The Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte may have finally gone too far. It is all too telling that after his anti-drug crackdown has claimed perhaps 7,000 lives since he took power last June, it is the death of a prominent foreign businessman that has finally prompted him to—perhaps—rein in his murderous police. All those suspected low-level drug users and dealers who were killed? Their lives don't matter, apparently. But after rogue National Police officers abducted and put to death a South Korean shipping company executive, Duterte has finally pledged to disband the controversial anti-drug units.
There are still questions about the resignation of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn following revelations in the Washington Post that he had mislead other members of the administration (and, by extension, the public) about the content of his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador back in December. It is still unclear whether Flynn stepped down of his own volition or was basically fired. (The latter version now seems to be favored by the administration.) But, predictably, Trump is expressing greater outrage over the leaks that resulted in Flynn's fall than the misbehavior they revealed, tweeting: “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” Flynn himself echoed that point. Asked by Fox News whether the leaks were "targeted, coordinated and possibly a violation of the law," Flynn responded: "Yes, yes and yes.”
Pakistani authorities have driven nearly 600,000 Afghan refugees back into Afghanistan since July 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Feb. 13. HRW claims that among those forced out of the country were 365,000 of Pakistan's 1.5 million lawfully registered Afgahn refugees. HRW also alleges that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is complicit in what it calls "the world's largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times." HRW charges that Pakistani police have been using extortion to deprive Afghan refugees of much the limited income available to them, while Pakistani landlords have dramatically increased the cost of rent for Afghan refugees. The UNHCR meanwhile increased its cash grant to returnees from $200 to $400 per person to coerce the refugees to return home under cover of "voluntary repatriation."
Syrian government forces conducted coordinated chemical attacks in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during the final month of the battle for the city, Human Rights Watch said Feb. 13. Through phone and in-person interviews with witnesses and analysis of video footage, photographs, and posts on social media, Human Rights Watch documented government helicopters dropping chlorine in residential areas on at least eight occasions between Nov. 17 and Dec. 13, 2016. The attacks, some of which included multiple munitions, killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200. The attacks took place in areas where government forces planned to advance, starting in the east and moving westwards as the frontlines moved, Human Rights Watch said.
Late last year, when the evacuation of Aleppo began as the city fell to Assad regime forces backed by Russian air-strikes, we noted that residents were being sent to Idlib governorate, which is both under control of jihadist factions and also targeted for air-strikes and eventual conquest by the regime and its Russian patrons. So secularists fleeing Aleppo were likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. Now comes the news that Radio Fresh, voice of the embattled secularist civil resistance in the Idlib town of Kafranbel, is being censored by the jihadists—and finding a creative way to resist. The FM station's manager Raed Fares told BBC News that they've been broadcasting hours of barnyard sounds each day to protest and mock censorious orders from local militants of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front). "They tried to force us to stop playing music on air," said Fares. "So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them."
Syria's embattled dictator Bashar Assad was quoted by his own official news agency SANA Feb. 7 saying he found President Trump's stance on the war in his country to be "promising." This word was headlined by Reuters, but it is worth noting the full quote. Assad told a group of Belgian reporters: "What we heard as statements by Trump during the campaign and after the campaign is promising regarding the priority of fighting terrorists, and mainly ISIS, that’s what we’ve been asking for during the last six years. So, I think this is promising, we have to wait, it's still early to expect anything practical. It could be about the cooperation between the US and Russia, that we think is going to be positive for the rest of the world, including Syria. So, as I said, it's still early to judge it."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Feb. 10 approved an 18-article bill that proposes significant changes to Turkey's constitution. A public referendum vote will be held on April 16 to determine if the changes will be incorporated. Erdogan has stated that the changes are necessary to provide stability in Turkey. Opponents of the bill have stated that the changes would remove some checks and balance on the presidency that could lead to Turkey being under a "one-man rule." The bill would "enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament." If approved by the referendum vote, presidential elections would be held November 2019. The changes allow a president to serve up to two five-year terms. Erdoğan's current time as president would not count towards to term limits set by the bill.
At least 100 Somali refugees previously cleared for resettlement in the US are stranded in Kenya in the wake of President Trump's travel ban. The refugees now face an uncertain future as they wait at a transit center run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Nairobi. They are mostly from Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, which currently shelters nearly 300,000 and is considered the world's largest. Trump's order has forced the IOM to cancel "all flights for refugees till further notice," said Christelle van Rosmalen, resettlement officer at the UN refugee agency UNHCR at Dadaab.