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Let Women Wear the Hijab: The Emptiness of Obama’s Cairo Speech

I know many will gush over President Obama's Cairo speech and I'm likely swimming against the tide of the media and my fellow Democrats and progressives. But reading the transcript, I was struck by two things:

1. Aside from a few platitudes, it is disappointingly weak on human rights and specifically women's rights.

2. It betrays a naiveté, perhaps feigned, about how the Arab world works.

I sometimes preface my posts by explaining that my Mideast perspective is that of an American-Lebanese-Christian-Jew who grew up in Muslim West Beirut at the height (or should I say depth) of the Lebanese civil war. The tumultuous and bloody intersection of religions and geopolitical interests is painfully real to me.

Yes, Obama is targeting the Arab 'street' and global public opinion - but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing. Repression and suppression will go on uninterrupted. And to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama's words will be seen as empty and hypocritical.

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For Darfuri Women, Nowhere to Hide

A distressing report from PHR and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative:

The report -- titled "Nowhere To Turn: Failure To Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women" -- is based on interviews with 88 female refugees living in Chad's Farchana refugee camp.

"Many Darfuri women refugees live in a nightmare of memories of past trauma compounded by the constant threat of sexual violence around the camps now," said Susannah Sirkin, the physician group's deputy director.

"Women who report being raped are stigmatized, and remain trapped in places of perpetual insecurity. There's no one to stop the rapes, no one to turn to for justice for past or ongoing crimes, and little psycho-social support to address their prolonged and unimaginable traumas."

Imagine escaping one conflict zone to then be targeted again. "Perpetual insecurity" doesn't capture the horror that these women endure.

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Aid Agencies Under Severe Pressure

Yesterday I wrote that a sad fact about life is that when things get tough, it's often those who can least afford more hardship who bear the brunt. I was pointing to this story about how the global economic crisis was exacerbating human rights abuses.

Here's more on how the dynamic works:

Aid funds are running short for worsening humanitarian emergencies in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa, as political complexities and the global economic crisis dampen the generosity of governments and individual donors.

Agencies in Sri Lanka, which are struggling to meet the basic needs of nearly 300,000 people displaced in the final stage of the country's civil war, are warning they only have enough money to keep their relief operations going for around another three months....

As of Thursday, funds donated to the U.N.'s $155 million appeal for Sri Lanka stood at $61 million, or 39 percent of the total, with a further $27 million in pledges that have yet to be firmed up.

For the crisis in Pakistan - where a government offensive against Taliban militants has sparked an exodus of some 2.3 million people in the north - aid agencies need around $543 million to provide food, water, shelter and other relief to displaced people sheltering in camps and with host communities.

So far, the appeal is only 16 percent covered. Donors have promised a further $224 million but it remains unclear how and when this money will be allocated.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) says it has received about a third of the funds its needs to provide food aid to around 1.5 million people in Pakistan, but desperately requires more.

"We have food and we have (financial) commitments, but we need cash to move the food," said Nancy Roman, WFP's director of public policy and communications. "In terms of lead times, you can't buy food with a commitment."

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Another Casualty of the Global Economic Crisis: Human Rights

A sad fact about life is that when things get tough, it's often those who can least afford more hardship who bear the brunt.

Case in point:

The global economic crisis is exacerbating human rights abuses, Amnesty International has warned.

In its annual report, the group said the downturn had distracted attention from abuses and created new problems.

Rising prices meant millions were struggling to meet basic needs in Africa and Asia, it said, and protests were being met with repression.

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Top UN Human Rights Official Demands Investigation Into Sri Lanka Atrocities


The U.N.'s top human rights official demanded an independent investigation Tuesday into atrocities allegedly committed by both sides in Sri Lanka's civil war.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told an emergency meeting of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council that tens of thousands of civilians had been killed or injured in intense fighting between the government and Tamil rebels since December.

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North Korea Tests Nuke – Security Council to Hold Emergency Meeting


North Korea announced on Monday that it had successfully conducted its second nuclear test, defying international warnings and dramatically raising the stakes in a global effort to persuade the recalcitrant Communist state to give up its weapons program. ...

Russia and Japan said the U.N. Security Council would hold an emergency meeting Monday.

Geological authorities in the United States, Japan and South Korea reported that the test triggered an earth tremor with a magnitude of between 4.5 and 5.3. The tremor emanated from Kilju, the same area where the North Korea carried out a test in October 2006.

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Are Deaths From Terrorism Qualitatively/Morally Different?

Cross-posted at Huffington Post

The establishment approach to counter-terrorism is based on an implicit assumption that there is a fundamental difference between the death and destruction caused by terrorist attacks and that caused by crime, hunger, disease and other such threats.

This unspoken assumption is used to justify the suspension of rules and standards that are employed when dealing with other causes of death and injury. And it explains a disproportionate urgency in contending with a single existential threat over others (global warming, environmental degradation, poverty, gun violence, etc.).

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Scores of Afghan Schoolgirls Ill in Poison Gas Attack

Once again, young girls pay the price simply for being born female:

Five young girls slipped briefly into comas and nearly 100 were taken to hospital after a gas attack on their school on Tuesday, the third in a series of such incidents north of Kabul, Afghan officials said.

The early morning mass-poisoning at Qazaaq school was likely the work of Taliban sympathizers hostile to girls' education, the head of security for Kapisa province told Reuters.


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Singer Ayman Udas Allegedly Gunned Down by Her Brothers for Appearing on TV

As Dispatch readers know, I focus a good portion of my posts on the unconscionable crimes perpetrated by humans against humans, and especially on the brutal treatment of women and young girls around the globe.

In a recent piece on Huffington Post, I wrote:

The World Health Organization's World Report on Violence and Health estimates that over a million people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year. The report states that violence is "among the leading causes of death among people aged 15-44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females."

What's so disturbing is the myriad forms this violence takes and how deeply pervasive and borderless it is. Across the globe and across the centuries, humans have committed the most barbaric acts, limited only by their imaginations, and the march of civilization has done little to change the grim reality that on any given day, in every corner of our planet, gruesome and ungodly things are done to women, children and men.

In Beirut during the '70s and early '80s, I witnessed terrible acts of violence, car bombs at supermarkets and missile strikes on residential neighborhoods, bloody bodies and corpses in the street, the carnage of urban warfare. It has made me keenly attuned to the darker aspects of human nature, the willingness to brutalize one another. Four decades on this planet and I still cannot fathom how a man can rape a baby, how people can gas, hack, strangle, shoot, smother, burn, and torture their fellow humans. Rather than become dulled and inured from violence overload, I am ever more appalled and horrified by it.