Liberia: Truth Commission starts work

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed under Liberia’s August 2003 peace agreement has begun taking testimony of victims, witnesses and perpetrators of atrocities committed during the country’s 14-year civil war.

Commission head James Verdier told the UN’s IRIN news agency earlier this month that 192 statement-takers have been sent to all 15 Liberian counties to probe events from the time the civil war began in December 1989 until a transitional power-sharing government was installed in October 2003. Testimony will also include events back to January 1979, just before disturbances started over the high cost of rice and against the government of then-President William Tolbert.

The commission is charged with investigating “gross human rights violations and war crimes, including massacres, sexual violations, murder, extra-judicial killings and economic crimes” including use of natural or public resources to perpetuate the armed conflict.

Russia: Autoworkers face anti-union pressure

Union organizing, Russian style, is not easy if efforts by Andrei Liapin and others to establish an independent union at automaker AvtoVAZ are any indication. As of Oct. 2 they had signed up 100 members out of 100,000 workers at joint venture operations with GM located in the Samara region. Many earn the equivalent of $1.25 a day.

Management disconnected Liapin’s telephone and computer. Guards have searched and detained several leaders. Members have been reassigned to out-of-the-way jobs. GM-AvtoVAZ has set up its own union, designating the independent union as illegal.

Local workers have held one meeting outside company headquarters in solidarity with the autoworkers. A living wage petition is being circulated inside the factory.

Commenting on globalization, Liapin told the London-based online news service Labourstart, “The only solution is to help labor in such low-wage countries organize and win higher standards of compensation. We are one family of labor and should be united. Bosses never question their unity, why should we?”

Asia-Pacific region: Rising seas could leave millions homeless

Australia-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has issued a report warning that millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region could be made homeless as global warming causes sea levels to rise further. Hardest hit would be people living in Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, China and islands in the Pacific.

CSIRO said sea levels could rise as much as six inches by 2030, and as much as 19 inches by 2070.

“Vast areas of the Asia-Pacific region are low-lying, particularly the small-island states, as well as the large river deltas found in India and Bangladesh, Southeast Asia and China,” the report said. CSIRO added that rising sea levels and increased rainfall would spread infectious diseases in the region, such as dengue fever and malaria.

Brazil: Combating 21st-century slave labor

A recent International Labor Organization (ILO) report says up to 40,000 Brazilians work under slave labor conditions on large plantations bordering the Amazonian forests, especially in the Para region. The report, described on the Rebelion and People’s Daily web sites, indicates that following calls from the ILO (1990) and the UN (2004) some 18,000 workers have been removed from bonded labor.

Men living in poor regions in northern Brazil are said to be especially vulnerable to offers of food and minimal wages from labor contractors. Plantation owners maintain control over workers through wages so low they can’t pay off debts for clothing, food and transportation. Despite successes by the authorities, including Brazil’s Ministry of Labor, in rescuing workers, landowners and labor contractors go unpunished. The ILO praised Brazil for tackling the problem.

UN report: Violence vs. women violates human rights

The United Nations issued a report earlier this month officially classifying violence against women as a human rights violation, increasing pressure on UN member states to improve their ways of dealing with violence against women.

“Violence against women persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of human rights and a major impediment to achieving gender equality … [As] long as violence against women continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace,” said the introduction to the report.

At the same time, the World Health Organization has published the most comprehensive study of international domestic violence. Nearly 25,000 women were interviewed in 10 countries. At 13 of the 15 sites studied, over 25 percent of women said they had experienced moderate to severe domestic violence in the last year, and at six of the 15 sites over half the women had experienced such violence.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. ( Marilyn Bechtel contributed.