Afghanistan: End ‘Moral Crimes’ Charges, ‘Virginity’ Tests

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GOZARAH, Afghanistan-Village girls wait as the Afghan National Police unload a shipment of humanitarian aid at their village, Feb. 4. Food, winter clothing and supplies were delivered to 300 villagers of Gozarah district in Herat province of western Afghanistan. (ISAF photo by U.S. Air Force TSgt Laura K. Smith)(released) .

President Ghani Should Honor Pledge not to Arrest Women Fleeing Abuse

Afghanistan’s government should urgently act to end wrongful imprisonment and humiliating, scientifically invalid “virginity exams” of women and girls, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite a pledge from President Ashraf Ghani in a February 2016 letter to Human Rights Watch to “prevent the imprisonment of women accused of running away from their family,” Afghan police and prosecutors continue to engage in the abusive practice.

“President Ghani’s promise to end the practice of arresting women and girls for ‘running away’ is an important step forward for women’s rights in Afghanistan,” said Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But to make a real difference, the president needs to issue a clear and binding order that immediately changes how every police officer and prosecutor handles complaints against women and girls. For too long, women and girls fleeing violence have been treated as criminals while their abusers go free.”

Child Immigrants Detained at US Border Reach Record High

Immigration reform?

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32,952 Unaccompanied Minors Arrested between October and May

The number of unaccompanied immigrant children detained at the southwestern US border continues to increase and has exceeded the figures recorded for 2015, according to data released by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

With four months remaining in the fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2015, it was revealed that 32,952 unaccompanied children have been detained by border authorities, compared to 39,970 that were recorded throughout the previous fiscal year.

If we compare the data recorded up to April of this fiscal year with those in 2014 when there was a wave of child immigrating from Central America (described as a “humanitarian crisis”), the numbers show a similar situation could be repeated this time around.

Egypt: Scores of Protesters Jailed Unjustly

Egypt in its region (undisputed)" by TUBS

47 Hunger Strikers May Be Freed

Egyptian courts have sentenced more than 150 people to prison terms since the beginning of May 2016 for participating in peaceful protests or spreading false information. On May 24, an appeals court replaced the prison sentences for 47 who had started hunger strikes, with a fine of 100,000 L.E ($11,270 USD) each which they have to pay before being released.

The authorities should free and drop charges against them and release hundreds of other activists and protesters in pretrial detention on charges that violate freedom of peaceful assembly and speech.

“Egyptian authorities are using national security threats to crush dissent among Egypt’s youth,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “This is a policy of insecurity, not security, leaving young people unable find the smallest space for peaceful dissent that won’t land them in jail.”

Sudan: Students, Activists at Risk of Torture

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Mission to Sam Ouandja 
Credits: Pierre Holtz for OCHA |
This mission to Sam Ouandja, north-eastern Central African Republic, was undertaken to visit a camp housing almost 3,000 refugees from Darfur, Sudan, as well assessing the security situation in the region.

Free Detainees; Investigate Abuses

Sudanese national security officials have detained dozens of students and activists – many of whom are still in custody – without charge since mid-April 2016, during protests on university campuses.

Some have been held for more than a month. Others are held in locations that the government has not revealed, without access to lawyers or contact with family, putting them at increased risk of torture.
“Sudan is cracking down on activists, students, and even their lawyers, with abusive and thuggish tactics,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should put a stop to these tactics, immediately make the whereabouts of all detainees known, and release anyone being held without charge.”

Indonesia: Child Tobacco Workers Suffer as Firms Profit

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Exposed to Harmful Nicotine, Pesticides

Thousands of children in Indonesia, some just 8 years old, are working in hazardous conditions on tobacco farms, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Indonesian and multinational tobacco companies buy tobacco grown in Indonesia, but none do enough to ensure that children are not doing hazardous work on farms in their supply chains.

The 119-page report, “‘The Harvest is in My Blood’: Hazardous Child Labor in Tobacco Farming in Indonesia,” documents how child tobacco workers are exposed to nicotine, handle toxic chemicals, use sharp tools, lift heavy loads, and work in extreme heat. The work could have lasting consequences for their health and development. Companies should ban suppliers from using children for work that involves direct contact with tobacco, and the Indonesian government should regulate the industry to hold them accountable.“Tobacco companies are making money off the backs and the health of Indonesian child workers,” said Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “Tobacco companies shouldn’t contribute to the use of hazardous child labor through their supply chains.”

One Gas Leak Too Many


Image Source: Simon Fraser University, Flickr, Creative Commons

Can we end fracking now? asks Mark Engler.

On 23 October 2015, the Southern California Gas Company discovered a methane leak at its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, some 80 kilometres from downtown Los Angeles. It was a big one, quite possibly the largest leak in US history. Day after day, Aliso Canyon was releasing carbon emissions equivalent to those produced by 4.5 million cars, more than doubling emissions for the entire Los Angeles area. It took until February for the leak to be finally plugged.

‘It’s the climate equivalent of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico,’ The Guardian reported.

Aliso Canyon (below) not only dealt a dispiriting blow to everyone concerned with global warming, it shattered one of the central myths of the natural gas boom that has been driven in recent years by hydraulic fracking. The industry has repeatedly argued not only that fracking is safe, but that natural gas is a clean, environmentally responsible ‘bridge fuel’ that can serve as an essential step in the transition away from coal and oil. Yet, again and again, environmentalists have cast doubt on these claims.

US Govt to “exclude” 3/4 of drone strikes from civilian casualty numbers

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The Obama administration is set to “exclude Pakistan” from its publication of total casualties resulting from covert drone strikes, according to a report in the Washington Post.

If accurate, this would mean that as many as 72% of known covert drone strikes would be excluded from the tally, along with 84% of recorded casualties, according to figures from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

In March this year, the White House announced that in “the coming weeks” it would release an assessment of civilian casualties resulting from strikes taken outside of warzones. Drones operated by the CIA and US Special Forces are believed to have carried out hundreds of these strikes in secret, in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, where the US is not at war. However, to date, the US Government has provided no public estimates of the resulting civilian death toll.

Questions Still Linger Over Deaths Of Flint Water Investigators Within Three Days Of Each Other

Appreciation was not hard to find in Flint.

It’s been nearly a month since two Flint Water Crisis investigators were found dead within day’s of one another. Although a vague explanation surfaced for one of the deceased, a pandora’s box of questions remains unsatisfied. In lieu of official answers, the familiar ring of conspiracy chatter has encroached to fill the void. What are we to make of all this, and will closure come with officials facing charges?

First came Flint Water Treatment Plant foreman Matthew Mcfarland, found dead at this home. According to the Amsterdam Times, Mcfarland was found in his home, after being interviewed for the investigation. Initially, authorities suspected foul play though couldn’t confirm how he died.

Recently, investigators were able to determine drug intoxication, coupled with a heart condition, as the cause of death. According to MLive, the 43 year old died after high levels of a drug mixture, and remains filed as “indeterminate”, remaining an ongoing investigation.

Where Will First Chinese Overseas Military Bases Spring Up?

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As history shows, significant improvement of a country’s economic situation inevitably boosts its military ambitions. The world has been holding its breath for the last 30 years witnessing the rapid economic growth in China, waiting for the new developments. And China did not fail the expectations of the global community. Whereas before the mid-2000s the Chinese leadership was rejecting the very idea of expansion of its military presence abroad, now the situation has changed dramatically.

The global economic crisis of 2008 that shattered the faith in the sustainability of the US dollar and weakened the positions of the US opened up new opportunities for the Chinese yuan. Shortly thereafter, global mass media started talking about new Chinese military doctrine. Its new objectives included not only the reform of domestically stationed troops, but also the formation of an international contingent and establishment of Chinese military bases abroad.

A worrisome situation in the South China Sea, which has been deteriorating since 2009, revealed China’s indisputable dominance over its nearest neighbors in the region. It also became evident that the US could no longer order the now powerful China around and dictate how to deal with the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. At the beginning of 2016, the number of Chinese artificial islands with a 12-mile patrolled area exceeded the number of American destroyers present in the South China Sea. In addition, as recently as in February 2016, China installed air defense missile systems on Woody Island, one of the Paracel Islands contested by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. In May, Chinese military intercepted an American ship in the patrolled 12-mile area near one of the reefs of the Spratly Islands, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

Match Words with Action on Papua Abuses

AK Rockefeller, Flickr, Creative Commons
West Papua Freedom Fighters

The detention of more than 1,500 Papuan independence supporters on May 2 for “lacking a permit to hold a rally” speaks volumes of the government’s stubbornly problematic approach to dealing with dissent in the restive territory of Papua. This approach has for decades provided impunity for security forces, despite their abuses against Papuans and turned dozens of those exercising their universal rights to freedom of expression and association into political prisoners.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has promised Papuans a change, beginning with “an open dialogue for a better Papua”. But aside from the release of a few political prisoners, there has been barely any signs of meaningful change on the ground in Papua.

Jokowi’s December 2014 pledge to thoroughly investigate and punish security forces implicated in the death of five peaceful protesters in the Papuan town of Enarotali that month has remained unfulfilled. And the Indonesian bureaucracy continues to obstruct international media from freely reporting in Papua despite the President’s May 2015 declaration to lift the decades-old restrictions.

A Flurry of Poaching Cases Casts a Cloud Over Nepal’s Tiger Conservation Efforts

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More than a dozen tigers killed in a year – that’s grave news for a country which was hailed for its record third “zero poaching year” for rhinos.

Most of them were poached in and around the Bardia National Park, reported the daily Annapurna Post. Not long ago, the country was celebrating the fact that not a single tiger was killed during the one-year period between February 2013 and February 2014.

Since the poachers take the animal carcass with them, cases of poaching are difficult to track. The whole body of a tiger – from toe nails, skin and bones to the meat – is put up for sale on the international market by the poachers. Only when the petty traders are caught with tiger skins and bones in their possession do the authorities learn that the animals were killed by the gangs behind the illegal trade.

Last year, police caught poachers with tiger skins and bones at different places in the country. Thanks to the concern of authorities, a poacher who was on a run for years after killing Nepal’s first GPS (Global Positioning System)-collared tiger Namo Buddha was arrested. However, the frequent sighting of nomadic Banjara people in western Nepal is a reason for worry for conservationists and security agencies as they have in the past been involved in poaching and illegal trade of tiger parts.

The Coming Drone Blowback

Image Source: AK Rockefeller, Flickr, Creative Commons
One - Enter The Drone 
By zzzeroX

The U.S. conducts drone strikes worldwide with relative impunity. But when the first strike hits the United States, the real blowback will begin.

The targeted assassination of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour last weekend wasn’t just another drone strike.

First of all, it was conducted by the U.S. military, not the CIA, which has orchestrated nearly all drone strikes in Pakistan.

Second, it didn’t take place in Afghanistan or in the so-called lawless tribal region of Pakistan known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. The guided missile turned a white Toyota and its two passengers into a fireball on a well-traveled highway in Balochistan, in southwest Pakistan.

Prior to this particular drone strike, Pakistan allowed the United States to patrol the skies over the northwest region of FATA, a Taliban stronghold. But President Obama decided to cross this “red line” to take out Mansour (and a taxi driver, Muhammad Azam, who had the misfortune to be with the wrong passenger at the wrong time).

The Significance of the Battle for Aleppo

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In Aleppo the fierce fighting continues. After the peace agreement was broken by the armed opposition, Syrian government forces launched an offensive in order to completely blockade and take control of the western part of the city that had been seized by militants.

Anti-government forces regularly shell civilians in Aleppo’s Christian neighborhoods and in the Sheikh Maqsood district that is inhabited by Kurds. One result of this new phase in the military campaign has been an increase in the influence of jihadist groups, especially Jabhat al-Nusra. It is this group and its allies that Turkey and the US are trying to proclaim the «moderate opposition», which is supposedly capable of battling the Islamic State. But when it comes to their methods for disposing of political opponents and Christians, these radical Islamic groups are indistinguishable.

The leader of al-Qaeda urges the «moderate» and «radical» militants to unite

Note should be made of yet another jihadist group that emerged in Syria in March-April of last year. They are known as Jaish al-Fatah. That group incorporates Ahrar ash-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa, in addition to Jabhat al-Nusra. Most experts consider Ahrar ash-Sham to be the same type of Salafi-jihadist group as Jabhat al-Nusra, which is included in the UN Security Council’s list of terrorist organizations.

Lack of Support Endangers Rangers and Global Wildlife

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Illegal Wildlife Property 
Photo Credit: Ryan Moehring / USFWS

Battling a global poaching crisis, wildlife rangers believe they lack the necessary equipment, training and support from their governments to protect themselves and the world’s threatened wildlife from poachers, according to a new WWF study released today at the World Ranger Congress in Colorado, USA.

Ranger Perceptions: Africa surveyed 570 rangers across 12 African countries and found that 82 per cent had faced a life-threatening situation while on duty. But 59 per cent felt they were insufficiently equipped and 42 per cent felt they lacked sufficient training to do their jobs safely and effectively.

These results echo the findings of a similar survey of Asia’s rangers, the majority of whom had also risked their lives in the line of duty and felt equally ill-equipped to perform their critical frontline tasks. Preliminary results from a third survey suggest that rangers in Latin America face similar challenges.

“Soldiers’ Mothers” Launch Mobile App to Protect Draftees’ Rights

Russian Paratrooper. Photo: Виталий Кузьмин

Human rights activists have launched a new mobile app for Russian draftees that provides useful information about the most pressing issues of the military draft, and allows them to defend their rights independently.

Draftee Online was launched by Soldiers’ Mothers of Saint Petersburg, a non-profit founded by the mothers of young men drafted into the Russian army to counter abuse and rights violations that draftees habitually face in the military.

The app allows any draftee, including those who intend to do army service and those who are filing for an exemption, to have quick access to legal advice and examples of the most common violations of draftee rights. In case of a violation, users can find templates of the necessary declarations and complaints and contact information for relevant supervisory bodies, as well as the number for a human rights hotline. Draftees can also use the app to get in touch with the organization’s own lawyers through a special contact form.

The TAP Project as an Intangible Asset

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Globe - East-Asia space view

The official ceremony that took place in Thessaloniki to mark the launch of the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) that is intended to deliver Azerbaijani gas to Italy via Greece and Albania brought to mind the events of June 2013, when the European Commission officially announced the termination of the Nabucco gas pipeline project – its most ambitious – and suggested that priorities now shifted to the TAP.

The problem of how to fill the pipeline had been cited as one of the reasons for halting the construction of Nabucco, since the reserves in the Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan, coupled with Azerbaijan’s contracts with Russia, had made it impossible to ensure a supply of 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.

Since then of course the picture has changed for Europe’s gas markets. The current shareholders in the TAP project are BP (UK), SOCAR (Azerbaijan), Snam (Italy), Fluxys (Belgium), Enagás (Spain), and Axpo (Switzerland). However, these changes are not a favorable indication that the TAP will be either efficient or even cost-effective as a successor to Nabucco, although the new pipeline is only designed to have a capacity of 10 billion cubic meters per year, not 30.

Turkey, Russia: Ties Worsen Over Downed Turkish Helicopter

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Kurdish rebels’ “game-changing” downing of a Turkish attack helicopter with a Russian-made missile could further intensify still simmering hostilities between Ankara and Moscow.

Coming nearly six months after Turkish jets’ downing of a Russian bomber operating from a Syrian airbase, the May 13 incident made front-page news in Turkey. “It was a message to [the] government and public,” commented Metehan Demir, an independent defense analyst and former Turkish military pilot.

The missile featured in a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) video of the attack “is a Russian-made SA18 or SA24,” he noted, using the North Atlantic Treaty Organization codenames for the shoulder-held, anti-aircraft missiles 9K38 Igla (“Needle”) and 9K338 Igla, manufactured since Soviet times in the Russian town of Kolomna.

US Does Not Back Federalism for Syrian Kurds: Experts


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Two experts of Kurdish issues believe the recent visit of a U.S. top official to Syrian Kurdish regions in the north of the country does not mean that Washington recognizes federalism in the Kurdish regions in a near future.

The director of the Middle East Petroleum Institute, Dov Friedman, and David Romano, chair of Middle East politics at Missouri State University told ARA News that the recent visits of The US CENTCOM commander, General Joseph Votel, and the envoy of the U.S. president Brett Mcgurk to northern Syria do not mean a big change in Washington’s policy towards Kurds in Syria.

According to Friedman; Votel’s visit to the region will not result in more political recognition of the local administration set up by Kurds in Syria.

India: Stop Treating Critics As Criminals

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The Indian authorities routinely use vaguely worded, overly broad laws as political tools to silence and harass critics, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The government should repeal or amend laws that are used to criminalize peaceful expression.

India’s Constitution protects the right to freedom of speech and expression, but recent and colonial-era laws, such as sedition and criminal defamation, not only remain on the books but are frequently used in an attempt to clampdown on critics.

“India’s abusive laws are the hallmark of a repressive society, not a vibrant democracy,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Putting critics in prison or even forcing them to defend themselves in lengthy and expensive court proceedings undermines the government’s efforts to present India as a modern country in the Internet age committed to free speech and the rule of law.”