Saturday, 31 March 2012

Rwanda genocide - more extraditions

For the first time, a French court has agreed to extradite a suspect facing charges relating to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.     51 year old Claude Muhayimana is accused of taking part in genocide and crimes against humanity.     Mr Muhayimana, a local government worker, denies the charges, and the French government could still block his removal.

At least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by Hutu extremists in just 100 days – the fastest mass murder in history.     France was heavily criticised at the time for trying to prop up the Rwandan government that had encouraged the killings.

Earlier this month Leon Mugesera arrived in Rwanda to face charges stemming from a rabble-rousing anti-Tutsi speech he made in 1992.   The former university don had been resisting extradition from Canada for the last 16 years.

Mugesera had referred to Tutsis as cockroaches, and said they should be exterminated, adding: ‘Know that the person whose throat you do not cut now will be the one who will cut yours.’

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Second biggest earthquake in history

This day 48 years ago saw the second biggest earthquake ever recorded.   For four minutes at about half past five in the evening of Good Friday, March 27, 1964, it rocked the Gulf of Alaska with a magnitude of 9.2.

Fissures appeared in the ground, buildings collapsed, and tsunamis were generated, but fortunately because the area was sparsely populated, only about 130 people died.

It was stronger than the underwater earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra that generated the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, resulting in perhaps 230,000 deaths.   This was the third most powerful ever recorded.

The strongest of all was the Chilean quake of 1960, which cost perhaps 4,500 lives and made 2 million people homeless.    Once again because of the relative sparseness of population in the area, it was much less devastating than less powerful earthquakes such as the one that struck Haiti in 2010 and probably killed more than 200,000.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Continuing disaster in Iraq - 9th anniversary bombings

As the US and UK governments gear up for their next Middle Eastern war - most favoured venue, Iran – a reminder of the continuing bloody disaster we unleashed on Iraq.   On the 9th anniversary of the invasion, at least 30 people have been killed in a series of bombings in the country.

Two car bombs in the mainly Shia city of Karbala are said to have killed at least 13 people, while another in the northern city of Kirkuk caused the deaths of at least seven.   A pregnant woman died in Fallujah.

Bombings are now part of the daily pattern of life in Iraq.    In January, a suicide bomber killed 53 people in an attack on Shi’ite pilgrims in Basra in the south.   Then a few days later another suicide bomber killed 31 mourners at a Shi’ite funeral in Baghdad.

Nearly 5,000 soldiers in the invading armies were killed, but we have no real idea of the number of Iraqi civilians who have paid with their lives.    Few now contest that it is well over 100,000, but we will probably never know the true number because, as Nikita Khrushchev said of the authorities’ indifference to those who died in the great Soviet famine of 1932-3: ‘no one was counting.’

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

First ever war crimes conviction for International Court

In the first ever verdict from the Intenational Criminal Court, the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga has been found guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers.   Lubanga, who could be gaoled for life, will be sentenced at a later date.

The court was set up 10 years ago, and Lubanga was arrested in 2005.   The prosecution say he armed children as young as nine during a bloody civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Lubanga’s forces were active in the conflict in Ituri in the north-east of the country in which 60,000 people are said to have been killed.

Three other men accused of war crimes in Ituri are still at large.   While some have bemoaned the length of time it has taken for the court to secure its first conviction, Amnesty International said it proved there was a way of calling to account those whom national authorities have failed to prosecute.

Two other Congolese militia leaders are currently being tried, as is the former vice-president of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, for alleged war crimes in the Central African Republic.

(See also my blogs of January 23 and 29, and March 23, 2009, Sept 3 and 9, 2010, May 9, 2011.)

Monday, 5 March 2012

Munitions explosions

At least 146 people have been killed in a huge series of explosions at an arms depot in Brazzaville, capital of the Congo Republic, though some are claiming the true death toll is much higher.

Roofs were blown off houses, and streets littered with debris.   The government says the explosion was caused by an electrical fault.     Last year, more than 150 people were killed when a munitions factory blew up at Jaar in Yemen.

Perhaps the deadliest accidental munitions explosion of all happened at Lagos in Nigeria on January 27, 2002.   It started with a fire at an open air market in a barracks, but it quickly spread to a munitions store.  There was a series of deafening explosions and windows shattered for miles around.

About 20,000 people ran for their lives, and many of those who perished were crushed to death in the stampede.   At least 1,100 bodies were found, but many think the true death toll was nearer 2,000.  For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

(See also my blog of Feb 17, 2011.)

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Bethnal Green tube station disaster - a memorial at last

Sixty-nine years after the event, work has finally begun on a permanent memorial to the 173 people who died in one of London’s deadliest single disasters of World War Two.   

On March 3, 1943, the BBC reported a 300 bomber raid on Berlin, and Londoners braced themselves for retaliation.   As sirens sounded, people headed for the shelters.   Then 500 yards from Bethnal Green tube station, a new battery of anti-aircraft rocket launchers opened up.

There was a rush for the steps leading down to the station, and close to the bottom, a woman stumbled.     Others fell over her, and a deadly crush began.    Altogether 173 people were suffocated or crushed to death, including 62 children.    In fact, no bombs fell on the East End of London that night.

Survivors and relatives of victims attended a ceremony to mark the beginning of work on the memorial, which is expected to take 3 months.