Author: Friends of The Fifth Column

Fighting back against Georgia’s war on drugs

Georgia’s draconian laws against narcotics are in the spotlight, as activists take to the streets and demand an end to the criminalisation of drug users.

There are angry crowds in Tbilisi again. On International Human Rights Day (10 December), protesters gathered outside Georgia’s parliament building to call on the government to “decriminalise!”. The event ended in a confrontation with the police, as protesters obstructed the main road. Nobody doubts that protests will continue; Georgia is fighting a war on drugs, and activists of the White Noise Movement are on the front line.

The decriminalisation of marijuana has been a real issue in Georgian politics since 2011. The country has a particularly repressive no-tolerance policy towards drug users, which has endured (with a few changes) since the Soviet period.

Discussing Islamophobia in the Heart of Balkans

As Europe continues to grapple with growing Islamophobia fueled by a surging refugee crisis and Islamist terrorism, questions are increasingly being raised on whether Islam is compatible with European civilization. In order to address this subject and counter the growing intolerance on the continent, a coalition of NGOs, academics and activists decided to organize a summit in Sarajevo on the topic of Islamophobia.

Despite the city’s relatively low profile on the European radar, many answers to today’s vital questions appear to lie within the tolerant and multicultural city of Sarajevo. Hence, this was the chosen location for the first European Summit on Islamophobia, which took place from 24 – 26 June 2016.

Albanians From Macedonia Cross Ethnic Lines to Vote Against Ruling Parties

A very un-Balkan thing happened during the Macedonian election. Instead of voting for ‘their’ ethnic parties, many ethnic Albanians decided to vote for the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM), who recently re-branded themselves as more multi-ethnic.

Currently, Macedonia is going through the tumultuous process of forming a new government after parliamentary elections on 11 December. The initial election results are controversial — and contested — so it’s uncertain which party will have more members of parliament in the end. Nevertheless, even though the ruling parties seem to have a slight lead, it is evident that their support has dropped dramatically in comparison to previous elections.

Iraq: Executions by Government-Backed Militia

Government Forces Did Not Intervene, Respond.

An Iraqi government-backed militia on November 29, 2016, executed at least four men they suspected of affiliation with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today. The men were killed without any judicial proceeding. Murder of prisoners in a conflict is a war crime.

Residents of the Shayalat al-Imam village said that Iraqi Security Forces were in the village when the Hashad al-Jabour militia executed the men and stood idly by while they witnessed at least one execution. The villagers did not see them take any steps to stop the killings or punish the killers. Some Hashad al-Asha`ri militias from Sunni tribes, including the Hashad al-Jabour, are members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which are fighting alongside the Iraqi troops to retake areas of northern Iraq from ISIS.

Sex work: not prohibited, not permitted

Criminalization sets a context in which the range of human rights violations experienced by sex workers is validated. Cross-movement collaboration on decriminalizing sex work is needed, now, more than ever.

In mid-November, I attended a RedTraSex meeting to review “Advances, challenges and strategies of the RedTraSex: strengthening sustainability and advancing the recognition of our rights.” RedTraSex is the Red de Mujeres Trabajadoras Sexuales de Latinamérica y el Caribe (Network of Sex Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean.) RedTraSex, on the cusp of celebrating its 20th anniversary, is made up of organizations from fifteen countries – Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Dominican Republic.

Venezuelans Switching to Use of Bitcoins for Payments, Necessity Purchases

The use of bitcoins instead of Venezuelan national currency, the bolivar, for work and trade purposes is growing due to economic problems and the soaring inflation rate, media reported on Friday.

The number of users has increased from 450 in August 2014 to more than 85,000 in November this year, according to the brokerage website Surbitcoin.com.

“Bitcoin is mainstream neither in Venezuela nor in the world but there is a growing interest in the technology… With Cryptobuyer, we convert bitcoins into bolivars and help Venezuelans pay for daily life necessities, such as mobile phones recharges, television, water and electricity bills as well as banks transfers in bolivars,” Jorge Farias, the CEO of cryptobuyer.io exchange platform, said, as cited by the Guardian.

Iranian Envoy Calls for Global Efforts to End ‘Mentality of Intervention’

Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gholam Ali Khoshroo stressed the necessity for the international community to help end “cultural and military hegemony over the world”.

“To see peace, it is imperative to give up on the mentality of intervention, as well as cultural and military hegemony over the world,” Khoshroo said, addressing a Thursday meeting of the UN General Assembly on the agenda 14: Culture of Peace.

Fixing throwaway culture

Sweden introduces tax breaks for repairs in bid to cut waste

The Swedish government has proposed several tax changes designed to incentivize consumers to repair broken items instead of discarding them.

Lawmakers from the ruling Social Democrat and Green Party coalition added provisions into the most recent budget, reducing Sweden’s value-added tax for all bike, clothing and shoe repairs to 12 per cent from 25 per cent. In addition, households that pay to repair appliances such as washing machines will be eligible for a tax deduction. The two initiatives are projected to cost the national treasury $114 million annually, but will be partially offset by a controversial new levy on electronics that contain chemicals the government describes as dangerous to humans. These include the fire retardant pentaBDE, often found on cellphone covers. The initiatives will be voted on later this month, but are widely expected to pass.

Kurdish-Led Operation in Raqqa ‘Saved Thousands of Civilians’

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53603832

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are continuing their fight against Daesh in the Syrian city of Raqqa. In an exclusive interview with Sputnik Turkey, spokeswoman for the operation command group on Raqqa’s liberation and commander of the Kurdish YPJ female battalion Cihan Sekh Ehmed commented on the current situation in the city.

According to Ehmed, the recent military operation in Raqqa helped to save the lives of thousands of civilians.

During the second stage of the Euphrates shield operation to liberate the city of Raqqa which started on December 10, more than 15 villages near Raqqa were liberated from Daesh militants, Ehmed said, adding that the terrorist group has taken heavy losses.

2,300 US Soldiers Headed to Afghanistan This Winter

In one of his final moves in office, president Obama has committed another 2,300 US troops to Afghanistan to help the government curb the resurgence of the Taliban.

After a year of territorial gains by the Taliban in their fight against the weakened Afghani government, the US is sending around 2,300 troops from armor and aviation brigades to assist in attempting to turn the tide. The troops are being sent as part of operation Freedom’s Sentinel to “advise and assist” the Afghan security services in their ongoing fight.

The Afghan forces are also combating the still-active al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan as well as a new cell of the Islamic State that materialized in the country earlier this year. The US forces have have their work cut out for them judging by the failures of the Afghan government in the past few years as well as the rampant corruption within the security services.

Mexico Reportedly Moves Ahead With Controversial Pipeline, Despite Moratorium

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4213458

A new pipeline under construction in northern Mexico has become a major controversy involving the local Yaqui indigenous community, which is less that pleased about the Agua Prieta tube’s route (straight through Yaqui territory).

Things went from bad to worse on Oct. 21, when the pipeline’s supporters attacked a group of protesters, killing one, wounding eight, and causing no small amount of property damage.

The Yaqui tribe, which has endured a long history of repression, also has a history of mounting various resistance movements. Like other indigenous communities in Mexico, members of the Yaqui tribe have lost their lives fighting against invasive private companies and non-indigenous authorities. Just two years ago, before the conflict over the Agua Prieta pipeline, the Yaquis protested against a large-scale aqueduct that would have diverted what was left of their sacred river to the city of Hermosillo.

Gambia: UN chief ‘dismayed’ at military takeover of electoral commission

Expressing dismay at the takeover of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) premises by the military in Gambia, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the security forces to immediately vacate the Commission and to refrain from any further acts that could jeopardise efforts towards the peaceful transfer of power.

“This action violates the independent status of the Commission under the Gambian constitution, and could compromise the sensitive electoral material under the IEC’s custody,” said Mr. Ban, according to a statement issued by his office.

“He condemns this outrageous act of disrespect of the will of the Gambian people and defiance towards the international community at a time when a high-level Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation was in the country to broker a peaceful transfer of power,” the statement added.

Rise in child recruitment as conflict in South Sudan enters fourth year

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45282270

Three years after fighting first erupted in South Sudan, children continue to be recruited by armed forces and armed groups, with 1,300 children recruited in 2016, UNICEF said today. This brings to more than 17,000 the total number of children used in the conflict since 2013.

“Since the first day of this conflict, children have been the ones most devastatingly affected by the violations,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala. “Now, as the fighting intensifies – and despite repeated pledges by all to end child recruitment – children are once again being targeted.”