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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Aid groups 'stretched very thin' as conflicts persist in Middle East

Even with added funding, relief workers see difficulties in the months ahead.
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Residents of Syria's Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, collect aid food. (RAMI AL-SAYED/AFP/Getty Images)

Though the latest round of fighting in Gaza began barely four weeks ago, the crisis already has taken a toll on the United Nations' ability to respond to the vast humanitarian needs across the Middle East, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said.

“In less than a month, we have lost eleven of our own,” said Salvatore Lombardo, the agency’s director for external relations and communications. Almost 270,000 displaced Palestinians are living in 90 UNRWA shelters across Gaza, he added.

“While designated emergency shelters were originally equipped to accommodate 500 people, these facilities are now accommodating more than 2,000 people,” he said.

It’s not just the UN. Other humanitarian groups are feeling the weight of supporting the growing number of victims and refugees in Gaza as other conflicts persist in the Middle East. Aid workers say relief efforts face not only shrinking supplies of manpower, food, water and funding, but also the diluted attention of the media, policymakers and donors.

“[We are] being stretched very thin by a number of disaster responses,” said Lawren Sinnema, humanitarian and emergency affairs program management officer at World Vision, an international Christian nonprofit that aids children and their families in times of poverty, war and calamity.

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For US and African leaders at summit, a time to invest in next generation of girls

Commentary: Education, ending child marriages are key to unlocking potential of African girls.
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Some of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped their Boko Haram Islamist captors wait to meet the Nigerian president at the presidency in Abuja on July 22, 2014. (WOLE EMMANUEL/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBi, Kenya — “I really want to go back to school so that I can get a job and live a better life,” Changamile told us from her home in rural Malawi. But Changamile married at 16, and she has too much housework and no support from her family to return to school.

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The end of Ramadan brings no pardon for poets

Throughout the Muslim world, Ramadan is a time when dispensations are handed out for convicts of nonviolent crimes, but this year, amnesties were not given to writers.
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Yemenis, some of them being journalists, hold placards during a protest on June 25, 2014 in the capital Sanaa in solidarity with Al-Jazeera journalists (seen on the posters) jailed in Egypt. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Eid — the end of Ramadan — has come and gone. Traditional pardons have been handed out. In Qatar, poet Mohammed al Ajami (Al-Dheeb), was not among them. He continues to live in a prison in the desert, serving a 15-year sentence for two poems, one praising the Arab Spring and the other critical of the Emir.

He and his poems “encouraged an attempt to overthrow the regime,” according to the charges.

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Sending ammunition to Israeli military, US shows a legal loophole

Despite war crimes accusations against Israel for killing more than 900 civilians in Gaza, the US has transferred tank ammunition and grenades to its military.
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An Israeli soldier arrives at an army deployment area, on the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, on August 1, 2014. A three-day humanitarian truce in Gaza collapsed only hours after it began amid a deadly new wave of violence and the apparent capture by Hamas of an Israeli soldier. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States has transferred tank ammunition and grenades to the Israeli military in order to refill stocks being depleted in Operation Protective Edge, according to recent reports.

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A corporate warning to El Salvador: Give up your gold or pay $315 million

As Salvadorans debate a mining ban due to pollution concerns, a large mining company has filed suit against the government.
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A güirisero, or illegal miner, shows off a small rock with a tiny gold deposit, mined near San Sebastian, El Salvador. (Jamie Stark/GlobalPost)

SAN SEBASTIAN, El Salvador — Vasita Escobar is certain that chemicals from the abandoned gold mine upriver from her house are slowly killing her family.

“This company that has destroyed life, wanted to keep going,” said Escobar, in reference to Commerce Group Corp., a Wisconsin-based outfit that stopped mining for gold in San Sebastian in 2006 after permit difficulties. “My kids never get better—they’re always skinny. They always breathe the river water, they play in there. When I see my kids suffering, I know others’ are too.”

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Looking at Argentina's Catholic women of worship

In Pope Francis' former spiritual home, women hold a paradoxical role.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Sitting in the first pew before the altar at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires — the former church of Pope Francis, then-Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio — I waited for noon Mass to begin.

The Catholic Church had been at the center of many of our interviews and exchanges over coffee, and it seemed like we’d spent most of our time in this cathedral. But this was the first time on the trip — for me, the first time in maybe 20 years — that we’d sat for Mass. Our first interview had confirmed that, in Argentina, you could not look at the issue of abortion without also looking at the church, and the paradoxical relationship women have within it.

“The Catholic Church is a very patriarchal institution that, historically, has been opposed to women’s rights,” Victoria Tesoriero, a member of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir, or Catholics for the Right to Decide, had said in that first interview. “It has bound women to subaltern or domestic roles that are lower in rank — in the hierarchy. This is a place of inequality.”

And yet the Virgin Mary holds great power in the Latin American church.

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A constitutional monarchy may be a realistic option for stability in Libya

Commentary: The US ideal of democracy is fading as rival warlords and rogue militias wreak havoc across the Libya.
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Libyans condemn and urge for an end of war during a protest at the Algeria Square July 26, 2014 in Tripoli, Libya. (MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)

BRUSSELS — It has been over three years since the NATO-led military intervention that overturned what was left of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The optimism of that moment of political transformation in Libya and across the Arab world now feels decades away. Such is the disenchantment with what was expectantly heralded as the Arab Spring in 2011.

Egypt seems to have substituted one military strongman for another with the election of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In Syria, there seems to be no end in sight for the bloodbath the revolution has become, and Libya is perched on the edge of a precipice, one move from anarchy.

One has to look no further than Libya’s recent parliamentary elections to understand how bleak the situation has become. With voter turnout hovering around 18.5 percent — only 44 percent of eligible Libyans registered to vote — little hope exists that any of the country’s new “representatives” can gain much legitimacy. Fathi al-Gabasi from the Eastern community of Aoudjila, for example, was elected to parliament with only three votes.

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In Bethlehem, no one is in the mood to celebrate Eid

Commentary: Death and body counts coming out of Gaza have become a part of the daily rhythm in the West Bank. It’s as if Eid is intruding upon this catastrophe, not the other way around.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

BETHLEHEM, Palestine — It is the last day of Eid Al-Fitr.

Monday, the first day of a three-day celebration to end Ramadan, the month where Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down, was marked by eerie silence and glum faces in Bethlehem. There were no fireworks illuminating the evening sky as is the custom during the end of Ramadan. The only light that came during Eid was from the candles that Palestinians lit in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp in memory of the some 200 children that were killed by the Israeli army in Gaza during the now 23-day onslaught.

On Tuesday, the second day of Eid, I walked into a fruit market in BeitSahour, a suburb of Bethlehem, expecting to see people buying fruits and vegetables by the armload for the second day of feasting. Three people lingered, haphazardly picking vegetables, their eyes glued to the television set on the wall above them.

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Too many humanitarian crises, not enough global resources

Commentary: An overwhelming number of crises means the international community cannot respond well.
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An Iraqi family fleeing violence in the northern city of Tal Afar, arrive at the Kurdish checkpoint in Aski kalak, 40 km West of Arbil, in the autonomous Kurdistan region, on July 1, 2014. Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million in humanitarian aid for Iraq to be disbursed through the United Nations to those in need regardless of sect or ethnicity, state media reported. (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Humanitarian crises in the world today — Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, South Sudan and now Gaza — all demand immediate and massive humanitarian response.

The crises are not only large-scale, affecting millions, but the conflicts also are complex, each with unique political realities and on-the-ground difficulties.

They are not alone among crises competing for our attention. They are simply the biggest, pushing off the front pages other crises where human needs remain urgent: Darfur, Central America, Pakistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia.

It’s not only the number and the scale that challenge the humanitarian community, but the proliferation of humanitarian actors, the politicization of humanitarian responses and the insecurity that confronts humanitarian workers.

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Why justice can't be a precondition for Israel-Palestine peace

Analysis: The rage and indignation on both sides of the conflict — many of us not directly involved — is largely missing a rational understanding of the situation.
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Israeli security forces arrest a Palestinian (C) during clashes following traditional Friday prayers near the Old City in East Jerusalem on July 25, 2014. Israeli security forces are on heightened alert after a Palestinian man was shot dead during a huge protest in the West Bank against Israel's military offensive in Gaza. Palestinian factions in the West Bank declared a 'Day of Rage' after the previous night's clashes around the West Bank and in some sectors of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

The days of the Gaza operation drag on. The emotion on social networks is undiminished. Friends’ consciences on both sides of the conflict are boiling and they must share. The world must know!

The opening stanza from the poem, “Could Have,” by Poland’s Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska, speaks to the situation:

“It could have happened.

It had to happen.

It happened earlier. Later.

Nearer. Farther off.

It happened, but not to you.”

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