January 2012

This Week in African Conflict… January 31st-February 7th, 2012.

  • The West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) will be launching its new book, “Election Dispute Management Practice Guide for West Africa” on February 14th, 2012 at the Grand Mensvic Hotel, in East Legon, Accra, Ghana at 9am. The keynote speech at the launch will be delivered by Sierra Leone’s Chair of the Electoral Commission Dr. Christiana Thorpe. The book focuses on the prevention, mitigation and resolution of electoral disputes.
  • The UN refugee agency reported on Tuesday that it will be implementing a set of strategies to conclude three of Africa’s long-standing refugee crises that involve helping people uprooted by old conflicts in Angola, Liberia and Rwanda. The strategies will include scaling up voluntary repatriation, providing assistance packages to help former refugees reintegrate or securing an alternative legal status that would allow them to continue to reside in countries of asylum.
  • Weak land rights in the African continent fuel the potential for conflict, as the sell-off of prime land for the exploitation of natural resources, unless governments and investors recognize the customary rights of millions of people to common lands.
  • The Life & Peace Institute and the Kroc Institute released a new report Somalia: Creating space for fresh approaches to peacebuilding; and the UK will be hosting a global conference on the country on February 23rd. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber reportedly killed two policemen guarding the house of a former warlord and one-time government police commander in the Galmudug region. On Thursday, the United Kingdom appointed its first ambassador to the country in 21 years, but announced it will be headed out of Nairobi until security conditions permit the opening of an embassy in Mogadishu. The Kenyan military reportedly achieved one of its most devastating attacks against al-Shabaab targets since it launched its operation in Somalia in October on Friday evening, killing more than 100 al-Shabaab fighters. The UN and its partners insisted on Monday that the country’s current transitional governing arrangements must end on August 20th this year and called upon a new draft of the constitution by mid-April. On Sunday, a senior al-Shabaab officer criticised the role of Turkey in Somalia, saying that they sent expired humanitarian foods and medicines with the intent of poisoning the population; while heavily armed gunmen attacked Ethiopian military bases in the town of Beledweyn.
  • South African leaders have intervened to ease tensions in Madagascar, urging the main political players to speed up the implementation of a roadmap intended to restore constitutional order in the country. On Sunday, former first lady Lalao Ravalomanana was banned from boarding an Airlink flight from South Africa while planning to return home.
  • Thousands of farmers in Tanzania have been accused of destroying mangroves as they search for new land to grow their crops, which are being damaged by salt-water intrusion by surging tides. The scramble for land has created further conflict between residents and government authorities who want to stop locals from invading protected sites.
  • Zimbabwe’s Mugabe reportedly ranted against the African Union and its handling of the crisis in Libya last year, which some analysts took as a sign that the leader is “panicked”. On Friday, the government said it would bar all unregistered foreign newspapers; while President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai stalled the crafting of a referendum law due to haggling over whether or not the Diaspora vote should be included in the constitutional plebiscite.
  • Julius Malema’s bid to overturn his five-year suspension from the ruling ANC was dismissed by party officials on Saturday.
  • A female protester was reportedly shot at close range by police in Swaziland during demonstrations called by vendors and transport operators over plans by town hall to move them.
  • Bars are rapidly shutting in Algeria, as the country’s Islamists pressure a sort of prohibition onto the country. Vendors have taken to mobilizing their alcohol sales, and the report suggests that actual consumption may have actually increased. On Tuesday, security forces allegedly used water cannons and tear gas to disperse rioting residents in a suburb of the capital who accused the authorities of failing to properly investigate the fatal stabbing of a local man.
  • Dozens of antimilitary and Islamist protesters were injured outside the Parliament in Egypt as they clashed with the rival protesters. At least 74 people died after clashes broke out at a football game in Port Said on Wednesday, prompting protesters to take to the streets in criticism of the country’s security system and the parliament to call an emergency session. On Thursday, one of the Arab world’s most famous comic actors Adel Imam was sentenced to three-months in jail for insulting Islam in films and plays. On Friday, at least two protesters were reportedly shot dead by police using live ammunition to disperse a crowd trying to break into a police station in Suez; rock-throwing protesters fought with riot police near the Interior Ministry over the Port Said deaths; while the Supreme Council of Armed Forces urged national powers to intervene in order to end tension and restore calm as the clashes continued between protesters and security forces. Sometimes violent protests continued over the weekend in response to the deaths of nearly 80 people after a football match in Port Said, including setting fire to the tax authority building, with protesters demanding a swift presidential election and early handover of power by the army and the death toll rising to 12; a civilian council appointed to advise the military rulers asking that preparations for the presidential election begin on February 23rd; while officials say that 43 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, have been referred for trial for alleged involvement in banned activity and illegally receiving foreign funds, angering activists and civil society groups within the country. On Sunday, an unknown explosion hit the gas pipeline between Egypt, Israel and Jordan. The Atlantic ran an article about the now fractured relationship between Egypt and the United States, in light of the NGO case; while an Egyptian military delegation abruptly cancelled its scheduled meetings with US lawmakers to return to Cairo on Monday after the White House announced that the crackdown on NGOs could threaten its $1.3 billion in annual US military aid. Nominations for the Presidential elections opened on Friday.
  • President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia officially launched the Children’s Law of Liberia to protect children and their right to participate meaningfully in their development. The law is set to be one of the most comprehensive pieces of children’s rights legislations in the continent that is largely based upon the UN Convention of Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. On Thursday, at least one person was killed and two others were wounded following a clash over a parcel of land in Nimba County; while the defense lawyers for ex-President Charles Taylor filed a motion before the judges of the UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone to reopen their client’s defense.
  • More than 15,000 people have reportedly fled from Mali to neighbouring countries, seeking refuge from the Tuareg rebellion against the government over the past month, prompting the UNHCR to deploy more staff in the region to help the thousands of displaced persons. On Saturday, the armed forces reportedly killed around 20 northern separatist rebels and taken more than a dozen prisoner during two days of clashes near Timbuktu.
  • South Sudan has listed their demands in their oil row with the north, saying they won’t start pumping again until these demands are met. On Wednesday, a shoot-out among South Sudanese security forces killed some 37 people and injured a UN policeman. On Thursday, some 15 people were reportedly killed in Mayiandit in a coordinated attack by Unity State forces that came on machine-gun mounted vehicles; while the US accused the Sudanese government of carrying out air strikes on civilians in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. On Friday, the UN human rights office voiced their concern over a cattle raid in the northern state of South Sudan that led to 78 deaths and numerous civilians; while President Bashir said that war is now a possibility with their southern neighbours in an interview on Blue Nile TV. The President of South Sudan called his Sudanese counterpart, Omer Hassan al-Bashir, a “thief” and urged him to surrender himself to the ICC on Monday; while a 30,000 strong ethnic militia known as the White Army announced its plans for a major “defensive” operation in South Sudan’s Jonglei state. On Tuesday, the body of one of the Chinese workers who went missing during a rebel attack on a building site in Sudan was found; while the foreign ministry reported that at least 29 of the kidnapped Chinese workers were released.
  • Journalists working for French TV in Jos, Nigeria were reportedly detained by soldiers, interrogated, escorted to their hotel and then ordered to leave town. On Tuesday, suspected Boko Haram militants reportedly killed six people in Borno state, including two air force personnel. On Friday, Boko Haram said that the arrest of its member the day before is an obstacle to dialogue with the Federal Government, and argued that the person arrested was not its spokesman but the head of its enlightenment department; while Adamawa State held its governor’s election. On Sunday, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for an attack in the northern region and threatened to attack South African interests for their interference in their “fight for justice”. On Monday, ex-militants undergoing training under the Federal Government Amnesty Program bombed a hotel in the Delta State that had served as their temporary home since last year over alleged deprivation of their “entitlements”; eight of the ex-militants were held by the Joint Task Force in the Niger-Delta; suspected members of Boko Haram allegedly launched a bomb and gun attack on two police stations in Kano state; while three people were reportedly killed as a result of multiple blasts that rocked parts of a marketplace in Maiduguri. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a new report about a lead poisoning crisis in the North due to gold mining; while a suspected suicide bomber disguised in military uniform was killed after his car bomb exploded under fire from soldiers outside a military base in Kaduna.
  • IPS reported that the economy of Cameroon is suffering because of the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram. The border closure has caused fuel prices and other imports to double.
  • A militia leader in Libya began legal action on Tuesday against a former senior British intelligence chief whom he accuses of playing a key role in returning him to the country to be jailed and tortured under Gaddafi; while Gaddafi’s daughter asked to make representations about the welfare of her brother Saif al-Islam to the ICC who is awaiting trial on rape and murder charges. Rival militias who had fought together to overthrow Gaddafi fought a two-hour gunbattle over a luxury beach house being used as a barracks in Tripoli on Wednesday. On Friday, Human Rights Watch reported that a diplomat who served as the ambassador to France died less than 24 hours after he was detained by a Tripoli based militia from torture. Gunmen reportedly killed at least five refugees at their camp in Tripoli on Monday; while eight suspects were detained in connection with the killing of a diplomat who served under Gaddafi.
  • Four members of the political elite in Ghana were charged with corruption on Monday, threatening the ruling party’s reputation following the departure of two senior ministers last month.
  • Survivors of a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s class action against the Canadian corporation Anvil Mining, accused of providing logistical support to the Congolese army who raped, murdered and brutalized the population in Kilwa, was overturned this week, due to insufficient connections because Anvil’s Montreal office was not directly involved in the decisions that allegedly led to the massacre. The electoral commission announced a reduced parliamentary majority for Kabila’s People’s Party in the November elections on Thursday. On Friday, the UN refugee agency announced its alarm at recent reports that suggest displaced people have been tortured and killed in their camps by armed elements in the eastern part of the country.
  • Sierra Leone recently launched an online mining database in an effort to increase transparency to combat corruption and malpractice. The system will track payments made for licenses, royalties and contributions to local chiefdoms, made available to the public to show whether mining companies have been authorized to legally operate.
  • The Constitutional Council in Cote d’Ivoire reportedly overturned the provisional results of the December 11th parliamentary elections in 11 constituencies on Tuesday due to faulty voting, including dead voters on the list and will organize by-elections where votes had been cancelled.  On Wednesday, a UN voluntary disarmament operation began in the Abobo district of Abidjan, aiming to collect illegal weapons still in circulation among the population.
  • Reporters Without Borders announced that Uganda had dropped 43 places to the 139th position in press freedom rankings in their recent report. On Thursday, it was reported that Isaac Kasamani, a photographer for the Daily Monitor newspaper, was shot at by plain clothes security personnel as he covered a rally of opposition parties.
  • At least one person was killed in Senegal on Tuesday in clashes between security forces and activists protesting against President Wade’s decision to seek a third term. The opposition pledged on Wednesday to campaign against President; human rights groups condemned the death of a protester at the hands of police; while protests continued in Dakar. On Saturday, the opposition came together to sign a pact, pledging to campaign against Wade to force him to withdraw from next month’s election.
  • Several journalists in Ethiopia were charged to life imprisonment and the death penalty on anti-terrorism charges stemming for their alleged support for banned opposition groups which were criminalized under the country’s anti-terrorism law. One of the journalists was sentenced in absentia.

This Week in the World of Conflict… January 30th-February 6th, 2012.

  • The University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies is running its 4th Annual Summer Institute for Faculty in Peace Studies Program Development from June 10-15, 2012.
  • Twitter defended its recently announced online content policy, saying it was meant to be a transparent way to handle government requests for the removal of certain content and did not mean that it is actively monitoring tweets. Last week they announced that they would begin restricting Tweets in specific countries. Google also defended their privacy policy changes, saying they would not take away the control its customers have over how data is collected and used.
  • Debate raged over the FDA approval of a tiny computer chip for implantation in a patient’s arm to hold their medical history. Many were concerned that it would become yet another invasion of pricacy and possibly open new ways to damage the confidentiality of medical records.
  • The Metta Centrer for Nonviolence Research has opened its research fellowship for the summer of 2012. Applications are due March 25th for up to 3 awards of $2,000 and summer housing.
  • Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, USA has opened the application process for its Summer Peacebuilding Institute 2012. The institute offers three 7-day sessions and one 5-day session in several different aspects of peacebuilding.
  • The University of Ulster and International Conflict Research Institute in Northern Ireland have opened the application process for their MSc in Applied Peace and Conflict Studies (that I would LOVE to apply to if I had the money—looks amazing!). They have also opened application processes for their INCORE Summer School program in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
  • Mike Bourne released a new article in the Global Change, Peace and Security Journal entitled Guns don’t kill people, cyborgs do: a Latourian provocation for transformatory arms control and disarmament. The article explores existing assumptions about mainstream arms control and disarmament theory.
  • Simon Mason and Sabina Stein wrote a new article entitled Mediating Conflicts with Religious Dimensions that discuss ways to facilitate negotiations between conflict parties with non-compromising religious identities.
  • The Atlantic ran an interesting article about the effect science can have on war.
  • Rights and Resources Initiative released a new study warning of the global rush for land in “developing” countries around the world and how this could trigger a wave of civil unrest if governments fail to recognize the rights of those using communal land.
  • The Open Society Justice Initiative is currently taking applications for the summer school in Human Rights Litigation. The course will run from July 16-20th in Budapest.

This Week in European Conflict… January 25th-February 4th, 2012.

  • The Council of Europe Commission for Human Rights warned this week of rising racism and xenophobia in Europe amid the current economic crisis, with austerity budgets undermining social rights and putting vulnerable groups at greater risk.  On Wednesday, British PM Cameron accused the European court of human rights of having a “corrosive effect” on people’s support for civil liberties; highlighting controversial rulings undermine the public confidence in the rights court.
  • A group known as the Global Zero NATO-Russia Commission urged the US and Russia to start preparatory talks immediately to remove tactical nuclear weapons from combat bases in Europe as a step towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament. The group stated that nuclear weaponry has “virtually no military utility, incur significant financial costs and security risks, including terrorist capture, and create political friction between NATO and Russia”.
  • On Monday, twenty-five of the EU’s twenty-seven member states agreed to join into a fiscal treaty to help overcome the financial crisis and enforce budget discipline. The Czech Republic and the UK refused to sign, citing “constitutional reasons” and “legal concerns” about the use of the EU institutions in enforcement as reasons.
  • Nearly two dozen aligned opposition groups in Armenia decided to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections jointly, angry at the system of proportional representation.  The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) re-stated its intention to bring down the current President.
  • On Sunday, Greece dismissed a German plan to install an EU budget commissioner with oversight of its economy and veto powers as “laughable”. Under the plan, European institutions would have direct control over Greece’s budget decisions in what would amount to an extraordinary depletion of a member state’s independence in conducting its own affairs.
  • On Sunday, thousands took to the streets in Spain to protest the charges against “superjudge” Baltasar Garzon, who controversially investigated the mass killings by the Francoist dictatorship and corruption in the ruling People’s Party in violation of a 1977 amnesty law.
  • Five centre-right parties in Slovenia formally named conservative Janez Jansa as PM-designate on Wednesday; almost two months after a snap election ousted the Social Democrats from power but produced no outright winner. Jansa was confirmed as PM on Saturday.
  • The government in the Netherlands announced plans to ban Muslim face veils such as burqas and other forms of clothing that cover the face starting next year. A government coalition has agreed to submit a new law to parliament next week that would charge offenders fines of up to 390 Euros ($510 USD).
  • Around sixty-seven percent voted to join the European Union in a referendum vote on Sunday afternoon in Croatia. Less than half the voting population was said to have turned out for the vote, prompting an anti-EU group to say the vote was invalidated.
  • The PM in Turkey was angered over the possible passing of the Armenian genocide denial bill in France, saying that they “murdered freedom of thought” and warned the French President of retaliatory measures if it is implemented. The bill was passed late last Monday, with Armenian blessing. On Friday, security forces reportedly killed five Kurdish insurgents after discovering them hiding in a cave in the southeastern province of Batman; while prominent journalists charged with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government were denied released from custody in a controversial trial on media freedom.
  • The President of Georgia denied opposition claims on Tuesday that he wants to stay in power as the PM when his term expires next year, saying his country “can have no Putin”.
  • The UN refugee agency voiced their concern this week over the plight of asylum-seekers, including some minors, held in two detention centres in Ukraine. More than 100 people are reportedly challenging their detention or have complained that they were denied the right to apply for asylum.
  • The PM of Romania fired his foreign minister last Monday allegedly for calling anti-government protesters “inept violent slum-dwellers” after more than a week of sometimes violent demonstrations. On Tuesday, a new foreign minister was sworn in amid continued protests; while the PM called for unity on that the country’s national Day of Unity. On Wednesday, the constitutional court overturned a government plan to hold local and parliamentary elections on the same day, further unsettling the current centrist government. On Saturday, hundreds protested against a plan to set up Europe’s biggest open-cast gold mine, saying it would destroy ancient Roman gold mines and villages and be environmentally damaging. On Monday, the Supreme Court sentenced former PM Adrian Nastase to two years in prison for corruption, though Nastase denies any wrongdoing; while the main opposition group were winning in opinion polls around the country, as protests continued to rock the ruling PDL party.
  • Thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets of Bratislava and several other towns in Slovakia on Friday in protest at a major corruption scandal ahead of the March elections. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
  • On Friday, Norway apologized for the arrest and deportation of Jews during the Second World War on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some 772 Norwegian Jews and refugees were deported to Germany during the war with only around 34 survivors.
  • Four former Yugoslav soldiers were sentenced to up to four years in Montenegro for war crimes committed against ethnic Croatian prisoners of war during the 1991-5 Croatian conflict. The four were charged with torturing prisoners in a makeshift prisoner camp. Meanwhile Bosnia-Herzegovina’s war crimes court upheld a 31-year prison sentence against Radomir Vukovic, a former Bosnian Serb police officer convicted on genocide charges in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
  • Occupy London protesters in the United Kingdom marked 100 days since beginning last Monday, but were forced into retreat in a new office building. On Friday, Occupy activists attempted to disrupt a debate in Davos for the World Economic Forum, calling on delegates to leave the stage and join them in protest; while Occupy protesters in London were evicted by police from the vacant property they had occupied earlier in the week.
  • PM Putin of Russia warned last Monday of the damage of ethnic tensions in the country and vowed he would toughen migration rules and keep a tight rein on Russia’s regions. On Tuesday, the government purchased 60 Iveco armored vehicles from Italy, with plans to spend some $30 billion on new military equipment, including 120 helicopters. On Wednesday, the Central Election Commission registered Mikhail Prokhorov as a Presidential candidate; while current President Medvedev announced he might run for President again following Putin’s anticipated return to the Presidency. On Friday, election authorities formally disqualified the founder of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, from running in the March 4th Presidential election. On Saturday, some 15,000 people reportedly attended a rally in the Russian Urals in support of PM Putin’s bid for the Presidency. On Sunday, the Yabloko opposition party said that the office of a regional newspaper that it publishes have been destroyed in an attack with a Molotov cocktail; while “For Fair Elections” demonstrators displaying a white ribbon or other symbols on their vehicles circled around the Garden Ring in Moscow in protest of the flawed parliamentary vote. On Tuesday, the opposition drafted their protest demands, including the annulment of the December 2011 parliamentary elections and the dismissal of the chief election official. On Thursday, activists say they have come under pressure and scare tactics from police and security services ahead of their next big protest against Putin’s likely return to the presidency; the Russian state-run arms exported Rosoboronesksport reported $11 billion in sales from the 2011 year, despite billions in lost sales from the UN embargo on Libya; and the Deputy PM expressed his wish to see the country’s children play with toy guns and tanks made in Russia rather than the West, giving a “command” for manufacturers to create toy versions of Russian weapons and military equipment. On Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Moscow shouting “Russia without Putin” and calling for a rerun of disputed parliamentary elections; while an international commission has developed a new proposal that would allow NATO and Russia to share data from radars and satellites about missile attacks to try and allay fears of the planned US missile shield in Europe neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
  • At least 8 alleged Islamist militants, four Russian servicemen and possibly a civilian were killed in three separate incidents in the North Caucasus region on Tuesday; while five suspected Islamist rebels and four Russian servicemen were killed in a clash in the Republic of Dagestan. On Friday, Russian security forces allegedly killed three militants, including the regional leader of an insurgent group, in a shootout in a private home in the village of Ekazhevo; while other reports claimed that Russian security forces and militants killed some 12 people.
  • Police in Belarus have reportedly arrested well-known human rights activist Aleh Vouchak and charged him with hooliganism on Tuesday.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… January 25th-February 3rd, 2012.

  • The Guardian ran a special report on the mistreatment of Palestinian children locked in Israel’s military justice system; allegations that many vehemently denied. Last Wednesday, an Israeli military court ordered Hamas MP Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament to be held without trial for six months for no specifically reported reasons; while the Palestinian President said that low-level dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians about a future border had ended without breakthrough. On Friday, Azerbaijan claimed that it had foiled an alleged Iranian assassination plot against the Israeli ambassador to Baku, although Iran denied complicity instead calling it a US and Israel-staged show. On Sunday, Israeli PM Netanyahu said that exploratory talks aimed at re-launching negotiations ended in deadlock, expressing his pessimism on the prospect of peace talks and Palestinian leaders blaming Israel for the failure; the Israeli military announced that a long-flight Heron TP drone crashed in the central region on a routine experimental flight; the Israeli defense minister announced that they will soon begin clearing thousands of mines in the southern desert area; while Jordan’s King Abdullah II told the visiting Hamas politburo chief that Jordan will continue to support the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. On Thursday, Palestinian protesters reportedly threw shoes and other objects at the UN Secretary-General’s visiting convoy; while Israel announced it must exploit its offensive capabilities in the battle against its enemies, most specifically Iran, and disrupt their nuclear ambitions.
  • Last Monday it was reported that Russia allegedly signed a contract to sell $550 million worth of Yak-130 combat jets to Syria, despite the EU arms embargo. On Tuesday, the state news agency reported that the government had agreed to extend the Arab League observer mission mandate by one month; while the Gulf Arab states announced that they were going to withdrawing from their observer mission. On Wednesday, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Idlib was shot dead in unclear circumstances. On Thursday, government loyalist militiamen reportedly killed 14 members of a Sunni family in Homs, including 8 children aged 8 months to 9 years old; while the Arab League chief called upon the government to stop further acts of violence against “defenceless civilians”’. On Friday, the leader of Palestine’s Hamas announced they had effectively abandoned their Damascus headquarters; dozens of Syrians allegedly broke into the Syrian embassy in Cairo to protest the government’s bloody crackdown; at least 10 people were reportedly killed in Aleppo after pro-democracy demonstrations erupted; insurgents said they were holding seven Iranians hostages and that they would not release them until the government freed a rebel army officer and stops military operations in Homs; Oman’s Foreign Minister reportedly said that Arabs will not agree to foreign military intervention in Syria, stressing that the only way to resolve the crisis was through an Arab League peace plan; Russia stressed that they were against approving an externally engineered regime change; the head of the Arab League monitoring mission announced that violence had risen significantly in recent weeks in the country; several reports were released of a two-day massacre that killed some 74 people in a residential area in Homs; while UNICEF reported that at least 384 children had so far been killed and nearly the same number have been jailed in the 10-month uprising. On Saturday, at least 12 people were reportedly killed in a bombardment of suburbs of Damascus that have fallen under rebel control; the bodies of 17 men arrested by government forces were allegedly found dumped in the streets after being shot in the head;  state media reported that seven soldiers were killed in an ambush as they rode in a bus near Damascus; the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission within the country because of worsening violence, a move the government said it regretted; while the League announced it would take an Arab peace plan to the UN Security Council next week. On Sunday, government forces reportedly killed at least 33 people in a town near the Lebanese border in an attack to dislodge army defectors and insurgents; other forces killed at least 5 civilians (some say as many as 19)in the suburb area of Damascus; Iran called upon President al-Assad to hold free elections and allow multiple political parties to operate in the country, but that he must be given time to implement these reforms; while the Arab League chief headed to New York hoping to win support from the UN Security Council for a plan to end violence in Syria that calls upon al-Assad to step down. On Monday, street battles raged with clashes between rebel fighters and government troops, with at least 19 civilians believed killed; western governments were pushing for a new resolution on Syria and demanding countries decide where they stand, with US Secretary of State Clinton saying the UN Security Council “must act” to end al-Assad’s regime’s crackdown on the population; while the government allegedly agreed to take part in Moscow-mediated talks aimed at halting the current crisis, although a senior member of the opposition said that they hadn’t received an invitation from Moscow and that they would refuse it anyway. On Tuesday, China announced that it opposed the use of force to resolve the crisis in Syria, because it violates basic norms “guiding international relations”; while a battle loomed in the UN with the Arab League and western nations pushing the Security Council to act on an Arab Peace plan that would force al-Assad from power; security forces reportedly killed some 10 people and wounded 15 after bombarding a building in the town of Rastan; while Reuters reported on the growing sectarian nature of the Syrian population.  On Wednesday, Russia was facing intensive pressure from western and Arab governments to not veto a UN resolution calling on President al-Assad to step-down from power that was delayed until the following week; the Free Syria Army reportedly put Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on notice for backing the Assad regime; some 36 people were allegedly killed in Wadi Barada near the Lebanese border in shelling and sniper attacks and some 70 people killed overall country wide; while the Atlantic ran an article about the dangers of military intervention.  On Thursday, the Russian Deputy Defense Minister said that it will not stop selling weapons to the al-Assad regime.
  • On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a report citing that dozens of Ethiopian Christians were facing deportation from Saudi Arabia after authorities raided a private prayer service in Jeddah, charging them with “illicit mingling” that prohibits unrelated men and women from mingling in public. A government-run newspaper reported that for the first time women would be allowed to attend soccer matches in a new stadium to be built in the country that would include a family section with private cabins and balconies.
  • On Thursday, a snap election was called in Kuwait for a fourth parliament in less than six years, with the Islamist-led opposition heavily favored to win. The elections were called by the country’s ruler in December after he dissolved the chamber in response to political deadlock. The UN also released more than $1 billion in Iraqi compensation to the country, in the latest payment of a war reparation scheme that began in 1994.
  • On Wednesday, an UN-backed tribunal announced it would try in absentia four Hezbollah suspects they indicted over the 2005 killing of Lebanon’s former PM al-Hariri. Hezbollah has denied any role in the bombing and has said it would refuse to allow any of the suspects to be arrested.
  • On Sunday, President Saleh of Yemen arrived in the US for a short-term visit to receive medical treatment; while gunmen reportedly attacked an office of the electoral committee in a southern province, wounding two soldiers. On Tuesday, at least 12 al-Qaeda militants were reportedly killed in a drone strike in the south; at least three al-Qaeda militants were killed in a clash with government soldiers outside Radda; and the newly appointed information minister escaped an assassination attempt as he was leaving government headquarters in Sanaa. On Wednesday, local tribesman who kidnapped six foreign aid workers in a tourist area announced that they would release their hostages on Thursday in exchange for the release of a political prisoner held by authorities.
  • On Friday, at least one person was reportedly killed and dozens injured in clashes between protesters and security forces in Shia villages outside the capital of Bahrain. On Sunday, the interior minister called for tougher penalties for attacks on security forces following a rise in sectarian violence. On Monday, anti-government protesters again clashed with security forces, demonstrating after a teenager died last week in police custody. On Tuesday, fourteen jailed opposition figures reportedly went on a hunger strike, demanding an end to the political crackdown, unfair trials and the release of all prisoners of conscience.
  • Last Monday, experts from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that they would be visiting Iran in the upcoming week in an effort to resolve outstanding issues with the country’s nuclear programme; while the EU imposed an oil ban and financial restrictions on the country with the goal of containing their nuclear ambitions, a move Iran called “psychological warfare”. Iranian officials threatened to stop the West from importing oil from the Gulf by closing the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation and the UK threatened to send their HMS Argyll warship flotilla through the Strait in response. On Thursday, President Ahmadinejad said that the government was ready to sit down with world powers for talks on its alleged nuclear ambitions. On Friday, Iran warned it may halt its oil exports to Europe in the upcoming week in response to their sanctions; and the IAEA announced that it was including two senior weapons experts on its upcoming mission in hopes that they could illicit information from officials about alleged atomic arms. On Saturday, American Pentagon war planners concluded that their largest conventional bomb isn’t yet capable of destroying Iran’s most heavily fortified underground facilities and vowed to step up efforts to make it more powerful. On Sunday, IAEA nuclear inspectors arrived in the country; while Iranian lawmakers delayed taking action on a proposed bill to immediately cut oil deliveries to the EU, warning the European bloc that their move could drive oil prices as high as $150 (US) a barrel. On Monday, Reuters reported that Iranian traffickers trying to dodge an embargo are smuggling weapons on container ships owned by certain European countries that imposed the sanctions; the Defense Minister announced that Iran has developed laser-guided artillery rounds capable of hitting moving targets at a distance of up to 20 km; and the Foreign Minister offered to extend the IAEA’s visit and expressed optimism that their findings would help ease tensions over the country’s nuclear program. On Tuesday, Iran reportedly completed a “constructive” round of talks with the IAEA, with future meetings planned. On Wednesday, the IAEA announced it would hold a second round of talks with Iran over their nuclear program on February 21st and 22nd.
  • Last Thursday, at least 13 people were reportedly killed in two bomb attacks south of Baghdad, Iraq; and at least 3 people were killed and five others wounded in a bomb attack in Kirkuk. Last Friday, a suicide bomber killed some 31 people near a Shi’ite funeral procession in Baghdad; gunmen shot dead two policemen at their checkpoint in southeastern Baghdad; gunmen killed an electrician in western Mosul; and gunmen killed an off-duty soldier and a civil servant in Mosul. On Saturday, gunmen opened fire on the house of a government-backed militia member, killing his wife and daughter in Garma; gunmen killed a man and his wife after storming their house in Sinjar; a bomb planted near a playground went off killing one and wounding six others in Ghazaliya; a civilian was killed and his brother wounded in a sticky bomb attack in Mahaweel; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire and killed a civilian near his house in Tuz Khurmato; a sticky bomb attached to a policeman’s car exploded and wounded a passer-by in Tuz Khurmato; and a sticky bomb attached to a soldier’s car wounded a soldier and a passer-by in Tuz Khurmato. On Sunday, a secular bloc in parliament that won the most seats in the March 2010 vote said it will end a boycott of parliament that began in mid-December; gunmen opened fire at a security checkpoint, wounding two government-backed militia members in Baquba; a sticky bomb attached to a police officer’s car wounded him in Baquba; a sticky bomb attached to a civilian’s car killed him in Muqdadiya; two policemen were wounded as they tried to defuse a roadside bomb in Tuz Khurmato; a roadside bomb went off near a minibus, killing one person and wounding nine others in Baghdad; gunmen stormed the house of a national reconciliation official, wounding him and killing a guest near Samarra; and four insurgents were killed as they were transferring bombs in Baquba. On Monday, a bomb planted in front of a police official’s house exploded, wounding a member of his family east of Baghdad; a bomb blast damaged the house of a court official in central Baquba, with no injuries; a roadside bomb went off near a police patrol in central Baquba, killing one policeman and wounding three others; a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at a police checkpoint, killing three policemen and wounding three other people, including a civilian in central Baquba; gunmen killed a policeman and his father in a drive-by in western Mosul; gunmen shot dead a government worker near his house in western Mosul; a militant was killed and a soldier wounded when the army clashed with gunmen in western Mosul; a soldier was wounded and a smuggler killed when border forces clashed with a group of smugglers near the border in Rabia; a roadside bomb went off near an army convoy and wounded one soldier in southern Baquba; and a police officer was killed and another wounded when a suspected militant threw a hand grenade during a raid in central Basra. On Tuesday, gunmen in a car opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding a policeman and a civilian in Muqdadiya; a roadside bomb went off at a checkpoint, wounding two government-backed militia members in southern Baghdad; two roadside bombs exploded and wounded an off-duty policeman and his son near Mosul; a sticky bomb attached to a car wounded an off-duty policeman in eastern Mosul; a sticky bomb attached to a car carrying an off-duty army colonel wounded him in northern Baghdad; and a sticky bomb attached to a car carrying a police lieutenant-colonel wounded him in Shirqat. On Wednesday, a roadside bomb at a police patrol wounded three policemen and three civilians in western Baghdad; a member of parliament escaped injury in a roadside bomb attack near his convoy, though two of his bodyguards and three passers-by were wounded in southeaster Baghdad; gunmen in a speeding car killed a government-backed militia member in Muqdadiya; gunmen shot dead a grocery store owner inside his shop in Buhriz; the Justice Ministry reportedly executed 17 convicted criminals in one day; while the Health Ministry reported a total of 99 civilians, 31 police and 21 soldiers killed in January, though Reuters tallied more than 350 people killed in January, including nearly 290 civilians.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… January 23rd- February 2nd, 2012.

  • The Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council adopted proposals to strengthen the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday. Included in the non-binding proposals were three recommendations that threaten the reach and independence of the Special Rapporteurship.
  • Last Monday, security forces in Mexico reportedly arrested 11 alleged members of the most powerful drug gang, the Sinaloa cartel, during a helicopter raid of a ranch in the north-west. On Tuesday, six people, five of them policemen, were killed in a failed attempt to free two detainees in the central region.  A new study released this week suggests that the Zetas cartel has become the biggest drug gang in the country, overtaking the Sinaloa cartel. This Monday, police in the northern region captured an alleged member of the Zetas drug gang who had confessed to killing at least 75 people.
  • The Mexican ambassador to Venezuela was briefly kidnapped on Sunday night after being seized from his car with his wife in Caracas. Kidnapping is reported soared in recent years.
  • Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary for Republican Presidential candidates in the United States on Sunday, overthrowing favorite Mitt Romney; while the Occupy Oakland protests were halted, resulting in nearly 400 arrests. On Monday, the UN human rights chief said the US government must close Guantanamo Bay prison as President Obama promised over a year ago. On Wednesday, the director of the documentary Gasland was arrested and escorted out of a Republican-dominated Congressional hearing for refusing to stop filming the hearing; the only US marine to face sentencing for the murder of 24 unarmed Iraqis was acquitted of all charges; while President Obama gave his annual State of the Union speech to launch his 2012 re-election campaign. On Thursday, prosecutors subpoenaed the Twitter records of an Occupy Wall Street protester arrested in October. On Friday, Pentagon leaders outlined a plan for absorbing $487 billion in defence cuts over the coming decade by shrinking US ground forces, slowing the purchase of a next-generation stealth fighter jet and retiring older planes and ships; while Republican candidate Newt Gingrich promised to build a colony on the moon should he become President. On Saturday, Occupy Oakland protesters clashed with police as they tried to take over downtown buildings, including city hall, resulting in more than 300 arrests; while the Pentagon announced that their largest conventional bomb isn’t yet capable of destroying Iran’s heavily fortified underground facilities and that they are stepping up efforts to make them more powerful.  On Monday, Occupy protesters in Washington vowed to remain peacefully entrenched in two parks near the White House after a police order demanded they stop camping on federal land, defying the noon deadline to remove their camps. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican presidential primary, improving his chances of receiving his party’s nomination. An interesting report on a controversial project treating alcoholic homeless persons in Seattle caught my eye. Several discussions about drone strikes made the news this week, after many called Obama’s comments on them misleading.
  • President Rual Castro defended the one-party system in a speech this week at a conference of the ruling Communist Party, saying that allowing other political parties would threaten the independence of Cuba and the socialist system. He also reaffirmed plans to limit political terms to 10 years. Fidel Castro called the American Republican presidential race the greatest competition of “idiocy and ignorance” the world has ever seen and also criticised the news media.
  • On Wednesday, Argentina accused Britain of militarizing a sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands, after they sent a warship and the country’s future king to the islands. British diplomats accused Argentina of plotting an economic blockade on the Falklands amid fears that Buenos Aires is attempting to stop all flights from Chile from reaching the islands.
  • Authorities in Peru said they are struggling to keep outsiders away from a previously “isolated” Amazon people, as the river has become more popular with environmental tourists, loggers and mining companies who are encroaching on their land.
  • A new study was released analyzing how Brazil has assumed the visible leadership of peacekeeping operations in Haiti and Timor in order to increase its international status in a bid to gain a permanent seat at the UNSC. Last Sunday, riot police in the country stormed an illegal settlement of landless workers in Sao Paulo state to reclaim the land for its private owners, evicting some 6,000 residents who had recently lost a legal battle and resulting in intense criticism.
  • Transgendered persons and supporters in Canada were outraged this week as new screening regulations for airlines went viral. The new regulations stipulate that an “air carrier shall not transport a passenger if… the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents”, effectively banning transgendered persons from boarding.
  • The Clingendael Institute and Impunity Watch released a new report entitled “Breaking the wave: critical steps in the fight against crime in Guatemala.”  On Monday, at least 8 people were killed and at least 20 wounded in an attack at a nightclub in Villa Nueva. On Friday, former military leader Efrain Rios Montt appeared in court to face accusations of genocide and other human rights crimes allegedly committed during his 17 month long rule in the early 1980s.
  • Last Monday anti-government fighters in Colombia attacked a radar installation in Cauca province, killing a guard and delaying several flights. On Wednesday, the FARC rebels agreed to exchange 6 hostages for jailed guerrillas. On Friday, the UN warned that the country needs to do more to prosecute against forced displacement, after hundreds of thousands of people continue to be pushed from their homes each year by armed groups. On Wednesday, the FARC rebel group announced they would delay the release of six hostages due to military activity in the area. On Thursday, seven people were killed and more than 70 injured when a motorcycle packed with explosives was driven into a police station in the city of Tumaco.
  • Nine gold diggers were killed in a gunfight between rival gangs in French Guiana on Saturday. The two groups were allegedly fighting for control of the area.
  • A court in Ecuador suspended the appeal hearing lodged by newspaper editors facing charges for allegedly libelling President Correa. The suspension was reportedly the result of an ill judge.
  • The UN announced that it is investigating two alleged cases of sexual exploitation of children by UN staff in Haiti. The allegations come just four months after Uruguayan peacekeepers were recalled after being accused of rape. On Monday, a judge in the country announced that he is recommending that “Baby Doc” Duvalier face trial on corruption charges but not the more serious human rights violations during his brutal 15-year rule.
  • A wave of protests in Santiago, Chile forced the government to abandon its plans to force journalists to hand over images to police under a controversial new legislation. The bill would have granted new power for the law enforcement and security forces and criminalized expressions of opinion.
  • The President of El Salvador is being heavily criticized for naming an army general as the new head of police, with many calling the move “unconstitutional” and in violation of the 1992 peace accord.

This Week in Asian Conflict… January 24th- February 1st, 2012.

  • Human Rights Watch released a report accusing Myanmar/Burma and its army of continuing a “systematic repression” of citizens, including the use of anti-personnel landmines, child soldiers, forced labour, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and the use of human shields, despite the government’s promise of reform and ceasefire agreements with some ethnic armed groups. On Wednesday, the EU lifted travel restrictions on the top leaders after they freed certain political prisoners and eased some sanctions. On Sunday, thousands of supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi lined the roads of several southern towns on her first political trip since announcing a run for parliament.
  • Protests continued in the Maldives over the military arrest of the Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed. The country is now facing a judicial crisis, with the Vice President calling upon his own government to release the judge. On Sunday, the country asked the United Nations to mediate in the standoff with the opposition.
  • US drone aircraft fired missiles in the northern Waziristan region of Pakistan on Monday, killing at least four alleged militants. On Tuesday, a blast occurred near a religious procession of minority Shi’ite Muslims in Lahore, killing three and wounding five. On Wednesday, gunmen on motorcycles reportedly shot dead three lawyers and wounded another in Karachi; gunmen killed a local politician in Peshawar; while at least 23 people were killed in clashes between soldiers and militants in the Kurram region near the border. On Thursday, gunmen reportedly attacked a military checkpoint in southern Balcuchistan Province, killing six soldiers. On Friday, an aide to former President Musharraf, who is facing arrest in connection with the killing of former PM Bhutto, says he called off his planned return to the country, but will be returning in the near future; border guards in Iran reportedly shot and killed six Pakistanis and wounded two others after they strayed across the Iranian border; RPGs struck a top military academy in Abbottabad with no reported injuries; gunship helicopters attacked two militant camps in the Kurram region, killing seven militants; and a paramilitary soldier was killed in a landmine explosion in the southwest during mine-clearing operations. On Saturday, at least three people were injured in a hand grenade attack in Karachi; and a roadside bomb killed two soldiers in the Kurram region. On Sunday, a car bomb blast killed five people and wounded 15 in Kohat; security forces, backed by helicopter gunships, killed nearly a dozen militants near the Afghan border; a car bomb outside the residence of a senior police officer wounded eight people in Quetta; and two people were killed and six wounded after security forces opened fire following a rocket attack on a military convoy in Khyber. On Monday, three people were killed and eight others wounded in an alleged suicide bombing at a house of a pro-government militia leader in Peshawar; while the Supreme Court lifted restrictions barring the country’s former envoy to the US, who was forced to resign amid allegations of drafting a secret memo to American officials to help curb the power of the military, from leaving the country.
  • Troops in Thailand killed four suspected insurgents during a gunfight in the south over the weekend. Both Thailand and China have apparently welcomed the social media network Twitter’s controversial new censorship policy.
  • More than 1,000 detainees in prisons in Kyrgyzstan  sewed their lips together after they were force fed to break a hunger strike in protest at their conditions, though most had ended their protest by the end of the week after the government agreed to look at their living standards. On Friday, the Foreign Ministry announced that three Kyrgyz citizens were rescued from de-facto 10-year slavery in neighbouring Kazahstan.
  • A court in Kazakhstan ordered the arrest and detention of three opposition activists on Saturday for holding an unauthorized rally condemning the recent election as fraudulent and demanded the release of their colleagues. President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced that he does not plan to prolong the curfew in the restive town of Zhanaozen beyond its scheduled end at the end of January. On Tuesday, the leader opposition issued a call for the country’s leadership to halt “political repression” following a series of raids the day before that resulted in the arrest of an opposition leader and editor of an independent newspaper. On Wednesday, the former leader of a political party barred from taking part in the parliamentary elections earlier this month fled the country, fearing possible pressure and arrest by authorities. On Thursday, the authorities announced a whole slew of charges against government critics and police in connection with deadly violence last month.
  • Some 15 fishermen were killed by gunmen who opened fire on them in the southern Philippines over access to lucrative fishing waters.
  • A high-profile political ally of the President of South Korea quit on Friday over his alleged involvement in the latest corruption scandal to hit the government. On Monday, authorities raided the foreign ministry offices as part of an investigation into claims that officials were share-rigging.
  • Some 676 rebel fighters reportedly lined up to surrender their weapons on Tuesday as several local insurgent groups formally joined a cease-fire with the government in northeastern India. On Wednesday, a bus driver reportedly went on a rampage in central India killing at least nine and injuring about two dozen people. On Sunday, 485 young boys dressed up as Gandhi at a peace rally in Calcutta on the eve of the anniversary of Gandhi’s death to create a new Guinness World Record and promote non-violent protest. A report in the Times of India this week quoted that one bride is killed, often by being burnt alive, every hour in the country as a result of demands for dowry.
  • Food prices have skyrocketed in Afghanistan since the border shutdown with Pakistan last November. On Monday, a negotiator with the outlawed Hizb-i-Islami group said that the US and Afghan officials have shown great flexibility in secret talks with the insurgent group; and reports suggest that the winter weather has forced a lull in fighting along the Pakistani border, while the east has emerged as the new frontline. On Wednesday, an ISAF service member died following a homemade bomb attack in Kabul; joint Afghan and coalition forces killed 12 alleged insurgents during operations in Kabul, Laghman and Kapisa provinces; and several insurgents were killed during a combined Afghan and ISAF operation.  On Thursday, at least four people were killed and another 31 injured in a suicide bomb attack in Helmand province. On Friday, senior Afghan peace negotiators said they believe the Taliban are willing to significantly soften past hardline ideologies and possibly enter into peace talks; and a British soldier was shot dead by alleged insurgents in Helmand province. On Saturday, UK PM Cameron confirmed that he was sticking to the 2014 deadline for withdrawing combat troops from the country while meeting with President Karzai; France called upon a speedier NATO exit, a move Afghan lawmakers sharply criticized; joint Afghan and ISAF operations killed five alleged insurgents in Kabul; and two insurgents were killed by their own explosives while attempting to plant a roadside mine in Ghanzi. On Sunday, the Taliban reportedly kidnapped a member of the Afghan peace council in a bid to promote talks in the east; four armed insurgents were killed and one wounded during security operations in several provinces; and an Afghan-led combined force killed a leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Takhar province. On Monday, officials announced they were planning direct peace talks with Taliban militants in the upcoming weeks; and reports of an Afghan man who killed his wife because she gave birth to a daughter instead of a son made major headlines.
  • The US has placed terrorist designations on two members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and one member of the Uzbekistan’s Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). On Thursday, the brother of the self-exiled Erk (Freedom) party leader Muhammad Solih was expected to be released from a labour camp, but was reportedly sentenced to five more years on terrorism charges.
  • Two Uyghurs deported from Cambodia to China have been reportedly jailed for life. The two were among a group of around 20 who had sought asylum in Cambodia following ethnic riots between Muslim Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese in Xinjiang in 2009. Much ado was had this week over abusive working conditions in the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen province in China after several hundred workers threatened mass suicide in recent weeks. A video also went viral that appears to show six Chinese soldiers playing a game similar to “hot potato” with some sort of explosive. On Wednesday, reports emerged of deadly clashes between Chinese security forces and ethnic Tibetans spreading to new areas, with at least two Tibetans shot dead, though China accused Tibetan activists and Western governments of “distorting truth”. On Monday Chinese authorities announced they would boost police forces in the western Xinjiang region, recruiting up to 8,000 new officers to help control “ethnic strife”.
  • A nearly 5-hour riot at a prison in Sri Lanka on Tuesday injured at least 28 people. The inmates were allegedly protesting a move to curtail drug smuggling into the prison, though the inmates said they wanted better food and conditions. Police in the country announced that former Tamil Tiger fighters are free to apply to join the force in the latest efforts to recruit Tamil speaking police officers.
  • A man was arrested this week in Indonesia for his purported atheist blasphemy, after he wrote that “God does not exist…” on Facebook.

This Week in African Conflict… January 23rd-31st, 2012.