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Olympic-Sized Worries for the Tokyo Olympic Games; U.S. Intel Divided on COVID-19 Origin After Year-Long Inquiry; U.S. Warns of Further Action Against Ethiopia, Eritrea; Belarus Plane Diversion: Bomb Threat E-Mail Sent After Ryanair Flight Ordered to Land; UK Official: Most New Cases Due to Variant From India; UN Votes to Launch Investigation Into Possible War Crimes; Container Ship Carrying Chemicals Burns Off Sri Lanka; GOP Senators Likely to Block Capitol Riot Commission. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired May 28, 2021 - 02:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, welcome to hour (ph) number three. You're watching "CNN Newsroom" with me. I'm John Vause.

Coming up, doctors in Japan warn of a deadly Olympic legacy if the Tokyo games go ahead as planned.

Also, cold war in the skies over Europe. Russia denies landing permission to two E.U. carriers, shows support for its ally, Belarus, isolated by E.U. bans on air travel.

Also, the power of a CNN investigation. The Biden administration now warning of sanctions if the violence in Ethiopia's Tigray region does not stop.

Well, despite the surge in coronavirus cases and widespread public opposition, Olympic organizers insist they will not be cancelling the Tokyo summer games, but they are planning changes, including specific COVID guidelines for each sporting event.

Tokyo 2020 board members met earlier with public health experts. They toured the Olympic village, the athlete dormitories, and dining halls. They said to update their safety playbook for a third time next month.

Meantime, the Japanese government expected to extend a state of emergency for areas struggling with a surge in COVID cases. Japan is averaging about 4,500 infections a day. That is according to Johns Hopkins University. Figures compiled by CNN show only about two percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

CNN's Blake Essig is following all of this live this hour from Tokyo. OK, let's talk about this handbook that they are revising and they're looking at the measures they're taking to prevent the spread of COVID- 19. It was pretty shoddy when it was revealed earlier this week by the public health experts in the U.S. who looked at it. They politely said they were not using the best scientific advice. So, how will they update this? I guess, how can they be trusted at this point to get it right?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, a lot of questions and concerns regarding these playbooks that they've been -- as they've been rolled out. You know, from across the globe and experts even today pointed at the fact that there is still another playbook being released next month that will hopefully address some of these concerns.

Now, they talked about today during that expert panel hosted by Tokyo 2020 that they want 230 doctors and 310 nurses on staff ready to go for the -- essentially day one after the opening ceremony when most the events take place.

They also said that the impact of 100,000 visitors coming to Japan for the games is limited. They say that the focus is the movement of these people that could cause the spread of the infection. And so that is where a lot of the focus is, is how do you keep track and monitor all 100,000 people that will be coming here for the Olympics.

Again, about 11,000 plus will be at the Olympic village, but you've got the rest of the foreign delegates who will be in hotels, in different areas around, perhaps, these venues. These are the questions that we don't yet have answers to.

Now, everyone involved here with the Olympic organizing committee says that these details are still being worked out. But the case count here in Japan is fueled by the U.K. variant, still remains very high. The country continues to see a record number of patients in critical condition and the medical system remains incredibly strained.

That is despite the fact that Tokyo and several other prefectures, mostly the densely populated prefectures, have been living under a state of emergency since the end of April and that state of emergency which is expected to end on Monday has the potential to be extended for additional three weeks up to about a month before the Olympic Games. We are going to find out whether that happens or not later today. John?

VAUSE (on camera): Blake, thank you. Blake Essig there in Tokyo as always with the very latest. We appreciate it.

There is a multibillion dollar financial incentive to hold the Olympics, not to mention the lifelong training and commitment of thousands of athletes. Earlier, I spoke with CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan about the games and the athletes.


CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: The hope was that we would be out of the pandemic or at least close to out of it and this would be the coming out party, the world together again, joyfully celebrating the end of the pandemic. Unfortunately, right now, that is exactly what is happening. We are seeing the problems of the pandemic and this is much more a reflection of the world's issues and difficulties in dealing with COVID-19. That is the reality that we are seeing.

[02:05:00] BRENNAN: Most of the athletes are so focused right now on competing with the goal of getting to Tokyo that I don't think they're thinking about things the way (INAUDIBLE).

VAUSE: Well, on Thursday, the head of the IOC was once again insisting that the Tokyo games will be safe and everything that can be done, essentially, is being done. Listen to this.


THOMAS BACH, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: In this final stretch, our top priority continues to remain on organizing safe and secure Olympic games for everyone, the athletes and all participants as well as our gracious hosts, the Japanese people.


VAUSE: But as they say, you know, the devil is often in the detail about safety and the athletes' guidebook has this disclaimer, right in the end. Despite all care taken, risks and impacts may not be fully eliminated. Therefore, you agree to attend the Olympics and Paralympic games at your own risk.

So, all care taken but no responsibility, people. Not exactly reassuring, is it?

BRENNAN: No, it's not, John. And, you know, I think this is what happens when you try to hold the largest peacetime gathering of the world at a time when you're really not supposed to be gathering.


BRENNAN: And it sounds funny. It's not. It's obviously very, very serious. Also taking it to a country where only about three percent of the population is vaccinated right now. That is, of course, Japan. And one would have thought they would have opt that and just even (INAUDIBLE) pride just to be ready for the games. Obviously, they are now -- they seem to be getting on the mark on this and working hard, getting, you know, speeding it up still.

So, I think these athletes are well aware. They have lived through the pandemic. Their parents, their families get that. I think they know these are extraordinary times.


VAUSE (on camera): Thanks to Christine Brennan. The New York Times is reporting that U.S. intelligence agencies have un-reviewed data that could help pinpoint the origin of COVID-19. The evidence could prove critical as those agencies try to come up with a definitive answer over the next 90 days.

The U.S. Intelligence Community has been searching for one answer for the past year. Some agencies lean towards the view began with interactions between people and infected animals at so-called wet markets. But others believe it may have started in a laboratory and was accidentally leaked.

Jamie Metzl is an adviser to the World Health Organization. He believes the lab leak theory is the most credible. Here he is.


JAMIE METZL, WHO ADVISER AND FORMER NSC STAFFER: The people who are making the argument that the natural origins hypothesis, there is no evidence at all for that. Chinese authorities have done 80,000 sequences with no evidence. We know that the story of the wet market origin was a lie. The Chinese government knew it was a lie in January of last year.

So that is why we are saying there are two valid hypotheses. Natural origin is a hypothesis in every other -- almost every other past outbreak. There was some evidence. You can see, in many ways, the virus evolving as it jumps between animals and then ultimately to humans. There is none of that here. The circumstantial evidence is quite strong.


VAUSE (on camera): Mary Moloney has more now on what we know and what we don't know about the origins of COVID-19.


MARY MOLONEY, CNN NEWSOURCE JOURNALIST (voice-over): Despite getting closer to controlling COVID-19 in the U.S., the country is far from reaching a conclusion on the origin of the virus.

LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We really need to understand what happened. It's important for preventing the next pandemic.

MOLONEY (voice-over): Now, President Biden and Congress are taking action. On Wednesday, Biden is directing the U.S. Intelligence Community to redouble its efforts to solve that puzzle. Biden says he wants the agency to report back to him in 90 days. Right now, there are two possible scenarios. Did the virus pass from an infected animal to a human or was it the result of a lab accident?

Biden's push comes after a U.S. Intelligence report found several researchers at a lab in Wuhan, China became sick and had to be hospitalized in November of 2019.

WEN: And critically to understand when the Chinese government knew what they knew, because if, in fact, there was a cover-up for some period of time, that was really critical time that the rest of the world could have used in order to prepare.

MOLONEY (voice-over): For its part, China says the U.S. does not care about facts and truth at all and is merely shifting the blame.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate passed a bill requiring U.S. Intelligence agencies declassify information on the origins of COVID-19. But finding answers will be hard.

ANDY SLAVITT, PRESIDENT'S SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID-19 RESPONSE: We need to get to bottom of this. We need a completely transparent process from China. We need the WHO to assist in that matter. We don't feel like we have that now.

MOLONEY (voice-over): I'm Mary Moloney.


VAUSE: We will stay with the story a little longer. Let's go to Will Ripley, who is live for us in Taiwan, with more on this. There he is.


VAUSE: Will, so, one thing that we do know right now is that China keeps pushing back, not so much with evidence, but with name-calling and these weird unexplained calls for investigations into U.S. labs.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. But there is no evidence that they are presenting, John, that the trail of investigation would lead to U.S. labs, secret labs and bases that the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs and even this editorial in the Global Times kind of alluded to.

They talk about the fact that there is really this -- what they view as an unfair mudslinging, smear campaign against China, a conspiracy theory propelled by prejudice and political need, in the words of the China Daily.

And, of course, the big question here is, if they don't want to allow researchers to look at the raw data and examine the evidence, and yet they throw out their own, what some might argue are conspiracy theories, then where is the credibility and where is the genuine desire to get to the bottom of a pandemic that has killed three and a half million people?

VAUSE (on camera): Absolutely. Will Ripley, thank you. Will Ripley there in Taipei.

Well, Ethiopia and Eritrea could be hit with new U.S. sanctions if the violence and atrocities in the Tigray region does not stop. The warning from the U.S. State Department comes just days after CNN reported witness accounts that soldiers were rounding up hundreds of young men from displacement camps, just one of the many atrocities CNN has investigated in the region. The State Department says a review is underway to determine if war crimes have been committed.


ROBERT GODEC, U.S. ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS: To those stoking the conflict, fail to reverse course, Ethiopia and Eritrea should anticipate further actions. It cannot be business as usual in the face of the violence and atrocities in Tigray.


VAUSE (on camera): Well, in the past few months, CNN's Nima Elbagir has travelled across Ethiopia, revealing the atrocities there in war- torn Tigray. Here is part of her reporting.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Sudan-Ethiopia border, the last leg in the journey for safety. In the first weeks of the conflict, thousands of refugees from Ethiopia's Tigray region crossed daily. Now, the figures are dwindling day by day. Those that do make it here come bearing scars and testimony.

This is (INAUDIBLE). He says he fled the city of Sheraro near the Ethiopia-Eritrean border. He says the Eritrean soldiers beat them with machine guns, lay them on the ground, and put weapons in their mouths. He says if you showed fear, they would kill you. But if you are brave, you escaped with your life and the scars on your back.

Sayuri (ph) arrived in Sudan with a newborn, heavily pregnant when her mother was attacked by the Ethiopian army. Sayuri (ph) fled to (INAUDIBLE), giving birth in a field. She tells us only she and her mother-in-law made it to safety.


VAUSE (on camera): Right now, the U.S. and the United Nations are demanding the release of those young men who were detained earlier this week. Nima Elbagir has more now on the response to CNN's latest findings.


ELBAGIR: Just days after the United States announced financial sanctions and visa restrictions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials that they say they believe are complicit in violations in Ethiopia's Tigray region, CNN was sent this video.

Filmed secretly in Shire town in Tigray, it shows desperate parents gathered at the U.N. offices in Shire, desperate to hear word about their loved ones who they say were taken away by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, forcibly detained and beaten.

CNN shared these investigations findings with the United Nations and the resident coordinator has called these detentions arbitrary, saying that they are serious violations of humanitarian law and calling for the immediate release of these young men.

We also shared our finding with Senator Chris Coons, President Biden's envoy to Ethiopia. He is also calling for the immediate release of these young men, saying that if they are harmed or if they are not released, then there must be accountability.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.

(END VIDEO TAPE) VAUSE (on camera): Tit-for-tat bans on flight plans. How Europe pushed to punish Belarus is affecting air travel, and why Russia is now involved. What that means, well, that in a moment.




VAUSE (on camera): It was always a bit of a stretch to believe government officials in Belarus who claimed they were justified to force a Ryanair flight to land, a flight which happened to have a wanted opposition journalist on board.

New details have revealed those claims are almost beyond belief. Well, they are beyond belief. Here we go. Belarusian authorities say they received an e-mail about a bomb on board and that was why they had to force the passenger plane to land in Minsk.

But CNN received an image of the e-mail with the timestamp showing it was sent almost a half hour after Belarusian authorities alerted the plane crew about the supposed threat. The e-mail (INAUDIBLE) confirms the timing as well.

Now, E.U. authorities discuss sanctions. The Belarusian president is getting ready to meet with his ally, the Russian president, who is showing a lot of support for Lukashenko.

Matthew Chance has details.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is still unclear what Russia's intentions are. But what we know is that so far, two European carriers, Air France and Austrian Airlines, have been forced to cancel flights to Moscow because Russia has refused to give them permission to take an alternative route that would bypass Belarusian airspace.

If that continues to happen, it could be a major escalation of the crisis, potentially cause widespread disruption to air travel in and out of Russia and possibly even across Russia.

The European Union has, of course, advised airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and banned flights from Belarusian airlines. A response to the extraordinary events of the weekend in which Belarusian authorities forced the passenger airline en route from Athens to Lithuania to land in Minsk, transport officials in Minsk say that there have been a bomb threat.

But the fact that two passengers on board the aircraft were detained on the ground on Minsk has provoked a wave of condemnation. But for Moscow, of course, says it has got no reason to doubt the official Belarusian version of events. Later, on Friday, the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, will be here in Russia for face-to-face meetings with his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, meetings that will be closely watched to see how much backing the Kremlin leader is prepared to offer this Belarusian president, given the fact he is preparing for a very important and much anticipated summit next month with the U.S. president, Joe Biden.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE (on camera): Simon Calder is the travel editor for The Independent. He is with us this hour from London. Simon, it is good to have you with us.

SIMON CALDER, TRAVEL EDITOR, THE INDEPENDENT: Yes, it's an extraordinary story.

VAUSE: It really is.

CALDER: I could not believe they unfolded on Sunday afternoon in European time this jet -- perfectly normal flight from Athens to suddenly being diverted with a MiG-29 fighter to encourage the pilots to cooperate with their traffic control instructions.

Since then, as predicted, we have seen a ban on using Belarus airspace and a reciprocal ban on the Belavia, the Belarusian airline flying to many western European nations. What we won't expect was the reaction of Moscow. If I just took you through it.


CALDER: So, on Monday, we had the ban imposed by the U.K. on its airlines over flying Belarus and the British Airways jets actually flying from London to Islamabad in Pakistan, and found itself rerouted during its flight to avoid Belarus, then had to circle for some time over Latvia while the Russians agreed a new flight plan, and then actually had to refuel in Moscow on the way through because it needed that so fuel.

Then on Tuesday, we had France having their aircraft banned from Russia because the French airline wanted to reroute the usual flight plan and the Russians said you can't be coming by Belarus. And now we are seeing the same with Austrian Airlines. It appears that western European airlines are now being used in a kind of geopolitical game.

The big worry is if Russia were to say, right, well, you can't overfly us on your way to destinations in Asia, because so much of the air traffic, of course, between Western Europe and East Asia spends many, many hours flying over Russia in order to fly the most direct course.

VAUSE: Let's unpack some of it. There's a lot there, Simon. So let us just start with the airlines that are allowed to land (INAUDIBLE), because it is not consistent, right, because there was a Polish air carrier, LOT, which avoided Belarus but was allowed to land in Moscow. I think it's a similar situation with Lufthansa. They avoided Belarus airspace but were also allowed to land by Russian aviation officials.

So, is there certainly part of all of this that the Kremlin wants? There is also a suggestion that Moscow might be hitting the weaker links in the chain to undermine E.U. solidarity. How do see it?

CALDER: Oh, sure. It's entirely plausible that Russia should be just picking on the old (ph) flights just to kind of (INAUDIBLE) warn people off. This is nothing new and it is not restricted to the Russians' fear of influence.

Going back to 2019, for about 19 weeks, there were interruptions to the normal flow of air traffic over Pakistan into India following what the Pakistan government said was a military incursion. That, effectively, meant that airlines had to reroute over to avoid Pakistan airspace in order to reach India and points beyond.

However, it is not a zero penalty game because actually, countries such as Russia make a vast amount of foreign exchange from allowing over flying rights. They don't really want to disrupt the normal flow of international air travel. But I've heard from several senior aviation people here in Western Europe, basically just say the lasting aviation needs at the moment is to be used as a pawn in a geopolitical game.

VAUSE: Yeah, very good point on that one. They're still recovering now. The prices are going up when the flights are booked. But you mentioned this issue with Russia. Closing the airspace by the E.U. over Belarus is one thing. Over Russia, if they decide to get in the game, it is entirely a different thing altogether.

In terms of land mass, Belarus is relatively small, just over 200,000 square kilometers. Russia is the world's largest country, 17 million square kilometers, 11 time zones, bordering 14 other countries. You touched on this. How much -- how much confusion could Putin actually caused just by opening and closing Russian airspace at random times?

CALDER: Oh, that would be absolutely astonishing. It would bring a great deal of the Europe-Asia traffic (INAUDIBLE) actually operating at the moment which is (INAUDIBLE). It almost goes back to the 1980s when we had aircraft finally capable of flying nonstop from Western Europe to East Asia.

And for quite a time, they either had to avoid Russia altogether or pay extraordinary numbers of dollars to fly over Russian airspace. And very disruptive, burns a lot of extra fuel, costs a lot of time, and was deeply damaging. It is entirely possible that Russia, particularly after today's meeting of the two leaders in Moscow, decides to set things up.

Ultimately, of course, Belarus airspace will open. Belavia will be able to fly to Western Europe once more. It is simply a question of whether that lasts weeks, months, probably year Western Europe would like or whether it is over in a few days as certainly Minsk and Moscow would like.

VAUSE: Yeah. Well, I guess we'll find out in the coming days. Simon, it is good to have you with us. Thank you. We really appreciate it.

CALDER: Thank you.

VAUSE (on camera): Take care.

Well, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Bashar al-Assad has won a fourth term in office with the landslide win in Syria's presidential election.




VAUSE (voice-over): He defeated two relatively unknown politicians, but that was enough for thousands to celebrate in the streets, a victory, though, which activists have called sham. Al-Assad's presidency has been defined by conflicts. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions displaced. He has been repeatedly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but he denies those allegations.


VAUSE (on camera): Well, Japan is reviewing emergency measures ahead of the Olympics as doctors warn of dangerous consequences if the Tokyo games go ahead as planned. We have more on that in a moment.


VAUSE: More now on our lead story. The Japanese government will soon decide if a state of emergency in areas struggling with surge in COVID infections should be extended.

The Olympics is now eight weeks away and just two percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Some doctors are demanding the games to be cancelled. The head of Japan Doctors Union warns the games could see its own mutant strains of the virus.

CNN medical analyst Dr. Jorge Rodriguez is now live with us from Los Angeles. It is good to see you. It's been a while, Jorge. Thank you for being with us.


VAUSE (on camera): I want you to listen a little more from the head of the Japan Doctors Union explaining how the Tokyo games could end up producing this Olympic strain of the coronavirus.


NAOTO UEYAMA, CHAIRMAN, JAPAN DOCTORS UNION (through translator): If the Olympic games are to be held in Tokyo, this could mean that people will be coming to Japan from 200 different countries around the world, tens of thousands of people indeed. This could mean potentially that all the different mutant strains of the virus that exists in different places will be concentrated and gathering here in Tokyo.


VAUSE (on camera): Is that a legitimate concern? I mean, how realistic is that?

RODRIGUEZ: Until it happens. So I do think that it is a realistic concern. We all want things to open but wanting something and wishing for something doesn't make it so. I think the potential for disaster is real and it could happen.

Listen, right now, Japan is on the huge surge. They're having approximately 50,000 cases a day. So, unfortunately, you know, this could be a perfect storm. Vaccination appears to be the only way to maybe thwart this. But again, the world is going to convene for athletes and it may also be convening for different variants of the virus. So it is a possibility.

VAUSE (on camera): There are plenty of those existing variants which are spreading around the world right now, in particular B1617.2 (ph). Listen to this.



MATT HANCOCK, BRITISH HEALTH MINISTER: The variant first identified in India, so called B.1.617.2 is still spreading. And the latest estimates are that more than half, and potentially as many as three quarters of all new cases, are now of this variant.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN HOST: That's the UK Health Secretary. We had a recent study from Pfizer and AstraZeneca saying the vaccines are effective against the Indian variant, also to Moderna as well, more recently. There was an emphasis though on the effectiveness after two doses. So apart from that issue, is there any reason for any major concern here when it comes to vaccines and the Indian variant?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, as you said, John, the vaccines have been shown to be effective against this Indian "variant," if you receive both vaccinations; that's the problem.

Right now, the UK is at a very low level except for certain areas, whereas the person said two thirds of the new infections are due to this variant. So, is there a concern? I'm a worrywart, there's always concern.

But right now, it seems that the UK is on top of it. They are putting together some not very popular restrictions, but this is the way the world is going to be for a while. We're going to have to duck and dive, and we're going to have to change, sometimes at a moment's notice, depending on what's happening.

VAUSE: Yes, I guess - at least those countries that do have ample supplies of vaccines can breathe a little easier. But, actually, the world does not have that luxury and COVAX, that international coalition led by the WHO to try and distribute vaccines around the world, is calling for the rich countries to share a billion doses.

Here's part of a statement from COVAX explaining why. By donating vaccines to COVAX alongside domestic vaccination programs, the most at risk populations can be protected globally, which is instrumental to ending the acute phase of the pandemic, curbing the rise and threat of variants, and accelerating a return to normality.

So, what's the cost benefit analysis here, vaccinating low-risk kids in wealthy nations versus most of the at-risk population around the world? Where does it rest?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think, obviously, the answer is, if we take all the emotions apart, that we need to vaccinate high-risk populations throughout the world. We're not going to be safe, and this has been said before, until the whole world is safe.

To think that we are isolated, not every country is New Zealand, where you really are isolated by an ocean or Australia. There is commerce, there is tourism, there is movement among nations, and this is not going to be over until the richer nations definitely step up and do their part. And if for nothing else, for the selfish reasons that we in the United States or Canada or the UK are not going to be safe until the poorer countries are also safe. It's as clear as that.

VAUSE: I just want to finish up quickly with a new word that immunity from COVID-19 may last a little longer than first thought. This study was published in Nature, it found that antibodies declined rapidly in the first four months after infection, then will gradually over the following seven months remaining detectable at least 11 months after infection. A research is also encouraged after finding memory cells in recovering patients. So, what's the bottom line here on immunity and what those memory cells do?

RODRIGUEZ : The memory - the bottom line is that immunity is something that's very complicated. And not only do you have antibodies, but the bone marrow has certain cells, memory B cells and memory T cells. So the bottom line is, if you've had COVID, you still need to get vaccinated, you have the chance of being almost like a supercharged immunity person.

And if you have not been vaccinated, you really at the end of the day don't stand much of a chance to fight this virus. You're going to get it eventually. So, whether you have antibodies or not, if you have been vaccinated or have been exposed, your body is going to remember how to fight this virus. That's the bottom line.

VAUSE: Supercharged, I like it. Jorge Rodriguez, thanks very much. Good to see you.

RODRIGUEZ : Thank you. VAUSE: The United Nations has agreed to launch an international investigation into the 11-day conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Thursday to adopt a resolution, which was brought by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as the Palestinian delegation to the U.N.

The Masran (ph) health ministry says more than 240 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli airstrikes during the latest round of the violence that includes 66 children. 70,000 were left homeless. The U.N. Human Rights Commissioner says Israel's actions may constitute war crimes.


MICHELLE BACHELET, U.N.HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: --is found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in the impact on civilians and civilian objects, such attacks may constitute war crimes. On the other hand, it is also a violation of International Humanitarian Law to locate military assets in densely populated civilian areas or to launch attacks from them.


VAUSE: The Commissioner also says that rockets fired by Hamas violated International Humanitarian Law by failing to distinguish between military and civilian targets.


The Israeli military says 12 people including two children were killed in Israel during those rocket attacks. Amnesty International notes that they believe both sides may be guilty of committing war crimes.

While on fire for a week and struggling to put out the flames on a cargo ship anchored off the coast of Sri Lanka, we'll have more on a looming environmental disaster. Also a former police officer in El Salvador arrested after a mass grave was found in his backyard.


VAUSE: Well, it began with a former police officer in El Salvador reportedly charged with two separate counts of murder. But then investigators say they found a mass grave in his backyard. Most of the victims appear to be women, some were sexually assaulted. But as CNN's Patrick Oppmann reports, investigators are concerned this might just be the start.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): A week after finding a mass grave in a former police officer's backyard, officials in El Salvador continue to unearth the bodies of more of his alleged victims.

OPPMANN (voice over): So far, Salvadoran police say they have found at least 18 bodies, many of them women who they believe were the victims of sexual abuse. Officials say there may be more bodies they have yet to recover.

Former Police Officer, Hugo Osorio Chavez, is one of 11 people charged with murder after the human remains were discovered in his backyard. According to the Attorney General's Office, if convicted, Osorio Chavez could face more than 100 years in prison. Officials say that Osorio Chavez was dismissed from the National Civil Police 15 years ago for allegedly raping a minor and having sex, they say, with an under-aged person.

OPPMANN (on camera): After his release from prison, police say, he began to approach his alleged victims through social media. CNN Espanol in El Salvador reported that neither Osorio Chavez nor his attorney have commented on the allegations.

OPPMANN (voice over): The case has shocked Salvadorans who are all too used to sky high murder rates and allegations that police who commit crimes are protected from prosecution. Since the grim discovery, family members of missing women have gathered outside the home to see if their loved ones might be buried inside.

OPPMANN (on camera): Patrick Oppmann, CNN Havana.


VAUSE: There was chaos and panic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the city of Goma. A deadly volcano there threatened to erupt a second time in a week. Officials are also concerned about earthquakes, lava flows or catastrophic implosion of magma.

Residents of ten neighborhoods scrambled to evacuate on Thursday causing traffic jams, which were miles long, some fled to safety in a small nearby town of Sake, which officials say is woefully unprepared for this mass exodus. Others are trying to cross into bordering Rwanda. But for many of the sudden evacuees, their destination and their futures are uncertain.

An international effort is underway to try and prevent an environmental disaster off the coast of Sri Lanka. A container ship carrying chemicals has been burning for a week now.


There are fears that 320 metric tons of oil onboard could spill into the ocean.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is watching all of this for us live from Seoul. I guess the concern - I guess there is some weather worries that could be coming in as well. And there is this international effort, there are Europeans there, as well as Indians as well, right? So, this is a joint effort.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, yes. There's a Dutch company in particular that's trying to keep this container ship afloat, because that's really the worst case scenario at this point, John, that it does sink and then, as you say, that more than 320 tonnes of oil just seeps into the sea, creating an environmental disaster.

Now, we've just heard from the chairperson of the Marine EPA, Environmental Protection Agency in Sri Lanka, who has said that at this point, even though the fire is still burning, it does appear to be less dense, and there's less smoke billowing from the ship itself. So, some good news at that point.

But clearly, eight days on, the fire is still alight and firefighters are struggling to keep it under control. You've got both the Indian Coast Guard and the Sri Lankan Navy, trying to bring it under control.

But the chairperson also is saying that the structure of the vessel is OK, and it is intact. There have been serious fears earlier in the week that it was inevitable that this ship was going to sink and it could be imminent. Now, this doesn't mean that it won't sink in the future.

But there is a glimmer of hope from this one particular chairperson also pointing out that some debris has already reached the beaches of Sri Lanka, and she talked about this more about how they are trying to clean up that mess.


DHARSHANI LAHANDAPURA, SRI LANKAN ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AUTHORITY: We actually have deployed nearly 975 tri-force personnel to collect - remove debris in these areas. Basically, Marine Environment Protection Authority, we have identified 10 areas were critically polluted and we have deployed this 975, but there are many other areas that we need to deploy triforces and volunteers for collecting these debris, and we'll be doing that very soon.


HANCOCKS: But crucially, there is no sign of an oil spill at this point she was saying, and that's really key. What they're trying to do as well is to protect certain areas of the coastline. There's one particular area, Negombo Lagoon area, which is protected as it has a huge amount of marine life there.

It has mangroves. There's also about 5000 fishermen that fish the waters in that particular area. They have all been asked to stay on land, to not go into the water at this point, and residents have been told not to touch the debris in case there is chemicals, John.

VAUSE: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks there with the very latest. We appreciate it. And thank you for spending part of your day with me. Kim Brunhuber will be up next at the top of the hour. I'm losing my voice, so it's good time to go. In the meantime, World Sport is next. Take care.