The World Today for September 28, 2023
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An Absolute Problem
Late last year, pro-democracy activists, political dissidents, and others gathered in South Africa to discuss how they might compel King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of the tiny, independent landlocked nation of Eswatini, to resign.
Soon after, in January 2023, gunmen shot and killed Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko in his home. Maseko was an outspoken advocate for creating a multiparty democracy in his country, reported the Associated Press. Formerly known as Swaziland and nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, Eswatini is the last absolute monarchy in Africa. King Mswati has ruled there since 1986.
Maseko’s death was the latest incident in a crackdown against the king’s critics that began two years ago amid protests for political change in the country, explained Human Rights Watch (HRW). At least 46 people were killed in that crackdown – deaths that the government, meanwhile, has allegedly failed to investigate.
The activist’s absence has been deeply felt in the country, wrote the Institute for Security Studies. In the meantime, while South African leaders have pressured King Mswati to make gestures to expand political participation, the king has resisted real reforms.
“The protests that began two years ago have been seen as the beginning of a tipping point in Eswatini’s governance, human rights and democratic crisis,” said HRW researcher Nomathamsanqa Masiko-Mpaka this summer. “The government needs to realize that the movement for human rights and justice is not going to go away and that it needs to end its repression.”
Now, as voters are slated to go to the polls for legislative elections on Sept. 29, critics fear that candidates won’t necessarily represent their interests – because the king has likely cherry-picked his allies for the chamber, wrote news24.
Political parties are not allowed to field candidates for the Eswatini legislature. If independent candidates were allowed to run for office, they might challenge the king’s rule, after all. Polls in Eswatini, for example, found that 86 percent of the country believes the country’s economic future looked “fairly bad” if not “very bad.”
The electoral system is also stacked against the people. Voters elect 59 members of the lower chamber called the House of Assembly, while the king appoints 10 lawmakers, according to the Anadolu Agency. Then the lower house elects 10 members of the Senate while the king appoints 20 senators.
Political activists in the country today are torn between boycotting the elections, and contesting them to at least have a chance at some political power, the Daily Maverick wrote.
Unfortunately, their success relies on the whims of one powerful man.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
In and Out
North Korea expelled American soldier Travis King, who crossed into the country two months ago complaining of ill-treatment while in the US Army, CBS News reported.
State-controlled media said King confessed to illegally entering the country through neighboring South Korea on July 18. On early Thursday morning, King arrived back in the United States after he was released into American custody on Wednesday, CNN added.
King, a Private 2nd Class in the US Army, entered North Korea while taking part in a guided civilian tour of the border village of Panmunjom.
He has served in the US Army since January 2021 and was in South Korea as part of the Pentagon’s regular Korean Force Rotation.
He had been scheduled to return to the US after serving time at a South Korean detention facility for assaulting two people and kicking a police car.
But on the day of his departure, he skipped his flight and joined the tour of the border village, then crossed the border into North Korea.
North Korea previously said King had told investigators he entered the country because he “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US army.” However, the US military said it could not verify those allegations.
Analysts said his release is likely because of the US’ lukewarm response to the incident. They also believe that King may have proven “unsuitable for propaganda purposes,” as he entered North Korea as a fugitive.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) began a landmark trial Wednesday that will force 33 countries to defend themselves against allegations that they did not take proper action against climate change, Euronews reported.
The case centers on a lawsuit filed three years ago by six Portuguese individuals, ranging in age from 11 to 24, against the governments, listed as the 27-nation European Union, Russia, Turkey, Switzerland, Norway, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
The plaintiffs allege that the governments have failed to adequately tackle global warming, saying that such inaction breaches their human rights and discriminates against the young, the Conversation noted.
They added that climate anxiety is now widespread among members of their generation: The youth cited recent heatwaves and devastating wildfires in Portugal that have restricted their ability to sleep and harmed their physical health.
Analysts said that the case will have significant implications for climate litigation globally: It could determine whether countries have a legal duty to protect individuals from the harmful effects of climate change, especially when those effects cross borders.
If the France-based court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the precedent set for future climate-related lawsuits could also compel governments to accelerate their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, has also intervened in the case, emphasizing the bloc’s commitment to addressing climate change.
Even so, some EU countries have come under fire for missing deadlines and failing to do enough to meet climate targets, while others are rolling back climate policies.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament unveiled a new bill this month that would ban clothing considered offensive to the Chinese people, a move critics say underscores the government’s increasing restrictions on personal freedom and expression, the Washington Post reported.
The National People’s Congress published a draft that would restrict people from wearing attire deemed “detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people,” and that “hurt the feelings” of the country’s citizens.
Individuals violating the new rules could be subject to a fine of up to $680 and up to 15 days in jail.
Officials did not explain the precise purpose of the draft legislation, but the proposal comes after a series of incidents involving Chinese citizens wearing traditional Japanese clothing. Such attire is considered offensive by hardline nationalists, given the two countries’ wartime history.
In one instance, police detained a woman in the country’s east for wearing a Japanese kimono and accused her of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a catchall term authorities use to target anyone considered a troublemaker.
The Chinese government has already imposed a series of restrictions on certain clothing and fashion among youth: Recent actions include targeting individuals who wore rainbow symbols in support of the LGBTQ community, cracking down on teenagers with tattoos, and imposing bans on unconventional hairstyles, such as more than shoulder-length hair on girls and certain styles for boys.
Feedback from the public about the bill has generally been negative.
Many individuals described it as an example of the ruling Communist Party’s growing intolerance against anything that doesn’t conform to its notions of nationalism and patriotism, which lately have become more anti-Western, according to the Post.
The Head of Terror
Before the Tyrannosaurus rex and its friends terrorized the Earth, there was another predator that dominated the planet 40 million years before dinosaurs emerged, Science Alert reported.
Meet the Pampaphoneus biccai, described as “a gnarly-looking beast … (that) must have evoked sheer dread in anything that crossed its path,” according to paleontologist Stephanie Pierce.
Pierce and her colleagues recently discovered a fossilized skull of the prehistoric predator in the jungles of southern Brazil.
They wrote in their study that the thick skull was around 265 million years old and measured nearly 14.2 inches in length.
Researchers explained that Pampaphoneus – which translates to “terrible head” in Greek – was a formidable predator, about 10 feet high and weighed more than 880 pounds. It packed large, sharp canine teeth and had a bite that could chew through bones.
The team said the creature belonged to the early therapsid clade dinocephalia, a major group of huge terrestrial animals that came before the famed dinosaurs. P. biccai lived at the end of the Permian period, just before a mass extinction event that eradicated 86 percent of all animal species on Earth.
While dinocephalian fossils have been unearthed in Russia and South Africa, P. biccai stands as the sole species of its kind identified in Brazil. This well-preserved fossil has also revealed new, previously unknown characteristics of the species when compared with a smaller skull discovered in 2008.
“Its discovery is key to providing a glimpse into the community structure of terrestrial ecosystems just prior to the biggest mass extinction of all time,” said Pierce. “A spectacular find that demonstrates the global importance of Brazil’s fossil record.”
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