Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)
From anonymous radical-right xenophobes in Britain came the call to make April 3 "Punish a Muslim Day." Letters were sent through the mail to addresses across England, calling for violent attacks on Muslims. The sick mailings assigned a point score for levels of violence from "Verbally abuse a Muslim" (10 points) to "Beat up a Muslim" (100 points) to "Burn or bomb a mosque" (1,000 points) to "Nuke Mecca" (2,500 points) Police were on alert, and women who wear the hijab were advised to stay home. No actual attacks were reported. There were also reports that some of the letters had arrived at New York addresses, causing the city's Muslim community to mobilize and the NYPD to beef up security. (BBC News, WPIX) The Daily News reports that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined multi-faith leaders at a press conference to condemn the threats. His comments there were laudable in intent, but revealing in their wording: "Our message must be just as loud. Not punish a Muslim, let's embrace a Muslim, let's embrace a Christian, let's embrace a person of Jewish faith, let's embrace the diversity that this city has to offer."
The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced March 31 that al-Hassan ag-Abdoul Aziz ag-Mohamed ag-Mahmoud was surrendered to the court's detention center in the Netherlands by Malian authorities. According to the arrest warrant (PDF), he is accused of crimes against humanity in Timbuktu, Mali, as de facto leader of the "Islamic police" force in 2012 and 2013. He allegedly took part in the destruction of the mausoleums of Muslim saints in Timbuktu. He also allegedly participated in forced marriages involving Fulani women, which resulted in repeated rape and the reduction of women and girls to sexual slavery. The International Criminal Court concludes that there is evidence to provide grounds for an arrest warrant under the reasonable belief that Al Hassan could be criminally liable under Articles 25 (3) (a) or 25 (3) (b) of the Rome Statute (PDF) for crimes against humanity. Al Hassan is expected to make an initial appearance in court later this week.
In Episode Six of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg reads and discusses selections from CS Lewis' classic work The Abolition of Man, and explores its relevance in light of the contemporary dilemmas posed by biotech and artificial intelligence. Conservative Christian moralist Lewis paradoxically developed a quasi-anarchist critique of technological society, with ideas closely mirroring those of his contemporary George Orwell—despite the fact that the two were on opposite sides of the political divide. But Lewis went beyond even Orwell's dark vision in foreseeing an actual end to humanity itself, as it has been understood for millennia, and its replacement by a conditioned post-humanity stripped of all dignity and reason. Recent technological "advances" have made this possible more literally and completely than Lewis could have imagined. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Genaro Ledesma Izquieta, a campesino leader and later congressmember who was one of the most respected figures on Peru's political left, died April 1 at the age of 86. Born in Cajabamba, Cajamarca region, he moved in his youth to the mining town of Cerro de Pasco in the Central Andes, where he founded the Popular Worker-Student-Peasant Front (FOCEP), uniting campesinos and mine workers to fight for land and labor rights. In 1960, he was elected mayor of Cerro de Pasco province. But he was imprisoned later that year in connection with a May Day campesino mobilization at the hamlet of San Antonio de Rancas. Three were killed when police fired on the protest, but Ledesma was charged with provoking the violence. With the military coup of Gen. Ricardo Pérez Godoy in 1963, Ledesma was imprisoned a second time—now in the notoriously harsh island prison of El Frontón. But the workers and peasants of Cerro de Pasco launched a sucessful campaign to have him elected to Peru's Congress, and authorities were forced to free him to allow him to take his seat.
Human rights organizations have come out in full condemnation of Israel's violent response to massive unarmed civilian protests in Gaza on March 30, which left 16 Palestinians—one farmer and 15 protesters —dead along the Strip's border. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, released a statement condemning Israel's use of military snipers against the civilian protesters. "The Israeli military's use of 100 snipers against unarmed Palestinian civilian protesters in the Gaza Strip is illegal," the statement said, adding that "live gunfire on unarmed civilians constitutes a brutal violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants."
Seemingly irregular oil contracts have emerged as a factor in the ongoing political scandal that last week brought down Peru's president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Following accusations from left-opposition congressmember Manuel Dammert (Nuevo Perú), state agency PeruPetro admitted that hours before leaving office on March 21, Kuczynski had issued a Supreme Decree initiating the process of approving five offshore oil concessions with a private company—but without the involvement of PeruPetro in vetting the contracts, as required by law. Calling the deals "lobista," Dammert is demanding that new President Martín Vizcarra declare the contracts void. The exploration contracts for blocs off the coast of Tmubes region are with Irish company Tullow Oil, They still must be approved by the ministries of Energy & Mines and Economy & Finance. (Gestión, March 29; TeleSur, March 26; Gestión, March 24)
Potato farmers across Peru's sierras blocked roads with their tractors and trucks for weeks starting in mid-January, demanding a subsidized distribution system for the staple crop in the face of plummeting prices. The National Commission of Potato Producers (Conapropa) struck a deal with the government Jan. 10, but wildcat protests continued in Huancavelica, Huánuco, Junín, Ayacucho and Arequipa regions. Finally, farmers advanced on Lima in a cross-country motorcade. This forced Conapropa leader Fernando Gutiérrez back to the table, meeting with Agriculture Minister José Arista in early February to strike a better deal. Huancavelica regional governor Glodoaldo Álvarez denied government claims of over-production by farmers, and pointed to massive imports since the 2009 Free Trade Agreement with the US. Farmers at the roadblocks carried banners with slogans such as "¡Abajo el TLC!" (Down with the FTA!). (Peru21, La República, Feb. 2; TeleSur, Feb. 1; El Comercio, Jan. 12)