United Nations investigators are calling for Syrian leaders suspected of murder and torture in the country’s bloody crisis to face charges at the International Criminal Court. The latest findings by investigators probing the conflict accuse both sides of war crimes over a six-month period ending last month. Seven massacres were identified during that time — five of them by government forces and two by rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. U.N. investigator Carla Del Ponte spoke at a news conference Monday in Geneva.
Carla Del Ponte: “So, of course, we were able to identify high-level perpetrators, and we will indicate that in a list that will remain sealed, because what we need is a tribunal, taking care, conducting a formal investigation, and be able to issue an indictment against such perpetrators.”
The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. On Monday, European leaders agreed to step up aid to the Syrian rebels but rejected the possibility of providing them with weapons. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the measure a compromise, saying Britain would have gone further toward easing the embargo.
William Hague: “This is an important change. It’s important because it shows we can change the arms embargo. And the worse the situation becomes, the more we can change it. It will be reviewed again in three months. It establishes an extremely important precedent. It’s an important step in itself. And it will allow us now to supply a greater range of equipment to help to protect civilian life in Syria. It will also enable us to give assistance and advice that we’ve been restricted in giving before.”
The New York Times is reporting the Obama administration may revisit the possibility of arming Syrian rebels, after Obama initially rejected the idea last fall.
Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict are continuing to flood into neighboring countries at a rate of thousands per day. A Jordanian border official said Monday nearly 90,000 Syrians have crossed into Jordan since the beginning of the year. One of those refugees, Um Nasser, decried the conditions in her home country.
Um Nasser, Syrian refugee: “Our homes are all destroyed. We have nothing; we left with only this. If Bashar (al-Assad) wants our country, let him have it. We came here after running from between homes, trying to avoid the shelling and the constant fire which rained down on us. If it wasn’t for the Free Syrian Army protecting us, we would have died under the rubble of our homes. Do these [pointing to her children] children look like terrorists? God help us!”
In the United States, Georgia is set to put a man to death tonight despite consensus among medical specialists that he is mentally disabled. Warren Hill was sentenced to die in 1991 for killing a fellow prisoner. All three doctors who originally said Hill did not meet the legal definition of “mentally retarded” have since reversed their opinion, saying their original evaluation was “extremely and unusually rushed” and did not allow for an accurate assessment of his condition. Hill’s lawyer says his mental capacity peaked at a sixth-grade level. While the Supreme Court bans the execution of mentally disabled people, it allows states leeway to decide who qualifies. Georgia is the only state that requires a defendant to prove such disabilities beyond a reasonable doubt. Hill would be the first Georgia prisoner to be executed since the killing of Troy Anthony Davis prompted global outrage in 2011. Davis was killed despite major doubts about his guilt after seven of the nine non-police witnesses in his case recanted their testimony.
Colorado lawmakers have passed a series of strict gun-control measures in a state that has suffered some of the worst mass shootings in recent history. The package would ban ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds, require background checks on all gun purchases and allow colleges to ban concealed weapons on campus. Not a single Republican supported the bills, which now head before the Democrat-controlled state Senate.
The New York Times is reporting a growing body of evidence has implicated the Chinese military in a large percentage of cyber-attacks against U.S. companies and government agencies. Software companies and newspapers, including The New York Times, have reported breaches of their systems believed to have originated in China. But a new report now links members of the most sophisticated Chinese hacking group — known as Comment Crew — to an area on the outskirts of Shanghai that houses a Chinese military unit. Researchers say one target of the group’s hacks has been a company with remote access to more than 60 percent of North America’s oil and gas pipelines. Under a new directive signed by President Obama, the United States is cracking down on such attacks by sharing information about hacking groups with U.S. Internet providers.
Pakistani authorities say they have arrested the mastermind of a sectarian bombing that killed 89 people in the city of Quetta Saturday. In total, officials say they killed four people and rounded up seven others accused of killing Shiite Muslims during an operation on the city’s outskirts today. Thousands of Shiites had protested across Pakistan Monday calling for government protection as families of the bombing victims refused to bury their dead until authorities took action against those responsible. Members of the Pakistani Interfaith League rallied in the capital Islamabad.
Sajid Ishaq Sindhu: “Today, we are not gathered on the basis of religion, but we are gathered on the basis of humanity, because we believe that we are all human beings first, and then we are Muslims, Christians, Hindu and whatever. And today we have Christians, we have bishops here, we have pastors, we have Muslims, friends here, we have Hindus and Sikhs. It is a symbol of our unity. It’s a symbol that people of Pakistan belong to one family.”
An Israeli soldier has ignited controversy after posting a photograph to a social networking site that appears to show a Palestinian boy in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. Mor Ostrovski, a sniper in the Israeli military, posted the photo to his Instagram site. It shows a Palestinian boy facing away from the camera with the gun crosshairs focused on the side of his head. The Israeli military says it is investigating.
In Britain, journalists with the BBC walked off the job Monday in a 24-hour strike against job cuts, temporarily canceling many of the broadcaster’s shows. Protesting workers launched picket lines outside BBC studios across the country. The National Union of Journalists says some 2,000 jobs are at stake.
Another labor action is underway in Spain, where workers at the airline Iberia have launched a five-day strike against plans to fire a fifth of the company’s workforce. Hundreds of flights were canceled as striking workers clashed with riot police at the airport in Madrid. Spain’s unemployment rate stands at 26 percent. In another potential sign of the country’s economic distress, a woman walked into a bank branch in the eastern part of the country and set herself on fire Monday. She was reportedly taken to a hospital for treatment.
European leaders agreed Monday to deepen sanctions against North Korea following its test of a nuclear device last week. The new measures will further restrict North Korean trade and financial capabilities after it faced international condemnation for its third nuclear test since 2006.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the move by North Korea Monday in a bid to drum up further support for issuing a “credible military threat” against Iran over its nuclear program.
Benjamin Netanyahu: “And the sanctions themselves, even tougher sanctions, will not stop them. Case in point, North Korea. Have sanctions, tough sanctions, stopped North Korea? No. And the fact that they produced a nuclear explosion reverberates everywhere in the Middle East, and especially in Iran. They say, 'Where is the world? Where is the international community? Where is the tough response?'”
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments today in a legal battle between agricultural giant Monsanto and a 75-year-old Indiana farmer. Monsanto accused Vernon Hugh Bowman of infringing on their seed patents after he planted soybeans purchased from a local grain elevator that contained a Monsanto gene. In fact, more than 90 percent of soybeans in Indiana reportedly contain the gene, which allows them to survive when sprayed with the company’s Roundup weed killer. Bowman is appealing his case after he was ordered to pay Monsanto $84,000. Critics have accused Monsanto of using their patents to try to monopolize the supply of certain crops. The case could potentially impact patents across multiple industries.
Funeral services were held in South Africa today for Reeva Steenkamp, the 29-year-old model allegedly shot dead by her boyfriend, Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius. In court earlier today, prosecutors accused Pistorius of premeditated murder, saying he fired at Steenkamp four times through a door after she locked herself in the bathroom. Pistorius, known as the “blade runner” because of the shape of his prosthetics, became a global icon as the first Paralympic sprinter to run in the Olympics. Outside the court, protesters with the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress called for him to be held without bail.
Protester: “We are asking the justice system to say, 'Please, when somebody has been charged with such a serious case, that person should remain in custody until proven innocent.' We are not saying he is guilty. We are just saying there is nobody to stand here and tell Reeva’s story.”