Category Archives: Human Rights

Activists: 5 Killed in Protests Against Sudan’s President

CAIRO Security forces killed at least five protesters in fresh anti-government marches on Saturday in Sudan, in what organizers said was among the largest turnouts in three months.

The demonstrations began in December over price hikes and food shortages, and quickly escalated into calls for President Omar al-Bashir’s resignation, posing one of the biggest challenges yet to his nearly 30-year rule.

Security forces have responded to the protest movement with a fierce crackdown, killing at least 60 people according to Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based rights group. The latest deaths raised the tally to at least 65 since protests began.

The government has said that 32 people have been killed, but hasn’t updated its tally in weeks.

The rallies are being led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of independent professional unions.

Sarah Abdel-Jaleel, a spokeswoman for the SPA, told The Associated Press that four people were killed in the capital city of Khartoum and another protester was killed in the neighboring city of Omdurman.

Stone-throwing protesters clashed with security forces using tear gas, live ammunition and batons to disperse tens of thousands of people gathered outside the military’s headquarters and a presidential residence in Khartoum, according to the organizers.

The Sudan Doctors Committee, an SPA affiliate, said that dozens had been wounded in rallies across the country, many of them by live ammunition.

The state-run SUNA news agency on Saturday quoted police spokesman General Hashim Abdel-Rahim as saying that one person was killed “during disturbances in Omdurman.” He called the protests “illegal gatherings.”

Al-Bashir has offered little in the way of concessions, beyond calling for a national dialogue and asking parliament to postpone constitutional amendments that would allow him to seek a new term in next year’s elections.

Source: Voice of America

G-7 Ministers Hope to Seal Commitments on Global Challenges

DINARD, FRANCE Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven advanced economies were wrapping up a two-day meeting in the French seaside resort of Dinard on Saturday where they hope to seal joint commitments on a range of global challenges and lay the groundwork for August’s G-7 summit in Biarritz.

Diplomats from G-7 countries, which include the U.S., France, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy and the U.K., walked side-by-side against the rocky Atlantic coast backdrop and in the fresh Brittany air to project a united front before a working lunch. They hope to agree on a joint statement on the fight against trafficking drugs, arms and migrants in Africa’s troubled Sahel region, fighting cybercrime and stopping sexual violence against women in conflict zones, especially in Africa.

But U.S. officials said that points of discord will also be discussed at the talks led by the host, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said that Washington will use the G-7 forum to galvanize support for Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, who the U.S. has backed to lead the country into a democratic transformation from the failed regime of President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido has embarked on an international campaign to topple the socialist administration of Venezuela’s president amid deepening unrest in the country, which has been plagued by nearly a month of power outages.

Washington seems to be at odds with Italy over its stance on the crisis-hit South American country, being the sole G-7 member state to not back Guaido.

The U.S. and Canada have pursued a pro-active stance on widening support for Guaido, according to French officials. But there has already been widespread alarm after Guaido was stripped of immunity by Maduro loyalists earlier this week.

With Juan Guaido being stripped of his immunity … we don’t want the situation to escalate, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Dinard on Saturday.

We are still of the opinion that free elections should take place during which Venezuelans can decide themselves who will lead the country, he added.

Italy has also irked EU and U.S. allies by becoming the first G-7 member to sign up to a contentious Chinese plan to build a Silk Road-style global trade network, the trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

Source: Voice of America

WHO: Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreading Faster Than Ever

GENEVA Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola outbreak is spreading at its fastest rate yet, eight months after it was first detected, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Each of the past two weeks has registered a record number of new cases, marking a sharp setback for efforts to respond to the second biggest outbreak ever, as militia violence and community resistance have impeded access to affected areas.

Less than three weeks ago, the WHO said the outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever was largely contained and could be stopped by September, noting that weekly case numbers had halved from earlier in the year to about 25.

But the number of cases hit a record 57 the following week, and then jumped to 72 last week, said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier. Previous spikes of around 50 cases per week were documented in late January and mid-November.

Deaths occur outside treatment centers

More alarmingly, about three-quarters of Ebola deaths last week occurred outside of treatment centers, according to Congo health ministry data, meaning there is a much greater chance they transmitted the virus to those around them.

“People are becoming infected without access to response measures,” Lindmeier told Reuters.

The current outbreak is believed to have killed 676 people and infected 406 others. Another 331 patients have recovered.

In the past two months, five Ebola centers have been attacked, some by armed militiamen. That led French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to suspend its activities in two of the most affected areas.

Another challenge has been a mistrust of first responders. A survey conducted last September by medical journal The Lancet found that a quarter of people sampled in two Ebola hotspots did not believe the disease was real.

New outreach program

Lindmeier said new approaches to community outreach were showing signs of progress and that some previously hostile local residents had recently agreed to grant health workers access.

One treatment center that closed in February after being torched by unknown assailants reopened last week.

More than 11,000 people died in West Africa’s 2013-16 Ebola outbreak. Since then, health authorities have worked to speed up their responses and deployed an experimental vaccine and treatments, both of which have been considered effective.

Source: Voice of America

WHO: Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreading Faster Than Ever

GENEVA Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola outbreak is spreading at its fastest rate yet, eight months after it was first detected, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Each of the past two weeks has registered a record number of new cases, marking a sharp setback for efforts to respond to the second biggest outbreak ever, as militia violence and community resistance have impeded access to affected areas.

Less than three weeks ago, the WHO said the outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever was largely contained and could be stopped by September, noting that weekly case numbers had halved from earlier in the year to about 25.

But the number of cases hit a record 57 the following week, and then jumped to 72 last week, said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier. Previous spikes of around 50 cases per week were documented in late January and mid-November.

Deaths occur outside treatment centers

More alarmingly, about three-quarters of Ebola deaths last week occurred outside of treatment centers, according to Congo health ministry data, meaning there is a much greater chance they transmitted the virus to those around them.

“People are becoming infected without access to response measures,” Lindmeier told Reuters.

The current outbreak is believed to have killed 676 people and infected 406 others. Another 331 patients have recovered.

In the past two months, five Ebola centers have been attacked, some by armed militiamen. That led French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to suspend its activities in two of the most affected areas.

Another challenge has been a mistrust of first responders. A survey conducted last September by medical journal The Lancet found that a quarter of people sampled in two Ebola hotspots did not believe the disease was real.

New outreach program

Lindmeier said new approaches to community outreach were showing signs of progress and that some previously hostile local residents had recently agreed to grant health workers access.

One treatment center that closed in February after being torched by unknown assailants reopened last week.

More than 11,000 people died in West Africa’s 2013-16 Ebola outbreak. Since then, health authorities have worked to speed up their responses and deployed an experimental vaccine and treatments, both of which have been considered effective.

Source: Voice of America

Some Conservative States Easing Access to Birth Control

AMES, IOWA Several Republican-led state legislatures are advocating for women to gain over-the-counter access to birth control in what they say is an effort to reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

State legislatures in Arkansas and Iowa, for example, are working on legislation that would allow women older than 18 the ability to receive birth control from a pharmacist rather than going first to a doctor for a prescription. The measures are seeing bipartisanship support in those states and come after similar laws have passed in nearly a dozen other states.

Arkansas legislation

Arkansas state Representative Aaron Pilkington, a Republican, said he started working on the bill after seeing about a 15 percent decrease of teen births after other states passed similar legislation. Arkansas consistently has one of the highest birth rates among teenagers in the country.

Pilkington said support for the bill in many ways, it’s very generational. … I find that a lot of younger people and women are really in favor of this, especially mothers.

According to the Oral Contraceptive (OCs) Over the Counter (OTC) Working Group, a reproductive rights group, more than 100 countries, including Russia, much of South America and countries in Africa, allow access to birth control without a prescription.

Women are required to get a doctor’s prescription to obtain and renew birth control in most of the U.S., much of Europe, Canada and Australia, according to the reproductive rights group.

Pilkington, who identifies as a pro-life legislator, said he brought the bill forward partly as an effort to counter unwanted pregnancies and abortions. The bill would require a doctor’s visit about every two years to renew the prescription.

Rural residents

Arkansas has a population of about 3 million people, a third of whom live in rural areas. Pilkington said the bill would likely benefit women who reside in rural areas or those who have moved to new cities and aren’t under a doctor’s care yet.

A lot of times when they’re on the pill and they run out, they’ve gotta get a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor says, ‘I can’t see you for two months,’ he said. Some people have to drive an hour and a half to see their PCP (primary care physician) or OB-GYN (obstetrician-gynecologist), so this makes a lot of sense.

What Pilkington is proposing is not new. In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorsed the idea of making birth control available without a prescription. Today, at least 11 other states have passed legislation allowing for patients to go directly to the pharmacist, with some caveats.

In October, ahead of a tight midterm race, Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds raised a few eyebrows when she announced she would prioritize over-the-counter access to birth control in her state. Like Pilkington, she cited countering abortion as a main driver behind the proposed legislation. The bill closely models much of the language used in another Republican-sponsored bill In Utah that passed last year with unanimous support.

The planned Iowa legislation comes after the Republican-led state Legislature passed a bill in 2017 that rejected $3 million in federal funds for family-planning centers like Planned Parenthood.

The loss of federal funds forced Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides health care and contraception for women, to close four of its 12 clinics in the state.

Since then, Jamie Burch Elliott, public affairs manager of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa, said that anecdotal evidence shows that sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies have gone up.

With family planning, it takes time to see the impacts, so there are long-term studies going on to really study the impact of this, said Burch Elliott. Right away, we saw STI (sexually transmitted infections) and STD (sexually transmitted diseases) rates go up, particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea. As far as unintended pregnancy rates, we are hearing that they are rising, although the data is not out yet.

Pro-life pushback

So far the Iowa legislation has received some pushback, mostly from a few pro-life groups.

The Iowa Right to Life organization has remained neutral on the issue of birth control, but the Iowa Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the bishops of Iowa, and Iowans for LIFE, a nonprofit anti-abortion organization, have come out against the bill, citing concerns that birth control should not be administered without a visit to a physician.

Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for LIFE, also pointed out that oral contraception can be an abortifacient [that] sometimes cause abortions, challenging Reynolds’ motivation for introducing the bill.

On the other hand, Iowa family-planning organizations and Democratic legislators are mostly on board.

Policywise, I think this is really good, said Heather Matson, a state representative of a district located just outside the state capital, Des Moines. She appreciated that insurance will still cover birth control, but took issue with the age restriction, saying she would like to see an option for people younger than 18. Is it exactly the bill that I would have written, if given the opportunity? Not exactly.

While Matson represents one of the fastest-growing districts in the country, she pointed to the number of health care deserts in rural Iowa, where a shortage of OB-GYNs is leading to the closure of some maternity wards.

Like Planned Parenthood’s Burch Elliott, Matson agreed that this bill would be just one step in providing more access to birth control for women in rural parts of the state.

Even before Planned Parenthood was defunded, there wasn’t great access to birth control in Iowa to begin with, Burch Elliott said. Having said that, [this bill] is not a solution. Pharmacists are never going to be a replacement for Planned Parenthood, for example, where you’ll get STI and STD screenings, and any other cancer screenings or other preventive care that you might need.

Regardless of whether the bills pass in Des Moines or Little Rock, Arkansas Representative Pilkington expects other states to follow suit.

As the times have changed and you have a lot of conservative states like Tennessee, Arkansas, Utah (pass this legislation), I think it makes it way less of a partisan issue and more of a good governance issue, he said. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other states kind of pushing this as well. Especially when they see the success that other states are having with this.

Source: Voice of America