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.
Ten days into a national "quarantine" declared in Bolivia, protesters are taking to the streets to demand food in working-class districts of cities across the country—in defiance of lockdown orders. Residents are calling for either greater flexibility in the lockdown, which has paralyzed the economy, or food distribution in their barrios. Street protests have been reported in El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Trinidad and Riberalta. The government of interim leader Jeanine Áñez has pledged one-time payments of $60 for elders, the disabled, pregnant women and others with special needs. Her supporters on social media are portraying the protests as fomented by the ousted Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled April 2 that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic failed to uphold their obligations regarding refugee quotas as required by law. The countries could face financial penalties for their actions. In 2015 EU leaders established a refugee relocation program in response to the large numbers of asylum-seekers from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. EU countries were supposed to apportion a share of asylum-seekers among those that arrived in Greece and Italy. Poland and the Czech Republic, according to the ECJ, "failed to fulfill their obligations under European Union law" by not accepting the number of refugees they had promised.
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.
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)