The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a roadside bomb attack Wednesday morning that left three American soldiers and three Pakistani schoolgirls dead, while wounding at least 45 others. The attack occurred during the opening ceremony of a girls’ school in the Lower Dir district of Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas. According to a statement released by the American embassy in Islamabad, “The Americans were U.S. military personnel in Pakistan to conduct training at the invitation of the Pakistan Frontier Corps. They were in Lower Dir to attend the inauguration ceremony of a school for girls that had recently been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance.” A Taliban spokesman said that the bombing was a response to recent American drone attacks in the region, one of which is thought to have killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. “It’s revenge for the bomb blasts carried out by Blackwater in Pakistan," the spokesman said, referring to the American private military contractor that now goes by the name Xe Services—a corporate re-branding necessitated in the wake of a September 2007 firefight by employees in Iraq that left at least a dozen civilians dead. Xe was a subcontractor to the CIA for loading bombs on drones, but that contract was canceled in December. (Xe, however, still provides "security and support" services.) The company has become a notorious symbol of U.S. involvement in the country, stoking suspicion and anti-American sentiment among many prominent Pakistanis. In the aftermath of the December 30 suicide attack that killed 8 CIA operatives in Afghanistan, the United States has increased its drone activity in Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas, a region from which many U.S. intelligence officials believe Afghan insurgents draw their support.
Following last week’s presidential elections, Sri Lanka’s election commissioner attempted to quell growing allegations of voter fraud and disenfranchisement by affirming his certainty that there was no vote rigging. However, the commissioner expressed his dissatisfaction with the tenor of the campaign in the run-up to the vote. “I am not satisfied with what has happened in the campaign period," the commissioner told reporters on Wednesday. "But I stand by the voting process and the results." The commissioner’s assessment jives with the opinion of a team of election observers from the Commonwealth Secretariat, who deemed the election itself to have “proceeded reasonably well in most areas,” but complained about a “compromised pre-election environment” in which state organs incited violence and disregarded legal provisions. The election results were skewed heavily in favor of Sri Lanka’s incumbent, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who took 58 percent of the vote; his main challenger, retired army chief Sarath Fonseka, polled 40 percent. Previously, Fonseka and Rajapaksa had been allies, but tensions strained during the campaign and a reconciliation now seems unlikely. On Monday, President Rajapaksa sought to purge the country’s military of several senior officers, saying they were a "direct threat to national security" after last week’s elections. Fonseka and others allege that Rajapaksa’s move was a retaliatory measure to punish those factions within the country’s military that had supported Fonseka’s presidential bid.
An appeals chamber at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands issued a decision on Wednesday ordering the court’s pretrial judges to reconsider their rejection of the genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al Bashir. The Appeals Chamber revised an earlier ruling by ICC pretrial judges who, in March 2009, issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, but rejected charges of genocide. Today, appeals judges asserted that the court’s Pre-Trial I Chamber used an “erroneous standard of proof” in rejecting the genocide charges, and directed the court “to decide anew, on the basis of the correct standard of proof, whether a warrant of arrest in respect of the crime of genocide should be issued.” The ICC, which was established in 2002, made headlines last year when it sought to apprehend Bashir, a sitting head of state, for violence committed by the Sudanese government against three ethnic groups in western Sudan. Regarding the question of genocide, the legal standard in question concerns the issue of “genocidal intent,” which, in order to secure a conviction, ICC prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The ICC’s Appeals Chamber argued that, for the purposes of issuing an arrest warrant, pre-trial judges should have applied a weaker standard of proof. Among experts and concerned analysts of Darfur, however, there remains significant controversy as to whether the initial warrant was a positive step in alleviating the ongoing crisis. The reconsideration as to whether Bashir should stand trial on genocide charges should only reignite the debate.