LIMA, Peru—At least 5000 people protested in the capital on Monday against a new Peruvian labor law, which discriminates against young people. Protests were held outside of the home of President Ollanta Humala, in downtown Plaza San Martin, and in front of Confiep, which is Peru’s biggest business organization. The peaceful protest has been the third protest against the legislation. The first protest earlier this month became violent as police armed with riot gear and water tanks used tear gas and beat protesters to disperse crowds. Some protesters fought back by throwing sticks and stones, and small Molotov cocktails.
The Youth Employment Law, which has been dubbed “Ley Pulpin” is supported by President Humala and passed by Congress. The law allows for employers to cut employment benefits, such as social security, life insurance, bonuses, and holiday benefits for young employees between the ages of 18 and 24.
The Peruvian government maintains that the new law will not only help reduce youth unemployment, which is four times higher for those aged between 18 and 24 than those between the ages of 30 and 65, but it will also help the poor. Lawmakers believe that because it will be cheaper to employ young people, employers will be more drawn to the idea of hiring new graduates and younger workers. Further, the benefits initially reduced will be incorporated if the employee continues to work for the employer after he or she turns 25.
However, the law has been met with opposition from student groups and labor unions. “We cannot allow the government, through their inaction and the few measures they have taken to reactivate our economy, to claim it has an effect on us young people with this package [law], with these abusive measures that violate the labor rights of the young,” declared Leonardo Rojas, one of the many protesters. Another protester, Marco Agurre said, “Unfortunately the fundamental rights of young people are being assaulted, many young people, this law is affecting all the young people in the country.” Picket signs were used, such as the one protester Cesar Ames used which read, “We are not just university students but also the people, citizens, and hundreds of members of the unions to annul this law and to open it up for debate and a general plan about what the labor law is.”
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has also criticized the new law. The ILO argues that the informal labor sector will not disappear, which is what the Peruvian government has claimed to justify the law.
By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
RAMALLAH, Palestine – The United Nations Security Council has rejected a draft resolution on the Palestine issue which failed to receive the necessary nine votes. The resolution would have called for a peace deal with Israel within a year and an end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories by late 2017. The Security Council will convened at 5:00PM on Tuesday to discuss the Palestinian proposal calling for peace. Twenty-two Arab ambassadors to the United Nations met on Tuesday and decided to move forward and put the resolution to a vote before the Security Council. A United Nations spokesperson confirmed that the Security Council would convene today to discuss the Palestinian statehood bid. A senior Israeli diplomat said the likelihood of a vote was expected to take place either later tonight or Wednesday at noon. The Israeli diplomat said it expected the United States to veto the bid if it were to pass. Palestinian officials have warned that if the bid to win support for a United Nations resolution failed they are prepared to join the International Criminal Court to file suits against Israel.
The Palestinian resolution called for occupied East Jerusalem to be the capital of the new state of Palestine, an end to Israeli settlement building and settling the issue of Palestinian prisoner releases. Palestinian officials also said the draft resolution calls for negotiations to be based on pre-1967 territorial lines, meaning the borders that existed before Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967. “We’ve been deliberating this issue for almost three and a half months. It is not a lack of flexibility, because we took some of the French ideas in our revised text,” Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador said.
“The Security Council has once again failed to uphold its charter duties to address this crises and to meaningfully contribute to a lasting solution in accordance with its own resolutions,” Mansour said when the resolution failed. “This year, our people under Israeli occupation endured the further theft and colonization of their land, the demolition of their homes, daily military raids, arrests and detention of thousands of civilians including children, rampant settler terrorism, constant affronts to their human dignity and repeated incursions at our holiest sites,” he added.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally in the international community, had reiterated its opposition to the draft resolution. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said the resolution undermined efforts to “achieve two states for two people.” She said “It is deeply imbalanced and contains many elements that are not conducive to negotiations between the parties including unconstructive deadlines that take no account for Israelis legitimate security concerns.”
The resolution received eight “yes” votes, two “no” votes from the United States and Australia, and five abstentions, from the UK, Lithuania, Nigeria, South Korea and Rwanda. Senior Palestinian Authority officials said Tuesday evening that Jordan will request a vote on the Palestinian draft at the end of the Security Council meeting. The Palestinians believe there is majority support for the vote. The Palestinian Authority expects the resolution to receive “yes” votes from Russia, China, France, Argentina, Argentina, Jordan, Chad, South Africa, Chile, and Luxembourg. The United States and Australia are expected to oppose the vote. The U.K., Rwanda, Lithuania and Nigeria are considered to be on the fence on this issue, or may be likely to abstain.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that he believed France and Luxemburg will vote in support of the resolution, which will give the Palestinians the nine votes they need. “I’m sure that the countries that for some reason decided to support the Palestinian move will reach the conclusion that they made a grave mistake.” He said “I hope the Palestinians don’t get the nine votes in the end,” Lieberman said, “but expect that the Americans will” Lieberman said that the Palestinian bid was a political move initiated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to further his own internal Palestinian political agenda. “The move will not achieve a thing but destroy any chance of reaching an agreement,” he said. “Abbas is doing it as part of his struggle with the Hamas and Dahlan and the rest of his opponents and not for obtaining a Palestinian state. It is all for his political survival.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to speak about the results of the vote and outline future steps of the Palestinian Authority, during a rally at the Palestinian Authority headquarters commemorating the anniversary of Fatah Party’s founding.
In an attempt to stop the passage of the resolution Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a number of the leaders of Security Council member states and asked them not to support the resolution. Netanyahu referred to the Palestinian resolution during a meeting on Monday with the Indiana Governor Mike Pence during the governor’s visit to Israel. “We expect the entire international community, at least its responsible members, to strongly oppose this dictate to the UN and the Security Council. What we need is direct negotiations and not dictated terms,” Netanyahu said.
The first coalition aircraft to be shot down by ISIS since the start of the U.S lead airstrikes on ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria occurred last week. A Jordanian military jet went down over Raqqa Province in Syria. There is some dispute over the circumstances of the Jet’s crash. ISIS claims that they are responsible for shooting the plane down. The U.S military, claims simply that the plane crashed and it was not due to ISIS anti-aircraft fire.
ISIS took the Jordanian pilot, Moath al-Kassassbeh hostage after his plane went down. Both Jordan and the U.S have made statements that they are committed to getting the pilot back safely. Since the capture ISIS has published a purported interview of Kassassbeh where he made statements about the circumstances of his crash. He stated that a heat-seeking missile hit his F-16 jet and caused him to go down. Since the interview ISIS has established a hash tag on twitter asking for suggestions on how to execute Kassassbeh, the hash tag has been re-tweeted over 1,00 times. During the interview Kassassbeh was asked what he thought ISIS would do with him and he responded, “they will kill me”.
ISIS is known for coercing captives into participating in their propaganda, so far is unclear whether Kassassbeh made the statements at all and if so whether he was forced to. Kassassbeh comes from a very prominent Jordanian family and his uncle is a former Major General in the Jordanian Army. Kassassbeh’s father has been pleading with ISIS publicly to hand his son back over to coalition authorities. The family has been appealing to ISIS by talking about Kassassbeh’s religious zeal, that he is a good Muslim and that he always flew with a copy of the Quran.
The shock of Kassassbeh’s capture has caused many in Jordan to call for an immediate withdrawal from the coalition against ISIS. Lawmakers and some in parliament are calling for the withdrawal. Jordanian authorities, on the other hand have issued statements that the incident has given nothing but resolve for the cause of fighting ISIS and Islamist extremism. Jordan is a key Arab ally in the U.S coalition, other members include Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE. Jordan has a high security risk, with the ISIS threat present in neighboring Syria.
By Mridula Tirumalasetti Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BOGOTA, Colombia — Head of the Southern Bloc of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and member of the rebel group’s Secretariat, Joaquin Gomez, arrived in Havana this past Sunday to participate in the peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. The presence of Gomez during peace negotiations represents “a new gesture of peace from the FARC, expressing our determination to advance toward the signature of the final agreement that will establish a foundation for the Colombia of the future,” according to organization’s peace delegation. The Colombian government issued a statement that confirmed Gomez’s trip to Cuba, which asserted that Gomez’s departure “was carried out according to established protocol and with the express authorization of the President of the Republic.” Gomez joins two other FARC leaders participating in peace negotiations, Pastor Alape and Carlos Lozada, and is the fifth FARC Secretariat member in Havana.
Peace talks have been ongoing between the government of Columbia and the FARC since 2012. Although the FARC has declared ceasefires previously, these have been temporary. The FARC declared an indefinite, unilateral ceasefire earlier this month, which would only end if they were to be attacked.The move, which was welcomed by the UN and the European Union, was met with skepticism from the Colombian government. President Juan Manuel Santos called the ceasefire a “gift…full of thorns,” cautioning that the truce was a chance for the FARC to re-arm. The government declared it would not join in the truce. Santos also condemned the attack by the FARC that killed five soldiers in a rural area of western Colombia. He said the soldiers died “defending the security of their fellow Colombians.” In November, the FARC captured Colombian general Ruben Dario Alzate, which halted negotiations and almost derailed the peace talks. However, the General was released unharmed in order to revive negotiations. FARC also captured and recently released a soldier, Carlos Becerra Ojeda.
The Colombian state has been at war with the Marxist group for over 50 years. The FARC, which was formed in 1964, was one of a few guerilla groups that emerged in response to governmental repression of popular progressive movements during the 1950s and 1960s. The Colombian government and the FARC have reached partial deals on the issues of land reform, ending drug trade, and the FARC’s future participation in Colombian politics. However, the issues of victim compensation and ending the armed conflict have not yet been agreed upon.
By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
CAIRO, Egypt – Monday marks the one year anniversary of the arrest of Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste who were jailed in Cairo on December 29, 2013 on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and spreading “false news.” In June, Greste, an Australian, and Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian, received a seven-year sentence, while Mohamed, an Egyptian, was sentenced to 10 years. The arrests and charges sparked international condemnation from world leaders and journalism and speech advocates around the globe. Al Jazeera has denied all charges against its staff and has called on the immediate release of the journalists. Journalists and activists around the world have posted photos of themselves holding up banners bearing the Twitter hashtags “#FreeAJStaff” and “#JournalismIsNotACrime.”
Baher Mohamed’s wife, Jehan Rashed, told Al Jazeera that the day her husband was arrested had been the worst of her life. “The sentiment of injustice is overwhelming,” she said. “Baher was arrested on this day a year ago. It was the worst day Baher, our children and I have ever lived.” She continued “It was a dark day. I wonder if the [Egyptian] Army and Police are protecting the people. They came to arrest a journalist, while realizing deep within he is a respectable professional, but they acted as if he was a felon.” Colleagues and friends of the jailed journalists marked the anniversary of their arrest at newsrooms across the world on Monday.
Later this week an Egyptian court will decide whether the journalists have grounds for an appeal of their convictions. The court will start to look at the case on Thursday and will examine the process behind the original trial, a process that Al Jazeera has maintains was flawed. The journalists deny collaborating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood after the overthrow of democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi in a military coup last year. They say they were jailed simply for reporting the news.
The court can either dismiss the entire case, uphold the verdict and the original sentences, or order a new trial. The Egyptian government has defended the jailing of the journalists, arguing that it was not a political decision. While President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is able to issue a presidential pardon he maintains that he will not interfere in the judicial process.
World leaders have called for the release of the three journalism, viewing their arrest and convictions as an affront to free speech in the new Egypt, which the government maintains is a democratic state. United States President Barack Obama called for the release of the journalists earlier this year, urging the newly elected Egyptian president to free the jailed Al Jazeera journalists.
Peter Greste penned a letter just before Christmas from his cell in Cairo. The letter was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald. The Letter reads:
I write to all our friends and supporters from my jail cell in Mazraa Prison, Cairo.
As we approach Christmas and the rather inauspicious anniversary of our arrest on December 29, there is a temptation to become morose over our continued detention. After all, on paper we don’t seem to have made much progress.
The three of us – myself and my colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed – are still in prison, still convicted of broadcasting false news and aiding a “terrorist organization,” and still just one year into prison sentences of seven years for myself and Fahmy, and 10 years for Baher.
But, at the same time, we have changed something fundamental. We – and by that I mean all involved in this fight for justice, including us three, our families, and you, our supporters – have created a huge global awareness of not just our cause, but the far wider and more vital issues of press freedom, the persecution of journalists, and of justice in Egypt.
We have galvanized an incredible coalition of political, diplomatic and media figures, as well as a vast army of social media supporters to fight for that most basic of rights: the right to know. Everyone, from US President Barack Obama to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has been speaking out both publicly and in private to demand our release and call for a free press in Egypt.
But, even more than that, we have reignited public discussion and awareness of the vital role that unfettered journalism plays in any healthy, functioning democracy.
Sometimes it is easy to forget why we need it at all. Journalism can, at times, look pretty sordid, and few of us who work in it can claim to have never succumbed to the more base instincts of our trade. And in the wired world of the internet, with its citizen reporters and millions of sources, it is tempting to wonder why we need professional journalists at all.
But that noise is the reason itself. Never has cleared-eyed, critical, skeptical journalism been more necessary to help make sense of a world overloaded with information.
We should never forget that journalism is not a science. It is a human craft as vulnerable to biases and inaccuracies and flaws as any other. And, at its worst, it can be quite destructive. But the reason we still buy newspapers, listen to the radio or switch on the evenings TV news bulletin is to find context and understanding; a sense of perspective.
The best journalism puts a frame around an issue. It helps define it, clarifies it, and makes sense of it. And, above all, it challenges authority.
In a functioning democracy, political legitimacy comes from the voters. We, the people, hire politicians. As with any responsible business, it is incumbent on employers to keep an eye on their employees and, as we all know, we tend to work better, more efficiently and more honestly when we know we are being monitored.
I am not talking of a big brother society here. Just good, old-fashioned accountability.
The philosopher and writer Albert Camus was absolutely right when he said the press can, of course, be both good and bad, but without freedom it can never be anything but bad.
That is why our cause, as opposed to simply our case, is so important, and not just for Egypt. The noise you all have been making sends a clear and unequivocal message to politicians around the world: a free press is an indivisible part of a free society.
As we approach the end of our first year in prison, I cannot help but feel proud and strengthened by all that has been achieved so far. We haven’t won this fight yet – we are still behind bars after all – but we have made our cause abundantly and unequivocally clear.
And for that reason, it really is a very good Christmas.
So, from our cell in Cairo, all the very best in season’s greetings.
By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
KABUL, Afghanistan – Coalition Fores formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan Sunday, marking the end of the longest combat operation in American history. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) combat mission in Afghanistan, which began in the weeks after the September 11th 2001 attacks on the United States and has lasted 13 years, formally ended with the ceremonial retirement of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission’s green flag in a gymnasium in Kabul. Top officials within NATO have pledged to remain reliable partners in Afghanistan war against the Taliban and other militants in the region. The ceremony represented the shift from NATO’s combat mission to a much smaller support mission which will involve smaller scale assistance to Afghan forces as well as training.
“Our commitment to Afghanistan endures. . . . We are not walking away,” promised General John F. Campbell, the United States’ commander of the outgoing International Security Assistance Force mission. General Campbell will lead the new NATO support mission, which technically begins at midnight on New Year’s Eve. NATO’s support mission will leave 13,500 soldiers in the country, most of them American. “Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership” between NATO and Afghanistan, Campbell said. He paid tribute to the international and Afghan troops who have died fighting over the past 13 years, saying: “The road before us remains challenging but we will triumph.”
The President of The United States, Barack Obama, said in a written statement, “On this day we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11 — devastating the core al Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives.” He added, “We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service. “A total of 3,485 allied troops died in Afghanistan over the past 13 years in a war that is estimated to have cost more than $1 trillion dollars.
Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan on Monday declared the “defeat” of the United States and its NATO allies, a day after the coalition officially marked the end of its combat mission. “ISAF rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed on Monday. Despite suffering major losses during the 13 year war the Taliban continues to stage attacks on Afghan and NATO troops and is largely reasonable for growing civilian casualties in the country.
“There is a lot of concern for the rise in civilian casualties,” said Hadi Marifat, a Kabul-based analyst with the Centre for Civilians in Conflict. “The more territory the Taliban tries to occupy in the coming years, the more civilian casualties there will be because of military confrontations.”
The NATO mission in Afghanistan is drawing to a close despite the recent spike in violence and civilian casualties in the country which has left the future of Afghan security uncertain. 2014 has become the bloodiest year in the war’s 13 year history, with more than 10,000 civilians killed since the start of the year. Compared to 2013, this year also saw a 33% rise in casualties among children and a 12% increase among women, according to a UN report.
MANAGUA, Nicaragua—Protests have ensued opposing the construction of a $50 billion interoceanic shipping canal in Nicaragua, which has been backed by a Hong Kong-based company, HNKD. Road blocks were set up by protesters along the Pan-American Highway right after the official ceremony that marked the beginning of the construction of the canal, and along the Managua-San Carlos Highway.
Protesters are concerned that their homes will be displaced and threatened by the implementation of the canal. The canal will run through the rain forest and at least 40 villages, which include those of El Tule and Nueva Guinea. The canal is expected to displace at least 30,000 Nicaraguans, many of whom are farmers and natives.
However, the canal could also be a financial boost for the economy of Nicaragua. “Nicaragua, with this great canal, aims to move five percent of international trade conducted on the seas today,” said Nicaraguan Vice President, Moises Omar Halleslevens. The canal is expected to be more than three times longer than the Panama Canal, and is projected to increase Nicaragua’s GDP between four and five percent to 10.8 percent in 2015, and then 15 percent in 2016.
Chinese businessman Wang Jing, the president of HKND Group, promised to compensate “according to market principles in a fair, open and transparent way,” but many people are left feeling uncertain because of a lack of information. Further, critics of the canal have pointed out that there has been little debate in the Nicaraguan parliament about possible environmental consequences to Lake Nicaragua, which the canal is expected to pass through and to lands of the Creole communities and Rama indigenous community.
Nicaragua’s Police Chief, Aminta Granera, reported 15 police officers and six civilians to have been injured, but organizers of the protest estimated at least 40 demonstrators to have been injured. Police used rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas to disperse the hundreds of demonstrators protesting at the roadblock in El Tule on the Pan-American Highway. Granera stated, the police were “Faced with the use of firearms, machetes, stones, and sticks by the protestors” and also said that 33 protestors in the Managua-San Carlos Highway roadblock were detained by police, who acted with ‘tolerance and peace.” Granera added that the protesters were affecting commerce and tourism by not allowing people to move through the country freely.
Organizers of the protest stated that the demonstration was a peaceful one, but according to The Guardian, one farmer said during an interview in November, “We’ll use machetes, stones, anything to protect our land. My grandparents were born here. They say they are going to pay me, but I never put the land up for sale.”
By Lyndsey Kelly Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, D.C, – United States of America – In the wake of racially charged protests, instances of violence have erupted and police tactics in dealing with such protests have been scrutinized. The protests have reignited a longstanding debate about how police forces treat non-white citizens. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked protestors to suspend demonstrations after two New York City police officers were ambushed while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn last week.
However, some organizers of the protests, including Answer Coalition, the organization which led the march on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, stated that they would continue with their protests despite the mayor’s plea for a quell in demonstrations. The organization released a statement, which said, “[t]he mayor’s call for a suspension of democracy and the exercise of free speech rights in the face of ongoing injustice is outrageous.”
Marvin Knight, a 71-year-old African American from Brooklyn, expressed his disapproval of the Mayor’s request to suppress protests, stating, “[t]his is America,” “[w]hy should we stop doing what we know is right?” Knight argued that the call for a halt to demonstrations infringed on the protestor’s first amendment rights.
Compared with other countries the United States has a strong guarantee of speech rights, even if that speech displays racism or hatred. However, state laws make it a crime to communicate specific threats. Generally, a threat must have some degree of specificity regarding who or what is going to be attacked, or some other details of the threat. Context is important in threat cases, so much so that in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the burning of a cross was protected speech so long as it was done in an open field and not intended to intimidate a specific individual. The USSC on December 1, 2014 has decided to revisit the law of threats. The court intends to address the question of whether prosecutors must show that a person intended to threaten, or whether it is enough to show that a reasonable person would have felt threatened.
By Lyndsey Kelly Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – Following the murders of two New York City police officers last week, New York as well as the rest of the nation have erupted in both anti-police and pro-police protests. There has also been a drastic rise in threats against police officers, resulting in at least six arrests. The New York City police department has received more than 40 threats since the death of officers Ramos and Liu.
On Wednesday, Tyrone Melville, a 41-year-old Manhattan native, called the switchboard of Brooklyn’s 84th Precinct, requesting to speak to Ramos, one of the slain officers, asking if the bullets had been removed from the dead officer’s head so he “could kill more cops,” according to Sergeant Carlos Nieves. Melville has since been charged with making terroristic threats and aggravated harassment. Another incident occurred through Facebook where, Jose Maldonado, 26, posted pictures of weapons and made threatening statements regarding the killing of police officers.While the United States has a strong guarantee of free speech, state laws generally make it a crime to communicate a specific threat against a police officer or anyone else.
The Sergeants Benevolent Association tweeted late Tuesday night that a threat was communicated to the organization by a confidential informant regarding a Baltimore street gang called the Black Guerilla Family who planned to storm New York City precincts for a shootout with police. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has denounced the various threats stating that the city “will protect the men and women who protect us,” and that security measures “will be assessed and police resources will be deployed accordingly.”
Other political figures are speaking out against the threats, including former New York governor George Pataki. Pataki has blamed the outspoken Al Sharpton for using rhetoric that has created incitement and fostered an anti-police environment. Additionally, former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, said that Sharpton and others had “blood on their hands.” However, Sharpton has presented himself as a peacemaker, and has publicly condemned the killings, while still defending the rights of the protestors to decry perceived racist police tactics.
By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladeshi civilians continue to attempt to clean massive amounts of oil from the waters of the Sundarbans where an oil tanker rammed a cargo ship during the early morning hours of December on the Sela River causing 66,000 and 92,000 barrels to spill into the pristine waters of the Sundarbans, which means “beautiful forest.” So far the government and the oil industry itself has largely failed to manage the cleanup operation in the region where civilians, even children, have been pulling toxic oil from the water by hand without any protective equipment. The Bangladeshi government’s chief forestry official for the region, Amir Hossain, said on December 16 that “the catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans, and we don’t know how to tackle this.”
Even as fisherman and children from the local fishing villages have taken to the waters and mangrove forests of the region to clean the oil by hand Bangladeshi Officials said the damage had already been done. Rubayat Mansur, Bangladesh head of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said most of the oil appeared to have already leaked out of the tinkered and surrounding area by December 12 and spread to adjoining rivers and canals where it spread to surrounding mangrove forests. “I visited the sunken trawler this morning. Only few hundred liters of oil remain inside, so almost all the oil has spilled into the Sundarbans,” he said.
“This catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans, and we don’t know how to tackle this,” Amir Hossain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, told the press. The Bangladeshi government has come under fire for its response to the disaster. Critics have said that the government, which has allowed oil shipping and exportation in the region for more than a decade, should have had a plan in place to deal with such a disaster and protect the environment and fishing communities from the threat posed by spilled oil.
Oil from the tankers has created an environmental catastrophe in the waters of Bangladesh’s Sundarbans, the largest contiguous tidal mangrove forest in the world, which are home to several rare species of animals including the rare Irrawaddy and Gangetic dolphins and the highly endangered Bengal tiger. The Sundarbans are also home to fishing communities who depend on the rich waters of the region for economic survival. The Sundarbans delta is a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses some 3,850 square miles 1,000 square kilometers. The mangrove forests of the delta are a critical ecosystems, not only supporting thousands of unique species but also performing several important ecosystems functions including acting as one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, absorbing atmospheric carbon-dioxide which helps combat global climate change.
The Bangladeshi and Indian governments have come under fire for ongoing plans to expand fossil fuel exportation in the region, despite the threat to the mangrove ecosystem. Last year, Bangladeshi and Indian lawmakers initiated a plan to build a 1,320-megawatt coal plant 5.5 miles downstream from the Sundarbans. The plant would require a massive quantities of water to be desalinated, threating the region with an estimated half a million metric tons of “sludge and liquid waste” each year.
By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
THE VATICAN, VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, leader of the 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church, condemned murder and violence carried out by religious extremists in the name of god. During his annual Christmas message the pope condemned the “brutal persecution” of minorities carried out by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and said the joy of Christmas was blemished by the suffering of children in the Middle East and around the world. “I ask him, the savior of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution,” Pope Francis said during his Christmas message on Thursday. The Pope spoke emotionally of “children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence.”
He alluded to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria as well as the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in the Palestinian Authority, he said “I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born,” Christians believe Jesus Christ was born in a manger in the town of Bethlehem in modern day Palestine.
Not far from the small town where Christians believe Jesus was born, Christmas has been a difficult time for Gaza’s Christian community, like all Gazans. The community is struggling to provide for their families after the summer’s devastating war with Israel “This Christmas is not like last year,” said, 24-year-old Hussam Abu Shaban, “Most Christians just take a small tree for the kids. They’ve lost a lot of family members, some from the war, some not.” More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed during Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas this summer. Several months after the violence buildings remain demolished and rubble remains where homes once stood. “There were a lot of Christians killed in this war. Christian homes were destroyed,” Nabeel al-Salfiti, 62, said, “Every year it’s been tougher.”
“Christmas is inevitably coming with its decoration, its finery and its celebrations, but our inner souls are still affected, in all respects, by the devastating effects of war,” Nahed al-Dabbagh, 25 said after attending Christmas Eve ceremonies at the Latin Church in central Gaza City. “We hope that the next Christmas will be a feast of goodness and peace on the Palestinian people.”
The Pope condemned violence and murder, especially violence that targets children. Without elaborating, the Holy Pontiff Spoke of the horrific murders of children committed during biblical times, possibly referring to the recent brutal and horrific attack carried out by the Pakistani Taliban at a school in Peshawar which took the lives of more than 100 children. He spoke of “contemporary Herods,” with blood on their hands, referring to the Biblical king who ordered children to be murdered because he saw the birth of Jesus as a threat to his power.
Speaking of world’s refugees who have been displaced by conflict and tragedy he asked that “indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigorous of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity”.
The Holy Pontiff also appealed for an end to conflicts in African countries, called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, condemned the attack by Taliban fighters that killed more than 130 students in Pakistan last week, and thanked those helping to fight the Ebola epidemic and help the victims of the historic outbreak.
BRASILIA, Brazil–Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has stirred up the wrath of environmentalists by appointing a controversial advocate of agribusiness and weaker forest conservation as her new agriculture minister.
Kátia Abreu, nicknamed the “Chainsaw Queen”, by her enemies, is included in a new cabinet that rewards political allies who supported Rousseff in her recent narrow re-election victory.
Abreu, is a leading figure in the “ruralista” party. The ruralista party prompted the Brazilian government to weaken Brazil’s forrest code. In both congressional debates and her newspaper column Abreu has called for more roads through the Amazon. Abreu has also advocated for congressional control over demarcation of indigenous reserves, more efficient monocultures, and the approval of genetically modified ‘terminator seeds’.
The cabinet post is the first step towards further political gains for Abreu. Abreu is known as a formidable political operator. In a previous interview the cabinet member expressed a desire to run for president and emulate former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Abreu has also said that she wanted to make Brazil the leading agricultural producer in the world.
Abreu says she is an advocate of sustainable development and insists that Brazilian agriculture can overtake the US without any further deforestation.
But her promotion has horrified and outraged many environmental campaigners. In a statement titled “Miss Deforestation is the new agricultural minister,” Greenpeace warned that the Rousseff administration was now set on an alarming course.
“By choosing Katiá Abreu, the president has confirmed that the path the government will take in the coming years will put agribusiness above the environment”, it said, claiming the senator was a leading figure in forest destruction and suppression of the rights of rural workers and indigenous people.
Reinforcing such concerns, the new science and technology minister will be Aldo Rebelo – a man with a reputation as a climate change sceptic. In a tweet posted several years ago, Rebelo used a cold spell in São Paulo to mock claims of global warming and support the Belo Monte hydro electric dam.
“Hello, Sao Paulo, cold in here, huh? Where are the advocates of global warming now? In the shops, buying the last heater … Electric! Long live Belo Monte!”, he said.
By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Managing Editor, Impunity Watch
THE VATICAN, VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, made a phone call to several Iraqis forced to flee their homes as a result of the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in their region telling the refugees that they are in his thoughts this Christmas and using the holiday to bring the attention of the Catholic community, with more than one billion members worldwide, to the plight of refugees who have suffered as a result of the ISIS advance as well as Syria’s ongoing civil war. Frances told the refugees now living in a camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil in northern Iraq, that they were like Jesus, were forced to flee because there was no place for them.
For Christians, Christmas is a holiday that calls for peace and celebrates the birth of Jesus in barn manger in the Palestine in the town of Bethlehem in modern day Palestine, chosen because there was no room for his parents at an inn. “You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either” Pope Francis told the Iraqis in the call arranged via satellite phone by the Italian Catholic television station TV2000.”I embrace you all and wish for you a holy Christmas,” he said.
On Monday Pope Francis denounced ISIS as a “terrorist organization of a size that was unimaginable before, committing all types of abuses… [And] striking some among you who have been brutally chased from your lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times.” In recent months the Holy Pontiff has denounced all forms of religious extremism and murder in the name of religion. During a visit to Turkey last month Pope Francis called for an end to all forms of religious fundamentalism and called on the world to focus on achieving the important goals of the world’s great faiths, fighting hunger and poverty. During a visit to Turkey the pope called for solidarity in opposing the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, “It is essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties,” Francis said.
The pope used the phone call to address the crimes committed by ISIS, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in Iraq and Syria. “Innocent children, children who have died, exploited children… I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross.” “Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart,” he told Iraq’s refugees.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina– A small town in Argentina has banned beauty pageants, because they are considered to be sexist. The Chivilcoy council, in the Buenos Aires region, said that the pageants encourage violence against women. The Chivilcoy council further criticized the pageants for emphasizing and focusing on physical beauty. The council also claimed that the beauty pageants concentration on physical image, encourages illnesses like bulimia and anorexia among the pageant contestants.
The Chivilcoy council said the pageants are “a discriminatory and sexist practice”, that “reinforce the idea that women must be valued and rewarded exclusively by their physical appearance, based on stereotypes”.
Beauty pageants were also condemned for being “acts of symbolic and institutional violence against women and children.”
The competitions will instead be replaced with an event recognising “people of between 15 and 30 years who, in an individual or collective way, have stood out in volunteering activities aimed at improving the quality of life in neighbourhoods within the city or the district,” the council said.
Latin American beauty pageant winners often use their pageant experience to build careers in entertainment or television.
Beauty pageant competitions are getting a closer look after Julia Morley, the chairwoman of the Miss World pageant announced that the competition would no longer include a swimsuit round. The swimsuit round was introduced to the competition 63 years ago.
“Miss World should be a spokesperson who can help a community,” said Ms. Wilmer, “She’s more of an ambassador, not a beauty queen. It’s more about the outreach and what a woman could do with a title like Miss World.”
However, everyone does not agree with banning the pageants.
“If the only value is beauty, that’s bad, I don’t identify with that,” said Nadia Cerri, 41, director of Miss World Argentina and a former pageant contestant. But she added that an all-out ban goes too far. “We don’t oblige anybody to take part in the contests,” she said.
Ms. Cerri said that in recent years the Miss World Argentina competition had tried to place greater emphasis on factors besides physical appearance. A winner must perform well in categories such as social responsibility, for which she may be required to show awareness of social issues like sex trafficking in her home province. Contestants must also demonstrate knowledge of general culture, including current events, and exhibit a talent, which can be a skill like acting, singing or painting.
VILNIUS, Lithuania – In what may be a move of defiance against Russia, Lithuania is moving to the Euro. This comes in light of recent events over the past several months involving Russian aggression directed towards a number of NATO countries, particularly Lithuania and other Eastern European nations.
Lithuania has only 6% of its population who are Russian speakers, despite the much higher percentages in many bordering countries and also its proximity to Russia. Even so, Russia continues to show aggression that has found some landing in Lithuania. The waters off Lithuania have seen recent Russian military exercises just off Kaliningrad that have involved up to 9,000 troops and 55 ships.
In addition, NATO has had to scramble jets to intercept Russian aircraft over 400 times this year, already more than three times the amount as last year. The number of instances involving Russian jets flying with their radars off and coming close to commercial airlines continues to increase as well and has many worried that a mid-air collision is imminent. This is all in addition to the Russian incursion in Eastern Ukraine and the questionable Russian annexation of Crimea in Southern Ukraine earlier this year.
While not obligated to defend Ukraine from a military invasion due to the lack of protection for Ukraine under Article 5 membership, NATO has answered Eastern Europe’s worries about Russia by creating a rapid response task force should Russia invade a country near Ukraine with Article 5 membership that requires military aid. For Lithuania, however, this new task force is taking too long to take effect, and so Lithuania has created its own fast response task force. While Lithuania’s active military of roughly 8,000 does not size up well to Russia’s military of over one million, Lithuania would like to be prepared to respond within a day of any Russian invasion of the Baltics, Poland, or Romania. “We would go into action in the initial, self-defense phase to buy some time until NATO can get here,” says General Tamosaitis.
Even a Lithuanian archbishop has spoken out about the Russian threat to Lithuania, fearing that “the front could move forward if the international community fails to stand firm.” Archbishop Gintaras Grusas further went on to say that “the information and propaganda war which preceded the military action against Ukraine is very much underway here, too.”