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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Syrian Government ‘Disappearing’ Civilians

United Nations investigators reported that the Syrian government has been waging a “campaign of terror” against its civilians, through a policy of forced disappearances – abducting or detaining civilians and then deliberately concealing their fate – which amounts to a crime against humanity. This, and not the barrel bombing of Aleppo, would be considered a crime against humanity because it is part of a systematic policy of spreading terror and mental anguish. Some of the rebel groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) – who, until recently, have only committed war crimes (which are non systemic) – have started using the tactic as well. ISIS – an al Qaeda affiliate – has been accused of widespread torture and human rights abuses in the areas it controls.

And the prospects for peace keep dwindling: the leader of al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, has said that his group will not accept the outcome of the upcoming international conference, and that “the battle is almost over, we have covered about 70 percent of it.”

Egyptian Army Cracks Down on Liberal Icons

In yet another sign that Egypt’s military-backed government is targeting secular, liberal groups, security forces stormed the headquarters of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights shortly after midnight and arrested six people, including a prominent youth activist. Three of the best-known youth leaders from the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak are already in detention. According to the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, human rights abuses are currently “worse” than they were under Mubarak.

While the military-backed government cracks down on the groups that helped depose Mubarak, it has shown that it is prepared to accommodate Mubarak-era figures: today, a court acquitted two of Mubarak’s sons, his last prime minister and ten other defendants of embezzlement.

Death Penalty in Decline in US

The death penalty in the US has continued its broad pattern of decline this year, with possible reasons ranging from a critical shortage of the drugs used for lethal injections and increasing concern over judicial mistakes and the expense of capital cases. Due to the European Commission’s tough restrictions on the export of the medical drugs used for lethal injections, many states find themselves without a legal and consistent means of ending life.

Eighty death sentences were imposed this year (compared with 315 in 1994), and 39 executions took place (compared with 98 in 1999); 82% of these executions were in the South. The number of Americans who support the death penalty has fallen to 60%, the lowest level for more than 40 years. 18 states have already abolished the death penalty, and this May, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to do so.

South Sudan Violence Spreads

Ethnic violence in South Sudan’s capital of Juba has spiraled out into the country and the government has lost control of Bor, the capital of its largest and most populous state. Armed youths from the country’s second-largest ethnic group, the Nuer, stormed a UN peacekeeping base in Jonglei state, pursuing civilians of the Dinka ethnicity who had taken refuge there. Fatalities have been reported but not confirmed. UN peacekeepers are currently protecting more than 30,000 civilians in five state capitals. Over 500 people have been killed since Sunday and the country is at risk of fracturing along ethnic lines and descending into cvil war.

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