what happened last week - A win for justice in Haiti and Liberia

what happened last week in Asia, Africa and the Americas


Hey, this is Sham, your very own news curator. 

In issue #336, I write about two trials that are good news for justice, one in Switzerland that upheld a 2021 ruling that put a former Liberian commander behind bars (people say he ate a human heart) and another one in the U.S. that sentenced one of the people responsible for the murder of the former President of Haiti in 2021. Plus, a Saudi drama series about 'halal' prostitution rings in the capital Riyadh, a beautiful hand-drawn animation on a lesser known mass migration movement from China to Hong Kong, a love letter to the anti-car paradise Tokyo, AI investment in Nigeria, a very disturbing movie about Indian incels, and so much more. 

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Some of the war crimes committed during the civil war in Liberia were brought to court in Switzerland

What happened
A Swiss court found Alieu Kosiah, a Liberian national, guilty of crimes against humanity committed during the First Liberian Civil War (1989–1996), sentencing him to 20 years in prison. This is not a new ruling but an upholding of a 2021 one. The trial was mainly based on testimonies of witnesses, on narrations of events that happened decades ago and thousands of kilometers away.

Why this matters
This is Switzerland's first ever war crimes trial. A 2011 Swiss law allows prosecution for serious crimes committed anywhere, also known as the principle of universal jurisdiction. 

Tell me more
Kosiah’s list of crimes reads like a horror novel. Between 1993 and 1995, as commander of the armed group ULIMO, Kosiah allegedly enslaved, raped and killed people more than 30 years ago during the first Liberian Civil War. He is said to have eaten the heart of one victim. The judges in Switzerland now see this as proven, even though there is little written evidence. For those interested in details, Michael Schillinger for NZZ has talked to Kosiah in person, and wrote this portrait in German. Kosiah’s been in prison for this since 2014, when he was first accused of these war crimes by seven other Liberian nationals and victims with the support of a Swiss NGO Civitas Maxima.

What happened during the First Liberian Civil War?
Okay, buckle up for a quick history lesson. The first civil war took place between 1989 and 1996, and killed around 200,000 people. By the late 1980s, President Samuel Doe had become totalitarian and very unpopular, Charles Taylor (who wanted to replace him) and his armed group NPLF invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast, overthrew Doe in December 1989 and gained control over most of the country within a year. In the meantime, several other armed groups had joined, the INPFL (who executed Doe), the ULIMO (pro-Doe, Kosiah was part of this one), and some others. Peace negotiations and foreign involvement eventually led to a peace agreement in 1996, with Taylor being elected President of Liberia and entering office the next year. The peace lasted for two years until the Second Liberian Civil War broke out when anti-Taylor forces invaded Liberia from Guinea in April 1999. The second civil war lasted until 2003.

Fun fact: Overall, 25 individuals have served as President of Liberia, including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa. 

A lot of sh*t must have happened during that time…
Yep. And unlike neighboring Sierra Leone (they were going through a civil war at the same time and later held war crimes trials), no prosecutions have taken place in Liberia. This is one of the main reasons why the victims testifying in Switzerland and other courts in France or Finland have asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals. Some former warlords still hold major positions in the country. However, momentum is growing outside of Liberia for justice for war crimes.

Did you know that, unlike Sierra Leone, Sudan, or Ivory Coast where books with stories of former child soldiers and survival of war have been published, not many personal stories in the form of memoir have been published by Liberians? Nvasekie Konneh's memoir is one of the very few talking about the Liberian Civil War. Interestingly, Konneh is also a childhood friend of Kosiah's. 

Is Switzerland any good at prosecuting international war crimes?
There's been rumors that Switzerland is, in fact, not good at it. According to the NGO Track Impunity Always (TRIAL), Switzerland compares poorly with its European neighbors. Lack of resources are often cited as reasons. In the Netherlands, for example, 62 employees are responsible for prosecuting international crimes. Plus, some other critical voices are saying that there are political individuals, like Rifaat al-Assad, uncle of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Ousman Sonko, former Gambian interior minister, whose trials just never really, well, kick off. There's hope that this might now change.

The Americas

One of the people responsible for the murder of the former president of Haiti has been sentenced to life in prison in the U.S.

What happened
A Florida court in the United States sentenced Rodolphe Jaar, a Haitian-Chilean national, to life in prison for the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

Why this matters
Since the assassination, Haiti has fallen into chaos, with street gangs and individuals spreading chaos and communities taking revenge with violence. Between April 24 and May 24, at least 160 suspected gang members were killed in Haiti by armed civilians. Elections have not been held on the Caribbean island of 11 million people since the assassination, and no elected leaders remain.

Tell me more
According to the U.S. court, Rodolphe Jaar, a Haitian-Chilean businessman, conspired with a group of mercenaries from Colombia to murder Moïse at his home in Port-au-Prince on July 7, 2021. Jaar was on the run for more than six months after Moïse’s death before he was arrested in January 2022. He agreed to go to the United States voluntarily after being detained in the Dominican Republic. While on the run, Jaar admitted in an interview with The New York Times that he had helped finance and plan the attack and revealed that others involved had believed they could wield some influence over the country’s politics after Moïse’s death. The sentence from federal judge José E Martínez was the maximum Jaar could have received.

Did Jaar act alone?
No. He was among 11 people (including a former Haitian senator, former Colombian soldiers, several U.S. citizens, etc.) arrested and charged in the U.S., after his extradition from the Dominican Republic – and so far the only one to admit guilt. A trial is set to begin in Miami next month for the others, but is likely to be delayed, authorities said.

Why is the U.S. so deeply involved in seeking justice for the murder of a foreign leader?
U.S. officials' investigation is based on the argument that much of the conspiracy was planned in South Florida and involves U.S. citizens. The U.S. taking the lead in seeking justice for the murder of a foreign leader shows the extent to which Moïse's killing caused instability in his country and worsened the deeper problems of Haiti's legal system.

Interesting fact about Haiti, suggested by ChatGPT
"Haiti is the first country in the world to have gained independence from slavery and colonial rule. It achieved independence in 1804." Yessir. 

what else happened

Sudan: Fighting continues. Last week, at least 27 people were killed and at least 106 injured after rockets were fired at a market in Khartoum. (BBC News)
Brazil: An investigation by Intercept Brasil found that Clearview, a facial recognition company, covertly met with Brazilian officials to offer its database for law enforcement. (Intercept Brasil)
Ghana: One of Africa's most-celebrated authors and playwrights, Ghanaian Ama Ata Aidoo, has died aged 81. A renowned feminist, she depicted and celebrated the condition of African women in works such as The Dilemma of a Ghost, Our Sister Killjoy and Changes. (BBC News)
Zimbabwe: The parliament of Zimbabwe voted in favor of a new clause of the penal code which will introduce the death penalty for "unpatriotic acts" such as supporting sanctions on the country or supporting calls to overthrow the government. (Africa Feeds)
Mexico: Authorities find 45 bags containing human remains in Jalisco, Mexico, after seven people were reported missing in the state last week. (CBS News)
Tunisia: Tunisian prosecutors have opened an investigation into 21 political figures – all opponents of President Kaïs Saïed. They are being investigated for allegedly conspiring against the state. (The Continent, issue 127)
Saudi Arabia: Manahel al-Otaibi, a women’s rights activist has been arrested and imprisoned for having Twitter and Snapchat accounts that embraced recent social reforms but also demanded more fundamental rights inside the kingdom, it has emerged. She's not alone. Salma al-Shehab, another Saudi woman, was sentenced by a terrorism court to more than three decades in jail for having a Twitter account and following and retweeting dissidents and activists. (The Guardian)
We'll see
Japan: Japan's fertility rate is expected to reach a record low of 1.2565 in 2022. (Reuters)
The Central African Republic: The Central African Republic president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, has said that his country will hold a constitutional referendum in July, potentially allowing him to seek re-election in 2025. (BBC)
Indonesia: Indonesia relaxed a ban on mineral exports that was due to come into effect last week. Next year then. (Semafor, Asia Nikkei)
Australia: The Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 bill passed the Australian House of Representatives, thereby allowing for a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament later this year. (ABC News Australia)
Mali: Mining companies in Mali will produce 67.7 tonnes of gold this year, which is 6% more than had been expected, according to new government forecasts. (The Continent, issue 127)
Japan: "The world’s biggest city might also be the most pedestrian-friendly". For Heatmap, Daniel Knowles chronicles how Tokyo became an anti-car paradise — from the city’s narrow street layouts and limited parking spaces to the costly trade-offs of maintaining a vehicle. (Heatmap)
Nigeria: Denver Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji, who faces the Miami Heat in this season’s NBA Finals, has invested in science-based learning in Nigeria, a project which includes subjects such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality. (BBC) Plus, Sam Altman, the co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, visited Nigeria last week and met with tech entrepreneurs, government representatives, and students in Lagos. (Semafor)
Kenya: Kenya’s President William Ruto said there are plans to remove visa requirements for African nationals traveling to Kenya for business. The move comes as part of the country’s efforts to remove trade barriers and ease the movement of goods, services and labor between itself and other African countries. (Business Daily Africa)
Space: In a news release published by NASA, it was revealed that the James Webb Space Telescope has discovered traces of water on the exoplanet WASP-18b, which has a mass equal to 10 Jupiters. (CBS News) Plus, Indian scientists from the Physical Research Laboratory discovered TOI 4603b, an exoplanet with a mass that is 13 times that of Jupiter. (The Hindu)


Watch... "Al Mastour – Dahaya Halal", a Saudi drama series about "halal" sex rings in the capital Riyadh. Al Mastour tells the story of four girls who live together and are forced to marry in secret; I signed up for a month on Shahid (Saudi Arabia's rival to Netflix Arabic) for this, and it was absolutely worth it. "The show brings to light an underreported way by which people try to manipulate the Islamic and legal system — through a marriage of "misyar," a practice in which women give up their traditional rights to housing and living expenses but acquiesce to physical intimacy for a negotiated price," writes Ola Salem for New Lines magazine. The series originally was released in 2020, but pulled off after episode four. It's now back online, and very unclear why. Some people think that it coincides with a new law introduced last summer to address the very issues the show depicts: In March last year, the kingdom passed its first legal instrument to regulate family matters; it comes with a lot more rights and protection for women from being exploited. "The relationship between marriage and human trafficking is a global problem, as traffickers take advantage of varying national laws and cultural norms to exploit women and girls, primarily, but also boys and, in some cases, even men", writes Salem.

Listen to... Podcast episode: "Hassan Hajjaj: Photographer and Artist" by Kerning Cultures. Hassan Hajjaj is known as the "Andy Warhol of Marrakech". When he was 13, he moved from Larache, Morocco to London, United Kingdom, where he worked as a jack of all trades, doing practically everything and ultimately landed somewhere in-between the many different fields of the arts industry. "His work lives in the intersection of fashion, pop culture, Moroccan heritage, Afro influence, orientalist critique, and many other disciplines," writes the episode description. You probably know his work already (his Billie Eilish photographs for Vogue, for example) and now, you can get to know the artist behind the art. You can listen to his interview with Kerning Cultures on YouTube or on Spotify.

Read... Article: "In 'Agra', a grim portrait of the repressed Indian man" by Anna M M Vetticad for Himal Southasian. Vetticad reviews a Hindi feature film by Indian writer-director Kanu Behl that examines the "sexual obsession and frustration of men, mental health and the transactional nature of human relationships in a patriarchal society where space is in short supply." 'Agra' recently premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight run parallel to the Cannes Film Festival in France (and received a 5-min long-standing ovation). "In an India where a rape is reported once every 16 minutes or so (as per National Crime Records Bureau statistics) and marital rape is yet to be criminalized, Behl is evidently invested in studying masculinist aggression," writes Vetticad, reviewing 'Agra'. The movie is not out yet for the mass public, and every day, I wonder, 'why do they not like us?'. 

video of the week

"Freedom Swimmer" by director Olivia Martin-McGuire is a short, hand-drawn animation and film about a grandfather’s dangerous swim from China to Hong Kong during the Cultural Revolution, which parallels with his granddaughter’s fight for freedom in Hong Kong today. "We specifically created this story for a Western audience because we understood that there are a lot of unknowns about the situation. There were voices from Hong Kong who really wanted to share their story, not just of what was going on in the immediate time but how the situation now was informed over generations," says Martin-McQuire in an interview with The Curb

on a strange note

A true crime fanatic in South Korea killed someone she met online 'out of curiosity' to see what murder would be like for real, South Korea's oldest newspaper The Chosun Ilbo reported.

Soon, she'll have the answer to what life in prison would be like, too.
That's it from me. I'm addicted to Shahid, help.

For the maps, say thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

Map 1: 
John Doe / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Map 2: John Doe / CC-BY-SA-3.0
Hey, I'm Sham, the person behind this newsletter. Since 2014, I email a bunch of strangers once a week, curating news headlines from Asia, Africa and Latin America. I work under the assumption that, here in the West (I live in Berlin, Germany), we don't read or know much about the global majority, aka the rest of the world. 

My goal is to help you burst your Western-centric bubble.

If you want to know more about me, visit my
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