In Other News
Some 70,000 civilians from Aleppo are fleeing to the Turkish border, as Syrian regime troops backed by Russian warplanes advance on the city. They will join some 30,000 already amassed at the border and hoping Turkish authorities will allow them to cross. (Al Jazeera) Independent journalists have posted grim video footage and photos of the exodus to Facebook. French journalist Natalie Nougayrède writes in a commentary for The Guardian that "What happens next in Aleppo will shape Europe's future."
The UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Aristide Nononsi, on Feb. 5 called for an end to conflict in Darfur between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid which may have led to violations of international law. Tens of thousands of civilians have reportedly fled the Jebel Marra area in the past two weeks, with 21,338 fleeing to North Darfur state and 15,000 fleeing to Central Darfur state. (The Jebel Marra straddles the states of North, South and Central Darfur.) Nononsi also stated there have been an unspecified number of civilian casualties and destruction of property. The UN is urging that all parties protect unarmed civilians and respect international law and human rights. Nononsi also urged Sudan to provide access to UN-African Union Mission (UNAMID) in Darfur to areas affected by conflict.
The Algerian Parliament on Feb. 6 approved a package of constitutional reforms by a vote of 499-2, with 16 abstentions. The reforms include a two-term limit for the office of the president and recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language in Algeria. Amazigh is spoken by the nation's indigenous Berber population. While Amazigh was recognized as a "national language" in 2002, the constitutional reforms mean the language will be accepted on official government documentation. The two-term limit was lifted in 2008 to allow current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a third term. Bouteflika was elected to another five-year term in 2014, but concerns about his health following a stroke in 2013 have led many to question if he will remain in office until the end of this term in 2019. The Algerian press service announced the new constitution, calling it a "consecration of the rule of law and true democracy." Supporters of the constitutional reforms in Algeria argue the new laws will support real democracy, while critics suggest there will be little practical change.
Unidentified warplanes or drones bombed Libya's eastern city of Derna Feb. 7, reportedly hitting Shura Council locations. Shura Council sources confirmed to local media that two of their fighters were killed. A woman and her child were also among dead—by some accounts, killed in a strike on a hospital in the city. A wing of the city's al-Wehda hospital was said to be "completely destroyed." The Shura Council is aligned with the Islamist-led Libya Dawn coalition that controls most of Libya's west, and has been battling ISIS forces for control of the city. (Libya Observer, Reuters, AFP, Feb. 7) Derna is an Islamist-controlled enclave in eastern Libya, which is mostly controlled by the more secularist "official" government. The "official" government last month rejected a UN-brokered deal to unite the two rival regimes—both of which are now threatend by the growing ISIS presence in the country.
The Independent on Feb. 3 reports on a very encouraging project organized by a group calling itself I Am Your Protector—"a community of people who speak up and stand up for each other across religion, race, gender and beliefs—to highlight the often forgotten stories of Muslims who helped Jews during the Holocaust. With interfaith ceremonies in several European and American cities on Holocaust Memorial Day, Jan. 27, IAYP celebrated the lives of such figures as Abdol Hossein Sardari, the "Iranian Schindler" who as a diplomat helped Persian Jews escape from wartime France by issuing passports and letters of transit. He was able to convince Nazi and Vichy authorities that Jugutis (Persian Muslims descended from Jews) should not be considered "racial" Jews—and was then able to secure travel documents for actual Jews under cover of being Jugutis. A similar personage is Selahattin Ulkumen, a Turkish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Greece, who interceded with the Germans to allow Jews of Turkish origin escape to neutral Turkey.
This January marked 84 years since the 1932 uprising of rural peasants and Communist Party organizers and the state-led genocide that followed in El Salvador. Indigenous organizations in the country gathered in the western departments of Ahuachapán and Sonsonate to remember those lost and call for justice. "For us, this is a painful moment. They killed many defenseless people. Our grandparents cried for justice, they couldn’t stand the hunger, the misery, the slavery, and they started to organize,”"Rafael Latin, elected indigenous leader of the town of Izalco, explained. "We have been pushed from our lands since the Spaniards arrived. They took away our collective lands; they tried to eliminate us."
Indigenous and Black communities in Colombia's Chocó department filed a lawsuit this week, claiming 37 of their children died after drinking water contaminated with mercury by nearby mining operations over the past three years. The suit was brought before Colombia's Constitutional Court, which has ordered a thorough test of the water quality in the Riosucio and Andagueda rivers, which merge to form the Río Atrato. The affected Embera Katío and Afro-Colombian communities depend on these rivers for fishing and agriculture as well as direct consumption of water. The plaintiffs, represented by the Greater Community Council of the Popular Campesino Organization of the Upper Atrato (COCOMOPOCA), charge that unchecked gold mining in the zone has caused an "environmental crisis, which has had a devastating effect and cost the lives of the indigenous and Afro-descendant children." The Constitutional Court, in addition to asking the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for assistance in the water quality tests, also called on the University of Cartagena to prepare a report on the health impacts of mercury and cyanide contamination. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 4; El Tiempo, El Espectador, El Colombiano, Feb. 3)
Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado," said to be the successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel, according to the DEA. In a Feb. 1 press release, the agency said that members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC) is part of a transnational drug-trafficking scheme that involves "South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado." According to the statement, the BAC uses the "black peso money laundering system" established by the Medellín Cartel to launder profits from European cocaine sales through money exchange offices in Colombia and overseas. "These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," said DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley.
Colombia's ELN guerillas responded Jan. 31 to the call made two days earlier by Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator with the FARC guerilla army, to include them in the peace talks. An ELN communique acknowledged that a delegation has been in touch with the government for the past two years to establish terms for opening a formal or "public" peace dialogue, and had expressed its willingness to take this step in November. The statement said the guerillas were still awaiting a response from the government. (El Espectador, Jan. 31)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)
Authorities in Bolivia announced the arrest Feb. 1 of Felipe Froilán Molina Bustamente AKA "El Killer"—long wanted in the "disappearance" and probable assassination of socialist leader Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz during the period of military rule. Some 80 police agents were involved in the raid of a private house in the upscale Cota Cota suburb of La Paz, where Molina was found hiding behind a false wall. He had been convicted in absentia in 2007 of organizing a semi-official paramilitary death squad that carried out the disappearance of Quiroga and other leftist dissidents, and sentenced to 30 years. Quiroga, leader of Bolivia's Socialist Party One (PS-1), was abducted July 17, 1980 at the offices of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), where he was overseeing a meeting of the National Council for Defense of Democracy, a civil society group dedicated to resisting the military regime of Gen. Luis García Meza Tejada, who had just seized power in a coup d'etat. There whereabouts of his remains are still unknown, and President Evo Morales expressed hope that Molina will cooperate in recovering them. (ABI, Opinión, Cochabamba, Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Feb. 1)
The Supreme Court of Guatemala on Jan. 28 rejected a request to strip a member of congress of his immunity from prosecution for allegedly overseeing grave human rights violations during the country's civil war. Edgar Justino Ovalle is a top adviser to President Jimmy Morales and a member of Congress, which gives him immunity from prosecution. A spokesperson for the court stated that there was insufficient evidence that he participated in the alleged acts. However, the spokesman also explained that the court decided to reject the request "in limine," without further investigation. Edgar Ovalle was accused of having led operations as a military officer in which 77 massacres took place. The request to lift Ovall's immunity came from Attorney General Thelma Aldana.
The Syria "peace" talks have opened in Geneva—without the participation of the Syrian Kurds. Those rebel leaders in attendance will not actually meet face-to-face with Damascus representatives, and are pressing their own demands. Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the opposition's High Negotiations Committee, uniting most of the rebel factions, told Al Jazeera: "We came here to discuss with the special envoy UN Resolution 2254; lifting the sieges and stopping the crimes done by Russian air strikes in Syria." Syrian opposition activists have taken to social media with a campaign to boycott the talks, which they see as legitimizing a genocidal regime, using the hashtag #DontGoToGeneva. (Middle East Eye, Jan. 26)
Mass graves in Iraq are being disturbed, which could lead to destroyed evidence in proving possible genocide committed against the Yazidis, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Jan. 30. Dozens of Yazidi people are believed to have been killed by the Islamic State, actions many believe may amount to genocide. Yazda, a support group for the Yazidi people, also contributed to the report. Yazda has said that on numerous visits to Mount Sinjar (liberated from ISIS by Kurdish forces last year), they have observed mass graves that were completely unprotected and say that people regularly take items from these sites. In one instance, a bulldozer was used at one site to cover the grave with earth. HRW is urging authorities in Iraq to have forensic experts analyze the graves for evidence of any possible crimes and to preserve any evidence found.
We've been documenting for years how the much-lauded Counterpunch is actually a pseudo-left organ of fascism, relentlessly cheering on dictatorships and providing a soapbox for Paul Craig Roberts, Ron Paul, Alison Weir, Israel Shamir, Gilad Atzmon and other such exponents of the far right. But this time they have really outdone themselves. On Jan. 29 they posted a piece with the predictable title of "The Rise of ISIS and Other Extremist Groups: the role of the West and Regional Powers." The writer? None other than Bouthaina Shaaban, official public relations advisor for the genocidal regime of Bashar Assad. This time not just a "useful idiot" of the Anglo-American "progressive" (sic) talking-head set, nor just another paleocon dictator-enthusiast—but an actual paid flack of the dictatorship that continues to carry out mass murder and starvation against the Syrian people.