US to designate Wagner Group 'transnational criminal organization'
The US Treasury Department announced Jan. 20 that it will designate the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group as a "transnational criminal organization," imposing further sanctions on the group's financial activities. White House national security representative John Kirby accused the Wagner Group of "committing atrocities and human rights abuses in Ukraine and elsewhere," especially citing Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic. He also presented satellite photo evidence purporting to show missile deliveries to the Wagner Group from North Korea, via rail across Russia. He added that there are now some 50,000 Wagner mercenaries fighting in Ukraine. (CNN, BBC News)
Colombia: pending presidency 'between two populisms'
Following a first round of presidential elections May 29, "between two populisms" is the catchphrase being used by Colombia's media for an unprecedented moment. A pair of political "outsiders" are to face each other in the June 19 run-off: Gustavo Petro, a former guerilla leader and Colombia's first leftist presidential contender, versus Rodolfo Hernández, a construction magnate whose pugnacious swagger inevitably invites comparison to Donald Trump. Hernández, an independent candidate and the former mayor of Bucaramanga, rose precipitously in an ostensibly anti-establishment campaign driven by social media, winning him the epithet "King of TikTok." But Colombia's political establishment is now lining up behind him to defeat Petro. The former mayor of Bogotá and a veteran of the demobilized M-19 guerillas, Petro is the candidate of a new progressive coalition, Colombia Humana, emphasizing multiculturalism and ecology as well as more traditional social justice demands.
UN team delivers report on ISIS atrocities in Iraq
The head of the United Nations team investigating Islamic State crimes in Iraq on Dec. 2 delivered his report to the Security Council, accusing Islamic State (ISIS) actors of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Christian Ritscher, special adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (UNITAD), reported that his team had uncovered evidence of the deaths of at least 1,000 Shi'ite prisoners at a prison in Mosul in June 2014. The executions had been planned in detail by senior ISIS members. The team also carried out an analysis of battlefield evidence that showed ISIS developed and deployed chemical weapons as part of a long-term strategic plan. The team identified more than 3,000 victims of ISIS chemical attacks to date.
Libya: UK slaps sanctions on Haftar-aligned militia
The UK government on May 20 imposed sanctions on Libya's al-Kaniyat militia and its leaders for violations of international law. The militia is reportedly responsible for 27 mass graves containing the remains of hundreds of residents reported missing in the Libyan town of Tarhuna, on the southern outskirts of Tripoli. The group, aligned with the forces of eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, is additionally held responsible for atrocities such as torture, murder, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearance between 2014 and 2020. The UK has imposed the sanctions under the Sanctions & Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018.
Peru: after deadly repression, protesters win a round
Following an outburst of angry protest across the country, Peru's third president in less than a week was sworn in Nov. 16, with a coalition cabinet aimed at bringing the country back from the brink of chaos. The crisis was set off by the Nov. 9 impeachment of President Martín Vizcarra, who had been investigating corruption by the hard-right Fujimorista bloc in Congress—and whose removal was assailed as a "legislative coup." The new interim president, former Congressional leader Manuel Merino, was from the centrist Popular Action party, but perceived as a pawn of the hard right; demonstrators flooded the streets of Lima and other cities after his inauguration. In two days of repression by the National Police Nov. 12-14, two young protesters were killed, more than 200 injured, and two more listed as "disappeared." Merino and his cabinet stepped down Nov. 15, leaving the country without a president for nearly 24 hours before Congress finally agreed to approve a replacement.
UN report: 'crimes against humanity' in Venezuela
A UN report published Sept. 16 accused Venezuelan state authorities, including the president, of being complicit in human rights violations and abuses "amounting to crimes against humanity." An Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela found cases of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture committed by the government or its agents. The Mission investigated 223 cases and reviewed an additional 2,891 cases to compile a pattern of violations. High-level authorities, including the ministers of the Interior and Defense, as well as President Nicolás Maduro himself, were not only aware of the violations but gave the orders and provided the resources to carry them out. "Far from being isolated acts," said Marta Valiñas, chairperson of the Mission, "these crimes were coordinated and committed pursuant to State policies, with the knowledge or direct support of commanding officers and senior government officials."
Venezuela: does the 'Cartel of the Suns' exist?
In a rare move, the US Department of Justice issued an indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on March 26. Maduro and 14 current and former Venezuelan officials have been charged with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking and other crimes. The DoJ alleges that Maduro conspired with the FARC, Colombia's guerrilla army, prior to becoming the president, and continued to do after assuming power. The indictment charges that this nexus has congealed under the name "Cartel of the Suns," and that Maduro continues to collude with dissident factions of the FARC that remain in arms despite the Colombian peace accords. Attorney General William Barr said the aim of the conspiracy is "to flood the United States with cocaine."
Trump's phone call: the view from Ukraine
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has finally announced that the House is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry after reports surfaced that Donald Trump called on a foreign power to intervene in the upcoming election. Trump placed a hold on $391 million in aid to Ukraine just over a week before a July phone call in which he apparently urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden—the son of former US Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's likely opponent in next year's race. The transcript of that call (not, apparently, verbatim) was released by the White House Sept. 25. Trump of course called the impeachment inquiry "the single greatest witch-hunt in American history," and tweeted that the inquiry is PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT (all caps). (Jurist)
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