The World Today for July 13, 2023

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Twenty Years


The Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, the rebel paramilitary group fighting against the central government of Sudan in the country’s civil war, has laid siege to the southern city of el-Obeid for more than a month. Located at a strategic crossroads, the RSF has been extorting payments from anyone entering and leaving the city while also looting food supplies designated for some 4.4 million people facing food shortages.

The situation shows little signs of improving anytime soon. After failing to defeat the RSF, Sudanese army Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the de facto ruler of the strife-torn African nation, has called on Sudanese citizens to take up arms against the rebel group, reported Middle East Eye. In the meantime, the war has displaced almost 2.6 million people, according to the United Nations. As the BBC explained, the fighting between the RSF under Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also widely known as “Hemedti,” and Sudanese government forces under al-Burhan erupted after disputes over power-sharing surfaced in April.

Experts believe an international peacekeeping force will be necessary to bring an end to the Sudanese civil war – the latest turn in the country’s recent violent history – and inaugurate peace in the region, Voice of America wrote.

Pressure is on world leaders to do something. As Crux noted, the civil war is evoking memories of 2003: The RSF is affiliated with the Janjaweed militias that committed genocide in the western Sudanese region of Darfur in that period. As Al Jazeera detailed, the fighting has been raging in some shape or form in Darfur ever since, while Hemedti turned the Janjaweed into a more effective fighting force.

Many observers fear that the RSF fighters are now returning to their past behavior. British lawmakers have called for sanctions against the RSF, which generates revenue from gold mines via sales to the United Arab Emirates, the Guardian explained.

Others fear that Islamists tied to former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who served between 1993 and 2019 when he was deposed in a popular uprising and coup, are working with the Sudanese army, too, Reuters reported. Al-Bashir has since been convicted of corruption charges. He’s now facing charges of crimes against humanity, including genocide, at the International Criminal Court.

The US and Saudi Arabia have worked together to institute at least one ceasefire that, unfortunately, proved ineffective, the Washington-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies wrote. The US has cycled through envoys to the country, incidentally, as the situation there has deteriorated, added Foreign Policy magazine.

The only solution might be for one general to win.


Different Perspectives


The United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution on religious hatred Wednesday following a backlash by Muslim nations over the burning of a Quran in Sweden last month, amid opposition from Western nations that it might restrict freedom of speech, Reuters reported.

The resolution calls for the UN rights chief to publish a report on religious hatred for nations to review laws that may “impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred.”

It was introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The vote came less than a month after an Iraqi immigrant burned the Islamic holy book outside a mosque in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, an incident that prompted condemnation from across the Muslim world and demands by Muslim states for action.

But Western nations, including the United States and the European Union, voted against the resolution.

They countered that the resolution conflicts with their view on human rights and freedom of expression, adding that the OIC initiative was designed to mainly safeguard religious symbols.

Pakistan’s UN ambassador, Khalil Hashmi, said the text was balanced, while accusing the West of paying “lip service” to their commitment to preventing religious hatred, Euronews added.

The recent vote represents a significant setback for Western nations at a time when the OIC holds considerable influence in the UN body dedicated to safeguarding human rights.

Marc Limon, director of the Universal Rights Group based in Geneva, noted that this outcome demonstrates that “the West is retreating from its positions within the Human Rights Council.”

Close Call


The European Union’s parliament backed a major plan to protect nature and fight climate change following a tight vote Wednesday and strong opposition from the legislature’s conservative bloc, the Associated Press reported.

The vote came after weeks of intense lobbying against the legislation, a key part of the EU’s vaunted European Green Deal. This landmark agreement seeks to establish the most ambitious climate and biodiversity objectives globally, solidifying the bloc’s position as the foremost authority on all matters pertaining to climate.

The approved plans – also known as the nature restoration law – set binding restoration targets for specific habitats and species, with the main goal to cover more than 20 percent of the bloc’s land and sea areas by 2030.

The European Commission – which proposed the plan – wants the nature restoration law to be an integral part of the Green Deal to ensure the maximum impact of the agreement.

But the European Parliament’s conservative factions opposed the vote, citing concerns that the plan would undermine food security, fuel inflation, and hurt farmers. It also called for a pause on environmental action and instead have a greater focus on economic competitiveness over the next five years.

Scientists and other legislators rejected the assertions and accused opponents of disinformation.

Meanwhile, lawmakers also cast their votes on more than 100 amendments aimed at introducing greater flexibility into the plan. The approved amendments will now be incorporated into negotiations with member states, a process expected to span several months before a definitive law can be approved.

The EU has faced resistance to recent environmental proposals, particularly those requiring changes from farmers to address pollution, as well as the decline of bee and butterfly populations, according to Reuters.

Despite the opposition, the EU remains committed to its overall green agenda and the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

No Permission Needed


Japan’s Supreme Court ruled this week that it was illegal to restrict a transgender person from using certain bathrooms, the country’s first verdict on LGBTQ people’s rights in the workplace, Bloomberg reported.

The case centers on a transgendered woman working for Japan’s trade ministry, who was only allowed to use the men’s restrooms – or the female restrooms two floors away from her office.

She filed a lawsuit against the government in 2015, saying that her request to improve her situation was denied.

In its ruling, the court called the restrictions “illegal,” adding that they pandered excessively to her colleagues and downplayed the disadvantages suffered by the official, Nikkei Asia wrote.

Following the verdict, government officials said relevant ministries “will respond appropriately after closely studying the court’s ruling.”

The court’s decision comes weeks after Japan passed a bill that seeks to protect LGBTQ understanding. But human rights groups and activists criticized the law for only discouraging “unfair” discrimination and not providing human rights guarantees for the community, according to CNN.

Japan has come under scrutiny for its lack of protection for sexual and gender minorities. It’s the only Group of Seven country with no legal protections for same-sex unions.


The Good of Seeing Good

Watching instances of violence and catastrophe in the news doesn’t bode well for the human psyche.

It would be an understatement to say that news nowadays is very glum, but in that darkness there is always that story about acts of kindness and heroism that generates a bit of hope inside us.

Now, a new research paper found that exposure to heartwarming content could counteract the negative effects of consuming distressing news, the Washington Post reported.

To determine how impactful these positive stories can be, researchers Kathryn Buchanan and Gillian Sandstrom conducted a years-long study on 1,800 participants.

They divided them into different groups and showed them news clips or articles about upsetting events, such as terrorist attacks or similar catastrophic events. Some groups were exposed only to bad news, while others were shown stories of heroism or lighthearted subjects after the distressing stories.

The findings showed that participants who were exposed to stories of kindness reported more positive emotions and developed a more optimistic view of the world. In contrast, those who were exposed only to unsettling news experienced increased negativity and a more pessimistic outlook.

The researchers noted that stories of kindness created a stronger emotional impact: Witnessing acts of kindness triggered a special feeling called elevation, which inspired individuals to be better and contribute positively to society.

“It serves as a kind of reset button that allows us to have this faith in humanity,” said Buchanan.

The team emphasized that this doesn’t mean people should completely drop the bad news. It’s important to stay up to date with current events, but it’s also vital to balance current affairs coverage with positive and negative news.

Other studies have also highlighted the adverse effects of overwhelmingly negative news and the benefits of constructive and solution-based journalism. Uplifting stories are more likely to promote positive behavior, while distressing news may lead to passive despair or hopelessness.

Correction: In Wednesday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “Not Going Anywhere” item that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled Mexico for most of the time it has been an independent country. In fact, the PRI ruled the country uninterrupted from the party’s founding in 1929 until 2000. We apologize for the error.

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