The World Today for January 29, 2024

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Law & Disorder

SOUTH AFRICA

Residents of Rabie Ridge, sick and tired of criminals running rampant through their township outside Johannesburg, South Africa decided to take matters into their own hands. They went house to house and rounded up six people they accused of crimes. Then they stoned five of the alleged criminals to death.

“We constantly live in fear,” said a frustrated community leader, according to Independent Online, a South African news website. “One can’t even go to shops in the evening without fearing for our lives. We tried to work with law enforcement, but they always let us down.”

One of the victims’ family members insisted that their nephew was not a criminal, or at least had never been convicted of the crime that the mob accused him of committing. Even if he had been guilty, the family member added, he didn’t deserve to die in that manner.

Meanwhile, wealthier South Africans have other options. As the Associated Press explained, they have fueled a booming industry of private security firms whose guards often perform many of the functions normally restricted to government-run law enforcement agencies.

These days, private security guards outnumber police officers, wrote NPR.

Such personnel also protect bank vans and other vehicles from the heists that occur regularly on the country’s dangerous roads. “Robberies can last extended periods, with motorway traffic continuing normally on the other side of the road while gangs prime their explosives and rove about with automatic weapons, sometimes filmed by onlookers,” wrote the BBC.

Vigilantism and mercenaries are two strategies that South Africans have embraced as crime hit a 20-year high in Africa’s most developed country but which also has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world. In the last year, murderers have claimed 27,000 lives in the country. The murder rate has increased by 77 percent since 2022. Police, meanwhile, solve only 12 percent of these cases.

The police have attempted to crack down. They have asked Google Maps, for example, to reroute folks who might use the app to drive from Cape Town International Airport through a notorious crime spot where tourists have been robbed and shot, noted Deutsche Welle.

But Stellenbosch University criminologist Guy Lamb, writing in the Conversation, says the police are losing the country’s war on crime. The crime wave in South Africa reflects deep social, economic, and other structural problems, he explained. Lamb called for government officials, cops, civil society groups, and communities to work together to create better ways to curb the violence: “This is a ‘war’ the police can’t win on their own …”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Aiding and Abetting

ISRAEL/ GAZA STRIP

Several donor countries suspended funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees over the weekend after allegations rose that some of the agency’s staff were involved in Hamas’ deadly attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7, CBS News reported.

Last week, Israel said 12 staff members of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East were involved in the attack by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups that killed more than 1,200 people and kidnapped more than 240 others.

Following the allegations, UNWRA head Philippe Lazzarini announced the agency would conduct a thorough investigation into the accusations. He added that the agency had fired nine staff members, NPR noted.

While the agency did not provide additional details about the allegations, an Israeli dossier – presented to US officials Friday – gave details about the role each of the accused individuals played in the massacre, including kidnapping and supplying ammunition, according to the New York Times.

Even so, the donor nations, including the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, said that they would temporarily suspend payments to the UNRWA amid the ongoing probe.

On Sunday, Estonia, France and Japan became the latest countries to halt funding, Reuters added.

While UN Secretary-General António Guterres and others acknowledged that the allegations were “abhorrent,” they urged countries to continue funding the UNRWA, citing the agency’s importance in providing aid to thousands of women and children.

Lazzarini decried the suspensions, saying it was “immensely irresponsible to sanction an agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region. ”

The UNRWA provides crucial aid to Palestinians fleeing Gaza’s conflict, hosting up to 1.9 million people in its facilities. About 93 percent of people in Gaza face “crisis levels” of hunger, a report said in December, the Washington Post reported. An Israeli defense official denied starvation in the enclave, the newspaper added.

Amid repeated attacks on its centers, a recent incident on Jan. 24 saw a UNRWA building in Khan Younis hit, causing 13 deaths and 56 injuries among 800 displaced individuals.

Israel’s military denies involvement, saying no aerial or artillery strike occurred, with ongoing investigations into the incident.

The allegations follow on the heels of a decision last week by the International Court of Justice ordering Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, which could become more complicated with the charges leveled against the UNRWA, which administers aid.

“The ruling issued by the ICJ ordered six provisional measures including for Israel to refrain from acts under the Genocide convention, prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to genocide, and take immediate and effective measures to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” wrote Amnesty International of the case brought by South Africa against Israel charging genocide.

“Crucially, the Court also ordered Israel to preserve evidence of genocide and to submit a report to the Court, within one month, of all measures taken in line with its order.”

The Founding, the Invasion

AUSTRALIA

Thousands of Australians protested across the country over the weekend, advocating for Australia Day to be moved and renamed “Invasion Day” to acknowledge the impact of British colonization on the country’s Indigenous communities, the Guardian reported.

Each Jan. 26, the country celebrates Australia Day, which commemorates the arrival of the British fleet in Sydney’s harbor in 1788 – and the beginning of colonization of Australia, where Indigenous people have been living for more than 40,000 years.

During Friday’s demonstrations, many organizers and speakers highlighted many of the issues that Australia’s First Nations people face, such as high incarceration rates, deaths in custody and the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families.

Protesters also called for the acknowledgment of the impacts of colonization on Indigenous communities, challenging traditional celebrations associated with Australia Day.

Commemorating Australia Day has become a topic of debate in the country of 26 million people – where less than four percent are Indigenous.

Younger generations support changing the date of Australia Day while labeling Jan. 26 as “Invasion Day” to remember the day the British arrived.

Despite growing support for changing the date, conservatives, including opposition leader Peter Dutton, have pushed back against these efforts.

Polls show a majority of Australians want to keep the public holiday of “Australia Day” but are split roughly 50-50 about changing the date, according to Al Jazeera.

Friday’s protests follow the defeat in a national referendum in October of a proposal for an Indigenous “Voice” to parliament.

The initiative aimed to establish an autonomous advisory entity tasked with offering guidance to governments regarding issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including healthcare, education and housing.

Forward Retreat

KENYA

The High Court of Kenya on Monday ruled against a decision to send Kenyan police officers to lead a United Nations-backed mission in Haiti that would assist the country in combatting its endemic gang violence, throwing the future of an international mission to help the country into doubt, the Associated Press reported.

The court quashed a government initiative to deploy 1,000 officers as part of an international force in Haiti, which parliament had approved last November, one year after the Caribbean country requested foreign help to cope with gang takeovers and lawlessness.

Judge Chacha Mwita said that Kenya’s National Security Council, led by President William Ruto, does not have the competence to order a deployment abroad and that such a move had to abide by the constitution.

The verdict came after weeks of disputes between President Ruto and Kenya’s judiciary branch. Analysts described it as a show of independence from the judges after Ruto’s administration had allegedly tried to “intimidate” them, the BBC reported.

The government said it would appeal the court’s decision. But the length of that procedure has left Haitians doubting whether the promised international effort will ever reach the country.

Kenya was supposed to lead a 3,000-officer force backed by the UN and joined by Belize, Burundi, Chad, Jamaica, and Senegal. Without Kenya, it is unclear whether the other states could embark on the mission.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the need for this force “remains extremely high,” with envoy Maria Isabel Salvador saying the situation in Haiti has “reached a critical point.”

An estimated 8,400 people were killed, injured, or kidnapped by gangs last year in Haiti – more than double the 2022 figure. About 300 criminal groups have captured 80 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The victims include police officers. Haiti’s National Police has been overwhelmed and as a result become ineffective in fighting the gang violence.

However, the blocking of the multinational force was hailed by some. Mercy Corps Country Director for Haiti, Laurent Uwumuremyi, explained that previous similar international efforts, such as the 2004-2017 United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, had caused more damage than good for Haiti.

Former rebel Guy Philippe argued that the forces would have supported a government despised by the Haitians, and he accused of “helping gangs.”

Meanwhile, reacting to the Kenyan High Court’s ruling, Pastor Malory Laurent lamented, “Every day, you feel there is no hope.”

DISCOVERIES

The State of Tun

The minuscule tardigrades are one of the toughest animals on Earth, capable of surviving the vacuum of space and extreme temperatures.

Now, a new study recently unveiled the chemical mechanism that gave these invertebrates the title of extremophiles, Popular Science reported.

Also known as “water bears,” they are around 0.04 of an inch in size, live in a variety of habitats and are considered close relatives to arthropods.

When exposed to inhospitable environments, tardigrades enter a dormant state – or “tun state” – that causes their metabolism to nearly grind to a halt, while their bodies become dehydrated.

And they can remain in that state for years without any food.

To determine how they activate this tun state, a research team exposed the invertebrates to a series of stressors, including -112 degrees Fahrenheit and high levels of hydrogen peroxide.

They noticed that the creatures’ cells produced oxygen free radicals – atoms or molecules that contain unpaired electrons – in response to these challenging conditions.

These free radicals would also oxidize with an amino acid called cysteine, which is one of the building blocks of proteins in the body. This oxidation causes the proteins to alter their functions and structure, as well as signal the tardigrade to go dormant.

The team explained that the cysteine allows the tardigrades to feel out of their environments and react to many stressors. This means that it also allows the water bears to survive in shifting environments.

The authors hope that future research into this mechanism and tardigrades could help scientists better understand aging.

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