Daily Report

US signs Arctic climate declaration —with caveats

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 11 signed the Fairbanks Declaration, affirming the neeed for protection of the Arctic's climate. The move, at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting held in the Alaska city, came after much speculation that the US would decline to sign, or even use the occasion to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Fairbanks Declaration notes the importance of the Paris Agreement, while stating that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average." The US getting on board was apparently the fruit of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. "I think we were able to push the US back as much as possible," Rene Solderman, Finland's senior adviser on Arctic affairs, told reporters after the ministerial session.

Women, Berber rights at issue in Libya constitution

The leaders of the two major factions in Libya's civil war—Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based "official" government, and the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar—reportedly agreed to hold new elections after meeting in the UAE last week. The elections, aimed at finally unifying the country, are said to be tentatively scheduled for March 2018. (MediaLine, May 4) An "accord committee" of the new Constitution Drafting Assembly has meanwhile been holding meetings at locales around the country to discuss a draft for the country's long-awaited charter. But the draft, drawn up under the supervision of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), has been meeting with harsh criticism. (Libya Observer, April 22)

New Qaeda franchise escalates Mali insurgency

A new Qaeda-affiliated faction, the Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM), is said to be behind a string of recent deadly attacks in Mali's conflcited desert north. The group claimed responsibility for a May 7 suicide assault on a military base at Almoustarat, outside the northern city of Gao, that left seven Malian soliders dead. The jihadists breached the base perimeter, and were able to capture at least three vehicles and large amounts of weapons before French troops arrived. JNIM also claimed a May 3 raid on a camp of the MINUSMA peacekeeping force outside Timbuktu that killed a Liberian solider. Under the nominal command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), JNIM is apparently attemtping to reunite the fragmented jihadist insurgency in northern Mali. It has apparently absorbed the Murabitoun group, until now the most active jihadist faction in Mali. (Journal du Mali, May 9; Long War Journal, May 8; UN News Centre, May 4)

Linguistic struggle heats up in Pakistan

A bill is advancing in Pakistan's Senate that would amend the coonstitution to give Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi the status of "national languages" along with Urdu. The bill this week cleared the Senate's Standing Committee on Law and Justice. Under Article 251 of the 1973 constitution, Urdu is recognized as the only "national language," with text calling for it to become the "official" language within 15 years. The text states that English can be used provisionally for official purposes until the transition to Urdu is complete. Other tongues may be promoted as "provincial languages," but this is a clearly subsidiary position. Urdu is actually a minority language itself, as Punjabi has the most speakers of any language in Pakistan. Urdu, long used as a lingua franca by various peoples, was chosen above Punjabi as the "national language" so as not to unduly favor Punjab province, the country's most populous. But English is still used for most administrative functions, and the transition to an "offically" Urdu state was never completed. The proposed amendment would make the other languages equal to Urdu, and "establish a fund for the development and promotion of national languages." It would also allow the provinces to promote other local languages, forseeing their eventual adoption as "national languages."

Dangerous conditions in US immigration centers

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned May 8 that there are "systemic failures" in US immigration detention centers, such as unreasonable delays in health care and unqualified medical staff, leading to "dangerously subpar" care. The group expressed concerns about the Trump administration's plans to detain an even higher number of immigrants, which HRW believes will result in more "needless and preventable deaths." The group documented numerous incidents of "substandard and dangerous" medical care, and the misuse of solitary confinement for people with mental health conditions. According to the report, this type of substandard care contributed to seven of the 18 deaths in detention centers from 2012 to 2015.

Syria: Trump approves plan to arm Rojava Kurds

President Donald Trump on May 9 announced approval of a plan to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the anti-ISIS coalition led by the Rojava Kurds. The aid—including heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, armored cars and engineering equipment—will boost the prowess of the People's Protection Units (YPG), territorial defense militia of the Rojava autonomous zone and the central pillar of the SDF. "The Syrian Democratic Forces, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future," said a Pentagon statement. The move is being taken over strenuous Turkish objections to arming the Syrian Kurds, and will certainly be a contentious point when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Trump in Washington next week. (ANF, NYT, May 9) 

'Jewish state' bill approved for Knesset vote

An Israeli cabinet committee approved a contested bill on May 7 seeking to enshrine Israel's status as a Jewish state into the country's central legislation, sparking concern the heightened discrimination Palestinians would face should it become law. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted unanimously to move the "Jewish State" bill—which is also being referred to as the "Nationality" or "Nation State" bill—to a preliminary vote in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The bill declares that Israel is "the national home of the Jewish people," and that "the right to realize self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people," Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

Burma: Suu Kyi bars Rohingya investigation

Burma's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected a decision by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of crimes by security forces against the country's minority Rohingya Muslims. The UN body agreed in March to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Burma over claims of systematic murder, rape and torture in Rakhine state. "We do not agree with it," Suu Kyi told a press conference during a visit to Brussels May 2. "We have disassociated ourselves from the resolution because we do not think that the resolution is in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground." (The Telegraph, May 3; NYT, March 24)