In an independence referendum that drew record numbers to the polls Nov. 4, voters in the South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia voted 56 to 44 percent to remain a French territory. The referendum marked a major milestone in an independence movement that has spanned decades. Political leaders initially agreed in 1988 to hold a vote on independence after a 10-year period of economic and social development. Subsequent negotiations extended the deadline to the end of the 2014-2018 session of the New Caledonian Congress. The final details were settled this past spring when legislators adopted eight criteria to determine who would be eligible to participate in the referendum.
Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on Aug. 27, the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting in Geneva. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons.
The European Parliament on June 14 overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Russian authorities to release Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, and all the other "illegally detained Ukrainian citizens" in Russia and Russia-annexed Crimea "immediately and unconditionally." Sentsov has been on hunger strike in a Russian prison in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region since May 14. He is demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners. Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in 2014, after Russia seized the Ukrainian region. A Russian court in 2015 convicted him of planning to commit terrorist acts and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He denies the accusations.
Just over a year after Trump's air-strikes on an Assad regime airbase in response to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, we've witnessed a repeat of this episode—although this time the air-strikes were on wider targets, and carried out in conjunction with British and French forces. In response to last week's chemical attack on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, missiles and warplanes from the USS Donald Cook in the eastern Mediterranean carried out the first Western strikes on targets around the Damascus area. The following targets are reported to have been hit: the Damascus Scientific Research Center, said to be linked to production of chemical and biological weapons; another purported chemical weapons lab in Barzeh; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and headquarters of various elite military units. Iranian forces were apparently also targeted, with a base used by the Republican Guard struck. However, this military action looks like it will be no more sustained than that of last April. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called it a "single shot," and is believed to have put the brakes on the scope "to keep this from escalating." He told reporters after the initial sorties: "Right now we have no additional attacks planned." There are no reports of any deaths in the air-strikes, and the few known casualties are all military personnel. (American Military News, Middle East Eye, Reuters, NYT, CNBC, BBC News)
On March 24, the exiled Royal House of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia elected Prince Frederic Luz as its new monarch—claiming dominion over a large area of Chile in the name of the region's Mapuche indigenous inhabitants. Although now dispersed in Britain and France, the Royal House traces its origin to 1860, when Orélie de Tounens, an idealistic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed Chile’s Rio Biobío into Mapuche lands never colonized by either the Spanish empire or the Chilean state. The Biobío was recognized as the northern border of Mapuche territory under a 1641 treaty with the Spanish. De Tounens learned the local language, adopted Mapuche ways, and was recognized by their elders as King Antoine—ruling a territory that stretched to the southern tip of the continent. In 1862, he was captured by Chilean forces, convicted of sedition, and only spared execution due to his perceived insanity. He made several failed attempts to return to Patagonia and win international recognition for his now-exiled government, but died in poverty in 1878. By then, Chile and Argentina were launching military campaigns to "pacify" the Mapuche. Historians estimate the Mapuche population of southern Chile fell by 90% as a result of this "pacification."
Medical facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta report having received 1,000 dead and upwards of 4,800 wounded over the two-week period ending March 4. This figure is an underestimate, as it does not include information from all medical facilities supported by MSF in the area, or from facilities not supported by MSF. Warplanes of the Assad regime and its Russian allies continue their apparent intentional targeting of hospitals; 15 out of 20 facilities supported by MSF in East Ghouta have been hit by bombing or shelling during the recent escalation.
Trump's disparate reactions to the similar attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona provide an obvious but inevitable study not only in double standards, but (worse) the president's actual embrace of racist terror. Whether opportunistically or not, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Barcelona attack, in which a motorist ploughed into pedestrians on Las Ramblas, a pedestrian thoroughfare packed with tourists, killing 13 and wounding scores. Just five days earlier, a neo-Nazi did the same thing to a crowd of antifa counter-protesters in Virginia, killing one and wounding 19. Mother Jones is among those to provide a sampling of the presidential statements and tweets in response to the two like attacks, just days apart. Regarding Charlottesville, Trump blamed "many sides" for the violence, and said there were "fine people" on the side that was flying the Nazi flag and committed an act of terror. He's also been waxing maudlin about the "beautiful" statues of Confederate generals now coming down around the country. This of course squanders all credibility to tweet that he "condemns the terror attack in Barcelona." But it gets much, much worse...
London's High Court of Justice ruled (PDF) July 10 that the UK can continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) brought the suit on the grounds that the weapons have been used to violate international humanitarian and rights laws. For the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been waging attacks on Yemen, causing the deaths of over 10,000 civilians. Several advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, intervened in the suit. The court looked at a range of evidence, including secret information that was not released to the public due to security concerns. A substantial portion of Lord Justice Burnett's reasoning is contained in a "closed judgment" document that is only available to the government's legal team and a security-cleared "special advocate" for CAAT.