Conflict update: April 18 2017

AMERICA TO THE RESCUE

If you’re worried about the state of human rights around the world, I’ve got great news–this afternoon, America was on it:

The Trump administration is seeking to highlight its commitment to human rights around the world, and so its envoy to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, is presiding over what it calls the first “thematic debate” on human rights in the Security Council on Tuesday afternoon.

“Council members are encouraged to express their views on the nexus between human rights and international peace and security,” reads a memo circulated to the members this month. Rights abuses, the memo says, can often be the first signs of a full-on conflict erupting.

This was, of course, not the first time human rights have been discussed to no effect at the UN Security Council, but it probably is the council’s first “thematic debate,” whatever the fuck that means. Human rights groups were skeptical–for some reason, they seemed to think that a UN Security Council meeting on human rights, presided over by a country that bombs mosques, bombs apartment buildings, bombed civilians even on this very day, and allies with countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, wouldn’t amount to shit. Well, the joke’s on them, because as it turns out…they were, uh, pretty much right on the money.

UNITED KINGDOM

Britain is having a new election in June! What fun! Yes, I know, they just had an election two years ago, and Prime Minister Theresa May has said multiple times that she wouldn’t call snap elections before Britain had exited the European Union, but since when are we dinging politicians for lying? If early polling is to be believed, we’re not doing it this time either. May has a major political opening staring her in the face–serious Brexit negotiations won’t start until later this year, and she and her Conservative Party have huge polling leads over Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party–and she’s going to take advantage of it to increase her parliamentary cushion for the Brexit process. This is a smart, calculated move–so calculated that her opposition might even want to make an issue out of how bloody cynical the whole thing is.

Technically, May does not have the power to call for early elections–prime ministers used to have virtually unlimited authority in that regard, but parliament voted to restrict it in 2010 in order to keep precisely this kind of purely political vote from being called. If just a third of the House of Commons rejects her plans, she’ll have to resort to legislative trickery by having her own party vote against her government in a vote of no confidence. But it’s probably not going to come to that, as both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said they’ll vote to approve the early election. It’s not clear why they’re going along with this, but I suppose if either party really knew what it was doing then the Conservatives wouldn’t be on the verge of pummeling them both in a couple of months.

The actual risk for May is that, if British voters are really feeling buyer’s remorse over the Brexit referendum, they could opt to hand May a parliament that’s much less amenable to her plans for a so-called “hard Brexit” (apologies if there are any impressionable children reading this smut).  Continue reading

this week in oppressive government violence: june 16, 2013

Turkey: Turkish government police forces used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets, the “we are TOO a free country” trifecta, to clear Istanbul’s Taksim Square of peaceful protesters on Tuesday, and astonishingly that was the high point of Turkey’s week. Protesters and police traded control of the square all week, culminating on Saturday with police firing tear gas into the Divan Hotel along the square, which protesters have been using as a base and a place to care for the injured. Using tear gas in a confined space is, by the by, incredibly risky; too much in an unventilated area can be lethal. Turkish PM Tayyip Erdoğan is now organizing counter-rallies of his supporters in Istanbul and Ankara, and the government is warning that anybody who violates a ban on protesting will be “considered a terrorist and treated accordingly,” which sounds very much like the kind of thing that a democratic government that claims to respect freedom of speech would say. Erdoğan still seems to have the support of most of the country, but a lot of that support seems to be of the “he’s too religious but at least the economy is good” variety and may not last if the violence continues or escalates.

Update: Just before this went live, I started seeing reports (warning for graphic images) that the Turkish police are adding chemical agents (likely some kind of pepper spray) to the water cannons they’re using on the crowds of protesters. Nothing confirmed yet, but I think we can all agree that blasting protesters with chemical agents is definitely something that all stable, elected governments of free societies do from time to time, can’t we?

Syria: Most of the actual violence in Syria right now centers on the crucial northern city of Aleppo. Aleppo has been in a kind of stalemate for a year or so, with rebels holding the north and east of the city and government forces holding the south and west, as well as the airport in the east. Aleppo became the government’s next target after taking Qusayr, and it is directing its forces and its Hizbullah allies against rebel positions there. The rebels, lovely folks who for their part massacred 60 Shi’a residents in the eastern town of Hatla this week, claim that they’ve checked government advances to the north of the city. The bigger news this week with respect to Syria was that the United States has decided to directly arm those rebels, because 150 people were killed in apparent chemical attacks by the Syrian government. The ~92,000 or so people who were killed because the government or the rebels shot them or blew them up didn’t really concern us. For those who have misgivings about this, fear not: our involvement is probably only going to “escalate gradually.” That’s a relief.

Brazil: Police celebrated today’s Italy vs. Mexico Confederation’s Cup match by using tear gas and rubber bullets on a crowd of about 3000-5000 in Rio de Janeiro. The crowd was attempting to enter the stadium to protest the Brazilian government’s decision to spend ridiculous sums of money to host some soccer games, arguing that said money might be better spent helping poor kids get an education and/or helping poor sick people get medical care. I know, hippies, right? Always with their priorities out of line.

Zambia: Government forces killed 2 “illegal settlers” who they were trying to remove from the Zambia National Service’s Airport Farms in Kampasa. Local residents apparently settled on government territory belonging to the ZNS, who thought that the best way to evict them was to shoot live ammo at them. The Zambian government “regrets” the deaths, so that’s nice.