Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele is openly defying Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing the lockdown. His security forces have arbitrarily detained hundreds in containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the government may not continue using tracking capabilities developed by the internal security service Shin Bet in efforts to contain COVID-19, imposing a deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek legislative approval for the practice. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, already threatening to shoot lockdown violators, has escalated to warning of an imminent declaration of martial law. (Photo: Philippine National Police via Wikipedia)
A state of emergency has been declared in Chile following protests that initially erupted over transit fare hikes in Santiago but quickly escalated to an uprising over general economic agony. Youth have blocked thoroughfares, burned buses and ransacked shops, while whole families have filled the streets in a nationwide cacerolazo—beating pots and pans to express outrage over the high cost of living. Protesters have similarly taken the streets, erected barricades and clashed with police in Lebanon, where a state of “economic emergency” has been declared. Again, demonstrations were initially sparked by government plans to impose a tax on text messaging, but protests have continued even after the tax was rescinded in response to the upsurge of popular anger. Demonstrators have revived the slogan from the 2011 Arab Revolution, “The people demand the fall of the regime.” (Photo: KaosEnLaRed)
Aid organizations are protesting a UN decision to centralize coordination of Syria operations in Damascus—a move they say hands more power to the regime of Bashar Assad, and will make it harder to deliver aid to millions who live in rebel-held areas. UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock’s decision was announced at a closed-door meeting in early April to alter the system the UN has used for the past four years. That system was designed to ensure aid is delivered on the basis of need to both government and rebel-held territories—known as the “Whole of Syria” approach. Facing hunger and desperation, many in besieged rebel pockets are accepting “resettlement” offers from the regime. But they must undergo “security screening” at “transition centers” established for this purpose, where reports indicate men are being separated from their families and detained. The Assad regime has been accused of a mass extermination of detainees, possibly amounting to genocide. (Photo: The New Humanitarian)
Even amid growing media portrayals that Bashar Assad has won the war in Syria, the first real hope has emerged that the dictator will face war crimes charges before the International Criminal Court. A group of Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan after surviving torture and massacres submitted dossiers of evidence to the ICC in an attempt to prosecute Assad. Although Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which establishes the court’s jurisdiction, lawyers in London are citing recent precedent set by the ICC in extending jurisdiction for the crime of forcible population transfers across international borders. (Photo of Aleppo following regime bombardment: 7ee6an)
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a statistical report on the number of Syrian war victims on the occasion of World Human Rights Day. The statistics show that 560,000 people have been killed since March 2011, including civilians, soldiers, rebel fighters, and “martyrs” who died under torture in the regime prisons. The Observatory found: “Over 93 months…Syrians have been crushed between the jaws of death, with each day declaring a decrease in their numbers…” The Observatory documented the deaths of 104,000 Syrians in the regime’s prisons, likely under torture in most cases, with 83% executed in these prisons between May 2013 and October 2015. In this period, 30,000 were killed in Saydnaya prison alone, according to the Observatory. The remainder of the total were killed in fighting, with civilians constituting a large plurality at 111,330. The rest were from various armed factions. (Photo of Aleppo following regime bombardment: 7ee6an)
With the fall of Syria’s southern province of Daraa to Assad regime forces, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve “the issue of Idlib.” This points to a possible carve-up deal, in which the bulk of Syria falls under Assad with Russian protection, Idlib remains under rebel control with Turkish protection, and the northeastern Rojava region will remain a Kurdish autonomous zone under US protection. (Photo: Syria News)
At least 270,000 people—about a third of the population—have been displaced by the Assad regime offensive on Daraa governorate in southern Syria. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expects the number to rise, with civilians fleeing to the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights—but with both countries refusing to allow entry. The UNHCR said about 164,000 displaced are now in camps and villages in the neighboring small opposition-held governorate of Quneitra, close to the Golan border. The Assad offensive to regain Daraa governorate, where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, has been backed by Russian air-strikes, violating a “de-escalation zone” Moscow had declared with the US last July. UNHCR noted reports that “suggest indiscriminate attacks on health facilities, schools, civil defense centers, and offices of local NGOs.” (Photo: EA Wordlview)
As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, “[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us.” This despite Washington’s earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called “de-escalation zones” would have “serious repercussions.” Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. The US has long been constraining the rebel forces from fighting Assad as a condition of receiving aid, insisting they fight only ISIS and other jihadists. Now that ISIS is essentially defeated, we appear to be witnessing the betrayal of the Syrian opposition in a Trump-Putin carve-up deal. (Southern Front logo via Wikipedia)
Egypt's chief prosecutor referred 555 individuals suspected of joining a local ISIS affiliate to military court. The charges against them arise out of a series of attacks carried out by dozens of small militant groups situated in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. The suspects will faces charges for the planned and executed killings of security personnel, attacks on military checkpoints, and the destruction of a gas pipeline between Egypt and Jordan. The charges come amid growing concerns over torture, lengthy solitary confinement and other rights abuses in Egypt's prisons. (Photo: Egypt Daily News)
In response to the mass execution of 15 prisoners in Jordan, human rights groups condemned the hangings as secretive and conducted "without transparency."
In its yearly report, Human Rights Watch warns that the rise of populist leaders "poses a dangerous threat to basic rights"—particularly naming Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Thousands of displaced Syrians are trapped between sand berms on the border with Jordan, denied entry—facing hostile soliders on either side, receiving no aid.