Lesotho: Diplomat hits world neglect of women, children

When Stephen Lewis, longtime Canadian political leader and former UN envoy to Africa for HIV/AIDS, was in Lesotho last month receiving honors, Seven Oaks magazine interviewed him.

“Central to dealing with the pandemic,” Lewis declared, is women’s “disproportionate risk to violence and sexual violence from men.” And neglect of AIDS orphans is “almost unconscionable.” He called for creation of a UN women’s bureau comparable to the children’s agency UNICEF to deal with “maternal deaths, HIV/AIDS, incredible vulnerability and predisposition to violence.”

Lewis said Canada’s troop deployment to Afghanistan, along with its failure to contribute a promised 0.7 percent of its GDP to foreign aid, constitutes the “militarization of [Canada’s] foreign policy.” He said the UN Security Council focuses on peace and security “to the detriment of development and human rights,” adding that “30,000 kids die every day from preventable causes.” And “tremors of climate change” have put the world as “on the knife’s edge.”

Myanmar: Victims sue French oil giant

Belgium’s constitutional court ruled that four Burmese refugees have legal standing to sue the French oil conglomerate Total. In response, a Belgian prosecutor representing the refugees charged the world’s fourth largest oil company last week with using forced labor to build a gas pipeline in Myanmar (formerly Burma), acquiescing in the military’s torture of laborers and paying off the military for “protection.”

The U.K. Independent reports that the legal action targets the corporation, the company’s chairman and its former operations head in Myanmar. Total’s possible vulnerability to new European Union sanctions against companies operating in Myanmar has induced France to back off from defending the West’s largest investor in the Southeast Asian country.

Unocal, Total’s partner in the pipeline project, settled another lawsuit in 2005 brought by EarthRights International on behalf of Burmese villagers, then quickly sold its Burmese operations to the U.S. company Chevron. Chevron, however, assumed Unocal’s immunity from U.S. sanctions as part of the deal.

El Salvador: Put water before profits

“This has been a huge march — a clear manifestation that the public rejects water privatization,” commented Lourdes Palacios, a parliamentary deputy from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation party. Palacios was responding to tens of thousands who marched in the nation’s capital Oct. 5 to support a legislative measure guaranteeing universal access to water and new environmental controls.

With representatives of 125 unions and social organizations standing by, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly introduced the bill on the same day.

For Palacios, high-quality water should be available “in a way that doesn’t privilege economic interests,” i.e. it should be available to all.

In July, police attacked a large water rights demonstration in Suchitoto. They arrested 14 nonviolent protesters and charged them with “terrorism.” Their trial is pending.

Spain: Protesters march for housing

Coordinated demonstrations for affordable housing erupted in Spain on Oct. 6. In Madrid, the “capital of speculation,” according to one banner, 20,000 protesters marched against the emptying of apartments and homes in preparation for speculative sales and against the continuing privatization of public housing.

Over 3 million homes are empty in Spain, according to rebelion.org. In Europe, 40 percent of available housing is rental, but in Spain, only 5 percent is rental. Over 30,000 people in Spain — twice that number during the summer — sleep in the streets.

In Barcelona, 2,000 marched in anticipation of a “National Pact on Housing” promulgated the next day by the Catalonian government. The pact satisfied neither the marchers nor business interests. Demonstrations also occurred in Murcia and Seville, where Antonio Buenavida, an Assembly member, complained, “A basic right is being converted into a business.”

Israel: Land grab stakes are high

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israeli army has ordered 57 acres of West Bank land expropriated in order to build a road for Palestinians’ use connecting Jericho and Jerusalem. The proposed road, not yet approved by Israeli review agencies, would separate the area between Ma’aleh Adumim, population 30,000, and East Jerusalem from the Palestinian West Bank. The area contains the last remaining unoccupied West Bank land east of Jerusalem.

Long-standing Israeli plans, criticized internationally, call for construction there of 3,500 new housing units and an industrial park. The effect, according to an Aljazeera report, would be to separate the West Bank into northern and southern segments connected only by the proposed road. Ahmed Qureia, a Palestinian negotiator, warned, “Such measures will eliminate the possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state and thus the possibility of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

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