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WORLD RESPONSE TO ISIS “SHAMEFUL,” AMNESTY SAYS
In its annual report published Wednesday, Amnesty International describes 2014 as “catastrophic” and the world leaders’ response to ISIS as “shameful and ineffective.” The 415-page report criticizes governments for failing to protect civilians from terrorist groups and details abuses in up to 160 countries. “This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones,” Salil Shetty, the Secretary General at Amnesty International writes.

  • Amnesty urges the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to give up their right to veto action “in situations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” insisting such a move could “save many lives.”
  • Governments must act, not only speak out, the report states. “Approximately 2% of refugees from Syria had been resettled by the end of 2014 — a figure which must at least triple in 2015.”
  • The rights group calls for restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas to protect civilians: “This would have saved many lives in Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists ... and pro-Kiev forces both targeted civilian neighborhoods.”
  • Meanwhile, ISIS militants have abducted at least 150 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria, the Syrian National Council of Syria, a Christian group representing several NGOs said Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had earlier reported that 90 Syrian Christians had been abducted.
  • The outlook for 2015 is bleak, Amnesty adds.

FRANCE PLEDGES MORE RUSSIA SANCTIONS IF MARIUPOL ATTACKED
Russia would face additional European Union sanctions if pro-Russia separatists attacked Ukraine’s government-held port of Mariupol, in the southeast of the country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced Wednesday. Speaking on France Info radio station, Fabius said “the problem today is particularly around Mariupol. We've told the Russians clearly that if there was a separatist attack in the direction of Mariupol things would be drastically altered, including in terms of sanctions.” The French, German, Ukrainian and Russian Ministers of Foreign Affairs called for the Minsk ceasefire brokered on Feb. 11 to be followed by all sides in Ukraine, as they met in Paris Tuesday. Reuters reported Wednesday that the truce was appearing to hold in eastern Ukraine as pro-Russian separatists were pulling artillery back from the front.

ON THIS DAY
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Time for your 57-second shot of history, today featuring an American tycoon, a French painter and a Russian leader.

TORTURE STILL WIDESPREAD IN AFGHAN JAILS, UN REPORT SAYS
After interviewing around 800 suspected Taliban-linked detainees in Afghanistan, UN human rights investigators said Wednesday in a report that more than a third of them have been tortured or mistreated by Afghan authorities. This represents a drop in such figures, but the problem is still persistent, according to the report. “I welcome the new administration's immediate attention to end these practices,” Nicholas Haysom, the head of the UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) said in a press release.

$532.9 MILLION
Apple has been ordered to pay $532.9 million to the patent licensing firm Smartflash after a Texas federal jury found that the iTunes software infringed three patents owned by the company, according to Reuters.

“AMERICAN SNIPER” KILLER SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON
Eddie Ray Routh, the man who killed “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield at a gun range in Feb. 2013, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by a Texas jury, The Washington Post reports.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
It's not important whether Islam is "a part of Germany," as the country is debating. Fascism once was utterly German. For Die Welt’s Jacques Schuster, the real question is: Will Muslim leaders accept reason and freedom as the central values of society? “Communism and fascism are part of Germany. Following this train of thought, even Islam has roots in Germany. ... As different as communism, fascism and Islamism may be, they all have in common the law of eliminating something harmful. If you transformed this into a positive law, its decree would read, ‘Thou shall kill!’ Is this a German decree? This thought alone demonstrates that this is a futile debate if it is limited to what Germany once was, what it now is and what claims to be or not be a part of it.”
Read the full article, No Better Place Than Germany To Ask Muslims The Hardest Question Of All.

MORE DRONES FLY OVER PARIS
More drones have flown over landmarks in Paris for the second night running, between Tuesday and Wednesday, Le Monde reports. The precise number of devices has not been established. They were seen above the Place de la Concorde, the Invalides military museum, near the Eiffel Tower and around two of the old city gates. The previous night, five drones were also seen flying over sensitive sites, such as the American embassy.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


RENT YOUR ENTIRE HUNGARIAN VILLAGE HERE
A Hungarian Mayor has put his entire village, Megyer, on the eastern edge of Budapest, for rent in order to raise funds. For around 700 euros a day, the renter can hire all four streets, the bus stop and even “peasant-style” houses, The Guardian reports.


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Geopolitics

AMLO Power Grab: Mexico's Electoral Reform Would Make Machiavelli Proud

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aka AMLO, says his plans to reform the electoral system are a way to save taxpayer money. A closer look tells a different story.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico votes

Luis Rubio

OpEd-

MEXICO CITY — For supporters of Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) the goal is clear: to keep power beyond the 2024 general election, at any price. Finally, the engineers of the much-touted Fourth Transformation, ALMO's 2018 campaign promise to do away with the privileged abuses that have plagued Mexican politics for decades, are showing their colors.

Current electoral laws date back to the 1990s, when unending electoral disputes were a constant of every voting round and impeded effective governance in numerous states and districts. The National Electoral Institute (INE) and its predecessor, the IFE, were created to solve once and for all those endemic disputes.

Their promoters hoped Mexico could expect a more honest future, with the electoral question resolved. The 2006 presidential elections, which included AMLO as a recalcitrant loser, showed this was hoping for too much. That election is also, remotely, at the source of the president's new electoral initiative.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

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