Sunday 29 May 2011

War crimes arrests - Serbia and Rwanda

Supporters of suspected war criminal, Ratko Mladic, are due to march in Belgrade today to try to stop him being extradited to the Hague to face trial.   The former Bosnian Serb army chief is accused of being responsible for the murder of about 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, as well as other crimes. 

Serbia’s failure to arrest Gen Mladic for 16 years means that he is now aged 69, and his lawyers have been trying to resist having him handed over to the court on grounds of ill health.    An appeal will be heard tomorrow.    Meanwhile, the Serbian war crimes prosecutor says that anyone who helped to shield Gen Mladic from justice could find themselves in serious trouble.

The general’s political boss, Radavan Karadzic, is already awaiting trial at the Hague after being arrested in 2008.    The former Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, died during his trial in 2006.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the most notorious leaders of the Rwandan Hutu militia during the 1994 genocide has been arrested.   Bernard Munyagishari was wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Thursday 26 May 2011

North Korea - new famine?

A US delegation has gone to North Korea to examine how serious food shortages there are, with the United Nations due to take a decision shortly on whether emergency aid should be released.    According to some estimates, 3.5 million North Koreans are suffering from severe malnutrition.

For years, the regime has relied on handouts from the USA and South Korea to feed its people, but it also regularly bites the donors’ hands.    Last year it shelled a South Korean island, and is believed to have sunk a South Korean naval vessel, and both the government there and the US have been reining back aid.

Food production, which is never very efficient, is thought to have been hit this year by an exceptionally cold winter, widespread flooding and an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  Some observers, though, maintain the regime is exaggerating the problems in order to build up food stockpiles for next year’s celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim-Il Sung, the ‘Great Leader’ who founded the Communist republic.  

During the 1990’s, the country suffered one of the worst famines of modern times, with up to 2.4 million people dying.   

Sunday 22 May 2011

The world's strongest earthquake

This day……..51 years ago saw the most powerful earthquake in recorded history, with a reading of 9.5.   Its epicentre was close to the city of Canete in Chile about 560 miles south of Santiago.

It caused tsunamis that battered the Chilean coast with waves up to 80 feet high.   Hawaii was also hit, and 35 foot high waves were recorded as far away as Japan and the Philippines.    Australia and New Zealand also experienced tsunamis. 

Chile had already suffered a smaller earthquake the previous day, and the government was trying to organise a relief effort when the big one struck.   Some coastal villages disappeared completely, while about 40 per cent of the houses in the city of Valdivia were destroyed, leaving about 20,000 people homeless.

Estimates of the total number of people killed range as high as 6,000, including more than 60 in Hilo, the main town on the ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii.    The death toll in Japan was more than 140.  

Saturday 14 May 2011

World War Two - last war crimes trial?

In what may turn out to be the last World War Two war crimes trial, 91 year old John Demjanjuk has been found guilty of helping to murder more than 28,000 Jews at the Nazi death camp of Sobibor in what is now Poland.     He was sentenced to five years in prison, but will be released pending appeal.   

Demjanjuk told the court in Munich that he had not served as a guard at the camp, and that he was a prisoner of war.   The case turned on an SS identity card, which the defence claimed was a fake.   In all, an estimated 250,000 people were killed at Sobibor.

In the 1980’s, an Israeli court indentified Demjanjuk as ‘Ivan the Terrible’, a notorious guard at the Treblinka death camp, and sentenced him to death, but the country’s supreme court overturned the verdict after new evidence emerged.

Some of the relatives of those who died at Sobibor said the verdict on Demjanjuk was not the most important thing.    They were satisfied that a court in the city where the Nazi party was born had had to listen to the details of the industrialised murder machine that Hitler’s regime created.    (See also my blog of Nov 30, 2009.)

Monday 9 May 2011

Congo genocide - trials in Germany

Two Rwandan Hutu leaders have gone on trial in Germany over alleged atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.   Ignace Murwanashyaka, head of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and his deputy Straton Musoni face 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 of war crimes.

Because both of them live in Stuttgart, they are subject to a new German law which allows foreigners to be prosecuted for crimes committed outside the country.  The two men are accused of ordering militias to commit mass murder and rape during 2008 and 2009.

The prosecutors say the FDLR shot people who would not co-operate with them, used rape as a weapon of war, and burned down whole villages.   A lawyer representing one of the accused claimed the trial was unfair.

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda involved Hutu extremists killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus.   When the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power, many Hutus fled across into Congo, sparking years of unrest.    Between 1998 and 2003, 5 million people died in what became known as ‘Africa’s world war.’

(See also my blogs of Jan 23, March 23, Sept 23, 2009, Sept 3 and 9, 2010.)

Wednesday 4 May 2011

US tornadoes - biggest outbreak ever

The USA has just suffered its most active tornado outbreak since records began. Between April 25 and April 28, no fewer than 362 struck, including 312 during one 24 hour period. The previous record was 148 over two days in April 1974.

The twisters killed at least 350 people in Alabama and 6 other states, making this the deadliest episode since the Tupelo-Gainesville outbreak of 1936 when about 435 people were killed by 17 tornadoes in the states of Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina.

This time the worst hit was Alabama, where 250 people were killed. The winds also caused death and destruction in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was the town that suffered most, where the clear-up is expected to cost at least £40m.

The deadliest tornado in US history remains the Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925, which caused the deaths of more than 700 people. (See my blog of April 18)