News in brief

Western Sahara

In late September, Spanish solidarity activists persuaded Spanish canning company Jealsa to stop using sardines from the waters of Western Sahara, which has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975.
Jealsa was profiting from the occupation by operating a sardine cannery in Laayoune.

After years of protests at outlets of the Spanish Mercadona supermarket chain and at the company itself, Jealsa has moved the cannery to A Coruña in Spain, and no longer uses sardines from occupied Western Sahara.

On 2 October, seven young Saharawis occupied a UN office in Smara, Western Sahara, 'in protest against the suppression from Moroccan authorities, the unemployment and the plunder of our natural resources', as one of them told Spanish news service EFE. 

Smara is where British-based oil companies San Leon Energy and Longreach are exploring for gas deposits despite a UN legal ruling in January 2002 that it is illegal to develop oil and gas resources without the consent of, and without benefit to, the people of Western Sahara. 

It seems Saharawis and their supporters abroad are prioritising reversing the plunder of Western Sahara's natural resources, taking companies on one at a time.


Nepali politics, after six years of 'peace process', seems to be well and truly stuck. The country is without a parliament as the supreme court ruled in May that the constituent assembly elected in 2008 (which also functioned as a parliament) could not extend its term any further. 

There is no agreement between the major parties on whether or how to hold new elections, and no agreement on the shape of the constitution.

There is enormous pressure for a new constitution to institute ethnic federalism, with states for each ethnic grouping. It seems possible that some non-ethnic political parties may splinter under these pressures.

The Maoists, who fought a decade-long civil war against the now-evicted royal regime, have split, but along political rather than ethnic lines.

The main party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (UCPN-M), is in government, while the militant breakaway faction (CPN-M) has formed a national people's volunteer or 'Rastriya Janaswayamsewak' youth wing.

Critics accuse this of being a paramilitary or even military grouping, based on former guerrillas who have been excluded from integration into the Nepali security forces.

For its part, the CPN-M say they are going to expose the corruption of UCPN-M leaders who have got rich during their time in government.

Render unto Caesar

On 19 September, Italy's supreme criminal court, the 'court of cassation', upheld abduction and 'rendition to torture' convictions against 23 Americans, all but one CIA officers. The charges related to an Egyptian imam, Osama Mustapha Nasr, abducted from Italy to Egypt in 2003 and held for four years before being released. The court also ordered €1.5m in damages to be paid to Nasr and his wife. The Italian government may now seek extradition of the 23.

US internment law

The US government is still allowed legally to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely, after a ruling by the US court of appeals on 2 October. A lower court order had earlier barred indefinite detention under the National Defense Authorization Act.

The court of appeals has allowed the US president to continue detaining indefinitely anyone 'who was a part of or substantially supported' al-Qa'eda, the Taliban or 'associated forces'.

Kufr Qaddoum arrests

On 20 September, four Palestinian youth, Taka Mohammad, 17, Mohammad Amir, 16, Yosouf Shtaiwi, 20, and Nadir Amer, 23, were arrested by the Israeli security forces ahead of the weekly demonstrations at the Palestinian village of Kufr Qaddoum in the West Bank.

On 21 September, four international human rights defenders were arrested at the demonstration and taken the illegal Ariel settlement police station for interrogation before being released two days later. The internationals – British citizens Gordon Bennett, Ellie Clayton and Aimee McGovern, and US citizen Lauren Siebert – were then held under house arrest with police keeping their passports.

Guantánamo names

On 21 September, the US justice department released the names of 55 men held at the Guantánamo detention centre on Cuba, who have been cleared for release.

On the list were British residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha. A previous request for this was rejected in 2009, so the disclosure, while not signalling any imminent releases, is being seen as a positive step.

First jailed squatter

On 27 September, Alex Haigh, 21, became the first person to be sentenced under a new law that bans squatting in residential properties. Alex was arrested by police on 2 September, the day after section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force. Police battered down the door without first informing the housing association who owned the flat, which had reportedly been empty for a year.

Sports make peace

A postgraduate course in peacemaking through sport starts this month in Spain at the Open University of Catalonia, supported by the UN cultural body, UNESCO, and FC Barcelona Foundation. 

The master's degree in 'Sport as a Tool for Social Coexistence and Conflict Resolution' is designed to be useful in contexts with 'high levels of conflict'.

Intruder alert

Back in the UK, a group called 'The Intruders' managed to gatecrash two high society events, first giving the former head of the government tax body HMRC a 'lifetime achievement award for services to corporate tax avoidance' on 27 September. Dave Hartnett was accused of being 'too cosy' with big business by parliament's public accounts committee.

The Intruders then managed to get into The Banker's 'Innovation in Investment Banking' awards ceremony on 4 October. They gave 'the Award for Innovation in Interest Rate Manipulation' to Barclays bank, which was fined £290m in June for manipulating inter-bank lending rates to increase profits.


Over 700 boats laid 'siege' to the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, India on 8 October, in the latest demonstration by the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE; for background, see PN 2550).

PMANE is demanding the withdrawal of police from local villages (police killed one protester in September), the release of arrested demonstrators and the dropping of false cases against campaigners.

Meanwhile, on 11 October, a 60,000-strong march of dalit ('untouchable') and tribal people succeeded in pressurising the Indian government into publicly supporting land reform measures for dalits, tribal people and 'all other weaker and marginalised sections of society'.

The 200-mile 'Jan Satyagraha', organised by land rights movement Ekta Parishad, was modelled on Gandhi's salt march of 1930.

GM fears revived

The scientific establishment, including the European food safety authority, has rounded on a study published in September that appeared to show that feeding rats a popular genetically-modified (GM) corn gave them cancer (see PN 2550).

Critics have complained, for example, that too few rats were used in the trial – 50 of each sex is the norm for cancer studies. 

Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, of Cannes University, has explained that he used only 10 of each sex because he was not expecting cancer to occur, as no previous GM food study had indicated such a risk.