News from Iran – Week 36 – 2012

Blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki: From Threat of Execution to Reduced Sentence of 15yrs
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Prisoners’ News

A. Transfers

  • Dr. Nader Babaei transferred handcuffed and shackled to hospital with internal bleeding.
  • Massoud Bastani and Keyvan Samimi were transferred to solitary confinement at Rajaei Shahr Prison.
  • Iran’s oldest political prisoner, Abbas Amir-Entezam, discharged from hospital and allowed to go home.
  • On day 17 of hunger strike, political prisoner Rasoul Herdani has been moved to Evin clinic in poor health.

B- Arrests/Incarcerations

  • Critic and blogger Ahmad Nourmohammadi Abadchi was arrested in Ahvaz and transferred to Isfahan Intel detention
  • Five days after release, political prisoner Hadi Amini re-arrested.
  • Journalist Zhila Baniyaghoub arrived at Evin Prison to begin serving her one-year sentence.
  • Ebrahim Fakhri arrested in Maku for attending a session of poetry in Turkish language.
  • Hashem Hosseinpanahi, Kurdish activist, arrested.
  • Babak Mohsennezhad, photographer, arrested when taking pictures in Maku.
  • Professor at online Baha’i University, Keyvan Rahimian, summoned to serve his 5-year sentence.
  • Mohammad-Hasan Yousef-Pourseifi, human rights activist, reported to Evin to start serving his 5.5 year sentence.

C-Liberations

Akbar Amini

  • Vahdat Dana, Baha’i from Shiraz, freed after serving his sentence.
  • Akbar Amini released on bail.
  • Iman Rashidi, Fariba Ashtari, Farhanaz Misaghian, Shabnam Motahed, and Nategh Naeemi, Baha’i from Yazd, freed on 50 million Toman bail each.
  • Fariborz Baghi, Baha’i from Yazd, freed on 80 million Toman bail.
  • Sina Aghdaszadeh and Shayan Tafazoli,Baha’i from Mashhad, freed on 100 million Toman bail each.
  • Hossein Yazdi, reformist politician arrested last week released.

D-Other News

  • Muzaffar Dadi, ‎‎24, who had been incarcerated in Bandar Abbas Prison, died after being violently beaten by guards.
  • Wife of political activist and former prisoner Mohammad Esmail-Zadeh beaten by security forces commander, her teeth and jaw broken.
  • Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki suffering from internal bleeding in his kidneys after beatings and hunger strike

News of injustice in Iran

Behzad Nabavi

 

  • Human Rights activist and Zanjan Payame Noor University student Davoud Khodakarami has been sentenced to 4 months suspended for 4 years.
  • Journalist and political activist Mohammadsafar Lafoti has been sentenced to 5 years suspended sentence and a 5 year ban from political or journalism activities
  • New charges have been pressed against senior reformist Behzad Nabavi, imprisoned in IRGC’s ward 2A.
  • 3 executions in Rajaei Shahr prison.


University – Culture

  • First phase of the national internet has been installed in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces.
  • Tehran Times Managing Director, Reza Moghaddasi, and Isaac Chipampe, Managing Director of Zambia’s Daily Mail, signed a cooperation agreement with the goal of improving socio-cultural relations between Iran and Zambia.


Iran Economics

  • Isfahan Petrochemical Complex shut down due to oil shortages.
  • Iran suspends $2.6B gas project with Chinese consortium.
  • 5 million day laborers deprived of benefits of the labor law.
  • Workers protesting the bankruptcy verdict of Avangaan manufacturer of transmission towers: 100 workers laid off.
  • $ 1 = 2,200 Toman on Wednesday, 2,250 on Thursday
  • Russia has taken over the market for Iranian oil in Turkey.


Iran  abroad

  • Iran and North Korea sign technological cooperation agreement, deepening ties.
  • Bahrain demands apologies from Iran further to translation of Morsi speech during NAM.
  • Alleged spy ring for Iran revealed by visual records in Turkey.
  • Iran Supplying Syrian Military via Iraqi Airspace.
  • Canada lists Iran as “state sponsor of terrorism” for support of Assad regime in Syria. Canada has closed its embassy in Iran, effective immediately, and declared personae non gratae all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada.
  • Ahmadinejad appoints Reza Nazar-Ahari, former ambassador to Finland, as Iran’‎s new ambassador to Japan.


Politics in Iran

  • Revolutionary Guards killed a member of the PDKI, Esmail Kargar, in Shno.
  • Khamenei’s rep in IRGC: Regime’s legitimacy does NOT lie in people’s vote – while admitting that thousands of protesters and dissidents had been arrested after the 2009 election.
  • 7 Ayatollahs in Qom call execution of political opponents legally indefensible.
  • IRGC wants to establish seminary schools.
  • Security forcibly closes 15 businesses in Qazvin for not strictly observing the rules and values of Islam.
  • Iran’s next presidential election set for June 14 2013.


Miscellaneous

  • 21 medals, of which 9 gold for Iran during the London 2012 Paralympics.

Fish For Dinner? The Fruits of Slave Labor

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On March 25, 2011, Yusril became a slave. That afternoon he went to the East Jakarta offices of Indah Megah Sari (IMS), an agency that hires crews to work on foreign fishing vessels. He was offered a job on the Melilla 203, a South Korea-flagged ship that trawls in the waters off New Zealand. “Hurry up,” said the agent, holding a pen over a thick stack of contracts in a windowless conference room with water-stained walls. Waving at a pile of green Indonesian passports of other prospective fishermen, he added: “You really can’t waste time reading this. There are a lot of others waiting, and the plane leaves tomorrow.”

Yusril is 28, with brooding looks and a swagger that belies his slight frame. (Yusril asked that his real name not be used out of concern for his safety.) He was desperate for the promised monthly salary of $260, plus bonuses, for unloading fish. His wife was eight months pregnant, and he had put his name on a waiting list for the job nine months earlier. After taking a daylong bus ride to Jakarta, he had given the agent a $225 fee he borrowed from his brother-in-law, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Feb. 27 edition. The agent rushed him through signing the contracts, at least one of which was in English, which Yusril does not read.

The terms of the first contract, the “real” one, would later haunt him. In it, IMS spelled out terms with no rights. In addition to the agent’s commission, Yusril would surrender 30 percent of his salary, which IMS would hold unless the work was completed. He would be paid nothing for the first three months, and if the job were not finished to the fishing company’s satisfaction, Yusril would be sent home and charged more than $1,000 for the airfare. The meaning of “satisfactory” was left vague. The contract said only that Yusril would have to work whatever hours the boat operators demanded.

Locked In

The last line of the contract, in bold, warned that Yusril’s family would owe nearly $3,500 if he were to run away from the ship. The amount was greater than his net worth, and he had earlier submitted title to his land as collateral for that bond. Additionally, he had provided IMS with the names and addresses of his family members. He was locked in.

What followed, according to Yusril and several shipmates who corroborated his story, was an eight-month ordeal aboard the Melilla 203, during which Indonesian fishermen were subjected to physical and sexual abuse by the ship’s operators. Their overlords told them not to complain or fight back, or they would be sent home, where the agents would take their due. Yusril and 23 others walked off in protest when the trawler docked in Lyttelton, New Zealand. The men have seen little if any of what they say they are owed. Such coerced labor is modern-day slavery, as the United Nations defines the crime. (The South Korean owners of the Melilla ships did not respond to requests for comment.)

Debt Bondage

The experiences of the fishermen on the Melilla 203 were not unique. In a six-month investigation, Bloomberg Businessweek found cases of debt bondage on the Melilla 203 and at least nine other ships that have operated in New Zealand’s waters. As recently as November 2011, fish from the Melilla 203 and other suspect vessels were bought and processed by United Fisheries, New Zealand’s eighth-largest seafood company, which sold the same kinds of fish in that period to distributors operating in the U.S. (The U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood.) The distributors in turn sold the fish to major U.S. companies. Those companies — which include some of the country’s biggest retailers and restaurants — sold the seafood to American consumers.

Yusril’s story and that of nearly two dozen other survivors of abuse reveal how the $85 billion global fishing industry profits from the labor of people forced to work for little or no pay, often under the threat of violence. Although many U.S. seafood companies and retailers claim not to do business with suppliers who exploit their workers, the truth is far murkier.

Musty Quarters

Hours after Yusril arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand, the Melilla 203 officers put him to work unloading squid on the 193- foot, 26-year-old trawler. The ship was in bad shape, and the quarters were musty, as the vessel had no functioning dryer for crew linens or work clothes. Yet the conditions seemed comparatively decent to Yusril.

Two years earlier he had worked on the Dong Won 519, operating under the auspices of Sanford Ltd., a 130-year-old, $383 million New Zealand company. On that boat, Yusril says the officers hit him in the face with fish and the boatswain repeatedly kicked him in the back for using gloves when he was sewing the trawl nets in cold weather. Most unnervingly, the second officer would crawl into the bunk of Yusril’s friend at night and attempt to rape him. When asked for comment, Chief Executive Officer Eric Barratt said Sanford’s observers, which the company placed on all their foreign-chartered vessels (FCVs), reported that the ships “don’t have any issues with labor abuse.”

Conditions Worsen

When the Melilla 203 set sail for the deep waters of the Southern Ocean, conditions worsened, according to the accounts of Yusril and a dozen other crew members. The ship trawled for up to two months at a time, between 12 and 200 miles offshore. The boatswain would grab crew members’ genitals as they worked or slept. When the captain of the ship drank, he molested some of the crew, kicking those who resisted. As nets hauled in the catch — squid, ling, hoki, hake, grouper, southern blue whiting, jack mackerel, and barracuda — the officers shouted orders from the bridge. They often compelled the Indonesians to work without proper safety equipment for up to 30 hours, swearing at them if they so much as asked for coffee or a bathroom break. Even when fishermen were not hauling catches, 16-hour workdays were standard.

Fatigue

The resulting fatigue meant accidents, which could bring dismemberment in the cramped below-deck factory where the fish were headed and gutted by hand, then passed along conveyor belts to be frozen. Over the past decade at least two crew members of the Melilla ships have died, according to local newspaper accounts and reports by Maritime New Zealand, a government regulatory body. Dozens of Melilla crew members suffered injuries, some crippling.

When Ruslan, 36, a friend of Yusril’s on the 203, snapped two bones in his left hand in a winch, it took three weeks before he was allowed to go to a hospital. The morning after his discharge he was ordered back to work but could not carry out his duties. The company removed him before any follow-up medical appointments. “I was a slave, but then I became useless to the Koreans, so they sent me home with nothing,” he says.

Today, back in his home village in Central Java, Ruslan has a deformed hand. While IMS, the recruiting agency, finally paid him $335 for three months of work, it has blacklisted him, according to Ruslan, because he spoke to investigators, and it has refused to help with medical bills.

Ecological Infractions

During the last decade, New Zealand authorities repeatedly fined or seized the Melilla ships for ecological infractions, such as a 2005 oil discharge in Lyttelton (LPC) Harbor, which the country monitored by satellite and occasional inspections by Ministry of Fisheries observers. Crimes against humanity were secondary. Scott Gallacher, a spokesman for New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (which merged with the Ministry of Fisheries in July), explained that “observers are not formally tasked” with assisting abused crew, though they may report abuses to the Department of Labour. Yet Yusril said that when he once whispered a plea for help, an observer expressed sympathy but said it was “not my job.”

New Zealand authorities had plenty of prior evidence of deplorable working conditions on foreign vessels like the Melilla. On Aug. 18, 2010, in calm seas, a Korean-flagged trawler called the Oyang 70 sank, killing six. Survivors told the crew of the rescuing vessel their stories of being trafficked. A report by Christina Stringer and Glenn Simmons, two researchers at the University of Auckland Business School, and Daren Coulston, a mariner, uncovered numerous cases of abuse and coercion among the 2,000 fishermen on New Zealand’s 27 FCVs.

New Zealand Inquiry

The report prompted the government to launch a joint inquiry. The researchers gathered testimony from New Zealand observers who saw abuses being committed even after they had boarded ships. “Korean officers are vicious bastards,” one observer said, as quoted in the report. The source said a factory manager “rapped” a 12-kilogram (26 pounds) stainless steel pan over a crew member’s head, splitting the top of it, with blood “pissing out everywhere.” The observer said he gave the Indonesian fisherman 26 stitches.

After eight months on the Melilla 203, Yusril and 23 other crew members protested their treatment and pay to the captain. The move came after a Department of Labour investigator visited the ship in November 2011, when it was docked in Lyttelton. The official gave Yusril a fact sheet stipulating that crew members were entitled to minimum standards of treatment under New Zealand law, including pay of at least $12 per hour. When deductions, agency fees, and a manipulated exchange rate were subtracted, the fishermen were averaging around $1 per hour.

Retribution Threats

The captain dismissed the document and threatened to send them home to face retribution from the recruiting agency. Believing that the New Zealand government would protect them from such a fate, Yusril and all but four of the Indonesian crew walked off the boat and sought refuge in Lyttelton Union Parish Church. Aided by two local pro bono lawyers, they decried months of flagrant human rights abuses and demanded their unpaid wages under New Zealand’s Admiralty Act.

Ten miles from Lyttelton, in neighboring Christchurch, stands the headquarters of United Fisheries, the company that exclusively purchased the fish that Yusril and his mates caught. The building features gleaming Doric columns topped with friezes of chariot races. It was designed to resemble the temples to Aphrodite in Cyprus, the homeland of United founder Kypros Kotzikas.

‘High Standard’

The patriarch started in New Zealand with a small fish-and- chip restaurant. Some 40 years later, his son, Andre, 41, runs a company that had some $66 million in revenue last year. Although three Melilla crew members, citing abuse, had run away nine days before I spoke with Kotzikas, he told me he had heard of no complaints from crew on board the ships, and he had personally boarded the vessels to ensure that the conditions “are of very high standard.”

“I don’t think that claims of slavery or mistreatment can be attached to foreign charter vessels that are operating here in New Zealand,” he said. “Not for responsible operators.”

In an e-mail, Peter Elms, a fraud and compliance manager with Immigration New Zealand, cited a police assessment that found that complaints from crews amounted to nothing more than disputes over work conditions, alleged minor assaults, intimidation, workplace bullying and non-payment of wages. Elms said his department had two auditors who visited each vessel every two or three years, and they had found nothing rising to the level of human trafficking, a crime punishable in New Zealand by up to 20 years in prison.

‘Beautiful Stuff’

Kotzikas said that while New Zealand’s labor laws are “a thousand pages of, you know, beautiful stuff,” he believed they did not necessarily apply beyond New Zealand’s 12-mile territorial radius.

Half of United Fisheries’ annual revenue is generated outside New Zealand, spread across five continents. In the U.S., which imports an estimated $14.7 billion worth of fish annually, regulators are beginning to pay attention to the conditions under which that food is caught.

The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, as of Jan. 1, requires all retailers with more than $100 million in global sales to publicly disclose their efforts to monitor and combat slavery in their supply chains. The law covers some 3,200 corporations that do business in the state, including several that trade in seafood.

Kotzikas said his company sold ling, a species of fish which is also caught by the Melilla crews, to Costco Wholesale Corp, America’s largest wholesaler and the world’s seventh- largest retailer.

Risking Punishment

Another New Zealand company with ties to U.S. retailers is Sanford, the country’s second-largest seafood enterprise. On Nov. 3, I interviewed crew members of the Dong Won and Pacinui vessels, charters catching fish for Sanford, near the docks at Lyttelton. These men risked punishment by speaking out: Less than a week earlier three Pacinui crew members who had complained were sent back to Indonesia to face the recruiters.

A Dong Won deckhand said he felt like a slave as he simulated a Korean officer kicking him on the ground. Their contracts, issued by IMS and two other Indonesian agents, were nearly identical to those signed by the Melilla crew. They reported the same pay rates, false contracts, doctored time sheets and similar hours, daily abuse, intimidation, and threats to their families if they walked away.

Audits

After several desertions over the past decade, New Zealand labor audits of the Dong Won ships turned up some of the same complaints. In 2010, Sanford assured the government that it would improve oversight of foreign-chartered vessels and address allegations of abuse or wage exploitation. Barratt, Sanford’s CEO, said observers of his company’s foreign vessels did not find instances of abuse and that three deported Pacinui crew had returned voluntarily.

According to Barratt, his company exports to the U.S. through at least 16 seafood distributors, the majority through Mazzetta Co LLC, a $425 million corporation based in suburban Chicago that is the largest American importer of New Zealand fish. Mazzetta sells the same species caught on the Dong Won and Pacinui ships to outlets across the country. On Feb. 21, after the publication of an online version of this article, CEO Tom Mazzetta sent Barratt a letter demanding an investigation of labor practices on Sanford’s foreign-chartered vessels.

Sanford also sells to the $10 billion supermarket chain Whole Foods Market Inc, Barratt said. Whole Foods spokeswoman Ashley Hawkins said that “for proprietary reasons we cannot reveal who we source from for our exclusive brand products.”

‘In Compliance

Asked about allegations that FCVs in New Zealand employ slave labor, Hawkins said Whole Foods is “in compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, New Zealand is not considered high-risk.”

Other buyers of Sanford’s fish include Nova Scotia-based High Liner Foods Inc, which sells products containing the same seafood as that caught by the indentured fishermen on the Dong Won and Pacinui ships. High Liner’s customers include U.S. retailers such as Safeway Inc, America’s second-largest grocery store chain, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world’s largest retailer. When alerted by Bloomberg Businessweek, spokespeople for both retailers pledged swift investigations. Alastair Macfarlane, a representative of New Zealand’s Seafood Industry Council, declined to comment on which American companies might be buying fish from troubled vessels such as the Melilla 203.

Tainted Fish

However, an analysis of several sources of data –including New Zealand fishery species quota and FCV catch totals made available by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry –suggests roughly 40 percent of squid exported from New Zealand is caught on one of the vessels using coerced labor. Perhaps 15 percent of all New Zealand hoki exports may be slave-caught, and 8 percent of the country’s southern blue whiting catch may be tainted.

Despite the prevalence of foreign-chartered vessels, which in 2010 earned $274.6 million in export revenue and hauled in 62.3 percent of New Zealand’s deepwater catch, some companies have determined they are not worth the risk.

“The reputational damage is immeasurable,” says Andrew Talley, director of Talley’s Group, New Zealand’s third-largest fishing company, which submits to third-party audits on its labor standards, a condition of its contract to supply McDonald’s Corp with hoki for its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.

‘Hard-Earned’ Reputation

“New Zealand seafood enjoys a hard-earned and world- leading reputation as a responsible fisheries manager, with a product range and quality to match,” says Talley. “There is nothing responsible at all about using apparently exploitative and abusive FCVs.”

The main thoroughfare that bisects Yusril’s Central Java village feeds into a chain of divided tollways that run all the way to Jakarta. Travelers along the road quickly leave the briny air of the fishing kampungs and pass through green rice paddies dotted with water buffalo and trees bearing swollen, spiky jackfruit. Sixty years ago, Yusril’s grandfather worked that land. Today, thousands journey along the highway to seek new lives.

When I found him last December, Yusril was back in his in- laws’ modest home, tucked well off a side road. He was out of work and brainstorming ways to scratch out a living by returning to his father’s trade, farming. IMS, the recruiting agency in Jakarta, had blacklisted him and was refusing to return his birth certificate, his basic safety training credentials, and his family papers. It was also withholding pay, totaling around $1,100. In total, Yusril had been paid an average of 50¢ an hour on the Melilla 203. (An IMS attorney did not respond to repeated e-mails requesting comment. When I showed up at the agency’s offices in Jakarta, a security guard escorted me out.)

Two of the 24 men who walked off the Melilla 203 returned to work on the ship rather than face deportation. The ship’s representatives flew the remaining 22 resisters back to Indonesia. When they returned to Central Java, the resisters say they were coerced by IMS into signing documents waiving their claims to redress for human rights violations in exchange for their originally stipulated payments of $500 to $1,000. Yusril was one of two who held out. On Jan. 21, when I last spoke to him, I asked why he had refused to sign the document.

“Dignity,” said Yusril, pointing to his heart.

From an article by E. Benjamin Skinner - Mar 30, 2012

News and Comments 7 Feb 2012

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Syria crisis: Gulf Arab states expel Syrian ambassadors

Gulf Arab states say they are expelling Syrian ambassadors in their countries and recalling their envoys from Syria.

The Gulf Cooperation Council said Syria had rejected Arab attempts to solve the crisis and end 11 months of bloodshed.

The US closed its embassy in Syria on Monday, and several European countries have recalled their ambassadors.

The moves came as Syrian government forces continued their fierce assault on the restive city of Homs, and Russian officials visited Damascus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a solution to the crisis based on Arab League initiatives, days after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution on Syria.

After meeting Mr Lavrov, Syrian media quoted President Bashar al-Assad as saying he was willing to co-operate with “any efforts towards stability”.

Separately Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, denied reports that he had threatened Qatar’s prime minister during talks at the UN last week. Someone was trying to drive a wedge between Russia and the Arab world, he said.
The GCC said it would urge all other Arab states to adopt “decisive measures” when the Arab League meets next week. The UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy have also recalled their ambassadors

Ambassadors recalled from Syria

  • United States (embassy closed)
  • Europe

  • France
  • UK
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Gulf Arab states

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Qatar
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Bahrain
  • Oman
  • Kuwait

via BBC

Prop. 8: Gay-marriage ban unconstitutional, court rules – latimes.com

Court strikes down gay marriage ban in LA County

A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage, clearing the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage as early as next year.

The 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that limited marriage to one man and one woman, violated the U.S. Constitution. The architects of Prop. 8 have vowed to appeal.

The ruling was narrow and likely to be limited to California.

via latimes.com.


Another President Quits – Mohamed Nasheed Steps Down after Maldives Protests

President Nasheed of the Maldives briefs repor...

Mohamed Nasheed

Rather sad that the former human rights and environmental activist didn’t last the course. He was replaced by his vice president after the police and army clashed in the streets of the island nation amid protests after Nasheed ordered the military to arrest Abdulla Mohamed, the chief judge of the Criminal Court. The judge had ordered the release of a government critic he said had been illegally detained.

The crisis came to a head today when hundreds of police demonstrated in the capital, Male, after officials ordered them to withdraw protection for government and opposition supporters protesting close to each other. The withdrawal resulted in a clash that injured at least three people.

Later, troops fired rubber bullets and clashed with the police. When Nasheed visited the police and urged them to end the protest, they refused and instead chanted for his resignation. Mohamed was released after Hassan took power.

Nasheed resigned on TV this morning, and Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who previously worked as a top UNICEF official, was sworn in as the new Maldivian president this afternoon. Soon after, the judge was released.


New Bruce Lee Film


‘I Am Bruce Lee’ tells the amazing story of one of the most iconic human beings ever to enter the public consciousness. Voted as one of the most important people of the 20th century in Time Magazine’s Time 100, as well as one of the Greatest Pop Culture Icons by People Magazine, Bruce Lee continues to be honoured and remembered for his enduring legacy.

In Hong Kong, teams visited the memorial statu...

Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend

~ Bruce Lee


Scotland Yard has recovered over 300,000,000 emails News of the World said were deleted

They doubled resources on the team and are analysing and are identifying hundreds, perhaps thousands, of possible victims going back over 30 years. Daily Record


Violence in northern Mali forces over 20,000 into exile

UNHCR report on Mali upheaval:

Malian Refugees in Mauritania

Malian Refugees in Mauritania

UNHCR has deployed emergency teams to countries surrounding Mali to help meet the needs of some 20,000 people who have been forced to flee fighting in northern Mali. Most of the displaced are in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Fighting between rebel Tuareg groups and governmental forces in the Azawad region of northern Mali began in mid-January.

In the past three weeks, at least 10,000 people are reported to have crossed to Niger, 9,000 have found refuge in Mauritania and 3,000 in Burkina Faso.

Local communities along the border, affected by the food crisis themselves in the Sahel, are sharing their resources with the new arrivals. The authorities have also distributed food. Four additional UNHCR staff are already in Niger and more are on their way. We plan to send aid for 10,000 people from our stockpiles in the region.

Our office in Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso also reported the arrival of some 3,000 Malian Tuaregs following attacks on their homes and businesses in the Malian capital Bamako and in the nearby town of Kati last week. Many of the new arrivals are staying with host families in Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso, 320 kilometres south-west of the capital. Other new arrivals have been reported in the north west of the country, especially near Djibo, in Soum province. An inter-agency mission, including UNHCR, is scheduled to go there by the end of the week to assess the needs of the people.

Meanwhile in Mauritania UNHCR has sent several missions to the village of Fassala, in the region of Hodh el Chargi 3km from the border with Mali, where over 9,000 people have arrived since 25th January. The mainly ethnic Tuareg Malian refugees come from the region of Léré on the other side of the border. They told UNHCR that they fled fighting between Government forces and rebel Tuareg fighters, fearing retaliation by army troops.


Human Rights Watch Warns of Lead Poisoning Crisis in Nigeria

Thousands of children in northern Nigeria need immediate medical treatment and dozens of villages remain contaminated two years into the worst lead poisoning epidemic in modern history, Human Rights Watch said today while releasing a video on the issue. Four hundred children have died, according to official estimates, yet environmental cleanup efforts have not even begun in numerous affected villages.

Artisanal gold mines are found throughout Zamfara State in northwestern Nigeria, and high levels of lead in the earth and the use of rudimentary mining methods have resulted in an epidemic of lead poisoning among children, Human Rights Watch said. Research by Human Rights Watch in Zamfara in late 2011 found that children are exposed to this lead dust when they process ore in the mines, when their mine worker relatives return home covered with lead dust, and when the lead-filled ore is manually or mechanically crushed at home. Children can also be exposed to toxic lead in contaminated water and food. Healthcare workers in Zamfara State told Human Rights Watch that there have also been high rates of infertility and miscarriage among affected adults.


Politics, Religion, Media – an Unholy Trinity

You might enjoy reading this exclusive article in the Daily Beast about the head of the Washington Times and his roles as unofficial envoy to North Korea for former US President and war criminal at large, George W. Bush. I think it’s great when journalists research and publish this information. But I find myself asking constantly why no action ever ensues. It’s as though ‘publish and be damned’ turned into ‘print and be done’.


Behind The News: Yemen Times

Good, informative story from SourceFabric about the trials, tribulations and revival of Yemen Times, an essential and important source of news from this remarkable country, still dealing with the aftermath of former president’ Saleh’s barbaric regime.


Panetta Has to Think of a Number for US Military Ops. Iran Still Has No Nukes

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Iran could build and set off a nuclear weapon within two to three years if it decided to pursue one, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a television interview aired Sunday. [my emphasis]

“The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon,” Panetta said during a profile on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Tensions with Iran have mounted in recent months over Tehran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz and the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Iran has said its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

English: Official portrait of the former Direc...

Image via Wikipedia

Panetta, who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency for two-and-a-half years before heading to the Pentagon, reiterated the Obama administration’s position that it would do everything it could to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. “If they proceed and we get intelligence that they’re proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon, then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it,” he said. Asked if that meant a possible military strike, he repeated a line oft-used by President Obama: “There are no options that are off the table.”

Panetta reflected on the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in the interview, and said he believes government authorities in Pakistan knew about the whereabouts of the al Qaeda leader. “My personal view is that somebody somewhere probably had that knowledge,” said Panetta.

He acknowledged that he had to “stop and think” in response to a question about how many “shooting wars” the U.S. was currently engaged. “I’ll have to stop and think about that, because you know, obviously we’re going after al Qaeda, wherever they’re at,” he replied. “And clearly, we’re, we’re confronting al Qaeda in, in Pakistan. We’re confronting the nodes of al Qaeda in Yemen, in Somalia, in North Africa.”

The secretary has been charged with reducing the Pentagon’s budget by $450 billion over a decade because of spending cuts authorized by Congress. He said he would try to do so without making “the mistakes of the past.” Republicans criticized President Clinton for slashing the military too much during the 1990s as part of a “peace dividend” after the end of the Cold War. “We’ll have to make some very tough decisions about how we do this,” Panetta said. “The last thing I want to do is to make the mistakes of the past. We still have to protect the best military in the world. We still have to have a military that protects us against a lot of threats that are out there, terrorism, Iran, North Korea, nuclear proliferation, problem of cyber attacks, rising powers like China.”