Myanmar: Red Cross condemns human rights abuses

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report recently criticizing the military government of Myanmar (Burma) for abusing civilians and detainees and violating international humanitarian laws. “The exceptional step of making its concerns public” was necessary, according to an ICRC spokesperson, because Myanmar has ignored recommendations and blocked humanitarian access to detainees.

Before 2005, when there was monitoring of detainees’ treatment, mortality rates fell, yet remained twice that of the general population. Now, tuberculosis and malaria are rampant, 25,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS appear annually, and one-third of the children are malnourished. Health care consumes 3 percent of the nation’s budget and education 10 percent, while the military takes 40 percent, the Lancet medical journal reports. Every year 106 of every 1,000 children age 5 or younger die — the rate is 21 per 1,000 in Thailand. In conflict situations, the army often detains and kills medical workers, the report charges.

Iraq: Unions to launch new federation

Iraqi trade unions have announced they will hold the founding congress of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), which unites the three major Iraqi national trade union centers, next month in Baghdad.

In preparation, the GFIW (www.iraqitradeunions.org/en/) held a series of public seminars for unions in Baghdad in July, which included discussions with heads of union committees on issues such as pay and working conditions, and labor and social welfare codes.

The decision to hold the congress in the capital is itself an act of defiance and bravery, notes LabourStart. Many Iraqi trade unionists have lost their lives in recent years. Today, the unions are battling the revival of Saddam Hussein’s anti-union laws. At their congress, they aim to create Iraq’s first democratic national trade union movement to address the burning economic and social issues facing the country.

GFIW international representative Abdullah Muhsin has urged unions around the world to send messages of greeting to the congress. Messages from unions should be sent to abdullahmuhsin@iraqitradeunions.org.

South Africa: Communist Party head lambastes AFRICOM

Critical of African silence toward U.S. plans for AFRICOM, the new U.S. military command structure for Africa, Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the South African Communist Party, issued a statement Aug. 14 calling upon progressives to study, discuss and oppose the “brazenly unilateralist” project.

AFRICOM, he suggested, is emblematic of U.S. militarization of its foreign policies and a trend toward merging development assistance and imperial strategies. AFRICOM represents colonial intrusion into African multilateral initiatives, in his view. Nzimande dismissed Senate testimony Aug. 1 by Assistant Defense Secretary Theresa Whelan justifying AFRICOM on grounds of efficiency. More relevant, he asserted, is a 2006 State Department report on “National Security Strategy” that “positions the U. S. as the custodian of human civilization.”

Calling for “autonomous development” and use of African resources for Africans, Nzimande connected the fight against AFRICOM with “a strong continental peace movement.” He condemned U.S. “hegemonic intentions” to station troops “in practically all parts of the world.”

Chile: Striking copper miners gain victory

On Aug. 1, Chile’s Confederation of Copper Workers (CTC) ended a 37-day strike by 13,000 contract workers against the state-owned Codelco Corp., source of 11 percent of the world’s copper production. The settlement called for salary increases, bonuses, a ban on firing strikers and pay for eight days on strike. The terms will presumably extend to the company’s 14,300 other contract workers. In addition, CTC leader Cristian Cuevas indicated his union would be organizing subcontracted workers in Chile’s private copper mines.

Analysts say current high world prices for minerals, especially copper, enourage strikes against companies focused on quick settlements and early resumption of operations.

On Aug. 7 in Mexico, federal authorities designated as a wildcat strike a weeklong walkout against mining giant Grupo Mexico. The next day the company fired over 2,000 striking miners. Some 13 U.S. and Canadian union leaders arrived at the company’s Cananea, Sonora, copper mine Aug. 11 to support the striking workers.

Sweden: Conference warns of world water crisis

At the 17th World Water Week held Aug. 12-18 in Stockholm, United Nations official Anna Tibaijuka told an assembly of 2,500 water experts from 140 countries that “water is going to be the dominant world issue far into the current century” and the “social stability of the world” is at stake, Inter Press Service reported.

The gathering featured hundreds of reports, briefs and position papers on subjects like climate change effects, urban migration, sustainable sanitation, land tenure, technological innovations, research development, health implications and competing water needs between ecosystems and food production. The outline of presentations appearing at www.worldwaterweek.org did not list discussions of financial aspects of the issues, although, according to the Asian Development Bank, $6 in benefits are returned for every dollar invested in improved access.

The UN reports that 1 billion people lack drinkable water and 2 billion lack sanitation facilities. Presently 20 percent of the world’s population in 30 countries faces water shortages.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @megalink.net)

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