19 January 2006 Edition

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Media ignore international conflicts

The international focus on events in the Middle East, accentuated by the US campaign in Iraq, has pushed other conflicts out of the news.

On the 12 January, Medicins Sans Frontiers, published a list of ongoing conflicts and humanitarian stories being ignored by media.

This eighth annual list produced by the NGO focuses on conflicts in Congo, Haiti and Chechnya; the crisis in Somalia and southern Sudan; and the lack of research and development on new HIV/AIDS drugs.

Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of MSF in the US said: "Silence is the best ally of injustice". Following MSFs lead, we look this week at some of those humanitarian crises:

Congo

Since the mid-1990s, millions of Congolese have fled their homes to escape fighting between rebels and the government in a conflict which has involved as many as nine neighbouring states. According to estimates, some four million people have died.

Rwanda and Burundi are fighting each other for the prize of taking over Congolese mineral resources to sell them to transnational corporations. The country has 80% of the world's reserves of coltan, used in the manufacture of mobile phones, laptops, CD-players, camcorders and satellites.

Chechnya

While Russian officials claim that the situation in Chechnya has "normalized", so-called sweep operations to round up suspected rebels, landmine accidents, disappearances and violence perpetrated by local militias are all too common. At the same time, the Chechen conflict has all but disappeared from the international political agenda.

On 24 February 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian federation has committed serious abuses, torture and executions of civilians in Chechnya. Moscow was fined a total of €135,710 in damages.

Witness descriptions taken from refugees speak of mass arrests, people vanishing, rape, executions, bodies lying on roads and mass graves. Several journalists have been killed, tortured or vanished.

Haiti

The commander of the UN forces in Haiti, General Urano Bacellar, was found dead on 7January 2006 with a bullet in his head. He was constantly being pushed to escalate the occupation of local neighbourhoods in Haiti. The government, installed by the US after a coup in 2004 that overthrew president Bertrand Aristide, demanded that UN troops occupied and acted with "more energy" in the local districts of Porto Principe.

Human rights activists say that the aim is persecution of opponents of the current regime. So far this has resulted in almost 300 deaths

Elections are scheduled for 7 February but opposition candidates have denounced the exercise as illegitimate, while fearing further repression.


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