Central America

Guatemala: ex-VP sentenced in water scandal

Guatemala’s special anti-corruption Court for High Risk Crimes sentenced former vice president Roxana Baldetti to prison for 15 years and six months for her role in the so-called "Magic Water" scandal. The case concerned the awarding of an $18 million dollar contract to decontaminate Lake Amatitlán, an important water source for peasant communities. The contract went to Israeli firm M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd, which claimed it had a "special formula" that could clean the lake within months. An investigation revealed that the "formula" consisted of water, salt and chlorine. The Authority for the Sustainable Management of Lake Amatitlán (AMSA), establsihed to oversee the clean-up, documented illegal dumping of agricultural and municipal waste into the Río Villalobos, which empties into the lake. The UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) supported Guatemalan prosecutors in the conspiracy case against Baldetti. (Photo via EmisorasUnidas)

Palestine

Palestine challenges US embassy move at Hague

The State of Palestine filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) challenging the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a breach of international diplomatic law. In support of its claim, Palestine directed the ICJ to multiple UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions affirming the special international regime that applies to Jerusalem and calling on member states to refrain from recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli territory. Palestine also argued that establishment of an embassy to Israel in Jerusalem violates provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations  governing activities in the "receiving state." (Photo: Ma'an News Agency)

Syria

Syria: reprieve for Idlib; flashpoint at al-Tanf?

The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a “buffer zone” in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a “demilitarized” zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. Meanwhile, a secondary small pocket of rebel control in Syria’s south, where US forces have established a position, is shaping up as a potential flashpoint. US Marines held unprecedented joint exercises with rebel forces in the pocket of al-Tanf, and Russia responded by threatening to attack it—despite the fact al-Tanf is one of the so-called “de-escalation zones” declared last year.  (Photo via EA Worldview)

Watching the Shadows

Amnesty calls on UN to ban ‘killer robots’

Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on  the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons. (Photo: Future of Life Institute)

Afghanistan

US threatens sanctions against ICC

The White House announced that the US will consider imposing sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges and prosecutors if the ICC opens an investigation into the actions of United States service members and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC requested an investigation in November 2017 into alleged war crimes committed by the US in Afghanistan since May 2003, in addition to actions taken by the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In addition to sanctions, the US will also consider seeking to have the ICC's powers restricted by the UN Security Council. The US will also seek to strengthen agreements that would prevent other nations from surrendering US nationals to the ICC. (Photo: AiirSource Military)

Southeast Asia

Duterte charged with ‘crimes against humanity’

Several Philippine families filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of "crimes against humanity" carried out in the context of his "war on drugs." This is the second complaint against Duterte filed with the ICC; the first was filed in April 2017. The ICC began preliminary examination in the case in February. Duterte announced the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC this March. Under the Rome Statute, a member can withdraw no sooner than one year following written notification to the UN Secretary-General. However, Duterte claimed that the agreement was immediately voidable because it was signed fraudulently. (Photo: Anakpawis)

Palestine

US to reject Palestinian right of return

The Trump administration is to announce a suspension of funding to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. According to Hebrew-language news outlets, the US administration is expected to announce its new policy early September, recognizing the existence of only half a million Palestinian refugees, out of the total of 5.3 million estimated by UNRWA. The administration intends to form a plan that rejects the United Nations designation under which millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees. Sources reported that the administration's new policy would "essentially cancel the right of return." (Photo of war-torn Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria via PTI)

Palestine

Arabs, Druze protest Israel nation-state law

Tens of thousands of marched in Tel Aviv to protest Israel's new "nation-state law," which officially establishes Israel as "the national home of the Jewish people" and downgrades the Arabic language from official to "special" standing. The march, led by Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, follows a similar mobilization in Tel Aviv one week earlier by members of Israel's Druze community. Both rallies filled the city's Rabin Square. Under the banner "Abolish Nation-state Law – Yes to Equality," the Arab-led march was organized by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and allied groups. In a joint statement, participating organizations said the Nationality Law "will turn racism, discrimination, humiliation and segregation into an inseparable part of our lives…. Our statement is clear: All citizens—all of them—are equal." (Photo: Druze elders from the Golan Heights, via LookLex)

Greater Middle East

Syria endgame: whither Idlib?

With the fall of Syria's southern province of Daraa to Assad regime forces, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve "the issue of Idlib." This points to a possible carve-up deal, in which the bulk of Syria falls under Assad with Russian protection, Idlib remains under rebel control with Turkish protection, and the northeastern Rojava region will remain a Kurdish autonomous zone under US protection. (Photo: Syria News)

Greater Middle East

Syria: 270,000 displaced in Daraa offensive

At least 270,000 people—about a third of the population—have been displaced by the Assad regime offensive on Daraa governorate in southern Syria. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expects the number to rise, with civilians fleeing to the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights—but with both countries refusing to allow entry. The UNHCR said about 164,000 displaced are now in camps and villages in the neighboring small opposition-held governorate of Quneitra, close to the Golan border. The Assad offensive to regain Daraa governorate, where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, has been backed by Russian air-strikes, violating a "de-escalation zone" Moscow had declared with the US last July. UNHCR noted reports that "suggest indiscriminate attacks on health facilities, schools, civil defense centers, and offices of local NGOs." (Photo: EA Wordlview)

Greater Middle East

Trump betrays Syrian rebels —surprise!

As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, “[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us.” This despite Washington’s earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called “de-escalation zones” would have “serious repercussions.” Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. The US has long been constraining the rebel forces from fighting Assad as a condition of receiving aid, insisting they fight only ISIS and other jihadists. Now that ISIS is essentially defeated, we appear to be witnessing the betrayal of the Syrian opposition in a Trump-Putin carve-up deal. (Southern Front logo via Wikipedia)

Palestine

UN General Assembly denounces Gaza repression

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for greater protection for the Palestinian people following weeks of the "Great March of Return" protests on the eastern borders of the Gaza Strip. The resolution also denounces any use of "excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate" force by Israel against Palestinians. The Algerian-sponsored resolution was adopted by a vote of 120 in favor, eight against, with 45 abstentions. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the vote is "a victory for Palestinian rights, justice and international law." While the UNGA—in which every member country has an equal vote —has historically stood in support of Palestinians, its resolutions are generally non-binding. A similar but binding measure in the UN Security Council days earlier was vetoed by the United States. (Photo: Ma'an News Agency)