News

“Devastating cruelty” in Rohingya persecution, occupation in West Bank, Moldovan flag controversy

3 to 9 February

A Rohingya girl and a policeman.
A Rohingya girl and a policeman. Author: DYKT Mohigan @ Flickr.
WEEKLY ROUNDUP. Our focus goes this week to the desperate situation underwent by the Rohingya people in northern Burma, where two different reports released the last few days describe massive, gross human rights violations at the hands of the military. Besides, among other issues, we are also listing some of the latest developments of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the controversy in Moldova over president Dodon's proposal to change the country's flag, a very sensitive issue in the dispute between pro-Western and pro-Russian sectors in the former Soviet republic.

NEWS HIGHLIGHT:

A report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights describes gross human rights violations against the Rohingya people in Burma. The report, for which a UN team interviewed 204 people, talks about "devastating cruelty" in crimes such as mass gang-rape, killings, beatings and disappearances endured by women, men and children, "including of babies". The crimes, quoted witnesses say, were perpetrated by Burma's security forces. Reacting to the report, the Association for Threatened Peoples has called on Europe "to actively engage" in defending the rights of the Rohingya. Human Rights Watch has also released its own report, which focuses on sexual violence. It also denounces the rape of women and girls —some of them as young as 13— committed by Burmese security forces during a military campaign in northern Burma's Rakhine state at the end of 2016. Muslim-majority Rohingyas have been subject to systematic persecution for years in predominantly Buddhist Burma. The Rohingya Vision website provides current information on the events.

MOREOVER:

The Israeli parliament has passed a new law legalizing some 4,000 settlers' housing units in the West Bank. The Palestine Liberation Organization has called the measure "theft of Palestinian land", and has said it proves "the Israeli government’s will to destroy any chances for a political solution." In addition, the policy of demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem is going on. Meanwhile, repeatedly postponed local elections in Palestine have been scheduled for May 13 by the Palestinian Authority. Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine support the move, while Hamas and Islamic Jihad reject the decision arguing that the current Palestinian division into two de facto authorities (the West Bank in ruled by the PA while the Gaza Strip remains under Hamas control) must be solved beforehand.

Regarding the Catalan independence process, attention has focused on a trial against former president Artur Mas and ministers Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau, on which Nationalia has published a backgrounder. Current Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has spoken on the case in two different speeches, in which he has said that the trial is "negative" for Spain's image in the world, and has argued that the whole case seeks to frighten those must prepare an upcoming referendum on independence, an indirect reference to his own government.

At its second meeting since its establishment on January 1 this year, the Agglomeration Community of the Basque Country has passed a decision to take on powers on Basque culture and language policy. Up till now, those powers were in the hands of a coordinating body of local bodies. In the same session, the Basque Community has also elected its entire executive council. The establishment of this administrative body is a milestone in Basque political history, given that it is the first time since the French Republic was declared that the Northern Basque Country, or Iparralde, has a governing body of its own.

President of Moldova Igor Dodon has proposed that the country adopt a new flag to avoid similarities with the flag of Romania. In 2012, when he was still in opposition, Dodon had called for a referendum to change the flag. The issue raises controversy in the former Soviet republic. Generally speaking, pro-Western and pro-Romanian sectors want to keep the current tricolor flag, which reflects historical, linguistic and cultural links between Moldova and Romania. Pro-Russian sectors —of which Dodon's party, the PSRM, is now the political epitome— advocate the adoption of differentiated and own Moldovan symbols.

NATO secretary-general James Stoltenberg has said the bloc is in Kosovo to "protect the peace." Stoltenberg has said those words in Pristina, where he has asked the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to go back to the path of dialogue and agreement. He has done so after tensions have risen in the former Serbian province over the last few days. Newly appointed American Secretary of State James Mattis suggested that at some point the Kosovo Security Forces will receive the order to also guarantee the country's defense —a move the Serbian camp tends to reject—, while Serbian ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj ensured that Albanians were preparing an attack against the four Serb majority municipalities in northern Kosovo.
 
In the Philippines, president Rodrigo Duterte said he fully supports calls for autonomy from the Cordillera region, in the context of the president's commitment to implement a federal system in the Asian island country. Cordillera is the native land of several indigenous groups, collectively known as Igorot, some representatives of which have been demanding since at least the 1980s an autonomous status for the area.