Afghanistan

This week in conflict… October 9th-15th, 2010.

World

  • The UN pre-talks for the world climate summit in China ended in disappointment as negotiators from 177 countries fought over the main aspect of how to finance climate protection and the legal form of a future global climate agreement. The six days of negotiations were marred by open conflicts between the US and China, with the Chinese holding the US and other developed nations responsible for the apparent deadlock in negotiations. 
  • The top UN official fighting to end the recruitment of child soldiers appealed to governments to provide the necessary resources to ensure the reintegration of children into civil society once they have been freed. A new report released this week outlines some of the successes over the past year, and some of the major challenges facing children in war zones.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon outlined measures to strengthen the UN’s role in helping countries emerging from conflict to maintain peace and entrench stability in a report released on Thursday. He also spoke of the need to provide UN staff deployed in crisis situations with proper training to enable them to perform the full range of their responsibilities.
  • India, Germany, South Africa, Colombia and Portugal will all take their place on the UN Security Council for their term after being elected to two-year terms. The council is made up of 5 permanent veto-holding members — France, Russia, China, the UK and the US, as well as 10 non-permanent members. Brazil, Gabon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria and Lebanon are all on the council until 2011. Canada abruptly withdrew from the contest allowing Portugal to take its place, after neither won the required votes (128 votes) for victory (Portugal with 113 votes and Canada with 78 votes).
  • NATO’s secretary-general has urged member states to endorse a proposed anti-missile system that would link alliance members into a common network, saying it was NATO’s responsibility to build “modern defenses against modern threats”. NATO defense and foreign ministers held a rare joint session in Brussels on Thursday to discuss a draft of a new “strategic concept” for the alliance, which is expected to focus on new threats including missiles from hostile states, terrorism and cyberattacks ahead of the Lisbon summit in November.
  • The UN is owed $4.1 billion by member nations with the US accounting for more than a quarter of that figure, officials announced on Thursday. Chile, Iran, Mexico, and Venezuela accounted for 9% of the arrears, and another 68 countries made up 3%  of the arrears. Only 13 countries out of 192 have paid their contributions.

Africa

  • French authorities have arrested a leader of the FDLR who is accused of carrying out mass rapes in the DR Congo. ICC chief prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo said the arrest was a “crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes committed in the DRC. On Thursday, a senior UN official said the UN Security Council should consider sanctioning Lieutenant Colonel Serafim of the FDLR over the rapes of hundreds of villagers in the east in August as well. Those who were raped by rebels over the summer are said to now be facing the same abuse from Government troops.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is reported to have ambushed a town in northern Central African Republic, abducting young girls, looting and setting shops on fire in what the UNHCR has described as intensified attacks since September. The group is said to have committed more than 240 deadly attacks this year, displacing thousands.
  • A new school to train soldiers of about a dozen African countries in peacekeeping operations has been launched in the Congo (Brazzaville) with financial support from France. The school is set to train hundreds of students a year.
  • The former deputy leader of Niger’s ruling military government was arrested on Wednesday, just days after his post as the junta’s number two leader was eliminated. It was not immediately clear why the leader was arrested.
  • Sudan’s president has accused the country’s southern autonomous leadership of breaching terms of a peace deal and warned that civil war could re-erupt if the two sides did not settle their disputes before the secession referendum. On Friday, a UN panel said that plans for the referendums are being hampered by delays, poor funding and negatively charged atmosphere of threats and accusations. The latest round of talks between the north and the south over the oil-producing Abyei region have failed to reach an agreement just 90 days before the referendum to decide its fate. South Sudan independence supporters clashed with riot police and northern pro-unity campaigners in Khartoum on Saturday, highlighting the risk that simmering tensions might boil over. The president in South Sudan has asked the UN Security Council to send peacekeepers and set up a buffer zone along the north-south border ahead of the independence vote to help keep the peace and on Wednesday, the UN Security Council announced that peacekeepers could create limited buffer zones in hotspots along the north-south border, but were not capable of patrolling the entire border. On Tuesday, the UN-supported disarmament drive in the far south began, as the first of some 2,600 people set to be disarmed were disarmed, registered and issued certificates. On Thursday it was announced that the vote on whether the district of Abyei should be part of the north or the south will be delayed, as feared. Local residents responded by saying that a delay is unacceptable and that they may hold their own vote without the government. On Thursday, a renegade army commander began reconciliation talks with the president of South Sudan, as part of a new push to end southern divisions.
  • Gunmen in northern Nigeria shot and killed an Islamic scholar on Saturday after he had been openly critical of a radical sect behind a series of recent killings. Recent killings of police officers, traditional leaders and politicians in the area have raised fears that a radical Islamic group Boko Haram, are staging a comeback. Late Monday night, a police station was destroyed in an attack blamed on the group, after attackers deployed home-made bombs. On Wednesday, Boko Haram gave the government five conditions to be implemented for peace to be restored to their region: that the government stop arresting, intimidating and detaining their members; release all their members that are currently in detention unconditionally; allow their fleeing members to return home unmolested; give back all their places of worship, and denounce all forms of injustice. On Friday, a militant group announced it planned to carry out another bomb attack in Abuja this month, giving seven days of notice of the attack.
  • A Ugandan court has dismissed treason charges against Kizza Besigye, an opposition leader, paving the way for him to run against the president in the 2011 election. The opposition leader had gone into exile after losing to President Museveni in the 2001 presidential polls.
  • Guinea’s presidential hopeful, Cellou Dallein Diallo is still opposed to taking part in a run-off election on October 24th, despite having agreed to share power with his opponent whoever wins. Last week, Diallo announced that he would not participate in the election unless the head of the electoral commission was removed. The two main political rivals agreed to share power regardless of who wins, by including the loser in government.
  • Ethiopia has signed a peace deal on Tuesday to end 20 years of war with a rebel faction in the Ogaden region, however, the deal remains unsure, as a spokesman for a rival wing of the rebel group called the deal “irrelevant”. Ethiopian authorities have said that the deal represents 80% of the fighters.
  • Heavy fighting in Somalia’s capital left more than 20 dead on Wednesday as soldiers clashed with al-Shabaab fighters. A mortar hit the main Bakara market killing 5 civilians, as the fighting escalated. The Somali President named a Somali-American to replace the Prime Minister who resigned last month on Thursday. The previous PM is said to have resigned after intense pressure from the president following a long-standing dispute. A Briton working for Save the Children in Somalia was kidnapped by masked Somali gunmen on Thursday, along with a Somali native who was later released. Witnesses say heavy fighting between government troops and al-Shabaab rocked the capital on Friday with civilian casualties.
  • Egypt’s telecommunications regulator has imposed new restrictions on mobile text messages just ahead of the legislative elections that prohibit companies from sending out text messages en masse without obtaining licenses. Opposition activists say the new regulation stifles their ability to mobilize voters, as they have come to rely increasingly on the internet and mobile phones to organize and mobilize their supporters to sidestep government harassment.
  • Rwanda’a leading opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was re-arrested on Thursday after allegations that investigations into a former rebel commander facing terrorism charges also implicate her. Ingabire had returned to Rwanda to contest the presidential elections this year, but was barred from standing, after being accused of crimes linked to genocide denial.
  • A top rebel leader in Cote D’Ivoire announced that the identity cards being issued to voters ahead of the October 31st election end once and for all the dispute which split the nation in two. The 2002-3 rebellion was largely driven by a row over citizenship rights.  The UN Security Council renewed its arms, financial and travel sanctions to the country for six months on Friday, as well as a ban on trade in rough diamonds.
  • Eleven miners at a coal mine in Zambia were shot after protesting over what they said were poor pay and conditions on Friday. Police are said to be investigating the Chinese owners of Collum Mine Ltd. but have yet to arrest anyone.
  • Seven presidential candidates are to take part in the October general elections in Tanzania. The current president warned candidates to run peaceful elections campaigns and avoid any action that could cause chaos.
  • The Zimbabwean Prime Minister and his deputy boycotted cabinet this week, in escalating political tensions in the shaky inclusive government. Sources say the PM is angry over the President’s unilateral decision to appoint new governors and other arbitrary appointments, triggering a constitutional crisis.

Asia

  • The wife of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, has been placed under house arrest in China following Liu’s win late last week, along with more than 30 other intellectuals. Censors blacked out any foreign broadcasts of the win, and police were mobilized to quell any sign of domestic support. China also canceled its meeting with the Norwegian fisheries minister, living up to its promise that the move to award the dissident Liu the Prize would harm relations between the countries. On Tuesday, the government canceled another meeting with Norwegian officials, claiming that the award was an affront to the Chinese people and a ploy to try and change the country’s political system. Also on Tuesday, a group of retired Communist Party officials and intellectuals issued an unusually blunt demand for total press freedom in China, stating that the current censorship and control violated China’s Constitution. More than 100 Chinese Christians seeking to attend an international evangelical conference in South Africa have been barred from leaving the country because their churches are not sanctioned by the government.
  • Police sealed off residential areas and reimposed the round-the-clock curfew in Kashmir again on Tuesday in an attempt to pre-empt the first anti-India rally since authorities announced concessions to end violent protests. The hardline separatist leader in Kashmir called on residents to defy the curfew and go into the streets.
  • Detained Myanmar/Burma pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has announced that she will not vote in the upcoming elections, even though authorities have told her she is on the electoral roll. Suu Kyi’s party was dissolved because it declined to reregister for an election it considered unfair and undemocratic and she has said that her ability to vote is unlawful, as convicted people are prohibited from voting.
  • North Korea put on the largest military parade it has ever had on Sunday in front of Kim Jong-il and his successor son Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-il’s oldest son, Kim Jong-nam announced his opposition to the hereditary transfer of leadership to his younger brother on Tuesday. It is suspected Kim Jong-nam, who fell out of favor after an embarrassing attempt to enter Japan to visit Disneyland in 2001, will not likely return to the country. On Friday North Korea vowed to attack South Korea if it resumed its propaganda war along the border, which was recently resumed.
  • Militants set fire to at least 29 fuel tankers in Pakistan in the latest assault on NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, which were reopened by Pakistani authorities on Saturday. Another truck was ambushed on Friday, killing two people. On Sunday, two US drones fired four missiles into a house, killing seven militants. Militants are said to have blown up three school buildings late Saturday, with no reported casualties. Pakistani security forces began a fresh military operation in the northwestern part of the country on Tuesday to comb for militants believed to have fled from the nearby Swat region. On Thursday, Pakistani police arrested a group of Islamist militants who were allegedly plotting to kill the prime minister and other top government officials.
  • Fourteen suspected terrorists were captured during a special operation in a northern area of Tajikistan on Tuesday.  The Tajik government offered an amnesty to armed groups fighting government troops in the east on Tuesday if they declare a cease-fire. Two field commanders and 27 members of armed groups reportedly took the amnesty, agreeing to lay down their weapons and join forces with government troops to hunt down foreign militants on Friday.
  • Four Italian soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan on Saturday. The British PM announced on Monday that a British hostage who had been reported killed by captors, may have been accidentally killed by troops attempting to save her. On Tuesday, an unknown explosion of a grounded helicopter resulted in the death of at least one ISAF member, an air strike in a northern province killed two insurgents, an ISAF member died following an IED attack in the south, six Afghan civilians died in a rocket attack by insurgents, and two Afghan soldiers were killed in separate attacks. On Wednesday, seven NATO troops were killed in three separate attacks. On Thursday, at least 8 NATO troops were killed in five separate insurgent attacks. On Friday, NATO-led forces are said to have facilitated the passage of a senior Taliban commander to Kabul to hold talks with the Afghan government.
  • Five parties are said to have won seats in Kyrgyzstan’s new Parliament following last week’s election. The results would mean that the ruling nationalist party will be unable to govern on their own after winning just 8.69% of the votes. Twenty-nine parties contested the polls. On Tuesday, the United Kyrgyzstan party announced that it will hold nationwide protests to challenge the official results after it failed to clear the threshold to get into parliament. On Wednesday, an angry crowd attacked a defendant and three relatives of another defendant in trials related to the June violence in the south, following a series of similar attacks earlier in the week on other defendants.
  • Thousands of Thai anti-government activists gathered in Bangkok on Sunday to demand the release of protesters detained for their role in demonstrations and military clashes, breaking the state of emergency rules. Riot police surrounded the site, but there were no reports of violence amid the protests. On Thursday, four people were shot dead in the restive deep south in separate attacks. Police blamed the Malay Muslim rebels for the attacks.
  • Azerbaijan is said to be boosting its military defense spending next year by 90%. The country is in talks with neighbouring Armenia over Nagorno-Karabkh, which it lost to Armenian-backed forces in conflicts in 1991 and the President has claimed that his country should get the region back one day.

Central and North America

  • Suspected drug hitmen in Mexico have ambushed a group of traffic police patrolling a highway on Monday, killing eight officers. Thirteen more people were killed between Tuesday and Thursday in the border city of Tijuana, including several decapitated bodies found hanging upside down from bridges. More than 2,000 police have been killed since 2006, and more than 29,000 in drug violence in Mexico. 
  • Canada has lost the use of a United Arab Emirates military camp near Dubai from which it supported its troops in Afghanistan in an escalation of a dispute over landing rights. The decision has been tied with the failed efforts of UAE to convince Canadian authorities to allow its two major airlines to increase flights to Canada.
  • The Haitian UN peacekeeping mission voiced concern at reports that arms are being distributed in advance of next month’s elections. The MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission called on all candidates in the election to think of the country’s future and programmes that will restore hope to the people. Demonstrators have blocked the entrance to the UN military headquarters in Haiti, spraying anti-UN slogans on vehicles trying to enter on Friday, calling it an “occupation” and angry at the lack of security and assistance they offer to average Haitians. This violence comes the day after the UN announced it would keep its force in Haiti for at least another year.
  • An American Federal judge ordered a halt to the enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which bans gay men and women from serving openly in the US military. Critics worry that the order may not make it through a Congressional vote, as an earlier attempt was defeated in the Senate this year. In a separate case, a judge ruled that the government cannot coerce a detainee to provide information for intelligence purposes and then use the evidence in criminal proceedings, in the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee. The judge did not express an opinion on the constitutionality of government agents using coercive methods to gain intelligence. The US is also in the process of reviewing its position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that lays out the fundamental rights and freedoms of the world’s indigenous populations.

South America

  • The Argentinian government has condemned a planned British military exercise in the Falkland Islands, calling the plan an “unacceptable provocation”. The Argentinian deputy foreign minister demanded that the exercises be canceled. 
  • An Ecuadorean court issued an order authorizing the jailing of 12 police officers for their role in the police uprising last week, that the President has called an attempted coup. The lawyer for the police officers said that his clients were being swept up in a “witch hunt”.
  • Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez has begun a tour of seven nations, including Russia, Iran and Libya to discuss issues ranging from nuclear power and tanks to olive oil. In the past three years Chavez has bought at least $5 billion in weapons, including fighter jets, anti-aircraft missile systems and tanks from Russia.
  • Peruvian police have arrested a top commander of the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla group in an operation that also killed two rebel fighter on Wednesday. Police raids in the coca growing regions are part of an effort by the government to stamp out the remnant bands of Shining Path fighters and eradicate crops of coca, the raw material for cocaine.

Middle East

  • It was reported this week that at least 10 Palestinian children have been shot and wounded by Israeli troops over the past three months while collecting rubble in or near the border. Israeli soldiers are routinely shooting at Gazans well beyond the unmarked boundary of the no-go area. The Israeli Prime Minister is said to have offered to renew a partial settlement construction freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state on Monday. The offer was met with swift rejection from senior Palestinian officials, calling the two issues unrelated. Palestinians, backed by Arab powers, have given the US one month to persuade Israel to halt the building of settlements or risk the complete collapse of peace talks. On Wednesday, Palestinian authorities requested a map from the US showing where Israel sees its final borders and making clear whether they include Palestinian land and homes. Israel issued the building tenders for 238 new housing units in East Jerusalem on Thursday, which many called choosing “settlements over peace”. Lawyers representing relatives of those who died in the Israeli raid of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May are urging the ICC to pursue those responsible, citing that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed.
  • Two apparently synchronized bombs exploded in southern Yemen on Monday, killing 2 people and wounding 12 others. The leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula announced the formation of a new army that would free the country of “crusaders and their apostate agents”. On Tuesday, police arrested 19 al-Qaeda members who were accused of Monday’s attacks. On Thursday, the governor of Abyan escaped an assassination attempt by suspected al-Qaeda mlitants, and the chief of police in an Abyan district was killed in an attack.
  • Iran has announced that it is ready to hold talks with six major powers over its nuclear programme in late October or early November. The US and its European allies fear Iran’s declared civilian nuclear energy programme is a cover to develop the capability of producing nuclear weapons.
  • Iranian President Ahmadinejad arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday to visit the southern region near the Israeli border in a trip said to emphasize Iranian support for Hezbollah’s fight with Israel. Both the US and Israel called his trip intentionally provocative.
  • Gunmen wearing Iraqi military uniforms broke into the homes of their own clan members on Monday and killed four people for informing on al Qaeda. Also on Monday, a senior police officer was wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad,  a group of gunmen opened fire on a currency exchange office in Baghdad which killed five people, and three gunmen stormed a policeman’s house and killed him in Falluja. On Tuesday, gunmen launched coordinated attacks on three Iraqi army security checkpoints in western Baghdad that killed one soldier, Iraqi forces killed a civilian by mistake in near Mosul as they chased smugglers near the border, and a roadside bomb wounded two Iraqi soldiers as it exploded during their patrol near Mosul. On Wednesday, four bombs exploded in western Baghdad, at least four policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb hit their patrol, a bomb attached to a government car wounded two of its passengers and gunmen in a speeding car opened fire at an employee of a state-run oil company. New US military statistics have placed the death toll for Iraqi civilians and security forces at 77,000 from January 2004-October 31, 2008, well below the count by the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry figure of 85,694 for the same period.
  • Twenty-three Shia activists were charged in Bahrain on Wednesday with terrorism and conspiring against the government, who are among hundreds of Shia opposition figures and activists rounded up in recent months ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Shias are the majority in Bahrain, but have long complained of discrimination from the Sunni government.

Europe

  • A dramatic rise in violent attacks on small town mayors in Sardinia, Italy has been linked to soaring job losses due to factory closures and the sheep market slump. A social services office was bombed, a shotgun was fired at the home of a mayor, a car belonging to a council official was burned, and a horse of a mayor was shot dead with its ears and tongue cut off.
  • Riot police clashed with protesting Culture Ministry workers who barricaded the ancient Acropolis in Greece on Thursday. Workers complained that they were owed up to 24 months’ worth of back pay and faced dismissal when their contracts expire at the end of the month.
  • Clashes between far-right supporters and gay pride marchers rocked Belgrade, in Serbia on Sunday. Thousands of police officers sealed the streets and clashed with the rioters who were attempting to break through the security. Rioters also fired shots and hurled petrol bombs at the headquarters of the ruling Democratic party, along with the state TV building and other political parties’ headquarters. Serbia’s Appeals Court removed a war crimes conviction against a Bosnian official on Monday in a move that is said could ease ties between the two former Yugoslav states. Official relations worsened in 2007 after Serbia arrested Ilija Jurisic on charges that he ordered an attack on a column of the Yugoslav People’s Army that killed at least 50 soldiers. On Tuesday a soccer match between Serbia and Italy ended in clashes and the hospitalization of 16 people after Serbian fans threw flares and fireworks onto the pitch and at Italian fans.
  • One man was killed after a group of Muslims were attacked as they left a mosque in Abkhazia on Monday. The attackers opened fire from a passing car. This is the third attack against Muslims in Abkhazia in the last two months.
  • Russia’s main pro-Kremlin party are said to have won an overwhelming victory in local elections across the country on Sunday, but observers say the results are unsurprising as the vote was rigged. Claims of buying votes, ballot-stuffing, increased pressure on journalists and human rights activists from authorities during the campaign and the refusal of registration faced by independent candidates marred the results. On Tuesday, Russian authorities detained around 30 people for holding an unsanctioned rally to demand an end to naming mayors and regional governors instead of by elections.
  • Russia and Georgia have resumed internationally mediated talks in Geneva aimed at preventing another flare-up of violence following their brief 2008 war. The talks also include representatives from the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and is set to last one day.
  • Three members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and two soldiers in Turkey were killed in two days of fighting. The fighting comes despite a one-sided ceasefire declared by the PKK.
  • Moldova has become the latest country to ratify the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court on Tuesday. The treaty enters into force in January.
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This week in conflict… October 2nd- 8th, 2010.

World

  • The UN called upon governments to expand their efforts to ensure the protection for the world’s 43 million forcibly displaced people in the face of  “never-ending” conflicts that are creating new semi-permanent refugee populations. More than 5.5 million refugees are stuck in protracted situations.
  • China began hosting its first UN climate conference this week aimed at building momentum and finding areas of agreement ahead of the annual summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Climate change is said to highly affect global conflicts. China said at the conference that rich nations must vow greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and warned of lost trust in talks, while rich countries accused China of undercutting progress.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a report on Friday calling for equal participation by women in post-conflict peacebuilding. He laid out a seven-point action plan aimed at changing practices among all actors and improving outcomes on the ground.

Africa

  • At least nine civilians were killed after al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu, Somalia attacked an African Union’s peacekeeping position on Saturday and another eight were killed on Sunday. On Wednesday it was announced that over 30 people had been killed in the past three days and at least 51 wounded in this continued fighting. Uganda announced it could raise an entire 20,000 troop force for the African Union to defeat Somalia’s Islamist rebels and pacify the country in a statement released on Monday. Uganda’s President has been urging greater urgency in regional and international efforts to stabilize Somalia since the twin bomb blasts that rocked Uganda’s capital in July that were led by the al-Shabab militia. Uganda is also the site for the new UN regional peacekeeping hub for the Great-Lakes region.
  • The UN Security Council traveled to Sudan this week to discuss the scheduled referenda on self-determination. Southern Sudan will vote on whether to secede from the rest of the country on January 9th, while the central area of Abyei will vote on whether to be part of the north or south. Sudanese officials announced on Tuesday that the long-awaited timetable for the referendum has been released, but that unforeseen circumstances could still delay the vote. Voter registration is to start in mid-November, with the final voter list ready by December 31st, leaving just 8 days before the January 9th deadline for the vote. Armed men abducted a civilian peacekeeper in Darfur on Thursday.
  • Ethiopia’s best-known opposition leader was released after five years in jail for treason related to the 2005 election dispute on Wednesday. The move was seen as a placatory gesture by the newly sworn in Prime Minister, who had refused to let her out for the parliamentary elections, in which the ruling party won 99.6% of the seats.
  • Nigeria’s government admitted it was warned of the parade attack last week that killed at least 12 people by foreign agencies and did the best it could to secure the area. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) also suggested that it gave the security forces five days notice of the attacks. South African police invaded the Johannesburg home of the leader of MEND on Saturday, apparently acting on the request of Nigerian authorities who claimed he was stockpiling weapons and re-arming fighters in the Niger Delta region. No weapons were found after a 10 hour search. Nigeria’s secret service detained an aid to one of President Goodluck Jonathan’s election rivals on Monday in connection to the bomb attacks, raising concern over violence in next year’s election polls. The former MEND leader announced that he received a phone call from a “close associate” of Goodluck Jonathan urging him to tell MEND to retract its claim of the bombings, so that they could blame them on northerners who are opposing the President. The next day, the former leader was being described as the main suspect in the bombings. On Wednesday, the Northern Political Leaders Forum declared that President Jonathan should immediately resign from office or they will take take steps to impeach him because he has proved he is incapable of leading the nation justly and fairly, amid another bomb scare. On Friday, inmates at a prison in northeastern Nigeria torched a part of the building, raising fears that a radical Islamic sect, who has many members incarcerated in the jail, are attempting a comeback. The sect previously staged an uprising that resulted in the deaths of hundreds.
  • Guinea’s already postponed runoff presidential elections may be delayed even further due to technical issues such as production and supply of voters’ cards. The originally scheduled September 19th election was delayed because of election violence. On Wednesday, the government announced it will hold the delayed second round on October 24th. On Wednesday, the first place winner of the first round of elections insisted that a run off could only be possible if the “controversial” election commissioner is changed and threatened to boycott the elections if he was not.
  • Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed five Algerian soldiers and wounded another 10 in an attack on their convoy on Saturday. Around 200,000 people have died in the country since violence broke out in the early 1990s between Islamist rebels and government forces.
  • According to a leading survey, governance standards have improved significantly in Angola, Liberia and Togo over the past four years but have decline in Eritrea and Madagascar. Mauritius was revealed as Africa’s best-governed country, while Somalia was listed as the worst-governed nation.
  • The Egyptian Journalists’ Union has accused the government of cracking down on media that is critical of the authorities in advance of an upcoming November parliamentary election. Two popular talk shows were recently closed down.
  • UN peacekeepers say they have captured the rebel commander they accuse of being behind the rape of hundreds of villagers in eastern DR Congo in August on Tuesday. The UN peacekeeping force was largely criticized for failing to prevent the mass rape of over 300 people, which took place just 20 miles from their base. Recent budget cuts to the newly scaled back MONUSCO peacekeeping mission, mean that the mission lacks sufficient helicopter strength to operate effectively in the country’s unstable east. The UN announced that the crisis in the DRC is beyond their capacity. ICC appeals judges ruled on Friday that Thomas Lubanga, accused of war crimes, should not be released and ordered that his trial resume following a two month stay after the prosecutor failed to comply with the trial chamber’s orders.
  • The first of 500 additional UN peacekeeping troops arrived in Cote D’Ivoire on Thursday in advance of the October 31st election. The UN is distributing voter and identity cards across the country.
  • Recent attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has shown that the group has extended its reach to vulnerable communities in the Central African Republic. Four LRA rebels are said to have been killed in a clash on Monday with the UDFR.

Asia

  • Two suspected US missile strikes into northwest Pakistan reportedly killed at least 12 militants on Saturday and another five militants of German nationality were thought to have been killed in drone strikes on Tuesday. On Monday, gunmen attacked seven more fuel tankers in revenge for last week’s NATO incursions into the country, and on Tuesday at least 20 trucks were targeted, resulting in the deaths of at least 3 people. Two Pakistani troops were said to have been killed in the incursion. The attacks continued, with another dozen tankers attacked on Wednesday, resulting in the death of at least one man. On Thursday, two suspected suicide bombers hit a crowded Muslim shrine in Karachi, killing at least 7 people. At least four people were said to have been killed in more NATO drone attacks on Thursday, bringing the death toll from drone attacks to over 150 in the past month alone. On Friday, three drone missiles killed at least five suspected militants, and two soldiers were killed in a roadside blast in the northwest. NATO’s Secretary-General has spoken out against the continued blockage of the main NATO supply routes into Afghanistan by Pakistan, saying that the incursion was “obviously… unintended”. Meanwhile, former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf has decided to form a new political party in an effort to “introduce a new democratic political culture” to his people. An ironic choice of words from a man who led a coup in 1999 to overthrow an elected civilian government because he was fired.
  • Eight private security firms have been disbanded and hundreds of weapons confiscated in Afghanistan as the government moves towards taking full responsibility for the country’s security. Afghanistan is set to take over security from foreign troops by 2014. At least 3 Afghan civilians were killed alongside 17 insurgents in a NATO air strike targeting senior Taliban commanders in the south on Sunday. The US military later apologized for the civilian deaths. At least eight people were killed after two explosions rocked Kandahar on Monday. On Tuesday, an Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a French and Afghan outpost, but missed the target. The soldier has fled and has yet to be caught. Following the barrage of complaints of election fraud, a provincial head of the Independent Election Commission was arrested on Monday. The officer was accused by candidates and observers of taking bribes in exchange for important election posts. Peace talks were supposedly underway between Taliban reps, Afghan officials and a Pakistani government delegation in Kabul this week aimed at setting the ground for negotiations on ending the Afghan war, although participants denied that the talks involved Afghan and Pakistani officials meeting with the Taliban, calling them instead “brainstorming sessions”.  NATO claimed that a Taliban leader and seven of his associates were killed in an air strike and ground operation on Wednesday, and that the Taliban “shadow governor” of a northwestern province was killed in a separate operation on the same day. On Thursday, a German soldier was killed in a suicide attack in a northern province. On Friday, a British soldier was killed in an explosion in the southern Helmand province and at least 15 people were killed in a separate bomb blast in a mosque in a northern town. Also on Friday, two other ISAF soldiers were killed in two separate incidents in the south; Taliban insurgents burned eight NATO supply trucks and killed six Afghan guards; one senior Taliban commander was captured with four others and one insurgent was killed in Kabul; and Afghan forces killed four suspects in a firefight in Kabul.
  • Police in Bangladesh arrested three militants from the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in their continuing crackdown on militancy. Police claim that LeT followers have regrouped and are trying to launch fresh attacks.
  • Fiji’s former prime minister Chaudry was arrested on Friday for allegedly violating public emergency regulations that outlawed holding public meetings. Chaudry is thought to be a real contender to overthrow the current military government in the next election. The current President, who seized power in a 2006 coup, imposed the ban and scrapped plans for an election after saying conditions were not right.
  • Three Thai soldiers were killed after an ambush by suspected Muslim separatists in south Thailand on Sunday. The soldiers were said to be patrolling a road near the Malaysian border when gunmen opened fired from a nearby hill. On Tuesday, at least three people were killed after an explosion hit a residential building north of Bangkok. On Wednesday at least four people were said to have been killed in drive-by shootings by separatist rebels in the south.
  • Government troops continued their operations against militants in eastern Tajikistan resulting in the death of four soldiers, a police officer and two insurgents. Meanwhile, official press centres in the area are virtually closed and communication lines remain blocked making it extremely difficult for media representatives to get any information about the ongoing events. In retaliation, Tajik troops killed at least 5 rebels between Monday and Tuesday. On Thursday, a land mine blast killed six soldiers in an operation on the Afghan borders.
  • Police in Sri Lanka have been ordered to arrest activists who put up posters that criticize the President’s backing of a prison term for a former army chief who ran against him. The former army chief, once a national hero, was ordered to serve 30 months for corruption charges. Police have claimed that the order was intended to prevent posters from being placed in prohibited areas.
  • Authorities in Indian Kashmir began scaling down security as part of its efforts to defuse tensions. More than 100 people have been killed since June. Kashmiris remain angry about the widely-hated security law that gives the military sweeping powers to search, arrest or shoot protesters that are still in place.
  • Disturbing pictures of Nepali police carting off ballot boxes in Nepal, following the primary election held among some 80,000 Tibetan exiles to pick candidates for polls for a new parliament-in-exile and prime minister next year, have raised concern of continued repression of political activities by the Chinese. China objects to the election for a government in exile which it does not recognize.
  • The offices of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party in Kyrgyzstan were attacked on Wednesday after some 100 members of two local movements forced their way into the offices. The two movements had staged a protest in Bishkek’s central square early that day. Kyrgyzstan is scheduled to hold an election on Sunday amid fears of increasing violence.
  • South Korea’s defense minister announced that his military would initiate a new and expanded propaganda war if provoked by the North and has reinstalled 11 sets of psychological warfare loudspeakers along the border. The North has warned that if undertaken, it will fire across the border and destroy the loudspeakers. The South also suggested that the North’s nuclear programme has reached an “alarming level” and poses a serious threat to the South. North Korea confirmed on Friday that Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il’s youngest son will succeed him as the next leader.
  • The announcement of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner angered the Chinese authorities, who see Liu Xiaobo as a criminal. Liu Xiaobo is currently serving time in a Chinese prison for “incitement to subvert state power” and co-authoring Charter 08, a call for democratic reforms in the country. The Chinese warned that awarding Liu the prize would damage Sino-Norwegian relations. Liu is a long-time activist for human rights and democracy.

Central and North America

  • An armed gang kidnapped at least 20 tourists in Mexico on Saturday near the resort city of Acapulco, in what is thought to be the latest bout of drug related violence in the country. On Saturday, assailants tossed a live grenade into a square in Monterrey, injuring 12 people.
  • The controversial and notorious security contractor Blackwater (now renamed Xe) is said to have received a new contract in the $10 billion range. Two former Blackwater employees are currently on trial in the US for murdering civilians in Afghanistan, and in 2008, give Blackwater guards were charged with the deaths of 17 Iraqis civilians, which were ultimately dismissed. The group also has been charged with weapons export violations. The first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee was delayed on Wednesday after the judge told prosecutors they could not call their star witness, because they had learned of his identity only through harsh interrogation at a secret CIA camp.
  • The controversial and much protested “Ground Zero mosque” scheduled to be built in New York City turns out not to be a mosque after all, but a multi-faith community centre that includes a gym, playground and childcare area. It’s Muslim prayer area does not even satisfy the stringent requirements for a sanctified mosque.
  • The US State Department issued a travel alert to Europe on Sunday following the threats of a possible terrorist plot in several European countries.
  • The US midterm elections are to become the most expensive in history, and nearly five times as much as the last Presidential election, at an estimated $5 billion. This is the first year in which all donation limits were removed, allowing corporations to get involved.
  • A Canadian army captain convicted of shooting an unarmed Taliban fighter in Afghanistan after a battle avoided a jail term this week and instead will be kicked out of the Canadian forces. The killing has been dubbed a “mercy killing”, citing that the Captain only shot the gravely wounded enemy to end his suffering as he believed he was not going to receive treatment from Afghan forces. Mercy killing is not a defense in Canada. The Supreme Court in Canada ruled on Friday that suspects in serious crimes do not have a right to consult their lawyer during a police interrogation, essentially reversing the Canadian Charter’s right to counsel in specific cases.

South America

  • Ecuador’s President Correa vowed to punish and purge his enemies after last week’s police rebellion. He suggested the axe would also swing towards opposition politicians whom he accused of attempting a coup. Days later, the government agreed to raise the pay of its police and armed forces by $35 million annually, calling the announcement a “coincidence”. Debate has been ensuing over whether the police tried to kill the President during the riots or were simply protesting against pay cuts and conditions. On Wednesday it was announced that at least 46 police officers were detained for their alleged participation in the revolt.
  • Former guerrilla Dilma Rousseff won the first-round Presidential election in the Brazilian  polling with 46.7% of the votes, and will do battle in the October 31st runoff against Social Democrat Jose Serra who won just under 33% of the votes. Green party activist Marina Silva gained far higher than pollsters had expected with 19% of the vote.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales is said to have kneed a political opponent in the groin during a friendly football match of political rivals. A bodyguard of Morales tried to arrest the kneed opponent after the match, but he was quickly ordered to be released by the opposition leader.

Middle East

  • The Palestinian leadership confirmed that it will not return to direct peace negotiations with the Israelis without an extension to the now-expired freeze on settlement construction, a move endorsed by the Arab League. The Israelis have begun deflecting blame for the breakdown of talks, with expectations of the Palestinians “to show some flexibility”. The Syrian President said that the peace talks were only aimed at “bolstering domestic support” for Obama during a meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Two Israeli soldiers were convicted on Sunday of using a nine-year old Palestinian boy as a human shield during the three-week Gaza war in 2008-9. The soldiers will face prison sentences of up to three years. Israeli paramilitary border police killed a Palestinian on Sunday after he entered East Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank without a permit. On Monday, arsonists, suspected to be radical Israeli settlers, damaged part of a Palestinian mosque in the West Bank, scrawling the word “revenge” in Hebrew on a wall. On Monday, a video of an Israeli soldier dancing around a blindfolded, bound prisoner provoked more anger from Palestinians. The Israeli army condemned the video, calling it an “isolated incident” and opened a criminal investigation on the matter on Tuesday. Many see this as the continued degrading treatment and mentality of the occupier in the country, remembering the degrading photos from an Israeli guard that surfaced on facebook in early August, among others. On Wednesday, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced he would push for legislation requiring all those who want to become Israeli citizens to pledge a loyalty oath to the “nation-state of the Jewish people” in an attempt to win back angry settlers. On Thursday, the Israeli military said it had carried out an air strike in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian militants planning an attack in Israel. Witnesses say the strike targeted a car traveling in the central Gaza Strip. The ICC is being urged to prosecute members of the Israeli defense force for its role in the Gaza flotilla killings, however, Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, meaning it can only be possible after a reference from the UN Security Council.  On Friday Israel signed a deal with the US to buy $2.75 billion worth of radar-evading Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets. The F-35 is said to be the most-advanced fighter in the world.
  • Hamas announced on Wednesday that it would retaliate against the Western-backed Palestinian Authority if it continued to take actions against their members in the West Bank. The PA has recently been cracking down on Islamist activists, with Hamas claiming that nearly 750 of its activists have been arrested since August 31st. On Friday, Israeli forces killed two senior Hamas militants in the West Bank.
  • Iran has detained several western “spies” it claims were behind the recent cyber attacks on its nuclear programme. The number of jailed students in Iran has been reported to be the highest in decades with over 73 students currently being held in jails over their activism. Student opposition to the government report that the government has been using a new militarization strategy on campuses to stop opposition political activism there. On Thursday, at least four police officers and one bystander were killed after a gunman opened fire on a police patrol in Iran’s Kurdish region. On Friday, Iranian security forces killed two people suspected in Thursday’s attack.
  • Britain’s deputy ambassador to Yemen and her colleagues survived a rocket propelled grenade attack on their car on Wednesday. It is thought that the attack was carried out by al-Qaeda.
  • Tensions have increased in Lebanon and Syria after Syria issued arrest warrants for more than 30 people accused of misleading the investigation into the assassination of Lebanon’s former PM in 2005. Syria’s wanted list includes senior Lebanese judges, politicians and journalists who are said to have been “false witnesses”.
  • Iraq postponed its first full census in more than two decades until December on Sunday to avoid triggering open conflict between Arabs and Kurds locked in a fight over oil-rich land in the north. The survey is crucial because it will determine who has the greatest percentage of the total population in the region, and can therefore claim it as its own under the constitution. Two senior security officials in the north were arrested in connection with a plot to bomb the provincial government building on Sunday. Also on Sunday, gunmen using silenced weapons– increasingly the weapon of choice of insurgents–opened fire on a police checkpoint, killing one policeman in Falluja. At least one person was killed in Baghdad in a roadside bombing that targeted a deputy minister in the Iraqi government on Monday, at least one other person was killed in a separate bombing within the city and at least three people were killed in a bomb attack in Jalawlah. On Wednesday a civilian was wounded in a rocket attack in Kirkuk, while a roadside bomb targeting police patrol in a northern city wounded two policemen. On Friday, armed men in two boats wounded seven security guards when they attacked a prison in Basra, causing a riot in the prison. Also on Friday, a policeman was killed by a sniper in Baghdad.

Europe

  • Russian forces killed as many as five people as they besieged two housing blocks in Daghestan on Saturday in a counterterrorism raid.
  • The leader of Russia’s opposition Yabloko party was detained along with several environmental activists after protesting in the North Caucasus. The protesters were later released by police without charge. Russia announced on Thursday that it had successfully tested a long-range missile seen as a mainstay of its nuclear forces, after a series of failures which had raised doubts about its viability.
  • Roma and other migrants leaving France will soon be required to be fingerprinted, in an attempt to discourage them from coming back to France after being expelled. The fingerprinting is scheduled to begin October 15th, and will include anyone over the age of 12. Nearly a million protesters demonstrated on Saturday, pressing President Sarkozy to drop plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. This was the third day of protests in a month. A French blogger who filmed himself burning a Qur’an and urinating on it to put out the flames will face charges of incitement to religious hatred on Tuesday. He faces up to five years in jail. France’s highest court has approved the law banning full-facial veils in public. In six months time, women wearing the veil will face arrest and a $195 fine or “citizenship lessons”, while a man who forces a woman to wear the veil will be fined $42,000 and serve up to a year in prison.
  • The far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders has gone on trial this week on charges of inciting anti-Muslim hatred. Wilders released a short film in 2008 that denounced the Qur’an as a fascist book, urging Muslims to tear out “hate-filled” passages. Wilders is appealing to have the case dismissed invoking freedom of speech.
  • Bosnians went to the polls on Sunday to vote in general elections. Voters complained that the elections were dominated by issues of nationalism and ethnicity instead of the economy and necessary political reforms. Preliminary election results indicated that the current tripartite government is likely to remain deadlocked over Bosnia’s future, with two of the leaders advocating unity and a third pushing for the country’s breakup. The Bosnian state prosecutor indicted four Bosnian Serb police officers on Thursday on charges of mass killing, detention and torture during the 1992-5 war.
  • Teachers in an eastern Ukrainian city complained this week that the ruling Party of Regions is putting pressure on them, and that it is no longer possible for any to become a school director and not be a member. Many parents of students complain that the Party has started using secondary schools for its election campaign with pictures of the local Party candidate on display.
  • England and France may soon find themselves cooperating defensively on everything from nuclear warheads to transport aircraft, helicopters and aircraft carriers. The two countries are set to hold a summit in three weeks to discuss collaboration.

This week in conflict… September 25th-October 1st, 2010

World

  • Kazakhstan addressed the UN General Assembly on Saturday to repeat its idea of the creation of a global currency under UN control that would significantly decrease the odds of a future financial crisis. The Minister said he believed “all the world’s economic problems are rooted in the inefficiency of the existing world monetary system, which no one controls and is not democratic.”
  • The World Bank (WB) recently released it much anticipated report on farmland grabbing, which has been in controversy since 2008 because it threatens global food security. Governments and corporations are accused of buying up mass amounts of farmland (often illegally) in other countries to grow their own food or simply to make money. Critics have denounced the report as flawed and corrupted by the fact that the Bank’s commercial investment arm is a major investor in numerous private equity firms that are buying up rights to farmland while its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency is providing land grab projects with political risk insurance.
  • The UN refugee agency announced on Friday that they would be revising their policies to protect people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Recent surveys highlighted the dangers and prejudice faced by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and intersex asylum-seekers and refugees.

Africa

  • A moderate Islamist group that signed a power sharing deal with Somalia’s government earlier this year has walked out of the Somali government. The group has accused the administration of planning to abolish the power sharing deal signed in March. On Sunday, an unidentified helicopter fired on houses of al-Shabab commanders. In an unprecedented agreement Somaliland and Puntland, once-warring territories in northern Somalia, have agreed in principle to work together to tackle common security threats. Gunmen killed one man and kidnapped three others in Somaliland on Wednesday, while another 11 (mostly civilians) were killed in an artillery battle in the main Bakara Market by Somali government backed by AU forces in Mogadishu.
  • Political violence in Ghana has increased this past week, as riots and minor clashes rock the country following Parliamentary by-elections. Political analysts are concerned for the upcoming 2012 elections.
  • Sudan’s vice president urged UN member states to forgive their debts in an effort to strengthen prospects for peace. The IMF has said that Sudan has nearly $38 billion in external debts. Sudanese officials from both the north and the south accused each other of deploying troops along their joint border amidst mounting tensions in the build-up to a referendum on southern independence. Both sides dismissed the other’s allegations. South Sudan has said they will provide community militia groups with weapons to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, as the mainstream armed forces are already stretched to thin. North Sudan’s dominant party has threatened to reject the results of a southern Independence referendum unless the south withdraws its troops from disputed areas and allows free campaigning in the vote. A central Sudanese tribe has also warned it would fight anyone who prevented its member from voting in the referendum. Darfur rebels accused Sudan’s army of killing 27 people in a week-long campaign of air and ground assaults this week, although the Sudanese army dismissed the accusation.
  • 15 children were hijacked on a school bus in Nigeria by gunmen on Tuesday. The kidnappers are demanding a ransom from the school in the amount of 20 million naira. The children were said to have been released on Friday, with no ransom paid and no physical injuries. Also on Friday, the 50th anniversary of Nigerian Independence from Britain, three bombs killed at least eight people. The attackers sent emails threats about the devices approximately an hour before they were detonated.
  • There has been increasing violence in Zimbabwe during community meetings leading up to the constitutional referendum, including new arrests of civil society activists. The violence and intimidation has been mainly done by supporters of the ZANU-PF, the former sole ruling party.
  • Eritrea criticized the UN General Assembly for continuing to ignore Ethiopia’s failure to comply with the international commission ruling that delineated the border between the two countries following the 1998-2000 war.
  • The UN Security Council deployed 500 additional troops to Cote D’Ivoire in advance of the end of October elections. The elections had been repeatedly delayed in the past. Concerns over election violence have been elevated in the past several weeks, after several militia leaders have spoken out against demobilization payments made to former rebels, claiming that their members, who fought to protect the government deserve equal treatment and even taking over a government building to demand the same demobilization payment as the rebels. The UN mission in Cote D’Ivoire has asked the Security Council to lift the arms embargo on the country so that crowd control equipment can be bought for the upcoming elections. The opposition is concerned of how this equipment will be used.
  • The UN Security Council lifted its 12 year arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on Sierra Leone on Wednesday. The Council also decided to extend their mandate of the Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) for another year until September 15, 2011.
  • The Tunisian government ratified the international treaty banning cluster munitions on Tuesday, becoming the first country in the Middle East or North Africa to do so. Tunisia is the 42nd country to ratify the convention which prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
  • Uganda has warned that the UN report implicating it, and several other countries’ armies in war crimes in the DRC, jeopardizes its commitment to regional peace missions and demanded that it not be published. Rwanda had previously warned the UN about its possible withdrawal from peacekeeping missions if the report was not changed, and later announced that it had the right to review future engagements with the UN.  The report was released on Friday amid much criticism from some of the implicated countries.

Asia

  • Two NATO soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Saturday, and another two on Sunday, while 70 insurgents died in separate clashes with coalition troops. Local residents complained that civilians were among the victims. A suicide attack on Tuesday killed a provincial deputy governor and five others in the east of the country. A NATO raid in the east killed four children and wounded three adults on Wednesday. A suicide bomber reportedly targeted a NATO military convoy near Kandahar, killing and injuring several civilians on Thursday. Four Georgian soldiers were said to be killed in the attack. Afghan and NATO forces began attacking Taliban strongholds on Saturday in Kandahar in a bid to bolster control of the area. Afghani election officials have ordered a partial recount of votes from seven of the country’s 34 provinces following countless complaints of fraud during last week’s elections. A former top-ranking UN official called upon the UN to investigate into alleged war crimes happening in Afghanistan to identify and prosecute individuals responsible. Three former Australian soldiers will be charged with manslaughter over the deaths of six civilians during a military operation in Afghanistan last year. On Monday, A US court began its trial of American soldiers accused of murder during an Afghani killing spree. Afghan President has announced the formation of a 70-member negotiation council that will push for peace with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, which the Taliban subsequently rejected.
  • The Indian government decided on a major policy shift in Kashmir on Saturday, calling for the release of jailed student protesters, easing security strictures in major cities, reopening schools and universities, and offering financial compensation to the families of more than 100 civilians killed in protests in June. They were hoping the concerns would address the concerns of the protesting Kashmiris, however, the separatist leaders later rejected the shift. On Wednesday, authorities in Indian Kashmir said they will free jailed protesters and reduce the number of checkpoints in the main city, but put off a decision over whether to limit the scope of a hated security law used by the Indian military in the Muslim-majority region to curb the persistent unrest. Indian security forces killed 8 militants on Friday in two separate gunbattles.
  • Pakistan’s minister for defense production has resigned after the PM summoned him to explain why he criticized Pakistan’s military. The move comes just after the PM had canceled its trip to Europe amid media speculation about a possible change of government. There is speculation that the military could remove the civilian government. On Friday, Pakistan’s army chief handed a list of corrupt or allegedly incompetent ministers to the President, demanding their removal. An Internet video showing men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothing has heightened concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistan soldiers. The Pakistani military said it was faked by militants, although CIA intelligence suggests otherwise. Pakistan was furious with NATO-led troops upon learning that US helicopters had crossed into its territory from Afghanistan to attack militants. Pakistan’s foreign ministry called the incursions a “clear violation and breach of the UN mandate” and suggested that Pakistan may consider response options. At least 30 militants were killed in the attack. On Thursday, Pakistan blocked a vital supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and on Friday suspected militants set fire to more than two dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in retaliation.
  • North Korea’s Kim Jong-il has promoted his youngest son to military general, which analysts are calling a clear sign that he is in line to succeed his father as the country’s leader. The ruling Workers’ Party held a rare meeting on Tuesday stating that a new supreme leadership body would be elected. The two Koreas held military talks on Thursday, which ended without progress as the North rejected the South’s demands for an apology over the sinking of a South Korean ship. North Korea also vowed to bolster its nuclear deterrent in response to the threat posed by the US, but promised to never use its atomic arsenal to attack or threaten any nation.
  • New Delhi, India has cleared out the city’s poor in an effort to ensure visitors to the upcoming Commonwealth Games remember the games and not the poverty surrounding it. Three Indian judges ruled on Thursday that the disputed religious site in Ayodhya, claimed by both Muslims and Hindus, should be shared by both communities. Authorities have ramped up security measures over the week for fear of escalating violence over the decision, although it appears to have been taken relatively peacefully in the Hindu community and with non-violent rallies among the Muslim community.
  • Indonesia sent an army battalion and hundreds of paramilitary police into Borneo on Wednesday to quell an ethnic clash in an eastern province that has killed at least three people. Offices in the area have been closed, and some houses burned as local people armed with machetes and spears searched for an immigrant ethnic group. An international film festival celebrating gay cinema was targeted by masked Islamic hardliners in Jakarta on Tuesday. The protesters chanted homophobic slogans and accused organizers of blasphemy, threatening to burn down the venue if the screenings were not halted.
  • Thailand has lifted its state of emergency in some parts of the country, with the exception of the capital. The laws included bans on public gatherings of more than 5 people and gave security forces the right to detain suspects for 30 days without charge and were introduced in April amid mass anti-government rallies by the “Red Shirt” movement.
  • A bomb blast rocked a rural Myanmar/Burmese election commission office on Friday, stirring fears of violence during the first election to be run in two decades. The election is to happen next month and is largely criticized as a “sham” to create a military-dominated system run by generals and their proxies with little change in the status quo.

Central and North America

  • A mayor in a small Mexican town was found stoned to death on Monday in the third attack on a public official in less than a week. It was not made clear whether the killings were yet related to drug violence.
  • More than one in four US veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars say they have suffered service-related head injuries and two-thirds reported depression. Experts assert that real numbers may be significantly higher as many are afraid to admit suffering PTSD because they are afraid it would keep them from their families or hurt their careers.
  • The Obama administration is said to be drafting a bill that would require online communications services to be “technically capable of complying” with a wiretap order. The bill is said to make it easier for the US government to spy on Internet communications. The US has also announced unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran, aimed at punishing 8 Iranian officials for human rights abuses in the country. The sanctions ban Americans from doing business with certain officials, and freezes and US assets held by them. The Pentagon has also announced that the US are going to be resuming military contacts with China that were cut off earlier this year.
  • Canada’s House of Commons ruled on Wednesday that Iraqi war resisters from the US will not be allowed shelter in Canada. More than three dozen Americans moved to Canada to avoid military duty in Iraq and sought to stay on humanitarian grounds.

South America

  • Unrest erupted in Ecuador on Thursday as soldiers took control of the main airport, police protested in the streets and looting the capital while the President considered dissolving a deadlocked Congress. The President denounced what he called “a coup attempt”, and was allegedly hospitalized due to the effect of tear gas. He was later said to being held hostage there by police. The following day, the President vowed to punish protesters who rebelled saying there would be ‘no forgiving nor forgetting’.  The police chief quit his post on Friday after failing to stop the rebellion by his officers.

Middle East

  • The winner of Iraq’s March elections has ruled out participating in any new government that would be led by the current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad has come under an intensifying barrage of rocket attacks in recent weeks. A senior American military commander suggested that Iranian-backed militias were responsible. Officials say three police officers were killed in late night attacks in two northern Iraqi cities, and that a car bomb on Tuesday night killed another 2 officers. An American serviceman is being held in Iraq in connection with the shooting of two soldiers last week. A roadside bomb near Baghdad on Friday killed 3 people and wounded another seven at a checkpoint.
  • Israel announced on Monday it would not extend the 10-month moratorium on new settler homes in the West Bank to the disappointment of world leaders. The Palestinians who previously vowed to quit peace talks if the moratorium was not extended have expressed desire to remain in the talks. An Israeli strike in Gaza strip on Monday killed 3 gunmen belong to an Islamic Jihad group. The Israeli navy boarded a yacht carrying 10 Jewish activists who were attempting to break the sea blockade of Gaza and forcibly diverted the vessel to the nearby port of Ashdod. Five of the activists were released from police custody on Wednesday, and five others are set to be deported. The Israeli PM has distanced himself from the foreign minister’s speech at the UN this week after the minister told the General Assembly that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would take decades and dismissed the current talks as unrealistic. The UN Human Rights Council endorsed last week’s critical report on Israel’s raid of the May aid flotilla, but stopped short of pressing for an international criminal inquiry. The report also highlighted that US citizen Furkan Dogan and five other Turkish citizens were murdered execution-style by Israeli commandos in the raid.
  • Two Iranian doctors were mysteriously killed outside their workplaces this month. Critics suspect that at least one was linked to a politically motivated cover-up of prisoner abuses last summer following Iran’s disputed presidential elections. President Ahmadinejad’s closest aide has called for more rights for Iran’s “oppressed” women in an interview with the semi-official ILNA news agency, in a move thought likely to fuel controversy.
  • Syria has said it is willing to resume peace talks with Israel if they are geared towards Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights this week. Israel has said it will not enter into any talks with Syria that have pre-conditions.
  • Yemen has stepped up a crackdown on the media that is said to have created the worst climate for press freedom in decades. Some new legislative proposals would set prohibitive financial barriers for broadcast and online news outlets, expand the definition of criminal defamation to include virtually any form of criticism of the President and increase prison terms.

Europe

  • At least 2 Islamist insurgents were killed and 42 injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up in Daghestan on Saturday. Russian security forces said they killed 15 suspected rebels in clashes on Wednesday, and another 17 policemen are said to have been injured after explosives rocked their convoy. Russia claimed to have found and defused a car bomb on Thursday in the North Caucasus.
  • Angry protesters took to the streets in Iceland’s capital on Friday, forcing MPs to run away from those they represent. The protests were sparked due to renewed anger about the impact of the financial crisis. Demonstrations also happened in Greece, Portugal, Slovenia and Lithuania.
  • The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey extended its unilateral ceasefire by one more month on Thursday. The militants’ jailed leader has been in talks with Turkish officials and encouraged the group to continue the ceasefire.
  • The UK has awarded 12 million pounds in “special payments” including compensation to asylum seekers who were traumatized after being locked up in detention centres in the UK. Asylum seekers are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 14, and the European Union’s Charter article 63 CE.
  • France is now seeking to crack down on the Cirque Romanes, or the “Gypsy Circus” in the latest case of Roma discrimination. French authorities have refused to validate work permits for musicians crucial to the performances. The European Commission ordered France to comply with an EU directive on the free movement of European Union citizens or face legal action over its expulsion of thousands of Roma on Wednesday.
  • The UN Refugee Agency has expressed concern over the growing number of deportations of Iraqi asylum-seekers from Western Europe over the last two months. The deportations are in contravention of UNHCR guidelines for handling Iraqi asylum applications.
  • Eta, the Basque separatist group has said it is willing to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire with the Spanish government in a bid to settle its long-running conflict. The group did not specify its conditions.
  • The President of Kosovo resigned on Monday after a court ruled he cannot serve as head of state as well as leader of a political party. Analysts are concerned that the resignation could delay peace talks with Serbia, which are expected to start in October.
  • Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sacked Moscow’s longtime mayor Yuri Luzhkov on Tuesday, citing a lack of presidential confidence. The two had been feuding for some time, with the Russian government commissioning a series of negative TV documentaries about Luzhkov. Luzhkov retaliated by accusing the President of promoting a climate of repression and censorship reminiscent of the Stalin era and is said to be ready to challenge the dismissal.
  • US, UK, French and German intelligence agencies claim to have foiled a plot to launch “commando-style” attacks on Britain, France and Germany through done attacks on militants based in Pakistan. One has to wonder whether this claim would help “justify” the controversial attacks on Pakistan, which have been increasingly protested.
  • Workers from around Europe held rallies and strikes this week to protest the tight austerity programs being implemented by several EU countries. Marches in Belgium were relatively peaceful, whereas the Spanish general strike erupted into clashes between strikers, non-strikers and police. In Ireland, a man was arrested after ramming a cement truck into the gates of Irish Parliament in protest of an expensive bank bailout. Protests in Germany over the Stuttgart 21 rail project also turned violent with more than 100 injuries after their attempts to protect trees were broken up by police with water cannons and teargas.
  • A Croatian parliament deputy who fled Bosnia last year was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Bosnian court for war crimes. Branimir Glavas was the first senior Croatian official convicted of war crimes committed against the Serbs.
  • Serbia has announced it will end conscription to the military starting January 1st next year. The move is part of a 2004 strategy aimed at a gradual introduction of a professional army capable of tackling insurgencies and peacekeeping missions abroad.

This week in conflict… September 17th-24th, 2010.

World

  • The 65th session of the annual UN General Assembly, which began on September 13th, discussed the crises of relevance of the UN worldwide. The highly touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were the subject of the opening are falling short in many areas. The UN is also increasingly sharing its space with other entities and losing its place as the center of global responses.
  • September 21st was the UN’s International Day of Peace, a day dedicated to peace or specifically the absence of war. First started in 1981, it was later declared as a day of global ceasefire in 2001. Sadly, this Day of Peace was fraught with violent conflict worldwide.
  • Nations with competing claims to the Arctic region are meeting in a forum in Moscow to help ensure the region does not become a battleground for resources. Several countries, including Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US have all laid claims to the Arctic.
  • African leaders called on the UN to grant the continent a permanent seat on the Security Council on Friday, declaring that the exclusion of Africa can no longer be justified.

Africa

  • Mauritanian soldiers clashed with suspected al-Qaeda in Mali killing at least 12 al-Qaeda members and at least two civilians. The fighting began on Saturday on the Mauritania-Mali border but moved into Malian territory.
  • Two radio stations in Somalia were ransacked and looted by members of Islamist militias, one that later began to use the station for its own propaganda broadcasting. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of the presidential palace in Mogadishu on Monday. The Prime Minister resigned this week after a months-long feud with the President. At least 10 people were killed and another 25 wounded by fighting between the Somali government and the rebel group Hizbul-islam. Another 20 were killed on Thursday in further clashes, along with one Ugandan peacekeeper. On Friday at least 30 were killed as African Union forces clashed with al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu. The UN will hold a crisis meeting on Somalia next Thursday.
  • The Congolese army (FARDC) is reportedly increasing its deployments in the east in another bid to purge the FDLR. Uganda is also in talks with the Congolese government to work together to annihilate the LRA rebels who threaten security in both countries. The UN and the Congolese government have launched a distribution of identity cards to refugees aimed at strengthening the rights of the vulnerable group.
  • An army general from Cote D’Ivoire was arrested by the FBI in New York last week attempting to buy 3.8 million dollars worth of weaponry. The government opposition accused the President’s party of preparing to stay in power in the upcoming election by force. The government began paying former rebels on Wednesday who disarmed ahead of the elections set for next month in an effort to reduce violence.
  • Police in Zimbabwe have reportedly arrested 83 members of a group who were taking part in a march outside parliament to accuse police of beating suspects and denounce violence during the country’s constitutional outreach programme.
  • Preparations for an independence referendum in Sudan have been delayed, escalating risks for renewed civil war. The referendum is to happen January 11th.
  • Outrage at the proposed Public Order Management Bill in Uganda, which would restrict gatherings involving more than five people unless they are sanctioned by the Inspector General of Police, led to civil society, the opposition and human rights defenders verbally attacking the government.
  • At least fourteen bodies, some with limbs bound or machete wounds, have been found floating on a river near the capital of Burundi this week. Locals suspect the civil war is resuming.
  • Nigeria’s ruling party has suspended its election primaries this week, signaling that the national elections scheduled for January are likely to be delayed. The electoral commission called for the polls to be moved to April, so that it has more time to correct flawed voter lists.

Asia

  • At least seven people were killed in an attack near a polling station in Afghanistan, and rocket attacks wer reported in Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. The election was also marred by serious allegations of fraud and reportedly had a low turnout. Almost 3,000 formal complaints were received. The bodies of three Independent Elections Commission officials were found on Sunday, after disappearing in an earlier kidnapping. Eight Afghan children were killed while playing with an unexploded rocket on Sunday. The Taliban claimed that nine NATO soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash after insurgents shot the helicopter down. Several suicide bombers also attacked a NATO-run base on Friday in the southeast.
  • At least five soldiers were killed in an attack on a convoy in Tajikistan on Sunday. The attack was attributed to terrorists. Another 23 people were killed on Sunday after unidentified men opened fire on troops. Kyrgyzstan closed its border with Tajikistan after the attacks. The Tajik government forces mounted a counter-strike on the rebels responsible for the attacks on Wednesday. Another 3 militants were killed by Tajik troops on Friday on the third day of a counter-strike against rebel attacks.
  • The Kyrgyz National Security Service (UKK) interrupted the screening of an Australian documentary about a Chinese human rights activist and demanded it be stopped. The officers claimed to be implementing a written directive signed by the presidential office, though the president refused to comment.
  • Five Buddhists were killed in gun and arson attacks in Thailand on Sunday. The attacks were blamed on separatist rebels. Two more Buddhists were shot dead in a drive-by attack on Thursday. Anti-government protesters took to the streets again on Sunday in what was said to be the largest protest since the military cleared the streets on May 19. The unrest is said to be severely endangering the education system as schools have been targeted by separatist fighters who view the system as a symbol of government oppression.
  • Three people were killed on Saturday in Kashmir after security officers fired into a crowd who had defied the curfew to march in a funeral procession of a young boy. Indian MPs met detained Kashmiri separatists on Monday, despite a rebel boycott of government-sponsored talks in an attempt to end the uprising.
  • A US missile strike killed five militants in northwestern Pakistan on Monday. This is reportedly the fourteenth such US attack this month. Pakistanis took to the streets following the sentencing of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui by the US government for allegedly snatching a gun from an American soldier in an Afghani jail cell and opening fire. Police fired teargas and clashed with protesters.
  • Philippine troops killed a top Islamic militant on Sunday after a brief firefight. The militant is said to have helped plan and carry out the kidnapping of 3 Americans and 17 Filipinos in 2001.
  • More than a dozen gunmen on motorcycles attacked a police station in Indonesia on Wednesday, killing three police officers. The gunmen are believed to have links to a militant group from Aceh that had planned a previous coup attempt.
  • Two member of Kazakhstan’s Algha opposition party were detained by the police on Wednesday as they prepared to leave for a discussion on initiating a referendum on whether the President should resign.
  • Cambodia’s main opposition party leader was convicted in absentia on Thursday and sentenced to 10 years in jail after a comment about a border dispute. Critics claim this is further intimidation of governmental opponents.
  • India has banned bulk mobile text messages for three days starting on Thursday to prevent the spreading of rumours and religious extremism in advance of a potentially explosive court verdict between Muslims and Hindus. The high court ruled on Friday whether Hindus or Muslims own land around a demolished mosque in northern India.

Middle East

  • Two car bombs killed at least 31 people in Baghdad, Iraq on Sunday morning.
  • The Israel Defense Forces have been accused of using the banned Ruger 10/22 rifle to disperse protests even though it has been prohibited. Israel expressed its anger at Russia on Monday for planning to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, concerned that the weapons could be used to transfer to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Does Israel have nuclear submarines? A new book offers by a former Israeli admiral offers a glimpse into the state which neither confirms nor denies having nuclear bombs. The Israeli government has said it will not accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty due to national security considerations, and suggested that the UN atomic watchdog is overstepping its mandate in demanding them to do so. Israel is seeking the release of an American jailed for life for spying for the Jewish state in return for an extension of the partial freeze on the expansions of settlements in the occupied territories and other concessions in the recent peace process with the Palestinians. An Israeli guard killed a Palestinian man on Wednesday during clashes in a contested East Jerusalem neighbourhood, after which, angry demonstrators began hurling rocks at police and were dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets. The Israeli navy shot and killed a Palestinian fisherman on Friday because he was “heading towards Israel” and apparently “refused to obey” orders to turn back.
  • The UN panel of human rights experts charged with investigating the Israeli flotilla scandal of May of this year has accused Israel of war crimes through willful killing, unnecessary brutality and torture in its “clearly unlawful” and disproportionate assault of the ship. Israel dismissed the accusations as “politicized and extremist”, but since the report does not have any legal force it will merely be an embarrassment to the Israeli state.
  • Hamas warned of backlash after Palestinian security forces arrested hundreds of Hamas activists, including a senior Hamas figure. On Thursday Hamas claimed to have arrested “many” Palestinians in Gaza on suspicion of collaborating with Israel to kill senior members and bomb training sites and government offices.
  • An Iranian court has jailed a prominent human rights activist and journalist, convicting her of “waging war against God”. Supporters say the arrest is politically motivated. Two bloggers may face the death penalty for speaking out during the 2009 elections. The Iranian government has announced plans to create a new board that will approve the content of all books for publication, essentially amounting to legalized censorship. A bomb exploded at a military parade on Wednesday killing 10 spectators. The attack was blamed on Kurdish separatists.
  • Up to 12,000 civilians fled their homes in south Yemen due to heavy fighting between government forces and suspected al Qaeda militants. Three al Qaeda militants and two soldiers have died. Yemeni troops laid siege to the town of Hawta, shelling the town with tanks and artillery and firing on jihadists from helicopters.
  • Clashes broke out during protests on Tuesday in Egypt against the claimed plans for the president’s son to assume power. It is widely believed that Gamal Mubarak is now being groomed to succeed his father Hosni as Egypt’s next ruler. Dozens of armed Bedouins locked 15 police officers in a car and set it on fire at a police station in central Sinai.

North and Central America

  • Mexican soldiers deactivated a bomb at a mall in central Mexico on Saturday. Nobody was injured and authorities are not clear if the incident was tied to the country’s drug war. Authorities have ordered the total evacuation of the town of San Juan Copala in the Oaxaca province of Mexico this week, after paramilitaries allegedly said they would massacre all supporters of the autonomous municipality. The town has been under siege since February of this year. Mexican authorities say that seven people were killed in Acapulco during a shootout between rival drug gangs on Thursday. They also found the decapitated bodies of two men inside an abandoned car near Acapulco on Wednesday. Suspected drug hitmen also killed the mayor of a town in the North on Thursday, making this the fourth public official slain in little over a month.
  • An appeal court in the US has dismissed the case against Royal Dutch Shell, after the oil company was accused of helping Nigerian authorities to violently suppress protests against oil exploration in the 1990s. The court ruled that corporations could not be held liable in US courts for violations of international human rights law.
  • Al-Jazeera has accused NATO of trying to suppress its coverage of the war in Afghanistan following the arrest of two of its cameramen this week. The two journalists have been accused by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to be working with the insurgents to facilitate Taliban propaganda. They were released later in the week. The CIA is said to have trained and bankrolled nearly 3,000 Afghans for nearly 8 years to hunt al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Private contractor deaths have been said to outweigh military losses in Iraq and Afghanistan with more than 250 dead between January and June 2010, compared to 235 soldier deaths.
  • Iranian President Ahmadinejad has accused the US government of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks in an effort to prop up Israel at the UN General Assembly, prompting several delegates to walkout. Barack Obama responded by making an angry personal attack on Ahmadinejad, calling his words “hateful, offensive and inexcusable”. Ahmadinejad later defended his remarks and called upon the UN to set up a commission to study the attacks.
  • Nicaragua’s consul in New York was found dead with his throat slashed in his apartment on Thursday. Police have not released any further details of the investigation so far.

South America

  • Colombian troops killed at least 22 FARC guerrillas in a jungle raid on Sunday. They have also claimed to kill a top leader, Jorge Briceno Suarez, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). President Santos has vowed to keep his predecessor’s hard line on security in the region. Following these events, the FARC rebels said they wanted a chance for peace negotiations on Friday. On the more bizarre side of things, a parrot was “arrested” for allegedly tipping off members of a drug cartel during a police raid by yelling “run, run– you’re going to get caught” as it spotted uniformed officers.

Europe

  • French intelligence services are searching for a female would-be suicide bomber who they believe is planning an attack on the Paris transport system. This comes less than a week after the Eiffel Tower was evacuated following a bomb alert.
  • Twenty-one people were injured when a protest by grape growers in Kosovo turned violent. Some 500 farmers came with their tractors to protest the government’s inability to find buyers for their grapes.
  • A lawyer who managed the legal defense of a Bosnian Serb convicted of mass murder at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia is now facing charges of bribing witnesses. He is accused of paying three witnesses 1,000 € each for  testimony in favour of Milan Lukic, who was jailed for life in 2009 for the killings of Muslims in Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.
  • The vice president of Abkhazia was wounded in a mortar attack on his house on Wednesday night.  The Abkhaz President claims the attack was a bid to destabilize the region.
  • One of Russia’s most vocal gay rights campaigners says he was kidnapped by people he believes to be members of Russian security services and held for two days. Nikolai Alekseyev has previously been publicly insulted, repeatedly arrested and pelted with everything from eggs to fists. On Tuesday, several gay-rights activists, including Alekseyev were arrested after an unauthorized protest. A Russian woman who claims to be a journalist appealed to the US government to help her and 2,000 others whose homes are set for demolition. She laments that her people have lost all their rights and returned to communism. The Russian army has also announced that they will drop their plans to supply Iran with S-300 missiles because they are subject to international sanctions, an arrangement agreed upon several years ago. Gunmen, suspected to be Islamist insurgents, shot 13 people across the North Caucasus this week including two police officers.
  • The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has extended its unilateral ceasefire in Turkey for another week. Turkey has officially refused to negotiate with the PKK, which it labels as a terrorist organization.
  • Concerns about press freedom in Ukraine were fueled this week again after a journalist says he was severely beaten up by police. This is the second such attack on a journalist in less than a week. Police deny all allegations.

This week in conflict…

This week in conflict…

World

  • The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative has recently launched its Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), a new way to measure poverty in the world. The MPI expands on the previous Human Development Index (HDI) and includes 10 indicators of health (child mortality and nutrition), education (years of schooling and child enrollment) and standard of living (access to electricity, drinking water, sanitation, flooring, cooking fuel and basic assets like a radio or bicycle).
  • The UN is set to transform the way it deploys peacekeeping missions around the world to ensure field operations have the support they need and to improve efficiency and effectiveness of services.

North America

South America

Middle East

  • A suicide bomb attack in Yemen wounded 8 soldiers on Tuesday after an attack on security forces. Al Qaeda has been held as the main suspect of the bombing. The country’s Shi’ite rebels released 100 soldiers and pro-government tribesmen captured in last month’s clashes, a second move towards cementing a fragile truce in the north of the country. Three soldiers were killed at a checkpoint on Thursday in a suspected al Qaeda attack.
  • A gunmen killed five police officers at a Baghdad checkpoint on Tuesday. The attacks took place just after mortar rounds had hit the area. A roadside bomb and then a car bomb killed 12 people and wounded at least 55 in a busy commercial area of Kut.
  • Israel launched a series of air attacks against the Gaza Strip injuring many Palestinians, which they say was in response to a rocket that hit the city of Ashkelon on Friday. Another rocket, possibly coming from Egypt, slammed into a Jordanian Red Sea resort on Monday. It was thought that the rocket was supposed to hit a nearby Israeli resort but went astray. Another explosion, meant to kill the senior Hamas commander in the Gaza Strip on Monday, instead wounded at least 31 people. At least five rockets were fired at the southern Israeli city of Eilat in response. On Wednesday Israeli shellfire killed a Palestinian militant and wounded another on the Gaza strip in an attempt to stop a group of Palestinians who Israel claims had approached the Gaza border fence.
  • Fighting erupted at the Lebanese-Israeli border on Tuesday between the Lebanese and Israeli armies. An Israeli patrol was said by the Lebanese to cross the border unannounced in order to remove a tree that was blocking their visibility, wherein, the Lebanese army began firing rocket propelled grenades. In response, the Israelis fired two missiles at a Lebanese army post killing at least 4 people. Israel claimed they were fired upon while engaged in “routine activity” and threatened retaliations against Lebanon should violations continue.

Asia

  • Recent floods in the Koreas have led land mines from North Korea to wash ashore on South Korean riverbanks, and beaches, causing at least one death.
  • Government troops fired into crowds of protesters demonstrating against round-the-clock curfews early this week in Indian-administered Kashmir, resulting in the death of at least 4 people. Violence has been escalating in recent weeks, with as many as 47 protesters killed in the last week.
  • At least 80 people have been injured during textile workers protests in Bangladesh this week, demanding an increase of their minimum wage (currently around $24 a month) to a livable salary. The workers make clothing for international brands like Marks & Spencer, JCPenney, Wal-Mart and H&M.
  • Afghanis rioted in Kabul setting fire to two US embassy vehicles after NATO SUVs collided with a civilian car killing a number of passengers. A suicide car bomber killed at least 5 children in the southern Kandahar province on Monday and more suicide bombers attacked an air base in Kandahar on Tuesday. A deadly attack on an Afghan-NATO convoy resulted in the deaths of at least 7 police officers. July was hailed as the deadliest month for American forces with a death toll of 66. The Dutch mission in Afghanistan has officially ended and their withdrawal has begun.
  • Nepal’s parliament failed to elect a new Prime Minister on Monday for the third time in less than two weeks, further delaying a peace process that ended a decade-long civil war.
  • Four people were killed in Turkey Monday night after Kurdish separatists attacked a police station with a rocket launcher and automatic weapons. Violence has been said to be increasing on military targets, with nearly 100 soldiers dead since calling off a unilateral ceasefire at the start of June.
  • At least 70  people were killed in Karachi, Pakistan by violent mobs this week following the assassination of a member of the provincial Sindh Assembly from the Muttahida Quami Movement. A suicide bomber killed a police officer in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday, and wounded at least 4 other people; and at least six people were wounded after a grenade was hurled at a mosque during prayers later that evening.
  • Another school attack in a kindergarten in China has led to the deaths of at least 4 people; one teacher and 3 children. This is the sixth in a string of school assaults this year. In an attempt to reduce crime, the poor in Beijing are being locked inside their neighbourhoods at night. Officials call the project “sealed management”.
  • China is said to be developing an unprecedented carrier-killing missile called the Dong Feng 21D that could be launched from land with enough accuracy to penetrate the defenses of even the most advanced moving aircraft carrier at a distance of more than 1,500 km.
  • A battle between Indian police and Maoist fighters flared on Wednesday when a police patrol was ambushed in the central state of Chhattisgarh. No word on on the number of casualties has yet been released.
  • The controversial death of Papuan activist Yawan Wayeni was broadcast over the internet, sparking outrage in Jakarta. Police officers taunted him as he lay dying from wounds they had inflicted upon him. The original story surrounding the death of Wayeni, who was killed almost a year ago, suggested that he had been shot while resisting arrest and died on the way to the hospital. Video shows that he was tied to a log and forced to chant before his abdomen was sliced with a bayonet.
  • South Korea has begun naval drills of its western coast. North Korea warned that it will counter any reckless naval firing with strong physical retaliation.
  • Two people died in a bombing at an airport in the Philippines on Thursday. 24 people were injured.
  • Around 1,000 demonstrators were prevented from entering Bishkek to attend a rally in the capital on Thursday and another 3,000 demonstrators are said to have amassed near parliament. National Security Services said that the demonstrators planned to demand the installation of a local politician in a position of power or else seize power themselves. Later, the Kyrgyz authorities arrested opposition leader Urmat Baryktabasov and more than 20 of his supporters on suspicion of a coup plot.

Africa

Europe

Part I: Summary of Human Rights Watch- World Report 2010

Human Rights Watch recently released their latest Human Rights Watch Report  for 2010.

As I read through the list of countries profiled in the report, I found myself disappointed that Canada, the UK, Australia or any Western European countries had not made the list. I have read reports of almost all of these governments committing human rights violations  or allowing their companies to do so and the populations of these nations do still experience routine violations against human rights. In fact, considering these countries have signed numerous conventions and incorporated human rights laws more thoroughly into domestic laws than most of the rest of the world, their breach of them is all the more abhorrent and worthy of reporting. I thoroughly respect the work that organizations like Human Rights Watch do and I understand that Human Rights Watch is limited in their scope and resources as indicated in the end of the first report; so in no way do I mean to undermine the work that has been done to compile this report. I simply wish that it would cover the entire world and not just pieces of it.

The main violations of concern in the report this year are described in four sections followed by individual country reports. These sections are as follows:

1) The Abusers’ Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions

2) Civilian Protection and Middle East Armed Groups: In Search of Authoritative Local Voices

3) Abusing Patients: Health Providers’ Complicity in Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

4) In the Migration Trap: Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Europe.

I will cover the details of the report over the next little while in a series of posts. The first post will address the first section of the report.

Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions.

Putting a spotlight on human rights violations can be risky, and often those who defend human rights face extreme abuse, imprisonment, harassment, intense intimidation and even death. Organizations fighting this fight have been suppressed, denied funding, shut down and worse. Russia received a great deal of attention for its attacks on human rights defenders. Many victims reported cases of arson, arbitrary detention, disappearances of loved ones, torture, and brutal executions in Chechnya and other parts of the country. Also specifically mentioned in this section was Kenya, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia, India, and Uzbekistan. Several states were also listed as completely closed or restricted for activism. At the top of this list are Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. Burma and Iran bar international human rights groups completely. Saudi Arabia will not acknowledge NGO supporting human rights promotion and clamps down tightly on any who speak out. Danger in Somalia makes human rights monitoring essentially impossible. Libya allows international visits but completely suppresses any independent civil society. Syria will not license any human rights groups and prosecutes those who push for registration. Indonesia prohibits international human rights groups to visit to certain areas of the country, as has Israel into the Gaza strip. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam all refuse to allow access to UN special procedures, including on torture and human rights defenders. As does Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Zimbabwe and Russia have also prevented the special rapporteur on torture from entering their respective countries. Sudan has shut down human rights organizations and expelled several international humanitarian NGOs working in Darfur. China closed the Open Constitution Initiative (a legal aid organization) because of controversy over Tibetan protests and melamine-poisoned milk that sickened hundreds of thousands of children.

Other governments have been accused of openly harassing, detaining or attacking human rights defenders including Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Syria, and Yemen. The governments of Columbia, DR Congo, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua have been accused of using threats of violence to deter or punish human rights defenders. Russia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Uganda, Turkmenistan, Libya, Venezuela, Peru, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Egypt have all been accused of creating restrictive laws on NGOs and associations in an attempt to restrict the monitoring of human rights. China, Iran and Syria have all disbarred lawyers, refusing to renew their professional licenses to prevent them from representing victims of human rights abuses. China, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Iran, Morocco, Serbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been accused of trumping up criminal charges to silence human rights defenders.

The report then details the efforts made by some leaders to silence or curtail the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the African Union (AU) adopted a resolution urging African states to not cooperate with the arrest proceedings. The AU accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans, even though no objections were raised when the court indicted several warlords and the African governments themselves had requested the court to open the investigations. The ICC has also been hampered by the lack of ratification in the areas it is most needed, namely Sri Lanka, Iraq, Gaza, and Chechnya and a seeming double-standard that allows major Western powers and their allies to escape impunity.

The UN Human Rights Council is also described as problematic. The report demonstrates the bias and subjective nature of inquiries into human rights violations. Regional solidarity reigns in voting procedures over human rights principles, with members convinced to ignore their domestic principles for their allegiances to repressive neighbouring governments. Repressive leaders at the Council seemed determined to silence voices of dissent whenever possible. Similar problems have occurred within the UN NGO Committee, who has the power to decide which NGOs are able to gain “consultative status” and the right to speak before UN bodies. Several governments who are extremely restrictive towards NGOs seem to actively seek membership within the Committee to ensure that certain voices are silenced. For example, a Christian group from China was rejected for refusing to provide a list of its Chinese members, an action that would have severely endangered the lives of those involved. Another group, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, was denied the right to speak because it had not complied with Ethiopia’s new stringent civil society laws.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeated issued rulings against Russia (more than 100) for the abduction, torture, and execution of the people in Chechnya, and failing to properly investigate the crimes. Russia has refused to implement structural reforms ordered by the Court, as well as share relevant documents with the court in over 40 cases. The Russian government continually postpones visits by the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on human rights situations in the North Caucasus and has so far faced little consequence.

The ASEAN Commission on Human Rights was highlighted as a potentially positive new institutional development in the eastern world. Launched in late 2009, the 10-member Association vowed to adopt a “constructive”, “non-confrontational” and “evolutionary” approach to human rights, however, its non-interference policy ensures that member states cannot be monitored and investigated properly, giving each state the right of veto. Engagement with civil society remained repressive as each state was allowed to chose the civil society organization it wished to be part of an “interface meeting” on human rights.

More vigorous governmental defense of human rights activists and institutions is necessary, even in the face of abuse by allies. The attack on those who would defend human rights is an attempt to silence. The world cannot sit silent in the face of abuse. Voices must be heard. Human rights is a relatively new concept on the earth, but is one that must be vehemently defended if our rights and freedoms are to be respected.

Please read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is there anything written there that you wouldn’t want for you and your family?

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Misconceptions surrounding the Afghan detainee issue in Canada.

“Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society…It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff.” (Stephen Harper, BC Report, January 11, 1999)

I have heard so many rumors and comments as of late and I wanted to address some of the major misconceptions that I so frequently hear about the Afghan detainee scandal. PM Stephen Harper’s recent proroguing of Parliament has been linked by Canadian media to the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan interrogations into allegations of the torture of Afghan prisoners after they were handed over by Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities. The handing over of prisoners to torture is in breach of international laws and conventions, Canadian laws, as well as the technical agreements for the Canadian mission in Afghanistan that could result in possible war crime charges for some officials in the Canadian government. Michael Byers and William A. Schabas have formally requested the ICC investigate these allegations after pleas to apply the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms during the armed conflict in Afghanistan in the Federal Court of Canada, were denied. Sadly, the vague nature of the international laws makes justice illusive.

Firstly, I completely disagree with some of the statements I have heard that essentially say that discussing the issue or calling for an inquiry on these allegations is tantamount to not supporting our troops. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The international laws and conventions that prohibit torture or handing over prisoners to torture are in place to protect soldiers and those involved in war. Ignoring international conventions and laws not only disgraces our public image and any moral ground for our military intervention anywhere, but also puts all our soldiers at greater risk.  How can our government expect to invoke these laws for our own troop’s protection when they don’t have respect enough to follow them or investigate internal breaches fully? I will repeat my favorite comment from Brigadier-General Kenneth Watkin during the November 4, 2009 Committee meeting, “Respect for the rule of law is an essential aspect of Canadian Forces operations. Fostering respect for the rule of law is a key reason why we are in Afghanistan.

I would like to clarify that it is not individual soldiers who would be held responsible for war crimes, but rather those who ordered the troops and officials to ignore international laws. If you have doubts of this, please refer to the history of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its proceedings. Brigadier-General Kenneth Watkin further details who has this authority in the Canadian Forces, “The decision to transfer such persons rests with the Canadian Commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan and is made on a case-by-case basis.”

Secondly, some seem to believe that direct proof of torture must be found before we are to stop transferring detainees to Afghan officials. This is simply untrue. Those handing over prisoners or detainees “must be satisfied that there are no substantial grounds for believing that there exists a real risk that a detainee would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment“. Suspicion of torture is enough. Was there any suspicion of torture?  I think it is fairly clear that there was. Here is just one report by Graeme Smith from 2007. Amnesty International also reported on these concerns (and took the matter to the Federal Court of Canada), as did the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, Mrs. Ouimet of La Presse, the U.S. State Department, several UN reports and the Red Cross. Even General Hillier has suggested that he knew of allegations of torture when asked, “Were you aware of those reports about torture in Afghan prisons?”  he responded “yes, absolutely. You could not not be aware.” (November 25, 2009), but these reports were dismissed without full investigation or follow up to ensure the laws were being properly respected.

Sadly, there have also been allegations that there was a scripted cover-up ordered by the PM and allegations of intimidation of witnesses and the obstruction and interference of Committee work by Government officials in the Committee in the House of Parliament. I quote from the above document, “That the Committee believes a serious breach of privilege has occurred and members’ rights have been violated, that the Government of Canada, particularly the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, have intimidated a witness of this Committee, and obstructed and interfered with the Committee’s work and with the papers requested by this Committee.” This does not sound like the behaviour of leaders. It sounds like the behaviour of criminals. For shame. The truth must be told and any problems immediately rectified. According to the Parliamentary Journals (see particularly under the sections labeled “Business of Supply”) the majority of the house voted in favor of being supplied with access to uncensored documents currently being withheld by members of the government invoking the Canada Evidence Act (YEAS: 146, NAYS: 143). Despite this majority vote, the documents have yet to be supplied. The Committee must continue and investigations to prove or disprove the allegations must be made. Richard Colvin recently put forth this document to refute some of the evidence that was brought out during committee. Colvin has stated that he sent several emails about the issue that went ignored, with those in charge claiming that they never received emails from him that detailed anything about possible torture.

Thirdly, I have heard the excuse to the effect of, “what were they supposed to do about it, they had little choice but to hand them over”. This is also simply not true. As mentioned below in the Committee meeting from November 18th, 2009, other countries in a similar position have acted in a more responsible manner. Please read up on the actions of the Dutch and British armies in relation to our actions (it’s lengthy so I won’t quote it all here). Clearly, there was a choice and the choice made was to ignore international laws.

I urge you all to actually read the transcripts of the evidence as it is quite substantial and in parts quite disturbing. You can find the full disclosed details of the Afghan committee here.

You can watch the Richard Colvin testimony here:

I have chosen to highlight some of the evidence before Parliament that I feel is incredibly important to not overlook.

From November 4, 2009:
Brigadier-General Kenneth W. Watkin (Judge Advocate General, Department of National Defence– the legal adviser to the Governor General, the Minister of National Defence, the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Forces, in matters relating to military law.): “Torture is abhorrent and can never be tolerated. The prohibition against torture is a peremptory and non-derogable norm of international law. The transfer of detainees to a real risk of torture or ill-treatment is contrary to international humanitarian law, also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict. It is a specialized body of law that governs the conduct of Canada, its officials, and its military forces during the armed conflict in Afghanistan. The policies and procedures put in place by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan and the legal test that must be satisfied before detainees can be transferred are all meant to ensure compliance with these international legal obligations.”

” The technical arrangements expressly state that, [d]etainees would be afforded the same treatment as prisoners of war. Detainees would be transferred to Afghan authorities in a manner consistent with international law and subject to
negotiated assurances regarding their treatment and transfer. The reference to detainees being afforded the same treatment as prisoners of war does not mean they have the status of prisoners of war. Rather, it demonstrates that we
are extending well-established and comprehensive international law protection for such detainees.”

“The court found that under the technical arrangements the detention of persons adverse in interest or providing support in respect of acts harmful to the Canadian Forces and coalition forces, and the transfer to Afghan custody of such persons, is to be carried out in accordance with international law. Prior to transfer, detainees are held in a temporary Canadian facility on a multinational base. The decision to transfer such persons rests with the Canadian commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan and is made on a case-by-case basis.”

“The legal test that must be met before a detainee can be transferred by the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities, and this was confirmed by the Federal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal in the Amnesty case, is clear: the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan must be satisfied that there are no substantial grounds for believing that there exists a real risk that a detainee would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment at the hands of Afghan authorities.”

“…that there is no “legal no-man’s land” concerning the transfer of detainees to the Government of Afghanistan. International humanitarian law applies. Canada has “applied” the words of that code by making arrangements and establishing procedures to guarantee that detainees transferred by the Canadian Forces are protected.”

And my personal favorite: “Respect for the rule of law is an essential aspect of Canadian Forces operations. Fostering respect for the rule of law is a key reason why we are in Afghanistan.”

From November 18, 2009:

Mr. Richard Colvin: “What was the nature of our detainee system in Kandahar? Perhaps a good place to start is to compare our practices to those of our principal NATO allies in southern Afghanistan: the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. What we were doing differed in five crucial respects.

First, we took and transferred far more detainees. …As of May 2007, Canada had transferred to the Afghan authorities six times as many detainees as the British, who were conducting military operations just as aggressive as ours and had twice as many troops in theatre, and we had transferred twenty times as many detainees as the Dutch.

Second, we did not monitor our own detainees after their transfer. Again, unlike the British and Dutch, Canada’s memorandum of understanding on detainees, signed by General Rick Hillier in December 2005, had no provision for our own officials to follow up on what happened to our detainees after they were handed to the Afghan intelligence service, the NDS, or National Directorate of Security.”

” Instead, our detainee system relied upon two human rights groups to monitor the well-being of detainees after transfer: the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, or AIHRC, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the AIHRC had very limited capacity, and in Kandahar were not allowed into the NDS prisons. So for the purposes of monitoring our detainees, they were unfortunately quite useless. The Red Cross is a very professional and effective organization. However, they were also no good for us as monitors. Once a detainee had been transferred to Afghan custody, the Red Cross, under their rules, could only inform the Afghan authorities about abuse. Under those strict rules, they are not permitted to tell Canada.

The third important difference is that, again unlike the Dutch and British, Canada was extremely slow to inform the Red Cross when we had transferred a detainee to the Afghans. The Canadian Forces leadership created a very peculiar six-step process. Canadian military police in Kandahar had to inform the Canadian Forces command element at Kandahar airfield, who in turn informed Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, or CEFCOM, in Ottawa.”

“The Dutch and British military, by contrast, had a one-step process. They simply notified the Red Cross office in Kandahar directly. The Dutch did so immediately upon detaining an Afghan, and the British within 24 hours.

In other words, in the critical days after a detainee was first transferred to the Afghan intelligence service, nobody was able to monitor them. Canada had decided that Canadians would not monitor. The AIHRC could not do so, because they had very weak capacity and were not allowed into NDS jails. The Red Cross in practice could not do so either, because we did not inform them until days, weeks, or months after we had handed over the detainee.

During those crucial first days, what happened to our detainees? According to a number of reliable sources, they were tortured.”

” The most common forms of torture were beating, whipping with power cables, and the use of electricity. Also common was sleep deprivation, use of temperature extremes, use of knives and open flames, and sexual abuse–that is, rape. Torture might be limited to the first days or it could go on for months.

According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured. For interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure.”

” The final difference, which is a very important one, is that Canada, unlike the U.K. and the Netherlands, cloaked our detainee practices in extreme secrecy. The Dutch government immediately informed the Dutch Parliament as soon as a detainee had been taken. The Dutch also provided their Parliament with extremely detailed reporting on every stage of detention and transfer and on the results of monitoring after transfer. The U.K. also announced publicly the number of their detainees.

The Canadian Forces, by contrast, refused to reveal even the number of detainees they had taken, claiming this would violate operational security.

When the Red Cross wanted to engage on detainee issues, for three months the Canadian Forces in Kandahar wouldn’t even take their phone calls. The same thing happened to the NATO ISAF command in Kabul, who had responsibilities to report detainee numbers to Brussels. They were told, “We know what you want, but we won’t tell you.”

Further from November 18, 2009:

Why should we care about Afghan detainees being tortured?:

Mr. Richard Colvin: “As a final section, asking kind of a rhetorical question, even if Afghan detainees were being tortured, why should Canadians care? I think there are five compelling reasons.

First, our detainees were not what intelligence services would call “high-value targets”, such as IED bomb-makers, al-Qaeda terrorists, or Taliban commanders. High-value targets would be detained under a completely different mechanism that involved special forces and targeted intelligence-driven operations. The Afghans I’m discussing
today were picked up by conventional forces during routine military operations, and on the basis typically not of intelligence but suspicion or unproven denunciation.

According to a very authoritative source, many of the Afghans we detained had no connection to the insurgency whatsoever. From an intelligence point of view, they had little or no value. Frankly, the NDS did not want them.
Some of these Afghans may have been foot soldiers or day fighters, but many were just local people: farmers, truck drivers, tailors, peasants, random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time, young men in their fields and villages who were completely innocent but were nevertheless rounded up. In other words, we detained and handed over for severe torture a lot of innocent people.

The second reason that Canadians should care is that seizing people and rendering them for torture is a very serious violation of international and Canadian law. Complicity in torture is a war crime. It is illegal and prosecutable.

Third, Canada has always been a powerful advocate of international law and human rights. That is a keystone of who we are as Canadians and what we have always stood for as a people and nation. If we disregard our core principles and values, we also lose our moral authority abroad. If we are complicit in the torture of Afghans in Kandahar, how can we
credibly promote human rights in Tehran or Beijing?

Fourth, our actions were counter to our own stated policies. In April 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said publicly that Canadian military officials don’t send individuals off to be tortured. That was indeed our policy. But behind the military’s wall of secrecy, that unfortunately is exactly what we were doing.

Finally, even if all the Afghans we detained had been Taliban, it would still have been wrong to have them tortured. The Canadian military is a proud and professional organization, thoroughly trained in the rules of war and the correct treatment of prisoners.”

** A side note (RS- not from the transcript): There has been a great attempt to discredit Mr. Colvin since this evidence was given. Here is my favorite quote dealing with that issue:

“If [Colvin] had no credibility, why was he promoted from Afghanistan to a senior intelligence position in the Canadian embassy in Washington? That is a very senior job that that man is holding so there is no credibility on trying to discredit him.” (Bob Fife, CTV Power Play, November 18, 2009)

From November 25, 2009:

Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, Lib.): “I want to talk to you about the issues about law, the command responsibility. You know that better than anybody else. It requires no actual knowledge of the risk of torture. If the risk of torture is widely known, as it was to the U.S. State Department, UN reports, Afghan Independent Human Rights reports, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, our own human rights reports, their knowledge can be imputed. In fact, ignorance is not a defence either, for want of reports, and you know that better than I do.”

“…Justice Anne Mactavish in February 2008? She stated that: “Eight complaints of prisoner abuse were received by Canadian personnel conducting site visits in Afghan detention facilities between May 3, 2007 and November 5, 2007.” Moreover, she noted that in some cases prisoners bore physical signs.”

Mr. Claude Bachand: “Everyone here recognizes that the suspected torture we are dealing with has certainly not being inflicted by Canadian soldiers. What we are trying to find out is if Canadian soldiers like you, on the ground, knew that torture was being practiced and if, despite that, they still transferred detainees. That is our main concern.”

“Can you explain to me how you can state that absolutely nothing happened when Amnesty International, the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission and the Red Cross all stated that torture was being practiced in the prisons? Even a guard in the Sarposa prison stated that torturing prisoners it was routine. International diplomats said the same thing. Today, a Canadian diplomat repeated statements made by Mr. Colvin as well as by many reporters. You referred to the Globe and Mail but I can also mention Mrs. Ouimet of La Presse who reported on what she saw there. All the Opposition parties believe that torture was being practiced. Why are you trying to convince us that it was not?”

Mr. Paul Dewar to Gen. Rick Hillier: “Were any of you aware of these independent groups’ assessments on torture in Afghan prisons from 2005, 2006, and onwards?I guess by 2006 everyone knew, so were you aware of the independent assessments by other groups? They’ve all been listed: the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Red Cross, the State Department, etc. Were you aware of those reports about torture in Afghan prisons?”

Gen Rick Hillier: ” How could you not be aware of individuals saying that everything was bad and the sky was falling? So yes, Mr. Dewar, absolutely. And then I’d just balance that against a comment I heard from somebody in the ICRC or read somewhere back in February 2007, saying there’s no problem whatsoever with respect to detainees. So I tried to balance the specific against the generalities, which had no substance against specific–“
“So yes, absolutely. You could not not be aware.”
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40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

The Least-Worst Option: Statebuilding in Afghanistan via Transforming the Narcotics Industry

By Graham Engel

“But war’s a game, which, were their subjects wise, Kings would not play at.” – William Cowper, The Task, V, The Winter Morning Walk, line 187.

While Canadian troops have been present in Afghanistan since at least 2001, present conditions suggest Canada will not be there much longer. Our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is calling for an exit strategy1 while still assuring the US that we will support them in their latest troop-surge, which gives the impression that Canada’s decision to stay in Afghanistan is not one made in Ottawa. This is reemphasized by John Foster, who reminds us that “as part of the International Security Assistance Forces and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, Canada has supported US interests in Afghanistan (2)” and will likely do so until told otherwise. The amalgamation of forces are in Afghanistan to address the failed state that it is, and hope to institute a stable and productive apparatus so that Western forces can leave, and the habitual relations between nations can resume; in Afghanistan’s case, habitual relations refer to transport in trade goods and a stable foothold for NATO allies in that region of the world. Building the state of Afghanistan is plagued with enough obstacles to make our stay there ambiguously protracted, and a stay of questionable worth. Yet, this paper will argue not only for prolonged Canadian presence in Afghanistan, but will argue that transforming the drug economy should be their central preoccupation, as it may be the linchpin to a sustaining Afghan state.

Ideally, Canada would need not stay in Afghanistan. The Bonn agreements have established a globally-recognized government, the people have voted their representatives into power, and the task of rebuilding has begun. In the words of Captain Nichola Goddard, whom died on our behalf in Afghanistan, these governments are a reflection of the desires of the people.

    “The Afghan people have chosen who will lead them. Their new government is striving to make Afghanistan a better place. I had never truly appreciated the awesome power of a democratic government before. We are here to assist the legitimate and democratically elected government (Outside the Wire, 57).”

Yet, despite Western attestations that the Afghan people have self-selected leadership, real Afghani’s describe the situation in other words. Malalai Joya is an outspoken female politician from Afghanistan, a feat rare enough in itself, but also compounded by her outspoken critique of those who hold power in her country. According to Joya, “…80% of the members of the Afghan parliament are warlords, drug lords, and criminals. The drug lords are ministers, governors, commanders, MPs, and ambassadors; [President] Karzai continues to put these criminals in high official posts and the Afghan people are hostages in their hands (230).” Not only are corruption (Kreutzmann 2007; Berdal 2009), entrenched criminality (Cornell 2007), and political violence (Aras and Toktas 2008) the foundation of the state of Afghanistan, but the international community is complicit in it, accepting its current composition as long as this government is serving Western interests. These individuals are power-holders in the country, those whom fought with the ISAF to defeat the Taliban, and are not really products of a functioning democratic system, but rewards for assistance.

A shuffling of powers such as this is not new in Afghanistan. Indeed, as a country which has been exploited as part of the ‘Great Game’ since it was first recognized, contemporary global history has seen Britain, the US, Russia/USSR, and Pakistan all in some way seek influence on the state. Furthermore, para-state actors in the form of al-Qaeda and now the deposed-Taliban seek to exert their influence on the governance structure of this former Durrani2 state. Operating from the North West Frontier Provinces (NWFP) of Pakistan, a region which is violently opposed to external governance structures (and have been historically unmanageable; Omranj 2009; Spencer 2009), extremists are destabilizing not only Afghanistan, but Pakistan as well. This spawns fears of a Talibanized Pakistan (Spencer 2009), as that states incumbent government has neglected to persecute them in their NWFP’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), leaving the possibility open that they may be able to spread all the way to Islamabad.

The issue of a failing Pakistan, a tenuous Afghanistan, and the criminality and corruption which plagues them become compounded by narcotics production and sale. The difficulty of this situation is how entrenched the narco-economy has become, which is likely a direct result of decades of war and degrading infrastructure. Where “more than 70% of the people live below the poverty line” (Aras and Toktas, 7), those who are able to cultivate opium in Afghanistan do. The industry is estimated to be worth US 2.7$ B., and is roughly 52% of the Afghan GDP (Kreutzmann 2009), involving an estimated 3.3 million Afghani’s directly (Berdal 2009). Farmers profit from producing a cash crop which nets $90/kg, substantially better than many of the other alternatives provided3, though it should be said that it is at least suspected that many farmers are forced into opium production. Kreutzmann says “the farmers are often compelled to cultivate poppy and receive only a nominal share of the profits” (6), yet according to Maloney, tribal leaders become involved in negotiations for the wider area, needing to “take a cut of the action to permit the cultivation to be done” (9), as it is a profitable enterprise not to be turned down lightly by any community. While this may represent a “possibility of rising from their abject poverty” (Van Ham, and Kamminga, 2), this seductive enterprise comes with the associated risks of an illicit economy, that being corruption, conflict, and entrenched interests who would seek to maintain this social order.

Domestically in Afghanistan, ties to the Drug Trade extend as far up as the President’s brother, and can realistically be found in many of the state institutions. Berdal states that poppy-growing districts are exposed to endemic corruption, with police posts being “awarded through bidding process[es], with prices reaching as high as $100,000 for a six-month appointment to a position with a monthly salary of $60 (6)”. This is because turning a blind eye to the growth, processing, and transport of opium is highly lucrative due to the bribery that befalls one at that station. Not only is regional governance compromised, but international governance too. The processing and transport phases of opium production, where the real profits are to be made, are not based in Afghanistan, but are “…variably and inextricably linked at multiple levels to the political and economic processes and people that constitute the nation-state of Pakistan – and have been for some decades (Maloney 11).” In the uncontrolled and volatile NWFP’s, the drug processing occurs, and from there are shipped to many regional, and international, clients. These networks “have been players in that scene for decades – far longer than Al Qaeda and the Taliban have existed as organizations (ibid.)”, with these inter-linkages extending as high as the Pakistani Army’s National Logistics Cell (ibid.). Beyond lining pockets and providing incomes for those who need it, illicit trades are notorious for providing armaments to para-state organizations (Aras and Toktas; Kreutzmann). Thus we see in Afghanistan “a power struggle… in which regional warlords challenge the central authority, in which rebels, guerrilla fighters and/or Mujaheddin finance their wars against the center with capital returns from poppy cultivation (Kreutzmann 5).”

Kreutzmann says that “the drug-economy…enables regional leaders to execute semi-independent rule and to establish quasi-autonomous territories under their jurisdiction and economic control (7)”, which is exacerbated by regional interests in this social structure. Drug-moneys undermine faith in the government, corrupt legal authority, enable sub-state social structuring, and yet are absolutely necessary for many Afghani’s to live upon. Further, a historical legacy of turmoil leads to a tribal predisposition to resolving conflicts via violence and usurpation, targeting enemies and praising allies, of acting as their own law instead of following a central governments (Cornell 2007; Omrani 2009). Making it more difficult still are international sanctions against involvement in drug economies, which will force the hand of any internationally recognized government, ultimately driving producers to groups such as the Taliban (Van Ham, Kamminga, 5). Western domestic policy also causes a narrow range of actions to be taken, as permissiveness (of cultivation so as not to alienate rural Afghani’s), transformation, or anything that is not explicitly eradication is met with incredulity and political sanction at home. Dissolving this knot is the key element to Afghan stability.

The only means of eliminating the lucrative narcotics market would be full-out legalization, yet this is not likely to happen, leaving the next best solution to lie in transforming the Afghan opium crop into a legitimate medical morphine industry. While it is nowhere near as lucrative as the illicit trade, growers will find themselves offered a chance to earn a good livelihood and to embrace a peace-economy. Afghanistan possesses the appropriate expertise and infrastructure to begin licensed poppy-growing for morphine and codeine, creating “a humanitarian brand of Afghan morphine and codeine…marketed in developing countries that have a serious shortage of those medicines.” (Van Ham, and Kamminga 6). Christopher Hitchens agrees with this idea, by saying that “the revenue that now goes to drug lords and terrorists could be applied straight to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, while weakening those who benefit from an artificially created monopoly (Foreign Policy, “Legalize It”, May/June 2007).”

Not only would opium be transformed, but the marijuana industry could transfigure into a hemp food and textiles economy. Afghanistan is a prime source of the worlds hashish supply (as seen in Cpl. Pagnacco’s Afghan photos), an industry not as lucrative as opium, but surely profitable. If the conditions are right to grow cannabis for smoking, then the conditions are certainly capable of growing hemp for sustenance. Hemp’s high-nutritive value (Kylstra 2009; Callaway 2004) can be used to ensure a higher quality of life for those whom are brought into the fold of the centralized Afghani state, as marijuana growers would become the food supply for the burgeoning state. When processed, the fibrous material could be used to provide a subsidized source of fabric for all state uniforms – making those uniforms creates labor which could be done by any one in need of a job.

Following the path of transformation offers minimal change for the average Afghani, an opportunity to join a legal enterprise, and the opportunity for local stake-holders to integrate into the central state. Those who are profiting the most from the shadow-economy could be incorporated as a part of this apparatus, as plantation managers or members of the ministry of Medical Morphine or Textiles (becoming no more corrupt than Western politicians); those whom are using it to fund insurgencies would refuse this peace-building option, thus extricating themselves from the legitimacy they experienced as protector of their locales livelihood. Then the state, with its enforcement apparatus, has reason to push them out. Johnathan Goodhand calls this ‘the border effect’, where “through a process of either co-opting or crushing rural outlaws in frontier regions, states…strengthened their capacities (3)” by becoming a force capable of instituting rule of law. These ‘brigands’ would still attempt to coerce communities into funding them through opium cultivation, but “the solution to the dilemma of security and stability lies in the fact that the majority of people in Afghanistan do not want the Taliban regime to return (Aras, and Toktas 10).” If the Afghani people want an established, legal state, then they will stand up to adversity for one. This, coupled with the transit revenue that will be generated by the Turkmenistan pipeline (US$160m./year – Foster 2008), may see the Afghan state in a position to grow and improve the lot of its people.

Critiques say that such a proposal would never work, as no control mechanism exists to ensure only licit poppy/cannabis production is occurring (Berdal), to which it should be said that Afghanistan is a state which is rebuilding and subsequently lacks many mechanisms – just because it fails to have an appropriate domestic monitoring apparatus is no reason to turn down a transformative opportunity that may win many Afghani’s over to the side of the central government. A more dangerous critique will be those disenfranchised regional operant’s whom have been profiting from lawless Afghanistan ‘forever’. Concerted resistance from outside Afghanistan’s borders could see the beginning of interstate conflict with Pakistan, or with peoples of the FATA’s of Pakistan’s NWFP. Another legitimate concern is whether this is approvable by Muslim law, yet Van Ham and Kamminga say “the cultivation of opium [is allowed] when it does not harm but rather benefits society” (10), and in a case such as this, it does.

Transforming drug economies in order to preserve livelihoods while creating new national industries which are enforceable through a legitimate state-coercive apparatus is an exercise in political imagination. The underlying theme of contemplating the Afghanistan state is that, since 1839, the West has been projecting their norms and value-structures onto an area which has resisted them from their inception. While strategies can be suggested, it is like asking “how can we make this work?” when instead we should be asking “what has been work in Afghanistan?” Every interventionist strategy since the British Colonial era has been self-serving and has created blowback which has haunted the West to this day, and Canada’s current involvement is no exception. While this paper has suggested a means by which a state could be built, it has been suggested with the understanding that the strategies being discussed in the popular media involve a troop-surge, an aspiration that Afghanistan will work on its own, and then a retreat by Western forces. Canada should not even be there, as it is not our place to tell the world what to do, but since we are there, the least-worst option would be to build something that could be legitimately sustainable. To do otherwise would be akin to playing a game one intended to lose.

Works Cited

    Aras, Bulent, and Toktas, Sule. “Afghanistan’s Security: Political Process, State-Building and Narcotics”. Middle East Policy, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 2008.
    Berdal, Mats. ‘Chapter Three: The Opium Trade.’ Building Peace after War. Routledge Publishing. London, UK. 2009.
    Callaway, J.C. “Hempseed as a Nutritional Resource: An Overview”. Euphytica. Vol. 140, 65-72. 2004. Kluwer Academic Publishers. The Netherlands.
    Cornell, Svante E.’Narcotics and Armed Conflict: Interaction and Implications’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30: 3, 207 — 227. 2007. Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.
    Foreign Policy. “The Poppy Trade”. Foreign Policy, no 168. 2008.
    Foster, John. “A Pipeline Through a Troubled Land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the New Great Energy Game”. Foreign Policy Series, Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives. Vol. 3, No. 1. June 19, 2008.
    Goodhand, Jonathan ‘Corrupting or Consolidating the Peace? The Drugs Economy and Post-conflict Peacebuilding in Afghanistan’, International Peacekeeping, International Peacekeeping, Vol.15, No.3, June 2008
    Hitchens, Christopher. “Legalize It.” Foreign Policy. No. 160, May June 2007.
    Ismi, A. “An Interview with Afghan MP Malalai Joya” from Afghanistan and Canada (eds. L. Kowaluk and S. Staples). Black Rose Books, 2009.
    Kreutzmann, Hermann “Afghanistan and the Opium World Market: Poppy Production and Trade”. Iranian Studies, 40 : 5, 605-621. December 2007.
    Kylstra, Carolyn. “6 stealth Health Foods”. Men’s Health. Vol. 24, no. 6. Ag. 2009.
    Maloney, Sean M.’On a pale horse? Conceptualizing narcotics production in southern Afghanistan and its relationship to the Narcoterror Nexus’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 20: 1, 203 — 214. March 2009.
    Omrani, Bijan (2009) ‘THE DURAND LINE: HISTORY AND PROBLEMS OF THE AFGHAN/PAKISTAN BORDER’, Asian Affairs, 40: 2, 177 — 195 July 2009.
    Patterson, J & K. Warren, “Selections from Outside the Wire: The War in Afghanistan in the Words of its Participants” from Outside the Wire: The War in Afghanistan in the Words of its Participants. (Eds. J. Patterson, and K. Warren), Vintage Books, 2007.
    Spencer, Metta. “Afpak 101”  Peace Magazine. Apr-Jun 2009. Vol 25, Iss. 2. Published by the Canadian Disarmament Information Service. Toronto, Ont.
    Van Ham, Peter, and Kamminga, Jorrit. “Poppies for Peace: Reforming Afghanistan’s Opium Industry”. The Washington Quarterly Volume 30, Issue 1. Winter 2006-07.
    Zakaria, Fareed. ‘Interview with Stephen Harper’. “Fareed Zakaria GPS”, March 1 2009. CNN.

The United States-led War in Afghanistan and the Implications of the Polarization of the Burqa as a Symbol of the Oppression of Afghani Women

Written by Heather Wilhelm

The United States (US) led war in Afghanistan is one of the most controversial current events in today’s world. After the September 11th attacks on US soil, the government of George W. Bush declared war against the Taliban, the acting government of Afghanistan. It was their belief that the al-Qa’eda terrorist network and its leader Osama bin Laden were responsible for these attacks, and that the Afghan government was in support of and harbouring bin Laden. In an effort to justify the mass bombings of Afghanistan in the weeks (and subsequently years) to follow, the Bush administration created a publicity campaign in which they would claim to be declaring a ‘War on Terror’ against the Taliban in an effort to liberate the women of Afghanistan. They claimed that years of physical and structural abuse against women in this country finally needed to come to an end. This campaign centred around the burqa, a restrictive, all-encompassing religious dress that the Taliban forced women to wear every time they left their homes. The US media began bombarding the American public with visions of women trapped underneath these burqas, in an effort to gain support for the continuing war in Afghanistan. This US government campaign would polarize the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan into an object: the burqa, and would leave the public unaware of the true history of women’s oppression under both the Taliban and US-backed regimes. It would also effectively hurt the progress that could have been made by women after the fall of the Taliban, as little attention was paid to solving the real issues in Afghanistan: gender inequalities and structural and physical violence against women that continue to oppress Afghani women to this day.

In 1964, Mohammed Zahir Shah, the King of Afghanistan created a new constitution for his people that would modernize his country’s political and economic spheres, as well as usher in new democratic legislature that would thrust Afghani women’s rights into the 20th century . The Basic Rights and Duties of the People as listed in articles 25-40 of the 1964 Constitution gave all citizens of Afghanistan equal rights to education, healthcare, and employment. Women were even allowed to enrol with the Armed Forces if they so desired . It was a time for great change and acceptance in the country, and more specifically a time of freedom for women who had been horribly oppressed for hundreds of years. This freedom would not last. In 1973, while Zahir Shah was out of the country for medical treatment, his cousin Daoud executed a well planned out coup d’etat, which would lead to the end of the monarchy that had been established in Afghanistan in 1747 . The end of Zahir Shah’s rein would have terrible consequences for the people of Afghanistan, as only six years after he was ousted from his throne, the Soviet Union would invade the country and the effect of this on the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Afghanistan (especially women) would be disastrous.
It would be during this Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that the United States would become heavily involved with Afghani extremists who were anti-Communist and core fundamentalists . The United States provided these groups with “$30 million in 1980 and increased to over $1 billion per year in 1986-89.” By contrast, opposition groups such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), whose aim was “to unite and fight for the independence of our beloved country” were not provided with any funding. While their aim was to bring about a union of the people to create a lasting democracy, the US was more focused on making the Soviet Union pay a price. To accomplish this, they continued to support exceedingly violent parties who were not above imprisoning, torturing, and murdering innocent civilians in the name of their cause . Even after the Soviets retreated in 1989, the US continued to fund the Mujahideen, which was a group of seven Pakistan-based parties who were equated with Afghani resistance . Interestingly enough, these seven parties denounced the return of King Zahir Shah even though many citizens of Afghanistan felt he was the only hope for their country . After the US-backed Mujahideen government took power, the women of Afghanistan were the first to feel the changes after the ‘Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ was created. Although often attributed to the Taliban’s reign, this Ministry was in fact created under the Mujahideen and called for women in Afghanistan to immediately begin covering practices . In August of 1993, they took it a step further by imposing the following legislation:
Women do not need to leave their homes at all, unless absolutely necessary, in which case they are to cover themselves completely; are not to wear attractive clothing and decorative accessories; do not wear perfume; their jewelry must not make any noise; they are not walk gracefully or with pride and in the middle of the sidewalk; are not to talk to strangers; are not to speak loudly or laugh in public; and they must always ask their husbands’ permission to leave home.

These decrees were almost identical to those that would be practiced by the Taliban after they came into power, however they are solely attributed to their regime by the US government. In fact, between the years of 1992-1996 before the Taliban took power, Afghanistan was embroiled in a bitter internal civil war in which brutal atrocities were carried out against innocent civilians. Thousands were murdered senselessly, and women were often used as rewards to soldiers who had done a good job for the government .
When the Taliban did take power in 1996, Washington was pleased to finally have a chance to end the anarchy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, where the Mujahideen had basically reduced the city to rubble . The Afghan citizens were also relieved to have a new government in power, and they prayed that the Taliban regime would finally lend the way for change in Afghanistan. All parties were quickly proven wrong as the Taliban immediately began imposing laws that some considered even more strict than those of the previous regime. Women were immediately dismissed from work, and forced to remain virtual prisoners in their homes. Girls were no longer able to attend school . While the Majuhideen had placed severe restrictions on women, they had still been allowed to work, attend school and leave home occasionally as long as they were covered in a traditional Islamic covering. The Taliban would not tolerate such offences, and the punishment for women offenders was often public stoning and/or death. Even these egregious human rights violations did not bring reprimands from the United States . It was not until the Taliban began actively attacking US soil that they finally acknowledged the terrorist tendencies of the regime and their support of the al-Qa’eda network of terrorists who had claimed responsibility for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Tower complex in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 1999 attack on the USS Cole. These attacks finally culminated in the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City and on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Not since Pearl Harbour had the US felt the pain of an attack on their own soil, let alone in two of the hearts of their great nation. It was time for revenge, and the administration of George W. Bush decided that war was the only way to make the Taliban pay for their attack.

For years prior to the attacks of 9/11 the US had been unsuccessfully attempting to strong arm the Taliban into turning over Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qa’eda network . Their tactics were no different after September 11th, and the Taliban’s response was unfaltering: they would not hand over bin Laden. A war on Afghanistan was almost immediately declared, with the first bombs being dropped October 7, 2001 . Just over a month later, on November 17, 2001, Laura Bush gave the president’s ‘Weekly Radio Address’, and for the first time, the address was given in its entirety by a First Lady . On this night, Mrs. Bush essentially became the US government’s voice against the oppression of women in Afghanistan, and vowed to end the suffering and subjugation of women under the Taliban government . This fight for the liberation of Afghani women was centred around the burqa, an enveloping outer garment that is worn by women of some Islamic faiths when they are outside their own homes . A brief look at the history of the burqa will help to contextualize the arguments put forth in the remainder of this paper.
The Qur’an is the religious text of the Muslim faith, just as the New Testament is the religious text of Christianity. The Qur’an requires that both Muslim men and women dress modestly while in public, however men are only required to cover from their naval to the floor whereas women are required to cover all but their hands and face . This inequality was mutated even further with the Taliban’s requirement of all women to be burqa-clad while in public . The burqa is the most intense form of covering in the Muslim faith. While some women simply wear a hajib, which is also known as a head scarf, others wear the all-encompassing burqa. A full-length dress fabricated with metres of fabric, the burqa completely covers the wearer leaving only a small hole in front of the eyes covered with mesh to see through. It is a very constrictive garment, and the vast amount of fabric makes it very difficult to walk in, let alone communicate through .
The idea of these personal prisons is a completely shocking thought and vision for the population of the Western world, especially for women who feel they have had the privilege to grow up with equality and independence. The Bush administration used its knowledge of this shock to capitalize on the oppression of women in Afghanistan, and created a publicity campaign that centred on the liberation of Afghani women and girls . They hammered the idea of the Taliban’s mistreatment of women into the psyches of the American public, without a mention of the atrocities women had suffered at the hands of US-backed Afghani regimes in the past . In 2002, the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council (UAWC) was formed in what would be the culmination of the publicity campaign. Although this group looks good on paper, it has still done nothing of any major consequence to help liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead it has focused so narrowly on the burqa and the ‘unveiling’ of Afghani women that the real and still existing problems of social inequality and gender repression are ignored . The US government and the UAWC have chosen a route of educating the general public by selectively placing all of the emphasis on an object: the burqa, rather than examining the deeper, underlying problems that continue to exist in Aghanistan.
While for some women the practice of covering in a burqa may be a demeaning historical practice, for many others the burqa is a religious symbol or a symbol of how hard women in Afghanistan have fought for the freedom that still eludes them . In the religious sense, Muslim people are thoroughly faithful to the Qur’an and that does not end with Muslim men. Muslim women have been raised with the scripture of the Qur’an and just as Westerners have a strong belief in the teachings of the religion they choose to follow, so to do Muslim women. The idea of modesty in clothing and behaviour is what these women believe, and their choice to wear a hajib or a burqa, is just that: a choice. While many Westerners argue that they only make this choice because they ‘don’t know any better’, it is dangerous ground to tread on to assume that one’s culture or religion is superior to another one. There are American Muslim women who choose to cover themselves even after being exposed to a multitude of different cultures, so one should not assume that the women of Afghanistan would choose to change their religious beliefs simply because of a change in government. Alternatively, there were also women who chose to use their confinement in the burqa to further the efforts of organizations attempting to achieve democracy in Afghanistan. Women took to hiding important documents under their burqas, which could easily conceal books, newspapers, and other items due to their masses of fabric . This contraband could then be delivered to others who were part of the resistance to the Taliban. For these women, the burqa became a form of strength, power and resistance, rather than a government imposed personal prison. Many female Afghani activists still believe the burqa is a powerful symbol and are therefore less concerned with the garments they are forced to wear, and more concerned with the democratization of their country, and the hope of equal rights for all . These women do not need to be saved from their oppressors, they need to be given the tools to create a better future for themselves and their families.
It is hard to believe that after six years of US occupation in Afghanistan there have still been very few changes in the social conditions for women and girls in the country . The new puppet government the US imposed upon Afghanistan is still practicing Sharia law, which has an extremely detrimental effect women. Afghan prisons are now full of women who have been convicted of crimes that range from refusing to marry the man their family has chosen, to simply running away from home . There have also been cases of sexual abuse and torture in these prisons. In 2005, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) collected statistics on Afghanistan for the first time, and the results were less than favourable. The country was ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the UNDP human development index, and statistics provided on health, literacy, employment, and lifespan showed that little has changed in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban . The maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world with 1,700 deaths in every 100,000, and if a woman is lucky enough to survive childbirth she will likely not live past the age of forty-five. An average Afghan woman cannot read or write, and even after the fall of the Taliban only 1% of children in school are girls . The question we must ask ourselves however, is not why have there been no changes, but how can we ensure that there will be changes in the future.

The best possible chance for change in the future, is to first open a dialogue about the real history of Afghanistan. This will certainly not be favourable to the United States, but at some point people need to be told the truth about their government’s actions and how those actions have affected other nations negatively. Also, relying on women in the US to run an effective campaign to save Afghani women is not a realistic expectation. There are many capable, experienced Afghani women who have spent their lives dedicated to improving the lives of their fellow female citizens . This is an extremely risky venture to undertake, and many women have been murdered for their involvement in the Afghani women’s liberation movement. Meena, the founder of RAWA, has been touted as a martyr for her work in starting the movement, and she was the first of many assassinated by both the Taliban and US-backed governments . These women have worked on the front lines for decades, and have lived through the constant fear of retribution for speaking out against the government, so who better to ask than them? The difficulty in asking them rests in their total knowledge of the United States’ history in their country. They know of the atrocities carried out by US-supported groups dating back four decades, just as well as they know about the current warlord government of today. The chance of this information getting out is too much for the US to risk, but this truth could truly set the women of Afghanistan free.
Individual activists are also becoming more prevalent in Afghanistan. One of the most famed Afghani women to speak out in recent years is Malalai Joya, who has chosen to tell the true story of the US ‘libertation’ of Afghanistan. She points out that the only success the US has had in their occupation of her country has been to replace one brutal, misogynist regime with another. Joya raised the unspoken topic of the post-9/11 warlord regime and their ruthless abuses of the Afghani people, but was silenced immediately. To date there have been four attempts on her life, as the US-imposed Afghani puppet government continues to try and silence those who speak out for democracy .
A complete attitude shift is required here on the part of the American public. People need to believe that these horrible crimes against humanity are occurring every day. They need to understand that not everyone wants to be an American or live the life of a Westerner, and that we need respect the cultures of others in order to evoke change. It is time for the American public to realize that their government keeps them under a dark cloud of lies and deception, and to start asking the questions that will finally bring truth and democracy to Afghanistan.
-HW


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An End to Foreign Rule and Other Ideologies of the Taliban Movement

“I start in the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate…” –voice of an anonymous Taliban fighter (Smith, 2008).
This quote seemed the most fitting way to start understanding the mind of a Taliban fighter since it was echoed at the start of almost every filmed Taliban interview and video. The image of the Taliban as a hard-line, ultra-fanatical religious movement has often cast individual Taliban fighters as uneducated, brainwashed religious nuts who are innately violent and destructive. Although the Taliban have an extremely strict and anti-modern ideology based on Islamic Shariah law, many of the fighters are not strict religious adherents and believe indiscriminate violence is wrong.
These Taliban fighters do strive for Islamic rule for the nearly ninety-nine percent majority Muslim population of Afghanistan, but they also strive to stop the occupation and invasion of their country, to restore the security situation of their land, regain economic security for themselves and their families, and to reclaim the territory lost to the Durand Line on the Pakistani border, among other things. The people that make up the Taliban live in an area that has been almost continuously occupied and invaded by several different factions for centuries (amidst incredible local resistance), and which has recently been devastated by almost thirty years of war. The individual reasons for Taliban fighters to join and support a so-called “terrorist” or human-rights violating organization are complex, but are most often rooted in socio-economic, political, historical and cultural reasons and not solely in blind religious fanaticism.
Afghanistan has experienced almost constant restrictive occupation for the last thirty years; first by the Soviets, then by the Taliban, and currently by the Americans since 2001. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, a conflict which has often been referred to as one of the proxy wars of the Cold war. This war lasted until the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, after the Soviet Union had begun to crumble and were no longer able or willing to support the effort. The US government, through the CIA and with the help of Pakistan’s secret police (ISI), channeled money to groups of mujahid warriors in Afghanistan (who included Osama bin Laden) to fight off the communist threat of the Soviets and gain an important strategic foothold in the Central Asian region. The extremist mujahid warriors (along with ethnic separatists) were seen as the best option to oppose the Soviets, not because they could form a stable government, but because it was hoped that they in fact, could not (Kakar, 1995: 147-9; 156).
The lack of local government along with the plethora of scattered, ‘tribal’ leaders left religious scholars with an important role in Afghanistan against foreign invasion and dominance. During the Soviet invasion a decree stating “Now is the time to free your country and wage your holy war against the Russian invader!” (The Final Call, 2001) was declared by many religious scholars, prompting the masses to take up arms and enjoy martyrdom if killed in battle. After defeating the Russians, these religious scholars went back into religious schools and mosques while some of the mujahid warriors began to fight each other for control of Kabul and other resources. For four years the scholars saw fighting, chaos and anarchy with traditional society and culture effectively uprooted, and thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Pakistan. In the communist controlled areas, the traditional “feudal” culture had been completely disrupted and replaced with “productive” urbanization, with Kabul swelling to over three million people (Kakar, 1995: 279).
It was in this climate that the Taliban really began to emerge. The term ‘Taliban’ comes from the Pashtu (and Arabic) word for ‘student’, and is used to describe a militant student movement group that grew out of hard-line religious schools in Pakistan in the early 1990s (Reuters AlertNet, Afghan Turmoil: 2008). In the late 1970s and 80s, Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia (a strict religious sect) began joining the mujahid warriors and heavily funding these religious schools (madrassas) to support the many “Afghani Jihad” orphans. These students, most of who were Afghani refugees living in camps on the Pakistani border, were offered free schooling and often even given a meal if they attended classes (Khan, 2003). They were schooled in the evils of non-Muslims, how to resist the Russians and any other occupation, and taught strict Islamic guidelines based upon Qur’anic verses. The Taliban brought possibilities to these students of education, work, much needed money, solidarity with others, and an actual role to play in society to make them feel useful again. It also brought hope for a future (even if only in heaven), something that is very hard for many refugees living in camps to imagine.
The Taliban shifted from these humble beginnings to rule most of the Afghan region from 1996 until their overthrow by US and NATO forces in 2001. They ruled with tremendous religious rigidity, and were condemned by human rights organizations who claimed they implemented the most brutal and strict interpretation of Shariah law ever seen in the Islamic world, which saw the closure of all girls’ schools, the ban of women from leaving their house without male familial accompaniment, as well as the ban of every conceivable kind of entertainment (Rashid, 2000: 2-3). This interpretation is informed by Shariah law combined with ancient Pashtu tribal codes (the Pashtunwali) that stress the right to revenge and to avenge injustice in equal proportion, as well as ideals of hospitality towards guests, asylum, honor and the protecting of Pashtu culture (Mardsen, 1998: 85).
Incessant fighting of competing Mujahidin warlords during the late 80s and early 90s, paved the way for the Taliban to overthrow the government in 1996, a move that was welcomed by many in the Pashtu majority who were happy to again see Pashtu political power in the country and an end to indiscriminate roving violence (Khan, 2003). In fact, Afghanistan’s former Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, was reported as saying in 2000 that the Taliban had developed “out of public demand” to put an end to the anarchy and chaos and to disarm the unscrupulous militias of mujahidin struggling to fill the power vacuum created by the departure of the Soviets (Global Security, 2000). Under this auspice, many Afghanis joined the cause.
The Taliban ruled until US and Coalition forces invaded in 2001, supposedly in search of Osama bin Laden. The Taliban, using Pashtunwali codes of asylum and hospitality towards guests as their guide, refused to hand over bin Laden without evidence proving his guilt. They actually agreed on several occasions, if evidence was submitted, to capture bin Laden and bring him to justice along with three other alternative options for justice. The US would not accept this offer. Many argue that in fact the US only turned against the Taliban after they refused to sign an oil pipeline deal through Afghanistan, instead offering the deal to an Argentine consortium (Margolis, 2008). The truth lies under much propaganda, and is incredibly difficult to ascertain. The Taliban and much of the Afghani public viewed this new infidel invasion much as they had the previous invasions, believing all Afghanistan’s problems would be solved if foreign interference were to stop immediately. Development projects were seen as a controlling mechanism of the non-Muslims, and were criticized for their wasteful spending. The Taliban also suggested that some UN and international projects were not sincere in their goals of helping the Afghani people, and were exaggerating the situation to continue their financial support and missions (Global Security, 2000).
The Taliban’s original goal, according to Zaeef and Ambassador Abdul Hakeem Mujahid (a Taliban representative to the UN in 2001), was to ensure peace and security in the country. They claim to have tried to solve all issues and disputes “through understanding and peaceful means”, even extending ‘”to the opposition an invitation for peace in an effort to stop further bloodshed in Afghanistan” (Global Security, 2000; and The Final Call, 2001). The main goals after restoring order were national unity for Afghanistan (which included restoring territory lost to Pakistan with the Durand Line in the 1920s); to disarm all the warlords and build a strong central government built on Islamic values. The Taliban claimed they would return to the mosques and schools once this had been attained (The Final Call, 2001).
To the Taliban, western “extremist” visions of their rule as human-rights abusing were unjustified. As repeated in mantra-like form, the Taliban has restored security and justice, along with the idea that education is not a right, but an obligation. Within Islamic-Pushtun principles this obligation means no-coeducation, with females separately educated for their own modesty and to prevent impure thoughts among the males. For the leaders of the Taliban, questions regarding the education of women were defended by showing the hypocrisy of the world for not criticizing the UN and Soviets who did not offer non-coeducational schools, limiting much of the Afghani population from attending. It was seen as offensive by the Taliban to force women into coeducational experiences that would dishonor their culture, and they claim many women who were able to enjoy education under Taliban rule missed out on education under the Soviet and UN systems (The Final Call, 2001).
The Taliban also take offence to the claim of indiscriminate killings and arbitrary violence. Taliban leaders, along with fighters stressed the fact that they were to avoid civilian deaths as much as possible. Certain statistics would seem to back this up. Taliban suicide bombers in Afghanistan are more prone to hit “hard” military targets than civilians with nearly half (43%) of all bombings causing no civilian fatalities. This “low accuracy” rate was attributed to the “amateur” abilities of the Taliban by Coalition troops. The Taliban affirms that this is a calculated decision to avoid killing innocents and inciting anti-Taliban sentiment in the country, a tactic that has proven effective in demonizing the Coalition among the locals for their indiscriminate bombings that have killed scores of innocent civilians (Williams,2007).
Controversy over the makeup of the Taliban is clouded by mass propaganda (American, Russian and local), conflicting accounts and faked reports. The Taliban’s strict ban on entertainment makes video, radio, or local newspaper accounts and debate almost non-existent. Interviews of the Taliban were highly tense situations, evidenced in the fact that every single Taliban member being interviewed other than top officials giving declarations hid their face from the camera with part of their turbans, perhaps in fear of revealing their identities and being punished. The responses were formulaic and expected. Mantras were common among the interviews of Taliban leaders, spokesmen, and fighters, suggesting some level of “brain-washing” or at least preparation and indoctrination before interviews. There seemed to be standard answers for standard questions. Phrases such as “puppets of the Americans” or “slaves of the non-Muslims” were repeated ad naseum (Smith, 2008. Also see list of Taliban interviews in the Bibliography). The difficulty in assessing the validity and motives of the speakers from these accounts is compounded by the fact that most were dubbed into English, and not subtitled, leaving little room for objectivity and verification of translation.
So who is the Taliban really? One side, namely that of Marc Sageman describes the Taliban as conscious actors, who are politically and religiously motivated and do not need brainwashing to take up the Taliban cause (Sageman, 2004: 99-137). He also suggests that they are not uneducated or lower-class individuals, but in fact are represented by many educational and class levels. These types of reports have been contrasted with the more common perception of Taliban fighters as lower-class people who have been seduced, bribed, tricked, manipulated or coerced into blowing themselves up as “weapons of God”. The National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghanis intelligence service, has reported apprehending bombers who were deranged, mentally and physically retarded, unstable or on drugs. Several of the bombers caught by the NDS were supposedly carrying mind altering hallucinogens or sedatives to calm their nerves before death. Media and think-tank reports also mention cases of physically disabled suicide bombers, including a blind man, an amputee, and a disabled man whose only motive was to make money for his family (Williams, 2007). Although there are clearly some educated and upper-class Taliban members, the evidence and choice of interviewees seems to corroborate the latter view for the majority of its fighters. All of the interviews of former Taliban members described their motivations to be mostly economic or through coercion (sometimes by force).
Most of the fighters interviewed were former blue collar workers, who took up arms in solidarity with the Taliban against the non-Muslim infidels and their servants (the current Afghani government). High levels of unemployment (as high as 60% country-wide); lead many young men to join the Taliban for pocket money, a mobile phone, or other financial incentives. Where the government is failing to provide basic services for its citizens, the Taliban seems to be jumping in to fill the gap with radical alternatives (IATT, 2008).
Many of those interviewed were former farmers who had been kicked off their land in poppy raids by the current government. They had family and friends who had been killed by invaders, had lost their homes and livelihood to violence and were unable to leave the country. A definite link between the eradication of poppy and the growth of the Taliban in rural areas can be determined (Smith, 2008). The Taliban offered these often lonely, marginalized men a chance to bring security, money, and medical care to their families. It also offered them a chance to belong, and feel like productive members and agents in their own future.
The poppy-Taliban connection is an interesting one, especially when one considers that the cultivation of the poppy for narcotics purposes is strictly prohibited by the Qur’an. All of the Taliban respondents interviewed about poppy cultivation openly admitted this fact, but stated they had been in cultivation for financial reasons. The Taliban seemed to help these former farmers finance their basic human needs after they were stripped of their livelihood. This suggests that Sageman’s proposal that Taliban fighters are mostly religiously motivated is flawed, since so many informants clearly disobey Islamic rules in full knowledge of their own wrong-doings.
Whatever the motivations of individual Taliban members to join, it seems that local sympathies and recruitment for the Taliban are in fact increasing and spreading across the Islamic world. The continued presence of foreign invaders who disrespect local cultures and values jeopardizes the possibilities for peace in the future. Almost all of the Taliban interviewed say they will continue their fight to the last man standing, as long as any infidels reside in and control their territory. A newly signed pipeline deal brokered by the Americans solidifies the “need” for continued American “pipe-line protection troops” in the region for many years to come (Foster, 2008). This means that this war will inevitably continue, and perhaps even intensify in the future.
The Taliban’s negative image has been widely broadcast in North American media. Clearly, the Taliban is guilty of many human rights abuses and atrocities, but theirs are not the only hands with blood on them. Many of the individual Taliban fighters are victims of massive cultural, structural and direct violence that shapes their worldview and in a sense, “legitimizes” their continual struggle against repressive foreign invasion. They are “justified” in continuing their struggle because they see injustice in their lives brought about by foreign powers. More objective research into the mind of the Taliban fighters, their individual backgrounds, daily lives and mindsets would be the first step towards achieving peace in the region, since the root causes of the fight have yet to even truly begin to be addressed. Any justice in the region must be all-encompassing, and include solutions to local structural injustices, as well as the injustices created and continued by American invasion. The foreigners must be reigned in, basic structures rebuilt, local cultures revitalized and reconciliation processes enacted. The Taliban strive for recognition of their values, and until they receive this recognition, they will continue their fight to the death, in the name of Allah.

Bibliography
Foster, John. (June 19, 2008). A pipeline through a troubled land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the new great energy game. Foreign Policy Series. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Vol. 3, No. 1.

Global Security. (November 8, 2000). IRIN interview with Taliban Ambassador. Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2000/11/war-001109-saafg.htm.

Internet Anthropologist Think Tank (IATT). (February 28, 2008). Afghan youth join Taliban to escape poverty. War Intel Blog Spot. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://warintel.blogspot.com/2008/02/join-taliban-to-escape-poverty.html.

Kakar, M. Hassan. (1995). The Soviet invasion and the Afghan response, 1979-1982. University of California Press.

Khan, Feroz Hassan. (January 10, 2003). Strategic insight. Rough neighbors: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Center for Contemporary Conflict. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/rsepResources/si/jan03/southAsia.asp#references.

Mardsen, Peter. (1998).Taliban: war, religion, and the new order in Afghanistan. Zed Publishers, New York.

Margolis, Eric. (July 30, 2008). Let’s speak the truth about Afghanistan. Huffington Post. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-margolis/lets-speak-the-truth-abou_b_115591.html.

Rashid, Ahmed. (2002). Taliban: Islam, oil and the new great game in Central Asia. I.B. Tarius Publishers, New York.

Reuters AlertNet. (January 8, 2008). Afghan turmoil. Reuters Foundation. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.alertnet.org/db/crisisprofiles/AF_REC.htm?v=in_detail.

Sageman, Marc. (2004). Understanding terror networks. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Smith, Graeme. (March 22, 2008). Talking to the Taliban. Globe and Mail, CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc., Canada. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/talkingtothetaliban.

The Final Call. (January 1, 2001). Who are the Taliban? The Final Call On-line Edition. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.finalcall.com/perspectives/interviews/taliban01-09-2001.htm.

Williams, Brian Glyn. (July 19, 2007). The Taliban Fedayeen: The world’s worst suicide bombers? Global Terrorism Analysis: Terrorism Monitor. Vol. 5, No. 14. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?issue_id=4183.

SELECTED YOU TUBE TALIBAN INTERVIEWS:









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