2008 in Review: Top NYMHM Issues

Our look back at 2008’s top NYMHM issues continues. These topics do appear in the commercial press, but only NYMHM delivers systematic, diverse and ground-level coverage, compared to the usual mass-media gloss.

These and other core topics will be coming up repeatedly in 2009, so keep an eye on News You Might Have Missed as we deepen our coverage, and our service to you, the reader.

Contents & Summaries

* WATER: As droughts and pollution deepen, the push for privatization os met with public-water campaigns around the world.

* FORESTS: Deforestation slowed a bit, but tree-planting programs are offset by growing populations and a ravenous appetite for new farmland in the developing world.

* GAY & LESBIAN: California’s Prop. 8 is 2008’s biggest flashpoint for civil rights and sexuality, but the story goes deeper with a new type of retirement home, a gay Muslim refugee and a new Vatican policy.

* INDIGENOUS PEOPLES: Equipped with U.N. resolutions and increasing political power, indigenous communities grappled in the courts and on the ground with issues around land, mining and civil rights.

* WAR CRIMES: The world is full of ghosts and memories of 20th century war crimes. Some of them are still alive, and on the run.

Water | top

Access to clean water is one of the defining issues of the 21st century, and while the problem is global, much of the action is playing out at the community level.

Drought is only deepening in Australia and Ukraine. In China, shortages caused by drought and heavy use are profound — the Yellow River rarely reaches the sea anymore, and the Yangtze dropped to a 140-year low last January, according to reports.

Add pollution to the mix, and you have a burgeoning crisis for vulnerable populations in the developing world and beyond.

Advocates say market forces will effectively deliver clean water to those most in need; some tout the concept of “virtual water” as a means of facilitating water importing and exporting at the national scale.

Yet privatization and the water industry has met fierce opposition in communities worldwide, as activists demand access to water as a human right, not a business opportunity.

Toronto is one of a number of cities that has banned the use of bottled water; in California, the state took exception to a Nestle water bottling plant, while one small coastal community evicted an international conglomerate from its water system by threatening an eminent domain lawsuit.

Elsewhere, Mali, Uruguay and Bolivia are reverting to public water systems, while in France dozens of cities are taking similar steps at the local level.


“Bottled Water May Be Tapped out in Toronto”
Sept. 10, 2008

“California may Sue Nestle over Water Plan”
Aug. 6, 2008

“A Grassroots Water Grab in California”
Jul. 24, 2008

“Pumped up for Public Water”
Jul. 2, 2008

“Drought Persists Down Under”
May 8, 2008

“Virtual water and real thirst”
Apr. 23, 2008

Forests | top

The good news, as such things are reckoned, is that a recent U.N. study found a net loss of 7.3 million forest hectares worldwide in 2005, down from 8.9 million hectares in the 1990s.

Yet massive, government-led reforestation programs around the world are often met by persistent destruction at the grassroots.

Burkina Faso exemplifies the problem, in miniature. A government program there to reforest lands in the sub-Saharan region aims to plant nine million new trees — yet two-thirds of the nation’s forests have been cleared for agriculture, and growing populations are increasing the pressure for more farming.

Overgrazing and illegal timber-cutting are also to blame, according to reports.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, a genetic experiment to study tree reproduction was disrupted when activists broke into a research compound and cut down 20 pine trees, to protest what they called lax security around potentially harmful research.


“It Takes a Tree to Save a Village”
July 31, 2008

“For Forests Under Fire, a Slight Return”
Jul. 2, 2008

“Genetically Engineered Trees Cut Down”
Jan. 24, 2008

Gay & Lesbian | top

Struggles around human rights and sexuality achieved a high profile in 2008, with Prop. 8 in California capturing the bulk of the headlines.

Worldwide, the issue saw plenty of give-and-take. In Australia, advocates cheered the establishment of the nation’s first gay- and lesbian-focused retirement home.

Elsewhere, a gay Muslim seeking asylum in Britain became a flashpoint of controversy, while the Vatican quietly introduced a psychological screening program to prevent homosexuals from entering the priesthood.


“Australia Breaks Ground on Gay Retirement Home”
Aug. 21, 2008

“Gay Muslims Seek Political Asylum in Britain”
Mar. 19, 2008

“Vatican Says Screenings Will Prevent Gays in Priesthood”
Nov. 5, 2008

Indigenous Peoples | top

Control of natural resources, language, education, access to traditional lands — these are just a few of the issues that indigenous activists rallied around in 2008.

Armed with a U.N. declaration affirming a variety of rights around these topics, advocacy groups started last year with a push for greater legal protections.

This comes at a time for rising political fortunes for leftists in Bolivia and Ecuador, who successfully harnessed the indigenous vote.

And in Brazil, activists won a Supreme Court case that affirmed the land rights of tribal communities living in the northern Amazon region.

In Guatemala, however, an leftist advocate for Mayans opposed to large-scale mining in their communities was found beaten and hacked to death.

Advocates also said that the attention paid to endangered animal species, such as polar bears, has overshadowed media coverage of endangered tribal communities, such as Indonesia’s Orang Rimba people, who claim they are being driven off their lands by illegal logging.


“In South America, Land Rights go Native”
Sept. 3, 2008

“Save the (Native) Humans”
Aug. 14, 2008

“Indigenous Rights Wend a Legal Labyrinth”
Jan. 24, 2008

War Crimes | top

The world is full of ghosts and memories of the many war crimes enacted during the last part of the 20th century.

But the issues and people behind the violence remain very much alive.

In the Balkans, the high-profile arrest of former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic, who helped spearhead the region’s genocidal civil wars, brought additional pressure to arrest other, less-well-known Serb leaders who remain on the run.

One reader commented on the Newsdesk.org Web site that Croats and Bosniaks are also to blame, and that a focus on Serbs is one-sided.

Targeting Rwanda, Spain indicted 40 Army officers as well as Rwandan President Paul Kagame over the killing of aid workers in the 1990s — charges that Kagame fiercely rejected.

In Chile, investigations, monument-building and legal action continue to struggle with the legacy of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 17-year rule was marked by repression and the disappearance of thousands of political activists.

In May of last year, the government arrested 98 military and police personnel, most of whom had been lower-level functionaries during the Pinochet era.

The Philippines, meanwhile, saw new legislation calling for reparations for “comfort women” held in sexual captivity by Japanese occupiers during World War II.

The measure, which passed unanimously, was met with concern by the nation’s foreign office, which said reparations were already dealt with in previous treaties.

However, an official said the government had no opposition to private claims of “sexual slavery” sought against Japan.


“On the Run: Accused Balkan War Criminals Remain at Large”
Jul. 24, 2008

“Pinochet’s Ghost Still Haunts Chile”
Jul. 31, 2008

“Rwandan President Disputes Spanish Indictments”
Apr. 2, 2008

“New Reparations Call for Philippine ‘Comfort Women'”
Mar. 13, 2008

By Will Crain, Julia Hengst, John Hornberg, T.J. Johnston and Lauren Riggs. Editing, proofreading and summaries by Josh Wilson.

One thought on “2008 in Review: Top NYMHM Issues

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