CHINA SENTENCES OLYMPIC DISSIDENT — Two events that occurred within hours of each other on March 24 highlighted a disconnect between the spirit of the Olympic Games and China’s human rights record. Shortly before dignitaries gathered to light the Olympic torch in Olympia, Greece, and launch the flame’s around-the-world journey to Beijing, a Chinese court sentenced human rights campaigner Yang Chunlin to five years in prison. Yang was convicted of subverting state authority. The unemployed factory worker’s crime was to have circulated a petition in 2007 protesting government land seizures that included the statement: “We want human rights, not the […]

The African Union launched an invasion of a separatist-controlled island off the coast of Mozambique last week in part, to bolster the multilateral organization’s image abroad. Around 1,300 AU troops joined 400 Comorian government troops to oust Col. Mohamed Bacar from Anjouan, one of the three islands that make up the Union of the Comoros. In a one-day fight, the AU-Comorian troops gained full control of the island, and Bacar fled to French-controlled Mayotte, the other island on the Comorian archipelago. The only problem for the AU was that hardly anyone noticed the successful mission. In the United States, there […]

Common sense suggests that when a house is burning down, the owners do not charge the firefighters an exorbitant fee to enter. Nor do the owners bar the relief brigade from entry and accuse them of spying for the neighbors down the street. When occupants inside the house start dousing the flames on their own, they are not viewed as betrayers and traitors. Yet that scenario more or less captures the reprehensible attitude of the Zimbabwe government toward the media in advance of today’s (March 29) presidential and legislative elections. The Information Ministry has charged reporters at least $1,700 to […]

PARIS — U.N. refugee camps in Chad’s eastern province now provide shelter to more than 200,000 Darfur refugees and close to the same number of Chadians displaced by their country’s civil war. But in the absence of any governmental control over the area, both the refugees and relief workers have been increasingly targeted by border-crossing insurgents, militias, and organized bandits that use the region as safe harbor, exacerbating an already desperate humanitarian crisis. The European Union peacekeeping force currently deploying just inside Chad’s border with Darfur was mandated last September by the United Nations to fill the security vacuum that […]

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — On rare occasions, the wasteland that is North American television surprises. During a recent dreary, winter morning, an arts channel broadcast a Senegalese movie that depicted life in the lesser corners of Dakar. A female vendor took her abused friend and daughter into her care, and then she fell in love with a corrupt but amiable policeman. Not much happened, and, if it did, this writer missed it because of a scheduled flight out of town. Nevertheless, the Senegalese movie provided an antidote to the conventional portrayal of Africa in a spate of popular Western movies. […]

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Although it has received scant coverage in the international press, the year-old rebellion in the northern half of Niger has exacted a tremendous cost in the West African nation in both human and economic terms. For starters, at least 50 government soldiers have been killed by the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), the Tuareg-led group spearheading the rebellion. The MNJ also has captured more than 50 soldiers and, in January, they grabbed a regional governor during a daring raid on a northern town. The rebels have also been blamed for laying land mines throughout the northern […]

KAMPALA, Uganda — Earlier this month, 1,000 people from around the world gathered at a World Health Organization-sponsored forum here to discuss what’s increasingly being seen as a global crisis: the acute shortage of health care workers. The WHO estimates that more than four million health care workers are needed in the 57 countries it defines as grossly understaffed (fewer than 2.3 doctors, nurses and midwives per 100,000 people). Thirty-six of the 57 worst-hit countries are in Africa (Malawi has around 265 doctors for 12 million people; Zambia has about 650 for the same population). But when it comes to […]

After two months of post-election turmoil, which claimed up to 1,500 lives and displaced more than half a million people, Kenya is slowly recovering from civil strife. A power-sharing deal between erstwhile rivals President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga seems to have pulled the east African country from the brink of a civil war. The United States and other donors are sinking millions of dollars into the implementation of the deal, which will make Odinga an executive prime minister and give him two deputies. But the heart-on-the-sleeve moments that greeted the deal — especially from Odinga’s side — […]

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OBSERVERS QUIT SRI LANKA MISSION — A group of 11 international observers assigned to oversee a Sri Lanka presidential inquiry into 16 human rights cases resigned en masse March 6, citing undue government interference in the process, on the same day Human Rights Watch released a scathing report branding Sri Lanka as the disappearance capital of the world. “The proceeding of inquiry and investigations have fallen far short of the transparency and compliance with basic international norms and standards pertaining to investigations and inquiries,” the panel said in a statement released to the press. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa invited […]

Late last month, the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) told the Financial Times that the U.N. agency would soon be forced to consider “cutting [its] food rations or even the number of people reached.” This comes as soaring inflation in staple food items such as wheat, corn, rice, and soybeans has produced hunger riots in developing countries and left governments grasping at straws for a solution. Over the past eight years, the price of food worldwide has increased 75 percent; the price of wheat has gone up a dramatic 200 percent. Struggling to keep up with inflation, […]

GROUP SLAMS SCANDALOUS NIGERIA JUSTICE SYSTEM — The state of Nigeria’s criminal justice system represents a complete failure of the Nigerian government to address the needs of its people and is a national disgrace, Amnesty International said in a report released Feb. 26. Amnesty investigations found that only 35 percent of those serving time in Nigerian prisons are there as a result of any semblance of due process. Mentally ill patients handed over to police by family members unable to care for them, accused individuals who have not formally been charged and relatives arrested in place of suspects police were […]