Environmental activist Diana Isabel Hernández was slain Sept. 14 in an attack by armed men on a religious procession in her community of Monte Gloria, Santo Domingo municipality, in the Guatemalan department of Suchitepéquez. Hernández was a leader of the Mujeres Madre Tierra Association, a group linked to the local Catholic church that worked to protect forests and promote organic agriculture. The Alianza por la Solidaridad human rights network denounced the slaying as a "cowardly murder that adds to the many cases of attacks on leaders who work for the common good." The network counts 16 social leaders assassinated in Guatemala last year—compared to three in 2017.
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was among 70 detainees from Russia and Ukraine released in a long-awaited prisoner swap—35 from each side. Among those Sentsov was exchanged for is a suspect in thw downing of Flight MH-17 that killed 298 people in 2014.. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea on politically motivated charges. In October 2018, he won the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's award for freedom of thought. (HRW, CNN) Human Rights in Ukraine decried the fact that, despite the swap, at least 87 Ukrainian political prisoners remain imprisoned in Russia or occupied Crimea, in addition to at least 225 hostages held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region. In light of this reality, the group said the "upbeat noises" in Western media about a "normalization" in Ukrainian-Russian relations "seem at very least premature."
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro failed to attend the summit of leaders of seven South American countries with Amazon Basin territory to address the devastating fires now consuming the rainforest. Duque claimed a medical emergency, and was represented by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, at the meeting in Colombia's Amazonian city of Leticia on Sept. 6. The presidents of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia as well as Araujo, the natural resouces minister of Guyana and vice president of Suriname agreed to form an "Amazonian cooperation network" to track deforestation across borders. Venezuela, despite having a large swath of Amazonian territory, was not invited, as Colombia does not recognize the presidency of Nicolas Maduro. Brazil has the largest share of the Amazon by far, and Bolsonaro's failure to attend was assailed by environmentalists worldwide.
Hurricane Dorian's slow, destructive track through the Bahamas fits a pattern scientists have been seeing over recent decades, and one they expect to continue as the planet warms: hurricanes stalling over coastal areas and bringing extreme rainfall. Dorian made landfall in the northern Bahamas on Sept. 1 as one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, then battered the islands for hours on end with heavy rain, a storm surge of up to 23 feet and sustained wind speeds reaching 185 miles per hour. The storm's slow forward motion—at times only 1 mile per hour—is one of the reasons forecasters were having a hard time predicting its exact future path toward the US coast. With the storm still over the islands on Sept. 2, the magnitude of the devastation and death toll was only beginning to become clear. "We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told reporters.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to allow Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Europe if his long-sought "safe zone" in northern Syria is not established. "We will be forced to open the gates. We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone," he told a meeting of his ruling party, the AKP, stating that Turkey "did not receive the support needed from the world." This is a reference to is the promised financial aid from the European Union, and the provision of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on refugees struck back in 2016. Only half of the pledged €6 billion has arrived, according to Turkey, and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals has not yet been granted—largely due to concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey. In July, Ankara declared the refugee deal no longer under effect.
Indonesian police have named human rights lawyer and prominent West Papua advocate Veronica Koman as a suspect in the spreading of "fake news," accusing her of "incitement" in the widespread unrest that has swept the country's easternmost region in recent weeks. Koman has been charged under Indonesia's controversial cybercrime law, and faces up to six years in prison and a $70,000 fine if convicted. Police specifically mentioned Koman's online posts of an incident last month in Surabaya, Java, in which army troops and nationalist militiamen were captured on video calling Papuan students "monkeys" and "dogs." Indonesian authorities have contacted Interpol to seek assistance in locating the Surabaya, who they believe is outside the country. Indonesia's National Commission of Human Rights has assailed the move, saying Koman had merely attempted to provide "necessary information from a different point of view." (The Guardian, Asia Pacific Report)
The municipalities of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van in Turkey's east have been rocked by unrest since the central government removed their newly elected mayors from office over alleged links to a Kurdish armed group last month. "Trustees" have been appointed to govern the municipalities, as protesters have repeatedly clashed with riot police, who have deployed tear-gas, water-cannons and armored vehicles. The leftist and Kurdish-supported Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has refused to accept the suspension of the mayors and called for ongoing protests to uphold "the will of the people." Amid the protest wave, Ankara has launched "Operation Kıran," a new campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the region, with hundreds arrested. Among those sentenced to prison last week was Raife İnatçı, a 70-year-old Kurdish woman in Diyarbakır, whose six-month term was upheld by a local court. She was accused of spreading "terrorist propaganda" with a placard she carried at a demonstration. (Al Monitor, Turkey Purge, BIANet, Daily Sabah)