In Other News

Turkish court detains six human rights activists

A Turkish court on July 18 ordered that six human rights activists, including Amnesty International's Turkey director Idil Eser, remain in custody pending trial for allegedly aiding an armed terrorist group. The activists were arrested on July 5 during a training workshop and are "suspected of 'committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.'" According to AI:

Nightmarish narco-violence in Chihuahua

An armed clash in the early hours of July 5 in a mountain village in Mexico's border state of Chihuahua left at least 25 dead—the latest indication that narco-gangs are stronger than the government across much of the country's drug-producing sierras. The shoot-out erupted in the pueblo of Las Varas, Madera municipality, in the foothills of the Sierra Tarahumara—one of Mexico's prime cannabis and opium cultivation areas. Local news accounts indicated the gun-battle began as a confrontation between two gangs vying for control of the village—La Línea, loyal to the Juárez Cartel, and Gente Nueva, enforcers for the rival Sinaloa Cártel.

Peru: Cuzco unrest over airport plan

Protesters blocked the train line to the Inca archaeological site of Machu Picchu, stranding thousands of tourists during a 48-hour paro (civil strike) by residents of Peru's Cuzco region. British-owned PeruRail company announced that service was suspended July 13-4 because of the blockades. At issue is a planned new airport for the Cuzco area, that was suspended in March due to controversies surrounding the construction contract. The airport—slated for Chinchero Valley, to the north of Cuzco's capital in neighboring Urubamba province—has now been pushed back until 2020. Local residents were eager for the region's first intercontinental airport to boost tourism revenues, and as a symbol of autonomy from Lima. Constantino Sallo, president of the Defense Front for the Interests of Chinchero District, demanded the government set a timetable of between 90 and 120 days to break ground on the project.

Libya: fatwa against 'infidel' Berbers

The Amazigh Supreme Council (ASC) of Libya, representing the Berbers in the country's western mountains, released a statement responding strongly to the fatwa issued by clerical authorities attached to the "Interim Government" based in Libya's east against the practice of Ibadhi branch of Islam. The edict, issued earlier this month by the Interim Government's  High Commission of Fatwas, refers to Ibadhi Muslims as "infidels" and "Khawarij"—referring to a schism in early Islam now considered heretical by the orthodox. Nearly all followers of Ibadhi Islam in Libya are ethnic Berbers in the Nafusa Mountains and the western port of Zwuarah. The ASC called the fatwa "a direct incitement for genocide of the Amazigh people in Libya." The statement added: "[W]e call all Libyans to refrain from being persuaded by such racist and menacing speech... Furthermore, we call the international community to commit to its duties of protecting civilians. (World Amazigh News, July 18)

Millions of Venezuelans reject constitution rewrite

Millions of Venezuelans voted on July 16 to reject President Nicolás Maduro's plan to rewrite the nation's constitution. The non-binding referendum was organized  by the country's political opposition. More than 7 million, roughly one-third of Venezuela's registered voters, took part, with over 98% rejecting Maduro's plan. Opponents charge that the plan to rewrite the 1999 constitution represents an effort to consolidate Maduro's hold on power. Maduro states that the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), consisting of 527 elected members, is the only solution to bring an end to the anti-government protests that have brought significant violence to the country. The non-binding was met with sporadic violence; several men on motorbikes opened fire on a polling station in Caracas, injuring three and killing a 61-year-old nurse. The government has refused to recognize the vote as legal and will go forward with plans to hold an election for the ANC on July 30 to select delegates for a special assembly that will be responsible for rewriting the 18-year-old constitution.

Afghanistan: UN condemns jump in civilian deaths

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report (PDF) July 17 condemning an increase in civilian deaths in Afghanistan during the first half of 2017. Although there was an overall decrease in civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, there was an increase in injuries and deaths from improvised explosive devices (IED). IEDs from anti-government forces, the majority of which are suicide bombs, account for 40% of all civilian casualties in the period. "Anti-government forces" were held responsobe for 67& of civilian casualties, compared to 18% attributed to "pro-gvoernment forces," and the remainder to cross-fire and other actors. The report notes that an increase in aerial operations by pro-government forces led to a jump in women and child casualties as well. Additionally, the report enumerates they ways ground engagements extend human suffering beyond death and injury such as the displacement of communities, families and individuals; property damage; loss of livelihood; and diminished access to education, medical care and humanitarian aid. UNAMA praised pro-government forces for an overall decrease in casualties from their operations, and encouraged a further reduction throughout the remainder of 2017.

Bahrain sentences rights defender to two years

Amnesty International on July 19 condemned Bahrain's sentencing of a human rights defender. Nabeel Rajab was originally arrested in June 2016 after he tweeted about alleged torture in a Bahrani prison. A Bahrani court ordered his release in December 2016, but shortly after his release he was arrested on the current charges. Rajab was sentenced to two years in prison for political opinions he expressed during interviews in 2015 and 2016. Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, condemned the conviction as a "flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism." Rajab still faces numerous similar charges in cases expected to resume in August.

Colombia: still more 'consultas' reject extractivism

More localities in Colombia are formally rejecting mineral and oil exploitation within their territories through popular consultas (consultations, or referenda). Two victories were reported July 9, as "no" votes prevailed overwhelmingly in the municipalities of Arbeláez, Cundinamarca department, and Pijao, Quindío. Celebrations broke out in the streets of Pijao as the results were announced. Mónica Flórez of the local Comité Ecológico said, "We went through the entire municipality, vereda by vereda, so that everyone could understand the importance of going out to vote in this consultation."

Colombia pressured to release FARC prisoners

The United Nations on July 14 charged that Colombia's government is undermining the country's peace process by failing to release imprisoned FARC members and protect disarmed guerillas. In an unusually harsh statement, the UN Mission in Colombia said the government should “act responsibly and swiftly to put an end to a situation that weakens peace building." More than 3,400 FARC members remain in prison six months after the congressional approval of the Amnesty Law and two weeks after the completion of the guerilla army's disarmament. More than 1,400 imprisoned FARC members have gone on hunger strike, demanding the government release them as promised in the peace deal signed on Nov. 24 last year and ratified by Congress shortly after. Only 837 imprisoned FARC members have been released.

Mexico: spyware turned on rights investigators

The horrific case of 43 college students from the Mexican village of Ayotzinapa who disappeared in September 2014—allegedly murdered by a local narco-gang—made deeply embarrassing international headlines again this week. The New York Times reports July 10 that sophisticated spyware supplied to Mexico officially to track narco-traffickers and terrorists was instead used against human rights investigators looking into the Ayotzinapa case.

Philippine strongman's bloody drug war: year one

June 30 marked one year since the ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte took office in the Philippines, on a pledge to halt the "virulent social disease" of drug abuse. Officials boast that crime has dropped, thousands have been arrested on drug offenses, and a million users have turned themselves in for treatment programs instead of prison. The usual totalitarian rhetoric is employed to justify the price in human lives for this supposed progress—the bloodletting is necessary for the health of the nation. "There are thousands of people who are being killed, yes," Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde told Reuters for a one-year assesment of Duterte's crackdown. "But there are millions who live, see?"

UK court approves arms sales to Saudi Arabia

London's High Court of Justice ruled (PDF) July 10 that the UK can continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) brought the suit on the grounds that the weapons have been used to violate international humanitarian and rights laws. For the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been waging attacks on Yemen, causing the deaths of over 10,000 civilians. Several advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, intervened in the suit. The court looked at a range of evidence, including secret information that was not released to the public due to security concerns. A substantial portion of Lord Justice Burnett's reasoning is contained in a "closed judgment" document that is only available to the government's legal team and a security-cleared "special advocate" for CAAT.

Amnesty sees 'civilian catastrophe' in Mosul

A new report by Amnesty International uncovers the horrifying scale of death, injury and suffering of civilians trapped in the battle for west Mosul. The report documents how the group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) moved civilians from neighboring villages into the zones of the battle in west Mosul, trapped them in their homes and prevented them from escaping, using them as human shields. Meanwhile Iraqi and coalition forces failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians, instead subjecting them to a terrifying barrage of fire from weapons that should never be used in densely populated civilian areas.

Iraq: will fall of Mosul widen war?

The prime minister of Iraq on July 10 declared the full liberation of Mosul, as the last ISIS-controlled area in the Old City was taken by coalition forces. In a televised speech at the Counter Terrorism Service headquarters in Mosul, Haider al-Abadi said: "I announce from here the end and the failure and the collapse of the terrorist state of falsehood and terror." The operation to take Mosul from ISIS was launched in October 2016, bringing together a 100,000-strong force including the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga, the Iraqi military and Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary forces, all backed by the US-led multinational Combined Joint Task Force (CJFT). (Kurdistan24, Military.com, July 10)

Honduras: Berta Cáceres daughter survives attack

The daughter of assassinated Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres survived an armed attack, just weeks after being named leader of the indigenous alliance formerly led by her mother. Bertha Zuñiga, 26, was assaulted along with two other members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPNIH) as they drove back from a visit to the community of Cancire in Santiago Puringla municipality, La Paz department, on June 30. Three assailants hurled rocks and tried to hack the COPINH members with machetes, after forcing their vehicle to stop by blocking the raod with a pick-up truck. The activists managed to escape, but came under renewed attack as the driver of the pick-up tried to force their vehicle off the cliff-edge road.