This Week in Conflict… June 4th- 10th, 2011

Hello, hope all is well with you!

I’ve finally returned to writing the This Week in Conflict report again after a nearly three month hiatus. In that absence, it seems that conflict has really begun erupting in many places across the globe. As such, it is incredibly difficult for me to remain abreast of all the details and nuances of each conflict, so I ask readers to please submit to me any reports or personal observations from conflict zones they find each week that they feel I have missed or overlooked or misunderstood. These reports are all made on a voluntary basis, using publicly available news reports and as such are subject to error or media bias. I would also appreciate any suggestions on how to make this weekly report better. You can add these to the commentary below, or send them via email.

Since there are soo many conflicts brewing, and this weekly report has gotten so long; the conflicts are separated into regions with each region and country highlighted with bold lettering to make it easier for you to skim to find details about the specific conflict or region you are looking for.





  • Some discussion being floated regarding the IMF Strauss-Khan rape case caught my interest, particularly these two, which suggest that the IMF itself needs to be investigated and tried for crimes. Strauss-Kahn plead “not guilty” to the charges in a courtroom on Monday and will return to court on July 18th. Several civil society organizations, including ActionAid, Eurodad and Oxfam are demanding that the candidates looking to be the next leader of the IMF debate each other publicly instead of using backroom deals to secure the position.
  • Ban Ki-moon is seeking a second five-year term at his post of UN Secretary-General and has formally asked members of the UN to support his candidacy. Ban’s term ends on December 31st and he is so far running unopposed. Some see Ban as more than deserving of the position based on his work during his five year term, while others, myself included, are far more critical of his time as SG.
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression presented his report concluding that Internet access is a basic human right. The Rapporteur declared that disconnecting individuals from the Internet goes against international law.
  • Member States of the UN will sign a declaration on Friday calling for “universal access” to treatment for HIV-AIDS by 2015 at a special summit on the disease. Great in theory, but difficult in practice, especially considering the vague language on financial commitments for funding of such a project.
  • A new report explored for the first time the key character traits, skills and contexts needed for effective leadership in a humanitarian crisis. The report found that the qualities and experience of the individual are far more important in determining who emerges as an effective leader, than their job titles or formal status.
  • Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary blasted European allies of NATO this week for risking “collective military irrelevance” unless NATO members bear more of the burden and boost military spending in operations such as Libya and Afghanistan. Gates warned of a “real possibility for a dim, if not dismal future for the transatlantic alliance”.


  • An interesting article regarding the “resource curse” in Africa caught my eye this week. The article described how pollution is actually the real curse of resources in the continent, and how extraction of resources is poisoning the African landscape.
  • Attack Apache helicopters were reportedly used for the first time in Libya this week after being sent May 27th, destroying two military installations, a radar site and an armed checkpoint. On Saturday, at least six powerful explosions were heard in central Tripoli, allegedly stemming from NATO aircraft. Libyan opposition authorities were accused by Human Rights Watch of arbitrarily detaining civilians suspected of activities in support of Gaddafi and urged to bring the security groups under a recognized authority so abuses could be investigated. On Sunday, Russian Deputy PM Ivanov suggested that NATO is “one step” from sending ground troops into Libya to help remove Gaddafi, accusing the forces of taking sides in the conflict. On Monday, it was reported that Libyan rebels had entered the previously government-held, north-western town of Yafran, and the NATO chief expressed his confidence that Libyans would soon be rid of Gaddafi. Rebels expressed frustration at NATO for having to slow their progress in line with NATO bombing, even pulling back from areas they had already conquered. On Tuesday, Gaddafi’s daughter launched a lawsuit for murder of four members of her family during a NATO air strike and as many as 60 daytime explosions were reported from near the residential compound of Gaddafi in Tripoli, which are said to have killed at least 30. Gaddafi also took to the state TV vowing to fight to the death and claiming that Western leaders were not seeking a peaceful solution, but rather an escalation. On Wednesday, thousands of troops loyal to Gaddafi were reported to have advanced on the rebel-held city of Misurata, killing at least 12 rebels in heavy shelling, while certain governments (notably Spain) confirmed their recognition of the rebel National Transitional Council as the only representative. An interesting article posted this week showed another side of Gaddafi, as the “emancipator of women”, offering some of them high-profile roles in the police, military and government that were previously unavailable by breaking cultural taboos concerning women’s work and status. The International Criminal Court investigators announced that they had evidence linking Gaddafi to a policy of raping opponents and may be bringing separate charges on the issue, claiming that some of the troops were given anti-impotency medication in order to commit the crimes. The Special UN investigators also accused government forces loyal to Gaddafi of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, a charge that Libya denies. The international Commission of Inquiry on the country also said they had evidence of war crimes being committed by opposition forces. . An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people have been killed in the four months of fighting. On Thursday, the African Union called on Gaddafi to step down, a difficult move considering his involvement for decades in the organization lending finance, helping in peacekeeping operations, training, aid and infrastructure building across the continent; while Germany announced it would consider sending troops as part of a UN military force if Gaddafi is ousted and the US said that talks were under way with people close to Gaddafi and a potential for transition of power. On Friday, Libyan troops renewed shelling around Misrata, killing 17 and wounding at least 60; NATO war planes continued to bombard Tripoli; and a student loyal to Gaddafi was arrested in Italy, accused of planning to assassinate the rebels’ leading international representative and lead an attack on the Libyan embassy in Rome.
  • Burundian soldiers serving as peacekeepers with the Africa Union in Somalia say they are owed salaries for the past five months from the AU, some believing their money has been diverted by the government to be used for other purposes. AMISOM (African Union mission in Somalia) says it captured a strategic district in Mogadishu from al Shabaab on Saturday after heavy fighting and casualties. At least 8 civilians were killed in shelling on Sunday, and mass displacement was reported. On Friday, it was announced that Somali Interior Minister Sheikh Hassan was killed in a suicide attack at his home, allegedly carried out by his niece; while two people were said to have been killed during a protest in Mogadishu after troops fired on protesters.
  • Three people were killed and some 90 wounded after clashes in a mining town in central Tunisia on Saturday, though the death toll later rose to 11. The clashes are said to stem from access to jobs between rival clans. On Wednesday, Tunisia’s interim government announced that elections, due to be held in July, would be postponed for three months to ensure credibility.
  • Life remains difficult for many in Cote d’Ivoire, with retaliation violence still felt in parts of the country as many citizens attempt to rebuild their lives after months of violence. Many refugees are still waiting to return in neighbouring countries, afraid to go back. Forces loyal to new President Alassane Ouattara have been accused of continued violence against suspected supporters of former President Gbagbo.
  • The government of Burkina Faso announced on Saturday that six soldiers and a young girl were killed as they quashed the recent military mutiny. Soldiers were looting and shooting in the capital, demanding higher wages. Some 57 mutineers have since been arrested, though this number rose to 93 by Tuesday.
  • The UN is investigating Zambian peacekeepers in Sudan who allegedly stayed holed up in their barracks for two days during violent clashes between the northern and southern forces, instead of fulfilling their mandate to regularly patrol and protect civilians. On Saturday, the North Sudanese government dismissed calls by the UN Security Council to withdraw its forces immediately from Abyei, the disputed region seized on May 21st, saying that the dispute would only be resolved through north-south negotiations and not outside pressure.  On Sunday, it was reported that clashes had broken out in the Nuba region of South Kordofan, an area in northern territory that Khartoum authorities have threatened to clear of southern-allied armed groups. Reports indicated that at least were killed in the fighting, including four policemen and two civilians. On Tuesday, the UNHCR reported that the number of people displaced from the Abyei region had risen to nearly 100,000 from recent conflicts and that more than 1,500 had died this year in violence across southern Sudan. On Thursday, the Northern Sudan army was reported to have carried out intensive air attacks in South Sudan’s Unity state, while the Sudanese army announced they were ready to deal with an “armed rebellion” in the Southern Kordofan State, raising the possibility of more violence in the border region. On Friday, the South said the North had killed three civilians in bombing in Unity State and that they were preparing their army to face an imminent ground offensive from the north. The Government of Sudan (Khartoum) declared an end to the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), ignoring the UNSC resolution to extend the mission’s mandate, and asking them to leave by July 9th.
  • A newspaper editor in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been arrested on charges of “inciting violence and hatred” in a series of articles about demonstrations by former soldiers that suggested that the President’s son had embezzled funds donated by the EU. The articles asked for an explanation into the disappearance of an estimated 3.8 billion CFA (5.15 million Euros) to pay retired soldiers as part of a reform program.
  • A senior UN official announced on Saturday that UN humanitarian agencies and their partners need to scale up aid to remote eastern and north-eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), warning that as many as 1.7 million people remain displaced and in fear of daily attacks from armed groups. The official noted that the humanitarian support plan for the DRC has so far only received 41% of its target funding. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council was told that there had been significant improvements in security in the country, but that many challenges remained before stability could be ensured.  A coalition of 47 international and Congolese organizations called on the UN Security Council to ensure that they UN mission in the Congo has adequate and appropriate resources to protect civilians from attacks by the LRA and to avert election-related violence (scheduled for November 28th).
  • Fighting broke out this week between Turkana peoples in northwest Kenya, and Daasanach or Merille peoples in southern Ethiopia, over land and food scarcity. The two groups often compete for food found in and around Lake Turkana. Kenya has started screening more than 1,600 senior police officers as part of an anti-corruption program to restore public confidence in the police force that is widely viewed as the most corrupt in East Africa. On Sunday, an unknown explosion in Nairobi caused at least one death and many injuries. Conflicting reports suggest different causes of the explosion, including potential gas leaks and even a missile. The world’s largest refugee camp in the world, in Dadaab, Kenya, is now full, meaning there is no longer any space or access to water and other facilities, and is creating a humanitarian emergency that threatens hundreds of thousands of lives.
  • Thirty-seven farmers were detained by police and several hundred others blocked in Cameroon following protests over bad roads and poor support for agriculture. Frustrations have been mounting ahead of the October Presidential election. Security forces used water cannons to disperse rioting soccer fans angered by a draw against the Senegalese team that dimmed Cameroon’s chances of qualifying for the 2012 African Nations Cup on Saturday. Another riot also broke out in Senegal’s Dakar on Saturday, following a power outage that switched off televisions and radios mid-game.
  • Xenophobic violence is on the rise in South Africa in recent weeks with foreign traders this week finding mock eviction notices posted to their shops, and following last week’s tensions where more than 50 Somali-owned shops were attacked, burned and looted. A graphic video was also released this weekend showing a mob beating an innocent Zimbabwean man to death, only eleven hours after another Zimbabwean was killed by a different mob.
  • A leaked version of Zimbabwe’s voter’s roll allegedly contains some 2.5 million extra names, including 41,000 people over the age of 100 (four times more than in the UK, which has a far larger population and longer life expectancy); 16,800 of who, share the same birthday that would make them 110 years old and at least 230 under the age of 18 with some as young as 2 years old. President Mugabe has called for elections this year; while his PM in the power sharing government, Morgan Tsvangirai, wants to wait until 2012 until after a new constitution has been passed to ensure the vote is held in a fair and free manner. The Finance Minster Tendai Biti survived a suspected assassination attempt on Sunday morning after his home was hit by an explosive object.
  • Anti-government protests in Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco ended without any violence on Sunday after authorities appeared to soften their reaction by keeping riot police away, though Human Rights Groups alleged that police have started visiting protest organizers homes, attempting to intimidate them.
  • A suspected Boko Haram gunman has shot dead a prominent cleric in northern Nigeria on Monday, and at least five were killed after police stations were attacked in the northern city of Maiduguri on Tuesday. At least three explosions were heard during the attack, alongside gunfire, thought to have been committed by the Boko Haram sect.  At least 20 were killed on Sunday in Ibadan, as gunmen stormed the Iwo Road Motor Parks.
  • Many are expressing anger at the multi-million dollar deluxe “city” being built in Equatorial Guinea to house leaders during an African Union summit that will last just a week, calling it a “misplaced priority” by the government when 75% of the population lives on less than $1 a day. The government has also been accused of detaining young people and deporting them by bus to the villages in fear of disturbance during the summit.
  • The Supreme Court in Rwanda sentenced the exiled online editor of Umuvugizi to a two year and six month term in prison for allegedly insulting the President and inciting civil disobedience. Many believe the sentence may stem from an online article written by the editor in which he compared President Kagame to Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, concluding that Kagame was more tyrannical than Mugabe.
  • On Thursday, police are reported to have blocked an opposition rally in Uganda. The opposition claims their activities were being conducted within the law, and that prior notice of the assembly was sent, though police suggested they were “inciting the public”.
  • Discussions continued in New York regarding the electoral mechanisms for self-determination in the Western Sahara on Tuesday, though both Morocco and the Frente Polisario continued to reject the proposals of the other. Morocco presented a plan for autonomy, while the Frente Polisario insists that the territory’s final status should be decided in a referendum.


  • A popular yogi in India has started a “fast unto death” to push the government to deal with corruption in the country and called upon the death penalty for corrupt government officials. Thousands joined him in protest on Saturday. On Sunday, hundreds of police forcibly removed him and thousands of his supporters, detaining the yogi and later releasing him. By Wednesday, the yogi had restarted the fast, joined by some 500 supporters. On Friday, it was reported that the yogi’s condition had deteriorated and that he had been hospitalized.
  • Four ISAF members were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday; one student was killed and three wounded in a bomb explosion in Kandahar; three children were killed and one wounded in a roadside bomb in Logar; an Italian man was shot and killed in a dispute with villagers in the northeast after himself shooting and injuring a local man. One Scottish member of the ISAF was shot dead by alleged insurgents on Sunday in Helmand Province. On Sunday, two ISAF service member were killed in a helicopter crash in Khost; an ISAF service member was killed in an insurgent attack in Kabul; and two security guards were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Wardak province. On Monday, gunmen killed 11 outside the capital of Logar province, including five Afghan soldiers and three government employees; and an ISAF service member was killed by a bomb in Kabul. On Tuesday, an ISAF service member was killed in an insurgent attack in Kabul; and a leading politician from what is normally one of the most stable regions in Afghanistan was killed. On Wednesday, a gunman killed some nine people in an attack on a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan; while one of the most powerful militant groups in Pakistan announced it plans to step up its fight against American troops in Afghanistan in response to US drone missile attacks. On Thursday, an ISAF service member was killed by a roadside bomb in Kabul. The President of the UN Security Council is in Kabul for the month of June to see the effect of armed conflict on Afghani children, ahead of the debate on a new resolution condemning attacks on schools and hospitals and the impact on children living in armed conflict.
  • Pakistani intelligence announced that a US drone strike killed a senior al Qaeda figure, Ilyas Kashmiri on Saturday in Pakistan; while some 75 alleged militants, 25 policemen and two paramilitary soldiers were killed in three days of fighting after Pakistani Taliban insurgents crossed from Afghanistan and attacked a security post in the north-western region. A bomb killed six, and wounded some 11 in Peshawar on Sunday at a bus terminal; another report suggested that at least 18 were killed and 35 wounded after a bomb blast erupted in a bakery near Peshawar; two gunmen attacked and torched a NATO fuel truck in Quetta; and a landmine explosion wounded a paramilitary soldier in the northwest. On Monday, three US missile strikes are said to have killed at least 19 people near the Afghan border, with one strike possibly hitting a religious school and again raising concern about civilian deaths. On Tuesday, a bomb blast hit four NATO fuel trucks in Khyber region. On Wednesday, it was reported that some 15 were killed in  US drone strikes in North Waziristan. On Thursday, officials say at least 8 Pakistani soldiers and 10 Taliban militants were killed in fighting and rocket attacks in the Waziristan region after some 150 militants attacked a security post; a bomb in a market near Peshawar killed four people and wounded three; a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying paramilitary troops in the southwest, killing two soldiers and wounding three; and a roadside bomb killed one person in the northwest.
  • Hundreds of anti-Chinese protesters came out in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on Sunday in a rare demonstration against Chinese naval operations in disputed waters of the South China Sea. The protests follow a confrontation between a Vietnamese oil and gas ship and Chinese patrol boats last month. On Friday, Vietnam announced it would hold live-fire exercises in the South China Sea starting on Monday and warned vessels to stay out of the area.
  • Tens of thousands of people attended a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong, to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings in China.  Many used the occasion to call upon the government to release activists and other dissidents who have recently been arrested. On Wednesday, the head of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army confirmed that China’s first aircraft carrier was under construction, while the UN human rights investigators called on the government to reveal the fate and whereabouts of more than 300 Tibetan monks who disappeared after being rounded up at a monastery by security forces in late April. The government denied the monks had been detained by security forces and instead claimed that some had been taken for “legal education”.  On Friday, one of China’s best-known human rights activists reported that she had been told by police that the end of her husband’s jail term could mean the start of tighter restrictions on her movements, and she feared she would be put under house arrest.
  • Dozens of senior police officials in Nepal were charged on Wednesday with embezzling millions of dollars of public funds during the procurement of military hardware for the country’s UN peacekeepers stationed in Sudan. The incident came to light in 2009 after the UN reported that the vehicles sent by Nepal were unsafe and did not meet UN specifications.
  • The defence ministry in Azerbaijan was quoted as saying that Azeri troops would eventually be sent back to seize the Armenian-backed breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azer officials accused Armenia of repeatedly obstructing talks to resolve the dispute, while Armenian officials accused the Azeris of “preparing ground for new provocations” by disseminating misinformation. On Thursday a senior Russian defence industry executive said that Armenia was looking to acquire Russian rocket artillery systems with a firing range of up to 90 km.
  • A nationwide strike in Bangladesh crippled the country’s capital on Sunday, as shops were closed and traffic was disrupted by thousands of security personnel. The general strike called by the opposition is in protest against the government’s move to throw out a provision that requires it to give power to a non-partisan administration to oversee elections at the end of its term. Over 60 people, who attempted to hold protests, were detained.
  • Dismantlement projects in Tashkent, Uzbekistan have angered the local population, as people are being evicted from their homes to make space. Residents are not being told why their homes are being demolished by the state.
  • Two protesting oil workers are in hospital after publicly slashing their stomachs during a police round-up in western Kazakhstan on Sunday. At least 37 protesters were detained seeking to obtain higher wages and the lifting of restrictions on independent trade unions, and alleged that police used violence to disperse them. Rights groups urged the Kazakh government on Tuesday, not to extradite 32 detainees to Uzbekistan, where they face a real risk of torture. Rights groups were also upset over the extradition of an ethnic Uighur schoolteacher who had been granted UN refugee status back to China, where he faces charges of terrorism and is likely to face torture.
  • A 16 year old boy in Tajikistan died while in police detention after reportedly being beaten this week. The Prosecutor-General has said it has launched an investigation into a “beating with a lethal outcome”, punishable under the Tajik Criminal Code. The sons of two prominent Tajik journalists claim that police detained and beat them for no reason and have since filed a lawsuit against the police.
  • Human Rights Watch called on Turkmenistan to heed calls by the UN Committee against Torture to address its “abysmal record” on torture and other serious abuses on Tuesday. The UN committee issued a report saying it was deeply concerned about the widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.
  • Suspected militants shot and killed two grocery store owners in southern Thailand before setting off a bomb that wounded five police officials who arrived to investigate. The attacks were reported to have an ethnic component.
  • Amnesty International warned that a lack of justice for killings in last year’s rioting in Kyrgyzstan could possible spark more violence in the country. Amnesty declared that ethnic bias and corruption were behind the impunity. The UNHCR warns that tens of thousands are still displaced in southern Kyrgyzstan a year after deadly clashes there.
  • At least 11 people were injured after a scuttle between police and protesters in Cambodia on Thursday. About 300 villagers were resisting a court order to transfer their farmland to a Taiwanese businessman in a forced eviction. Violence over land issues has been increasing and rights groups say the government is driving people off their land to benefit cronies in cahoots with foreign firms.


  • Multi-million dollar compensation cases brought against Chiquita Banana Company by at least 4,000 Colombians who allege they or their relatives were tortured or killed by paramilitaries paid by the company, will continue after a ruling by an American judge. Chiquita denies all charges, claiming it was forced to make payments to the AUC paramilitary group in order to protect its employees, and not for violent purposes. On Saturday, the government announced that its soldiers had killed the security chief of the top commander of the FARC guerrillas, Alirio Rojas. On Wednesday, a gunman shot and killed a rights leader on a local bus.
  • Brazil has launched a new welfare scheme aimed at lifting millions out of extreme poverty by 2014, by building on current programs to direct more money to the poorest regions.
  • Peru headed back to the polls on Sunday for its second round of its Presidential elections. Keiko Fujimori, daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori (jailed for corruption and organizing death squads), and Ollanta Humala, who critics fear will embark on interventionist policies) were the two candidates. Polls suggested that around 10% of voters could abstain or spoil their ballots. By Monday, Fujimori had accepted defeat to Humala who had 51.4% of the vote.
  • American Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced on Saturday that the US is working to identify hackers who will be responded to in kind or using traditional offensive action. The speech was particularly aimed at the Chinese, who the US State Department had previously asked to investigate following the hacking of Google, Lockheed Martin and Sony Corp, whose attacks allegedly originated in China.
  • Authorities in Mexico announced on Saturday that they had detained the man who led the Zetas drug cartel operations near Cancun. Authorities in Guatemala also announced on Saturday that they had captured 15 alleged Zeta members, including five Mexicans, for alleged links to the killing and dismemberment of a Guatemalan prosecutor. On Monday, Mexican soldiers were said to have destroyed four “narco-tanks” thought to have been made for the Gulf drug cartel in a north-eastern state, killing two suspected drug cartel members in the process. On Tuesday, gunmen attacked a drug treatment centre in northern Mexico, killing 11 and injuring another two.

Middle East

  • Palestinians, angry at Egyptian officials who had closed the Rafah border crossing on Saturday for alleged maintenance, stormed the terminal and demanded it be reopened. The closing comes as Palestinians planned marches to the Israeli borders from neighbouring Arab countries to mark the June 5th anniversary of Israel’s capture of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. By Sunday, Hamas had stopped travelers from crossing into Egypt over the restrictions and Palestinian President Abbas cautiously welcomed a French proposal to try and renew collapsed peace talks in Paris. The Rafah crossing reopened on Wednesday. On Sunday, Israeli troops are reported to have opened fire on Syrian protesters who stormed a ceasefire line in Golan Heights, killing six and wounding around 100. Similar protests were held in the West Bank. On Monday, Syrian police blocked dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters from approaching the Israeli frontier by setting up a pair of checkpoints near the border area. On Tuesday, arsonists damaged a mosque in a West Bank village, spraying Hebrew messages on the walls, compelling the UN envoy in the Middle East to call for “forceful” action by the Israeli Government against such attacks; and gunmen from a Palestinian faction said to be loyal to Syria shot dead at least 11 Palestinian refugees near Damascus in a dispute.  On Thursday, the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees reported that Israeli home demolitions displaced 67 Palestinian children in May, a monthly record for the year.
  • The PM of Yemen  and other senior officials were transferred to Saudi Arabia for treatment after last Friday’s attack on the presidential palace, though the President reportedly received on minor wounds on the back of the head.  The government has called Friday’s attack an “attempted coup” amid warnings that the country is headed to all-out war. Sporadic shelling and rocket-fire allegedly continued on Saturday in northern Sana’a. Saudi Arabia is also said to have brokered a fresh truce in the country on Saturday, which appeared to be holding on Saturday night, though looting and scenes of chaos were reported accompanying the withdrawal of security forces. By Sunday, the Saudi royal court had announced that President Saleh had arrived in Saudi Arabia for treatment and possible surgery, though asserted that he would be well enough to return home in two weeks. The main opposition coalition said it would accept a transfer of power to the Vice-President, and offered to talk with the VP about a political transition, a move he dismissed as “ridiculous”, prompting thousands to protest in response outside his residence. Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets in celebration, rejoicing in the possibility that the President may never return. Explosions and gunfights continued on Sunday, disrupting the fresh ceasefire, only to be further unravelled on Monday as regime supporters opened fire on opposition fighters in renewed clashes, killing at least six. By Tuesday, reports were coming out that claimed President Saleh was more injured than originally thought, suffering from 40% burns across his body, bleeding inside his skull and shrapnel lodged near his heart.  Reports were also now indicating that a bomb and not a rocket may have hit the President inside the mosque in his palace. Nineteen people, including three children were reported dead in clashes in two Yemeni provinces; several explosions were heard in Taiz on Tuesday; and the military said it had killed some 30 al Qaeda and other Islamist militants who seized the city of Zinjibar. On Wednesday, hundreds of armed tribesmen were reported to have taken control of the city of Taiz, the second largest city in the country, and the ruling party was said to have opened talks with the opposition coalition while the US intensified air strikes on suspected militants to keep them from consolidating power as the government weakens. The World Food Programme also reported that fighting had disrupted food supplies, pushing the price of gas, water, fuel and other basic commodities skyward, causing many to be food insecure. On Friday, an estimated 100,000 took to the streets in Sana’a demanding that wounded President Saleh be removed from power, while a few kilometres away a large number of loyalists gathered to celebrate after state media claimed Saleh was making a quick recovery.
  • Mass funerals closed most shops on Saturday in Hama, Syria, following the death of some 60 people on Friday. Tens of thousands are said to have taken to the streets on Saturday in Hama in protest, with tanks looking on. Ali Abdullah, a leading opposition figure jailed since 2007, was also released on Saturday following a general amnesty made on Tuesday. Some 35 civilians and 10 security forces were reportedly killed over the weekend during a government security crackdown in a northern town. Mourners accused security forces of using snipers to pick off members of the procession from atop a post office, which the mourners than lit on fire. On Sunday, security forces were accused of shooting to death two teenage protesters in an eastern city after mourners of a 14 year old set fire to two Baath Party buildings. On Monday, unknown armed men attacked Syrian security forces in the north, killing some 120 policemen and security forces and apparently leading to residents of one town pleading for the army to intervene to stop the killing (though opposition activists see this as a government pretence to justify harsh military crackdown). France also announced it was ready to ask the UN Security Council to vote on a draft resolution condemning Syria for its brutal crackdown, claiming al-Assad had lost his legitimacy to rule, though Russia later rejected the measure. On Tuesday, French TV claimed that Syria’s ambassador to France resigned in protest of the violence in her country, though she later denied this was true, and Syrian authorities threatened to crack down on “armed groups” involved in the killing of security forces on Monday. By Wednesday, hundreds were fleeing the town of Jisr al-Shughour into Turkey ahead of an expected military assault following the 120 deaths on Monday and hundreds were taking to the street to mourn the death of a young Syrian boy, whose tortured body was captured and released on video. Thousands of elite troops later converged on the restive northern area. The head of the UN atomic energy agency picked the convenient moment amidst all the fighting to suggest that Syria has been engaging in undeclared nuclear activities, and that perhaps a nuclear facility was destroyed by Israeli air attack in 2007. The IAEA then referred Syria to the Security Council on Thursday.  On Friday, tanks are said to have opened fire on crowds in the northern town of Maarat al-Numan killing as many as 28 people; while the Syrian regime ordered its army to enter Jisr al-Shughour leaving more than 20 dead, while thousands continued escaping into Turkey. Syrian state TV claimed that the fleeing citizens were visiting with relatives across the border, that there were no demonstrations happening and that people shouldn’t trust “shoddy” eyewitness accounts, even though all foreign journalists are currently banned from the country.
  • Dozens of people were arrested at a funeral service for an Iranian activist who died at her father’s funeral last week on Saturday, following a scuffle with security forces. Opposition websites claim the activist was injured by security forces, though the government denies this claim. Reports suggest that Iran is stepping up the pace of its uranium enrichment, much to the worry of some of the international community who have concerns of weapons manufacture. The government insists the work is peaceful and only for electricity generating capabilities. And in an unfortunate decision, the international football association (FIFA) has banned the Iranian football team from participating in the 2012 London Olympics unless they remove their Islamic headscarves, citing safety concerns.
  • On Saturday, gunmen killed a civil defence force Lieutenant Colonel in western Baghdad, Iraq and a roadside bomb targeted a joint US/Iraqi military patrol in Fallujah.  On Sunday, three Iraqi soldiers were killed and one wounded in a roadside bomb attack in western Baghdad; gunmen killed a security guard of the speaker of Iraq’s parliament in western Baghdad; eight were injured in a roadside bomb in north-western Baghdad and another six in a southern district; a sticky bomb attack wounded a director general in the ministry of planning in western Baghdad; gunmen killed a member of a government-backed militia Sahwa south of Baghdad; and a roadside bomb attack killed one and wounded three south of Baghdad. On Monday, five American troops were killed when rockets slammed into their compound in Baghdad; at least 13 people were killed, including nine Iraqi military personnel and 15 wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Tikrit; a car bomb killed one civilian and wounded ten in eastern Baghdad; a local politician and three members of his family were killed in a bomb attack in their home near Ramadi; gunmen killed four government-backed militia members and wounded another four in north Baghdad; a roadside bomb near a police patrol wounded six in north Baghdad; and a roadside bomb wounded four civilians in central Baghdad. On Tuesday, a sticky bomb attack wounded a government employee and two others in northern Baghdad; gunmen attacked an Interior Ministry Colonel and his family, killing his son in western Baghdad; a sticky bomb attack killed an off-duty policeman in Ramadi; gunmen killed two policemen in central Baghdad; police found the body of an unidentified man with gunshot wounds to the head south of Baghdad; and a roadside bomb attack killed two shepards in northern Mosul. On Wednesday, a sticky bomb attack killed one person and wounded another in Falluja; a roadside bomb exploded, wounding one policeman and three others in southeast Baghdad; a US service member was killed in Baghdad; gunmen shot and killed an off-duty policeman near his house in eastern Mosul; police found the body of a kidnapped man with gunshot wounds west of Mosul; a bomb explosion wounded four in Baquba; a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded two policemen and two others in central Baghdad; and a roadside bomb killed a member of a government-backed militia near Kirkuk. On Thursday, a sticky bomb killed a civilian in northern Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded a policeman north of Baghdad; gunmen killed a restaurant owner in Kirkuk; a bomb wounded a passer-by in Baghdad; gunmen killed a judge in western Baghdad; gunmen killed the head of a company belonging to the Ministry of Industry in Taji; gunmen killed an off-duty policeman in west central Baghdad; police found the body of an unidentified man shot in the head in northern Baghdad; and a roadside bomb wounded two in west central Baghdad.
  • Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his call on the government of Bahrain to uphold international human rights standards, following the lifting of the state of emergency in the country. National dialogue is set to begin on July 1st. Despite recent problems, Formula 1 announced it was set to reschedule its Nascar race for October 30, sparking a debate between many human rights activists as to whether or not this was appropriate. By Wednesday however, many teams had voiced opposition to having the race in the face of government crackdown on public demonstrations and it was deemed likely to be cancelled. On Monday, opposition members say police clashed with Shi’a marchers across the country, using tear gas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and birdshot, though the government vehemently denied this. Journalists have been unable to verify, as police have set up checkpoints sealing many Shi’a majority areas. By Tuesday however, the police admitted to arresting a number of Shi’ites over the weekend for shouting anti-government slogans during a religious festival.


  • Portugal went to the polls on Sunday to choose a new government, amidst tough austerity measures all parties endorsed to help the faltering economy. The Social Democrats (PSD) led by Pedro Passos are said to have won, while the governing Socialist Party admitted defeat and its leader Jose Socrates, accepting responsibility for the defeat, resigned.
  • Macedonia went to the polls over the weekend following an opposition boycott in parliament that forced snap elections. Poverty and high unemployment led to the accusations against the Gruevski government of spending millions on grandiose building projects while neglecting the poor. By Monday, it was announced that Gruevksi’s government had won again with 39% of the vote against the Social Democrats with 32.7%, meaning the Gruevski government will need to form a coalition in order to govern.
  • Tens of thousands of people came out to denounce politicians, bankers and tax dodgers on Sunday in Athens, Greece in the face of further austerity measures. Some 3,000 are said to have turned out as well in Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki.
  • A human rights worker in Russia was beaten in his apartment building on Monday, an attack his employer is linking to his work. Human rights groups say violence against their workers is increasing and attackers are rarely punished. On Tuesday, a bomb exploded on a railway line in Siberia. The bomb caused no injuries and authorities are unsure who carried out the attack. Also on Tuesday, the head of an Islamic theology institute in the North Caucasus was shot dead near his home, along with at least one other person. Russia unveiled new “indestructible”, bomb-proof public toilets in response to recent terror attacks. On Friday, a Russian colonel previously jailed for murdering a Chechen teenager was killed by an unidentified gunman in central Moscow.
  • Russia reportedly halved the electricity supplies to Belarus over unpaid bills this week, and warned it might stop completely on June 19th. The country is gripped by economic crisis and is seeking a bailout from Russia and emergency loan from the IMF.
  • Georgia accused Russia on Tuesday of sponsoring terrorist acts in Georgia and breakaway regions, warning that internationally mediated talks could collapse unless the “bombing campaign” was ceased. Russia in turn criticized the “aggressive behaviour” of the Georgian delegation and accused Georgia of engaging in illicit activities.
  • A car blast in the capital of Moldova killed one man, the chairman of the Moldovan tennis federation, on Tuesday. Moldovans took to polls on Sunday for local elections, with the Communist party maintaining its lead obtaining 23.78% in mayoral elections and 30.25% in local council elections.


Outdated democracy.

The concept of democracy has been around since at least the 4th or 5th century BC. It has flourished in the past couple decades and has become the main hope for all fledgling nations by the international community.

Yet, is our concept of democracy in the West outdated? Does it need to be changed and altered to be more inclusive, and more representative of the People it supposedly represents? Rule of the people hardly seems to be reality in Canada, the US or Europe. We elect representatives, who rarely actually represent the average person, let alone even listen to us or address our needs in government. Many politicians come from privileged backgrounds or enormous wealth, which aids in their campaigning ability– especially at higher levels of office. How often do our letters or calls go unheard by our MPs or other representatives? How often does the average representative even spend time in their constituency, and how much of that time is spent at fancy galas or openings or campaigning with public pat-on-the-back photo-ops for themselves instead of actually talking to those in their region about what THEY would like to see happen in government? How much of their policy is based upon their own personal belief system and not the wishes of their constituency? How much research and polling do they do of their constituency prior to voting on a subject in governmental forums? Considering I lived in Canada the vast majority of my life and have yet to actually be polled or asked about my opinion on an issue by my MP, let alone received an adequate response back to my written or verbal inquiries or concerns, I’d say, not much.

The average US House member represents more than 640,000 citizens, and this number is rising with the population. When the first census was taken, this ratio of citizens per district was closer to only 30,000 for each representative, a much more manageable number for them to actually “represent”. An older research study found that most representatives spent an average of only 101 working days actually in their districts in a year, or just under 28% of their time and I’d argue that lobbyists are much more likely to get the ear of a Representative than their constituents are.

Considering we now live in the electronic age of computers, cellphones, blackberries and the internet, I am always amazed at how little our “representatives” use these technologies to actually consult with those they profess to represent. In 2004, it is said there were more than 762,000 computers for every million people in the US (and similar statistics for most of the western world), and that nearly 75% of Americans spend more than 3 hours a day online (Stone, 2005:62). For those between the ages of 12 and 18, computer and internet usage actually approaches 100% (Levy, 2004; 14). When one includes those with wireless capability on blackberries, cellphones, iphones and other such devices, the vast majority of the population is wired and using Internet capabilities on a daily (if not hourly) basis. For those who don’t have personal access at home, nearly 95% of public schools have computers with internet access; and nearly 99% of public libraries have public access to the Internet with most offering formal or informal technology training to those looking to enhance their tech skills. Not only do I think that our so-called representatives should be using this access to technology to actually engage with their constituencies on the issues, I think that the time has come for a complete overhaul of democracy itself so that it can truly be “representative” of the population.

A survey of US Representatives and Senators showed that 38% of House Members and 39% of Senators were registered with Twitter, and although these Members sent an average of  one “tweet” every other day– those “tweets” were mostly spent on securing their own “brand” and image. What were these Representatives using this communications for? Well, certainly not polling their constituencies, as this was not even mentioned as a possible category of types of “tweets” sent by Representatives. No, instead, the Reps were talking about their position on a policy (18% of the time); reciting information about a public policy; talking about their own media or public relations campaign (34% of the time); talking about their own trips, visits or events in a home district; talking about what official congressional actions they did (14% of the time); or talking about their own personal life or campaign (5% of the time). Only 3.7% of the tweets were direct replies to others. These “representatives” are so concerned with securing the next election or sticking to the party-line– that actual consultation of those who are to be represented is barely even considered. Why are we not being polled on what we, the People, want? Why are we not being consulted and truly “represented”?

Electronic surveys are not without their flaws; however I believe even despite the flaws, regular public polling via technology would give a more accurate opinion of the People than what is currently being done. Some would argue that access to technology is more prevalent among the rich and educated, with the poorer, less educated folks less likely to be online and therefore less likely to participate in surveys or polls. I don’t argue that fact, however, I’d be remiss to say that traditional polling most likely excludes many of these folks as well. How often do the representatives send their lackeys to take polls on public issues in the slums right now? How many of the current written surveys on policy issues exclude those who are functionally illiterate? None of the current polling methods are without their flaws and exclusions, but online polling and consultation could demonstrate a more accurate picture of what the People want.

Some would also argue that the over 65 years of age population is less likely to be online or have computer access or skills. Again, true. However, are these also not currently the most politically active participants in our democracies and most likely to be letter writers or callers to their representatives? Also, considering that the baby boomer population IS highly versed in technology, this statistic is likely to dramatically change over the coming years, as the boomers move into this age bracket.

How can we also ensure that a non-voter (ie. too young) isn’t voting; or that a person isn’t voting at multiple computers. Simple. Have everyone vote using their public IDs such as Social Insurance or give them a public voting ID on their voter registration card and cut them off after one vote for each topic. There is also the possibly of hacking, which is a legitimate problem if polling is online. Not being a computer expert, and seeing how many national systems have been broken into, I have no solution for this. But is it not better to have a general idea of what the People want, as opposed to just ignoring them?

I think our democracy has become outdated, flawed and unrepresentative, which is incredibly problematic if we are to spread this type of “freedom” across the globe. There’s got to be a better way.

Some sources mentioned in the above article:

Brad Stone, “Hi-Tech’s New Day”, Newsweek, April 11, 2005, p. 62.

Steven Levy, “No Net? We’d Rather Go Without Food.”, Newsweek, October 11, 2004, p. 14.

20 Years After the Fall

On November 9, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated around the world.  Many world leaders including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were present at Brandenburg Gate, the former site of the “Iron Curtain” that separated West Germany from East Germany.

Supported by Communist Soviet Union, East Germany began building the Berlin Wall without warning, in August of 1961 to stop the hoards of East Germans who were fleeing to West Berlin.  What began as a makeshift barbed wire fence soon became a 156 kilometre long concrete wall that surrounded West Berlin and was guarded heavily against attempted escapes from East Germans.  In its twenty-eight year existence, more than 130 people are said to have been killed at the “Iron Curtain”.

On November 9, 1989, after weeks of civil unrest amongst Eastern Germans, it was announced on late night news (in a moment of confusion by a spokesperson of the government) that effective immediately, the Eastern German border was open to everyone.  Residents quickly lined up at the Brandenburg Gate, and the overwhelmed guards simply let them through without using lethal force.  East met West on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and citizens from both sides of the concrete barrier began to celebrate their freedom.

While the celebration that took place this year to commemorate this great event in history was a spectacle with all the bells and whistles, including giant coloured dominoes set up in queue along a 1.5 kilometre stretch where the Berlin Wall used to stand, it did little to take away from the reality that those living in Eastern Germany still suffer poverty and unemployment at much higher levels than their Western counterparts, and that basic freedoms and rights still escape millions of citizens of the world.

We should take the time to look at an event like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the great impact that the citizens of Eastern Germany had on putting into motion a stream of events that led to the reunification of Germany.  What a great example of how individuals can rise together to make a difference, and how easily governing bodies can turn these moments of freedom and celebration into legacies of poverty.  Perhaps the money that went into the lavish celebration of the 20th anniversary could have been better spent in rebuilding the Eastern states that are still struggling two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall?  Just one girl’s thought…

by Heather Wilhelm