The World Today for May 21, 2024

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The Fertility of Chaos

SUDAN

On June 15, 2023, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and its Arab allied militias attacked a convoy of locals as it proceeded through El Geneina in West Darfur, killing civilians as they ran through the streets, trying to find refuge in homes or mosques, or attempted to swim across the Kajja River flowing through the city.

Malik, an injured 17-year-old boy, was in a wheelbarrow being pushed by his mother in the convoy when it came under attack, and saw how RSF forces killed at least 12 children.

“Two RSF forces … grabb(ed) the children from their parents and, as the parents started screaming, two other RSF forces shot the parents, killing them,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Then they piled up the children and shot them. They threw their bodies into the river and their belongings in after them.”

The killings continued over the following days in El Geneina and on the road to Chad, where tens of thousands of civilians, as well as fighters of the Massalit community, headed in search of refuge.

The details of that massacre and others in the region are part of the evidence gathered by the human rights organization in a new report that says the RSF and its allies in Sudan have committed genocide against ethnic monitories in West Darfur.

It’s not the first time.

The RSF is made up of so-called Janjaweed militias that were once allied to Sudan’s central government in a war against non-Arab rebels in Darfur from 2003 through 2020. These militias committed genocide and other atrocities that led the International Criminal Court in 2009 to issue warrants for former Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity.

More recently, the RSF helped the Transitional Sovereignty Council, the military cabal that runs the country, gain power. In 2023, however, civil war broke out between Sudan’s central government and the RSF.

Now, around 15,000 people have been murdered in El Geneina in the East African country, reported the BBC. Most were victims of ethnic cleansing directed against the ethnic Massalit community and other non-Arab groups that inhabit this region.

Another human rights group, Sudan Witness, found that RSF fighters have damaged or leveled 72 villages in the country by setting fire to homes and other properties, reported Al Jazeera.

The fighting has also displaced 8.6 million people, including 1.7 million people who are now refugees in neighboring countries where they threaten to destabilize shaky governments and economies, noted the Japan Times. Eighteen million people in the country face severe food insecurity. Another 5 million are vulnerable to famine.

Human Rights Watch has called for international authorities to hold RSF leader Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, or “Hemedti,” responsible for the atrocities. The advocacy organization was pessimistic that the authorities would take action, however. “The response of actors from the regional and international community to the unfolding atrocities has been muted, in line with their lackluster engagement on Darfur and Sudan in recent years,” the report’s authors wrote.

The fighting reflects a desire for local elites to extract more value from oil and other resources in the Darfur region clashing with the central government’s aim of preventing secessionist movements in Darfur from succeeding in breaking up the country, explained Modern Diplomacy. South Sudan, for example, became an independent, sovereign nation in 2011.

Observers at Vox lamented how few world leaders appeared to be devoting much attention to the crisis in Darfur, while Russia and Ukraine fight in Eastern Europe, and Israel wages war against Hamas in the Middle East.

The problem with some looking away is that others see an opportunity.

Writing in the Conversation, counterterrorism analyst Sara Harmouch of American University said the region is ripe for those who want to take advantage of the situation to create a global hub for terrorists.

She notes how Abu Hudhaifa al-Sudani, a high-ranking al-Qaida leader, in an October 2022 manifesto, warned that “Sudan’s moment has come; chaos is our chance to sow the seeds of jihad.”

“The risk of al-Qaida gaining ground in Sudan is now very real and imperils, I believe, not only the country itself but also regional – and potentially global – security,” she wrote,  “the Rapid Support Forces – a group that developed under and was once allied to Sudan’s al-Qaida-harboring former president Omar al-Bashir – has been solidifying its grip in strategic areas such as Darfur and southern Khartoum. Indeed, both the paramilitary group and the armed forces have been accused of recruiting Islamist fighters, fueling fears that the civil war will – regardless of the victor – prove a toehold for extremist groups.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Splitting the Baby

ISRAEL/ GAZA STRIP

The chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes court is seeking arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity for the leaders of Israel and Hamas for their actions during the seven-month war, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said the arrest warrants targeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. The detention orders were also issued for top Hamas officials, including Yahya Sinwar, the group’s leader in Gaza, and its political chief, Ismail Haniyeh.

Khan said there were “reasonable grounds” showing that Netanyahu and Gallant bear responsibility for a series of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed in the Palestinian enclave from Oct. 8.

He reiterated similar accusations for top Hamas officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated on Israeli territory and the Gaza Strip from at least Oct. 7 – the day when Hamas and its allies launched an attack in southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage.

Among the list of crimes, the Israeli leaders are accused of the willful killing of civilians, starvation as a method of warfare, and persecution. Meanwhile, Hamas officials are accused of extermination, kidnapping, rape and sexual violence, according to Khan.

The arrest warrants come as the conflict in Gaza has entered its eighth month, with the fighting sparking a humanitarian crisis in the territory and resulting in the deaths of more than 35,000 people, according to Palestinian officials.

Israel previously warned that the issuance of arrest warrants could stymie efforts to end the conflict and reach a deal for the release of the remaining hostages.

The court has yet to decide whether to comply with the request, but observers say that Khan’s actions further tarnish Israel’s international standing amid ongoing criticism of its operations in the Palestinian territory.

Following Khan’s announcement, Israeli leaders across the political aisle criticized it as a “scandalous decision” and “a complete moral failure.” An Israeli government official accused the ICC prosecutor of crossing “a red line in his lawfare efforts against the lone Jewish state and the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, Hamas admonished the warrants as an attempt to “equate victims with aggressors by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders without legal basis,” according to CNN.

Established in 2002, the Netherlands-based ICC is tasked with prosecuting individuals for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The tribunal can investigate alleged crimes if they occur on the territory of, or are committed by a national of, any state that has accepted its jurisdiction by signing the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the court.

Any signatory country can request the ICC’s prosecutor to start an investigation. Signatory states are also required to apprehend individuals with arrest warrants, but leaders often try to avoid these warrants, limiting their mobility.

Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute.

Even so, the court recognized the State of Palestine as a signatory in 2015 and asserted its jurisdiction over the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 2021.

Palestine is not recognized by the US, Israel or numerous other countries.

Ruled Out

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa’s constitutional court ruled Monday that former President Jacob Zuma cannot run in the upcoming May 29 parliamentary elections, a decision that is likely to increase political turmoil ahead of the crucial vote, Voice of America reported.

The top court said the former anti-apartheid leader cannot hold a seat in the country’s parliament and run as a candidate because of his 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court in 2021.

Under South Africa’s constitution, individuals sentenced to more than 12 months in prison are barred from holding a parliamentary seat.

Monday’s ruling is tied to Zuma’s falling out with the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

In 2018, Zuma resigned as president following widespread allegations of corruption in his administration and pressure from the ANC to step down.

Three years later, the constitutional court sentenced him to 15 months in prison for failing to testify at a public inquiry on corruption.

His arrest sparked days of riots that killed more than 300 people. He was later given parole on medical grounds and received a presidential pardon from his successor and current rival, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zuma’s disqualification comes as the ruling ANC is facing its toughest election since it took power 30 years ago. Opinion polls show that the party could lose its majority in parliament for the first time and will have to rely on smaller parties to form a coalition.

Its biggest challenger is the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, a political group formed by Zuma in December. MK is popular in Zuma’s home province and the party has attracted many voters who have become disillusioned by the governing ANC, the New York Times wrote.

While the former president cannot run in next week’s polls, South Africa’s electoral commission said that Zuma’s face can still appear on the ballots.

Even so, some observers warned that the court’s verdict could trigger new violence in the country ahead of the vote: Shortly after the ruling, Zuma’s supporters took to the streets of Johannesburg to protest the verdict.

No Moon Unit Here

GERMANY

Germany’s upper house of parliament approved a new reform that would relax strict rules on family names, including allowing parents to give their children hyphenated last names, the Associated Press reported over the weekend.

Current naming rules require parents to give their children one of their last names. For married couples, one partner – not both – can add the other’s name to his or her surname.

But with the new reforms, both partners and their children can take a double surname – with or without hyphens. Parents will also be permitted to give their children two surnames with a hyphen, but the changes will not allow names with more than two names.

The new bill will also facilitate changing family names for stepchildren and the children of divorced parents, as well as benefit Germany’s minorities, such as the Slavic Sorbs and Frisians, which have unique naming conventions.

Germany will still require parents to name their children a name that designates their gender, and does not have a negative effect on the well-being of the child, and is not a last name, an object or a product. The name has to be approved by local authorities.

Many European countries have strict laws on the names of their children. For example, in Denmark, parents can only choose a name from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names. If the parents wish to name their child something else, they will have to get special permission from their local church and the government.

The law will take effect next year and is part of a number of social reforms by Germany’s three-party coalition of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The ruling coalition has currently passed a series of ambitious reforms, including legalizing possession of limited amounts of cannabis, loosening rules on obtaining German citizenship and allowing dual citizenship, as well as ending a ban on doctors “advertising” abortion services.

DISCOVERIES

Isolated and Defended

Modern humans settled on the islands of today’s Papua New Guinea some 50,000 years ago, where they later interbred with the Denisovan hominids that occupied Asia for tens of thousands of years.

While the Denisovans became extinct, their DNA is present in modern-day Papua New Guineans and has aided them in their survival, Live Science reported.

A new genetic study found that highlanders and lowlanders in the island nation evolved distinct mutations to adapt to their different environments.

“New Guineans are unique as they have been isolated since they settled in New Guinea more than 50,000 years ago,” said co-senior study author François-Xavier Ricaut.

Ricaut and his colleagues explained that Papua New Guinea is predominately mountainous and challenging for the locals, adding that infectious diseases are responsible for at least 40 percent of deaths – particularly in lower altitudes.

To thrive, the populations had to find ways to adjust to their surroundings – with Ricaut hailing the island nation as a “fantastic cocktail” to study genetic adaptation

The research team studied genomes of 54 highlanders living up to 8,900 feet above sea level, and 74 lowlanders inhabiting areas less than 330 feet above sea level.

Their findings showed that lowlanders had peculiar mutations – probably inherited from the Denisovans – that boosted the number of immune cells in their blood. Highlanders, on the other hand, had more red blood cells to help reduce hypoxia at high altitudes.

The authors believe that the Denisovan DNA influences the function of the GBP2 protein, which helps the body fight dangerous microbes only found in the lowlands. Consequently, these genes were selected during evolution to help populations survive infectious diseases in lower altitudes.

The study team will now investigate how these mutations contributed to changes in the blood of Papua New Guineas.

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