The UN General Assembly on May 22 passed a resolution demanding the United Kingdom return control of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius within six months. There were 116 votes for the motion, with more than 50 abstentions, and just six votes against—the UK, United States, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives. The non-binding resolution follows an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in February, finding that the UK is "under an obligation" to end its administration of the islands "as rapidly as possible." The UK retained control over the islands after Mauritius gained its independence from Britain in 1968, following a supposed compensation deal between the two states. Mauritius now rejects the deal as having been imposed unilaterally.
In Episode 31 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg documents the ugly far-right politics of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and how the 2010 document dump risked the lives of dissidents under authoritarian regimes in places like Zimbabwe—and may have constituted outright collaboration with the repressive dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. An objective reading of the circumstances around the 2016 Wikileaks dump of Democratic Party e-mails reveals Assange as a Kremlin asset and Trump collaborator, an active agent in a Russian-lubricated effort to throw the US elections—part of Putin's grander design to impose a fascist world order. Weinberg also notes that the ACLU and Committee to Protect Journalists have issued statements warning that the charges against Assange may pose a threat to press freedom. But he argues that even if we must protest his prosecution, we should do so while refraining from glorifying Assange—and, indeed, while forthrightly repudiating him as a dangerous political enemy of all progressive values. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion Feb. 26 outlining the legal consequences of separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965. The UK and Mauritius, by virtue of the Lancaster House agreement, detached the Chagos Archipelago form Mauritius and established the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The British subsequently allowed the United States to establish a military base on the island Diego Garcia, with many inhabitants forcibly removed, and those who left voluntarily prevented from returning. The ICJ opinion, which is nonbinding, says the UK did not lawfully decolonize the islands through the Lancaster House agreement. The court urged the UK to end its continued administration over Chagos Archipelago: "[T]he United Kingdom has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible." The opinion states that "all Member States must cooperate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius."
Assad regime artillery struck areas of Syria's opposition-held Idlib province Jan. 12 after militants allegedly tried to infiltrate regime-held areas, according to state news agency SANA. The shelling was reportedly focused on the town of Tamanaa near Maaret al-Numan, which was seized from Turkish-backed rebels by jihadist forces earlier in the week. The was apparently part of a ceasefire agreement ending an internal conflict between rival opposition forces in Idlib. Much of the governorate's territory was reportedly turned over to the so-called "Salvation Government"—administrative arm of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the successor organization to disbanded al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. Constituent militias of the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front have reportedly retreated to the Turkish-held enclave of Afrin across the border in Aleppo governorate. (Rudaw, AFP) These ominous developments may spell an end to Idlib's reprieve from the threatened Assad offensiive on the province since establishment of a joint Turkish-Russian buffer zone there.
The US-led Coalition's ongoing failure to admit to—let alone adequately investigate—the shocking scale of civilian deaths and destruction it caused in Raqqa is a "slap in the face" for survivors trying to rebuild their lives and their city, said Amnesty International a year after the offensive to oust ISIS. On Oct. 17, 2017, following a fierce four-month battle, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—the Coalition's Kurdish-led partners on the ground—announced victory over ISIS, which had used civilians as human shields and committed other war crimes in besieged Raqqa. Winning the battle came at a terrible price—almost 80% of the city was destroyed and many hundreds of civilians lay dead, the majority killed by Coalition bombardment. In a letter to Amnesty on Sept. 10, 2018, the US Department of Defense made clear it accepts no liability for the civilian casualties it caused. The Coalition does not plan to compensate survivors and relatives of those killed in Raqqa, and refuses to provide further information about the circumstances behind strikes that killed and maimed civilians.
A Turkish court has sentenced a former British soldier to seven-and-a-half years for alleged links to Syria's Kurdish YPG militia, considered a "terrorist" group by Ankara. Joe Robinson of Leeds was arrested in Turkey in July 2017 after he apparently posted photos of himself in camouflage, posing beside fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. A court in the western city of Aydin sentenced the 25-year-old for "membership of a terrorist organization" on Sept. 15. Robinson did not attend the trial for health reasons. He is currently on bail and planning an appeal. His Bulgarian fiancée, arrested along with him, was sentenced to nearly two years for "terrorist propaganda," but she is currently in the United Kingdom. The BBC reports that the fiancée, Mira Rojkan, was given a suspended sentence.
Some 50,000 to 60,000 people fleeing war and persecution will start a new life and be on track for a new passport in 2018, but it will be the fewest number of refugees resettled globally any year since 2007, UN figures show. The drop is mainly due to President Donald Trump’s administration slashing the US quota. The United States took in 68% of the 770,000 refugees permanently resettled in the last 10 years, according to the UN—an average of about 51,000 per year. But this calendar year, fewer than 10,000 had made the journey to the United States by the end of July. Developing regions host 85% of the world’s refugees, according to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.
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.