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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

US Drone Attacks Violate International Law

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International each released a damning report today on US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, respectively. Amnesty International mounted a major effort to investigate nine drone strikes in North Waziristan, including one that directly targeted (and killed) a 68-year-old grandmother picking vegetables. It warned that this routine “arbitrary deprivation of life” might constitute a war crime and called for those responsible to stand trial. Human Rights Watch studied six attacks, two of which it says clearly violate international law prohibiting attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants. For example, one attack killed 14 members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and 41 civilians, 21 of whom were children.

The US disregard for international humanitarian law sets a dangerous precedent that could encourage the illegal use of drones by other states in the region with similar technology.

Syrian Rebels Pressured to Negotiate

The US, UK and Arab governments are putting pressure on the Syrian opposition to attend a peace conference next month, although agreeing to join the talks could fragment the Syrian National Coalition. Just yesterday, President Bashar al-Assad cast doubt on the peace talks, saying that “factors are not yet in place.” The opposition has announced a series of demands including safe passage through besieged areas and the release of prisoners. Most crucially, they said they would not agree to talks if there was any chance Assad would remain in power. The UK has assured the opposition that “Assad would play no role in a peaceful and democratic Syria.”  This will likely come as news to Assad, who recently expressed his interest in running for a third term as president.

The UN, US and Russia will meet to discuss Syria on November 5th to prepare for a peace process which they hope will begin in mid-November. It’s unclear how.

Uruguay Sets Marijuana Price at $1 a Gram

Uruguay is poised to become the first and only country where marijuana is both legal and government-controlled as part of President Jose Mujica’s effort to find alternatives to the war on drugs. A Senate vote is expected to vote on the law in mid-November and the country’s drug czar, Julio Calzada, has said that the government will begin selling marijuana for $1 per gram in the second half of 2014, with sales restricted to locals. This amounts to about an eighth of what legal marijuana costs in the US. The low price is part of an effort to fight petty crime and undermine the illegal drug trade.

Brazilians Protest Oil Field Auction

Brazilians are divided over the country’s auction of an offshore oil field that sold off 60% of the field to a consortium of international and state oil companies, leaving Brazil’s state-controlled oil company Petrobras with 40%.  Oil workers have been on strike since Thursday, to protest the auction of what they see as their country’s rightful natural riches. The government deployed 1,100 troops in Rio today ahead of the auction, and security forces clashed with protesters, firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. The anarchist group Black Bloc has been a prominent force in the many demonstrations and strikes that have spread across Brazil, including this one, suggesting that Brazilians may increasingly feel that violence is the best or only way to be heard.

Dangerous Rise of For-Profit Juvenile Detention Centers

An investigation by the Huffington Post found that about 40% of US juvenile delinquents are held in private facilities, producing some of the worst re-offending rates in the nation. In Florida, where private contractors have taken control of all juvenile facilities, 40% of those sent to juvenile prison are arrested and convicted within the year. In New York, where no youth offenders are held in private institutions, the rate is 25%.

Worse, private facilities have given rise to widespread abuses. They have the highest rates of youth sexual assault and their young prisoners face beatings, neglect and unsanitary food as well.

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