Weekly Update: September 26, 2022

‘Women, Life, Freedom!’: Protests Expand Throughout Iran After Death of Jina Mahsa Amini by Morality Police

By Bushra Bani-Salman

Jina Mahsa Amini was a 22 year old Kurdish woman from East Kurdistan/ Western Iran visiting Tehran with her family when she was taken into custody by the morality police for allegedly violating the government’s modesty policies. Iran has had a mandatory hijab and loose-clothing policy for all women in Iran, regardless of religion or nationality, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 

Amini died in police custody after three days in comatose. Security officials claim she suffered a heart attack, but her family rejected the claim, saying it did not explain her bodily injuries. Activists claim Amini was beaten in custody. President Ebrahim Raisi responded by calling Amini’s family and promising an investigation to determine the cause of her death.

Women in Iran took to the streets in outrage, taking off their hijabs, burning hijabs, and even cutting their hair in opposition to the Iranian government’s compulsory policies. Women all over the world have shown solidarity by raising awareness, protesting, and also cutting their hair on camera, using the hashtag #MahsaAmini that has gone viral on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

Amini’s death has sparked country-wide outrage not just from frustrations with women’s rights and autonomy abuses but also political grievances with economic policy, police brutality, and discrimination. Authorities have restricted access to the internet in an attempt to decrease public dissent on social media. Vague promises of reform were also made by authorities in an attempt to calm demonstrations.

According to human rights groups, more than 450 Kurdish people in Amini’s province were injured, and more than 500 were arrested for protesting. The number of casualties is still unclear due to the internet restrictions. Security officials have also clashed with mostly peaceful protesters, using rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, and real ammunition against protesters. Some protesters have targeted security forces, with one police officer dying from severe injuries. Authorities warned they would further suppress the demonstrations if they continued. 

United States and United Nations officials have condemned the Iranian government’s policies and countermeasures against protests. President Raisi accused the West of having a “double standard” on human rights at the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.

UN Human Rights Council Issues Early Report on War Crimes in Ukraine

By Tyler Kibbey

On Friday, September 23rd, the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, Erik Møse, issued an initial report following the exhumation of a mass burial site documented in the city of Izium, Ukraine. The update presented by the Commission reports on their investigation into alleged war crimes perpetrated against Ukrainian civilians and military personnel by Russian Federation soldiers as well as “two incidents of ill-treatment against Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian forces”.

While the Commission’s scope of inquiry is currently limited to violations of personal integrity  occurring in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy in early 2022, this initial report lays the evidentiary groundwork for a potential international criminal tribunal for Ukraine. After visiting 27 towns and settlements as well as interviewing more than 150 victims and witnesses, the Commission concludes that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,  including but not limited to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, indiscriminate attacks, summary and arbitrary executions, torture, unlawful confinement,  and sexual/gender-based violence. The Commission is also continuing to investigate alleged instances of the forced transfer of people to places of unlawful confinement in the Russian Federation.

Despite the Russian Federation’s refusal to issue a formal declaration of war, the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia established international precedent for treating crimes committed in armed conflict as war crimes in its 1995 Prosecutor v. Tadic decision concerning the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. The decision finds that crimes committed during protracted military engagement between governments and organized groups both within and across state borders fall under the mandate of the Geneva Conventions and Protocol II. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine’s report clearly builds on this tradition.

The Commission report coincides with the completed exhumation of a mass burial site in Izium containing 436 bodies. Of those, 30 allegedly show signs of torture, summary execution, and/or genital mutilation. The region’s Governor, Oleh Syniehubov, further asserted that 99 percent of the exhumed bodies showed signs of violent death, a number which has yet to be supported by a formal forensic accounting of the exhumation. At least three other mass burial sites have been identified as of this time in the surrounding region and can expect to be exhumed in due time.

Tunisian Opposition Party Members Arrested and Awaiting Trial

By William Lucht

In the continued epic of Tunisia’s rise from the Arab Spring to its now shaking democracy, Tunisia’s anti-terrorism police have detained Ali Laarayedh, a former senior official to the opposition party Ennahdha. It has been reported that Laarayedh, a former prime minister, was interrogated for 14 hours and is set to appear before a judge in the coming week on Wednesday.

The supposed charges? Officials working for the current Tunisian President. Kais Saied have stated suspicions that Laarayedh had sent jihadist to Syria. In support of this claim security sources have reported that, “an estimated 6,000 Tunisians travelled to Syria and Iraq in the last decade to join armed groups, including ISIL (ISIS). Many were killed there while others escaped and returned to Tunisia.”

In quick response, the political opposition party Ennahdha has made claims that the arrest and charges are baseless, designed to be a political attacks, and they have condemned the interrogation and conditions of the investigation as torture and abuse along with abuses to human rights laws.

A second political figure, Rached Ghannouchi a member of the dissolved parliament, is also facing accusations revolving around sponsored terrorism. The opposition party vehemently opposes all claims and is making statements that Saied is continuing his campaign of state consolidation and authoritarian rule by manipulating constitutional law and strong manning opposition figures into silence or imprisonment.

While the Region looks on with continued worry, the once reformed Tunisian state which ousted Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 seems to be falling back into one man rule. There is however legitimate apprehension on the side of the Ennahdha party which has been reported to have been lenient towards armed fighters which the party denies.

Welcome, Farewell, Sanctions and Negotiation – African leaders at UNGA 2022

By Osetemega Iribiri

As African leaders converged in New York for the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), for one, it was his last, and another his first. Kenya’s new president, William Ruto, gave his debut speech at the UNGA. He drew attention to investment opportunities and the effects of climate change that is causing severe drought in the Horn of Africa. Unlike Mr. Ruto, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari gave his farewell speech. He charged African leaders to uphold the sanctity of constitutional term limits, stop extending their tenures and give room for periodic free and fair elections. Oftentimes, African leaders amend the constitution in favor of an extended tenure. An example case is Equatorial Guinea’s President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, 80. He is seeking reelection for another seven-year term at November 20, 2022 polls. He has ruled the country for 43 years and is the longest-serving head of state in Africa.

In addition to extended tenures, the region has also been plagued by several military takeovers of power. Guinea and Mali’s respectively in September and May 2021 had military coups. Consequently, their membership in ECOWAS was suspended. Therefore, West African leaders, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, agreed to freeze Guinea’s military government members’ financial assets and bar them from traveling to other countries in the region. Additionally, the financing of Guinean development projects will be suspended by the ECOWAS Development Bank. Currently, the bank supports at least two energy projects in the country. They have also set a deadline of October 22, 2022, for the junta to establish a “reasonable timetable” to transit into a democratic government. This is particularly in response to the junta stating it would transit into democracy in three years.

This is not the first sanction. Travel restrictions have been placed on the heads of the junta and their families. Tough trade and financial sanctions were placed on Mali but lifted after the junta published a new electoral law and a timetable that includes a February 2024 presidential election. Nevertheless, Mali remains suspended from ECOWAS and individual sanctions and travel limits placed on about 150 members of the Malian junta.

The West African leaders also condemned the arrest of the Ivorian soldiers in Mali. On July 20, 2022, 49 Ivorian soldiers were detained on arrival in Bamako, Mali. They have been accused of “criminal association, attack, and conspiracy against the government, undermining the external security of the state, possession, carrying and transportation of weapons of war and complicity in these crimes.” The Ivorian government has denied these charges saying the soldiers were sent to secure a building belonging to an airline company that was carrying out a contract with the German contingent of peacekeepers with the United Nations mission in Mali. This arrest has launched both countries into a diplomatic tussle.  Mali has released 3 female soldiers, but 46 remain in detention. The Malian junta chief, Colonel Assimi Goita, has called for the release of Malian political asylum seekers in Ivory-Coast in exchange for the 46 Ivorian soldiers. Additionally, there have been anti-UN protests in Mali.

Consequently, on Tuesday, September 27, the Presidents of Ghana, Togo, and Senegal will visit Mali to negotiate the soldiers’ release.

Amid the tensions in the region, it is admirable that regional leaders under the auspices of ECOWAS are rising to the task of maintaining and restoring peace and stability to the region. A peaceful resolution must be established between Mali and Guinea. Further, democratic governance must be returned to Guinea, Mali, and other African countries under military regimes.

Hurricanes, Ambassadors, & Authoritarianism

By Elliott Cochran

Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday. Fiona was a category 4 hurricane and unleashed mass devastation. The storm caused massive flooding on the island then made its way to the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos. The storm’s level of destruction hasn’t been seen since 2017. The mass floods caused a million people without power and around 40% of the island does not have water service. As the hurricane continued, it hit the Dominican Republic. The DRC did not fair much better as thousands of people have been displaced. Turks and Caicos rolled through with high winds, torrential down pours, and more flooding.

El Salvador is experiencing a rise in authoritarianism even though consecutive re-election is illegal. The president, Nayib Bukele, announced that he would run for re-election in 2024. Unfortunately, El Salvador is not alone other Central American countries have experienced shifts not only by the people but also in the courts. The courts ruled in favor of the legality of re-election even though the constitution is built around single term administrations.

Nearly a dozen US ambassadors have made it to their post in the Caribbean. President Biden recently nominated an Ambassador to Ecuador. The President has not nominated an ambassador to its biggest ally in the region, Colombia. In other news the US embassy in Cuba is now able to process immigrant visas in 2023. The Biden administration announced that the embassy in Havana will begin processing immigrant visas for Cuban immigrants. 20,000 Cubans have been committed for legal migration.

UN Report: Venezuela Continues to Commit Crimes Against Humanity

By Ciara Perez

On Tuesday, September 20th, the UN released an investigation conducted by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela. This is the third investigation carried out since 2019, and it highlights the chain of command of those responsible for committing crimes against humanity as well as an investigation into the Southern mining areas of Venezuela. While the Mission has been repeatedly denied access to enter Venezuela, its findings are based on visits to areas along the country’s borders as well as 245 confidential interviews and the analysis of case files and legal documents.

The investigation concluded that President Nicolás Maduro and his inner circle are directly responsible for giving orders to commit crimes against humanity to repress dissent. The evidence also points to the involvement of two state military and civilian intelligence services – the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN). The crimes committed by the government and other high-ranking officials include the beating, rape, electric shock, mutilation and asphyxiation of those who would speak out against the Venezuelan government, namely journalists, activists, political opposition, protestors, and human rights defenders.  

Through interviews with former employees of the security and intelligence services, the UN investigation learned that SEBIN would often receive a list of targets from the government who were to be surveilled, falsely accused based on planted evidence, before being wrongly arrested without a warrant or kidnapped. Prior detainees that were held in El Helicoide in Caracas told the UN investigators that they were subjected to torture methods ranging from psychological abuse meant to distort their senses, to sexual violence, to forceful feedings of feces and vomit. The Mission has investigated at least 51 cases involving SEBIN since 2014.

According to the UN Report, “the Mission has documented 122 cases of victims who were detained by the DGCIM, 77 of whom were subjected to torture, sexual violence and/or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment”. These instances were carried out in the DGCIM Boleíta headquarters in Caracas as well as detention centers across the country.

Lastly, the UN investigated an area of gold mining in Southern Venezuela known as Arco Minero del Orinoco. This area was established as a “National Strategic Development Zone” in 2016 by the Venezuelan government so that they could extend their control over the mining of gold and other strategic resources. Now, the area is heavily militarized as State and armed criminal groups fight for control of the mines. The majority Indigenous local population has been caught in the middle of this violence and has been subjected to extortion, murder, disappearances, beatings and sexual violence.

It is these human rights violations, among others, that have fueled Venezuela’s immigration crisis, which has forced almost 7 million people to flee the country since 2015.

The Mission is scheduled to meet with the UN Human Rights Council on September 26th to share the conclusions of the investigation and discuss recommendations.

The Anti-Corruption Campaign Goes On and So Do the “Gaffes”

By Camden Hanley

A group of CCP officials have been charged and sentenced to jail on various counts of corruption. This anti-corruption campaign has been ongoing since Xi Jinping entered office in 2013. Corruption within the CCP was rampant and needed to be quelled, but many observers claim that those charged are often political opponents of Xi. At the 19th Party Congress in 2017, Xi vowed to keep targeting “tigers” and “flies” meaning that elite officials and low-level bureaucrats would be investigated.

State media sources in the PRC are calling these men a “political clique” that was led by Sun Lijun. Sun was the most prominent of these officials being a former Deputy Public Security Minister. He has been jailed for accepting bribes totaling $91 million, manipulating the stock market, and illegally owning two firearms. He was given the death sentence, but that has been commuted to a life sentence with no possibility of parole.

The others convicted include Fu Zhenghua, Gong Daoan, Deng Huilin, and Liu Xinyun. Fu was a former justice minister and the other three were former police chiefs of Shanghai, Chongqing, and Shanxi province, respectively. They were all convicted of accepting bribes in the millions of dollars. Fu was additionally charged with hiding evidence of his brothers, Fu Weihua, suspected crimes between 2014 and 2015.

In other news, “gaffes” seem to be contagious around East Asia. For the fourth time since taking office, US President Joe Biden committed another “gaffe” stating that the US would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a PRC attack on the island. This has angered the PRC and continues undermine the US policy of “strategic ambiguity.” The Whitehouse, however, continues to insist there has been no change in US policy.

The other leader to commit a “gaffe” of his own was South Korean President Yoon. He was caught on a hot mic apparently saying “It would be so embarrassing for Biden if those f***ers at the National Assembly didn’t pass this [bill],” to his aides as he was walking off stage. He seems to be referring to Biden’s pledge to contribute $6 billion to the Global Fund, an IGO committed to defeating HIV, TB, and malaria across the developing world. This would require congressional approval, so it’s not guaranteed to pass. Recently, he has committed other diplomatic mis-steps including failing to meet with US Speaker of the House on her trip to South Korea and being disrespectful, according to his domestic political opponents, when he missed the chance to view Queen Elizabeth’s coffin lying in state which he blamed on heavy traffic.

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