The ongoing dilemmas over Palestinian statehood took a new turn this week as the Vatican objected to a Palestinian Authority request for the two observer states to the United Nations to be allowed to raise their flags at its headquarters. The Palestinian leadership called on the UN to adopt a resolution approving the raising of the Palestinian and Vatican flags alongside those of the member states. In an Aug. 28 statement, the Holy See said it would abide by any resolution, but noted that since the its founding in 1945, it has been a tradition that "only flags of member States are displayed at the UN headquarters and offices." The statement seems to be aimed at placating Israel, which harshly criticized the Vatican in June after it formally recognized a Palestinian state, signing its first bilateral accord with the Palestinian Authority, concerning the activities of the Church in the Palestinian territories. A vote on the flag resolution, sponsored by 21 countries, is to take place Sept. 15. Among the co-sponsors are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and Jordan. An Israeli Foreign Ministry official dismissed the resolution as a "cheap and unnecessary gimmick."
Iran's regime on Aug. 26 hanged Kurdish political prisoner Behrouz Alkhani at Orumieh prison, in the country's west. The death sentence was carried out two days after more than 80 members of his family and human rights activists gathered outside the prison gates to demand a halt to his execution. Prison guards and anti-riot forces broke up the protest. Alkhani's execution took place even as Iran's Supreme Court had yet to respond to an appeal of his sentence. "Carrying out a death sentence while a prisoner is awaiting the outcome of his appeal is a serious violation of both Iranian and international law, and is an affront to justice," said Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International's Middle East program.
Protesters cut off access to the Bolivian mining city of Potosí for most of last month in a dispute with the central government over infrastructure investment. Access to the city of more than 130,000 was blocked by thousands of protesters as part of a civil strike called by the Comité Cívico Potosinista (COMCIPO). The strike was "suspended" after 27 days on Aug. 2, when the city had almost run out of petrol, food and money. But organizers declared President Evo Morales and his cabinet members "enemies of Potosí" and "persona non grata" throughout the department. They also called for the resignation of the city's mayor, William Fernández, and the departmental prefect, Juan Carlos Cejas, both from Bolivia's ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
Independent aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported Aug. 25 that it had treated four members of a Syrian family who suffered from breathing difficulties and developed blisters after a mortar hit their home in Marea, Aleppo governorate. The Syrian American Medical Society also reported receiving 50 patients showing symptoms of chemical exposure in the same area. Local rebels said the shells were fired from an ISIS-held village to the east. A spokesman for one rebel group, the Shami Front, told the New York Times that half of the 50 mortars and artillery rounds that hit Marea contained sulphur mustard. The powerful irritant and blistering agent —commonly known as "mustard gas" but actually liquid at ambient temperature—causes severe damage to the skin, eyes and respiratory system.
Bolivian National Police on Aug. 18 used batons and tear-gas to break up a road blockade launched a week earlier by Guaraní indigenous residents—and then raided the homes of several people thought to be organizers of the action. At least 10 people were detained on the highway and in the subsequent raids at Yateirenda community, Cabezas municipality, Santa Cruz department.Community leaders accused the police of "disproportionate" force in the raids, terrorizing women, children and elders. and filed a complaint with the Bolivian Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDHB). Local Guaraní from Takovo Mora Original Communitarian Territory (TCO) began blocking the Santa Cruz-Camiri highway to demand the right to "prior consultation" on the development of wells at the Chaco gas-fields, run by the parastatal YPFB. The company maintains that the four wells in question are all on private lands and therefore not subject to prior consultation with the TCO. The TCO, in turn, maintains that the wells are within its traditional territory and will impact their lands. (Eju!, Aug. 18; FM Bolivia, Aug. 14; Entorno Inteligente, Aug. 11)
Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco, a leading activist in Mexico's violence-torn state of Guerrero and a vocal advocate for the families of the the 43 students who went missing there in September 2014, was himself found dead on Aug. 10. His body was discovered riddled with bullets and slumped over the wheel of the taxi he owned in the pueblo of Xaltianguis, just outside Acapulco. He had led search parties after the disappearance of the students, who are now believed to have been turned over to a murderous narco-gang after being detained by police. Only one body of this missing students has yet been found. As it became increasingly clear the students had been killed, he helped organize a group called The Other Disappeared—mostly women, who meet every Sunday to search the hills for the remains of their loved ones. Since the group began work, it has unearthed 129 bodies, which were handed over to the authorities for identification. As he began to organize around the issue, Jiménez Blanco said some 300 families came forward saying they also had missing relatives. He said in a BBC interview earlier this year: "We have been saying from the start that this area is a cemetery."
UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz issued a statement Aug. 24 expressing concern about ongoing violence against protesters by security forces in Ecuador, and called for a "just and impartial" investigation. The statement made special note of "accusations of violence against indigenous women" who participated in peaceful demonstrations. (InfoBae, Aug. 25) Repression is reported from Quito and several rural areas affected by the strike, with homes raided and residents reportedly beaten by soliders and police in Saraguro, in southern Loja province. Among those beaten in the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe was the prefect, Salvador Quishpe. (The Guardian, Aug. 19) Indigenous leader Nina Pacari called on Tauli-Corpuz to visit Ecuador to witness the "state strategies of social control and repression" in response to the national strike called this month by indigenous and labor leaders. By government figures, 126 have been detained since the strike began with 64 still held on "preventative detention" orders. Pacari says the number detained is actually 142. President Rafael Correa accuses to protesters of seeking to destabilize him in a "soft coup." (EFE, Aug. 25)
Colombia's FARC guerillas may be working under the table with their supposed bitter enemies in the ultra-right paramilitary groups. E-mails released by authorities on Aug. 5 reportededly reveal that the FARC and Los Urabeños paramilitary have been collaborating to traffic drugs and weapons. In one of the undated e-mails, a FARC fighter known as "Ruben Manteco" wrote to "Pastor Alape"—one of the FARC's top commanders and a representative in Havana for peace talks with the Colombian government. The message refers to a gift offered the FARC by "Otoniel," the notorious Urabeño warlord. According to the e-mail exchange, Otoniel sent $170,000 as a good-will gesture to prove his reliability as a business partner. Alape instructed Manteco to accept the gift, adding that he should pursue negotiations on arms deals once confidence in the partnership was established. Another e-mail exchange discusses plans for FARC-Urabeño collaboration in drug trafficking. In that exchange, "Roman Ruiz," a FARC commander killed in an army offensive earlier this year, suggests to Alape that the guerillas raise the price on cocaine exports. Other e-mails indicate the FARC has been providing security to the Urabeños during their drug operations while also helping to broker deals.