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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

How labor unions can help beat Ebola

Commentary: Rubber tappers in Liberia are helping with prevention and detection, representing an effective new approach.
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Family members gather outside a home in the West Point neighborhood where a man's dead body awaited the arrival of an Ebola burial team to take him for cremation on Oct. 17 in Monrovia, Liberia. The World Health Organization says that more than 4,500 people have died due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa with a 70 percent mortality rate for those infected with the virus. (John Moore /Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — As the United States military heads to Liberia to aid in the fight against Ebola, officials should not overlook an unlikely but potentially powerful ally: the rubber tappers who help make their tires.

It may seem an unlikely alliance to have a union of rubber tappers — some of the poorest people in the world — helping the US military and international relief organizations. But they have two invaluable assets: the trust of the local population and the potential to continue supporting programs the relief agencies put in place.

They are making significant contributions even as the disease poses an increasing threat to community leaders and their families.

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Synod leaves questions about Vatican stance on homosexuality

Church leaders moved away from an early draft of the synod's record, but some LGBT rights advocates and clergy say evolution is underway.
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Bishops attend a papal mass for the beatification of Paul VI, who died in 1978, and the end of Vatican's synod on the family at St. Peter's square on Sunday, Oct. 19. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE /AFP/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — The closing of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family was celebrated in a Mass for thousands, led by Pope Francis in the Vatican City on Sunday.

It followed the release of the official record of the synod, or Relatio Synodi, which was approved paragraph by paragraph by the assembled bishops on Saturday, with three of the 62 paragraphs failing to get the necessary votes. Though most synods don't generate much news, a draft version of the report released last week ignited a firestorm when a section under the heading “Welcoming Homosexuals,” said, “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community,” and asked if the community was capable of welcoming people with such “tendencies.”

The new version “significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week,” according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Maryland-based Catholic gay rights group New Ways Ministry.

“It's very disappointing that the synod's final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included,” DeBernardo wrote. “Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples.”

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Australia is curtailing civil liberties in response to the Islamic State

IS has spooked Australia's government to push through a series of reforms reminiscent of post-9/11 America.
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Women greet eachother during Eid al-Adha celebrations at a festival at Paul Keating Park in Bankstown on October 4, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Eid al-Adha, also known as 'Festival of the Sacrifice' is a Muslim holiday that celebrates the prohit Ibrahim for his willingness to sacrifice his own son at the order of Allah. (Lisa Maree Williams/AFP/Getty Images)

MELBOURNE, Australia — Shamaila Saeed sat in a circle with a dozen women and teenage girls, discussing passages from the Quran. It was a typical afternoon in the women’s section of the IEWAD mosque and community center in Narre Warren, a southeastern suburb of Melbourne.

The tranquil setting seemed a world apart from the police station parking lot in nearby Endeavor Hills, where five days earlier Abdul Numan Haider, an 18-year-old Muslim from Narre Warren, had stabbed two counter-terrorism officers with a knife before they shot and killed him.

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Boko Haram agrees to release kidnapped girls after ceasefire

The break in violence is a relief for Nigeria and for the world, but experts don't expect the peace to last.
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Supporters of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign march for the release of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants, in Abuja, Nigeria on Oct. 14. (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI /AFP/Getty Images)

The Nigerian government and the Islamist militant group Boko Haram have reportedly agreed Friday to a ceasefire which would set free more than 200 schoolgirls the group abducted in April. 

“They’ve assured us they have the girls and they will release them,” Nigerian presidential aide Hassan Tukur told BBC Focus on Africa. “I am cautiously optimistic.”

The agreement was reached Thursday night and comes after one month of negotiations, Tukur said. No details have been reported about the terms of the girls' release.

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New center to help coordinate global response to youth unemployment crisis

More than 400 million jobs will need to be created in the next decade to keep up with the growing labor force, the International Labor Organization reports.
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Greek unions rally against unemployment in central Athens in July. The last few years have seen youth unemployment rise to crisis levels, with more than 74 million young people without jobs today. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI /AFP/Getty Images)

As youth unemployment spirals into crisis levels worldwide, solutions are increasingly relying on stakeholders from varying sectors to come together, push for reform and innovate on a global scale, according to panelists at a policy forum on the issue, held Oct. 15 in Washington, DC.

“This has risen to the level of what we call a grand challenge that needs to be addressed in a very complex and coordinated fashion,” said Wayne Holden, president and CEO of the research firm RTI International, which hosted the forum.

The forum covered educational reforms that would better prepare millennials for the current job market and the role businesses can play in directing and funding career programs. The four panelists of varying backgrounds talked about innovations that have succeeded in getting young people employed and, above all, the need to forge partnerships that could take those innovations to a nationwide and global scale.

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England, Northern Ireland brace for more health worker strikes

Demonstrations continue as the government refuses to budge on protesters’ demand for 1 percent wage hike.
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National Health Service (NHS) workers, including a midwife and her baby (C), gather outside St Thomas' Hospital on Oct. 13 in London, England. Unions are seeking a 1 percent raise for all workers, but the government says it would cost too much. (Peter Macdiarmid /Getty Images)

LONDON – Midwives, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare professionals across England and Northern Ireland went on strike Monday morning to protest the reversal of a promised 1 percent wage increase, the first time such an action has been taken in 30 years.

Thousands of people picketed in front of hospitals throughout the country, and for the rest of this week, National Health Service (NHS) employees are performing work-to-rule – meaning they are only working the bare minimum that their contracts demand. Next Monday, radiographers will strike, leading the series of actions by NHS employees into a second week that unions say is a “last resort” to demand fair pay.

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Vatican document fires up gay rights debate

As Catholic bishops from around the world discuss "family issues," friendlier language toward gays and lesbians is creating fireworks.
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Pope Francis (R) smiles as he arrives for his speech at the Synod on the Families, to cardinals and bishops gathering in the Synod Aula, at the Vatican, on Oct. 6. Pontiff on Sunday launched a major review of Catholic teaching on the family that could lead to change in the Church's attitude to marriage, cohabitation and divorce. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — “The drama continues!” laughed Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle of the Philippines, opening the second week of press conferences on the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops taking place amid the buzz of wandering tourists around the Vatican.

Tagle began the usual media briefing Monday afternoon by summarizing some of the most noteworthy aspects of the previous meeting, part of a landmark gathering on Catholic families and social issues. He had on hand the freshly released Relatio Post Disceptationem, a synthesis of discussions from the first week of the synod. And that document has already created a firestorm.

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The international community must not consent to 'new Burmese apartheid'

Opinion: Muslims are suffering at the hands of Myanmar's government, which is now planning an awful new program.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks alongside Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Myanmar, prior to meetings at the US State Department in Washington, DC on Sept. 30. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

YANGON, Myanmar  Myanmar's foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin took to the podium at the United Nations building in New York late last month and told the international community that “all major concerns related to human rights” in the former police state had “been addressed to a larger extent.” Given the government's efforts in this field, he asserted, his country “had now reached the middle tier of the human rights ladder” and should no longer be subjected to the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council.

While the minister's speech drew polite applause, his claims could hardly have been taken seriously. 

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President Obama: America's millennials not really a 'lost generation'

With the midterm elections next month, the president pitched his plans for a generation disillusioned with his economic leadership.
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US President Barack Obama holds a town hall meeting Oct. 9 at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, Calif., where he addresses issues affecting millennials today. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama is offering a new commitment to American millennials, but with youth unemployment and student debt levels still oppressively high, the country's largest generation has withdrawn some of its once-fervent support for him.

"A lot of you entered into the workforce during the worst financial crisis and then the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Obama told a forum at Cross Campus, a business and innovation center in Santa Monica, Calif. on Thursday. “A lot of cynics have said, ‘Well, that makes many of you part of a lost generation.’ But I don’t buy that, because when I travel around the country, I see the kind of energy and hope and determination that so many of you are displaying here.”

The president praised the efforts of millennials to overcome a recovering economy and assured them of his administration’s support in issues that affect them most — wage equality, unemployment, health care, education and debt.

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The US is jailing immigrant women and children under appalling conditions

Most asylum seekers are law-abiding but are detained in spite of international law.
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Families of Central American immigrants turn themselves in to US Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico to McAllen, Texas on Sept. 8. Although the numbers of such immigrant families and unaccompanied minors have decreased from a springtime high, thousands continue to cross in the border illegally into the United States. (John Moore /Getty Images)

AUSTIN, Texas — In America, women and children as young as 11 months old are being jailed.

More than 500 women and children are currently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a for-profit detention center in Karnes City, Texas. Six hundred more are held in Artesia, New Mexico.

Among those detained was Nayely Bermudez Beltran, a 7-year-old from El Salvador who is suffering from a malignant brain tumor. Nayely’s mother, Sara Beltran Rodriguez, came to the US border with her daughter in July, fleeing family violence in El Salvador so severe that she feared for their lives.

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