Watching the World
“It is a failure not only for the United Nations; it is a failure for the international community. And all of us are responsible for this failure,” lamented UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali in speaking of the slaughter in Rwanda. “It is a genocide which has been committed. More than 200,000 people have been killed and the international community is still discussing what ought to be done.” As reported on May 26, the secretary-general said that he had written to over 30 heads of State and begged them to send troops and had worked with different organizations in an effort to find a solution. “Unfortunately,” he added, “I failed. It is a scandal. I am the first one to say it.” Few African nations can afford the costs of sending troops, especially since the UN has delayed reimbursements because of its own financial difficulties. Most Western nations have declined to get involved, and U.S. president Bill Clinton mentioned that using American military power was not justified by the interests at stake. Mr. Boutros-Ghali placed the blame on “donor fatigue,” as the nations who supply personnel and money are being asked to do so for 17 different United Nations operations, according to The New York Times.
No Human Explanation
“Can anything explain Rwanda’s sudden appalling bloodlust?” asks The Economist of London. “Even long-standing [ethnic] hostility does not explain the ruthless murder.” While the Tutsi and the Hutu may look a bit different, they have lived for centuries alongside one another and have shared a commmon language and culture. The article compares their tribal difference to that between the Scots and the English. “Yet now they have turned on each other, not with impersonal mortars or long-range rifles but with machetes, hoes, clubs and bare hands. Neighbours have killed neighbours, even old childhood friends. Men, women and children have been slaughtered alike. Why? No one seems able to say.”
Bird Demise Gives Warnings
While hardy species of birds—sparrows, mynahs, crows—flourish under harsh conditions, most of the world’s birds are not faring as well. Of 9,600 bird species, 70 percent are declining and 1,000 species may face extinction in the near future. “What is alarming, beyond the direct losses taking place, is that birds, unlike many other life forms, are particularly good indicators of the health of other species—and of whole ecosystems,” says World Watch magazine. “What we are seeing is not just a warning of impending degradation, but a part of the degradation itself—a tearing of the ecological web that keeps the planet’s health in balance.” Birds keep animal and insect pests in check, pollinate plants, and aid in reforestation by scattering tree seeds in their droppings. But their lives are threatened and their habitats destroyed as humans alter the landscape—cutting down forests, using grasslands for grazing and plowing, draining wetlands, and obliterating huge areas by massive dam projects—not to mention killing them outright by hunting, overuse of chemicals, toxic wastes, and oil spills. “The pace of bird extinctions—along with those of other animals and plants—appears likely to accelerate rapidly,” the article notes.
Each year over 15 million women between the ages of 15 and 20 give birth worldwide, estimates Populi, a magazine of the United Nations Population Fund. This figure does not include girls younger than 15, nor does it account for abortions or miscarriages. In Africa alone about 28 percent of all women give birth before they are 18 years of age. Researchers say that among the reasons for increasing teenage pregnancy on that continent are ignorance about sexual matters, early marriages, and economic hardship that tempts young women to enter into sugar-daddy relationships with older, wealthy men. “Not only do teenage women face, on average, twice the risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth than women 20-34 years old,” says Populi, “but the infants of teen mothers are more likely to die, too.”
Computer Help for the Deaf
A newly developed computer system may soon be helping deaf people to learn to speak normally. For the deaf, learning how to speak is almost the same as learning a foreign language. This fact is what sparked the development of the program by the Research Centre of Language Technologies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. A report by the Agence France-Presse news service says that the system’s computer analyzes a student’s speech and instantly indicates where corrections and adjustments are needed for proper pronunciation. Additionally, the program will include a series of lessons designed to help the deaf gradually improve their speech intonation and rhythm. The system will also be adapted for teaching foreign languages to deaf students.
World-War-I Artifact Derails Train
An artifact of World War I derailed the pride of the French National Railways, its TGV (High-Speed Train), on its newly opened Paris-Valenciennes line to the north of France. The Paris newspaper Le Monde reports that the accident occurred when previously undetected underground vaults beneath the TGV’s rails suddenly collapsed. The area of the accident was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the 1914-18 conflict, the Battle of the Somme. Although they are nearly impossible to detect from the surface, underground galleries, buried trenches, and bomb craters—remnants of the trench warfare of the first world war—honeycomb the whole area. Technical crews were sent to comb the rail’s roadbed so that other potential danger areas in the railroad could be located and reinforced.
Murderous Use of Handguns
How many people were murdered by means of handguns in 1992? In Australia there were 13, in Britain 33, in Canada 128, in Japan 60, in Sweden 36, in Switzerland 97, and in the United States a staggering 13,220, according to recently released statistics. As reported in the International Herald Tribune, 38,317 people were killed by firearms in homicides, suicides, and accidents in the United States during 1991—more than 100 deaths each day. U.S. president Bill Clinton spoke of one hospital where the number of admissions for gunshot wounds rose from 449 to 1,220 in just five years. Despite the carnage, manufacturers produce a new handgun every 20 seconds.
Humans are not the only ones seeking refuge from the ravages of war. “Frightened by the continuing war in the former Yugoslavia, the brown bear is moving out of the great evergreen forests of Bosnia and heading north towards Italy,” states New Scientist. “Environmentalists in Italy and Slovenia have joined forces to try to protect the refugee bears.” However, the bears have met other dangers from humans. Several of the migrating bears have been killed by cars on Italian and Slovenian motorways. Some have also been killed after attacking livestock or killed by poachers. Farmers in Slovenia are allowed by law to kill animals that damage their crops or attack their livestock. Money has been raised to supply the bears with food and thus help them to stay in protected areas.
Refugees Get the Worst of Both Worlds
In 1993 there was a great global increase in the number of refugees to over 20 million, says Sadako Ogata, commissioner of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. There were only 15 million refugees in 1991, when she took office. Political instability and ethnic conflicts are the chief reasons for the surge of refugees, reports the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. It seems, however, that refugees get the worst of both worlds. Why? Because in their new host countries, the commissioner added, often refugees were more and more the target for violence. Racial hatred and contempt for foreigners are becoming widespread, she said.
“The number of homicides increases 58 percent at carnival time,” reports the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo. In São Paulo, “there were 79 homicides and 124 murder attempts.” In addition there were 2,227 robberies (277 in 1993) and 807 assaults (282 in 1993) in those five days, as “thieves attacked homes, stores, industries, people on the street.” There were also 37 suicides and 25 rapes. “In Rio de Janeiro, the Civil Police reported that violence increased 14 percent in comparison with the 1993 carnival. There were 63 murders, 10 more than last year.” In writing on “the risks of carnival” in the newspaper Jornal do Brasil, Dom Eugênio de Araújo Sales, cardinal archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, said: “The Church is not against the carnival as entertainment and manifestation of joy, both very useful for people’s psychological balance. The Church condemns, yes, violations of the moral law, which we are subjected to, like it or not.”