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Small Journal V 4.4

News from around the World

3.6 Million Haitians Face Food Insecurity

HRW Wants Egypt to Condemn Minister’s ‘Hate Speech’

A human rights group wants Egypt’s president to condemn comments by his justice minister that appeared to advocate the mass killing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

In a letter Monday to President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Human Rights Watch said the president should make clear that his government does not endorse Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind’s remarks that he would not be satisfied until 10,000 Brotherhood members were killed for every slain member of the armed forces.

Al-Zind made the remarks on January 28 on satellite channel Sada al-Balad.The rights group said the interview was “widely shared” on social media.

HRW said “President el-Sissi should clarify that his government will ensure the prosecution of anyone who commits, orders, or assists in murder or other crimes against Brotherhood supporters or any other group because of their political or ideological affiliation.”

The rights group said the government “should forcefully dissuade others from engaging in hate speech.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North African director, said “That a high government official charged with overseeing the rule of law would go on TV and appear to encourage the slaughter of political opponents shows how some members of the Egyptian government have abandoned any pretense of justice.”

HRW said no Egyptian official has “clarified or contradicted” al-Zind’s comments.

In 2013, then-army chief el-Sissi overthrew Egypt’s first freely-elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, and promised a “roadmap to democracy.”

He then launched a fierce crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of Morsi supporters as well as activists at the forefront of the 2011 revolt that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Female Genital Mutilation More Widespread Than Thought

Millions more girls and women worldwide are victims of female genital mutilation than previously thought, according to UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency.

A report released Thursday says at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone ritual cutting, half of them living in just three countries — Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

The latest figures include nearly 70 million more girls and women than estimated in 2014, because of a raft of new data collected in Indonesia, where the practice has been banned since 2006.

Somalia has the highest prevalence of women and girls who have been cut — 98 percent of the female population between the ages of 15 and 49. Guinea, Djibouti and Sierra Leone also have very high rates.

Some 44 million victims of female genital mutilation around the world are aged 14 or younger, and the majority of girls who have had their genitals mutilated were cut before they were 5 years old, UNICEF’s research found.

“In Yemen, 85 percent of girls experienced the practice within their first week of life,” the report said.

Hard to track

UNICEF says exact numbers are hard to come by, because few of the 30 countries where it is practiced keep reliable data on the procedure, relying primarily on household surveys.

The practice also exists in countries not in the study, such as India, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as in pockets of Australia, North America and Europe, where immigrants from countries with a large number of female circumcisions live.

The good news from the report is that, overall, prevalence rates have fallen in the last three decades, but progress has been uneven. Countries that have seen sharp declines include Liberia, Burkina Faso and Kenya.

The U.N. General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in December 2012 calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation, a centuries-old practice stemming from the belief that circumcising girls controls women’s sexuality and enhances fertility. One of the targets in the new U.N. goals adopted last September calls for the practice to be eliminated by 2030.

Rights Groups Decry Decrepit Conditions in Cameroon Prisons

YOKO, CAMEROON—Human rights groups are calling on Cameroon to improve the conditions at its poor and chronically overcrowded prisons. Rights advocates say inadequate sanitation, food, water, as well as torture are rife in the prisons.

Penda Emmanuel, 26, jailed in Cameroon’s Yoko prison for four years, says he was handed a seven-year sentence for aggravated theft and attempted murder. Emmanuel said he was detained in a Yaounde prison for two years before being transferred to Yoko.

“No, it is not good because in Yoko, first of all, there is no food. People are living, but with hunting [a select group are prisoners who are at the end of their sentences go hunting with prison guards for food, then share with fellow prison mates], all those type of things,” he said. “That means if you are in the prison of Yoko you will suffer too much.”

Pem Clement, who has also been serving a life sentence for murder, says lack of food and drinkable water, torture, and inhumane treatment provoked a prison break less than 10 years ago, when he was brought to Yoko prison.

Clement says the government called for troops from the capital, Yaounde, before a reign of terror and massacres was reduced. He says people were asked not to go out after 6:00 pm and helicopters flew above to shoot at prisoners who were hiding in the bushes and had been raping women.  Many of them were killed he says, adding that he does not know how many could have escaped. 

Beyond maximum capacity 

Cameroon’s 78 prisons are built for a maximum capacity of 16,000 inmates. They now host 30,000 people with a majority of them still awaiting trial. Some of the prisons, like the Kondengui prison in Yaounde, were constructed to hold only 500 inmates. Today it holds more than 2,000 inmates.

Che Mutta Divine, chairperson of Cameroon’s National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, says her group is calling on the government to respect the rights of the prisoners by meeting their basic needs and giving them access to a fair trial.

“You can not be denying what is commonly known and where evidence is available,” she said. “Rather, accept that violations are going [on], find the root causes and see how you can eradicate [them] to see that that is not happening again.”

Yoko prison registrar Mepui David says there have been efforts to improve conditions at the facility. He says the prison population has fallen from 3,000 inmates two years ago to less than 100 today.

According to David the government has done a lot to improve living conditions in his prison, but they still face an acute water shortage.

He refutes allegations that his prison has swelled from the arrest and detention of suspected Boko Haram terrorists who have been attacking northern Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad in an effort to create an Islamist state.

Amnesty International reported in September 2015 that prisons in Cameroon were receiving a large number of Boko Haram suspects.

It said the Maroua prison near Cameroon’s border with Nigeria, which was constructed to hold less than 500 inmates, was nearly half filled with Boko Haram suspects.  The report also found that 1,300 prisoners were housed without proper hygiene and health care.

Cameroon has denied the accusations.

US Adds to List of Those Penalized Under Human Rights Act

STATE DEPARTMENT—The United States has moved to impose sanctions on five more individuals for alleged human rights violations, a move that raises the total number of people penalized under the U.S. Magnitsky Act to 39.

The sanctions law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after uncovering a large tax fraud scheme that was being carried out by Russian officials. His supporters said he was beaten and denied medical treatment while in prison.

In a background briefing, a senior State Department official said four of the individuals named Monday were Russian officials who were directly implicated in Magnitsky’s death.

The official said the fifth person was head of a “notorious” Chechen prison and was responsible for “cruel” and “degrading” treatment of a Chechen human rights activist who was detained at the site.

The official said efforts to identify and penalize those responsible for abuses under the Magnitsky Act were part of overall U.S. policy.

“It reflects our support for human rights and our sense that those responsible for human rights abuses should be held to account,” the official said.

The official added there were no indications that the five individuals named hold assets in the United States.

Congress passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act in 2012. The measure allows the designation of individuals linked to criminal conspiracy uncovered by Magnitsky and also those linked to his abuse and death while in detention.

The measure also allows the U.S. to impose penalties on individuals responsible for gross human rights violations, such as torture or extrajudicial killings, against individuals who were trying to expose illegal activity by Russian officials.

Asked whether the U.S. imposition of sanctions on Russian officials could hamper cooperation in other areas, the senior State Department official said, “U.S.-Russia relations are complicated.”

The official added that Washington had “every intention” of working with Moscow “on areas of common concern.”

Obama Meets with Republican Congressional Leaders

Barack Obama, the Democratic U.S. president now in his last year in office, is meeting Tuesday with the top Republican congressional leaders to see if they can reach accord on 2016 legislative goals.

Even with the two political parties already focused on the presidential election campaign to pick his successor, Obama is talking with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan at the White House. After the three meet, Obama is hosting Ryan for a private lunch, the president’s first face-to-face meeting with Ryan since the Wisconsin congressman assumed leadership of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives three months ago.

The White House said Obama was hoping to build on an agreement at the end of last year on a bipartisan federal budget. The fractious parties both yielded on some of their spending priorities, averting the possibility of a government shutdown as the Christmas and New Year’s holidays neared.

 

At odds with Republicans

Obama has frequently been at odds with opposition Republican lawmakers in Congress during the first seven years of his White House tenure, often calling for more spending on domestic programs while Republicans sought to scale back social welfare programs and boost defense and national security funding.

Within hours of Ryan’s White House visit, House Republicans will attempt to override Obama’s veto of legislation they passed to overturn his national health care reforms. But with solid Democratic support for the health care law, Republicans in both the House and Senate lack the two-thirds majorities they would need to override the veto.

Obama is seeking congressional approval of his proposed Pacific Rim free-trade deal with 11 other nations, a pact that more Republicans favor than Democrats. But it is unclear when Congress might vote on it, possibly not till after next November’s presidential election, just weeks before he leaves office in January 2017.

Obama and the Republican leaders could agree to move ahead on criminal justice reforms that would ease strict sentencing requirements for some nonviolent offenders.

Debt burden

The White House said the president would also seek to reach accord on the need for dealing with the massive debts the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has incurred and burgeoning opioid addiction in the U.S.

The Republican leaders are likely to call for further sanctions against North Korea in the wake of its latest nuclear test. Other topics could include energy legislation, Vice President Joe Biden’s effort to energize research to cure cancer and Obama’s so-far unsuccessful effort to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that houses suspected terrorists.

Immigrant Voters Growing in Numbers in Iowa

DES MOINES, IOWA—It is a routine each Friday at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Des Moines.

The call to prayer draws hundreds from throughout the city, and the congregation that gathers to worship represents a melting pot of cultures and nationalities.

“It looks like a little United Nations,” says Mohamad Khan, president of the Muslim Community Organization, which oversees the mosque.

Khan came to Des Moines in the 1970s, and the large gathering he’s a part of today is very different from the group he prayed with when he first arrived in the United States.

“Our community is more diversified now,” he says.

Growing community

And it is growing. The American Immigration Council reports U.S. Census figures show Iowa’s foreign-born population rose from 1.6 percent of the total population in 1990 to 4.8 percent in 2013.

It is estimated that immigrants make up as much as 6 percent of Iowa’s population today.

“About 95 percent are probably immigrants here,” says Khan, referencing the congregation of the Masjid Al Noor. “They’re either refugees or just immigrants in some capacity.”

Khan says about three-quarters of those at his mosque, one of six in the larger Des Moines area, are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote.

As the presidential candidates travel the state of Iowa in a last-minute effort to win the support of undecided voters ahead of Monday evening’s caucuses, their campaigns are also aware of the small but growing population of immigrant voters.

Challenge to vote

But Khan says getting them to the polls can be a challenge.

“It’s very difficult to get people to register or to even to vote,” he says, “because many people come from war-torn countries where a lot of times they suffer consequences for supporting one candidate or the other, so they are very scared.”

 

“Maybe in other countries it’s completely different than the way we do it in the United States,” says Mayra De Catalan. She came to the U.S. from El Salvador as an undocumented immigrant in 1992.

De Catalan finally got her U.S. citizenship eight years ago, and Iowa’s caucuses will be her first, thanks to opportunities she’s had to learn about participating in the process.

“There’s been, that I’ve heard of, at least five events to let the Latino community know how to vote, and how to caucus. It’s amazing,” she says. But in order to prepare herself, De Catalan says she also turned to the Internet.

“I took the initiative to look and read on how to caucus as well. I’m definitely more excited about it this time around than the last time around,” she said.

‘Get out … and caucus’

“We’re 6 percent of the population, but we’re over 20 percent of school age kids, age K (kindergarten) through 12. We’re growing rapidly in Iowa,” says Joe Enriquez Henry with the League of United Latin American Citizens. The Latino community represents the largest share of Iowa’s immigrant population.

“Our Latino community needs to get out on Monday at 7 p.m., sit down for two hours, and caucus,” Henry says.

He leads the effort to encourage that — a door-to-door campaign for his organization. Volunteers pass out literature and provide information to potential voters, such as making sure they know where to caucus.

 

“There are 1.9 million registered voters, but only 200,000 participate in the caucuses,” Henry says. “We have 50,000 registered voters within the Latino community. We want to have 10,000-20,000 of our voters to participate. We can play a part with that percentage, with that amount of voters.”

And though the overall immigrant population of Iowa is small, at the Masjid Al Noor mosque Khan is keenly aware they can still make a difference.

“People should not take minorities for granted, because you could lose by one vote,” he says.

A vote that could be precious to a candidate locked in a tight race.

 

Britain Approves License for Gene Modification

Britain’s fertility regulator has granted its first license for the genetic modification of human embryos for research into the causes of infertility and miscarriages.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority said Monday, “Our license committee has approved an application from Dr. Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute to renew her laboratory’s research license to include gene editing of embryos.” 

The embryos will not become children. 

Some researchers welcomed the news. University of Edinburgh professor of animal biotechnology Bruce Whitelaw told the Science Media Center the research should “assist infertile couples and reduce the anguish of miscarriage.” 

But critics say the research likely raises too many ethical questions and could eventually result in genetically modified human babies. 

Chinese researchers experimented with modifying genes in human embryos last year, but their experiment failed.

10,000 Migrant Children Missing in Europe

Europe’s police agency says more than 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children have disappeared in the past two years.

Europol chief of staff Brian Donald told Britain’s Observer newspaper that organized crime rings and sex traffickers may be involved.

“We just do not know where they are, what they are doing or whom they are with,” he said Saturday.

Many missing after registering

Even before last year’s surge in migrants to Europe, several European agencies documented that up to half of unaccompanied children seeking asylum on the continent went missing after registering with state authorities.

IOM and UNICEF data for 2014 indicates more than 23,000 asylum applicants in Europe were unaccompanied minors or children separated from their families.

But in the first 10 months of 2015, Sweden alone received applications from over 23,000 unaccompanied and separated children. Asylum statistics, however, do not account for all migrant children.

Missing Children Europe (the European Federation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children) notes that while some children flee reception centers with a planned destination, others become victims of organized crime gangs.

A 2009 report by the Swiss organization Terre des Hommes documented unaccompanied migrant minors in Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland indicated that some children left juvenile facilities within 48 hours of arriving.

In a series of recommendations, the group urged greater multinational coordination in Europe to monitor disappearances, as well as prosecute those responsible for exploiting minors.

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