Setbacks in Syria
The UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Damascus today to try to build support for peace talks backed by Russia and the US next month. 19 rebel groups, however, have rejected the proposal, saying that talking to President Bashar al-Assad would amount to “treason” and demanding his removal as a prerequisite for the talks. Assad has also said that the conditions are not conducive to peace. As a result, chances of even beginning the peace process seem slim.
Weapons inspectors in Syria missed an early deadline in the tight schedule to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons when security concerns prevented the team from visiting two of the 23 sites linked to Damascus’ chemical program. While there are no consequences for missing the deadline, the delay underscores the difficulty the group faces in attempting to destroy caches of chemical weapons in the midst of a war zone.
More NSA Fallout
Spain was shocked to learn that the US has been spying on its citizens, too: the NSA has been monitoring about 60 million of the country’s phone calls per month. This story broke while the US is still trying to sort out whether it indeed spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and if so, who knew about it and/or authorized it. Europe is now debating sanctions against the US in response to the spying allegations, which would prevent the NSA access to bank transfer data.
Within the next two weeks, the NSA review panel is expected to give President Obama a classified dossier outlining the consequences of the spying scandal for US public relations and suggesting reforms. White House representatives say the NSA may need “additional restraints,” while representatives from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have called current US oversight of its mass surveillance system “illusory.”
Disputed Region of Abyei Votes on Country
Tens of thousands of residents of Abyei voted in a non-binding referendum today, to decide whether their disputed region should be part of Sudan or South Sudan. The oil-rich region has been claimed by both countries and its ownership left undecided when South Sudan declared independence in 2011.
Two years of arguments and stalemate over who is eligible to vote spurred the local referendum initiative. The region is shared by two ethnic groups: the more-settled Ngok Dinka and the nomadic Misseriya. Currently, the Misseriya are not counted as residents because they are only in Abyei during the dry season; they would likely want to remain part of Sudan. As a result, even though it is non-binding, the referendum runs the risk of escalating tensions along an already uneasy border.
Abuse at South African Prison
Prisoners, wardens and health care workers said that a South African prison run by the British security company G4S regularly administered involuntary medication; staff allegedly administered electroshock therapy as punishment and injected them with unnecessary antipsychotic drugs.
The revelations come just weeks after the South African government took control of the prison after a series of stabbings, riots, strikes and a hostage taking lead it to determine that the G4S had “lost effective control.”