PARIS — The 2017 edition of "Paris Plages," the artificial beaches installed each summer along the banks of the river Seine, will be sans sable— sandless! Why? Because on Monday, the City of Paris announced that it will end its 14-year-old partnership with French-Swiss group LafargeHolcim. But the decision here matters less than what actually prompted it. Or, to be more precise, what didn't.
In June 2016, the French daily Le Monde published claims that LafargeHolcim — the world's leading cement company — had paid terror groups, including ISIS, so it could keep its cement plant in northern Syria running. Almost nine months later, on March 2, 2017, and after an internal investigation, LafargeHolcim finally admitted to the allegations and said in a statement that although "those responsible for the Syria operations appear to have acted in a manner they believed was in the best interests of the company and its employees ... the investigation revealed significant errors in judgment."
But that's not why the City of Paris reacted. What really ruffled feathers in the French capital, according to First Deputy Mayor of Paris Bruno Julliard, was LafargeHolcim's announcement, earlier in the month, that it was ready and willing to supply cement for U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial "border wall." Julliard called it a "nefarious project."
On March 9, one week after coming clean about its activities in Syria, CEO Eric Olsen told the AFP new agency that his company is "here to supply our customers' needs. We don't have a political view on things."
That may be true. But the Socialist mayor Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and her team certainly do. As the French edition of the newspaper 20 Minutes reports, a far-left member of the city council called on the mayor to boycott the company as early as last July, describing the sand used for the artificial beaches in Paris as "tainted with blood." But for Julliard, the fact that LafargeHolcim collaborated with ISIS, a terror group responsible for more than 200 deaths in France alone, seems to matter less than the company's plan to collaborate on Trump's wall. He called the Trump connection an "aggravating factor" that goes against "the ethical commitments that Parisians can expect from the city."
To be sure, as much as they'll miss their sandy makeshift beach, many Parisians will no doubt approve of the decision. Still, the timing may leave some of them scratching their heads about their city government's ethical priorities.
The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.
WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.
It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.
Tactics of a strongman
Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.
Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.
Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus
Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross
Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.
An incomprehensible absence
Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.
In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.
Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.
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