Newscast for Thursday, January 24, 2013

  • Washington DC police failed in response to sexual assault cases, report finds
  • As Secretary of State, John Kerry could play key role in Keystone XL Pipeline decision
  • Europe’s small farmers say Parliament’s agriculture plan doesn’t do enough to protect environment, organic practices
  • Ancient Palestinian village seeks UNESCO recognition as Israel plans barrier on site
  • Health care unions unite ahead of decision on representation by California workers

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Aboriginal Chief ends hunger strike in Canada

In Canada today, aboriginal Chief Theresa Spence is ending her hunger strike after more than 40 days of eating nothing but fish broth. Spence has been protesting policies of the Canadian government in the capital. FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff has the story.

From her encampment on Victoria Island in Ottawa, Chief of the Cree Attawapiskat First Nation, Theresa Spence, announced Wednesday she would call off her hunger strike today. Spence decided to end her strike after many of her political demands were officially endorsed by the opposition parties in Parliament. Those demands include improving sub-standard housing in many First Nations communities, and continuing to push for a meeting between First Nations leaders, the Prime Minister, and the Governor General, the representative of the British Crown in Canada. However, the Aboriginal People’s Television Network reported today that Spence would not attend the ceremony today marking the end of her strike because she is in an Ottawa hospital receiving medical attention. Aaron Lakoff, FSRN, Montreal.

Tuareg group splinters from Mali militants, calls for ceasefire

A newly-formed band of Tuareg rebels in northern Mali is distancing itself from Al Qaeda-linked militants and is requesting talks with the central government.  According to the Guardian, leaders have rejected terrorism and extremism and are calling for a ceasefire. French, African and Malian troops are reportedly preparing to launch a major operation aimed at pushing the militants out of controlled territories in the Sahara. An international coalition of human rights groups today said it has been getting reports of summary executions and human rights abuses carried out by Malian government troops. The groups are calling for an investigation.

Indian commission blames government policies for epidemic of sexual assault

The trial of five men in India accused of gang raping and murdering a woman on a New Delhi bus continued today. A special court has been created to expedite the case that has caused outrage in India and around the world. It’s also pushed the Indian government to examine its own policies and official conduct that many say turns a blind eye to the issue of sexual assault. FSRN’s Prabhakar Mani Tewari reports.

A report released Wednesday night by a three-member committee slammed the government and senior officials’ response to the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in the national capital on December 16th. The report says the root cause of crime against women is the government’s failure to implement existing laws.  Former Chief Justice J.S.  Verma, who headed the review panel, also strongly criticized police apathy and called for reforms. “I was shocked to see soon after the incident, the police commissioner being patted for prompt action by no less than the Home Secretary. I was so shocked to see that as a citizen.” The government formed the review committee to suggest changes to criminal law that would provide strict punishment for those involved in sex-related crimes. Since the attack, there have been calls across India for rape to be punishable by death. But the review panel instead advocated for life imprisonment to be the maximum sentence for these crimes. Meanwhile, the judge presiding over the gang rape case today barred lawyers from speaking to the press, and turned down requests that the media be briefed on progress. Prabhakar Mani Tewari, FSRN, Kolkata.

UN drone inquiry launched

The UN officially launched an inquiry into the growing international use of drones today. The head of the inquiry, UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, told reporters that investigators will examine 25 attacks in five places – including Pakistan, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. “To look at the evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct thorough, independent and impartial investigations.” Emmerson said the inquiry would not focus solely on the US, even though most drone launches are believed to come from or be supported by the US military.

US military to allow women in combat roles

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced today the Pentagon will ease its ban on women preforming in combat rolls. “Everyone – men and women alike – everyone is committed to doing the job. They’re fighting and they’re dying together. And the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality.” Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey signed a memo removing the direct ground combat exclusion rule for women put in place in 1994. They also pledged to “eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.” Some have argued that lifting the ban on women in combat positions will help decrease sexual assault in the military by creating a more equality in the ranks.



Washington DC police failed in response to sexual assault cases, report finds

As sexual assault and rape continues to affect millions of people across the globe, a new report finds police in the nation’s Capital are failing to investigate these crimes. Human Rights Watch spent three years interviewing survivors, hospital staff and counselors in Washington, DC as well as analyzing police and hospital records. The group found that an estimated 40 percent of sexual assault reports at one hospital were not “documented or properly investigated.” Sarah Darehshori is one of the report’s authors.

“One of our overall concerns was that, prior to our notifying the department of our findings, sexually assault unit detectives received no training in sexual assault cases before they joined the sexual assault unit. There are no—the entire detective training program only included some training on the definition of sex abuse in DC. There was no systematic training for the um, people on the ground, the patrol officers on assaults. No training on trauma interviewing techniques. Basically, all the training was on the job.”

Sexual assault survivors told Human Rights Watch they felt the police were skeptical of their accounts, creating an environment where they didn’t feel safe to share details of the crime.

“I started to feel like a victim because of my interactions with police. They didn’t believe me, they made me feel ashamed for questioning them. They—they made me question myself and what happened. How—they made me feel like I was making something up, when all I was trying to do was tell them what happened so it could be reported accurately so that it wouldn’t happen again.”

Human Rights Watch is calling on the department to acknowledge the past problems and hold those involved accountable. The group’s Darehshori says she’d also like to see the creation of an external review process for the department’s sexual assault unit, which she says has worked well in Philadelphia and other cities. The DC Metropolitan Police department criticized the report, saying it used “flawed methodology” and “makes sweeping allegations that are not backed by facts.” Human rights advocates are also calling on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act after it failed to do so last month. The act, which expired in 2011, funds community and law enforcement programs to help sexual assault survivors.

As Secretary of State, John Kerry could play key role in Keystone XL Pipeline decision

In Washington today, President Obama made two key cabinet choices that will impact how big banks and SuperPACs are regulated in his second term. The President tapped Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, and re-nominated Richard Cordray for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The cabinet staffing process also moved forward on Capitol Hill, where Senators questioned one of the President’s most prominent picks: Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, the nominee for Secretary of State. If confirmed, Kerry would face major diplomatic decisions ranging from Iran’s nuclear power program and the Middle East peace process to free trade agreements and the Keystone XL pipeline. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more.

Europe’s small farmers say Parliament’s agriculture plan doesn’t do enough to protect environment, organic practices

Today, the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development approved a plan could have lasting effects on the region’s farms and food production for the next decade. But small and organic farmers and environmentalists say the plan, known as the Common Agricultural Policy or CAP, doesn’t do enough to promote green measures, such as crop rotation and diversification. They say it also reduces the amount of land required to be protected as ecological zones. For more, we’re joined by Stanka Becheva, food and agriculture campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, she’s also part of the Good Food, Good Farming Campaign and joins us from Brussels.

Ancient Palestinian village seeks UNESCO recognition as Israel plans barrier on site

The Palestinian Authority is preparing to submit an application to UNESCO recommending the nomination of the small, ancient village of Battir as a World Heritage Site. This would be the second World Heritage listing after a successful nomination of Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity last June. Located in the West Bank, Battir is known for its agricultural terraces and roman-era ruins. But Israeli officials plan to erect a barrier through the area, which cultural experts say would threaten this sensitive site. FSRN’s Lena Odgaard reports.

Health care unions unite ahead of decision on representation by California workers

The nation’s largest nurses union and the fastest growing healthcare workers union are joining forces in what they say is an effort to fight for higher labor standards in the healthcare industry. The first-of-its-kind healthcare union affiliation comes as Kaiser Permanente workers in California prepare to decide on which union will represent them. FSRN’s Max Pringle reports.

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