World update: December 11 2017



The AP has conducted an in-depth investigation into the rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar soldiers. It is absolutely chilling and should be read as widely as possible, so please go do that:

The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s security forces has been sweeping and methodical, the Associated Press found in interviews with 29 women and girls who fled to neighboring Bangladesh. These sexual assault survivors from several refugee camps were interviewed separately and extensively. They ranged in age from 13 to 35, came from a wide swath of villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and described assaults between October 2016 and mid-September.


Foreign journalists are banned from the Rohingya region of Rakhine, making it nearly impossible to independently verify each woman’s report. Yet there was a sickening sameness to their stories, with distinct patterns in their accounts, their assailants’ uniforms and the details of the rapes themselves.


United Nations human rights chief Zeid b. Raʿad al-Hussein reported to the UN Security Council on Monday that sanctions against North Korea are putting 13 million people at risk for lack of humanitarian aid. Banking sanctions in particular have bit into the UN’s ability to continue providing assistance.

The US, Japan, and South Korea are preparing to conduct joint drills on tracking submarine-launched ballistic missiles. While most of the attention has been on North Korea’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs, analysts have seen signs that Pyongyang is also throwing substantial resources into its submarine and SLBM programs.

A three judge panel working for the International Bar Association heard testimony on the conditions in North Korea’s prisons recently. The findings were stunning:

Thomas Buergenthal, who served on the International Court of Justice, is one of three jurists who have concluded that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should be tried for crimes against humanity for the way his regime uses brutal political prisons to control the population.


“I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps and in my long professional career in the human rights field,” said Buergenthal, who was in Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen as a child, as well as the ghetto of Kielce, Poland.

Kim Jong-un could be referred to the International Criminal Court on human rights charges on, well, on any number of things, but practically speaking that won’t accomplish anything unless somebody were to drop him off at The Hague.



Though it declared victory in Benghazi in July, Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army continues to take casualties at the hands of Islamist holdouts in the city. Four of its men have been killed there so far in December.


The Ethiopian government has reportedly been using Israeli-made spyware to keep track of dissidents and journalists living outside of Ethiopia:

To infect the targeted computers, the operator of the spyware first sent an email asking activists and journalists to view a video on a website designed to impersonate popular Ethopian and Eritrean video-sharing websites, Marczak explained.


Once someone clicked on the link, however, a message popped up saying their computer’s Flash Player was out of date.


A second link then would invite the user to download an updated version of the application, but used a ficticious application called “Adobe PdfWriter”. That’s when the spyware would be downloaded onto the victim’s computer.


Kalsan TV journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Gabow was killed on Monday by a car bomb in Mogadishu, but it’s not clear he was the intended victim. Gabow was apparently borrowing the car from his editor, Mohamed Moalim Mustaf. No word who was behind the bombing.


The Burundian government is planning to institute pay deductions for civil servants and “voluntary” contributions from private citizens to finance its 2020 presidential election. Foreign aid used to pay for Burundi’s elections, but that funding has dried up since 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided that the constitution’s two-term limit should really only apply to other presidents, not him. Next year the country is likely to hold a referendum on abolishing those term limits altogether, so that Nkurunziza can run for a fourth term and beyond.



Vladimir Putin’s big Middle East tour on Monday was meant to convey, among other things, that he’s reestablished Russia as a major player in world affairs. It’s no secret that two of Putin’s stops–Turkey and Egypt–were traditional US allies that are both probably closer to Moscow than to Washington nowadays. That matters as Putin approaches next year’s presidential election. His victory is certainly not in any jeopardy, but Putin would like to avoid, say, an embarrassingly low turnout, and so he needs to campaign even though the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Meanwhile, the contest is on to see who–and what–will succeed Putin in 2024, when he will be constitutionally barred once more from running for a third consecutive term. Putin could transfer himself back over to the prime minister’s office, as he did from 2008-2012 before resuming the presidency again in 2030, but realistically he’s 65 now so whatever he’s going to do he’s running out of time in which to do it. There’s some speculation he could create a new high council of something or other, whose powers could rival or even supersede the presidency, and then appoint himself the head of that council as his “retirement” plan.


Mikheil Saakashvili has been released by Ukrainian authorities after a court in Kiev refused to approve his arrest. Saakashvili renewed his call for change in the Ukrainian government.


Romania’s lower house of parliament approved a new measure on Monday that critics say will politicize the selection and oversight of the country’s judges. Considering that Romania is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, this is probably not a good thing. Public sentiment has been decidedly against the measure, but it will become law unless the Romanian Senate blocks it.


Slovenia has to hold a parliamentary election by July at the latest, and so it’s getting to be polling season. And a new poll by the newspaper Delo produced some pretty wild results. According to its findings, the Lista Marjana Šarca–led by Marjan Šarec, former comedian turned mayor of Kamnik–leads all other parties with 15.7 percent support. The reason that’s wild is that, currently, LMŠ doesn’t have any seats in the assembly. They’re trailed by the Social Democrats at 12.6 percent. The Party of the Modern Center, which currently has a plurality of seats in the parliament, came in sixth place with a mere 5.5 percent support.


Brexit Secretary David Davis is trying to do a little damage control after saying on Sunday that Britain’s “deal” with the European Union over the Northern Ireland border was a “statement of intent.” That made it sound a little less binding than the Irish government wanted to hear, though Davis says he actually meant to say it’s more binding than a simple legal agreement would have been, because it reflects the May government’s desire to avoid a hard Irish border regardless of whether or not a Brexit deal is completed. Sure, whatever you say.



After they boycotted yet another election, this time the mayoral elections on Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on Monday that three of the country’s four main opposition parties will be banned from participating in next year’s presidential election. There’s almost no way Maduro has the authority to do this, but he’ll be given the authority by his Constituent Assembly, and that’s just how Venezuela rolls nowadays. The move is obviously illegitimate even if it is made technically legal, but again at this point who’s going to stop him? Those opposition parties really have forfeited a considerable amount of legitimacy through their repeated electoral boycotts, which have literally accomplished nothing else.


I left it until the end, but today’s biggest story here in the US was obviously the attempted terrorist attack on the New York City subway:

A would-be suicide attacker detonated a pipe bomb strapped to his body in the heart of Manhattan’s busiest subway corridor on Monday, sending thousands of terrified commuters fleeing the smoke-choked passageways, and bringing the heart of Midtown to a standstill as hundreds of police officers converged on Times Square and the surrounding streets.


But the makeshift weapon failed to fully detonate, and the attacker himself was the only one seriously injured in the blast, which unfolded just before 7:20 a.m.


Law enforcement officials said the attacker, identified by the police as Akayed Ullah, 27, chose the location because of its Christmas-themed posters, a motive that recalled strikes in Europe, and he told investigators that he set off his bomb in retaliation for United States airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria and elsewhere.

Ullah is a Bangladeshi national who came into the country in 2011 on a family immigrant visa. He pledged allegiance to ISIS in conversations with law enforcement and said he was also motivated by “recent Israeli actions in Gaza.” Obviously investigators will be trying to figure out how and when he was radicalized, but at first glance it would appear it happened after he got to the US, so until further notice you should feel free to ignore the inevitable wave of hot takes that are already pouring out about radicalism in Bangladesh.

Where Ullah was radicalized matters in terms of how, and really whether, this attack was preventable. If he was radicalized in Bangladesh then that’s a failure of the immigrant screening process. But if he was radicalized in the US, then this has all the hallmarks of another lone wolf attack by a single individual with no training and no overseas help (the failure of the bomb being the first and biggest sign) who got angry about something and found a justification for his anger in online jihadi propaganda. How do you stop that?

Lots of people in the United States get angry about lots of things and turn to violence as a result. Some of them are Muslim, but many others are not. I have yet to see anybody propose a foolproof way of catching any of them before they commit (or try to commit) whatever kind of violence they’re planning to commit. That this particular guy happened to be Muslim doesn’t make his attack substantively different from the Oklahoma City bombing or the Las Vegas shooting. In fact, the preparations that went into those attacks should have made them easier to stop–this attempted bombing, like the Halloween truck attack, was simple enough to slide well under the radar.

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