Week of June 25th

A Palestinian worker burns bags of the drug Tramadol, a pain killer, in Gaza City, Tuesday, April 20, 2010. Gaza’s Hamas rulers have burned more than one million pills of a pain killer many Gazans take because they say it relaxes them. The drug is often smuggled through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egyptian border. Hatem Moussa / AP

Residents of Gaza are self-medicating with synthetic prescription painkillers in the wake of ongoing economic and social hardship. In 2006, Israel and Egypt had essentially sealed off Gaza, turning the coastal land into an isolated enclave. Unemployment has risen to 40 per cent, while majority of the population lacks access to clean water or sanitation. The damaging effects of the conflict on the livelihood of Gazans has driven increasing numbers of residents to revert to opioids in an effort to “numb the pain.” “Drug use is much worse now,” Mahmoud says. “It’s directly linked to the situation: the worse it gets, the more drug abuse there is.” The 35-year old Palestinian uses Tramadol, a synthetic opioid that has run rampant across Gaza. He explains that addiction remains a taboo topic in Gaza. Opioid users find themselves receiving little to no aid from the Gazan health system, leaving those with addictions helpless.

On Tuesday, in a 5-to-4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban which affirmed the president’s vast powers over matters of national security. The latest version of the ban levels a range of travel restrictions against 5 majority-Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — as well as North Korea and Venezuela. Lower courts had previously struck down each of the three iterations of the travel ban, the first of which was issued in January 2017. The new ruling made by the Supreme Court will reverse the lower court decisions and will allow the policy to remain in place indefinitely. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that Mr. Trump had ample statutory authority to make national security judgments in the realm of immigration, whereas dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “The majority here completely sets aside the president’s charged statements about Muslims as irrelevant. That holding erodes the foundational principles of religious tolerance that the court elsewhere has so emphatically protected, and it tells m embers of minority religions in our country ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.'” Protests against the ban as well as Trump’s controversial immigration policy that has led to the separation of children from their parents have been taking place across the United States for several days. 

Protests erupt after Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations is upheld by the US Supreme Court ( Getty )

On Tuesday, the Dutch Senate passed a “partial ban” on face veils through the Netherlands. Led by Geert Wilders’s anti-Islamic Party for Freedom, under the new law, Dutch citizens who wear face-coverings in schools, government buildings, hospitals, and on public transportation will be subject to a fine of about $460. Although the government describes the law as impartial, as it applies to all face coverings, including motorcycle helmets and ski masks, critics see it as part of a larger right-wing movement across Europe. Law critics are questioning the necessity of the ban considering that merely an estimated 400 women wear full face veils in the Netherlands. According to Sen. Marjolein Faber-Van de Klashorst, a member of Wilders’s party, “this is the first step, and the next step is to close all the mosques in the Netherland.”

Also on Tuesday, Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of Morocco’s northern Rif region protest movement, was sentenced for 20 years for undermining public order and threatening national unity. Following the death of Mouhcine Fikri, a fish vendor who was crushed by a garbage compactor, while trying to save his confiscated swordfish, protests erupted across Morocco. Zefafi led and organized demonstrations in Al Hoceima over the social and economic marginalization of the mainly Berber Rif region. Prosecutors had said the arrest was ordered after he “obstructed, in the company of a group of individuals, freedom of worship” at the mosque in Al Hoceima. In total, 53 people were handed sentences on Tuesday following a nine-month trial.

On Wednesday, Qatar presented its case against the United Arab Emirates in response to the year-long blockade led by Saudi Arabia in front the International Court of Justice [ICJ]. The blockade against Qatar has severed diplomatic and trade ties with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. Qatar has stated that such unforgiving actions were in violation of the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (CERD) of which both Qatar and the UAE are signatories. “Qatar also argues that companies and individuals were denied access to property and assets and medical access,” Al Jazeera reported. Since the other blockading countries are not signatories of the treaty, Qatar’s case centralizes on the alleged human rights violations conducted by the UAE against Qatari nationals and UAE citizens. Doha’s lawyers argued that Abu Dhabi has implemented a “series of broad discriminatory measures” against Qataris, while, on Thursday, UAE lawyers rejected any and all allegations, accusing the Qatari government of “its support for terrorism, its interference with the affairs of its neighbors and its dissemination of hate speech.” Cases at the ICJ take months or years to complete. However, requests for provisional measures like those requested by Qatar are dealt with quicker.

YouTube footage is often the only evidence proving human rights violations are taking place in Syria but owner Google has been removing huge numbers of online videos since it announced in 2017 that it would use its machine learning algorithm to flag extremist content. Two months after the announcement, the firm boasted that 75 per cent of videos removed for “violent extremism” were taken down “before receiving a single human flag”. By December last year, this figure had reached 98 per cent. But Hadi Al-Khatib, the founder of an open source initiative, the Syrian Archive, says that some videos — and proof of violations — can thus be lost forever, along with the possibility of holding parties accountable in the future. It is the most documented war in history, and most of it has taken place on social media. YouTube is citizen journalists’ platform of choice but preserving videos before Google removes them has proven to be a challenge. The algorithms are flagging videos that do not adhere to YouTube’s community guidelines, which ban “gratuitous violence, dangerous and illegal activities, and hate speech.” However, the company says it does make exceptions for material with “sufficient educational and documentary news value,” but because footage of the Syrian war is often graphic, human rights content can be mistakenly flagged by the algorithm as violating YouTube’s guidelines. Google accepts it “doesn’t always get it right” and, according to a YouTube spokesperson, the firm takes the issue “incredibly seriously.” People viewing the videos need to be trained to spot human rights-related content, says Al-Khatib. “And, if it is removed, it’s really critical Google keeps it, so it can be reinstated.” In August last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its first public warrant of arrest based mostly on video evidence and social media posts about war crimes in Libya.

On Saturday, President Trump said that he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom will increase oil production, “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels” in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets. Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to boost oil production “to make up the difference…Prices to (sic) high! He has agreed!” A little over an hour later, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on the call, but offered few details. “During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy,” the statement said. It added that there also was an understanding that oil-producing countries would need “to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies.” It did not elaborate. The Trump administration has softened its earlier demand that countries like China, India and Turkey end all imports of Iranian oil by Nov. 4, as a top State Department official has indicated that the United States would allow reduced oil flows, in certain cases.

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