At least 25 are reported dead and more than 240 injured in clashes that erupted when Ukrainian protesters mounted a march on parliament Feb. 18, apparently ending a "truce" that had been worked out to allow negotiations. The march took place before a scheduled debate on reinstatement of Ukraine's 2004 constitution, which would rein in President Viktor Yanukovich's powers. The situation on the streets escalated as the bill was blocked by parliamentary staff who refused to register it on procedural grounds. The 2004 constitution was repealed in 2010, shortly after Yanukovich came to power, replaced by a new one granting him sweeping powers, including to appoint regional governors—a critical issue in Ukraine, with its divide between the more Russian-identified east and more European-identified west. (Jurist, WP, UN News Centre, Feb. 19; BBC News, EuroNews, Feb. 18)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told Turkey's Anadolu Agency Feb. 5 that photographs showing torture in Syria mean that the country's president, Bashar Assad, must be tried before the International Criminal Court. Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and rights advocate, noted that Syria (like the US, Israel and Sudan) has not ratified the Roma Statute that created the ICC, but she said that he could be indicted by an initiative of the UN Security Council, as in the case of Sudan's Omar al-Bashir. However, she also noted that Russia's veto at the Security Council is an obstacle to this. She also had harsh words for her own government: "I am ashamed of my country's intervention in Syria where civilians are killed, and as an Iranian I apologize to the Syrian people. The Iranian state intervenes in Syria despite the will of Iranian people." (Anadolu Agency, Feb. 6)
With the Winter Olympics underway in Sochi, Russian special forces troops killed five suspected militants and took another into custody Feb. 8 in an assault on a house in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan. The suspects were named as members of the "Buynaksk" militant group, and their leader, who was among the dead, as Alexei Pashentsev, an ethnic Russian convert to Islam. The Buynaksk network was named as tied to December's Volgograd attacks, although there was no claim that the cell targeted in the raid was directly involved. Three days earlier, a suspected mastermind of the Volgograd attacks was reported killed in a shoot-out with security forces following a raid on a house in the Dagestan town of Izberbash. However, Russian state media named the network targeted in that raid as "Kadarskaya." (CNN, Feb. 8; Vestnik Kavkaza, Feb. 5) Jan. 18 saw another raid in Makhachkala, in which seven presumed militants were killed, and links to the Volgograd attacks alleged. That time, Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee named the suspects as members of the Buinaksk group. (RIA-Novosti, Jan. 30; CNN, Jan. 18)
A boycott of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics has been called by leaders of the Circassians, who are demanding that the 19th-century Czarist military campaign against their people in the region be officially recognized as a genocide. A delegation of Circassians from the diaspora—including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Germany and the US—has travelled to the North Caucasus to visit the historic sites of their ancestors' homeland before the Games and raise awareness of their campaign.
The European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Jan. 9 that Russia must pay 1.9 million euros, or $2.6 million, to the families of 36 Chechen men who disappeared between 2000 and 2006. The court found that Russia was in violation of Articles 2, 3, 5 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF). These violations concern the right to life, prohibition of inhuman treatment, right to liberty and security and right to an effective remedy. The court found that the families presented credible evidence towards their claim that their loved ones have been seized by the Russian military and Russia had failed to prove that the military was not responsible for the disappearances. It is unclear whether Russia will appeal the judgment to a higher human rights court.
A French court in Aix-En Province on Jan. 9 ordered the extradition of Mukhtar Ablyazov, Kazakhstan's former energy minister, accused of misappropriating $6 billion from BTA Bank. The French court agreed to the extradition requests from Russia and Ukraine, which both house BTA Bank branches, partly because France does not have an extradition agreement with Kazakhstan. In 2011 Ablyazov gained political asylum in the UK after alleging that he faced prosecution in Kazakhstan because he was the leading figure in the opposition against Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Ablyazov also claimed that he had been imprisoned for political reasons prior to these charges. Amnesty International urged against Ablyazov's extradition after the court's ruling. Julie Hall, AI expert on counter-terrorism and human rights, said, "Not only do we have fears that Ablyazov would not get a fair trial in Russia or Ukraine, there is a real danger that he will eventually end up in Kazakhstan, where he will be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment." She cited a report (PDF) on the routine cooperation of Russia and Ukraine with Central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan, to transfer suspects, often at risk of their human rights.
At least 34 people were killed in apparent suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd—the first at the central commuter station Dec. 29, the next the following day on a trolley-bus in a market district. Moscow is stepping up security throughout the country, fearing an effort to disrupt the 2014 winter Olympic Games slated for the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi in February. Police have detained dozens in a sweep of terror suspects in Volgograd, with hundreds more searched or questioned. Reports did not make clear if the detained are Chechens, but did note a threat in a video statement released by Chechen resistance leader Doku Umarov earlier in the year to use "maximum force" to stop the Sochi Olympics. On the day of the first Volgograd blast, Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee boasted that FSB troops had killed a close aide to Umarov in a raid on a safe house in Dagestan. (CNN, Dec. 31; BBC News, The Guardian, Dec. 30; RT, Dec. 29)
This week saw an amazing turn of events in the current reprise of the inter-factional protests that shook Thailand three years ago: riot police in Bangkok yielded to the protesters they were ordered to disperse, in apparent defiance of their commanders. The police removed barricades and their helmets as a sign of solidarity. Disobedience of orders for repression is an incredibly hopeful sign; if this sets an example for similar situations around the world, the horizons of possibility for nonviolent revolution are broadened almost dizzyingly. What complicates it is that while in 2010 it was the populist Red Shirts that were protesting the government and the patrician Yellow Shirts that were rallying around it, today the situation is reversed. The Yellow Shirts are seeking the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister (and perceived puppet) of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and whose restoration to power the Red Shirts had been demanding last time around. (VOA, Dec. 13; Political Blind Spot, Dec. 6)