The World Today for June 12, 2020

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Fists Up

Adama Traoré’s last words were “I can’t breathe.”

The 24-year-old French Malian man died in police custody in Paris, France in 2016. Recently, crowds gathered to protest a medical examiner’s report that he died from a cardiac condition rather than asphyxiation. The move exonerated the police but infuriated protesters who couldn’t help but see the parallels to George Floyd, the American who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May, Politico reported.

Around the world, American protests against police brutality have sparked similar debates, demonstrations and sometimes unrest. “Police brutality is not just a US problem,” was the headline in the New Internationalist, a British leftwing magazine. This BBC photo essay documented the scale and scope of the events.

The prime minister of Australia warned citizens not to take to the streets to avoid spreading the coronavirus, wrote the New York Times. They didn’t listen. Japanese protesters called for better police treatment of foreigners. Reports of police pushing a Kurdish man to the ground last month fueled their anger, the Japan Times reported.

London is considering whether to tear down statues of imperialist figures, a potentially massive undertaking in the capital of a country that once ruled a quarter of the globe’s territory, the Associated Press wrote.

The city of Antwerp, meanwhile, already removed a statue of Leopold II. Now, there is a petition to get rid of all statues of the former king, whose rule over the Belgian Congo generated mass wealth for Belgium and killed up to 10 million people.

In the Caribbean, folks in Barbados are targeting a colonial-era statue of British naval commander and slavery sympathizer Horatio Nelson while many in Trinidad and Tobago want the removal of monuments honoring Christopher Columbus, reported the Miami Herald.

Protests in Africa were especially widespread.

In Kenya, slum-dwellers protested police brutality against folks who have broken curfews enacted during the pandemic. The government’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority said police have killed 15 people and injured 30.

African police inherited tactics from European colonial powers, analysts told the Guardian. Foreign Policy saw the same dynamic in India. Vox similarly explained how historians have also claimed that American police have inherited racist law enforcement techniques. It’s not a stretch to believe South African police might also still depend on practices developed during segregation under Apartheid.

A legacy of racism and militarism also sparked protests in Brazil, Americas Quarterly wrote.

Violent conflicts, climate change and environmental pressures, and socio-economic strife from widening gaps between the rich and poor are the context for the protests, said the Institute for Economics & Peace. Months of lockdowns didn’t help, either, argued the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

But most of all, say observers, a lingering sense of grievance and injustice at home turned outrage over the death of Floyd into inspiration culled from what’s happening on the streets of the United States and also in the halls of power – that the people are marching and the people are winning.

We can have that, too, goes the thinking.

Yassine Boubout, a law student working on issues of police brutality and racial profiling, told Politico that a protest in Belgium initially about an American victim of police violence has become much broader: “Now people are saying we need justice for us, for the victims in our own country.”



Offensive Defense

Europe’s top diplomat said he had “serious concerns” over the US’ announcement Thursday that it will impose economic sanctions and visa restrictions against officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating US personnel without American consent, Agence France Presse reported.

“For sure this is a matter of serious concern because we as the European Union are steadfast supporters of the International Criminal Court,” said EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell. “The court has been playing a key role in providing international justice and addressing the gravest international crimes – it is a key factor in bringing justice and peace. It must be respected and supported by all nations.”

In March, the US expressed outrage over the ICC’s authorization of a probe into alleged “war crimes” committed by US troops and the CIA in Afghanistan alongside an investigation into alleged crimes by Afghan government forces and Taliban insurgents.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the court of launching an “ideological crusade against American service members” while Attorney General William Barr, without offering evidence, also accused Russia and other unnamed foreign powers of “manipulating the ICC in pursuit of their own agenda,” NPR reported.

The administration also said it had “strong reason to believe” that there is “corruption and misconduct” at the highest levels of the prosecutor’s office, but provided no evidence to back up this claim, NBC said.

Although the US is currently not a party to the Treaty of Rome that established the international court, Afghanistan is, along with more than 120 countries.

Analyst David Bosco told Politico that sanctions would hinder the court’s investigation: Officials working the case could be barred from the US or risk losing their assets in the country.

“It’s an additional logistical complication for the court,” Bosco said.


Fear and Desperation

Syrian President Bashar Assad sacked his prime minister Thursday as the war-torn country faces a deepening economic crisis and a new wave of anti-government protests in government-held areas, Reuters reported.

Syrian state media reported that Prime Minister Imad Khamis would be replaced by Water Resources Minister Hussein Arnous, but did not provide further details.

The Syrian pound has plunged to record lows in recent days, leading to a spike in prices for staples.

The government has blamed Western sanctions for the hardships faced by Syrians, who have been struggling to afford necessities during most of the nine years of the country’s civil war.

Meanwhile, hundreds of residents of the Druze-majority city of Sweida took to the streets this week to protest the dire living conditions.

Protesters demanded the removal of Assad, a rare occurrence in government-controlled areas.


Legitimizing Love

Switzerland’s lower house of parliament approved a bill Thursday that would legalize same-sex marriage, a major step for the Western European nation which has lagged behind its neighbors in gay rights, the Local reported.

The bill was backed by all major Swiss political parties but opposed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party.

The proposed legislation would not only legalize marriage between same-sex couples but would also allow lesbian couples to access sperm banks.

The vote follows a referendum earlier this year which criminalized homophobia.

Currently, gay marriage is illegal in Switzerland but same-sex couples have the option of a “registered partnership” to enjoy similar rights as married couples.

The bill’s approval is a major milestone for Switzerland, which has in the past taken a more liberal approach toward other controversial issues such as euthanasia and prostitution.

The upper house of parliament still needs to approve the bill. If it does, the bill will then be put to a referendum.


The Haste of Life

The evolution of species happened more rapidly than previously believed, according to a study published in the journal, Historical Biology.

Scientists discovered a fossil of a millipede-like creature in Scotland believed to be the oldest-known land animal ever found, Reuters reported.

The extinct bug, named Kampecaris obanensis, lived around 425 million years ago, likely in a lakeside environment where it fed on decomposing plants.

Researchers said that the arthropod resembles modern millipedes, but it belongs to a distinct extinct group and has no relation with today’s crawler.

The team found the millipede on the Scottish island of Kerrera, where other archaeologists previously unearthed Cooksonia, the oldest-known plant with a stem.

Lead author Michael Brookfield explained that the findings offer new evidence about how fast bugs and plants evolved from lake-inhabiting communities to complex forest ecosystems in a span of 40 million years.

“It’s a big jump from these tiny guys to very complex forest communities, and in the scheme of things, it didn’t take that long,” he said. “It seems to be a rapid radiation of evolution from these mountain valleys, down to the lowlands, and then worldwide after that.”

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET:

  1. US: 2,023,347
  2. Brazil: 802,828
  3. Russia: 501,800
  4. India: 297,535
  5. UK: 292,860
  6. Spain: 242,707
  7. Italy: 236,142
  8. Peru: 214,788
  9. France: 192,493
  10. Germany: 186,805

Source: Johns Hopkins University

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