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Guatemala to withdraw from UN-backed anti-corruption body | News

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Guatemala City, Guatemala – The government of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has said it is withdrawing from a United Nations-backed anti-corruption body and is giving its staff 24 hours to leave the country, in a move that drew criticism from human rights groups and constitutional lawyers.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Morales accused the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, commonly known as CICIG, of polarising the country and putting its security at risk, as well as violating human rights and being allied with criminal structures and “terrorists”.

“The State of Guatemala terminates the agreement with CICIG because of the serious violation of national and international laws,” Morales said in Guatemala City, adding that his government had waited 16 months for the UN to respond to their complaints.

“The CICIG has put at risk the sovereignty of the people of Guatemala,” Morales said, accusing the UN of not “seeking solutions” to alleged violations.

Morales made the comments surrounded by the families of those he asserts are falsely accused by the CICIG, including a Russian family which was prosecuted and sentenced to seven years in prison for using a falsified Guatemalan passport.

Ahead of the press conference, Sandra Jovel, Guatemala’s minister of foreign affairs, had informed UN chief Antonio Guterres of the unilateral decision.

The agreement is finalised, Jovel told reporters. We hope the secretary-general will respect of sovereignty.

Constitutional crisis

The CICIG was formed in 2006 upon the request of the Guatemalan government to combat high rates of impunity for crimes. It was ratified by the country’s legislative branch in 2007 following a massive police scandal.

The commission’s 2015 corruption investigation in the administration of Otto Perez Molina led to the resignation of the former president, who is currently facing criminal charges.

Morales utilised an anti-corruption platform in the country’s 2015 election, promising voters he was “not corrupt, or a thief”. Yet he and his family have faced corruption allegations since taking office in January 2016.

Allies of Morales in the country’s Congress led by Estuardo Galdamez, of the FCN-Nacion party, had called on the president to unilaterally repeal the law that formed the body. Many congressional members are currently under investigation for corruption.

In August last year, Morales announced that he would not be renewing the mandate of the anti-impunity body. The president also attempted to declare CICIG head Ivan Velasquez a “persona non-grata” and bar him from the country.

But the country’s Constitutional Court in September ruled against the ban on Velasquez, ordering that he must be permitted to re-enter Guatemala. The goverment has remained steadfast in its position, sparking a deepening constitutional crisis.

Earlier on Monday, Stephane Dujarric, UN spokesperson, had urged Guatemala’s government to allow the free movement of CICIG staff in the country, as in accordance with the 2006 agreement.

His call came two days after Guatemalan immigration officials denied Yilen Osorio, a Colombian CICIG investigator, entry into the country and detained him upon arrival.

The detention violated a December 21 court order issued by Guatemala’s highest court which said the government must allow entry for 11 CICIG investigators whose visas were revoked earlier that month. The government argued that the investigators posed a threat to national security, giving them 72 hours to leave the country.

Osorio was finally permitted to enter the country after being held for some 24 hours following an order by the Constitutional Court.

‘Against the law’

Oswaldo Samayoa, a Guatemalan constitutional lawyer, said that among those whose visas were removed are the lead investigators of the cases against Morales, his brother and son.

“There is clearly a conflict of interests in the decisions of Morales,” Samayoa told Al Jazeera. “It is a form of revenge disguised in the discourse of sovereignty.”

Commenting on Guatemala’s CICIG withdrawal, Samayoa said Monday’s announcement was “disastrous for our country, for our democracy and our fragile institutions”.

“All these actions are against the law and constitution,” Samayoa added.

“The agreement with the United Nations that formed the CICIG says that only the UN can end the anti-corruption body,” explained Samayoa, pointing to articles 11 and 14 of the agreement and citing article 149 of Guatemala’s constitution, which upholds the country’s commitment to human rights and international accords.

Iduvina Hernandez, director of human rights organisation Security in Democracy, alleged that Morales “is destroying the institutional order”.

“These actions are a coup d’etat against the rule of law,” Hernandez told Al Jazeera. “This is being carried out by those in government that wish to maintain their privileges.”

The president’s move was also condemned by Democrats in the United States, including Representative Norma Torres.

Jimmy Morales’ presidency has set the country back years, if not decades, Torres said in a statement.

Morales had a historic opportunity to give Guatemalans the transparent and effective government that they deserve. Instead, when faced with the prospect of criminal investigation by CICIG and the public ministry, he chose to destroy the rule of law in order to protect himself, Torres wrote.

He has engaged in a pattern of behaviour that has undermined Guatemala’s justice system and brought the country to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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