The Andes

Colombia: UN concern over political assassinations

Gilberto Valencia, a young Afro-Colombian cultural worker, became 2019's first casualty of political violence in Colombia, when a gunman opened fire on a New Years party he was attending in his village in Cauca region. As the death toll from around the country mounted over the following weeks, the UN Mission to Colombia  warned President Iván Duque that he must address "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." Colombia's official rights watchdog, the Defensoría del Pueblo, acknowledges that there was an assassination on average every two days in the country last year—a total of 172, and a rise of more than 35% over 2017.  (Photo via Caracol Radio)

The Andes

Forgotten voices in Venezuela crisis

Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, suddenly develops a touching concern with democracy in Venezuela, grasping at the opportunity for long-sought regime change. Predictably overlooked in the world media's Manichean view of the crisis are voices of Venezuela's dissident left that takes a neither/nor position opposed to both the regime and the right-wing leadership of the opposition. Also unheard are voices of indigenous dissent and resistance. In an episode that received little coverage, December saw protests in the remote Orinoco Basin after a leader of the Pemón indigenous people was killed in a confrontation with elite Military Counterintelligence troops. The military operation was ostensibly aimed at clearing the region of illegal mining—while the Pemón themselves had been protesting the mining. The indigenous leaders view the militarization of the region as intended to make way for corporate exploitation under the Orinoco Mineral Arc plan. (Photo: EcoPolitica Venezuela)

Iraq

Yazidis fear renewed genocide

Authorities in Ezidikhan, the self-declared Yazidi autonomous homeland in northern Iraq, appointed an Investigative Team on Genocide, primarily looking at massacres and enslavement that targeted the Yazidi people when ISIS was in control of their territory. But the team will also examine possible crimes and complicity by the Iraqi national government, its allied paramilitary forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, and foreign powers such as Turkey. The body is cooperating with the UN investigative team also working in the area, with an eye toward eventual establishment of an International Tribunal on Genocide for Yezidi and Neighboring Peoples. Yazidi leaders in the international diaspora are meanwhile expressing concern that the announced US withdrawal from Syria could lead to an ISIS resurgence—potentially threatening Yazidis both sides of the border. (Photo via Ezidikhan Public Information Bureau)

Africa

Internet silence in Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression called for the restoration of telecommunication services in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Internet continues to be shut down across the DRC in the wake of Dec. 30 general elections. Authorities ordered closure of net the day after the vote due to "fictitious results" circulating on social media. The results of the election have now been postponed and the shutdown extends past its original end date. Both the opposition and ruling coalition say they are on track to win the election. Many citizens were not able to vote due to an Ebola outbreak, and the delay led to protests in the east of the country. The opposition has alleged irregularities and fraud, and there have been reports of militias forcing voters to vote for the ruling coalition. The election commission dismissed any problems as minor. (Photo via SoftPower)

Mexico

Zapatistas vow to oppose López Obrador

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of their New Year's Day 1994 uprising in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas, leaders of the Zapatista rebels pledged their opposition to Mexico's new left-populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Anger was particularly directed at the planned "Maya Train" project, which would link the tourist resort of Cancún on the Caribbean coast with the Palenque archeological site in Chiapas, spearheading a new thrust of tourism mega-development. At the ceremony, held at the rebel-controlled settlement of La Realidad and dubbed the "Meeting of the Networks of Resistance and Rebellion," thousands of supporters from across Mexico gathered to watch Zapatista troops march in formation—although wielding symbolic bastónes (staffs) rather than rifles. (Photo: Pozol)

The Amazon

Bolsonaro starts term with assault on indigenous

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro issued a measure taking away responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from the indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, and handing it over to the Agriculture Ministry. In the same decree, Bolsonaro shifted authority over regularization of quilombos (Afro-Brazilian collective lands) from the agrarian reform institute, INCRA, to the Agriculture Ministry. The measure greatly weakens FUNAI, taking away its most important function. In practice, key areas of indigenous and quilombo policy will now be in the hands of agribusiness advocates—a long-time demand of the Bancada Ruralista (agribusiness lobby) in Congress. Bolsonaro is openly calling for abolition of Brazil's large indigenous reserves, a move with grave implications for the Amazon rainforest and global climate. (Photo: Kayapo women in Brazilian Amazon, via FUNAI)

Africa

Fulani herders massacred in Mali

A village of semi-nomadic Fulani herders was attacked  in Mali New Years Day, with at least 33 residents slain and several homes set aflame. Survivors said the attackers were traditional Dogon hunters, known as dozos. The army was rushed to Koulogon village in central Mopti region to control the situation. But the perpetrators may have been assisted by the armed forces. Dogon residents of the area have formed a self-defense militia, known as Dana Amassagou, to prevent incursions by jihadists from Mali's conflicted north into the country's central region. The militia is said to have received weapons and training from the official armed forces. However, driven by conflicts over access to land and shrinking water resources, the militia has apparently been attacking local Fulani villages. Hundreds were killed in clashes between Dogon and Fulani last year, and a Senegalese rapid reaction force under UN command was deployed to Mopti in response to the violence. (Photo of Fulani elder via IRIN)

The Andes

Colombia: ongoing state collaboration with paras?

The dark days of state collaboration with Colombia's murderous paramilitary groups were recalled with the arrest in New York of Javier Valle Anaya, former sub-director of Bogotá's Administrative Security Department (DAS), a now-disbanded intelligence agency that was found to be feeding information to the paras. Valle Anaya was detained on an immigration violation, but may face extradition to Colombia, where he is wanted in connection with the 2004 assassination of a human rights activist in Barranquilla. Ironically, the arrest comes just as a new scandal has emerged concerning an illegal network of chuzadas—Colombian slang for eavesdroppers. Retired National Police general Humberto Guatibonza was arrested in Bogotá, charged with running a chuzada ring that spied on labor activists—particularly members of the airline workers union, ACDAC. (Photo via Contagio Radio)

Southeast Asia

Philippines: who killed the ‘Sagay 9’?

The massacre of nine farmworkers, including two minors, at Hacienda Nene, outside Sagay City in the central Philippines, constituted the single most deadly attack against peasant activists under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. A fact-finding mission led by human rights and civil society groups has pointed to members of the Special Civilian Auxiliary Army, a private militia associated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as the most likely perpetrators of the "Sagay 9" massacre. But the Philippine National Police have charged two members of the farmworkers' union for inciting the violence by launching a land occupation at the hacienda. Duterte issued a new warning that his troops will shoot to kill if landless peasants begin any new occupations. (Photo via Philippine Inquirer)

Southeast Asia

Farmworker massacre in Philippine land occupation

Nine sugar-cane workers were killed as a group of some 40 gunmen fired on their encampment on lands they were occupying in Negros Occidental province of the central Philippines. Among the fatalities were three women and two minors. The slain were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers who were occupying part of the sprawling Hacienda Nene near Barangay Bulanon village, outside Sagay City. The occupation was legally permitted under an agrarian reform program established in the 1980s that allows landless rural workers to cultivate fallow lands on large plantations while title transfer is pending. The massacre was reported by survivors who managed to scatter and hide. Some of the bodies were burned by the attackers. "They were strafed by unknown perpetrators while already resting in their respective tents," said Cristina Palabay, head of the rights group Karapatan. Calling the attack "brutal and brazen," she said: "We call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation on the massacre. We are one with the kin of the victims in the Sagay massacre in their call for justice." (Photo: PhilStar)

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)

Greater Middle East

Did John McCain meet with jihadists in Syria?

Upon his death, many are reviving the discredited claim that John McCain met with ISIS on his Syria trip in 2013. But some are settling for the less ambitious, and perhaps plausible, claim that he met with jihadists who were implicated in atrocities. Ben Norton tweets: "John McCain was a staunch supporter of the CIA-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Salafi extremist opposition in Syria. In fact the late senator posed in a photo with a rebel who was involved in kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shia civilians." But Norton is repeating as "fact" what are actually unproven claims—while he still equivocates about "alleged" chemical attacks by the Assad regime. It's a bitter irony. McCain participated in war crimes in Vietnam. Two generations later, those who gloat at his death are covering up for equivalent war crimes by Assad and his allies. It fell to McCain, who was unapologetic about his Vietnam role, to try to drum up some support for the resistance in Syria. (Photo: John McCain Twitter feed)