China calls out Australia but ignores its own list of human right abuses


China’s spat at Australia, over a tweet slammed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as “repugnant”, is just a sideshow to a far bigger and bolder plan by Beijing that could lead to its multitude human rights abuses being ignored not just at home, but globally as well.

Human rights experts have said China is slowly infiltrating multinational organisations which could lead to a “dystopian future in which no one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors”.

Bilateral relations between Beijing and Canberra, already at rock bottom, have soured even further since China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted a now infamous and fake image in a social media post of a soldier preparing to kill a child in Afghanistan.

Mr Morrison said it was “deeply offensive and utterly outrageous” and demanded an apology.

Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie put all diplomatic niceties aside when she told radio station 2GB that China had hit a “whole new low”.

“Let’s call China for what they are.

“These guys are out of control – they are a pack of bullies,” she said yesterday

“How much more is Australia going to take from China?”

The damning report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, which stated as many as 39 civilians were murdered by Australian troops, has given China a handy stick to beat Canberra with.

It has enabled it to take the focus of its shopping list of human rights transgressions – from Hong Kong to Xinjiang – and attempt to take the moral high ground.

The Australian government has said it will investigate the incidents in Afghanistan and is preparing to take legal action against those named. China seems unconcerned to do the same about its own alleged atrocities.

RELATED: Words that have come back to haunt China over Hong Kong

WHERE CHINA RATES IN GLOBAL RIGHTS INDEX

Australia is by no means perfect, but various human rights organisations and non-governmental bodies have shown the country has a long way to fall before it gets anywhere near China’s lowly position.

Libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, based in the US, publishes a “Human Freedom Index” every year based on measures including the rule of law, security and safety and free expression.

In the latest report, Australia is ranked sixth, behind countries including New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada.

And where does China dwell? At 126 out of 162 nations.

In terms of freedom, Beijing keeps company with a string of absolute monarchies, brutal dictatorships and plain old fashioned tyrants.

It is only slightly ahead of nations such as Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Venezuela.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Chinese Communist Party’s gift to itself on his 70th birthday this year was to “deepen repression”.

“The motivation for Beijing’s attack on rights stems from the fragility of rule by repression rather than popular consent,” HRW’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

“Despite decades of impressive economic growth the Chinese Communist Party is running scared of its own people,”

“The consequence under President Xi Jinping is China’s most pervasive and brutal oppression in decades.”

RELATED: China’s radical new plan to transform its economy could impact globe.

BEIJING BRUSHES OFF ABUSE ALLEGATIONS

China’s ills are many and various.

Amnesty International puts the suppression on the ethnic Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province right at the top of Beijing’s list of shame.

It’s thought China has locked up 1.5 million of its own citizens in what it insists are “vocational educational and training centres” that teach skills, improve literacy and reduce the threat of terrorism.

Critics say they are little more than concentration camps where people are brainwashed into submission to the Communist Party’s ways and parents wrenched from their kids in the process.

In October, 39 nations, including Australia, issued a joint statement condemning China’s continued use of the camps.

elsewhere, there are allegations that earlier this year, Chinese soldiers used clubs studded with nails to injure and kill Indian soldiers in a disputed border regions.

Then there’s the trampling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, in direct contravention of the joint declaration signed by China for the return of the British territory.

CRITICS VANISH

Since the passing of the national security law earlier this year, multiple arrests have taken place in Hong Kong, pro democracy politicians have resigned, public institutions have sacked staff who criticised the CCP and police have raided media outlets that haven’t kowtowed to Beijing’s wishes.

“Communist China threatens to strip from Hong Kong its long-held status as one of the freest places in the world and to relegate it to the cellar, where the rest of China unfortunately dwells,” the Cato Institute stated.

The country has been called out for “disappearing” critics and holding them on spurious charges with little access to lawyers including in Hong Kong even before the harsh new laws came into play.

It has taken almost two years from when Australian writer and democracy activist Yang Hengjun was detained to be charged with espionage; charges that Mr Morrison has said are “completely untrue”.

We still don’t know why Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei was arrested in August.

RELATED: Shocking image China doesn’t recognise

Two Canadians are locked up in China, also on espionage charges. The real reason is thought to be revenge for Canada’s detention of an executive of tech firm Huawei on fraud charges.

Add to this China’s muscling in on the South China Sea – far from its shores – and constant threats of invasion towards democratic Taiwan.

All of this doesn’t touch on Communist China’s historical human rights horrors including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre where pro-democracy activists were killed and the taking of the once independent nation of Tibet.

CHINA’S “DYSTOPIAN” PLAN

Yet, astonishingly, China has slowly ingratiated itself into worldwide bodies, often parking itself in human rights related roles.

One of the most flagrant examples was this year when Beijing official Jiang Duan took up a position on a United Nations (UN) panel that makes decisions on which human right violations should be investigated.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of organisation UN Watch, which reports on the UN’s performance, was scathing of the appointment.

“Allowing China’s oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac the town fire chief.”

Human Rights Watch’s Mr Roth said China’s “dystopian” plan involved using its economic and governmental clout to silence critics and neuter organisations around the world that would otherwise call out human rights abuses.

Notably, a number of Muslim majority countries that have benefited from China’s largesse have said little about the Xinjiang camps.

“No other government is simultaneously detaining a million members of an ethnic minority for forced indoctrination and attacking anyone who dares to challenge its repression,” Mr Roth said.

“And while other governments commit serious human rights violations, no other government flexes its political muscles with such vigour and determination to undermine the international human rights standards and institutions that could hold it to account.”

The aim, Mr Roth said, “is to portray China as open, welcoming, and powerful, even as it descends into ever more ruthless autocratic rule”.

Politicians of all stripes in Australia have expressed regret and shock at the Afghan war crimes report, and that those accused should be fairly tried.

But many of those same politicians have bristled at being called out by China, a serial and adept violator of human rights.

Senator Lambie said China’s record on freedom was “absolute rubbish” and claimed it had been given a free pass for too long due to lucrative trade between the two nations.

“If we’re really going to stand up to them … whatever is left to trade with them will go down the gurgler.

“So, it’s whether or not Australians are going to be prepared to take that.”



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Formula 1 2020 News, Bahrain Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Human rights issue


Lewis Hamilton returned to work as a seven-time champion on Thursday and immediately urged Formula One to take real action on human rights issues in “some of the places that we go to”.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, an event that was cancelled in 2011 following the suppression of pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring uprisings, Hamilton said he wanted to see change.

“The human rights issue in some of the places that we go to is a consistent and a massive problem and I think it’s very, very important,” he said.

Watch The Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2020 Live & On-Demand on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >

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WWF Admits “Sorrow” Over Human Rights Abuses


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One of the world’s largest charities knew for years that it was funding alleged human rights abusers but repeatedly failed to address the issue, a lengthy, long-delayed report revealed on Tuesday.

A BuzzFeed News investigation first exposed in March 2019 how WWF, the beloved nonprofit with the cuddly panda logo, financed and equipped park rangers accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people. In response, WWF immediately commissioned an “independent review” led by Navi Pillay, a former United Nations commissioner for human rights.

The 160-page review, which has now been published online, corroborates problems exposed by BuzzFeed News in Nepal, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report claimed the panel was prevented by the COVID-19 pandemic from traveling to locations where the abuses reportedly took place.

The review found that WWF had failed again and again to follow “its own commitments to respect human rights” — commitments that are not just required by law but essential to “the conservation of nature.”


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In a statement issued in response to the review, WWF expressed “deep and unreserved sorrow for those who have suffered,” and said that abuses by park rangers “horrify us and go against all the values for which we stand.” The charity acknowledged its shortcomings and welcomed the recommendations, saying “we can and will do more.”

Pillay’s review declined to address whether high-level executives, who BuzzFeed News found were aware of “accelerating” violence at at least one wildlife park as early as January 2018, were responsible for the charity’s missteps.

In the Congo Basin, where WWF did an “especially weak” job fulfilling its human rights commitments, the wildlife charity did not fully investigate accounts of murder, rape, and torture out of fear that government partners would “react negatively to an effort to investigate past human rights abuses,” the panel found. There and elsewhere, WWF provided technical and financial support to park rangers, known locally as “eco-guards,” even after learning about similar, horrifying allegations — and, in some cases, after damning reviews commissioned by the non-profit itself confirmed “serious and widespread” reports of abuse.

The report found “no formal mechanism in place for WWF to be informed of alleged abuses during anti-poaching missions” in Nepal, despite torture, rape, and murder allegations ranging from the early 2000s to this past July, when park officials were alleged to have beaten an Indigenous youth and destroyed homes of a local community. “WWF needs to know what is happening on the ground where it works” in order to fulfill its own human rights policies, the report said.


Frank Bienewald / Getty Images

A river in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park.

Overall, WWF paid too little attention to credible abuse allegations, failed to construct a system for victims to make complaints, and painted an overly rosy picture of its anti-poaching war in public communications, the report found. “Unfortunately, WWF’s commitments to implement its social policies have not been adequately and consistently followed through,” the report’s authors wrote.

WWF has supported efforts to fight wildlife crime for decades. Although local governments officially employ and pay park rangers who patrol national parks and protected wildlife reserves, in a number of countries across Africa and Asia WWF has provided crucial funding to make their jobs possible. The charity has framed its crusade against poaching in the hardened terms of war.

In a multipart series, BuzzFeed News found that WWF’s war on poaching came with civilian casualties: impoverished villagers living near the parks. At the time, WWF responded that many of BuzzFeed’s assertions did “not match our understanding of events” — yet the charity swiftly overhauled many of its human rights policies after publication.

In the US, the series spurred a bipartisan investigation and proposed legislation that would prohibit the government from awarding money to international conservation groups that fund or support human rights violations. It also prompted a freeze of funds by the Interior Department, a review by the Government Accountability Office, and separate government probes in the UK and Germany.

The new review offers more recommendations for the charity to improve its oversight, including hiring more human rights specialists, conducting stronger due diligence before committing to conservation projects, signing human rights commitments with WWF’s government and law enforcement partners in the field, and establishing effective complaint systems so that Indigenous people can more easily report abuse.

The review found that there was no “consistent and unified effort” across WWF’s network of offices around the world to “address complaints about human rights abuses” until 2018.

Many of the panel’s findings pointed directly to the top: “Commitments to meet the responsibility to respect human rights should be approved at the most senior level of the institution,” the panel wrote. Although all of WWF’s offices in the Congo Basin fall under the direct authority of WWF International, staff at its headquarters in Gland, Switzerland did little to oversee the organization’s work there.

WWF International also didn’t provide clear guidance to local offices about how to implement its human rights commitments. For example, there were no network-wide norms about how to work with law enforcement and park rangers. As a result, each program office “was left on its own to develop – or not – codes of conduct, training materials, conditions for supporting rangers, and procedures for responding to allegations of abuse.”

“Ultimately, the responsibility was on WWF International and the WWF Network as a whole to ensure that the allegations of human rights abuses by eco-guards to which WWF was providing financial and technical support were properly addressed,” the panel wrote.


Ezequiel Becerra / Getty Images

WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini

Last October BuzzFeed News revealed that both Director General Marco Lambertini and Chief Operating Officer Dominic O’Neill personally reviewed a WWF-commissioned report documenting “accelerating” accounts of violence by WWF-backed guards in Cameroon. That report was sent to higher-ups in January 2018 — more than a year before BuzzFeed News began exposing similar abuses. Yet Pillay’s review said little about whether WWF executives were responsible for the charity’s failings.

Instead the review focused on WWF’s complex system, under which individual program offices partner with countries “with apparently very limited consultation or oversight from WWF International,” even when WWF International is legally responsible. This obscured “clear lines of responsibility and accountability,” resulting in “difficulties and confusion” and “ineffective” attempts to address human rights, the panel wrote.

The panel couldn’t find a single contract between WWF International and its partner countries that contained provisions concerning human rights responsibilities or the rights of Indigenous people.

The panel also criticized WWF’s press briefings at length, saying it needed to be “more forthcoming about the challenges it faces” and “more transparent about how it responds when faced with allegations of human rights abuses associated with activities that it supports.” In some cases, “it is clear that to avoid fuelling criticism WWF decided not to publish commissioned reports, to downplay information received, or to overstate the effectiveness of its proposed responses.”

An internal focus on promoting “good news” seems “to have led to a culture” in which program offices “have been unwilling to share or escalate the full extent of their knowledge about allegations of human rights abuses because of concern about scaring off donors or offending state partners,” the report said. “WWF at all levels should be more transparent both internally and externally about the challenges it faces in promoting conservation and respecting human rights. Equally important, it must be more forthright about the effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, of its efforts to overcome those challenges.”

The report attracted immediate criticism from prominent voices who said it did not fully acknowledge the charity’s responsibility for abuses against Indigenous people. Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, the tribal rights advocacy group, said “the report echoes previous WWF responses in passing the blame onto ‘government rangers.’” A spokesperson for Rainforest Foundation UK said the report “fails to take responsibility” for WWF’s shortcomings “or issue a sincere apology to the many individuals who have suffered human rights abuses carried out in their name.”

The Forest Peoples Program, an Indigenous rights group that has reported abuses to WWF, said the report showed the need for all wildlife charities to take a hard look at themselves.

“The human rights abuses suffered by Indigenous peoples and local communities listed in the report highlight fundamental issues that arise across the conservation sector as a whole, not isolated to WWF,” said Helen Tugendhat, program coordinator at the Forest Peoples Program. “We urge other conservation organizations as well as conservation funders to read this report closely and evaluate and amend their own practices.”



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WWF vows to ‘do more’ after human rights abuse reports


A 160-page report released on Tuesday said the charity “should have been more transparent” and needed to “more firmly engage governments to uphold human rights”.



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Commentary: How COVID-19 has forced employers to be more human – and rewards them in the process


SINGAPORE: In the 1970s, renowned economics professor Milton Friedman wrote a famous essay explaining that the only purpose of a business was to generate profit, and the sole focus of the CEO, to rally the human capital of the company around that cause.

Since then, corporates around the world have adopted profit as their religion, operating with their eyes firmly fixed to the bottom line and a firm foot on the gas pedal.

Then COVID-19 entered, upending this simple equation of big profits equals a good business.

READ: Commentary: Goodbye, Robinsons. You may soon be with familiar company

READ: Commentary: Retail isn’t dead – look at snaking queues outside Apple stores

THE COMING CHANGE TO HOW FIRMS MANAGE HUMAN CAPITAL

Some companies, like Amazon, Zoom and many others profited massively by virtue of being in the right place at the right time.

Yet, many other well-run and well-loved companies, like Singapore Airlines, found themselves bleeding further into the red every day through no fault of their own.

The sad sight of SIA jumbo jets, grounded next to a quiet airport, coupled with news of the company’s fighting spirit demonstrated in its COVID-19 response, from reviewing fleet sizes, to having flight attendants joining frontline efforts and offering novel dining experiences, show a company’s value cannot be purely assessed on profits.

READ: Commentary: Asian airlines may never recover without consolidation

LISTEN: Rethinking the role of national carriers while saving Singapore Airlines

What makes a company valuable is also its purpose, contribution and humanity – and what it’s doing to help other businesses, communities and people get through this generation-defining crisis.

This global trend towards purpose over profits was already gaining momentum even before COVID-19 hit.


(Photo: Freepik/tirachardz)

In August 2019, a letter issued by the Business Roundtable, signed by 181 leading US companies from Apple to Walmart, essentially rebuked Friedman’s worldview by declaring that they would commit to deliver value not just to shareholders, but also to their four other stakeholder groups – employees, customers, suppliers and communities.

“One of the definitive results of the pandemic around the world is that we can see the old Milton Friedman model crumbling. No one believes that anymore. The pandemic hasn’t changed everything, but we are starting to see much more concern for people,” Bob Aubrey, founder of the ASEAN Human Development Organisation told me.

The pandemic will more deeply shape our approach to human capital, making employees care more about inclusivity, investing in mental well-being, empowering our workforce with more flexibility in how they work, and ultimately shifting the focus of businesses to purpose, not just profits.

Even for pragmatic Asia, companies will be forced to look at human factors such as diversity, inclusion and stress indicators, and move beyond paying lip service to these issues for a few powerful reasons.

READ: Commentary: The cult of work is eroding the value of parenthood

READ: Commentary: Burned out while working from home? You should check your work-life boundaries

A CULTURE THAT CONTRIBUTES TO PROFITS

First, there is a consensus that a caring, inclusive culture is directly linked to more profits.

For instance, Deloitte’s research found organisations with inclusive cultures twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

Companies with high levels of purpose outperform the market by 5 to 7 per cent annually, growing faster with higher profitability, empirical research on 1.5 million employees from Professors Claudine Gartenberg and George Serafeim from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton Business School and Harvard Business School respectively shows.

Futhermore, McKinsey’s findings from more than 1,000 companies in 15 companies suggests a growing performance gap between inclusive companies that “get it” and companies yet to embrace diversity.

office colleagues

Two colleagues in a discussion. (Photo: Unsplash)

Companies in the bottom quartile for gender and ethnic diversity were 27 per cent more likely to underperform on profitability.

COVID-19 will do more to separate the goat from the sheep.

I have seen this in Singapore, where companies who haven’t prioritised inclusion are now in a vicious cycle of low employee morale, high turnover and burnout, which fuels even more underperformance and less management focus on inclusion as they are too busy fighting fires.

On the other hand, I have also seen a wave of companies developing a virtuous cycle of investing in a caring, purposeful culture, doubling efforts to amplify employee support, psychological safety and inclusive leadership training.

READ: Commentary: Work appraisals can’t depend on what your boss thinks of you

READ: Commentary: Worried about keeping your job? Here’s advice to soothe your concerns no matter how old you are

A WORKFORCE THAT CARES ABOUT THEIR COMPANY’S VALUES

Second, a younger workforce demands a more flexible, inclusive and values-driven approach to work, and employers who want to attract and retain talent, a scarce resource that remains in high demand, will have to listen.

Millennials are now the biggest segment of the workforce, Gen Zs are starting to enter the labour market.

Research suggests they are much more purpose driven than other generations. They want to join companies that align with their values, with LinkedIn’s research finding almost nine out of 10 Millennials would take a pay cut to work at a company with the same values as their own. This figure was just 9 per cent of baby boomers.

man laptop mask covid work from home office laptop

(Photo: Unsplash/Paul Hanaoka)

This makes sense as the Millennials and Gen Zs will probably be spending more time at work than any other preceding generation, and want to contribute to something they care about.

CONSUMERS WHO CONSUME RESPONSIBLY

Third, consumers and clients are choosing to spend their dollars with corporates who signal a high level of environmental social governance (ESG), including employee treatment, and diversity and inclusion metrics.  

Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing’s survey concluded that 86 per cent of millennials are interested in sustainable investing and are twice as likely as the overall investor population to invest in companies targeting social or environmental goals.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted that millennials could pour between US$15 trillion and US$20 trillion into Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) investments in the US in the next two decades.

LISTEN: What is corporate climate action and why companies need a paradigm shift | EP 11

READ: Commentary: Forces of climate action are reshaping finance in Singapore and around the world

The stakes are high for companies who do not keep up with the current consciousness. In 2020, we have also seen clear the “cancel culture” financial repercussions for companies deemed to have been hypocritical in their values or mistreated their employees.

Just think about how Starbucks’ memo asking employees not to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts led to instant global backlash from consumers.

The Instagram movement #PullUpOrShutUp has convinced more than 200 companies, including Estée Lauder companies and Levi’s, to reveal how many Black employees they have and commit to improve.

And fashion advocacy non-profit Remake has announced an estimated US$22 billion owed to garment workers that have gone unpaid since March owing to the coronavirus from 21 brands, including H&M and Nike, after calling on brands to #PayUp via an Instagram campaign.

A person holds a "Black Lives Matter"

A person holds a “Black Lives Matter” sign as a heavy cloud of tear gas and smoke rises after being deployed by Seattle police as protesters rally against police brutality and the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Seattle, Washington, on Jun 1, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson)

Consumers and employees today have never been more vocal. They also possess the platform, knowledge and desire to call businesses out for their failings.

According to Edelman’s study, 64 per cent of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue.

READ: Commentary: Facebook’s decision to resist advertiser boycott could pay off in the long run

MENTAL HEALTH HAS BECOME A KEY CORPORATE CHALLENGE

Fourth, we are experiencing a major rise in firms offering mental health support for their staff as companies grapple with the realisation that burnout and stress has serious impact on business.

Employee Assistance Programme providers are reporting an uptick in companies signing up for counselling. Most of my corporate clients have significantly increased their mental health and resilience training budget this year.

This is an encouraging and much needed trend as Singapore is regularly voted as having one of the world’s most stressed and sleep-deprived workforces, even before COVID-19.

Over 1 in 3 employees report often feeling tired or having little energy and over 2 in 5 employees feeling burned out and exhausted from work, according to a SHRM study.

READ: Commentary: What’s behind burnout? Confusing long hours and face time for work performance

LISTEN: Returning to the office – can you say no?

While employers are upping support, we also need leaders themselves to normalise talking about mental health and demonstrating by example, taking concrete actions to alleviate stress by reducing work hours or having policies on not working on weekends or minimising late-night conference calls.

DEEPER RELATIONSHIPS AMONG WORKERS

Last, COVID-19 has forced companies to relax policies regarding working from home.

While most used to tolerate the occasional remote working arrangement, this pandemic has led many employers to realise trusting their employees to get their work done without constant onsite supervision can lead to increased productivity.

The pandemic of work from home injuries

(Photo: Unsplash/Brooke Cagle)

Zoom meetings have also provided an unusually intimate glimpse into our colleagues’ lives.

We discover new things about each other as we see people’s tattered posters and plant collections, what they really look like without make-up, and how they speak with their pets and children when they are interrupted.

We have gone from seeing our colleagues as mere transactions to connect and exchange data with, to real human beings who live, love and suffer just as we do, imbuing work with deeper and more human dimensions.

READ: Commentary: Cure to burnout requires a pervasive culture of rest

The real gift of this pandemic may well be the start of a more conscious, human-centric approach to work.

A caring, purposeful, flexible work human capital approach can no longer be seen as a nice-to- have.

It is the foundation on which a company builds its future survival on: Put people and purpose first and the profits will follow.

Crystal Lim-Lange is co-author of the national bestselling book Deep Human- Practical Superskills for a Future of Success and the co-founder of Forest Wolf, a leadership training and talent development consultancy.



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Family of jailed Saudi activist implores Canada to call out kingdom’s human rights record at G20


The family of a women’s rights activist who has been jailed in Saudi Arabia for over two years is calling on the federal government to hold the kingdom to account for its human rights record as it hosts the G20 summit in Riyadh.

Loujain Alhathloul, a graduate of the University of British Columbia and internationally recognized activist, has been detained since May 2018, when she was arrested along with nine other women’s rights activists. She is currently believed to be on hunger strike.

Saudi Arabia is currently hosting a virtual version the two-day Group of 20 summit on Saturday and Sunday, where leaders of the world’s biggest economies are expected to address fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and financial aid to the hardest hit countries.

Alhathloul’s brother Walid Alhathloul, speaking from Toronto, said he hoped Canada would use the summit — widely seen as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to earn legitimacy on the world stage — to call out the kingdom’s human rights violations, including the detention of women’s rights activists and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“I understand the concern of the federal government in that it’s a very sensitive situation given the relationship between Saudi and Canada,” he said.

“But really there is no downside for Canada to stand for human rights [at] the G20.”

Alhathloul said his family last heard from his sister three weeks ago, and that she said she planned to start another hunger strike.

“Since then we haven’t heard anything from her. We are not aware of what is going on there. They did not allow us to contact her and they did not allow her to contact us as well,” he said.

Alhathloul had previously told her family that she’d been held in solitary confinement and suffered electrocution, flogging, and sexual assault during her detention.

Alhathloul, who had an international profile prior to her detention, was first accused of attempting to destabilize the kingdom. Since then, those charges have been changed to communicating with foreign journalists and attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations. The COVID-19 pandemic has indefinitely postponed her trial and disrupted her usual communications with her family.

With so many international eyes on Saudi Arabia, the G20 summit has renewed an ongoing campaign for her freedom. Amnesty International took out a full-page ad raising the issue in the Financial Times, and Alhathloul’s photo was projected onto the Louvre by Human Rights Watch. Since her detention she has received a number of human right’s awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But despite the campaigning, there has been little movement and, recently, confusion surrounding her case. 

Earlier in November Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, told The Guardian newspaper that the kingdom was considering clemency for her as a result of growing pressure over its human rights record ahead of the G20 — only for the embassy to deny that report days later.

“I was skeptical because we have experienced that previously,” said Walid Alhathloul. But he said he hopes a U.S. administration under president-elect Joe Biden could bring change to his sister’s case. Biden has previously pledged to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over its human rights failings.

“I really hope the president elect is able to keep his word because the situation in Saudi in terms of human rights is really deteriorating,” said Alhathloul.

CBC has reached out the Global Affairs and the Saudi embassy for comment.



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Caster Semenya takes World Athletics to European Court of Human Rights over testosterone rule


South African double Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya is taking her fight with World Athletics to the European Court of Human Rights.

Semenya is one of a number of female athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD), who World Athletics insist must reduce their naturally high levels of testosterone in order to compete.

This can be done either through the use of drugs or surgical interventions.

The regulations are for runners who compete in distances from 400m to one mile (1600m).

Women described as having DSD are said to have an unfair advantage due to excessive, but naturally occurring, testosterone in their system

Semenya has vowed to fight the regulations but has already lost an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and another subsequent plea to the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) asking for the CAS ruling to be set aside.

But on Tuesday her lawyers confirmed the runner would take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

“We remain hopeful that World Athletics will see the error it has made and reverse the prohibitive rules which restrict Ms Semenya from competing,” Semenya’s lawyer Greg Nott said.

The South African champion burst onto the scene as a teenager winning gold in the 800m at the 2009 World Championships.

She went on to win the 800m gold medal at the next two Olympic Games.

However, her success has been controversial due to her being an athlete with DSD.

The new regulations were introduced in 2018 and were immediately challenged by Semenya.

In 2019, the ruling against her was upheld by CAS.

Following this Semenya said she would not conform to the regulations and forcefully lower her natural testosterone levels.

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Caster Semenya confirms she will not reduce testosterone levels after winning Diamond League race in 2019.

World Athletics have consistently said the regulations are aimed at creating a level playing field for all athletes.

“World Athletics has always maintained that its regulations are lawful and legitimate, and that they represent a fair, necessary and proportionate means of ensuring the rights of all female athletes to participate on fair and equal terms,” the governing body said in a statement after the SFT case.

Then new regulations were also criticised by medical professionals.

The World Medical Association in 2019 urged physicians against performing these procedures on athletes.

The organisation’s chairman, Frank Ulrich Montgomery told ABC’s The Ticket that doctors should not be taking part in the practice.

“We do think it is extremely serious if international sports regulations demand physicians to prescribe medication — hormonally active medication — for athletes in order to reduce normal conditions in their body,” he said.

Athletics South Africa insist Semenya is still part of their team for the Tokyo Olympic Games next year, though over what distance remains to be seen.

She has also been competing in the 200-metre sprint, which falls outside of the World Athletics regulations.

Reuters/ABC



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A human cell atlas of fetal gene expression


The genomics of human development

Understanding the trajectory of a developing human requires an understanding of how genes are regulated and expressed. Two papers now present a pooled approach using three levels of combinatorial indexing to examine the single-cell gene expression and chromatin landscapes from 15 organs in fetal samples. Cao et al. focus on measurements of RNA in broadly distributed cell types and provide insights into organ specificity. Domcke et al. examined the chromatin accessibility of cells from these organs and identify the regulatory elements that regulate gene expression. Together, these analyses generate comprehensive atlases of early human development.

Science, this issue p. eaba7721, p. eaba7612

Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

A reference atlas of human cell types is a major goal for the field. Here, we set out to generate single-cell atlases of both gene expression (this study) and chromatin accessibility (Domcke et al., this issue) using diverse human tissues obtained during midgestation.

RATIONALE

Contemporary knowledge of the molecular basis of in vivo human development mostly derives from a combination of human genetics, in vivo investigations of model organisms, and in vitro studies of differentiating human cell lines, rather than through direct investigations of developing human tissues. Several challenges have historically limited the study of developing human tissues at the molecular level, including limited access, tissue degradation, and cell type heterogeneity. For this and the companion study (Domcke et al., this issue), we were able to overcome these challenges.

RESULTS

We applied three-level single-cell combinatorial indexing for gene expression (sci-RNA-seq3) to 121 human fetal samples ranging from 72 to 129 days in estimated postconceptual age and representing 15 organs, altogether profiling 4 million single cells. We developed and applied a framework for quantifying cell type specificity, identifying 657 cell subtypes, which we preliminarily annotated based on cross-matching to mouse cell atlases. We identified and validated potentially circulating trophoblast-like and hepatoblast-like cells in unexpected tissues. Profiling gene expression in diverse tissues facilitated the cross-tissue analyses of broadly distributed cell types, including blood, endothelial, and epithelial cells. For blood cells, this yielded a multiorgan map of cell state trajectories from hematopoietic stem cells to all major sublineages. Multiple lines of evidence support the adrenal gland as a normal, albeit minor, site of erythropoiesis during fetal development. It was notably straightforward to integrate these human fetal data with a mouse embryonic cell atlas, despite differences in species and developmental stage. For some systems, this essentially permitted us to bridge gene expression dynamics from the embryonic to the fetal stages of mammalian development.

CONCLUSION

The single-cell data resource presented here is notable for its scale, its focus on human fetal development, the breadth of tissues analyzed, and the parallel generation of gene expression (this study) and chromatin accessibility data (Domcke et al., this issue). We furthermore consolidate the technical framework for individual laboratories to generate and analyze gene expression and chromatin accessibility data from millions of single cells. Looking forward, we envision that the somewhat narrow window of midgestational human development studied here will be complemented by additional atlases of earlier and later time points, as well as similarly comprehensive profiling and integration of data from model organisms. The continued development and application of methods for ascertaining gene expression and chromatin accessibility—in concert with spatial, epigenetic, proteomic, lineage history, and other information—will be necessary to obtain a comprehensive view of the temporal unfolding of human cell type diversity that begins at the single-cell zygote. An interactive website facilitates the exploration of these freely available data by tissue, cell type, or gene (descartes.brotmanbaty.org).

A human cell atlas of fetal gene expression enables the exploration of in vivo gene expression across diverse cell types.

We used a three-level combinatorial indexing assay (sci-RNA-seq3) to profile gene expression in ~4,000,000 single cells from 15 fetal organs. This rich resource enables, for example, the identification and annotation of cell types, cross-tissue integration of broadly distributed cell types (e.g., blood, endothelial, and epithelial), and interspecies integration of mouse embryonic and human fetal cell atlases. PCR, polymerase chain reaction.

Abstract

The gene expression program underlying the specification of human cell types is of fundamental interest. We generated human cell atlases of gene expression and chromatin accessibility in fetal tissues. For gene expression, we applied three-level combinatorial indexing to >110 samples representing 15 organs, ultimately profiling ~4 million single cells. We leveraged the literature and other atlases to identify and annotate hundreds of cell types and subtypes, both within and across tissues. Our analyses focused on organ-specific specializations of broadly distributed cell types (such as blood, endothelial, and epithelial), sites of fetal erythropoiesis (which notably included the adrenal gland), and integration with mouse developmental atlases (such as conserved specification of blood cells). These data represent a rich resource for the exploration of in vivo human gene expression in diverse tissues and cell types.



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There is no great mystery to Trumpian cultism. The answer is as old as human nature itself


In the aftermath of the 2020 election, many pundits were asking how Donald Trump could have garnered over 70,000,000 votes and made the presidential race much more competitive than pre-election polls indicated.  After all, here was a man who repeatedly and unabashedly lied to his supporters, endangered their lives by encouraging them not to take precautions during a global pandemic, and openly remarked how his desire to win reelection was all about him, and not the good of the country.

But there is no great mystery to Trumpian cultism.  The answer is as old as human nature itself.

The two philosophies routinely viewed as polar opposites on the political spectrum are communism and fascism.  To many, this distinction seems ludicrous given that, under both systems, brutal dictators emerged, millions of people were killed, and fundamental freedoms and human rights were often viciously suppressed.

But two fundamental pillars that differentiate these ideologies are their views of human nature and intangibility vs. tangibility.

Communism, in theory, views human nature as fundamentally good.  People will willingly give their labor, and often sacrifice material goods, for the betterment of their neighbors and society.  The government exists to ensure that the labor is done and the material goods equitably distributed.

Because of this, the effectiveness of communism could be tangibly seen and measured, which, of course, meant that failures were just as visible as successes.  To counter this, communist governments often felt compelled to hide economic hardships and exaggerate (or even lie about) economic successes.


In addition, since in a communist culture people were considered to be fundamentally good, communist governments incessantly failed to place any restraints on the power and authority of their leaders, which led to many of the aforementioned atrocities.

As I’ve discussed in several previous Pravda.Report articles, fascism, by contrast, considers human nature to be fundamentally evil, and exploits this evil for its own purposes.  Also, since fascist governments rely on the power of emotion over reason and logic, they intentionally avoid leaving any tangible footprints to analyze their successes or failures.

This intangibility is also supported by fascism’s use of “scapegoating.”  By simplistically blaming complex social problems on certain groups of people, fascist governments can direct energy away from their inability or unwillingness to solve these problems and towards hating the “scapegoats” who allegedly caused them.

Fascism also relies on the use of “great lies” told by fascist leaders.  As Hitler noted, leaders cannot get away with “little lies,” because the common people tell such lies themselves, and thus they are easily recognizable.  However, common people are loath to believe that their leaders would tell “big (great) lies,” and thus are inclined to accept such lies without question, particularly when these lies are “unremittingly repeated.”  In such a culture, truth is not what reality says it is, “truth” is whatever a “great” leader says it is.

Finally, working hand-in-hand with scapegoating, fascism also shamelessly exploits bigotry against people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, genders, nationalities, ethnicities, or disabilities, which has often resulted in horrific injustices and atrocities being directed against these designated scapegoats.

Although it was based more on fear of creating another monarchy, America’s founders also subscribed to the belief that human nature is fundamentally evil, and, as such, instituted into its government a system of “checks and balances” that is, theoretically at least, designed to ensure that one person or oligarchy will never obtain absolute power.

The problem, of course, is that “checking and balancing” the inherent evil in human nature does not obliterate it:  It simply remains dormant until the right demagogue comes long to unleash and “normalize” this evil.

Donald Trump was this demagogue.  While obviously those who continue to worship at the altar of Trump will never acknowledge this, an objective view of Trump’s legacy clearly shows that he willfully, and without compunction, exploited all the previously discussed prongs of fascism-use of emotion over reason; scapegoating; great lies; and bigotry.

For those who doubt that Trumpism is a cult, it should be remembered that one sign of a cult is a willingness of its followers to sacrifice their lives for their “leader.”  To this end, Trump routinely risked the lives (and in some instances even caused the deaths) of some of his followers by discouraging them from taking adequate safety precautions, such as wearing masks and/or maintaining social distancing, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many didn’t realize this was just the opening salvo.  In America today, many Trump supporters are now claiming that the election was “stolen.” 

They are correct.

However, it was Trump who endeavored to lay the groundwork to steal it and was instead “hoist on his own petard.”

Trump’s attempts to steal the election resided in an incestuous marriage between his downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic and his subsequent exaggerations about alleged problems with “fraud” in mail-in voting.  He (or his enablers) assumed that, by downplaying this virus, his supporters would disregard the inherent risks in standing in crowded buildings in long lines while waiting to vote.  Those who did not subscribe to his cavalier dismissal of the dangers of the Coronavirus, on the other hand, would not be as willing to risk contracting this virus during the act of voting, and thus, if no other options were available, stay away from the polls.

By attempting to give these potential voters few other options to cast their ballots-such as by mail-Trump (knowing that most of the people who ignored his lies about the Coronavirus were Biden supporters) also knew that their unwillingness to risk their lives in the exercise of one of America’s most fundamental rights would tip the election in his favor.

But for once his great lie did not work.  Fortunately, unlike cultists, America’s courts (with some exceptions) require evidence that a fraud is being perpetrated, and Trump offered none.  So mail-in ballots were allowed.

Therefore, is it any surprise that, during a global pandemic where social distancing is encouraged, the results of the election shifted once these mail-in votes began to be counted?

In the end, Trump made one fundamental miscalculation:  There were enough people who did not believe the great lies told by him and his propagandists.  And this has historically been the Achilles Heel in the four prongs of fascism: Having enough people in a population who are not obsequiously willing to swallow whatever they are told, but are instead inclined to question, investigate, and be satisfied with nothing less than the truth. 

For four years America teetered on the brink of fascism, and I have no doubt that Trump’s reelection would have pushed it over the edge.  I’ll be the first to admit that Biden is no panacea to what ails America, and Congress is still inundated with mendacious and hypocritical Trump sycophants like Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Mitch McConnell. 

So, while some may lament that Trump wasn’t given four more years, I still tremble at the thought of what those four more years would have wrought.

David R. Hoffman

Legal Editor of PravdaReport.com



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