The World Today for October 18, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

A Moment to Exhale

GUINEA

Djenabou Bah was nine years old in 2009 when she attended a protest against former president Moussa Dadis Camara’s junta in a soccer stadium in the Guinean capital of Conakry.

Protesters were singing and dancing when, suddenly, security forces began firing into the crowd. Soldiers seized her, stabbed her with their bayonets and raped her. She was among 100 females who were similarly violated. More than 150 people were killed.

Now the former president who allegedly oversaw – and later attempted to cover up – the massacre and others who are suspected of perpetrating the violence are facing justice, the Washington Post reported. The protests, incidentally, arose when Camara sought the presidency after he took power in a coup.

Camara and his former underlings are facing charges of “sexual violence, kidnappings, arson, and looting,” wrote Africanews. The ex-president also has been accused of “personal criminal responsibility and command responsibility” in the incident. The International Criminal Court, the Netherlands-based institution that usually hears accusations of crimes against humanity, is closely monitoring the proceedings.

Victims say it’s hard to articulate how they felt when officials decided to jail Camara during the trial, rejecting his request for house arrest.

“The hardest thing for me was not being able to mourn my husband – his body disappeared and was never returned to us. It’s a situation that weighs on me,” rice seller Salimatou Bah told Al Jazeera. “All we want is justice. This trial must ensure that such things never happen again in this country.”

The trial should inspire politicians in the West African country to enact reforms to guarantee human rights, including lifting a prohibition against public assembly, repealing measures that squelch political opposition, and investigating other government abuses against civilians, Human Rights Watch wrote.

But it probably won’t.

Mamady Doumbouya, who has served as interim president since seizing power in a coup in 2021, will doubtfully find such reforms to his benefit. In fact, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional power broker, has imposed sanctions against Guinea for moving too slowly to adopt a democratic rule, according to Reuters.

Guinean officials, for example, have banned all political demonstrations from mid-May to when voting is expected to start – in 2025, noted Crisis 24, a consultancy. Political opposition leaders have vowed to move ahead with demonstrations anyway, perhaps betting that the court case will dissuade the government from enforcing its ban.

Many hope they are right.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Disruptive Problem

UNITED KINGDOM

The British government unveiled a draft law that aims to crack down on so-called disruptive protests carried out by environmental groups, a move critics say is aimed at “silencing non-violent people,” the BBC reported.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the new Public Order Bill will empower authorities to block demonstrations causing “serious disruption” to key infrastructure.

Under the proposed bill, penalties will include jail sentences of up to six months and unlimited fines for protesters accused of “locking-on” to people, objects or buildings. The draft legislation will also create a new criminal offense that will punish those who interfere with infrastructures – such as oil refineries and airports – with sentences of up to 12 months in prison.

Braverman had complained that such protests were disrupting critical infrastructure and emergency services, saying there was no “human right to vandalize property.”

The proposal follows a series of protests by groups such as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion in recent months, which has disrupted road and rail traffic in central London.

At least 350 Just Stop Oil protesters have been detained since the beginning of October.

Activists, meanwhile, said they won’t be intimidated by the draft law.

Lawmakers will vote on the Public Order Bill next week. Meanwhile, this is not the first time Britain’s Conservative government has tried to tackle demonstrations.

Earlier this year, legislators rejected a similar bill which members of the Labour-led opposition described as “oppressive” and “plain nasty.”

Too Little, Too Late

NIGERIA

The worst flooding in Nigeria in a decade has killed more than 600 people and impacted millions even as authorities struggle to provide aid to those hit by the disaster, CNN reported Monday.

Officials said Sunday that more than 200,000 homes have been completely or partially damaged and more than two million people have been affected by the flooding.

Although flooding occurs frequently throughout Nigeria, in some areas it has been worse than the last major floods that hit in 2012. Still, earlier this month, the nation’s National Emergency Management Agency warned of devastating floods for southern states located along courses of the Niger and Benue rivers.

Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Sadiya Umar Farouq cautioned that more flooding was likely and urged regional governments to be prepared.

She noted that a number of states did not properly prepare for the floods, despite being forecast. Farouq added that local communities must take climate predictions seriously, NPR wrote.

The country will soon implement its National Flood Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan, which will improve flood response coordination.

Banned…Sort Of

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union’s top court ruled that companies in the bloc can ban the visible wearing of religious symbols, including headscarves, but noted that employers will need to justify any restrictions, Reuters reported.

The case concerns a Muslim woman who had applied for a six-week traineeship at a Belgian company. Her employer told the woman that she would not be allowed to wear a headscarf, citing the firm’s neutrality rule – meaning no head covering is allowed on its premises, be it a cap, hat or scarf.

The woman appealed to a Belgian court, which then sought advice from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The EU court said in its verdict that the neutrality rule “does not constitute direct discrimination if it is applied to all workers in a general and undifferentiated way.” It did warn, however, that the company rules could be deemed to be indirectly discriminatory if they disadvantage someone of a particular religion or belief.

The court added that a disparity in employee treatment would not be considered indirect discrimination if it was objectively justified by a reasonable goal on the part of the employer, which the employer would have to demonstrate.

Last year, the CJEU ruled that companies around the bloc can ban employees from wearing headscarves under certain conditions, such as if they needed to do so to project an image of neutrality to customers.

But even then, it stressed that the ban must “meet a genuine need on the part of the employer” and that national courts in the bloc may take into account “the specific context” in their country, “and, in particular, more favorable national provisions concerning the protection of freedom of religion,” according to Euronews.

In Germany, bans on headscarves for women at work have been a source of contention for many years, most notably for teachers in public schools and judges.

In 2004, France – which has Europe’s largest Muslim minority – forbade the wearing of headscarves in public schools.

DISCOVERIES

Dino of Peace

In the 1940s, paleontologists discovered a peculiar dinosaur vertebra in Colombia’s Serranía del Perijá mountains.

Then for decades, researchers were unable to return to the site because of a long-lasting civil war that plagued the South American country only until recently, the Washington Post reported.

Following the 2016 peace deal between the government and rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), scientists returned, confirming that the vertebra belonged to a newly identified dinosaur species – a long-necked sauropod, which they dubbed Perijasaurus lapaz after the mountainous region and the Spanish word for “peace,” the researchers wrote.

“Without the security conditions provided in the area today, it would have been difficult to return to the field,” co-author Aldo Rincón Burbano said in a United Nations news release. “This is due to the peace agreement.”

The extinct creature lived in the region about 175 million years ago. Growing in length up to 39 feet, it resembled other, smaller sauropod species found elsewhere in the world, including India, Europe and southern South America.

The team explained that Perijasaurus’ presence in the area provides further evidence that long-necked dinosaurs dispersed geographically and became more diverse after a major Jurassic-era extinction event.

That event saw oxygen levels plummet in some oceans and alterations in the environment.

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