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POPSCI NEWS

Posted on 17 April 2013 by Africa Business

  • 5 Ways Drones Could Help In A Disaster Like The Boston Marathon Bombing
    Plus three robots that are already saving lives.

    Yesterday, the President of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Michael Toscano told U.S. News: “Whether it is in response to a natural disaster or a tragedy like we saw in Boston, [unmanned aerial systems] can be quickly deployed to provide first responders with critical situational awareness in areas too dangerous or difficult for manned aircraft to reach.”

    Is he right? Well, he’s not entirely wrong. Drones, like manned helicopters used by police and emergency responders, can hover, provide a great overall picture of action on the ground, and direct aid to where it’s needed. The trick is that, right now, drones don’t do that uniquely, which is what a sales pitch on their special capacity demands. Boston did in fact have a police helicopter flying overhead, and the problem of low fuel reportedly overheard on the police scanner is a problem that another helicopter could have solved just as easily. Drones aren’t particularly special in disaster relief-yet.

    As drone tech advances, we could soon see remotely piloted vehicles joining the ranks of police departments and emergency response organizations. Here are five drones that might save a life in a future disaster.

    1. The MQ-8C Fire Scout: This full-size, unmanned helicopter could ultimately replace police or medical evacuation helicopters. The crew compartment can, among other things, be converted to hold an EMS team for medical airlift, or extra fuel to stay aloft longer.

    2. Quadrotors: Drones like the Aeryon Scout provide a wealth of video coverage, spying on rooftops and moving in fearlessly to document a blast zone. (Of course, civilian smartphones did much of that work in Boston.)

    3. Swarm of Swiss robots: By emulating the patterns ants use to hunt for food, these swarming drones can efficiently scan a large area and then converge where they are needed-a strategy that requires an awful lot of manpower when it’s used by human search-and-rescue workers.

    4. Incredible HLQ: This quadrotor is designed to carry relief supplies to places people can’t access, or can’t access fast enough, during an emergency. It’s in development now after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

    5. The Pars Aerial Rescue Bot: While not strictly applicable to Boston, this Iranian lifeguard quadrotor could aid in disasters along coastal areas, flying through severe weather to rescue people from drowning.

    Flying machines aren’t the only rescue robots we can expect in the future. Unmanned ground machines also have a lot to offer. CHIMP, a monkey-tank-robot created by Carnegie Melon, is designed specifically to climb over rubble or up ladders to save people in collapsed buildings. DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, in which CHIMP is an entrant, has inspired several robots designed to take the place of humans in emergency situations.

    Three types of ground robots are already saving lives around the world:

    1. A whole fleet of earthquake-response rescue robots: These are currently at work in Japan, and they include the RoboCue victim-recovery bot.

    2. Talon: QinetiQ’s bomb-disposal robot made a name for itself fighting IEDs in the Iraq War. There’s also a police version available.

    3. The Land Shark EODS: This remotely controlled robot is used to detonate explosives safely away from people. Massachusetts State Police have at least one on hand.

    The future will certainly see more robots rushing to save lives, and undoubtedly some of those will be flying. The future promise of flying rescuers, however, should not distract us from the actual ground robots that are being used in Boston presently.

        

  • FYI: Can Humans Get High On Catnip?
    Samantha J. Kitty fiending for some catnip Evan Kafka via Suzanne LaBarre
    Related: Can cats get high on marijuana?

    While cats may feel effects from marijuana-no word on whether Sir Harry Paus actually likes the experience-“kitty pot” does not have a reciprocal effect on humans.

    In the late 1960s, some researchers reported catnip gave people a marijuana-like high, but it turned out they had simply mixed up the two plants. As veterinarian Arnold Plotnick of Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York wrote to me in an email, “Think about it… catnip is cheap and legal. If it had a significant effect on people, everyone would be smoking it.”

    Meanwhile, cats do feel effects from marijuana, but it may be scary for them. “Animals can’t understand they’re being intoxicated, therefore it can cause considerable anxiety,” says Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center in upstate New York.

    It’s not clear why the active chemical in catnip, nepetalactone, doesn’t affect humans, Kornreich says. Pot affects cats because like many mammals, including humans and dogs, cats have receptors in their brains for pot’s active chemicals, cannabinoids. Cannabinoid receptors make pets susceptible to feeling symptoms when they inhale secondhand smoke or, more commonly, accidentally eat their owners’ stashes. (It’s actually a bigger problem with dogs, he says, because dogs eat everything.)

    Kornreich has seen pets come into veterinary emergency rooms after marijuana exposure. “The pets are presented for anxiety, active heart rate, acting a little unusual,” he says. “They may react differently to sound and to being touched” perhaps because, like humans, drugs alter their perception.

    Kornreich urges pet owners to take their pets to a vet if this happens, adding that vets are not required by law to report marijuana they run into during their practice. Most veterinarians care more about making pets better, he says. “It’s more just focused on the well-being of the patient.”

    He also strongly discourages purposefully exposing a pet to marijuana. Fido and Kitty can’t consent to getting high. “I don’t think it’s right or fair to make that decision for an animal,” he says.

    If pot affects cats because they have cannabinoid receptors, does that mean people aren’t affected by catnip because they don’t have nepetalactone receptors? Scientists aren’t sure. “While it seems that this is a reasonable hypothesis to explain why humans don’t respond to catnip like cats do, I cannot find any studies that rigorously test it,” Kornreich says. While many brain receptors are common across different animals, many receptors also differ, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented for humans to lack a receptor present in cat brains.

    In cats, inhaled nepetalactone stimulates the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that processes odors. The olfactory bulb then interacts with the amygdala, the brain region associated with emotion and decision-making, and hypothalamus, which controls a variety of bodily functions. From the hypothalamus, nepetalactone stimulates a sexual response in cats that are genetically predisposed to sensitivity to catnip. (About 20 to 30 percent of cats don’t seem to react to the plant.)

    Some insects seem to react to nepetalactone, too. Strangely enough, chemical companies are studying nepetalactone because it seems to repel mosquitoes, ticks and mites, like a kind of natural DEET. For the insects to change their behavior around nepetalactone, even if negatively, suggests that they have nepetalactone receptors.

    As for smoking catnip: not only does it fail to get people high, it can make them feel pretty awful. Too much catnip, whether smoked or drunk as a tea, could cause headaches and vomiting.

    Have a burning science question you’d like to see answered in our FYI section? Email it to fyi@popsci.com.

        

  • Audi Wants Its Cars To Predict Where Traffic Will Be
    Traffic Jam epSos.de
    Side-stepping traffic by mining data

    At the GPU Technology Conference 2013 show in San Jose, Audi announced some of its plans for its Cars of the Future, The Register reports. One of the coolest ideas: cars that can predict where traffic will be, so drivers can avoid it.

    The amply named Predictive Traffic function would mine traffic records and current reports, including social media, as well as scheduled events like sports games that could bring cars to a standstill. The system, under Audi’s plan, could also predict a driver’s most likely destination based on their traffic history.

    Pretty neat! Along with that, Audi announced a concept for a reworked directions system that would operate in a “human-like” way, giving directions based on landmarks instead of streets. A Smart Parking feature would work similarly to the traffic-predicting system, but do it for parking spots: mapping out available spots and prices for those spots, rather than making you drive around in circles hunting one down.

    We don’t have too many details yet on exactly how these systems would work, but since Audi did make a self-driving car, hopefully we’ll see these projects come to life soon, too.

    [The Register]

        

  • Magnetic Brain Stimulation Removes Craving For Cigarettes
    Smoking Kills Challiyil Eswaramangalath Vipin via Wikimedia
    Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt!

    Scientists at Medical University of South Carolina temporarily blunted cigarette cravings among smokers by magnetically stimulating nerve cells in their brains. The procedure, called transcranial magnetic stimulation, is already approved by the FDA to treat depression, though its efficacy is controversial (it’s also been prescribed to stop people from lying and treat adult ADHD.)

    In the experiment, researchers randomly assigned 16 smokers to either a 15-minute session of high-frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation (in which coils placed over the forehead send magnetic pulses into the prefrontal cortex), or 15 minutes of sham treatment. The magnetic stimulation isn’t painful and doesn’t require sedation or anesthesia. The scientists told the volunteers not to smoke for two hours prior to the experiment.

    Before the treatment, the researchers showed the smokers both neutral images (such as mountain scenes) and images intended to provoke nicotine cravings (such as a person lightning a cigarette.) Then they asked the volunteers to rate how they felt about statements like “I would do almost anything for a cigarette now” and “I am going to smoke as soon as possible.” After the magnetic stimulation, the participants saw similar images and again rated how much they craved a cigarette.

    The researchers found that the participants who got the real magnet treatment expressed significantly less desire to smoke at the end of the experiment compared with those who got the fake treatment. In fact, the craving reduction was positively correlated with how nicotine-dependent the volunteer was, meaning that those who smoked the most saw the greatest decrease in cigarette craving after the magnetic stimulation.

    The authors of the study note that people trying to quit smoking would need several sessions of transcranial magnetic stimulation per day in order to see longer-lasting reductions in cravings. The paper appears in Biological Psychiatry.

        

  • Everything You Need To Know About Ricin, The Poison Mailed To President Obama
    Ricin (on Breaking Bad) via Breaking Bad Wiki
    Ricin is one of the most poisonous substances on Earth, it’s scarily easy to make, and somebody is mailing it to the President and at least one U.S. senator. What it is, how it works, and more, inside.

    Yesterday, an envelope addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, was found to contain a white granular substance that was identified as ricin. Today, a similar letter addressed to President Obama was found. These envelopes were intercepted off-site–they never got anywhere near their targets–but as a precaution, Capitol Police have shut down mail service until they can figure out what’s going on.

    In the meantime, let’s talk about ricin!

    How poisonous is it?
    Oh, man. Very. It’s dangerous in just about any way it gets into your system, though ingesting (eating) it is about the least dangerous way. Injecting or inhaling requires about a thousand times less ricin to kill a human than ingesting, and that’s a very small amount indeed. An average adult needs only 1.78mg of ricin injected or inhaled to die; that’s about the size of a few grains of table salt–which ricin resembles visually.

    How does it work?
    Ricin, a toxic protein, infects cells, blocking their ability to synthesize their own protein. Without cells making protein, key functions in the body shut down; even in survivors, permanent organ damage is often the result of ricin poisoning. It’s a highly unpleasant way to be poisoned: within six hours, according to the Center for Disease Control, victims who have ingested ricin will feel gastrointestinal effects like severe vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to serious dehydration. Then the ricin infects the cells of the vital gastrointestinal organs as they pass through the body, leading to the failure of the kidneys, liver, and pancreas.

    Inhalation of ricin has a different effect, since the ricin proteins aren’t interacting with the same parts of the body. Instead of gastrointestinal problems, you’ll develop a vicious, bloody cough, your lungs will fill with fluid, and eventually you’ll lose your ability to breathe, causing death. Injection, too, is different, depending on where you’ve been injected, but will generally result in vomiting and flu-like symptoms, swelling around the place of injection, and eventually organ failure as your circulatory system passes the protein around the body. Death from inhalation or injection usually occurs about three to five miserable, agonizing days after contact.

    Interestingly, there aren’t any immediate symptoms, and indeed there can be a significant delay before symptoms show themselves, up to a day or two.

    Exposure on the skin is generally not fatal, though it may cause a reaction that can range from irritation to blistering.

    That sounds…horrible. Is there an antidote, at least?
    Haha. No. The US and UK governments have been working on an antidote for decades–here’s a nice article describing the progression of one such antidote–but there isn’t one available to the public. The CDC’s website states bluntly, “There is no antidote for ricin toxicity.” There are some steps you can take if you get to a hospital immediately; for ingestion, a stomach pump can sometimes prevent the ricin from reaching the rest of the gastrointestinal system at its full force. But…that’s about it, really.

    How does it stack up against other poisons?
    Well, that depends on what your aim is. Ricin is much easier to produce than other popular biological weapons like botulinum, sarin, and anthrax, but it is not as potent as any of those, which limits its effectiveness as a weapon. It also is not very long-lived; the protein can age and become inactive fairly quickly compared to, say, anthrax, which can remain dangerous for decades. There were experiments back around World War I attempting to make wide-scale ricin weapons, packaging it into bombs and coating bullets in it, but these proved not particularly effective and also violate the Hague Convention’s agreements on war crimes, so the US discarded ricin.

    It’s much more effective, weapon-wise, as a close-contact, small-target weapon–by injecting, as with Georgi Markov, or by putting small particles into an aerosol spray and blasting a target. It’s also not contagious, which limits its effectiveness as a tool of biological warfare. But it’s considered highly dangerous partly because it’s still outrageously toxic and partly because it takes no great skill to produce.

    So it’s not hard to make?
    Well…no. Like, not at all. It’s made from the byproduct of the castor oil manufacturing process. You take the “mash” of the castor oil seeds, which contain around 5-10 percent ricin, and perform a process called chromatography. Chromatography is a blanket term for a set of techniques used to separate mixtures, usually by dissolving in liquid or gas. The US government has done its best to eradicate recipes for ricin from the internet, sort of; a patent was filed back in 1962 for ricin extraction, and the Patent Office took it off the publicly available server in 2004 for safety reasons. That said, the recipe is super easy to find; here at the PopSci offices, I’m blocked from listening to Rdio on my work computer, but I found a recipe to make an outrageously deadly poison in about a minute.

    The techniques involved are undergraduate-level chemistry, creating a slurry with the castor bean mash and filtering with water and then a few easily-found substances like hydrochloric acid.

    It comes from castor beans?
    Ricin is a highly toxic protein that’s extracted from the seed of the castor plant, often called a “castor bean” or “castor oil bean,” despite not technically being a bean. The castor plant is extremely common; it’s used as an ornamental plant throughout the western world, prized for its ability to grow basically anywhere as well as its pretty, spiky leaves and weird spiny fruits. It’s also an important crop; the seeds are full of oil, and castor oil is used for lots of legitimate purposes. It’s a common laxative, for one thing, and since it’s more resistant to high temperatures than other kinds of vegetable oils, it’s a nice alternative to petroleum oil in engines.

    Wait, but you can eat it? So how is this a poison?
    Ah, yes. Castor oil is perfectly safe, according to the FDA and your grandma, but ricin is not castor oil. Castor seeds are still poisonous; this study says that a lethal dose of castor seeds for adults is about four to eight seeds. But the oil itself does not contain ricin; the ricin protein is left behind in the “castor bean mash” after the oil is extracted from the seed. Poisoning from eating the seed itself is rare.

    Have there been cases of ricin poisoning in the past?
    You mean, beyond the several times it’s been featured as a major plot point in Breaking Bad? Sure! The most famous is probably the assassination of Georgi Markov in 1978. Markov was a Bulgarian novelist, playwright, journalist, and dissident, and was murdered by the Bulgarian secret service, with assistance from the KGB, by ricin injection. He was crossing a bridge when he was jabbed in the leg with an umbrella, which delivered a ricin pellet into his bloodstream. He died three days later of ricin poisoning.

    There are plenty of incidents of people arrested for attempting (or, more often, succeeding) to make ricin; it’s a pretty easy poison to make. In fact, there was even another ricin-in-the-envelope attempt made back in 2003–a person identifying as “Fallen Angel” sent letters filled with ricin to the White House, apparently as a result of some new trucking regulations (seriously). “Fallen Angel” was never found, but the letters were intercepted and did not cause any injury.

    How dangerous are these envelopes filled with ricin?
    The envelope strategy has more to do with potential ease of getting the poison close to targets than its strength as a delivery system. If you’re targeting the President of the United States, it’s easier and more anonymous to mail a letter than to try to get close to him with an umbrella modified for ricin-stabbing. But it’s not a great way to poison someone with ricin. Assuming the letter actually got into the target’s hands, of the three ways ricin can get into a person’s system (inhalation, injection, ingestion), only one–inhalation–is really possible, and it’s not that likely.

    Inhalation as a weapon is best accomplished through a mist, ideally delivered through an aerosol. But that’s not possible in a letter full of powder. It’s possible that small granules of ricin could be released into the air and inhaled when handling the letter, but it is not an effective way to poison someone. And whoever’s sending these letters evidently doesn’t know that the government set up an elaborate mail-screening system after the 2001 Anthrax scare.

        

  • Mystery Animal Contest: Who Is This Fuzzy Sniffler?
    Guess the species (either common or Linnaean) by tweeting at us–we’re @PopSci–and get your name listed right here! Plus eternal glory, obviously. Update: We have a winner!

    So, here are the rules: To answer, follow us on Twitter and tweet at us with the hashtag #mysteryanimal. For example:

    Hey @PopSci, is the #mysteryanimal a baboon?

    And then I might say “if you think that’s a baboon, perhaps you are the baboon!” But probably not, because this is a positive environment and all guesses are welcome and also this is not a very common animal so guess whatever you want!

    The first person to get it right wins! We’ll retweet the answer from @PopSci, and also update this post so your amazing animal knowledge will be permanently etched onto the internet. Show your kids! Your dumb kids who thought that was a baboon!

    Update: And the winner is…Logan Copeman, who correctly guessed that this is a viscacha (Lagidium viscacia, also spelled vizcacha)! Specifically, this is a southern or mountain viscacha, a rodent found in South America. Yep, rodent: the viscacha is not related to the rabbit family, though it looks similar; the rabbit belongs to an entirely different branch of the evolutionary tree, and the fact that the viscacha looks so much like a rabbit is an example of convergent evolution. Convergent evolution describes when two species not closely related end up adapting to their environments in the same way.

    The viscacha lives in the southern Andes mountains, and is closely related to the chinchilla. It’s sometimes known as a long-tailed rabbit, thanks to its long ears and fluffy coat. It moves similarly to a rabbit, on very strong hind legs, hopping around its mountain home to eat a variety of grasses, mosses, and lichens. It lives in colonies, like all members of the chinchilla family, which can widely range in size. It’s not particularly rare; it is sometimes hunted for its meat and fur, but is believed to be holding steady, population-wise. Hi viscacha!

        

  • EuropaCity Is The Ultra-Green Mall Of The Future
    EuropaCity BIG
    Imagine a mall. Now imagine a mall in the year 2150.

    The design firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), along with a few added team members (Tess, Transsolar, Base, Transitec, and Michel Forgue) have won first place in a competition to design an experimental “urban center” in France called EuropaCity. Located in Île-de-France, the wealthiest and most populous region in France, EuropaCity is intended to be a center of culture and retail, combining all sorts of experimental sustainable technologies.

    But as a design–and a pretty spectacular one at that–it’s best experienced through images. Click through to the gallery to see and read more about the proposal!

    Click to launch the gallery.

        

  • Nanosponges In Your Blood Could Soak Up Infections And Poison
    Nanosponge Engineers at the University of California, San Diego have invented a “nanosponge” capable of safely removing a broad class of toxins from the bloodstream, including toxins produced by MRSA, E. Coli, poisonous snakes and bees. The nanosponges are made of a biocompatible polymer core wrapped in a natural red blood cell membrane. Zhang Research Lab
    Mice who got nanosponge injections survived lethal doses of toxins.

    A newly invented “nanosponge,” sheathed in armor made of red blood cells, can safely remove a wide range of toxins from the bloodstream. Scientists at the University of California-San Diego inoculated some mice with their nanosponge, and then gave the animals otherwise lethal doses of a toxin–and the mice survived.

    This is especially interesting because a nanosponge can work on entire classes of toxins. Most antidotes or treatments against venom, bioweapons or bacteria are targeted to counteract a specific molecular structure, so they can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution; this nanosponge can.

    Scientists led by Liangfang Zhang, a nanoengineering professor at UCSD, worked with a class of proteins known as pore-forming toxins, which work just the way they sound: By ripping a hole in a cell membrane. These toxins are found in snake venom, sea anemones, and even bacteria like the dreaded drug-resistant Staph aureus. The proteins come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all work in a similar way.

    They designed a nanosponge to soak up any type of pore-forming toxins. It consists of a tiny (85-nanometer) plastic ball wrapped in red blood cell membranes, which basically serve as a decoy and soak up the poison. The plastic ball holds everything together, and keeps the protein away from its real cellular targets. The entire nanosponge is 3,000 times smaller than a full red blood cell. The devices had a half-life of about 40 hours when the team tested them on lab mice, according to a release from UCSD.

    They injected mice with 70 times as many toxic proteins as nanosponges, and the sponges still neutralized the poison and caused no visible damage to the animals, the team reports. Next up are clinical trials in animals, to verify that it works safely in a wide range of cases.

    The paper is in this week’s issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

        

  • Wearing A Kilt Could Make Your Sperm Stronger
    Temperature regulation is the key to fertility.

    Temperature affects how much sperm a man makes, so there’s been speculation that the freedom offered by a kilt can increase production. Turns out that that at least could be right: a new metastudy says wearing a kilt “likely produces an ideal physiological scrotal environment, which in turn helps maintain normal scrotal temperature, which is known to be beneficial for robust spermatogenesis and good sperm quality.”

    The study (PDF), published in the Scottish Medical Journal, reviewed the literature on the link between scrotal temperature and reproduction. We know sperm fares better in lower temperatures, and some researchers have suggested that restrictive clothing could negatively affect sperm production. Enter: the kilt, which author Erwin J.O. Kompanje describes thusly: “The Scottish kilt is a male garment that resembles (but is not!) a knee-length, pleated skirt.”

    The author hypothesizes that, based on past findings about temperature and sperm production, a kilt, specifically one worn in the undergarment-free “regimental” style, would be an ideal environment for sperm production. Kompanje searched through related research, focusing on statistics in Scotland and noting along the way that 70 percent of kilt-wearers choose to go regimental. Kilts (at least in Scotland or other countries where they’re more commonly worn) might also be psychologically valuable, increasing feelings of masculinity when worn. Kompanje goes so far as to write that a downturn in Scottish fertility is correlated with the frequency of kilts being worn, although he admits it’s still somewhat speculative until a randomized trial happens. Gentlemen, put on your kilts for science.

        

  • We Could Eat Trees: Scientists Turn Inedible Plant Cellulose Into Starchy Snack
    Turning plant byproducts into digestible carbs could feed more people.

    Someday, it will be be summer again and it will be time for fresh sweet corn. In the future, you might be able to eat the whole thing, cob and all.

    This weird possibility is courtesy of some scientists at Virginia Tech, who have transformed cellulose, a mostly indigestible polymer, into helpful, indispensable starch.

    Plants produce cellulose and starch, which are chemically similar, for very different purposes. Cellulose forms the cell walls of most plants, algae and even some bacteria, and we use it for anything from clothing (cotton is almost all cellulose) to paper to ethanol. Starch is a plant’s energy source, and it’s ours, too, in the form of tasty things like potatoes, wheat and corn. The difference between the two is a simple change in the hydrogen bonds that form the molecules.

    Animals like cows and pigs can digest cellulose thanks to symbiotic bacteria in their digestive tracts, but humans can’t. It’s important in our diets as source of fiber, in that it binds together waste in our digestive tracts. Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, set out to make it a food source.

    Since cellulose and amylose are both glucose chains, you would just have to rearrange their hydrogen bonds. This is anything but simple, although essentially Zhang and colleagues used chemistry. They worked with a series of synthetic enzymes to break down the hydrogen bonds in some plant material that would not otherwise be used for food, like corn cobs and leaves. The “enzyme cascade” enabled the cellulose molecules to reconfigure into amylose, which is a form of starch. A key ingredient in this process, a special polypeptide cap, is found in potatoes.

    The resulting product is not exactly the future of bread flour, but it can be used as a fiber source, or food-safe biodegradable packaging, perhaps. The remaining portion of the original material was treated with microbes to produce a form of glucose that can then be used for ethanol. The whole process didn’t require any unusual heat or chemical reagents, other than the enzymes themselves, so it would be easy to reproduce on larger scales, Zhang and his colleagues say.

    Cellulose is the most common carbohydrate–indeed the most common organic material–on the planet, so using it for food could be a superb way to feed millions of people, they argue.

    “There is an urgent need to use abundant and renewable nonfood agricultural and forest residues and dedicated bioenergy crops that can grow on marginal land and require low inputs,” they write. The paper appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

        

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Human Trafficking and the Human Rights Agenda Against Eritrea (Part 1)

Posted on 18 March 2013 by Africa Business

By Simon Tesfamariam

Human Trafficking and the Human Rights Agenda Against (Final) (.pdf Acrobat Reader)

Introduction

On March 1, 2013, Joel Millman of the Wall Street Journal published a piece entitled “Ruthless Kidnapping Rings Reach From Desert Sands to U.S. Cities.” The article chronicles the touching personal accounts of Eritrean refugees being kidnapped and taken for ransom in Egypt’s Sinai desert. As disheartening as this piece may be to even the most apathetic observers, Eritreans are growing increasingly aware of the fact that similar articles highlighting the trafficking of Eritreans are becoming a regular occurrence. Although human trafficking, smuggling, and migration have been longstanding problems that have plagued the so-called developing world, it seems somewhat curious that Eritrea is suddenly getting the brunt of the international attention. Why now? Although increased international attention may be positive in that it sheds needed light on the plight of the affected migrants, the reality is that pieces like this are often politically motivated, lacking context, skewing the facts on the ground, and serving as part of larger campaign to vilify and isolate Eritrea.

Before we delve into this whole human trafficking ordeal, we must note that Eritrea was the target of UN sanctions in 2009. Since then, the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) has been regularly reporting on Eritrea’s role in Somalia to the Security Council. The group has made many ridiculous claims ranging from Eritrea’s alleged support of al-Shabab in Somalia to a failed bombing attempt on an African Union summit in Ethiopia. Both accusations were later shown to be false [1, 2]. As the last SEMG report reveals, linking Eritrea to terrorism is a futile task. [3] The expectations of the nation seem like a moving target and now the new focus of the international media and the SEMG is on Eritrea’s “use of revenues from the taxation of Eritrean citizens in the diaspora, from human trafficking of refugees through Sudan and Egypt, and from gold mining.” [4] The emerging concerns regarding a sovereign state’s use of its revenues from any legitimate source–be it from a diaspora tax or gold mining or whatever–is a mystery unworthy of pursuit. The human trafficking issue, however, is a serious allegation that may be used in conjunction with broader human rights allegations to build a case for the expansion of UN sanctions on Eritrea. Thus, the issue requires further inspection.

In a speech regarding human trafficking delivered at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 25 of last year, President Obama made the following remarks:

I recently renewed sanctions on some of the worst abusers, including North Korea and Eritrea.  We’re partnering with groups that help women and children escape from the grip of their abusers.  We’re helping other countries step up their own efforts.  And we’re seeing results.  More nations have passed and more are enforcing modern anti-trafficking laws. [5]

What kind of “partnering” is he talking about, exactly? It’s not within the US’s authority or obligations to help people escape from a nation. To do so would be human smuggling. President Obama is essentially admitting to taking part in smuggling people out of Eritrea and North Korea. The US can only support those who take refuge in the US following immigration from another nation. The president’s comments came as surprise to many Eritreans.

About one month later, Eritrea’s presidential advisor, Yemane Gebreab, explained that “Eritrea is a victim of human trafficking” and that “for a number of years now, some people have felt that one way that they could weaken Eritrea would be by encouraging Eritrean youths to leave the country in larger numbers.” [6] Are his claims valid? Is there a systematic effort to drive youth out of Eritrea?

Linking Eritrea to Human Trafficking

Let us rewind to May 5, 2009. In a wikileaked diplomatic cable entitled “Promoting Educational Opportunity for Anti-Regime Eritrean Youth,” the then US Ambassador to Eritrea, Ronald K. McMullen explained that “Post plans to restart visa services (completely suspended in 2007) for student visa applicants; we intend to give opportunities to study in the United States to those who oppose the regime.” [7] He then goes on:

Post intends to begin adjudicating student visa applications, regardless of whether the regime is willing to issue the applicant an Eritrean passport and exit visa. If an applicant is otherwise found eligible for a student visa, Post will issue it in a Form DS-232…With an Eritrean passport and an F1 visa in a Form DS-232, the lucky young person is off to America. For those visa recipients who manage to leave the country and receive UNHCR refugee status, a UN-authorized travel document might allow the young person to travel to America with his or her F1 in the DS-232.

…Due to the Isaias regime´s ongoing restrictions on Embassy Asmara, Post does not contemplate a resumption of full visa services in the near future. However, giving young Eritreans hope, the chance for an education, and the skills with which to rebuild their impoverished country in the post-Isaias period is one of the strongest signals we can send to the Eritrean people that the United States has not abandoned them. Were we to begin processing student visa applications and require a regime-issued passport, we would be seen as strengthening the dictatorship´s hand. Thus, the limited category-specific exemption outlined above is key.

The cable’s title alone, reveals the ambassador’s intentions. And if one wonders why brain drain is an issue in the developing world, perhaps this cable may provide some insight. What young person, anywhere in the world, wouldn’t want a chance to come to the US? Though the more important question is, why now? Why restart issuing visas in 2009 after a two year suspension? Perhaps the answers will become clear shortly. McMullen, who clearly seeks to weaken the Eritrean “regime” (as in “government we don’t like”), also makes curious mention of preparing for a “post-Isaias period,” which becomes more interesting when one considers that his doctoral thesis at the University of Iowa was on the “Economic Consequences of African Coups D’etat.” [8] He also served as the Charge’ d’Affaires in the Fiji Islands during the 2000 coup d’etat. In another leaked cable he predicted the Eritrean government is ‘‘one bullet away from implosion’’ and posed that “any sudden change in government is likely to be initiated from within the military.” [9] McMullen is no longer the ambassador but in light of the recently fabricated “coup” rumor that the international mainstream media has been recklessly trumpeting,  [10] perhaps the US sent McMullen to make use of his expertise. As Rafael Correa once jokingly stated, “the only country that can be sure never to have a coup d’état is the United States because it hasn’t got a U.S. Embassy.”

While on the one hand secretly promoting Eritrean youth migration, the US administration was simultaneously taking actions against Eritrea for not doing enough to stop it. One month after McMullen’s cable announcing the secret restart of F1 visa processing, in violation of the basic tenets of consular relations, the US Administration suddenly classified Eritrea as a “Tier 3″ nation in the US State Department’s June 2009 “Trafficking in Persons Report.” [11] Keep in mind that Eritrea didn’t even make the list in 2008 and, unlike other nations that started off with Tier 1 and 2 warnings, Eritrea jumped straight to Tier 3. The entire reasoning behind doing this is that it allows trafficking nations to meet the “minimum standards” by the following year. [12] As a result of this unprecedented move, President Obama added Eritrea and 5 other African countries to a blacklist that would subject them “to the trafficking sanctions, which can include a ban on non-humanitarian and trade-related aid and U.S. opposition to loans and credits from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.” [13]

What did the report say about Eritrea, exactly? In essence it stated that Eritrea was a “source country” for human trafficking and that it didn’t do enough to prevent the practice. That could apply to almost every nation on the planet. Notably, the report focused more on “large numbers of migrant workers” and made almost passing mention of the Eritrean government being “complicit in conscripting children into military service.” In spite of no significant policy changes to the Eritrean national service program, subsequent reports, which are released annually, focused less on the “migrant workers” and increasingly more on the “conscripts,” “adolescent children” being sent to Sawa, and “child laborers.” More on this later.

Following the TIP report, US ambassador McMullen’s writes in an August 26, 2009 leaked diplomatic cable about a young unnamed Eritrean “who is preparing to flee the country” and supposedly confesses the intricate details of his escape plan. [14] McMullen writes that he will “use one of the Eritrean National Security Officers (ENSO), who he claimed to be the ringleaders in smuggling of Eritreans to the Sudan border” and “he stated the cost at 80,000 nakfa.” This is the first time we see official US documentation of claims that Eritrean government officials are directly involved in the smuggling of citizens outside the country. This is despite the fact that about a year earlier the Chargé d’Affaires, Matthew D. Smith, confessed in another leaked diplomatic cable entitled “How To Escape From Eritrea” that “the GSE [Government of the State of Eritrea] is very keen to break these human smuggling rings and dispatches agents to pose as potential customers. Other agents pose as facilitators, making all of the supposed smuggling arrangements prior to having the unsuspecting person arrested.” [15]

In spite of the Eritrean government’s efforts to combat smuggling, the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) produced a report in 2011 that expanded on McMullen’s claims. The report states:

421. The well-documented exodus of young Eritreans to escape poverty or obligatory “national service” represents yet another opportunity for corruption and illicit revenue. People smuggling is so pervasive that it could not be possible without the complicity of Government and party officials, especially military officers working in the western border zone, which is headed by General Teklai Kifle “Manjus”. Multiple sources have described to the Monitoring Group how Eritrean officials collaborate with ethnic Rashaida smugglers to move their human cargo through the Sudan into Egypt and beyond. This is in most respects the same network involved in smuggling weapons through to Sinai and into Gaza.

422. According to former Eritrean military officials and international human rights activists, military officers involved in the practice charge roughly $3,000 a head for each person exiting Eritrea.

…The Monitoring Group has obtained details of a Swiss bank account into which the proceeds from smuggling have been deposited and has provided the Swiss authorities with information related to this account, together with the personal and contact details of the Swiss-based coordinator of this trafficking ring and details of the coordinator’s Egypt-based associates. [16]

For the SEMG’s extraordinary claims it cites as its only sources an “interview with Eritrean individuals directly involved in people smuggling operations” and an “interview with Eritrean source, Switzerland, March 2011.” In the 2012 follow-up report, the SEMG repeats the same human trafficking claims, citing no sources as evidence. “The trafficking of arms and people is managed by the same networks using the same vehicles, and the same Eritrean officials are implicated,” the report states. The SEMG then claims to have acquired 1,300 testimonies of which “61 were from Eritreans who identified the names of Rashaida smugglers.” Artfully interweaving groups of similar testimonies as vignettes, the report attempts to illustrate the validity of earlier claims made by the SEMG. Finally, it shows photos of body wounds of two unnamed and faceless torture victims. The annex is only 3 pages long, filled with photos, and has nothing to do with human trafficking allegations.

After reading both reports, one is left scratching their head. That’s it? No real people’s names? No bank account numbers? No photos of human traffickers? Where is the hard evidence? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To put things in perspective, imagine a man is brought to trial on charges of torture and the prosecuting team presents the following as their “evidence” against him:

1. Claims against him by unnamed interviewers with no transcripts for the court to review

2. Pictures of unnamed and faceless victims he allegedly tortured

3. 61 snippets of testimonies by the nameless victims who he allegedly tortured

4. Claims against him by people who openly call themselves his “opposition“

5. Claims against him by one of his former torturer buddies, who is unnamed

The defendant then demands access to the evidence and witnesses for cross-examination but his request is denied. Based on the information, he is then found guilty and expected to accept his sentence. Would that be justice? Of course not. However, this is exactly what Eritrea has had to face regularly in regards to the UN Security Council and SEMG reports. This system of international law requires incredible trust in the prosecutors–the SEMG, in this case–who Eritrea had no say in appointing. And if we think that the SEMG is actually a committee of independent experts as opposed to a prosecuting team, then why would the head of the SEMG, Matt Bryden, say “we’re trying to make the case that any improvement in Eritrea’s conduct is the result of sanctions, and that it’s too early to lift them because of the other violations they have committed”? [17] In essence, he’s saying ‘yeah, I know we couldn’t find evidence that they support terrorism but please keep the sanctions because of this new human trafficking ordeal.’ In other words he is prosecuting and making a case against Eritrea and, unfortunately, it’s completely within his mandate to share his opinion [18]. That’s UN justice for you. The SEMG’s “evidence” would be considered a joke if wasn’t so serious. According to the UNSC, the successful implementation of “targeted sanctions” on any nation is premised on the expectations that the “panel of experts” will uphold the highest standards of evidence, which is the key tenet of the 2003 Stockholm Process. In this regard, the 2003 UNSC states:

While recognizing that it might sometimes be necessary to uphold the confidentiality of sources of information available to expert panels or monitoring groups regarding sanctions busting or non-compliance, the Stockholm paper notes that the credibility of the findings and the integrity of the process required that evidence be as transparent and verifiable as possible….sanctions should be based on concrete evidence of violations of international law or Council obligations, and not based on presumptions, media reports or motivated allegations. [19]

The SEMG report clearly falls short. To make matters worse, Eritrea doesn’t get to comment or defend itself at any point in the process because according to the SEMG, which unprofessionally leaked the report to the media before Eritrea could see it, [20] “the Government of Eritrea failed to provide responses to any Monitoring Group correspondence and declined to grant the repeated requests.” How convenient. Where have we seen this sort of tactic before? For years, the world has been unable to hear Eritrea’s side of the story:

A. On the Kenyan defections: “Eritrean officials were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.” [21]

B. On Eritrea’s alleged bombing of the AU (proved false by WikiLeaks [22]): “Eritrean officials were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.” [23]

C. On claims of human trafficking: “Eritrean government…did not respond to requests to provide information for this report.” [24]

D. On relations with the US: “It has been difficult to talk to Eritrea frankly. We have had trouble getting them to talk to us. I sent the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs to talk with Mr. Isaias and he didn’t see her.” [25]

E. On breakdown of US-Eritrea relations: “Eritrean officials were not immediately available to comment on the decision” [26]

The list goes on and on, ad infintum. The point is that Eritrea is not allowed to defend itself in court, in the media, in reports, or anywhere in the international arena. It’s no surprise that Eritrea is so misunderstood by the world. In contrast, the darlings of the mainstream media, the US and Ethiopia, were also accused of violating the Somali arms embargo by the former Somalia monitoring groups yet we saw no prosecution by the UNSC. Is this justice? No way! In the words of Gerald Celente, it’s “just-us” and unfortunately Eritrea isn’t one of “them.”

Following the SEMG report, the UNHCR released a report in November 2012 entitled “Refugees and the Rashaida: human smuggling and trafficking from Eritrea to Sudan and Egypt.” [27] The document states that “it has come to light that some members of the military and Eritrean Government are complicit in smuggling” and it references the 2012 SEMG report. It talks about General Teklai Kifle, adding no new information, and then goes on at length about the Rashaida ethnic group’s involvement in the human trafficking business. In regards to both of them, “it is thought there are varying levels of experience and organization within the groups of Rashaida who engage in taking Eritreans to Sinai. However other networks, such as those organized by some members of the Eritrean Government for smuggling arms are highly organized.” In other words, the government is the syndicate–the major player. What’s interesting about this particular report is the divisive new ethnic and regional dimension it seems to take:

There is a marked difference between the majority of the refugee population and those now leaving Eritrea. Those now leaving the country are young, Christian, Tigrinya from urban areas. Much like young Sudan-born refugees, the new arrivals are generally unwilling to remain in an enclosed camp setting without access to higher education or employment.

…Eritrean brokers are key to arranging onward movement with Rashaida from within the camp. The facilitators in the route are usually of the same ethnicity as those embarking on the movement (Hamood 2006: 50). Furthermore, life in the refugee camp is characterized by ethnic divides. Different ethnicities are thought to have different aspirations. One testimony states that people from Akele-Guzai region are thought to have strong connections abroad and to be most likely going to Israel. Those from Maekel region are believed to be going to Europe, while those from Gash Barka are simply associated with smuggling people out of Eritrea and settling in Sudan (Mehari 2010).

Turning to the reference section to investigate the source of the aforementioned claims, the report cites an “unpublished paper” by someone named “Mehari, K” (Mehari, K. 2010. ‘Desert in Disorder’ unpublished paper). Investigating the rest  of the citations for follow-up is a futile task as most references are made to personal interviews with individuals like Meron Estifanos, who was integral in propagating the fabricated “coup” in January 2013 and using it as a springboard for the so-called “Forto 2013″ campaign. [28]

Returning to the latest publication of the US State Department TIP report, we hear echoes of the SEMG’s allegations of corruption by senior Eritrean army officers. As opposed to the 2009 report, the 2012 publication is focused less on migrants workers more on youth conscripted into national service. More notably, the report seems to focus on the Eritrean government’s alleged conscription of minors. It states that “adolescent children that attempt to leave Eritrea have been forced into military service despite being younger than the minimum service age of 18. As part of the requirements to complete their senior year of high school, adolescent children are also sent to Sawa, Eritrea’s military academy, prior to their eighteenth birthday.” Surprisingly, this claim was later cited by Child Soldiers International in a 2012 case study to support the claim that Eritrea uses child soldiers. This “study” was, in turn, posted on the UNHCR website and is currently being used by journalists and various NGO’s to propagate the notion that Eritrea’s use of “child soldiers” is driving youth out of the country.

Nowhere is the international media’s desperation to point out the Eritrean government’s blunders more evident than in its claim that Eritrea uses “child soldiers.” When the average person reads about child soldiers in Africa, she/he may conjure up the classical CNN-promoted image of regime-indoctrinated 9 year-olds mowing down civilians. Perhaps the image is sometimes a wee bit less graphic but the reality is that the claims of child soldiers in Africa perpetuates the stereotype of a barbaric Africa out of control and encourages intervention against nations like Eritrea. Thus, such claims must be taken seriously. In regards to their Eritrea study, Child Soldiers International states the following:

To prevent increasing evasion of national service by school leavers, the government announced in 2003 that the final year of secondary education, Year 12, must be performed at the Sawa Military Training Camp in western Eritrea near the border with Sudan. Because the Year 12 designation is based not on a child’s age but rather on the school grade achieved, some Year 12 students are under 18 years old. According to a recent US State Department report on human rights in Eritrea, “Students at Sawa were typically 18 years old or older, although a fair percentage were as young as 16 years old”.

The government denies underage conscription and argues that students attending the twelfth grade in Sawa should not be confused with national service conscripts. However, the Year 12 students at Sawa have military status and are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence and subject to military discipline. They are therefore in reality soldiers, even if not fully operational members of the Eritrean National Army. [29]

The sad part about this is that the “Eritrea recruits child soldiers” claim is entirely based on this hair splitting of mandatory twelfth grade education. Such reporting is irresponsible for two reasons. Firstly, this report is based on non-independent politically biased sources like the US State Department. Secondly, even if 16-year-olds attended Sawa they are not considered members of the Eritrean National Army, as CSI even admits. Consideration should also be given to the fact that while most of the world submits to more lax standards on child soldier laws enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Africa has collectively gone above and beyond by signing the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which by default accedes to the “Optional Protocols” of the CRC and increases the minimum military recruitment age from 15 to 18. [30] Given these more stringent laws and the known fact that most reported child soldiers are between ages 15-18 years old, it’s no surprise that half of the world’s child soldiers are in Africa. [31] Regardless of the facts, the media is quick dish out the child soldier label in Africa. There’s a reason why the spineless international media points out “child soldiers” in Eritrea while it ignores “child soldiers” in the UK, which is also a signatory to the Option Protocols and refers to the exact same argument as Eritrea. [32] Let us also refresh the UN’s memory and recall that in 2002, the UNSC Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, visited Eritrea to assess the use of child soldiers. He concluded that there was “no systematic use of child soldiers” and said that “the absence of the ‘child soldiering’ phenomenon was particularly impressive since no other conflict zone he had visited recently had been free of the problem.” [33]

As shown above, there seems to be a concerted effort to link Eritrea to human trafficking. The reality is that we have yet to see any hard evidence to support this allegation. To make matters worse the international press almost reflexively blames it on child soldiers, forced labor, and lack of [insert word like freedom, democracy, religion, or other’s words used to destroy Iraq, Libya, etc.]. As some of the wikileaked diplomatic cables suggest, the US State Department has made efforts to drive youth out of Eritrea to weaken the government. It then turns around and blames the Eritrean government for “human trafficking.” These actions are part of a broader concerted and systematic effort by the US Administration to destroy Eritrea through the control of human migration. To understand this we must go back in history.

Part 2: http://africabusiness.com/2013/03/18/human-trafficking-and-the-human-rights-agenda-against-eritrea-part-2/

Part 3: http://africabusiness.com/2013/03/18/human-trafficking-and-the-human-rights-agenda-against-eritrea-part-3/

 

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70. http://allafrica.com/stories/201303130930.html

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72. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article25120

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75. http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/198157.pdf

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77. “Israel detains Eritrean refugee for 18 months because he couldn’t prove his identity.” Weiler-Polak, Dana. Ha’aretz. May 24, 2011.

78. “Eritreans turned down for asylum after Ethiopia claims refugees as their own” Nesher, Talila. Ha’aretz. October 24, 2011.  link

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83. “Closing the holes and the loopholes.” Wuraft, Nurit. Ha‘aretz.  June 21, 2009. link

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87. Re-blogged link: http://tedalo.blogspot.com/2012/10/by-sam-b.html

88. http://www.torontosun.com/2012/10/26/police-keeping-open-mind-in-cabbagetown-murder

89. Re-blogged link: http://tedalo.blogspot.com/2012/10/by-sam-b.html

90. http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/steve_duin/index.ssf/2012/10/steve_duin_the_endless_hours_o.html

91. “Swedish Resident Charged with Terrorism in US Court.” Radio Sweden. March 10, 2010. Re-published link

92. http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/13/justice/new-york-al-shabaab

93. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/04/ethiopias-anti-apartheid-movement/

94. http://www.dni.gov/index.php/about/organization/national-intelligence-council-global-trends

95. http://www.unhcr.org/4ce531e09.pdf

96. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/fiscal-year-2012-refugee-arrivals

97. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article18939

98. “Tanzania rejects asylum request by Eritrean footballers.” Pana Press. Oct 13, 2011. link

99. “East African soccer team players defect, settle in Houston.” Susan Carroll. Houston Chronicle. May 23, 2012. link

100. http://www.state.gov/j/prm/ra/c49034.htm

101. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/239914

102. “Tanzania rejects asylum request by Eritrean footballers.” Pana Press. Oct 13, 2011. link

103. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?section=soccer&id=4747830

104. http://www.unhcr.org/49ba623f2.html

105. http://www.unhcr.org/4daef2e39.html

106. http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/181378.pdf

107. http://www.unhcr.org/print/4daef2e39.html

108. “Eritrea and European Community: Country Strategy Paper And National Indicative Programme For the period 2009-2013.” Global Forum on Migration and Development. Pg. 59. 2009. link

109. “Eritrean president appears to quash death rumour.” Agence France Presse. April 28, 2012. link

110. http://awate.com/the-unusual-absence-of-isaias-afwerki/

111. http://redseafisher.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/the-eritrean-coup-that-never-was/

112. http://asmarino.com/press-releases/1664-ms-elizabeth-chyrum-and-professor-dan-connel-in-boston

113. http://asmarino.com/press-releases/1663-statement-from-icer-the-president-of-eritreas-letter-on-human-trafficking-to-the-secretary-general-of-the-un33

114. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session21/A.HRC.RES.21.1.doc

115. http://www.hrea.org/index.php?doc_id=437

116. http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12608&LangID=E

117. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43831&Cr=Eritrea&Cr1#.UT6MlVeNASg

118. ibid.

119. http://asmarino.com/editorial/1609-elizabeth-elsa-chyrum-a-woman-of-the-year-2012b

120. Letter dated February 2008. “Re: Presidency of the UN Human Rights Council” link

121. Letter dated March 31, 2010. “Re: May 2010 UN Human Rights Council elections” link

122. http://www.un.org/en/ga/67/meetings/elections/hrc.shtml

123. http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/07/13/au-don-t-endorse-sudan-ethiopia-rights-council

124. http://www.un.org/en/ga/67/meetings/elections/hrc.shtml

125. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/31/AR2009033104115.html

126. www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A.HRC.20.L.15_en.doc

127. http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/texttrans/2012/07/201207128920.html#ixzz2NMWKQXXz

128. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/ecosoc6493.doc.htm

129. http://www.defenddefenders.org/2012/12/end-of-year-message-from-ehahrdps-executive-director/

130. http://hrc-eritrea.org/?p=467

131. http://youtu.be/mHrwa1rU2Nk

132. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hozKaSQy1bs

133. http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/12/ap-army-africa-brigade-train-anti-terror-teams-122412/

134. http://www.thelocal.se/46402/20130226/#.USyo2mft8wx

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Policy Promises and ILUC Implications Facing the Global Biofuels Industry

Posted on 26 January 2013 by Africa Business

Join the Sustainability, Policy and ILUC Conference at the World Biofuels Markets Congress and Exhibition

In a week that has been rife with talk of biofuels politics, policies and sustainability, we take a look at what is happening across the globe in the run up to the Sustainability, Policy and ILUC Conference at World Biofuels Markets Congress (12-14 March 2013, Rotterdam, www.worldbiofuelsmarkets.com).

In his inaugural address this week, President Obama spoke of America’s moral obligation to tackle climate change and the importance of their energy security and independence: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” His words provided some people with hope and the rest with growing concerns. His speech, and in particular the part on tackling climate change, was aimed not only at a domestic delegation of pro-biofuels supporters and environmentalist lobbyists but to an international platform. Obama made his intentions on addressing this issue clear to every biofuels scientist, environmentalist and industry professional across the globe with one clear statement: “America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.” – America means business!

On the other side of the Atlantic, lobbyists in Europe have been calling on the European Union to modify regulations so that GHG emission reduction targets can be met through the use of less ‘damaging’ biofuels in transport. In a recent report[1] by CE Delft commissioned by environmental groups, they put forth the idea that renewable energy is crucial, but only part of the solution. When evaluating long-term European climate goals for transport, it has become clear to those who have compiled the study that the GHG emission targets cannot be met with the policies currently in place and more needs to be done.

One of the four environmental groups that commissioned this report is the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). They have also recently released, alongside other environmental groups, a position paper[2] looking at ways to address Indirect Land-Use Change (ILUC) with suggestions as to how best to improve the European Commission’s (EC) proposal on the issue. This has been a hot topic of discussion within the industry since the EC released their proposal in the latter part of 2012 and as 2013 gets underway; ILUC is still hot on everyone’s lips. Pieter de Pous, the Policy Director at the EEB will be amongst the panellist discussing and debating this topical issue during two 90 minute sessions at the World Biofuels Markets Congress looking at ways to measure ILUC and how best to apply ILUC into policy.

EEB will be joined on the ILUC panels by ePure, WWF, ICCT, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, IFPRI, Purdue University, amongst others. Join them and many others at the 8th annual World Biofuels Markets Congress which will feature a two day Sustainability, Policy & ILUC Conference dedicated to analysing, discussing and debating global policy, the everlasting issue of ILUC and components of sustainability. Global thought leaders will debate policy-based evidence vs. evidence based policy, measuring ILUC, the extent to which the EC Proposal addresses the ILUC issue, balancing the components of sustainability standards and how member states of the EU are transposing RED legislation into national and local legislation.

World Biofuels Markets, organised by Green Power Conferences, will be held on March 12-14 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The dedicated Sustainability, Policy and ILUC Conference will take place on March 13-14.

For more information: www.worldbiofuelsmarkets.com

 

Register today

Call: +44 (0)20 7099 0600

Email: Samantha.coleman@greenpowerconferences.com

Or book online at www.worldbiofuelsmarkets.com

 

For more information on this press release please contact Melanie Botting on +44 (0)20 7099 0600 or melanie.botting@greenpowerconferences.com

 

About World Biofuels Markets

 

World Biofuels Markets is Green Power Conferences’ flagship event.   For the last decade it has provided a platform to drive the biofuels energy sector forward.

 

World Biofuels Markets brings together more than 1,500 participants to deliver and listen to a wide-roster of high-level talks, do business, network, discuss the latest in market developments and provides strategic business training to accelerate the uptake of sustainable business practices within the biofuels energy space.

 

Conference headlines, speaker agendas, speeches and sponsorship information can be found at: www.worldbiofuelsmarkets.com

 

Connect with us on Twitter @wbmnews and use #WBM13 or LinkedIn by joining our ‘World Biofuels Markets Global Series’ group.

 

About Green Power Conferences

 

Green Power Conferences is the global leader in renewable energy conferences.  It brings together governments, businesses, academics, policy makers, banks, non-governmental organisations, and opinion formers to discuss and exchange intelligence on renewable energy vital in achieving global energy security.

 

Founded in 2003 to provide high quality business events for the renewable energy industry, the company has developed strong event portfolios covering the solar wind, biomass, biogas, geothermal, ocean energy and climate finance sectors.  In 2007 the Green Power Academy was launched to provide premier training courses to impart knowledge and skills to the global energy industry.

 

More than 22,000 delegates around the world have gathered at award winning events produced by Green Power Conferences to deliver and listen to a wide-roster of high-level talks, do business, network, discuss the latest in market developments, and provide strategic business training to accelerate the uptake of sustainable business practices and to inspire the next generation of renewable energy innovators and professionals.

 

Green Power Conferences abides by a strict ‘green policy’ to pollute less.  It goes beyond compliance measures to reduce its carbon footprint where and when it can and encourages other businesses to do the same.

 

For more information about Green Power Conferences please visit:  www.greenpowerconferences.com

 

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Investors Applaud Hershey’s Vow To Source 100% Certified Cocoa By 2020

Posted on 11 October 2012 by Africa Business

 

Move to certify entire product line seen as significant step to eradicate trafficking and forced child labor on cocoa farms and plantations

 

NEW YORK, Oct. 11, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Today, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a shareholder coalition that engages companies on labor and human rights standards in global supply chains, commends the Hershey Company for its commitment to certify all its cocoa by a third party by 2020.

With a 43% share of the U.S. chocolate market, the investors view Hershey’s decision as an important advancement that is certain to influence the industry and result in more sustainable cocoa farming and production.

Said Chris Meyer of Praxis Mutual Funds and co-convener of the Hershey dialogue, “Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, specifically Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where tens of thousands of children are forced, often trafficked, to work on cocoa plantations, and small farmers are unfairly compensated for their crops. While these conditions have persisted for decades, Hershey’s commitment sends a powerful message that human rights and labor abuses will no longer be tolerated in cocoa supply chains and that certified cocoa is the new industry norm.”

While Hershey’s Dagoba Organic chocolate is currently produced from Rainforest Alliance certified farms and the company had previously announced its commitment to make its Bliss line Rainforest Alliance certified by year end 2012, the move to accelerate certification across all its product offerings is welcome and encouraging news for shareholders and a hopeful sign for the industry.

Said Kate Walsh of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment who also leads the ICCR dialogue with Hershey, “As Hershey owns the lion’s share of the U.S. chocolate market, we are pleased to see such a substantial commitment from the corporation. While there is no one solution to injustices such as forced labor, Hershey’s commitment has helped raise the industry bar and is further acknowledgement of the reputational risks that non-certified brands face. We look forward to receiving more information around the upcoming certifications.”

ICCR members engage companies in high risk industries to promote ethical and sustainable supply chains. Examples of past campaigns include work with the apparel industry around their sourcing of cotton from Uzbekistan, labor rights abuses in the electronics manufacturing sector and the risks of human trafficking in the travel and tourism industry.

Said Pat Zerega of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, “Children who are enslaved, exposed to hazardous substances and work with dangerous tools are a concern for us all. In his address at the Clinton Global Initiative last month, President Obama said, ‘All the business leaders who are here and our global economy companies have a responsibility to make sure that their supply chains, stretching into the far corners of the globe, are free of forced labor.  The good news is more and more responsible companies are holding themselves to higher standards.’ ICCR members and NGOs have been pushing for cocoa certification for many years.  We congratulate Hershey for holding itself to a higher standard and taking this important step to help eradicate child labor in the cocoa industry.”

About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)

Currently celebrating its 41st year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of active shareholders who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for change. Its 300 member organizations with over $100 billion in AUM have an enduring record of corporate engagement that has demonstrated influence on policies promoting justice and sustainability in the world. www.iccr.org

SOURCE Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

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David Disiere Southlake Aviation Awarded $32-Million Damages in Congo Gold Smuggling Case

Posted on 24 September 2012 by Africa Business

 

DALLAS, Sept. 21, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — In a civil trial that sounded like a real life James Bond spy novel, a Dallas County Jury awarded Southlake Aviation, owned by Dallas business executive David Disiere, $32.4 million in damages against Houston based oil company, CAMAC International, its subsidiary CAMAC Aviation, and Mickey Lawal CAMAC’s Vice President of African Operations.

The case stemmed from a scheme in which CAMAC International and its officers used a Gulfstream V jet leased from David Disiere’s Southlake Aviation to try to spirit more than ten thousands pounds of gold bullion out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with help from General Bosco Ntaganda, a notorious Congolese warlord.

Following the verdict, Southlake Aviation’s President, David Disiere praised the jury’s decision, “twelve citizens saw through a smoke-and- mirrors defense put on by the CAMAC’s attorneys and clearly found that CAMAC caused my company to loose a $43 million dollar aircraft in a greedy scheme that violated the U.S. Trading With The Enemy Act.”

The jury heard riveting testimony from a diamond trader involved in the scheme describing how CAMAC executives Kase Lawal, Mickey Lawal, and Kamoru Lawal arranged to exchange two-oversized suitcases stuffed with six-and-half million dollars in cash for ten boxes of gold delivered by General Bosco Ntaganda’s armed forces.

An investigation of the smuggling incident by the United Nations Security Council found that CAMAC and its three top executives, Kase Lawal, Mickey Lawal, and Kamoru Lawal were dealing with “individuals operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and committing serious violations of international law involving the targeting of children or women in situations of armed conflict.”

Kase Lawal, Mickey Lawal, and Kamoru Lawal who are Nigerian American brothers invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination hundreds of times during their testimony in the case.

Houston energy executive, Kase Lawal the former CEO of CAMAC International and the current CEO of the publically traded CAMAC Energy Inc. was appointed to a White House Trade Advisory position by President Obama and serves on the boards of the Houston Port and Airport Authorities.

David Disiere, the Dallas business executive and owner of Southlake Aviation, told the jury how he was shocked to get a call in the dead of night informing him that his company’s 43-million dollar Gulfstream V jet aircraft loaded with ten boxes of gold had been confiscated in Goma by authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on February 5, 2011. The jury’s verdict also included compensation of more than 535-thousand dollars for repairing damage done the to the aircraft’s interior passenger compartment during the loading of the gold.

Because Southlake Aviation’s aircraft was confiscated in the Congo, VFS Financing a subsidiary of General Electric, automatically placed Southlake Aviation’s loan to purchase the Gulfstream V in default, accelerated the entire balance, and repossessed the aircraft.

Testimony in the case and the investigation by the United Nations also indicated that former Houston Rocket’s basketball star Dikembe Mutombo acted as an intermediary in the gold smuggling scheme.

Testimony in the case showed that David Disiere had never met the Lawal brothers. Disiere testified that CAMAC had signed a three-year lease for Southlake’s Gulfstream V jet and claiming it would use the jet was to travel between its Houston headquarters and oil operations in Nigeria.

The jury agreed with David Disiere’s testimony that CAMAC and its officers violated the terms of the aircraft’s lease by using it in an outlaw region of Africa.

Case Information: CAUSE NO. DC-11-04005, 134th Judicial District, Dallas County, Texas

SOURCE Southlake Aviation

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NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain

Posted on 06 August 2012 by Africa Business

 

PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 6, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — NASA’s most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO )

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.

“Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars.  Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars — or if the planet can sustain life in the future,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030’s, and today’s landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal.”

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

“The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. “My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission’s team.”

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.

“Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars,” said MSL Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “The landing takes us past the most hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting mission to pursue its scientific objectives.”

Confirmation of Curiosity’s successful landing came in communications relayed by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra, Australia, antenna station of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater’s interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

For more information on the mission, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/mars
and
http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:
http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity
and
http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

SOURCE NASA

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New CDC studies point to better practices in timing, testing, and retention of patients in HIV anti-retroviral drug treatment (ART) in Africa

Posted on 26 July 2012 by Africa Business

 

ATLANTA, July 24, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — New collaborative studies being presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the XIX International AIDS Conference confirm early treatment of HIV patients results in better outcomes, suggest use of viral load testing to detect treatment failure, and highlight factors associated with low rate of ART enrollment.

CDC plays an essential role in implementing the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through its scientific and technical expertise, and long-standing partnerships with Ministries of Health and other key global partners such as the World Health Organization.  Presentations at the conference reflect CDC’s commitment to fighting global HIV/AIDS and to achieving President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s call to action to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Late ART, early death in Malawi
A study conducted in Malawi by CDC and partners concluded that starting ART late was the main cause of early death in patients with advanced HIV disease. Early death was defined as death within the first three months of initiating ART.  According to CDC’s Kundai Moyo, the research identifies a need for pre-ART care services to closely monitor HIV patients that do not yet qualify for ART.
Determinants of Mortality in a Cohort of Patients Initiating ART in Four Sites in Malawi.  23 July, 12:30 PM ET

Interventions to improve TB screening, begin appropriate therapy early, and retain patients in care needed in Kenya
CDC’s Surbhi Modi and colleagues conducted a retrospective cohort evaluation to describe programmatic practices related to TB screening and TB/HIV treatment among patients enrolled in HIV care and treatment in Nyanza Province, Kenya in 2009-2010. Despite a high rate of TB screening when enrolling in HIV care, TB diagnosis was lower than recent prospective studies suggest, and start of ART for patients with TB/HIV was often delayed.  The authors point to the need for interventions to improve TB screening, begin appropriate therapy early, and retain patients in care.
Tuberculosis Screening and Management of HIV-infected Patients with TB, Nyanza Province, Kenya, July 2009-August 2010.  23 July, 12:30 PM ET

Viral load testing plays a role in reducing mother-to-child transmission in women failing treatment in Kenya
Measuring viral load in women who become pregnant while on HIV treatment (ART) is useful in detecting those who are failing treatment, CDC researcher Lucy Nganga and colleagues report.  The results have implications for making appropriate interventions to reduce mother to child HIV transmission.
Routine Viral Load Testing among Pregnant HIV-positive Women on ART:  Implications for Prevention, Nyanza Province, Kenya 2011. 24 July, 1:00 PM ET

To lower attrition rate, determine ART eligibility at enrollment in Tanzania
In a Tanzania study, CDC’s Stephanie Kovacs and colleagues described the population of patients who are enrolled into pre-ART care programs in five regions of the country and their outcomes. They found that a large number of patients did not have their ART eligibility determined at enrollment. These patients dropped out of the program at high rates.
The Identification of High Levels of Loss to Follow-up (LTFU) Among Pre-ART Patients with Unknown ART Eligibility in Five Regions of Tanzania. 24 July, 12:30 PM ET

Factors associated with long-term retention of patients on ART in Kenya
A study led by CDC’s A. Waruru and colleagues examined data from clinical records of 1,676 patients, 15 years and older who initiated ART between February 2003 and February 2010 in an urban slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The findings identified several factors associated with loss to follow up:  having TB at enrollment, a low CD4 cell count, and not having a baseline CD4 cell count.  The study also underscores the need for early access to care as well as access to inexpensive point-of-care CD4 testing.
Long-term Retention and Predictors of Loss to Follow-up in an ART Program in an Urban Slum in Kenya.  24 July, 12:30 PM, ET

Did you know?
CDC – through PEPFAR – provides support to over 75 countries to strengthen their national HIV/AIDS programs and build sustainable public health systems. To learn more about the agency’s scale-up (“treatment as prevention”) and integration efforts, and scientific and technical leadership for Ministries of Health as well as achievements to date, visit http://www.cdc.gov/globalaids/Global-HIV-AIDS-at-CDC/AIDS-Free.html.

CDC’s Center for Global Health
Providing CDC leadership and coordination to maximize global health outcomes, protect Americans from health threats that begin overseas, and increase the ability of international partners to improve health around the world.
www.cdc.gov/globalhealth

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation.  Whether these threats are chronic or acute, manmade or natural, human error or deliberate attack, global or domestic, CDC is the U.S. health protection agency.

SOURCE Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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Libyan Prime Minister ElKeib Visits the White House

Posted on 09 March 2012 by AfricaBusiness.com

 

by Benjamin Fishman
March 08, 2012
03:12 PM EST

Source (http://www.whitehouse.gov/)

 

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Dr. Abdurrahim ElKeib of Libya in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 7, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Yesterday, President Obama welcomed Prime Minister Abdurrahim ElKeib of Libya to the White House, kicking off three days of meetings for the Libyan leader in New York and Washington with U.S. officials, members of Congress, and business and policy leaders. Dr. ElKeib was the first Libyan prime minister to visit the White House in nearly 60 years, indicating a new era of friendship between the United States and Libya.

During yesterday’s meeting President Obama applauded Dr. ElKeib’s leadership and encouraged his government to make continued progress with the country’s democratic transition. He pledged the support of the United States to the people of Libya as they work to hold the country’s first free and fair national elections later this summer. Rebuilding their country and establishing security will take time, and the President encouraged Prime Minister ElKeib to take full advantage of American and international expertise as the Libyan people address the challenges of the days ahead.

Given the President’s leadership mobilizing the international community last year to protect the Libyan people, it was particularly moving to see how warmly the Libyans greeted President Obama and their eagerness to forge a close partnership with the United States after so many years of limited contacts. Prime Minister ElKeib captured this spirit again this morning when he said at the State Department, “In the past year, the dynamics between the U.S. and Libya has been dramatically transformed for the better. We look forward to the continued strengthening of this relationship as Libya moves forward with its democratic transition and rebuilding its economy.”

Benjamin Fishman is the Director for Libya at the National Security Staff.

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President Obama Discusses the “Good-News Story” of Ghana

Posted on 09 March 2012 by AfricaBusiness.com

by Matt Compton (source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/)
March 08, 2012
06:20 PM EST

 

President Barack Obama and Professor John Evans Atta Mills, President of the Republic of Ghana, hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, March 8, 2012.(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Today, President Obama welcomed the President of Ghana, John Atta Mills, to the White House where they discussed the growing commercial and economic ties between the two nations.

Ghana was one of the first nations to host the President and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009.

After their meeting, they spoke briefly with reporters, where President Obama outlined a number of initiatives where our countries are working together:

[The] President’s government recently is collaborating with a number of American businesses to build infrastructure inside of Ghana, which will create thousands of jobs here in the United States. And the trade that we engage in creates jobs for tens of thousands of people back in Ghana.

So that’s a good-news story. And what we’ve also been able to do is collaborate with the Ghanaian government through the Millennium Challenge Corporation — they are a grant recipient — and it has helped to improve a wide range of infrastructure and institutions inside of Ghana. Our Feed the Future program — we’ve been able to help increase productivity there, and the Partnership for Growth — that is also another mechanism where we’re collaborating, for example, on power generation and credit to small businesses and medium-size businesses inside of Ghana.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
March 08, 2012
Remarks by President Obama and President John Atta Mills of Ghana

Oval Office

3:55 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it is a great pleasure to welcome President Mills and his delegation from Ghana. This gives me the opportunity to return the extraordinary hospitality that they showed not only me, but also Michelle and Sasha and Malia when we had the opportunity to visit last year.

There are sometimes — there’s sometimes a tendency to focus on the challenges that exist in Africa — and rightfully so. But I think it’s important for us to also focus on the good news that’s coming out of Africa, and I think Ghana continues to be a good-news story.

This is a country that has established a strong tradition of democracy, and President Mills and I were comparing notes — we’re both up for reelection — but what we agreed to is the fact that regardless of who wins and who loses, our countries’ commitment to making sure that the people have a voice and determine who it is that represents them in their government is what gives both our countries such strength.

And Ghana has proven, I think, to be a model for Africa in terms of its democratic practices. And I very much appreciate the efforts that President Mills has taken not only to ensure fair and free elections, but also to root out corruption, increase transparency, make sure that government is working for the people of Ghana and not just for the few. So we’re very appreciative of those efforts.

In addition, Ghana has become a wonderful success story economically on the continent. In part because of the initiatives of President Mills, you’ve seen high growth rates over the last several years. Food productivity and food security is up. There’s been strong foreign investment. That trade and investment benefits folks back home here in the United States as well.

In fact, the President’s government recently is collaborating with a number of American businesses to build infrastructure inside of Ghana, which will create thousands of jobs here in the United States. And the trade that we engage in creates jobs for tens of thousands of people back in Ghana.

So that’s a good-news story. And what we’ve also been able to do is collaborate with the Ghanaian government through the Millennium Challenge Corporation — they are a grant recipient — and it has helped to improve a wide range of infrastructure and institutions inside of Ghana. Our Feed the Future program — we’ve been able to help increase productivity there, and the Partnership for Growth — that is also another mechanism where we’re collaborating, for example, on power generation and credit to small businesses and medium-size businesses inside of Ghana.

Ghana has also been a leader, a responsible actor on the international stage, working in the region to help stabilize and reduce conflict there. They’ve been strong partners with us in the United Nations on a whole range of international issues. And as important, President Mills has consistently spoken out on behalf of human rights and making sure that everyone is treated fairly and not discriminated against inside of his country.

So I am very proud of the friendship and the partnership between Ghana and the United States. I am confident that it will continue well into the future, beyond the tenures of these two Presidents. And I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to visit Ghana once again sometime in the future.

But in the meantime, Mr. President, welcome to the United States, welcome to your delegation, and we wish you all the best.

PRESIDENT MILLS: Thank you, Mr. President, for this very warm reception. My delegation and I are really honored to be here with the press to say a big thank-you to you, Mr. President, for the honor done us by singling us out for your first visit to Africa — it’s really inspired us.

And I’m also here to also thank you for the help that we have been enjoying and for the high level of cooperation and collaboration that exists between our two countries. We share the same values of democracy. We have come to accept that democracy is the only way.

And democracy goes with development. And if you come to Africa, our people are yearning for only one thing — improvement in their daily lives. And there can be no development without peace, which means that we should do the things which will ensure that there is peace and that there’s no room for conflict.

The United States has been a model, and I’m happy that we are cooperating with one another on all kinds of fronts and they are yielding results. And I was telling Mr. President that when one of the roads was commissioned, and it was built with money provided by the MCC under our first compact, you should have seen the joy on the faces of the Ghanaians because there had been a radical transformation in their lives. I mean that is what governance is all about — to see people happy because they now have what they did not have.

So I assured the President that we have elections this year, but we are going to ensure that there is peace before, during, after the election, because when there is no peace, it’s not the elitists who will suffer, it’s the ordinary people who have elected us into office.

So we have a big challenge, and we know that some of our friends in Africa are looking up to us, and we dare not fail them. I have no doubt at all that we have embarked on a useful journey, and we’ll get to the very end. I told you that both of us are facing elections, but our ships will be able to sail safely to their final destination, I want to assure you.

So thanks a lot for the wonderful reception. We will go back with happy memories. And of course, this will also reassure our people that the kind of cooperation we started — from our first President — is growing from strength to strength.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT MILLS: Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, everybody.

END
4:03 P.M. EST

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Leahy Ties Egyptian NGO Raids To U.S. Aid

Posted on 05 February 2012 by AfricaBusiness.com

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt., chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations) is the architect of the new conditions on U.S. military aid to Egypt, which he included in the State Department’s budget bill for Fiscal Year 2012. Egyptian military leaders are in Washington today (Friday) for consultations with U.S. defense officials and others. His statement today follows:

STATEMENT OF SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY

(Published Friday, Feb. 3, in the Congressional Record)

Troubling Signs
On Egypt’s Path
To Reform

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I would like to draw the Senate’s attention to recent developments in Egypt, and I begin by referring to the outburst of violence yesterday by rival soccer fans after a match in that country in which 73 people were reportedly killed and hundreds injured.

This is a shocking tragedy, and I want to express my condolences to the Egyptian people and the families of the victims.

Last week tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to celebrate the one year anniversary of the popular revolution that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak. That courageous and largely peaceful expression of popular will was inspirational to people everywhere, including millions of Americans.

The United States and Egypt share a long history of friendship and cooperation. Thousands of Americans travel and study in Egypt, and over the years we have provided tens of billions of dollars in economic and military aid to Egypt. Our countries share many interests, and it is critically important that we remain friends and allies in that strategically important part of the world during this period of political, economic and social transition.

During the past 12 months, Egypt has been governed by a group of senior military officers, each of whom held positions of leadership and privilege in the repressive and corrupt Mubarak government. To their credit, for the most part they did not attempt to put down the revolution by force, and they pledged to support the people’s demand for a democratically elected civilian government that protects fundamental freedoms.

The transition process is a work in progress. On the positive side, two democratic elections have been held and a new Parliament has been seated. On the negative side, civilian protesters have been arrested and prosecuted in military courts that do not protect due process, and in December Egyptian police raided the offices of seven nongovernmental organizations, including four U.S.-based groups whose work for democracy and human rights has for years been hindered by laws and practices that restrict freedom of expression and association. Files and computers were confiscated and some of their employees have been interrogated.

There are also reports that as many as 400 Egyptian nongovernmental organizations are under investigation, allegedly for accepting foreign donations. Apparently, to the thinking of Egypt’s military rulers, there is nothing wrong with the Egyptian government receiving billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers, but private Egyptian groups that work for a more democratic, free society on behalf of the Egyptian people, and that cannot survive without outside help, do so at their peril.

Despite repeated assurances from Egyptian authorities that the property seized from these organizations would be promptly returned, that has not happened. To the contrary, the situation has gotten worse as several of their American employees have been ordered to remain in Egypt. Some of them have obtained protection at the U.S. Embassy. With each passing day there are growing concerns that these groups could face criminal charges for operating in the country without permission.

This is a spurious charge, since registration applications were submitted and deemed complete by the government years ago; because the organizations regularly reported to officials on their activities; and since, while registration was pending, they were permitted to operate. Ironically, while the previous regime did not seek to expel them for their pro-democracy work, Egypt’s current authorities, whose responsibility it is to defend and support the democratic tradition, are attempting to do just that.

There is abundant misinformation about the work of the American-based organizations, with some Egyptian officials accusing them – without offering any evidence – of trying to subvert Egypt’s political process. Without belaboring the point, their work was no secret as they had nothing to hide. They were helping to build the capacity of Egyptian organizations engaged in peaceful work for democracy and human rights, supporting the development of political parties, and working with Egyptian groups to provide non-partisan voter education.

The military argues that since these groups were not registered they were in violation of Egyptian law, but this is a transparently specious excuse for shutting them down. Their repeated applications for registration were neither granted nor denied. The government simply chose to ignore them.

Egyptian officials also insist that this is simply a matter of upholding the rule of law, but the complaint against these organizations was issued by a minister with no direct authority over legal matters, and a negative propaganda campaign was unleashed in the state-controlled media. The conduct of the raids, seizure of the files and computers, interrogation of the employees, and the no-fly order have not been conducted consistent with legal standards but instead seem to be politically motivated. No warrants have been issued, no charging documents made public, and no inventory of seized property made available.

Many suspect that the force behind this crackdown is Minister of International Cooperation, Faiza Aboul Naga, who was described in a Washington Post editorial this week as “a civilian holdover from the Mubarak regime” and “an ambitious demagogue [who] is pursuing a well-worn path in Egyptian politics – whipping up nationalist sentiment against the United States as a way of attacking liberal opponents at home.” Given Minister Aboul Naga’s recent statements, I strongly believe that no future U.S. Government funds should be provided to or through that ministry as long as she is in charge. As the chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, I am confident there is strong support in Congress for this position.

A related issue is the Egyptian military’s continued use of vaguely worded emergency laws to silence dissent. While it is encouraging that the head of the military, General Tantawi, announced plans to lift the 30-year state of emergency, that is only a first step.

Mr. President, as I have mentioned, for decades the United States and Egypt have been friends and allies. While we have differed over issues of democracy and human rights, our two countries have worked together in pursuit of common goals. Our partnership needs to be strengthened and broadened to respond to the interests and aspirations of the Egyptian people themselves. Our longstanding legacy of cooperation with the Egyptian government is now in jeopardy, and it is the interests of both countries that this crisis is promptly and satisfactorily resolved and that we focus instead on moving forward to build an even stronger and enduring relationship.

In December, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2012. Section 7041(a)(1) of division I of that Act provides that prior to the obligation of $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2012 U.S. military aid for Egypt, the Secretary of State shall certify that “the Government of Egypt is supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.”

These unprecedented requirements, which I wrote, were included for two reasons. First, we want to send a clear message to the Egyptian people that we support their demand for democracy and fundamental freedoms. Second, we want to send a clear message to the Egyptian military that the days of blank checks are over. We value the relationship and will provide substantial amounts of aid, but not unconditionally. They must do their part to support the transition to civilian government. If the assault against international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations continues, several of the requirements for certification could not be met.

Egypt has an extraordinary history dating back thousands of years. Anyone who has stood at the base of the pyramids cannot help but be in awe of what that society accomplished centuries before Columbus arrived in America. It is a destination for thousands of American tourists and students each year. It has the potential to be a strong force for democratic change and moderation in the Middle East and North Africa.

I hope the Egyptian authorities fully appreciate the seriousness of this situation and what is at stake. They need to permit these organizations to reopen their offices, return the confiscated property, end investigations of their activities and the activities of Egyptian groups, and register them without conditions so they can continue to support the democratic transition.

I ask unanimous consent that the Washington Post editorial be printed in the Record (editorial, Jan. 31, 2012, “Egypt’s witch hunt threatens a rupture with the U.S.”).

SOURCE Office of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

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