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A protester carries the Somali national flag during a demonstration against the al-Shabaab militant group. (Feisal Omar/Reuters)

Woman Stoned to Death by Terrorists in Somalia

Oct. 26, 2017

A 30-year-old mother of eight was publicly stoned to death by Islamist militants in Somalia on Oct. 26 for cheating on her husband, Reuters reported. The group al-Shabaab killed the woman, named Habiba Ali Isak, in Sakow, a district in the southern part of the country on the Horn of Africa.

Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization, has been waging war for years to topple the country’s western-backed government, and seeks to impose its strict interpretation of sharia law in Somalia.

Sakow, a town about 320 miles southwest of the capital Mogadishu, is in an area entirely under al-Shabaab’s control. In the past, members of al Shabaab have handed out harsh punishments for religious infractions, including public executions and hacking off the limbs of alleged thieves.

Isak lived with her legal husband and children in Hagar village, but cheated on her husband after she told him she was traveling to Mogadishu to visit her relatives, according to Sheikh Mohamed Abu Abdalla, Al-shabaab’s governor for Somalia’s Jubba regions in the south. Her legal husband, Ali Ibrahim, subsequently found out that his wife did not go to Mogadishu but instead had married again and was living with another husband in Sakow.

“Her legal husband brought the case to the court,” Abdalla said. “She admitted she illegally married a second husband. According to the Islamic sharia she was publicly stoned to death.”

On Oct. 14, a truck bomb killed 358 people in a crowded commercial district of Mogadishu. As Agence France-Presse reported, there has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but al-Shabaab carries out regular suicide bombings in the Somali capital as part of its campaign to overthrow the country’s internationally backed government.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed vowed to intensify the war against al-Shabaab, saying the attack showed that the government had not done enough to stop the terror group.

“If we don’t respond to this now,” he said, “the time will surely come when pieces of flesh from all of us are being picked up off the ground.”

Cholera Outbreak in War-Torn Yemen Being Called Worst in History

Sept. 29, 2017

The cholera outbreak in Yemen is now the largest and fastest-growing epidemic of the disease since records began, the British charity Oxfam said. As The Independent reported Sept. 29, the country located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula descended into a full-blown civil war in March 2015, and has been suffering from a cholera epidemic since March of this year.

Cholera is an infectious and severe intestinal disease characterized by profuse diarrhea, intestinal pain and dehydration. While easily preventable and treatable in hygienic conditions, cholera can kill the old, young and otherwise sick in hours if body fluids are not replaced.

This week, the number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen reportedly reached 755,000. Experts believe it will reach a million by November. More than 2,100 Yemenis, around half of them children, have died from the disease to date.

In the country’s most remote provinces and areas hardest hit by the civil war between Saudi-backed government forces and Houthi rebels, up to 5,000 people a day are falling ill, The Independent reported.

“Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and it is getting even worse,” Nigel Timmins, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director, said in a statement. “More than two years of war have created ideal conditions for the disease to spread. The war has pushed the country to the edge of famine, forced millions from their homes, virtually destroyed the already weak health services and hampered efforts to respond to the cholera outbreak.”

The collapse of Yemen’s medical system has allowed cholera to balloon across the entire country. Less than half of the country’s medical centers are still functional, 14.5 million people don’t have regular access to clean water, and in several provinces health and sanitation workers are still going to work despite not receiving pay for a year.

As part of its emergency response, Oxfam reportedly has provided water and sanitation assistance to more than 430,000 people in Yemen, but warned that visas and access for cholera experts have been taking up to two months owing to both Houthi and government restrictions. The UN said last month that vaccine shipments had also been delayed.

 

Casablanca Bus Attack But One Example of Sexual Harassment Women Face in Morocco

Aug. 22, 2017

Four suspects have been arrested in Morocco after a video emerged on social media showing a group of men gang-raping a woman on a Casablanca bus. As BBC News reported, the young men are seen laughing while assaulting the woman, who police said is 24 years old and has learning difficulties. No complaint was filed by the victim or the bus driver before the video was released, police said.

Less than two weeks earlier, Moroccan media reported on a video showing a large group of men following a young woman walking alone in the northern city of Tangier.

In the North African country of Morocco, it’s not easy for women to walk the streets unmolested. In Marrakesh, Ghizlane Ahblain said the word “whore” is a constant refrain, hurled from doorways and motorbikes. “In Morocco, everything you do, you’re a whore,” says Ghizlane, who works at a hotel. “If you wear lipstick, you’re a whore. If you wear a headscarf, you’re a whore.”

Like many women in Morocco, Ghizlane experiences sexual harassment on a daily basis. But a few years ago she started fighting back by making a scene when men physically or verbally harass women on the street. “More people should denounce this behavior,” she said. “Men in my country don’t know when to stop.”

In Rabat, the country’s seaside capital, a woman named Mo said it was her dream “that Moroccan women learn how to stop sexual harassment.”

She said she tried to start a self-defense class but had to apply to the government for permission and her application was ignored. Instead she’s been confronting street harassers herself, one by one. “When someone tries to touch me, I scream at him,” she said.

But not every woman in Morocco has the energy to fight back against harassment. Many simply mold their lives around it to avoid friction.

“The whole problem is that women don’t report, police don't investigate and prosecutors don't prosecute,” said Stephanie Willman Bordat, an American expat who’s worked on women’s rights from her Rabat office for 21 years.

As Ghizlane in Marrakech said, “It’s definitely not easy to be Moroccan and a woman.”

A Nigerian refugee seeking a better life in Europe was sold as a slave in Libya before entering a detention center to await deportation. (CNN)

African Refugees Being Sold as Slaves in Libya

Nov. 17, 2017

African migrants are being sold as slaves in Libya, in some cases for $400 per person, CNN reported Nov. 14.

A Nigerian man who appears to be in his twenties was recently sold for 1,200 Libyan dinars, the equivalent of $800. He was offered for sale as one of a group of “big strong boys for farm work” by the auctioneer.

“Does anybody need a digger?” asked the salesman, dressed in camouflage gear. “This is a digger, a big strong man. He’ll dig. What am I bid?” Buyers raised their hands as the price rose, “500, 550, 600, 650 ...” Within minutes the auction was over and the men were handed over to their new “masters.”

Each year, tens of thousands of refugees cross Libya’s borders, fleeing conflict in their homelands or seeking economic opportunities in Europe. Most have sold everything they own to finance the journey through Libya to the Mediterranean coast.

But a recent crackdown by the Libyan coast guard means fewer boats are making it out to sea, leaving smugglers with a backlog of would-be passengers. So migrants and refugees become the smuggler' slaves.

CNN was told of slave auctions at nine locations across Libya, but many more are believed to take place each month. Using hidden cameras, CNN reporters filmed a slave auction that took place in a seemingly normal town in Libya, where local people lead regular lives.

First Lieutenant Naser Hazam of Libya’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in Tripoli said that he had not witnessed a slave auction, but acknowledged that organized gangs are operating smuggling rings in the country.

“They fill a boat with 100 people [who] may or may not make it,” Hazam said. The smuggler “does not care as long as he gets the money, and the migrant may get to Europe or die at sea.”

At a detention center in Tripoli for migrants due to be deported, a young man named Victory said he was sold at a slave auction. Tired of rampant corruption in Nigeria’s Edo state, the 21-year-old fled home and spent a year and four months—and his life savings—trying to reach Europe.

He made it as far as Libya, where he said he and other would-be migrants were held in grim living conditions, deprived of food, abused and mistreated by their captors.

“If you look at most of the people here, if you check your bodies, you see the marks,” he said. “They are beaten, mutilated,” and even have sharp objects inserted in their anuses.

When his money ran out, Victory was sold as a day laborer by his smugglers, who told him that the profit they made from the transactions would reduce his debt. But after weeks of being forced to work, Victory was told the money he’d been bought for wasn’t enough. He was returned to his smugglers, only to be re-sold several more times.

At the detention center, he now waits to be sent back to Nigeria, empty-handed. “I’m not happy,” he said. “I go back and start back from square one. It’s very painful.”

As a result of CNN’s exclusive report, Libyan authorities have launched a formal investigation into slave auctions in the country, the government said Nov. 17.

Venezuela’s Dissidents Could Face Long Jail Terms under ‘Hate and Intolerance’ Law

Aug. 16, 2017

Dissidents in Venezuela could be jailed for 25 years under a law pending in the South American country’s newly-formed constituent assembly. As Reuters reported, Venezuelans who express “hate or intolerance” will be jailed for up to 25 years under the proposed bill, which the opposition fears the government will use to further crack down on dissent.

President Nicolas Maduro has faced widespread international criticism since installing the 545-member assembly stacked with his Socialist Party allies earlier this month. He defends the new legislative super-body as Venezuela’s only hope for peace and prosperity.

Clashes between anti-government protestors and security forces have left more than 120 people dead while the country sinks further into recession, triple-digit inflation and acute food shortages, Reuters reported.

Penal Forum, a local human rights group, estimated that Maduro’s government was holding 676 political prisoners as of Aug. 16, a number that could rise once the new measure becomes law.

“The proposal includes incredibly vague language that would allow them to jail anyone for almost anything,” Tamara Taraciuk, head Venezuela researcher for Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying.

“Anyone who goes out into the streets to express intolerance and hatred will be captured and will be tried and punished with sentences of 15, 20, 25 years of jail,” Maduro recently told the assembly, drawing a standing ovation.

In its first session on July 30, the assembly fired Venezuela’s top prosecutor Louisa Ortega, who had accused Maduro of human rights abuses. The assembly then appointed a Maduro loyalist to replace her. The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists said that Ortega’s dismissal “removes one of the last remaining institutional checks on executive authority” in Venezuela.

The New York Times reported that in a special meeting of foreign ministers from the Western Hemisphere recently convened by the Peruvian government, 12 of the largest and most influential governments signed a declaration calling Venezuela a “dictatorship.” The foreign ministers agreed to work together on more concrete actions, including restricting arms shipments and blocking any Venezuelans nominated to international organizations. U.S. President Donald Trump said a “military option” is possible to deal with Maduro’s increasingly dictatorial regime.

The Financial Times reported that Venezuela’s oil exports, which account for about 90 percent of the country's total exports, have collapsed as prices have dropped and production has folded.

Recovery Efforts Slow after Flooding and Mudslides Devastate Parts of Peru

'International community has lost interest in Peru's emergency’

May 5, 2017

Heavy rains have stopped but funding shortfalls are slowing recovery efforts in Peru, after the country suffered its worst flooding and mudslides in 20 years. During February and March, record downpours engorged rivers, triggering deluges and landslides that wiped away people, crops and buildings.

As of mid-April, at least 85 people had died, tens of thousands were left homeless and more than 1 million were affected by the disaster, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“Damage has been incredibly severe,” Walter Cotte, the organization's Regional Director for the Americas, said in a statement. “Many people have lost everything.”

On March 23, the Red Cross launched an emergency appeal for 3,997,679 Swiss francs (about $4,003,341) to help 50,000 people in Peru. On April 4, the appeal was revised to 4,740,589 Swiss francs, about $4,747,860.66.

As of May 5, “we only have 15 percent of the appeal coverage,” Diana Medina, communications manager for the Panama City, Panama, office of the International Red Cross told Moresby Press. The Red Cross has been working with donors, but “in general the international community has lost interest in Peru's emergency," she said. “Our operation is moving very slow because we have very low coverage of the appeal.”

With the funds available, the Red Cross is working on the most urgent needs of water, sanitation and shelter, she said.

The Peruvian Red Cross said people in areas hit by flooding and mudslides also need livelihood and food-security support, and emergency health care to treat water-borne diseases. In areas worst affected by flooding in northern Peru, conditions are ripe for an increase in mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, Zika and Chikungunya.

Thirty-one cases of leptospirosis have been reported in flood-affected areas, and the Ministry of Health has warned of a potential outbreak. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread by rats. In severe cases it can cause liver damage, kidney failure, bleeding and death.

Despite the devastation caused by the flooding, mudslides and their aftereffects, the ongoing crisis in Peru has not received widespread international attention. “We are concerned that, due to the lack of resources to act immediately, the proliferation of diseases in the affected areas will become an additional emergency to the one already created by the floods,” Cotte said.

The Peruvian Red Cross raised $200,000 in donations from individuals before a problem with its online platform suspended its ability to receive additional donations over the Internet. The International Red Cross cannot receive donations from individuals, Medina said. Other organizations accepting online donations to help victims of Peru's historic floods include MercyCorps and UNICEF.


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What Is ‘Blockchain,’ Exactly?

Aug. 31, 2017

A term that’s been appearing more frequently lately but often without clear explanation, “blockchain” is a technology intended to create trust between strangers so they can exchange things of value over the Internet, without the involvement of third parties. According to its proponents, blockchain is going to change the Internet and the world.

Think of it as a publicly available digital ledger of anonymous transactions assembled chronologically like a chain of blocks, with each time-stamped block, or digital file, representing a transaction or group of transactions. Once written, each block is permanent and can’t be edited, thereby building a trustworthy record.

Blockchain originated as the underlying technology for the digital currency bitcoin. The “cryptocurrency” has been used to buy and sell illicit goods and services on the Internet black market, but is now expanding into mainstream commerce.

Bitcoins, which are really not coins at all but rather encrypted digital files perceived as valuable because they can only be created by solving extremely complex math problems, are just one example of digital properties that can be tracked and exchanged using blockchain technology. Blockchain verifies the value and ownership of digital properties from cryptocurrencies to documents and even songs, on networks of millions of computers, without the need for centralized authorities. In a sense, the digital record the blockchain creates is the authority, and the source of the trust it inspires.

According to its champions, blockchain technology is poised to spread beyond finance and to establish trust for people exchanging anything of value over the Internet, heralding a new era in how business interactions, food-supply chains, contracts, land titles, intellectual property like music, and even voting and journalism are stored, authenticated, moved, documented and archived, using advanced cryptography. Unlike traditional intermediaries such as banks, credit-card companies and online retailers, blockchains can’t be hacked, thereby making digital transactions safer and more secure, while also protecting privacy.

Don Tapscott is a leading authority on how technology affects business and society, and author of the book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Underlying Bitcoin is Changing Business, Money and the World (Portfolio, 2016), written with his son, Alex.

Blockchain “is the next generation of the Internet,” Tapscott said in a 2016 TED talk. The innovation “holds vast promise for every business, every society, and for [all people] individually. For the first time now in human history, people everywhere can trust each other and transact, peer to peer.”

According to Tapscott, blockchain could wrest power and wealth away from intermediaries and give that leverage back to the people. The increased prosperity that blockchain might create could help alleviate income inequality and the anger, divisions and other problems that such unfairness has inflicted on people around the world.

Don Tapscott is a leading advocate of blockchain technology.