United Nations: Milestone indigenous rights report released
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues last week issued a report, unprecedented for the world body, demonstrating low life expectancy and extreme poverty affecting most indigenous people. “State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples” comes as the United Nations studies progress toward the Millennium Development Goals targeted for 2015. According to Inter Press Service, the document identified loss of land and extrajudicial killings as prevalent violations of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved by 143 nations, not including the United States and Canada. Forum spokespersons told reporters that private companies aided by governments often move indigenous peoples off their land, often illegally, for the sake of large dams, mining and lumber operations, and tourist projects.
Great Britain: Labor favors proportional representation
Unions are promoting discussion aimed at adopting a system of proportional representation for House of Commons elections. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) last week published “Getting it in Proportion? Trade Unions and Electoral Reform.” Introducing the pamphlet, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber noted that the system presently “encourages the major parties to concentrate their efforts in marginal seats,” with “core voters” being taken for granted. Demands for change rise from the recent MP expense scandal , declining voter turnout, the rise of third parties, undue influence of rich donors, and governments formed with scanty popular support. “As the largest mass democratic organizations in our society,” unions are strategically placed to help “reinvigorate our political system,” explains the TUC.
Mongolia: President bans death penalty
President Elbegdorj Tsakhia announced January 14 his imposition of a moratorium on the death penalty. Recommending 30-year jail sentences in place of executions, he noted, “The majority of the world’s countries have chosen to abolish the death penalty. We should follow this path.” A permanent ban, however, will be up to Mongolia’s parliament, presently controlled by the president’s political opposition. Elbegdorj has commuted three death sentences since taking office in May, reports Al Jazeera. Crimes punishable by death include treason, espionage and certain cases of rape. The government tightly controls information on carrying out the death penalty, even to prisoners’ families. According to Amnesty International, nine prisoners were awaiting execution as of July 2009.
Argentina: Workers confront mining giant
Miners at a high-altitude, open pit silver and gold mining operation last week gained a 23 percent wage increase, return of unpaid wages, and recognition of both their union, Organization of Argentinean Miners (OSMA), and 10-person union negotiating team. And, crucially, Barrick Gold Corporation acknowledged José Leiva’s role as OSMA secretary general and returned him to his job. Canadian-based Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining corporation, has mines in 27 countries.
Workers at the Veladero mine formed their union on June 30, 2009. Barrick Gold responded a month later by firing Leiva. In December, 200 workers went on strike to force his court ordered reinstatement. Their walkout and mounting national and international union pressure brought Barrick Gold to heel. Within days, according to argenpress.info, negotiations began, and the strike ended.
Iraq: Sectarian divide grows as elections approach
A campaign by Iraqi security forces in Sunni-dominated parts of Baghdad and other areas has led to mass arrests and a Sunni exodus. Officials of the Shiite dominated national government say prisoners will be detained until after elections in March. Azzaman News also reported the targeting of Sunnis once allied to U.S. troops as the so-called Awakening Councils, with 10 having been killed. The ban issued last week on election participation by the prominent Sunni politician Saleh Al-Mutlaq and his National Dialogue Front triggered widespread antigovernment demonstrations. The Justice and Accountability Commission took the action, explains Al Ahram online, under its mandate to exclude Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party from politics. Nevertheless senior Baath Party leaders are holding talks with U.S. officials, according to Azzaman.
Cuba: Cuban Five prisoners ascend great heights
Five Cuban men, Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González climbed in spirit to the “roof of America.” The Argentinean mountaineers Santiago Vega, Aldo Bonavitta and Alcides Bonavitta reached the top of Mount Aconcagua, elevation 22,841 feet, on January 10. At the summit of the highest mountain in the Americas, they displayed banners in English and Spanish reading: “Obama, free the 5 Cuban heroes now.” Never had the international cause to free five men defending their nation against terrorism reached such heights, in a literal sense. The Cuban Five languish in U.S. jails, while, as Argentinean writer and sociologist Atilo A. Boron points out, “Proven and admitted terrorists like Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada enjoy liberty” (in Florida). Extolling the ascent, Boron opined, “The case of ‘the Five’ reveals like little else the extent of the empire’s moral rot.”