Swiss voters on Sept. 25 approved a new surveillance law allowing their national intelligence services broad powers to spy on "terrorist" suspects and cyber criminals, as well as to cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies. While the right to privacy is traditionally considered very important in Switzerland, the new law will allow security agents to tap phones and computer networks. This marks a drastic change from previous surveillance capabilities, under which intelligence agencies relied solely on information from public sources and other authorities. Some left-wing groups have protested, saying the new legislation violates citizens' rights and will undermine Switzerland's neutrality. Amnesty International said the law would lead to "disproportionate" levels of surveillance and was harmful to "freedom of expression." Despite opposition, the new law garnered 65% of the vote.
Residents of the Bosnian Serb Republic voted in a referendum Sept. 25 to maintain Jan. 9 as a national holiday in defiance of a court ruling. The date remembers Jan. 9, 1992, when ethnic Serbs declared their own state within Bosnia and triggered a brutal conflict in which it is estimated 100,000 people lost their lives. The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina had banned the referendum, and had originally ruled that the date should be changed because it discriminated against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, who had set the date for the vote, said he was proud of the peaceful manner in which the referendum passed.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Sept. 12 urged the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to end its pattern of expelling and detaining migrants contrary to international standards. Numerous central and eastern European countries have recently closed their borders to fight the influx of migrants, and many migrant families have found themselves either trapped in Macedonian transit centers or forced into neighboring countries. Zeid strongly denounced the treatment of such families, stressing that all migrants deserve not only adequate living requirements but also opportunity for employment and education. Zeid also expressed concern over the country's Asylum Law (PDF), which significantly hinders the ability for migrants to be granted legal asylum upon request. Reportedly, 600 migrants have sought legal asylum in Macedonia since 2015, yet only five have actually succeeded. Zeid called on Macedonia and neighboring countries to address the ongoing suffering and mistreatment of all migrant families and abide by international law.
President Petro Poroshenko on Aug. 11 put Ukraine's armed forces on high alert and "full combat readiness" near the lines of control with Russian-annexed Crimea and the separatist region of Donbas. Russia meanwhile announced it has deployed long-range S-400 missile systems in Crimea. Russian state TV has broadcast footage of men confessing to a plot to carry out terror attacks on the annexed peninsula. The accused saboteurs tell interrogators they were acting on orders from Kiev. Said Russia's President Vladimir Putin: "Our special forces prevented terrorist attacks organized by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry—the situation is pretty disturbing." Responded Poroshenko: "These fantasies are just a pretext for another portion of military threats against Ukraine." (Kyiv Post, NYT, Al Jazeera, BBC News)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein in a statement released Aug. 11 expressed concern over Bulgaria's criminalization of migrants leaving and entering the country. Zeid stated Bulgaria's practice of arresting migrants for both entering and leaving Bulgaria irregularly "places many of them in an invidious Catch-22 situation" and calls into question the country's compliance with international law. While Zeid stated he was pleased with the positive steps the country has taken in integrating international asylum standards, he is upset with the country's practice of arresting migrants who do not fall within the category of refugee, despite having "legitimate reasons for being unable to return to their home country." The high commissioner was particularly displeased with the "disregard for due process and fair trial guarantees." Finally, Zeid stated that he was worried the current detention regime will continue to expand, and called for leadership to respect the human rights of migrants and guard against intolerance.
Witnesses report large numbers of Russian tanks and other military hardware have been massed near the towns of Dzhankoy and Armyansk in Crimea's north, close to the administrative border with mainland Ukraine. "The occupiers are conducting manoeuvres and we should understand that at any minute, at any hour, they could start a large-scale or small-scale attack," said Andriy Lysenko, a military spokesman for Ukraine's presidential administration. The apparent build-up comes after an Aug. 6 bomb blast in the separatist-held city of Luhansk targtted an SUV carrying Igor Plotnitsky, head of the self-declared "Luhansk People's Republic" (LNR). Plotnitsky and two others injured in the attack, which LNR authorities branded a "terrorist" act.
The relentless terror attacks and massacres are now a near-daily occurrence—even if we limit ourselves here to industrialized countries supposedly at "peace." But they are ot as random as many commentators assume. Just over the past week... On July 26, two men armed with knives took over a church in the French town of St.-Étienne-Du-Rouvray during mass, taking hostages and killing the elderly priest. The attackers were killed by the police. ISIS released a statement saying its "soldiers" carried out the attack. (NYT) That same day, a former employee of a care center for the disabled in the Tokyo suburb of Sagamihara stabbed 19 to death as they slept in their beds, injuring 26 more. Upon turning himself in to the police, he boasted: "I did it. It is better that disabled people disappear,." (The Guardian)
French President Francois Hollande announced that he will extend the state of emergency for another three months in light of the Nice attack—just hours after saying he would lift it. Both Hollande's earlier Paris announcement that he would lift the emergency provisions and the Nice attack came amid official Bastille Day celebrations. Speaking to a crowd on the Champs-Elysées, Hollande said that the state of emergency—in place since November's Paris attacks— would not extend beyond July 26: "We can't prolong the state of emergency forever. That would make no sense, it would mean that we were no longer a republic with laws which can apply in all circumstances." The state of emergency was extended three times by parliament—most recently to boost security through the Euro-2016 soccer match.