The FARC guerillas on March 1 began the process of turning over their weapons at the 26 "transitional camps" established for the purpose around the country. The UN Mission in Colombia reported that some 320 guerilla fighters surrendered their weapons, initiating the disarmament process that is slated to continue through May. (El Tiempo, March 2) There is a palbable sense of de-escalation in many areas of Colombia long plagued by war and political violence. The mayor of Ituango, Antioquia department, Hernán Álvarez, reported that there is "an atmosphere of peace and tranquility" for the first time in many years in the municipality that has seen horrific human rights violations at the hands of paramilitaries and other armed actors over the past generation. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 28) Afro-Colombian residents of Cacarica, Chocó, a self-declared "peace community" that has for the past 20 years refused cooperation with all armed actors, held a ceremony in the village Feb. 24, celebrating the return of some 6,000 displaced community members to their homes, and honoring those slain over the past years of bloodshed. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 28)
A film celebrating the White Helmets, the volunteer rescue group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria, won an Oscar for best short documentary. The eponymously titled White Helmets, a 40-minute Netflix film, provides a window into the lives of the volunteers as they scramble to pull survivors from the rubble of buildings flattened in air-strikes. (Al Jazeera) But a Syrian cinematographer who worked on the documentary was barred from entering the US to attend the Academy Awards ceremony. Despite being granted a visa, Khaled Khatib, was held up at the Istanbul airport, with US officials reportedly uncovering "derogatory information" about him. Homeland Security at the last minute blocked Khatib from traveling to Los Angeles, saying he now needed a new passport waiver (Raw Story)
A militant said to be al-Qaeda's second-in-command was killed by a US drone strike in Syria's Idlib governorate, rebel leaders said Feb. 27. Egypt-born Abu al-Khayr al-Masri (formerly Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abdel Rahman), the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was reportedly a close aide to al-Qaeda's current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The drone attack on his vehicle was reported by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Levant Liberation Body, HTS), a newly formed alliance led by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former Nusra Front. (MEE, BBC News, Feb. 27) Two days earlier, HTS claimed responsibility for a suicide blast in Homs that killed a Syrian senior military intelligence official who was reportedly close to dictator Bashar Assad. The official, Gen. Hassan Daabul, was slain along with several others when a suicide bomber penetrated a security complex in the city. An HTS statement said its "inghimasi fighters" were responsible for the raid, and claimed that some 40 personnel were killed. (LWJ, Feb. 25)
Ecuador's presidential election is now set for a second round in early April, after days of delay in counting the totals from the Feb. 19 vote. Lenín Moreno of the ruling left-populist PAIS party, former vice president under the incumbent Rafel Correa, will face Guayquil banker Guillermo Lasso of the conservative CREO. (BBC News, Feb. 23) Ecuador's once-powerful but increasingly fractured indigenous movement was divided on who to support in the first round, and its main organizations are now attempting to arrive at a position on the second round. The major umbrella group, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), has broken with the ruling PAIS, accusing Correa of authoritarianism and being coopted by the extractive industries. CONAIE adopted ¡Fuera Correa, fuera! (Out Correa, out!) as a slogan, rejecting Moreno as Correa's chosen successor—but must now decide whether to take a stance on the run-off. (El Universo, Guayaquil, Feb. 23)
Colombia's Constitutional Court announced a decision Feb. 16 upholding the power of municipalities and "territorial entities" to block mining on their lands. The decision cited Law 685, which modified the Mining Code in 2001, bringing it into conformity with constitutional provisions on regional autonomy. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 16) The ruling clears the way for Ibagué, capital of Tolima department, to hold its planned consulta or popular vote on mining operations within the municipality, seen as model for similar votes around the country.
The "demobilization" of the FARC guerillas was declared complete this week, as the last 300 rebel fighters arrived at one of the transition camps in Cauca. In what was called the "FARC's last march,' an estimated 6,900 arrived by foot, boat or bus at the 26 Veredal Zones of Transition to Normalization (ZVTN) in rural areas of the country. The demobilization has seen scattered incidents of violence, including a Feb. 21 shoot-out between guerilla fighters that left two injured at a sporting match in the ZVTN at Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC carried out the demobilization under protest, charging that the government was failing to live up to commitments, including providing sufficient aid to the ZVTNs and restraining right-wing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19; El Espectador, Jan. 30)
Free Syrian Army militia backed by Turkish forces took the Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS militants Feb. 23, although fighting continues in some districts. The ISIS fighters withdrew via a route left open for them by the commanders of Operation Euphrates Shield, the joint Turkish-FSA campaign. (Rudaw, Feb. 23) As US-led Iraqi and Kurdish forces close the circle on ISIS in Mosul, the Syrian Democratic Forces continue their advance on Raqqa. The US commander in Iraq predicts the imminent taking of both Mosul and Raqqa. "Within the next six months, I think we'll see both conclude," said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend outside Baghdad Feb. 8. The enemy is "overwhelmed anywhere that they are," added Col. John Dorrian, spokesperson for the US-led Combined Joint Taskforce. (Rudaw, Feb. 8)
Politicians wielding a dehumanizing rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. The report, "The State of the World's Human Rights" (PDF), warns that the consequences of "us vs them" rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak. "President Trump's policies have brought the US to a level of human rights crisis that we haven't seen in years," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "As the world braces itself for a new executive order, thousands of people inside and outside of US borders have had their lives thrown into chaos as a result of the president's travel ban. This administration, like other governments across the world, is playing politics with people's lives. President Trump and leaders across the globe should be reaffirming and upholding international human rights protections, not exploiting fear and prejudice for their own agendas."