Aryana Sayeed, a popular singer and TV personality known as the "Adele of Afghanistan," was among the performers at a Kabul "Peace Concert," organized by a network of youth groups and held at the city's Babur Garden venue Oct. 19. In August, she performed at a similar concert held in front of the ruins of the Bamiyan Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Sayeed remains unbowed in the face of hate mail and death threats over her refusal to wear the hijab in her performances and TV appearances, becoming an icon of women's freedom in Afghanistan. In a typical statement, parliament member Abdul Satar Khawasi said her show "brings shame to our community and ruins our Islamic and Afghan dignity and culture." Satar has called for a jihad against the reality-style talent showcase program, dubbed "The Voice," in which Sayeed is a judge. In response to the threats, Sayeed said: ""I'm here to make a difference for women. I want women to have rights, to talk freely, to walk freely... I'm not saying that they have to take their clothes off, or even remove their head scarfs. Freedom is being able to live as a human being.'' In one of her music videos, Sayeed sings "Because I am a woman, I am a slave''—against a background of images of women in burqas. (Dawn, Pakistan, Oct. 21; The Nation, Pakistan, Oct. 20; TeleCinco, Spain, Oct. 14; NBC, Oct. 12; DPA, Aug. 17; AFP, Aug. 16; Khaama Press, Afghanistan, July 22)
Malala Yousafzai is still taking abuse even amid the adulation accompanying her American tour last week. Upon her shooting one year ago, her Taliban would-be assassins claimed she had praised Obama and expressed support for "Western culture." This was quickly exposed as nonsense, as it became clear that Malala was a sympathizer of a Marxist tendency that was fighting for secularism in the mullah-dominated Swat Valley! However, some voices on the "left" continued to diss her in self-righteous terms, even engaging in lugubrious conspiracy-mongering that the whole affair had been set up as a propaganda job. So what are we to make now that Malala has spoken before the United Nations, appeared on Jon Stewart, and met with Obama in the White House? Are the cynics vindicated? Has Malala now, finally, been co-opted?
At least 163 were reported dead March 28 in clashes at Okello, in Pibor county of South Sudan's Jonglei state, pitting government troops against a rebel force whose commander David Yau Yau is said to be among the slain. (See map.) South Sudan accuses Khartoum of supporting the rebels, with military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer saying a seized airstrip was used for arms drops. He suggested Sudan is arming the rebellion in a bid to block the South's plans to build an oil pipeline through Ethiopia to a port in Djibouti. Aguer said the South's military, the SPLA, would continue to "deal with the militia group." (The Guardian, March 28) A Kenyan route for the pipeline has also been broached, with the aim of freeing the South from having to export oil through Khartoum's territory.
Local musicians in conjunction with the Kenyan Red Cross held a concert for peace in Nairobi Feb. 28, ahead of presidential elections next week. Dubbed Chagua Amani, Kiswahili for "Choose Peace," the concert marked the fifth anniversary of the accord that ended post-election violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives in early 2008. A few thousand people attended the show at the city's Uhuru Park—but no presidential candidates showed.
The Administrative Tribunal of Colombia's Antioquia department on Feb. 8 ordered the national army to hold a public ceremony officially apologizing for the massacre at San José de Apartadó Peace Community, almost exactly eight years after it was carried out. In the Feb. 21, 2005 attack, six adults and two children were killed at the village in Apartadó municipality of Antioquia's northern Urabá region, where residents had declared their non-cooperation with all armed actors in Colombia's civil conflict.
Norma Enríquez, a leader of the Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace, an umbrella of Colombian NGOs and popular organizations, on Feb. 10 called on the government to include the National Liberation Army (ELN) in the talks now underway in Havana with the FARC guerillas. Enríquez told the Mexican news agency Notimex that failure to include the ELN "would be to risk marginalizing one of the expressions of the conflict from the peace dialogue." Initial contacts between the government and the ELN, brokered by the Catholic Church, apparently broke down in November, when the guerilla group took hostage two German nationals in Santander department. (Notimex, Feb. 11; Sexenio, Mexico, Feb. 10)
On Nov. 15, the International Criminal Court (ICC) gave Colombia a clear warning that the Court expects accountability at the senior level for serious crimes that fall under its jurisdiction, or else it may pursue a formal investigation. The warning came in the first interim examination report ever issued by the Court's Prosecutor Office. Colombia joined the ICC in November 2002 and is one of only eight countries formally under ICC examination. The others are Honduras, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Georgia, Guinea, North Korea and Mali.
The San José de Apartadó Peace Community in Colombia's northern Urabá region, one of several citizen peace initiatives by local communities demanding their right not to take sides in the war, is once again under threat—seven years after a massacre that forced many residents to flee the village. Several outlying hamlets (veredas) continue to adhere to the Peace Community, and their leaders are now facing escalated harassment. On July 30 and 31, Germán Graciano, a Peace Community leader, received phone calls from men who identified themselves as members of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a paramilitary group. The callers demanded he agree to collaborate with them, or "purchase coffins for himself and his family."