The World Today for January 17, 2024

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Troubled Justice

NORTHERN IRELAND

Violence between British-backed Protestants and Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland has been relatively subdued in recent memory compared to the street fighting decades ago, when, as one BBC story illustrated, British troops huddled for safety behind their armored vehicles.

Peace in Northern Ireland has not stopped dueling lawsuits over the legacy of the so-called Troubles, a period of conflict that lasted from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, however.

At issue is the recently passed Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, a British measure that would move cases related to the Troubles from criminal and civil courts to an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

“The trouble with legacy is that the more those waters are stirred the murkier they become,” wrote the editorial board of the Belfast Telegraph. “And every time they begin to settle and clear, something else comes along to cloud the picture. And any sense of truth or justice for families bereaved throughout Northern Ireland’s difficult past seems further away than ever.”

As the Irish Times explained, the commission would be empowered to grant conditional amnesties for those who otherwise might be found guilty of murder or similar misdeeds in other legal settings. Its main task would be to collect information about the turbulent, controversial period when Irish Catholics took to the streets to demand unification with Ireland, the independent republic to the south.

Irish leaders criticized the bill, saying it would forestall justice for Northern Irish families and victims who perished during the Troubles. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced that Ireland would file a lawsuit against the bill under the European Convention on Human Rights, reported UPI. British officials responded by claiming that their Irish counterparts had failed to investigate cases related to the conflict.

More than 3,500 people died in violence during the Troubles, added Al Jazeera, citing British government figures. Investigators are still probing the circumstances of 1,200 deaths, while officials are still poring through claims for compensation for victims, noted the Irish News.

According to the Guardian, the British government is wrong on the issue. The law could result in the commission granting immunity to witnesses in exchange for information that would shed light on the violence that both sides perpetrated in the period. This immunity, however, would snub victims’ families who want justice.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Right of Defense

IRAQ/KURDISTAN

Iran’s security forces launched a series of missile strikes at the alleged headquarters for Israeli spies in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, an attack that raised fears of a widening conflict across the Middle East amid Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Guardian reported.

The Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) confirmed Tuesday they attacked what they called the “espionage headquarters” of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, near the regional capital of Erbil.

At least four civilians died and six were injured in the strikes that took place in a neighborhood close to the United States’ consulate and other civilian residences.

IRGC officials said the strikes were part of a counter-terrorism measure in response to an Islamic State (IS) attack that killed more than 80 people in the Iranian city of Kerman earlier this month. They added the strikes were in line with Tehran’s defense of its sovereignty.

IS claimed responsibility for the twin explosions in Kerman that took place during the fourth anniversary of the US assassination of the IRGC commander, Qassem Soleimani. But Tehran accused Israel of being involved in the Kerman attack.

The Israeli government has not commented on this week’s strikes.

Even so, Iraqi and Kurdish authorities criticized the attacks as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and vowed to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council.

The airstrikes took place amid growing fears about the intensification of a conflict that has spread across the Middle East since the commencement of the war between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, Reuters added.

Iran’s proxy allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen have also joined the conflict, further complicating the situation.

Previously, Iran conducted attacks in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, asserting that the area serves as a base for Iranian separatist groups and Israeli agents.

In response to Iranian concerns, Baghdad has taken steps to address the issue of separatist groups in the region, including relocating some as part of a security agreement reached with Tehran in 2023.

Divorce, North Korean Style

NORTH KOREA

North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong Un scrapped a decades-long process of facilitating reunification with South Korea, demanding instead for it to be designed as his country’s main antagonist in the constitution, and warning of war, Reuters reported.

Addressing his rubber-stamp legislature, the dictator called for South Korea’s description of “primary foe and invariable principal enemy” and it will also distinguish the two countries’ territories.

Key government agencies that have worked toward reunification for more than 60 years are to be dismantled, state media reported.

In a context of growing tensions between the two Koreas, with a series of missile tests carried out by Pyongyang recently, Kim said unification of the two states was no longer a plausible option. He accused his neighbors of attempting to overturn the communist regime that he leads.

Should tensions escalate into a full-on military conflict, essentially resuming the unconcluded war that tore Korea apart between 1950 and 1953, Kim said he had “no intention of avoiding it.” He added that in the case of war, North Korea should aim at occupying South Korea.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol reacted to Kim’s comments in a cabinet meeting, calling him “anti-national and anti-historical,” and added that Seoul’s response to Pyongyang’s armed provocations would be “multiple times hard.”

Kim Jong Un has rejected the legacy of his father, Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who had made reunification one of their predominant goals. He has pledged to destroy a monument, the Arch of Reunification, erected by Kim Jong Il, dubbing it an “eyesore.”

Kim framed his policy reversal within a set of priorities to promote internal unity.

Nonetheless, his belligerent language has betrayed a feeling of insecurity, “losing the upper hand” in the face of enhanced cooperation between South Korea, the US, and Japan, researcher Won Gon Park told Reuters.

Without a Trace

SURINAME

Suriname’s former autocrat Desi Bouterse disappeared this week, a month after a court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for the murders of more than a dozen political opponents during his rule of the South American country in the 1980s, the Associated Press reported.

Bouterse and four others convicted in the case were ordered to report to various prisons last week, but only three have done so. After failing to report by Friday, authorities announced they were investigating those who failed to appear.

His wife, Ingrid Bouterse-Waldring, said she did not know where her husband was and added, “He is not going to jail!”

Bouterse’s National Democratic Party and supporters rallied at his house to show support, saying they disagreed with the sentencing.

Last month, a court found him guilty of the 1982 killings of 15 political opponents, marking the conclusion of a historic 16-year trial. He had previously been sentenced in 2019 and 2021, but appealed both rulings.

Last week, his lawyers appealed his sentence, arguing that an amnesty law Bouterse attempted to pass over a decade ago would apply. However, Suriname’s attorney general dismissed the appeal.

Bouterse came to power in a bloodless coup in 1980 and ruled until 1987. He and his allies have been accused of executing prominent individuals, including lawyers and journalists, in those years.

He was later democratically elected as president from 2010 to 2020.

He denied that he was present during the 1982 killings, but has accepted “political responsibility” for the murders.

DISCOVERIES

True Colors

A new study on Neptune and Uranus challenges popular depictions of the Solar System’s far-off worlds, revealing their true colors, the New York Times reported.

When NASA’s Voyager 2 visited both planets in the 1980s, images from the spacecraft showed Neptune having a deep blue color compared with Uranus’ green-bluish tint. But that dark blue hue is actually attributed to an image enhancement at the time.

For their new analysis, scientists employed advanced instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope in Chile to “set the record straight” about this color mystery.

The results showed that Neptune is just a tinge bluer than Uranus.

The study also shed light on Uranus’s mysterious color shifts during extreme seasons, where it exhibits a green tint during solstices and a bluer glow at equinoxes.

Researchers attribute these color changes to atmospheric methane, which absorbs red and green light, causing the planet’s equator to reflect more blue light.

Astronomer Heidi Hamel, who was not involved in the study but worked on the Voyager’s imaging team in 1989, hoped that the findings would correct public misconceptions about Neptune’s color.

She emphasized the importance of accurate scientific communication amid the common practice of enhancing astronomical visualizations for aesthetic appeal, but without intending to deceive.

“Strike the word ‘azure’ from your vocabulary when discussing Neptune!” she said.

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