The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report (PDF) March 15 condemning the pervasive sexual and gender-based violence that has occurred over the past seven years in the Syrian conflict. The report, entitled "I Lost My Dignity: Sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian Arab Republic," was written after UN workers interviewed more than 450 survivors, lawyers, healthcare practitioners and other affected individuals concerning the use of such violence between March 2011 and December 2017. The report details the systemic rape, torture, and other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by government forces and affiliated militias at checkpoints, in detention centers, and during interrogations.
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)
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.
The Unites States is facing a pretty surreal contradiction, with blustering Trump and his cannabis-phobic Attorney General Jeff Sessions holding the federal reins, as legalization takes effect in California. The Philippines is looking at a similar paradox. Ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte is again sending the National Police back into drug enforcement, after he was pressured to withdraw them by a public outcry over their slaying of thousands of innocent civilians since he took office in June 2016. And on New Year's Eve, he won a grim victory as the Philippine Congress voted to extend his declaration of martial law in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao through the end of 2018.
With Afghanistan's opium output now breaking all previous records, it seems that hashish continues to remain an important sideline for the country's warring factions—and to hear the US tell it, it's the ultra-puritanical Taliban that are responsible for it. A Dec. 18 press release from NATO Special Operations Command boasts of the& seizure of 34 tons of "raw hashish" (presumably meaning herbaceous cannabis) and 300 kilograms of "processed hashish" in a raid carried out jointly with the National Interdiction Unit of the Afghan police force.
A coordinated attack on a compound of the Afghan army in capital Kabul left at least 11 soldiers dead Jan. 29, authorities report. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the barracks of the army's 111th division in Qargha district before a small team of gunmen moved in. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency. This was the third large attack in Kabul since Jan. 20, when Taliban insurgents launched an assault on the Intercontinental Hotel that left over 20 dead. The second attack came Jan. 27, when presumed Taliban militants detonated an ambulance packed with explosives near an Interior Ministry compound, killing over 100. Another six people were killed in an assault claimed by ISIS on the office of aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad. (Khaama Press, NPR, Reuters)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Jan. 25 condemned the deadly mosque attack in eastern Benghazi two days earlier that left 34 people dead and 90 wounded, the majority civilians including three young children. According to a local hospital source, the car bombs exploded within 15 to 30 minutes of each other in front of the Baya'at al-Radwan Mosque in the Salmani district of Benghazi. The identity of the individuals or group that set the bombs is currently unknown. The first explosion occurred as worshipers were on their way out, after finishing their evening prayers known as "al-Isha," killing three and injuring six. The second explosion, which caused the majority of the casualties, followed the arrival of security forces and volunteer civilians who were helping to evacuate the wounded and dead.
Waheed Mandoo Hammo, prime minister of Ezidikhan, the self-declared autonomous homeland of the Yazidi people in northern Iraq, issued a statement expressing his nation's appreciation and gratitude in a letter to Armenia's Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan after the Armenian National Assembly approved a resolution recognizing the Yazidi Genocide of 2014. Armenia is the first UN member state to formally recognize as genocide the mass killings and enslavement of Yazidis by "Islamic State" forces after their seizure of the Sinjar area in August 2014. Invoking the the 1948 Genocide Convention, the Armenian resolution condemned the "genocidal acts by terrorist groups against the Yazidi people committed in territories of Iraq under their control," and called for the "international community to take measures to ensure the safety and protection of the Yazidi people, provide them humanitarian aid," and "make all possible efforts to prevent" new attacks.