The European Council announced June 19 that it has approved the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA), both to be formally signed this week in Hanoi. EVFTA and EVIPA are hailed as the most ambitious agreements concluded between the EU and a developing country. Under EVFTA, upwards of 99% of tariffs on goods from both sides will be lifted. (Asia News Network, June 26) The deals were approved just two weeks after a Vietnamese environmental activist was sentenced to six years in prison for "anti-state" Facebook posts. Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, is accused of writing posts that urged people to take part in peaceful protests in June over corporate pollution. The posts especially noted the Formosa Plastics disaster in 2016, in which a Taiwanese-owned steel plant dumped toxic waste into the ocean off the coast of central Vietnam, killing millions of fish. Vietnam's government has accused Facebook of violating a draconian new cybersecurity law that came into effect in January by allowing the posts. (The Guardian, June 7)
Nicaragua’s Congress on June 8 approved an amnesty law that will offer protection to police and others involved in crimes against anti-government protesters over the past year. According to rights groups, more than 700 people were arrested in demonstrations that erupted in April 2018 when President Daniel Ortega tried to cut social security benefits. More than 300 mostly opposition protesters died in clashes with security forces, while more than 60,000 Nicaraguans have gone into exile due to political strife over the last 14 months. The new law was approved by 70 votes from Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the 92-member chamber. It also allows for the release of detainees arrested during the protests, despite the fact that Ortega labelled them "terrorists." The new law has faced harsh criticism from human rights groups and the UN.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted June 26 to reinstate the Russian delegation despite criticism over human rights abuses. Russia's voting rights had been stripped in 2014 in response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea. The reinstatement vote was taken after Russia threatened to leave the Council of Europe altogether, which would mean exiting jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. The Russian delegation was readmitted by a vote of 116-62. The Ukrainian delegation walked out in protest after the vote. A dissident bloc of 30 members attempted to challenge Russia's restoration, and succeeded in having the readmission include amendments calling on Moscow to address certain specific rights abuses. Some critics suggest Russia was readmitted due to the pinch the lack of Russian money was placing on the Council's budget. The readmission came along with passage of a new budget based on renewed Russian financial commitments. (Jurist)
Defense lawyers for the 53 indigenous activists who were cleared of charges in the 2009 Bagua massacre were ordered to testify before a Peruvian Supreme Court magistrate June 26, as the high court's penal chamber considers a request from the government for a retrial in the case. The defendants were acquitted by a lower court in 2016 in the slaying of National Police troops in the clash at Bagua, which began when police attacked an indigenous roadblock during a protest campaign against oil and resource exploitation in the rainforest. By official figures, 33 were slain in the incident, including 10 indigenous activists. In 2017, Peru's Prosecutor General and Public Ministry called upon the Supreme Court to review the acquittals. The high court agreed to consider a retrail for the crimes of riot, illegal possession of firearms and obstruction of public services, although not homicide.
Recent headlines from Central America shed light on the migrant exodus from the isthmus that has now sparked a political crisis in the United States. The ongoing protests against neoliberal "reform" in Honduras saw a frightening escalation June 25 as military police opened fire on students demonstrators at the National Autonomous University in Tegucigalpa, injuring at least four. President Juan Orlando Hernández has deployed the army and military police across the country after clashes left three dead last week. (BBC News, La Prensa, June 25) In a hopeful sign a few days earlier, riot police stood down in Tegucigalpa, returning to their barracks and allowing protesters to block traffic and occupy main streets. Troops of the National Directorate of Special Forces said they will not carry out anti-riot operations if they do not receive better benefits. (Reuters, June 19)
A new rupture on the disaster-plagued North Peruvian Pipeline fouled local water sources that several indigenous communities depend on in Peru's rainforest region of Loreto. The spill occurred June 19 at kilometer 227 on the pipeline, in Manseriche district, Datem del Marañón province. The government's Environmental Evaluation & Fiscalization Organism (OEFA) is overseeing recovery efforts, but the local communities of Nuevo Progreso and Saramiriza are demanding emergency potable water deliveries, saying they have been without clean water since the spill. Pipeline operator PetroPeru is blaming the rupture on "an act of delinquency" by local residents. (Gestión, EFE, June 23; InfoRegion, Gestión, June 19)
The Supreme Court on June 10 denied certiorari in the case of Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, a Yemeni who has been held as an "enemy combatant" at Guantánamo since 2002. Al-Alwi was captured in Pakistan in late 2001, and the government concluded that he had fought in Afghanistan as part of a Qaeda-commanded unit. Al-Alwi denied this unsuccessfully during his original round of habeas corpus proceedings, and in 2015 initiated a new habeas case arguing that the nature of US involvement in Afghanistan had changed such that the use of military detention is no longer justified under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The district court and the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit disagreed, and the Supreme Court has now declined to review the appellate court's conclusion.
Victims of war crimes in Afghanistan filed an appeal June 10 with the International Criminal Court (ICC) challenging the court's recent decision not to pursue a war crimes investigation in Afghanistan. The appeal was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the Global Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law, among others, on behalf of the victims. The victims claim that significant war crimes have taken place in Afghanistan and that failure to investigate will deny the victims justice, while allowing the perpetrators to escape justice. The victims further claim that the perpetrators will be free to continue committing war crimes and that the mandate of the ICC will be severely damaged if justice is not served. The victims specifically highlighted that top officials in the US government have failed to comply with the court's requests and, as such, have interfered with the effectiveness of the investigation and the ICC as a whole.