Greater Middle East
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture expressed concerns Feb. 27 after allegations of torture and human rights violations committed by Turkish police arose snce the end of his official visit in December 2016. According to Nils Melzer, those suspected of being involved with the Gülenist Movement or the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party are alleged to be subject to brutal interrogation techniques, such as beatings, electrical shock, exposure to icy water, sleep deprivation, sexual assault and threats, to elicit confessions or incriminating statements against others. Perpetrators have not been held accountable as the state of emergency decree, which exempts public officials from criminal responsibility for actions taken to enforce the state of emergency, has been used to justify the dismissal of any complaints.
Human Rights Watch on Feb. 26 accused Egyptian authorities of escalating arbitrary arrests against political opponents. According to HRW, the arrests, which took place in late January and February, are part of a government strategy to quell political protests ahead of the next presidential election to be held in late March. A statement earlier this month by regional human rights organizations charges that "the Egyptian government has trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections." The statement accuses President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi of creating a repressive environment, and demands that the US and European Union, which provide substantial aid to the Egyptian government, speak out.
A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties after an apparent chemical attack on the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta Feb. 25, medics and monitors reported. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 civilians had suffered breathing difficulties after regime air-strikes struck the village of al-Shifuniyah. One woman is said to remain in a critical condition. A doctor who treated those affected, told AFP he suspected “chemical weapons, probably a chlorine gas attack." (Japan Times)
This is a political tragedy, and bodes more poorly than ever for any eventual return of peace to Syria. This week, Assad regime forces joined the Kurdish militia defending the northern enclave of Afrin from Turkish aggression. The People's Protection Units (YPG), military force of the Kurds' Rojava autonomous region, confirmed in a Feb. 20 statement that after days of negotiations the "Syrian government" and allied forces had entered Afrin. "After more than a month of the legendary resistance of our forces against the Turkish invasion army and the terrorist groups aligned with it from Jabhat al-Nusra, Da'esh and others, and causing severe losses for the invaders... our units considered to call the Syrian govt and its army to undertake its duties in participating in defending Afrin and protecting the Syrian borders against this evil invasion," YPG spokesperson Nouri Mahmoud said. "The Syrian government has thus heeded the call...and sent military units...to concentrate on the borders and participate in defending the unity of Syrian lands and its borders." (The Region)
Amnesty International on Feb. 21 criticized a Bahrain court for sentencing the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, to five years in prison for posts he made on Twitter in 2015. Rajab is currently serving a separate sentence for his comments in interviews in 2015 and 2016. On Feb. 22, a post on Rajab's Twitter account revealed that he will not be appealing this five-year sentence and will not take further legal action on this matter. Rajab's tweets and retweets resulting in his current sentence alleged acts of torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison and also related to the killing of civilians in the conflict in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition that also includes Bahrain.
Mystery continues to surround the Feb. 8 US air-strikes on Syria's Deir ez-Zor governorate, which Damascus called a "brutal massacre" of some 200 pro-regime troops. This was the latest of just a handful of times that pro-regime forces have been targeted by the US. Initial reports said private Russian mercenaries were among those killed in the strikes, wihch were apparently in retaliation for regime attacks on US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the area. At issue seems to have been the "Coneco" gas-field, although the typically garbled media accounts contradict each other on whether regime forces were attempting to take it from the SDF or vice versa. But another blast at an arms depot in the same area is again said to have left 15 Russian private security personnel dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the Feb. 15 incident at Tabiya Jazira were Russians "protecting the oil and gas fields controlled by the Syrian regime." (SBS, UNIAN, AFP, Feb. 15)
As Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies continue their advance on Kurdish-held Afrin, Russia and its Syrian regime allies continue their advance on rebel-held Iblib. Both offensives are taking a horrific toll in civilian casualties, but the parallels don't end there. Even as they ostensibly oppose each other, both Turkey and Assad are accused of conniving with ISIS forces to weaken the defenders of the respective enclaves. And the twin aggressions in Afrin and Idlib come amid a sudden and rapid internationalization of the Syrian war.
As Turkey invades Syrian territory to attack the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, the Assad regime and its Russian sponsors are bombarding the rebel-held province of Idlib. Civilian populations in each are facing military attack. And the Rojava Kurds as well as the autonomous municipalities of Idlib are animated by an ethic of popular council-based democracy. But while Noam Chomsly and David Graeber issued a statement in support of Afrin, they—like most of the Western left—are silent about the aggression against Idlib. The destructive meddling of the Great Powers could unleash an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in Syria—a potentially disastrous sequel to the war against ISIS. It is urgent to rebuild Arab-Kurdish solidarity against the Assad regime, the jihadists and the intervening imperialist powers—and for a democratic and secular future for Syria. Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode Two of the CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.