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Developing Story: Canadian Capital Under Attack

A disturbing incident is unfolding this morning in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. At least one shooter unleashed mayhem on Parliament Hill this morning, mere days after an incident in Quebec where two members of the Canadian Armed Forces were mowed down by a car. The Globe and Mail is reporting that the Ottawa police are investigating three shootings: one at the War Memorial, one on Parliament Hill and one near the Rideau Centre – all located in the nerve center of the Canadian capital (Update 1:45pm ET: Police only confirm two incidents – one at the National War Memorial, and the other on Parliament Hil; no shooting incident at Rideau Centre). As of noon ET, one shooter is confirmed dead following a gun battle inside the Parliament building, while at least one other is on the loose (Update 9am ET, Oct 23: The lockdown in downtown Ottawa was lifted more than 12 hours after it began, though police operations continue on Parliament Hill. No additional information on potential other suspects.). The astounding video below shows what unfolded in the building:

While Canada – like most other Western nations – has been watchful of the threat of terrorism in the post 9/11 world, the country had not seen terror attacks – until, apparently, this week. Moments after the Quebec incident on Monday, where the two members of the military were hit by a car, a Conservative backbencher – a low-ranking Member of Parliament (MP) – was given a scripted question about the attack to ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who immediately spoke of (unconfirmed reports of) a terror attack, before the details of what had transpired had fully emerged. While reports have emerged that the perpetrator had recently become radicalized, the Canadian media have been cautious in reporting on this issue as “possible” terrorism. Today’s attack, which is still unfolding as this is being written, is of a much different nature and will certainly cause Canadians to rethink their analysis of what happened on Monday.

Canada, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, just recently joined the growing international coalition fighting ISIS in the Middle East. Harper believes that Canada has a duty to participate in the fight against ISIS, and has made it clear where Canada stands on the issue of radical Islam. The Harper government has a “tough on crime” agenda, and has been pushing for increased surveillance powers for Canadian police and intelligence for years.

These new attacks – and the daunting reality that Canadians are now a target for terrorism – will support the government’s position that these domestic and foreign policies are necessary and justified. Of course, many will ask whether the decision to join the fight against ISIS and the posturing against radical Islam will have created the conditions for radicalized individuals to commit these crimes. When the guns quiet down, there will be a very important debate in Canada about how to handle the delicate balance between civil liberties and the – now very real – threat of terror in the country.

Update 1:30pm ET: Media confirms death of soldier shot at the National War MemorialThe soldier was a reservist serving in Hamilton from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada.

Update 2:40pm ET:  During a press conference, Ottawa police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police say situation is still fluid, and that it is unclear whether it was the same gunman who killed the soldier and who was firing rounds inside the Parliament building. Mostly, we are told it is too soon to confirm most details at this early stage.

Update 5pm ET: Soldier shot and killed at National War Memorial identified as 24 year old Nathan Cirillo. The deceased gunman has been identified as Michael Zehef-Bibeau.

Update 7:30 pm ET: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird tweets “Just spoke to @JohnKerry. My message: “This is why we’re with you. This only makes our resolve stronger.”” This is the first senior Canadian official to link the combat operations in the Middle East with the shooting. 

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Global TB Report

Map of the Day: Where People Die From Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is a preventable and treatable disease, yet 1.5 million people died from TB last year–including 360,000 people who were HIV positive. Today’s map comes from the World Health Organization’s brand new Global Tuberculosis Report.  It shows the estimated TB mortality rates–the darker the color, the higher the rate of TB deaths.  As you can see from the map, TB is very much a disease of the poor.  (Click here for larger image)

Global TB Report


But there’s good news! Despite the still large number of deaths, global TB rates have been on the overall decline and humanity is on the path to achieving the MDG. From the WHO: 

The report stresses, however, that the mortality rate from TB is still falling and has dropped by 45% since 1990, while the number of people developing the disease is declining by an average 1.5% a year. An estimated 37 million lives have been saved through effective diagnosis and treatment of TB since 2000.

“Following a concerted effort by countries, by WHO and by multiple partners, investment in national surveys and routine surveillance efforts has substantially increased. This is providing us with much more and better data, bringing us closer and closer to understanding the true burden of tuberculosis,” says Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the Global TB Programme, WHO.

Although higher, these revised figures fall within the upper limit of previous WHO estimates. The report, however, underlines that a staggering number of lives are being lost to a curable disease and confirms that TB is the second biggest killer disease from a single infectious agent. In addition, around 3 million people who fall ill from TB are still being ‘missed’ by health systems each year either because they are not diagnosed, or because they are diagnosed but not reported.

Insufficient funding is hampering efforts to combat the global epidemic. An estimated US$ 8 billion is needed each year for a full response, but there is currently an annual shortfall of US$ 2 billion, which must be addressed.

Read the full report.

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Why Banning Travel from Ebola Affected Countries Makes it More Likely That Ebola Spreads in the USA

Some members of the US Congress are proposing visa restrictions  for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The Republican leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee, in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, clarified that they would like a temporary suspension of visas to travelers from the Ebola-affected nations “while simultaneously permitting a robust effort by the U.S. government and global health agencies to combat this vicious disease in West Africa.”

Mr. McConnell, said a spokesman, Don Stewart, was “using shorthand” last week when he said, “It would be a good idea to discontinue flights into the United States from that part of the world.” He, too, supports a temporary suspension of visas, a position put into legislative language on Monday by Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who vowed to press visa-suspension legislation when Congress returned in November.

This is dangerous and actually makes it more likely for ebola to spread further–to the USA and beyond.

At the front line of the global fight against ebola are the governments of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Fighting ebola requires a degree of cooperation and trust between the governments and their population. Patients need to be isolated, and affected populations need to work with health workers doing contact tracing. Populations need some confidence that their government is handling this crisis, or they will not consent to isolation and not cooperate with contact tracing.  Part of that confidence rests on their government’s ability to keep regular channels of commerce open; and also a perception that they are not being abandoned by their government or the world.

Imposing measures like a travel ban would strangle these already suffering economies and undermine the strength of these fragile governments — and diminish the populations’ relationship and trust in their government. Civil unrest is certainly not out of the question. That would make the outbreak much, much harder to contain, and increase the likelihood that more ebola cases are imported to the USA and elsewhere. 

As Ban Ki Moon likes to say: the best way to fight ebola is to isolate the patients, not the countries. The bulk of ebola’s victims are from these three countries, but so are the bulk of the health workers fighting ebola. These governments are being aided by NGOs and the United Nations, but they are sovereign countries that ultimately decide what happens within their borders. And, at the end of the day, they are ultimately accountable to their population.

Imposing travel restrictions like a ban on visas for nationals of these countries would hurt already suffering economies, which in turn weakens frontline governments at precisely the moment they need to be bolstered and strengthened.

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efua dorkenoo

RIP, Efua Dorkenoo

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The international icon Efua Dorkenoo is the reason there’s an international movement to end female genital mutilation. She passed away from cancer yesterday. She will be missed, but her campaign will live on. “Efua Dorkenoo, widely seen as the mother of the global movement to end female genital mutilation, has died after undergoing treatment for cancer, her family have confirmed. She was 65. Dorkenoo – known affectionately to many as “mama Efua” – was a leading light in the movement to bring an end to FGM for more than 30 years, campaigning against the practice since the 1980s…The girls’ and women’s rights campaigner saw the progression of the movement to end FGM go from a minority, often ignored, issue to a key policy priority for governments across the world. (Guardian

Yemen is Falling Apart…This will be an important story to watch over the coming days. At least 33 people were killed in a suicide bombing and gun attacks in central Yemen, tribal sources and medics said on Monday, as al Qaeda fighters seized a Yemeni city in a new challenge to the central government. Violence has spread in Yemen since Shi’ite Muslim Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, last month, threatening the stability of a country that borders on Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter. Houthi forces have fanned out into central and western Yemen, posing a challenge to Sunni tribesmen and al Qaeda militants, who regard the Houthis as heretics. Fighting has flared in several provinces.


It’s official: Nigeria passed its 42 day monitoring period without a further case of ebola. The outbreak in Nigeria is officially over. (VOA

Could Ebola be on the decline in Liberia, the epicenter of the deadly virus that has killed more than 4,500 people, mostly in West Africa? Some local reports said fewer bodies are being found in Liberian communities. (VOA

Since the death of Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan in Texas on 8 October and the Ebola infection of two US nurses that treated him, there have been increasing calls by US lawmakers to ban travel from the countries most affected by the virus – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. (IRIN

The Committee to Protect Journalists says authorities in some of the countries affected by Ebola have tried to control and censor coverage of the outbreak. The CPJ says governments and media should work together to ensure the public is well-informed about the epidemic. (VOA

Countries are starting to kick in more to the fight…

How China is contributing to the global fight against ebola.  (VOA and  (AP

The European Union committed itself Monday to step up efforts toward getting $1.27 billion in aid to fight Ebola in West Africa and rejected the idea of halting direct flights coming from the region. (AP

South Korea will send doctors, nurses and military officers next month to the West African region hit by Ebola amid growing concerns over the outbreak, the Foreign Ministry said Monday. South Korea has pledged to spend $5.6 million to help curb the virus. (AP


Suspected attacks by militant group Boko Haram have reportedly killed dozens in northeastern Nigeria. The violence may complicate already difficult negotiations to release 200 kidnapped schoolgirls. (DW

Ghanians whose homes have been levelled to prevent cholera fear the authorities are motivated by commercial rather than public health concerns. (Guardian

 Heavily armed gunmen freed some 300 inmates from a prison in eastern Congo on Saturday, the provincial minister of justice said, amid fears over deteriorating security in the mineral-rich region. (Reuters

Uganda police fired live bullets and tear gas on Monday to break up protests by university students, wounding several people, authorities and witnesses said. (AFP

In Nairobi’s overcrowded slums, hungry children often trade their bodies for a few coins or food. Kenya has up to 30,000 child sex workers, according to the United Nations children’s fund, mainly along its palm-fringed tourist beaches, with child prostitution widely acknowledged as a problem that needs to be tackled by stronger law enforcement and by giving the youngsters a way out.  (Reuters


A Libyan official says fighting in the eastern city of Benghazi between Islamist militias and pro-government fighters has left 65 people dead as fierce battles continued for a sixth day. (AP

The Vatican has demanded that world governments do more to prevent a possible “new genocide” in northern Iraq and Syria, and for Muslim leaders in particular to repudiate the Islamic State militants who are killing and exiling the region’s Christians. (AP

The United Nations would offer humanitarian assistance for proposed “safe zones” inside Syria even if they were created without a Security Council resolution, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official Valerie Amos said on Monday. (Reuters


Human Rights Watch has called on the Central Committee of China’s ruling Communist Party to take steps to address human rights abuses at its four-day meeting, which begins Monday in Beijing. (VOA

Amnesty International said South Korea’s farming industry is “rife with abuse,” and called on the country to end its widespread use of forced labor migrant agricultural workers. (VOA

Indonesia’s new president Joko Widodo said on Monday that he wanted the Southeast Asian nation to be self-sufficient in food staples sugar, rice and corn within four years. (Reuters

A blaze engulfed a fireworks factory in southern India on Monday, killing at least 13 workers and seriously burning seven others, police said. (AP

A controversial plan to make women wearing the burqa or niqab sit in separate glassed public enclosures at Australia’s Parliament House due to security concerns was abandoned Monday after an outcry. (AFP

The Americas

Official results from Bolivia’s presidential election confirm incumbent president Evo Morales has won a third term in office and will govern until 2020. (BBC

Farmers with smallholdings are not responsible for most of the destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, but their contribution to deforestation is rising and must be addressed if the country is to hold on to recent gains, according to the Stockholm Environment Institute. (Guardian

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff highlighted her government’s achievements in reducing poverty while her rival used Sunday night’s presidential debate to attack her on allegations of bribery in state-run oil company Petrobras. (AP


Anneke van Woudenberg is Mark’s podcast guest this week. She’s the famed Human Rights Watch researcher in DR Congo who’s loathed and feared by many a warlords. (Global Dispatches Podcast

This is the simple but effective Islamic State strategy to win hearts and minds (GlobalPost

How much of a problem is inequality in East Africa? How can it be reduced? (A View From the Cave

Microfinance veterans face up to new technologies and new competition (Guardian

Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrive (IPS

When U.S. Politics Met Ebola (Daily Maverick

Chibok Girls: Seeing Is Believing (allAfrica

Getting Hospitals Right: Dispatches from Our Cape Town Consultation Session (CGD

Rwanda’s School Feeding Programme Gets Off to a Shaky Start (The New Times

The Ebola Outbreak You Haven’t Heard About (Chatham House

 The Central African Republic is Once Again on the Verge of Total Meltdown (UN Dispatch

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French soldiers in CAR, courtesy french ministry of defense

The Central African Republic is Once Again on the Verge of Total Meltdown

Following a few months of relative calm, tensions have once again flared up in the Central African Republic. The new wave of violence and insecurity was triggered by the killing of a MINUSCA peacekeeper on October 7 in the capital Bangui. The deteriorating security situation in the capital, Bangui, highlights the fragile peace deal brokered by regional and international partners in Brazzaville in July, and increases concerns that the an election calendar planned for early 2015 may be too aggressive.

As in previous flare-ups of tensions in the CAR, the October 7 incident – where the first UN peacekeeper was killed since the deployment of the mission – a tit-for-tat cycle of violence has once again engulfed the country. The UN estimates that several hundred people have been wounded, and at least 6,500 displaced, in the last couple of weeks.

The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have called upon the armed groups to respect the neutrality of the humanitarian actors, and allow safe passage for medical staff and emergency personnel, lest even more people die. The violence in Bangui has once again created a sense of insecurity among the population, as many roads have been blocked by militias. The volatility of the situation and how quickly it escalated highlights how tenuous the Brazzaville peace deal is, despite the increased presence of peacekeepers. Denis Sassou Nguessou, the UN-appointed mediator for the Central African Republic, convened a high level meeting to discuss this recent escalation of violence in Bangui over the weekend.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that neither of the two opposing groups – the Muslim Seleka and the Christian Anti-Balaka – have a strong, respected leadership. Splinter groups and groups operating independently – outside of the sphere of influence of the official Seleka and Anti-Balaka negotiators – can easily derail the peace process, as evidenced by the recent violence that has gripped Bangui.

It’s easy for the conflict in the Central African Republic to fall off the radar. Indeed, with at least 25 million food insecure people in the Sahel, and massive crises in West Africa, ebola, the Middle East and elsewhere, what’s happening in the CAR barely registers on the international community’s radar. The ongoing suffering in CAR, though, is real and palpable, and even though violence had more or less subsided over the course of the last few months after the Brazzaville peace conference, the recent surge in tensions highlights how quickly violence can be triggered and sweep through communities.

Recently, the head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa Abdoulaye Bathily suggested that even if the current February 2015 timetable for elections can’t be observed, they should be held within a few weeks of that time frame. That will be a tall order. Indeed, the transitional government – with its limited democratic mandate – doesn’t have the strength or authority to support a strong political, social and economic reconstruction.  As Veronique Barbelet from ODI points out in a recent piece, “painting a positive picture of fragile situations never ends well.” An arbitrary elections calendar should be eschewed. Instead, focusing on ramping up the UN peacekeeping mission so it’s at full capacity, and ensuring that the humanitarian needs of the population are met, should be the priority. Without security, a genuinely democratic process will elude the CAR, and only create the foundation of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement for the next crisis to fester.


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Episode 37: Anneke van Woudenberg

Anneke Van Woudenberg first came to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997 on a drunken dare. The rest is history.

In this episode, the famed human rights investigator discusses her life and career working for human rights in Africa. Woudenberg was born in Holland, raised in Canada, and schooled in the United Kingdom before she set foot in the country that would define her career. The name Anneke Van Woudenberg may not ring a bell to you –though it should!–but Congolese warlords know and fear her. This is a fantastic episode with one of my personal human rights heroes.

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