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The release of dozens of student protesters in Myanmar is a step forward for human rights that should pave the way for the new government to release all remaining prisoners of conscience and amend or repeal all laws that fuel arbitrary arrests, Amnesty International said.
The Tharawaddy Court in Myanmar today dropped charges against scores of students facing jail for largely peaceful protests in March 2015. The move came after the new government announced on 7 April that it would work to release all prisoners of conscience as soon as possible.
"Today's release of most of the student protesters is a huge step forward for human rights in Myanmar, and we are delighted that these men and women will walk free. It sends a strong message about the new government's intention to end the cycle of political arrest and detention in Myanmar. We are now looking forward to the release of all other prisoners of conscience - including those students who are facing charges in other courts. The new government must ensure that no prisoner of conscience is left in jail," said Laura Haigh, Amnesty International's Myanmar Researcher.
"Of course, a prisoner release is only a first step - the NLD must also reform the country's repressive legal framework, which has for too long been used to clamp down on dissent. As long as these laws remain on the books, human rights defenders and activists will remain at risk of being jailed simply for expressing their opinions. Thankfully, the NLD has acknowledged the need to repeal and amend repressive laws, and we are looking forward to seeing the government following up on this.
"The new administration must also aim to ensure support and rehabilitation for those released in today's amnesty, along with the many others before them who were unjustly imprisoned."
At least five student leaders who are facing charges in other courts remain in detention while they wait for the charges to be dropped. They are Phyoe Phyoe Aung, James (aka Lin Htet Naing), Nandar Sitt Aung, Kyaw Ko Ko and Myint Thwe Thit.
On 24 March 2016, Amnesty International published a report on political imprisonment in Myanmar which highlighted the worrying erosion of newly found freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the country since the start of 2014. Since then, hundreds of people have been arrested, charged, arbitrarily detained or imprisoned in politically motivated cases. They include student protesters, political activists, media workers, human rights defenders and, in particular, land and labour activists.
The report highlights how authorities have used both old and new laws to silence dissent, and how the use of these laws has been supported by a range of other tactics to keep human rights defenders and activists in detention or in prison for lengthy periods of time, creating a climate of fear among human rights defenders and other activists in the country.
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.
"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."
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said one campaigner.
Climate campaigners on Thursday said that within days, President Joe Biden's promises to end public finance for fossil fuel projects may prove empty if plans that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation has indicated it has for an LNG project in Poland come to fruition.
The DFC, which oversees U.S. investments in development projects in lower- and middle-income countries, listed on its pending project list on May 23 a $500 million guarantee to support the Polish oil and gas company PKN Orlen to increase its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.
The pending transaction was listed ahead of the DFC's board meeting, which is scheduled for June 7.
Oil Change International (OCI) noted that the LNG listing was removed on May 30, but the "public information summary" remained live as of Thursday, suggesting the board could still approve the project.
The project, which would involve Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs helping the company to increase its imports, would be in direct contradiction to President Joe Biden's statement at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021 that his administration would end public finance for fossil fuel development after 2022.
"President Biden has cited his promise to end international public funding for fossil fuels as a sign of his ongoing commitment to climate leadership, even as he boosts fossil fuels and breaks many of his core climate promises at home," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at OCI. "The Development Finance Corporation approving this dirty project would show once and for all these claims are nothing but empty words."
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels."
LNG is gas that has been cooled and liquefied after being extracted by drilling or fracking. As Common Dreamsreported in April, 116 climate action groups wrote to Biden ahead of the Group of 7 (G7) climate and energy meeting in Japan last month to warn that "the global LNG boom" must be stopped.
Campaigners say the continued expansion of LNG would harm communities that lie near fracking and drilling sites as well as LNG export terminals, while disregarding the warnings of scientists and energy experts who are unequivocal in their warnings that new fossil fuel extraction projects have no place on a pathway to keeping planetary heating under 2°C above preindustrial temperatures.
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said Rees. "A rapid buildout of 100% renewable energy is the only pathway to global energy security."
The DFC's potential approval of the project would mark the second time in less than a month that the Biden administration has agreed to finance new fossil fuel development. In May the U.S. Export-Import Bank approved nearly $100 million for the Balikpapan oil refinery in Indonesia.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel also spoke at a recent Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference about a proposal for an 807-mile gas pipeline across Alaska and an LNG export terminal that he claimed would be in the United States' economic and national security interests.
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels," wrote Kay Brown, Arctic policy director for Pacific Environment, at Common Dreams on Thursday. "LNG is methane compressed and chilled to make it easier to transport. Methane emissions are 80 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, in the short term."
While Biden said at COP26 and at the G7 meeting that he is committed to ending public financing for fossil fuel projects past 2022, the White House has not released guidance outlining how that promise will be kept.
"Biden's refusal to publish public guidance upholding the international fossil fuel pledge is enabling DFC to keep funding dirty fossil fuel expansion," said Rees. "In removing this massive handout to the U.S. LNG industry from its pending project list, DFC is following Biden's lead and keeping ongoing fossil fuel support hidden from the public eye."