In a Dec. 21 ruling that was formally announced last week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) found the Colombian state responsible for several extrajudicial executions carried out under the practice of "false positives"—random civilians claimed as guerillas killed in action. The six cases examined took place in the departments of Arauca, Santander and Casanare between 1992 and 1997. Although individual soldiers had been sentenced by the Colombian courts in some of these cases, the Costa Rica-based IACHR ordered the Colombian government to carry out further investigations and prosecutions, provide reparations to the families of the victims, and commit to a "public act of acknowledgement" of responsibility. The Colectivo José Alvear Restrepo, which brought the case, hailed the ruling as a "very important precedent" to bring accountability in thousands of cases of "false positives." (Proclama del Cauca, Jan. 19; El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Jan. 17; Contagio Radio, Jan. 16)
Colombia's President Iván Duque declared the peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) indefinitely suspended following a bomb blast at a National Police academy in Bogotá Jan. 17 that left more than 20 dead and some 70 wounded. An explosives-laden vehicle invaded the grounds of the academy before it detonated. The driver, who was killed, was identified by authorities as an ELN explosives expert. Calling the ELN a "criminal machine of kidnapping and assassination," Duque said that arrest orders against the group's top leaders, which had been suspended for the peace talks, would now be carried out. He also called on Cuba, where members of the ELN command are now based, to have them arrested and extradited. The ELN one day later took responsibility for the attack in a communique, calling it an act of "legitimate defense" that was "legal under the laws of war." The statement asserted: "The National Police School of Cadets is a military installation; there officials receive instruction and training later put to use in combat, conducting military operations, actively participating in the counter-insurgency war and bringing methods of war for use against social protest."
In Episode 25 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg protests that he has now been deprived of phone and Internet access by Verizon for more than two months, and discusses the greater social implications of this dilemma. Donald Trump, who is a fascist by any reasonable definition, has now shut down the federal government and is threatening to declare a national emergency in order to build his border wall. Lack of other net access at this critical moment has forced Weinberg to use a cell phone in order to have any voice as a writer and activist—while cellular technology is itself inherently abetting the descent into fascism. Not only does it create a totalizing propaganda environment, but it is degrading our attention spans, literacy and critical thinking skills. It also creates a totalizing surveillance environment that can ultimately be exploited by government as well as private interests. But we accept it in the name of "convenience" and the illusion of consumer "choice," and few even recognize technological "progress" (note: propaganda word) as something that needs to be resisted. This emerging dystopia combines the worst aspects of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World: we are complicit in the extinguishing of our own freedom because we have been conditioned. Weinberg calls for practical action to slow (at least) the totalizing aspect of this dystopia: keeping alive space for the print world and the meat world, and demanding that Verizon and other service providers maintain landline infrastructure. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Authorities in Ezidikhan, the self-declared Yazidi autonomous homeland in northern Iraq, appointed an Investigative Team on Genocide this week, pursuant to a law mandating establishment of the body passed by the Ezidikhan Governing Council last month. The team will primarily be looking at massacres and enslavement that targeted the Yazidi people when ISIS was in control of their territory from Augusr 2014 to November 2015. But the team will also examine possible crimes and complicity by the Iraqi national government, its allied paramilitary forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, and foreign powers such as Turkey. The body is cooperating with the UN investigative team also working in the area, with an eye toward eventual establishment of an International Tribunal on Genocide for Yezidi and Neighboring Peoples (ITGYNP). But the Yazidi team's senior investigator, Abdul Qader al-Rawi, made clear: "Unlike the UN investigation, the Ezidikhan Investigative Team is not constrained by the Iraqi government’s claims for sovereign immunity." (Ezidikhan Public Information Bureau, Jan. 13)
Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court on Jan. 15 acquitted former Côte d'Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, his former youth minister. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were accused of four counts of crimes against humanity related to violence following a disputed 2010 election that left 3,000 dead and 500,000 displaced. Gbagbo was arrested in 2011 in a presidential palace bunker by UN and French-backed forces supporting his rival, Alassane Ouattara. He was the first former head of state to face trial at the ICC. The Chamber ordered both accused to be immediately released. A prosecution request to extend Gbagbo's custody pending appeal was rejected. "The acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé will be seen as a crushing disappointment to victims of post-election violence in Cote d'Ivoire," said Amnesty International in a statement. (BBC News, Reuters, Amnesty International, ICC press release)
Amid the mass internment of ethnic Uighurs in China's western Xinjiang province, reaction within the greater region has been largely muted. Dolkun Isa, head of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, last month blasted the leaders of Muslim countries for being largely "silent" over the "ethnic cleansing" of the Uighurs, calling it the "shame of the Muslim world." Dolkun said his own mother died in one of the camps last May, and his family did not even find out about it until weeks later. Dolkun charged that some Muslim governments "even support the Chinese government policy." (France24, Dec. 19)
A leading US sportswear company this week announced that it has dropped a Chinese supplier over concerns that its products were made by forced labor in detention camps in Xinjiang. Reports have mounted that the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs believed to be held in a fast-expanding system of detention camps are being put to forced labor for Chinese commercial interests. "These people who are detained provide free or low-cost forced labor for these factories," according to Mehmet Volkan Kasikci, a researcher in Turkey who has collected accounts of inmates in the factories by interviewing relatives who have left China. "Stories continue to come to me," he told the New York Times last month. An Associated Press investigation tracked recent shipments from one such detention-camp factory, run by the privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel, to Badger Sportswear of North Carolina.
Following the mass sweeps of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran's Khuzestan province in the wake of a September terror attack in capital city Ahwaz, reports are mounting of horrific torture used against activists detained in secret prisons or "black sites." Anonymous activists on the ground in Khuzestan spoke to a researcher writing for the Canada-based Dur Untash Studies Center, which closely monitors the Ahwazi struggle. Among the cases vividly described is that of Ali Hilichi, who was detained by intelligence agents at the carwash where he worked in Ahwaz in November 2018, accused of participating in recent public demonstrations. He was kept in solitary confinement and subject to torture for weeks before being released at the end of December. His wife said that when he was freed his body was covered in bruises and welts, adding that he could not take a shower or sleep on his back due to the pain from his injuries. He still suffers from nightmares, crying out in his sleep, "Don't beat me…give me water."