Bahrain’s highest court on Jan. 28 upheld a life sentence for Shi'ite cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, for spying on behalf of neighboring Qatar. According to Amnesty International, the case is based on conversations that Salman had in 2011 with the then-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. Salman was initially acquitted, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2018 by the court of appeals. This term has now been affirmed by the Cassation Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a "bitter blow to freedom of expression." The organization's Middle East director Samah Hadid said it "exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman's conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities' determination to silence critical voices."
Following the announcement of a US withdrawal of its troops embedded with Kurdish forces in Syria, the Kurds are again making overtures for a separate peace with the Assad regime. Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG) are reported to have turned over the flashpoint town of Manbij to regime forces—marking the first time that the Assad regime's flag has flown over the northern town for more than six years. "The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," Ilham Ahmed, an official of the Kurdish autonomous administration, told The Telegraph. "If the Turks' excuse is the [YPG], they will leave their posts to the government." A statement released by the YPG said they had invited regime forces to the town, as they are "obliged to protect the same country, nation and borders."
Yemen war crime investigators on Sept. 25 called upon the UN Human Rights Council to renew their mandate and allow the continued inquiry into Yemen's internal conflict, calling the situation in the county "extremely alarming." The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, in their initial report (PDF), released in August, found evidence that "members of the Saudi-led coalition, the Yemeni government, and the Houthi armed group have been committing abuses, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians, arbitrary and abusive detention, and recruitment of children." At the time of the report, the experts recommended that their mandate be renewed. However, Saudi Arabia and other coalition members have pressed the council to discontinue the inquiry.
A group of independent UN human rights experts on July 26 called (PDF) upon Bahrain to put an end to rights violations and investigate events surrounding the "State of National Safety" declared in 2011. The experts warned against military courts exercising jurisdiction over civilians, and discrimination against women and the Shi'ite population. The report called for abolition of the death penalty, and a halt to the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. While the "State of National Safety" officially ended after three months, the report noted an April 2017 amendment to the constitution granting military courts jurisdiction over civilians outside of a declared state of emergency.
A year after a network of secret prisons was first exposed in southern Yemen, Amnesty International has issued a new report documenting continued rights violations in these facilities, including systemic forced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment that may amount to "war crimes." The report, God only knows if he's alive, details how scores of men have been arbitrarily arrested and detained by United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemeni forces operating outside the command of their own government. Many have been tortured, with some feared to have died in custody. Since joining the conflict in March 2015, the UAE has created, trained, equipped and financed various local security forces known as the Security Belt and Elite Forces, bypassing their leadership in the Yemeni government.
A crisis over the Yemeni island of Socotra was resolved this week, as the United Arab Emirates agreed to withdraw and turn control over to Saudi forces, which will in turn restore full Yemeni rule there. The island, just off the very tip of the Horn of Africa, has been ruled by Yemeni governments for centuries between periodic episodes of control by various European powers, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique flora and fauna, hailed as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean." Emirati forces seized it at the beginning of the month, and raised their flag over the airport and other strategic points—sparking angry protests from the island's inhabitants. Hashim Saad al-Saqatri, Socotra's governor, condemned the UAE move as an "occupation," saying it represented "a flagrant violation of Yemeni sovereignty." Even after the de-escalation, suspicions remain. Yemen's ambassador to UNESCO, Ahmad al-Sayyad, charged that "there is synergy between the roles of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There is a hidden inclination to divide Yemen." (Middle East Eye, May 18; Al Jazeera, May 17)
After all the talk we've heard in recent years about how depressed oil prices are now permanent, in the wake of Trump's announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Bank of America is predicting that the price of Brent crude could go as high as the once-dreaded $100 per barrel in 2019. The report also cited collapsing production in Venezuela due to the crisis there. Brent prices have risen above $77 per barrel since Trump's announcement. Prices have jumped more than 8% over the past month and 15% since the beginning of the year. According to the analysis, investors fear that renewed sanctions on Iran could lead to supply disruptions. (CNNMoney, May 10) Although the report failed to mention it, the Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have doubtless contributed to the jitters.
The United Arab Emirates announced April 16 that it is ending its military training program in Somalia, as the governments of Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu trade charges back and forth. Ostensibly the move comes in response to the seizure of millions of dollars from a UAE plane by Somali security forces last week. But tensions between the two governments have been on the rise over Emirati plans to build a military base in Somaliland, the self-declared republic that is effectively independent from Mogadishu. The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 for the weak and fractious Mogadishu government. But Mogadishu sees establishment of a foreign base at Somaliland's port of Berbera as a move toward recognition of the breakaway republic, calling it a "clear violation of international law."