Tuesday, December 24, 2013


"A young cattle herder from the Dinka tribe carries his AK 47 rifle near Rumbek, capital of the Lakes State in central South Sudan." (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
By Daniel Howden
The Guardian, December 23, 2013
"A week ago, Simon K, a 20-year-old student living in the capital of South Sudan, was arrested by men in military uniforms. He was asked a question that has taken on deadly importance in the world's newest country in the past seven days: incholdi -- 'What is your name?' in Dinka, the language of the country's president and its largest ethnic group. Those who, like Simon, were unable to answer, risked being identified as Nuer, the ethnic group of the former vice-president now leading the armed opposition and facing the brunt of what insiders are describing as the world's newest civil war. Simon K was taken to a police station in the Gudele market district of Juba, where he was marched past several dead bodies and locked in a room with other young men, all Nuer. 'We counted ourselves and found we were 252,' he told the Guardian. 'Then they put guns in through the windows and started to shoot us.' The massacre continued for two days with soldiers returning at intervals to shoot again if they saw any sign of life. Simon was one of 12 men to survive the assault by covering themselves in the bodies of the dead and dying. Simon spoke from inside the UN compound that has become an emergency sanctuary to the remaining Nuer in the capital. Sitting on a filthy mattress by the side of a dirt road, with bandages covering bullet wounds in his stomach and legs, he recalled: 'It was horrible, because to survive I had to cover myself with the bodies of dead people, and during the two days, the bodies started to smell really bad.' In the space of seven desperate days, the UN base has been transformed from a logistics hub for an aid operation into a squalid sanctuary for more than 10,000 people. Amid the confusion of bodies and belongings, a handmade sign hangs from the rolls of razor wire. 'The lord is our best defender,' it reads. But there is no sign here of the lord's defence, as the country that gained independence in 2011 with huge international fanfare and support has come apart in the space of a week.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


"Lebanese army soldiers on their armored vehicles patrol the streets of Bab al-Tabbaneh in Tripoli, Lebanon. The country decided last week to put the northern port city under the direct command of the Lebanese army in a bid to contain clashes linked to the war raging in Syria." (Adel Karroum/EPA)
Dragged off the Bus in Tripoli and Shot: The Latest Spillover from Syria's Brutal Civil War
By Loveday Morris
Washington Post, December 16, 2013
"One man was dragged from his taxi. Eight others were ordered off a bus on their way home from work. The victims were shot in the legs by masked gunmen, a brutal tactic that officials say has been used on dozens of members of Tripoli's minority Alawite community in recent months. The intimidation campaign is the latest spillover from neighboring Syria's long-running civil war, which has been recreated in microcosm in this impoverished port city, Lebanon's second-largest. Alawite residents of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a fellow Alawite, have frequently clashed with Sunni residents of nearby Bab al-Tabbaneh, who support the Syrian rebels. In August, two Sunni mosques were bombed, killing more than 40 people; Alawite leader Ali Eid was charged with aiding one of the suspects. A few days after the bombings, taxi driver Ali Assi, another Alawite, became the first targeted shooting victim. Assi was driving in Bab al-Tabbaneh when his vehicle was stopped by gunmen. He wouldn't normally consider it safe to drive through the Sunni neighborhood, he said, but it was early in the morning, and he thought the risk was minimal. 'They started beating me and telling me the Alawites shouldn’t be in Lebanon,' Assi said. 'They put me in the back of the car.' He was driven to an open patch of land by a nearby traffic circle and released. When he started to run, the gunmen opened fire. Assi took 13 bullets in the legs and lower back.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


"Journalists watch pre-recorded testimony by Gu Kailai, the wife of former Chinese politician Bo Xilai, at a hotel in Jinan, China." (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)
Execution of Chinese Street Vendor Sparks Internet Outcry
By Barbara Demick
The Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2013
"Millions of Chinese took to the Internet to protest the execution of a 37-year-old vendor who had stabbed to death two municipal officials he said arrested and beat him for hawking meat skewers without a license. Xia Junfeng had argued that he was a poor, honest man who was only defending himself against the notoriously brutal urban management officers known in China as the chengguan -- and nearly 3 million Chinese agreed. As news of his execution by lethal injection was announced Wednesday, Chinese microblogs were flooded with outrage. On one popular site alone, Sina.com, Xia's name was the most searched of the day, and 2.8 million people posted messages, almost all supporting him. Many contrasted his case to that of ex-Politburo member Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai, a lawyer by profession, who was convicted last year of premeditated murder for poisoning a British businessman. She was given a suspended death sentence, the equivalent of life in prison. 'Gu Kailai was a member of the privileged class who knew what crime she was committing,' wrote one outraged critic in a comment later expunged by censors. 'Xia Junfeng was struggling at the bottom of society to survive. His death is an injustice. There is only tyranny.' 'Hero Xia, rest in peace. Your anti-repression spirit will continue to inspire the repressed. Your name will live in history,' wrote another. Xia's wife said she and her mother-in-law were given 30 minutes notice Wednesday morning that they would be allowed a brief visit with the condemned man before the execution. 'He was calm. He didn't cry. He just kept telling us that he was defending himself,' Zhang Jing said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

WORK (Qatar)

"Fans take their seats before 2009's Brazil v England friendly in Doha, Qatar." (Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/Press Association Images)
How Many More Must Die for Qatar's World Cup?
By Nick Cohen
The Observer, September 21, 2013
"With the European football association, Uefa, reaching the unavoidable conclusion that you cannot play competitive sport in the 50C heat of a Qatari summer, the way is clear for the international football association, Fifa, to break with precedent and make a decision that does not seem corrupt or senseless or both. All being well, the 2022 tournament will be held in the winter. Just one niggling question remains: how many lives will be lost so that the Fifa World Cup™ can live up to its boast that it is the most successful festival of sport on the planet. 'More workers will die building World Cup infrastructure than players will take to the field,' predicts Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Even if the teams in Qatar use all their substitutes, she is likely to be right. Qatar's absolute monarchy, run by the fabulously rich and extraordinarily secretive Al Thani clan, no more keeps health and safety statistics than it allows free elections. The Trade Union Confederation has had to count the corpses the hard way. It found that 83 Indians have died so far this year. The Gulf statelet was also the graveyard for 119 Nepalese construction workers. With 202 migrants from other countries dying over the same nine months, Ms Burrow is able to say with confidence there is at least one death for every day of the year. The body count can only rise now that Qatar has announced that it will take on 500,000 more migrants, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, to build the stadiums, hotels and roads for 2022. Not all the fatalities are on construction sites. The combination of back-breaking work, nonexistent legal protections, intense heat and labour camps without air conditioning allows death to come in many guises.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


As Syrian Rebels' Losses Mount, Teenagers Begin Filling Ranks
By Taylor Luck
The Washington Post, August 24, 2013
"Just 16 years old, Mohammed Hamad was heading to war. The lanky Syrian teenager was joining what United Nations officials warn might be the start of a flood of underage fighters enlisting in rebel ranks. About half of the 200 new recruits who board buses each week to Syria from Jordan's sprawling Zaatari refu­gee camp are under 18, UN officials at the camp estimate. Hamad said it was his duty to 'fight in the name of God to take back the country' from government forces. 'If my generation doesn't take up arms, the revolution will be lost,' he said, shortly before boarding a bus for the border on a three-day journey to join rebel forces on the outskirts of his home village in southern Syria. The flow of fresh troops has helped the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army replenish ranks rapidly diminished by a series of recent losses. But it also has prompted unease from UN officials, who in an internal report this month warned of growing 'recruitment by armed groups, including of under-aged refugees' in Zaatari and across the region, indicating that the rebels may no longer be honoring a pledge to bar fighters younger than 17. 'We are concerned by reports that some groups may be attempting to use Zaatari as a recruitment center, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure it stays a refugee camp and not a military camp,' Andrew Harper, the UN refugee agency's representative in Jordan, said in an interview. After more than two years of conflict that has already claimed more than 100,000 lives, some rebel commanders defend the use of teenage fighters as inevitable.

Friday, June 28, 2013


"Syrian youths walk amongst the rubble in the village of al-Hamidiyeh, north of Qusayr, in Homs province."
A Return to Homs
By Patrick Cockburn
The Independent, June 28, 2013
"Khalid is too frightened of travelling the 100 miles from Homs to Damascus to ask officials if they know what happened to his three sons, who disappeared 16 months ago as government troops over-ran the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr. He has not heard anything from them since and does not know if they are alive or dead, though he has repeatedly asked the authorities in Homs, Syria's third-largest city, about them. Khalid, a thick-set man of 60 with grizzled white hair -- who used to be a construction worker until he injured his back -- says he dare not make the journey to Damascus because 'as soon as the soldiers at the checkpoints on the road see I come from a place like Baba Amr, with a reputation for supporting the rebels, they are likely to arrest me'. He explains that he cannot risk being detained because he has a wife and four daughters who rely on him. He is the last man left in his family since his sons went missing. Syria is full of parents trying to keep their children alive or simply seeking to find out if they are already dead. It is as if both sides in the civil war are in a competition to see who can commit the worst atrocities. A few days before I spoke to Khalid I saw a picture on the internet of a fresh-faced 23-year-old soldier called Youssef Kais Abdin from near the port city of Latakia. He had been kidnapped a week earlier by the al Qa'ida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra while serving in the north-east of Syria, close to the Iraqi border. The next his parents heard of Youssef was a call from their son’s mobile at 4am from al-Nusra telling them to look for a picture of their son online. When they did so, they saw his decapitated body in a pool of blood with his severed head placed on top of it. The Syrian conflict is a civil war with all the horrors traditionally inflicted in such struggles wherever they are fought, be it Syria today or Russia, Spain, Greece, Lebanon or Iraq in the past. For the newly appointed American National Security Adviser Susan Rice, David Cameron or William Hague to pretend that this is a simple battle between a dictatorial government and an oppressed people is to misrepresent or misunderstand what is happening on the ground.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

WORK (Pakistan)

"Muhammad Isaac, a member of a mining team." (Anna Huix)
Hard Rock Calling: The Gemstone Hunters Who Risk It All in the Mountains of Pakistan
By Simon Elias
The Independent, June 23, 2013
"An explosion shatters the peace of the village of Dassu, on the banks of the river Braldo, deep in the mountains of the Pakistani Karakoram. A mile upstream, suspended 260ft above the ground, Mohammad Ashraf puts another explosive in place and lights the fuse before taking cover. The explosion shakes the valley and spews a hail of stones into the void. Ashraf and his partner Gulam Nassur, armed with mallets and chisels, set to work while poised over the abyss. They're searching for gems, turned into crystals at great depth by tectonic phenomena in what are known as 'pegmatite' seams. Here, on the doorstep of a national park, Ashraf and Gulam handle large amounts of illegal explosives, working on a sheer cliff face while loaded with heavy pneumatic drills. In these mountains, however, as in many other parts of Pakistan, survival comes first, and obedience to the law second. The story of Gulam and Ashraf is the story of a country always on the brink of tragedy which has learnt that often the best way to get by is through laughter. Should they find a nice aquamarine, ruby or emerald, they will be rich; if not, they will go on working from sunrise to sundown, struggling on in poverty. [...] The village of Hushe is located more than 10,000ft above sea level, in the heart of the Karakoram mountains, not too far from the Chinese border and the Siachen glacier, a disputed zone now occupied by the Indian army. This remote area is home to four of only 14 mountains in the world to top 26,247ft (8,000m). K2, the planet's second highest peak at 28,250ft and perhaps the most difficult and dangerous k of all to climb, is the best known. One in every nine people who reach the top of K2 dies during the descent. In 2008, 11 people were killed by an avalanche at 27,230ft. At that altitude, even breathing is an extreme exertion. Over the past 30 years, due to the increasing popularity of mountain tourism, the strongest men in Hushe have worked as high-altitude porters. These are the men who carry the equipment, set the ropes and take the lead; they are also those who carry the oxygen bottles, tidy up the camp when it's all over and, above all, those who die. During the short and risky season they may earn about £1,250 for a five-week expedition. The alternatives, for those who lack the strength or prefer to avoid disproportionate risk, are shepherding and mining. Gulam Nabi looks frail, but if you peer deep into his eyes you may catch of a glimpse of the cheerful and indifferent disposition of a man who has escaped death many times.