Saturday 26 March 2016

20 years on - Karadzic convicted

As the old saying goes: ‘the wheels of justice grind slow, but they grind exceeding small.’ It is more than 20 years since the Srebrenica massacre, and eight years since the trial began at The Hague of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for his part in it.

But now he has finally been sentenced to 40 years in prison on one charge of genocide and nine other counts, including crimes against humanity over the siege and shelling of Sarajevo which left nearly 12,000 people dead. Defending himself, Karadzic had denied the charges.

Karadzic’s lawyer says he will be appealing against the verdict. Meanwhile, the trial of General Ratko Mladic, who commanded the Bosnian Serb forces, is drawing to a close.  

The United Nations top human rights official Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein welcomed the verdict against Karadzic as ‘hugely significant’, but the current president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Milorad Dodik, rejected it.  (See also my posts of 5 April 2012 and 28 July 2015.)

Saturday 19 March 2016

20 years ago today - a deadly disco fire

It was 20 years ago today….that one of the worst night club fires in history swept through the Ozone disco in Quezon City in the Philippines, killing at least 162 people (the site is pictured above). At the time there were 390, mainly students, inside premises that were licensed to hold only 35.

Just after midnight, survivors reported seeing sparks in the disc jockey’s booth, followed by smoke, which they thought at the time was part of the act. Within minutes, though, the building was engulfed in flames and part of it collapsed.

The president and treasurer of the company that operated the disco were imprisoned for providing inadequate fire exits and other fire precautions. In 2014 seven city officials were convicted over irregularities in the way safety permits had been issued.

The world’s deadliest ever nightclub fire happened at Cocoanut Grove in Boston on 28 November 1942, when 490 died. There too fire exits were inadequate, with the fire brigade saying 300 lives could have been saved if they had simply opened outwards instead of inwards. For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

Friday 11 March 2016

Japan tsunami + 5

On this day…..five years ago, one of the most powerful earthquakes in history unleashed a tsunami that killed 18,000 people in Japan, and drove nearly half a million from their homes as it caused the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Five years later, 180,000 have still not been able to return home, more than half of them from Fukushima, where nearly 800,000 tons of contaminated water are still stored in tanks at the stricken nuclear plant. It is not clear when, how, or if the water will be disposed of.

After the tsunami, all of Japan’s nuclear plants were shut down, and only a few have been restarted, often in the face of protests from local people. Just this week, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the country could not do without nuclear power in the long-term, but also this week, two of the plants that had restarted were forced to shut again.

The government has invested billions in reconstruction, but much more is needed. A volunteer fireman who lost 51 colleagues said: ‘Infrastructure is recovering, hearts are not.’ (see also my posts of 19 March 2011, 11 March 2013, 11 March 2014.)

Sunday 6 March 2016

African leaders try to obstruct international justice

Laurent Gbagbo, former president the Ivory Coast, has become the first former head of state to go on trial before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. He refused to step down after losing an election in 2010, and is accused of encouraging his militias and security forces to commit murder, rape and other crimes to keep him in power.

A very good thing that he should face trial, you might think, but that does not seem to be how other African rulers see it, and they appear to be using the African Union to try to hamstring the court.

When the ICC was set up in 2002, African leaders seemed pretty keen, but now the African Union has resolved to go on shielding President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan from facing charges of genocide in Darfur, and criticised prosecutions being brought against other African leaders such as Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, who is accused of orchestrating violence after an election 8 years ago.

Of course, the ICC is not perfect, and many leaders in Africa and other places who should face trial are powerful enough to escape, but surely it is surely in the interests of Africa’s people that some should face justice rather than none. If the continent’s rulers care about that.