In Other News

Google to suppress footage of Israeli war crimes?

Israel's Maariv newspaper reported Nov. 24 that deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely met with representatives of YouTube and Google to discuss cooperation in what she called the fight against "inciting violence and terrorism." She told Maariv that  she especially sought to establish a joint working mechanism to monitor and prevent publication of "inflammatory material" originating in the Palestinian territories. Middle East Monitor writes: "Since the latest escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israeli security services that erupted at the beginning of October, many people have been sharing videos depicting Israeli aggression towards Palestinians to highlight the Palestinian perspective of the conflict." Activists and Arab newsmedia have "expressed concerns that the meetings suggest moves towards censoring Palestinian material on the part of the Israeli state."

Kurdish lawyer shot dead at press conference

A prominent human rights lawyer was fatally shot Nov. 28 while delivering a press statement in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Tahir Elci was an influential figure in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, and he was the head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association. Elci was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the shooting. Elci claimed he had received death threats in recent weeks via his Twitter account. Last month, Turkish authorities arrested Elci for his public statement that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is not a terrorist organization. The PKK, a separatist group officially launched in 1984, is considered a terrorist group by the government of Turkey, the US and the EU. Two police officers and a journalist also suffered injuries during the shooting. The conflict between the government and the PKK has increased in recent months, after a two-year ceasefire. Following Elci's death, government officials have suggested that Elci was killed during a gun fight between the Turkish police and the PKK. The Diyarbakir Bar Association claim that Elci was targeted in a planned attack.

Taiwan: indigenous demand land restitution

Legislator Tien Chiu-chin of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party has issued a call to her fellow lawmakers to act on restitution of traditional lands to the country's aboriginal peoples. Her comments came at a press conference Nov. 24 where she was joined by Pastor Kavas, a member of the Bunun people, who said he had been harassed by security forces as he attempted to guide a small group of scholars into a forested area usurped from the Bunun. Kavas said that while guiding National Taitung University professor Liu Chiung-shi and his assistants through the forest near Jiaming Lake in Taitung county, they were stopped by a dozen police officers, who arrested the academics, citing a breach of "national security." Ironically, despite having been designated a restricted area by the Ministry of National Defense in 1993, the area has become a popular tourist destination in recent years, Kavas said. He called restriction of Bunun access to the area "beyond belief."

China releases journalist over declining health

Beijing's Third Intermediate People's Court on Nov. 27 released journalist Gao Yu on medical parole after the Higher People's Court upheld her conviction for leaking an internal Communist Party document to a foreign website. Though she did receive medical parole as a result of her health, the courts have refused to overturn her conviction which means she may still serve her sentence outside of prison. The Higher People's Court upheld the conviction on Nov. 26, also reducing her sentence from seven years to five. The trial of the seventy one year old freelance journalist prompted concerns from the international community who viewed the prosecution as part of a continued crackdown on journalism and free speech rights. Gao admitted to leaking the document at issue during a closed hearing, though the Mingjing News contends that it did not receive the document from her. Yu, who has been detained since 2014, received her initial sentence in April at which time she had plead not guilty.

Thai constitution would grant military immunity

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Nov. 24 that a proposed provision in Thailand's constitution would permit the nation's military to commit human rights abuses without fear of punishment, in violation of international treaties. A new constitutional provision before Thailand's legislative body, known as the the junta, or the National Council for Peace and Order, would exculpate the use of force by military personnel if the conduct is "carried out with honest intention" in the interest of national security. HRW referred to the constitutional amendment as a "license to kill." HRW acknowledged that Thailand's military forces have acted with impunity for decades, but stated: "International human rights treaties ratified by Thailand make clear that status as a government official does not permit immunity for serious rights violations. In addition, Thailand has international legal obligations to ensure the right to an effective remedy for victims of serious violations, including unlawful killings."

Pentagon: human error caused hospital bombing

The US Department of Defense (DoD) and Pentagon officials have completed their investigation into the Oct. 3 bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan and announced on Nov. 25 that it was an "avoidable accident caused primarily by human error." Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, stated that the hospital was targeted accidentally, and US personnel believed they were attacking a separate structure containing enemy combatants several hundred meters away. The investigation found that personnel did not complete full precautionary measures to verify the building was a "legitimate military target." Systems and procedural failures compounded the human error, resulting in the hospital bombing that killed over 30 and injured dozens. Military service members who were most closely involved in the bombing have been suspended, but Campbell declined to state how many.

Berbers symbolically raise Kabylia flag at UN

A large crowd of Berber (Amazigh) residents of Algeria's Kabylia region gathered Nov. 12 at the town of Bouzeguène (Wizgan in the Berber language, Tamazight) to symbolically raise the flag of their homeland. The action was called by the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement (MAK), whose president Bouaziz Ait Chebib oversaw the ceremony. The MAK has been demanding recognition of Amazigh language and cultural rights in Algeria, and advancing a right to self-determination for the Kabylia region if these demands are not met. The crowd at Wizgan applauded when it was announced that the Kingdom of Morocco had committed to raise the issue of self-determination for Kabylia at the United Nations. (Morocco World News, Nov. 17; Siwel, Nov. 12)

Russo-Turkish pipeline route on hold amid crisis

With Moscow threatening sanctions against Turkey in the aftermath of the downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border, plans for a Russo-Turkish free trade zone appear be on hold—along with key energy projects. Foremost among these is the TurkStream gas pipeline, which Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said Moscow could "restrict." (Reuters) TurkStream is being developed by GazProm, the Russian energy giant, to export Russian (and potentially Central Asian) natural gas through Turkey via the Black Sea. Ulyukayev's hedging is understandable: this has long been a strategic project for Moscow, which has long nurtured a grudge over the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline—linking the Caucasus to Turkish port of Ceyhan through a route that by-passes Russia.

Opening shots of new Russo-Turkish war?

The situation on Turkey's Syrian border has only escalated since Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane two days ago. A Russian rescue helicopter was shot down by Syrian rebels while searching for the two pilots of the downed warplane. The helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in a regime-held area of Syria's Latakia governorate. The rebels were using (possibly CIA-supplied) US-made TOW missiles. (The Mirror) One pilot was rescued in the joint Russian-Syrian operation and brought to a base in Latakia, Moscow says. A Russian marine was also reported killed during the rescue mission. The other pilot was shot by rebels as he parachuted from the hit plane, according to Moscow. (AP)

Drone memos may stay secret: US appeals court

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit  on Nov. 23 released its ruling that the US government may keep secret memoranda related to the legal justification for the use of drones for targeted killings of those in other countries believed to be involved in terrorism. Though the opinion was drafted last month, it was placed under temporary seal and not released until this week. The case was the result of Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and New York Times for documents prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel of the US Department of Justice regarding the drone strikes. The court made a point of emphasizing that the legality of the strikes themselves was not the issue before the court, and that its review primarily concerned whether documents regarding their lawfulness must be disclosed. Those arguing for the release of the memos called the documents "working law," but the courts denied this argument.

Russian warplane down: heightened contradictions

Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border Nov. 24, aparenently after it violated Turkish airspace. Vladimir Putin said the Su-24 was hit by air-to-air missiles fired by Turkish F-16s while it was flying over Syrian territory. A military statement from Ankara said the plane violated Turkish airspace in Hatay province and was warned "10 times in five minutes." Reports indicate the plane crashed in Syrian territory, near Yamadi village of Latakia governorate. (Al Jazeera, BBC News) The two pilots reportedly survived the crash but were captured and summarily executed by members of a Turkmen rebel militia. (Reuters) There is some ambiguity about what actually constitutes the border in this area, as Turkey has established a military-controlled buffer zone in Latakia.

ISIS commander was trained by Blackwater: report

Internet partisans are at present avidly posting a story from conspiranoid website AntiMedia back in June noting reports that a former police commander from Tajikistan was featured in an ISIS video, where he "admitted" (boasted would be more like it) that he was trained by military contractor Blackwater under US State Department aegis. While AntiMedia says he was thusly trained "up until last year," the cited CNN report quotes him as saying the training was from 2003 to 2008. It apparently took place both in Tajikistan and at a Blackwater facility in North Carolina. (Blackwater, strictly speaking, has not existed since 2009, having twice reorganized and changed its name since then.) Gulmurod Khalimov, an ex-colonel of the Tajik Interior Ministry's OMON elite units, says in his ISIS promotional video: "Listen, you American pigs: I've been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims. You taught your soldiers how to surround and attack, in order to exterminate Islam and Muslims."

Bangladesh: executions amid net silence

Bangladesh opposition figures Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid were hanged together at Dhaka Central Jail Nov. 22 for war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence. In the prelude to the executions, the government ordered all ISPs to block Facebook and other social media in a bid to head off protests. In the electronic chaos that followed the order, the entire country lost Internet access for over an hour. Protests were effectively suppressed, but a reporter from Mohona TV was shot and wounded when his car was sprayed with bullets by roadside assailants while returning to Dhaka from covering the funeral of Chowdhury in Chittagong district. (Dhaka Tribune, Gizmodo, Al Jazeera, Nov. 23;  France24, Nov. 22; AFP, Bangladesh News, Nov. 21)

Glencore secures Libya oil contract

Media accounts Nov. 20 report that Glencore, the commodity trader with global mining operations, has secured a deal with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to broker the nation's crude. The agreement, initiated in September with an option to renew in December, covers 150,000 barrels a day, or roughly half the amount currently being exported. According to Reuters: "Under the arrangement...Glencore loads and finds buyers for all the Sarir and Messla crude oil exported from the Marsa el-Hariga port near the country's eastern border with Egypt." The reports portray the deal as uncontroversial. The Financial Times writes: "The National Oil Corporation, along with the central bank, is one of the few institutions still functioning in Libya, where a civil war has left the country divided between an internationally recognised government in the east and an Islamist militia in the west that controls the capital Tripoli." In fact, the NOC is also divided, with feuding branches controlled by the rival regimes. Marsa el-Hariga is just outside Tobruk, exiled seat of the recognized government. We can be certain that the Glencore deal will raise protests (at least) from Tripoli.

Security Council adopts resolution to fight ISIS

The United Nations Security Council on Nov. 20 unanimously adopted a new resolution (PDF) calling on all member states to fight to eradicate ISIS. Introduced by France in the wake of the Paris attacks that claimed 129 lives, the resolution asks states to do what they can to destroy ISIS safe havens in Syria and Iraq. Characterizing ISIS as "a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security," the Security Council warned that further attacks are expected, given recent ISIS attacks in Tunisia, Turkey, over Egypt with the downing of a Russian plane, and in Beirut and Paris. By a 15-0 vote in favor, the Security Council pledged to attack all terror organizations in the Iraq and Syria region, including Nusrah Front, both with physical force and by working to crack down on foreign fighters joining the cause and by blocking financing.