A French airstrike killed 19 civilians attending a wedding celebration in a remote central Malian village, according to an investigation by the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA. The report based its findings on hundreds of interviews, satellite images, and evidence gathered from a trip to Bounti, the village hit by the Jan. 3 strike. The French defense ministry rejected the report, maintaining the casualties were Islamist militants. French troops were hailed as heroes by many Malians when they drove out militant groups from major towns in the country's desert north in 2013. But criticism has grown as a more than 5,000-strong regional counter-insurgency force—called Operation Barkhane—has failed to prevent the militants from regrouping and expanding across West Africa's Sahel. Despite some recent battlefield gains, the operation is drawing increasing comparisons to the US war in Afghanistan.
Criminal networks in Brazil are illegally selling and deforesting protected lands—even within an indigenous reserve—and posting the plots for sale on Facebook, according to an investigation by the BBC. In documentary broadcast Feb. 26, "Selling the Amazon," BBC Brasil went undercover to show how illegal land-grabbers are moving in on public land in the Amazon—clearing rainforest and selling plots to ranchers at highly inflated prices. The documentary showed plots of these cleared lands being openly advertized on Facebook. When contacted by the BBC, Facebook said that it was "ready to work with the local authorities" to investigate the matter, but would not take independent action to halt the land-trading on its platform. While some ads were pulled, others remain on Facebook. One plot up for sale was located within the Uru Eu Wau Wau Indigenous Reserve in Brazil's Rondônia state—a titled territory where invaders and conflict have been a growing problem. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has largely gutted and defunded the nation's environmental regulatory, protection and enforcement agencies. (Mongabay)
President Joe Biden's pledge to rebuild the Iran nuclear deal is already deteriorating into a deadlock—a testament to the effectiveness of the Trump-era intrigues that sabotaged the agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Feb. 7, Biden and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei each traded "You Go First" statements. Biden was asked on Face the Nation, "Will the US lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?" He replied, "No." He was then asked, "They have to stop enriching uranium first?" Biden nodded. On that same day, Khamenei told military commanders and staff: "If they want Iran to return to its JCPOA commitments, the US should remove all sanctions in action. After they have done this, we will check if the sanctions have truly been removed. Once this is done, we will resume our JCPOA commitments." (EA Worldview)
The first nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades came into force on Jan. 22, following its 50th ratification last October, which triggered the 90-day period required before the treaty entered into effect. The UN completed negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at its New York headquarters in July 2017. The treaty constitutes "a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination." Following negotiations, the treaty was open to signatories beginning in September 2017.
UN investigators into political violence in Mali reported to the Security Council that they found evidence that government forces have committed "war crimes," while jihadists and other armed groups perpetrated "crimes against humanity." The allegations are made in a 338-page report compiled by the International Commission of Inquiry, a three-member panel examining events in Mali over the six years after it spiralled into conflict in 2012. The Commission was created in January 2018 as part of the Agreement for Peace & Reconciliation between rebels and the government, which was signed in 2015 after years of fighting. The report, which has not yet been made public, recommends establishing a special court to try accused perpetrators. (France24, Dec. 23)
Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi and three Iranian-Belgians went on trial in Antwerp, Belgium, on Nov. 27, marking the first time an EU country has put an Iranian official on trial for terrorism. The four have been charged with planning an attack on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in 2018. The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), which is seeking to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Assadi served at Tehran's embassy in Vienna and is believed to have been working for Iran's Intelligence Ministry.
Police and demonstrators clashed in Paris Nov. 28 as some 45,000 filled the streets to protest a new security law, with large mobilizations also seen in Bordeaux, Lille, Montpellier and Nantes. The new law would severely restrict publishing of the images of police officers. The issue was given greater urgency by video footage of Paris police savagely beating local Black music producer Michel Zecler days earlier. President Emmanuel Macron said the images "shame us," but critics point out that their release could have been barred if his new security law had already been in force. Four officers have been suspended over the incident, but there have been no arrests. (Al Jazeera, NYT, EuroNews)
French and Russian military networks are backing rival forces to influence upcoming elections in Central African Republic according to a new report by The Sentry, a Washington-based NGO co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney. France used to call the shots in CAR, its former colony, but President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has allied himself to Russia and availed himself of the Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary organization linked to Vladimir Putin. The Sentry claims France now supports a rebel coalition that opposes Touadéra—who is standing for a second term in December—though the French foreign ministry denies the accusation. All of this spells bad news for ordinary Central Africans, who have suffered under rebel groups for years. More than one in four are currently internally displaced or living as refugees in neighboring countries.