The World Today for November 30, 2023

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Tragedy Redux


In 2003, rebels in Darfur, the western region of Sudan, took up arms against the central government in the capital of Khartoum because they felt officials were mistreating non-Arab citizens. In response, as the Encyclopedia Britannica recounted, the Sudanese government armed Arabs in what would be known as Janjaweed militias who proceeded to escalate a conflict that would last years and result in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions displaced.

Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president at the time, has since been charged with genocide and other crimes against humanity due to his involvement in the war. Ousted in 2019, he’s now detained in Sudan. Today, al-Bashir’s former colleagues in the Sudanese army are fighting the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who descend from the Janjaweed militias, in a civil war that threatens to bring about the East African country’s collapse, Al Jazeera reported.

Meanwhile, amid the fighting, a tragedy is again unfolding in Darfur. As the Guardian explained, RSF fighters have been raiding villages, assassinating people, burning down properties, and torturing those suspected of supporting the government. The violence has prompted 450,000 Sudanese folks to flee across the border to Chad.

The RSF now controls large swaths of Darfur, reported the New York Times. Ironically, added the BBC, rebels in Darfur who formerly fought the central government have now allied with the army to kick out the RSF.

Videos show RSF fighters referring to prisoners as “dogs” fated for “liquidation,” CNN wrote. Other footage shows mass graves and arbitrary executions. Five million children, moreover, face extreme danger, according to UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell.

“Sudan – and Darfur in particular – has become a living hell for millions of children, with thousands being ethnically targeted, killed, injured, abused, and exploited,” she said. “Children continue to suffer new violence, while their parents and grandparents still bear the scars of previous cycles of violence. We cannot allow it to happen yet again.”

The conflict in Sudan, furthermore, is likely receiving less attention globally because of the fighting between Israel and Hamas, as well as the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Writing in the EUObserver, Eli Hadzhieva, director of the Brussels-based think tank Dialogue for Europe, noted that 1,000 people died recently in a two-day period in Sudan – an appalling rate that’s comparable to the conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

That’s a pity given how history is repeating itself. It’s as if world leaders learned nothing from the past.


Finger Pointing


Peru’s top prosecutor this week accused President Dina Boluarte of the killings of anti-government protesters earlier this year, a move that further deepens the South American country’s year-long political crisis, Le Monde reported.

Attorney General Patricia Benavides charged the president and her prime minister with first-degree murder before the nation’s congress in a procedure known as a “constitutional complaint.”

The accusations are tied to the mass demonstrations that erupted in Peru earlier this year following the impeachment and arrest of Boluarte’s predecessor, far-left President Pedro Castillo.

Castillo was ousted after he attempted to dissolve Congress and rule by decree, with Boluarte – his vice president – replacing him. Soon after his detention, thousands of Peruvians and Castillo supporters took to the streets to demand Boluarte’s resignation.

Violent clashes with security forces left at least 49 people dead. Boluarte accused criminal groups involved in illegal mining and left-wing radicals of causing the violence.

But government critics and human rights groups blamed authorities for using excessive force. Others have also accused Boluarte of taking an authoritarian stance based on her refusal to hold early elections and efforts to undermine the independence of Peru’s judicial system.

Observers noted that the constitutional complaint does not mean that Boluarte will go to trial immediately. A majority of lawmakers will determine whether the president will appear before a court and, even if they approve it, the trial will begin after she finishes her term or is ousted from office.

Still, Boluarte dismissed the charges, which came shortly after Peruvian prosecutors alleged that Benavides had led a corruption ring that dropped probes against lawmakers that appointed some of her allies to influential positions within the judicial branch.

Benavides described the corruption probe against her as a “reprisal” for her efforts to defend human rights.

Opening the Gates


Niger’s military government scrapped a law aimed at cracking down on human smugglers this week, a decision that prompted concerns among European Union officials of another influx of migrants into Europe, Euronews reported.

The junta – which took power in July – announced it was repealing legislation from 2015 that had curbed the illegal transportation of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa into Europe by criminalizing smugglers.

The law criminalized the transportation of non-Nigerien citizens for financial or material gain, making it punishable by imprisonment of between five and 10 years, and fines ranging from more than $1,660 up to $8,300. It included the seizure and dismantling of smugglers’ infrastructure in northern Niger.

Following its revocation, junta officials said all those convicted under the law would be considered for release, according to the Associated Press.

The legislation was part of EU-funded initiatives for migration management projects in the Sahel region. Before the coup, Niger had become a key EU partner and was set to receive more than $550 million in funding between 2021 and 2024 from the bloc.

But after the military ousted in July democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum, the EU suspended all security and migrant cooperation with Niger and sanctioned the coup leaders.

EU home affairs chief Ylva Johansson expressed regret at the junta’s decision, warning that it could lead to a resurgence of human trafficking gangs and more migrants trying to reach European shores.

Niger and the broader Sahel region serve as a convenient corridor for migrant smugglers due to millions of forcibly displaced people, porous borders, and organized crime groups.

Many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa pass through Niger on their way to the Maghreb region that borders the Mediterranean Sea, from where some proceed to embark on the perilous journey across the sea to southern Europe, particularly from countries like Libya and Algeria.

Lack of Intent


A special court acquitted French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti on charges of conflict of interest, a case that marked the first time in modern France that a government minister was put on trial while still in office, Radio France Internationale reported Wednesday.

The case against Dupond-Moretti – a former high-profile defense lawyer – is centered over accusations that he used his ministerial position to order probes on four magistrates who investigated him, his friends and former clients.

In 2014, judges instructed the police to examine the phone records of numerous lawyers and magistrates, including Dupond-Moretti, as part of an investigation into former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The judiciary alleged that the minister had conducted a witch hunt on the judges, but Dupond-Moretti countered that the accusers were “biased.” The minister stirred further controversy when he refused to step down during the trial.

Still, the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR) – the special tribunal reserved for alleged wrongdoing by government officials – cleared him of all charges. It noted that while the minister was facing a conflict of interest, no criminal intent was established, Reuters added.

If he was found guilty, Dupond-Moretti could have incurred up to five years in prison, a fine of nearly $550,000 and a ban from holding office.

Even so, opposition politicians and anti-corruption advocates criticized the ruling and accused the court – presided over by judges and lawmakers – of being too lenient with those in power.

Established in 1993, the CJR has conducted nine formal trials, including that of Dupond-Moretti.

Previous defendants included Christine Lagarde, the former finance minister and current head of the European Central Bank, who in 2016 was found guilty of negligence regarding a government payout. Although found guilty, she avoided punishment and retained her position at the International Monetary Fund.


The Weekend Shift

While most people get to rest on the weekend, plants work harder. Satellite data showed that human activity could be linked to levels of photosynthesis made by plants, and their capacity to hold carbon dioxide, reported New Scientist.

Photosynthesis is a chemical reaction through which plants capture light from the Sun and CO2, and release sugar.

A group of researchers measured how much plants in Europe were photosynthesizing from 2018 to 2021 by looking at satellite measurements of light emitted by plant leaves – specifically, their green pigment called chlorophyll.

They analyzed these data and compared them with measurements of air pollution over the same period.

Their findings showed there was a correlation between pollution and photosynthesis: The lower the amount of aerosols, the higher the rates of photosynthesis.

Aerosols are fine particles in the air, such as dust or smoke. They can block sunlight from reaching plants, depriving them of their source of life.

Smoke from wildfires is a type of aerosol, but humans emit aerosols too, through transport and industrial activities, to name a few.

Satellite data showed that in 64 percent of Europe, plants were photosynthesizing more on the weekend, while human activity – and thus air pollution– was limited. Researchers added that they noticed a “weekly cycle.”

Another interesting finding concerned the infamous year 2020. As Covid-19 forced governments around the world to impose lockdowns, aerosol levels dropped dramatically, and photosynthesis occurred consistently throughout the week.

This alerted the researchers who, basing their calculations on 2020 aerosol pollution levels, established that plants could hold more than 41 million extra tons of CO2.

Such efforts would improve people’s health, benefit the ecosystem, and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions which affect climate change.

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