BBC News – Canadian Omar Khadr goes on trial at Guantanamo Bay

via BBC News – Canadian Omar Khadr goes on trial at Guantanamo Bay.

Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is the only Westerner still being held at Guantanamo Bay military prison; he was detained in Afghanistan at the age of 15. He’s now 23.

International law says children captured on the battlefield must be treated as victims, and not as perpetrators. Child-soldiers are supposed to be rehabilitated and given the chance to re-enter society.

Please write to President Obama at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact and ask him to halt this trial, which is in violation of international law, and instead arrange for the repatriation and rehabilitation of Mr. Khadr.

URGENT CALL FOR HUMAN MILK DONATIONS FOR HAITI INFANTS

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC), International Lactation Consultant Association/United States Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA/USLCA), and La Leche League International (LLLI) are jointly issuing an urgent call for human milk donations for premature infants in Haiti, as well as sick and premature infants in the United States.

This week the first shipment of human milk from mothers in the United States will be shipped to the U.S. Navy Ship “Comfort” stationed outside Haiti. “Comfort” is currently set up with a neonatal intensive care unit and medical personnel to provide urgent care to victims of the earthquake. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant stationed at the U.S. Navy base in Bethesda, MD is assisting with providing breast pump equipment and supplies to the “Comfort.” Dr. Erika Beard-Irvine, pediatric neonatologist, is on board the “Comfort” to coordinate distribution of the milk to infants in need. HMBANA, USBC, ILCA/USLCA, and LLL are responding to requests to provide milk for both premature infants and at-risk mothers who have recently delivered babies on board the U.S.N.S. Comfort, but an urgent need exists for additional donations.

At the current time, the infrastructure to deliver human milk on land to Haiti infants has not yet been established. As soon as that infrastructure is in place, additional donations will be provided to older infants.

Mothers who are willing to donate human milk should contact their regional Mothers’ Milk Bank of HMBANA. A list of regional milk banks is available at the HMBANA website at http://www.hmbana.org.

Currently milk banks are already low on donor milk. New milk donations will be used for both Haiti victims as well as to replenish donor supplies to continue to serve sick and premature infants in the U.S. Donor milk provides unique protection for fragile preterm infants. Financial donations are also strongly encouraged to allow HMBANA, a nonprofit organization, to continue serving infants in need.

UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Emergency Nutrition Network, and medical professionals all recommend that breastfeeding and human milk be used for infants in disasters or emergencies. Human milk is life-saving due to its disease prevention properties. It is safe, clean, and does not depend on water which is often unavailable or contaminated in an emergency. Relief workers, health care providers, and other volunteers are urged to provide support for breastfeeding mothers to enable them to continue breastfeeding, and to assist pregnant and postpartum women in initiating and sustaining breastfeeding.

For more information, contact HMBANA at 408-998-4550 or http://www.hmbana.org . Additional information can be provided from the United States Breastfeeding Committee at 202-367-1132 (www.usbreastfeeding.org), ILCA/USLCA at 1-800-452-2478 (www.ilca.org or www.uslca.org ), or La Leche League at 847-519-7730 (http://www.llli.org/) .

Coming to your area soon: Breakbone Fever and Jericho Buttons

I spent the month of August living and working with our sisters in Argentina. Of course it was winter there, and when I arrived at the beginning of the month, it was cold. Soon, however, the weather changed and it became unseasonably warm. The sisters told me that their winters have become much warmer in recent years and that there has not been enough rain. With the warm weather comes mosquitos and the threat of dengue fever and malaria. The shorter winters and longer periods of warm weather mean that the people have a longer exposure to these disease bearing insects. Earlier this year, dengue fever reached epidemic proportions in Argentina with at least 8000 reported cases.

It turns out that during my stay in Argentina I experienced an aspect of climate change that is rarely discussed – the relationship between climate change and health.

According to the World Health Organization global climate change poses grave risks to human population health. Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean there have already been alterations in the geographic range (latitude and altitude) and seasonality of certain infectious tropical diseases.

One of these is Dengue (or “breakbone”) fever, a disease that is characterized by high fever, rash, and severe headache with aching bones, joints, and muscles. Dengue and its deadly complications, dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, have increased over the past several decades. Global warming has substantially increased the number of people at risk of dengue epidemics, as warmer temperatures and changing rainfall conditions expand both the area suitable for mosquitoes and the length of the dengue transmission season in temperate areas.

Currently, dengue fever and its complications cause an estimated 50 to 100 million infections, a half-million hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths annually in more than 100 countries, including parts of South America, Central America, the Caribbean, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa. By 2085, an estimated 5.2 billion people—3 billion additional people worldwide—are projected to be at risk for dengue because of climate change–induced increases in humidity that contribute to increased mosquito presence. Already, the specific types of mosquitoes that can transmit dengue fever have become established in a swath of at least 28 states and the District of Columbia, and across the south and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States and there were 4000 cases of the disease reported to the Centers for Disease Control between 1995 and 2005.

A 1917 case of "Jericho Buttons"

Another disease that is on the move is Leishmaniasis, sometimes known as Jericho Buttons. Until recent years found in parts of the tropics, subtropics and southern Europe, leishmanaias is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by the bite an infected sand fly. Now, cases of the disease are being reported among mountain dwellers in the Andes in Peru. The disease causes skin sores, which may develop a raised edge and central crater, causing the sores to look much like a volcano. These sores take a long time to heal and often leave scars. In the more severe forms of the disease, killer parasite migrate to the internal organs, such as the liver, spleen and bone marrow and cause fever, weight loss and swelling of the spleen and liver. If left untreated, severe cases may result in death.

Personally, I find the threat of these diseases becoming prevalent in the area where I live a great motivator for taking positive steps toward reducing my contribution to global warming. How about you?

Can the United States do more to fight world hunger?

President Obama said recently he will work with Congress to double US support for global food security to over $ 1 billion. What does this mean for the 963 million people in the world who do not have enough to eat? (963 million is more than the populations of the USA, Canada and the EU combined.)

At present, there are between 350 and 400 million children in the world who are suffering from hunger.

It’s not enough. The World Food Programme, which is the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global, provides food assistance to about 100 million people in 80 countries every year. It’s the world’s largest humanitarian organization.

WFP needs about $6 billion in 2009 to meet the needs of those 100 million and it depends on the United States as its largest donor to meet about 40% of those needs.

The US made an extraordinary effort in 2008, providing WFP over $2 billion in contributions. But current US food aid budget appropriations for fiscal year 2009 can only sustain a US contribution of about $1.3 billion this year.

Let’s take a closer look. In our world:

  • 25,000 people (adults and children) die every day from hunger and related causes.
  • More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women.
  • Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes.

The number of undernourished people in the world increased by 75 million in 2007 and 40 million in 2008, largely due to higher food prices.

Hunger is not caused by a shortage of food. In fact there has never existed such an abundance of food, yet 963 million people in the world go hungry. Read about what causes hunger here: http://www.wfp.org/hunger/causes

The economic stimulus passed by the US Congress earlier this year included $20 billion in additional funding for food and nutrition programs for the economically vulnerable in the United States. This is good and right. No one should go hungry in the richest country in the world. The question is, can we Americans and citizens of other rich countries dig deeper during this time of economic challenge? If the US provided a little under a billion more in new food assistance we could continue to sustain our commitment at a $2 billion level during this fiscal year. Are you willing to write to your Congressman, or Senator, or Member of Parliament to make sure your country continues a high level of financial support to global food assistance programs?

You can also help fight world hunger this Mother’s Day by feeding a hungry child in your mother’s name.

World Moves Closer towards Abolition of the Death Penalty

Amnesty International released its annual report on the death penalty today. According to the group, the world moved even closer towards abolition of the death penalty in 2008.

In December, the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) adopted by a large majority a second resolution calling for a moratorium with a view to abolish the death penalty. This resolution consolidates three decades of steady progress towards complete abolition of the death penalty. It was passed by a vote of 104 in favor and 54 against, with 29 abstentions.  The United States, along with countries such as China, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia voted against.

See the vote of every country here: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2007/ga10678.doc.htm

On a positive note, in its overview of the use of the death penalty worldwide, Amnesty International noted that :

Europe and Central Asia is now virtually a death penalty free zone following the abolition of the death penalty in Uzbekistan for all crimes. There is just one country left – Belarus – that still carries out executions.

In the Americas, only one state – the United States of America (USA) – consistently executes. However, even the USA moved away from the death penalty in 2008. This year, the smallest number of executions since 1995 was reported in the USA.

Two states, Argentina and Uzbekistan abolished the death penalty.

The majority of countries now refrain from using the death penalty. Furthermore, in 2008 Amnesty International recorded only 25 out of 59 countries that retain the death penalty actually carried out executions. The practice of states indicates that there is increasing consolidation of majority international consensus that the death penalty cannot be reconciled with respect for human rights.

However, tough challenges remain. Countries in Asia carried out more executions in 2008 than the rest of the world put together.

The five countries with the highest rate of executions were:

  • China – at least 1,178 (the exact number is a state secret)
  • Iran – at least 346
  • Saudi Arabia – at least 102
  • Pakistan – at least 36
  • United States of America – 37

Some of the methods used to execute people in 2008 included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection, shooting and stoning.

Read more and link to the full report here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty

Awá Massacre Highlights Desperate Need for Fresh Approach to Drugs in Colombia

I want to share the following information:

Early this month, a brutal massacre of Awá indigenous people left 27 dead in Colombia’s southern Pacific region of Nariño. According to various media sources, 17 were killed in an armed attack on February 4, during which 120 community members were captured and held against their will. Ten more were killed two days later. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group claimed responsibility for eight of the killings in an online statement. The guerrillas described the murders as acts of retaliation against the Awá for cooperating with Colombian Military forces, but confusion and fake information may also have played a role, and several sides share the guilt.

Location of Massacre
Location of Massacre

According to a statement released by the Awá People’s Indigenous Unity (UNIPA) and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), on February 1, a military battalion “abusively entered people’s homes and, through various mistreatments, obligated members of the community to give information about the location of the FARC-EP guerrillas. ”Three days later, the FARC began their horrendous attacks in “retaliation.”

This tragic massacre is not an isolated event. In fact, over 200 indigenous people have been killed and thousands displaced as a result of similar attacks in the region over the past decade. In July 2006, fighting between Colombian army units and an “irregular armed group” caused more than 1,300 civilians to flee their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. During this particular incident, a group of 92 indigenous people were trapped in the crossfire. Unable to flee, they took refuge in a local school and were without food or basic humanitarian assistance for more than a week. Refugees International (RI) reported in July of 2008 that fighting between the Colombian military and guerrilla forces in Nariño had brought about the displacement of almost 95,000 people who were forced to abandon their homes in an attempt to escape violent attacks. Also, RI reported that the FARC as well as right-wing paramilitary groups extensively used landmines and other terror techniques against local communities.

At the center of the turmoil in Nariño is the coca factor, the ancient crop which today is used, among other things, for the production of cocaine. The “war on drugs,” funded largely by the United States and to a large extent carried out by the Colombian government, has been a major factor in bringing violence to the region in the course of the past decade. Under the U.S.-government funded Plan Colombia, aerial fumigations, starting in 2000, significantly reduced coca cultivation in the region of Putumayo, which neighbors Nariño. In the first two months of the operation, fumigation destroyed 75,000 acres of coca crops in Puntamayo. As the result of spillage and drift, many farmers lost all of their crops. One migrant told a reporter in 2001 that the chemical attacks ”got everything, my plantains, my coca, all of it.” Within the first six months, an estimated 10,000 had fled the region, many of whom would establish new coca fields in Nariño. Soon after, reports of increased murders and other violent acts in the region began to surface, and have been relayed ever since.

Colombian authorities have chosen to employ draconian measures to crack down on coca cultivation. As cocaine production has increased in Nariño, so has the destructive presence of the Colombian military and security forces. Through his “Democratic Security Strategy,” President Uribe has dramatically increased the military presence in Colombia’s remote rural regions. The Awá, along with other rural communities in the area, have inadvertently found themselves caught in the middle of the conflict between the military and narco-trafficking groups. At the same time, Bogota has failed to adequately respond to the deteriorating human rights situation in the region. On January 8, 2009, about a month before the most recent massacre, the local government issued a report through its Early Warning System, that the community was at risk as a result of increased fighting between the Army, FARC, National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, and other paramilitary groups. Rather than taking action to protect the indigenous, Colombian government forces caused a dangerous situation to escalate into targeted attacks.

The tragic events of this month reveal a pressing need for the United States and Colombian governments to re-evaluate their anti-drug strategies. In 2006, community councils in the country’s Pacific coast region proposed a plan of crop-replacement, in which the government would convert money currently funding fumigation to subsidize the cultivation of traditional crops in the area. The government still has not responded to the proposal. A characteristically indifferent
President Uribe failed to address these underlying issues in his reaction to this month’s massacres, stating that his government “must reinforce [its] anti-terrorist policies.” Harry Caicedo, a refugee community leader in Nariño, told the Colombia Journal “so far, instead of an answer, we have been subjected to repression, imprisonment and displacement.”

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Fellow Mary Tharin
February 25th, 2009

Somalia is the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

BBC NEWS | Africa | ‘Thousands’ desert Somalia forces.

Somalians sit in the sun as they wait for food provided during Operation Provide Relief, Somalia
Somalians sit in the sun as they wait for food provided during Operation Provide Relief, Somalia

Somalia, the African country where 13 year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death last month, is a the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, even worse than Sudan, according to the UN.

  • The population of Somalia is 8.4 million.
  • More than 3.2 million need humanitarian aid
  • More than 1.1 million are displaced.
  • Refugees from Somalia last year: 457,000
  • Doctors per 100,000 people: 4
  • Population with access to clean water: 29%
  • Children under-five under height for age: 38%
  • Under-five mortality rate: 145 per 1000 live births
  • Children attending primary school: Boys -24%; Girls – 20%

Humanitarian aid often fails to reach those who need it because of conflict, high inflation, corruption, pirate attacks on sea deliveries, roadblocks and armed attacks on aid convoys.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to work so aid agencies do not base personnel there. 80% of Somalia’s security forces; soldiers, officers and police have deserted, taking with them weapons, uniforms and vehicles.

Piracy is a multi-million dollar industry employing between 1000-1500 pirates and using over 60 small boats and mother ships. Pirates invoke legitimate Somali grievances regarding foreign exploitation of marine resources such as illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping in Somali waters, thus gaining community support. In September, the pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter loaded with 33 battle tanks and off Kenya in November they seized a Saudi supertanker carrying $100m worth of crude oil. So far this year, they have attacked 100 ships and raked in an estimated $30m in ransoms for ships and crews. At present, the pirates hold 14 ships and 250 crew.

It is piracy that has finally provoked some action. Today, the Bush administration asked the UN for authorization to hunt Somali pirates on land with the co-operation of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government in one of the Bush administration’s last major foreign policy initiatives. The US circulated a draft Security Council resolution proposing that all nations and regional groups co-operating with Somalia’s government in the fight against piracy and armed robbery “may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia”, including its airspace.

I can’t imagine how this intervention will make life better for the people of Somalia. Stopping the piracy is just treating a symptom. How will the people be better off if they are bombed by American planes? If peace, security and the rule of law were restored to Somalia, and all of the people had a chance for a decent life then the piracy would stop.