Greater Middle East

War crimes charges brought against Bashar Assad

A group of German lawyers have filed a criminal complaint against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Speaking at a press conference in Berlin on Nov. 28, attorney Mehmet Daimaguler said they were optimistic the German federal prosecutor will open a formal investigation following their complaint. German law allows prosecutions under the principle of universal jurisdiction, holding that nations can charge foreigners for grave crimes committed abroad. The lawyers cited Amnesty International reports and individual accounts by asylum-seekers in Germany in arguing overwhelming evidence of multiple atrocities committed by Assad in Aleppo between April and November. "We're experiencing genocide in Aleppo in slow motion," Daimaguler said, citing the targeted bombing of hospitals, cluster bombs on civilians and forced expulsion.

Trump victory: green light for Aleppo's destruction

Backed by unrelenting Russian air-strikes, Syrian pro-regime forces are now making rapid advances into rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The fall of the city's Masaken Hanano district is a harsh symbolic blow, as it was the first area the rebels took in the summer of 2012. There is a mass exodus of residents ahead of the regime forces. Up to 20,000 have been displaced just over the past 72 hours, the Red Cross said Nov. 29. (BBC News, BBC News, AFP) But there is really nowhere to run. "This week I've changed locations three times," a medic in east Aleppo said via social media. "In the shelter, we had dead people who we couldn't take out because the bombardment was so intense." (ReutersOrient Net) Regime forces are apparently continuing to use chemical weapons. The activist Aleppo Media Center tweeted disturbing photos of what it said were victims of a chlorine attack in east Aleppo.

Egypt: court strikes down Morsi's life term

Egypt's Court of Cassation on Nov. 22 overturned the life sentences of former president Mohamed Morsi and 16 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi had been convicted of conspiring with the Palestinian Hamas and other foreign militant groups. The court ordered a retrial in the matter, though a new hearing date is yet to be scheduled. The court also performed the same for Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohammed Badei and fellow members accused of spying for Hamas and Iran. Last week the court had overturned Morsi's death sentence in the matter of his prison break during the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. Morsi still faces numerous other sentences including 20 years for violence against protestors and 40 years for leaking state secrets to Qatar.

The new Axis: Moscow, Damascus, Washington

Assad regime and Russian warplanes resumed their bombardment of Aleppo Nov. 15 after the "humanitarian pause" announced last month. Damascus state TV boasted of "precision weapons to target terrorist positions," of course. Activists on the ground report an assault of unprecedented intensity, with bombs falling virtually constantly. The assault had been threatened in mass text messages sent to residents of rebel-held east Aleppo by the regime, instructing them to leave within 24 hours. The campaign of targeting hospitals has resumed, and eastern Aleppo is now without a single hospital operating at full capacity, the Syrian American Medical Society reports. One of those struck this week was a children's hospital, forcing staff to evacuate babies to safety. (EA WorldviewCNN, Nov. 19; CNN, Nov. 15)

UN demands Turkey release international judge

The president of the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, Theodor Meron, demanded (PDF) the release of Turkish judge Aydin Sefa Akay in an address to the UN General Assembly on Nov. 9. The General Assembly had elected Akay as a judge to the MICT in 2011. Turkish officials detained Akay in September after a failed coup against the Turkish government. Turkey's actions violated the diplomatic immunity of international judges, said Meron. In his address, Meron called for "Judge Akay's immediate release from detention and the cessation of all legal proceedings against him."

Turkey: Kurdish opposition leaders arrested

Turkey's Interior Ministry confirmed Nov. 3 that 11 lawmakers with the leftist and Kuridish-led Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers have been detained by police in operations across the country, ostensibly as part of a terrorism investigation. Those detained include HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. The arrests come as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seizing draconian powers in the wake of July's attempted coup. Hours after the arrests, a bomb attack outside a police station in Diyarbakir left eight dead and over 100 wounded. As in previous recent terror attacks in Turkey, authorities initially blamed the leftist Kurdish guerillas of the PKK, but it was subsequently claimed by ISIS. (Kurdish Question, Kurdish QuestionAnadolu Agency)

Russia delivers Aleppo ultimatum —with war fleet

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The GuardianAl Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)

Turkey: Diyarbakir mayors detained on 'terrorism'

Diyarbakır mayor Gültan Kışanak, a member of the Democratic Regions' Party (DBP), and her co-mayor Fırat Anlı were arrested by Turkish authorities Oct. 30 as part of an anti-terrorism investigation. The Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor's Office charged Kışanak with "being a member of an armed terrorist group," while Anlı was charged with "trying to separate land under the state's sovereignty." Ayla Akat Ata, a former lawmaker of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), forerunner of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was also detained at a protest against the arrest of the co-mayors. Akat was charged with "managing a terrorist organization." An HDP leader called Akat's detention a "kidnapping, not an arrest." Said HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş: "If you call it an arrest, then you accept that the law made a decision and the legal mechanism works. Arrest is a legal term, but there is no law. This is abduction and kidnapping." (Hurriyet Daily News, Daily Sabah)

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