If you can’t beat ‘em, regulate ‘em -- that’s the Indian Supreme Court’s take on the country’s illegal sex trade.
The court’s advice came in response to an NGO’s public litigation regarding child trafficking in the country. As of 2007, UNICEF estimates 2.4 million Indians were HIV-positive (with the high estimate ranging up to 3.2 million). The sex trade is at the center of the epidemic: reportedly, a young prostitute can charge a customer just over $2, while an older woman will only receive about 65 cents – and that figure usually drops if the prostitute demands the use of a condom. And the youngest girls in the trade, forced into prostitution before 15, are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus – they work longer hours, serve more clients, and are more likely to work in multiple brothels.
A UNAIDS report issued a couple of weeks ago reports that efforts to control the spread of HIV has been effective, with HIV prevalence among female sex workers declining by more than half, from 10.3 percent to 4.9 percent, between 2003 and 2006. Still, as the court points out, there are an estimated 2 million female sex workers, and legalization would allow monitoring of the trade and further provision of medical aid.
As the judges asked, "When you say it is the world's oldest profession and you are not able to curb it by laws, why don't you legalise it?"
Photo: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
In an unusual turn of events, a Russian court has overturned the result of a mayoral election in the city of Derbent. Reportedly, riot police used tear gas and shot at voters, preventing them from entering polling stations. Threats were made to local election officials, frightening them enough that more than a third of the polling stations never opened.
The St. Petersburg Times reports that it is "extremely rare" for an election to be overturned, and that in the past cases, judicial interventions were seen as Kremlin machinations to oust successful opposition candidates. That makes the current decision even more noteworthy, since the incumbent, a member of the dominant United Russia party (UR), officially carried the election with 67.52 percent of the vote.
It's worth asking if the case is linked to a power struggle between Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, who, in the 2012 elections, will be eligible to run for a third term as president. There has been growing speculation about a possible rift between the two men, even though Medvedev has said that he and his former political guardian would "agree on how not to elbow each other out and make a decision that is useful for the country."
Vanity Fair dubbed Putin the world's most influential person in 2007; Forbes puts him at #3 in 2009, topped only by Hu Jintao and Obama. UR is Putin's powerbase - after stepping down as president, he became the party's chairman. And it's a powerful group indeed, controlling 70 percent of the parliament's seats and exerting enormous influence on the country.
Putin handpicked Medvedev as his successor, tying him inextricably to UR. But since coming to office, Medvedev has also consolidated his own supporters, replacing officials appointed by Putin with his own men and women. And this court decision comes just days after Medvedev sharply addressed the UR's 11th Congress, making clear allusions to electoral fraud: "Sadly, some regional divisions of United Russia. . . show signs of backwardness and concentrate their political activity on intrigues and games within the apparatus," he said. That intrigue will no longer be tolerated, he suggested, saying "such people need to go, as do some other political customs."
But Medvedev's track record doesn't scream "liberal democrat!" The best indication of what to expect in 2012 might be Putin's take on elections in general, as he phrased it back in 1998. "One has to be insincere and promise something which you cannot fulfill," he said. "So you either have to be a fool who does not understand what you are promising, or deliberately be lying."
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Fazal Haque Qureshi, the senior-most Kashmiri separatist leader and an executive member of the moderate separatist Hurriyat Conference, has been shot in the head today by guerrillas and is in "very critical" condition. The shooting comes just two days after India's home minister announced the possibility of taking the "risky step" of withdrawing a "significant" number of Indian troops from the region. On multiple occassions, violence has derailed diplomatic efforts. Just over a year ago, a coordinated series of shootings in Mumbai resulted in the murder of 166 civilians; a number of analysts argued that attack was an effort by extremists seeking to stop any improvement in relations between India and Pakistan.
Demilitarization of the contested region has been one of the most consistent demands of the separatists. But it's not something to bank on, said Teresita Schaffer, the director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an interview with FP:
The Indian government is going to be wary of troop withdrawals unless they see movement on the Pakistani side, and unless they also see a return to the previous low levels of infiltration...if you're wondering whether there's a serious commitment to accommodate Kashmiri desires in Kahmir on the part of the government of India, I would qualify that very heavily. I think they would very much like to reach a state of affairs where Kashmiris were willing to participate in elections, and became somewhat more content with being ruled by India. They are not prepared to make major changes in policy in the attempt."
The implications of today's shooting for the ongoing Indian-Kashmiri talks depend on the separatists' reaction, Shaffer concluded. Here's hoping that the negotiations proceed apace - it's a conflict with stakes as high as they come.
Photo: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
It was reported last week that attacks on and kidnappings of aid workers in Chad have caused six aid organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend operations there. Undeterred, this morning the top U.N. official in Chad announced "positive signs on the horizon," predicting increased peace and stabilization in the country.
This isn't the first time violence has driven away aid groups: in May, 2008, the head of the Eastern Chad mission of British aid organization Save the Children was shot and killed. At first, the organization announced that it would continue working in the country, but five months after the killing ultimately decided to leave.
At this point, the situation doesn't seem that dire with regards to the ICRC: In an interview, Bernard Barrett, an ICRC spokesman, said, "We're not pulling out totally. We're suspending some activities -- we're maintaining life-saving services, particularly medical services." The organization's other work in Chad ranges from water sanitation projects to animal vaccinations; hardly trivial work, particularly given the persistent lack of food security. As far as resuming these activities, Barrett reports a wait-and-see scenario. "Once we've obtained the release of our delegate who was kidnapped, at that point we'll be able to ascertain the security situation," he says.
Chad is a country in dire need of help. Last May, Doctors Without Borders led the effort to combat an outbreak of meningitis, immunizing 7.5 million people in the region. DWB is another organization that has been driven to suspend operations in Chad because of the recent violence. It's terrible to contemplate how many deaths might have resulted from the 65,000 cases of infection in and around Chad had DWB left just six months earlier.
The violence that has hindered desperately needed assistance ultimately stems from poor governance, said Richard Downie in an interview with FP. According to Downie, a fellow with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Until you have credible political parties and some sort of civil society developing, it's hard to see the long-term prospects of Chad looking bright."
That sort of civil society seems a ways off. Chad ranks 173 out of the 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, just three spots up from Afghanistan. And the country's heavily oil-dependent economy has only reinforced the political maladies that accompany "the devil's excrement."
It's tough to avoid Downie's conclusion: "I don't see a long-term solution to what's going on in Chad at the moment without much more engagement from the international community."
Photo: FRANCESCO FONTEMAGGI/AFP/Getty Images
Today, The Telegraph reported that Herman Van Rompuy, current Prime Minister of Belgium and "the new front-runner to be the first EU President," is looking to institute a European anthem. Van Rompuy could pull ideas from the EU's website, which nobly proclaims its aims as "Peace, prosperity and freedom for its 498 million citizens -- in a fairer, safer world." Or he might look to the Treaty of Lisbon; "Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law." These are the sorts of airy proclamations that are grist for a modern-day anthem.
But Van Rompuy may have to edit some member-states' anthems if he wants harmony across the Union. Germany already moved in the right direction, having dropped the infamous "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles/Über alles in der Welt," a couplet that doesn't quite smack of an all-for-one ethos.
Above all, countries just don't have the taste of peace: "March! March, Dabrowski! March from Italy to Poland!" enjoins the Polish anthem.
"To arms, to arms/On land and sea!" exclaims Portugal.
"Soldiers are we..." begins the Irish anthem.
"...in our hearts forever we glorify a name/Resounding of battle, the name of gallant Trajan," chant Romanians.
Photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
"Some people get the giggles after using cannabis -- you may laugh at the most random things" cautions "FRANK," the UK's anti-drug website. Despite declining drug use in the country, in January the British government changed marijuana's classification from a "Class C" to a "Class B" drug; possession now carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, while dealing can get you 14 years in jail.
Professor David Nutt, formerly a member of the UK's independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, was fired for publicly disputing the decision; five other members of the 31-person Council have since resigned in protest of the politically-motivated firing. In a lecture (later published), Nutt argued that the use of illicit drugs like marijuana and ecstasy poses less severe health risks than the use of alcohol or tobacco. Nutt has also equated the dangers of ecstasy use and the risks of horseback riding.
Nutt's firing and the subsequent resignations have caused quite a political row, with politicians and scientists making pointed attacks on home secretary Alan Johnson, who gave Nutt the axe. "Your leader on drugs policy is long on righteous indignation but short on logic" wrote Johnson in a defensive letter published in The Guardian.
Nutt fired back in a column published in The Telegraph, writing, "Some politicians find it easier to ignore the evidence, and pander to public prejudice instead."
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A World Bank research paper posted today finds that countries with a high proportion of young males with low levels of secondary education are significantly more conflict-prone. The combination of these "youth bulges" and low rates of secondary education is especially likely to lead to conflict in low- and middle-income countries, the authors also report. The findings focus particularly on Sub-Saharan Africa, as "the continent with the largest youth cohorts and the lowest levels of male secondary education, scoring on average nearly 30 percentage points lower than the world average."
Countries outside of the region also call for concern. In Syria, for example, males 14 years old and younger make up nearly 20 percent of the population. Only 39.1 percent of secondary school-aged students are enrolled in school, making it the 101st lowest-ranking country of 135 surveyed. In the long run, Syria is facing declining oil production and rapid population growth - a recipe for violent unrest.
The policy implications are clear. Programs that focus on primary education, like the U.N.'s Education for All and Millennium Development Goals programs are important (after all, students have to read and write before they can pursue secondary schooling), but there must be more support for programs like the World Bank's own Secondary Education in Africa initiative.
The total cost of a secondary education in Kenya is estimated at $6,865. A 2007 Oxfam report found that on average a "war, civil war, or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 percent," and conflict causes the continent to lose about $18 billion a year. You do the math.
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The Pakistani military reported that they entered and largely cleared the "Taliban headquarters" in South Waziristan today. The reported success is part of a large-scale offensive in the region, which is a stronghold of Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani Taliban factions drawn together under the leadership of (the recently-killed) Baitullah Mehsud. The "headquarters" referred to is the town of Makeen, which had been Mehsud's hometown.
How important is it to clear Taliban headquarters, whether in Waziristan or Balochistan? In an interview with FP, Sameer Lalwani, a research fellow at the New America Foundation, argues the answer largely depends on what comes next:
[Makeen] might have been the center of TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan] organization, but I suspect that at some level, ‘headquarters' doesn't mean as much to an insurgency that's able to melt away and reappear down the road at different locations and continue operations... it certainly disrupts the organization of the group. [But] it's a very fluid network, they have alliances with other neighboring tribes, they're able to parlay their way, probably, for a safe haven within Afghanistan, or in the mountains, for a period of time.
So, it really depends on what the follow-up operations are.... I think this is one of the biggest demonstrations of Pakistani commitment, in their ground invasion of South Waziristan, and the most targeted, and probably one of the stronger efforts we've seen in recent years, but I'd still be apprehensive to say this is a categorical success, even [having] secured a few militant strongholds and, I guess, the center of operations, because the real question becomes ‘how long can they hold it?'"
The Taliban certainly isn't handing the territory off. Responding to Pakistan's recent military successes, a Taliban spokesman said simply, "We are prepared for a long war."
Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
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