The World Today for April 09, 2024

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Sowing Justice


A French court recently sentenced Kunti Kamara, a former rebel leader in Liberia, to 30 years in prison for war crimes during the West African country’s first civil war between 1989 and 1997.

Kamara, now 49, committed “acts of torture and inhuman barbarity” against civilians in the 1990s, the court found, including reportedly eating a teacher’s heart, failing to prevent his soldiers from raping two teenage girls, and a host of other horrors, wrote Agence France-Presse. His actions were part of the country’s two civil conflicts that claimed a total of 250,000 lives over 14 years.

Kamara led part of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy, or ULIMO, which opposed ex-president Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic Front. Taylor’s forces won the first civil war and he became president, but a second domestic conflict broke out three years later, ending only in 2003 when Taylor fled the country. As Human Rights Watch explained, in 2012, Taylor became the first former head of state convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by an international court.

Many Liberians say they are happy that foreign courts have punished their leaders and rebel commanders, such as Alieu Kosiah, who was found guilty of rape, murder and cannibalism by a Swiss court in 2021. But many also want their country to deliver justice for the crimes committed during the civil wars. That’s one reason Liberian President Joseph Boakai is supporting the creation of a War and Economic Crimes Tribunal in the country, to try these war criminals at home.

Liberia’s lower legislative chamber, the House of Representatives, approved the creation of the tribunal. Now, reported the Daily Observer, a Liberian newspaper, the Senate is debating the measure. Some senators feared a tribunal would inflame tensions, reopen old wounds, and undercut the amnesty law that allowed the fighting to cease and the country to move on.

“Any attempt to undo that legal instrument that is the basis for our peace … is a means to enthrone instability,” said Senator Prince Johnson, a former rebel commander who fought alongside – but later against –Taylor, according to Reuters.

Still, activists and members of civil society groups such as Dempster Brown, the head of Liberia’s Independent National Human Rights Commission, say they want more accountability for crimes committed during the conflicts: “We think that it is overdue.”

Writing in an Al Jazeera op-ed, Liberian writers Dounard Bondo and Leshan Kroma argued that the tribunal was the only way Liberia could flourish. “If Liberia is to truly leave war behind, heal its wounds, and start building itself a prosperous future, the new president has to succeed in delivering that message of ‘peace and reconciliation,’” they wrote. “The strongest such message would be the establishment of a special tribunal for war crimes that would finally bring justice back home to Liberia.”


The Litigation Wars


Nicaragua on Monday brought a case against Germany at the United Nations’ top court, accusing the European country of supporting genocide by supplying arms to Israel, expanding an international legal battle that has already seen three cases this year involving the conflict in the Middle East, the New York Times reported.

In its filing, Nicaragua argued that Germany, Israel’s second-largest arms supplier, violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by providing Israel with military and financial support, and demanded that the court impose emergency measures on Berlin to discontinue assistance to Israel.

Nicaragua’s ambassador to the Netherlands Carlos Argüello Gomez told the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the first day of hearings that Israel was violating the Geneva Convention, regardless of whether it may be found guilty of genocide, by depriving Palestinians of food, Al Jazeera reported. He argued that Germany had a duty to refrain from supporting Israel in those breaches.

Germany is a party to the Genocide Convention, which was drafted in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The country has argued its support for Israel was its historic duty due to the atrocities committed by the Nazi government against the Jewish people during World War II.

The German delegation called Nicaragua “biased” and rejected the accusations. They are expected to be heard on Tuesday.

Lawyers said that Germany was an easier target for Nicaragua than the United States, which is the world’s largest military supplier to Israel, because the US denies the ICJ’s jurisdiction without consent from Washington.

Meanwhile, peace talks continued between Israel and Hamas in Cairo, Egypt with the presence of CIA Director William Burns signaling US pressure to reach a ceasefire agreement that would see the return of Israeli hostages from Gaza and address the mounting humanitarian crisis in the enclave, Reuters explained.

Despite reports on Egyptian state media that negotiations were showing progress, a Hamas official told Reuters there was “nothing new” in the talks. Israel’s military presence in Gaza is a key point of contention: While Hamas demands a complete withdrawal from the enclave, Israel wants a deal that does not commit it to end the war.

Also on Monday, Israel killed a commander from Iran-backed Hezbollah in an airstrike on southern Lebanon, the Wall Street Journal reported. Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, said his country was ready to escalate the conflict with Iran and Hezbollah should diplomacy fail.

Online Muskets


A Brazilian Supreme Court justice on Sunday initiated a probe into a possible obstruction of justice by billionaire Elon Musk – the latest episode in a dispute over misinformation between the South American country and the tech magnate, CNBC reported.

Musk, who owns social media platform X (formerly Twitter), said over the weekend he would disobey a previous ruling set to restrict some popular accounts. In response, Justice Alexandre de Moraes included him in an inquiry into alleged misinformation campaigns he termed “digital militias” that target Brazil’s democratic institutions online.

Musk remained defiant. “We are lifting all restrictions,” the billionaire wrote to an audience of nearly 200 million followers on Saturday, adding that Brazil’s court orders would make his company “lose all revenue” and close its premises in the country.

X’s chief technology officer later escalated tensions, calling for Moraes’ resignation or impeachment and calling him a traitor to the Brazilian nation.

The judge champions measures tackling misinformation and harmful content online, for which he has faced criticism from tech companies and politicians such as far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro.

Before losing a presidential election to left-wing Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro welcomed Musk in May 2022 and said Musk’s plans to buy Twitter, which materialized in October that year, symbolized a “breath of hope.”

After his supporters stormed government buildings in Brasilia on Jan. 8, 2023, Bolsonaro was accused of organizing a coup. He is now subject to an investigation.

The Brazil court said it will fine Musk $20,000 daily for each account X fails to restrict. The accounts are linked to individuals accused of promoting criminal activity against the country’s democratic institutions.

The platform faces challenges from other governments, too. Australia fined it for failing to comply with online safety regulations, and the European Union is investigating it in light of a new set of laws on harmful Internet content called the Digital Services Act.

Though Musk calls himself a free-speech absolutist, X recently bowed to pressure from the Indian government and removed accounts and posts amid farmers’ protests.



The government of the autonomous republic of Chechnya in Russia said last week it would ban all music deemed too fast or too slow, in an effort to preserve Chechen cultural heritage by a regime described as authoritarian, CNN reported.

Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov approved a bill requiring “all musical, vocal, and choreographic works” to have a tempo between 80 and 116 beats per minute (BPM), Culture Minister Musa Dadayev said. The law should force Chechen music and dance to be more in line with the nation’s “mentality and musical rhythm.”

The directive essentially means that many songs from genres such as pop or techno will be banned in the republic. For example, Chechens won’t be able to listen to Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies,’ at a toe-tapping 193 BPM, Politico explained, noting however that the artist’s Grammy-winning ‘Crazy in Love’ falls in the authorized range with its 99 BPM.

Chechnya, a Russian republic in the North Caucasus region, and which shares a border with Georgia, is predominately Muslim.

Kadyrov has ruled the republic since 2007, notably cracking down on dissent and minorities. A Kremlin appointee, he suppressed a separatist movement that had fought against Moscow for two decades.

The US State Department sanctioned him in 2020 for “gross violations of human rights,” including “torture and extra-judicial killings.”

In 2017, the United Nations spotlighted allegations that Chechen authorities were persecuting LGBT individuals. According to Kadyrov, there are no gay people in Chechnya.


Hard Headed

Scientists recently unveiled a global archive containing records and specimens of more than 4,400 preserved human brains, dating back several millennia, Newsweek reported.

These brains, sourced from 213 unique locations across the world, range from approximately 12,000 years old to as recent as the 20th century.

Led by forensic anthropologist Alexandra Morton-Hayward, the new study challenges the perception that naturally preserved brains are exceedingly rare to find, offering insights into mechanisms of soft tissue preservation and potential applications in studying neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The new archive represents the largest compilation of archaeological literature on preserved brains to date.

The team also identified a myriad of preservation mechanisms, such as dehydration, freezing and tanning, occurring in diverse environments from deserts to wetlands worldwide.

Examples from the archive include brains from Stone Age Sweden, Upper Egypt, Danish peat bogs, and the Andes.

The collection also contains more than 1,300 brains found preserved without other soft tissues, some dating back to the last Ice Age.

“I think what’s really intriguing about this research is that although we know the brain can liquefy really quickly, clearly, in some circumstances, it also preserves and on incredibly long timescales,” said Morton-Hayward. “So, I would argue that we need to start thinking in greater depth about soft tissue preservation.”

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CORRECTION: In Friday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “Walking Sideways” item that “Prosecutors and others hoped this conviction would dissuade other leaders in Honduras and the region to fight against, rather than cooperate with, drug cartels.” We meant “persuade.” We apologize for the error.

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