuga with seven counts of genocide and multiple other counts as well as "persecution and extermination, all in connection with crimes committed during the 1994 genocide."

A reward of $5 million was placed on Kabuga's head by the International Mechanism, the structure responsible for completing the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

In June, the Paris Appeal Court ruled on an extradition request that would hand over the accused to the UN Tribunal in Arusha, in eastern Tanzania.

A fugitive for 26 years who had a warrant out for his arrest, Kabuga took refuge in the suburbs of Paris under a false identity after earlier hideouts in Switzerland, from where he was expelled, and Kenya.

He has been called Africa's most wanted man and one of the most wanted fugitives in the world.

Kabuga has cited ill health as a reason for his request to be tried in France as well as concerns over his safety during the coronavirus pandemic./aa


Canada and the Netherlands said in a joint statement Wednesday they want to intervene in the Rohingya genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.

The case was filed last year by the West African nation of Gambia.

“The Gambia’s application shows the discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, which created the conditions for Myanmar’s security forces to perpetrate targeted and systemic atrocities against the Rohingya,” the joint statement said.

“Myanmar’s violations include the commission of genocide against the Rohingya, mostly by way of the systematic and widespread perpetration of mass murder, sexual violence, torture, forced displacement, and denial of access to food and shelter,” it added.

More than 850,000 Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since 2016 fearing for their lives, the statement said.

“Canada and the Kingdom of the Netherlands will assist with the complex legal issues that are expected to arise and will pay special attention to crimes related to sexual and gender based violence, including rape."

Maldives has also hired prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to represent the persecuted Rohingya at the UN court alongside the Gambia.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

In a fresh crackdown launched in August 2017, Myanmar's military carried out genocide and rape, and burned houses in Rohingya villages, according to various rights group./aa


Turkey on Wednesday strongly condemned the Charlie Hebdo magazine for republishing cartoons insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad.

In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said it is not possible to justify this insult and disrespect toward Muslims by saying it is freedom of the press, art or expression.

Aksoy said the attitude of the French authorities, especially President Emmanuel Macron, to dismiss the incident under the pretext of freedom of expression is also "unacceptable".

“At every opportunity, those who define themselves as democrat and liberal are serving the new generation of fascists and racists in France and Europe by using such racist and discriminatory actions that increase anti-Islamism and xenophobia,” he said.

Aksoy said this "pathetic mentality," which attempts to otherize millions of Muslims living in peace deals a blow to social harmony, unity and equality every day.

"Those who are unconsciously doing this should be aware that they are harming societal peace," he added.

Turkey urged politicians and European allies to take a clear stand against such attacks which are on the rise and hurt Muslim sentiments, he concluded./aa


Germany has found “unequivocal” evidence that a nerve agent was used to poison Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny last month, local media reported Wednesday. 

In tests run by a special German military laboratory, signs of "a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok party" were found, Steffen Seiber, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, said in a statement.

The nerve agent Novichok was also used in the 2018 poisoning of ex-Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury in an attack by Russian intelligence, according to the UK government.

German doctors at a clinic where the opposition leader is being treated announced last week that Navalny had been poisoned.

Navalny is currently in intensive care in a medically induced coma. His condition is serious, but there is no acute danger to his life, say his doctors.

Navalny, 44, a vociferous critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell ill on Aug. 20 on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow. The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk and Navalny was rushed to a hospital, where he spent two days before being sent to Berlin for treatment.

Commenting on the incident, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier said they were waiting for test results before launching an investigation./aa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday said the Justice Department was monitoring the protest movement antifa, saying that it is at the heart of violence in cities around the country.

"I've talked to every police chief in every city where there has been major violence and they all have identified antifa as the ramrod for the violence," Barr said in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "They are flying around the country. We know people who are flying around the country."

"We see some of the purchases they are making before the riots of weapons to use in those riots," Barr added. "So, we are following them."


Antifa is a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.

Republican President Donald Trump, who has been trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election, has been appealing to his base of white supporters with a "law and order" message. In a visit Tuesday to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a 17-year-old Trump supporter has been charged with killing two people during protests following the police shooting of a Black man in the back, Trump said the destruction that occurred was "really domestic terror."

Barr on Wednesday also said he thought there was no systemic racism in the U.S. justice system, and that there is a "false narrative" that the country is in an "epidemic" of unarmed Black people being killed by white police officers.

"I think our institutions have been reformed in the past 60 years and if anything has been built into it it's a bias toward non-discrimination," Barr said.

In a Fox News interview late on Monday, Trump said an investigation was under way into alleged “thugs” who boarded a plane seeking to cause damage last week during the Republican Party convention, without providing details or evidence.

Law enforcement, intelligence and Congressional officials familiar with official reporting on weeks of protests and related arrests said on Tuesday they were aware of no incidents or reports that would confirm Trump’s anecdote.

Trump signed a memo on Wednesday that threatens to cut federal funding to "lawless" cities, including Seattle, Portland, New York and Washington.

"My Administration will not allow Federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones," said the memo, which was released by the White House.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Twitter that the memo was an "illegal stunt."

China’s abuse of Uighur Muslims is finally getting some much-needed global attention, with reports of millions herded into political-reeducation camps that recall history’s worst atrocities. Now, a groundbreaking new report by Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, reveals that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been systematically targeting Uighur women in a draconian birth-control campaign.

Chinese officials have been ruthless in their pursuit of limiting new Uighur births. Uighur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstruation, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations.

The Chinese government has a long history of perpetrating such horrors on its own citizens. The “one-child policy” was infamously enforced, before eventually being loosened at the end of 2015 to allow couples to legally conceive two children. But even as the CCP regime was easing reproductive restrictions on Han Chinese, it was drastically increasing systematic control of Uighur women in Xinjiang, a province in Western China. Since 2017, the CCP has systematically detained over 1.8 million Uighur Muslims in “political reeducation” camps, and used them for forced labor.

Zenz’s research reveals that birth-control violations are punishable by extrajudicial internment in “training” camps, and evidence from the leaked “Karakax List” document states that such violations were the most common reason for internment. According to Zenz’s report, “in 2014, 2.5 percent of newly placed IUDs [intrauterine birth-control devices] in China were fitted in Xinjiang. In 2018, that share rose to 80 percent, far above Xinjiang’s 1.8 percent share of China’s population. Between 2015 and 2018, Xinjiang placed 7.8 times more new IUDs per capita than the national average.”

A Uighur woman reported that in 2018, she was offered “free” surgical sterilization and threatened with internment if she refused. According to her Uighur doctor, her fallopian tubes were cut in the resulting tubal-ligation procedure, making her sterilization irreversible — a common experience for Xinjiang’s minorities.

China’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uighurs by maliciously and ruthlessly controlling Uighur reproduction. This, in itself, is nothing new. The Chinese Communist Party has waged a long and dreadful war against women, more specifically against baby girls. Through the coercion of the one- and two-child policies, it created a gender imbalance as stark as 120 boys for every 100 girls. Families in China often had to seek the approval of local family-planning officials just to have a child, even if they hadn’t already reached the one-child cutoff. To meet quotas and restrict population growth, women were subject to forced abortions, and men and women to forced sterilizations.

Where the CCP applied the one- and two-child policies relatively equally, however, the Uighurs are being targeted for their membership in a particular religious and ethnic group, making their mistreatment even more pernicious.

On July 2, after Zenz’s report was released, members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, noting as much, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arguing that the U.S. may have grounds to publicly and formally declare an atrocity to be occurring. They claim that forced sterilization and forced abortion constitute attempts by the CCP to limit, and maybe even eventually exterminate, the Uighur population.

Limiting births on the basis of membership in a particular group may be enough to prove the CCP’s intent to commit genocide against the Uighurs — a legal standard that must be met in order for Pompeo to take such a step. Furthermore, officials responsible for human-rights violations against Uighurs may be subject to targeted sanctions like the ones now being applied to senior CCP official Chen Quanguo. As the architect of the surveillance state that made it possible for over 1 million Uighurs to be held in reeducation camps, as well as for similar rights violations in Tibet, Chen is finally facing repercussions for his actions. He and three other CCP officials were sanctioned just last month. Other officials responsible for the injustices uncovered by Zenz may be similarly vulnerable to sanctions.

Secretary Pompeo should establish a new position within the Department of State to coordinate the U.S.’s diplomatic, political, and legal response to the gross violations of universally recognized human rights in Xinjiang. This person would play a similar role to that of the Special Coordinator for Tibet and would ensure that the U.S. government is responding as effectively as possible to the crisis in Xinjiang.

China’s draconian and systematic abuse of Uighur women must be stopped, and the global community should boldly call on the Chinese Communist Party to end its persecution of Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in China altogether. Any holistic strategy to meet the challenges the CCP’s actions increasingly pose to the world has to be built on a strong moral foundation, and speaking up strongly and clearly for the Uighurs is the right place to start.

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The oil spill disaster off Mauritius turned deadly this week when a tugboat leaving the shipwreck collided with a barge and sank, killing at least three sailors, police said Tuesday.

The tug was towing the empty barge from the stranded hull of the Japanese ship, the MV Wakashio, on Monday night when heavy seas rammed the barge into the tug. It sank off the northeast coast of the Indian Ocean island nation, near a village called Poudre D'or.

Four sailors were rescued and one is missing, said Mauritius police constable Jordan Jason Sunasy.

“It is a terrible twist in this disaster," environmental consultant Sunil Dowarkasing told The Associated Press. “The consequences of the shipwreck has now taken human lives. The cost of the oil spill keeps mounting.”


The tugboat sank in deep water outside a coral reef and so far no oil has been seen on the coast, Dowarkasing said.

The environmental disaster began on July 25 when the bulk carrier Wakashio strayed miles off course and struck a coral reef a mile offshore. After being pounded by heavy surf for nearly two weeks, the ship's hull cracked and on Aug. 6 it began leaking fuel into the Mahebourg Lagoon, polluting a protected wetlands area and a small island that was a bird and wildlife sanctuary.

More than 1,000 tons of fuel spilled into the coastal waters. About 3,000 tons remained on the boat and was pumped into barges before the Wakashio broke in two several days later.

Thousands of civilian volunteers worked for days to try to minimize the damage, creating makeshift oil barriers by stuffing fabric tubes with sugar cane leaves and using empty plastic bottles to keep them afloat. Environmental workers carefully ferried dozens of baby tortoises and rare plants to shore, plucking some trapped seabirds out of the goo.

Dead dolphins began washing up on the coast last week. So far 47 dolphins and three whales have been found, Dowarkasing said. An initial autopsy by a government laboratory said oil was not the cause of the deaths, but few Mauritians believe that, Dowarkasing said.

The government of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth is under pressure to explain why immediate action was not taken when the ship first ran aground. He has blamed bad weather for the government’s apparent inaction.

Tens of thousands of people marched in the capital on Saturday in protest, calling on top officials to step down.

The ship's captain and first officer have been arrested and charged with “endangering safe navigation,” and several investigations are underway./

A COVID-19 vaccine could be available earlier than expected if ongoing clinical trials produce overwhelmingly positive results, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, said this week.

Although two ongoing clinical trials of 30,000 volunteers are expected to conclude by the end of the year, Fauci said an independent board has the authority to end the trials weeks early if interim results are overwhelmingly positive or negative.

The Data and Safety Monitoring Board could say, "The data is so good right now that you can say it’s safe and effective,” Fauci said Tuesday. In that case, researchers would have “a moral obligation” to end the trial early and make the active vaccine available to everyone in the study, he said, including those who had been given placebos — and accelerate the process to give the vaccine to millions.

Fauci’s comments come at a time of growing concern about whether political pressure from the Trump administration could influence federal regulators and scientists overseeing the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and erode shaky public confidence in vaccines. Prominent vaccine experts have said they fear that President Trump is pushing for an early vaccine approval to help win reelection.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he trusts the independent members of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board — who are not government employees — to hold vaccines to high standards without being influenced by politics. Members of the board are typically experts in vaccine science and biostatistics who teach at major medical schools.

“If you are making a decision about the vaccine, you’d better be sure you have very good evidence that it is both safe and effective,” Fauci said. “I’m not concerned about political pressure.”

The safety board periodically looks at data from a clinical trial to determine if it’s ethical to continue enrolling volunteers, who are randomly assigned to receive either an experimental vaccine or a placebo shot. Neither the volunteers nor the health workers who vaccinate them know which shot they’re receiving.

Manufacturers are now testing three COVID-19 vaccines in large-scale U.S. trials. The first two studies — one led by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health and the other led by Pfizer and BioNTech — began in late July. Each study was designed to enroll 30,000 participants. Company officials have said both trials have enrolled about half that total.

AstraZeneca, which has been running large-scale clinical trials in Britain, Brazil and South Africa, launched another large-scale vaccine study this week in the U.S., involving 30,000 volunteers. Additional vaccine trials are expected to begin this month.

In trials of this size, researchers will know if a vaccine is effective after as few as 150 to 175 infections, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It may be surprising, but the number of events that need to occur is relatively small,” Redfield said.

Right now, only the safety board has access to the trial data, said Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services. As for when trial results will be available, “we cannot determine if it will be the middle of October or December.”

Safety boards set “stopping rules” at the beginning of a study, making their criteria for ending a trial very clear, said Dr. Eric Topol, executive vice president at Scripps Research in San Diego and an expert on the use of data in medical research.

Although the safety board can recommend stopping a trial, the ultimate decision to halt a study is made by the scientists running the trial, Topol said.

A vaccine manufacturer could then apply to the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization, which can be granted quickly, or continue through the regular drug approval process, which requires more time and evidence.

Safety monitors also can stop a trial because of safety concerns, “if it looks like it’s actually harming people in the vaccine arm, due to a lot of adverse events,” Fauci said.

Fauci said people can trust the process, because all the data that outside monitors use to make their decisions would be made public.

“All of that has to be transparent,” Fauci said. “The only time you get concerned is if there is any pressure to terminate the trial before you have enough data on safety and efficacy.”

Topol and other scientists have sharply criticized the FDA in recent weeks, accusing Dr. Stephen Hahn, the agency's commissioner, of bowing to political pressure from the Trump administration, which has pushed the agency to approve COVID-19 treatments faster.

Stopping trials early poses a number of risks, such as making a vaccine look more effective than it really is, Topol said.

“If you stop something early, you can get an exaggerated benefit that isn’t real,” because less positive evidence only emerges later, Topol said.

Stopping the studies early also could prevent researchers from recruiting more minority volunteers. So far, only about 1 in 5 trial participants are Black or Latino. Given that people in these groups have been hit harder by the pandemic, it’s important that they make up a larger part of vaccine trials, Topol said.

Ending vaccine trials early also carries safety risks, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

A smaller, shorter trial could fail to detect important vaccine side effects, which could become apparent only after millions of people have been immunized, said Offit, who serves on a National Institutes of Health advisory panel on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Researchers will continue to follow vaccinated volunteers for a full year to look for long-term side effects, Redfield said.

And Fauci acknowledged that cutting a trial short could undermine public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. One in 3 Americans is unwilling to get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a recent Gallup poll.


LA Times

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's Bisri Valley lies on a green fertile bed, a spot that has cradled civilizations dating as far back as the Bronze Age. Its expansive lands of pine, citrus trees and ancient ruins are threatened with being submerged by a controversial mega dam funded by the World Bank.

For years, activists and locals have voiced their opposition to it, describing it as an environmental crime and a project that mirrors Lebanon’s patronage system and bad governance.

The devastating explosion that rocked Beirut last month, killing more than 190 people and injuring thousands, has highlighted endemic corruption in Lebanon. It has also revived calls for investigations into mega-infrastructure projects proposed by politicians whose corruption and negligence the public blames for the disaster.

The Aug. 4 explosion was caused by the igniting of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, poorly stored for years at the capital’s port. It is not clear what caused the chemicals to detonate, but it has fueled public outrage against the entire ruling elite.


The Bisri dam project was approved by Lebanon’s government and parliament in 2015 and is funded through a $474 million loan by the World Bank, with a total cost of $617 million.

It is supposed to store 125 million cubic meters of water, providing a solution for chronic water shortages to 1.6 million Lebanese living in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, according to the World Bank website.

But those opposed to the project, some 35 kilometres (22 miles) south of the capital, say the dam is fraught with technical and corruption issues. Lebanon’s politicians are notorious for using projects to pass out lucrative positions to their supporters to skim off cash or otherwise profit.

“It represents everything we have been fighting against, it is a model of the confessional patronage system that has led to Lebanon’s demise,” says Roland Nassour, co-founder of the Save the Bisri Valley Campaign.

In a recent letter to the World Bank, the campaign organizers reiterated their call to cancel the project, drawing a parallel between failed dam projects in Lebanon and the explosion, describing both “as a major lack of integrity in the public sector.”

“This is one of the few projects left that the politicians and companies they hire can capitalize on and make money from,” said Elias Hankash, a parliament member who resigned after the blast and has opposed the project from the beginning.

“Is it possible that today, a bankrupt country like Lebanon takes a multi-million-dollar loan to build a dam?” he said.

Lebanon is mired in an unprecedented economic crisis, with a collapsing currency, increasing inflation and hundreds of thousands thrown into poverty. The government defaulted on its foreign bonds commitment for the first time earlier this spring.

Activists have also voiced concerns that Bisri is on an active seismic fault line.

Geologist Mohammed Khawlie says the dam won't store the expected amounts of water. “The rocks are very porous, they absorb the water, the land is karstic,” he explains, referring to a terrain that is formed of soluble rocks and limestone.

“If you want to solve this problem by injecting cement into the dam structure, then you are incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cost.”

Other recently built dams in Lebanon have failed for similar reasons, Khawlie said.

Environmental expert Paul Abi Rashed says the project will destroy more than 6 million square meters of green land, among Lebanon’s most scenic and pristine. “We are talking about vast agricultural lands, pine forests, the second largest roosting area for migratory birds in Lebanon,” he adds.

It also threatens the historic Mar Moussa church as well as Roman and Hellenistic ruins, though the World Bank says they will be preserved or moved.

The World Bank declined an interview request. On its website, it says, “an environment and social impact assessment was carried out in close collaboration with government agencies, civil society, the private sector and community members and has been approved by the Ministry of Environment.”

Abi Rashed says the assessment has not been updated since 2016.

It was also conducted by Dar Al Handasah, a consulting firm that is a stakeholder in the project and listed as the supervising entity to the construction of the project’s tunnel and pipeline.

“That is a clear conflict of interest,” says Nassour. “The World Bank says the assessment should not be done by an entity affiliated in any way to the project.”

The World Bank has heavily invested in mega dam projects in developing countries in the past but not without controversy. It withdrew from contentious hydro-power projects in India and the Democratic Republic of Congo and faces complaints against its dam projects in places like Uganda.

Email exchanges obtained by The Associated Press between the regional World Bank director Saroj Kumar Jha and his staff in April show the World Bank recently changed its mind about the Bisri dam project and is offering to use the rest of the loan for “protecting the poor and most vulnerable.”

But Kumar mentions in his email that “the president prefers to proceed with the project,” referring to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, whose party has held the Energy Ministry for more than a decade.

The limited preliminary construction done so far on the dam has been suspended since the summer of 2019 under pressure from civil society.

Recently, the World Bank gave the Lebanese government the deadline of Sept. 4 to meet “the tasks that are preconditions to the commencement of construction of the dam.” But in the aftermath of the explosion, the deadline is unlikely to be met.

The World Bank has already paid around $320 million to Lebanon, including $155 million for expropriations of private land in the valley.

“There are many alternatives to using the land, the government can invest in agriculture, or turn the land into a natural reserve and encourage eco-tourism,” suggests Hankach.

Beirut's water shortages are primarily due to mismanagement, Nassour said. His group calls for parts of the loan to be redirected to support alternative water projects — and to rebuild lives and livelihoods of people impacted by the Beirut blast.