Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi appointed former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba as defense minister and deputy prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle on March 24. Bemba, who served as vice president from 2003 to 2006, was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2016 of crimes against humanity over atrocities allegedly committed by rebels under his command when they intervened in the conflict in the neighboring Central African Republic in 2002. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, but the court overturned his sentence on appeal in 2018. However, five defendants were convicted on charges related to obstruction of justice in the Bemba case. (AfricaNews, France24)
Syrian dictator Bashar Assad arrived in the United Arab Emirates for an official visit March 19—another advance in the attempt to normalize his genocidal regime. The trip was accompanied by more ceremony than Assad's visit to the UAE last year, his first journey to an Arab state since the Syrian revolution began in March 2011. The UAE trip comes after a visit to Oman last month. Days before the UAE visit, Assad was in Moscow for a meeting with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. In addition to voicing support for Putin's war in Ukraine, Assad told Russian state media that he welcomes any expansion of Moscow's military bases in Syria. (EA Worldview, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, EuroNews)
In Episode 165 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the simultaneous 12th anniversary of the start of both the NATO intervention in Libya and the Syrian revolution. The NATO intervention was at root a bid to control the political trajectory of the Arab Revolution, and bring about a Thermidor in which Western-backed technocrats would be ascendant. The Syrian people seized back the initiative with their popular uprising against the Bashar Assad dictatorship. But, following the precedent set in Libya, the Great Powers have intervened, seeking to impose their own order—over the heads of the Syrian people. This time, however, the principal interventionist power has not been the West seeking to coopt the revolution, but Russia seeking to prop up the genocidal ancien régime. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin in connection with the forced deportation of Ukrainian children, according to a statement released by the court March 17. The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights. Both stand accused of the war crimes of unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied territories of Ukraine into Russia.
The Burmese military tortured and killed at least 17 civilians after beheading and dismembering five captured resistance fighters earlier this month. The incidents took place at two villages in Sagaing region, and were reported by the independent Myanmar Now. A UN Human Rights Office report issued on March 3 found that some 80% of townships across Burma have experienced armed clashes since the February 2021 coup, with nearly 3,000 people killed by security forces and almost 40,000 homes destroyed. (TNH)
The Russian Foreign Ministry on March 9 issued sanctions against 144 citizens of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Moscow accused the individuals of hostile acts against the Russian state. The alleged acts include lobbying for sanctions, interference with Russia's internal affairs, and inciting "Russophobic" sentiments. The names of the individuals are not yet available.
In the wake of the devastating Feb. 6 earthquake that has killed some 15,000 in Turkey and Syria, the contested political situation in the latter country is raising particular dilemmas. Aid agencies warn of "catastrophic" implications for Syria's rebel-controlled northwest, where millions of displaced and vulnerable people were already in precarious straits and relying on humanitarian support before the quake. At least half of the estimated 2,000 dead in Syria are in the rebel-controlled area. (Al Bawaba, SOHR, CNN) Due to Russian influence at the UN on behalf of the Bashar Assad regime, humanitarian access is already limited to one border crossing—Bab al-Hawa. And Moscow and Damascus have been pressuring to close that one as well.
In Episode 161 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg provides an overview of the under-reported conflicts in West Africa, where government forces and allied paramilitary groups battle multiple jihadist insurgencies affiliated either with ISIS or al-Qaeda on a franchise model. Horrific massacres have been committed by both sides, but the Western media have only recently started to take note because of the geopolitical angle that has emerged: both Mali and Burkina Faso have cut long-standing security ties with France, the former colonial power, and brought in mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group. In both countries, the pastoralist Fulani people have been stigmatized as "terrorists" and targeted for extra-judicial execution and even massacre—a potentially pre-genocidal situation. But government air-strikes on Fulani communities in Nigeria have received no coverage in the Western media, because of the lack of any geopolitical rivalry there; Nigeria remains firmly in the Anglo-American camp. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.