UN: Call for action on women’s rights

Observing the United Nations-designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women Nov. 25, the UN Development Fund for Women identified the fact that one-third of all women have been beaten or coerced into sex as a “problem of pandemic proportions.” Director Ines Alberdi called for worldwide governmental action.

Interviewed in Swaziland by Inter Press Service, anti-violence leader Hlobisile Dlamini-Shongwe discussed causes: victims failing to report incidents; prevailing unemployment, poverty and HIV/AIDS; easy availability of weapons and lax laws. Dlamini-Shongwe spoke during “Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence,” the international campaign launched by the New Jersey-based Center for Women’s Global Leadership connecting Nov. 25 with Dec. 10, the UN’s International Human Rights Day.

EU: Drug firms block generic sales

In a report issued Nov. 28, the European Commission’s anti-trust arm castigated European drug manufacturers for blocking sales of generic drugs costing an average 20 percent less than patent-protected drugs. Generics make up 40 percent of European drug sales and 60 percent of U.S. transactions.

Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes threatened antitrust legal actions against companies protecting the status quo through lawsuits, multiple patents and payoffs to generic manufacturers. Reuters reported that company spokespersons criticized her agency for carrying out “dawn raids” on their headquarters beginning in January.

Extra costs for European health care providers due to high brand name prices came to $3.87 billion during 2002-2007. Critics say the industry introduced only 27 new types of drugs from 2000 to 2004, down from 40 during the previous four years.

Afghanistan: Karzai rethinking troop presence

Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently told visiting UN officials that in the absence of military success a time should be set for coalition troops to leave, and that negotiations should be opened with Taliban leaders who demonstrate national loyalty.

Karzai criticized forced entry by international troops into Afghan homes and attacks against civilians. The BBC report sees the president’s new tack as preparatory for presidential elections next year.

Reporting to the UN World Food Program, Karzai’s Ministry of Public Health recently upped estimates of Afghan children at risk of death from malnutrition from 550,000 in July to 1.6 million now, due in part to drought, high food prices and loss of livestock. Women of child-bearing age are also endangered.

Cuba: International relations surge

Cuba last month marked gains in overcoming the international isolation Washington has long sought to impose. Russian spokespersons took the occasion of a visit by President Dmitry Medvedev to reaffirm plans for offshore oil exploration and development of oil storage facilities and pipelines as well as construction of a nickel-processing plant in Holguin.

In a similar vein, officials accompanying Chinese President Hu Jintao to Cuba announced postponement of Cuban debt repayments and $70 million in loans toward refurbishing Cuban hospitals — welcome news following hurricane losses of $10 billion this year. Visiting former Cuban President Fidel Castro, President Hu promised continued Chinese backing of Cuban sovereignty, opposition to “outside interference” and “firm support for the socialist cause,” Xinhua news said.

Korea: North-South relations prove fragile

Incensed by inflammatory leaflets, joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and South Korean co-sponsorship of a UN human rights resolution directed at the North, the Pyongyang government forced the exodus of almost 2,000 South Koreans working at the joint Kaesong industrial complex. Recently-initiated rail service and visits by South Korean tourists to historic Kaesong were also stopped.

South Korea’s Yonhap news service associated deteriorating relations with policies of conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who since assuming office in February has reversed openings initiated by liberal predecessors.

North Korea’s government blamed Lee for failing to implement cooperative economic projects requiring large South Korean investments. Over 1,500 South Koreans were allowed to remain at Kaesong after Dec. 1.

Chile: Massive strike underscores worker strength

Described as Chile’s biggest strike in 40 years, the four day walk-out by 400,000 public sector workers ending Nov. 20 led to garbage uncollected, surgeries cancelled, schools closed, exports delayed, and daily losses of $165 million.
Faced with 9.9 percent inflation over 12 months, workers led by the National Alliance of Fiscal Employees and backed by the CUT labor federation accepted a 10 percent wage hike after rejecting the initial government offer of 6.5 percent. They had agreed to a 6.9 percent raise in 2007 despite a 7.8 percent increase that year in living costs.
For analysts cited by PiensaChile.com, the settlement represented worker mobilization powerful enough to overcome Pinochet-era strictures on public sector strikes and International Monetary Fund rules.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit@roadrunner.com)