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Talking Peace: This week in global diplomatic negotiations

What you need to know about the United Nations, Syria, Israeli/Palestinian negotiations and Iran.
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Palestinian laborers work on a construction site in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in the mainly Palestinian eastern sector of Jerusalem, on October 30, 2013. Israel freed 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners overnight in line with commitments to the US-backed peace process, but moved in tandem to ramp up settlement in annexed east Jerusalem. (GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations Human Rights Council has awarded seats to China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, among other nations notorious for human rights abuses. And while US-Iran relations last week threatened to come between the United States and Saudi Arabia, Israel has is making this week’s open criticisms.

Syria peace negotiations may be back on and set to take place on December 12, according to Russian and Syrian officials, while Israeli and Palestinian authorities appear to be moving further away from negotiations of their own.

Here’s what to keep an eye on:

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Kenya: A high-ranking female police officer shares her view from the top

GlobalPost sits down with Superintendent Seline Awinja to talk about when gender does and doesn't matter.
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Kenyan law enforcement officers look as several hundred Kenyan protestors march towards the police headquarters on October 31, 2013 in Nairobi to deliver a petition of over a million names demanding justice after men accused of brutally gang raping a schoolgirl cut grass as punishment. The 16-year-old, known by the pseudonym Liz, was reportedly attacked, beaten and then raped by six men as she returned from her grandfather's funeral in western Kenya in June, before the gang dumped her, bleeding and unconscious, in a deep sewage ditch. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Seline Awinja, one of Kenya’s highest-ranking female police officers, smiles proudly as she recounts the ranks she’s advanced in her 26 years with the force: From constable to corporal to sergeant to senior sergeant to inspector to chief inspector — and now to superintendent of police for Nairobi’s Njiru district.

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How American evangelicals made life unbearable for gays in Uganda

A conversation with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams about his new film, God Loves Uganda, and the state of global anti-gay sentiment.
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Members of the Ugandan gay community attend a funeral of murdered activist David Kato, at his parental home close to the town of Mataba on January 28, 2011. Although the police claims it was most likely a petty crime, targeting Kato's money, many members of the gay and the human rights community hold the Ugandan government responsible for not battling the growing resentments against homosexuals in the Ugandan society. Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries and is punishable by a prison sentence. (MARC HOFER/AFP/Getty Images)

Fanned by Western evangelicals, homophobia has spread across the African continent voraciously in recent years, including Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the point that the European Union’s highest court last week ruled that fear of imprisonment for homosexuality in African countries is grounds for asylum in the EU.

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Activists to gay conversion therapists: 'Don't try to fix us'

Protesters challenged attendees of the National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality's annual conference on a widely discredited practice.

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a running series on the global debate about the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy — also known as reparative therapy and sexual reorientation therapy — which has been widely discredited by professional organizations but remains legal in most places. The stories will explore the intersections of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identities and mental health.

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Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights

What you need to know about the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.
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Members of GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization, stage a protested on Capitol Hill on May 20, 2010 in Washington, DC, calling on congressional leaders to schedule a vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which was passed by the Senate yesterday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The US Senate approved a “historic” bill for LGBT workers on Thursday, striking joy and anxiety for those following the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as it moves on to the GOP-dominated House of Representatives. Domestic workers are seeing new rights in Saudi Arabia, as the Saudi Press Agency announced a new law on Saturday, while domestic workers in Sri Lanka prepare to present revised legislation to the country’s labor department. Qatar’s human rights watchdog has revealed that they will be establishing a center for the protection of migrant workers.

Here are some continuing issues to keep in mind:

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Bangladesh will again close its border with Myanmar, blocking Rohingya refugees

Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar are "infiltrating" Bangladesh, says Bangladesh's Minister of Foreign Affairs.
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Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar wait in a line in Teknaf after their boat was intercepted while trying to cross the Naf river into Bangladesh to escape sectarian violence on June 18, 2012. Just over a year ago, the Bangladesh/Burma border was closed, and Bangladesh was coming under increasing international pressure to open its border to Rohingya. (MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Bangladesh has decided to close its border with Myanmar to prevent the passage of the country’s Rohingya Muslims who are seeking refuge from persecution by majority Buddhists, the Dhaka Tribune reported Friday.

Bangladesh’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dipu Moni, made the declaration to the House of the Nation—the country's supreme legislative body—on Thursday, saying that the “infiltration” had put pressure on Bangladesh, and so the government would take legal actions against any “illegal infiltrators and those giving them shelter.”

“Given the recent unstable situation in the Rakhine state, the foreign ministry has adopted measures to immediately seal off the Myanmar border to stop the infiltration of the Myanmar nationals for national interests,” Moni told parliament.

She said the government had already made locals along the border aware of the situation, and given law enforcement agencies instructions on taking legal action against those who do not comply.

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Russia intensifies pre-Olympic security precautions against 'radical Islam'

A late-October suicide bomb in Volgograd, Russia has inspired more severe security measures leading into the 2014 Winter Olympics.
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One of the Olympic torches rises in front of a poster with the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic logo just outside the Red Square in Moscow, on October 7, 2013, during a ceremony to kick off the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch relay across Russia. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Oxfam challenges brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Nestle to help fix global food system

A campaign seeks to harness the power of the 10 biggest food companies to fight hunger, malnutrition, poverty and human rights abuses.
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Coca Cola cans are seen on a production line at a bottling plant near New Delhi, India. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Since February, four of the world’s largest food companies have officially embraced the United Nations' principles on empowering women. Coca-Cola has announced new plans to prevent water pollution among suppliers and Nestle became the first major brand to commit to work with local communities before making agricultural land deals.

The moves come six months after the food giants started working with the nonprofit Oxfam to identify agricultural policies that could be perpetuating hunger, poverty and human rights abuses. As part of the project, called “Behind the Brands,” Oxfam is acting as a sort of consultant to the 10 biggest food companies, including Pepsico, General Mills and Kellogg’s. At the same time, though, Oxfam has been loudly trumpeting the companies’ wrongdoings to the world using petitions and social media campaigns.

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Meet the young woman who traverses Syria's battlegrounds to put aid in civilian hands

Puneh Ala’i, a California-born Iranian-American, is reaching areas of Syria where established aid organizations are failing.
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Puneh Alai'i on a rock with all the village boys giving a peace sign during her most recent trip inside Syria in September 2013. (Courtesy)

REYHANLI, Turkey — In the wilds of war-torn Syria, there’s a young Persian woman outdoing the United Nations on aid.

At first glance, it hardly seems possible that this 28-year-old Iranian-American, with her California slang and her Converse shoes, is going inside Syria at all. Even harder to believe that she could be getting aid into more civilian hands than many established aid organizations who face major obstacles.

But, in a way, it’s true: Puneh Ala’i brings funds directly to Syrian villagers in rebel-held parts of the country — which is more than the UN can say.

That’s because legally, the UN still considers Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a sovereign head of state, so funding must go through Damascus — right under the regime’s nose.

Ala'i, whose trips are the first for her new global not-for-profit For the Unseen, is focusing on areas that have broken away from regime control because she is concerned that aid is not reaching Syrian civilians that have been left stranded there, often without food and shelter.

Syrian humanitarians, who are better equipped to access these areas, are equally concerned. Yakzan Shishakly runs the Maram Foundation, one of the first humanitarian groups on the ground inside Syria after demonstrations against Assad spiraled into a bloody conflict more than two years ago. He says not much of the UN’s money, including $385 million from Washington, gets into areas under rebel control.

Every week, Shishakly said, Maram staffers visit numerous villages “where there has been no aid since a year, two years ago, and they never see any NGO or help.”

The UN is not happy with the state of affairs either. On October 2, the agency’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, called on the UN Security Council to order the expansion of humanitarian efforts inside Syria.

“Humanitarian workers need full and sustained access to reach every person in need, wherever they are in Syria, and they must be protected to do their work safely,” Amos said, promising that “over two million people who have been unreachable for many months” would be helped if the roads could be secured.

But the UN Security Council has been divided in its response to the crisis in Syria, and is unlikely to unite on the initiative.

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Talking Peace: This week in global diplomatic negotiations

What you need to know about the US, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and negotiations on Syria.
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Democratic Republic of Congo Army soldiers stand on November 5, 2013 in Bunagana, which had been the M23 rebel base, in the eastern North Kivu region. Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo's powder-keg east surrendered on November 5 after a crushing UN-backed offensive ended their 18-month insurgency in a region that has seen some of Africa's deadliest conflicts. ( Junior D. Kannah /AFP/Getty Images)

Weeks of NSA spying revelations have put pressure on US diplomatic relations with its allies, so it is no surprise that Secretary of State John Kerry this week set out to ease some of the tension. Kerry has been visiting a number of countries in the Middle East and Europe after acknowledging that US surveillance may have gone too far. One country not on the itinerary is Brazil, whose president recently canceled diplomatic visits to Washington and condemned the US at the UN General Assembly.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, however, may now be in a slightly awkward position after Brazilian officials this week confirmed a Sao Paulo newspaper report that the country's intelligence agency had also spied on the US, Russia, Iran and Iraq.

Syria peace negotiations, set to take place this month, have been delayed, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the M23 has declared it will set down its arms and engage in political talks with the government.

Here’s what to keep an eye on:

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