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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."

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.