07 Oct

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


  • Award comes despite peace deal being voted down in a referendum
  • Nobel committee says prize not disrespectful to Colombian voters

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Photograph: Andrew Kelly / Reuters/Reuters

Kaci Kullmann Five, chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee, on the committee’s reasons for choosing Santos for as the winner of this year’s peace prize:

The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to this peace process. This tribute is paid not least to the representatives of the countless victims of the civil war.

President Santos initiated the negotiations that culminated in the peace accord between the Colombian government and the Farc guerrillas, and he has consistently sought to move the peace process forward, well knowing that the accord was controversial. He was instrumental in ensuring that Colombian voters were able to voice their opinion concerning the accord in a referendum. The outcome of the vote was not what President Santos wanted. A narrow majority of the over 13m Colombians who cast their ballots said no to the accord.

This result has created great uncertainty as to the future of Colombia. There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a half and that civil war will flare up again. This makes it even more important that the parties headed by President Santos and Farc guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono continue to respect the ceasefire.

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Proposals that would have limited terminations to cases where mother’s life is in danger rejected by 352 votes to 58

Beata Szyd?o voting on the abortion law in parliament

Beata Szyd?o voting on the abortion law in parliament. Photograph: Pawel Supernak/EPA

Poland’s parliament has overwhelmingly rejected plans for a near-total ban on abortions after protests by tens of thousands of women, marking an embarrassing setback for the conservative government and the Catholic church.

The ruling Law and Justice party (PIS) had originally backed draft proposals drawn up by an independent anti-abortion campaign group but was badly shaken by Monday’s protest rallies across Poland, which were attended by up to 100,000 women dressed in black.

Poland already has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, and the new proposals would have limited access the procedure to cases where the mother’s life was in direct danger – a step too far even for many women who helped vote PiS into power a year ago.

Under the rejected plan, women and doctors would have faced up to five years in jail for performing an abortion.

“PiS continues to back the protection of life,” Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski, the party leader and a devout Catholic, told parliament on Thursday. “And it will continue to take action in this respect, but it will be considered action.”

The measure was defeated by 352 votes to 58, but liberal opposition deputies warned of possible further attempts to tighten the law by the PiS, which has a big parliamentary majority.

“We have to remain vigilant because we don’t know what the future holds for abortion rules in Poland. We can’t be sure that PiS won’t come up with a new proposal,” said Joanna Schmidt, an MP with the new liberal Modern party.

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Chinese troops abandoned their posts rather than engage in fighting and protect civilians, says US-based rights group

Peacekeeper troops from Chinain Juba, South Sudan. A report says they and forces from other countries ‘underperformed’ during violence in the city in July.

Peacekeeping troops in South Sudan ‘underperformed’ during violence in July. Photograph: Albert Gonzalez Farran/AFP/Getty Images

United Nations peacekeepers stayed in their bases rather than protect civilians during an outbreak of fighting in South Sudan in July, a rights group has said.

Chinese UN peacekeepers in the capital Juba “abandoned their posts entirely” at one civilian protection site where tens of thousands had sought safety from successive bouts of fighting, a report by the US-based Centre for Civilians in Conflict (Civic) said.

Although Ethiopian troops appear to have withdrawn from their perimeter positions at another base, civilians said the peacekeepers helped evacuate civilian casualties and, on at least a few occasions, returned fire when fighters targeted the camp. Outside the fortified bases, however, peacekeeper presence was “non-existent”.

The failures came amid clashes in Juba between troops from the government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), loyal to the president Salva Kiir, and opposition forces of his rival Riek Machar. The street battles, in which scores were killed, were the culmination of months of tension between the two factions, and resulted in the flight of Machar from South Sudan.

During four days of fighting between the rival forces, artillery rounds and gunfire hit two UN bases, killing two Chinese peacekeepers.

The Chinese troops subsequently abandoned their posts, leaving weapons and ammunition behind, the report said.

More than 300 people died in the fighting, with the majority of the military casualties sustained by the rebels. A number of government soldiers from the SPLA were also killed.

However, civilians suffered worst, with tens of thousands displaced by the violence and widespread human rights abuses by both sides.

Ten years after shooting, daughter of friend who was also murdered remembers what drove investigative journalist

Natalia Estemirova and Anna Politkovskaya.

Natalia Estemirova and Anna Politkovskaya. Composite: Reuters, Martin Godwin

It was a mild day in October and the streets of Grozny were soaked in soft, pale autumn sunlight. My mother and I had just finished our shopping and we boarded a crowded minibus to head home.

As the driver started his engine, my mother answered a phone call. In an instant her face turned white. “What?” she asked in a whisper. “When?” She shouted at the driver to stop the bus and we got out. “Anna was killed,” she said quietly. “We’ll walk home.”

My mother, Natalia Estemirova, and the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya had worked together for several years by 2006, and their professional bond had evolved into a deep friendship. My mother worked at the human rights centre Memorial, where she gathered evidence of state abuses, while also delivering aid and medication to those in need. Together, they were a super team who investigated the most heart-wrenching and dangerous cases in war-torn Chechnya.

Anna would usually stay with us during her trips to the Chechen capital, Grozny, and I would always feel jealous and resentful of her hosts if she stayed elsewhere. When I think of her, I remember her sitting on the sofa, sipping tea, in our small rented flat. Tall and skinny, she would always sit up straight. “This is how you should be sitting,” my mum whispered to me during a visit when I was nine years old.

I was slightly scared of her: her strict demeanour made me tone down my backchat and while she was at ours, I would quietly sit and read, occasionally eavesdropping on conversations about kidnappings and torture, and the trials and injustices of the Russian judicial system.

The most notorious case that Anna and my mother worked on was the abduction and murder of Zelimkhan Murdalov, an example of the disturbing lawlessness exhibited by Russian troops in Chechnya during the first and second Chechen wars.

Murdalov, who was 26, was kidnapped by Russian forces on 3 January 2001 as he walked down a street in Grozny. According to witness statements, he was beaten and tortured by the head lieutenant of the Russian forces, Sergei Lapin. After that, Murdalov was officially described as missing.

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The federal investigation into physical and sexual assault and living conditions comes after the nationwide strike and a series of riots at Holman prison

alabama prison

The federal government will look into physical and sexual abuse, living conditions and safety in Alabama men’s prisons. Photograph: Brynn Anderson/AP

The federal government is investigating prisons throughout Alabama in an inquiry that is “possibly unprecedented”. The investigation comes after a series of strikes and riots that have revealed the state’s prisons are in turmoil.

“It’s a giant investigation. This is rare,” said Lisa Graybill, a staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is conducting an investigation of its own. Previously Graybill worked for the federal unit that will investigate Alabama, and said the closest comparison in memory was an examination of Puerto Rico’s juvenile jails. “Taking on a whole state is unusual and possibly unprecedented,” she said.

According to the Department of Justice (DoJ) the investigation will focus on whether prisoners are protected from physical and sexual abuse by other prisoners and guards, and whether living conditions are sanitary and safe in general at men’s prisons.

Alabama’s prisons – particularly the notorious Holman prison – were at the forefront of a nationwide call for prisoners to strike from work, last month. On 9 September prisoners across the US began a strike that lasted several days, in some places. And at Holman, guards joined striking prisoners by staying home from work.

Those strikes also came on the heels of two riots at Holman. During the riot inmates had stabbed warden Carter Davenport and another guard. They set fire to the dorm and carried prison-made swords. The warden and guard survived the attack, and special security squads swept in to quash the riot. But a few days later another riot started after one inmate stabbed another. Davenport, who declined to speak with the Guardian about the unrest, recently resigned his position.

“Our obligation is to protect the civil rights of all citizens, including those who are incarcerated,” US attorney Joyce White Vance, of northern Alabama, wrote in a press briefing on Thursday.

Her counterpart in southern Alabama, US attorney Kenyen R Brown, said prisoners “should expect sanitary conditions of habitation that are free of physical harm and sexual abuse”.

Graybill said the uproar has pulled back a veil that previously obscured Alabama’s prison conditions. Litigation in California and Arizona have recently brought reform but Alabama’s prisons are the most overcrowded, operating at about 183% capacity. “There is a national recognition that Alabama is in crisis,” Graybill said.

The federal government is stepping in because although prisons are run by states, they are beholden to the US constitution.

“The constitution requires that prisons provide humane conditions of confinement,” Vanita Gupta, head of the DoJ’s civil rights division, said Thursday.

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