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Wednesday: April 2, 2014 

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Human Rights Watch (3)

Friday
Dec022011

Landmine Treaty Progress as Somalia and Finland Join (REPORT)

(HN, December 2, 2011) – The international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines is making strong progress toward its objective of a mine-free world, with Finland and Somalia agreeing to join in the next few months.Cambodian deminers, with tools used for landmine detection and clearance, during a field visit in Phnom Penh. CREDIT: Mary Wareham/Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch praised the progress as a major meeting on landmines wrapped up in Phnom Penh. However, the United States’ review of its policy has regrettably entered its third year without conclusion, Human Rights Watch said.

“We’ve largely succeeded in stigmatizing this coward’s weapon, but antipersonnel mines continue to claim too many lives and limbs in Cambodia and elsewhere years after they were laid,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “It is very encouraging that more and more countries continue to embrace the movement to ban landmines, and that impressive progress is being made in landmine clearance and stockpile destruction.”

The Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. A total of 158 nations are party to the treaty, which entered into force on March 1, 1999, and another two states have signed, but not yet ratified.

A total of 97 countries participated in the Mine Ban Treaty’s Eleventh Meeting of States Parties, held in Phnom Penh from November 27 to December 2, 2011 – 82 states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and 15 countries that have not yet joined. Observer delegations participated from China, India, Burma, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam.

The meeting reviewed progress and challenges in implementation and universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty. Major developments included the following:

  • Finland’s minister of international development, Heidi Hautala, announced that her government will join the treaty in the coming weeks;
  • Somalia declared that it would join in the next few months, if not sooner;
  • The two newest treaty members – South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, and Tuvalu – actively participated in the meeting;
  • Turkey announced it has completed the destruction of its stockpile of 2.9 million antipersonnel landmines, a very significant achievement since it had missed its treaty-mandated deadline of March 1, 2008;
  • Belarus, which also missed its stockpile destruction deadline of March 1, 2008, said it would complete the job in May 2013;
  • Burundi and Nigeria declared the completion of their mine clearance obligations, bringing the total of mine-free states parties to 18.


Cambodia is one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world. Credit: UNICEF“The United States needs to stop sitting in the back row as an observer in Mine Ban Treaty talks,” Goose said. “The US needs to conclude its landmine policy review, join the rest of the international community that has rejected this weapon, and play a positive leadership role.”

In late 2009, the US began a comprehensive landmine policy review “initiated at the direction of President Obama.” The Clinton administration, in 1998, set the objective of joining the Mine Ban Treaty in 2006, but the Bush administration reversed course in February 2004, and announced that it did not intend to join.

The US and nearly all of the 38 other states that remain outside the ban treaty are in de facto compliance with most of the treaty’s provisions. Every NATO member has foresworn the use of antipersonnel mines except for the US, as have other key allies, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

The United States has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991, in the first Gulf War, has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997, and is the biggest donor to mine clearance programs around the world. But it still stockpiles millions of antipersonnel mines for potential use.

Cambodia, the host of the meeting, is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. According to Landmine Monitor, Cambodia has approximately 44,000 survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war.

An extensive mine action program established in 1992 has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of new mine victims, but lives continue to be lost. There were at least 286 Cambodian casualties in 2010 from mines, explosive remnants of war, and cluster munitions.

Landmines and explosive remnants also place thousands of hectares of agricultural land off-limits in affected countries such as Laos and Cambodia.

- Human Rights Watch, HUMNEWS staff

Saturday
Jun042011

Sex, The Migrant Laborer and the City (NEWS BRIEF/BLOG) 

Migrant Laborer's PHOTO CREDIT: AlJazeeraby Imran Garda

“Today is my girlfriend's birthday sir...”

I wince, eyes reflexively open and shut again at the “sir”, but try instead to focus on the content of the statement.

“Really? Great. Which one?”

He blends a Cheshire cat smile meets the Keralite it’s-unclear-whether-my-head-bobbing-means-yes-or-no into a cheeky boyish smirk. A Casanova symphony. Let’s call him the “Keralite Cat”, for future reference.

“Sir, the Filippina. The hot one, old one, but hot one. The maid.”

“The prettiest, sexiest one?” I asked, already possessing the knowledge that she was one of three in a collection of girlfriends, that included an Indonesian and Nepali too. 

South East Asian unity that would make the UN proud, if it weren't for the fact they were each oblivious to the existence of the others. Smooth. 

“No sir, hot, hot, hawwwt. You understand? She like to do hawwwt things sir...crazy things sir...maybe I’m not enough for her!”, the giggle and resurfacing of the bobbing head-smile symphony. 

And then he made a gesture to me, one that this innocent writer, mind hitherto undefiled, just can’t quite blog about. I could sketch a picture maybe. Or maybe not. But let’s concede that I would never again look at his car’s hand-break, or any car’s hand-break in the same way. Then he showed me a picture of her on his mobile, she looked 15 years his senior. Hello Mrs Filipina Robinson...

“Where do you guys do this, erm, stuff?” I blushingly asked.

“In my accommodation. In the car sometimes, but we must be very very careful. If police catch us...”, his hand assumed a Karate chop shape at his neck, and he swiped across. Then laughter.

Another cabbie story

Yes, I’ve got another cabbie story, so my fellow AJE blogger Evan Hill can look away, spit three times to his left and maybe say, “astaghfirullah” - I’ve heard he finds my taxi driver stories problematic. Sorry Evan. 

Plus, after Michael Paterniti’s GQ feature about Al Jazeera had quoted me giving an analogy about politicians and the men who drive them, I think I’m developing a bit of a reputation as the “man-who-talks-a lot-of-BS-about-men-behind-the-wheel”.

So, pardon my insatiable obsession. I’ll try my best to show how this story has relevance to setting the global news agenda. Evan, if you’re still reading, I’m trying.

This time, I wasn’t in Washington DC talking to immigrant cabbies about Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad lair, and this time I promise my subeditor won’t place a picture of a street scene from a completely different city to the one I’m writing about (a picture of New York City in the winter accompanied my article set in Washington DC in the spring). 

It might be simpler this time, they could just step outside of our air-conditioned hub and into the heat (a different heat/hot/hawwwt to the previously referenced of course) with a camera and click. I’m talking about Doha. 

My driver friend officially works on call 24/7, for a far-eastern businessman, running the Middle Eastern operation of some far-eastern company, whose penchant for herculean spells of imbibing the stuff you can only get at 5-star hotels in Qatar (so I’ve heard) after work, tends to give the Keralite Cat some free time to do some “illegal” driving on the side. He earns QR900 (roughly $250) a month, so I’m happy to  contribute to some of the illegality.

Hence, when providence doth bless this humble writer to embark on another spell of work in the Doha desert, devoid of my 4X4 in days of old when I actually lived here, he’s the first person I call. We talk a lot. We talk about work, sometimes politics, sometimes cricket, sometimes football. We talk a lot about inequality too.

Would you believe it?

But this is not the platform for another “the horrors of the Gulf” splash.

Johann Hari and Nesrine Malik have written about Dubai in particular, the latter calling it a “place where the worst of western capitalism and Gulf Arab racism meet in a horrible vortex”

I could tell you about the labour camps I visited where 10 men sleep in a cramped room that they cook in too; of the many I spoke to over the years whose employers choose (on a whim, not for want of money) not to pay them their salaries, or ever return their passports to them; of the hundreds of thousands of these migrants from overpopulated nations further east - those who build this modern day materialist paradise, where once only the folk-songs of bedouins and malnourished pearl-divers echoed through the whirling grains of sand - and little else existed, until oil and gas reared their controversial, sticky, bubbly heads from the sleepy infertile surface.

I could tell you of “Family Day” signs at the entrances to the malls across the country on the weekends, designed to keep the wretched of the earth out so Arabs and Westerners can savour their Krispy Kreme Donuts and carry their oversized shopping bags from Armani Exchange without the experience being soiled by those smelly Indians, or Nepalis.

While Qatar considers reforming labour laws and scrapping it’s “sponsorship” system that even the prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor al-Thani once called “unacceptable and close to slavery”; while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch play catchup and get some amnesty themselves from reporting about Darfur or Libya or Syria or China or North Korea and one day hope to raise the issue of workers’ rights in the Gulf; while those of us who earned our tax-free salaries cried crocodile tears for the workers that by default allowed us to assume our roles as lords and “madams” and “sirs”, and while we drove our 4X4s past the little men in one size-fits-all blue jumpsuits bought in bulk from Carrefour, drilling a foundation for a new phallic tower in the blazing 49 degree celsius midday heat, we forgot something. We forgot something important. 

The Keralite Cat's tales, in all its frivolity, made a profound point about the drivers, construction workers, the maids and cleaners:

Can you believe that these people make love?

Can you believe they even cheat on each other? 

Can you believe that they buy each other birthday presents too?

And one day, just one day, these subhumans, like the Keralite Cat and Mrs Filipina Robinson, might even take the “hawwwt” stuff to a new level, might even have the audacity to pull up the hand-break on their own destiny, despite the macro constraints of an unequal “globalised economy” that makes them travel to dusty places far away, where the rule is simple - they must work so we can eat.

Originally published by Al Jazeera on June 3, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 

Thursday
Mar172011

Ivory Coast: The Deteriorating Humanitarian Situation (Report)

Fighting in Abidjan, photo courtesy of Africasia(HN, March 17, 2011) --  Life for the people of the Ivory Coast is getting increasingly worse. The three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo and militias that support him gives every indication of amounting to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The crisis has escalated since the end of February 2011, with clashes between armed forces loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara in the western and central regions of the country, as well as in Abidjan, the financial capital.

With around 400,000 displaced persons and the deaths of almost 400 civilians documented by the United Nations the vast majority killed by pro-Gbagbo forces in circumstances not connected with the armed conflict and with no apparent provocation - the attacks appear to be widespread.

On the Ouattara side, armed fighters have begun a pattern of extrajudicial executions against alleged pro-Gbagbo combatants detained in Ouattara territory since the Forces Nouvelles ("New Forces" or FN) gained effective control of the Abobo neighborhood and Anyama village around February 26.

"The time is long overdue for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies directly implicated in the grave abuses of the post-election period," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The international community should also send a clear message to Ouattara's camp that reprisal killings will place them next on the list."

Armed fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara clashed with the pro-Gbagbo security forces yesterday in several areas including Yopougon and Attecoube, while foreigners and ethnic groups viewed as pro-Ouattara are repeatedly harassed.

Fierce fighting and gun battles in the cities of Abobo, Abidjan and Williamsville have seen the most bloodshed. 

Although there is no reference whatsoever on state TV of the ongoing battles in the streets life for much of the population has become very bleak.

Many shops in these cities have been looted and those that have not have been closed as well as most banks.

Man wounded by gunshot in district of Adjame, photo courtesy of AfricasiaDoctors without Borders is reporting that in the city of Abobo only one hospital remains open and in the last two weeks doctors there have treated 129 patients 89 of which have come in with either knife or gun shot wounds.

UNICEF has said that the nation is on the verge of collapse with 1.5 million people at risk from epidemics. Reports of cholera have begun in Abidjan as rubbish lies uncollected and there have been 10’s of deaths reported in rural areas as a result of yellow fever.

In the north schools are closed leaving 800,000 children out of school and although the situation is better in the southern part of the country there are schools closed there as well.

Crime levels are up and armed youth roam the streets with impunity.

As the situation in the Ivory Cost continues to intensify and the country plunges further into economic decay there is real worry that shortages of basic needs will not be able to be met – electricity blackouts and water cuts are among the things people are most concerned about.

Attacks on Foreigners

According to Human Rights Watch residents from Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Niger have given detailed accounts of daily attacks by pro-Gbagbo security forces and armed militias, who beat foreign residents to death with bricks, clubs, and sticks, or doused them with gas and burned them alive.

A Malian man interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how he and six other West Africans were forced into two vehicles by armed militiamen and taken into the basement of an abandoned building. More youths were waiting, who then executed five of the captured West Africans at point-blank range. The homes, stores, and mosques of hundreds of other West Africans have been burned, or they have been chased out of their neighborhoods en masse under threat of death at the hands of pro-Gbagbo militias.

The brunt of these attacks came immediately after Gbagbo's "youth minister," Charles Blé Goudé, called publicly on February 25 for "real" Ivoirians to set up roadblocks in their neighborhoods and "denounce" foreigners.

The situation threatens to worsen further, as a March 7 letter addressed to the Burkina Faso ambassador by a militant pro-Gbagbo group warned. The letter threatened to "cut the umbilical cord" of the Burkina Faso nationals in Côte d'Ivoire unless they left the country by March 22.

Refugees 

U.N. officials say the political crisis has also driven more than 75,000 Ivorian civilians across the border into Liberia, with half that total arriving in just the last two weeks. Aid officials in Liberia's Toe Town say they are struggling to keep up. Augustine Nugba is the local program coordinator for the Catholic charity Caritas.

"As soon as the place is given and we receive the government's okay, we will start to construct a camp and to remove everyone from here," said Nugba.

Food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitation have brought cases of diarrhea and malaria for refugees, including Victorine Tohogninon.

Tohogninon says that since the refugees came to Liberia, the children and the elderly are getting sick.

If the political crisis is not resolved soon, refugee Charles-Camille Kpehia says there will be no one left in Ivory Coast to govern.

- HUMNews Staff