In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
The Foreign Ministry of Oman on Jan. 14 reported that 10 Yemeni detainees from Guantánamo Bay arrived temporarily to Oman. The US Department of Defense later confirmed the move. Three days earlier, human rights experts from the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) jointly sent an open letter urging the US government to shut down the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay on its fourteenth anniversary. The letter mentioned the recent steps taken by the Obama administration to close the facility, but noted that many prisoners still remain at Guantánamo without trial outside the reach of US law. With this week's transfers, that number now stands at 93.
Six Guantánamo detainees were transferred to Oman June 13, marking the first transfer of detainees from the prison in five months. The Pentagon reports that the six Yemeni men transferred include Emad Abdullah Hassan, held without charge since 2002, Idris Ahmad 'Abd Al Qadir Idris and Jalal Salam Awad Awad, all accused of being one of many bodyguards to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as well as Sharaf Ahmad Muhammad Mas'ud, whom the US said fought American soldiers at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, before his capture in Pakistan, Saa'd Nasser Moqbil Al Azani, a religious teacher whom the US believes had ties to bin Laden's religious adviser, and Muhammad Ali Salem al-Zarnuki, who allegedly arrived in Afghanistan as early as 1998 to fight and support the Taliban. President Barack Obama's administration has transferred more than half of the 242 detainees who were at the facility when he took office in 2009, but lawmakers have sought new restrictions on transfers that may lead to further challenges to the president's initiative.
UN rights experts on Jan. 30 urged the Omani government to release Said Ali Said Jadad, a human rights activist. Jadad, who promoted democratic reforms, was arrested last week with no warrant and charged with undermining the prestige of the state, inciting demonstrations, steering up sectarian strife and offending state officials. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai believe Jadad's detention may be retaliation for communicating with international organizations, noting that Jadad has been arrested several times after visits from representatives of the UN. The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) has also denounced the arrest. Jadad has reportedly been harassed by the government for several months; he was placed under travel ban last October, and also detained last December when police raided his home.
A group of US senators on Jan. 13 proposed legislation (PDF) that would place a moratorium on the release or transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay. Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte (NH), John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Richard Burr (NC) touted the new bill as the best course of action to protect US national security. The act, titled "The Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015," would halt all releases of Guantánamo detainees with high or medium risk ratings, issue more prohibitions ontransfers and provide more transparency on how detainees' risk levels are determined. Ayotte stated, "It's clear that we need a 'time out' so that we do not re-confront the terrorists that we had captured and are currently in Guantánamo." The new legislation will place pressure on the White House as the Obama administration released 28 prisoners from Guantánamo in 2014.
On Nov. 13 the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that investigates federal spending for Congress, released a report on the US government's handling of labor violations in countries with which it has "free trade" agreements (FTAs). Recent FTAs, such as the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), have requirements for participating countries to meet certain standards in labor practices. The GAO claimed to find progress in this area in the partner countries—but also "persistent challenges to labor rights, such as limited enforcement capacity, the use of subcontracting to avoid direct employment, and, in Colombia and Guatemala, violence against union leaders."
Tehran and Islamabad will sign an agreement March 11 for Iran to build the largest refinery in Pakistan, a $4 billion facility at Gwadar in the country's southwestern Balochistan province. (See map.) The refinery, projected to handle 400,000 barrels per day, will be linked to the planned Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, with an extension to western China envisioned. China last month took over operational control of Gwadar's port, where a major expansion is planned. China's Great United Petroleum Holdings Company (GUPC) has agreed to conduct the feasibility study for a "petrochemical city" project in Gwadar. A pipeline from Gwadar to China would reduce the time and distance for oil transport from the Persian Gulf to Chinese markets. (Asia Times, March 6)
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.