The Turkish Parliament on Jan. 21 approved a plan which, if approved by popular vote later this year, would increase presidential power within the country and would allow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stay in office until 2029. The referendum plan acquired 339 votes in the 550-member assembly, nine more than required to go to a public vote. Among the new powers granted to the president would be the power to issue decrees, declare a state of emergency, appoint top officials and ministers, and dissolve parliament. In addition, Erdoğan, prime minister with the ruling AK Party, could once again become a leader within that party. Additionally, the referendum states that a president would be allowed to serve two terms of five years. While Erdoğan proclaims this increase in power would allow for stability in a time of turmoil, his opponents worry such powers may lead to authoritarian control of the nation.
US President Barack Obama granted 64 pardons and 209 commutations Jan. 17, including commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning. Manning worked as a low-level intelligence analyst where she leaked documents regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010 to WikiLeaks which exposed abuses of detainees and civilian deaths. The commutation will release Chelsea Manning on May 17. Several Republican leaders have criticized the commutation, including Rep. Mac Thornberry, Sen. John McCain, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, stating that Manning's actions risked national security. Manning's lawyers stated that "Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we're delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation." A White House Petition received more than 100,000 signatures in December to commute Manning's sentence.
A UN human rights expert expressed concern Jan. 9 for nine human rights activists imprisoned in Iran. Among those activists, eight are believed to be on life-threatening hunger strikes, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Asma Jahangir. A ninth activist, Arash Saghedi, ended his hunger strike after his wife was released from prison on bail, although there is concern that he is in critical condition and being denied medical attention. Jahangir urged Iranian officials to release the activists, claiming they were arrested for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression." The statement comes just a few weeks after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani unveiled the Citizens' Rights Charter, which he says will "promote and strengthen citizens' rights," including the freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Jan. 6 that 2016 had more recorded migrant deaths than any previous year. According to preliminary figures, 363,348 migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe arrived successfully while 5,079 died at sea. At least 300 more fatalities are expected to factor in, as the figures do not yet reflect more recent events off Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The IOM suspects there are additional unreported deaths in areas between North Africa and Spain where there was less reliable data collection. The IOM expressed its dismay over the current migrant situation, expressing the need to find "creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration." The IOM also began training rescuers in Libya to strengthen migrant lifesaving efforts.
Several militias operating in Iraq have been committing war crimes—using weapons manufactured in 16 different countries, including the US, Russia, China and Iran—according to a report (PDF) issued Jan. 5 by Amnesty International. The report discusses the actions of four particular militia groups—Munathamat Badr (Badr Brigades or Badr Organization), 'Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata'ib Hizbullah (Hizbullah Brigades) and the Saraya al-Salem (Peace Brigades). These militias operate under the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) in Iraq, which include 40 or 50 distinct militias. Iraq's prime minister designated these PMUs as an official part of the Iraqi military in February.
An Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron last March was found guilty of manslaughter Jan. 4. The three-judge military panel in Tel Aviv ruled against Sgt Elor Azaria. Chief judge Col Maya Heller gave a lengthy verdict reading in which the court ruled that accounts of the incident that he had given were "unreliable and problematic." The panel rejected the defense's arguments. "We found there was no room to accept his arguments," the Chief judge said. "His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die." Israeli politicians have called for Azaria to be pardoned and this case has caused division among the Israeli population.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (PDF) Dec. 21 to establish an independent panel to investigate possible war crimes in Syria. The resolution, approved by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions, will establish an "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011." The mechanism will work closely with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. The resolution:
An Iraqi militia, backed by the government, executed four men suspected of having ties to ISIS, Human Rights Watch reported Dec. 18. Because the men were never tried, HRW claims their executions constitute war crimes. The human rights organization said that although the executions took place in November, the Iraqi government has still not condemned them. It also reported that members of the Iraqi security forces witnessed at least one execution and did nothing. The men were killed in a village outside of Mosul during the militia's operation to retake that city. HRW named the Hashad al-Jabour militia, an alliance of Sunni tribes, as the organization that carried out the executions. Hashad al-Jabour is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a militia group given legal status to fight ISIS.