From our Daily Report:

Planet Watch
NORILSK

Russia: state of emergency after Arctic oil spill

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency after 20,000 tons of diesel oil leaked into a river within the Arctic Circle. The spill went unreported for two days, which may have caused irreparable damage to the ecologically fragile region. The spill was caused by rupture of a fuel tank at a power plant run by Nornickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer. The Russian government has launched a criminal case over the pollution and alleged negligence. The spill has caused large portions of the Ambarnaya River to turn a dark crimson, and is believed to be the second-largest in Russian history. An area of at least 350 square kilometers has been contaminated. (Photo: Russian Civil Defense via TASS)

East Asia
hong kong vigil

Hongkongers defy police on Tiananmen anniversary

Thousands gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to attend the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre—in defiance of an unprecedented police ban, ostensibly imposed as a measure to contain COVID-19. Attendees wearing surgical masks clambered over police barriers to enter the park. Thousands of riot police on stand-by did not interfere, although there were street clashes as troops broke up gatherings elsewhere in the city. The commemoration—the only one that can be freely held on Chinese soil—may no longer be possible in future, following Beijing’s passage of a “National Security Law” harshly limiting Hong Kong’s autonomy.  (Photo: HKFP)

North Africa
Intikane

Deadly attack on Niger refugee camp

More than a thousand people are on the run following a brutal attack on a camp for refugees and displaced persons in western Niger. Three were killed and several others wounded as over 50 gunmen on motorbikes swarmed into the camp at Intikane village, near the Malian border. The camp housed some 20,000 refugees from Mali and an additional 15,000 internally displaced persons from within Niger, including many ethnic Tuaregs, who have fled fighting in their own communities. In addition to killing three, the assailants torched food supplies and other aid. They also destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water pumping station and pipes. Although no group has been named in the attack, numerous armed factions with links to either al-Qaeda or ISIS have been mounting an insurgency across the Sahel over the past years, despite the presence of thousands of regional and foreign troops in a multinational military campaign to suppress them. (Photo: UNHCR via Flickr)

East Asia
minneapolis-hong_kong

Podcast: for Minneapolis-Hong Kong solidarity

In Episode 53 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the pathological propaganda game in which Donald Trump exploits the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong and Xi Jinping exploits the uprising that has exploded across the US since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. With Trump scolding China over the Hong Kong repression even as he threatens to unleash military troops on protesters in the US, the contradictions could not be more evident. Weinberg urges the Hong Kong protesters to put down their American flags, and stateside protesters not to be fooled by Chinese Foreign Ministry statements in support of the uprising in the United States. Protesters in Hong Kong and the US are natural allies of each other—not of each other’s respective oppressors. Listen on SoundCloud. (Photo composite by Chris Rywalt, with images from AP and Reuters; fair use asserted)

Planet Watch
ICC

ICC complaint filed over COVID-19

The Canadian Institute for International Law Expertise (CIFILE) has asked the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate individual world leaders and the World Health Organization (WHO) for alleged international crimes relating to their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group states that past disease outbreaks, including SARS, suggest that the director-general of the WHO should have notified nations well before the initial March 11 notification date. The complaint asserts that the response to the pandemic constitutes a “crime against humanity” under Article 7(k) of the Rome Statute. The complaint further states that the ICC may exercise jurisdiction over international crimes under Articles 12 and 13 when a member state of the ICC has been affected. Specifically the complaint cites Canada as an affected signatory to the Rome Statute. (Photo: WikiMedia via Jurist)

Africa
Nuba

Clashes threaten Sudan democratic transition

Recent inter-communal fighting in Darfur and Kassala State threatens Sudan’s fragile democratic transition, United Nations officials warn. The government has dispatched the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to South Darfur and Kassala states, with orders to act decisively “to secure the country, lives and property.” But the UN Panel of Experts on Sudan expressed grave concern about RSF fighters collaborating with perpetrators of the violence. Sudanese civil society groups are calling for RSF commanders responsible for human rights violations to be held legally accountable. (Photo: Nuba Reports)

Africa
Ituri

‘Crimes against humanity’ seen in DRC’s Ituri

Ethnically targeted attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s resource-rich Ituri province may be reaching the point of “crimes against humanity,” United Nations officials warned. A report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) documents a dramatic escalation in hostilities between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups. In the six months to April 2020, at least 296 people were killed, 151 wounded and 38 raped, including children, mostly by fighters linked to the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) armed group, whose members are predominantly of the Lendu ethnicity. Hema communities were targeted in reprisal attacks after government forces launched an offensive against CODECO. (Photo of displaced persons camp in Ituri: Alexis Huguet/MSF via TNH)

Planet Watch
air pollution

UN climate talks delayed one year by COVID-19

International climate negotiations will be delayed by a full year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UK government announced. The next summit, dubbed COP26, was due to take place this November in Glasgow, but has now been put off to November 2021. Delaying the talks could encourage governments, industrial concerns and financial institutions to adopt recovery plans with high climate costs—such as a bailout for the oil companies. The postponement is particularly critical given the failure of last year’s summit, held in Madrid, to reach any agreement. (Photo: Ralf Vetterle, Pixabay)

Planet Watch
san francisco

San Francisco suit against oil companies remanded

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a federal judge’s dismissal of a climate change lawsuit against oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, setting the stage for the case to be heard in a more favorable California state court. The two cities are seeking billions of dollars from the companies in a special “abatement fund,” alleging their practices knowingly led to problems the cities must now contend with, including rising seas and extreme weather. The case was dismissed by a district judge, who held that the courts lacked jurisdiction in the matter. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case back to the district judge, ordering him to give further consideration to whether his court has jurisdiction. If he again finds his court lacks jurisdiction, the case must go before state court. (Photo: World Population Review)

Watching the Shadows
Kremlin

Kremlin in new drive to co-opt US ‘alternative’ voices

In a truly surreal irony, CounterVortex chief blogger Bill Weinberg got e-mail from RT.com editor-in-chief Igor Ogorodnev, saying he’s impressed with our website and extending an invitation to contribute to RT. This is evidently part of a concerted push by RT—a direct organ of Russian state propaganda—to appropriate dissident and alternative voices in the American blogosphere ahead of this year’s elections. The strategy here is clear: Wth Fox News playing to the right and RT playing to the left, the Putin-Trump agenda will control both sides of the debate. It is imperative that progressives do not take the RT bait. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Europe
refugees in italy

Italy’s COVID-19 ‘amnesty’: hope and skepticism

The Italian government passed a measure allowing some 200,000 undocumented workers to apply for six-month residency permits, as part of the coronavirus pandemic recovery effort. But the initial atmosphere of hope has quickly faded. The amnesty only applies to workers in “essential” industries such as agriculture—a sector that relies on undocumented migrants for some 25% of its labor force. It excludes those who were stripped of humanitarian protection or legal status by the anti-migrant “security decrees” issued under former far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini. And after six months, applicants will be in the same situation as before the pandemic. (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús via Flickr)

Africa
ivorian troops

Sahel insurgency reaches Ivory Coast borderlands

In another sign of the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel reaching West Africa’s littoral states, the armed forces of Ivory Coast announced the completion of a joint operation with the military of neighboring inland Burkina Faso, to clear out a Qaedist camp that had been established on the border between the two countries. Some 1,000 Ivorian soldiers took part in the operation, in which eight militants were reported killed and 38 others detained—24 in Burkina Faso and 14 in Ivory Coast. More are thought to have escaped on motorbikes through the bush. The militants are said to be followers of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda’s West African franchise. (Photo: Ecofin Agency)

More Headlines

Featured Stories

Colombian border troops

SHADOW WAR ON THE BORDERLANDS

Even against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, a war is being waged along the vast and porous Venezuela-Colombia border, across which people, narcotics, black-market gasoline, food, and medicine are smuggled—and where criminals and guerrillas find refuge. Joshua Collins reports for The New Humanitarian.

Continue ReadingSHADOW WAR ON THE BORDERLANDS 
Otay Mesa

WE ARE KILLING THEM

By now, the effects of COVID-19 on American life and society are widespread and deeply felt, almost regardless of one’s socioeconomic status. However, for undocumented immigrants in the United States, the COVID-19 crisis compounds issues that have existed for years, exposing them to a barrage of political, social and economic storm fronts now disastrously colliding at once. Whether for those detained by ICE in overcrowded conditions or those working “essential” frontline jobs without adequate protection or oversight, the impacts on undocumented immigrants and their families could be uniquely devastating. Allyssa M.G. Scheyer writes for Jurist.

Continue ReadingWE ARE KILLING THEM 
Assam newspapers

CAN NEWSPAPERS SURVIVE COVID-19?

As an unprecedented lockdown imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues across India, the country’s newspaper groups face an uphill battle to maintain their devoted readership. The complete shutdown declared last month instantly prevented deliveries of morning papers to readers’ doorsteps, and rumors spread that a paper itself could carry the novel coronavirus. Many publishers have been forced to drastically reduce their circulation figure, or suspend publication entirely, as vendors and delivery workers walked off the job. This has  particularly critical implications for India’s restive northeast. The region with a population of over 60 million supports over 50 morning dailies in different languages including Assamese, Bengali, Boro, Meitei, Karbi, Khasi, Mizo, Nagamese and Nepali, as well as English and Hindi. The world will eventually return to some kind of normality after the ravages of COVID-19 pass. But whether newspapers, and especially regional ones in places like northeast India, will be able to revive in the post-corona era is an open and difficult question. Nava Thakuria reports from Guwahati, northeast India.

Continue ReadingCAN NEWSPAPERS SURVIVE COVID-19? 
Chechen deportation

STALIN’S CAUCASUS CRIMES

On February 23, the Chechen and Ingush peoples of Russia’s North Caucasus remembered a tragedy in their history—the start of the Soviet deportation in 1944. Initiated by Stalin and supervised by his intelligence chief Lavrentiy Beria, it was carried out by a force of approximately 120,000 NKVD officers that would round up and expel 478,479 people. Today, Vladimir Putin is trying to suppress this history, barring public commemorations and censoring works that depict the mass deportations. James Oliver explores for Euromaidan Press.

Continue ReadingSTALIN’S CAUCASUS CRIMES 
Hotel Occupato

SQUAT CALABRIA

In the provincial city of Cosenza, in Italy’s traditionally marginalized southern region of Calabria, migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East are squatting empty buildings as they wait on their asylum claims or residency applications. They have the support of local Calabrese activist allies who are standing up to a growing xenophobic atmosphere in Italy. The country’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini was recently removed from power—but not before passing his draconian “Salvini Law,” which cracks down on squatters and migrants alike. The squatters of Cosenza recall that Salvini, who now demonizes immigrants under the slogan “Italians First,” rose to power by demonizing southern Italians in similar terms, as chief of the separatist Northern League. These activists link a regional pride to their solidarity efforts with the displaced from across the Mediterranean. Bill Weinberg offers a first-hand account for the Brooklyn Rail.

Continue ReadingSQUAT CALABRIA 
gauri lankesh protest 759

INDIA 2019 JOURNO-MURDER INDEX

As the year 2019 is approaching the finish line, India appears to have improved its journalist murder index—with authorities counting only two slain in circumstances directly related to their work this year. Reporters Without Borders counts nearly 50 journalists killed for their work worldwide to date this year (compared to 95 in 2018), and India’s share has also gone down considerably—from six last year. However, there were several other cases across India in which it is yet to be confirmed that the victims were targeted for media activities. And with multiple conflicts now escalating around the country, this promises to be a critical question in 2020. Nava Thakuria reports from Guwahati, in India’s strife-torn northeast.

Continue ReadingINDIA 2019 JOURNO-MURDER INDEX 
Idlib protest

IDLIB RESISTS

Over the past days a popular uprising has broken out across northern Syria’s Idlib against the hardline Islamist group that is militarily dominant in much of the province—Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam or HTS, formerly the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. The uprising began when HTS increased zakaat (taxes) on a number of goods and services including bread, electricity and olive oil. The anti-Assad regime protests which are held almost every Friday in Idlib are now also demanding the expulsion of HTS from the province. The dominant narrative promoted by the regime and supporters of Assadist fascism is that Idlib is a “terrorist enclave.” Today’s uprising should challenge this narrative. Syrian writer and activist Leila Al Shami provides an account.

Continue ReadingIDLIB RESISTS 
Tapachula protest

LEFT WAITING

For months, hundreds of African migrants and asylum seekers from conflict-ridden countries like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been camped out in tents in front of the main immigration detention facility in the town of Tapachula, in southern Mexico. Most flew halfway around the world to Brazil, then made the dangerous journey north through the Darien Gap— a remote, roadless swath of jungle—before traversing Central America into Mexico in the hope of finally reaching the United States to claim asylum. Instead, they were detained upon arrival in Mexico, under terms of the new migration agreement between the US and Mexican governments. Melisa Valenzuela reports from Tapachula for The New Humanitarian.

Continue ReadingLEFT WAITING 
Rome protest

ROME SQUATTERS FACE CLAMPDOWN

Italy’s far-right interior minister (and de facto ruler) Matteo Salvini was just removed from power in a government shake-up—but not before passing his draconian “Salvini Law.” In addition to restricting the rights of migrants and refugees to asylum and government aid, the Salvini Law imposes a five-year prison term for squatting. Italy’s thousands of squatters—many of them displaced from their homelands in the Middle East, Africa and South America—are now in a precarious position. Bill Weinberg offers a first-hand account from the squats and migrant enclaves of the Eternal City.

Continue ReadingROME SQUATTERS FACE CLAMPDOWN 
Kashmir

HOW INDIA COMPLICATED KASHMIR DISPUTE

By revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, India has seemingly abandoned the notion of Jammu & Kashmir state as a special territory deserving autonomy. However, the revocation is being challenged as itself unconstitutional, and in violation of both international agreements and the Instrument of Accession by which  J&K joined the Indian union in 1947. The revocation may yet be overturned by India’s Supreme Court. Meanwhile, unrest and repression mount in J&K, and tensions are escalating with Pakistan—raising the possibly an armed conflict between the Subcontinent’s nuclear rivals. L. Ali Khan, writing for Jurist, offers a legal and historical perspective on the crisis.

Continue ReadingHOW INDIA COMPLICATED KASHMIR DISPUTE 

SYRIA: FROM REVOLUTION TO QUAGMIRE

If 2011 looked like the moment when people could unite, both within and across borders, to topple decades-old dictatorships with the demand for freedom and social justice, today looks like the moment of counter-revolutionary success. After eight years of increasingly brutal conflict in Syria, Bashar al-Assad still presides as president over a now destroyed, fragmented and traumatized country. The dominant narrative is that the war is nearing its end. States once vocally opposed to Assad now have other strategic concerns which take precedence over the victims of his savage efforts to hold onto power. Yet, on the ground, conditions are far from stable; civilians remain trapped and are paying the price for ongoing struggles for power and territory between the regime, foreign states and ideological warlords. Syrian writer and activist Leila Al Shami writes for the North American anarchist journal Fifth Estate.

Continue ReadingSYRIA: FROM REVOLUTION TO QUAGMIRE