Today is Human Rights Day
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1950, sought to establish the ‘inalienable rights of all members of the human family.’ It bestowed on all people the rights of security, education, and self-government, among others. The reality of human rights protection has, of course, been far trickier. While organizations worldwide struggle to uphold the ideals of the Declaration, evolving political and environmental situations constantly present new challenges.
Images (top to bottom): KURIGRAM, BANGLADESH: Villagers hack away the embankment left by the most recent flooding in the area where their village used to be. They are doing this on the orders of the local landowner who is using the earth for construction in another area. These men are effectively further removing the only barrier between them and further flooding but they desperately need the small amount they are paid so do the work anyway. Flooding, Poverty and lack of protected land ownership amongst the poor is driving a serious food crisis in Bangladesh. Extreme poverty and rising food prices couple with an oversupply of cheap labor has meant that many people can only afford to eat once a day. (photo by Brent Stirton, from Global Water Issues)
QAMSHILI, SYRIA: Faycal, 77 years old, presents his military service record book of 1951. Neither he nor any member of his family have Syrian nationality. They are part of more than 300,000 stateless Syrian Kurds. Most of them lost their Syrian nationality in the census of 1962 and have no national rights. (photo by Julien Goldstein, from Kurdistan: Anger of a People Without Rights)
SAN VICENTE, MISIONES, ARGENTINA: Fabian Rodgriguez suffers from hydrocephalus. His mother, Candida Rodriguez, works in the tobacco industry, as does her husband. They use agrochemical products for the cultivation of their fields, following the guidelines set out by the cooperatives of large local producers, who require the use of such agrochemicals as a condition to the purchase of their crop. Fumigations in the agricultural fields of Argentina are being denounced as the cause of the increasing number of children born with malformations. (photo by Alvaro Ybarra Zavala, from Stories of a Wounded Land)
A grim reminder: The US executes more people every year than Yemen, Sudan, and Afghanistan
→ Biden's in China to reduce regional tensions over air defense zone
The original intent of the vice president’s trip was to discuss trade ties, but now he’s working to calm tensions between Japan and China.
→ The US flies B-52s into China's new air defense zone. Here's why that matters.
UPDATE: On Tuesday morning Beijing time, two US B-52 bombers flew over the disputed Senkaku/Daiyou islands, “in a direct challenge” to China’s new air defense zone, US officials have told the Wall Street Journal.
HONG KONG — Over the weekend, as world powers were busy negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, China declared the existence of a new “air defense identification zone.”
To understand why East Asia is aflutter over the matter, it helps to look at a map.
On the left, in pink, is China. Note the red line delineating a polygon, extending from its coast deep into the East China Sea. This is the area in which China claims that any military plane must identify itself and follow China’s rules or face “defensive emergency measures” from the armed forces.
On the right, in khaki, is Japan. Its own blue line extends south, off the coast of China. This is Japan’s air-defense identification zone.
In the middle of the polygon, over the Japanese-controlled (and China-coveted) Senkaku islands, these zones overlap.
After decades of peace, could China and Japan be on the brink of war?
Both China and Japan have long-held claims to the Japanese-administered islands — known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Tensions have intensified over the past year, and observers fear that a political or military misstep could rapidly escalate.
Over the weekend, China announced an air defense zone over the East China Sea, encompassing the disputed islands. The new policy would require airlines to give Chinese authorities their flight plans before entering the airspace designated by China.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the new policy ”escalates the situation and could lead to an unexpected occurrence of accidents in the airspace.”
The United States on Monday called China’s announcement “unnecessarily inflammatory.”
War between Japan and China is an accident waiting to happen
Photos via AFP/Getty Images
The social and economic changes unveiled by China on Friday have been hailed as the boldest and most significant changes in the communist country in decades.
The measures include pledges to loosen the controversial one-child policy, abolish labor camps, speed up residential registration, or hukou, system reforms and let the market play a "decisive role" in the world’s second largest economy.
The sweeping changes were contained in a document released by the Communist Party following a four-day meeting of senior leaders in Beijing. The more-than-20,000 Chinese character statement listed 60 reforms.
Chinese leaders have a penchant for gradualism, and reforms, particularly of this magnitude, typically take years — if not decades — to implement. President Xi Jinping and his colleagues have given themselves until 2020 to achieve "decisive" results.
GlobalPost asked Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, for their views on the significance of the reforms.
China’s reforms: ‘An important step, but not the end of the road’
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
HONG KONG — During the traumatic days of China’s Cultural Revolution, public confessions were a favorite tactic for eliminating political enemies.
After all, the Maoist wisdom ran, why bother with a trial when a coerced confession is so much more reliable and efficient?
That logic seems to have made an unfortunate comeback in China.
Since August, at least six people have been hauled before China’s state-owned network CCTV to give primetime confessions — most without having been charged of any crime.
In China, the confession will be televised. In fact, it already is
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
HONG KONG — If anyone claims they can tell you what really happened at the all-important meeting of China’s decision makers that ended Tuesday, don’t believe them.
Even under ordinary circumstances, interpreting Chinese politics is notoriously difficult. The system is opaque and convoluted, with ritualized language, cookie-cutter leaders and lots of befuddling slogans — see “The Three Represents.”
But the communiqué released Tuesday evening after a four-day conclave of top Party officials may be a high-water mark of mind-numbing vagueness.
For months, experts have breathlessly speculated and debated that this meeting, the Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, would result in massively important, wide-ranging new policies. Everything from breaking up state-owned enterprises to abolishing the one-child policy seemed to be on the table.
Yet now that the agenda has been released—a 5,000 character document (3,500 words in English translation)—we are almost exactly where we started. The only concrete announcement was the creation of two committees, one overseeing national security, the other overseeing reform.
Beyond that, nobody knows where China is headed. Nobody knows if much-needed economic and political policies are progressing or stalling.
China’s Third Party Plenum — a masterpiece of vagueness
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A Chinese property developer has a lofty vision for a pokey suburb of Johannesburg.
The plan? To turn Modderfontein, a dull, soulless area of semi-industrial sprawl, into the “New York of Africa,” with a financial district, 10 hotels, 10 shopping centers and an African culture theme park.
Hong Kong-listed Shanghai Zendai Property Ltd. on Tuesday announced it is buying a 1,600-hectare (3,953 acre) tract of land, and will make an investment of 80 billion rand, or $7.8 billion, over the next 15 years to develop the area.
“It will become the future capital of the whole of Africa,” chairman Dai Zhikong told a press conference on Tuesday, according to Bloomberg. “This will be on par with cities like New York in America or Hong Kong in the Far East.”
Brought to you by China: ‘The New York of Africa’
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
NEED TO KNOW
The People’s Republic of terror. For the second time in a week, China appears to have witnessed a deadly terrorist attack. Six or more bombs exploded this morning around a provincial Communist Party headquarters in the northern city of Taiyuan. State media reports that the devices — which released ball bearings, nails and pellets that killed at least one person and injured eight — were homemade.
The incident will no doubt have Chinese officials nervous, coming as it does just days before the beginning of one of the most sensitive events of the year, a meeting of top Communist Party officials in Beijing this weekend — and just days after a car plowed into pedestrians and burst into flame in Tiananmen Square, an incident that Beijing blamed on separatists from the country’s northwest. No one has yet offered an explanation for today’s events.
Lieberman’s return. Israel’s outspoken former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, had better dust off his briefcase: after 11 months out of office, he was today acquitted of all corruption charges against him — and given the greenest of green lights for his return to politics.
Lieberman was accused — among other things — of handing out a promotion to an Israeli diplomat in exchange for a tip-off, allegations that led him to resign in December last year with much huffing that he would stand trial and clear his name. Indeed he did, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already offered to welcome him back to the cabinet with open arms. That’s all very jolly for Bibi, Lieberman and the right-wingers whose support he brings to the coalition government; less so for those who fear that putting the polarizing Lieberman — the same man who, just last month, said there was “no point in currently seeking a permanent settlement” with the Palestinians — in charge of Israel’s foreign relations once more will surely jeopardize the fragile peace talks that resumed in his absence.
WANT TO KNOW
Painting the town blue. It’s been a full two decades since a Democrat last led New York City, but as of last night, the donkey is once more riding high. Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of NYC last night, replacing Republican incumbent Michael Bloomberg in one of the United States’ most prominent regional roles.
His victory puts the score from the three elections held yesterday — the most important since last year’s presidential, and an early clue to the outcome of next year’s congressional mid-terms — at 2-1 to the Democrats. De Blasio’s colleague, Terry McAuliffe, narrowly won the race to become governor of Virginia; though fellow Democrat Barbara Buono couldn’t shift Republican Chris Christie from his office as governor of New Jersey. His tenacity in an otherwise Democrat-dominated state could stand him in good stead when it comes to the nomination for the biggest election of them all, in November 2016.
Mind the crack. Speaking of mayors: one of the world’s most infamous has finally admitted the truth behind the scandal that has dogged him since May. In what may go down as the most memorable — if not quotable — line in Canadian political history, Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford yesterday admitted to smoking crack, and how.
"Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine," Ford told reporters, six months after reports first circulated of a video that allegedly showed him using the drug. "Probably in one of my drunken stupors." The good voters of Toronto will be reassured to hear that he’s not an addict, that he apologizes, and that — phew — he won’t be stepping down as mayor. Because what’s a little crack pipe between voters and their elected officials, right? … Right?
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Why platypus, what big teeth you have. The duck-billed platypus is a famously implausible animal. The first time European biologists saw a stuffed one, they thought it must be a fake; confronted with the living evidence to the contrary, they discovered that the egg-laying, occasionally venemous, multi-chromosomed mammals were even odder than they thought.
Imagine their surprise, then, if they’d met its long-dead relative, the newly identified Obdurodon tharalkooschild. The extinct species was much bigger (about 3 feet long) and — unlike its gummy survivor — had a full set of teeth. Teeth it would use to chow down on much bigger prey than any modern-day platypus could dream of grinding into submission. Its Australian discoverers have affectionately nicknamed it “Platypus Godzilla.” And just like its namesake, for all its fearsome toothiness, the obdurodon was not long for this world: researchers say it died out millions of years ago.
NEED TO KNOW
Peace in the DRC? Today, for the first time in 18 months, armed rebels are no longer leading an insurgency against the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The M23 movement, made up of ex-soldiers who accuse the government of failing to respect the terms of a 2009 peace deal with the former militia they once fought in, has declared that it will lay down its weapons and from henceforth rely on “purely political means.”
The announcement comes hours after the Congolese government said they had routed the last of the rebels in their few remaining strongholds in the eastern DRC, claiming “total victory” over a fighting force that once controlled the region’s capital. Not only that, but the M23 were widely believed to have support from the highest levels of the government in neighboring Rwanda, as well as military aid from Uganda. Today’s developments may just be the best chance in years for peace in one of the most ravaged regions in all of Africa, but with so many factors still in play, it ain’t over till it’s over.
Mutiny at your peril. A court in Bangladesh has sentenced to death 150 soldiers — at least — for taking part in a revolt in 2009. Another 400 or more were jailed, 150 of them for life.
In February 2009, in the space of just 30 hours, 74 people including officers were hacked to death, tortured or burnt alive by rebellious soldiers, their bodies dumped in sewers and shallow graves. The motivation? Not a coup, not desire for influence, but simply better pay. An official investigation concluded that years of poor conditions and unheard resentment had built up in the ranks to the point of exploding into violence; now they’ll pay for it with their lives.
WANT TO KNOW
Toto, we’re not in Kolkata anymore. India has successfully launched its maiden mission to Mars, putting it on track to become the fourth space power in the world, and the first in Asia, to reach the Red Planet. The Mangalyaan satellite (that’s Hindi for “Mars craft”) and its rocket launcher blasted off from a space center off India’s east coast in the early afternoon local time.
All going to plan, it won’t be another 300 days at least until we know whether the mission’s aim — ostensibly to put Mangalyaan into orbit around Mars and examine its atmospheric gases, but also, you know, to whup China, Japan, South Korea and all its other regional rivals — has been achieved. Earlier Chinese and Japanese attempts have fallen at various hurdles between this planet and that; will India’s $72 million effort be the one to boldly go where no other South Asian mission has gone before?
Artful dodgers. That discovery of a stash of artwork plundered by Nazis and hidden in a German basement was even better news than we thought: prosecutors have confirmed that paintings by masters including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Otto Dix were among the 1,400 or so works concealed until recently in a Munich home. And here’s the really exciting part: some of them have never been seen before.
Authorities will be hanging on the collection for a while yet, while they establish how the masterpieces got there and who owns them now. They’re said to be worth at least $1.35 billion in total — and in artistic and historical terms, a whole lot more.
Let’s talk about sex. For a while, in the remote Colombian town of Barbacoas, that’s all anyone was doing — and not by choice. The town’s womensfolk, fed up of the resounding lack of action on their crumbling main road, responded with a lack of a different kind of action: they declared themselves on sex strike until something was done.
Done something was: the protest convinced Barbacoas’ men to get involved and apparently shamed government officials into taking action. Colombian army engineers recently began paving the beat-up parts of the highway — though that hasn’t stopped several of the protesters vowing to keep their legs crossed until the until the last mile is paved. Here’s why, if sex sells, no sex gets the job done.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Valley of the cats. OK, so this will be either your fantasy or your nightmare. What happened was: authorities in China let loose 1,000 kittens. Into the forest. A mountain forest. Kittens. A thousand of them. Loose. And did we mention: 1,000 kittens?!
No, they hadn’t been paid off by Buzzfeed. The cats were, in fact, bound for the butcher’s block — so animal protection activists summoned local police and intercepted the truck transporting the creatures to wherever the heck people eat cats. Rather than hand them over to their rescuers, however, police simply unlocked the cages and urged the kittens to run free in the mountains. That, it turns out, was a bad idea for two reasons: a) they’re kittens, and b) they’re in the mountains. (Out of the frying pan and into the forest, you might say.) Volunteers are now scouring the hillsides with cages in an attempt to capture the cats, and hope to put those found up for adoption. So far around 50 of the thousand have been retrieved. As for the rest: come back to us in 60 years when China’s run by a ruthless super race of hardy, angry cats.