El-Masri turned to the court in Strasbourg after previous legal efforts in Germany, Macedonia, and the United States proved unsuccessful. He has sued Macedonia, claiming his fundamental rights to liberty and freedom from torture had been violated, the Irish Times reports. The newspaper says this is the first case heard by the court related to the U.S. rendition program but that additional cases against other countries also allegedly complicit in renditions (including Lithuania and Poland) are expected.
Skopje denies involvement in the alleged rendition, though El-Masri has repeatedly claimed that the country’s police held him for three weeks in a Skopje hotel before handing him over to the CIA, according to Deutsche Welle.
Various media report that El-Masri’s allegations have essentially been confirmed by institutions such as the Council of Europe and the German Bundestag. The Guardian recounts a 2005 press conference during which German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “The American administration is not denying” its share in El-Masri’s abduction and that it had made a mistake. El-Masri has never received an apology or financial compensation.
Ukraine is bracing for more criticism from the European Union, despite an olive branch extended recently by Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.
In a 16 May speech to the European Parliament, Azarov admitted that the relationship between the EU and Ukraine is “far from the best it can be.” Azarov extolled Ukraine’s economic progress and denied accusations that Kyiv persecutes its political opponents. “Our government has initiated many legal proceedings against corrupt officials. Only a small percentage of these have been introduced against the so-called opposition,” he said. Azarov insisted that the health of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is “under constant attention.”
In a press release, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said Ukraine had agreed to accept EP-appointed doctors to assess Tymoshenko’s health and assist in her treatment. Kyiv and Brussels have also agreed that an unnamed “personality of high international repute” would visit Ukraine to monitor Tymoshenko’s appeal against her conviction on abuse of office charges, which will take place at the end of June.
Still, Ukrainian media have been reporting on the likelihood of a critical EP resolution next week, focused on the Tymoshenko case and possibly suggesting a boycott of the upcoming Euro 2012 soccer championships. According to Interfax-Ukraine [link in Russian], the conservatives in the European Parliament have been put in charge of drafting a resolution, which is expected to be “tough.” The debate will take place on 22 May and the vote the following day.
Climate change is transforming Mongolia’s fertile grasslands into barren dustbowls, which could dramatically change the way of life for nomadic herders who make up half the country’s population. Mongolia is warming faster than almost anywhere on Earth, and up to 70 percent of the country is at risk of desertification, according to Public Radio International. That means herders are having a harder time finding water sources or suitable grazing fields for their livestock and may have to abandon these areas – and their way of life – for cities.
”Almost every Mongolian can feel the impact of climate change in their daily lives,” an environment adviser to Mongolia’s president told PRI. Ecologist Clyde Goulden has spent the last several years studying how the country’s nomadic herders have been affected by changes in climate. The herders’ observations provide a wealth of information in a country with few climate records or studies on the health of its grasslands.
The biggest change herders have noticed is an increase in extreme and unpredictable weather, which can make planning for winter impossible and leave livestock vulnerable to freezing. They also complain of rain that comes in short bursts that don’t provide enough moisture to sustain the soil and grass. ”If the grass is not growing well, then what will the animals eat? If the animals die, what’s the future for us?” one told PRI.
Kazakhstan has launched a design competition for a superhero that should represent the country’s spirit. According to Radio Free Europe, the contest is part of the Astana International Action Film Festival in July and requires that the superhero bear the name of the capital, Astana, and that he or she embody the best traits of the Kazakh people.
The year 2012 marks 15 years since the Kazakh capital was moved from Almaty to Astana, a city previously called Akmola whose new name translates as “capital” in Kazakh. A press release from the film festival says Astana’s superhero namesake “should become a symbol of a young, energetic, and dynamically developed capital of Kazakhstan.”
The 123 announced entrants, including 37 from Kazakhstan as well as people from China, Japan, and Korea, will have a day to deliver their work in one of the four formats available: animation, comics, costumes, and video.
In 2006, the release of the mockumentary Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan created an enormous controversy for its biting depiction of the Central Asian country. Although Kazakh officials ultimately appreciated the media buzz that surrounded the story, the current competition might finally offer a home-grown hero to overshadow Borat.
Hungarians increasingly oppose letting asylum seekers into their country, according to a new poll released by the Tarki Social Research Institute. The survey found that the number of Hungarians opposed to accepting any asylum seekers has jumped from around 30 percent to 40 percent since 2007. Only 49 percent said asylum cases should be treated on a case-by-case basis, down from around 60 percent five years ago. Opposition to asylum was higher with certain demographics, including non-voters, the unemployed, supporters of the far-right Jobbik political party, those with less education, and Roma, according to Politics.hu.
Last month the UN strongly criticized Hungary’s 2010 asylum laws, which allow the government to lock up undocumented migrants, The Associated Press reports. “No other country [in Central Europe] is taking such extreme and harsh measures as Hungary does, and in no other country do we hear so many similar reports of abuse in detention,” Gottfried Koefner, the UN refugee agency’s representative for Central Europe, told the AP.