RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On Friday afternoon, a suicide bomber dressed in women’s clothing detonated his bomb in front of a Shi’ite mosque killing three other people. The Islamic State claimed that they were behind the bombing, making this the second in two weeks.
One week ago, the Islamic State claimed to be behind a bombing of a Shi’ite mosque, which killed 22 people.
The majority of Saudi Arabia is Sunni Muslim with a minority being Shi’ite Muslim. The attack occurred in al-Qadeeh, a predominately Shi’ite neighborhood. On Friday night, Shi’ite protesters in Dammam and al-Qadeeh demanded an end to sectarianism.
Some have suggested that Saudi Arabia has not done enough to deter online abuse of Shi’ites, suggesting that the online abuse is a gateway to overt acts against the minority sect.
The Islamic State admits to pursuing sectarian goals. The Islamic State wanted to aggravate the tension between the Saudi Arabia state and Saudi Arabian Shi’ites. Currently, Saudia Arabia is leading a coalition in an air campaign in Yemen against the Shi’ite Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia denies any sectarian objectives in forming the coalition against the Houthi rebels.
A witness to the bombing claimed to have seen a quick explosion and men preventing the bomber from entering the mosque. Security guards had become suspicious of a man in a vehicle near the mosque, and when they approached the vehicle, it exploded. The explosion resulted in other cars catching on fire and the death of three Shi’ite worshipers.
Of those killed, one was an undergraduate student at Wichita State University. Abduljaleel Alarbash was returning to Saudi Arabia to be married and intended to return to school in the fall.
The Islamic State identified the bomber as Abu Jandal al-Jazrawi. The Islamic State posted online that the bomber was a “soldier of the Caliphate.” Saudi Arabia has previously been threatened by the Islamic State because of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in a U.S. coalition against the Islamic State.
Joshua Wong, an 18-year-old democracy activist from Hong Kong, was barred from entering Malaysia on Tuesday. Mr. Wong was scheduled to speak at forums overseen by Malaysian youth activist groups, including the Malaysia Youth and Student Democratic Movement. The forums commemorate the 26th anniversary of the crackdown on Tiananmen Square protestors in Beijing in June 1989.
Mr. Wong is the leader of Scholarism, a student activist organization in Hong Kong. In the scheduled forums, Mr. Wong was going to speak about the democratic movement in China. Specifically, he was going to speak about his experiences as one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement, a student-led protest in Hong King last year during which tens of thousands of activists gathered and demanded free elections of leaders. Chinese officials ultimately used force to break up the gathering and refused to give in to the protestors’ demands.
Mr. Wong was sent back to Hong Kong on Tuesday and stated that he was told by Malaysian immigration officers that a government order banned his entry into the country. A Hong-Kong immigration department spokesman said that the Hong Kong government had no control over the entry of its residents to other countries.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Malaysian minister of home affairs, said he did not know that Mr. Wong was denied from entering Malaysia and that he would speak with the director-general of immigration about the issue, according to Malaysiakini, a Malaysian news website.
In a statement made by Mustafa Ibrahim, director-general of the Malaysian Immigration Department, it was stated that Mr. Wong was on the list of people barred from entering Malaysia. The statement did not give a reason as to why Mr. Wong was on the list.
Organizers of the forums at which Mr. Wong was scheduled to speak have demanded an answer to why he was barred from entering Malaysia. Critics are calling the denial of Mr. Wong’s entry an act of political censorship by the Malaysian government.
Eric Paulson, co-founder of the Malaysian civil rights organization Lawyers for Liberty, has stated that the Malaysian government was attempting to contain the influence that Mr. Wong may have had on Malaysian youth. Youth in Malaysia are discontent with widespread corruption and increases in the cost of living and have participated in street protests this year.
The Malaysian Working Group on the 26th Anniversary of June 4 said that the forums commemorating the 26th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown will still be held. Mr. Wong stated that he intended to try to address those attending the forums in Malaysia through videoconference.
By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian military conducted strikes against FARC rebels on Monday, the same day peace talks resumed between government and rebel representatives in Cuba. The Colombian air force bombed rebel positions near Riosucio in the Choco province.
The strikes reportedly killed FARC commander Alfredo Alarcon Machado, known as Ramon Ruiz, who led the 18th division operating out of north-west Colombia.
The strikes yesterday were the latest in the new wave of fighting between government forces and rebels since fighting resumed in April.
26 FARC rebels were also killed on Thursday May 21 in a military operation against rebels in Southwestern Colombia. The operation was reportedly part of an ongoing offensive against illegal drug and mining activities in the area.
Following the attack, the FARC suspended their unilateral ceasefire.
In December 2014, the FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire as a show of good faith in the peace talks. The Colombian military did not call a ceasefire, citing previous incidences where the rebels had used ceasefires as a way to regroup and re-arm, but did discontinue its bombing campaigns against rebel forces.
Colombian military forces resumed the bombing campaign against the rebels after April 15, when FARC rebels ambushed and killed 11 Colombian soldiers in Cauca. Following the ambush, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the military to resume bombing.
Colombia’s Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez is opening an investigation into the ambush, following an investigation by the NGO, Broad Front for Peace. The NGO reported eyewitness accounts which differed with the military’s version of the incident, but also with other eyewitness attacks.
Ordoñez will look into whether there was a failure to follow protocol, and whether details of the attack specifically regarding weapons used was concealed from the forensic investigation.
There is concern that the latest incidences between the government and the FARC will set back the peace talks in Cuba. Despite ending the ceasefire, the FARC has said that it remains committed to the peace process. President Santos has called on the FARC to step up the pace on the peace talks.
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC were officially initiated back in November 2012. The two sides have come to minor agreements since then, including pledges to eliminate illegal drug trafficking, and to work together to remove landmines.
By Samuel Miller Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia said on Wednesday it would offer shelter to 7,000 Rohingya refugees adrift at sea, but made clear that their assistance was temporary and would take no more. The Indonesian Government stated, the refugees would stay only as long as it took for the Government to process and document the refugees. More than 3,000 migrants have landed so far this month in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group fleeing persecution and economic hardship in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The agreement came as fishermen on the Indonesian island of Sumatra rescued at least 370 migrants from sinking ships and brought them ashore. Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya, chief spokesman of the Indonesian military, said migrants saved by fishermen in Indonesia were on several ships rescued separately on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning off Aceh Province, on the northern tip of Sumatra.
Those migrants who have made it to shore in Indonesia told stories of weeks of horror and brutality at the hands of the traffickers, who extorted them for money, provided little food or water and then abandoned them on the open sea to evade a crackdown on smuggling networks by the government of Thailand.
The U.N. High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) welcomed the decision, saying in a statement that it is “an important initial step in the search for solutions to this issue, and vital for the purpose of saving lives.” The UNHCR went on to say, “It is now urgent for people to be brought ashore without delay. UNHCR agrees with the ministers that further action will be needed. It will need to take into account looking properly at the needs of those in need of international protection.”
The situation, however, is far from resolved. While the migrants from Myanmar may be allowed to apply for asylum in Indonesia, Malaysia or perhaps a third country, experts say those from Bangladesh are mainly economic refugees who are likely to be sent home.
Furthermore, Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya people and has refused to engage in talks where the term is used. Rohingya Muslims are a long-oppressed linguistic and ethnic minority in Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country. Most of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions. Almost 140,000 were displaced in clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.
One issue that was not controversial was human trafficking, which all of the countries involved, including Myanmar, agreed to try to stop.
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania
BALTIMORE, United States of America
A court fight has emerged over a knife in the possession of Freddie Gray at the time of his death at the hands of six Baltimore police officers. Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said when announcing charges against the six officers that the knife was not an illegal switchblade under Maryland law. Baltimore police have said the knife violated city code.
The knife has not been shown to the public; as of now, it is unclear which interpretation is appropriate.
In Baltimore, it is illegal to sell, carry, or possess any knife with an automatic spring or other device for opening and/or closing the blade. Baltimore City Code, Article 19, Section 59-22 states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to sell, carry, or possess any knife with an automatic spring or other device for opening and/or closing the blade, commonly known as a switch-blade knife.”
Andrew Alperstein, a defense attorney from Baltimore City, commented on the effect of the Baltimore City Code.
“Baltimore City has a law that says it’s not only illegal to have a switchblade, but it’s also illegal to have a spring-action knife.” Alperstein also noted the adding that the charges could have a chilling effect on police doing their job in the future. “The prosecutor has said if you violate the law by arresting these people falsely, then we’re going to charge you with assault for false imprisonment.”
Former Baltimore Deputy State’s Attorney Page Croyder agreed with the assessment by Alperstein.
“You’re setting a precedent that any police officer who arrests without probable cause can not just be civilly sued, but criminally charged.” Croyder also noted the impact such a decision could have on law enforcement. “As long as officers are acting in good faith, to subject them to criminal charges is going to put a chill on the whole police department.”
Under Maryland law, knives without “switchblades” are not considered weapons. Under Code of Maryland, Section 4-105, “A person may not sell, barter, display, or offer to sell or barter: a knife or a penknife having a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in the handle of the knife, commonly called a switchblade knife or a switchblade penknife.”
Jan Billeb, executive director of the American Knife & Tool Institute, advocated for greater knife rights in the United States. “How’s a person supposed to know what the law is, and how are they supposed to know that there’s a difference in the law between jurisdictions”, said Billeb.
Doug Ritter, founder and chair of Knife Rights Inc., said most knife experts would disagree that Gray’s knife was illegal.
“It’s ridiculous that someone traveling through a metropolitan area can go through a dozen city lines crossing a metropolitan lines and have to deal with a half a dozen laws regarding the knife in his pocket,” Ritter said. Knife right groups are fighting for state pre-emption knife laws, which would stop towns, cities and counties from enacting knife laws different from what has been approved by the state.
But Maryland law does not specifically define what a switchblade is, leaving courts to make that interpretation.
SANA’A, Yemen—The five-day ceasefire ended late Sunday night. The Saudi-led coalition resumed airstrikes over Yemen blaming the Houthi rebels for breaking the truce. Yemen’s foreign minister, Riad Yassin, stated, “That’s what we said before – that if they start again, we will start again.”
The United States, a supporter of the Saudi-led coalition, also blamed the end of the truce on the Houthi rebels. State Department representative Jeff Rathke commented on Saudi Arabia’s “exercised restraint during the humanitarian pause” while the Houthis “moved missile-launchers to the border and shelled Saudi territory numerous times.”
Air strikes resumed late Sunday night and continued into Monday. Witnesses reported strikes attacking cities neighboring Aden.
The Saudi-led coalition does not intend to reinstate a cease-fire. However, air and sea ports used for aid relief will not be targeted. Saudi Arabian officials expressed remorse for the end of the cease-fire, blaming the Houthis for its end.
The UN and humanitarian groups urged for an additional five-day truce in order to extend aid to others. During the cease fire the United Nations was able to provide enough food for one month to 273,000 people. Fuel was provided to 1.2 million people to access water. Non-essential items were distributed to 32,000 people.
Yemen is a country of 26 million people and one of the poorest in the Middle East. An extended truce would have allowed supplies to reach others who remain in desperate need as a result of the air and sea blockade. Yemen relies heavily on imports in order to sustain its population.
Unicef was able to resupply medical centers and establish mobile centers to rural areas. Solar-powered refrigerators were also provided in order to keep vaccines cool. A Unicef representative, when commenting on the aid effort, stated, “humanitarian assistance cannot replace the needs of 26 million people who have been cut off from a regular supply of commercial imports of food and fuel.”
Even with the aid received, hospitals are still in great need of fuel in order to continue to operate the generators.
The Saudi-led coalition continues to attempt to re-instate President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. President Hadi was exiled in late March. The efforts so far have not proven successful. The Houthis continue to advance in Aden with no sign of stopping. There is evidence that the truce allowed the Houthis to bring more troops into Aden.
According to the United Nations, since March 1,820 have been killed, 7,330 have been injured, and 545,719 have been displaced.
Voters in the Republic of Ireland are set to partake in a national referendum on 22 May to legalize gay marriage. The measure Ireland will ask its citizens to vote on is whether “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” If the measure passes, it will be the first time gay marriage has been legalized through a national vote, rather than through the legislature or the court system.
The referendum marks a profound change in Irish politics, as the power of the Catholic Church has collapsed in recent years. Although 85 percent of the population still identifies as Catholic, priests no longer have unchallenged authority on political issues. Ireland, a historically socially conservative country, has been “one of the toughest places in the western world to be gay” because of its religious roots. As recently as 1993, homosexuality was criminalized, and was only legalized because of pressure from European authorities.
The changing political atmosphere and growing separation of Church and State has placed religious leaders against political leaders. Though the Catholic Church has not been incredibly active in the gay marriage referendum, they have encouraged Catholics to vote No.
In statements read out during Sunday Masses, the Catholic Bishops challenge claims from Yes activists that the measure would not substantially affect anyone besides members of the LGBT community. The Bishops argue that, while they do not want to alienate or belittle anyone, a Yes vote would abolish the traditional institution of marriage that is fundamental to the sustaining of human life and of a functioning society.
Conversely, the Yes activists argue that Ireland is ready to legalize gay marriage, as the younger generations are more tolerant and accepting.
Besides the Catholic Church, there are very few Irish establishment organizations that oppose same sex marriage. The government, major political parties, media organizations, unions and business groups all support a Yes vote.
Currently, polls show Irish voters favor a Yes vote by 58%, with 25% voting No, and 17% undecided. Although the polls appear solidly Yes, turnout could be an issue for same sex marriage legalization. In 1995, with the referendum to legalize divorce, a Yes vote passed 51% to 49%. Previous to that referendum, the vote showed most citizens favored legalization of divorce. Voter apathy and lack of turnout ended up making the vote that close.
If Ireland votes Yes, it will be the 18th country to legalize gay marriage. 13 of those countries are in Europe, with Slovenia being the most recent in March 2015.
By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
GEORGETOWN, Guyana – David Granger of the Partnership for National Unity-Alliance for Change Coalition (APNU-AFC) has been sworn in as the eighth president of Guyana since 1966. Over 408,000 people participated in the election.
The elections were called after former Guyanese president Donald Ramotar suspended parliament back in November 2014. Ramotar was trying to avoid a vote of no-confidence after his party was accused of corruption.
Ramotar’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has been in power since 1992. The election that year was considered to be the first “free and fair” election since the country gained its independence.
Granger’s coalition will have a one seat majority over the PPP in the Guyanese Parliament of 65 seats.
The PPP has asked for a recount of votes in certain areas of the country, claiming that some votes were “suspiciously” rejected. The APNU says that recounts are illegal after a 12 hour period following the posting of results, as per the country’s 1964 Representation of the People Act.
The election was overseen by a number of international election observation groups, including a mission from the Carter Center. Former US president Jimmy Carter travelled to Guyana with the mission to oversee the election, but had to cut his trip short due to illness. He has issued congratulations to Granger.
Officials from the US and the UK, including the U.S. Embassy in Guyana have called the election “free and fair.” The Commonwealth Observer Group did express concern regarding the amount of time between the election and the results announcement, and said that it would issue a recommendation for a shorter waiting period.
In his address at his swearing in, Granger announced that there would be a “transition team” put together to facilitate the change in regime.
The APNU-AFC is a multi-racial bloc – representative of Guyana’s ethnically divided demographics. In the past, party allegiances have been strongly based on racial identity.
Guyana gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966. The region was settled by former slaves following the abolition of slavery, and indentured servants from India. English is the official language of Guyana. Although race has been a major source of division in past politics, Granger and the APNU-AFC have pledged to end racial divisions.
ANDAMAN SEA AND MALACCA STRAIT, Off the Coastlines of Thailand and Malaysia–
Thousands of migrants are stranded in boats in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand and in the Malacca Strait near the coast of Malaysia. The migrants have been unable to find asylum after fleeing from oppression and economic troubles in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Many of the migrants are Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar. There are over one million Rohingya in Myanmar and more than 100,000 have fled from persecution in recent years. The Rohingya are a minority in Myanmar and have faced systematic discrimination by Myanmar’s government. They are also subject to attacks by radical Buddhists. Anti-Muslim views are common among the people of Myanmar, many of whom are Buddhist.
In Myanmar, the Rohingya are not entitled to rights of citizenship, freedom of travel or access to education. Myanmar’s military government has stated that the Rohingya are Bengali migrants whose presence is an unwelcome reminder of colonialism in Myanmar. Bengladash’s government disagrees that the Rohingya are Bengalis and has made attempts to close its borders to the Rohingya migrants.
The other migrants traveling with the Rohingya are fleeing from economic hardship in Bangladesh. Legal migration is time consuming and expensive, so many of those migrating from Bangladesh have used the same trafficking routes and boats as the Rohingya.
Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have all turned boats of refugees away at their shores, leaving the migrants with no option but to go back onto the open sea.
Malaysia turned away one such boat full of migrants on Wednesday. Malaysia has a shortage of unskilled labor, making it a prime destination for fleeing migrants. Malaysia has already admitted tens of thousands of Rohingya, but those who arrive through people trafficking routes are treated like illegal immigrants and are placed in slums. They are treated with discrimination and their only employment options are dangerous and low-paying jobs.
Although Malaysia has admitted a number of Rohingya, the recent surge in migrants reaching Malaysian and Indonesian shores has caused both countries to state that they will not accept any more migrants unless they are in extreme peril. A Malaysian official has stated that the rush of migrants is unwelcome and that the Malaysian government will not allow any illegal entries into Malaysia.
Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar has voiced concern that if Malaysia continues to admit the fleeing migrants, then hundreds of thousands more migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh will come to Malaysia.
A boat carrying an estimated 660 migrants arrived in Indonesia, a Muslim country, on Friday morning. Yet another boat was sighted in the Malacca Strait by the Indonesian Navy on Friday morning and was turned away before it could come ashore. Indonesia’s government has stated that illegal immigrants will not be admitted.
Another boat, carrying hundreds of migrants, reached the shore of Thailand on Thursday after journalists found it in the Andaman Sea of the Thailand shore. The boat’s crew had abandoned the boat without a working motor, leaving the passengers stranded without food and water. Although there are differing accounts of how many people aboard the ship have died, passengers have stated that 10 people on board the ship had died and were then thrown overboard, The Thai government repaired the boat’s engine and provided the passengers with supplies and enough fuel for 33 hours.
Thai authorities claimed that the passengers on board the ship wanted to continue their journey to Malaysia instead of getting out in Thailand. The boat had, however, already been turned away from Malaysia on Wednesday. A Thai reporter witnessed the boat’s parting and stated that some of the migrants aboard did not seem to want to leave. She stated that women on the ship were crying as the ship pulled away from the Thai coast.
While the Thai government has stated that its navy will give humanitarian aid to migrants, they do not want the migrants to settle down permanently in Thailand.
United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has stressed Myanmar’s responsibility for the migrants’ fleeing because of its discrimination against the Muslim Rohingya. He has stated that until discrimination against the Rohingya is addressed, the migration of the Rohingya refugees will continue.