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In brief

News of the week

von Wolf Dagmar

In Kürze

Political violence in Burundi / Israeli veterans break silence on Gaza war / Rohingya mass graves found in Thailand / Death sentences after mob killing in Afghanistan / Chile’s president reshuffles cabinet

40,000 flee Burundi amid political violence

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza will run for a third term in an election at the end of June. The constitutional court has given the green light for his candidacy on Tuesday, although the constitution only allows two terms. The judges ruled that Nkurunziza’s first term does not count because he was picked by parliament instead of being elected by the public.

Before the decision, Sylvere Nimpagaritse, deputy president of the court, fled to Rwanda. He alleged that the majority of the judges initially found a third term unconstitutional but changed their minds because of political pressure and intimidation. He even spoke of death threats. The president's spokesman Gervais Abayeho denied that judges had been threatened or pressured.

Protests against Nkurunziza’s candidacy have plunged the tiny African nation into its worst crisis since a 12-year civil war ended in 2005. Civil-society groups say more than a dozen people have been killed. The police has reportedly used live ammunition against demonstrators. On Thursday, protesters burned a man to death because they believed he was a part of the ruling party's militant youth wing. According to the UN, nearly 40,000 people have fled Burundi, most of them to neighbouring Rwanda.

The foreign ministers of Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda met in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura on Wednesday to discuss the crisis. They announced an emergency meeting of regional leaders on 13 May in Tanzania. The African Union issued a warning that Burundi’s current environment is not conducive to elections. Nkurunziza said that, if he is re-elected in June, he will not run for office again.

Sources: Reuters, AFP, Deutsche Welle


Israeli veterans break silence on Gaza war

According to a non-governmental Israeli organisation, Israel’s armed forces did not appropriately protect civilians during the Gaza war last year. The NGO is called Breaking the Silence, and it is an initiative of Israeli veterans. It emphasises that soldiers must distinguish between combatants and civilians and have an obligation to minimise the harm done to civilians. Yuli Novak, the NGO’s director, said: “From the testimonies given by the officers and soldiers, a troubling picture arises of a policy of indiscriminate fire that led to the deaths of innocent civilians.”

Breaking the Silence has published a booklet in which members of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) give account of what they experienced. One soldier reported: “The instructions are to shoot right away. Whoever you spot – be they armed or unarmed, no matter what ... shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.” Another soldier said: “If we don’t see someone waving a white flag, screaming ‘I give up’ or something, then he’s a threat and there’s authorisation to open fire.”

The booklet is in Hebrew, and the witnesses remain anonymous. An IDF spokesperson said the statements were not accurate and challenged the NGO to “provide proof of its claims”. Right-wing Israeli groups accuse Breaking the Silence of being paid by foreign agencies to provide anti-Israeli statements. The response of Breaking the Silence is that its opponents are failing to address the arguments and trying to divert attention.

In its comment, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz warned that the investigators of the International Criminal Court will carefully scrutinise the NGO report unless Israel itself carries out a thorough and independent investigation of the rules of engagement in Gaza.

Sources: Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel


Rohingya mass graves found in Thailand

Dozens of mass graves with the remains of Rohingya refugees have been found in Thailand. According to media reports, Thai authorities discovered about 70 mass graves in the provinces of Sonkla and Phangnga. The dead are believed to be victims of human traffickers.

Many Rohingya flee the neighbouring country of Myanmar where their Muslim ethnic community is not officially recognised and suffers discrimination and violence. Many come to Thailand by boat where they fall victim to human traffickers. They want to move on to Malaysia, which is predominantly Muslim and more accepting of the Rohingya. Often, Rohingya refugees are kept in jungle camps along the Thai-Malaysian borders and forced to get ransom money from their families in Myanmar. If the money is paid, migrants will be transferred to Malaysia. If not, they are often killed. Thai authorities are believed to be involved in the illegal business of people smuggling.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has repeatedly called on Myanmars’s neighbouring countries to accept Rohingya refugees and requested Thailand to set up refugee camps. But the request was turned down. The UN recognise Myanmar’s Rohingya as the world’s most persecuted minority.

On Thursday, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered local authorities in all provinces to eliminate all Rohingya detention camps within ten days. Authorities concerned would face punishment if human-trafficking continues and detention camps are found after the indicated time. Prayuth also seeks to meet with authorities from Myanmar and Malaysia on the issue.

Sources: Bangkok Post, International Business Time, The Star


Death sentences after mob killing in Afghanistan

A court in Afghanistan has sentenced four men to hang because they were involved in the mob killing of a woman in March. A group of people had attacked and murdered her because of a rumour that she had burned a copy of the Koran. According to a specially appointed investigation commission, a man made the deadly allegation about the Koran after the woman, a devout Muslim, told him to stop selling amulets to superstitious people.

The amulet seller is among the four men who have now been condemned to death. Eight defendants were sentenced to 16 years in prison, 18 have been found not guilty, and 19 policemen are still on trial for having watched the murder without intervening. The woman's family declared that the court's decisions are too mild and that more perpetrators should be punished.

Violence against women is often ignored in Afghanistan, but this case gained wide-spread attention because there is video evidence. Moreover, the court case was broadcast on TV. Some observers argue that this case may prove a turning point in the awareness of women's rights in Afghanistan, while others point out that the legal quality of the trial was dubious.

Sources: taz, Washington Post


Chile's president asks cabinet to resign

Chile's President Michele Bachelet hopes to regain her people's confidence by reshuffling the cabinet. She told a TV station that she will re-organise the government after asking all ministers to resign. Her approval ratings in opinion polls have slumped to about 30 %.

Corruption cases have contributed to that trend. The judiciary is investigating a shady real-estate deal involving her son and daughter-in-law. Various political leaders, both from the government coalition and the opposition, are allegedly corrupt.

Sources: FAZ, BBC

These items were compiled by Hans Dembowski and Katja Dombrowski on the basis of international media coverage.


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