April 06, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

SAMOA

Collective Individualism

Samoan authorities have opened an investigation into lawmakers who allegedly uttered treasonous remarks during political campaign speeches in the run-up to parliamentary elections on April 9.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa is at the center of the investigation, reported Radio New Zealand. Mata’afa had quit the ruling Human Rights Protection Party of Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and joined the opposition Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi party over disagreements concerning the prime minister’s proposed judicial and constitutional changes.

Those changes could reinstate native communitarian traditions but undercut individual rights enshrined in the country’s Western-style constitution, according to the Interpreter, a publication of the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

“In the past, certain actions claimed to be taken on behalf of the community, such as beatings or house burnings, have been declared by the supreme court to violate fundamental rights,” the Samoan Law Society said in a statement to the Guardian. The proposed reforms “would effectively leave village fono (local government councils) with decision-making power unfettered by human rights considerations.”

The daughter of Samoa’s first prime minister after independence from Britain and New Zealand in 1962, Mata’afa was a member of the Human Rights Protection Party for 35 years. She called the investigation “quite ridiculous really” and “political gamesmanship” – a ploy, in other words, to besmirch her reputation before the vote.

Her move could be the biggest challenge to the status quo in Samoa in 40 years, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted. In office for more than 20 years, Malielegaoi is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders. The Human Rights Protection Party has been in power since 1982.

Voters might be eager for change. As Samoa Observer op-ed writer Mika Kelekolio explained, the prime minister has had his share of scandals. Early in his tenure, two of his ministers went to jail for murdering one of their colleagues. Recently, his finance minister resigned under a cloud of scandal involving the misuse of public funds.

The coronavirus hasn’t helped the prime minister’s fortunes. Recently he apologized to families whose deceased loved ones have been in the morgue for as long as a year as they await post-mortems. As the New Zealand publication Stuff wrote, the pandemic has touched a sore spot in Samoa due to the country’s history of suffering from imported diseases. Politicians have pledged more healthcare spending in response.

Voters, voting individually but sending a message to their leaders with one voice, will decide who wins.

WANT TO KNOW

NORTHERN IRELAND

Troubles Anew

Officials in Northern Ireland appealed for calm Monday following three days of violent clashes between police and Protestant youth amid rising tensions over post-Brexit trade rules, the Associated Press reported.

Over the weekend, clashes involving pro-British unionists in Belfast and Londonderry resulted in the injury of 27 police officers and the arrest of eight people including a 13-year-old boy.

The unrest follows the United Kingdom’s formal exit from the European Union at the end of 2020, a move that has shaken the fragile political balance in the British territory, where a segment of the population identifies as British and the rest as Irish.

One of the main points of contention is the new British-EU trade deal that has imposed customs and border checks on some goods moving from Northern Ireland to England, for example.

Unionists say that the new checks amount to a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which jointly governs Northern Ireland with Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, has called for the Brexit deal to be scrapped.

The contentious agreement was designed to prevent checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU nation, because an open Irish border has helped underpin the peace process built on the 1998 Good Friday accord.

The accord ended decades of violence in the region – known as “the Troubles” – between Irish nationalists, British loyalists and UK armed forces in which more than 3,000 people died.

WORLD

Agree to Disagree

Activists and political leaders around the world hailed the United States’ decision this week to lift sanctions on the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, imposed by former President Donald Trump, Agence France-Presse reported.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said the move underlined “US commitment to the international rules-based system,” while highlighting the bloc’s strong support of the ICC.

The ICC also welcomed the sanctions removal as a “new phase of our common undertaking to fight against impunity.”

Last year, the Trump administration hit chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and another senior court official with financial sanctions and visa bans after the prosecutor launched an investigation into alleged war crimes perpetrated by the US military in Afghanistan.

The Biden administration repealed the sanctions, saying the US seeks a more cooperative approach on a dispute that has alienated allies.

However, it maintained that it continues to oppose the Afghan probe and also one involving Israel: Last month, Bensouda announced she was opening an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the Times of Israel reported.

The probe was in response to a request by the Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015 after being granted nonmember observer status in the UN General Assembly.

RUSSIA

‘A Cold Civil War’

Russian journalists, activists and non-governmental organizations are facing new scrutiny following changes to Russia’s draconian “foreign agents” law, which is threatening the country’s oldest rights organizations, the Washington Post reported.

Under new reforms that took effect last month, anyone who posts critical opinions toward authorities on social media and allegedly receives overseas donations or payments can be declared a “foreign agent” – a term that connotes a spy or a traitor in Russia.

Failure to register as a foreign agent or submit regular detailed reports about plans and activities can result in a five-year prison sentence.

The changes have placed intense pressure on multiple organizations operating in Russia, including the civil rights group, For Human Rights, started by veteran activist Lev Ponomaryov, which was dissolved last month, even though it had survived many attempts to disband it.

Ponomaryov called the situation “a kind of a cold civil war.”

It has also affected the work of independent journalists who contribute to US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and has led to some human rights campaigners being evicted from their homes.

Critics say that the changes are part of the Kremlin’s effort to crack down on dissent before parliamentary elections in September. Meanwhile, Russia’s “foreign agent” legislation has been widely criticized by Western governments and Russian and international rights groups.

DISCOVERIES

Eyes Up

Moving through an oncoming crowd is like being on a dance floor: A person needs to pay attention to their movements, surroundings and the people around them.

But what happens if one person – or more – becomes too distracted or is texting while walking?

Japanese researchers discovered that it would, unsurprisingly, get very chaotic, the New York Times reported.

A research team at the University of Tokyo tested this disruption in a series of experiments.

In the first experiment, researchers asked groups of students to walk toward each other at a normal pace. Their findings showed that students in the front would intuitively form a lane, which others in the back would then follow. This made movement smooth and fast.

But in the next experiment, the team asked three students to perform a simple task on their phones while walking in the crowd.

They observed that the crowd fared well when the distracted students were at the back of the group, but things got out of hand when they took the front.

The distracted people slowed down movement significantly and made it difficult to form lanes.

The scientists explain that humans use facial cues to determine where people will divert during rush hour, while cellphone users fail to do that and their movements become unpredictable.

The authors also believe that architects and city planners ought to take this alteration of behavior into account to ensure fluid crowd movement on the streets.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 30,785,390 (+0.26%)
  2. Brazil: 13,013,601 (+0.22%)
  3. India: 12,686,049 (+0.77%)
  4. France: 4,893,971 (+0.22%)
  5. Russia: 4,538,101 (+0.19%)
  6. UK: 4,376,629 (+0.06%)
  7. Italy: 3,678,944 (+0.29%)
  8. Turkey: 3,529,601 (+1.22%)
  9. Spain: 3,311,325 (+0.31%)
  10. Germany: 2,904,228 (+0.23%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours