The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement Aug. 30 explaining its unprecedented build-up of naval forces in the Mediterranean as part of a week-long exercise. It said the maneuvers would involve 26 warships and naval vessels, including two submarines, with 34 aircraft, including missile-armed long-range bombers. (Jane's 360) But it is obvious that this build-up is timed to coincide (at least) with the planned Assad regime offensive on Idlib, the last Syrian province that remains under opposition control. Russia will certainly be massively backing the regime offensive, which the UN warns could spark a humanitarian catastrophe. With Turkey closing its borders to new refugees, it is unclear that civilians have any place left to flee. Many are already living in camps in Idlib under desperate conditions, with two million in need of humanitarian aid. (AP, SBS)
A UN human rights panel report released Aug. 28 suggests that parties to the armed conflict in Yemen have been perpetuating crimes under international law. The Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen was appointed (PDF) by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country, as well as to examine all alleged violations and crimes of international law to occur since the war began in September 2014. The report concluded that air-strikes carried out by the government of Yemen and its coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have caused a majority of the civilian casualties. Other violations included persistent sexual violence and enlistment of young children into the armed forces of both sides in the war.
The Trump administration is to announce a suspension of funding to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA)—and rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. According to Hebrew-language news outlets, the US administration is expected to announce its new policy early September, recognizing the existence of only half a million Palestinian refugees, out of the total of 5.3 million estimated by UNRWA. The US administration intends to form a plan that rejects the United Nations designation under which millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees. Sources reported that the administration's new policy would "essentially cancel the right of return."
The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar urged in a report (PDF) released Aug. 27 the investigation and prosecution of Burma's top military generals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. A press release said the Mission "found patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States that 'undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law', principally by Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, but also by other security forces." The crimes against humanity "include murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape; sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution and enslavement." The Mission noted that these crimes are similar to those in other cases that have allowed the establishment of "genocidal intent." The Mission urged that these crimes be investigated and prosecuted in the International Criminal Court. It also "called for an independent, impartial mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations."
US President Donald Trump announced Aug. 27 that the US and Mexico have reached an agreement on a new trade deal called the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement, which will ultimately terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While sitting at the resolute desk, Trump called Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to announce the new pact, which Trump described as "a really good deal for both countries [and] something that is very special for our manufacturers and farmers." Among a number of changes to NAFTA, both parties agreed to a provision that would require a significant portion of vehicles to be made in high-wage factories, a measure aimed to discourage factory jobs from leaving the US. Peña Nieto agreed with Trump while on speaker phone, stating, "I think this is something very positive for the United States and Mexico." The Mexican president further stated that he wanted Canada to be involved in the agreement.
Upon his death, many are reviving the discredited claim that John McCain met with ISIS on his Syria trip in 2013. But some are settling for the less ambitious, and perhaps plausible, claim that he met with jihadists who were implicated in atrocities. E.g. the always annoying Ben Norton tweets: "John McCain was a staunch supporter of the CIA-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Salafi extremist opposition in Syria. In fact the late senator posed in a photo with a rebel who was involved in kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shia civilians." He links to a May 10, 2013 Reuters story which cites an undated article in Lebanon's Daily Star (apparently not translated into English) claiming that McCain was photographed in Syria with a rebel "implicated in" the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims the previous year. The man in question was apparently one Mohammad Nour—"identified by two freed hostages as the chief spokesman and photographer for the Northern Storm brigade that kidnapped them."
Isamu (Art) Shibayama, a rights advocate for Latin Americans of Japanese descent who were detained in prison camps in the United States during World War II, died July 31 at his home in San Jose, Calif. Born in Lima, Peru, in 1930, Shibayama was 13 when his family was detained and forcibly shipped to the United States on a vessel charted by the US armed forces. They were among some 2,000 Japanese-Peruvians who were rounded up and turned over to the US military for detention after the Pearl Harbor attack. Upon their arrival in New Orleans, the family was transported to the "internment camp" for Japanese-Americans at Crystal City, Texas. The family would remain in detention until 1946.
Saudi rights advocates are warning of the possible imminent beheading of detained activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who has been provisionally sentenced to death by a Riyadh court. At an Aug. 6 hearing before the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital, the Public Prosecutor recommended the death penalty for six defendants, including Ghomgham and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, who have been held for nearly three years on charges related to anti-government protests in the Shi'ite-majority eastern region of Qatif. The charges include "participating in protests," "incitement to protest," "chanting slogans hostile to the regime," "attempting to inflame public opinion," "filming protests and publishing on social media," and "providing moral support to rioters." The prosecutor called for their execution based on the Islamic law principle of ta'zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime. A judge is expected to either confirm or reverse the death penalty recommendation at Ghomgham's next hearing in October.