Important but overlooked news from around the world.
“This permit is indecipherable. They tell me I’m going to get some answers, but I’m still waiting.”
— Indiana physician John Crayton, on a plan to limit regulation of steel mill pollution in Lake Michigan (see “Environment,” below).
Families a casualty of Kasmir split
New testimony in Indonesia activist death
AIDS bias targets 11-year-old boy
Girls, pollution, poverty: The other mining disasters
U.S. water pollution laws routinely flouted: report
Dissent Crackdown Deepens
* Families a Casualty of Kashmir Split
As many as 50,000 Indian-Pakistani families have been divided by the disputed Kashmir province since 1989. Among them are several hundred women who have not seen their husbands in decades, and are subject to harassment and worse.
According to Women’s E News, Hanifa Aktar has lived alone for years on the Indian-controlled side of the border, separated from her husband and daughter in nearby Pakistani territory.
Although the official peace process has allowed some 2,000 people to reunite in Kashmir, Aktar’s petitions to cross the have been repeatedly denied.
The Web site reports that Indian authorities, convinced that her husband is a separatist, have registered her name on a computerized blacklist, confiscated her passport, block phone contact, and periodically raid her home.
“Conflict leaves women stranded in divided Kashmir”
Women’s E-News (NY), October 14, 2007
* New Testimony in Indonesia Activist Death
A “massive” dose of arsenic in an airline meal took the life of a prominent critic of the Indonesian government, and now may send a former airline executive to jail for decades.
The Times of London reports that an off-duty Garuda Air pilot was initially convicted of the “agonizing” mid-flight death of Munir Said Thalib in 2004, who was en route to Amsterdam to present a report on military abuses in Indonesia’s Aceh and Papua provinces.
The pilot made more than 40 phone calls to a director of Indonesia’s spy agency immediately prior to Thalib’s death, but was later acquitted by the Supreme Court for lack of evidence.
Now, Indra Setiawan, former head of Garuda Air head, has testified that he received a letter signed by a deputy chief of Indonesian intelligence, requesting that the pilot serve as the security officer on Thalib’s last flight.
Meanwhile, activists say Thalib’s wife since been targeted by death threats, and was sent a decapitated chicken along with a note not to implicate the military in her husband’s death.
“Airline meal ‘used to kill activist'”
The Times (UK), October 10, 2007
* AIDS Bias Targets 11-Year-Old Boy
An 11-year-old who received “regular blood transfusions” for years was diagnosed as HIV-positive, and later kicked out of a school in West Bengal 20 days after being admitted.
School authorities were reluctant to enroll him, and kept him on a separate bench from the other students, who were told to “shun” him.
Such discrimination is illegal, but officials have not intervened, despite efforts by local AIDS and health advocates.
“HIV-positive student thrown out of Bengal school”
Indo-Asian News Service, October 12, 2007
* Girls, Pollution, Poverty: The Other Mining Disasters
Recent stories about workers trapped in mines often overlook an array of related labor, ecological and human rights issues.
Most articles never mention the biggest growing mining sector workforce: young girls.
A recent report by the International Labor Organization singles out Ghana, Niger, Peru and Tanzania as places where girls are increasingly doing dangerous small-scale mining work.
Underground, they are exposed to toxic dust and metals and are forced to work long hours without proper safety gear, according to the report.
Pollution is also rampant.
Across Africa, open-cast gold mining has exposed local residents to cyanide and mercury contamination, according to a Swiss journalist who has authored a book on the subject.
In Mali, polluted groundwater has caused four our of five women in two mining villages to miscarry.
The Swiss author estimates that it would take $16 billion to clean up all the groundwater contamination mining caused in Africa.
But 80 percent of the mines in Africa are owned by multinationals, and they are unlikely to want to foot the bill.
In Peru, a coalition of community groups have united around the Mantaro River, a crucial waterway, after becoming convinced that the 17 active mining operations in the Mantaro River valley are almost entirely to blame for its contamination by copper, iron, lead and zinc.
The pollution has been documented since the late 1990s, has sickened residents, and contaminated lakes at its source in the high Andes, reports Inter Press Service. .
Mongolia is in the midst of a “gold rush” that has brought everyone from nomads to taxi drivers to pan for gold in a handful of settlements in the middle of a desolate mountain range near the Chinese border.
Up to 100,000 prospectors have arrived from Ulan Bator, and a lot of the gold they find ends up on the black market, according to the Guardian.
At the behest of a Russian mining firm operating in the area, Mongolian police have cracked down on the illegal miners with arbitrary arrests and widespread abuse.
The industry is growing the Mongolian economy at a rate of 7 percent a year — but some officials worry about the mercury pollution that has resulted.
Corruption and wealth disparities are also on the rise.
“Small hands in mining”
Latinamerica Press, October 11, 2007
“Gold-mining giants leave Africa to clear up mess: report”
Agence France-Presse, October 9, 2007
“Peru: Joining forces to save the Mantaro river”
Inter Press Service, October 9, 2007
“Prospectors and ‘ninja’ miners flood to east’s El Dorado”
Guardian (U.K.), October 10, 2007
* U.S. Water Pollution Laws Routinely Flouted: Report
For years, U.S. municipal governments, corporations, and even the EPA have circumvented Clean Water Act safeguards against industrial pollution.
More than half of all city wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities in the United States exceeded pollution limits, according to a national report released last week by the activist group U.S. PIRG.
Fifty-seven percent of the 3,600 major facilities violated the Clean Water Act by dumping cyanide, mercury, coliform and other pollutants at least once in 2005 — and California is in the “top ten” list of violators.
Environmentalists say the EPA has been lax in enforcing the law, which in its defense says it continues to fine violators.
But questions persist as to whether a simple fine is enough to get a facility to clean up — and whether the agency itself is serious about enforcement.
The EPA may grant a request by San Diego to avoid upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and exemption that would save the city $1.5 billion over the next five years, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The city’s Point Loma wastewater plant is the largest in the country that does not meet Clean Water Act standards for oceanbound effluent, and is in line for its third compliance waiver.
Carlota Copper in Arizona may not be so lucky.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the company would have to clean up all the pollution it created during previous operations along Pinto Creek, in Arizona, before opening a new mine.
Pinto Creek is already listed under the Clean Water Act because of a legacy of copper mining; according to the Associated Press, the company had offered to clean up the discharge from one defunct mine in the area to compensate for their own anticipated pollution.
The court invalidated that logic, and ruled that the EPA should never have issued the permit in the first place.
In Gary, Indiana, environmental lawyers and former federal regulators are raising an alarm over a steel mill wastewater permit that does not restrict any toxic materials the company is proposing to dump in the Grand Calumet River.
The permit, issued to U.S. Steel by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, requires only that the company report how much benzene, lead, arsenic, oil and grease it intends to dump.
The permit also “relaxes” the limit on chromium, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The company, known for being the biggest polluter in the Lake Michigan basin, is not the only recipient of such favorable treatment in Indiana
The Environmental Management Department also provoked controversy earlier this year when it allowed a nearby BP refinery to increase its pollution discharge into Lake Michigan.
“Pollution pouring into nation’s waters far beyond legal limits”
San Francisco Chronicle, October 12, 2007
“Indiana seeks to ease rules for lake polluter”
Chicago Tribune, October 12, 2007
“Report: Plant shows no ‘adverse impacts'”
San Diego Union-Tribune, October 11, 2007
“Ariz.: appeals court tosses permit”
Associated Press, October 5, 2007
* Dissent Crackdown Deepens
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government is in the midst of an unprecedented crackdown on civilians, criminals and dissenters.
Experts suggest that the government is afraid a recent economic downturn will breed unrest across the country, and has resolved to “govern by fear.”
At least 60 criminals convicted of murder, rape, drug trafficking or abduction have been convicted and hung since May, including 21 people on one day alone, reports the World Press Review.
International human rights campaigners believe the trials are rigged, while the executions are carefully filmed and uploaded to the Web for all Iranians to see — some suggest as cautionary tales engineered by the state.
Iranian police have also detaining about 122,000 people since April, most of them women, for flouting the Islamic dress code, according to All Headline News.
Another 7,000 people were obliged to take workshops on respecting the rules instituted by Ahmadinejad’s government, which include restrictions on Western-style haircuts and clothing, as well as on alcohol and social gatherings between unrelated people of both sexes.
Dissenters are still outwardly tolerated in Iran — a group of 100 university students recently held a protest during a lecture by Ahmadinejad, calling him a “dictator” — but their power is nonexistent.
The Independent reports that reformist students are now forced to conduct their meetings in secret, while “hardline” militant student Ahmadinejad supporters have greater numbers and a stronger voice than ever before.
American efforts to counter this crackdown have not been effective, reports Agence France-Presse.
Last week, a coalition of 26 Iranian-American groups, led by the National Iranian American Council, asked the U.S. government to discontinue its funding program for pro-democracy groups in Iran.
Rather than fuel effective dissent against Ahmadinejad, the $75 million program has instead “made all Iranian NGOs targets and put them at great risk,” said a coalition leader, by giving the Iranian government an excuse to arrest would-be dissenters.
“Public executions signal new wave of suppression”
WorldPress.org, October 9, 2007
“Groups call for cut in U.S. Iran democracy funding”
Agence France-Presse, October 11, 2007
“Iran police warn 122,000 people about ‘un-Islamic’ dress”
AHN (U.S.), October 11, 2007
“Iranian students clash with police during protest against Ahmadinejad”
Independent (U.K), October 9, 2007
Editors: Julia Scott, Josh Wilson
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