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Our world this week

A fter hearing that his 20-year jail sentence for war crimes was upheld, Slobodan Praljak stood up and pronounced: “Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. With disdain, I reject this verdict.” The former Bosnian Croat military commander then drank a liquid which he said was poison. The court proceedings in The Hague were immediately suspended and Mr. Praljak was taken to the hospital. Hours later he was officially declared dead.
Mr. Praljak was one of six defendants who were found guilty of having been key participants “in a joint criminal enterprise to ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims through the commission of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other war crimes”. According to the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, their goal was to establish ‘Greater Croatia’ by displacing thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The legacy of what happened after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the subsequent trials in The Hague remain disputed.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković confirmed Mr. Praljak’s death on Wednesday, voicing criticism of the verdict. “His act, which we regrettably saw today, mostly speaks about a deep moral injustice towards six Croats from Bosnia and the Croatian people... We voice dissatisfaction and regret about the verdict.”
Hailed by many as a milestone in international justice, the UN tribunal is seen as controversial by some communities in the former Yugoslavia.

 A dangerous upgrade 

North Korea this week announced it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental missile that could strike all of the US mainland. Pyongyang said the missile reached an altitude of around 4,475 kilometres and travelled a distance of 950 kilometres before landing in the sea near Japan, making it the highest and longest any North Korean missile had ever flown.
The country’s iconic state television presenter Ri Chun-hee, who came out of retirement in 2016 to announce that North Korea had detonated an H-bomb, said the test was a historic occasion. “After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”
Observers believe North Korea is several years away from fully mastering the technology to be able to deliver a nuclear warhead by using an intercontinental ballistic missile.
This is far from the first time Pyongyang has put the international community on alert. Since coming to power after his father’s death in 2011, Mr. Kim has ordered dozens of ballistic missile and several nuclear tests. The United Nations sees Pyongyang’s actions as a threat, while North Korea argues its actions are defensive in the face of “the US imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat”.
Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have been soaring since President Donald Trump took office. Mr. Trump has employed strong rhetoric to denounce Mr. Kim’s actions and has put pressure on China and other countries to do more to confront Pyongyang. Earlier this month he re-added North Korea to the list of states sponsoring terrorism.
The latest test has dashed hopes that a recent pause in missile tests was a sign that things were calming down.

 Checking out 

In a whirlwind of events in Saudi Arabia in early November, more than 200 princes, ministers, businessmen were detained in what the government billed a crackdown on corruption. The roundup included high-profile figures like billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and the owner of one of the Middle East’s biggest media networks, Waleed al-Ibrahim. The detainees were not held in an ordinary prison, but in the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel in the capital Riyadh, which since then has closed its doors to the public.
Soon after the arrests, reports said Saudi authorities were offering those held in the five-star hotel cash-for freedom deals. Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s crown prince, said he hoped to recover $100 billion of illicit funds gained through corruption and embezzlement.
This week several high-profile prisoners are said to have entered such a deal. Sources told various media outlets that Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, a son of late King Abdullah and once a contender to the throne, had been freed in exchange for agreeing to pay $1 billion in order to settle charges against him. Prince Miteb had previously been sacked from his powerful post as head of the National Guard.
Mohammed bin Salman, widely known as MBS, has vehemently denied that the purge was part of a power grab - there has been speculation the 32-year-old could ascend to the throne before his father’s death, which would upend decades of decision-making within the Saudi royal family. The young crown prince has ambitious plans, aiming to wean the kingdom off its dependence on oil, loosen conservative social rules and aggressively counter Iran’s influence in the region. Indeed, many Saudis have welcomed the anti-corruption drive and push to enhance women’s rights.
His critics, however, see a power-hungry man who is cracking down on dissent while overseeing a deadly war in neighbouring Yemen, which has descended into one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world.
Either way, MBS will leave his mark on Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. 

 Blasphemy in Pakistan 

Protesters in Pakistan over the weekend shut down main roads, causing major disruption in various cities across the country. A major highway into the capital Islamabad had been blocked for weeks, with protesters demanding the resignation of Pakistan’s federal law minister, who they accused of having committed blasphemy.
Law minister Zahid Hamid had temporarily changed the wording in the oath of office parliamentarians take. The leader of the protests, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and others saw the change as a softening of the state’s position towards the Ahmadi sect, which are not allowed to identify themselves as Muslims in Pakistan.
Mr. Hamid resigned this week and an agreement was signed that the protesters would disperse. The government vowed to investigate how the oath was changed and pay for any damage to public and private property. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a political party led by the protest leader, agreed not to issue a fatwa against the former law minister.
The weeks of protest, which also escalated into violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police, demonstrated just how sensitive and explosive the issue of blasphemy remains. Certain forms of blasphemy carry the death sentence; an anti-terrorism court earlier this year sentenced a man to death for sharing what it deemed blasphemous content about Islam on social media. Dozens of people have become victims of violent mobs taking matters into their own hands.
The protests and subsequent agreement have also thrown up questions about the power of religious groups. Writing in Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper Dawn, one journalist said “there has hardly been an instance where the state has capitulated so humiliatingly to a group of extremists”. He called the agreement between the protesters and the military “a document of surrender”.
Standoffs between the state and Islamists have led to many deaths in the past. The siege on the Red Mosque in 2007, during which over 150 people were killed, remains a solemn reminder of that.  
Manuel Langendorf, 
Editor-in-Chief, The World Weekly
30 November 2017 - last edited 30 November 2017
Editor-in-Chief / Middle East Editor: Manuel Langendorf

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Justice for war crimes faces up to its limits

30 November 2017