The human rights organization Amnesty International released its annual report on the death penalty, finding a surge in executions carried out worldwide in 2011, rising by 78 percent. The sharp rise was mainly attributed to the Middle East, which saw a 50 percent increase in confirmed executions at 558 for the year. Most of the executions took place in Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Iraq saw an increase from at least one in 2010, to an estimated 68 executions in 2011. Saudi Arabia's executions rose from 27 to 82. Iran however was responsible for the majority of executions with 360 killings, many due to recent anti-drug legislation. With 43 executions, the United States ranked fifth worldwide for capital punishment according to Amnesty's report. China is believed to carry out the greatest number of executions, numbering in the thousands, however the organization no longer publishes figures for the country, which considers the data a state secret.
The Syrian government has agreed to a peace plan proposed by United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan aimed at ending the violence in Syria. The six-point peace plan includes "political discussions, withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance being allowed in unimpeded, release of prisoners, freedom of movement, and access for journalists to go in and out." Annan responded to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appealing to the government to "put its commitments into immediate effect." Annan is in China requesting support for his efforts to broker peace. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told Annan that the crisis was "at a critical juncture," and "your mediation efforts will lead to progress." China has previously blocked United Nations resolutions addressing violence in Syria along with Russia, however Russia has also offered support for Annan's plan. Nonetheless, there was no immediate end to violence, as activists and Lebanese military officials reported fighting between Syrian government troops and opposition forces in northeast Lebanon along the border with Syria. However, according to two Lebanese security officials, fighting was restricted to the Mashareaa al-Qaa area of Syria with no physical fighting in Lebanon, though a mortar shell fell around 30 meters across the border.
- The Arab League began its three-day summit in Iraq's capital of Baghdad with economic talks, though Syria is still expected to top the agenda.
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a lower court must decide on whether Congress has the authority to allow Jerusalem to be claimed as a birthplace for U.S. citizens in a long running debate over executive control over foreign policy.
- Israel severed ties with the U.N. Human Rights Council and will block entry into Israel and the West Bank for a team of investigators looking into Jewish settlements.
- Turkey's former armed forces chief General Ilker Basbug, accused of involvement in a coup plot, has refused to defend himself in trial calling the charges a "comedy."
Arguments & Analysis
‘One year later, can Syria ‘reset' it rebellion' (Tony Karon, Time)
"Embracing the Annan plan poses a massive problem for Assad, because it means accepting the right of citizens to protest peacefully - which might, indeed, create a Tahrir Square type situation in more than one city. But Russian and Chinese support for the plan may leave him no choice. More likely, perhaps, is that each side declares support for the plan, but focuses on those aspects they deem most favorable, and hope the adversary is blamed when things break down. (These two sides are not likely ever to establish a consensus on a democratic transition -- Assad's actions over the past year suggest he has no intention of ceding power.)"
‘Enabling Egypt's military rulers' (New York Times editorial)
"The United States has built its relationship with Egypt around the Army, which it has supported with more than $39 billion in military aid over the last three decades. Egypt's year-old, pro-democracy revolution gave Washington a chance - and a reason - to alter that relationship to support civil society. The Obama administration made a serious error in choosing not to do so. Even worse, the purpose was largely to protect American arms manufacturers who produce the weapons sent to Egypt. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton approved the resumption of military aid, which totals $1.3 billion annually... Mrs. Clinton did not certify that Egypt had met the democratic standards that Congress set. Instead, she waived that requirement. That move allowed money for F-16 fighters and Abrams M1A1 tanks to flow again."
‘Understanding the Sanusi of Cyrenaica: How to avoid a civil war in Libya' (Akbar Ahmed & Frankie Martin, Al Jazeera English)
"Dangerous cracks have begun to show in Libya. The announcement earlier this month by a Benghazi conference of 3,000 tribal and political leaders from Eastern Libya that they intended to push for greater autonomy for their region was greeted with surprise, confusion, and even dismay. The call was cited by many commentators as a setback for democracy and an ominous beginning to the new dispensation. The chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC) dismissed the voices from the eastern region and accused them of hatching foreign plots and the designs of Gaddafi's supporters; he even threatened to deploy "force" to "deter" them. Yet those who discount calls for greater autonomy in the eastern region, known as Cyrenaica - or Barqa to the Arabs - as agitators are making a profound error. They are overlooking the strong sense of identity of the eastern peoples and the many years of suffering and struggle they have endured to preserve and regain their freedom."
‘Why the ‘dual track' strategy derailed' (Loren White, Huffington Post)
"Recent events warrant cautious optimism. It has been reported that Iran may provide IAEA inspectors with access to the controversial and previously off-limits Parchin site. Additionally, Iran and the P5+1 are in the final stages of an agreement to return to negotiations next month. Even Supreme Leader Khamenei publically offered moderate but rare praise to Obama for his comments about a "window for diplomacy" existing with Iran. Do these indicators point to a new desire by Iran to compromise on its nuclear program, or is this an attempt to buy time and undermine its international isolation? Given that the pressure track has been exhausted, it is time to test Iran's seriousness and give diplomacy the sustained effort that it needs in order to succeed."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey