Colombia: ex-senator wanted for para links

Less than a year before Colombia's 2014 elections, the country's Supreme Court ordered the arrest Aug. 29 of a presidential primary candidate for former President Alvaro Uribe's Democratic Center party. Luis Alfredo Ramos, former senator and governor of Antioquia,  is under investigation for suspected ties to paramilitary groups—the latest elite figure to be linked to the "para-politics" scandal. Judicial authorities are probing Ramos' purported collaboration with Freddy Rendón AKA "El Aleman"—a now "demobilized" commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Ramos is also suspected of links to Juan Carlos Sierra AKA "El Tuso"—another AUC commander now imprisoned in the US on drug trafficking charges. "El Tuso" is reported have made major contributions to Ramos' political campaigns. Ramos is expected to be arrested imminently.

Colombia: multinationals on 'trial' for rights abuses

An activist tribunal dubbed the Ethical Trial against Plunder (Juicio Ético contra el Despojo) was held in Bogotá over the weekend to air testimony against the practices of multinational gold firm Anglo Ahshanti (AGA) and oil giant Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE). More than 500 representatives from across Colombia convened in the capital's central folk-crafts market, the Plaza de los Artesanos, to present evidence that the multinational corporations were involved in the murder of union leaders, displacement of indigenous communities, and grave environmental damage. The objective was to gather enough evidence to be able to put forward an real legal case.

Colombia: coca production down as narcos diversify

The area of land planted with coca leaf in Colombia has fallen by 25%, and is now about a third of that in 2001, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)'s Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System. The report finds that land planted with coca has dropped from 64,000 hectares in 2011 to 48,000 hectares in 2012, the lowest figure since monitoring started in Colombia more than a decade ago. Although the National Police actually eradicated less coca than in previous years, the force increased its presence in coca-growing regions, apparently preventing campesinos from planting coca in the first place. But while coca areas fell nationwide, they rose in three departments still especially wracked by armed conflict—Norte de Santander, Chocó and Caquetá.

Darfur: ethnic war exploding again

Sudan made minor headlines by expelling 20 staff members of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with UNHCR accusing the government of "compromising the ability of the refugee agency to effectively undertake its work in Darfur." (Radio Dabanga, Aug. 6) The spat comes amid a re-inflammation of the Darfur conflict. The UN Security Council passed a resolution last week calling for an end to heightening violence in Darfur, and greater action by "peacekeepers" to protect civilians. The council extended the mandate of the joint UN-African Union force in Darfur until next August. (AP, July 30) Days later, Misseriya tribal leader Ahmed Khiri boatsed to AFP that his forces had killed 100 members of the rival Salamat tribe in a battle near Garsila, with 28 lost on his own side. (AFP, July 30) Estimates of the number of newly displaced in Darfur so far this year is estimated at over 240,000. (Radio Dabanga via AllAfrica, Aug. 2) 

'We have made mistakes, some serious': FARC

Three of FARC’s most senior figures on Aug. 1 admitted that their rebel group  has made mistakes, an apparent step towards an apology for crimes committed by the guerillas. In an interview published on the rebel group's website, FARC commanders "Ivan Marquez," "Pablo Catatumbo" and "Rodrigo Granda" talked about the possibility of apologizing, something the FARC so far has refused to do in spite of numerous sentences for war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law. It is Catatumbo who admitted that "we have made mistakes, some serious indeed... I have no problem in telling a woman or a family: 'I feel sorry about the pain we have caused with the death of your loved one.'" 

Iran: protest conviction of Sufi activists

Human Rights Watch has called upon Iran's judiciary to abandon charges and quash the verdicts against 11 members of a Sufi order convicted in what the rights group called unfair trials and informed of their sentences this month. HRW found that evidence suggests all 11 were prosecuted and convicted solely because of their peaceful activities on behalf of the largest Sufi order in Iran or in connection with their contributions to a news website dedicated to documenting rights abuses against members of the order. "The Sufi trials bore all the hallmarks of a classic witch hunt," said Tamara Alrifai, HRW's Middle East advocacy director. "It seems that authorities targeted these members of one of Iran’s most vulnerable minorities because they tried to give voice to the defense of Sufi rights."

Colombian ambassador to US resigns over land-theft scandal

Colombia's ambassador in Washington has resigned after being implicated in an alleged case of land theft, President Juan Manuel Santos said July 23. The ambassador, Carlos Urrutia, was involved in an ongoing scandal in which he repeatedly faced questions regarding his involvement in the appropriation of some 100,000 acres of land throughout central Colombia. In his resignation letter, Urrutia defended the legality of his actions: "I trust the legality of the legal argument that support the acquisitions. Unfortunately the political discussion has focused more on the background and there is resistance to hearing legal reasons that conclude the acquisitions were executed under the rule of law." Prior to his role as ambassador Urrutia was a major shareholder of the law firm Brigard & Urrutia, which is accused of facilitating the illegal lands transfers.

Srebrenica: 18 years later, quest for justice goes on

Thousands of Bosnians again marched cross-country on July 11, along the path that refugees took when they fled the massacre at Srebrenica on that day in 1995. They arrived at the ​Potočari memorial cemetary outside the town for a ceremony where 409 more bodies were laid to rest. Among the interred remains were those of a baby girl who was born during the massacre; the mother took refuge at the Dutch-run UN "peacekeeping" camp outside the town, and gave birth there. She was told the baby was stillborn and would be buried; then the beseiging Serb forces overran the camp, meeting no resistance from the "peacekeepers." The baby ended up in a mass grave—one of several used to hide the bodies of more than 8,000 of Srebrenica's men and boys, summarily killed by the Serb rebel troops.

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