In response to the recent escalation in Iraq, President Trump has ordered thousands more US troops to neighboring Kuwait. "At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division to the US Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a written statement Dec. 31. "Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately, and additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days," Central Command also said that a detachment from the Kuwait-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force will be deployed to the US embassy in Baghdad to reinforce security. (Military Times)
Activists in Ukraine are protesting a judicial ruling they say defers accountability in the massacre of scores of protesters during the Maidan Square occupation of 2014, popularly known as "Heaven's Hundred." Five ex-officers of the Berkut, the former regime's now-disbanded political police, faced charges of killing 48 protesters and wounding 80 others during the February 2014 repression. Another 21 sought in the violence, also members of the Berkut's elite Black Company, managed to escape to Russia after the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime later that month, and some are now believed to have been incorporated into paramilitary groups by the Vladimir Putin government. The five were ordered released from custody by the Kyiv Court of Appeals on Dec. 28—among the 200 prisoners freed in a swap between the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region. Their release was protested in an open letter to President Volodymyr Zelensky by the group Families of the Heaven's Hundred Heores, who asserted that it violates international law. Lawyers for the families went on a 13-day hunger strike in November in protest of the cases being dropped for the impending swap.
In Episode 45 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with alarm the rapid consolidation of a global detention state, extending across borders and rival power blocs. In the United States, Trump moves toward indefinite detention of undocumented migrants, with horrific rights abuses widespread in the fast-expanding camp system. In China, up to a million Uighurs have been detained in "re-education camps," and are facing such abuses as forced sterilization. As India hypocritically protests China's treatment of the Uighurs, it is also preparing mass detention of its own Muslim population. Russia's Vladimir Putin is similarly preparing mass detention of the Crimean Tatars. In Syria, the Bashar Assad regime has detained hundreds of thousands, and is carrying out a mass extermination of prisoners, almost certainly amounting to genocide. In Libya, countless thousands of desperate migrants have been detained, often by completely unaccountable militias, and an actual slave trade in captured Black African migrants has emerged. Yet Trump exploits the mass internment of the Uighurs to score propaganda points against imperial rival China—and some "leftists" (sic) in the US are so confused as to actually defend China's detention state. International solidarity is urgently needed at this desperate moment to repudiate such divide-and-rule stratagems. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Named the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders, the Philippines has become an even deadlier place for activists in 2019, with 46 recorded deaths so far this year, according to the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), a local NGO. The same organization recorded 28 killings of land and environmental defenders in 2018. Global Witness, an environmental watchdog, tallied 30 such killings in the Philippines that year and designated the country the most dangerous in the world for defenders based on sheer number of deaths.
More than a decade after 58 people were killed in the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 on Dec. 19 found Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy Ampatuan guilty of overseeing the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre at Maguindanao. They were sentenced to reclusión perpetua (40 years without parole). The pair were convicted on 57 counts of murder in the attack on a convoy that included journalists covering an opposition figure running for the governorship of Maguindanao province. Police said 58 people were killed in the massacre, but the body of the 58th victim was never found. Their father, then-incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., was arrested in connection with the case and died in prison while awaiting trial in 2015. The court sentenced a further 15 suspects, including several more Ampatuan family members and police officials, to between six and 10 years in prison as accessories to the crime.
Families of young children from the Democratic Republic of Congo who have been injured or killed while mining cobalt launched a lawsuit against Apple, Google, Tesla, Dell and Microsoft on Dec. 15. Cobalt is used in batteries for the electronic devices that technology companies manufacture and is abundant in the Congo. The complaint, filed with the US District Court for the District of Columbia, details the dangerous conditions in which children are working, and makes comparisons with the conditions during the 16-19th century slave trade. The impoverished children are digging with rudimentary equipment and without adequate safety precautions for USD $2-3 a day.
Russia's Interior Ministry has announced that "Cossacks" will be deployed, together with the de facto police, in patrolling occupied Crimea, as well as in "carrying out anti-drug measures and educational work with young people." So-called "Cossacks" were used, together with other paramilitaries, during the annexation of the peninsula in 2014 to carry out violence and brutality that Russia did not want attributed to official security fources, and the group Human Rights in Ukraine believes there are strong grounds for fearing that a similar role is planned again, and that "educational work" means propaganda for the Russian military.
As Colombia's major cities exploded into protest amid a national strike on the nigt of Nov. 21, a truck-bomb attack targeted a National Police station in the southern department of Cauca, leaving three officers dead. Authorities blamed the blast in the town of Santander de Quilichao on "dissident" elements of the FARC guerillas who have remained in arms despite the peace accords. President Ivan Duque dispatched Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and several of his top officials to Cauca after the attack to take stock of the security situation in the department. (El Espectador, Colombia Reports, Nov. 23)