Iraq: Environment under siege
Interviewed by the U.K. Guardian, Environment Minister Narmin Othman last week commented on a recent study by the environment, health, and science ministries demonstrating radiation and toxic chemicals found at 40 widely distributed sites. Increasing rates of cancer and birth defects have been noted in some of the areas. The Minister attributed high levels of radiation emanating from scrap metal yards in Basra and Baghdad to depleted uranium used in munitions. She also noted dangerous levels of radiation at the sites of destroyed nuclear reactors and research centers of the previous regime and along routes used to remove destroyed tanks. Reports of an epidemic of birth defects in Falluja have yet to be confirmed, she added.
Othman said that severe drought and a "70% decrease in the volume of water flowing through the Euphrates and Tigris rivers" contribute to "an unmatched environmental disaster." Click here.
Cuba: Rights for gay people highlighted at Havana conference
The fifth National Congress of Sexual Education, Orientation, and Therapy took place in Havana last week presided over by Mariela Castro, head of Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education. Over 300 hundred delegates at the five day, UNESCO supported conference attended workshops on trans-sexuality, violence against women and children, sexually transmitted diseases, and treatment options. Castro told reporters that the "strong homophobia of our culture" prevented the National Assembly from including rights for gay and transsexual people in a new Family Code. Advocating legalization of same sex unions, she called upon the Communist Party to deal with discrimination within its own ranks. Interviewed by the BBC, she voiced support for multi-level, multi- disciplinary sexual education. "Whoever is unable to overcome prejudice with knowledge at least can respect the rights of other persons," she pointed out. Click here.
Honduras: Coup government is accused
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, an independent agency of the Organization of American States, last week issued a report condemning the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti for "grave violations of human rights." It cited arbitrary detentions, deaths from excessive use of force, cruel treatment of prisoners, and restrictions on press freedom. The Commission drew attention to "systematic denial" of these violations by governmental authorities and the Supreme Court. Pagina/12 News recalled the Commission's previous call for reinstatement of deposed President Manual Zalaya. Earlier this month, the Prosecutor General brought charges against six army officers involved in Zalaya's forced removal, although they are likely to be amnestied. Zalaya is set to leave the Brazilian Embassy January 27 for the Dominican Republic.
South Korea: Naval base protesters are arrested
Beginning on January 6, citizens of Gangjeong on Jeju Island protested construction of a naval base on an island notable for scenic beauty, unique geologic formations, and governmental autonomy. Last week 500 police confronted hundreds of demonstrators arresting 47 of them, a few having climbed cranes. The base, when completed in 2014, will host 20 South Korean and U.S. Aegis destroyers with missile defense systems said by Environmental News Service to be directed at China and North Korea. (See http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jan2010/2010-01-18-01.html.) Plans call for the base eventually to accommodate both U.S. aircraft carriers and tourist cruise liners. For pictures of the protests and a listing of 600 persons worldwide who signed an anti-base petition, go to this link.
Belgium: GM closes Opel plant
The European Trade Union Confederation and the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF) last week condemned General Motors' closure as of July of its Opel plant in Antwerp. Over 2600 workers there and some 8000 workers in the supply chain throughout Europe will lose jobs. Protesting unionists have vowed to blockade new cars leaving the factory. A GM spokesperson foresaw a 20 percent cut in company output this year while European production overall will be down by 1.5 million cars from 2009 and four million fewer than in 2007. Fiat Company closed its plant in Sicily last month. The EMF web site cites General Secretary Peter Scherrer's view that GM violated a commitment by transferring planned manufacture of small SUV's from Antwerp to South Korea.
Nigeria: Shell taken to court in landmark environmental case.
A Dutch court recently announced the opening next month of a case brought by four peasants and fishermen against Dutch based Shell Corporation for oil leakages and uncontrolled gas discharges in the Niger Delta area. The plaintiffs, quoted at www.omal.info, say "The air can not be breathed, the land can not be cultivated, and the few remaining fish... are poisoned." The NGO Friends of the Earth joined in the suit against Nigeria's largest gas and oil producer, the first to be decided in a European court. Plaintiffs blame Shell for archaic infrastructure and wasteful burning of gas residues. Corrective action and payments for damage are sought. Since 1970, Shell has cut its allocation to the state of Nigerian derived income from 50 to 13 percent. For more information, see this link.
Photo: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic Mariela Castro addressing the Latin America plenary of the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights in Montreal, 28 July 2006