The US Supreme Court ruled May 18 in Opati v. Republic of Sudan that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) permits a punitive damages award against Sudan for the role it played in 1998 al-Qaeda bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Following the bombings, victims and family members sued Sudan under the "state-sponsored terrorism exception" to the FSIA, but the act at the time included no provision for punitive damages in suits filed under the "exception." Congress amended the act in 2008 to allow punitive damages in such cases. A district court in 2017 awarded a $6 billion judgment against Sudan, but the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the amendment did not allow plaintiffs to seek damages for attacks that occurred before its enactment. The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that Congress intended the amendment to apply retroactively.
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
It's certainly an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated April 13: "When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total." After requisite media outcry, he later reiterated this assertion on Twitter. (NYT, The Guardian) The response in media and the Twittersphere has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is, of course, necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump's pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual "state of exception" in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently.
Somali troops clashed with forces from the country's semi-autonomous Jubaland region last week in a flare-up of violence that is raising tensions with neighboring countries and may play into the hands of the militant group al-Shabab. Tensions have been rising since August, when Jubaland's incumbent president, Ahmed Madobe, won regional elections that Mogadishu described as "not free and fair." The central government wanted a loyalist candidate to win, as it seeks greater control over Somalia's regions ahead of upcoming national elections. Kenya, which has troops deployed as part of an African Union peace enforcement operation, is on the side of Madobe, who it sees as an ally against al-Shabab, while Ethiopia has aligned with Mogadishu. Kenya accused Somali troops of encroaching on its territory and destroying property during last week's violence, while the US said that the clashes are a distraction in efforts against al-Shabab. An estimated 56,000 people have been uprooted by the recent fighting. according to the UN.
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
Oromo activists in Ethiopia have launched a "fuel blockade," occupying roadways to halt the shipment of oil and gasoline through the country. The action was called following a massacre at the village of Moyale, near the Kenyan border. Troops gunned down nine unarmed residents March 10, apparently mistaking them for militants of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Nearly 5,000 have fled across the border to Kenya—some having directly run from gunfire. Ethiopia last year imposed a state of emergency in response to mounting Oromo protests. Roadblocks were reported from several points around the country March 13, so far without violence. (Africa News, OPride, AFP, Addis Standard via UNPO)
New evidence is deepening fears in the scientific community that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Already, per capita availability of fresh water in the region—encompassing 22 countries and home to nearly 400 million inhabitants—is 10 times lower than the world average. The region's fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By century's end, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields by up to 55%. "Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response," said FAO director general Graziano da Silva on his recent visit to Cairo.
At least 100 Somali refugees previously cleared for resettlement in the US are stranded in Kenya in the wake of President Trump's travel ban. The refugees now face an uncertain future as they wait at a transit center run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Nairobi. They are mostly from Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, which currently shelters nearly 300,000 and is considered the world's largest. Trump's order has forced the IOM to cancel "all flights for refugees till further notice," said Christelle van Rosmalen, resettlement officer at the UN refugee agency UNHCR at Dadaab.