A Boat Hangs in Prague


Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei has unveiled his largest piece of work ever, and it is stunning and stark. A 70 meter boat containing 258 faceless bodies now hangs in Prague’s National Gallery as a reminder to the world of the global refugee crisis.


US Tries to Reaffirm its Commitment to NATO: The Monday announcement by the US State Department that Secretary Rex Tillerson would not attend a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels in April, but would instead host Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida and travel to Russia later in the month, was met with concern and consternation in the diplomatic community. Yesterday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner attempted damage control by proposing new dates for the meeting so that Tillerson can attend. He also stated that “the United States remains 100 percent committed to NATO.”

But some damage might already have been done. “No matter how you spin it, this is unfortunate symbolism,” one senior European diplomat said of Tillerson’s plan to skip the April meeting in Brussels. The easternmost members of the alliance are concerned about waning interest in NATO by the new American administration, especially in light of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Given the US’ role as de-facto head of the alliance, it is rare for the Secretary of State not to attend a NATO meeting. The last time the head of the State Department missed a NATO meeting was in 2003 during the Iraq War, when Colin Powell was forced to cancel at the last minute.  

But NATO members might be reassured by the announcement from the White House on Tuesday that President Trump will attend the NATO leaders’ summit on May 25 in Brussels and will host NATO’s Secretary General in Washington in April in order to prepare for the meeting. In addition, earlier this month Secretary Tillerson indicated he wants to strengthen NATO. He wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, asking that Congress ratify Montenegro’s membership in NATO and noted that “allies look to the United States for leadership within the alliance. Montenegro’s participation in the May NATO Summit as a full member, not an observer, will send a strong signal of transatlantic unity.”


Peru in Peril: The death toll from flooding and mudslides in Peru has reached 78, and a state of emergency has been declared that covers half of the country. Record rainfall, the most since 1925, has caused mudslides and rivers to overflow across the country, forcing thousands to flee their homes for higher ground. While official numbers are lacking, so far at least 100,000 people have been left homeless. More than half a million people in and around the capital of Lima have been affected by the floods. With more than two weeks to go until rainy season ends, hope remains that officials in Lima will regain control of the situation.

UN Declares Possible Crimes Against Humanity in Myanmar: Tens of thousands of Rohingya, Myanmar’s Muslim minority, have been fleeing violence in the northern state of Rakhine since October and taking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. The violence began early last October, when according to state media, a group of around 300 armed men attacked soldiers and police, sparking an intense crackdown by the military. The leader of group, called the “Faith Movement,” stated: “We, the vulnerable and persecuted people, have asked the international community for protection against the atrocities by the government of Myanmar, but the international community turned its back on us. Finally, we cannot take it anymore.”

Since the attack, the Myanmar military has arrested hundreds of people in Rakhine and is allegedly setting fire to villages. Human Rights Watch accused the military of “numerous abuses … including widespread arson, extrajudicial killings, and systematic rape and other sexual violence.” A UN official stated, “I would not use [the word genocide] right now but it could amount to crimes against humanity.” She added that Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s democracy icon and de facto head of state, “could and should speak up a little more.” Suu Kyi has been harshly criticized for failing to stop suspected human rights abuses against the Rohingya. Others have noted that the country’s military, rather than the civilian government, oversees the northern part of the country.

A Myanmar government spokesperson said the administration is “deeply concerned by reports of potential human rights abuses and have already set up an Investigation Commission led by Vice President U Myint Swe.”


Hezbollah Cannibalizes Itself: In a story already splashed with intrigue, Israel’s military chief Lt. General Gadi Eisenkot affirmed previous reports that Hezbollah commander Mustafa Amine Badreddine was killed by friendly fire, fueling speculation about the involvement of Iran. Hezbollah, the extremist militant Shia group based in Lebanon, reported the killing of Badreddine in 2016, claiming his death was the result of shelling by rival Sunni rebels in Damascus, Syria. Hezbollah, who has been known to use ‘alternative facts’ to advance its agenda, was however quickly refuted by various observer organizations that had already in 2016 claimed that no shelling took place during his death.

Badreddine death seems to be the result of the region’s precarious power relations (that are  often more akin to a Shakespeare play than politics) between Shia-led Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia. An investigation into Badreddine’s death concluded that Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, ordered his execution on the advice of Iranian Revolutionary Guards leader Major General Qasem Soleimani. Iran, who is opposed to US-Saudi led campaigns in the region, is a staunch supporter of the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

It is therefore unsurprising that the new Israeli intelligence directly contradicts earlier Iranian reports on the matter (not that the two nations have ever agreed on anything). General Eisenkot highlighted how the intelligence reflected “the depth of the internal crisis within Hezbollah.” Israel was on high alert after reports were made in 2016, fearing it be blamed for the killing and faced with possible retaliation. If the last decade has proven anything, it’s never wise to poke the bull that is Israel.


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