The World Today for October 27, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Tipping Scales

African nations were among the most ardent supporters of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague when the institution first opened its doors in 2002.

Angry over the unpunished injustices of Apartheid and the Rwandan genocide, the continent welcomed the establishment of an independent body that could prosecute the world’s worst international crimes.

But now a small but growing number of African nations are heading for the exit.

South Africa announced last week that it would pull out of the ICC, citing the conflict between the court’s obligations and South African laws on diplomatic immunity.

The move came after South African leaders defied an ICC court order to arrest Sudanese president Hassan al-Bashir during a 2015 visit to South Africa for an African Union summit.

As Africa’s most developed economy and most prominent democracy, South Africa’s decision dealt a strong blow to the still-fledgling international tribunal, said observers.

Most damningly, Pretoria noted “perceptions of inequality and unfairness in the practice of the ICC” in its decision to quit. The comments marked a major reversal in African attitudes toward the court.

Although Africa was a strong advocate for the court early on, its support for the tribunal has waned due to what many African nations see as a disproportionate focus on crimes committed in Africa.

All of the cases heard in The Hague since the court’s founding have concerned African defendants, noted the Los Angeles Times. Criminals from the Yugoslav War were tried in a special United Nations tribunal, and Kosovo will get a special court in The Hague next year.

South Africa’s decision came shortly after Burundi passed a bill to pull out of the court.

Burundi’s exit was derided as a cynical attempt to avoid scrutiny from the court. The country has been rocked by political violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term, scrapping the country’s presidential term limits.

Analysts wondered if other African nations would follow the trend, wrote Quartz.

They didn’t have to wait long to find out: Gambia announced Tuesday that it would follow suit, offering a scathing critique of the ICC as “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color.”

In their announcement Tuesday, Gambian officials argued that Western leaders and others from powerful countries who commit crimes received a free pass while Africans faced so-called international justice.

Other African countries are likely to follow. Kenya has tussled with the court since 2011 when its prosecutor filed charges against prominent locals including two politicians who would become president and vice president. Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, called the ICC a “bunch of useless people” even though he initiated an investigation against the Lord’s Resistance Army, which resulted in the court’s first indictment in 2003.

The US does not participate in the ICC. Neither does China or India.

Activists are already expressing concerns that leaders in countries that leave the court’s jurisdiction might feel unaccountable for violations and abuses, wrote Al Jazeera.

But supporters of the court cite its successes, like this summer’s widely praised sentencing of an Islamic militant who destroyed UNESCO heritage sites in Timbuktu, Mali.

To them, a flawed court is still better than none.

WANT TO KNOW

Baltic Tenterhooks

When it comes to weapons, there’s really no difference between offense and defense – it depends on the eye of the beholder.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that Moscow is adding firepower – five ships armed with cruise missiles – to its Baltic Fleet in response to NATO’s biggest planned military buildup on Russia’s borders since the Cold War, local media reported on Wednesday.

The maneuver will raise tensions in the Baltic, which has been on tenterhooks since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, at a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, Britain said it would send fighter jets to Romania, the US said it would send troops, tanks and artillery to Poland, and Germany, Canada and other NATO allies also pledged forces to counter potential Russian aggression.

Dead, and Mostly Forgotten

Somehow one of the world’s largest ongoing tragedies has mostly dropped out of sight as the death toll continues to rise.

At least 3,800 migrants have died or been declared missing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 – the highest annual total yet – despite or perhaps because of a controversial agreement designed to prevent would-be asylum seekers from braving its waters, the BBC reported.

After the European Union inked a controversial deal with Turkey to return migrants landing in Greece earlier this year, more people are using the longer, dangerous route from Libya to Italy. Smugglers are also using flimsier boats.

The result is that even though the total number of migrants making the trip to Europe dropped to 330,000 people this year from more than a million in 2015, the number of people killed increased to 3,800 from last year’s 3,771, according to the UN refugee agency. And it’s still October.

No Objection

The United States made a groundbreaking move by doing nothing on Wednesday – abstaining from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning America’s economic embargo against Cuba for the first time in 25 years.

The announcement by US Ambassador Samantha Power ahead of a vote on the resolution – which the US has always vehemently opposed – was greeted with applause in the 193-member General Assembly, the Associated Press reported.

In the past, most member states of the UN have overwhelmingly voted to condemn the embargo. By abstaining, the US has established a bit more wiggle room for President Barack Obama’s new approach to Cuba – which has seen the resumption of diplomatic relations but not an end to the embargo.

Abstaining “does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government,” Power said. “We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit.”

Baby steps, folks.

DISCOVERIES

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Humans are the tool wielders of the animal kingdom. For millennia, our ancestors manipulated their environment to get an edge on the competition.

But a recent study published in the journal Nature shows that the creation of one particular ancient tool, the rock flake, may not be as uniquely human as once believed.

That’s because the capuchin monkeys of Brazil make them, too.

A flake is made by repeatedly banging two rocks together to create a sharpened cross-section that can be used as a primitive tool.

Archaeologists have long thought that fossilized flakes were a deliberate manifestation unique to early humans. But after observing Brazil’s capuchin monkeys, they’re not quite sure.

Capuchins not only use rocks to hammer open nuts and hard-shelled fruits, but also create flakes by knocking rocks against one another.

Researchers believe the capuchins may be trying to access lichens or mineral deposits within the rocks because the monkeys often give their handiwork a good lick once they’re through.

Despite aesthetic similarities, there are some major differences between the crafts of our ancestors and those of the capuchins.

“They’re producing objects that are visually similar to the most distinctive component of human stone technology,” paleoanthropologist John Shea told the Christian Science Monitor. But while “humans use the flakes to cut things, capuchins don’t.”

Check out the capuchins in action here, and a visual breakdown of the findings here.

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