In an egregious and all too revealing faux pas, Amy Goodman appears to have put a mouthpiece of the German far right on Democracy Now as a "former UN expert" to discuss Venezuela. This is one Alfred de Zayas, who is given Goodman's typical sycophantic treatment—all softballs, no adversarial questions. We are treated to the accurate enough if not at all challenging or surprising line about how the US is attempting a coup with the complicity of the corporate media. Far more interesting than what he says is de Zayas himself. His Twitter page identifies him as a "Former @UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a #Democratic & Equitable #International Order," and this is confirmed by his bio page on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website. Further digging reveals that he is on the board of the Desiderius-Erasmus-Stiftung, a Berlin-based foundation established last year as the intellectual and policy arm of Alternative für Deutschland, the far-right party that has tapped anti-immigrant sentiment to win an alarming 94 seats in Germany's Bundestag.
In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. He dismissed the opposition to the law as "hysterical shouting" by people "whose lies have no limits." In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment.
French prosecutors issued international arrest warrants for three prominent Syrian officials charged with collusion in crimes against humanity on Nov. 5, in what human rights lawyers are calling a major victory in the pursuit of those believed responsible for mass torture and abuse in the regime's detention facilities. The arrest warrants name three leading security officials—including Ali Mamlouk, a former intelligence chief and senior adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as head of the Air Force Intelligence security branch, Jamil Hassan. A third, Abdel Salam Mahmoud—an Air Force Intelligence officer who reportedly runs a detention facility at al-Mezzeh military base in southwest Damascus—was also named. Hassan and Mamlouk are among the most senior Syrian officials to receive an international arrest warrant throughout the course of the conflict. Air Force Intelligence chief Hassan is already the subject of another warrant issued by German prosecutors earlier this year. Both men have been sanctioned by the international community for their role in abuses since the first outbreak of unrest in Syria in spring 2011.
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.
Thousands took to the streets across Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region Dec. 18 to protest budget cuts and the lack of basic services, in what is looking like a popular uprising as street clashes now enter their second day. At least six were killed Dec. 19 in Raniya, Sulaymaniyah province, as security forces fired on protesting civil servants, who have gone without pay for weeks. Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) administration. A group of protesters armed with assault rifles attacked the local office of the KRG's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Raniya, where a curfew has now been imposed. KRG authorities have also taken measures against the press, ordering closed independent Nalia Radio & Television (NRT), and arresting its owner Shaswar Abdulwahid, for allegedly inciting the protests. The KRG has been under a severe financial crunch since Baghdad cut off funding to the region over its unilateral referendum on independence in September. (BasNews, BasNews, BasNews, BasNews, Arab News, CNN)
Indigenous groups claimed a victory at the UN climate talks in Bonn on Nov. 15 as governments acknowledged for the first time that they can play a leadership role in protecting forests and keeping global temperatures within safe levels. Participating governments ("Parties") agreed to create a platform to promote the voices and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the UN climate process, formally known as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The "Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform" (PDF) states that "Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities," while "Emphasizing the role of local communities and indigenous peoples in achieving the targets and goals set in the Convention, the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognizing their vulnerability to climate change."
Russia announced that it is preparing to deploy troops to police the borders of planned "de-escalation zones" in Syria after finalizing an agreement with Turkey and Iran. The word came from Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev following the latest round of ongoing talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana. (Reuters, July 4) We've noted that the so-called "de-escalation zones" or "safe zones" could become kill zones, where Russia and Assad will be able to bomb with (even greater) impunity—as they will officially not be "safe" for ISIS, and Moscow and Damascus have long used the propaganda trick of conflating all rebel forces with ISIS. Now, with the US also sending ground troops to join the forces fighting ISIS, American and Russian soliders could find themselves in close proximity, with greater of odds of ending up shooting at each other—potentially leading to unparalleled catastrophe.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that this year has seen a "notable trend of spontaneous returns" of displaced Syrians to their homes, both from outside and inside the country. Around 31,000 refugees returned from neighboring countries in the first six months of 2017, while more than 440,000 internally displaced persons went back to their homes—a combined total of nearly half a million. The main destinations are said to be Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus—all now largely under regime control after years of heavy fighting against rebel forces. UNHCR representative Andrej Mahecic said Syrians are seeking out family members, checking on property, and "in some cases responding to a real or perceived improvement in security conditions in parts of the country." But he warned that despite hopes over recent peace talks in Astana and Geneva, the "UNHCR believes conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria." (The Independent, July 1)