Warring militant groups are making the fight against Ebola even more dangerous than it already is

Around a month ago, Ebola popped back up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, scant days after the World Health Organization had declared that another outbreak of the disease had come to an end.

Trying to contain the Ebola virus, which is transmitted via bodily fluids, can be a nightmare for healthcare professionals, especially in areas where medical resources and the infrastructure required to rapidly deploy field investigators, ship HAZMAT gear or refrigerate vaccines is non-existent. Doing it in a war zone? So much worse. But that’s where the latest outbreak is going down.

Congo’s North Kivu Province is hotly contested by a number of militant groups, vying for control over the region’s mineral resources. There’s a lot of shooting. There’s a lot of blood. The local population, fearing for their lives, is highly mobile. This makes it hard to track Ebola or treat those who risk further spreading the virus. In the midst of this untenable situation, even those brave enough to risk their own lives to keep the disease at bay are now proving vulnerable.

From The Guardian:

The WHO said a doctor in Oicha had been hospitalised with Ebola, and 97 of his contacts had been identified. “It is the first time we have a confirmed case and contacts in an area of high insecurity. It is really the problem we were anticipating and at the same time dreading,” Salama said.

Karin Huster, coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières in Mangina, the epicentre of the outbreak, said new patients were arriving at the emergency treatment units every day.

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United Nations: ISIS is regrouping

It’s been a while since we’ve heard a lot about the so-called Islamic State. Since the "defeat" of ISIS in Iraq and the majority of Syria, much of the focus in the war-torn regions of the Middle East has been on: the ongoing pissing match between the United States, Russia and Turkey in Syria, what will become of the civilians whose lives were shattered during the Syrian Civil War, hostilities between Iran and damn near everyone, Palestinian rights, and what the Israelis have cooking in regards to Gaza and the protection of their populace from a variety of aggressors.

Would you be surprised to learn that ISIS is still kind of a big deal? Because it sort of sounds like the United Nations was. According to the CBC, a report from U.N. Terrorism experts says that ISIS is still doing fine, thank you very much, boasting as many as 30,000 members stationed in Syria and Iraq. However, after multiple ass-kickings at the hands of professional and volunteer military forces across the Middle East, they’ve decided to tone things down a bit. That overt, "we're gonna build a freaking caliphate" look of theirs? SO last year. Currently, ISIS is playing it cool by conducting covert operations in its bases of operation while the terrorist group regroups and rebuilds.

From The CBC:

While many ISIS fighters, planners and commanders have been killed in fighting, and many other fighters and supporters have left the immediate conflict zone, the experts said many still remain in the two countries — some engaged militarily, "and others hiding out in sympathetic communities and urban areas."

...

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United Nations: China is running forced re-education camps for Muslims and ethnic minorities

One million ethnic Uigurs are being held in a "massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy" by the Chinese government, says a United Nations Human Rights panel that has received multiple credible reports to back up their claim (this story has been percolating all summer long). According to Gay McDougall of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, you can tack an additional million people on to that initial figure: it’s estimated that another one million Muslims living in China’s western Xinjiang autonomous region have also been sent to similar camps for political indoctrination. The reasoning for this, according to Reuters, is that China’s sovereignty in the western Xinjiang autonomous region is being threatened by separatists and Islamic militants. The Uigurs mostly identify as Muslim, so there you go.

At the meeting in Geneva, McDougall was quoted as saying:

“We are deeply concerned at the many numerous and credible reports that we have received that in the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability (China) has changed the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of ‘no rights zone.”

The Chinese, for their part, have responded, "nuh-uh."

From The Globe & Mail:

The Chinese government has flatly denied rounding up large numbers of Muslims into internment centres for political indoctrination, telling a United Nations committee that such places do not exist.

The idea that “Xinjiang is a ‘no-rights zone’ is completely against the facts,” Hu Lianhe, deputy director-general of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, told members of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva Monday.

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Canadian scolding of Saudi Arabia's human rights violations means nothing if they continue to sell them weapons

I’m a proud Canadian. I’m proud that my nation took a stand against the human rights practices in Saudi Arabia. Maybe you’ve read about it. Earlier this week, Canada’s Minster of Foreign Affairs tweeted that our nation was less than impressed with Saudi Arabia’s arrest of a woman’s right activist. It’s a sentiment echoed by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations.

From The Guardian:

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said Saudi Arabia had arrested the women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah. The arrests were the latest in a government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists. More than a dozen women’s rights activists have been targeted since May.

Most of those arrested campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the country’s male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

On Friday, Canada said it was gravely concerned about the arrests, including Badawi’s. Her brother Raif Badawi, a dissident blogger, has been imprisoned since 2012. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen.

As a result of Canada commenting on the Saudi treatment of these individuals, the Saudi Arabia kind of lost its shit: After tweeting that no one would be allowed to dictate how the nation administrated its people, the Saudi government called its ambassadors to Canada home and gave Canada’s ambassador to the nation 24 hours to get out of Dodge. The Saudis followed up by ordering many of its citizens who were attending university at Canadian institutions home and messing with established trade deals it holds with Canada. Read the rest

Ebola in a war zone: what could go wrong?

A few days after skipping out on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola decided, ‘nah,’ cropping back up in a town of around 60,000 potential carriers called Mangina, located in Congo’s North Kivu province. Since the latest outbreak was identified, four people have died of the hemorrhagic fever. The World Health Organization is hoping that the strain of Ebola that’s shown up in North Kivu province is the same as the one that Congolese health workers and an international team of medical professionals were able to put down, this past July: they have a vaccine for that particular strain and it works fabulously. The WHO plans on giving the vaccine a go with this new outbreak—fingers crossed! Unfortunately, in addition to the possibility that the vaccine might not work for this Ebola outbreak, those tasked with stemming the spread of the disease are facing a threat that doesn’t involve contracting a virus: Working in an active war zone.

From The New York Times:

But North Kivu Province, the volatile region in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the new outbreak is centered, creates security complications that health officials did not confront in the outbreak they just defeated in northwest Équateur Province, 1,550 miles away. The World Health Organization is worried about the safety of medical workers in North Kivu and their access to areas controlled by militants.

“This new cluster is occurring in an environment which is very different from where we were operating in the northwest,” said Dr. Peter Salama, the deputy director general of the health agency and the head of its emergency response unit.

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Palestinian refugees feel sting of U.S. funding cuts to United Nations program

Earlier this month, the United Nations Relief and Works agency for Palestinian refugees in the near-east (UNRWA) warned that it’d have no choice but to make deep cuts to its programs, due to a funding freeze enacted by the United States Government. Last week, in light of a 217 million dollar funding shortfall, UNRWA lowered the boom: employees for a number of vital programs, including housing assistance, medical and mental health support, education and employment programs have either been given drastic pay cuts or told that they no longer have jobs. According to The Washington Post, UNRWA dismissed 154 of its employees, 125 of which are located in Gaza, and downgraded another 580 to contract workers. The head of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees union, Amir al-Miss’hal stated that in addition to this, UNRWA has also canceled an additional 1,000 jobs by ordering a hiring freeze of employees destined to fill in for UNRWA workers approaching retirement.

Unsurprisingly, shit is now going down: hundreds of UNRWA declared a sit-in, this past Monday, with threats from the UNRWA employee’s union of a strike that could throw Gaza into chaos. One UNRWA was so unhinged by losing his to job that he attempted to set himself on fire, this past Wednesday.

From The Washington Post:

Earlier this year, the U.S. cut around $300 million in funding to UNRWA, resulting in a $217 million budget shortfall. U.N. officials say the cuts are “the largest ever reduction in funding UNRWA has faced.”

Of the five areas in which the agency operates, Gaza is the most vulnerable given its dire living conditions and devastated economy after more than a decade under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

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White Helmet rescue workers evacuated from Syria by United Nations

Since 2013, the Syria Civil Defense, better known to the world as the White Helmets, have been putting themselves at risk in one of the most dangerous regions in the world. During the Syrian Civil War and throughout the campaign against ISIL in the war-torn country, the White Helmets could always be found working to save whoever they could in the wake of aerial bombardments, artillery barrages and secondary explosions. Their rescues, often made during pitched battles, were completed under great personal risk.

Of late, however, the White Helmets have been facing a new threat: The Syrian government. The Syrian government has taken back control of the majority of the areas that the White Helmets operated in – areas once held by anti-government factions. While the White Helmets recused anyone who needed their help, the government sees them as being associated with the rebels. That’s bad news for for the volunteers – bad enough that the United Nations and a number of member states worked together to get them and their families the hell out of the country.

From The BBC:

Some 422 volunteers and family members were taken to Jordan via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overnight. The UK, one of the nations requesting Israel's help, hailed the operation and will assist with resettlement. The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria's war zones.

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian allies, say the White Helmets support the rebels and also have links to jihadist groups.

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The boy's club that is the U.N. General Assembly has chosen a woman to lead them

The United Nations General Assembly has a new President: Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces. Every year, the U.N. votes to choose a new ramrod for its General Assembly. Potential candidates for the position are chosen, partially, based on a regional rotation. This time around, the U.N. was looking for someone from Latin America or the Caribbean. As such, Espinosa Garces stepped up to the plate and whacked it right out of the park: of the 192 nations voting on the matter, 128 gave the thumbs up to her taking the position.

As Yahoo News points out, the position of President in the General Assembly is largely ceremonial, especially given that a large percentage of what the General Assembly does is create non-binding resolutions. But still, a win is a win, and the newly-minted President Espinosa Garces is definitely a winner.

In her home nation of Ecuador, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces is a frigging HUGE political noise. She worked as the nation’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Commerce and Integration from January 2007 to December 2007, before moving on to a new position as Special Adviser to the President of the Constituent Assembly, Alberto Acosta, from December 2007 to February 2008, before moving on, in October 2009, to become Ecuador’s Coordinating Minister of Heritage – a post she held until 2012. In November of that same year, Espinosa Garces was called upon to become the country’s Minister of National Defense. In October 2014, she was named Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations in Geneva. Read the rest

Alabama is home to the worst poverty in the developed world

In a country that has so much, it should be a crime to leave the less fortunate with so little. But it isn't, so here we are: As part of a United Nations study on poverty and human rights abuses in America, researchers have stated that rural Alabama is home to the worst poverty in the developed world.

According to Advance Local,  the U.N. Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, was shocked at the level of environmental "degradation," economic inequality and systematic racism in the state:

Of particular concern to Alston are specific poverty-related issues that have surfaced across the country in recent years, such as an outbreak of hookworm in Alabama in 2017—a disease typically found in nations with substandard sanitary conditions in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa.

You should know that economic inequality and racial discrimination lend themselves to civil rights abuses. That makes poverty a human rights issue.

A lot of us, including myself, live comfortably enough. I know where my next meal is coming from. Too many of our fellow citizens aren't as fortunate. The fault for this, according to Alston, can be laid at the feet of our governments:

“The idea of human rights is that people have basic dignity and that it’s the role of the government — yes, the government! — to ensure that no one falls below the decent level,” he said. “Civilized society doesn’t say for people to go and make it on your own and if you can’t, bad luck...

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Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, dies suddenly, age 64

The Russian Foreign Ministry reports today that Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died suddenly today in New York. He died on Monday age 64, just one day before his 65th birthday. Read the rest

Lithium batteries should be banned as cargo on passenger planes, says UN aviation watchdog

Planes that carry passengers should be prohibited from carrying large quantities of lithium batteries in cargo, a United Nations aviation watchdog says. Read the rest

More evidence that Haiti's cholera epidemic started with UN Peacekeepers

Haiti has been battling a massive cholera outbreak since, roughly, around the time international aid groups arrived in the country following the 2010 earthquake. Now, genetic evidence links the strain of cholera in Haiti to a rare strain native to Nepal — further proof that it was Nepalese UN Peacekeepers who brought cholera to Haiti. This news comes two months after the UN claimed immunity from any financial liability relating to the outbreak, writes Stacey Singer at the Palm Beach Post. Read the rest