Al Qaeda Spreads

Even as Al Qaeda sympathizers in the United Kingdom make headlines, the terrorist group has seen affiliates taking root in other countries. In Algeria, officers arrested 13 minors, some as young as 12, and dismantled a terrorist training camp near Algiers in early June. The young soldiers were members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an outlawed group that calls itself the “North African branch” of Al Qaeda. The Salafist Group has also come to Spain, where officials arrested two suspected members last week and alleged they were recruiting fighters to be trained in camps as far away as Mali, Niger and Mauritania. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in Algeria in April, saying its goal was to end the Spanish occupation of the municipalities of Ceuta and Melilla.

Packed Into Prisons, With No Relief in Sight

Crowded jails from the Mexican border to North Carolina have prisoners packed into cells, sleeping in day rooms and struggling with overflowing sewers and waste water. There’s plenty of money in Arizona for boosted border patrols, which capture more illegal immigrants who are then charged with felonies. But the Christian Science Monitor reports that funding is in short supply for overwhelmed courts and jails along the border. The federal caseload in Arizona increased 94 percent between 1996 and 2006 — so many new cases that attorneys are forced to spend less time on each suspect. In the Navajo Nation, most lawbreakers never do time in local jails, which are overcrowded and plagued by sewage overflows.

Conscience is the Question at a Time of War

Writing in the Guardian, columnist Henry Porter says Western forces may have triggered the violence in Iraq, but that “the great majority of casualties are caused by Arabs killing Arabs.” In particular, he condemned “the Muslim world” for silence over Islamist use of chlorine gas in civilian attacks, which turns to acid when contacting the skin, lungs, eyes, throat and nose. Accountability is topic No. 1 in Canada as well, where critics called for the resignation of Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor after reports blamed Canadian troops for the torture of more than 30 Afghan prisoners. O’Connor says he will investigate, but his detractors say that government awareness and acceptance of torture is equivalent to complicity in “war crimes,” the Canadian Broadcast Service reports.

Labor Groups Tackle Child Exploitation

Cheap labor from children working in slavelike conditions is booming worldwide. But in India, Africa and Turkey, activists are taking on the problem with education and outreach. An estimated 100,000 boys under 14 work in Delhi’s sari mills, sold to middlemen by impoverished and uninformed parents. A local advocacy group, which says the boys are kept in filthy conditions and live and work in the same rooms, is pressuring clothing designers to commit to child labor-free textiles. Poverty also drives West African parents to send their children to work on Ivory Coast cocoa farms, where they suffer abuse and miss out on school.

INDIA: Gender Bias Drives Abortion Boom

Up to a million Indian mothers illegally abort their female fetuses every year in India, and police are discovering the remains in toilets or gutters. Effects on the sex ratio have been dire, with 817 females to every 1,000 males in Punjab. The procedure has become a moneymaker for thousands of private doctors, who allegedly use ultrasounds to determine the sex of the child and encourage women to abort if it is a girl. Officials are trying to educate people about the issue, and gain control of private hospitals and clinics where such procedures are performed. Sources:
“Foeticide issue continues to rock Rajasthan”
Indo Asian News Service, March 23, 2007
“A cry to save the girl child”
Indo Asian News Service, March 20, 2007

Mining in South Africa: Apartheid’s Legacy

Two Italian companies are suing South Africa over a law that requires firms to sell to black investors to redress abuses of black laborers under the apartheid system. The companies say that their purchase of granite operations there occurred in 1994, after the fall of apartheid. The legacy of institutionalized racism has also taken a particularly bitter turn in the struggle over South Africa’s diamond mines, where the ethnically mixed residents of the diamond-rich Richtersvelders province are enraged by a government deal to sell mine holdings there to de Beers. The land, which was appropriated by the state in the 1920s, is claimed by residents in lieu of a $26 million settlement. But South Africa’s public enterprises minister says his primary concern is the well-being of the government-owned Alexkor mining company.

Intolerance Seeks, and Gains, New Footholds

Extremists worldwide are harnessing unemployment, social unrest, gender conflict and simple bigotry to advance their crusades. In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen — an accused racist who calls for an end to immigration and tax cuts for native French only — may again be set to upset the presidential elections. Though he has not yet declared his candidacy, his support in the polls is greater than ever. Hungary, shocked by riots last year after its socialist president confirmed that he had lied during the election, faces renewed violence with an attack on a police station, and mobilization of “skinheads and football hooligans” in advance of its March 15 independence holiday, Inter Press Service reports. In Pakistan, a woman social welfare minister was shot to death in front of a crowd by an unrepentant religious fanatic.

On Poverty’s Coattails, Slavery Thrives

Impoverished girls from Eastern Europe and Africa are prime targets for pimps and smugglers. As many as 5,000 youth have been sold into prostitution and literal domestic slavery in the United Kingdom, according to a new study. In India, participants in the Global March Against Child Labor decried what they say is a $32 billion worldwide industry that mostly preys upon women and children. And Reuters reports that Myanmar, a police state that formerly branded emigrant laborers “traitors,” has established new rules protecting them after 66 Myanmar citizens were rescued from a Thai factory where some were imprisoned for seven years. Sources:
“‘Human trafficking is a $32 bn worldwide business'”
Indo-Asian News Service, February 24, 2007
“Sex traffic: Danielle was 15 when she was sold into slavery in the U.K.”

Uganda: A Rebellion on the Run, Crossing Borders

Decades of conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army have taken thousands of lives in Uganda. More than two million people have been pushed from their homes, and peace talks have stalled on rebel fears that mediators are biased. Now, after being flushed out of bases in southern Sudan, the remaining LRA militants have broken the terms of a cease-fire, and are crossing the border to join forces with the Central African Republic’s local rebel militia, the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy. Sources:
“As peace talks stall, displaced Ugandans yearn for home”
Deutsche Presse-Agentur, February 23, 2007
“‘Ugandan rebels flee to CAR'”
South African Press Association, February 20, 2007
“Uganda: ‘A war against children” news analysis, April 1, 2005