Friday, January 30, 2009

Genocide Studies Media File
January 19-30, 2009

A compendium of news stories, features, and human rights reports pertaining to genocide and crimes against humanity. Compiled by Adam Jones. Please send links and feedback to

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"Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Trials to Start"
By Seth Mydans
The New York Times, 20 January 2009
"A United Nations-backed tribunal announced that it would open the first hearing on Feb. 17 in the long-delayed trials of five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which caused the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979. The first defendant will be Kaing Guek Eav, 65, left, known as Duch, who commanded the Tuol Sleng torture house, where at least 14,000 people were killed or sent to a killing field for execution. He is charged with an array of crimes, including murder, torture, rape and political persecution. Cases are still being prepared against the other four defendants, all in custody. Thirty years after the Khmer Rouge were ousted in a Vietnamese invasion, no Khmer Rouge leader has ever been brought to a court to face judgment."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch. Thanks to Paula Drumond for bringing it to my attention.]


"Rwanda Arrests Congo Rebel Leader Laurent Nkunda"
By Eddy Isango and Todd Pitman
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 22 January 2009
"In a stunning reversal of alliances, Rwandan troops captured Congo's most powerful rebel leader, a longtime ally who the Congolese government says was at the heart of years of war in the east, officials said Friday. Congo applauded the surprise arrest, hoping it would herald a new era of peace and mark the end of the Central African nation's Tutsi rebellion. But few believe the country's problems are over and many fear the unprecedented and unpopular deal with former enemy Rwanda is a risky gamble that could unleash more bloodshed. Rwanda detained Laurent Nkunda apparently as part of an agreement with Congo that opened the way for thousands of Rwandan soldiers to cross the border this week in a joint operation to hunt down Rwandan Hutu militiamen. The region has been mired in conflict since Rwanda's 1994 genocide spilled war across the border and Hutu militias sought refuge here. Rwanda has invaded twice to eradicate the militias -- though it was accused of plundering Congo's great mineral riches instead. The militia's presence also gave birth in 2004 to Nkunda's rebellion, whose raison d'etre was defending minority Tutsis against Rwandan Hutus. Nkunda drew international attention late last year after his forces advanced to the outskirts of the regional capital, Goma, forcing more than 250,000 people from their homes. Analysts say Rwanda was under intense international pressure to use its influence over the Tutsi rebellion to end the crisis. At the same time, rebels had grown disenchanted by Nkunda, who they increasingly regarded as a flippant, authoritarian megalomaniac who allegedly embezzled money from rebel coffers. Late Thursday, Rwandan and Congolese troops converged on Nkunda's stronghold in the tiny electricity-less town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border, said government spokesman Lambert Mende. Nkunda's forces resisted and briefly opened fire before fleeing farther south and crossing into Rwanda, he said. Rwandan troops on the other side of the border took Nkunda into custody because forces loyal to him resisted the operation, Rwandan army spokesman Maj. Jill Rutaremara said. ... The ouster of Nkunda removes Congolese President Joseph Kabila's main internal nemesis and allows the central government to take back huge swaths of territory previously in rebel hands. But inviting Rwanda into Congo is a huge political gamble that could endanger the nation's first democratically elected government in 40 years and destabilize the country. [...]"


"Spain's Probe of Israelis Presents Legal Quandary"
By Paul Haven
Associated Press dispatch in, 30 January 2009
"A Spanish judge's decision to investigate seven Israeli officials over a deadly 2002 attack against Hamas that had nothing to do with Spain has renewed a debate about the long arm of European justice. Critics say Madrid should mind its own business, particularly since Spain is still struggling to address its own bloody past. Supporters argue that some crimes are so heinous that all of humanity is a victim and somebody has to prosecute them. Spain is hardly alone. A number of European countries have enacted some form of 'universal jurisdiction,' a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes.
- In 2001, a war crimes suit against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was filed in Belgium by Palestinian survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Chatilla refugee camp massacre in Lebanon. Belgium's highest court then dismissed the war crimes proceedings against Sharon and others, ruling it had no legal basis to charge them.
- French judges have opened investigations into Congolese security officials and convicted a Tunisian Interior Ministry official of torturing a fellow citizen on Tunisian soil.
- And Spain has indicted the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Osama bin Laden among others, including Argentine dirty war suspects.
'I think some of these judges are looking for publicity, taking on causes that have no business being tried in Spain,' said Florentino Portero, an analyst with the Strategic Studies Group, a conservative Spanish think tank. 'They are practicing politics through judicial work.' The most recent case involves a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh and 14 other people, including nine children. Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu agreed to take the case on the grounds the incident may have been a crime against humanity -- prompting a furious response from Israel. [...]"

"Israel Says Spain Says It Will Amend War Crimes Law"
Reuters dispatch, 30 January 2009
"Israel said on Friday the Spanish government had said it would work to amend a law under which a Madrid court is to consider trying seven Israelis over the killing of Palestinians. Spain's High Court announced this week it would launch a war crimes investigation into a Israeli ex-defence minister and six other top security officials for their role in a 2002 attack that killed a Hamas commander and 14 civilians in Gaza. Spanish law allows the prosecution of foreigners for such crimes as genocide, crimes against humanity and torture committed anywhere in the world. 'I was just told by the Spanish foreign minister that Spain decided to change the legislation,' Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told journalists after a telephone conversation with her Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos. 'In order to change the possibility of different organisations, political organisations, to abuse the legal system in Spain in order to put charges against Israelis and others that are fighting terror.' Spain's Foreign Ministry did not reply to repeated telephone requests for confirmation. [...]"
[n.b. Just as I was getting hopeful about the possibility of the first trials of western officials for crimes against humanity since Nuremberg ... see below.]

"Spanish Court to Probe Israeli Officials for Alleged 'Crimes Against Humanity'"
By Roni Sofer and AFP, 29 January 2009
"National Infrastructure Minister and former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former IAF and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz may face criminal charges in Spain for killing Palestinian civilians seven years ago. A Spanish court granted a petition by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights on Thursday, asking the two be investigated for alleged 'crimes against humanity' for their involvement in the 2002 assassination of Hamas operative Salah Shehade. Fourteen civilians were killed in the incident and about 100 more were injured. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, former GOC Southern Command Doron Almog, former National Security Council Head Giora Eiland and Brigadier-General (Res.) Mike Herzog have also been named as persons on interest in the case. 'Those who call the killing of terrorists "a crime against humanity" are living in an upside-down world,' said Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He called the Spanish announcement 'delusional.' 'This decision is all the more outrageous when you consider Hamas' true colors, being revealed once again these days to us and the world,' Barak added. He said he would do everything in his power to get the charges dropped. 'All senior officials belonging to the defense establishment, past and present, acted properly and in the name of the State of Israel, out of their commitment to protect the citizens of Israel,' he said. According to a legal source in Madrid, Justice Fernando Andeo decided to grant the Palestinian petition 'in the name of universal justice.' Andeo, a Audiencia Nacional de España (National Court of Spain) judge, is expected to inform both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities of his decision. [...]"

"Israel Warns Soldiers of Prosecution Abroad for Gaza 'War Crimes'"
By Damien McElroy
The Telegraph, 23 January 2009
"At least four human rights groups are believed to be compiling suits alleging that Israelis perpetrated war crimes in planning or carrying out the three-week operation Cast Lead. Daniel Friedman, Israel's justice minister, was appointed to head a special task force to defend individuals detained abroad and the military censor declared that names of officers from lieutenant to colonel must not be published. More than 1,300 Palestinian deaths were reported during the offensive in Gaza and the United Nations has led demands that Israel investigate high-profile incidents including the shelling of its facilities. Private prosecutions are already being prepared. 'We are building files on war crimes throughout the chain of command from the top to the local level,' said Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. 'We are convinced these have been the most bloody days for Gaza since the occupation and that war crimes were perpetrated against Palestinian civilians.' Courts in six countries, including Britain, have accepted petitions to prosecute alleged war crimes in previous wars. Most notoriously, activists in Belgium used a clause, since removed from the statute, to target the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Accusations of war crimes strike an especially sensitive chord in Israel, a nation founded in the wake of the Holocaust. Comparisons between the long siege of Gaza and the Jewish ghettoes of central Europe draw a vociferous denunciation from the government. Israel insists troops did their best to limit civilian casualties in heavily populated areas where Hamas gunmen were attacking from tunnels and had booby-trapped civilian homes. While senior politicians travel with diplomatic immunity, retired officials have already faced problems travelling abroad. A retired major general, Doron Almog, was forced to remain on an El Al plane at Heathrow in 2005 after the Israeli military attaché warned he would be arrested if he disembarked. Gen. Almog commanded Israeli forces in Gaza when a bombing raid on an apartment block that killed a Hamas commander, Salah Shehadeh, resulted in the deaths of 14 others. The magistrates' warrant was later quashed. [...]"

"Understanding Gaza"
By Gabriel Kolko, 21 January 2009
"How will history describe the Israeli war against the Palestinians in Gaza? Another Holocaust, this time perpetrated by the descendants of the victims? An election ploy by ambitious Israeli politicians to win votes in the February 10 elections? A test range for new American weapons? Or an effort to lock in the new Obama Administration into an anti-Iranian position? An attempt to establish its military 'credibility' after its disastrous defeat in the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006? Perhaps all of these ... and more. But one thing is certain. Israel has killed at least 100 Palestinians for each of its own claimed losses, a vast disproportion that has produced horror in much of the world, creating a new cause which has mobilized countless numbers of people -- possibly as strong as the Vietnam war movement. It has made itself a pariah nation -- save in the United States and a few other countries. Above all, it has enflamed [sic] the entire Muslim world. As Bruce Riedel, a 'hawk' who has held senior posts in the CIA for nearly 30 years and is now one of President Obama's many advisers, has just written: '... the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central all-consuming issue for al Quaeda,' and 'Muslims feel a profound sense of wrong about the creation of Israel that infuses every aspect thinking and activities and has become the rallying cry used the convince the ummah of the righteousness of al Quaeda's cause.' That was before Gaza. Much of the world now detests Israel but most it will live for many years to come with the consequences of Israel's atrocities. Muslim extremists will now become much stronger. Charges of war crimes are now being leveled -- and justifiably so -- at the Israelis, many of whom themselves come from families that suffered in the hands of the Nazis over 60 years ago and now claim that the Holocaust was the only tragedy -- as if the far more numerous deaths of goyim throughout the world after 1945 count for nothing. The United Nations and human rights groups are demanding that Israel be brought to justice for what now amounts to having killed over 1300 Gazans with immense firepower, many of which, like phosphorous bombs, are illegal. Israel has already prepared its senior officers to be ready to defend themselves against war crimes charges and Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz several weeks ago warned the government was expecting a 'wave of international lawsuits.' [...]"

"Rights Groups to Ask World Court to Probe Israel 'War Crimes'"
Agence France-Presse dispatch, 18 January 2009
"An international group of lawyers and jurists said Saturday they would ask the International Criminal Court to probe alleged 'war crimes' committed by Israel during its offensive in the Gaza Strip. 'The request for an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity would be placed by Wednesday at The Hague,' Haytham Manna, Arab Commission for Human Rights spokesman, told AFP. The commission is among 300 human rights groups planning to submit a 37-page dossier to the ICC based in the Netherlands. International lawyers and jurists met Saturday in Geneva to finalise details of the dossier, which documents several violations against international human rights committed by the Israeli army during the Gaza offensive, said Manna. The ICC is competent to adjudicate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after 2002. It can try individuals if a crime is alleged to have been committed on the territory of, or by a national of, a state party to the court's founding statute. Even though Israel is not a state member, the group of jurists said the ICC could still prosecute individuals in the country. Manna added that some state members such as Venezuela and Bolivia are also interested in going to the ICC. As state members of the ICC, these countries can go one step further than simply requesting for an investigation by putting forward the charge against the Israeli authorities, said Manna. Bolivia is preparing a request seeking to have Israel prosecuted by the ICC, two ministers said Friday in Geneva. The South American state says it wants to muster support among regional peers for a bid to have 'the Israeli political and military leaders responsible for the offensive on the Gaza Strip' brought before justice, said Sacha Llorenti, whose portfolio covers civil society. [...]"


"Israel Does Not Regard Famine in 30s [as] Genocide of Ukrainians"
Itar-Tass dispatch, 29 January 2009
"Israel does not regard the famine in Ukraine in the 30s of the past century as genocide, and, just as Russia, considers it a tragedy of many peoples of the USSR, Pinhas Avivi, the deputy director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in charge of relations with Russia, CIS and East European countries, told Itar-Tass on Wednesday. 'We regard the "holodomor" as a tragedy but in no case do we call it genocide,' he said. 'We describe it as the tragedy in which the peoples of Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and of other countries suffered, and we accept Russia's wording,' he said. 'The Holocaust is the only genocide to us,' he said. 'We voted precisely in this way in the United Nations on the document Ukraine presented and we regard it (the "holodomor") as the common tragedy of many peoples, not Ukraine alone.' 'This was Israel's clear message, and we, specifically, decided that we recognize the document UNESCO adopted two years ago, and nothing else,' Avivi said. Late last year Ukraine’s delegation to the UN circulated a declaration calling for recognition of the 'holodomor' as genocide of the Ukrainian people. In addition to Ukraine, 31 countries, Israel included, signed the document. Israel, however, addressed to Ukraine's representative a letter with reservations regarding its stand, which were not given a broad coverage. The Russian delegation succeeded in blocking the Ukrainian delegation's resolution in the UN in December. 'We have succeeded in preventing it from being put on the agenda of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly,' Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador at the UN then said. He said Kiev's suggestion to regard the famine of the 30s of the past century as genocide of the Ukrainian people can be assessed as 'an attempt to sow discord and animosity between the Russians and Ukrainians.' Churkin said, 'Our peoples have the common past and the famine affected not Ukraine alone.' [...]"


"Remembering the Holocaust"
By Peter Bills
The Independent, 26 January 2009
"[...] This Tuesday, January 27th, is World Holocaust Day. It was the day in 1945, too late, far, far too late, when the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau. What they found and revealed to the dismaying world that day 64 years ago this Tuesday, stained the hand of mankind forever. No-one can ever be quite the same after a visit to this place. The sheer scale of the killing grounds is breathtaking. By the time they had fled Auschwitz/Birkenau, the Nazis had dynamited the gas chambers and crematoria, plus many of the individual huts where the prisoners who had been selected for forced labour, had slept. Yet plenty survives to indict an entire nation. Just a few days ago, the cold at Auschwitz assaulted not just your body but your mind. Survival became a struggle as fingers froze, even through gloves, and faces felt red raw at the bitter cold. Minus 10 degrees and thick snow was close to unbearable. 24 hours earlier it had been minus 15. Multiple layers of clothing made little difference. For the inmates, clad only in thin prison issue trousers and top, on winter days in the early 1940s, it was prolonged torture, a living death. At Auschwitz No. 1 camp, some were selected to clean out ponds. It meant wading through icy water, waist deep and staying in it sometimes for up to 11 hours. Those who didn’t perish there and then often died that night in their unheated barracks. The world well knows the facts and horrors of this place. What underpinned, indeed made possible everything that happened in this trembling, terrible place, was German efficiency, that nation’s well-merited reputation for ruthless organisation and neatness. Everything was planned with a meticulous evil that touched a new low in mankind's inhumanity to man. To walk into the very gas chamber and (re-constructed) crematoria in Auschwitz camp No. 1 where 600 Russian prisoners of war and 250 of the sick from the camp hospital earned the terrible notoriety of being the first exterminated at the camp by Zyklon B gas and then incinerated, is to brush closer than ever you would wish to man's most bestial behaviour. Nothing, no-one can prepare you for Auschwitz. To go in mid-winter, when the snow lies heavy upon the Polish landscape, was deliberate. We cannot know, still less understand the suffering, the torment, brutality or hatred that poured out here, like puss [sic] from a sore. But at least the brutal cold is something we can share with those who perished, many worked to the bone, starved and beaten, before they finally succumbed. [...]"


"Dozens Believed Dead in Reprisal Attacks as Hamas Retakes Control"
By Rory McCarthy
The Guardian, 30 January 2009
"Evidence is emerging of a wave of reprisal attacks and killings inside Gaza that have left dozens dead and more wounded in the wake of Israel's war. Among the dead are Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israeli military. Others include criminals who were among the 600 prisoners to escape from Gaza City's main jail when it was bombed as the war began. Their attackers are thought to be their victims' relatives. During and after the war, there have also been attacks on security officials from Fatah, the bitter rival of Hamas, the Islamist movement in control of the Gaza Strip. One witness told the Guardian how her brother, a Fatah military intelligence officer, was shot three times in the legs in an apparent punishment attack by gunmen from Hamas's armed wing. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported yesterday that several Palestinian agents working in Gaza for the Israeli security services during the war had been killed, and cited one source as saying that agents were 'intercepted' by Hamas because their intelligence had been used 'carelessly' by the military. Palestinians in human rights organisations are reluctant to speak publicly about what is a sensitive issue, but one respected human rights worker in Gaza said he believed between 40 and 50 people had been killed in reprisal attacks since the start of the war. But there was not yet enough evidence to suggest this was an organised campaign by Hamas, he said. 'We don't know who's doing the killing,' the worker said. 'Some are individuals, some might be from Hamas. It's been happening over several days, all across Gaza. It's not all necessarily Hamas actions against Fatah.' Another human rights worker put the figure at between 25 and 30 documented cases of reprisal. A human rights group in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, and funded by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, has protested. 'A number of citizens have been extra-judicially killed during and after the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip,' the Independent Commission for Human Rights said in a statement. 'Fire was opened on affected citizens at a close distance. In addition, individuals in official uniform or masked persons opened fire on people's legs, severely beat others, imposed house arrests, and threatened to punish citizens along with their families if they would not comply.' Hamas dismissed the claims but said it had arrested suspected collaborators, apparently as part of an effort to reassert control over Gaza. [...]"

"Netanyahu Would Let West Bank Settlements Expand"
By Mark Lavie
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 26 January 2009
"The front-runner in Israel's election said in an interview published Monday that he would let Jewish settlements expand in the West Bank if he's elected prime minister, threatening to put him at odds with the Obama administration. The remarks by hawkish Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu come just before the new U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is scheduled to visit Israel, the West Bank and elsewhere this week for talks aimed at keeping alive a fragile Gaza cease-fire and reviving Mideast peace negotiations. Mitchell is a critic of Israel's West Bank settlements, which are a key issue in peace talks. Mitchell is expected to meet with Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu. President Barack Obama has pledged to dive into Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking at the beginning of his term. Netanyahu, who is already a critic of U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, was quoted by the Haaretz daily as saying he would allow the Jewish settlements to expand to accommodate 'natural growth' -- building new housing to accommodate growing families among the settlers. Such growth, however, is ruled out in the internationally backed 'road map' peace plan that serves as the basis for negotiations. With Israel's Feb. 10 election just two weeks away and polls showing Netanyahu's party ahead, Israel and the United States appeared headed for a clash. U.S. policy supports creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza next to Israel, but Netanyahu, who served as Israel's prime minister from 1996 to 1999, has always opposed giving up territory in the West Bank, maintaining that Israel needs to control it for security. 'I have no intention of building new settlements in the West Bank,' Netanyahu was quoted as telling international Mideast envoy Tony Blair on Sunday. 'But like all the governments there have been until now, I will have to meet the needs of natural growth in the population. I will not be able to choke the settlements.' [...]"
[n.b. Since this candidate for the Israeli leadership has announced in advance his intention to commit war crimes if elected (see the 4th Geneva Convention injunction against "the transfer of parts of the Occupying Power's civilian population into the occupied territory"), could the Obama administration make it known that if Mr. Netanyahu wins, the United States will entertain no formal relations with his government until a complete freeze on Israeli settlements is guaranteed?]

"Children of Gaza: Stories of Those Who Died and the Trauma for Those Who Survived"
By Rory McCarthy
The Guardian, 23 January 2009
"Amira Qirm lay on a hospital bed today with her right leg in plaster, and held together by a line of steel pins dug deep into her skin. For several days after her operation Amira, 15, was unable to speak, and even now talks only in a low whisper. In her past are bitter memories: watching her father die in the street outside their home, then hearing another shell land and kill her brother Ala'a, 14, and her sister Ismat, 16, and then the three days that she spent alone, injured and semi-conscious, trying to stay alive in a neighbour's abandoned house before she could be rescued last Sunday. Ahead of her, she has a long recovery. First there is an imminent flight to France for the best possible medical treatment, many more operations and then months of rehabilitation and psychiatric care. Only now, after most of the dead have been buried, is the first properly researched reckoning of the toll emerging. What already stands out is the striking cost borne by the children of Gaza, who make up more than half of the 1.5 million people living in this overcrowded strip of land. The Palestinian death toll after three weeks of Israel's war was 1,285, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, or 1,268, according to the al-Mezan Human Rights Centre. Among those dead were at least 280 children. The impact will be felt by many more for years to come. Among the more than 4,000 people injured more than a quarter were children, some left with severe disabilities. The Gaza Community Health Programme estimates that half Gaza's children -- around 350,000 -- will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. [...]"

"Israel Admits Using White Phosporous in Attacks on Gaza"
By James Hider and Sheera Frenkel
The Times, 23 January 2009
"After weeks of strenuous denial that it had used white phosphorous in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Israel finally admitted today that the controversial weapon had been deployed in its offensive. The army's use of white phosphorous -- with its distinctive shell burst of dozens of separate smoke trails -- was revealed by The Times on January 5, and denied by the army. Now, in the face of mounting evidence and increasing international outcry, Israel has been forced to backtrack on that denial. 'Yes, phosphorous was used, but not in any illegal manner,' Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The Times. 'Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] is holding an investigation concerning one specific unit and one incident.' The incident in question is believed to be the firing of white phosphorous shells at a UN school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on January 17. The shells are legal if used as a battlefield smokescreen but banned from deployment in civilian areas Pictures of the attack show Palestinian medics fleeing parked ambulances as dozens of blobs of burning phosphorous rain down on the compound. A senior army official also admitted today that shells containing phosphorous had been used in Gaza, but insisted that the aim of their deployment had been to provide a smokescreen. 'It was a smoke shell with felt pieces inside with phosphorous in it,' said the official, who asked not to be named. Before the attack the Ministry of Defence had asked lawyers to investigate the legal consequences of deploying white phosperous inside the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, and one of the most densely populated places in the world. [...]"

"Shocked and Grieving Gazans Find Bodies Under the Rubble of Homes"
By Tyler Hicks
The New York Times, 18 January 2009
"As the people of Gaza emerged from hiding on Sunday, they confronted, for the first time, the full, sometimes breathtaking extent of the destruction around them wrought by the Israeli military. Bombs had pulverized the Parliament and cabinet buildings, the Ministry of Justice, the main university and the police station, paralyzing Gaza's central nervous system and leaving residents in a state of shock. Some places in Gaza City were bustling and matter-of-fact. Work crews in bright orange vests repaired power and water lines. Shops reopened. People lined up at bank machines. But other areas ached with loss. In Twam to the north, thousands dragged belongings away from ruined houses; they were dazed refugees in their own city. In Zeitoun, families clawed at rubble and concrete, trying to dislodge the bodies of relatives who had died weeks before. The death toll kept climbing: 95 bodies were taken from the rubble. More than 20 of them were from the Samouni family, whose younger members were digging with shovels and hands for relatives stuck in rooms inside. Faris Samouni, 59, sat alone, watching them. He had lost his wife, daughter-in-law, grandson and nephew, and he was heartbroken. 'Twenty-one are down there,' he said, starting to cry. 'One is my wife. Her name is Rizka.' The dead were badly decomposed, and families searched for familiar personal details that would identify them. One woman's corpse was identified by her gold bracelets. Another by her earrings. And a third by the nightgown she wore. The smell of rotting flesh was suffocating, and as they got closer, the diggers donned masks. At 10:55 a.m., the body of Rizka Samouni emerged as an Israeli fighter jet roared in the sky. Other corpses followed. Houda, 18. Faris, 14. Hamdi, 21. The smallest corpse that emerged, from a different family, was that of a 4-year-old. 'They killed the elders, the children, the women, the animals, the chickens,' said Subhi, 55, Rizka's brother. 'It's a nightmare. I never thought I would lose all of them.' [...]"
[n.b. There is something almost biblical about this latest atrocity. I can imagine an injunction in, say, the Book of Joshua to "go forth and kill the elders, the children, the women, the animals ..."]

"Israel Kept Out Aid for Gaza"
By Jason Koutsoukis
The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January 2009
"Israel deliberately blocked the United Nations from building up vital food supplies in Gaza that feed a million people daily before the launch of its war against Hamas, according to a senior UN official in Jerusalem. In a scathing critique of Israeli actions leading up to the conflict, the UN's chief humanitarian co-ordinator in Israel, the former Australian diplomat Maxwell Gaylard, accused Israel of failing to honour its commitments to open its border with Gaza during several months of truce from June 19 last year. 'The Israelis would not let us facilitate a regular and sufficient flow of supplies into the Strip,' Mr. Gaylard said. The chief spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yigal Palmor, said the claims were 'unqualified bullshit.' 'At no time was there a shortage of food in Gaza over the past three weeks,' Mr. Palmor said. Mr. Gaylard, who is the UN Special Co-ordinator's Office's most senior representative in Israel, told the Herald that when Israel launched its surprise attack on Gaza on December 27, the UN's warehouses in Gaza were nearly empty, with all food and equipment sitting in nearby port facilities. 'The food was in Israel but we couldn't get it in. This is before. The blockade was very tight.' As the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, halted the attacks, declaring Israel had attained its goals in the lethal assault on Gaza that has killed more than 1240 Palestinians -- a third of them children -- Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israel. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed. [...]"


"Roma Holocaust Victims Speak Out"
BBC Online, 23 January 2009
"Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January is an occasion for Jews and Roma (Gypsies) to remind the world how their families were terrorised and butchered by the Nazis in World War II. Roma in Vlasca, a village in southeastern Romania, told the BBC's Delia Radu about their wartime ordeal. The wartime suffering of many Roma villagers is not well documented The Roma people of Vlasca -- traditional metal workers called Kalderash -- are closed and inward-looking. They are reluctant to talk to anyone from outside the community. It took weeks of negotiation to hear the accounts of Holocaust survivors in the village. Historians often call it 'the forgotten Holocaust.' Up to 500,000 Roma are believed to have died in mass shootings and Nazi gas chambers. Recent studies have brought more of their suffering to public attention, but to this day little is known about the Roma targeted for persecution and extermination by the allies of the Third Reich on the eastern front. ... In freezing cold, with no food, thousands of Roma were marched towards the river Bug. The survivors were forced to live in camps of flimsy hovels on the outskirts of war-torn villages, or in stables on deserted collective farms, to provide forced labour. 'My father, Mihai Gheorghe, died there, my mother Maria died there, both my brothers died there,' says Mihai Gogu. 'They died because of the bitter cold, because there was nothing to eat and you couldn't wash. I think filth was the main killer: lice were crawling everywhere, like teeming ants in an anthill. That was our ordeal.' [...]"


"Don't Arrest Sudan President, Say African Leaders"
By Michael Chebud, 30 January 2009
"Executives of the African Union have called for a 12-month suspension of international efforts to arrest President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, claiming his detention would derail the peace process in the conflict-ridden African country. 'The African Union has requested the UN security council to suspend the ICC (International Criminal Court) indictment against the president,' said Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, in the opening of the 14th ordinary session of the executive council here Thursday. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir.Sudan President Omar al-Bashir.This was reiterated by the chairperson of the executive council Bernard K. Membe, who is also Tanzania's minister for foreign affairs. The request made by the chief prosecutor of the ICC for the indictment of Al-Bashir is the greatest challenge facing the peace process in Darfur, he said. Membe and other African leaders argue that, with tension extremely high in Sudan, the arrest of Al-Bashir could lead to an outbreak of grim violence between supporters of Al-Bashir and those who support the indictment. The African Union (AU) also says Al-Bashir is a necessary player in the peace process mediated by the Arab League, AU, and other groups. 'The case of Darfur is unique,' said AU deputy chairperson Erastus Mwencha. 'We cannot sacrifice peace in pursuit of justice. We are interested in processes that are complementary to each other, but which do not compromise the search for both,' Mwencha reportedly told a reporter for the Panafrican News Agency today. 'Once [the peace process] is done, we shall support the prosecution of anyone cited in the ICC warrants of arrest,' Mwencha added. The international court, which embraces 108 member countries, accuses al-Bashir of masterminding and implementing a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa groups during a campaign of ethnic persecution in the Darfur region that the United Nations estimates has cost 300,000 lives in five years while over 2.7 million people have been displaced. [...]"

"Fresh Darfur Violence Linked to Pending War Crimes Ruling"
By Rob Crilly
The Irish Times, 18 January 2009
"Darfur has seen some of its worst fighting in a year as rebels opened two fronts against government forces, which retaliated with air strikes. Meanwhile, aid agencies and diplomats are considering evacuation procedures, while the country waits nervously for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to make its decision on issuing arrest warrants for President Omar al-Bashir. The result is a country on a knife edge. Last week rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) seized the strategic town of Muhajiriya from a government-aligned rebel grouping. Yesterday government officials said they had repelled an attack on the capital of north Darfur, El Fasher. Fouad Hikmat, Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group, said the violence was linked to the pending ICC decision. 'The ICC has thrown a new card on to the table and everyone is working out how to play it,' he said. 'All of the rebel groups realise that this gives them tremendous leverage. Those that are strong on the ground are making their move so that they are on the front foot when the time for negotiations arrives.' Muhajiriya lies along supply routes to Nyala, the capital of south Darfur and Sudan’s third largest city. Jem took the town from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Minawi, who signed a peace deal with Khartoum three years ago. He is believed to be considering returning to the bush, disillusioned with his treatment by the government. Khartoum responded to his loss of Muhajiriya with air strikes against Jem positions. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence in north and south Darfur. 'The secretary general calls on all parties to immediately cease ongoing hostilities and to abide by their obligations under international law,' a statement issued by his spokesperson said. [...]"


"Pictures 'Prove' That Burma Refugees Were Left to Die at Sea"
By Catherine Philp
The Times, 27 January 2009
"Pressure is mounting on the Thai Government to reveal the truth about allegations that its military towed hundreds of Burmese refugees out to sea and abandoned them. The demands come after photographs emerged apparently showing soldiers caught in the act. The pictures, obtained by CNN from someone directly involved in the operation, showed the refugees being rounded up on a Thai beach and towed out to sea in flimsy boats. Human rights groups believe that up to 600 members of the ethnic Rohingya minority drowned after being caught by the Thai military while fleeing persecution in their native Burma. Nearly 1,000 migrants are known to have set off from the Burmese coast in two groups last month but there are fears that many more are missing. Several hundred survivors have been rescued off the Indian Andaman Islands and the coast of Indonesia after drifting for days without food, water or engines. The Thai whistleblower said that the migrants had been provided with food and water, but confirmed that the boats were towed for two days into international waters before they were set adrift by Thai soldiers wishing to deter them from seeking refuge in Thailand. More than 230,000 members of the Burmese Muslim minority group have taken refuge in Bangladesh after fleeing their country and thousands of others have ended up in Malaysia. The UN refugee agency said a formal request for access to 126 more Rohingyas believed to be in Thai military custody had gone unanswered, prompting fears that they may also have been dumped at sea. 'We don't know where they are,' Kitty McKinsey, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said. The new photographic evidence is backed up by statements from survivors in India, Indonesia and Thailand. Iqbal Hussein, a survivor who made it back to the Thai shore, told CNN that five of the six boats his group was travelling in sank after being towed out to sea."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]


"Gaza Strife Engulfs British Broadcasters"
By Catherine Mayer, 26 January 2009
"If there's one thing guaranteed to make news organizations queasy, it's becoming news rather than reporting it. No wonder that the BBC, Britain's venerable public service broadcaster, is looking green around the gills. In the past couple of years, 'Auntie Beeb' has rarely been out of the spotlight, amid speculation on the future of the broadcaster's public funding, scandals over mismanaged phone-in competitions and red faces after footage of the Queen was wrongly edited to suggest she had stormed out of a photo shoot. Yet all of these controversies pale in comparison to the storms of anger now battering the BBC over its refusal to show an appeal for humanitarian aid for the people of war-ravaged Gaza. Despite more than 1,000 phone calls, 11,000 e-mails of complaint and a series of protests outside its London and regional headquarters, the broadcaster has dug in its heels against pressure to run the filmed appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a non-aligned umbrella organization representing 13 long-established charities such as the British Red Cross, Christian Aid and Oxfam. Defending the decision on one of the BBC's own morning news shows this morning, the BBC's Director General Mark Thompson said 'We are passionate about our impartiality ... We worry about being seen to endorse something that could give the impression we were only backing one side.' Could an appeal for emergency aid for Gazans living in extreme hardship after the Israeli military campaign be construed as an attack on that campaign? Thompson and his lieutenants fear so. Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC newsman, now Health Minister, called the reasoning 'completely feeble.' MPs are queuing to sign a motion brought by Richard Burden, a Labour MP, expressing 'astonishment' at the rebuff. 'It completely baffles me,' Burden says. 'Do I think impartiality is important? Of course I do. But to be honest, what the BBC is doing is undermining its reputation for impartiality rather than bolstering it.' Such criticisms are not confined to temporal seats of power. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has called on the BBC to carry the appeal. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, argued that the BBC should focus on humanity, not impartiality. [...]"

"Rivals Break with BBC in Gaza Row"
"ITV, Channel 4 and Five are to air a charity appeal for Gaza which the BBC has declined to broadcast. A Five spokesman said the channel felt it was 'an urgent humanitarian situation which transcends politics.' International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander urged broadcast of the Disasters Emergency Committee film to recognise 'immense human suffering.' The BBC has said it could compromise its impartiality. A protest has been held at Broadcasting House in London. At least 200 people gathered outside the building, and chants of "BBC, shame on you" were heard as a petition was handed in to the corporation. Veteran politician Tony Benn, a speaker at the protest, said: 'We can't ignore suffering in the interests of what the BBC call impartiality. We can't allow others to die when we have an opportunity to save their lives.' ... Andrew Burgin, of the Stop the War coalition, said: 'Because of this decision, people in Gaza will die. They will not receive the amount of aid they would otherwise have received.' The BBC, ITV and Sky earlier agreed not to air the appeal. An ITV spokesman had said that no consensus could be reached among broadcasters, before announcing on Saturday that it would run the appeal. [...]"


"Samantha Power Returns: Professor Who Slammed Clinton Will Be Obama Aide"
By Matthew Lee
The Huffington Post, 29 January 2009
"Samantha Power, the Harvard University professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author [of '"A Problem from Hell": America in the Age of Genocide"'] who earned notoriety for calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a 'monster' while working to elect Barack Obama president, will take a senior foreign policy job at the White House, The Associated Press has learned. Officials familiar with the decision say Obama has tapped Power to be senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, a job that will require close contact and potential travel with Clinton, who is now secretary of state. NSC staffers often accompany the secretary of state on foreign trips. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Power's position, as well as that of other senior NSC positions, have not yet been announced. One official said the announcements would be made in the near future. White House officials would not provide details of Power's new role. Power was an early and ardent Obama supporter until the 'monster' comment forced her off his campaign, but she was rehabilitated after the election when she made a gesture to apologize to Clinton and was included in the transition teams for both the State Department and the U.S. mission to the United Nations. At the time, an official close to the transition said Power's 'gesture to bury the hatchet' with Clinton had been well-received. Power and Clinton have met at least once since Clinton's confirmation last week when they both appeared at a State Department ceremony at which Obama announced the appointment of special envoys to South Asia and the Middle East. Reporters at the event saw Power and Clinton chat briefly at the end, although the conversation was inaudible. [...]"


"The Torture Ban That Doesn't Ban Torture"
By Allan Nairn, 26 January 2009
"If you're lying on the slab still breathing, with your torturer hanging over you, you don't much care if he is an American or a mere United States -- sponsored trainee. When President Obama declared flatly this week that 'the United States will not torture' many people wrongly believed that he'd shut the practice down, when in fact he'd merely repositioned it. Obama's Executive Order bans some -- not all -- US officials from torturing but it does not ban any of them, himself included, from sponsoring torture overseas. Indeed, his policy change affects only a slight percentage of US-culpable tortures and could be completely consistent with an increase in US-backed torture worldwide. The catch lies in the fact that since Vietnam, when US forces often tortured directly, the US has mainly seen its torture done for it by proxy -- paying, arming, training and guiding foreigners doing it, but usually being careful to keep Americans at least one discreet step removed. That is, the US tended to do it that way until Bush and Cheney changed protocol, and had many Americans laying on hands, and sometimes taking digital photos. The result was a public relations fiasco that enraged the US establishment since by exposing US techniques to the world it diminished US power. But despite the outrage, the fact of the matter was that the Bush/Cheney tortures being done by Americans were a negligible percentage of all of the tortures being done by US clients. For every torment inflicted directly by Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the secret prisons, there were many times more being meted out by US-sponsored foreign forces. Those forces were and are operating with US military, intelligence, financial or other backing in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Nigeria, and the Philippines, to name some places, not to mention the tortures sans-American-hands by the US-backed Iraqis and Afghans. What the Obama dictum ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system's torture, which is done by foreigners under US patronage. Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so. [...]"


"Bishop Who Denied Holocaust Apologizes"
Associated Press dispatch on, 30 January 2009
"A bishop recently rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI expressed regret Friday to the pontiff for the 'distress and problems' he caused by denying the Holocaust. In a letter to the Vatican, Bishop Richard Williamson, who recently denied in a TV interview that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, called his remarks 'imprudent.' The letter was posted on Williamson's personal blog and addressed to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who has been dealing with the rehabilitation of Williamson and other renegade bishops who had been excommunicated. The Holocaust denial had outraged Jewish groups and many others. It was not immediately clear if Williamson's letter, which contained no apology for the content of his remarks, would ease that anger. 'Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems,' Williamson wrote. Papal spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said he had 'nothing to say about this letter. Everyone can evaluate it as they see fit.' Lombardi said he didn't know if the pope or the cardinal had seen it. The bishop in the letter also offered the pope his 'sincere personal thanks' for lifting the excommunication. The Vatican had imposed the Church's most severe discipline, excommunication, on Williamson and three other bishops 20 years ago because they had been elevated to bishop's rank by a renegade, ultraconservative prelate, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In his letter on the blog, Williamson promised to 'offer a Mass' for Benedict and Castrillon Hoyos. Earlier Friday, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, said the Jewish state has good relations with the Vatican, despite the flap over Williamson's comments. The four rehabilitated bishops belong to the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X, which Lefebvre founded because he rejected the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. [...]"

"Pope, Expressing Solidarity With Jews, Reacts to Uproar Over a Holocaust Denier"
By Rachel Donadio
The New York Times, 28 January 2009
"Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday addressed for the first time the uproar over his decision to rehabilitate a Holocaust-denying bishop, expressing solidarity with Jews and strongly condemning Holocaust denial. A circus juggler performing for Pope Benedict XVI during his general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday. On the same day, the pope condemned the Holocaust and any attempts to deny it. In his weekly audience with the public on Wednesday, Benedict said he 'renewed with love' his 'full and indisputable solidarity' with Jews, whom he called 'our brothers of the first covenant.' He added that he had repeatedly visited Auschwitz, the location of the 'brutal massacre of millions of Jews, innocent victims of blind racial and religious hatred,' and said that the Holocaust 'should be a warning for everyone against forgetting, denying or diminishing its significance.' But tensions remained, a day after Israel's highest religious body sent a letter to the Vatican asking to postpone an annual bilateral meeting and voicing 'sorrow and pain' at the pope's decision to welcome the bishop back into the fold. On Saturday, the pope revoked the excommunication of four schismatic bishops from a traditionalist sect, including Bishop Richard Williamson, who in an interview broadcast in Sweden last week and widely available online said he believed that no more than 300,000 Jews perished during World War II, none of them in gas chambers. Oded Wiener, the director general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, praised the pope's comments on Wednesday as 'a giant step forward' and 'an extremely important statement, not only for the Jewish people, but also for all the world.' But on Tuesday, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, Mr. Wiener sent a letter to the Vatican saying that unless the bishop issued a public apology and recanted his 'deplorable statements,' it would be 'very difficult for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to continue its dialogue with the Vatican as before.' [...]"

"Jews Outraged by Holocaust-Denying Bishop"
Associated Press dispatch on, 23 January 2009
"The Vatican's relations with Jews risked a new crisis Friday after an excommunicated British bishop -- reportedly in line for rehabilitation -- said that historical evidence 'is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed' during World War II. Two Italian newspapers reported Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI planned to lift the excommunication of Richard Williamson and three other bishops punished for having been consecrated without papal consent 20 years ago by the late French conservative Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre. The Vatican declined to comment on the reports, but Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi suggested Friday that such a decree would be made public soon. Rome's chief rabbi asked the Vatican to halt the reported rehabilitation. Rabbi Ricardo Di Segni said it is 'inconceivable' the pope didn't know Williamson's views. The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation also urged that the excommunications of all four -- and especially Williamson -- not be lifted, saying they were all opposed to pursuing relations with Jews, Protestants and Muslims. Vatican-Jewish relations have been already strained by Jewish criticism of World War II Pope Pius XII, accused by some of not speaking out in a bid to head off the Holocaust. Israeli officials recently took offense when a senior cardinal said Gaza under the Israeli offensive seemed like a 'big concentration camp.' Williamson made his comments in an interview with Swedish state TV while in Germany in November; the broadcast was aired Wednesday night. He said the Nazis did not use gas chambers. 'I believe that the historical evidence ... is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler,' he said. [...]"


"Jewish Leaders Say Nazi Imagery at Anti-Israel Rallies Incites Anti-Semitism"
By Aron Heller
Associated Press dispatch in The Los Angeles Times, 19 January 2009
"The use of Nazi imagery at recent anti-Israel demonstrations across Europe has fanned the flames of anti-Semitism and incited violence against Jews, the head of Israel's Holocaust memorial said Monday. Protests against Israel's Gaza offensive have included signs and slogans comparing Israeli soldiers to German troops, the Gaza Strip to the Auschwitz death camp and the Jewish Star of David to the Nazi swastika. The protests have come amid a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic acts, including attacks on synagogues, beatings of pro-Israel demonstrators and proposed boycotts of Jewish businesses, according to the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League. Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem museum and memorial, said the comparisons were 'manipulative distortions of history' and called for the Holocaust to be left out of contemporary political discourse. 'It is legitimate to constructively criticize the policies of any nation, including Israel. However, the baseless use of Holocaust imagery and terminology as a weapon against Israel has incited a tangible surge of anti-Semitism,' he said. 'That is the danger inherent when people cynically use the Holocaust to distort a present political conflict.' Most of the protesters reject any accusation of anti-Semitism. ... Images of the devastation in Gaza -- including the bloodied bodies of children and anguished victims in hospitals -- stoked protests around the world. Human rights groups accused Israel of using disproportionate force and of not doing enough to protect Gaza's civilian population. Anti-Semitic incidents during the war spiked markedly in Europe, the Anti-Defamation League said. Molotov cocktails have been hurled toward synagogues in France, Sweden and Belgium. Jews have been beaten in England and Norway, and an Italian union endorsed a boycott of Jewish-owned shops in Rome. In Amsterdam, a Dutch lawmaker marched in a demonstration where the crowd hollered 'Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas.' Socialist lawmaker Harry van Bommel said he did not repeat calls for another Holocaust and only chanted, 'Intifada, Intifada, Free Palestine.' [...]"


"Study Looks at Mortality in Post-Soviet Era"
By Judy Dempsey
The New York Times, 16 January 2009
"Rapid and widespread privatization in several former states of the Soviet Union and former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s contributed to rising mortality rates, particularly in Russia, according to a study published Thursday. The report, in the British medical journal The Lancet, said the results varied among the countries, depending on the pace of privatization, the official response to unemployment and the level of support from social organizations. The global financial crisis has set off a debate over the social consequences of rapid economic change that takes place without strong national institutions to support it. In Eastern Europe this week, demonstrations in Latvia and Bulgaria over the slow pace of reform turned into riots. The report, 'Mass Privatization and the Post-Communist Mortality Crisis: A Cross-National Analysis,' is by David Stuckler, a sociologist at Oxford; Lawrence King of Cambridge; and Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 'Rapid mass privatization as an economic transition strategy was a crucial determinant of differences in adult mortality trends in post-Communist societies,' they wrote in the report. The effects of privatization were 'reduced if social capital was high. These findings might be relevant to other countries in which similar policies are being considered,' they added. The report contends that life expectancy diminished in the early to mid-1990s in countries that were being rapidly transformed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even though the governmental and economic transitions occurred nearly two decades ago, the report said, 'only a little over half of the ex-Communist countries have regained their pretransition life-expectancy levels.' From 1991 to 1994, life expectancy in Russia was reduced by five years. But life expectancy in Croatia and Poland improved in the same period. By last year, the life expectancy of Russian men was less than 60 years, compared with 67 years in 1985. [...]"
[n.b. Link to the complete text of the Lancet article in PDF format. I cited the post-communist mortality in the USSR as a possible case of structural genocide in my book Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction.]


"Global Court Starts with a Fumble. Warlord Grins"
By Robert Marquand
Yahoo! News, 30 January 2009
"The script was set for the first trial of the world's first permanent war crimes court this week: Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo went after warlord Thomas Lubanga, charged with recruiting 30,000 child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying Mr. Lubanga's acts would 'haunt a generation.' But 48 hours later, the prosecution's first witness, a child soldier, caused the entire court to gasp. At first, the young soldier said he was snatched by Lubanga's militia on his way home from fifth-grade classes. The witness, now a teen, then threw the landmark case briefly into limbo when he recanted his testimony, denying that he'd ever been a child soldier taken to a military training camp, and that his testimony was prompted by an unnamed nongovernmental organization. In the court, Lubanga, sitting behind the defense team in dark suit and tie, and in clear view of his alleged former child recruit, smiled. Prosecutors suggested to Chief Judge Adrian Fulford, of Britain, that the star witness, who was to give two days of testimony, felt unprotected and feared for his safety. A probe is now under way. The washout of the International Criminal Court's (ICC) first witness is another blow for a court whose own judges nearly threw out the Lubanga case last June over a dispute about evidence sharing. Justice experts, including Jon Silverman of the University of Bedfordshire, in Britain, note that 'you have to take a long view,' describing years of delay and a rocky start in the trial of Sierra Leone strongman Charles Taylor. That trial, convened under the auspices of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and also held here at The Hague, is now moving quickly. The Lubanga case is the first for the ICC since it was formed in 2002. The idea for the court emerged after the relative success of war crimes tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, with experts hoping that stronger concepts of justice would serve as a soft-power deterrent against heinous acts and genocide. The court has since moved in fits and starts. Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo made a splash last summer by indicting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, but most of the ICC's focus so far is on Congo, where little-noticed wars have claimed some 5.5 million lives. Four Congolese alleged warlords are now at The Hague; a joint trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo is expected in several months. [...]"

"Researchers Document Rwanda Tribunal on Genocide"
By Gene Johnson
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 27 January 2009
"As a judge for the United Nations' Rwanda war crimes tribunal, Erik Mose has spent a decade soberly delving into the most horrific crimes possible. But tears well in his eyes when he is asked how the work has changed him as a person. He struggles to say just a few words: 'No one can be unaffected.' With the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda preparing to disband, Mose and nearly 50 other judges, lawyers, interpreters, investigators and staff sat down with a team of researchers to discuss their experiences. The result is a remarkable set of video interviews that explores not only the legal and political obstacles the court has faced, but the personal traumas suffered by those who spend their days seeking justice for genocide. Batya Friedman, a University of Washington professor who leads the team, said the idea is to turn the videos into a searchable collection that will be available -- in English, French and the local language of Kinyarwanda -- for many generations. The first was being made public Tuesday. Friedman envisions rural Rwandans projecting the videos onto sheets hung in their villages or searching through clips by cell phone. Legal scholars could learn better ways of setting up international courts. School children could edit clips into their own documentaries, and hip-hop artists could sample them in their music -- small steps toward reconciliation and peace. 'What we realized is that the people of the tribunal are going to disperse to the four corners of the globe, and with them would go all of their personal experiences, knowledge, wisdom, insight,' she said. 'We thought, "Wouldn't it be amazing if some of their stories could be captured?"' [...]"

"Thomas Lubanga Becomes First to Stand Trial for War Crimes at the ICC"
By Catherine Philp
The Times, 26 January 2009
"The first trial at the International Criminal Court will get under way today when the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga appears on war crimes charges for his role in the country's civil war. The landmark trial in The Hague comes more than ten years after the Rome Treaty, when 120 countries signed an agreement for a permanent world court to try war criminals. The proceedings will be watched keenly by potential defendants -- as well as key powers yet to sign up to the court, such as America, Russia, India and China. There are high hopes that President Obama may seek to change Washington's stance on the court. Mr. Lubanga, 45, faces charges of using children as weapons of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo's lawless north-east, and recruiting and commanding a militia that committed atrocities during an ethnic conflict in which tens of thousands of people were killed. He is accused of seizing children as young as 10 and sending them to fight and die for his militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots. Mr. Lubanga, who was taken into the court's custody in March 2006, is alleged to have committed his crimes in 2002-03. He is expected to plead not guilty when he comes before the court today. The trial is the climax of six years' work by the court's first prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, who set up investigations into four African conflicts, including Darfur, where he is seeking the first war crimes indictment of a sitting head of state. President al-Bashir of Sudan will be among those watching, along with the Tutsi warlord, Laurent Nkunda, arrested last week in Rwanda, and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose greatest fear is said to be ending up in the dock at The Hague. [...]"


"India Grapples With High Maternal Death Rate"
Reuters dispatch in The New York Times, 25 January 2009
"In Sindri village in a dirt-poor district of eastern India, Manohar Kumbhakar and his family are still mourning the death of his wife, who died in childbirth aged 25 while being treated by a local quack. 'I don't know what he did to my daughter-in-law. The quack kept me outside the room and later, after almost two hours, he said she had to be taken to a hospital,' said Kumbhakar's mother, Helubala. 'He later denied he had any role in the treatment.' Every year, about 78,000 mothers die in childbirth and from complications of pregnancy in India, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The figures illustrate how poor women in rural India have largely been left behind by India's economic boom which has lifted millions of people out of poverty. India's maternal mortality rate stands at 450 per 100,000 live births, against 540 in 1998-1999. The figures are way behind India's Millennium Development Goals which call for a reduction to 109 by 2015, according to UNICEF. By comparison, fellow Asian giant China's maternal mortality rate has dropped to below 50. UNICEF's 2009 State of the World's Children report, which was released in January, said India's fight to lower maternal mortality rates is failing due to growing social inequalities and shortages in primary healthcare facilities. Millions of births are not attended by doctors, nurses or trained midwives, despite India's booming economy which grew at nearly 9 percent in each of the past three years. Around two-thirds of Indian women still deliver babies at home. Women from the lower castes suffer the most as they are often denied access to basic healthcare. [...]"

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