November 25, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Pax Redux

Colombians will get another chance at peace – though justice is another matter.

The Colombian government signed a second peace agreement with leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Thursday, revising a previous peace deal that was rejected by a popular referendum, the BBC reported.

As FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, better known as Timochenko, and President Juan Manuel Santos shook hands after signing the document, the 800 guests gathered to witness the historic deal stood to chant, “Si se pudo” (“Yes, we could”), the news channel said.

With critics again claiming the agreement is too lenient on the rebels for their human rights abuses during the five-decade-long civil war, this time the government is not taking any chances on a popular vote. Instead, the agreement was submitted to the Colombian Congress for approval – with Santos saying he expects a vote as soon as next week.

The president’s center-right U Party and other allies control the country’s bicameral legislature, so the deal will go through. But the decision to bypass another referendum will also energize the opposition, which is led by former President Alvaro Uribe, Reuters reported.

Uribe was the main force behind the drive to reject the earlier peace deal, and he contends that the new agreement is little better than the old one. Reuters, too, said the new 310-page pact “appears to make only small modifications to the original text, such as clarifying private property rights and detailing more fully how the rebels would be confined in rural areas for crimes committed during the war.”

However, the BBC noted several differences. For instance, members of FARC will have to declare all their assets and turn them over to the government to use to pay reparations to the victims of the conflict – which killed more than 260,000 people.

Uribe has argued that rebel leaders should also be banned from holding public office and jailed for any crimes committed during the fighting.

Meanwhile, there are some worrying signs that the effort to close the books on the conflict without delivering justice for its victims has caused an uptick in another kind of violence – at least temporarily.

Over the past week, at least five community leaders have been murdered and attempts have been made on the lives of at least three more, the Miami Herald reported. Since January 70 such leaders have been targeted and murdered.

Experts say the attacks – which have targeted rural organizers, land-rights advocates and others who have campaigned in favor of the peace deal – represent a concerted effort to ensure it fails. To stop that from happening, Santos on Tuesday ordered increased protection for such community leaders.

Nevertheless, the killings evoke an ominous precedent from Colombia’s recent history: When the Unión Patriótica party was created in the 1980s to give FARC a legitimate voice in government during a similar ceasefire, some 1,000 to 1,500 of its members were assassinated over the ensuing decade.

“Every day we’ve been getting news about people being killed, disappeared, shot at. I feel like history is repeating itself,” said Aída Avella, the president of Unión Patrótica.

Holiday Promo

WANT TO KNOW

First Casualty

The war raging in Syria, which has killed more than 250,000 people, claimed the life of its first US soldier on Thursday – while Americans at home celebrated Thanksgiving with their families.

The soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device near the town of Ayn Issa, about 35 miles northwest of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa in northern Syria, the Washington Post reported.

“On this Thanksgiving please be thankful there are service members willing to take up the fight to protect our homeland from [the Islamic State’s] hateful and brutal ideology,” the commander of the US-led coalition said, without releasing the name of the soldier who was killed.

More than 300 members of the United States Special Operations Forces are involved in ground fighting in Syria, helping to recruit, train and advise the Kurdish and Arab fighters battling to recapture Raqqa.

Another Bomb

A deadly bombing in Iraq has shattered the illusion that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi could battle to push the Islamic State out of Mosul while simultaneously protecting Shiite pilgrims in the south.

At least 80 people were killed on Thursday when an Islamic State suicide bomber blew up a truck filled with explosives at a roadside service station in Hilla, a city south of Baghdad, the New York Times reported. Many of the victims were Shiites on their way home to Iran after traveling through Iraq for the world’s largest religious pilgrimage.

The annual rite, known as Arbaeen, commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. It has in years past been a frequent target of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda – which view Shiites as apostates and heretics. But until Thursday’s bombing this year’s event had been carried out safely.

It was the biggest such attack in Iraq since a truck bomb exploded near a shopping mall in Baghdad in July, killing more than 300 people. That attack prompted worries that defeating IS in Mosul would result in a spate of terrorist attacks on civilians elsewhere in the country.

Talking Turkey

As US President Barack Obama issued a ceremonial pardon to the White House turkey on Thursday, European lawmakers took a harder line against the country with the same name.

The European Parliament approved a resolution calling for the suspension of talks with Turkey on European Union membership, the New York Times reported.

While the ultimate decision on the issue rests with the governments of the European Union’s member countries, the resolution marked Europe’s “most forceful” rejection yet of the ongoing crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against his political opponents, the paper said.

Either the European Commission or one-third of European Union member states can trigger a binding vote by making a formal proposal, which would then have to be approved by a majority of the EU’s 28 member countries.

That’s unlikely for now, but the European Parliament’s move ups the ante for Erdogan, following his vow to drop his bid and join forces with China instead of Europe if there is no progress by the end of the year.

DISCOVERIES

The Twists of Fate

German archivists may have found a document that set in motion a series of events that culminated with Donald Trump’s election as president this month: a letter expelling his grandfather from Germany.

Friedrich Trump, the grandfather of Donald Trump, had already emigrated from Germany to the US in 1885 to take advantage of the gold rush out West.

But when his wife Elisabeth later struggled to adapt to life in the US, the Trumps returned to Germany — where the authorities rebuffed the Trumps’ repeated attempts at re-naturalization.

“(Friedrich Trump) failed to de-register from his homeland and had not carried out his military service, which is why the authorities rejected his attempt at repatriation,” said Roland Paul, the historian who found the documents, in an interview with a German newspaper.

Unable to resettle in Germany, the Trumps set sail for New York again in July 1905 – when Elisabeth was three months pregnant with Fred, the father of the future 45th president of the United States.

Reactions to this historical revelation in Germany have been mixed: One newspaper called it an “unspectacular piece of paper” that was nevertheless an event that “changed world history.”

Check out the documents and decide for yourself here.

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Power to the Press

This week, CPJ held its International Press Freedom Awards and honored four journalists from El Salvador, India, Turkey, and Egypt for their courageous reporting. Óscar Martínez, Malini Subramaniam, and Can Dündar each took to the stage at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Thursday night to give moving speeches about the importance and power of good journalism. Notably absent was the fourth honoree, 29-year-old photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, or Shawkan, who remains imprisoned for his work in Egypt.

CPJ also celebrated the outstanding contributions to press freedom made by Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent and anchor at CNN. The awards ceremony was a powerful and poignant reminder of the important role that journalists play in safeguarding democracy.