The first-ever extensive report on the Syria war by Russian human rights groups was released on April 2, highlighting the role of Moscow's military intervention in the conflict and its impact on civilians. The report, "A Devastating Decade: Violations of Human Rights & Humanitarian Law in the Syrian War," is the result of two years of research by Russian rights groups, including Memorial Human Rights Center, the Civic Assistance Committee, Soldiers' Mothers of Saint Petersburg, and the Youth Human Rights Movement. The 198-page report provides chilling first-hand testimonials of life inside besieged areas, aerial bombardment, chemical weapons attacks, as well as the widespread use of torture and deprivation in regime prisons. The report is critical of all parties in the conflict—including the US-led coalition—but especially focuses on the impacts of the Russian intervention.
The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, on Feb. 24 convicted a former officer of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate, Eyad A., on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity—specifically, torture and deprivation of liberty committed against 30 persons. Eyad received a sentence of four years and six months in prison for his role in arresting people who were later tortured. The 30 persons, who were all civilians, had been participating in anti-government protests in Douma in 2011 when they were rounded up and sent by bus to Branch 251, or the al-Khatib detention center in Damascus. At Branch 251, they suffered grave physical, emotional and psychological abuse, in addition to being subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions. The court stated that "Eyad A. had already known about the regular and systematic torture in the prison of department 251 when the demonstrators were arrested... He also expected that the torture was part of a planned, organized action by the government to suppress opposition forces."
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo Feb. 18 with "temporary guidelines for...enforcement and removal operations" by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), giving ICE agents discretion on enforcement actions and essentially overturning the "100-day pause on certain removals" instated by President Biden's executive order of Jan. 20, his first day on office. Naureen Shah, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responded to the move in a statement: "The memo is a disappointing step backward from the Biden administration's earlier commitments to fully break from the harmful deportation policies of both the Trump and Obama presidencies. While the Biden administration rightly acknowledges that immigrants are our family members, our coworkers, and our neighbors, for now it has chosen to continue giving ICE officers significant discretion to conduct operations that harm our communities and tear families apart."
The Biden administration on Feb. 12 launched a review of the US military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine the facility's fate over the next four years. White House spokespersons told reporters that the administration is considering an executive action to close the prison camp by the end of Biden's term. When asked whether the administration would close the prison within that timeframe, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki replied, "That certainly is our goal and our intention." National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne reaffirmed this goal, saying, "We are undertaking an NSC process to assess the current state of play that the Biden administration has inherited from the previous administration, in line with our broader goal of closing Guantánamo."
In Episode 62 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg grimly notes that, even with 400,000 Americans dead to COVID-19, the worst potentialities of the Trump presidency were not realized. Trump never (quite) established a dictatorship, and we didn't (quite) go over the edge into civil war. The critical task now for the country's progressive forces is to push for a maximal and thoroughgoing detrumpification—akin to the denazification of Germany after World War II. We may truly hope that the Capitol insurrection will prove to have been the last gasp of Trumpism. However, it may have been his Beerhall Putsch—and, as last time, there could be a second act. The more thoroughly Trumpism is reversed, the more likely it will be defeated and broken politically—especially given its glorification of "winning" and denigration of "weakness." The risk of sparking a backlash is not to be dismissed, but the greater risk is that of appeasement. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
China announced Dec. 26 the ratification of an extradition treaty with Turkey that it intends to use, inter alia, to accelerate the return of refugees and Uighur Muslims suspected of "terrorism." Since the 1950s, Turkey has welcomed Uighurs fleeing persecution in China. Uighurs and Turks have linguistic, cultural and religious ties. Currently, more than 50,000 Uighurs call Turkey home. While the treaty does provide grounds for refusal of extradition on the basis of Turkish citizenship, it is feared by many Uighurs that Chinese persecution will follow them to Turkey. "This extradition treaty will cause worry among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, told AFP.
A group of Cameroonian asylum-seekers has alleged that officers from US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) tortured them into signing deportation orders. The men say they were choked, beaten, and pepper-sprayed into fingerprinting or signing removal papers in a Mississippi detention center. The migrants had refused to sign, fearing death at the hands of Cameroonian government forces, and because they had asylum hearings pending. The 60 asylum-seekers were placed on a deportation flight to Cameroon on Oct. 13.
Authorities in Bangladesh are surrounding the Rohingya refugee camps with barbed-wire fencing and watchtowers, turning them into what refugees and rights groups liken to a "prison." Southeast Asia-based NGO Fortify Rights says construction on some 28 kilometers of fencing is nearly complete around parts of the camps, which are home to some 900,000 Rohingya pushed out of Myanmar. Humanitarian workers fear the fencing could hamper aid delivery and block access to medical clinics. Bangladeshi officials say the fencing is a response to growing concerns about crime and gang violence; humanitarian groups say any security measures must be proportionate. "The civilian and humanitarian character of the camps must be maintained," the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned in December.