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The United Nations Security Council is failing to make good on its promises to stop rape in war, Human Rights Watch said today. The council should immediately create a high-level coordinator for efforts to prevent and punish sexual violence in conflict, the organization said.
On June 19, 2008, the Security Council adopted the ground-breaking resolution 1820, spelling out concrete obligations of individual countries and United Nations entities to prevent and punish sexual violence when it is used as a weapon of war. But such violence in many places is unabated or worse, and the Security Council has not made use of its powers to stop it. The resolution included explicit commitments to prosecute sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeepers and to oblige peacekeepers to prioritize the protection of women and girls, but to little effect.
"The Security Council has been all talk and no action when it comes to protecting women in war zones," said Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. "Even after the council members' May visit to Congo - which currently has the worst record on rape in war - it's back to business as usual."
The Security Council will discuss the protection of civilians on June 26, and sexual violence in conflict on July 17. Human Rights Watch and other groups have expressed hope that these debates will move the council closer to the creating a high-level post to address the human rights and needs of women in armed conflict.
The 2008 resolution on sexual violence followed a broader set of commitments on women in conflict made in 2000 in Security Council resolution 1325, including a call to include women in peace processes and negotiations. A recent study by UNIFEM, the UN fund for women, shows little if any movement on these issues as well. Many governments and representatives of private groups have said that the lack of a high-level spokesperson on women in armed conflict at the UN secretariat is a major reason for these failures.
"The UN needs a coordinator on the issue of women and armed conflict, at a level that signals accountability and commitment - a special representative or envoy to the secretary-general," Mollmann said. "Momentum has been building for an appointment of this kind, but it needs to happen now."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"By voting for a dirty deal that fast-tracks the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline and guts bedrock environmental laws, Congress betrayed people and the planet," said one campaigner.
After thwarting a last-minute bid to strip out language mandating approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the U.S. Senate late Thursday passed legislation that would raise the debt limit and avert a default.
But congressional Republicans ensured that preventing an economic catastrophe would come at a significant cost for vulnerable people and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis—and the Biden White House ultimately acceded to some of the GOP hostage-takers' demands, declining to use its executive authority to continue paying the nation's bills.
The legislation that the Senate approved by a vote of 63 to 36 could put 750,000 older adults at risk of losing federal nutrition aid, deepening the nation's hunger crisis. It also enshrines an end to the student loan payment pause before the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the Biden administration's student debt cancellation plan.
Most alarming, from the perspective of climate campaigners, is the measure's provisions weakening the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and expediting construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile fracked gas project that could have the emissions impact of dozens of new coal-fired power plants.
"These provisions are a win for polluters, and the elected officials in their pocket," said Alice Madden, policy and political director at Greenpeace USA.
One of the fossil fuel industry's top allies in Congress, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), reportedly helped Republicans push the White House to include the Mountain Valley Pipeline language in the final legislation.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a state that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run through, put forth an amendment that aimed to strike the pipeline approval language. But his effort fell short on Thursday, with 20 Democrats and two Independents—Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Angus King of Maine—joining Republicans in voting down the amendment.
A separate amendment from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) targeting the NEPA provisions, which would allow for speedier construction of fossil fuel projects by imposing new restrictions on the environmental review process, didn't get a vote.
\u201cThere is underpublicized, outrageous language in the debt ceiling bill that does deep damage to America's bedrock environmental law, including letting corporations write their own environmental impact statements.\n\nI'm filing an amendment to focus attention on this travesty.\u201d— Senator Jeff Merkley (@Senator Jeff Merkley) 1685654021
"By voting for a dirty deal that fast-tracks the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline and guts bedrock environmental laws, Congress betrayed people and the planet," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International. "These provisions, which are totally unrelated to the national debt, will turn historically underserved and environmental justice communities into sacrifice zones."
“We applaud the bold leaders in Congress who voted to strip the Mountain Valley Pipeline from the Fiscal Responsibility Act and put people over polluters," Rees said. "We will continue to stand with frontline communities opposing this dirty project, and we will not back down. This pipeline will not be built."
Denali Nalamalapu, communications director of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, echoed that message.
"Our global movement to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline is stronger than ever," said Nalamalapu. "While we are outraged and devastated in this unprecedented moment, we will never stop fighting this unfinished, unnecessary, and unwanted project. Our hearts are broken but our bonds are strong."
"The pipeline itself is an assault against a sustainable planet. We must recognize that fossil gas is just as damaging as coal. Pretending otherwise is leading us to climate catastrophe."
The Mountain Valley Pipeline has been tied up in litigation for years, delaying construction as the project's owners struggle to obtain the permits necessary to run the fracked gas infrastructure through waterways and wetlands. Last month, as Common Dreamsreported, the Biden administration handed the pipeline's backers a huge victory by granting approval for the project to cross the Jefferson National Forest.
The debt ceiling legislation, formally titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, would run roughshod over local and national opposition to the pipeline, ordering federal agencies to issue all permits necessary for the project's completion.
The bill, which now heads to President Joe Biden's desk, also states that "no court shall have jurisdiction to review any action taken" by federal agencies to clear the way for the pipeline—and any dispute over that provision will be under the "exclusive jurisdiction" of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
"This profoundly undermines the integrity of our judiciary," Merkley said Thursday. "For Congress to—by law—move a court case from one jurisdiction to another, to provide a special favor to a powerful corporation, is fundamentally corrupt. This is a line we should never cross."
"The pipeline itself is an assault against a sustainable planet," the senator added. "We must recognize that fossil gas is just as damaging as coal. Pretending otherwise is leading us to climate catastrophe."
In the wake of Thursday's vote, climate advocates are planning a June 8 rally in front of the White House to demand that Biden do everything in his power to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
"By backing Manchin's Dirty Deal, the Biden administration has signaled they are willing to sacrifice Appalachians for their own political gain," organizers said. "This is Biden's pipeline. He can stop MVP just like he stopped Keystone XL. He can reclaim his climate legacy by stopping all new fossil fuel projects."
"These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks."
An analysis of previously secret documents published Wednesday sheds new light on how chemical corporations aped Big Tobacco by conspiring to conceal the extreme toxicity of a class of synthetic compounds contaminating the Earth's air, water, soil, plants, and animals—including most of the world's people.
Commonly called "forever chemicals" because they do not biodegrade and accumulate in the human body, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—which include PFOS, PFOA, and GenX—have myriad uses, from nonstick cookware to waterproof clothing to firefighting foam. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS is linked to cancers of the kidneys and testicles, low infant weight, suppressed immune function, and other adverse health effects. It is found in the blood of 99% of Americans and a similar percentage of people around the world.
"The industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries to influence science and regulation—most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse."
But that wasn't known until recently. Scientists and public health officials were some of the first to understand the dangers of PFAS, and in recent years, exposés like Stephanie Soechtig and Jeremy Seifer's 2018 documentary feature The Devil We Know and a 2022 episode of HBO's "Last Week Tonight" in which host John Oliver called PFAS "the devil's piss" raised awareness of the "forever chemicals." In 2018, Congress held its first hearing, and around that time it emerged that chemical giants DuPont and 3M understood—and covered up—the dangers of PFAS.
The Devil They Knew: Chemical Documents Analysis of Industry Influence on PFAS Science—a new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Global Health—enriches understanding of the chemical industry's role in concealing the dangers of PFAS. It includes documents like a 1970 DuPont internal memo stating the PFOA C8—used to make the nonstick surface Teflon—is "highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when injected."
"These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks," Tracey J. Woodruff—who wrote the paper with Nadia Gaber and Lisa Bero—toldPhys.org.
\u201cSee our new article using the valuable @UCSF @industrydocs to categorize strategies the industry uses to distort and hide science\u201d— Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH (@Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH) 1685645614
One 1979 DuPont report describes a range of highly toxic effects from testing PFAS on animals, including two beagles who died after being administered a single 450 mg dose of ammonium perfluorooctanoate, and rats that suffered enlarged livers and eye ulcers.
Another document, from 1980, shows DuPont and 3M learned that two out of eight pregnant employees who worked making C8 had babies with birth defects, but then lied the following year in a memo declaring that "we know of no evidence of birth defects" caused by C8.
"Further, the industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries to influence science and regulation—most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse," the paper states.
The paper's authors did not find "evidence in this archive of funding favorable research or targeted dissemination of those results."
Among the paper's key findings:
"The lack of transparency in industry-driven research on industrial chemicals has significant legal, political, and public health consequences," the paper's authors concluded. "Industry strategies to suppress scientific research findings or early warnings about the hazards of industrial chemicals can be analyzed and exposed, in order to guide prevention."
Recent years have seen an exponential proliferation of PFAS-related litigation, sometimes resulting in verdicts like the $40 million awarded by an Ohio jury to a man who claimed exposure to PFOA in his drinking water gave him testicular cancer twice.
In recent days, states including Arizona, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington have sued companies that manufacture PFAS.
"These companies have known for decades that so-called 'forever chemicals' would contaminate water supplies for generations to come but chose to sell their products anyway," said Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat. "The failure by these polluters to inform the state about the risks associated with these chemicals has harmed our environment and the health of Arizonans—and they must be held accountable."
Last week, Common Dreamsreported that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, also a Democrat, signed into law the nation's broadest PFAS ban. The legislation gradually phases out most PFAS use until "forever chemicals" will be prohibited in all products not essential for public health by 2032.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe," said one advocate.
Economic justice advocates cried foul Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed legislation that aims to block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), along with right-wing Independent Sen. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.), joined Senate Republicans in supporting H.J. Res. 45.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which House Republicans approved last week with the help of Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.), passed the Senate by a margin of 52-46. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.) didn't vote. The White House has vowed to veto the measure.
Passage of the legislation elicited a firestorm of criticism from progressive advocates and lawmakers.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe by passing this reckless CRA resolution," Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) executive director Mike Pierce said in a statement.
"The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill."
The Biden administration's popular move to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes below $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment (IDR) program is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of deeply flawed legal challenges. A decision in the case is expected sometime this month, but right-wing lawmakers are doing everything in their power to sink the president's relief initiative regardless of how the high court rules.
Last week, the SBPC and the American Federation of Teachers warned of the "ruinous impact" H.J. Res. 45 would have on millions of working-class households nationwide, with AFT president Randi Weingarten condemning it as "an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
In addition to blocking the potential cancellation of up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower as well as money-saving changes to the IDR program, the CRA resolution would nullify the seventh and possibly eighth extensions of the federal student loan payment freeze first enacted by President Donald Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, it would retroactively undo several months of already-canceled payments and waived interest charges, immediately leaving tens of millions of people past due on their loans.
Furthermore, the CRA resolution seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean since September 2022. If that were to happen, a combined debt burden of nearly $20 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, would be put back on the shoulders of teachers, nurses, first responders, and others who recently finished making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that was enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
"Despite right-wing proponents' attempts to gaslight their own colleagues and the American people on the impact of this bill, this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions of borrowers for interest that has already been canceled," said Pierce. "If enacted, it will cause irreparable damage to an already severely broken student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in our government."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning in the debt despair of our nation's student loan crisis," he added. "The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill and deliver on his promise of student loan debt relief once and for all."
\u201cRepublicans in the Senate + Dem Senators Manchin, Sinema and Tester just voted to kill student debt relief and *raise* student debt balances by retroactively adding interest.\n\nTester, Sinema and Manchin are all up for re-election in 2024 and will have to explain their votes.\u201d— The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5 (@The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5) 1685644460
Ahead of a Wednesday vote to bring H.J. Res. 45 to the Senate floor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that "Republicans in Congress have shown time and time again that they'd much rather deliver relief to giant corporations and protect tax cheats than help working Americans whose biggest sin was trying to get an education."
On Thursday, the Massachusetts lawmaker called the bill's passage "shameful," and expressed confidence that Biden "will veto" it. Congress doesn't appear to have the two-thirds majority in each chamber needed to override a veto.
\u201cSenate Republicans just voted to block @POTUS' student debt relief plan, force millions to immediately pay back paused student loans & claw back relief from public servants. It's shameful. Thankfully we have President Biden who cares about working people & will veto this.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1685644466
Ahead of Thursday's vote, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member and former chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stressed that "this Republican bill wouldn't only rip away relief for borrowers who qualify under the president's plan."
"This CRA could impact the pause on loan payments and cause major problems for borrowers who have received relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment programs," Murray continued. "That means these Republican efforts could create the perfect storm for more than 260,000 public service workers who have already earned relief."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning."
"If Republicans were to get their way and pass this bill into law," she added, "people across the country would have relief they are counting on snatched away from them, plans they have made upended, less money in their pockets, and monthly payments not just abruptly restarted—but maybe even abruptly jacked up by hundreds of dollars."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the HELP committee, echoed that sentiment.
"Republicans' cruel attempt to stand in the way of President Biden's plans to provide relief to tens of millions of Americans suffering under the crushing weight of student loan debt is damaging to our economy and wildly out of touch with the financial realities facing working families," said Markey.
"The loan forgiveness the president is proposing would mean the difference between buying a home, starting a business, and getting an economic leg up for nearly 50 million working and middle-class Americans, particularly for borrowers of color and their families," he concluded. "If you kicked Republicans in the heart, you'd break your toe."