Ethical Action Alerts for Human Rights, Environmental Issues, Peace, and Social Justice, supporting the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Treaties and Conventions.
UPDATE: European Parliament to be asked to take sanctions against Canada on asbestos, June 30
A media release issued today by the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat says, “Calls will be made on June 30, 2011 that the European Union take sanctions against Canada for derailing a United Nations protocol to protect vulnerable populations from the hazards of asbestos.”
IBAS Coordinator Laurie Kazan-Allen, a member of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance, will be making a presentation in this regard to the European Parliament on June 30 starting at 2:30 pm. Kazan-Allen says, “Canada is now a rogue state and should be dealt with in the same way as other administrations which have breached the acceptable level of behaviour expected of civilized societies. …Canadian Government documents I am bringing to Brussels will prove to Members of the European Parliament that Ottawa had received recommendations from its own advisors to list chrysotile under the Rotterdam Convention. That they chose not to do so with the full knowledge of the tragic consequences is a sin of unpardonable proportions.”
The seminar at the European Parliament is being organized by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in collaboration with trade unions and non-governmental organizations.
Egypt: Military pledges to stop forced ‘virginity tests’ | Amnesty International USA
Major General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), discussed the issue with Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty months after the organisation publicized allegations of the forced ‘tests’.
Major General al-Sisi said that ‘virginity tests’ had been carried out on female detainees in March to "protect" the army against possible allegations of rape, but that such forced tests would not be carried out again. He also added that army would avoid detaining women in the future.
“Subjecting women to such degrading procedures hoping to show that they were not raped in detention makes no sense, and was nothing less than torture. The government should now provide reparation to the victims, including medical and psychological support, and apologise to them for their treatment.
War crimes court issues arrest warrant for Gaddafi
THE HAGUE (AFP) – International Criminal Court judges on Monday issued an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi for crimes against humanity, committed against opponents of his regime since mid-February, a judge said.
"The chamber hereby issue a warrant of arrest against Moamer Kadhafi,"Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said during a hearing at the Hague-based court.
She also issued arrest warrants for Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam, 39, and the head of Libyan intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi, 62, for murder and persecution since the uprising started.
Amnesty International USA - Apologise to Maher Arar
Maher Arar suffered torture because of the actions of U.S. officials, and an apology is now long overdue. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was traveling home to Canada from visiting relatives in Tunisia in 2002. While changing planes at New York City’s JFK airport, he was detained by U.S. authorities and then transferred secretly to Syria, where he was held for a year and tortured. Released without charge, he was allowed to return to Canada, and the Canadian government issued an apology. However, the U.S. government has failed to apologize or offer Arar any form of remedy — despite its obligation to do so under the UN Convention Against Torture and other human rights treaties.
Join Amnesty International, 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, author Stephen King and former interrogator Matthew Alexander: Urge President Obama and Congress to apologize to Maher Arar and fulfill his right to remedy.
Peru halts Canada mining operations amid protests
LIMA (AFP) – Peru suspended a Canadian company's mining project in the south of the country on Saturday following intense negotiations in the wake of deadly protests by mostly indigenous anti-mining activists, authorities said.
The government enacted five laws including the revocation of a concession granted to Bear Creek Mining Corporation, which has been a focus of weeks of protests, including an attempt by hundreds of demonstrators Friday to storm an airport in the south of the country.
Prime Minister Rosario Fernandez said the new laws, published in the official gazette El Peruano and which include a 36-month halt to all new mining concessions in Puno province, are aimed at satisfying the demands of locals opposed to mining activity in the region, state news agency Andina said.At least five activists were killed when riot police fired tear gas and live ammunition to keep protesters from taking over the airport in the southern city of Juliaca, in Puno.
The province of Puno has been in the grips of a wave of protests against mining projects in the region, led primarily by the Aymara Indians, a majority ethnic group in this part of the country. Activists have demanded an end to mining activity and oil drilling in Puno, one of Peru's poorest areas, insisting the operations pollute the land and waterways, leave few local benefits, and that the co
Prominent Chinese dissident Hu Jia freed -
Prominent Chinese dissident Hu Jia has been released from prison and reunited with his family, his wife says. Mr Hu, 37, served a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion". His term had been set to end on Sunday. He was active on a wide range of civil liberty issues, and also campaigned for the environment and support for Aids patients. Mr Hu's release follows that of artist Ai Weiwei on Wednesday.
Mr Ai's detention in April had prompted a global campaign for his release. Four of associates were also reported to have been freed. Hu's release come as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is visiting Europe, where Beijing's human rights issue is expected to be raised among other issues... Mr Hu has won the European Union's top human rights award, the Sakharov prize, and is considered by Amnesty International as a former prisoner of conscience.
Amnesty also stressed in a statement that at least 130 activists "have been detained, forcibly disappeared, harassed and imprisoned within their homes since February".
Environmental Leaders Call for Civil Disobedience to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline
A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent—from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers...Naomi Klein, Suzuki, Maude Barlow...
This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, to the date in September when by law the administration can either grant or deny the permit for the pipeline. Not all of us can actually get arrested—half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada—the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.
And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces.
We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day through Labor Day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business. And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure the government for change. We’ll do what we can.
Help Stop One of the Most Destructive Projects on Earth
US Petition targeting Tar Sands
* Target: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
* Sponsored by: Natural Resources Defense Council
Our continent's greatest songbird nursery is in grave danger as oil companies violently strip-mine tar sands -- the world's dirtiest oil -- in Canada's Boreal forest. The resulting devastation could ultimately claim some 160 million migratory birds -- including many of the songbirds we love seeing and hearing every summer.
Now, a shocking oil industry plan would drive even MORE destruction of the Boreal while threatening the U.S. with environmental havoc. The Keystone XL pipeline would transport raw, toxic tar sands oil right through the American heartland, endangering sensitive ecosystems and fresh water for millions of Americans.
'I Can't Say Anything': Ai Weiwei's Release Raises More Questions than Answers
The appearance Ai Weiwei made on Thursday morning in front of his studio was a very brief one. The Chinese artist told the waiting journalists that he was well, but that he could not talk about his experiences in recent weeks. The conditions imposed on him by the police prohibited him from doing so, he explained. "I can't say anything, please understand," he said, before disappearing behind the high brick wall around his property. The intelligence officials who usually hang around in front of the studio were not there.
On Wednesday evening, Ai, who is an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, was unexpectedly released from detention. He had to pay bail but did not appear before a judge. On April 3, police detained Ai at Beijing airport and held him at an undisclosed location. Relatives and lawyers were kept in the dark about Ai's fate for a long time before it was revealed that the authorities were accusing the artist's company, "Fake Cultural Development," of evading taxes on a "large scale."
Beijing police did not follow correct procedures in the case, ignoring deadlines and bending the rules. It is unclear whether such a long period of detention without access to a lawyer is even permissible under Chinese law in the case of an alleged tax offense. At the very least, it seems disproportionate under the circumstances....
By kidnapping Ai, the Communist Party certainly managed to achieve one thing: It has deeply intimidated human rights activists. Dozens of activists have suffered similar fates to Ai in recent months, being abducted, interrogated or threatened. According to the latest information, the civil rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong has been missing again since Wednesday. Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, is still under house arrest. The blind civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng was recently beaten in his own home, according to his wife. Since his release from prison last September, he and his family have been harassed and kept isolated from the outside world.
Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Released
Two and a half months after his imprisonment on charges of tax evasion, internationally-renowned artist Ai Weiwei was released by Chinese authorities because (according to state news agency Xinhua) "of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from" (likely diabetes or hypertension).
His release was likely also thanks to the extensive pressure put on the Chinese government, both public and private, by politicians, diplomats and art-world figures. Ai told The New York Times that he's "on bail" and can't speak with reporters, but the artist's lawyer Tweeted that Ai would likely stay out of jail so long as his taxes were paid—a lucky outcome compared with other dissidents like the Nobel Peace-prize winning Liu Xiabo, still serving an 11-year prison sentence. Four "associates" of the artist are still missing.
Thousands of Visionary Nurses Confront Wall Street and Advocate for their Patients in Rollicking Wall Street Rally | | AlterNet
National Nurses United has a message for Wall Street: bankers need to pay up for the ailments they've caused.
Avaaz - World to Dilma: Save the Amazon
The move has sparked widespread anger and protests across the country. And tension is rising -- in the last few weeks several prominent environmental advocates have been murdered, purportedly by armed thugs hired by illegal loggers. The timing is critical, they’re trying to silence criticism just as the law is discussed in the Senate. But President Dilma can veto the changes, if we can persuade her to overcome political pressure and step onto the global stage as a leader.
79% of Brazilians support Dilma's veto of the forest law changes, but their voices are being challenged by logger lobbies. It’s now up to all of us to raise the stakes and make Amazon protection a global issue. Let’s come together now in a giant call to stop the murders and illegal logging, and save the Amazon. Sign the petition below -- it’ll be delivered to Dilma when we reach 500,000 signers.
Urge Congress to Act on Gulf Oil Spill -
* Target: U.S. Congress
* Sponsored by: National Audubon Society
*action: Designate CWA Penalty Money to Support Gulf Restoration
There are still many unknowns on how the oil pollution will affect the birds and wildlife of the region. The Brown Pelican, just recently removed from the Endangered Species Act, is now at risk because of contaminated food sources and degraded habitat. Sea turtles, at risk from over fishing and habitat loss, may find the contaminated waters of the Gulf the last straw. Other deep water sea creatures and their survival are of grave concern. Though the gushing hole has been plugged, oil remains in the system and the toll on wildlife continues. Congress has an opportunity and responsibility to respond to the damage done to birds, wildlife and habitat in the Gulf region.
Please contact your two Senators and House member and ask them to make sure that BP's oil spill penalties -- potentially billions of dollars -- go to Gulf recovery and restoration. These funds will be diverted to other purposes unless Congress acts.
Sudan: ‘If the World Stands Idly By This Time, They Will Bring Genocide’
“Serious atrocities are being witnessed between Kadugli and Dilling. Nuba people are being dragged and killed instantly from lorries trying to ferry them northward for safety. Unnecessary checkpoints are put to trap the Nuba fleeing the violence from Kadugli and Dilling. The Nuba people who escaped to safety are being hunted like rats. Anyone found with SPLM card (ID), flag or document is summarily executed without interrogation.”
Similar alarms about mass atrocities and an immediate humanitarian crisis are sounding from many quarters, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and The UN Refugee Agency. The debate over how best to respond has begun. The anti-genocide Enough Project of the Center for American Progress, for example, has called for arming the south with “air defense capabilities” to protect civilians from aerial bombardment.
Allegations of ethnic cleansing by the SAF and allied militia during the invasion of Abyei in May foreshadowed the current crisis, and indeed this is the same Khartoum regime whose leaders were indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, including genocide, in Darfur.
Many stakeholders are nevertheless trying to salvage the 2005 peace accords that ended decades of civil war in which some two million people died. In January the South elected to secede with upwards of 95% of the vote. But 75% of the nation’s oil production of 480,000 barrels a day is located in the South, contributing to disputes over fertile border regions, and how to apportion oil revenues.
Hopeful signs for UN action plans on child soldiers - Afghanistan
NEW YORK, 10 February 2011 (IRIN) - The recent UN-negotiated action plan with the Afghanistan government - signed on 30 January and outlawing the use of child soldiers in armed forces - has not yet resulted in demobilization, but it has shifted the focus to the role state actors play in recruiting children.
Relatively few governments in the world currently recruit and use children in their armed forces. The London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (CSUCS) lists Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Sudan among the “five real offenders”, according to CSUCS head of international programmes Lucia Withers.
Prior to the Afghan action, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Secretary-General's special representative on children and armed conflict, oversaw the January 2009 signing of a similar action plan with Uganda. Implementation of the plan was very fast, Coomaraswamy told IRIN, noting that UN monitoring ascertained that all children were de-listed within 18 months. Coomaraswamy expects speedy action in Afghanistan.
States tend to move much quicker - they move with a purpose and usually they want to fall in line with international standards, Coomaraswamy explained. She expects a similar agreement to be signed with Chad within the next few months and in November, the prime minister of Somalia signalled a willingness to work towards an action plan, as well. Negotiations with the government of Myanmar occurred in both 2009 and 2010 and Coomaraswamy says she hopes that this year, post-election, will provide a new opportunity for further progress.
UN negotiated action plans can be more effective than other measures, like the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a UN General Assembly approved protocol which sets 18 as the minimum age for recruitment into armed forces and participation in hostilities. Afghanistan is among the 138 countries that has ratified the protocol, but is six years overdue in reporting to the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child, a regular requirement for all protocol-abiding countries.
"The problem with the Optional Protocol is there are no consequences for it and it relies on states, NGOs, the UN and others to put pressure on states to abide by its obligations, but there are no sanctions involved, and there is actually no teeth to this kind of human rights treaty," said Withers.
Violations against the action plan, on the other hand, can result in a government or armed force continuing to be listed in the UN Secretary-General's annual name-and-shame list, as well as the possibility of eventual sanctions.
ILO milestone for domestic workers
ILO: BANGKOK, 17 June 2011 (IRIN) - Activists campaigning for the rights of domestic workers are celebrating the passing of the International Labour Organization's (ILO) convention recognizing domestic work as work. The convention is a long time coming and has brought the often invisible and abused to the forefront of protection, says a leading human rights agency.
"Domestic workers face beatings, sexual abuse, non-payment of wages and human trafficking situations. They run the gamut of physical and mental abuse used to control someone and in some households it is a slave owner mentality," said Human Rights Watch (HRW) Deputy Director in Asia Phil Robertson.
To activists and domestic workers celebrating both in Geneva and abroad, the most groundbreaking part of the document is the acknowledgment that domestic work is, in fact, work.
"It's very basic, but very important," said Ip Puiyu, director of the International Domestic Workers Network in Asia, speaking to IRIN on the sidelines of the International Labour Conference session at which the convention was passed - with 396 votes in favour, 16 against and 63 abstentions. The governments of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are among those that abstained.
Asia, in particular, is lagging behind international protection standards for domestic workers, according to the ILO, and HRW is concerned that Thailand’s abstention is a reflection of how the country intends to continue to ignore domestic worker issues. "That they abstained from the vote is a black mark on Thailand. It is shameful and they should have supported this convention," Robertson said from Bangkok.
ILO estimates 41 percent of the 53 million domestic workers globally are in Asia. Asia is the biggest source of migrant domestic workers to the Middle East, Canada and Europe, as well as wealthier countries in the region such as Japan and Hong Kong.
"By establishing a global set of minimum standards [the convention] is expected to provide a platform for more countries to engage in a process of reform to bring domestic workers within the mainstream of labour and social protection," said Amelita King Dejardin, chief technical adviser on domestic workers for ILO's Conditions of Work and Employment Programme.
Tell Brazil to Help Syrian Protesters
UNSC: Tens of thousands of Syrians have been murdered, tortured, disappeared and driven from their homes in a terrifying crackdown by government forces to silence peaceful pro-democracy protesters. The Brazilian government knows this, but shockingly it is threatening to vote against a resolution that could help end the violence at the United Nations Security Council.
Despite two months of horrific reports from Syria, the UNSC has so far done nothing. Now within 24 hours, it could vote to put maximum pressure on Syrian President Basharal-Assad to stop this repression, but without Brazil's support the resolution will fail. Most Council members are in favour of robust action to pressure the regime, but Russia and China have threatened to veto the resolution. If Brazil votes to condemn Assad, they will be isolated, and will be far more likely to abstain and let the motion pass.
Today Brazil has a choice -- stand as global leader on human rights or consent to unimaginable brutality against innocent civilians. We know the President and Foreign Minister are sensitive to public pressure, and we can't let our leaders stand by while more and more brave men, women and even children are mutilated and shot. Let's build a massive petition -- sign now, and every time 10,000 new people sign, we will send a fax to the President and Foreign Minister.
China: Children Poisoned by Lead and Denied Treatment | Human Rights Watch
Children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages. Parents, journalists, and community activists who dare to speak out about lead are detained, harassed, and ultimately silenced. Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch
(Hong Kong) - Chinese government officials in provinces with high rates of industrial pollution are restricting access to lead testing, withholding and falsifying test results, and denying children treatment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Family members and journalists seeking information about the problem are intimidated and harassed, Human Rights Watch said. Such actions violate Chinese law and condemn hundreds of thousands of children to permanent mental and physical disabilities.
The 75-page report, "‘My Children Have Been Poisoned': A Public Health Crisis in Four Chinese Provinces," draws on research in heavily lead-contaminated villages in Henan, Yunnan, Shaanxi, and Hunan provinces. The report documents how, despite increasing regulation and sporadic enforcement targeting polluting factories, local authorities are ignoring the urgent and long-term health consequences of a generation of children continuously exposed to life-threatening levels of lead.
"Children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages," said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. "Parents, journalists, and community activists who dare to speak out about lead are detained, harassed, and ultimately silenced."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon calls on Syria’s president to stop the bloodshed
BRASILIA, Brazil — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called on Syria’s president to stop the bloodshed in his country and engage in dialogue before it’s too late.
Since protests began in Syria in March against more than four decades of rule by President Bashar Assad’s family, about 1,400 civilians have been killed, according to human rights activists there. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon smiles during a meeting with Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, unseen, at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday June 16, 2011. Ban Ki-moon is on a two-day visit to Brazil.
Speaking to journalists in Brazil, his last stop in a South America tour that included Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay, Ban called on Syria’s president to 'stop killing people' and told reporters that he’d urged Assad to 'engage in inclusive dialogue and to take bold measures before it’s too late.'
Illegal spread of GM rice alarms Chinese officials
Genetically modified rice has been spreading illegally for years in China, officials have admitted, triggering a debate on a sensitive aspect of the food security plan in the world's most populous nation.
Two strains of GM rice were approved for open-field experiments but not commercial sale in 2009. In January, the agriculture ministry said "no genetically modified cereals are being grown in China" outside the test sites. But in April, an environment ministry official told the weekly Nanfang Zhoumo that a joint investigation by four government departments had found that "illegal GM seeds are present in several provinces because of weak management".
According to the website for the European Union's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, European countries found foodstuffs from China containing GM rice 115 times between 2006 and May this year. The campaign group Greenpeace says GM rice seeds have been in China since 2005, and were found at markets in Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces last year, Fang Lifeng, a Chinese agriculture specialist with the group, told AFP.
Treasure from the Trash: 'Urban Mining' Could Reduce Reliance on Metal Imports
The demand for special metals used in the manufacture of electronics is booming, but a few countries control much of the world's supply. Germany is looking to reduce its reliance on imports by exploiting the metal that is thrown away in trash. Urban mining could become big business. (Already active in India, though the dangers of scavenging are obvious - but industrial recovery lags behind)
Ethanol industry attacks Oxfam biofuel report
Only a few hours after Oxfam's campaign report was released, a major biofuels lobby group put out a statement critiquing Oxfam’s assessment that the boom in biofuels has pushed food prices higher across the world. The Global Renewable Fuels Alliance insists biofuels production is good for poor people, and cites a report by the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization to back up the claim.
Read the FAO report, however, and you’ll discover its conclusions are more circumspect: that the impact of biofuels production in poor countries on food prices and food security depends on what crop is used and how it is managed.
The FAO report goes on to warn: 'First generation bioenergy developments represent an additional source of demand for crop production which can lead to price increases, unless followed by adequate investment in agriculture and related infrastructure to support a supply response that would maintain stability in prices.'
That is the key problem which Oxfam cites in “Growing a Better Future”: The massive use of corn for ethanol by Canada and the United States – a third of the entire crop – diverts an awful lot of food from the market. Less corn is being exported, even though more corn is being produced.
Because the US and Canada together grow 40 percent of all the corn in the world, this diversion drives up the price for everyone.
Canada, the US and Europe now require a minimum ethanol or biodiesel content in transport fuels. This government mandate artificially creates a market incentive to continue turning food into fuel, no matter the impact on eating.
Violence Against Women Is A U.S. Problem, Too | Amnesty International
By Lisa Schechtman, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group
NOTE: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), seeks to improve the response to any incident of violence against women. Passed in 1994 and reauthorized twice since, VAWA brings together health, housing, criminal justice, and social services to prevent and respond to VAW and protect survivors. VAWA will soon be up for reauthorization again, which will give us the opportunity to advocate for legislation to address some of Ms. Manjoo’s recommendations.
In preparation for the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, recently released a report on her 2011 mission—conducted at the invitation of the U.S. Government—to the United States. This was the first visit of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women since 1998, and her findings suggest both progress and a call to action.
The report affirms that women in the United States experience violence. No surprise there, but it is a clear indication that violence against women (VAW) knows no national, political, ethnic, religious, or socio-economic boundaries; it happens here, it happens everywhere.
In 2008, approximately 500 women were raped every day in the U.S., according a National Crime Victimization Survey. Domestic violence was highlighted as “an extremely underreported crime.” When reported, it is rarely prosecuted and where investigated, has a low conviction rate. This is a global truism. In 2007, according to the report, 64% of female homicides in the U.S. were perpetrated by a family member or intimate partner. Again, global trends, localized.
Worldwide, one in three women experiences physical, sexual or emotional violence in her lifetime; one in five experiences rape or attempted rape. Yet, while every woman is at risk, some human rights violations make certain women more vulnerable. That holds true in the United States, too.
U.S., Russia, China faulted for ‘serious deficiencies’ in rule of law
WASHINGTON (AFP) – An annual survey of the rule of law around the world released Monday sees weak protections for fundamental rights in China, "serious deficiencies" in Russia, and problems with discrimination in the United States.
Sweden and Norway scored highest on the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, (VERY INTERESTING ANALYSIS BY COUNTRY) which ranks countries on such key areas as whether the government is held accountable, there is access to justice, rights are protected and crime and corruption is prevented.
"Achieving the rule of law is a constant challenge and a work in progress in all countries," said Hongsia Liu, the executive director of the project, which was funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He said the index was "not designed to shame or blame, but to provide useful reference points for countries in the same regions, with comparable legal cultures and similar income levels."
In the case of China, the report noted that the Asian giant had made "major improvements" in the quality, effectiveness and accountability of its legal institutions. It came in second after Brazil among the so-called BRIC group of emerging powers -- Brazil, Russia, India and China. But more progress was needed in the area of judicial independence, the report said. "Indicators of fundamental rights are also weak, including labor rights (ranking 61st out of 66), freedom of assembly (ranking 66th), and freedom of speech (ranking 66th)," it said.
On India, the report found strong free speech protections, an independent judiciary, and a relatively open government with functioning checks and balances. "However, the unsatisfactory performance of public administrative bodies keeps generating a negative impact on the rule of law," it said.
In Latin America, Venezuela was rated "the worst performer in the world in accountability and effective checks on the executive power. "Corruption appears to be widespread (ranking 54th), crime and violence are common (ranking 64th), government institutions are non-transparent, and the criminal justice system is ineffective and subject to political influence (ranking 66th). "The country also displays serious flaws in guaranteeing respect for fundamental rights, in particular, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to privacy," it said.
Western Europe was the top performing region of the world with most countries, except Italy, getting high marks in most categories. The United States also ranked high, with the report crediting its checks balances, good work in guaranteeing civil liberties, and its independent civil justice system. But it noted a gap between rich and poor in the access to justice, and a "general perception that ethnic minorities and foreigners receive unequal treatment from the police and the courts."
Qaddafi Accused of Systematic Rape, War Crimes by ICC, UN
The International Criminal Court not only has evidence that Libyan soldiers have been using rape as a way of punishing and humiliating rebel populations, it has credible evidence that the policy was ordered by Muammar Qadhafi himself, and that the soldiers were provided with viagra to make them better rapists. The state provision of such drugs for this purpose is unprecedented, though rape as a tool of war and repression is common.
A UN Human Rights commission headed by Cherif Bassiouni has found the Qadhafi regime guilty of war crimes. Fighting, mainly consisting of attacks by Qadhafi forces on dissident populations, may have killed 10,000 to 15,000. Qadhafi forces have used heavy weapons against civilian noncombatants, have made people disappear, have engaged in torture. The commission also found war crimes on a lesser scale among the rebel forces. The report recommends that Qaddafi be referred for prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
Roundup Birth Defects: Regulators Knew World's Best-Selling Herbicide Causes Problems, New Report
[PETITION: Millions against Monsanto]
WASHINGTON -- Industry regulators have known for years that Roundup, the world's best-selling herbicide produced by U.S. company Monsanto, causes birth defects, according to a new report released Tuesday.
The report, "Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?" found regulators knew as long ago as 1980 that glyphosate, the chemical on which Roundup is based, can cause birth defects in laboratory animals. But despite such warnings, and although the European Commission has known that glyphosate causes malformations since at least 2002, the information was not made public.
Instead regulators mislead the public about glyphosate's safety, according to the report, and as recently as last year, the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, the German government body dealing with the glyphosate review, told the European Commission that there was no evidence glyphosate causes birth defects.
The report comes months after researchers found that genetically-modified crops used in conjunction Roundup contain a pathogen that may cause animal miscarriages. After observing the newly discovered organism back in February, Don Huber, a emeritus professor at Purdue University, wrote an open letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting a moratorium on deregulating crops genetically altered to be immune to Roundup, which are commonly called Roundup Ready crops.
In the letter, Huber also commented on the herbicide itself, saying: "It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders." Although glyphosate was originally due to be reviewed in 2012, the Commission decided late last year not to bring the review forward, instead delaying it until 2015. The chemical will not be reviewed under more stringent, up-to-date standards until 2030.
"Our examination of the evidence leads us to the conclusion that the current approval of glyphosate and Roundup is deeply flawed and unreliable," wrote the report authors in their conclusion. "What is more, we have learned from experts familiar with pesticide assessments and approvals that the case of glyphosate is not unusual.
"They say that the approvals of numerous pesticides rest on data and risk assessments that are just as scientifically flawed, if not more so," the authors added. "This is all the more reason why the Commission must urgently review glyphosate and other pesticides according to the most rigorous and up-to-date standards."
Middle Eastern Oppression, Made in Canada
(suggest finding a little more out about them, and spreading the story more widely)
Governments fighting to stop the Arab Spring may be using Canadian software to censor the web.
Authoritarian governments in the Middle East have been using software developed in Canada to block access to websites they find politically objectionable, says the head of an organization that studies human rights in the internet era. Netsweeper Inc., a Canadian company that specializes in internet content filtering, is helping Middle Eastern governments limit access to information, according to Ron Diebert, director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs. The company’s website openly promotes software it says can block websites "based on social, religious or political ideals."
Helmi Noman at the Open Net Initiative reported last month that the microblogging site Tumblr was blocked in Yemen using Netsweeper software. In email correspondence with The Mark, Noman confirmed that the site continues to be blocked. Netsweeper won't comment on dealings with foreign governments but a company document describes dealings with ISPs in Qatar, Yemen, and UAE.
Contact your Governor regarding Rick Perry's
Declaring that 'some problems are beyond our power to solve,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is asking his 49 fellow governors to join him at an evangelical Christian prayer meeting in Houston to “call upon Jesus to guide us” and ask for “God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision.'
Please help stop such theocratic grandstanding by joining your fellow citizens in contacting your governor and demanding that he or she reject Perry’s invitation to this divisive and counterproductive August 6 event, “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation.” Ask your governor to stand up for all citizens regardless of religion or worldview and focus on finding substantive solutions to real-world problems, instead of taking part in an event that proclaims the only possible solution is Jesus Christ.
Perry’s prayer meeting does nothing to offer actual solutions to our country’s problems but rather urges other governors to take the same hands-off approach to governing and problem-solving. Perry states, “There is hope for America, and we will find it on our knees … [a]s a nation, we must come together, and call upon Jesus to guide us.” The Secular Coalition for America believes there is hope for America, but this hope is rooted in science, reason, and critical thinking. A government official should not be pushing any religion on his constituency or our elected leaders.
The Secular Coalition for America believes that calling on all Americans to embrace Perry’s personal belief system is an insult to the millions of secular Americans who contribute to society, as well as millions of upstanding citizens who practice religions other than evangelical Christianity. The statement of faith for the event, taken from the American Family Association, states, in part, “We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential” and that non-Christians “are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.”
Let your governor know that his or her participation in this prayer event would alienate millions of Americans who do not agree with Perry’s prayer-centered attempts to solve to real-world problems. We need to remind our elected officials that they represent all Americans, not simply those of one narrow religious viewpoint. You can contact your governor using our form letters at the link above. If you live in Texas, a second letter option will appear that you can send to Gov. Perry directly.
Bahraini Doctors & Nurses Charged with Trying to Topple the King's Monarchy
23 doctors and 24 nurses who treated pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain have been charged with "attempting to topple the king's monarchy" -- treason, in effect. Al Jazeera reports that they were formally charged today in a special military court, behind closed doors.
The 47 medical professionals were arrested in March when Bahrain declared martial law and undertook a harsh crackdown against protesters, who had been inspired to take to the streets after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Martial law was lifted last week but the government has told opposition activists that there will be "'consequences' in case of any further challenges to the government."
With the lifting of the state of emergency, a Formula One Prix race that was cancelled due to the unrest in March has been rescheduled for October. While some say that holding the race will help the country's economy and signals a return to normalcy, human rights activists counter that holding the race shows how little respect for human rights Formula One and its sponsors have. A petition asking Red Bull and other corporate sponsors of the Formula One race to boycott the event can be found on the advocacy website Avaaz. (listed previously)
In South Africa, Wal-Mart Refuses to Buy Local, Threatens WTO Action, and Wins
Two things seem particularly noteworthy about the approval Wal-Mart won yesterday to acquire Massmart, a Johannesburg-based chain that operates across 13 African countries.
One is that, despite the ample publicity Wal-Mart has engineered for its "buy local" efforts, the company in fact has zero interest in cultivating local suppliers beyond stocking a few token local veggies suitable for a nice photo-op. And two: even in countries where the law clearly states that the public interest must be protected in large mergers, global trade agreements give corporations the upper hand, or at least give government authorities an excuse to ignore their own laws.
In issuing its approval yesterday, South Africa's Competition Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body charged with protecting the public interest in large corporate mergers, imposed only minimal conditions on the deal, stating that stronger requirements to protect local suppliers and labor rights "could violate the country's trade obligations."
Wal-Mart first raised the specter the World Trade Organization (WTO) during its closing arguments before the tribunal, which had just heard a week of testimony from unions, government officials, economists and others who built a compelling case that the merger should be subject to strict conditions or rejected altogether.
The strength of the opposition seemed to surprise Wal-Mart, which has not made a significant acquisition since it bought the British supermarket chain Asda in 1998. South Africa's robust trade unions, led by the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers' Union (CCAWU), which represents Massmart employees, had begun organizing to block the merger last fall, issuing a list of demands shortly after the deal became public. The government departments of trade, agriculture and economic development also came out against the deal.
One of the pivotal issues concerned sourcing. Massmart currently buys 60 percent of its goods from South African manufacturers and farmers. Wal-Mart would supplant these networks of local production and trade with its own global supply chain, sending a flood of imported food and other goods into a country that already has 25 percent unemployment. A government-commissioned analysis concluded that every 1 percent shift from domestic to overseas suppliers by Massmart would cost the country 4,000 jobs.
Momentum began to build in favor of imposing a local procurement quota as a condition of the merger. But local sourcing is untenable to Wal-Mart. Although the company has orchestrated heaps of positive media by stocking a few items of local produce in its U.S. stores, what makes Wal-Mart Wal-Mart is its global supply chain. The company is not so much a retailer as a distributor. Its market power comes from its ability to acquire goods in one location and distribute them across the planet with a remarkable degree of precision and efficiency. If buying locally from South African producers became a condition of the merger, Wal-Mart would have to drop the deal.
Worried about losing Massmart and, with it, a launching pad for all of Africa, Wal-Mart in its closing arguments raised the threat of a WTO action if the Competition Tribunal pursued the sourcing condition. Although the question of global trade agreements had not surfaced in the debate before, it became a central theme of the media coverage during the tribunal's final two weeks of deliberation...
International expansion is critical for Wal-Mart, which has seen same-store sales in the U.S. decline for eight consecutive quarters. But while it has established a foothold in South America, Asia, Europe, and now Africa, Wal-Mart's global ambitions have often fallen short of expectations. It pulled out of Germany and South Korea after losing billions of dollars. Its growth in China has been relatively weak given the size of the country, and Asda has yet to challenge Tesco's dominance of the UK market.
South Africa's tough and politically influential trade unions promise anything but smooth sailing for Wal-Mart's entry into Africa. CCAWU says leaders will be meeting later this month to chart their next move, which could include disruptive protests, strikes and "the mother of all boycotts."
Get Shell Out of the Headwaters
* Target: Royal Dutch Shell * Sponsored by: ForestEthics
In a remote corner of British Columbia lies the Sacred Headwaters, the shared birthplace of three of North America's greatest wild salmon rivers and home to many threatened species, including grizzly bears, wild salmon and stone sheep.
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has their eye on the beautiful wilderness for coalbed methane drilling, an environmentally dangerous process that requires a maze of gas wells and pipelines and a huge amount of toxic wastewater. Coalbed methane drilling in Wyoming, Montana and Alberta has already proven to cause serious damage and the vulnerable wildlife of the Sacred Headwaters can't stand up to Shell by themselves.
We must protect our wild salmon, caribou, moose, and grizzlies from Shell's destructive coalbed methane drilling. Fill out a postcard to Shell telling them to stay out of the Sacred Headwaters. ForestEthics will deliver it for you!
Petition: No F1 in brutal Bahrain
Red Bull has built a reputation as a sporty, fun drink -- but by this Friday, it and other leading F1 teams may become better known for endorsing government torture and murder. Formula One has 24 hours to decide whether to hold its already-delayed race in Bahrain, site of one of the most brutal crackdowns in the Middle East.
If Red Bull refuses to race in Bahrain, other teams will pull back as well -- and the Formula One race could be taken off the schedule, sending shock waves through Bahrain's brutal government and sending an unmistakeable message that the world will not ignore state brutality. Sports boycotts have piled pressure on other regimes such as apartheid South Africa -- we can do it again.
Red Bull will only act if enough of us join together to make clear that its brand, its very reputation, is on the line. Let's raise a cry that Bahrain's government thugs can't silence, and call on Red Bull to pull out of the Formula One race slated for Bahrain. If 300,000 of us sign the petition, Avaaz will run hard-hitting adverts carrying our messages to Red Bull executives. Just one day remains -- sign now.