Nusra Front releases Fiji peacekeepers held in Syria

Qatar has “negotiated” (paid the ransom?) for the release of 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers deployed in Golan Heights being held by Nusra Front, Syria’s Al Qaeda branch.

Oddly, one of the (presumably unmet) demands reported by the Fijian troops was that Nusra Front wants to be de-listed as a terrorist organization…which, you know, is a tough sell when you’ve just kidnapped United Nations troops and held them for ransom. Nusra Front is a member of the disparate assembly of Sunni Arab rebel forces opposing both ISIS and Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s three-way civil war. They are likely to benefit inadvertently from President Obama’s and Congress’s proposed increase of weapons and funding for anti-ISIS/anti-Assad forces.

In related news, Philippines peacekeepers who had refused to surrender at two separate locations on the same day the Fijian troops were captured managed to break out successfully, with some help from Irish peacekeepers. The UN forces are stationed permanently in Golan Heights, between the Israeli-occupied zone and the Syrian zone, in an arrangement implemented in 1974. The increasing active danger due to the Syrian civil war, including these hostage episodes, has prompted a number of peacekeeper-supplying nations to withdraw or consider withdrawing their troops from Golan Heights.

Still image from a Nusra Front video of Fijian peacekeeper hostages shortly before their release.

Still image from a Nusra Front video of Fijian peacekeeper hostages shortly before their release.

Foreign human rights investigators arrested by Qatar government

Not a great couple weeks for Qatar, in their quest to present a good face to the Western world via soft power campaigns. The latest development was that two British human/labor rights investigators, representing a Norwegian organization, disappeared suddenly on assignment in Qatar. Al Jazeera America, the US arm of the Qatari royal family’s media empire, reported that the government had confirmed yesterday that it had arrested them. They are still in detention but have now been afforded access to representatives from the British embassy.

In the first official comments made by the emirate in regards to the missing men, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the pair were “being interrogated for having violated the provisions of the laws of the state of Qatar,” the Qatar News Agency reported.

The announcement follows calls on Qatar from rights groups including Amnesty International to reveal the whereabouts and ensure the safety of the two men, named as Krishna Upadhyaya and Ghimire Gundev.

Researcher Upadhyaya, 52, and Photographer Gundev, 36, work for the Norway-based Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD).

Both went missing on Aug. 31 as they were preparing to leave Qatar. GNRD had suggested that Qatari security services were behind their disappearance and has called for both men’s release.

On Sunday, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said that all actions taken against the men are “consistent with the principles of human rights” outlined in the laws of Qatar, and that British Embassy officials have visited them to check on their situation.

Qatar, slated to host the 2022 World Cup, has been plagued with serious and credible allegations of migrant worker abuse and enslavement generally, as well as specifically with relation to World Cup construction activities. Other British investigators delivered a damning report at the start of 2014 alleging that 4,000 enslaved workers were projected to die during World Cup preparation between now and 2022. The overall foreign worker population in Qatar is more than six times the size of the ruling Qatari population, at about 1.65 million to 250,000. The foreign population has grown very sharply in the past few years so the numbers are a bit hard to track. The ruling family and local citizens are extremely wealthy.

But the other recent development has been on the topic of Qatar’s increasingly hard to ignore state sponsorship of terrorism across the globe. It’s by no means new — involving a mix of official government money and “fundraising” by local and foreign Gulf-area plutocrats, all flowing into active conflict zones — but the condemnation is starting to intensify as Qatar continues to funnel donations, weapons, and ransom payments to extreme groups so destabilizing and threatening that virtually every other country in the area has opposed or abandoned them publicly, despite their own past histories with terror sponsorship. The cozy relationship that allows for easy “negotiation” with terrorist organizations holding kidnapped Western citizens is rapidly becoming more of a reputation liability than a strategic asset. Even Qatar’s support for somewhat more moderate organizations has been criticized heavily because it has become out of step with the agenda of the other regional powers.

(The New York Times today also attributed the rising criticism and attention in Western media to the fact that Qatar’s regional rivals have been hiring U.S. consulting firms in Washington to feed stories to journalists on the subject. But one also suspects that the sheer clash of Qatar’s soft power pretensions and modernizing aims with its terrorism ties and slave labor is a pretty tempting target for journalists anyway.)

For the latest discussion of 2018 Russian and 2022 Qatari World Cup controversies and potential consequences, listen to my radio segment with Nate on last week’s Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 98 Part 2:
Part 2 – Russian and Qatari World Cups – AFD 98

For our prior discussion of the problems surrounding the Qatar World Cup, listen to my radio segment with Nate on Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 87 Part 2 – FIFA/World Cup:
Part 2 – FIFA World Cup – AFD 87

Flag of Qatar.

Flag of Qatar.

September 3, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 98


Topics: Big Idea – Low-Income Banking Reform; 2018 and 2022 World Cups controversies revisited; Guest interview on the Ebola outbreak – Sara Laskowski, US Peace Corps, Guinea. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: August 29, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Big Idea: How could the U.S. reform and expand consumer banking services for local income Americans to reduce predatory lending and other bad practices?
– Will sanctions on Russia and Qatar’s sponsorship of terrorism, among other problems, force the FIFA World Cup to change locations or schedules in 2018 and 2022?
– Guest Interview: UD Alum and Peace Corps member Sara Laskowski discusses being evacuated from Guinea due to the Ebola outbreak.

Part 1 – Consumer Banking Reform:
Part 1 – Consumer Banking Reform – AFD 98
Part 2 – Future World Cup Controversies:
Part 2 – Russian and Qatari World Cups – AFD 98
Part 3 – Sara Laskowski on Guinea and Ebola:
Part 3 – Sara Laskowski – AFD 98

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

The Globalist: “The Democratization of Banking” by Robert J. Shiller
NYT Editorial Board: Reining in Payday Lenders

Segment 2

Moscow Times: Putin Hopes Russia Won’t Lose Right to Host World Cup 2018
Washington Post: New study says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be too hot to even sit and watch
James Dorsey/Al Jazeera: The stakes are high in Qatar’s World Cup drama
James Dorsey/The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Gulf states and their US critics seek to shape US perceptions on the soccer pitch
James Dorsey/The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Amnesty International report undermines Qatar’s soft power defense strategy

Segment 3

Sara Laskowski / Guinean Dreams: On Being Evacuated: It’s Every Volunteer’s Worst Nightmare
AFD: Ebola outbreak causes Peace Corps pullout


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

2022: Slavery World Cup

2022-world-cup-logoAs ethically bad as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia are going to be, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is going to be worse. Several years ago, that Persian Gulf absolute monarchy, a country the size of Connecticut, won its bid to hose the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament for the summer of 2022.

Most criticism at the time focused more on the superficial (though valid) points about how hot the desert country would be in the middle of the summer and how that might affect the tournament. There was also consternation over the government’s human rights laws (the lack of them) and some allegations of possible bribery in the bid. But more recently, concerns over labor conditions in the World Cup preparation stage have pushed to the fore.

Current estimates say hundreds of marginally compensated foreign laborers preparing for the tournament have already died during construction and as many as 4,000 may be dead by the time construction ends. Some workers haven’t been paid at all in the past year and a half and all live in dangerous, packed tenements. 

This is, to be clear, not a problem solely restricted to the World Cup, though that’s the angle with the most global ramifications. The overall foreign worker population in Qatar is more than six times the size of the ruling Qatari population, at about 1.65 million to 250,000. The foreign population has grown very sharply in the past few years so the numbers are a bit hard to track.

Due to oil wealth and concentrating it in native hands, Qatari citizens are among the world’s wealthiest populations. But they’ve also preserved their wealth by chronically underpaying (even enslaving) the huge migrant worker population. According to IMF data, even if the national wealth were distributed annually over the whole population, including non-citizens, everyone would still be making well over $100k a year, even adjusted for purchasing power.

Instead, through pure avarice, the kingdom is determined to keep its foreign workers — who make the country function daily — in horrid conditions.

If Qatar doesn’t make a big change soon, there’s going to be an awful lot of blood on the hands of the world through the World Cup’s presence there. And sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Sudan & China arms appearing in Syria war

This is astonishing: Sudan — an ally of Iran and China — is selling Sudanese-made and Chinese-made weapons to Qatar, the major supplier of rebel weapons in Syria for use against the Syrian government, which is strongly backed by Iran and China. The New York Times did some hyper-intensive journalistic digging to piece together the story:

Mr. Ahmad, the Sudanese presidential spokesman, suggested that if Sudan’s weapons were seen with Syria’s rebels, perhaps Libya had provided them.

Sudan, he said, has admitted sending arms during the 2011 war to oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Libya’s new leaders have publicly thanked Sudan. Libya has since been a busy supplier of the weapons to rebels in Syria.

However, that would not explain the Sudanese-made 7.62×39-millimeter ammunition documented by The New York Times this year in rebel possession near the Syrian city of Idlib.

The ammunition, according to its stamped markings, was made in Sudan in 2012 — after the war in Libya had ended. It was used by Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist group that recognizes the Western-supported Syrian National Coalition’s military command.

When told that the newly produced Sudanese cartridges were photographed with Syrian rebels, Mr. Saad, the Sudanese military spokesman, was dismissive. “Pictures can be fabricated,” he said. “That is not evidence.”

Granted, it’s not so astonishing in the context that Sudan’s regime historically supports Sunni Islamist movements and also needs money badly after South Sudan got the oil fields in the divorce. But still. Crossing Iran & China is a big step for Omar al-Bashir.