S. Africa: High court OKs same-sex marriage

Following court decisions in earlier years outlawing discrimination and expanding gay rights, South Africa’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously Dec. 1 to allow same-sex marriages. The court gave Parliament a year to make marriage laws consistent with the constitution, which bars discrimination on grounds of race, gender or sexual orientation.

The country now joins Belgium, Spain, Holland and Canada in allowing same-sex marriages.

Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys, a lesbian couple, had won a case in the Supreme Court last year supporting their right to marry. But the Department of Home Affairs had appealed the decision.

“Although a number of breakthroughs have been made,” Judge Albie Sachs said in the current ruling, “there is no comprehensive legal regulation of the family law rights of gays and lesbians.” Sachs added that “small gestures” toward equality are not enough, and exclusion of same-sex couples from the benefits and responsibilities of marriage is not “a small inconvenience.” A democratic and equal society embraces everyone and accepts people for who they are, he said.

Haiti: New attacks by UN troops

The Haiti Action Committee said Nov. 28 it had received eyewitness reports that United Nations troops had launched a new round of attacks on residents of the Cite Soleil district of Port-au-Prince. On Nov. 23, the committee said, UN troops reportedly killed one man, a maker of kitchen utensils, and injured five others when they fired into his shop. Another report said UN troops led by Jordanian soldiers killed a husband and wife and wounded eight others.

The Haitian news agency AHP said that according to some accounts, as many as 15 people might have been killed and others wounded. AHP said UN military spokesperson Colonel El Ouafi Boulbars denied there was a military operation, and said there were only exchanges of gunfire.

Warning that “another massacre” might be in the making, the Haiti Action Committee called for protest messages to Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director, NY Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (917) 367-5208 or mokhiber@un.org.

International human rights organizations have accused UN troops and Haitian security forces of earlier massacres of civilians in Cite Soleil and other poor working-class neighborhoods where support is high for deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Cuba: Int’l conference on child abuse

Experts from 17 countries gathered at Havana’s International Conference Center Nov. 29-Dec. 1 for a world Congress on Child Abuse, aimed at analyzing this global problem and encouraging national policies to protect minors, Prensa Latina reported.

Ana Martinez, president of Cuba’s National Council for the Care of Minors, said defending the rights of children and adolescents and preventing aggression is a main premise of the event.

West Bank: Appeal for kidnapped activists

Palestinians led by their top Muslim cleric appealed to Iraqi insurgents last week to release four Western peace activists, saying three of them had spent time in the West Bank aiding the Palestinians, The Associated Press reported.

Christian Peacemaker Team members Tom Fox from the U.S. and Canadians Harmeet Sooden and James Loney had demonstrated against the construction of Israel’s so-called security fence, had helped Palestinian children get through Israeli army checkpoints and helped with the olive harvest, West Bank Palestinians said.

“We demand that these aid workers be released immediately,” said Mufti Ikrema Sabri, the Palestinians’ top Muslim clergyman. He added that Islam opposes taking civilians hostage, and called such kidnappings “inhumane.”

Palestinians in several towns who had worked with the three activists asked Sabri to issue the appeal.

Vietnam: Protest State Dept. label

The Vietnam-USA Society, an organization of Vietnamese people working for friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries, said in a Nov. 28 letter that it is “very disappointed” by the U.S. State Department’s recent designation of Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC).” The Society said the designation “disregards recent significant improvements in democracy, human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam, runs counter to the new developments in U.S.-Vietnam relations as well as the aspirations and interests of the governments and the people, including religious followers, of the two countries.”

The Vietnam-USA Society called for messages asking the State Department to remove Vietnam from the CPC list. The State Department main switchboard can be reached at (202) 647-4000, and the Vietnam country desk at (202) 647-3132.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).

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