- At least 35 soldiers and some 14 suspected militants were reportedly killed in twin suicide bombings and ensuing clashes with al-Qaeda militants in southern Abyan Province in Yemen on Sunday, part of an upsurge of attacks since the Presidential election last month. On Monday, officials raised the death toll to at least 139 people, as clashes continued; and the new President vowed to pursue the militants to their last hiding place. By Tuesday, the death toll had risen to over 180 soldiers and at least 25 militants dead; with some 70 soldiers captured by militants. On Tuesday, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda announced that it attacked a US intelligence officer due to an increasing American military presence. On Thursday, an army officer and six of his bodyguards were reportedly killed in a shootout with rebels in the north of the country, where insurgents have snatched territory during anti-government protests. On Friday, the UN refugee agency reported that the country is facing a new wave of internal displacement, with tens of thousands of civilians fleeing tribal clashes in the north and fresh fighting between government troops and militants in the south; while air strikes on suspected positions of al Qaeda linked fighters in the south killed several militants.
- Police in the United Arab Emirates reportedly arrested an activist after he criticized the security services for interfering with the lives of citizens, the latest step to limit political dissent in the country.
- Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Bahrain on Friday to demand democratic reforms in the biggest protest yet. Riot police reportedly blocked the road and fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters.
- Around 8,000 students at a women’s university in Saudi Arabia demonstrated on Wednesday against a move by the university to keep cleaning crews away after accusing students of not doing enough to keep their areas tidy, resulting in the injuries of some 53 students after security forces dispersed them. The students declared on Friday they were planning to boycott classes the following day in response to the intervention by security forces.
- Chatter on potential Israeli strikes on nuclear targets on Iran have reportedly never been higher, but some suggest it is all smoke-and-mirrors being used as a diplomatic weapon. AlertNet ran a report claiming that any strike on Iran would lead to an unleashing of horrible consequences, an opinion I strongly agree with. On Friday, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced once again that Israel reserved the right to defend itself against Iran and that global powers would be falling into a trap if they pursued talks with the country; while American President Obama said he would not hesitate to use military force against Iran if necessary to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weaponry and also admonished Israel for “too much loose talk of war”. On Monday, PM Netanyahu responded for American President Obama’s call for an end to “loose talk of war” by reiterating Israel’s “right to defend itself” during a meeting between the two at the White House and Obama reassured the PM that the US “will always have Israel’s back”; while a young Palestinian man throwing rocks at soldiers in the West Bank reportedly had his skull smashed by a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier. On Tuesday, the Atlantic ran an interesting article comparing the nuclear developments of both Israel and Iran over different time periods; while Hamas ruled out military support for Iran in any war with Israel; while two Palestinian children were reportedly killed when an abandoned ordnance exploded in the West Bank. On Wednesday, Israel reportedly cautiously welcomed the possible resumption of international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, but announced it will not abandon other options. On Thursday, Israel reportedly asked the US for advanced “bunker buster” bombs and refueling planes that could improve its ability to attack Iran’s alleged underground nuclear sites, something that White House press secretary denied was discussed; an Israeli soldier reportedly shot dead a Palestinian and wounded another who stabbed him, as troops carried out an arrest in West Bank; Israel announced it is training its troops to hunt below ground with robot probes and sniffer dogs fearing a surge in tunnel and bunker construction by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian militants; while PM Netanyahu announced that Israel will give sanctions on Iran a chance to work and will not attack the country in the coming days or weeks. On Friday, Israeli air strikes reportedly killed 10 militants in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian gunmen fired more than two dozen rockets at the Jewish state, in the worst violent flare up in months; while a vehicle exploded in Gaza, killing at least two people.
- A prominent human rights lawyer in Iran was sentenced to 18 years in prison by a revolutionary court for spreading anti-government propaganda, endangering national security and accepting an “illegal” human rights price that critics are saying is politically motivated, his daughter said on Sunday; while conservative rivals of President Ahmadinejad appeared to have extended their lead in the parliamentary election that reportedly had more than 64% turnout after nearly 90% of ballot boxes counted. On Monday, the head of the IAEA highlighted the ongoing serious concerns about a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme, adding that the country has tripled its monthly production of enriched uranium; while the Washington Post suggested that international sanctions on the country are starting to really hurt Iran (The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg responded with an interesting point that’s worth mentioning—that sanctions that harm civilians may be less humane than other military options). On Tuesday, Iran announced it will allow UN inspectors access to a secret military complex where the IAEA suspects secret atomic work has been carried out and the EU foreign policy chief wrote to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator to accept an offer to meet to discuss the country’s nuclear programme. On Wednesday, a post on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s Twitter account said that he had signed an executive order establishing the Cyberspace Council, appointing the President as its chair; while satellite images of a military facility reportedly show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at the site, which some are calling an indication of an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapons trigger. On Thursday, Supreme Leader Khamenei welcomed recent comments by American President Obama emphasizing diplomacy in regards to the country’s nuclear program; an American Air Force General discussed the use of a 30,000 pound bunker buster bomb designed to smash through 200 feet of concrete before exploding in possible clashes with Iran; while world powers said in a joint statement that proposed talks with Iran on the nuclear program must be “serious”, without preconditions, and should produce “concrete results”. On Friday, six world powers reportedly demanded Iran keep its promise to let international inspectors visit a military installation where the IAEA believes explosives tests geared to developing atomic bombs may have taken place, not ruling out that Iran may be trying to remove evidence from the site; American Secretary of State Clinton announced the US and South Korea were making progress in discussions on the implementation of new American sanctions on Iran, but stopped short of announcing any deal on a potential waiver; while the chairman of the American Senate Armed Services Committee called for a naval blockade of Iranian oil exports to be considered before resorting to air strikes against country for its nuclear program. An interesting article was released in this month’s Washington Monthly suggesting that “an Iran with a bomb would not be anywhere near as dangerous as most people assume, and a war to try to stop it from acquiring one would be less successful, and far more costly, than most people imagine”; while another article in the American Prospect discussed ways to keep the peace without regime change in the country. The Atlantic ran two articles discussing the chances of an American or Israeli war with Iran.
- The Interior Ministry of Iraq asked authorities in the autonomous Kurdish region to arrest VP al-Hashimi and hand him over for a trial on Sunday on charges he was running death squads. On Monday, at least 27 people were reportedly killed in a wave of attacks in the western province of Anbar. On Tuesday, at least 13 people were reportedly killed and nearly two dozen others wounded in dual car-bomb and suicide attack in the northern town of Tal Afar.
- Refugees International announced on Friday that desperate people fleeing the besieged city of Homs in Syria were being shot at as they tried to escape over the border into Lebanon, including shooting at children as young as 10 or 12 years old; while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 10 people were killed when security forces fired a mortar on an anti-government protest in the town of Rastan. On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm at report suggesting government forces are arbitrarily executing, imprisoning and torturing people in Homs; Turkey’s Foreign Minister accused the Assad regime of committing “war crimes”; Syrian army tanks deployed in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor to support forces and militiamen loyal to Assad who reportedly came under rebel attack after three pro-democracy demonstrators were killed; an explosion killed seven people and wounded several others in the southern town of Deraa; armed forces bombarded parts of Homs and allegedly blocked the Red Cross aid for a second day; while China urged the government and rebels to immediately end all acts of violence, especially against civilians and to start a dialogue. On Sunday, the Red Cross again said it had been prevented from entering Baba Amr in Homs, but was instead delivering aid to a village near Homs where refuges were sheltering; armed forces allegedly renewed their assault on Homs, bombarding more areas and killing at least seven, including four children; Israel offered to assist international efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Syria without intervening directly; a senior Republican American Senator called for the arming of Syrian rebels through the Arab League and suggested the imposition of “no drive” and “no fly” zones against Syrian military forces; while reports suggested that Lebanon was bracing itself for the new influx of thousands of Syrian refugees crossed their border, claiming they feared they would be slaughtered in their own homes as the government forces hunted down opponents in Homs. On Monday, the Saudi foreign minister asserted that Syrians have a right to take up arms and defend themselves in a rare news conference; China announced it will send an envoy to help ease the crisis; Canada announced it has closed its embassy in Syria and expanded its economic sanctions against the country; heavy fighting allegedly broke out between government and rebel forces in Deraa on the border with Jordan; Ban Ki-moon announced that relief chief Valerie Amos is set to arrive in the country for Wednesday to urge parties to the conflict to allow in humanitarian assistance; teams of Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent reportedly reached two neighbourhoods of Homs where they distributed food and blankets to civilians; secretly shot video footage was released by a British television station that allegedly shows Syrian patients being tortured by medical staff at a state-run hospital in Homs; while the International Crisis Group released a new report suggesting a plan for a negotiated transition in the country and the Center for American Progress released a new report discussing the challenges to ending the violence in the country. On Tuesday, Assad again refused to allow aid into the destroyed suburb of Homs and reiterated his determination to fight “foreign-backed terrorism”; the UN announced it has footage similar to that aired by Britain’s Channel 4 television station purporting to show Syrian patients being tortured in hospital; while American President Obama said it was only a matter of time before Assad will leave office, but added that it was a mistake to think the US could take unilateral action there. On Wednesday, the UN humanitarian affairs chief visited parts of the neighbourhood of Baba Amr in Homs, finding it largely deserted and completely devastated. On Thursday, the five permanent UN Security Council members and Morocco met behind closed doors to discuss a US drafted resolution urging an end to the crackdown on demonstrators; former UN Secretary-General Annan called for diplomatic solutions to the continued bloodshed, warning against arming the opposition; Lebanon’s foreign minister rebuffed a call by the American ambassador for their government to protect all Syrians who have fled across the border into Lebanese territory; Tunisia and Turkey announced that they are opposed to using outside military force to intervene in the country; the UN announced that it is readying food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria as part of a 90 day emergency contingency plan to help civilians; the bodies of 18 Baba Amr residents were reportedly found stabbed to death after security forces raided homes; security forces reportedly shot and wounded three mourners at a Damascus funeral for an army defector that turned into an anti-government protest; Assad reaffirmed his determination to go on fighting what he called “foreign-backed terrorism”; Russia accused Libya of running a training centre for Syrian rebels; the UN cultural agency UNESCO condemned Syria for its crackdown on protesters but did not expel Damascus from its human rights committee as some countries had demanded; a Russian diplomat said that Assad is battling al-Qaeda-backed “terrorists” including at least 15,000 foreign fighters who will seize towns across the country if government troops withdraw; Libya’s PM denied Russian accusations that his country was running camps to train and arm Syrian rebels, but expressed strong support for them; while US officials are reportedly finalizing plans to aid the internal and external opposition, stopping short of direct military assistance until the opposition unites but not removing the possibility of potentially military options. On Friday, five members of the Syrian armed forces, including at least two generals and a colonel, reportedly defected to Turkey; Syrian forces reportedly killed at least 54 people as they sought to quell anti-government demonstrations; tanks shelled on opposition districts in Homs, killing four and wounding scores more; security forces reportedly killed one civilian in a residential neighbourhood in Damascus as they tried to put down an act of civil disobedience; Germany urged Russia to change its policy towards Syria and back a UN resolution condemning Damascus; France announced it cannot accept a UN Security Council resolution that would assign responsibility for the violence equally to the government and its opponents; UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos arrived in Turkey following her trip to Syria to visit the camps for Syrian refugees; China said it will send another envoy to the Middle East and France to discuss the Syrian crisis; while an UN-Arab League envoy with Koffi Annan prepared to meet with President Assad the following day.
- A new report in the Atlantic this week suggests that a barely perceptible shift occurred in recent months that make the possibility of Israel attacking Iran’s nuclear sites more possible, as the benefits outweigh the costs. NBC reported last week that Israel used an Iranian opposition group, designated as terrorist group by the United States, to carry out much-publicized assassinations of Iranian scientists. On Friday, China announced it would be sending a senior official to the country for talks on their nuclear program; ; while the PM of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip arrived in Tehran for a three day visit to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. On Saturday, President Ahmadinejad addressed tens of thousands of supporters in Freedom Square, saying that the country will soon announce “very important” achievements in the nuclear field. On Sunday, a Palestinian prisoner being held without charge who has been on a hunger strike for more than 8 weeks is reportedly being kept shackled to a hospital bed, despite warnings that he may be close to death. On Monday, Israeli PM Netanyahu accused Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah of being behind twin attacks on Israeli targets in India and Georgia that injured four people; the Iranian media reported that President Ahmadinejad’s press advisor was sentenced to six months in jail for insulting Supreme Leader Khamenei; China urged authorities to do more to end the standoff over its disputed nuclear program; while the international community accused authorities of misleading them with their claims to have abandoned the death penalty for juvenile offenders and execution by stoning of those convicted of adultery. On Tuesday, Israel again accused Iran of being behind three blasts in Bangkok, Thailand that injured some five people. On Wednesday, authorities unveiled their nuclear progress, claiming their success in manufacturing fuel rods and advanced centrifuges and also indicated that they were on the verge of imposing an oil embargo on European countries in retaliation for their sanctions; Thailand arrested two Iranians charging them with plotting the recent bomb attack in Bangkok and linking them to recent attacks in India and Georgia; while Israeli PM Netanyahu said that Iranian “terror activities” must be halted. On Wednesday, Russia said global powers must work harder to win concessions from Iran over its nuclear programme; Iranian authorities denied any role in Tuesday’s bomb blasts in Thailand, while Thai police held three Iranian nationals in connection; Iranian authorities also told world powers they were ready to resume stalled nuclear talks at the “earliest” opportunity; the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Iran’s main intelligence organization, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups, committing human rights abuses and backing the Syrian government’s crackdown on citizens; Israel’s defense minister dismissed Iran’s announcements of major nuclear advancements as exaggerations; and Iranian censors allegedly blocked access to a number of news websites sympathetic to President Ahmadinejad ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in March.
- State-run media in Syria reported that at least 28 people were killed on Friday and 200 others injured in two car-bomb explosions perpetrated by “armed terrorist gangs” in Aleppo; Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister said that Assad’s assurance to Russian officials that he will hold a constitutional referendum means that the opposition now “bears full responsibility” for ending the violence there; a firefight broke out in a poor district of Damascus between loyalist forces and rebels; and the EU foreign policy chief called on Russia to reconsider its position on Syria after last week’s veto on Syrian violence. A video uploaded to YouTube on Saturday allegedly shows an anti-aircraft tank firing directly into an urban neighbourhood in the city of Douma; Syrian forces reportedly continued their bombardment of districts of the city of Homs, killing some 10 people; security forces entered the besieged town of Zabandani near the Lebanese border after agreeing to a ceasefire with rebels; authorities told Libya and Tunisia to close their embassies in Damascus within 72 hours; while the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that gunmen had assassinated an army general in Damascus. Security forces reportedly eased their week-long bombardment of Homs with only sporadic shelling on Sunday and let a few families leave opposition districts while thousands of protesters crowded the streets overnight; Tunisia announced it would host a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” which seeks to build an international agreement on how to end violence in the country on February 24th; the Arab League reportedly wants the UN to form a joint peacekeeping force and appoint a special Arab envoy to try and end the violence, a move Russia made clear it would not support; al-Qaeda’s leader called for the ousting of Assad and urged all Muslims to help the rebels; while the head of the Arab League’s observer mission to Syria resigned during a meeting of ministers in Cairo. On Monday, authorities flatly rejected the call by the Arab League to deploy peacekeepers in the country, while Britain said no western troops could be involved in such a mission; British PM Cameron and French President Sarkozy announced that they will be meeting in Paris on Friday to discuss a possible increase in help to the rebels, including giving them military advice; Russia allegedly signaled a new-found willingness to consider international intervention when it abandoned its absolute defence of the Syrian regime and announced that it does not rule out its participation in a potential UN peacekeeping mission as long as there was a ceasefire between government and opposition forces first; security forces reportedly resumed their offensive by shelling areas of Homs and Rastan and storming areas near Damascus; and the UN human rights chief warned that failure by the UN to take action has emboldened the Assad regime to mount an all-out assault on his opponents and accused the government of an “indiscriminate attack” on civilians and other grave human rights violations. On Tuesday, government forces again clashed with protesters across the country, with some 20 people killed; and government troops shelled the city of Homs for a 10th day, killing at least 7 people and wounding more than 20; Arab officials confirmed that regional governments would be ready to arm the resistance if bloodshed did not cease; while France announced it had created an emergency fund for aid agencies helping the Syrian people. On Wednesday, President Assad ordered a referendum on a new constitution to be held on February 26th with a parliamentary election to be held within 90 days of the constitution’s approval; Syrian forces reportedly launched an offensive on the city of Hama, bombarding residential neighbourhoods with armoured reinforcements; Egypt called for change in the country that met the demands of the people, but ruled out supporting a military intervention into Syrian territory; an Arab delegation dismissed Russian amendments aimed at weakening a draft UN General Assembly resolution plan to get President Assad to step down as unacceptable; while Libya invited the Syrian opposition National Council to open an office in Tripoli. On Thursday, the UN General Assembly strongly condemned the continued “widespread and systematic” human rights violations by the Syrian authorities and demanded that the government immediately cease all violence and protect its people; at least 22 people were reportedly killed in a military assault on opposition strongholds and several activists were arrested; the American embassy in Damascus posted a supposed satellite image of an oil pipeline fire in Homs to make a statement on China and Russia’s vetoes of a UN resolution demanding Assad step down; while the Director of American National Intelligence blamed the Iraqi al-Qaeda for a series of recent bombings against Syrian government targets.
- Police in Bahrain reportedly used force to break up a peaceful anti-government march in the capital on Saturday, using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of protesters and arresting two American rights activists. On Sunday, King Hamad dismissed the country’s opposition movement as disunited and said the threat of Iran had compelled him to call in foreign troops to crush last year’s uprising. On Monday, security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters trying to occupy a landmark roundabout in the capital ahead of the one-year anniversary of the uprising. On Tuesday, the Guardian reported that Britain has continued to sell arms worth more than 1 million pounds to the country despite continuing political unrest, including gun silencers, weapons sights, rifles, artillery and components for military training aircraft; while a massive police presence in the capital kept protesters from gathering in Pearl Roundabout to mark the one-year anniversary, arresting at least 30 people. On Wednesday, more than 120 protesters were reportedly wounded in clashes with police.
- Security forces in Saudi Arabia reportedly shot one person dead and injured three others during an anti-government demonstration in the Eastern Province on Friday.
- Thousands of people rallied in the capital Sanaa in Yemen on Friday to back a single-candidate Presidential election planned later this month. On Sunday, militants in the south said they had executed three men for giving the US information used to carry out drone strikes in the area; while southern separatists set fire to a tent camp housing anti-government protesters in Aden in opposition to an election this month to replace outgoing President Saleh. On Tuesday, the Nation ran an article on how American plans in Yemen are backfiring. On Thursday, security officials announced that a leading al-Qaeda operative had been killed in a family dispute that left at least 16 other tribesmen dead; while militants reportedly shot dead five people, including a military officer and regional head of the country’s election committee in al-Baydah province.
- A roadside bomb targeted an army patrol, wounding three soldiers on Friday night in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. On Saturday, a car bomb went off targeting a police convoy, wounding the police station chief and at least three other policemen in Mahaweel; while gunmen shot dead a teacher in front of his house northeast of Baghdad. On Sunday, Turkish warplanes carried out air strikes on suspected Kurdish militant targets in the north; a sticky bomb killed a gas station manager and his driver in Baiji; a roadside bomb went off and wounded two soldiers in Baquba; a roadside bomb wounded three people in central Baghdad; and another roadside bomb blew up and wounded six people, including three policemen in northern Baghdad. On Monday, a sticky bomb attack wounded a teacher and two other passengers in his car in Kirkuk; another sticky bomb wounded a police captain in Kirkuk; and a sticky bomb attack wounded a government-backed Sahwa militiaman in Muqdadiya. On Tuesday, a car bomb explosion killed two people, including one soldier and wounded 14 others in Mosul; gunmen opened fire from a car, wounding an off-duty security officer in Kirkuk; a roadside bomb near a police patrol killed one civilian and wounded six others, including three policemen in eastern Baghdad; police found the body of a strangled woman in Baquba; and police said they found the decayed bodies of two men buried in 2006 near Baquba after an insurgent confessed to the killing and revealed the burial place. On Wednesday, gunmen wearing army uniforms attacked a policeman’s house using grenades and machineguns, killing his wife and two daughters and wounding him seriously in Jurf al-Sakhar; while a roadside bomb wounded two people in Baquba. On Thursday, an investigation panel said that death squads under the command of the Sunni Vice President were behind years of fatal attacks on security officials and Shi’ite pilgrims, a claim the VP denied as a smear campaign to consolidate power; while the leader of the exiled Iranian opposition group called the Mujahedin-e Khalq agreed to start relocating residents of the long disputed dissident camp Ashraf after receiving assurances from the US about their safety.
- The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process called upon Israel to do everything in its power to preserve the health of a Palestinian detainee reportedly close to death on a hunger strike on Friday. Hundreds of other Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails reportedly joined in on the hunger strike, and Human Rights Watch called upon Israel to “immediately charge or release him” on Saturday; while a Palestinian in Gaza died after being wounded during a series of Israeli airstrikes. On Monday, Israel rejected an appeal by the prisoner on a hunger strike, prompting a furious reaction from the Issa Qaraqa, the Palestinian Authority’s prisoner affairs minister, who said the rejection was tantamount to murder; while Israeli embassies in Georgia and India were targeted by bomb strikes that Israel is blaming on Iran, who has denied any involvement. On Tuesday, the Gaza Strip’s only power station has reportedly been shut down, cutting already problematic electricity flows in the area by almost two-thirds, allowing each household only six hours of electricity at a time.
- Two people were reportedly killed and several soldiers and others wounded in Tripoli, Lebanon on Saturday as supporters and opponents of Syria’s al-Assad fought in the street.
- 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.
As I read through the list of countries profiled in the report, I found myself disappointed that Canada, the UK, Australia or any Western European countries had not made the list. I have read reports of almost all of these governments committing human rights violations or allowing their companies to do so and the populations of these nations do still experience routine violations against human rights. In fact, considering these countries have signed numerous conventions and incorporated human rights laws more thoroughly into domestic laws than most of the rest of the world, their breach of them is all the more abhorrent and worthy of reporting. I thoroughly respect the work that organizations like Human Rights Watch do and I understand that Human Rights Watch is limited in their scope and resources as indicated in the end of the first report; so in no way do I mean to undermine the work that has been done to compile this report. I simply wish that it would cover the entire world and not just pieces of it.
The main violations of concern in the report this year are described in four sections followed by individual country reports. These sections are as follows:
1) The Abusers’ Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions
2) Civilian Protection and Middle East Armed Groups: In Search of Authoritative Local Voices
3) Abusing Patients: Health Providers’ Complicity in Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
4) In the Migration Trap: Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Europe.
I will cover the details of the report over the next little while in a series of posts. The first post will address the first section of the report.
Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions.
Putting a spotlight on human rights violations can be risky, and often those who defend human rights face extreme abuse, imprisonment, harassment, intense intimidation and even death. Organizations fighting this fight have been suppressed, denied funding, shut down and worse. Russia received a great deal of attention for its attacks on human rights defenders. Many victims reported cases of arson, arbitrary detention, disappearances of loved ones, torture, and brutal executions in Chechnya and other parts of the country. Also specifically mentioned in this section was Kenya, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia, India, and Uzbekistan. Several states were also listed as completely closed or restricted for activism. At the top of this list are Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. Burma and Iran bar international human rights groups completely. Saudi Arabia will not acknowledge NGO supporting human rights promotion and clamps down tightly on any who speak out. Danger in Somalia makes human rights monitoring essentially impossible. Libya allows international visits but completely suppresses any independent civil society. Syria will not license any human rights groups and prosecutes those who push for registration. Indonesia prohibits international human rights groups to visit to certain areas of the country, as has Israel into the Gaza strip. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam all refuse to allow access to UN special procedures, including on torture and human rights defenders. As does Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Zimbabwe and Russia have also prevented the special rapporteur on torture from entering their respective countries. Sudan has shut down human rights organizations and expelled several international humanitarian NGOs working in Darfur. China closed the Open Constitution Initiative (a legal aid organization) because of controversy over Tibetan protests and melamine-poisoned milk that sickened hundreds of thousands of children.
Other governments have been accused of openly harassing, detaining or attacking human rights defenders including Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Syria, and Yemen. The governments of Columbia, DR Congo, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua have been accused of using threats of violence to deter or punish human rights defenders. Russia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Uganda, Turkmenistan, Libya, Venezuela, Peru, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Egypt have all been accused of creating restrictive laws on NGOs and associations in an attempt to restrict the monitoring of human rights. China, Iran and Syria have all disbarred lawyers, refusing to renew their professional licenses to prevent them from representing victims of human rights abuses. China, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Iran, Morocco, Serbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been accused of trumping up criminal charges to silence human rights defenders.
The report then details the efforts made by some leaders to silence or curtail the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the African Union (AU) adopted a resolution urging African states to not cooperate with the arrest proceedings. The AU accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans, even though no objections were raised when the court indicted several warlords and the African governments themselves had requested the court to open the investigations. The ICC has also been hampered by the lack of ratification in the areas it is most needed, namely Sri Lanka, Iraq, Gaza, and Chechnya and a seeming double-standard that allows major Western powers and their allies to escape impunity.
The UN Human Rights Council is also described as problematic. The report demonstrates the bias and subjective nature of inquiries into human rights violations. Regional solidarity reigns in voting procedures over human rights principles, with members convinced to ignore their domestic principles for their allegiances to repressive neighbouring governments. Repressive leaders at the Council seemed determined to silence voices of dissent whenever possible. Similar problems have occurred within the UN NGO Committee, who has the power to decide which NGOs are able to gain “consultative status” and the right to speak before UN bodies. Several governments who are extremely restrictive towards NGOs seem to actively seek membership within the Committee to ensure that certain voices are silenced. For example, a Christian group from China was rejected for refusing to provide a list of its Chinese members, an action that would have severely endangered the lives of those involved. Another group, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, was denied the right to speak because it had not complied with Ethiopia’s new stringent civil society laws.
The European Court of Human Rights has repeated issued rulings against Russia (more than 100) for the abduction, torture, and execution of the people in Chechnya, and failing to properly investigate the crimes. Russia has refused to implement structural reforms ordered by the Court, as well as share relevant documents with the court in over 40 cases. The Russian government continually postpones visits by the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on human rights situations in the North Caucasus and has so far faced little consequence.
The ASEAN Commission on Human Rights was highlighted as a potentially positive new institutional development in the eastern world. Launched in late 2009, the 10-member Association vowed to adopt a “constructive”, “non-confrontational” and “evolutionary” approach to human rights, however, its non-interference policy ensures that member states cannot be monitored and investigated properly, giving each state the right of veto. Engagement with civil society remained repressive as each state was allowed to chose the civil society organization it wished to be part of an “interface meeting” on human rights.
More vigorous governmental defense of human rights activists and institutions is necessary, even in the face of abuse by allies. The attack on those who would defend human rights is an attempt to silence. The world cannot sit silent in the face of abuse. Voices must be heard. Human rights is a relatively new concept on the earth, but is one that must be vehemently defended if our rights and freedoms are to be respected.
Please read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is there anything written there that you wouldn’t want for you and your family?