A good news roundup for 2005

28 December 2005 - 6:00pm

Cartoon by Stuart Carlson on 21 December 2005

Compiled by Guerrilla News Network on 27 December 2005

Feminist editor escapes blasphemy sentence
Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, the editor of Afghan magazine Haqoq-e-Zan (Women’s Rights), was sentenced in October to two years in prison because he chose to reprint articles that challenged stoning and corporal punishments for adultery. Two years ago, blasphemy charges led to death sentences for two journalists in Afghanistan, who survived by escaping jail and seeking asylum abroad. But the Afghanistan Media Monitoring Commission – once a watchdog used to chastise publishers of “immoral content” – has come under a new mandate in a changed climate for press freedoms, and pressed for the blasphemy charges against Nasab to be dropped. Instead Nasab has been freed, after an appeal hearing in which he assured the court that “he was a Muslim and not an apostate,” IRIN News reports.

Women join Darfur peace talks
An appeal from AU special envoy Salim Ahmend Alim in the sixth round of talks, that all sides to the Darfur peace talks include women in their delegations, has brought 26 new faces to the negotiating table. This seventh round of talks includes four women from SLM/A, five women from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), two from Khartoum and 15 non-partisan gender activists from Darfur, allAfrica reports. “We urgently need the two sides to sign a comprehensive ceasefire, which should be fully implemented to ensure that civilians, particularly women, are protected. Women are raped in and outside the camps as they go about collecting firewood or fetching water,” said Neimat Adam Ahmadi, a delegate for SLM/A. “We want women to be part of the protection community. Women would be keen to take note of any violations and this would minimise human rights abuses on the civilians, especially women. Women have borne the brunt of the war in Darfur,” said Halima Hasaballa, a member of the government delegation.

Kenya’s traditional knowledge project thinking global
Beginning with the Mijikenda of Kenya’s Coast Province and the Rift Valley’s Maasai, a new international research project aims to help indigenous communities around the world protect their rights to traditional medicine. Kefri, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, and Icipe, the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, are setting up the project with support of the International Institute for Environment and Development. “Currently, the survival of biological resources and traditional knowledge are threatened by lack of adequate international and national policies that could protect legitimate interests of indigenous communities,” said Dr. Doris Mutta, Kefri’s coast region director.

Senate pulls ANWR from defense spending bill
The House had passed a defense spending bill that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration Monday, but Democrat and moderate Republican Senators pulled a coup to save the caribou refuge for Christmas. “A Democratic filibuster, a handful of moderate Republicans and the Senate’s lone independent kept oil exploration in the protected Alaskan wild out of a mammoth defense spending bill passed in the Senate yesterday,” The New Standard reports.

Aceh disarmament complete
The Free Aceh Movement (Gam) has met its obligations under the peace agreement with Indonesia, surrendering the last 35 of 840 arms required under the deal. In a peace plan signed four months ago in Finland, Indonesia pledged all police and troops would be withdrawn once the Aceh rebels handed over 840 guns and other weapons. Although the official deadline for decommissioning and withdrawal was year’s end, the people of Aceh and Indonesia always had another date in mind – December 26. Today is the first anniversary of last year’s catastrophic storm, the tsunami that destroyed much of Aceh and killed 260,000 people. The struggle to cope with this disaster brought about the peace negotiations that led to this historic turning point.

Wal-Mart fined for labor violations
The jury’s award averages out to less than $1500 per plaintiff, but $172 million in fines for around 8 million violations reported by about 116,000 employees does send a message to Wal-Mart. This class-action lawsuit was filed in 2001 over time-theft, because Wal-Mart denied workers the lunch breaks required by California state law. Most of the damages Wal-Mart must pay are punitive.

Federal judge rejects ‘intelligent design’
In a decision 139 pages long, U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that ‘intelligent design’ is not science and described the school district’s effort to build ID into the curriculum as “breathtaking inanity,” CNN reports. “To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions,” Jones wrote. Since the Dover school board mandated ID in biology classrooms, eight of its nine members have been voted out.

Violence Against Women Act
Women’s rights activists had expected Congress to mangle the renewed act, but the act passed last Saturday preserves key provisions and has new funding for direct services to rape survivors. Mother Jones reports, “In the past, federal legislation only addressed rape prevention and education. But the new Sexual Assault Services Act provides for counseling, rape kits, legal assistance and medical services for survivors.”

China rewards fuel-efficient auto fleet

China’s economic planning commission announced preferential tax benefits for low-emission, energy efficient cars to lower oil consumption, Sino Daily reports. Beijing and 80 other cities may also scrap restrictions that keep small cars off the main roads.

Nepal court asserts women can sell inheritance

The Supreme Court of Nepal has ruled to expand women’s civil rights several times this year. The latest decision attacks a discriminatory rule that forces women to ask the permission of male relatives before selling their inherited property. The court also directed the government to review the requirement that a daughter return her paternal inheritance after she marries. In a separate ruling related to Nepal’s civil war, the same court challenged the monarchy for recruiting underage boys in the security forces, pointing out that Nepal has signed international children’s rights treaties and that their recruitment also violates the constitution.