In Other News
Ecuador's presidential election is now set for a second round in early April, after days of delay in counting the totals from the Feb. 19 vote. Lenín Moreno of the ruling left-populist PAIS party, former vice president under the incumbent Rafel Correa, will face Guayquil banker Guillermo Lasso of the conservative CREO. (BBC News, Feb. 23) Ecuador's once-powerful but increasingly fractured indigenous movement was divided on who to support in the first round, and its main organizations are now attempting to arrive at a position on the second round. The major umbrella group, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), has broken with the ruling PAIS, accusing Correa of authoritarianism and being coopted by the extractive industries. CONAIE adopted ¡Fuera Correa, fuera! (Out Correa, out!) as a slogan, rejecting Moreno as Correa's chosen successor—but must now decide whether to take a stance on the run-off. (El Universo, Guayaquil, Feb. 23)
Colombia's Constitutional Court announced a decision Feb. 16 upholding the power of municipalities and "territorial entities" to block mining on their lands. The decision cited Law 685, which modified the Mining Code in 2001, bringing it into conformity with constitutional provisions on regional autonomy. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 16) The ruling clears the way for Ibagué, capital of Tolima department, to hold its planned consulta or popular vote on mining operations within the municipality, seen as model for similar votes around the country.
The "demobilization" of the FARC guerillas was declared complete this week, as the last 300 rebel fighters arrived at one of the transition camps in Cauca. In what was called the "FARC's last march,' an estimated 6,900 arrived by foot, boat or bus at the 26 Veredal Zones of Transition to Normalization (ZVTN) in rural areas of the country. The demobilization has seen scattered incidents of violence, including a Feb. 21 shoot-out between guerilla fighters that left two injured at a sporting match in the ZVTN at Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC carried out the demobilization under protest, charging that the government was failing to live up to commitments, including providing sufficient aid to the ZVTNs and restraining right-wing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19; El Espectador, Jan. 30)
Free Syrian Army militia backed by Turkish forces took the Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS militants Feb. 23, although fighting continues in some districts. The ISIS fighters withdrew via a route left open for them by the commanders of Operation Euphrates Shield, the joint Turkish-FSA campaign. (Rudaw, Feb. 23) As US-led Iraqi and Kurdish forces close the circle on ISIS in Mosul, the Syrian Democratic Forces continue their advance on Raqqa. The US commander in Iraq predicts the imminent taking of both Mosul and Raqqa. "Within the next six months, I think we'll see both conclude," said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend outside Baghdad Feb. 8. The enemy is "overwhelmed anywhere that they are," added Col. John Dorrian, spokesperson for the US-led Combined Joint Taskforce. (Rudaw, Feb. 8)
The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on Feb. 11 annulled the two-and-a-half year prison sentence of Ildar Dadin, who was the first person to be convicted under a new anti-protest law in 2015. Dadin was imprisoned under Article 212.1, a law that allows the Russian government to press criminal charges against anyone found to have serially participated in unsanctioned protests. According to case files, Dadin was arrested five times during rallies held between August 2014 and January 2015. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe welcomed the news of the court's decision and urged the Russian government to change its laws concerning freedom of assembly.
US Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly officially issued two memoranda Feb. 20 directing the department's workforce to implement two executive orders on the enforcement of immigration laws. The first memorandum (PDF) implements President Donald Trump's "Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement Policies" executive order. Kelly directed US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents. This memo orders the immediate identification and allocation of sources of available funding for the construction of a wall along the Mexican border. A standardized method will also be developed for public reporting of data regarding aliens apprehended near the border for violations of immigration law.
Politicians wielding a dehumanizing rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. The report, "The State of the World's Human Rights" (PDF), warns that the consequences of "us vs them" rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak. "President Trump's policies have brought the US to a level of human rights crisis that we haven't seen in years," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "As the world braces itself for a new executive order, thousands of people inside and outside of US borders have had their lives thrown into chaos as a result of the president's travel ban. This administration, like other governments across the world, is playing politics with people's lives. President Trump and leaders across the globe should be reaffirming and upholding international human rights protections, not exploiting fear and prejudice for their own agendas."
The People's Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey filed an application Feb. 20 asking the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to address what it called the unlawful imprisonment of the party's co-chairs. Thirteen HDP politicians have been detained since November, and 10 still await trial. The HDP declared that these arrests "constitute a violation of the right to freedom and security, freedom of speech and the right to free elections as protected by both the [Turkish] Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights." Moreover, the HDP insisted that the arrests have strategically prevented HDP politicians from voting in an upcoming referendum that would expand President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's powers. While the HDP already stated these concerns in an application filed in the Turkish Constitutional Court, the party has yet to receive a response.
The 2014 trial of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi failed to meet international fair trial standards, according to a UN report (PDF) published Feb. 21. The UN "closely monitored" the proceedings, and recognized efforts made to elevate standards, including the decision to live-broadcast the trial. However, the monitors identified several prominent violations of international law occurring throughout the trials of former regime figures. Such violations include the failure to afford the defendants adequate due process and access to lawyers. The UN also condemned the prosecution for interfering with the Qaddafi's right to defense and to be present at his trial, violating provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (PDF). Gaddafi was tried and sentenced to death in absentia, as he was being held by a rebel militia at the time. The report urged a review of Libya's Penal Code, and called on the Libyan government to hand Qaddafi over to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Amnesty International on Feb. 18 urged the Israeli Supreme Court to repeal a law that bans many Palestinians from entering the country, including those who are seeking reunification with their families. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was first enacted in 2003 as a temporary one-year order but has been renewed annually. In addition to urging the Supreme Court to invalidate the law, the statement encourages Israeli authorities to resume "family unification applications," allowing Israeli citizens or residents fo apply for residency for their non-Jewish spouses or family members. The Supreme Court is hearing a case that joins 11 petitions challenging the law. This is rhe first such challenge to go before the country's highest court since related cases in 2012 and 2006. AI claims the law violates numerous international treatises, including Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (PDF) and Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (PDF).
There was recently a sign that the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte was going to rein in his murderous police in the face of mounting international criticism of their harsh anti-drug crackdown. It took the police killing of a foreign business executive, but Duterte finally pledged that he would disband and reorganize the National Police narco units. But human rights observers may have rejoined too soon. On Jan. 31—just one day after his announcement of the police overhaul—Duterte made a speech to army generals, telling them that while the police were off the drug war beat the armed forces would have to step in to replace them. Rather than taking a step back from the brink, it looks like the Philippines could be following the grim examples of Mexico and Colombia of turning the drug war into a real war, run by the military.
Hundreds of members of the Ahwazi Arab diaspora demonstrated outside the United Nations headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Feb. 17, to denounce the abuses of the Iranian regime in Ahwaz region amid a new upsurge of protest there. Overlooked by the world media, Arab residents had over the past five days repeatedly filled the streets in the city of Ahwaz, capital of Iran's Khuzestan province, and the province's second city of Falahiyeh (Shadegan in Parsi). The protest wave has focused on air and water pollution caused by the oil industry, and the lack of basic services. The region's Arab majority face water and power outages, pervasive unemployment, and under-funded schools and municipal governments, despite the fact that Ahwaz/Khuzestan is the center of Iran's oil production. Recently, the region has been hit with paralyzing dust storms, a result of aridification and ecological decline.
Veteran journalist Jim Lobe this week called out Trump's "deputy assistant" Sebastian Gorka—who just refused to admit it may have been poor judgment not to mention the Jews in the White House statement on Holocaust Day—for appearing in multiple photographs wearing the medal of the Hungarian Order of Heroes, listed by the State Department as having collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Breitbart now runs a video in which Gorka unapologetically says he wears the medal in honor of his father, who was awarded the decoration in 1979 for his resistance activities under the communists. He says his father escaped imprisonment in Hungary with the 1956 uprising and fled to the West, so he was presumably awarded the medal in exile, although it isn't clear where the Order was based at that time. Gorka hails his father's "pro-democratic, anti-communist" agitation, but the Order appears far more anti-communist than pro-democratic.
A suicide attack on a Sufi shrine Feb. 16 killed at least 75 worshippers and wounded dozens more—the deadliest in a string of blasts in Pakistan this week. At least 250 others were wounded, with the only hospital in the area overwhelmed. The blast went off outside the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in the town of Sehwan, Sindh province. The blast took place during Dhamal, a weekly dance ritual, with hundreds of devotees present inside the shrine and lined up to enter. The Islamic State's Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for the attack. (Hindustan Times, Indian Express, BBC News, Al Jazeera)
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) released its annual report (PDF) Feb. 16, highlighting an intensified crackdown on rights defenders in the People's Republic. According to the CHRD, rights activities are being criminalized as "political threats to national security." The report documents a number of practices used by the government, such as enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and acts of torture against rights defenders. It points particularly to those secretly detained in the July 2015 arrests of lawyers, known as the "709 Crackdown." CHRD stated: "Not only have authorities denied detainees access to counsel, they have increasingly pressured detainees to dismiss their own lawyers or those hired by their families, and use government appointed lawyers instead."