LGBT Progress Overshadowed by Abuses

United Nations general assembly hall

United Nations general assembly hall

NEW YORK - The second report ever released by the United Nations on protecting LGBT rights was published today by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report outlines steps for governments to take in stopping LGBT discrimination.

There are 80 countries in the world today that criminalize consensual same-sex relations. The punishments vary, including prison sentences, torture, and the death penalty.

The report represents the gradual progress being made by governments in protecting LGBT people around the world. Since the first report released in 2011, 14 countries have adopted or strengthened laws that protect LGBT rights. These changes often extended protection of sexual orientation, gender identity and introduced legal protections for intersex persons.

But it is clear that the progress is overshadowed by abuse. The report states that “since 2011, hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more injured in brutal, violent attacks” because of their LGBT identity.

This violence is in part fueled by anti-LGBT rhetoric issued by regional, national, and international leaders.

In May the president of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh at a rally said that he would “slit the throats of gay men” in the West African nation. In 2014, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, said that gay people were “disgusting” after being asked if he personally disliked homosexuals in a BBC interview.

Even in 2012, the Nobel peace prize winner and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, defended the current law that criminalizes homosexual acts by saying, “We like ourselves just the way we are.”

Although these leaders have not changed their opinion on supporting legislation that criminalizes LGBT persons, the UN report published today is meant to outline international obligations that leaders like these have in protecting their LGBT citizens.

The report outlined five standards and obligations that every state has in protecting the human rights of LGBT persons.

The report calls on countries to protect LGBT individuals from violence, torture and ill-treatment. This includes condemning “conversion” therapy for LGBT persons, forced and otherwise involuntary sterilization and treatment performed on intersex children.

The report also demands states to “decriminalize homosexuality and to repeal other laws used to punish individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

States also have the “obligation to address discrimination against children and young persons who identify or are perceived as LGBT or intersex.” This means that states are obligated to protect children in schools from harassment, bullying, and in addition to protecting all LGBT people from lack of access to health information and services.

The report also outlined the obligation that countries have to “protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to take part in the conduct of public affairs.” This means that states must protect the rights of LGBT persons and LGBT allies to assemble and advocate for their rights.

In much of the world these standards and obligations are not followed and support for LGBT rights is often cited as a western construct meant to destroy autonomy and “traditional cultural values” that exist in sovereign nations.

However the United Nations has made it clear once again that this view is not acceptable.

The report states that “All human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protection of international human rights law.”

Contributing Editor: @AustinBryan
LinkedIn: Austin Drake Bryan

Human Trials to Test Ebola Vaccine Begin

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Institute of Health (NIH) has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin human testing of a new Ebola vaccine. This will be welcome news for the millions of Americans who now face the very real possibility of encountering someone with the disease or contracting it themselves.

Currently, 357 people are being monitored in New York for possible exposure to the deadly virus, and Texas which was the epicenter for the first mortality from Ebola in the U.S. has been declared Ebola free.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "Nine people have been treated in the U.S. for Ebola, including Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who died last month. One doctor, Craig Spencer, remains hospitalized in stable condition in New York."

The vaccine is undergoing a "human safety trial," which means it will be tested on "healthy human subjects to evaluate the immune response, identify any side effects and determine the appropriate dosage." (Source: NewLink Genetics)

The vaccine was developed by the pharmaceutical company Glaxosmithkline and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and is one of several being developed worldwide.

Earlier in the outbreak, the drug Zmapp was administered to seven aid workers. Five of the workers survived, though it's unclear how large a role the drug played in their survival. Due to the emergency status of the outbreak, treatments are not being monitored and tested as thoroughly as they would be if there was more time. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted an $24.9 million 18-month contract with the manufacturer of Zmapp to expedite the development process.

VSV-EBOV is another experimental vaccine for the Ebola filovirus, developed by scientists at the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory and is currently being tested in clinical trials in the U.S. at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md. This vaccination purportedly does not induce any fever or other symptoms of illness. There is also evidence that this type of vaccine which can be administered orally or intranassaly as nose-drops may have potential as a treatment for those already infected. (Source: Wikipedia)

In Canada, permission has been granted for the vaccine VSV EBOV to be sent to Africa, but problems such as refrigeration during transport and storage have come up. Many of the villages that are most in need are in remote areas with bad roads, infrequent electricity, and and treatment is further hindered by the citizens mistrust of new technologies. It's clear that while developing a vaccine is an enormous step forward in the Ebola fight, there are still many political and practical obstacles to overcome.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski

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WHO, West African Ministers of Health Develop Ebola Strategy

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Sarah Joanne Jakubowski, Ghana CorrespondentLast Modified: 13:50 p.m. DST, 07 July 2014

Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Photo by Photo by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

ACCRA, Ghana -- Last week an Emergency Ministerial Meeting was held in Accra to discuss the growing Ebola epidemic.

The disease, which can have up to a 90% fatality rate, started in rural Guinea then spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Without intervention, it will continue its international invasion.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the proposed strategy to treat, control and prevent Ebola will cost $10 million and would need to be put into place within the next six months.

Representatives called on the African Union and The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the funds.

The plan would set up an Ebola treatment and research center in Guinea as well as smaller centers in other affected areas. Funds will go to training and deploying staff, providing medical equipment and supplies to affected or at-risk regions and educating the public.

An emphasis was placed on research, both to develop treatments and cures and also social research to gauge public understanding and reaction to the disease. However, Africa's research facilities were described as "weak" and a request for global collaboration among scientists was issued.

When asked if border control was a viable solution to control the spread of the disease, the idea of country-wide quarantines was shot down.

Ministry of Health & Social Welfare (MOHSW) Liberia explained that there were so many border crossing points it would be impractical to watch all of them. The Minister went on to say that while his country was able to stop several travelers who were carrying the disease, there were many false positives and possibly cases where infected travelers were not yet showing symptoms and so got through. A key problem was that Ebola can incubate unnoticed for up to 21-days in a seemingly healthy person.

Some traditional practices can help spread diseases, and doctors across the region are urging people to seek assistance from trained doctors or one of the international organizations that are on the ground providing help, education, and intervention. Organizations such as UNICEF Liberia, The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Medicins Sans Frontieres.

These organizations in conjunction with local doctors and government health officials urged all West African citizens to take precautions when handling the sick and deceased. Practices involving delayed burials and prolonged contact with the dead facilitate disease spread.

"People don't know what they're dealing with" explained, emphasizing the need to especially educate churches, those whose jobs involve handling the dead, as well as the need to educate family members about Ebola so that the sick can seek immediate treatment to avoid infecting others.

This is a very urgent issue, and though citizens in the West may feel that they are immune from this disease, it takes just one person to breach the borders of any Asia, Middle East, European Union, or North/South American countries for the deadly virus to become a global pandemic.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @SJJakubowski

Ebola Outbreak Foretells of its Resurgence

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 01:28 a.m. DST, 28 March 2014

Man on Floor of Hut, Guinea, West Africa, Photo by Dawid

WEST AFRICA -- While the animals that play host to the Ebola haemorrhagic fever (EHF) rarely show warning signs of contamination, the same cannot be said for the humans infected with the virus. In three West African countries, the outbreak continues to manifest in the form of rashes, bruises, bleeding, muscle pain and widespread fear. For those infected, these ailments will later compound with more serious internal indicators, including blood clotting, organ failure, seizure and coma.

The process of diagnosis is a difficult one, given the analogous traits of the Ebola virus and Marburg virus disease (MVD). Another confounding variable in the effort to contain the spread of Ebola is the relatively long incubation period of the deadly viral agent, estimated at about two weeks. This makes it nearly impossible for officials and doctors to estimate the size and the scope of the threat.

But some statistics are widely accepted in the international community. At least 63 deaths have been linked to the Ebola outbreak since the virus materialized in Guinea last month. This week, neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone have both attributed deaths to Ebola. The medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, known as Doctors Without Borders in the English speaking world, is actively combatting the lethal contagion with increased medical provisions and treatment centers.

There is hope for the future of Ebola treatment. In clinical studies, a vaccine has proved effective in safeguarding mice from the virus. Another test drug has successfully immunized primates that would otherwise traffic the disease across vast regions. Researchers name fruit bats and primates as the disease's primary carrier, and recently warned against the consumption of these animals, which are dietary staples in some communities.

Since Ebola was first recognized in Zaire and Sudan in 1976, outbreaks have occurred regularly in remote African communities that are home to tropical environments. The disease has claimed over 2,000 lives over the past 40 years. While the efforts of local officials and doctors, international aid programs and medical volunteers should be commended, we should also acknowledge that food security poses a larger threat to those living in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, many times over.

Across the globe, six million people will die this year alone due to starvation and hunger related illnesses. It will do little good to discuss the Ebola threat without examining the continued risk of malnourishment in the impacted regions. Food security remains an underreported serial killer in Africa and across the world. Rural, impoverished areas that win the war against Ebola will still face the reality of food insecurity in the months following the current media attention.

Gender inequity, violence, food provisions and medicine are interwoven issues, and it does little good to magnify one issue to such a degree that the others are left out of the snapshot. And sadly, the discrimination against women and single-parent families will continue to threaten the health and wholeness of Africa and the globe. A perspective that highlights the interplay between the short-term Ebola danger and the ongoing discussion of human rights progress will be more advantageous towards lasting change in the West African region.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

Will Liberia Let Them Eat Dust?

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 14:16 PM EDT, 8 May 2012

African Man Carrying Potable Water, Photo by Oxfam InternationalMONROVIA, Liberia – Across Africa water shortages and drought are an increasingly prevalent phenomenon. Some instances are a consequence of natural disaster, but in some cases clean water is being hoarded by powerful factions and used to extort impoverished people, or as a means to subjugate a war-weary population.

According to the World Health Organization, “Africa has the lowest total water supply coverage of any region, with only 62% of the population having access to improved water supply. This figure is based on estimates from countries that represent approximately 96% of Africa's total population.

The situation is much worse in rural areas, where coverage is only 47%, compared with 85% coverage in urban areas. Sanitation coverage in Africa also is poor, with only Asia having lower coverage levels. Currently, only 60% of the total population in Africa has sanitation coverage, with coverage varying from 84% in urban areas to 45% in rural areas.” (Source: WHO)

This endemic problem continues unabated despite the United Nations passing Resolution: 64/292 on 28 July 2010, which decreed that every human being has the right to have access to water and proper sanitation, and to deny access to these is deemed a human rights abuse.

The West African nation, Liberia, is a country of firsts and lasts, the first African nation to have elected a female head of state, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and last according to the UN Human 2011 Development Index which ranks it at the bottom percentile of all countries and territories at 182 out of 187.

Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, is home to 1.1 million people in a country with a total population of nearly 4 million who live on less than US$1 per day according to 2010 World Bank data. As with most countries there is a growing divide among the rich and the poor, but in Liberia, unlike other nations with social service nets, the poor are subjected abject poverty exacerbated by abysmal living conditions.

Most of the city’s residents live in burned out buildings without access to running water, sanitation, or potable drinking water. Many have to walk miles to fill numerous small plastic jugs, large 'jerry' jugs, or empty petrol barrels which can weigh from 40 lbs. (80 Kgs) to 70 lbs. (32 Kgs) once filled. (Source: The Water Project.org)

Women, who are typically responsible for collecting the water, are often forced to walk miles to communal water pumps or rivers. In the case of water pumps, the water is often untreated, and in cases where river water is used, there is a high probability of exposure to water-borne illnesses which can be as life threatening as dehydration.

In West Africa, during what is called the Harmattan season, dry and dusty West African trade wind blows south from the Sahara, which starts in early November and last through April. During this time water tables also fall precipitously low, forcing people to walk longer distances to find water which has not been muddied by the fine particulates of sand which cover everything. Those who cannot afford to pay for water, or do not possess the constitution to walk the many miles to transport water to and from hand pumps and wells are most at risk of death.

Because of the lack of response from the government to this pressing human rights issue, many entrepreneurs, some unscrupulous, have developed profitable businesses selling bottled water at grossly inflated prices to city dwellers. The water which they sell is often untreated though marketed to the contrary.

According to the Liberian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT), in the vast slums of Monrovia water is sold on the black market where “five liters of clean water is sold for LD$ 20 Liberian dollars (US$0.28); while the same quantity is sold for LD $40-50 in areas with severe shortage of water.”

The lack of access to clean water and a working sanitation system is one of many complaints against President Sirleaf’s government. During her first term stated that if elected her government had “plans to construct 25 borehole wells in five counties to increase access to clean water, construct or rehabilitate 150 sanitation facilities in 10 of the 15 counties, and repair hand pumps, among other things. (Source: MICAT)

Though this did not materialize, President Sirleaf’s government cannot bear the entire blame, since the major infrastructure which would have been in place to repair and facilitate access to clean water and sanitation were destroyed during the nearly 11 years of constant civil war which began under Charles Taylor, the recently convicted war criminal and former president of Liberia.

According to the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare statistics, about 100,000 children under five and infants die annually from water borne diseases and related illnesses. Because of the lack of access to sanitation, many people are forced to relieve themselves in outhouses, ‘hanging toilets,’ or whatever secluded place they can find.

This results in the contamination of ground water and provides a fertile breeding source for various transmission vectors via insect or human to human contact. Some of the diseases to which people without proper access to clean drinking water can be exposed to are:

1. Diarrhea 2. Dysentery 3. Enteric Fever 4. Worm Infection 5. Louse Borne Fevers

Equally debilitating are the infectious diseases the populace can be exposed to as a consequence of lack of adequate sanitation:

1. Soil Transmitted Helminthes 2. Tape Worm 3. Filariasis (Elephantiasis) 4. Schistosomiasis

(Source: http://content.alterra.wur.nl/Internet/webdocs/ilri-publicaties/publicaties/Pub52/pub52-h4.0.pdf)

As stated in the beginning of this post, the problem of access to clean water is not unique to Liberia, or West Africa; however, it seems prudent that a implementing a substantive, quantitative, and verifiable resolution to this issue is essential to the economic recovery and growth of the country.

Now that oil reserves have been identified off the coast, it is incumbent upon President Sirleaf’s government to make sure that any proceeds from the sale of natural resources is poured back into the country to make the necessary improvements that will ultimately strengthen the country both economically, socially, and politically.

In her second term, President Sirleaf campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and it remains to be seen if she and her government do the right thing for their countrymen or like other African leaders, choose instead to line their pockets while their citizens ‘eat dust.”

Warlord Charles Taylor Convicted

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:55 PM EDT, 26 April 2012

Charles Taylor, Sierra Leone War Lord, Photo by Gilbert ZTHE HAGUE, Netherlands - Today, Charles Taylor, 64, former Liberian President and accused warlord was convicted by The Special Court for Sierra Leone, in The Hague, the Netherlands.

He was found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape, and sexual slavery. Like the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, Taylor also stood accused of conscripting children into his marauding armies which terrorized Liberian and Sierra Leonean citizens during a period between 1991- 2002.

Charges arose stemmed from his involvement in the “Sierra Leone Civil War which began on 23 March 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support from the special forces of Charles Taylor’s National Patiotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. The resulting civil war lasted 11 years, enveloped the country, and left over 50,000 dead.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Prior to today’s ruling, The Hague court previously convicted RUF fighters of the same charges levied against Taylor. RUF were also charged with crimes against humanity, terrorism, and torture, a charge based upon testimony by victims of brutal mutilation and maiming by machetes.

The prosecution alleged at their trials that Taylor financed the RUF with the proceeds from the sale of ‘blood diamond’ mined illegally in Sierra Leone to encourage the militia to prolong the fighting. The ensuing state of instability allowed Taylor and the RUF to benefit from the sale of contraband.

According to the Voice of America (VOA), Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trial in 1946 of Karl Doenitz, who briefly ruled Nazi Germany after the death of Adolf Hitler.

Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor will be sentenced on 30 May 2012.

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The Weight of First | Pres. Johnson Sirleaf

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 17:13 PM EDT, 3 February 2012

MONROVIA - Liberia's re-elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who is the first and only female President in Africa, has named the first ministers of her new cabinet on Thursday.  She appointed new finance and foreign affairs ministers but retained her defense minister.

President Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Laureate, has vowed to continue to implement the changes she initiated during her first term.  She was sworn in for a second term in power this week and is being watched by her countrymen and the world to see if she will be more aggressive in her efforts to eradicate the corruption which plagues Liberia and other African nations.

She has also promised to cut poverty and high youth unemployment which is rampant in a nation that has been besieged by protracted nine year civil war. U.N. peacekeepers have overseen the country's security since the end of some 14 years of war in 2003. But the world body is under pressure to end the costly, 9,000-strong mission.

Foreign investors compound the issue of high unemployment and housing shortages by importing workers and seizing control of land. Under her governance, more foreign corporations have been awarded the right to harvest trees for lumber often displacing residents and leaving the terrain vulnerable to run off and mudslides.

This type of Neo-Colonialism is spreading across the Continent as Western countries seek to openly exploit the vast natural resources of Africa. Liberia is mineral rich and since the discovery of vast oil reserves off of its Coastal shelf it is poised for exploitation and the resultant corruption that can occur when multinational petroleum companies strike deals with the government.

President Johnson Sirleaf must remain vigilant against the type of exploitation that occurs in Nigeria's oil and gas industry. In the Delta region of Nigeria, the environment is extremely polluted as the country does not enforce any environmental protections regulations. The citizenry's health and lifestyles are also adversely impacted by lax and sometimes criminal disregard for how these companies drill and dispose of the oil and gas.

We congratulate Liberia in re-electing the first female African President and look forward to seeing what she can accomplish in her second term.

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias