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Hala Abdelaal speaks during a protest against the government of Egypt on March 27, 2014 outside of the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, DC. The group was protesting against the mass sentencing of 529 supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi who were given the death penalty.

- AFP/Getty Images

Mass death sentences were handed down recently in Egypt in a trial that highlighted the flaws in capital punishment. A new report by Amnesty International reveals that a number of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa are at the forefront of an isolated group of executioners that have fuelled a rise in global figures.

LONDON — It sounds like a scene from a grisly horror film; five decapitated bodies swinging from a horizontal pole suspended over the main square in the city of Jijzan in southwestern Saudi Arabia. Beside each body hangs a plastic bag containing the victim’s head. Yards away, students are arriving at a local university to take their exams.

These haunting images of five Yemenis who were executed in Saudi Arabia last May 21, provide gruesome details of the aftermath of a public execution.

In many regions of the world from China to the US, in the Middle East and in pockets in Africa, people continue to live under the specter of the death penalty, often out of the public eye.

Amnesty International’s latest global report on the death penalty documented that at least 23,392 people were facing death sentences worldwide at the end of 2013.

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The sun sets behind the city skyline of Dubai on November 16, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Dubai is recovering from its slump during the global financial meltdown.

- Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — It continues to remain unclear why the Obama administration has been unwilling to intervene on behalf of an American citizen unjustly incarcerated here, a country that can best be described as a United States client state. How would US strategic interests be harmed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) if it more forcefully demanded the release of US citizen Zack Shahin.

After all, Gulf Arab states, fearful of Islamic terrorism and distrustful of Iran’s great power intentions and nuclear ambitions, are more reliant on the US than the US on them. Washington possesses the ability to chart a more independent foreign policy with the shale gas revolution reducing US reliance on imported energy from the Middle East.

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People celebrate the transition to Moscow time near a city clock tower at a railway station in Simferopol on March 30, 2014. As the rest of Europe was set to move their clocks one hour forward for summer on Sunday, in Crimea, residents braced for a two-hour jump into the timezone of their new masters in Moscow.

- AFP/Getty Images

CHICAGO — In December of 1825, a group of Russian army officers and their soldiers refused to swear allegiance to the new tsar, Nicholas I and took a position in St. Petersburg main square to demand the constitutional limits on autocracy.

After brief negotiations, Nicholas ordered artillery fire to disperse them. Hundreds died, five leaders were hanged, others exiled to Siberia. This marked the beginning of one of the most repressive periods in the history of the Russian empire, when all dissent was squashed, the Polish Uprising suppressed by arms in 1830, and the brutal war in the North Caucasus claimed the lives of millions native and Russians alike over the next 30 years.

Enter Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new autocrat. His return to presidency in 2012 was accompanied by huge protests. More than 150,000, disgusted with disingenuous elections and Putin’s engineered return, took to the streets of Moscow.

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A view of a glacial valley formed over thousands of years high in the Andean mountains on June 21, 2007 in Patawasi, Peru. Glaciers in Peru are in severe retreat as a result of global warming. Peruvians are highly dependent on glacial water supply and the majority of the population lives in an area where this is the majority water source.

- Getty Images

LIMA, Peru — The new report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, outlining the impact and risks of a warming planet, reminded me of one of the great tragedies to hit my own country, Peru.

On May 31, 1970, a huge magnitude-8 earthquake struck off the coast of Ancash about 100 kilometers north of Lima. In a matter of seconds, shockwaves dispersed across a wide area to the east of the quake’s epicenter, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Among other things, the sheer impact of the tremor destabilized the northern wall of mount Huascaran, causing an enormous piece of glacial ice and rock to carve off and hurtle towards the valley below. Measuring 100 meters wide and 1.6km long, this vast mass of debris reached speeds of 300km per hour at its peak. When it arrived at the villages of Yungay and Ranrahirca, it buried everything in sight.

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CARACAS, Venezuela—In October 2013, the Venezuelan government enacted a law by presidential decree to create the National Strategic Security and Protection Center (CESSPA), an organization designed to “unify the flow of information on sensitive strategic aspects of Security, Defense, Intelligence and Internal Order, and Foreign Affairs” in both the public and private sectors.

Within CESSPA’s organizational structure is the Directorate of Technological Studies and Information whose function, among others, is to process and analyze “information from the web.” The Directorate also analyzes the “events or actions that affect daily life and the politics of the State.”

CESSPA establishes mechanisms of prior censorship by possessing the ability to classify any information as secret without any judicial oversight.

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This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 12, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C, front) inspecting the command of Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 534. AFP PHOTO/KCNA via KNS

- AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Something amazing has taken place in Geneva. For the first time in the history of North Korea’s three-generation totalitarian rule, a United Nations body has acknowledged the regime’s massive abuses and pointed out UN members’ obligations to address those crimes.

The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution urging North Korea’s human rights crisis be taken up at the UN Security Council and referred “to the appropriate international criminal justice mechanism,” which could include the International Criminal Court in the Hague or an ad hoc international tribunal.

The UN body’s resolution comes in response to the release of a special report by the UN Commission of Inquiry for North Korea, which was tasked by the Human Rights Council a year ago with investigating crimes against humanity in North Korea and making recommendations for justice and action.

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IN SPACE: In this NASA handout, a view of deepest view of the visible universe ever achieved are seen in a Hubble Telescope composite photograph released March 9, 2004. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) photograph is a composite of a million one-second exposures and reveals galaxies from the time shortly after the big bang.

- Getty Images

OWL’S HEAD, Maine — The really big story of the past month ended up as a one-day media splash: the almost certain confirmation of the Big Bang, or inflation theory, of the creation of our universe.

It barely made the front pages before slipping back into space.

But to the extent that this new scientific discovery does indeed "Reveal the Big Bang's Smoking Gun," as The New York Times headlined it, it's perhaps the biggest story of the no-longer-new century.

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (R) and ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) hold a news conference at the U.S. Capitol March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. Corker and Manandez answered reporters' questions after the Senate and House passed legislation giving help to cash-strapped Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Russia.

- GlobalPost

LOS ANGELES —The mismatch of power has been a key feature of the conflict over Crimea.

During the past few weeks, President Vladimir Putin has called the shots and Russia has looked effective and resolute. The take-over of Crimea occurred overnight and without a single casualty.

Domestic support in Russia has been overwhelming, and Moscow quickly capitalized on pro-Russia forces on the peninsula. In true Soviet style, turnout was strong for the referendum and nearly unanimous. Formal annexation was swift.

In contrast, Ukraine and it nominal allies in the West have been caught off guard and have been on the defensive as they seek to cobble together a meaningful and united response.

In addition to an imbalance of power, the conflict over Crimea also is being fought on two different playing fields.

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ISTANBUL, Turkey—On March 11, Berkin Elvan died after 269 days in a coma.

He was killed by a teargas canister shot by Turkish riot police. He was 15 years old, still a child. But for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the boy was a terrorist.

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Pro-Russian protesters holds placards reading "No EU and NATO!" and "Libya, Syria, Ukraine" during a rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on March 23, 2014. Crimea's rebel leader urged Russians across Ukraine on Sunday to rise up against Kiev's rule and welcome Kremlin forces whose unrelenting march against his flashpoint peninsula has defied Western outrage.

- AFP/Getty Images

CAMBRIDGE — The Ukrainian revolution has revealed the European Union as the main driving force in advocating pro-Western change. Lasting political and economic change can emerge from Ukraine’s otherwise stalemated situation only with a strong role by the EU, rather than the United States.

Russia’s de facto annexation of Crimea shows that Moscow is largely immune to Western protests and financial sanctions against its officials or institutions.

Putting the EU in the front seat on the economic front would maximize Ukraine’s independence and stability in its difficult situation. The EU represents the most efficient permanent counter-incentive to Russia’s powerful financial reserves that threaten to pull Kyiv eastward into the Russian orbit.

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