The World Today for February 23, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

PHILIPPINES

The Corner

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is no stranger to incendiary language or controversial policies.

Since taking office in June 2016, he’s called former President Barack Obama a “son of a whore,” trivialized the rape of an Australian missionary during a prison riot, and launched a brutal war on drugs estimated to have taken the lives of as many as 12,000 mostly poor and urban-dwelling Filipinos.

But Duterte’s tendency to operate outside the norms of his post may be catching up to him.

On February 8, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it was opening a preliminary investigation into accusations that Duterte and his cohorts had committed crimes against humanity.

The investigation has been in the works since last April, when a lawyer representing two men who said they’d been personal assassins for Duterte filed a 77-page complaint with the court. The complaint detailed accusations of official orders of mass murder and other crimes against humanity, the New York Times reported.

Political rivals took the opportunity to pounce.

News of the inquiry “should jolt Duterte into realizing that he is not above the law,” said opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes. “More important, this is the first step for the victims’ families to quest for justice.”

Human Rights Watch also highlighted other alleged misdeeds, such as the prosecution of Senator Leila de Lima, a fierce critic of the extrajudicial war on drugs who has been imprisoned for the past year.

“Her prosecution has only raised her global stature and brought greater attention to Duterte’s demolition of the rule of law and respect for human rights,” said Phelim Kina, deputy Asia director for the organization.

But the backlash hasn’t curbed the president’s tongue.

“If you want to find me guilty, go ahead,” Duterte said recently of the ICC’s investigation. “Find a country where they kill people with a firing squad and I’m ready. If you haul me into a rigmarole of trial and trial, no need. Go ahead and proceed in your investigation. Find me guilty, of course.”

Activists say the president has also incentivized the extrajudicial killings of communist rebels on the southern island of Mindanao by indigenous people there, offering a bounty of 20,000 pesos, or about $384, per head, Al Jazeera reported.

That offer – which Human Rights Watch’s Carlos Conde said had “normalized” summary executions – followed another remark in which Duterte told the military to shoot female communist rebels in their genitals to render them “useless,” the New York Times wrote in a separate report.

Backing this president into a corner might just intensify the bite of his bark.

WANT TO KNOW

SOMALIA

Worst Bad, Meet Least Bad

The global fight against corruption is arguably at its apex – thanks to the worldwide battle against the financing of terrorism, revelations about offshore accounts from watchdogs and whistleblowers, and populist movements across the globe.

But in a report that revealed Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world, Transparency International found that some 6 billion people still live under graft-plagued governments, and nearly 70 percent of countries scored less than 50 percent on its 2017 corruption index, the Economist reported.

Somalia scored a measly 9 out of 100 – 100 being “very clean” – while TI reckons the least corrupt country in the world to be New Zealand, with a score of 89.

Perhaps more surprising, the watchdog group found a clear inverse relationship between corruption and free speech, the Economist noted. Nine out of every ten journalists killed since 2012 were in countries that scored less than 45, while Bahrain, which suffered the biggest drop on the index over last year, shut down the country’s only independent newspaper in June.

GREECE

Speak of the Devil

Did somebody say corruption? Greece’s parliament voted Thursday to set up a committee to investigate allegations that the Swiss drugmaker Novartis bribed various Greek politicians, including some former prime ministers.

The 10 socialist and conservative politicians, who served between 2006 and 2015, were named in the parliament before the vote – which set up a committee that will assume the role of an investigating judge, Reuters reported.

Those accused say the charges are fabrications of the leftist government designed to discredit them before elections slated for 2019, while Novartis vowed “fast and decisive action” if the probe finds any wrongdoing.

Reuters said the case has “hit a nerve” in Greece, where the present coalition government came to power on a pledge to end austerity and reduce corruption. Leading in the polls, the New Democracy, a conservative opposition party, argues the government has instead focused on attacking its political opponents.

MIDDLE EAST

The Forever War

The administration of President Donald Trump signaled plans for an indefinite deployment of US troops in Iraq and Syria in two letters indicating it needs no new legal authority from Congress to keep American boots on the ground.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month that US soldiers would remain in Syria to stop Iran from gaining a foothold there and stop the Syrian government from reconquering rebel-held areas, the New York Times reported. About 2,000 American troops are in Syria, where almost all the territory once occupied by the Islamic State has been recaptured, but fighting is ramping up between various other stakeholders.

Written by David Trachtenberg, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, and the State Department, both letters cited the continued potential threat from the Islamic State as a legal rationale for keeping American troops deployed in the area indefinitely, the Times said.

Trachtenberg was responding to a question from Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, who said the executive branch was stretching its interpretation of its war authority too far.

DISCOVERIES

National Brew

Recent headlines out of North Korea have revolved around the Hermit Kingdom’s burgeoning nuclear program.

But another industry is also a point of pride for the Supreme Leader.

North Korea’s Taedonggang brewery recently launched a new beer using a special crafting technique that makes its brew “better than existing beers in terms of its taste and smell,” the BBC reported, citing a state newspaper.

The new technique replaces heaps of barley with wheat as the main ingredient and has won rave reviews from North Koreans, according to state media.

Kim Jong-un is reportedly a beer aficionado and has complained that imported brands had no taste. The new brew is being hailed as a success story of Kim’s “round-the-clock battle” to make life “more enjoyable for the people.”

But North Koreans will be the only people enjoying the new brew anytime soon. The new pint was scheduled to be unveiled at last July’s Pyongyang Beer Festival – a major tourist attraction for the otherwise isolated nation – but the event was canceled at the last minute without explanation.

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