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."
Leaders of Taiwan's indigenous peoples issued a joint statement Jan. 8 directed at Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said in a Jan. 2 speech that Taiwan "must and will" be united with China. Xi called for talks on a "one country, two systems" arrangement, and darkly alluded to the use of force, saying Beijing "reserves the option of taking all necessary measures." The indigenous leaders retorted that their peoples inhabited the island for thousands of years before the first Han Chinese settlers reached its shores. "We are the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and have lived in Taiwan, our motherland, for more than six thousand years," the letter says. "We are not ethnic minorities within the so-called 'Chinese nation.'"
In Episode 24 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the historic strides toward liberation of the cannabis plant in 2018, from the fabled four corners of the Earth. Yet under capitalism, every advance also opens new contradictions. With the rise of "corporate cannabis," traditional small growers in places like California's Emerald Triangle stand to be pushed off the market as Central Valley agribusiness gets in on the act. Burdensome regulations and heavy taxation have kept some growers on the black market—and big police raids in the Emerald Triangle have continued even after "legalization." High taxes on cannabis have also actually closed the legal space for California's "compassionate care" providers—those who make free or discounted medical marijuana available to the ailing. There are concerns about corporate privatization of ancient cannabis landraces long grown by small cultivators around the world. Meanwhile, even as overall cannabis arrests have dropped under more tolerant laws and enforcement policies in many states and localities, the racial disparity in those arrests that continue (e.g. for public use) is unabated. In a positive development, California has passed a "cannabis equity" law to address such concerns. But even the federal Farm Bill that just legalized industrial hemp and cannabinoids derived from it irrationally keeps cannabinoids derived from "marijuana" (high-THC strains) illegal. Weinberg calls for challenging the "marijuana" stigma, recognizing that cannabis liberation is an urgent question of human rights and racial justice, and adopting a stance of permanent struggle in fighting for it. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have been driven from Burma's northern Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh by the Burmese army's brutal "clearance operations," ostensibly launched in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in August 2017. But over the past weeks, the state has seen a new outbreak of attacks—this time by the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine insurgent group opposed to the central government's Burman-centric rule. Ambushes by Arakan Army fighters have targeted both the Burmese army, or Tatmadaw, and the Border Guard Police. Fighting in several townships has left some 2,500 displaced. Last month, the Tatmadaw announced a four-month ceasefire in Burma's north to facilitate peace talks with multiple armed groups fighting for local autonomy, but that announcement excluded Rakhine state. (Asia Times, Al Jazeera)