Beyond Benghazi: Libya faces converging crises

Libya's ongoing internal chaos briefly made world news Dec. 5 as a US national, a teacher at the Benghazi International School named Ronald Smith, was shot to death under circumstances that are still unclear. Whoever was behind it, it will be a headache for Obama, whose opponents are still milking the "Benghazigate" scandal. (CNN, Dec. 5) Other than when a US citizen dies, the world media take little note the near-daily violence in the city. On the same day Smith was killed, a member of Libya's Special Forces and a young cadet were gunned down in Benghazi. And the head of the Presidential Guards of the city, Anwar al-Dous, lost a leg when an explosive device detonated under his car. (Libya Herald, Dec. 5) Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, speaking at a Franco-African summit in Paris, responded by implying that Libya could be next for intervention:  "Our fear is that Libya falls into the hands of Salafist terrorists and that the state becomes like Somalia... Sadly, we're seeing that the terrorists are there and that armed Salafist militia are in Benghazi, with people being killed almost every day. We must stabilize Libya." (Reuters, Dec. 6)

Colombia: threatened indigenous group leader slain

Two gunmen described as sicarios (hired assassins) killed Juan Álvaro Pai, a traditional governor of the Awá indigenous people, in an incursion into the resguardo (reserve) Inda Guacaray, in Colombia's southern Nariño department, Nov. 30. The gunmen arrived in the resguardo on a motorcycle, immediately made for Pai's home, and upon finding him fired six bullets into his body. Víctor Gallo, mayor of local Tumaco municipality, demanded that the Fiscalía (public prosecutor) and National Police open an urgent investigation, protesting the atmosphere of "impunity" that allows aggression against the Awá. In early July, Awá held a public demonstration, blocking the Pan-American Highway for a week, to protest the violence directed against their communities by various armed actors in Colombia's civil war. 

Congo: Katanga next for mineral boom —and war?

Recent headlines from the Democratic Republic of Congo are exceptionally optimistic, with government gains against the M23 rebels in the country's war-torn east followed by the guerilla army's pledge to lay down arms. (IRIN, Nov. 8) Few media accounts have noted that this development comes immediately after the US announced a suspension of military aid to Rwanda, the M23's patron, over use of child soldiers. The DRC itself was also officially blacklisted, but received a "partial waiver." Rwanda was explicitly held responsible for use of child soldiers by its proxy force in the DRC. (VOA, Oct. 3)

Colombia: Cauca campesino leader assassinated

Sergio Úlcue Perdomo, a campesino leader representing veredas (hamlets) in the municipality of Caloto, in Colombia's southwestern Cauca department, was killed by unknown gunmen in civilian clothes who invaded his family's shelter in vereda Marañón on Nov. 17. Family members, including children, looked on as he was slain. The family has been living in the improvised shelter since November 2011, when they were forced by paramilitary threats to abandon their traditional lands and home in vereda El Pedregal. In 2009, Úlcue Perdomo led an effort to document rights abuses by the Colombian army and allied paramilitaries at the veredas of El Pedregal and El Vergel, bringing a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) on behalf of some 175 families. The CIDH issued a "Precuationary Measure," MC-97-10, calling on the Colombian government to guarantee the safety of the threatened families. (Corporación Justicia y Dignidad via Rebelión, Nov. 19)

Colombia court strikes down military justice law

The Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled in an unreleased decision on Oct. 23 that a constitutional amendment and pursuant statute (PDFexpanding the military justice system is unconstitutional. Magistrate Jorge Ivan Palacio announced that the decision was based on "procedural defects" within the law. The measure would have placed violations of international human rights law involving the armed forces—categorizing them as acts related to military service—under the jurisdiction of an expanded military justice system. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch have alleged that the measure would have increased impunity for human rights violators. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, however, expressed the belief that the ruling was a blow to the military that would decrease morale. He also suggested that the government would attempt a revised version of the bill. Under the current law, all human rights cases are to be tried in civil court. The decision is not subject to appeal.

Colombia: mine opponents assassinated

Cesar García, a campesino leader who opposed the mining operations of AngloGold Ashanti at La Colosa in the central Colombian department of Tolima, was assassinated Nov. 2 by an unknown gunman as he worked his small farm at the vereda (hamlet) of Cajón la Leona. Supporters said he had been targeted for his work with the Environmental Campesino Committee of Cajamarca, the local municipality. In a statement, the Network of Tolima Environmental and Campesino Committees said the Cajamarca group had been "stigmatized as enemies of progress in the region," and falsely linked to the guerilla movement. The statement noted a growing climate of fear in the area.

Colombia: river defender assassinated

Campesino leader Nelson Giraldo Posada, a founder of the Ríos Vivos movement that opposes the HidroItuango hydro-electric project in Colombia's Antioquia department, was slain by unknown gunmen near his lands in the town of Ituango Sept. 17.  Giraldo Posada was among a group of some 350 Ituango residents forcibly relocated from their lands along the Río Cauca to make way for the hydro project. With negotiations over compensation still underway, they have been housed since March in a sports stadium at the University of Antioquia in Medellín. Leaders of group had repeatedly received death threats, and on Sept. 9 a local court, the Medellín Superior Tribunal, ordered that authorities take measures to guarantee their safety. (Radio Santa Fe, Corporación Juridica Libertad, Bogotá, Sept. 19)

Colombia: injured GM workers continue fight

A small number of former employees of GM Colmotores, the Colombian subsidiary of the Detroit-based General Motors Company (GM), remain encamped in front of the US embassy in Bogotá more than two years after they started a campaign to get the company to reinstate them and compensate them for work-related injuries. Off-and-on talks with GM over the past year have failed to produce an agreement; the most recent was held in August. According to Jorge Parra, the president of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of Colmotores (Asotrecol), the injured workers were laid off because of their injuries and should get the same compensation as auto workers in the US, where disabled workers can receive up to two-thirds of their salary for the rest of their lives. He says GM only offered $35,000 for each worker; company officials say they have made better offers.

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