Aung San Suu Kyi’s fall from grace as a human rights hero

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When former US deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes first met Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012, she exuded the all traits that made her an international icon for human rights and democracy.

Rhodes had  accompanying Barack Obama in an historic visit to Myanmar, and admired the moral authority of Aung San Suu Kyi. There was a hopefulness, surrounding her, he says.

Now seven years later, she has been stripped of many international accolades, honors and prizes.

At issue is the fact that as the most powerful civilian leader in Myanmar she refused to intervene against, or even publicly condemn, a genocide committed by the government against a religious and ethnic minority.  Some 700,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled Myanmar amid what a UN official has called a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. All the while, Aung San Suu Kyi was silent

So what happened to Aung San Suu Kyi? How did a Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent decades under house arrest in an elegant pursuit of democracy and justice in Myanmar fall so from grace? And was the international community, including the Obama administration, wrong about her all along? Ben Rhodes grapples with these questions and more.  [Listen to Podcast]

Iraqis choose refugee camps over ruined homes

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Despairing of the corpses and debris littering the streets, many Iraqis have left their homes in areas liberated from Islamic State two years ago and voluntarily returned to the displacement camps that housed them during and after the fighting.

“All houses and buildings [of Mosul] are in complete ruin. I saw in my own eyes corpses. I saw a hand of a woman,” said Sabiha Jassim, 61, who has since gone back to the Hassan Shami camp for displaced people. Jassim says there was no drinking water or access to medical treatment for her ailing husband, both of which are available at the camp.

In Hassan Sham camp alone, more than 200 families like Jassim’s have returned this year after having initially gone home. Bodies and destroyed buildings are still a regular sight two years on. In contrast, the camps provide residents with security and comparatively comfortable lives.

Islamic State seized large swathes of Iraq in 2014 and was finally defeated in December 2017. Militants ravaged and looted the areas, leaving behind houses, mosques, and churches in ruin.

The central government says it will need up to $100 billion to rebuild Mosul.


The connection of climate to migration

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Dina Ionesco is the head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division at the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has been at the forefront of efforts to study the links between migration, the environment and climate. She recently explained we are now living in an era where catastrophic climate-related events are linked to human activity, and this is likely to have a major impact on the way that we decide to migrate, and settle:

“The Atlas of Environmental Migration, which gives examples dating as far back as 45,000 years ago, shows that environmental changes and natural disasters have played a role in how the population is distributed on our planet throughout history.”

“However, it is highly likely that undesirable environmental changes directly created by, or amplified by, climate change, will extensively change the patterns of human settlement. Future degradation of land used for agriculture and farming, the disruption of fragile ecosystems and the depletion of precious natural resources like fresh water will directly impact people’s lives and homes.”

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2 million people had to leave their homes last year because of disasters that negatively affected their lives. Slow changes in the environment, such as ocean acidification, desertification and coastal erosion, are also directly impacting people’s livelihoods and their capacity to survive in their places of origin.

As Ms. Ionesco explains, “There are predictions for the twenty-first century indicating that even more people will have to move as a result of these adverse climate impacts. ….The World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world, if no climate action is taken.”

“However, our level of awareness and understanding of how environmental factors affect migration, and how they also interact with other migration drivers such as demographic, political and economic conditions, has also changed. With enhanced knowledge, there is more incentive to act urgently, be prepared and respond. … The main priority is to find solutions that allow people to stay in their homes and give them the means to adapt to changing environmental conditions. This approach aims to avoid instances of desperate migration and its associated tragedies.”

[UN News]

US sanctions imperil aid to flood victims in Iran

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Two major humanitarian groups have warned that United States sanctions on Iran are stopping cash flows for vital humanitarian work in the country.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) complained that U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran is also stopping key assistance to flood victims and refugees there.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the NRC and a former United Nations official, warned that support to some 82,000 people in Iran could be cut off by mid-August because his group cannot get funds in to the Islamic Republic.

“We have now, for a full year, tried to find banks that are able and willing to transfer money from Western donors to support our work for Afghan refugees and disaster victims in Iran, but we are hitting brick walls on every side,” said Egeland. “If all bank channels are blocked, then so is the delivery of critical aid to vulnerable people.”

Meanwhile, the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has collected funds that it cannot transfer to its local outfit, the IRCS.

Last year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of a nuclear deal with Iran and key world powers that had been agreed in 2015, and then ramped up sanctions to pressure Tehran and to lock it out of the global economy. White House officials say the sanctions are aimed at Iran’s energy sector and regime hardliners, and do not apply to essential items like food, medicine and humanitarian relief, even while these may have been indirectly affected.

[Inter Press Service]

Religious groups react to rumors the US will stop admitting refugees

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Reports have emerged that the Trump administration was considering lowering the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to zero. Many have pointed out this would effectively eliminate the country’s refugee resettlement program altogether, according to Politico.

  • Last year, only 22,491 refugees were admitted, the lowest number since 1980 when the U.S. officially established the refugee admissions program.
  • Back in 2017, the ceiling was 110,000, set by former President Barack Obama before Donald Trump took office.
  • Even in the year following the Sept. 11 attacks, about 27,000 refugees were admitted (2002).
  • According to the Pew Research Center, up until 2017, the U.S. settled more refugees than any other country.
  • In 2018, Canada, a country with a population slightly smaller than California’s, formally resettled the most refugees worldwide.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement site still states, “U.S. policy allows refugees of special humanitarian concern entrance into our country, reflecting our core values and our tradition of being a safe haven for the oppressed.” But the latest rumors from within the Trump administration have thrown this core value into question, even for religious groups that have traditionally worked as partners with the federal government to serve refugees once they arrive in the United States.

“Setting the U.S. refugee ceiling at zero would be an egregious assault on fundamental American values. And quite frankly, the humanitarian implications of this decision would be enough to nullify our global reputation as leaders of the free world,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine groups that works with the U.S. government to resettle refugees, in a statement.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, signed by more than 40 faith groups, organizations implored Pompeo to increase rather than decrease the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. They wrote, “These figures represent a dangerous aberration from U.S. historic commitments to the persecuted, placing lives at risk and drastically reducing our ability to protect religious freedom.”

Melanie Nezer, vice president of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish nonprofit that works with refugees, said in a statement, “Should the administration decide that the U.S. will no longer resettle refugees, it will be a full abdication of our role as the world’s humanitarian leader in refugee protection — a role the U.S. has held since World War II.”

[Deseret News]

Cherishing our connections to other people and cultures

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We all belong to the world in concentric circles of relationship — some more distant and others close, some with people different from us and others with people more similar.

Our lives and our relationships are well-served when we can lift our unconscious patterns into the light of day, embrace our shared humanity and vulnerability, and allow gratefulness to lead us into new ways of being and relating. …Recognizing that we are in relationship with our larger human family and our Earth in every moment no matter what we are doing, we are called to consider relationships in their widest possible arc.

Gratefulness supports us to experience deep appreciation for the blessings of our vast web of relatedness. …Typically, when we think of being more grateful in relationships, we focus on trying to remember to express gratitude for the things that people do for us or give to us that we appreciate — the unexpected kindnesses, the perfect gesture of support, the thoughtful gift, the fabulous meal. Getting better at offering this kind of gratitude is surely a worthy aspiration.

Cultivating a deeper recognition of gratitude for the existence of the people in our lives, not so much to them for something tangible they have done or given, is a different type of focus. …The people in our lives are true gifts for both us and the world as a whole, impacting us in ways that we can scarcely fathom.

Not taking people for granted is a foundational commitment in how we live gratefully in relationship…We recognize that people are distinct from who we are, individuated by who they are always in a process of becoming.

May our interconnectedness and inextricability keep us compassionate. May perspective keep us humble. And may our capacity to recognize, appreciate, and acknowledge the true blessings and gifts of all others grow more luminous and generous every day.

[Excerpt of article by Kristi Nelson]

Tackling the issue that 883 million people lack water and sanitation

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What does it mean to give one person access to clean water or safe sanitation? For them and their family, it means the world: dignity, health, more time to work, study, or care for others.

In a new report, Running Dry, factors are identified as to what holds back action in providing clean, affordable water and safe, dignified sanitation reaching all citizens living in urban areas.
– Utilities are often seen as the reason why water access is not universal, because they have failed to extend their networks to keep pace with the expanding urban areas which they serve. But utilities can be supported to reach the poorest.
– Residents without piped water close to their houses almost certainly have to buy it at a much higher price on the black market. Proper connections, from the main system, not only save under-served residents money, but ensure that the utilities providing the water can be financially viable. – Community ownership is traditionally seen as the goal in development – but in urban water and sanitation, it can be problematic. To manage effective distribution of water across an urban area, a single institution must have oversight and accountability for managing the entire system.
– In cramped urban settlements where the poorest and most marginalized live, there simply isn’t the space – nor money – for each household to have their own toilet. High quality shared sanitation can be a useful stepping stone to give residents immediate benefits.
– If sanitation was just a construction issue, the world would likely have tackled it by now. But in urban areas, just as important as building toilets is figuring out what to do with the human waste. Much more needs to be done to improve the business of removing sanitation waste from the environment.

[Excerpts of article by Neil Jeffery – Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor]

Killer heat: Climate change in action

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This year’s record heat in Europe and the US follows record temperatures last year too.

This week the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a report, entitled, Killer Heat, which predicted that “The United States is facing a potentially staggering expansion of dangerous heat over the coming decades.”

Responding to the report, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, Professor Michael Mann, said: “What we describe as a record heat-wave, in a few decades we will simply call that summer.”

The US and Europe are not the only places suffering for extreme heat. Our climate crisis is also happening in the Asia and the Arctic.  

Although the heatwave has been bad news for Europe, it is terrible and potentially devastating news for the Arctic. As the Washington Post notes, the heat dome “could dramatically speed up the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and enhance the loss of already record-low sea ice.”

The heatwave in the North finally and rightly making the headlines, but it is the poor in the south who suffer too. And mostly they will suffer in silence.

[Green News]

WHO goal to rid the world of hepatitis by 2030

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Four years ago the World Health Organization (WHO) rolled out its global strategy to eliminate hepatitis by 2030 four years ago. Known as a “silent killer” disease, hepatitis is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver.

There are different forms of hepatitis, ranging from A, B, C, D, and E. Each is caused by a different type of virus. Unfortunately, most people who have the most serious forms of the disease – particularly the B and C viruses – are unaware of infection. This allows the infection to spread unchecked, leading to serious damage to the liver. This means that the organ can’t carry out its main function which is to filter blood coming in from the digestive system before directing it to the rest of the body, and detoxification.

In 2015 the WHO estimated that 328 million people globally were living with hepatitis B and C. In the same year there were 1.34 million deaths from viral hepatitis. That’s higher than deaths caused by AIDS and comparable to TB fatalities. It’s the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, hepatitis B is the most common form of the illness. Last year it was reported that 6.1% of the population was infected.

Hepatitis B is spread through infected body fluids. This can either be through sex with an infected partner, at birth from an infected mother to her baby or through direct contact with an infected person’s open wounds or blood. There is also risk from sharing syringes, razors or toothbrushes with infected persons. The key strategy for managing hepatitis B is prevention by being vaccinated. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have made vaccination and post-infection therapy available. But the number of those infected annually and dying from viral hepatitis remains high.

The WHO’s 2030 deadline is feasible. But it may not be achieved because of the prevailing low vaccination coverage in sub-Saharan Africa coupled with limited healthcare budgets that are unable to make diagnostics and treatment available to all.

[African Population and Health Research Center]

Climate records fall as Europe bakes in heatwave

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Soaring temperatures broke records in Germany, France, Britain and the Netherlands on Thursday, as a heatwave gripped Europe for the second time in a month in what scientists said were becoming more frequent events as the planet heats up.
– Paris saw its highest temperature since records began and Britain reported its hottest weather for the month of July.
– The mercury in Paris touched 42.6 C (108.68 F) in mid-afternoon, above the previous Paris record of 40.4 C (104.72 F) recorded in July 1947.
– In Britain, the temperature reached its highest for July, hitting 38.1 C (100.58 F), said the Met Office, the national weather service.
– An all-time high was measured in Germany for a second day running, at 41.5 degrees Celsius (106.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
– In the southern Netherlands, the temperature peaked at 40.4 C (104.7 F), topping 40 C (104 F) for the first time on record, Dutch meteorology institute KNMI said. That broke the national record of 39.3 C set the previous day. Before this week, the national heat record had stood for 75 years.

Climate specialists said such heatwaves are becoming more frequent as a result of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions.