Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan unveiled a new constitution on Nov. 17, drawing criticism over the expansion of presidential powers. Shortly after a draft of the document was released, politicians and activists expressed concerns that it would lead to full-blown authoritarianism. Among the many changes, it reduces the size and power of parliament. Any responsibilities taken from parliament were transferred to the presidency. Significant differences exist between the Russian and Kyrgyz language versions, making it unclear whether the president could serve one or two terms. It would also establish a People's Kurultai, an ad hoc body consisting of members of the public that would propose policy changes. The drafters insist that the body would promote popular representation. Critics view it as potentially easy to manipulate. They also question the necessity, given that parliament already consists of elected representatives. Kyrgyzstan uses a proportional representation system, with seats apportioned between the parties based on the percentage of the national popular vote received.
Nearly a year after the height of a devastating government offensive that forced a million people from their homes in Syria's rebel-held northwest, doctors and aid workers are warning that the region's civilians, especially young children, face a new threat: rising hunger. In Idlib province, the situation is worsened by mass displacement and a population already in dire need after years in the crosshairs of conflict—putting an estimated four million people, including 1.5 million in camps, at particular risk of hunger and malnourishment.
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.
Libya's warring factions on Oct. 23 signed a "permanent ceasefire" agreement, raising hopes of progress toward ending the conflict and chaos that has gripped the country since Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and killed during a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and eastern forces led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar have been fighting for control of Libya since April 2019—each backed by a bevy of militias in a war that has seen international powers join the fray and an arms embargo routinely violated. While violence has subsided in the capital city of Tripoli in recent months, countrywide peace efforts have until now gone nowhere. Acting UN head of mission Stephanie Williams hailed the agreement, hammered out during talks in Geneva, as "an important turning point," but some have expressed doubts that it can be implemented on the ground. Under its terms, all foreign fighters must leave within three months, and a new joint police force will aim to secure the peace. The ceasefire is to start immediately.
Progressives in the United States show little awareness of the disinformation specially targeting them. Denialism about Russian interference in the US elections, and the horrific realities of Russia's client state in Syria, is now translating into denialism about how dangerous the Trump presidency is. Syria solidarity activists have long been aware of the flood of pro-Assad disinformation on social media. Research from the University of Washington corroborated what activists have observed—it documented four times as many disinformation tweets about the Syrian White Helmets volunteer first-responder group in 2017 compared to factual tweets. In 2016, we saw the same pro-Assad sites and writers post memes and articles that trashed Hillary Clinton, equated Clinton and Trump, or even portrayed Clinton as the worse choice. They dominated "Leftbook" social media and helped depress the progressive vote. Ten million fewer Democrats voted in 2016 than 2012—a decisive factor in Trump's win. We are seeing a replay now. Biden and Harris are denounced far more than Trump on some "left" sites, while Trump's incipient fascism is downplayed.
Human Rights Watch condemned Russia and the Syrian government in a report Oct. 15 for launching at least 46 documented deadly attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria's northern Idlib province. The report reveals that the Russian-backed offensive targeted hospitals, schools, markets, and other essential facilities for over 11 months from April 2019. HRW contends that these attacks violated international humanitarian law and may constitute crimes against humanity. The HRW claims are supported by a similar report from Amnesty International in May 2020, which detailed 18 unlawful air and ground attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria.
Another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit. The UN General Assembly has elected China to the Human Rights Council—despite the country holding some one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. China was supported by 139 of the 191 nations that voted, and was one of 16 nations that sought the 15 available seats. (The General Assembly also elected Russia, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, all similarly accused of human rights violations, if not quite such ambitious ones.) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election of countries with "abhorrent human rights records," stating: "These elections only further validate the US decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights." The US left the Human Rights Council in June 2018. (Jurist)
Protestors in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, occupied and set fire to the White House, the building that houses both the president's office and parliamentary chamber. The headquarters of State Committee for National Security (GKNB), which oversees the secret police, was also taken over. Opposition politicians imprisoned there were liberated. The Oct. 6 uprising followed a day of demonstrations that filled the city's central Ala-Too Square, finally escalating to clashes with police, who fired rubber bullets into the crowd. The demonstrations were called to demand that parliamentary elections held one day earlier be annulled. The victory for the ruling party was marred by claims of fraud and vote-buying.