A trial is about to open in Russian-annexed Crimea in which Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Majlis, and two other Tatar leaders stand accused of organizing mass disturbances in February 2014, in the prelude to the regional referendum that approved union with Russia. The Ukraine-based Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group assails the trial as "lawless" and says it "flies in the face of all principles of law." The Crimean court on Nov 25 imposed a Dec. 4 deadline for the defense to review a huge file assembled by prosecutors, consisting of 26 volumes and 47 gigabits of video footage, each some four hours long. An appeal against this ruling was rejected on Dec. 24, although the defense argued that they had only had time to read 10 of the 26 volumes, and had actually been denied access to the material for much of the peroid. Chiygoz has been detained since January, and his freedom was a demand of recent protest blockades of Crimea's border with Ukraine, which stopped delivery of goods into the peninsula. Since the former Majlis head Mustafa Dzhemiliev and his successor Refat Chubarov have both been exiled by the new Russian athorities, Chiygoz is the highest-ranking Tatar leader remaining in Crimea.
China's top legislative body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee, passed a new anti-terrorism law on Dec. 27, requiring technology companies to provide decryption of any communication to officials on demand. Lawmakers insist this does not constitute the "backdoor" that was written into earlier versions of the legislation. But critics of the law, including international rights organizations and the US State Department, warn that it could restrict citizens' freedoms of expression and association because it is so broad in nature. US objections were blasted as "hypocritical" in a harshly worded editorial from China's state-run Xinhua News Agency. The law builds on a national security statute adopted in July that requires all network infrastructure to be "secure and controllable." The new law also restricts media from reporting on terrorist activity, and permits the People's Liberation Army to carry out anti-terrorism operations overseas. The law will take effect on Jan. 1. (The Diplomat, NBC, Dec. 29; Reuters, Jurist, Dec. 28; The Verge, Engadget, NYT, Xinhua, Dec. 27)
In a public ceremony held in the central plaza of Segovia, Antioquia department, representatives of the Colombian government on Dec. 20 formally acknowledged the state's responsibility in the Nov. 11, 1988 massacre, in which 43 residents were slain by paramilitary troops who fired indiscriminately as they swept through the town's streets. The ceremony, preceded by a march from the town's cemetery to the central plaza, was overseen by Guillermo Rivera, presidential advisor in human rights, and members of the government's Unit for Victim Reparations. Rivera admitted the massacre had been ordered by local politicians in response to the victory of the leftist Patriotic Union in the town's municipal elections. (El Espectador, Bogotá, Dec.. 20)
In a series of Christmas eve attacks, a breakaway rebel group killed nine civilians in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao. Army troops killed four members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after they attacked a farming community in Sultan Kudarat province. Miriam Ferrer, the government's chief negotiator in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said seven were shot at close range while working in their rice paddies. A coordinated attack targeted Christians, with two civilians were killed in a grenade attack on a chapel in nearby North Cotabato province. (Reuters, Dec. 26) MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Q. Iqbal blamed the failure of the government to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, instating a local autonomous region, for radicalizing breakaway factions like the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf. "[G]iven that frustrations can be contagious and toxic like poison, no one can really tell how wide it would spread if lawmakers would not be able to pass the BBL,” he said. (Business World, Philippines, Dec. 20)
The International Court of Justice on on Dec. 16 recognized Costa Rica's sovereignty over a 2.5-square-kilometer disputed territory on the border with Nicaragua, one of the main claims fought over by the two countries at The Hague-based court. "The sovereignty over the disputed territory belongs to Costa Rica," Justice Ronny Abraham stated. The ruling found that an artificial canal opened by Nicaragua in 2010 through Isla Calero, also called Isla Portillos or Harbour Head Island, was within Costa Rican territory and not part of the common border between the two countries. Justices also unanimously found that Nicaragua violated Costa Rican territory by invading Isla Calero with military personnel, by dredging canals in Costa Rican territory, and by violating Costa Rica’s navigation rights on the Río San Juan. Nicaragua was ordered to compensate Costa Rica for damage caused to its territory.
French special forces, as part of the ongoing Operation Barkhane, carried out a raid in northern Mali over the weekend, targeting the jihadist group al-Murabitoon. According to the French Ministry of Defense, the raid "neutralized 10 terrorists"—with "neutralized" usually serving as a euphemism for killed. The town of Menaka, in the Gao region, was taken over by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in 2012, which is now said to be one of al-Murabitoon's constituent groups. MUJAO was driven from Gao in the 2013 French intervention but has continued to wage an insurgency in the region. In April, al-Murabitoon launched a suicide assault on the nearby town of Ansongo, killing three civilians and wounding 16 others including nine Nigerien peacekeepers. (Long War Journal, Dec. 23)
Human Rights Watch on Dec. 22 rejected a recently signed transitional justice deal between Colombia's government and FARC rebels, claiming it "sacrifices victims' right to justice" in efforts to make peace. According to the global rights organization, "the agreement sets out a regime of sanctions to be used by the tribunal that do not reflect accepted standards of appropriate punishment for grave violations." Consequently, the deal makes it "virtually impossible that Colombia will meet its binding obligations under international law to ensure accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes."
On Dec. 9, informal gold-miners in Peru's southern rainforest region of Madre de Dios suspended a paro or civil strike they had launched more than two weeks earlier. Leaders of the Alliance of Federations said they would call off the strike as talks were underway with a team from Peru's cabinet, the Council of Ministers, that arrived in the remote region that day. Since Nov. 23, regional capital Puerto Maldonado had been paralyzed by protesters demanding the national government drop its new plan to crack down on illegal mining and logging operations. Specifically, they sought the overturn of Supreme Decree 013-2015—which would supervise and control the sale of chemicals that can be used for illegal mining—and Supreme Decree 1220, a measure that seeks to fight against illegal logging. Talks are to center around establishing a "Table for Sustainable Development" in the region, coordinating national policy with popular organizations.