Category Archives: Uncategorized

Open Topic: Journalistic Freedom in Turkey

by Jessica Stone

If I were a Turkish citizen writing this blog post, I could go to jail for it. Why? Simply for criticizing the Turkish government. According to the Global Post:

“Turkey is the number one jailer of journalists in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, and has reached a record high of imprisoned journalists, at 232 people…  Jailing journalists for everything from pro-Kurdish columns to alleged blasphemy, the Turkish government has no plans to end the madness.”

Baransu could face up to 43 years in prison. Source: Today’s Zaman

One recent example of Turkey cracking down on reporters who portray the country’s government in a bad light is the case of Turkish government Mehmet Baransu, who is charged with revealing classified documents and could face up to 43 years in prison, according to Today’s Zaman. The document he’s facing trouble for reporting on is a government document that revealed the country’s National Security Council advised the government in 2004 to start investigating, profiling, and spying on faith-based groups within the country.

Critics have berated this move by the government, which assigned Baransu’s case to the division that handles counterterrorism cases. The Zaman reported that the Turkey Journalists’ Federation’s president said “The purpose [of the government], with this investigation, is to frighten Turkish journalists and force them to turn a blind eye to the country’s facts and report on unimportant issues.”

This isn’t the first time Turkey has drawn criticism for its handling of free speech issues.  Watchdog group Freedom House took issue with Turkey’s response to the 2012 film The Innocence of Muslims, an amateur-made video meant to mock Islam in a vitriolic manner.  Erdogan proposed making it an international crime to blaspheme against Islam, but Freedom House released a statement that year saying  “an international blasphemy law would only add a veneer of religious virtue to an existing pattern of hostility toward free expression” established by Erdogan’s jailing of journalists.


UN influence in Syria

From the beginning of the escalating conflict, the UN had been on the side of the people of Syria as we watched on TV the casualties rise day by day. When it seemed like nobody was going to take an action to stop Syria, the US stepped in and moved 5 destroyers off the coast of Syria while bringing in two aircraft carriers and 3 more destroyers into the red sea. This in turn sparked outrage over the US being involved in yet another conflict, but had its desired affect when Russia stepped in and a last minute deal was made.

Syria agreed to let OPCW and UN inspectors inspect and destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles and equipment, and it was agreed that chemical weapon stockpiles would be destroyed outside the country. Since then all chemical sites have been destroyed, and the only thing left to do is move the chemical weapons out of Syria. While it seems simple in concept, the chemical weapons have to be transported to the port city of Latakia so they can be transported overseas. With the current condition Syria is in, and with the uncertainty of what will happen; the chemical weapons are being stored in a safe location. This may seem like a good idea but with Islamist groups including Al-Qaeda still present in the country, even having the stockpile still in the country becomes an unnecessary risk.

Syrian rebels march during a demonstration in Idlib

The high commissioner for human rights for the UN herself said the scale of abuse in Syria “almost defies disbelief”. With the casualty costing the lives of more than 120,000, and displacing millions of Syrians, its not hard to see where human rights violations are taking place. Since Assad took office, he has failed to substantially improve the state of human rights but instead has become an authoritarian dictator who has little to no concern on the lives of his citizens. Free speech, association, and assembly was strictly controlled in Syria before the conflict, and human rights activists were tossed in jails or tortured.

While Bashar Assad is still in power, Islamist rebel groups including Tawhid Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamic Army have joined together together with the rebels to oppose Assad’s regime. The new groups have more support than the western backed Syria Coalition and FSA, it ultimately might not lead to an outcome we want. Steven Hadley illustrates this clearly when he says, “If Assad is allowed to win it sends a message to the world that if you’re willing to kill hundreds of thousands of your people, the international community will let you stay to power. And the opposition winning … increasingly that means Islamists and al-Qaeda.”


By: Rohan Kohli

Bashar Al-Assad implicated in war crimes

With Syria cooperating with UN inspectors to rid nuclear weapons, it was able to eliminate the threat of a possible US intervention and draw the spotlight away from the violence while UN inspectors carried out their tasks. However, a UN inquiry has produced massive evidence of war crimes against humanity, and the trail leads to the head of state Bashar Al-Assad. While it was generally known Assad was calling the shots, this is the first time the UN has accused Assad directly.

With the UN coming directly out and accusing Assad, many wonder if it will affect January’s Geneva 2 peace conference to end the violence once and for all in Syria. Navi Pillay, the UN’s human rights chief herself had said the Syrian conflict had “become an intolerable affront to the human conscience” (Guardian). Faisal Miqdad, the deputy foreign minister, responded by stating, “She has been talking nonsense for a long time and we don’t listen to her” (Guardian). This just goes to show how little Bashar Assad is worried of being charged with war crimes, in a conflict that has already claimed 125,835 lives.


While accusing Bashar Assad of war crimes is something i strongly believe in, it is not very likely that Assad will be brought to trial. The UN commission however not only accused the Syrian government of committing war crimes, but they also said rebels backed by western and Arab countries were guilty as well. In a country where both sides are fighting for control of the country, I don’t feel it makes sense for the UN to accuse both sides of war crimes shifting the blame from Bashar Al-Assad to both sides. While Assad most definitely had his hands in starting the conflict, it is undeniable as Syria’s head of state, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces he had full control of what was happening.

While Pillay has repeatedly asked for the case to be handed to the ICC in The Hague, an ICC referral requires the backing of the five permanent members; US, UK, France, Russia and China. Two of the members Russia and China have blocked any action against the Syrian government, and are not likely to change their ground. With Russia and China out, the US, UK, and France have instead focused on securing the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons. With the Geneva 2 peace conference to take place on January 22, it is unlikely that Assad will co-operate if he is facing war crimes charges (Guardian).

A strong point PIllay brings up is that the ongoing efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons shouldn’t distract from the killings of thousands with other weapons. While chemical weapons caused the largest number of deaths in the war in a single day, conventional weapons accounted for majority of the deaths in the Syrian war. While it is unlikely that Assad will be brought to justice anytime soon, there will be a day where he has to face the crimes he committed against his own citizens. Hopefully that day isn’t too far away…


By: Rohan Kohli

Health Problems Plaguing Sudan, South Sudan

On the heels of more clashes between government forces and insurgents, the World Health Organization has confirmed an outbreak of yellow fever in regions of Sudan and South Sudan.

The WHO confirms 14 people have died so far with 44 reported cases. The cases were reported in 12 areas: Lagawa, Kailak, Muglad and Abyei localities in West Kordofan and Elreef Alshargi, Abu Gibaiha, Ghadir, Habila, Kadugli, Altadamon, Talodi and Aliri in South Kordofan. The initial cases were reported in workers traveling from Sudanese plantations in October.

Yellow fever is a disease transmitted by infected mosquitos. The World Health Organization estimates yellow fever infects between 840,000 and 1.7 million people in Africa every year, resulting in anywhere from 29,000 to 60,000 deaths.


Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control 

There is no treatment or cure for yellow fever except for “supportive care”. People can get a preventative vaccine to reduce risk of becoming infected.  Yellow fever affects the body in two stages. The first phase causes fever, muscle pains, shivers and vomiting. Most patients recover after this stage.

The second, more serious phase, leads to jaundice and abdominal pain. Patients may start bleeding from the mouth, nose, or eyes while losing kidney function. About 50% of these patients die in less than two weeks.

The Federal Ministry of Health is planning to organize a “reactive mass vaccination campaign” against yellow fever in the areas where the disease has broken out.
Posted by Courtney Doll

Children Sans Frontiers in Sudan

Children Sans Frontiers is an NGO that works across many African countries. The founders of the organization were deeply affected when they traveled across Africa. After they saw many different countries, they realized the suffering many children were facing and decided to do something about it. Their mission is to bring hope, opportunities and a future to children who might not have the means to succeed alone.

The mission statement of Children Sans Frontiers includes five points: 1) to provide aid for the relief of famine, 2) to advance the education of children in need, 3) to award scholarships to those who want to study, 4) to cooperate with other relief organizations and 5) to do anything else in their power to help the children live better lives.

Children Sans Frontiers

Anyone can make a donation to the organization, and they divide up the donations to the charities they support. However, if you want to donate money to one specific cause, you can choose the beneficiary from a list of organizations they support. One of the guidelines of their operations is that no members of the organization are allowed to profit from any involvement in the organization.

All money has to cover operating costs, be used for a Children Sans Frontiers project, or be donated to a different charity organization they support. Some of the organizations they are currently supporting are The British Red Cross, the Fistula Hospital of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and their own efforts to help reduce suffering in Syria.

The reason why Children Sans Frontiers appeals so much to me is because of my desire to help others. I feel we are blessed to live in a country where attacks similar the ones occurring in Syria do not happen frequently, if at all in recent history. Since I was young, I have had a drive to serve others and help those less fortunate than I am. If I had a year to volunteer with an organization that helps others, I would love to work with Children Sans Frontiers in how they coordinate their resources.

Posted by Courtney Doll

Worlds Highest Twitter Penetration

Worlds Highest Twitter Penetration

When you think of what country would have the most users on twitter, which country do you think of? The answer is Saudi Arabia. Does this answer surprise you? Well a surprising 41% of Saudi Arabian internet users have accounts on Twitter. While this number puts them in the lead for number of twitter users in proportion to area and population, the actual number of users is small. Only 54% of the population in Saudi Arabia uses the internet. So actually only about 6 million internet users are on twitter as compared to the 40 million users in the US. Only about 18% of the United States’ internet users are on twitter.

The rapid spread of Twitter in Saudi Arabia can be attributed to three main reasons, the largest two being the availability of high-speed Internet and smart mobile devices.

Smart phone penetration in the Kingdom exceeds 72 percent. The hot climate also makes the Internet in general and social networking sites in particular a real resort for the youth.
Thirdly, a large group of journalists, intellectuals and athletes, as well as foreigners residing in the Kingdom, use Twitter network to communicate with each other and discuss various social and local issues and developments in the Arab world.
These factors and others have contributed to the creation of more than a million new accounts on Twitter during the past year alone.

Posted By: Brittany Lintner


Saudi Arabia’s Grace Period for Illegal Workers Comes To an End- Thousands Arrested

On Monday, Inspection squads started massive raids across Saudi Arabia to catch labor and residency law violators following the end of the amnesty period.

Thousands of illegals were apprehended in various regions of the kingdom. Roughly 5,000 unregulated men and women were apprehended over the course of one day.

Inspectors raided several public places and squares as well as places where illegals used to gather in various parts of the city.

A long queue stretched down the road outside a visa office as foreign workers tried to leave without paying fines for overstaying. Some carried personal possessions in hopes of leaving immediately.

In the Batha district, home to many low-paid foreigners, some shops were shut and only Saudi employees were working in others. Market stalls had vanished from the normally busy street where vendors hawk fruit, vegetables, clothes and mobile phones.

Before the amnesty period expired on Monday the government issued repeated warnings to foreigners to correct their status or face punishments including prison, fines and deportation. Companies employing expatriates without proper visas will also be fined, as will people or firms that charge expatriates a fee to sponsor their visa.

Posted By: Brittany Lintner

Sudan in the News

It’s been a busy week in the news for Sudan, and a lot of the news reflects poorly on the country. Here’s what’s been making headlines in Sudan this week:

  • Sudan’s most popular newspaper has (finally) been allowed to re-open after being forced closed for a month. The country had a string of protests against rising oil prices that cause extreme censorship of the media. The paper is run by al-Bashir’s uncle. Other media stations forced to close have still not been allowed to re-open. Sudan ranks near the very bottom of the list of countries based on free press. (Via Yahoo! News)


  • The Sudanese foreign minister Ali Ahmed Karti said that Sudan denied the Iranians when they offered to build Sudan missile defense platforms. These platforms would have helped the country stop future Israeli attacks. Many believe Israel attacked Sudan at least twice since 2009. (Via Sudan Tribune)JPEG - 32 kb
  • Parts of the country have begun a large campaign to reduce polio in the country. Officials hope 150,000 people will be able to get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of the disease. At least 3 people have been diagnosed with polio in South Sudan, and officials worry the disease will spread to Sudan.  (Via AllAfrica)
  • Sudan’s presidential assistant, Nafie Ali Nafie, is accusing “some” western countries of using their pull with the World Bank to harm Sudan. He says these countries, which he will not name, are trying to prevent Sudan from obtaining its rights. Nafie “said that Africa has long suffered from foreign agendas behind the humanitarian work, describing the African experience with the western voluntary organizations as “rough.” (via Sudan Tribune)
  • Sources:

Posted by Courtney Doll

NGO in Iraq

By Congrong Zheng

Recent years especially after the war, there are lots of NGOs that work actively in Iraq. The NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq, or NCCI is created by NGOs in Iraq to promote information sharing and create networks.  The NCCI presented in Baghdad in April 2003. NCCI has 68 NGO members, and 5 observer NGOs, who are international and national organizations operating in Iraq and involved in all sectors of humanitarian and development work.


One of the active members in NCCI is Nature Iraq which  was created to protect, restore, and preserve Iraq’s natural environment and the rich cultural heritage that it an Iraqi non-governmental organization registered in Iraq, accredited to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Iraq’s first and only Affiliate to Birdlife International, and the only Middle Eastern member of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

There are several aspects that Nature Iraq focusing on. THey have worked on biodiversity and environmental restoration by conducting seasonal survey since 2005. They also help protect water resources. Their project, Water keepers Iraq is focused on grassroots advocacy and outreach, with an element of quantitative water quality and threat assessments.The Mesopotamian Outreach Project addresses transboundary water issues through a mixture of advocacy and network buildings. On their front page there is a short video clip about Mesopotamia.

The other part that Nature in Iraq working on is sustainable development. They focused on developing  ecotourism programs that develop and model strategies for environmental education, economic development, land and resource management, and scientific research. The last topic they focus on is capacity building. Right now they are working on a project called New Eden Project. Nature Iraq, the Italian Ministry of Environment, and the Iraqi Ministry of Environment signed a second five-year Memorandum of Understanding  to provide technical support to the Iraqi Ministry of Environment, primarily in support of Iraq’s obligations to theConvention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Geography of Sudan

Sudan is the largest country in Africa. It is bordered by 9 countries and is along the Red Sea. Based on area in square miles, Sudan is the tenth largest country in the world. Image

Sudan was previously larger, but in 2011, the Southern region seceded and became South Sudan. South Sudan is mostly composed of Christians, who have a long history of fighting with the Muslims located in other regions of Sudan.

Even though Sudan is so large, most it looks exactly the same: like a flat plain. There are not many major landforms in any region. However, one of the few notable landforms is a range of mountains in the northeast and south of Sudan.


Sudan’s highest point is Kinyeti which can be found on its far southern border with Uganda. Most of northern Sudan is desert that is suffering from serious desertification, or the drying out of a region.

Because Sudan is so large, the climate also varies widely. The south of Sudan is quite tropical, while the north is very dry. The temperature varies with the climate, but major rivers also run through the country, causing humidity in bordering cities.