The World Today for May 24, 2024

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WORLD

Ghana is pressing the African Union (AU) to leverage the worldwide African diaspora to bolster the case for reparations for the trans-Atlantic trade in slaves, reported Yen, a Ghanaian news outlet. It is “important for the self-worth and self-confidence of descendants of enslaved people,” it added.

Late last year, the AU hosted a reparations summit where attendees from around the world agreed to establish a Global Reparation Fund to push for compensation for the descendants of the millions of Africans enslaved centuries ago during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

They aren’t the only people around the world who are talking seriously about reparations for slavery.

Portuguese lawmakers recently defeated a proposal by right-wing parties to charge President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa with treason for entertaining the idea of paying back the descendants of people torn from their homes, shackled in the dark holds of ships, and carried to plantations across the Atlantic Ocean. Much to the chagrin of those right-wing politicians, Sousa recently said he believed his country should address the “wrongs of the past,” wrote Reuters. Portuguese critics of such a plan say, however, it would be impossible to administer.

Portugal still doesn’t have an official reparations policy, however, according to the BBC.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has resisted apologizing for the country’s role in the slave trade, added Al Jazeera, even though King Charles III has agreed to a study of the monarchy’s already documented ties to the slave trade. Also, the Church of England has admitted that it had profited from enslavement and set aside a £100 million ($127.63 million) fund to address racial inequality. Meanwhile, activists have been working through civil society groups to change Sunak’s mind.

“It was important to me because I had to know who I was and how their barbaric trade of enslaved Africans shaped my life,” said Malik Al Nasir, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge who researched his own ties to slavery in Guyana in South America. “(They) also shaped the lives of many others across the Caribbean and in the UK, in the Americas and also in Africa.”

Sometimes, the arguments in favor of reparations can be about entire modern societies. For example, Haiti, where the first successful slave rebellion occurred in the early 19th century, had to repay France for more than a century to compensate slave owners for their losses, noted World Politics Review. These payments arguably robbed Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, of $21 billion that could have helped it enormously over that long period.

At other times, the target for reparations is outside of Europe or the United States. For example, in Brazil, the executive manager for institutional relations at the country’s national bank apologized in January at a forum on slavery’s legacy in his country, the Associated Press reported.

Brazil enslaved more people from Africa than any other country – nearly 5 million Africans were taken there, more than 12 times the number forcibly relocated to North America.

“Today’s Bank of Brazil asks Black people for forgiveness,” André Machado said to the mostly Black audience in Rio de Janeiro. “Directly or indirectly, all of Brazilian society should apologize to Black people for that sad moment in our history.”

Brazil – where more than half the population self-identifies as Black or biracial – has long resisted reckoning with its past. That reluctance has started loosening – for example, prosecutors have begun probing the Bank of Brazil, Latin America’s second-largest financial institution by assets, with $380 billion, for its historical links to the slave trade. Their investigation could yield a recommendation, an agreement or filing of legal action.

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, Barbados has been leading efforts for reparations through the regional bloc CARICOM’s committee on reparations. It’s pushing for negotiations with 10 European countries on reparations that would resemble a Marshall Plan, Time magazine wrote.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, is convinced reparations are necessary, recently calling for such payments to help address systemic racism and other issues dating back to the slavery era. “We call for reparatory justice frameworks to help overcome generations of exclusion and discrimination,” Guterres said.

Writing on a reparations proposal in California, the Wall Street Journal criticized the idea of such payments, saying the government agencies created by such a proposal would waste money and meddle in markets in ways that would likely backfire.

Proponents of reparations say, however, that it wouldn’t backfire for them.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Military Tantrum

TAIWAN

China on Thursday launched a series of military drills around Taiwan, a move Beijing said was punishment for the island’s new president’s stance on independence, Agence France-Presse reported.

On Thursday, it made its displeasure known by sending 30 coastguard and navy vessels and 42 military aircraft to territory around Taiwan’s main and smaller islands, according to Taipei’s Defense Ministry.

The drills also included mock attacks, but they came as no surprise to Taiwanese officials who expected a response of that kind, Reuters explained.

The scale of the drills is smaller than similar operations in recent years but the operations came as Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te promised during his inauguration Monday to keep his nation out of China’s orbit.

In August 2022, China carried out even bigger exercises to show its discontent with then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Beijing opposes diplomatic exchanges with Taiwanese leaders.

Lai and his Democratic Progressive Party support Taiwanese sovereignty, while Beijing claims the territory as its own.

Beijing, recently, has been continually expressing its displeasure with the choice of Lai for Taiwan’s top job – with harsh words.

However, “the real ‘punishment’ may be yet to come,” analyst Wen Ti-Sung told Reuters.

In November 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly told US President Joe Biden he preferred China taking control of Taiwan through political means – but he did not rule out a military option, Le Monde wrote.

Thursday’s drill “further allows China to train its (People’s Liberation Army) to engage in coordinated activities with its Coast Guard across a large area around Taiwan,” analyst Bonny Lin told the New York Times. “This could be invaluable experience for a range of operations against Taiwan.”

Even so, experts argued Beijing would avoid a costly war across the Taiwan Strait, explaining that the military exercise signaled a strategy focused on blockading Taiwan rather than direct confrontation, the South China Morning Post reported.

Recognizing Inhumanity

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

The United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution Thursday, establishing an annual memorial day for the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia, a historic vote that comes amid strong opposition and fears from Serbia and Bosnian Serbs that it will mark them as “genocidal people,” Euronews reported.

The vote in the 193-member General Assembly was 84-19 with 68 nations abstaining – and 22 failing to appear for the vote – a reflection of concerns among many countries about the impact of the vote on reconciliation efforts in deeply divided Bosnia, the Associated Press wrote.

The resolution, which designates July 11 as the day of commemoration, was sponsored by Germany and Rwanda and aims at recognizing what many consider the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. The massacre occurred on July 11, 1995, during the Bosnian War, when Bosnian Serb forces overran a UN-protected safe area in Srebrenica and systematically executed more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys.

The special court that tried crimes perpetrated during the Yugoslav conflict, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), labeled the Srebrenica massacre as genocide. The UN’s highest tribunal, the International Court of Justice, also determined in 2007 that the acts committed in Srebrenica constituted genocide.

Observers said the ICTY tribunals and General Assembly’s resolution could also set the standard for how future genocide trials and their perpetrators are dealt with.

The resolution will also condemn any denial of the Srebrenica genocide and actions glorifying convicted war criminals. It received support from the US, France, Italy, and other Western nations.

However, the vote sparked political tension, particularly in Bosnia and Serbia, Politico noted. Serbian leaders have consistently denied that the massacre in Srebrenica was genocide.

On Wednesday, Milorad Dodik, the leader of Bosnia’s Serb-majority entity Republika Srpska, reiterated his threat to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a move that would further destabilize the region

Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had launched a vigorous diplomatic campaign against the UN resolution, including press conferences, stakeholder meetings and billboards proclaiming, “Serbs are not genocidal people.”

Vučić emphasized the importance of the vote for Serbia’s international relationships.

However, groups representing the victims’ families said the UN vote signifies a measure of justice, while Bosnia’s ambassador to the UN, Zlatko Lagumdžija, urged Serbia to recognize the resolution as a condemnation of individual criminals, not an entire nation.

Containing Contagion

ECUADOR

Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa this week declared a new state of emergency in parts of the South American country, a move aimed at addressing the rising number of murders and other crimes as security forces shore up their fight against drug gangs, Reuters reported.

The new measure will be in force for 60 days in seven of Ecuador’s 24 provinces, including Guayas, El Oro and Los Rios. The decree will allow authorities to enter homes and intercept communications in those provinces without prior authorization.

The president cited rising violence, and the number of violent deaths, in those regions, adding that the new decree will be submitted to the Constitutional Court for review.

Earlier this month, the court rendered the previous emergency declaration void, saying that it was not sufficiently justified.

The decision comes as Ecuadorian police and army are attempting to combat rival narco-trafficking gangs that have plagued the country.

Located between top cocaine exporters Peru and Colombia, the country has seen a surge in violence in recent years as feuding gangs with links to Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for control, according to Agence France-Presse.

Gang wars have been frequent in Ecuadorian prisons, leaving hundreds of prisoners dead.

Noboa declared a state of emergency in January after a major drug kingpin escaped from a maximum security facility. He has said that the country is in a state of “internal armed conflict” and ordered the military to “neutralize” 22 criminal groups.

While government data has shown that violent deaths dropped 28 percent in the first months of 2024 compared with the same period in 2023, the rates of other crimes such as kidnappings and extortion have risen.

Meanwhile, authorities have launched investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings following complaints from human rights groups.

DISCOVERIES

Truth in Teeth

Cavemen, it turns out, ate their veggies, too, a new study shows.

Long thought to mainly subsist on a protein-based diet, researchers have found that the Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers who lived 15,000 years ago in what is now Morocco actually ate more vegetables than meat.

In fact, these Late Stone Age humans were almost vegetarians, according to the findings of anthropologist Zineb Moubtahij of Germany’s Max Planck Institute and her team.

“This distinct dietary pattern challenges the prevailing notion of high reliance on animal proteins among pre-agricultural human groups,” the researchers wrote.

For years, researchers believed that ancient humans who lived before the rise of agriculture in the Neolithic period mainly survived on meat.

But using new methods available now, Moubtahij and her team studied the remains of pre-agricultural human hunter-gatherers known as Iberomaurusians, who lived at Taforalt Cave in northern Morocco at the end of the Pleistocene.

Even though most remains after thousands of years in the ground lack any soft tissue to study, the team examined 25 teeth and seven bone samples from 17 Iberomaurusian individuals found at the site, focusing on the isotopic ratios of zinc and strontium in tooth enamel, carbon and nitrogen in bone collagen, and amino acids from bones of both humans and animals recovered there.

From this isotopic analysis, they learned that the ancient humans – like the Neolithic farmers that came after them thousands of years later – got much of their protein from plant-based food.

The archeological team also found other evidence at the site that backs up their findings, for example grinding stones that could have been used to process nuts, and also a high incidence of cavities in the teeth that is consistent with a diet of acorns, pine nuts and legumes.

Researchers say these early humans probably turned to a plant-based diet because of the unavailability of meat at times.

The study, researchers added, is an important part of understanding the transition from hunting-gathering economies to agriculture-based ones, one of the most important dietary revolutions in human history.

“Our findings not only provide insights into the dietary practices of pre-agricultural human groups but also highlight the complexity of human subsistence strategies in different regions,” the authors wrote. “Understanding these patterns is crucial to unraveling the broader story of human evolution.”

Clarification: In Tuesday’s THE WORLD, BRIEFLY section, we said in our “Ruled Out” item that the African National Congress’ (ANC) biggest challenger in next week’s election is the uMkhonto weSizwe party, a political group formed by Jacob Zuma. While it is a main challenger – and spoiler – to the ANC, polls show that the Democratic Alliance is likely to lead the opposition to the ANC in the election even as analysts believe Zuma, despite being ineligible to run, may end up playing kingmaker.

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