Sunday, April 29, 2012

Five Stories Of the Week: Ending April 28, 2012

Here are five stories that shaped the world this week:

North Korea's Gulags: North Korea is one of the world's most brutal and secretive regimes, so its not surprising that little of its abusive practices receive the world's attention. It's time that changes. One of the most inhumane are its labour camps—gulags—that hold upwards of 200,000 political prisoners, many of whom are unaware of their crimes against the State. North Korea has a population of about 25-million.
IN LABOUR camps across its remote northern reaches, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea detains an estimated 150,000-200,000 political prisoners. The regime claims to hold precisely none. Or rather, in the formulation of the late Kim Jong Il, punishing the enemies of the state protects the North Korean people’s human rights.The gulag’s captives are not told of their crimes, though torture usually produces a “confession”—which might admit to defacing an image of the “Great Leader” or listening to a foreign broadcast. There is no defence, trial, judge or sentence, though most inmates remain in the camps for life, unless they escape. They are victims of forced disappearances, in that neighbours, colleagues and distant family members know nothing about the fate of those who vanish. Inmates are held incommunicado, without visits, food parcels, letters or radio. Chronically malnourished, they work in mines, quarries and logging camps, with one rest-day a month. [The Economist]
Chinese Dissident Escapes House Arrest: Blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng has fled from detention and has found one of the safest places in the Chinese capital of Beijing— at the United State embassy.  This diplomatic embarrassment will undoubtedly test U.S.-Chinese relations, which comes a week before a planned visit by U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. Chen is understandably worried that that Chinese authorities will round up people who helped him in his daring escape. [Here is a video of Chen with his revelations about state abuse.]
A blind Chinese rights activist who made a daring escape from extrajudicial detention was on Friday under the protection of the US embassy in Beijing, according to a friend, as concerns were growing about possible retribution against his family and supporters. After more than six years of jail and house arrest, Chen Guangcheng was said to have fled under cover of darkness, evading eight checkpoints and close to 100 guards who have been watching his home in the Shandong province countryside. A photograph released on Friday night shows him with a friend and fellow activist, Hu Jia, who said Chen was under US protection. "It is my understanding that Chen is in the safest place in China. That is the US embassy," said Hu.
U.S. To Allow Iran to Enrich Uranium to 5%: The appeasement officials at the Obama Administration are talking about giving Iran precisely what they want: time. Iran has already produced 210 pounds of 20%-enriched uranium, reports the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, and has purified about 6 tons at 5% or below enrichment. At above 90% enrichment, uranium is considered weapons grade. 
U.S. officials said they might agree to let Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity, which is the upper end of the range for most civilian uses, if its government agrees to the unrestricted inspections, strict oversight and numerous safeguards that the United Nations has long demanded. Such a deal would face formidable obstacles. Iran has shown little willingness to meet international demands. And a shift in the U.S. position that Iran must halt all enrichment activities is likely to prompt strong objections from Israeli leaders; the probable Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney; and many members of Congress. [Los Angeles Times] 
Charles Taylor of Liberia Found Guilty: This might be bad news for presidential immunity, at least for certain leaders who fall out of favour in the international community. Justice is selective; will the court ever try, let alone convict, a leader from North Korea, Iran or Syria? It seems that most of those facing trial in the Hague come from Africa. Not that Taylor's conviction is unimportant, but that it would send a stronger message of meaning if leaders of other brutal regimes also knew they could face the possibility of conviction.
Victims of one of Africa’s most brutal wars welcomed the conviction on Thursday of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, on charges of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity.It is the first time a head of state has been found guilty by an international tribunal since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg. Mr Taylor was accused of fomenting a brutal conflict in diamond-rich Sierra Leone. Sierra Leoneans have been eager to seek justice after a conflict that produced some of the most horrific war crimes ever seen. International human rights organisations hailed a new era in international justice. [Financial Times
Think Twice About Antidepressants: The latest in a long line of studies confirm that anti-depressants are over prescribed for a host of psychological and mental problems. But their use has raised medical concerns in everything from developmental delays in infants to sexual problems in middle-aged adults to heart problems in the elderly. It might be particularly fatal to the elderly, which studies show suffer a higher death rate when being prescribed antidepressants. "Most antidepressants work by manipulating levels of serotonin, a naturally produced chemical that regulates mood. But that’s not all serotonin does. It also plays a role in reproduction, forming blood clots at wound sites and digestion." the Globe & Mail article says.
Antidepressant drugs may be doing more harm than good, with their use linked to higher risks of developmental problems in infants and stroke in the elderly, according to new research from McMaster University.“We need to be much more cautious about the widespread use of these drugs,” Paul Andrews, an evolutionary biologist at the Hamilton university said in a release. “It is important because millions of people are prescribed antidepressants each year, and the conventional wisdom about these drugs is that they’re safe and effective.” That may indeed be the conventional wisdom, but previous studies have sounded the alarm over antidepressants and particular populations. [Globe & Mail]