Haiti: UN official calls rights ‘catastrophic’

UN official Thierry Fagart, who heads a team of 30 human rights monitors, said Oct. 14 that the human rights situation in Haiti is “catastrophic,” The Associated Press reported. Fagart cited violations by police and private citizens, including many cases of arbitrary arrests, torture and even summary executions by Haitian National Police.

He also said there is a “fundamental problem” with the justice system, which barely functions, while the situation in overcrowded prisons is “appalling.”

“The state of the judiciary is so bad that people have lost all hope in it,” he said.

However, Fagart also noted that a UN investigation into one such killing, when many as 10 people were hacked to death or shot by police and vigilantes last August at a Port-au-Prince soccer stadium, is resulting in prosecution of 15 Haitian police officers.

Pakistan: 1 million jobs lost in quake

The International Labor Office (ILO) said last week that urgent steps are needed to create jobs in Pakistan, where over 1.1 million jobs may have been lost after the Oct. 8 earthquake.

“Reports of widespread destruction show that the livelihoods of millions of people are threatened or have been destroyed,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia in a report released in Geneva Oct. 18. He called for urgent initiatives to “monitor and create decent and productive employment and rebuild people’s livelihoods.”

Making things worse, the hardest hit areas are among the poorest in Pakistan, the ILO said. Besides destruction of infrastructure and shops in the towns, rural areas suffered huge losses of livestock and farm implements.

Total employment in the devastated areas was around 2.4 million when the quake struck. Over 2 million of these workers and their families were living below the poverty line with less than $2 per person per day.

Britain: Mothers to camp out at Blair’s place

Two British mothers, following the example set by Cindy Sheehan with her encampment at Crawford, Texas, were slated to start camping Oct. 25 outside Prime Minister Tony Blair’s official residence at 10 Downing Street in London.

Rose Gentle’s son Gordon died in a roadside bombing in Basra last year, while Susan Smith’s son Philip was killed in Al Amarah earlier this year.

Their encampment is to protest the political decision to deny the families legal aid in their campaign to bring Blair to justice for the Iraq war. Gentle and Smith believe the war has been fought on the basis of lies and deceit. Just as President Bush refused to meet with Cindy Sheehan, to date Blair has refused to meet with the two women.

China: Retirement rules called unfair to women

Longstanding rules requiring women to retire five years earlier than men are being challenged as gender discrimination, according to People’s Daily Online. Since the Chinese revolution in 1949, women workers have retired at 50 and men at 55, with civil servants and professionals retiring five years later.

A woman civil servant recently sued against forced retirement, saying she is still competent to perform her job, and the discrepancy violates gender equality provisions in China’s constitution and labor laws.

The woman lost her case, but law professors point out that today’s conditions differ markedly from those women faced 50 years ago. Many women no longer perform hard physical labor on the job and at home, women now live longer than men, and with pensions based on years of service and position at retirement, early retirement means a lower benefit.

Others say that with many women working in labor intensive industries, regulations could accommodate both women’s equal rights and their personal choices about retirement age.

Angola: Refugees return home

During 27 years of civil war an estimated half a million Angolans fled to neighboring countries and millions more were displaced internally.

Since a peace accord ended the civil war over three years ago, nearly 60,000 refugees have returned home from refugee camps in Zambia, The Times of Zambia said last week.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it is making every effort to ensure that some 22,000 refugees still living in Zambia would be able to return home by the end of the year or early in 2006.

Returning to Angola is voluntary, and the UNHCR says over 15,000 refugees who have not said they are ready to go home will be resettled in two remaining Zambia refugee camps.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).