Iraqi Refugees Turn to Desperate Means

    The UN estimates that 1.2 million Iraqi refugees have entered Syria since the beginning of the Iraq war.  However, the Syrian government’s numbers put the number of refugees to be higher.  As violence increased in Iraq in the recent months, there has also been an increase in unaccompanied women refugees and women-headed households entering Syria.  These women, many supporting families, are living in a country where the cost of living and unemployment rates are both increasing.  Many of these women find that their only marketable asset is their bodies.  They face a difficult choice – engage in prostitution or be forced to return to Iraq.   

     Prostitution is a forbidden topic by the Syrian government.  However, in recent months the government has been acknowledging this growing problem.  The Syrian government is sympathetic to these women and is careful not to deport them.  However, little else is being done to help these women or to offer alternatives to prostitution.

For more information please see:
NY Times:  “Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria”  29 May 2007.

No Changes in Somalia

By Myriam Clerge

Impunity Watch, Africa

“Once again Somalia has failed to emerge from the upheaval[s].” This thought sums up the present circumstances in Somalia. The country is still unable to feed its people and there continues to be war. The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has not reached this stage since clan warfare nearly 16 years ago. This time the war is between allies of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and Ethiopian forces- in support of the Transitional Federal Government.

Roughly 430,000 to 350,000 have fled from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, since the fighting began. According to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, one million Somalis are in need of aid and protection and 71 % of the population is malnourish.

To make matters worse, pirates have hindered the transport of food and aid to displaced Somalis. Earlier in the month, a ship carrying tons of UN relief refused to leave the port of Kenya because of piracy. On Tuesday, pirates released a vessel and its crew after the cargo owners agreed to pay the $100,000 ransom. The United Nations has appealed for international support to secure the waters off Somalia.

Besides humanitarian aid the United States objective is to prevent Somalia from becoming a safe haven to terrorist. Somalia has been without an affective government for 16 years. Although the Ethiopian forces overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts, the US is fearful extremist of the Islamic Court may harbour members of al-Qeada.

Ethiopia has vowed to retain troops in Somalia until African Union forces are at an effective level. Five Somali civilians died and three were injured yesterday after an attack on a convoy forced Ethiopian soldiers to open fire. As Islamists increasingly adopt guerrilla tactics, the likelihood the fighting will end soon seems daunting.

For more information please see:

BBC – Five Die in Somalia Convoy Attack – 30 May 2007

Yahoo – Somali Pirates Release Ship, Crew – 30 May 2007

BBC – Somalia – ‘A Depressing Prospect’ – 14 May 2007

BBC – Country profile: Somalia – 6 March 2007

Emergency Contraception Debated in South America

In Ushuaia, Argentina a judge recently restricted access of poor women and adolescents to emergency contraceptive pills. The ruling suspended the free distribution of these pills through the public health sector. Opponents of the ruling argue it was made on scientific ignorance and will greatly affect the well being of poor women in Argentina.

The debate centers on the question of whether or not the emergency contraceptive pills induce abortion. Those supporting the ruling argue that the pill does induce abortion and therefore violates the constitution’s right to protect life from the moment of conception. However, opponents of the ruling, and the scientific community, argue that the pill does not induce abortion but rather it delays and inhibits ovulation and does not violate the constitution. Many other South American countries with strict abortion laws, such as Brazil, still allow the distribution of the pill to the public. Opponents continue that the restriction of emergency conception discriminates against poor women and adolescents because it discourages them from seeking medical care thus increasing the risk of pregnancy.

The poor and young women, as well as rape survivors, are vulnerable as many might seek illegal abortions as an alternative to the pill. Abortions are illegal in every case in Argentina and they are the leading cause of maternal mortality in Argentina. About 500,000 abortions occur annually throughout the country. Legislatures have consistently stated their opposition to modern birth control methods such as the emergency contraceptive pill and this position was reinforced with the recent ruling in Ushuaia.

In addition to Argentina, Chile has seen similar debates with regards to the distribution of emergency contraceptive pills.  Chile’s medical protocols, under the Ministry of Health guidelines, currently allow health services to provide emergency contraceptive pills. However, some members of the parliament are attempting to change this by asking the Constitutional Court to issue an injunction against these guidelines. They argue that the pills induce abortion and that access to the pill interferes with the rights of parents to educate their own children. Others argue that the injunction should be deny because it would result in the pills not being available to anyone, not matter what her age or circumstances are.

Access to these pills is vital for the poor, rape survivors and adolescents because 90% of women in Chile rely on public health for pregnancy prevention. Without such prevention available to them through public health programs, many women have unwanted pregnancies or seek other illegal and unsafe prevention measures. In Chile, 15% of births are to girls between 10 and 19 years of age. Other countries, such as France and Great Britain, have lowered their pregnancy rates because adolescents have access to healthcare services and information.

For more information, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_Argentina

http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/16/chile15949.htm

http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/24/argent15999.htm

http://hrw.org/women/abortion/argentina.html

Yemen Closes Two Rivals of the State News Network

        Yemen has closed two independent news networks. The networks www.al-shoura.net and www.aleshteraki.net were shut down because they did not follow government regulations. They were shut down without a court ruling, and are the latest in the government’s growing restrictions on the information about the conflict. Previously, it has silenced television and radio stations, as well as NGOs.  Yemen Journalist Syndicate Secretary-General Marwan Dammaj said, “The Ministry of Information has issued instructions to journalists and editors not to cover the war in Sa’ada in a way that runs counter to the official media’s reporting.”

        The war between the Shiite rebels and the Yemen government has destroyed the Sa’ada region. It has displaced nearly 35,000 people from their homes casting them out to desperate situations. In May 2005, the Yemen government estimated that the conflict caused 552 deaths, almost 3,000 injuries and nearly $270 million dollars of economic damage. The rebel movement began in 2004, by Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi, Yemen’s head of the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam. His followers are called the “Shabab al-Mu’minoon,” which translated means Believing Youth. The rebels disagree with the government’s close alliance with America and Israel. Although its vision is unclear, it is clear that the Believing Youth do want to overthrow the government and replace it with the Zaidi imamate, who was ousted in 1962. According to estimates, the Believing Youth have enrolled over 3,000 fighters into their cause.

        The two stations reported the fighting and the human tragedy in the area, and contradicting the state sponsored news sites. This action raises concerns, especially since the government just launched an attack of 30,000 soldiers to defeat the “terrorists.” If the government exclusively controls the information of the media then it is likely that the true conditions of the residents of suffering in Sa’ada may not be known.

Middle East Online. Yemen censors two opposition news websites. 28 May 2007.

Reuters Online. Yemen President says he will consider rebels demands. 22 May 2007.

World Press. Yemen: Fighting in North Hampers Humanitarian Work. 6 May 2007.

UN Imposes Sanctions on Sudan

By Impunity Watch Africa

President George Bush announced yesterday the imposition of new economic sanctions against Sudan targeting government-run companies involved in the oil industry and three individuals, including a rebel leader suspected of being involved in the Darfur conflict.   In announcing the new measures, Bush stated that the US would no longer turn its eyes from the crisis called its “rightful name” by his administration: genocide.  The United Nations has estimated that 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million made homeless since the conflict broke out four years ago.  Sudan has disputed these estimates, and claim that only 9,000 people have died.

Sudan’s government immediately criticized the action, calling it “unfair and untimely” and based solely on politics.  One official stated that Sudan was counting on its “friends” such as China, which takes sixty percent of its oil exports, to avert the economic hurt caused in the long run by the sanctions.   Sudanese officials further stated that US sanctions will have little effect due the fact that they have no direct trade ties with the US.

While many humanitarian organizations welcomed the new sanctions, they also cautioned that it might be too little, too late.  Save Darfur Coalition director David Rubenstein cautioned President Bush to “set a short and firm deadline for fundamental changes in Sudanese behavior, and prepare now to implement immediately further measures should Khartoum continue to stonewall.”  Amnesty International stated that without the support of the international community, unilateral sanctions against Sudan would do little.

Britain quickly stated that it is behind the US actions, fully supporting the sanctions and the US efforts to address the situation in the Security Council of the UN.  A UN resolution would apply new international sanctions against the government, would seek to impose an expanded embargo on arms sales to Sudan, prohibit Sudan’s government from conducting offensive military flights over Darfur, and strengthen the US ability to monitory and report any violations.  A resolution from the Security Council may take some time however, due to the longstanding opposition from China. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated yesterday that he needed more time to promote negotiations and to persuade the Sudanese government to accept more peacekeepers.

For more information, please see:

allAfrica – Sudan: US Sanctions welcome but too late – 30 May 2007

BBC – US Sanctions ‘won’t help Darfur’ – 30 May 2007

Reuters – Amensty doubts Sudan sanctions, urges Arab pressure – 30 May 2007

MSNBC – Bush imposes new sanctions on Sudan – May 2007

Yahoo – Sudan: US sanctions to have little fiscal impact – May 2007

Yahoo – Sudan shrugs off US ‘genocide’ sanctions as political – May 2007

Yahoo – Britain backs US on Darfur sanctions – May 2007