A report by a special UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry ordered by the Secretary-General finds that it is "highly probable" that the Bashar Assad regime and allied forces have bombed hospitals and other civilian targets in Syria. The report, turned in April 6, cited air-strikes last year on a hospital, a clinic, and a childcare facility in opposition-held areas of Idlib and Hama provinces. All three were on a "deconfliction list" of protected sites that the UN had provided to Damascus. The Board of Inquiry also found it "plausible" the regime targeted another healthcare center. Yet the report failed to specifically mention Russia, which has also been engaged in the air-strikes, referring only to "the Government of Syria and/or its allies." The Assad regime has claimed that the targeted sites were being used by "terrorists."
Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, imprisoned for four and a half years for "subversion," has been released—but immediately placed under "quarantine," barred from reuniting with his wife and son in Beijing. His wife, Li Wenzu, fears that the authorities are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to hold him under de facto house arrest indefinitely. She said that upon his release, authorities sent Wang to his home town, Jinan, in Shandong province, some 400 kilometers south of Beijing, for quarantine. Li told AFP news service: "They used the pretext of the epidemic as an excuse to quarantine him for 14 days when he should have been able to return to his home in Beijing according to the relevant legal guidelines... I am really worried they plan on putting him under long-term house arrest and will prevent us from being reunited as a family."
Mining giant Rio Tinto is responsible for multiple human rights violations caused by pollution from its former mine on the Pacific island of Bougainville, the Human Rights Law Centre concludes in a new investigative report. For 45 years, the Panguna copper and gold mine on Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, was majority-owned by the British-Australian mining company, but in 2016 Rio Tinto divested from the mine, leaving behind more than a billion metric tons of mine waste. The report, After the Mine: Living with Rio Tinto’s Deadly Legacy, documents the devastating consequences of that action for the thousands of people living around the mine site. Based on visits to 38 villages, the report reveals communities living with contaminated water sources, land and crops flooded by toxic mud, and health problems ranging from skin diseases and respiratory ailments to pregnancy complications.
The chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe announced March 27 that the US Secretary of the Interior has issued an order disestablishing its reservation on Massachusetts' Cape Cod and taking its land out of federal trust. Chairman Cedric Cromwell Qaqeemasq said in a statement: "[T]oday—on the very day that the United States has reached a record 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and our Tribe is desperately struggling with responding to this devastating pandemic—the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed me that the Secretary of the Interior has ordered that our reservation be disestablished and that our land be taken out of trust. Not since the termination era of the mid-twentieth century has a Secretary taken action to disestablish a reservation."
As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, with more than 200 deaths already reported in Brazil, an evangelical Christian organization has purchased a helicopter with plans to contact and convert isolated indigenous groups in the remote Western Amazon. Ethnos360, formerly known as the New Tribes Mission, is notorious for past attempts to contact and convert isolated peoples, having spread disease among the Zo’é living in northern Pará state. Once contacted in the 1980s, the Zo’é, lacking resistance, began dying from malaria and influenza, losing over a third of their population. Ethnos360 is planning its conversion mission despite the fact that FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs agency, has a longstanding policy against contact with isolated groups. The so-called "missionary aviation" contact plan may also violate Brazil's 1988 constitution and international treaties such as the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
On the morning of March 26, officials from Israel's "Civil Administration" for the West Bank arrived with a military jeep escort, a bulldozer and two flatbed trucks with cranes at the Palestinian community of Khirbet Ibziq in the northern Jordan Valley. They confiscated poles and sheeting that had been brought in to erect tents, emergency housing and a field clinic in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The force also confiscated a tin shack in place for more than two years, as well as a power generator and sacks of sand and cement. Four pallets of cinder blocks intended for the tent floors were taken away and four others demolished.
Inmates' fears that prison authorities are not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks inside Colombia's notoriously overcrowded and unhygienic prisons exploded into violence on March 21, with uprisings reported at facilities across the country. The Justice Ministry acknowledged "revolts at different penitentiary centers in the country," including the prisons in Ibague, Jamundi and Combita, two prisons in Medellín and another two in the capital Bogotá. Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said 23 had been killed in suppressing a "massive and criminal escape attempt" at Bogotá's La Modelo prison, one of the country's largest and most overpopulated. Local residents reported on social media hearing gunfire and explosions at the facility. (Colombia Reports, El Espectador, CNN, AP)
On Cuba's farms, oxen are again tilling the soil as tractors are paralyzed by oil shortages. President Miguel Díaz-Canel has imposed fuel rationing, among other emergency energy-saving measures and price controls on food. As in the "special period" a generation ago, Cubans are having to line up for gasoline and public transport. The island has been running on just 30% of petroleum deliveries since last September, as the US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on more maritime firms and vessels shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba. In February, the Cuban government resorted to purchasing a ship carrying fuel after its owner refused to put into port on the island for fear of incurring US sanctions. "We have reached the point of having to buy a ship in the immediate vicinity of our shores…because the ship owner has refused to dock," Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodriguez told state television.