Days after the Catholic Church declared El Salvador's martyred Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero a saint, a judge in the Central American country issued an arrest order for a former military captain long suspected of ordering the killing of the religious leader. Judge Rigoberto Chicas issued the order Oct. 23 for national and international authorities to apprehend Alvaro Rafael Saravia, 78. He remains at large and is believed to be in hiding. Saravia had been arrested for the crime in 1987, but the case against him was dropped when El Salvador passed its amnesty law in 1993. The case was re-opened after El Salvador's Supreme Court struck down the amnesty law in 2016.
UN human rights experts on Oct. 22 welcomed a recent Guatemalan court ruling that the deaths of 1,771 ethnic Ixil Mayan people between 1983 and 1984 constituted a "genocide," stating: "Impunity for perpetrators is unacceptable. It is essential that judicial processes respect international standards in determining the responsibilities of the perpetrators and masterminds of serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law." The deaths occurred during the 36-year-long Guatemalan civil war, in which 200,000 civilians were killed. It was determined that under "Operation Sofia" (documents, PDF), then-dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt had ordered the army to annihilate the entire Ixil population. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013, but that verdict was overturned for procedural errors. Trial resumed last year, but Ríos Montt died in April 2018, before the case was concluded.
Nine sugar-cane workers were killed as a group of some 40 gunmen fired on their encampment on lands they were occupying in Negros Occidental province of the central Philippines Oct. 20. Among the fatalities were three women and two minors. The slain were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers who were occupying part of the sprawling Hacienda Nene near Barangay Bulanon village, outside Sagay City. The occupation was legally permitted under an agrarian reform program established in the 1980s that allows landless rural workers to cultivate fallow lands on large plantations while title transfer is pending. The massacre was reported by survivors who managed to scatter and hide. Some of the bodies were burned by the attackers. "They were strafed by unknown perpetrators while already resting in their respective tents," said Cristina Palabay, head of the rights group Karapatan. Calling the attack "brutal and brazen," she said: "We call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation on the massacre. We are one with the kin of the victims in the Sagay massacre in their call for justice."
Speaking at the fifth International Andino-Amazonian Forum for Rural Development in Cobija, Bolivia, a member of the delegation from Ecuador accused the Quito government of masking the despoliation of indigenous territories in populist phrases. Mónica Chuji, a community leader from the Ecuadoran rainforest, accused former president Rafael Correa of invoking the indigenous concept of Sumaj Causay or Vivir Bien (Good Living) in his new constitution only to "folklore-ize it [folklorizaron] so it ends up being a cliché without content." She said there is a "divorce between the discourse and the reality" as Ecuador's Amazon is opened to "mega-corporations that destroy our territories with the protection of successive governments." She also charged the government with persecution of indigenous leaders who resist. "In Ecuador, there are now more than 500 leaders, men and women, subject to different legal processes—some sentenced, other facing trial, and many fugitives in the face of persecution and prosecution of social protest." (Agencia de Noticias Fides, Bolivia, Oct. 17)
Saudi state media reported Oct. 19 that the country's attorney general has confirmed prominent journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi died in the country's Turkey consulate, according to the Associated Press. A statement by the attorney general said that Khashoggi was killed after a fight inside the consulate on Oct. 2, and that 18 Saudis are detained pending an investigation. Turkish officials believe that 15 Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, according to reports. His body has not been found.
A group of environmental advocacy organizations filed suit (PDF) against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Oct. 18 over concerns that the border wall will result in detrimental environmental impacts to the areas surrounding the wall construction sites. The Secretary of Homeland Security's office has issued a series of waivers, dubbed the Lower Rio Grande Valley Border Wall Waivers, that would exempt construction projects related to the planned border wall from federal environmental regulations, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act. The advocacy groups argue that the broadness of the waivers would violate the Take Care Clause, the Separation of Powers Doctrine, the Non-Delegation Doctrine and the Presentment Clause of the Constitution.
The US-led Coalition's ongoing failure to admit to—let alone adequately investigate—the shocking scale of civilian deaths and destruction it caused in Raqqa is a "slap in the face" for survivors trying to rebuild their lives and their city, said Amnesty International a year after the offensive to oust ISIS. On Oct. 17, 2017, following a fierce four-month battle, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—the Coalition's Kurdish-led partners on the ground—announced victory over ISIS, which had used civilians as human shields and committed other war crimes in besieged Raqqa. Winning the battle came at a terrible price—almost 80% of the city was destroyed and many hundreds of civilians lay dead, the majority killed by Coalition bombardment. In a letter to Amnesty on Sept. 10, 2018, the US Department of Defense made clear it accepts no liability for the civilian casualties it caused. The Coalition does not plan to compensate survivors and relatives of those killed in Raqqa, and refuses to provide further information about the circumstances behind strikes that killed and maimed civilians.
The "buffer zone" through Syria's northern Idlib province, negotiated by Russia and Turkey to forestall an Assad regime offensive on the opposition-held portion of the province, officially takes effect this week. Rebels began withdrawing heavy weapons from the zone at the start of the month, but said that fighters are remaining. Fighters from designated "radical terrorist groups"—primarily Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—are supposed to withdraw entirely from the zone. HTS initially said it would comply on a "de facto" basis, but the zone is being implemented despite the fact that a deadline has been missed for withdrawal of all its fighters. The zone, some 20 kilometers wide, stretches from Latakia to Aleppo, through Idlib and portions of Hama province. (See map.) (Qantara, Oct. 17; AFP, Oct. 10; BBC News, Oct. 8; EA Worldview, Oct. 7) But Bashar Assad insisted that the so-called "demilitarized zone" is temporary. Addressing the central committee of his Baath Party, Assad reiterated his pledge to retake "every inch" of Syrian territory: "This province and other Syrian territory remaining under the control of terrorists will return to the Syrian state." (EA Worldview, Oct. 8)