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Airstrikes & Siege Horror in Syria: Daily Brief

Plus: 10,000 civilians may have died in 1989 Tiananmen massacre; Burma bars UN rights expert, locks up reporters; Rare victory for victims of war crimes in Ethiopia; #CatalanElections; Brazil should investigate killings in Rio raid; #FreeMahmoudHussein; and positive news from Egypt.


  1. Syrian government and Russian forces have escalated their airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus, killing dozens of civilians in apparently unlawful attacks. New Human Rights Watch research and a video also show how Syrian forces have tightened their siege of the enclave, held by anti-government armed groups, severely restricting humanitarian aid in violation of the laws of war and preventing civilians from leaving the area.
  2. Big news from China: declassified documents state that at least 10,000 civilians were killed in the Tiananmen square massacre in Beijing on June 4, 1989...
  3. The government in Burma plans to permanently bar entry to Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the country. This refusal to cooperate is just Burma’s latest move in its efforts to conceal the military’s crimes against humanity, including killings, rape, and mass arson, against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
  4. The many victims of the brutal communist military dictatorship that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991, known as the Derg, had a rare victory this week. On December 15, former Ethiopian government official Eshetu Alemu was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life in prison by a Dutch court for his role in ordering the executions of 75 people in the 1970s.
  5. Pro-independence parties in Catalonia have held their absolute majority in regional elections, dealing a political blow to the Spanish government. On October 1, the police used excessive force in Catalonia during a disputed referendum about independence of the region.
  6. The Supreme Court in Alabama has set an execution date for Doyle Lee Hamm, a 61-year-old terminally ill inmate who has cranial and lymphatic cancer who has been on death row for 30 years. The date for his execution was set for February 22. HRW opposes capital punishment in all circumstances and has long called for the US to abolish the death penalty.
  7. Authorities in Brazil should conduct thorough, independent, and impartial investigations into the killing of eight people in a low-income Rio de Janeiro neighborhood on November 11, during a joint raid by army and Civil Police.
  8. Egyptian journalist Mahmoud Hussein marks one year in pretrial detention without proper due process today. The Egyptian authorities arrested Hussein, a Doha-based Al Jazeera TV journalist, on December 22, 2016, two days after he arrived for holidays in Egypt.
  9. Also some positive news from Egypt. The judiciary in the country has announced that it has launched an inquiry into widespread torture of detainees by the security services. HRW said in a report in September that Egypt's torture epidemic may be a crime against humanity.