“Children and anybody with a free spirit have become terrorists in the eyes of the world.” My Syrian friend and I are discussing the current situation in Idlib. We are both exasperated that the world is standing idly by as thousands of innocent people are murdered or made homeless. Idlib, a governorate in North West Syria, is often portrayed as home exclusively to terrorists and violent Islamist extremists. My friend’s reference to “a free spirit” is his description of the people who participated in the Syrian revolution: those who dared to demand a free and peaceful life including the right to participate in democratic elections and to exercise freedom of speech and assembly without fear of being arbitrarily detained, tortured, executed or otherwise disappeared into the Syrian regime’s nightmarish prison system.
New discussions have been taking place about the future of the displaced Rohingya population in Bangladesh, and their potential repatriation journey back over the border to Myanmar. The progression of the repatriation process however, as the UN has reiterated, remains frustratingly slow. A lack of guarantees, respect, and honesty on the Burmese government’s part is maintaining a firm unwillingness among Rohingya community leaders to make the decision to return home. But the Rohingya are not the only displaced minority demanding security guarantees and respect for their rights from the Burmese government. Elsewhere in the country, as well as across the Thai and Chinese borders other displaced ethnic groups – such as Kachin and Karen – are being faced with the same dilemma. Either to remain in squalid refugee camps, or make the journey home and risk returning to renewed violence and repression.
Some positive news! A solid step has been taken towards the wider global push for an increased protection of rural workers rights. In Geneva on Friday 28th September 2018, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution culminating in the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.
With 33 votes in favour, 3 against (one of which being the UK), and 11 abstentions, the declaration will now be taken to the 3rd committee session of the UN General Assembly in New York in October, where it will be open for adoption by all UN member states. Once adopted, it will serve to strengthen the obligations of governments in upholding the rights of its nations rural populations: of peasants, indigenous communities, migrant workers, and small-scale farmers alike. Some argue that we must be wary of such expansions of rights. I disagree.
May 2017 saw Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli detention uniting to take part in a hunger strike. Every Friday during the strike, street protests were held in solidarity and various other events took place under the motto ‘salt and water’. Some of my friends from Nablus, viewing horses as inextricable from ‘non-horsey’ aspects of life (their lives are absorbed by riding horses; taking selfies with horses; racing horses; breeding horses; bathing horses…) demonstrated solidarity non-violently by riding their horses into Nablus city centre, carrying Palestinian flags and calling for solidarity with the prisoners.
There was some apprehension as a Chinese ‘Heavenly Palace’ fell to Earth last week. The 8.5 tonne Tiangong-1 space station, adrift since China’s space agency lost connection with it two years ago, made an ‘uncontrolled’ re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere early on Easter Monday.
Fortunately there was never much cause for concern, the European Space Agency calculating the chances of being hit by debris as ’10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning’. Most of the station burned up on contact with Earth’s atmosphere and the remaining fragments plunged into the South Pacific. But the episode had a eerie resonance, symbolising something of the West’s prevailing perception of China as an enigmatic, technologically advanced state, glowing with – rather like its wayward satellite – a nebulous sense of danger.
Content warning: mentions drone attacks, conflict, and terrorism.
While the US President, Donald Trump, has made it clear that the US presence in Syria was to carry out the extermination of Daesh, Russia’s intentions have always been to support their ally, Bashar al-Assad. Last September the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, made a surprise visit to Syria to announce that Russia had succeeded in its mission. While both might be correct, it is Putin who is in a more difficult position and the risk that Russia will be dragged further in has become ever more likely.
Syria was an opportunity for Putin’s Russia to flex its muscles on the international stage again after creating trouble in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Having already interfered in the election in the US and potentially in other elections in Europe, Russia remains largely unchallenged. Sanctions brought about by the US Congress do little to curb the ambitious plans of a nation seeking to relive past glories. Russia continues to forge relations with former satellite states and the lack of US involvement in NATO does nothing to deter the risk of another cold war breaking out in Eastern Europe. Yet, as with so many Western states, Russia has found itself stuck in the political and religious quagmire that is the Middle East.
On September 25th, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe called for one of those snap elections we all know and love. Unlike Theresa May, when the results were announced almost a month later on October 22nd, Abe managed to pull through and secure himself a majority in the Diet.
Japan is now swinging heavily to the right. With Abe possessing a mandate to attempt implementation of his main objective – revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution – is the country about to embark on a dangerous path of no return?