April 22, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

HAITI

Problem Child

Haitian Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe resigned recently. He served for around a year, wrote Al Jazeera, a period that saw a spectacular rise in murders, kidnappings and insecurity in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

In an illustrative example of the chaos, armed bandits attacked an orphanage in mid-April, sexually assaulting women and children, looting the building and demanding money, the Miami Herald reported. They had a well-conceived plan, blocking the orphanage’s exits and using a carpet to scale a wire fence.

But perhaps the most urgent crisis in the unrest has been the kidnapping of seven Catholic clergy members in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. Five of the clergy are Haitian. Two are French. Catholic leaders in Haiti are incensed over the abduction and the government’s lack of progress in finding the men and women. Three other people were also kidnapped in the same incident. The kidnappers have demanded a $1 million ransom, the BBC reported.

The Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince released a statement that Haiti was undergoing a “descent into hell,” according to Agence France-Presse. “The public authorities who are doing nothing to resolve this crisis are not immune from suspicion,” church leaders said in the statement. “We denounce complacency and complicity wherever it comes from.”

The church singled out Haiti’s political leaders because President Jovenel Moïse is arguably fanning the flames of discontent.

Moïse’s critics say his term ended in February. But he claims that his five-year term ends next year. Critics say he was elected in November 2015. But that election was canceled, and he was reelected in a new ballot in 2016. Meanwhile, Haiti’s parliament has not met since early 2020 after instability allowed Moïse to postpone October 2019 legislative elections indefinitely. Moïse has been able to ensure a June referendum for constitutional revisions that his critics claim will further secure his grip on power, however.

Meanwhile, people have been on the streets for months in massive protests demanding his resignation, even as the armed gangs tighten their grip on the country.

These gangs have caused much of the havoc that originated in the Haitian army, explained the North American Congress on Latin America, a non-profit organization.

After the Duvalier family dictatorship ended in 1986 and then again after the ouster of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, Haitian military officers and their soldiers went freelance, alternatively attempting to maintain peace and order while succumbing to the temptations of criminals who could pay them for their troubles. Today, the armed gangs might kill and kidnap folks while also ensuring the delivery of food from international humanitarian groups.

Haitians can hope for a deus-ex-machina solution. Rolling up their sleeves and coming together to fix their problems as well as they can one at a time might be a better approach.

WANT TO KNOW

WORLD

A Verdict Heard Round the World

An American jury convicted police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, a verdict that has resonated globally and prompted jubilation from heads of state and community leaders alongside calls for an international reckoning on racial inequality within justice systems, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Floyd died last year after being pinned down by Chauvin outside of a Minneapolis grocery store, an event that set off worldwide protests over the issue of police brutality and the treatment of minorities.

Underscoring the worldwide impact of the verdict, foreign media outlets ran live coverage and placed stories about the verdict on their front pages showing how closely the trial was followed beyond US borders. World leaders made statements in unusual comments about an ally’s internal affairs.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the verdict, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted, “the guilty verdict must be the beginning of real change – not the end.” UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet said that “any other result would have been a travesty of justice.”

Closer to home, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted how the ruling underscores “that there’s an awful lot of work to do.”

The killing of Floyd set off demonstrations in France, Britain, Germany, Australia, Kenya, Japan and other countries demanding justice for his case and their own.

For example, protesters in the UK demanded justice for Mark Duggan, who was shot by British police in 2011. In France, they said the name of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old who died in police custody in 2016. In Australia, Floyd’s death triggered a resurgence in activism over Indigenous deaths in police custody – human rights activists want 400 of these deaths investigated.

Some leaders are resisting. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t comment on the verdict: Last year, Morrison and other conservative officials blamed American protests on fringe groups trying to stoke divisions. After the verdict, New South Wales police minister David Elliott, said such activism over race “has got no place in Australia.”

Latoya Aroha Rule, who lost a brother in 2016 after he was pinned down by multiple correctional officers, knows this well. “An outcome like George Floyd’s case is not possible for our case,” said Rule. The inquest in that case begins next week.

SOUTH KOREA

No Comfort

A South Korean court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of “comfort women” seeking damages against Japan for wartime sexual slavery, the latest round in a long-running dispute that has strained relations between the two nations, United Press International reported Wednesday.

Citing international law, the court ruled that Japan has immunity from civil lawsuits filed in another country, adding that lifting the immunity would spark an inevitable diplomatic clash, according to Voice of America.

The verdict marks a stark contrast from a January decision by a different chamber of the same court which ruled in favor of 12 plaintiffs: The landmark decision found that Japan must pay each $91,900 in damages.

Human rights groups criticized the latest decision as one “that fails to deliver justice” to the “comfort women” – a euphemism used for women forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels – their survivors and their families.

The ruling is subject to appeal. Regardless, it has further escalated tensions over the issue of comfort women.

Japan maintains that all wartime claims were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries, including $800 million in reparations.

In 2015, both countries reached an agreement to set up a foundation to support comfort women with Japan contributing $8 million.

However, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in 2017 that the agreement had flaws and didn’t “resolve the issue of comfort women.”

The relationship between the two nations deteriorated after South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that two Japanese companies must pay compensation to wartime victims of forced labor. The decision sparked a trade war and led to a widespread boycott of Japanese products in South Korea.

CANADA

Splitting the Baby

A Quebec Superior Court ruled in favor of the province’s law that bans religious dress for civil servants holding “positions of authority,” a ruling that has sparked a heated debate over Quebec’s secularism and Canada’s multiculturalism, the Globe and Mail reported.

The court found that the contentious Bill 21 infringed fundamental rights to religious expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its Quebec equivalent. However, it added that the Quebec government’s use of a blanket constitutional override of Canada’s Constitution, known as the notwithstanding clause, prevented the court from striking down most of the law.

Judge Marc-André Blanchard, however, ruled that Anglophone school boards in the province are exempt from the law, saying that they are protected under the Constitution’s minority language rights.

The controversial ruling has stirred tension in the predominately French-speaking territory and outraged many Quebec nationalists, including province leader François Legault.

Legault’s government passed the legislation nearly two years ago with the aim of promoting secular values in government institutions. Officials said they will appeal the decision.

Advocacy groups also criticized the decision as discriminatory.

Analysts said that the ruling sets up an examination of just how far the use of the notwithstanding clause can go and predict that the case will land at the Supreme Court of Canada.

DISCOVERIES

Kissing Cousins

In 2015, scientists found that some Indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon were distantly related to native Australians and Melanesians.

Their study detailed how the Karitiana and Suruí people shared a specific genetic signature – known as the “Ypikuéra,” or “Y signal” – with present-day Indigenous groups in Australasia.

More than 15,000 years ago, groups of hunter-gatherers in Asia made their journey toward North America through the now-submerged Bering Land Bridge, which connected Eurasia and Alaska.

Anthropologists believe the ancient people began spreading out throughout North and South America over the next centuries, and their genetic markers are now present in some Amazonian Indigenous groups.

However, a new paper found that this genetic signal was not exclusive to the Amazonians, Science Magazine reported.

A new team examined DNA data of more than 380 people from across South America and found the Y-signal in groups living in Brazil’s central plateau and among Peru’s Chotuna people.

The findings prompted the team to investigate how this DNA dispersal became possible.

They theorize that some of the very earliest South American migrants carrying the Y signal followed a coastal route and later went separate ways into the central plateau and Amazon sometime between 15,000 and 8000 years ago.

However, the researchers aren’t sure why the Y-signal hasn’t shown up in North and Central American Indigenous groups.

“The population Y signal is a puzzle but this is an interesting piece to add to it,” said David Meltzer, co-author of the 2015 study.

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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: 31,862,401 (+0.22%)
  2. India: 15,930,774 (+2.01%)
  3. Brazil: 14,122,795 (+0.57%)
  4. France: 5,436,229 (+0.65%)
  5. Russia: 4,673,699 (+0.17%)
  6. Turkey: 4,446,591 (+1.41%)
  7. UK: 4,411,068 (+0.05%)
  8. Italy: 3,904,899 (+0.36%)
  9. Spain: 3,446,072 (+0.52%)
  10. Germany: 3,222,888 (+0.76%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours