Rope isolated on white background
On April 29, the United Nations Security Council renewed the UN mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, until April 2015. The Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, expressed support for human rights monitoring to be added to the resolution renewing the mission. However, Morocco has long rejected the idea of a human rights monitoring mechanism in the North African region and for this resolution, Morocco got what they wanted.

The UN has been involved in the Western Sahara since 1991 when MINURSO was instituted, and Morocco has remained in control of much of the region since Spain ended its occupation. The resolution that renewed the mission included support for contributions to fund “confidence-building measures agreed upon between the parties” including visits between separated family members. Over 20,000 Western Saharan refugees have taken part in family visits through UN coordination since MINURSO’s beginning.

The resolution calls for the Polisario and Morocco to remain vigilant and wary of human rights in coordinating with the international community and the UN. Before its passing, Ban Ki-Moon commended both parties for their willingness to participate with UN human rights bodies. The Secretary General concluded, “The end goal nevertheless remains a sustained, independent and impartial human rights monitoring mechanism, covering both the Territory and the camps.”

The Secretary General, earlier in April, renewed his appeals for “sustained human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and warned against unfair exploitation of the region’s natural resources.” His concern with establishing stronger human rights monitoring mechanisms is in light of previous reports of human rights abuses and poverty in the country.

However, after a phone conversation with Morocco’s king, the word “mechanism” was removed from this sentence of the final report due to Morocco’s concern with a monitoring program that implied a foreign presence. King Mohammed stressed to the Secretary General Morocco’s willingness to uphold human rights, but within Morocco’s sovereignty and without the control of outside forces and occupations.

The U.S. was one of the first to promote increasing human rights monitoring, but backed down after Morocco expressed opposition. Hence, the U.S.-initiated resolution became largely Morocco-drafted before it was passed, excluding Ban Ki-Moon’s appeal.

As a compromise, however, Morocco allowed a few UN rights investigators to visit the area, and this year, the U.S. did not renew the proposal that they had for the previous resolution.

Whereas Morocco’s UN Ambassador, Omar Hilale, expressed concern over appeals of human rights mechanisms regarding the success of MINURSO, the Polisario’s UN Representative, Ahmed Boukhari, expressed regret that MINURSO is the “only UN Peacekeeping Mission established since 1978 that has no mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation on the ground.”

This argument over human rights monitoring is significant because it marks a continuation of the conflict between Morocco, who wants Western Sahara to be an autonomous part of Morocco, and the Polisario, who is backed by countries such as Algeria. The conflict has affected the Western Saharan people and refugees in Algeria poorly and contributed to poverty.

Western Sahara has also expressed concern over the exploitation of natural resources. The region is rich in phosphates, which are used in fertilizer, and Polisario has complained in the past about Western firms, in conjunction with Morocco, searching for natural resources.

Hence, the lack of a strong human rights mechanism worries the Western Saharan people about Moroccan control and natural resources extraction. Time will tell if this decision regarding the UN Resolution will affect Western Saharan’s poor, but citizens are concerned that it undoubtedly will.

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: Morocco World News, Reuters, United Nations
Photo: Creative Time Reports

As one of the most fatal, incurable diseases in human history, Ebola functions as a deadly virus that induces the severe hemorrhaging of internal organs, causing death in an estimated 90 percent of cases. A popular theory concerning the origins of the virus is that Ebola was first introduced to humans through contact that an individual may have had with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected animal. The individual subsequently succumbed to the deadly virus, not before spreading the disease to other people, creating an epidemic. Early signs of infection are a sore throat, red eyes, rash, fever, muscle aches, headaches, and bleeding from bodily orifices, such as the eyes or nose.

An estimated duration of survival after initial infection and after the incubation period ranges, on average, from 2-21 days. Initially identified in 1976 after surfacing in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, the Ebola virus has made a reappearance in the West African country of Guinea. The virus spreads through the direct transmission infected blood, mucus, and other bodily fluids. Burial ceremonies in which individuals are exposed to direct contact with the infected body also contribute to the transmission of the virus, and as such it has infiltrated the neighboring country of Liberia.

Although outbreaks of Ebola have surfaced in the past, following the initial identification of the virus in 1976, Doctors Without Borders alleges that this particular outbreak may be the most severe yet. A salient factor unique to this outbreak is its geography – this is the first time that Ebola has surfaced in Guinea. Although the virus typically appears in rural areas especially near rainforests, the virus has not been localized in specific areas of the country. For instance, cases miles apart have surfaced throughout Guinea. Therefore, this instance of the outbreak is much harder to contain than previous incidences.

Furthermore, according to health experts, although the disease is most often fatal, infection requires extremely close contact with the infected individual or engagement in avoidable activities such drugs. Additionally, during the incubation period, which can last up to 21 days, the individual is unable to transfer the disease to others. Once symptoms arise and transmission is viable, surrounding individuals are likely to stay away from the victim since their symptoms are generally severe and obvious. Therefore, it is unlikely that a widespread, global epidemic will occur. As is the case with most disease outbreaks, individuals in affected regions are strongly urged to take proper precautions while individuals residing in unaffected areas are advised on to not create undue panic.

However, other nations are already taking precautions of their own. For instance, Morocco has increased its border control,  Senegal has shut down its borders with Guinea and France has instructed its medical workers to watch out for signs of the virus in the local population. Despite fears that the virus may spread through airplane flights, the World Health Organization has not issued any restrictions on flights, since individuals who show signs of the virus are typically too ill to travel, and therefore risks of airplanes transmitting the virus are not a significant cause of concern. Although no viable treatments against Ebola currently exist, experimental drug treatments are undergoing examination and testing.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: USA Today, Time, WHO
Photo: New Vision 

Immigration in the United States has been an issue throughout this millennium. Reform for the immigration system has been discussed in various forms, yet presently there still seems to be no progress on the issue. This deadlock affects immigrants of all forms, but particularly for many potential immigrants in the West African region.

A recent PBS Newshour report detailed the plight of a family living in Baltimore struggling to deal with the intricacies of the immigration system. This family left their home in Mali after worries that their daughter would be subjected to the female genital mutilation (FGM) that is a common practice in that part of the world. The mother, who still suffers pain from her mutilation, says that at any time someone “can just come and take your daughter, and just do it.”

FGM is a practice that has deep roots in the West African region. The practice has been mentioned as far back as the Ancient Greek historians, like Herodotus. Community members consider it shameful for women to not undergo the process, leading to the sort of animosity that lead the Newshour profiled family to leave for the U.S.

Health issues and the difficulties in adjusting to a new country lead the family to miss the initial application for asylum that is required after one year of residency. Since they missed that initial application, the members of the family have no path to citizenship under the current system and are left to appeal annually for residency. There is still a definite risk that their requests could be denied by the courts, leading to their final deportation.

This difficulty in applying for asylum will remain until the immigration issue is finally settled in Congress. The Fofana family profiled by PBS Newshour is not alone in its struggles. Reports from the BBC describe Gambian women seeking asylum for the same reasons in the United Kingdom with hundreds being rejected for using the peril of mutilation as a basis.

The World Health Organization states that over 125 million females are living today after undergoing genital mutilation. Like the matriarch of the Fofana family, many times the procedure is involuntary and will cause the females lasting pain down the road. One can only imagine if this was a practice that was prevalent in the Western world and the outcry that would come about because of it.

Studies on the practice of genital mutilation show the benefits of educational programs in the areas that still carry it out. The Tostan program in Senegal shows how the end of the practice will provide health benefits for women and will bring about better overall respect for women in the community. However, programs like that one are few and have to be much more prevalent to have a serious impact in Western Africa.

For nations in the Western world, spreading education about the female body could bring benefits in Africa and the West. A successful program could lessen the immigration demands on the West and give women a better chance at being leaders in the communities of Africa. For the women that live in fear and pain due to this practice, funding by the nations of the Western world might go a long way towards improving the world as a whole.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: Stanford University, BBC, World Health Organization, PBS
Photo: MintPress News