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A Human Rights Catastrophe in Myanmar

The Rohingya are a religious and ethnic minority in Myanmar that faces horrid abuse and discrimination by Burmese authorities. As the politics of Myanmar lurches toward representative democracy, this group is still excluded from sharing basic rights of citizenship. Even the lauded Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is shamefully silent about their situation. On the eve of President Obama’s second visit to Myanmar, Mark speaks with Matthew Smith of the human rights group Fortify Rights about the plight of the Rohingya and what the international community can do to improve human rights in Myanmar as it opens up to the world.


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Ebola, UN

Mali Not Clear of Ebola

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Ebola in Mali…Mali is racing to control a fresh Ebola outbreak after confirming its second death from the disease, just when it appeared the country would be given the all clear. (Guardian

Getting serious about indoor air pollution…The WHO is issuing new guidelines aimed at reducing health-damaging household pollutants in order to reduce the number of people killed by indoor air pollution. (VOA )

On the Docket for Thursday…USAID Admin Shah will deliver keynote remarks at the third Global Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Human Rights and Inclusive Development on Friday at 11AM EST. And…The WHO will release new data on global progress against measles later today.


More than 400 health workers at the only Ebola treatment centre in southern Sierra Leone went on strike on Wednesday over unpaid risk allowances the government is meant to fund, officials said. (Reuters

The U.N. peacekeeping chief is urging the Security Council to extend the mandate of its 7,000-member peacekeeping force in Liberia, as the Ebola crisis continues to strain national institutions and threaten gains made since that country’s civil war ended in 2003. (VOA

Britain’s foreign secretary announced plans for 700 Ebola treatment beds in Sierra Leone within weeks, admitting the global response had been too slow as he visited the former colony. (AFP

The Ebola epidemic is still outstripping efforts to contain it, according to doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières who have mounted most of the early response in west Africa. (Guardian

Sierra Leone will make a one-off payment of $5,000 to the family of any health worker who dies as a result of treating an Ebola patient, authorities said, as a sixth doctor in the country tested positive for the virus. (Reuters

Critical gaps in “behind-the-scenes” infrastructure are hampering Ebola response times and containment efforts in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, aid agencies and health workers say. (IRIN


South Sudan: Young boys dream of carrying kalashnikovs not books as arms airdrops and night raids for child soldiers make peace in the world’s newest nation ever distant. (Guardian

H&M, the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer, said that it made every effort to ensure its cotton did not come from appropriated land in Ethiopia but could not provide an absolute guarantee. (Reuters

For subsistence farmers in rain-scarce Kenya, drip irrigation can mean the difference between hand-to-mouth survival and being able to grow an agricultural business. (TRF

Medical experts say cervical cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer related deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. A majority die of ignorance. Less than one percent of women are scanned for the disease. Free vaccination campaigns for 9 to 13 years old girls are ongoing. (VOA

A protester was killed and two others badly wounded after angry crowds accused UN troops of shooting a man in the head in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rights groups said. (AFP

Sudan’s government and rebels from South Kordofan and Blue Nile launched their latest round of peace talks Wednesday, as mediators called for an “urgent” end to over three years of war. (Yahoo

Kenyan law provides for life imprisonment when a girl dies from FGM/C, which in addition to excruciating pain, can cause hemorrhage, shock and complications in childbirth. Officials are optimistic they can force a change in attitude but still worry that the practice is too ingrained for legal threats to have an impact. (Reuters


Amnesty International on Wednesday criticised “woefully insufficient” steps taken by Qatar so far to end abuses of migrant workers building facilities for the controversial 2022 World Cup. (AFP

The U.N. World Food Program has begun distributing food vouchers to Iraqis displaced by war. The WFP gave out the first vouchers in Erbil to about 500 Iraqis last week. (VOA

Air strikes by U.S.-led forces in Syria have killed 865 people, including 50 civilians, since the start of the campaign in late September against Islamic State militants, a group monitoring the war said on Wednesday. (Reuters


Myanmar’s transition from military rule has not been as fast as hoped and the government is “backsliding” on some reforms, U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview published on Wednesday. (Reuters

Furious protesters took to the streets in central India on Wednesday, smashing up cars and demanding the chief minister resign, as the death toll from a mass government-run sterilisation programme rose to 13. (AP

A team of doctors rushed to central India on Wednesday after at least 13 women died and dozens of others fell ill following sterilization surgeries in a free, nationwide program aimed at limiting births in the world’s second-most populous nation, officials said. (AP

Cambodia’s mainly agricultural society is changing fast, driven by urbanization and falling fertility rates. As young workers move to the cities, older people are staying back in the villages, where they have little support. (VOA

Seven Cambodian housing and land rights activists have been sentenced to a year in prison, just one day after they were arrested during a protest. The activists, who were protesting poor flood management in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak neighborhood. (VOA

Cambodia on Wednesday raised the controversial monthly minimum wage for garment workers by 28 percent, a decision likely to infuriate unions seeking a higher increase and revive calls for strike action. (VOA

The U.S. has expressed reservations about the China-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but some experts say opposing the newly established bank may not a wise choice for Washington. (VOA

The Americas

The number of Americans struggling to afford food has remained stuck near recession-era highs. But a recent Gallup poll suggests things may be starting to get back on track for some. (NPR

Colombia’s largest left-wing rebel group, the Farc, says it is sorry for killing two members of the Nasa indigenous group last week. (BBC

Cuba clearly is on the minds of the editors of the New York Times. In the last month the paper has published five weekend editorials in English and in Spanish asking the US administration to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba. (BBC

The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will present the United States with a proposed plan to stem child migration from their countries. (AP


Militarizing Global Health (Boston Review

Obstacles to Development Arising from the International System (IPS

Should NGOs jump on board the Payment by Results bandwagon? New research suggests proceed with caution (From Poverty to Power

Sterilization deaths show India’s health care ills (AP

When being on the fence is a good thing:  GMOs and loss of autonomy for African farmers (HURDL Blog

ICAI report slams DFID’s anticorruption efforts, aid experts slam report (Dev Policy

Why it’s time for Band Aid to disband… (Development Truths


Justice in Syria: If not the ICC, then What? (Justice in Conflict


Most Money for Health Is Subnational, But What Will Donors Do About It? (CGD


Death rates of young children have dropped to record lows in developing countries. Experts say there are two main reasons for the decrease: improved government action and simple protective health measures. (VOA

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Human Rights Concerns Loom Large as Obama Lands in Myanmar

Barack Obama is in Myanmar today as part of his “Asia pivot” tour following the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing. Two years after his 2012 visit – the first by a sitting American president – there are unfulfilled promises in Burma’s transition to democracy. While human rights groups urge Obama to ask tough questions of Burmese leader Thein Sein, it is unlikely that any talk will lead to significant progress.

Not that long ago Burma was lauded for its efforts to transition to democracy after more than 40 years of military rule. A new constitution was adopted in 2008 and elections held in 2010; while signs of potential progress, both were marred with errors and reserved a significant amount of power for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Numerous reforms have been announced since but most have stalled. Instead, Burma remains in international headlines due to ongoing human rights abuses.

Chief among these is the treatment of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State. A small spate of violence between local Buddhists and Rohingya in 2012 quickly spread, ultimately leading to wide scale attacks against the Rohingya and massive displacement. The government soon kicked out aid agencies attempting to assist Rohingya victims, leaving thousands in squalid conditions with nowhere else to go. Long discriminated against by the state, the systematic nature of the attacks – and reports of the complicity of state security forces – has led numerous organizations to refer to the violence as ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Yet despite international condemnation, the Burmese government refuses to do much to fix the situation. On several occasions, government actions have exacerbated tensions, as seen with the recent national census held earlier this year that attempted to formally strip the Rohingya of ethnic identity and reaffirm the government’s stance that they are not really Burmese. It is the latest sign that even on the road to democracy, Burma is still stuck in old habits.

While the Rohingya have gained the most international attention their plight is far from the only human rights issue plaguing Burma. Military-backed and rebel militias terrorize citizens in Kachin state – a key region in the country’s illegal heroin trade – through arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, torture and looting. The negotiation of ceasefires with several rebel groups in Karen state have failed to resolve longstanding displacement and refugee issues as the government continues to militarize the resource-rich area.

Recently news surfaced that the body of a prominent freelance journalist last seen in military custody was found, shot five times and badly mutilated before being hastily buried. The announcement of Aung Kyaw Naing’s death and revelation of his burial site is actually considered the human rights concession made for Obama’s trip; the government has sentenced 10 other journalists to prison recently but has made no indications it is considering releasing or pardoning them soon.

Thus despite the hope and change that greeted Obama’s first trip to Burma, this year the expectations are far more muted. Although still nominally on a path towards a more open democracy, the last two years have demonstrated that much more will be needed to make those pledges a reality. Obama’s trip can serve as a reminder of promises made and the potential economic rewards in fulfilling them, but ultimately it will be up the Burmese government – and the military that still dominates it – to break with old habits and build a country that respects all of Burma’s people.

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The USA-China Climate Accord is a Very Big Deal

The agreement between the United States and China to reduce carbon emissions has immense potential to move the needle on climate change.

As part of the agreement, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020.

China’s pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030.

Administration officials acknowledged that Mr. Obama could face opposition to his plans from a Republican-controlled Congress. While the agreement with China needs no congressional ratification, lawmakers could try to roll back Mr. Obama’s initiatives, undermining the United States’ ability to meet the new reduction targets.

This last part is key–and I suspect why we’ll see more and more of these kinds of bi-lateral agreements. One year from now, negotiators will meet in Paris in what will probably be humanity’s last chance to come together around an internationally binding climate change accord. One key stumbling block in these negotiations (and there are many!) is that the United States Senate will almost certainly not ratify any resulting treaty document. The Senate is too polarized, and ratification requires two thirds of senators to approve–an impossibly high hurdle in the current political environment.

The idea of an ambitious, legally binding climate change accord to which all parties accede is aspirational, but sadly not realistic. So what is the Obama administration–which clearly cares about emissions reductions–to do? For months, they have been floating this concept of a “politically binding” agreement. This is a nebulous concept with no grounding in international law, but the general idea is that countries make promises to which they are somehow politically compelled — as opposed to legally bound. It’s certainly a weaker way to enforce an agreement since politics are constantly shifting, but it’s also the more realistic option at this point.

The USA-China climate pact seems to be a key manifestation of this concept. The two largest emitters on the planet have agreed with each other to make substantial reductions in their carbon output. The pact between Obama and Xi does not require senate approval, but it’s something to which the USA and China can hold each other responsible and demonstrates a clear political commitment to implement measures to reach the goals they have set.

This agreement will absolutely set the tone for the Paris talks next year–if the USA and China can find common ground, then the complex diplomacy around an international agreement stands a much better chance of succeeding. But what form that Paris Agreement will take is still very much in question.

For a deeper dive into the complex diplomacy leading up to the Paris Agreement next year, check out this podcast interview with Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. It was recorded right before the big UN Climate Summit in September and includes a very relevant conversation about this concept of a “politically” vs “legally” binding agreement.  

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A Dire Warning About Ebola’s Impact on Maternal Mortality

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The nexus between the ebola outbreak and maternal mortality is truly frightening. “The rate of women dying in childbirth in West African countries hit by the Ebola epidemic is soaring, with as many as one in seven at risk of death as fear of contact with bodily fluids prevents people helping them, aid charities warned on Tuesday.  The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 800,000 women in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are due to give birth in the next 12 months. Of these, some 120,000 could face life-threatening complications if they don’t get the emergency care they need and tens of thousands could die, according to the DEC group of 13 leading UK charities, including Save The Children and ActionAid. Korto Williams, head of ActionAid in Liberia, said many women were being left to give birth alone because stigma and ignorance meant people around them feared they might have Ebola and stayed away. Too many women have died because of lack of care, she said, adding video clips on the internet show women giving birth in the streets of Monrovia with no one helping.” (Reuters

Deadly consequences for sterilization…Ten women have died in India and dozens more are in a critical condition after a state-run sterilization program designed to control the country’s billion-plus population went badly wrong, officials said Tuesday. (AFP

Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers—The Good News!  Ugandan authorities said the country was free of Marburg, a virus similar to Ebola, after no new cases had been reported more than a month after a hospital worker died of the disease in the capital. (Reuters

What to watch for today:  President Obama lands in Myanmar, amid worsening human rights abuses against the Rohingya minority. We’ll have more on that tomorrow.


Sierra Leone said Tuesday it was holding a journalist in a notorious prison because he had accused the government of provoking the kind of unrest seen in Burkina Faso through mismanagement of the Ebola crisis. (AFP

Medical experts are meeting at the World Health Organization in Geneva to figure out how to test potential Ebola drugs in Africa. In addition to determining which experimental drugs should be the highest priority, the experts are sorting through some difficult ethical issues. (NPR


The IMF said the economy of central African states is vulnerable to a sharp decline due to decreasing oil prices, terrorism and armed conflicts. It also said the region’s progress on reducing poverty will be slow and hindered by high inequality. (VOA

Though Kenya has posted a strong economic performance, resulting in a recent middle income bracketing, experts say that achieving the targeted double-digit economic growth rate will not be easy. (IPS

Rwanda’s high court convicted eight people of inciting rebellion for processing to President Paul Kagame’s residence to deliver what they said was a message from God, and sentenced them to five years in prison. (Reuters

Corruption and intimidation deny justice to many survivors of sexual violence in Kenya, which campaigners say has reached “epidemic” proportions. One in three Kenyan girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18, a 2012 government survey found. Suspects try to bribe and threaten police, judges and survivors. (Reuters

The expulsion of a major South African union from the ANC’s governing coalition is set to re-draw the country’s political landscape. Beneath an avalanche of acronyms, arcane trade union processes and parochial infighting, something big is stirring in South African politics. (AP

Malawi has jailed a second government official over the Cashgate scandal in which more than $30 million was looted from state coffers. Victor Sithole, an accounts assistant, was found guilty of stealing more than $66,000 and last week sentenced to nine years in jail. (Guardian

Families of 34 striking South African miners shot dead in 2012 called on Tuesday for police who fired on them to be prosecuted as a judicial enquiry into what is known as the “Marikana massacre” neared its end. (Reuters


Jordan has flown humanitarian aid to Iraq’s western Anbar province, where jihadists from the Islamic State group have seized ground and sown fear among the population, the royal court said. (AP

About 13.6 million people, equivalent to the population of London, have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, many without food or shelter as winter starts, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday. (TRF

Libya’s biggest oilfield, shut down by gunmen last week, may struggle to rebuild production as the conflict splintering the desert nation draws in ever more groups of fighters, including poor southern tribes staking a claim to land resources. (Reuters

Syria has freed around 11,000 detainees since President Bashar al-Assad declared a general amnesty in June, the country’s National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said. (AFP


A government-backed report highlighted the extent of malnutrition in Afghanistan, yet experts say efforts to tackle the problem are hampered by cultural norms, shrinking health budgets and the short-term nature of aid donations. (IRIN

Hong Kong’s acting chief executive on Tuesday called on pro-democracy protesters to clear sites they have occupied for more than six weeks and warned holdouts they could face arrest, a move that could swell protest numbers. (Reuters

A head-on collision between a passenger bus and a truck on a highway in southern Pakistan killed 58 people on Tuesday, police said. The collision ignited a fuel fire and a rescuer later described how he carried out a survivor, a four-year-old girl, from the burning bus. (AP

For the third year in a row, government negotiators for 12 Pacific Rim countries have missed an internal deadline to reach agreement on a controversial U.S.-led trade deal. And though negotiators for the accord, known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, say the process is nearing completion, critics of the deal are expressing optimism that both public opinion and political timing are increasingly against the deal. (IPS

The Americas

U.S. authorities say they have found 70 Haitian migrants on an uninhabited island west of Puerto Rico. (AP

Mexicans angry at the handling by the authorities of the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala six weeks ago block Acapulco airport. (BBC

The UN has expressed concern over the sentencing by an indigenous court in Colombia of seven Farc rebels over the murder of two indigenous leaders. (BBC


Africans to Geldof: We don’t need another Band Aid solution (Humanosphere

How to end a neocolonialist approach to global health training (Devex

Ebola crisis: three things Band Aid should really be singing about (Guardian

The case for including migration in the post-2015 agenda (IRIN

How ‘The Hot Zone’ Got It Wrong And Other Tales Of Ebola’s History (Goats and Soda

How to Tell If the G-20 Is Still Serious about Tax and Corruption (CGD

How Ebola is robbing us of our humanity (African Arguments\


Forests, deserts and other habitats are suffering while decision makers are busy sifting through the myriad of indicators for effective land management – and different methods for collecting this sea of data only dilute the impact that research has on policy, a meeting heard. (SciDevNet

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Checkpoint and camp for refugees from Ukraine in Rostov Region

Ukraine is Now the Largest Displacement Crisis in Europe Since the Balkan Wars

As fighting between the government and pro-Russian rebels continues in Eastern Ukraine, displacement from the conflict is reaching new heights. By October, UNHCR estimated that more than 800,000 people have been displaced, representing the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Balkan wars. It is the latest refugee crisis in a year that has seen several, and is stretching resources thin.

In many ways the displacement mirrors the conflict itself. Of those internally displaced within Ukraine, 95% come from the conflict ridden regions of the east and have fled to government-controlled Western Ukraine. Meanwhile an estimated 387,000 Ukrainians have applied for refugee status or residence in Russia, although the total number of Ukrainians in Russia is unknown as a visa is not needed to travel between the two countries. As the conflict drags on, the lines between the two sides remain and stretch into those most vulnerable.

Unfortunately it comes at a time when the resources of the international community are already stretched thin by refugee crises in the Middle East and Africa. Significant funding shortfalls already threaten key programs for the displaced from Syria in Iraq as winter begins and UN aid agencies are struggling to meet demand for assistance arising from conflicts in Northern Nigeria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Mali and Libya. In this context, the crisis in Ukraine comes at the worst possible time for those trying to address the needs of the displaced.

The Ukrainian government is trying to do its part in helping out the displaced. A new law on IDPs passed by parliament last month creates a special registry for the displaced to help track those forced to leave their homes and match them with needed social services. The system aims to limit the bureaucracy IDPs face in trying to access aid and services, as well as meets several requests from the UN and EU to facilitate further international aid such as not taxing foreign financial assistance. In return, the EU is looking to ramp up assistance through its Support to Ukraine’s Regional Development Policy that issues grants to local municipalities for IDP aid and rebuilding efforts in cities damaged through the conflict but now fall under government control.

Nonetheless, despite pledges for assistance and the non-discrimination clause included in the new IDP law the displaced continue to face difficulties in gaining housing and employment. As is often the case, the warm welcome that IDPs first experienced in other regions has cooled as the burden of their care and the conflict wears on. The continued politicization of the conflict is also taking a toll as citizens of Eastern Ukraine are increasingly seen as interchangeable with the pro-Russian rebels, an attitude that leads to discrimination and the ostracizing of those who have paid the biggest price for the conflict so far. As existing communities are increasingly turning away IDPs, the government is rushing to build townships for IDPs to settle in, hopefully before the cold Ukrainian winter sets in.

There are several other refugee crises in the world, many of which are larger than Ukraine. But the displacement crisis still poses a serious political and economic problem for Ukraine and an overwhelmed international aid community. As the conflict drags on, the number of displaced will increase even as the will – and the means – to help them shrinks.

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