In Other News
On May 2, authorities in Honduras arrested four people in connection with the March murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres. As part of an operation code-named "Jaguar," police arrested the four in different locations around the country, including the capital Tegucigalpa. Two were members of the security forces: Mariano Chávez, a Military Police major; and Edilson Duarte Meza, a retired military officer. The two others were linked to the Honduran company that is building the Agua Zarca dam on the Río Gualcarque, which Cáceres was leading the campaign against: Sergio Rodríguez Orellana, a manager for social and environmental issues with the company, Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA); and Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, a former security guard hired by DESA for the dam project.
Nearly 2,000 people were arrested by security forces over the past week in Indonesia's Papua province for "illegal" pro-independence demonstrations, activists report. Over 1,000 were detained in the provincial capital, Jayapura, and hundreds more elsewhere in the territory. Victor Yeimo, chairman of the West Papua National Committee, said many people were assaulted during the arrests. "There's no room for democracy in West Papua, so they came suddenly to the place where we wanted to prepare for demonstration," he said. "And they arrested the people, they beat the people. This is peaceful action, we are the peaceful resistance... but Indonesians give us the torture." The protests mark the anniversary of the end of Dutch colonial rule over the territory in 1963, and a weekend visit to the province by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. (SBS, Al Jazeera, May 3)
The partial "ceasefire" in Syria definitively ended April 28 when a strike by regime or Russian warplanes destroyed a hospital in Aleppo, killing scores, including several children and two doctors—one, the city's last pediatrician. (BBC News, The Guardian, Daily Mail) The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grave concern over a "monstrous disregard for civilian lives," and urged all sides in the Syrian conflict to refrain from targeting civilians. (Jurist) How much time did Democracy Now devote to this that day? A total of two lines of regurgitated wire copy that was not even featured on the front page of the program's website. (There was a follow-up blurb on Aleppo, of similar harsh brevity, on May 2.)
Fierce fighting between Kurdish-led YPG forces and Arab factions aligned with the Free Syrian Army is deepening a split within the Syrian resistance to both ISIS and Assad. The YPG suffered a very bad propaganda blow in clashes over the contested Azaz enclave this weekend, when its fighters paraded some 50 bodies of slain enemy forces on an open-top trailer-truck through the village of Ayn-Dakna. The bodies were taken to Afrin, seat of the local Kurdish autonomous canton, where this grisly triumphalist display waas repeated. The coverage on Turkey's official Anadolu Agency was gloating; for once they had facts to back up their disingenuous habit of refering to "YPG terrorists."
One day after storming parliament, Iraqi protesters began camping out May 1 within the confines of Baghdad's International Zone, or "Green Zone." The Green Zone, a secured area that includes embassies and government buildings, was breached by protesters mobilized by Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A state of emergency was declared for the city and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanded arrest of protest leaders. The demonstration was launched to protest alleged corruption within the Iraqi government. Al-Sadr called on the government to speed long-delayed plans for a non-partisan, technocratic cabinet.
Fernando Meléndez, president of Peru's northern rainforest region of Loreto, announced April 29 that he will seek a referendum on seceding from the country, charging that the central government "has no interest" in addressing the region's needs. "Loreto will take historic decisions in the coming days to determine its destiny," he told local media. "If the government does not listen at the dialogue table, we will decide to seek a referendum and see the possibility of going down another path." He said that despite the "patriotic spirit" of Loreto, Lima has mainly seen the region as a source of oil wealth, abandoning its people to underdevelopment. He said that last year Loreto received only 600,000 soles ($180,000) in compensation for oil exploitation in the region. "This is inconceivable. Loreto is a region that over 40 years has given the national treasury billions of dollars, and therefore we demand that the government give compensation; all of the budgets in our region are broken."
Nearly 15,000 converged on Guatemala City on Earth Day, April 22, the culmination of a cross-country march by peasants and popular organizations to demand local rights over access to water. Marchers set out April 11 from Tecun Uman in the southern coastal department of San Marcos, and from Puruhá, Baja Verapaz, in the central highlands. The March for Water, Mother Earth, Territory and Life was called to "defend water resources against the voracity of agro-industry and extractive industry," according to a statement form the indigenous organization Winaq. The statement said the movement "condemns the abusive, inhuman and impune use of by companies linked to agro-industry and extraction of metals, and the commercialization of the same." The statement called access to water an "elemental human rights," and called for it to be enshrined in Guatemala's constitution.
US Central Command released its final report April 29 on the October air-strike that hit a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, finding that the strike was not a war crime. The investigation concluded that the gunship's ground crew and operators were not aware they were firing on a medical facility. Because there was no intent to fire upon a medical facility, there was no war crime, the report concluded. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expressed his condolences in remarks and sent a memorandum (PDF) directing specific actions to prevent future incidents. Sixteen individuals are reportedly facing discipline for their roles in the attack. MSF said it will review the report and reiterated calls for an independent investigation.
The Supreme Court of Russia-annexed Crimea on April 26 officially designated the Tatar Majlis an "extremist entity" and banned its activities—effectively ending the last vestige of autonomy for the Crimean Tatar people. The move to ban the Majlis—the representative body of Crimean Tatars—was brought by Crimean prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya in February, and the body was ordered closed by judicial authoriities two weeks ago, before the regional high court had even ruled. Poklonskaya hailed the decision as "aimed at maintaining stability, peace and order in the Russian Federation." The body's powers had already been eroded since Moscow's annexation of the peninsula two years ago. The current and former leaders of the Majlis—Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Jemilev—have been forced to flee, and currently reside in Kiev. The Crimean prosecutor's office has accused them of involvement in Tatar road blockades launched to protest Russian annexation last year. (RBTH, April 26; HRW, April 15)
From the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists, March 2016:
Five years after the beginning of the popular Syrian Revolution which demanded democracy and human rights, the Syrian revolutionaries have been decimated through the combined military force of the Assad regime, the Iranian regime with its sectarian militias, Russian air strikes and military assistance on the one hand, and the ultra-terrorist ISIS and other Salafist–Jihadist organizations on the other hand. Nevertheless, a partial reduction of air-strikes by Russia and the Assad regime in early March led to an immediate revival of mass protests of the democratic opposition across the country with banners such as the following in Idlib: "Our peaceful revolution is still in progress until toppling Assad and imposing justice all over Syria."
Crisis teams are being deployed to the Cree community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario, where more than 100 residents have tried to take their own life in the past seven months. Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh said a state of emergency has been declared in the community, and Canada's Health Minister Jane Philpott called the situation "one of the most serious and pressing tragedies" facing the country." Hundreds more adolescents have attempted suicide, and hundreds more than that have been placed on a "suicide watch"—in a community of only 2,000. (Winipeg Free Press, April 25; CBC, CBC, April 11)
The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled April 26 that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea is illegal. The court found that the detention center violates article 42 of Papua New Guinea's constitution, which guarantees personal liberty. The court ordered both governments to take steps to end the detention. Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said that the ruling, "does not alter Australia's border protection policies—they remain unchanged. No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia." There are currently about 850 detainees on Manus Island, half of whom have been determined to be refugees.
More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced over the past week as Litoral de San Juan municipality of Colombia's Chocó department has been convulsed by a three-way conflict between government troops, ELN guerillas and remnant right-wing paramilitary forces. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in the municipal center as fighting engulfs outlying hamlets, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the displaced have started to voluntarily return, although the threat of violence remains. (El Espectador, April 22)
A panel of experts released on April 24 its second and last report (PDF) on its inquiry into the 43 undergraduate students from a teachers college in Ayotzinapa who went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014, stating that the Mexican government has hampered the investigation. Consisting of Latin American lawyers and human rights activists, the panel of experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found the following: some of the suspects had been tortured by government security forces; the integrity of evidence had been compromised in the case; new evidence showed a greater role by federal security forces in the 2014 events; a lack of investigation into high-level officials; a lack of investigation into phone records from that night; and "sclerotic bureaucracy" throughout the justice system. The experts brought together the events leading up to the disappearances of the students through witness testimony and ballistic tests; they concluded that "the join action [of the attackers and officials] shows a coordinated modus operandi..."
President Barack Obama is set to announce plans to send 250 more US troops to Syria, media accounts indicate—but they are vague on exactly which forces the troops will be backing. There are already some 50 Pentagon special operations troops embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but accounts say the new effort will be to bring more Arab militias into the fight against ISIS. The SDF itself was created to ally the Kurdish YPG militia with Arab factions, to give the US-backed anti-ISIS forces greater legitimacy with the Syrian opposition and Arab states. So will the new effort be to bring more Arab fighters under the SDF umbrella, or to have US forces backing Arab factions that resist allying with Kurds?