South China Sea: US steps up challenges to Spratly Islands in freedom of navigation operation – CNN

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/17/asia/us-navy-south-china-sea-freedom-of-navigation-intl-hnk/index.html

…”This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan,” Lt. Joe Keiley, a spokesman for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, said in a statement…

Russia’s collective punishment of the Crimean Tatars is a war crime | Ukraine Today .org

https://ukrainetoday.org/2021/02/26/russias-collective-punishment-of-the-crimean-tatars-is-a-war-crime/

UkraineAlert by Wayne Jordash and Anna Mykytenko.

Feb 25, 2021

A Russian serviceman without insignia pictured during the 2014 Russian military takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)

According to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), 26 February, 2014, is the date that marks the beginning of the international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation in Crimea.

On this day, violent clashes erupted in front of the Supreme Council of Crimea in Simferopol, where thousands of Crimean Tatars and other advocates of the territorial integrity of Ukraine were opposed by thousands of those who supported Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. Two people died, while several more were injured.

If there has been an independent investigation of the causes of deaths and injuries, its results have not been announced to the public. Meanwhile, the consequences for Crimean Tatars have been severe.

Following the Kremlin seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula, Russia’s Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case against the organisers of the pro-Ukrainian protest. Between January and April 2015, eight Crimean Tatars were accused of participation in mass unrest, including a journalist from the Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR and the Deputy Head of the Mejlis (representative and executive body of the Crimean Tatar people).

In April 2015, ATR stopped broadcasting in Crimea. On 15 April 2016, the Russia-appointed prosecutor of Crimea banned the Mejlis as an extremist organization. The decision was eventually upheld by the Russian courts.

This and the many subsequent criminal cases against Crimean Tatars have been viewed as an attempt by the occupation administration of Crimea to punish the Crimean Tatars collectively for their opposition to Russia’s seizure of the peninsula.

Such cases are commonly regarded as political persecution. Meanwhile, Crimean Tatars accused of terrorism, extremism, participation in mass unrest, and similar crimes in Crimea are considered political prisoners. Amid many political declarations in this regard, one strong legal argument is often overlooked, namely the international prohibition of collective punishments.

Collective punishments include both criminal and non-criminal measures such as sanctions, administrative practices, harassment, and other types of penalties taken in retaliation for an act committed by one or more persons that are considered to belong to a certain group.

Collective punishments are prohibited under international humanitarian law (IHL) and amount to a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions and customary IHL rules, although are not included as such in the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Examples of acts that have been recognised to constitute collective punishments include massive destruction in a refugee camp in retaliation for a military offensive conducted by a party to a conflict, and the widespread destruction of homes and other civilian structures without a militarily justified reason.

Although the ban on the Mejlis does not reach the same threshold of gravity as the destruction of civilian objects, it does appear to satisfy the definition of collective punishments as a repressive measure imposed by the Russian administration of Crimea in response to the political and civil position taken by Crimean Tatars.

In combination with other relevant legal principles, this may strengthen Ukraine’s arguments before international courts. It could also prove helpful when advocating for sanctions and during negotiations for the exchange of detainees.

Other relevant rules and principles include the prohibition of adverse distinctions of any kind, non-retroactivity of penal law, and the prohibition of punitive measures in respect of events which had occurred before the occupation began.

Considering the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Russian Federation has been exercising effective control over Crimea since February 27, 2014 (and therefore the situation in Crimea amounts to belligerent occupation), these rules apply to Crimea.

Firstly, the prohibition of adverse distinctions extends IHL protections to the entire population of the occupied territory without any distinction based on race, religion, or nationality. In a rather straightforward manner, it protects Crimean Tatars from any discriminatory practices, including imposition of administrative measures, sanctions, and penalties based on ethnicity or religion.

Secondly, the non-retroactivity of penal law means that provisions of criminal legislation introduced by the Occupying Power may not cover the period before such provision had been enacted. It safeguards the population of the occupied territory from persecution. The principle stipulates that the Occupying Power is absolutely prohibited from accusing or convicting persons of criminal offences for an act or omission that did not constitute a criminal offence at the time it was committed.

Thirdly, the prohibition of punitive measures in respect of events which had occurred before the occupation safeguards civilians, including private individuals and those who carry out public duties, from being punished for acts that took place before the beginning of the occupation if such acts do not violate laws and customs of war.

The jurisdiction of the Occupying Power is limited to the period of an actual occupation and does not cover situations when protected persons helped the troops of their own party to the conflict, belonged to a political party banned by the Occupying Power, or expressed political opinions contrary to those of the Occupying Power.

In the Crimean context, these two principles mean that Crimean Tatars may not be prosecuted or otherwise punished for opposing Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation or for participating in the protest on February 26, 2014, if the Russian occupation is considered to have begun on the following day.

In sum, during upcoming events to mark the seventh anniversary of Russia’s Crimean seizure, in submissions to international judicial and political institutions, and in negotiations on detainee exchanges, Ukraine should not limit itself to the political arguments questioning the legality of the ban on the Mejlis and the ongoing persecution of the Crimean Tatars.

On the contrary, Ukraine should explore all relevant legal concepts and principles, including the less obvious ones such as prohibitions on collective punishments and punitive measures in respect of events which occurred before the occupation. In this way, Ukraine will be able to strengthen its position and gain the additional support needed to ensure the release of those persecuted for opposing the Russian occupation in Crimea.

Wayne Jordash QC is Managing Partner of GRC. Anna Mykytenko is Senior Legal Consultant of GRC.

North Korea enslaved South Korean prisoners of war in coal mines – BBC News

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56178271

…Mr Choi (not his real name) said he continued to work in a mine in North Hamgyeong province alongside around 670 other prisoners of war (POWs) until his escape, 40 years later.

It is not easy to get stories out of the mines. Those who survive, like Mr Choi, tell stories of fatal explosions and mass executions. They reveal how they existed on minimal rations while being encouraged to get married and have children who – like Mr Choi’s – would later have no choice but to follow them into the mines…

Poland calls on Russia to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity | Ukraine Today .org

https://ukrainetoday.org/2021/02/22/poland-calls-on-russia-to-restore-ukraines-territorial-integrity/

…Warsaw has called on Moscow to take needed actions to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and compensate for losses inflicted in the occupied territories.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Zbigniew Rau wrote this on Twitter, Ukrinform reports…

The Greater Danger of Israeli Provocations in Syria – Global Research

https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-greater-danger-of-israeli-provocations-in-syria/5737783

Continued airstrikes carried out by Israeli warplanes in Syria presents – at face value – an obvious and persistent threat to Syria. In a wider context, the threat runs much deeper and extends to Syria’s allies in Tehran. Israel has been an eager participant in the US-led proxy war on Syria beginning in 2011. It has provided safe-haven and support for Western-backed militants along and within its borders. It has also at various junctures carried out airstrikes in Syria in a bid to impede Damascus’ ability to reestablish peace and stability within Syria’s borders.

And according to US policy papers written before and after the beginning of the 2011 proxy war against Syria – Washington had long ago slated Israel a role in undermining and aiding in the overthrow of the Syrian government – and admittedly as part of a wider strategy to isolate and eventually target Iran.

The most likely current goal is to continue ratcheting up tensions with Iran – a nation that has committed significant resources and manpower toward the goal of stabilizing Syria and ending the highly destructive conflict.

As tensions continue to rise across the region, Israel and its backers in Washington will likely seek a pretext for Israel to strike Iran directly – a plan US policymakers had devised as early as 2009 – in the hopes Iran would retaliate and provide a wider pretext still for the US itself to intervene.

US policymakers had noted that an Israeli-led first strike on Iran would be complicated by its problematic relationship with all the nations its warplanes would need to fly over in order to carry out the attack.

But recently – efforts have been underway to “repair” those relations, paving the way – or in this case – opening the skies for – the long-planned Israeli strikes.

Articles like the New York Times’, “Morocco Joins List of Arab Nations to Begin Normalizing Relations With Israel,” would take note of this process and how nations like Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates have all begun this process – and how these first few nations would help make it easier for others – like Saudi Arabia – to follow suit.

In reality – these nations have all been cooperative in abetting US foreign policy in the region – with animosity created merely for the purpose of managing public perception in each respective nation.

Folding Israel into Washington’s united front against Iran alongside Arab nations whose public rhetoric depicted Israel as a sworn enemy illustrates just how desperate Washington and its allies have become in their efforts to reassert themselves in the region.

The Long History of Israel’s Slated Role 

A 1983 document – part of a deluge of recently declassified papers released to the public – signed by former CIA officer Graham Fuller titled, “Bringing Real Muscle to Bear Against Syria” (PDF), states (their emphasis):

Syria at present has a hammerlock on US interests both in Lebanon and in the Gulf — through closure of Iraq’s pipeline thereby threatening Iraqi internationalization of the [Iran-Iraq] war. The US should consider sharply escalating the pressures against Assad [Sr.] through covertly orchestrating simultaneous military threats against Syria from three border states hostile to Syria: Iraq, Israel and Turkey.


https://googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/ads?guci=2.2.0.0.2.2.0.0&client=ca-pub-1591488516340780&output=html&h=267&slotname=5108522266&adk=2425663796&adf=671751918&pi=t.ma~as.5108522266&w=320&fwrn=7&lmt=1613808793&rafmt=11&psa=1&format=320×267&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.globalresearch.ca%2Fthe-greater-danger-of-israeli-provocations-in-syria%2F5737783&flash=0&wgl=1&adsid=NT&dt=1613808774450&bpp=68&bdt=2434&idt=1022&shv=r20210211&cbv=r20190131&ptt=9&saldr=aa&abxe=1&cookie=ID%3D72613cdc11c726b4-22d545a298c50073%3AT%3D1610067291%3ART%3D1610067291%3AS%3DALNI_MaA5mmNuP56o8jyfuim-EEMC9KXbg&prev_fmts=320×50%2C0x0&nras=1&correlator=6105326558602&frm=20&pv=1&ga_vid=603340655.1610067287&ga_sid=1613808776&ga_hid=1683704792&ga_fc=1&rplot=4&u_tz=660&u_his=1&u_java=0&u_h=640&u_w=360&u_ah=640&u_aw=360&u_cd=24&u_nplug=0&u_nmime=0&adx=20&ady=5273&biw=360&bih=560&scr_x=0&scr_y=1508&eid=44736623%2C21068769%2C21068893&oid=3&pvsid=1749807599505655&pem=668&rx=0&eae=0&fc=896&brdim=0%2C24%2C0%2C24%2C360%2C0%2C360%2C616%2C360%2C560&vis=1&rsz=%7C%7CoeEbr%7C&abl=CS&pfx=0&fu=8320&bc=31&ifi=2&uci=a!2&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=jVEYwdFh8Z&p=https%3A//www.globalresearch.ca&dtd=19166

The report also states:

If Israel were to increase tensions against Syria simultaneously with an Iraqi initiative, the pressures on Assad would escalate rapidly. A Turkish move would psychologically press him further.

In 2009, US corporate-financier funded policy think tank, the Brookings Institution, would publish a lengthy paper titled, “Which Path to Persia?: Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran”, in which, once again, the use of Israel as an apparently “unilateral aggressor” was discussed in detail.

A US policy paper describing planned Israeli aggression as part of a larger US-driven conspiracy to attack, undermine, and ultimately overthrow the Iranian state reveals there is nothing unilateral at all about Israel’s regional policy or its military operations.

In 2012, the Brookings Institution would publish another paper titled, “Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change”, which stated:

Some voices in Washington and Jerusalem are exploring whether Israel could contribute to coercing Syrian elites to remove Asad.

The report continues by explaining:

Israel could posture forces on or near the Golan Heights and, in so doing, might divert regime forces from suppressing the opposition. This posture may conjure fears in the Asad regime of a multi-front war, particularly if Turkey is willing to do the same on its border and if the Syrian opposition is being fed a steady diet of arms and training. Such a mobilization could perhaps persuade Syria’s military leadership to oust Asad in order to preserve itself.

Once again, the use of Israel as one of several regional provocateurs executing policy as part of a larger US-orchestrated conspiracy is openly discussed.

And it was a 2009 Brookings Institution paper titled, “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy Toward Iran,” that would spell out the strategy of having Israel carry out attacks first, provoking a war the US could wade in later with a broader and more “acceptable” pretext to do so.

The paper would state specifically:

…the [Israeli] airstrikes themselves are really just the start of this policy. Again, the Iranians would doubtless rebuild their nuclear sites. They would probably retaliate against Israel, and they might retaliate against the United States, too (which might create a pretext for American airstrikes or even an invasion).

Thus – in addition to the US itself trying to provoke Iran into a war – or stage a provocation themselves to do so – they have slated Israel a role in attempting to provoke Iran as well.

The strategy has added complexity to it – providing the US additional “plausible deniability” and making its “retaliation” against Iran appear both more “reluctant” and more “justified.”

It is clear that a strategy described in the 1980’s, clearly carried out over the decades (and regardless of who occupies the White House) is still very much in play.

The US is helping open up the skies for this long-anticipated Israeli first strike through this current “normalization” of relations between Israel and nations it may potentially overfly to strike Iran or require assistance from in any resulting war.

Meanwhile, the US continues attempting to appear interested in returning to the “Iran Nuclear Deal” but is making no tangible efforts to actually do so. In fact, the US itself appears to be continuing a build-up for the above mentioned “retaliation” it hopes it or its allies can provoke in the region – and failing that – perhaps convincingly stage.

It is very much still a dangerous time for Iran as well as for peace and stability in the region.

Despite the superficial political change in Washington this year, this long-planned policy of aggressive regime change against Iran continues. The clearer the game the US and its allies are playing becomes to international audiences – the more difficult it will be for the US and its allies to continue playing it.

It is incumbent upon alternative media – both independent and state-run – to raise awareness of this continued aggression and planned aggression against Iran – while nations interested in peace and stability in the region continue working to raise the costs of potential US-Israeli aggression against Iran far above any potential benefit Washington and its allies believe they will receive by continuing to pursue it.

*

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Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook” where this article was originally published. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Featured image is from NEO

Belarus-Forced Integration with Russia? – © blogfactory

https://blogfactory.co.uk/2021/02/19/belarus-forced-integration-with-russia/

Forced Integration with Russia—Not the Protest Movement—Is Lukashenko’s Biggest ThreatThis is an emerging situation.
February 19, 2021, 2:00 pm EDT: The Kremlin’s ongoing campaign to increase Russian control over Belarus poses a larger risk to self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko than the diminishing Belarusian protest movement in 2021. Lukashenko presented a new strategy to end the crisis in Belarus on February 11-12; he announced plans for a referendum on a new constitution in 2022 and promised economic incentives to placate protesters. Lukashenko seeks to both balance against Kremlin pressure to integrate Belarus into Russian-dominated structures and defuse protester sentiment over the next several years. Lukashenko will likely avoid police crackdowns and instead seek to deescalate protests through the promise of minor concessions without fundamentally relinquishing his dictatorship. The Kremlin will likely intensify pressure against Lukashenko in 2021 to formalize Belarus’ integration into the Union State before Lukashenko can defuse the protests with his promised concessions.
Click here to read the complete assessment 

Roosevelt, Nimitz carrier strike groups conduct dual carrier operations in South China Sea

https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2021/02/09/roosevelt-nimitz-carrier-strike-groups-conduct-dual-carrier-operations-in-south-china-sea/

…The Roosevelt’s carrier strike group includes Carrier Air Wing 11, guided-missile cruiser Bunker Hill, Destroyer Squadron 23, and guided-missile destroyers Russell and John Finn. The Nimitz’s carrier strike group includes Carrier Air Wing 17, guided-missile cruiser Princeton, guided-missile destroyer Sterett, and staff from Destroyer Squadron 9 and Carrier Strike Group 11….

US Warship “Expelled” From South China Sea By PLA Forces 

Comment by tonytran2015: The Paracel and Spratly Islands belonged to South Vietnam (France has NOT given to China Paracel and Spratly islands) but was occupied by Chinese Navy after an unprovoked war in 1974 (https://news.yahoo.com/chinas-1974-battle-vietnam-practice-010000756.html). It happened 2 weeks after Nixon and Kissinger visited Peking to ask Peking to ally with USA against Russia. North Vietnam had no custodian right to those Islands, which are under the 17th Parallel demarcation line, but it signed a diplomatic note in 1958 (https://en.qdnd.vn/vietnam-s-seas-and-islands/diplomatic-note-1958-with-vietnam-s-sovereignty-over-paracel-spratly-islands-423767) to let(?) China occupy the sea marked by the 7 dash line claimed by China but rejected by international Permanent Court of Arbitration (https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/573371/int-l-tribunal-invalidates-china-s-nine-dash-line-massive-claims/story/).

https://www.nationandstate.com/2021/02/05/us-warship-expelled-from-south-china-sea-by-pla-forces/

…US Warship “Expelled” From South China Sea By PLA Forces  The superpower clash between China and the U.S. continued on Friday as a U.S. Navy ship sailed near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in the heavily disrupted South China Sea, only to get an stern rebuke (and what some would call, an appropriate response) from Beijing.  […]…