July 13, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

SUDAN

Atonement

Around 18 years ago, the Sudanese region of Darfur was synonymous with violence and tragedy.

Not much has changed.

Violence continues to mar the region today. “The expression ‘forgotten crisis’ is a problematic one – no crisis is forgotten by the people living through it, nor the local journalists who cover it, week in week out, year after year,” wrote the New Humanitarian.

The Sudanese civil war in Darfur pit an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed versus non-Arab Sudanese ethnic groups, with the former enjoying government support. Hundreds of thousands died and more than 2 million were displaced.

The United Nations declared a genocide while the International Criminal Court labeled then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir a war criminal and sought to arrest him – a first against a sitting head of state.

In a bid to put the sad episode behind them, Sudanese leaders recently promised to hand al-Bashir and other alleged war criminals over to the court, the BBC reported. Mass protests led the military to oust him in 2019. He’s now in prison on corruption charges.

But they have yet to extradite the former president, identify others to face justice in the Netherlands or, as the Institute for Security Studies explained via AllAfrica news outlet, sign international conventions to make it easier for Sudan to cooperate with international authorities.

Tragically, Darfur has yet to achieve peace, too. Gunmen attacked the Kirinding camp for internally displaced people in the region twice in the past year, killing more than 100 people, burning homes and forcing 50,000 people to run for their lives, wrote Al Jazeera.

Many Sudanese feel cheated. They rose up to topple their dictator and see their leaders taking steps to make amends but the situation in Darfur is still catastrophic. They wanted closure. Yet, in the New York Times, Sudanese folks said the government still had not released findings on people whom al-Bashir killed during the unrest a few years ago.

“They’re intentionally delaying the results,” said Muez Mohammed, whose brother security forces fatally shot in 2019. “Everyone knows who killed the people.”

And, as the Janjaweed keep rampaging, non-Arab rebels groups who started the fighting years ago are still waging what they view as a battle against oppressive rulers who only want to protect, empower and benefit their Arab constituents, added Agence France-Presse.

It will take more than a few people in prison for Sudan to atone.

WANT TO KNOW

CUBA

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Vaccines

Thousands of Cubans protested across the country this week over shortages in food and medicine amid the coronavirus pandemic, in what has been described as the biggest anti-government demonstrations in three decades, USA Today reported.

Protesters marched in multiple cities, including the capital, Havana, chanting, “We want freedom” and “We want vaccines.” Some even tried to broadcast the unrest online but the government shut down internet services.

Security forces arrested dozens of demonstrators and used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The demonstrations come as Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in years, worsened by the pandemic and marked by low vaccination rates.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel blamed the United States for fomenting the unrest by tightening the embargo on the Caribbean nation.

The protests also prompted similar marches in Miami – which hosts a large population with Cuban heritage – as well as support from US politicians of Cuban heritage, reported the Washington Times.

SOUTH AFRICA

Follow the Leader

Deadly riots gripped South Africa this week following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma prompting the military to send troops to quell the violence, Reuters reported Monday.

Authorities said at least six people died during the protests. Police arrested more than 480 people, adding that criminal elements have taken advantage of the pro-Zuma protests with a campaign of theft and destruction.

The unrest began after the country’s constitutional court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison for defying orders to provide evidence in an investigation over high-level corruption during his nine years in office.

Zuma initially resisted the verdict, saying it was a politically motivated crackdown by his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa. He later turned himself in, according to the New York Times.

The court decision was seen as a major test for post-apartheid South Africa’s ability to enforce its rule of law and punish powerful politicians.

The former leader and anti-apartheid activist was forced by his party, the African National Congress, to step down from the presidency in 2018 over corruption allegations.

The current corruption inquiry is looking into whether Zuma allowed Indian-born businessmen, Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta, to abuse state resources and influence government policy.

Zuma also faces another corruption case related to a $2 billion arms deal in 1999 when he was deputy president.

He denies the accusations in both cases.

ISRAEL

The Right to Children

Israel’s Supreme Court struck down restrictions that prevented same-sex couples from having children through surrogacy, ending a decade-old legal battle that LGBT+ advocates called a “historic milestone” for the community, the Washington Post reported.

The top court ruled that restrictions for same-sex couples and single fathers must be removed within six months, giving the government time to implement the changes.

Current laws allow surrogacy for heterosexual couples and single women but they exclude same-sex partners, which has prompted these couples to turn to surrogates overseas.

The surrogacy issue began in 2010 when a male same-sex couple appealed to the courts. The first petition failed but the couple launched another case with support from LGBT+ groups five years later.

In 2020, the high court ruled that the restrictions “disproportionately harmed the right to equality and the right to parenthood of these groups and are illegal.” However, it left them intact and set a March 2021 deadline for Israel’s parliament to change the law – a deadline that was later extended to September.

The new coalition government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennet asked the court to decide on the issue, arguing that amending the law would be “unfeasible” in the current political situation. The new coalition is a collection of widely disparate groups across the political spectrum that came together to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year.

Meanwhile, ultra-orthodox lawmakers – who have previously fought against expanding surrogacy access – criticized the ruling as “a grave blow to the state’s Jewish identity.”

The ruling marks another milestone for LGBT+ rights in Israel: The country recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad and LGBT+ individuals can serve in the military and parliament.

Even so, same-sex couples cannot marry in Israel.

DISCOVERIES

Babble

Children’s brains are like sponges and can absorb languages faster than teenagers and adults.

Scientists have known about this neurological advantage for years but a new paper found that “baby talk” from adults is also pivotal in language learning, according to United Press International.

When speaking to their children, parents tend to talk in a slower and simplified manner with lots of repetitions and exaggerated enunciations. This is fairly normal and natural, explained co-author Daniel Yurovsky.

“People talk to kids using the same kind of structure without thinking about it,” he said.

In their study, Yurovsky and his team created a game to reveal the ways adults match their language to the speech development of young children.

In the game, children – aged 15 to 23 months – and their parents had to pick a specific animal from a set of three: Some participants went for more familiar ones, such as cats and dogs, and others picked more exotic ones, such as leopards and peacocks.

The results showed that parents displayed “incredibly precise knowledge of their child’s language” and would fine-tune their communication to better describe animals, to help the child understand.

The team explained that their study not only helps parents and teachers but also assists other scientists working on machine learning.

“These results could help us understand how to think about machine learning language systems,” Yurovsky said.

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: 33,888,739 (+0.10%)
  2. India: 30,874,376 (+0.00%)**
  3. Brazil: 19,106,971 (+0.09%)
  4. France: 5,875,987 (+0.02%)
  5. Russia: 5,738,000 (+0.43%)
  6. Turkey: 5,465,094 (+0.00%)**
  7. UK: 5,173,972 (+0.68%)
  8. Argentina: 4,662,937 (+0.32%)
  9. Colombia: 4,530,610 (+1.32%)
  10. Italy: 4,272,163 (+0.02%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country