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The World in a Flash

The Round-Up this week gives you a little bit of good news, but it’s mostly impending doom on the international front. From man-made famines in Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen, an Amnesty International report warning about human rights rollbacks around the world, and Trump’s reconsideration of transgender bathroom rights, things don’t seem to be going well. On the bright side, Syrian peace talks are getitng underway and Iraqi forces take the ISIS-held airport in Mosul. 

Amnesty International Report Has Stark Warning
An Amnesty International report is warning that divisive rhetoric in mainstream politics a threatening to roll back human rights records around the world. The Secretary General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty listed President Trump in a non-envious list including Turkish President Erdogan and Philippines President Duterte – who is being accused of ordering extra-judicial killings. The report also noted the increased use of drones, mass surveillance, and President Obama’s legacy of failing catastrophically to uphold human rights around the world as key contributors to the trend. This report echoes a previous Human Rights Watch report. Read the full report here.

Marine Le Pen in Hot Water
Controversial Front National leader Marine Le Pen’s campaign is facing backlash following the start of a formal judicial inquiry into whether her Chief of Staff, Catherine Griset, received payment from EU funds for a non-existent job in the European Parliament. The Front National has confirmed that its Headquarters had been searched, and the investigation is spearheaded by the European Anti-Fraud Office. Le Pen has denied the accusations against her campaign, claiming it to be an operation led by the media to impair her presidential bid. The candidate is expected to secure 29 per cent of the vote during the first round of elections on April 29. Le Pen is not the only French politician in hot water because of funds misappropriation,  Republican candidate Francois Fillon is being investigated for allegedly paying around €900,000 to family members with public funds for work ‘not always done.’ Meanwhile, Le Pen has been asked to pay back €340,000.

Syrian Peace Talks Under Way
Negotiators from the Syrian government and their opposition have arrived in Geneva to begin peace talks for the first time in over a year. To begin, the two sides will not meet face to face. The opposition wants to discuss the fate of Syrian President Basher al-Assad but the Syrian government refuses to discuss the topic. The civil war that has been raging since 2011 has killed 300,000 people, created a flood of 4.8 million that left the country and internally displaced 6.3 million. There have been several ceasefires since the conflict erupted, but peace negotiations have not been at all fruitful. The UN special envoy to Syria is not expecting a ‘breakthrough.’

Trump Rescinds Obama Era Transgender Bathroom Guidelines
The ‘Toilet Wars’ saga has a new chapter this week, as Donald Trump nixed a joint Education and Justice Department directive that instructed schools and colleges that receive federal funding to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The directive was based on the Obama administration’s interpretation of the federal law that bans sexual discrimination in schools, though the debate over the protections in the law applying to gender identity is what the revocation is based on. Trump has also stated that he believes that each state should be able to determine its own bathroom policies. Interestingly, the two-page letter explaining the Trump administration’s withdrawal attempts to take a conciliatory toneframing it as a ‘reevaluation’ of the legality of Obama’s changes, and some have surmised that this is a result of disagreements between Education secretary Betsy DeVos, who didn’t want changes made, and attorney-general Jeff Sessions, who did. Apparently, the matter was only resolved after Trump intervened.

Iraqi Forces Continue Advance in Mosul
Progress has been made by Iraqi Forces in Mosul, who have recaptured Mosul Airport. Iraqi Forces had taken back the eastern half of the city last month, and this was a key part of their objective to drive out ISIS from the western half. ISIS has held the airport since 2014, and according to some reports, ISIS sabotaged the airstrip in recent months to prevent its use. The operation to retake the city is still expected to take months. The forces have also secured an ISIS weapons warehouse, former ISIS headquarters and barracks at al-Ghazlani. Leaflets were dropped warning civilians of the imminent offensive. Save the Children estimates there are 800,000 people trapped in Mosul. Currently, over 160,000 have fled their homes in and around the city according to the BBC.

UN: Famine ‘Catastrophe’ Imminent
To pile onto the fear of famine in South Sudan we discussed on the Chatter, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated late this week that the organization needs $4.4 billion by the end of March to prevent ‘catastrophe’ in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen, where more than 20 million people face starvation. The famine in Somalia is the only one whose primary cause is a drought; South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen are all facing man-made famine, as a result of the ongoing conflict that has damaged agricultural infrastructure and the ability of farmers to work the land. In addition to the famine caused by violence in South Sudan, there are increasing numbers of claims from peacekeepers and aid workers that they are being denied access visas into the country and/or access to certain famine-ravaged areas. Some have accused the opposing forces in the country of weaponizing food aid.   

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