Three policemen and a villager died Thursday in rare violent clashes with Vietnam’s communist authorities over disputed land around a military-owned Hanoi airport.
Construction of the Mieu Mon facility has been a long-running sore for villagers who say it is being built on land illegally seized by the military.
Clashes erupted on Thursday before dawn when authorities attempting to erect a perimeter fence were met by residents armed with “grenades, petrol bombs and knives”, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.
The “social disorder” led to the “deaths of three policemen and one resident”, the statement said, adding other villagers were “arrested for serious violations of the law”.
It was not immediately possible to confirm the toll or verify the authorities’ version of events, disseminated with unusual speed in a country where secrecy and control normally trump transparency.
But a video widely circulated on Facebook by an activist at the scene appeared to show gunfire lighting up the dawn gloom around the village as several truckloads of security guards arrived.
Human Rights Watch urged Vietnam to launch an investigation that “gets to the bottom of what happened” and to provide unfettered access to the site for impartial observers including journalists, diplomats and UN officials.
Land disputes are common in Vietnam, where powerful individuals and companies often make claims on property.
The government strictly controls freedom of expression and the right to protest but flashpoints occur.
In 2017 villagers held more than a dozen police officers and officials, hostage, for several days at the airport site in a standoff that gripped the tightly-controlled country.
The threat came by anonymous Instagram message one late Iraqi evening, making Hala’s blood run cold: “I’ve got all your pictures and recordings. Shall I send them to your dad?”
The young Iraqi woman received a wave of similar messages after hackers infiltrated her Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram accounts and stole explicit images she had sent in private.
“Some of them wanted money, some wanted a sexual relationship, even if it was just on the phone, others just wanted to bully me for no reason,” said Hala, 25, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
Women in Iraq say they are facing a staggering increase in online “sextortion” by both malicious hackers and former romantic partners to whom the women had knowingly sent photographs, a practice known as revenge porn.
Victims, activists and lawyers blame the phenomenon on a blend of factors: a conservative society, social media being used as virtual dating platforms, poor digital security among victims and weak laws.
The potential consequences can be devastating in a milieu as conservative as Iraq: at best, an indelible mark of shame on a family but at worst, a death sentence by “honour killing” for the victims.
Last year, Iraqi model and Instagram starlet Tara Fares was shot dead in Baghdad, with many suspecting gunmen who were contemptuous of her comparatively liberal lifestyle.
With Fares’ fate in mind but unwilling to bend to her blackmailers’ demands, Hala ultimately fled Iraq this year.
“But I still get threats. These people don’t forget.”
‘Every kind of violence’
Widespread gender separation has pushed Iraqi youth to use sites like Facebook or Instagram as de facto dating platforms, said gender-based violence expert Rusul Kamel.
And in a country with no sex education at school, girls join secret all-female forums to discuss their bodies or seek advice.
The couples and groups often exchange intimate photographs — which for a woman in Iraq can be something as mild as a picture without a traditional Muslim headscarf, “considered a shame in this society,” said Kamel.
These images were being increasingly exploited, Kamel and other activists said, relaying testimonies of a half-dozen victims who declined interviews out of fear their identities would be revealed.
One woman paid $200 every month for four years to an ex-boyfriend so he wouldn’t publish intimidate pictures of her, her colleague told AFP.
Another had her photographs stolen by a hacker and sold her telephone and jewelry to pay him off.
A third developed an online affair with a man, who then threatened to forward her pictures to her husband unless she slept with him.
“Cyber-extortion combines almost every kind of gender-based violence — sexual, psychological, economic — and the victims rarely find social or legal recourse,” said Kamel.
Indeed, sextortion is rising partly because “there’s no deterrent,” said lawyer Marwa Abdulridha, who has been referred dozens of cases in the past three years.
She said entering a police station is considered taboo for Iraqi women, and victims also fear blackmailers could be protected by one of the country’s powerful tribes.
“That’s why most victims don’t even file a complaint. Going to court is like a bogeyman for them,” Abdulridha added.
Victims who do pursue a case often face judges who know little about the internet or classify the crime differently.
“I’ve had judges ask, ‘what is this Facebook?'” she said.
“And if a judge sees the case as a man ‘terrorising’ a girl, he could apply the counter-terrorism clause and recommend the death sentence. Or he could see it as libel and order a fine,” Abdulridha added.
Iraq’s interior ministry said it opened three “sextortion” cases in Baghdad over the past month, charging some accused perpetrators with “criminal threats” and others with fraud.
But one department known as Iraq’s community police is using a different approach.
Their stations have female officers to encourage victims to come forward, and units are trained in dealing with gender-based violence under the principle of “do no harm”.
“Our officers prioritise the victim’s anonymity, and we pursue the case however she feels comfortable — inside or outside the courts,” said the force’s national chief, Ghalib Atiya.
Community police units said they can be more effective than the courts — in northern Mosul, units resolved three sextortion cases in a single week using reconciliation.
But Atiya said the problem is “spreading to a dangerous level,” with women making up 60 to 70 percent of online extortion victims in Iraq, most in Baghdad and the tribal south.
“We need the law to really bring the numbers down,” he said.
But Abdulridha, the lawyer, said real change required a more holistic approach.
Media should stop reporting such cases as scandals and non-government groups should provide digital security training to prevent hacking, she said.
“Otherwise, a girl can be killed in a split second,” she said.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s narcotics crackdown has become a “systematic” campaign of abuses, Amnesty International alleged on Monday, urging the United Nations to launch a probe into thousands of killings.
The drug war is Duterte’s signature initiative and is heavily supported by many Filipinos, however the nightly killings by police have provoked international condemnation.
In its second report on the crackdown since 2016, Amnesty said targets, mostly poor people, are largely drawn from “drug watch lists”.
Those names are supplied by local officials who are “under immense pressure” from police to provide a steady stream of suspects, the London-based monitor said.
“Worse still, individuals on watch lists appear to be placed on them indefinitely, with no means of getting delisted, even after they have gone through drug treatment or stopped using drugs,” said the report.
Amnesty said it was impossible to determine how many people have been killed in the campaign, accusing Manila of “deliberate obfuscation and misinformation” that has left victims’ kin feeling helpless.
The government’s official toll is just over 5,300 suspects killed by police, but watchdogs say the true number is quadruple that.
“What we believe is most important, in assessing the current situation, is the systematic nature of the violations,” Amnesty’s East Asia director Nicholas Bequelin told AFP.
Amnesty said the press has lost interest in the killings while the government fails to investigate or provide adequate treatment programmes for drug users.
“It has had the effect of creating a climate of total impunity in the country, in which police and others are free to kill without consequence,” it said.
“There is sufficient evidence to conclude that crimes committed may constitute crimes against humanity,” the group added.
‘Failure of international community’
Amnesty said it investigated the deaths of 27 people over the past year in Bulacan, a province near Manila that has become “the country’s bloodiest killing field”.
Police broke down doors before shooting drug suspects inside and abducted others to be killed elsewhere, it alleged.
Police also tampered with crime scenes and fabricated their reports, planted evidence and stole from victims, it added.
“The failure of the international community to meaningfully address the serious human rights violations committed… has emboldened the government to carry out a wider crackdown on independent media, human rights defenders, and political activists,” the report said.
Amnesty called on the UN Human Rights Council to open an independent inquiry to “put an end to these crimes, and to provide justice and reparations for countless families and victims”.
The group’s appeal echoed a draft resolution proposed by Iceland at the UN rights council and backed mainly by Western nations.
With the council expected to vote on the document before ending its sessions on July 12, the Philippine government on Friday reiterated Duterte’s warning to back off.
“Any attempt… by any foreign country to interfere with how this government maintains its peace and order, not only is an affront to their intellect but an interference with the country’s sovereignty as well,” Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
The African Union on Monday called for the “rights and freedoms of all Congolese” to be upheld, amid mounting tensions over the country’s presidential race.
The influential Catholic church and the European Union also sought to persuade the DR Congo regime to ensure fair elections.
Candidates must submit their applications to run in DR Congo’s long-delayed election, due on December 23, by Wednesday evening.
“At this crucial stage of the electoral process, the Chairperson of the Commission (Moussa Faki Mahamat) reiterates the need for all stakeholders… to ensure peaceful, transparent and truly inclusive elections are held,” the AU said in a statement.
“(Mahamat) calls on all political actors to act responsibly and in the best interests of their country, which must prevail over all other considerations.”
It was “crucial” that the rights and freedoms of all Congolese voters be respected and a “level electoral playing field” be ensured, it added.
The statement was issued after opposition leader Moise Katumbi was blocked from returning home last week to file his bid.
Katumbi, 53, a wealthy businessman and former governor of the province of Katanga, was barred from entering the DRC and charged with offences against state security, officials said.
He has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since May 2016 after falling out with President Joseph Kabila.
Police in Katumbi’s stronghold of Lubumbashi, in the southeast of the country, fired into the air on Monday to disperse supporters calling for him to be allowed to return.
Opposition lining up
The European Union issued a statement supporting the AU’s call.
Measures should be taken “to ensure a fair and credible electoral competition. The European Union will continue to monitor the situation carefully and in close consultation with its partners, primarily the African Union and the United Nations,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement.
The UN peacekeeping mission to the DRC (MONUSCO) has retained its silence on the matter.
The Catholic Church on Monday urged authorities in Kinshasa to allow Katumbi into the country in time to register as a candidate.
“Such segregational treatment is not justified and can lead to unnecessary consequences that must be avoided,” the Congolese Episcopal Conference (CENCO) said in a statement.
“Such a refusal in many ways resembles a denial of identity, which no human society can tolerate.”
Another Kabila rival, former warlord and ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, 55, returned home last week. He officially launched his bid for the presidency on Thursday.
Vital Kamerhe, head of the Union for the Congolese Nation who came third in the 2011 election, on Monday said he had submitted his candidacy.
Another opponent, Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, will file his application Tuesday, his spokesman Peter Kazadi told AFP.
Polling machines from S. Korea
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1960.
The United States is ready to impose further sanctions on the DR Congo regime to dissuade Kabila from continuing his hold on power, the Financial Times reported Monday.
“The US is trying to convince Kabila to go between now and August 8,” an unnamed source told the daily paper. “They’re trying to squeeze his family and his finances”.
DR Congo’s electoral commission said Monday that 35,000 polling machines were on their way from South Korea.
The opposition called them “machines for cheating”.
Kabila, 47, has been at the helm since 2001, presiding over a vast mineral-rich country with a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest.
He was scheduled to stand down at the end of 2016 after his second elected term, technically the last permitted under the constitution.
He has refused to spell out whether he will seek a new term or perhaps declare his support for a chosen successor.
The ECOWAS Court has ordered the Federal Republic of Nigeria to pay N30million as compensation to the named dependents of a commercial driver, David Legbara.
Late Legbara was killed by security agents of the government two years ago for refusing to give bribes demanded by the agents.
The court, however, awarded the penalty against the government on Monday while delivering judgement in suit no ECW/CCJ/APP/38/15 brought by the son and two wives, as well as the sister and brother of the deceased.
According to the ruling, the son who was then a minor, Thankgod Legbara, will get N14million while each of the two wives – Gift and Sira – will get N5million for the violation of the fundamental human rights of the deceased.
The remaining N6million would go to the sister and brother – Mrs Barieenee Tanee and Mr Neyiebari Muele – with each awarded N3million by the court.
Contrary to the preliminary objection of the defendant, a panel of three judges of the ECOWAS Court agreed with the counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr C. Enweluzo, that the court has jurisdiction to hear the case.
The panel presided over by Justice Friday Nwoke also held the Nigerian Government liable for the action of its security agent in the shooting and killing of the deceased on August 7, 2015, in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
It further dismissed other claims of the plaintiffs who had asked for compensation in the sum N2billion for the government’s failure to protect the deceased’s right to life and human dignity and another N5billion for funeral expenses in addition to a public apology.
The plaintiffs, had in the suit, characterised the killing of the driver as ‘wrongful, unlawful and a violation of the deceased’s fundamental right to life as enshrined and guaranteed under Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
They said the security agency of the defendant admitted to the incident but had not paid compensation to the family of the deceased as requested in writing through the family’s counsel.
Also on the panel were the President of the Court, Justice Jérôme Traoré, and Justice Yaya Boiro.
The Secretary-General, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Mr Usman Ngelzerma has said that the Anti-Grazing law in Benue State is infringing on the fundamental rights of its members and citizens of the state.
He made this known during a telephone interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Monday.
“The way the law is made is infringing on the fundamental human rights of our members and citizens, these are some of the grey areas.
“Whether we like it or not, a law has been made by the body that is constitutionally charged with the responsibility of making laws,” he said.
Mr Ngelzerma noted that the law has to strike a balance and that the state government should make arrangements for the people affected who are indigenes of the state.
“The law has to put all the other factors into consideration, it has to create a balance between the paramount and the culturists. If you promulgate a law stopping open grazing, then you have to make provision for culturist who also have their rights and privileges to be protected.
“No arrangement has been made for these people in whatever form. And these are indigenes of the state Can we now say that some Tivs who are living in other states doing their farming business should also be driven out because they are not indigenes of the states?” he questioned.
His comments come days after the Benue State Government enforced the anti-grazing bill, a decision which has been met with much agitation especially among cattle breeders and neighboring Nasarawa State.