The Colombian Senate on March 13 approved a transitional justice structure that will attempt to bring reparations to the more than 8 million victims of the decades-long conflict between the Colombia government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The new system will include a Transitional Justice Tribunal, a Truth Commission and a Missing Persons section, all aimed at punishing war crimes and gaining reparations for victims. The vote was 60-2 in the Senate, with all 40 members of the Democratic Center party boycotting the vote. The bill must now be approved by Colombia's Constitutional Court before it can take effect.
A Colombian cartel operative who established Central America's remote and lawless Miskito Coast as a major cocaine transfer point, building a mini-empire in the region of jungle, savanna and offshore cays, has since Feb. 7 been cooling his heels in Managua's notorious El Chipote prison, according to a Feb. 26 report in Nicaraguan daily La Prensa. Although his capture was confirmed by his attorney, Nicaraguan authorities failed to announce the arrest of the country's most-wanted crime lord, Amauri Carmona Morelos AKA Alberto Ruiz Cano.
Grave violations against children in Syria were the highest on record in 2016, said UNICEF in a grim assessment of the conflict's impact on children, as the war reaches six years. Verified instances of killing, maiming and recruitment of children increased sharply last year in a drastic escalation of violence across the country. At least 652 children were killed—a 20% increase from 2015—making 2016 the worst year for Syria’s children since the formal verification of child casualties began in 2014. A total of 255 children were killed in or near a school. More than 850 children were recruited to fight in the conflict, more than double the number recruited in 2015. Children are being used to fight directly on the frontlines and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards. There were at least 338 attacks against hospitals and medical personnel.
A new Qaeda affiliate in Syria has claimed responsibility for a March 11 double bomb attack targeting Shi'ite pilgrims in Damascus that killed at least 40 Iraqis and wounded 120 more. Footage broadcast by Syrian state TV showed two buses with their windows blown out, the surroundings splattered with blood and littered with lost shoes and clothing. The attack took place near Bab al-Saghir cemetery, named for one of the seven gates of the Old City of Damascus. The pilgrims had arrived to pray at the cemetery after visiting the Sayeda Zeinab shrine outside Damascus, where the grand-daughter of the Prophet Mohammad is said to be buried. In a statement claiming responsibility, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organization) said the attack was "a message to Iran" over its support for the Bashar Assad regime. The group is identified as a breakaway faction of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front) that has maintained ties with al-Qaeda. (BBC News, Reuters)
Israeli forces detained Palestinian writer Khalida Ghusheh on March 11 after raiding her home in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina in occupied East Jerusalem. Ghusheh's manager, Amani Abd al-Karim, said that Israeli police had raided Ghusheh's home, before detaining her and transporting her to a police station in the illegal Israeli settlement of Neve Yaqoub in the Beit Hanina neighborhood. Al-Karim added that Ghusheh called her after arriving to the interrogation center, informing her that she was in need of a lawyer and said that the reason for her detention was related to her novel scheduled to be published in October. The novel, titled The Jackal's Trap, explores Palestinian collaborators with the Israeli occupation.
For 48 hours Feb. 21-2, hundreds of peasant coca-growers shut down the main highway between the southern Colombian cities of Tumaco and Pasto. The feared anti-riot force, the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), was finally called in to clear the roadway, using tear-gas and rubber bullets to break up the estimated 1,200 cocaleros. But the highway was repeatedly re-taken by the protesters. The action was called by the newly-formed National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM) to oppose the government's renewed "forced eradication" of coca crops in Tumaco municipality. COCCAM called the resumption of forced eradication in the area a betrayal of government commitments under the recent peace accords with the FARC guerilla movement. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 23)
The Pentagon is dispatching some 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait, from where they are expected to be mobilized to back up forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The deployment includes elements of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Bragg, NC. About 1,700 troops from the same unit are already overseas, spread between Iraq and Kuwait. (Army Times, March 9) The US currently has only some 500 troops authorized to operate in Syria, predominantly Special Forces, and it is unclear if this new deployment breaches that threshold. However, the US Special Forces in Syria are increasingly tasked with keeping peace between Kurdish and Turkish forces rather than actually fighting ISIS. Special Forces are currently deployed at Manbij in what the Pentagon calls a mission to "reassure and deter"—interpreted as providing a buffer between Kurdish-led and Turkish-led forces, to prevent open conflict between them. (Military Times, March 6)
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey declared on March 9 that Massachusetts will be joining fellow states in suing President Donald Trump to block his new travel ban executed earlier in the week. Trump's new executive order has removed Iraq from the former list of travel-restricted countries and suspended the refugee program for 120 days. Healey stated that the second ban, despite such changes, remains discriminatory and unconstitutional. Massachusetts will join Washington, Hawaii, Oregon, and New York in requesting Judge James Robart to apply his previous travel ban suspension to the revised ban. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently stated that the new ban still violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. Despite legal challenges, the revised ban is scheduled to take effect on March 16.