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News in Brief
On 18 April, police shots killed one person, Tabrez Sejkar, and injured several others at a protest against a nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, India. According to the authorities, around 700 to 800 local fishermen marched to a police station near the power plant, and pelted it with stones for nearly two hours. The police used lathis (long truncheons) and then plastic bullets, before opening fire with live ammunition.
On 29 March, five “Disarm Now Plowshares” peace activists received jail sentences at Tacoma federal courthouse, Washington state, USA. Anne Montgomery, Bill Bichsel, Lynne Greenwald, Steve Kelly and Susan Crane (aged from 60 to 83), were ordered to pay $5,300 each, as well as between six and 15 months in prison, plus a year’s supervised release. The five were arrested inside the US naval base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington state in November 2009. They had cut through fences around the Trident nuclear weapons store, and left a trail of blood. When arrested, the activists were holding a banner saying: “Trident – illegal and immoral”. At the time of writing, some of the five were being moved from their initial prison. Further info: www.tinyurl.com/peacenews412
On 19 March, the US “Stop These Wars” coalition, led by Veterans for Peace, sponsored a rally and protest at the White House, Washington DC, with over 1,500 people calling for an end to US war-making in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, and for the release of Wikileaks defendant Bradley Manning. 113 people, including many veterans, were arrested. On the same day, 11 military family members and veterans were arrested for civil trespass in Hollywood, California, where they staged a sit-in among hand and footprints of Hollywood legends, pressing the footprints of empty combat boots into wet cement, signing the footprints “Forgotten Dead”.
With the (extended) deadline for concluding a new constitution for Nepal rapidly approaching (28 May), attention is focusing on the internal debates within the Maoists, as the chair of the party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (“Prachanda”) swings away from the option of “people’s revolt”. A paper put to the Maoists’ politburo by Prachanda on 20 April argued: “As the largest party in Constituent Assembly (CA), we should work to consolidate the progress made so far and move ahead being even more responsibly,” at least until 28 May.
Meanwhile, discussions continue on the most contentious issue in the faltering peace process: integrating ex-guerrillas into the Nepali security forces. Giving ground, the Nepali army is now apparently floating the idea of a separate directorate under the army’s control which would be one-third Maoist and two-thirds army, police and armed police.
The Indian government intervened in the integration debate in late April during Indian foreign minister SM Krishna’s visit to Nepal. Krishna indicated that integration of Maoist fighters in the higher ranks of the army would lead to an unacceptable (to India!) politicisation of the army. During his visit, Krishna had a secret meeting with Nepali army head Chhatra Man Singh Gurung, without the knowledge of the Nepali foreign ministry.
Activists have failed to establish UN human rights monitoring of Western Sahara, the west African territory illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) monitors the ceasefire between the Western Saharan resistance movement Polisario and Morocco, and also has responsibility for organising a referendum on self-determination (blocked by Morocco).
Solidarity activists have been campaigning for MINURSO to be given a human rights role, and this was supported in early April by the UN’s Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Morocco and its friends have been resisting, with fierce lobbying of the UN secretary-general. The latest report on MINURSO, due to be published on 6 April, did not appear until 15 April, indicating a bitter struggle within the UN secretariat. The secretary-general failed to add a human rights dimension to MINURSO.
Every other UN peacekeeping mission ever set up has had a human rights role. Meanwhile, on 14 April, Morocco released three Western Saharan activists, Ali Salem Tamek, Ibrahim Dahhane and Ahmed Naciri - just before they were to announce a hunger strike. They were arrested in October 2009 on suspicion of having met officials from Polisario.
After over nine years of legal battles, the established traveller community of 80 Gypsy and Traveller families at Dale Farm in Essex is facing the largest eviction in recent history, likely to cost over £18m. Dale Farm is appealing for support, for activists and for legal observers: 07961 854 023; www.dalefarm.wordpress.com
In the latest British Army Review, a British officer in Afghanistan criticises the command structure there as a “bloated over-complex system that sucks the life out of operations”. The anonymous officer observes: “we’re not saying our commanders are fat, lazy child killers, far from it, but it has reached a point where their headquarters are”.
After two gay men were ejected for kissing from the John Snow pub in Soho, central London, on 13 April, gay rights activists organised a mass “kiss-in” outside the pub two days later. Inspired by the kiss-in, Lauren Beamen threatened to call a mass feed-in at the King William IV pub in Hampstead, north London, after being ejected on 16 April for breastfeeding her seven-month-old baby.
The UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, said on 8 April that the Pentagon was refusing to allow him a private interview with Bradley Manning, held for allegedly leaking secret US military documents to Wikileaks. On 21 March, Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg was among 35 arrested during a solidarity protest at Quantico marine base, Virginia, where Bradley was being held. Banners read: “Caution, Whistleblower Torture Zone”. On 20 April, it was announced that Bradley is to be moved to a new military prison in Kansas, where it is hoped the regime will be less oppressive. On 21 April, protesters infiltrated a fundraising dinner for Barack Obama, and serenaded the president with a song about Bradley. www.bradleymanning.org
In the aftermath of the Mark Kennedy affair, the director of public prosecutions has written to 20 environmental activists recommending that they appeal against criminal convictions as police suppressed potentially crucial evidence from Kennedy, an undercover police officer. The 20 were among 114 activists arrested in April 2009 while planning an action at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station.
Given the West’s insistence that Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi face exile and war crimes prosecutions, here’s a quick look at some other toppled dictators (list compiled by Mark Bowery):
- Augusto Pinochet, Chile. In power 1973-1990: after a military coup, backed by US president Richard Nixon, Pinochet oversaw the deaths of over 3,000 people, and the torture of 30,000. After losing power: Pinochet remained commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Arrested in the UK in 1998, Pinochet was never prosecuted for his war crimes. (The British government refused to extradite him to stand trial in Spain.) He died in 2006. No exile, no trial.
- Ferdinand Marcos, Philippines. In power 1966-1986: following victory in a corrupt election in 1978, Marcos imposed martial law to quash protests and murdered opposition leader Benigno Aquino. After losing power because of mass demonstrations: Marcos was granted refuge in the US (Hawaii) by US president Ronald Reagan. He died in 1989. Exile, no trial.
- Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran. In power 1941-1979: after a military coup in 1953, the Shah used his intelligence organisation, SAVAK, renowned for its use of torture, to suppress opposition parties and leaders, killing thousands. After losing power: the Shah lived in exile, visiting the United States for cancer treatment in 1979. He died in 1980. He was never prosecuted for war crimes. Exile, no trial.
- Jose Efrain Rios Montt, Guatemala. In power 1982-1983: with substantial assistance from the US, Rios Montt led a brutal campaign killing 70,000 Mayan peasants and political opponents. After losing power: Rios Montt continued living in Guatemala, becoming a congressperson and making two failed attempts to run for president. He has never been prosecuted, though in 2001 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes were laid against him in local courts. No exile, no trial.
- Raoul Cedras, Haiti. In power 1991-1994: Cedras was lieutenant general in the US-backed coup against president Jean-Baptiste Aristide. During his time as de facto leader, Cedras is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of over 3,000 civilians. After losing power: Cedras was advised by US president Bill Clinton to leave Haiti after his government collapsed, and now lives in Panama. Exile, no trial.
- Anastasio Somoza Debayle, Nicaragua. In power 1967-1979: Somoza was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 50,000 people. After losing power: Somoza initially fled to Miami, but entry was refused by US president Jimmy Carter and Somoza moved to Paraguay where he was assassinated in 1980. Exile, no trial.
In short: Britain and the US have offered amnesty, even sanctuary, to dictators in the past.