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In Somalia alone, over 29 000 children have died of starvation since the most severe famine in 60 years hit the Horn of Africa in July. A severe drought has caused widespread famine in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. More than thirteen million people stand to lose their lives.

You may remember the disturbing image of a seven month old baby that weighed just seven pounds emerging sometime near the beginning of August. I certainly do. That little boy became the face of the East African famine.

This little boy, Minhaj Gedi Farah was taken by the International Rescue Committee from the world’s largest refugee camp in Somalia to a better equipped camp in Kenya where he received 3 blood transfusions and was put on an intensive feeding regimen with Plumpy’nut, a fortified peanut paste. He now weighs 18 pounds and can crawl.

2 million Somalis still don’t have access to food. Rain has turned bush to sludge and war rages along the Kenyan border. People lucky enough to make it past the borders are severely malnourished and suffering from measles, cholera and malaria. The U.N. children’s fund has said that approximately 170 000 children may lose their lives in the next several weeks.

You can donate to UNICEF - or, you can donate to Edesia, an American non-profit organization based in Rhode Island that manufactures the Plumpy products, designed to address the whole spectrum of malnutrition from mild to severe. Their factory runs 22 hours a day, 6 days a week in response to the famine in Africa, making enough Plumpy’nut to reach over 50 000 children each and every day. It has quickly become one of my favourite charitable organizations. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.

I’m not being paid to post this and this is not spam. I truly believe that this product can make a difference - and so can you.

Sasha Houston Brown of Minneapolis published a strongly worded open letter to Urban Outfitters yesterday at Racialicious. Brown, who directly addresses C.E.O. Glen Senk, takes the clothing chain to task for its appropriation of Native American arts and crafts, and its frequent use of the word “Navajo” in product names and descriptions:

This past weekend, I had the unfortunate experience of visiting a local Urban Outfitters store in Minneapolis. It appeared as though the recording “artist” Ke$ha had violently exploded in the store, leaving behind a cheap, vulgar and culturally offensive retail collection. Plastic dreamcatchers wrapped in pleather hung next to an indistinguishable mass of artificial feather jewelry and hyper sexualized clothing featuring an abundance of suede, fringe and inauthentic tribal patterns.

In all seriousness, as a Native American woman, I am deeply distressed by your company’s mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor. I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as “fashion.”

All too often industries, sports teams and ignorant individuals legitimize racism under the guise of cultural “appreciation”. There is nothing honorable or historically appreciative in selling items such as the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace, Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt or the Navajo Hipster Panty. These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures.

Brown’s letter is passionate, informed, and well-argued. What could be more disrespectful than pilfering Native American intellectual property by knocking off tribal arts and crafts, and — rather than supporting Native artisans — having the knock-offs made cheaply overseas? All of the 24 items currently available in Urban Outfitters’ online store that include the term “Navajo” in the name are imported, save one men’s jacket and one women’s jacket.

Selling a “Navajo Hipster Panty” may be cheesy and kind of offensive, but, more worrisomely perhaps for Urban Outfitters, it could also be illegal. In the U.S., under the terms of the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts act of 1990 and the Federal Trade Commission Act, it is prohibited to falsely claim, or even imply, that a product is Native American-made when it is not. The Department of the Interior says:

It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000

"Navajo" isn’t an aesthetic movement — it’s a legal entity, a tribe of people, and an actual nation.

And, as it turns out, it’s a nation with trademarks. The Navajo Nation holds 12 trademarks on the use of the term “Navajo,” including two that cover various forms of clothing and one that covers online retailing. The Attorney General of the Navajo Nation actually wrote to Urban Outfitters months ago asking the corporation to cease and desist using its trademarks to sell clothing and accessories that have nothing to do with any actual Navajo people or designs.

Brown’s letter elicited this comment from a user logged into the Disqus comment system as “Glen T Senk”. It was posted around 10:30 p.m. EST yesterday:

Hello Sasha,

I am deeply sorry this issue has triggered an offended reaction from you. It is not our intention to demean or offend any native people. I hope you will be willing to call our head office in Philadelphia to discuss this issue at 1- 215-454-5500

That is in fact the phone number for Urban Outfitters’ corporate headquarters. The number is, however, publicly available along with the contact information for all of Urban Outfitters’ directors and corporate officers.

Glen Senk’s assistant couldn’t confirm whether it was really Senk who left the comment — “This is the first I’m hearing of it,” she said when I reached her by phone this afternoon. A call to Urban Outfitters’ PR department seeking clarification about the purported Senk comment, and about the company’s response to the Navajo Nation’s cease-and-desist, has yet to be returned. Curious to know whether Brown herself called the number, I left a message for her as well. I’ll update with their responses.

Pictured: Just some of the various “Navajo” items Urban Outfitters sells, including: the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, $18; the Navajo Hipster Panty, $8; and the Navajo Sock, on sale for $6.99.

An Open Letter To Urban Outfitters On Columbus Day [Racialicious]
Urban Outfitters Is Obsessed With Navajos [Native Appropriations]

King Abdullah’s ‘cautious reform’ will not take effect until 2015 but welcomed as cultural shift in conservative Islamic country 

 Women, right to vote, Saudi Arabia

Saudi women will soon have the right to vote and stand for election, King Abdullah has announced. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images

Women in Saudi Arabia will be given the right to vote and to stand for election within four years, King Abdullah announced on Sunday, in a cultural shift that appears to mark a new era in the rigidly conservative Islamic kingdom.

The right to vote in council elections will not take effect until 2015, and women will still be banned from casting ballots in elections this Thursday.

However, the 87-year-old monarch has invited women to take part in the next shura council, a governing body that supervises legislation.

King Abdullah has been trying to implement what he has described as “cautious reform” in the fundamentalist state, where women are strictly denied civic freedoms or any public role.

"Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama (clerics) and others … to involve women in the shura council as members, starting from the next term," he said in a speech.

"Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote."

Commentators in Saudi Arabia mostly reacted warmly to the announcement, but said broader change was needed to bring Saudi Arabia into line with other countries. Several said the move was a litmus test of the country’s appetite for more far-reaching reform.

"So I can vote, but I can’t get a driver’s licence," said one Saudi women from Jeddah, who said she had to remain anonymous. "If I use my name I may be breaching the guardianship law here."

Laws demand that a male guardian – a father, brother, or son – accompany women on any trip outside the house. When some women in Riyadh attempted to test it earlier in the year by driving cars, the move was seen as a provocation by authorities and several of the drivers were arrested. Separation of the sexes in public is also strictly enforced.

Some Saudi observers say the announcement on Sunday is a nod to the popular participation showcased by the Arab spring that has led to revolts elsewhere in the region. However, democratic themes have so far won little resonance in Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by an absolute monarchy that defers to the Qur’an as the country’s constitution.

King Abdullah emerged as a supporter of women playing a greater role in Saudi society two years ago when he was photographed with a group of young female students, none of whom wore the full niqab (face cover) common in Saudi society.

He has since backed the establishment of a non-segregated university and has discussed appointing more women to senior positions. Both moves have drawn criticism from senior clerics and even members of the ruling family.

An academic at a Riyadh University said she remained sceptical that the reforms would be implemented in time for the 2015 municipal vote.

"The possibility for political participation is open, because it being discussed," she said. "But I am not sure if it will happen. I would love to be able to vote, and think women will flock to the polls [if given the chance]. But I don’t think many will run [as candidates].

"I respect the king for trying to make a change," she said. "This might encourage women, but they will have to fight hard against social conservatism, even if legally they are allowed to run."

The academic said the Arab spring had created a “sense of embarrassment that so much change is happening all around and the kingdom is standing still”.

However, she claimed that the wholesale democratic freedoms being demanded in North Africa and on Saudi Arabia’s borders, in Yemen and in Bahrain, would not suit the desert kingdom.

"Saudis do not want to change the royal family," she said. " They want … change, but under the family’s stewardship."

A Jeddah-based female member of the ruling family said: “People have it good here. They are sensible enough to know what to demand and what not to. What the king has done is a very good thing, but he knows and we all know that you cannot push a society like this too far too soon.

"The west has come to understand that too. Democracy is something that will take the light of generations to arrive here."

King Abdullah may have been keen to sell Sunday’s move as a giant leap for Saudi womankind, but to the rest of the world it looked like a very small step. In its determination to formally disenfranchise the entire female population, Saudi Arabia had stuck out like a sore thumb even among countries not distinguished by shining women’s rights records. Only in the Vatican City – where only cardinals can vote in papal conclaves – have women’s chances of going to the ballot box been so slim.

In Burma, which in 2010 held its first national election for 20 years, women went to the polls – for all the good it did them. In Bahrain, they have been able to vote and stand as candidates since 2002. Bhutan, when it held its first elections in 2007, gave women as well as men the right to vote. Even in the sultanate of Brunei, which has denied the vote to all citizens for decades, the female population women will theoretically have the right to vote along with their menfolk in the event that long-promised elections are held.

In much of the world, the picture remains mixed. In the UAE, which held its first elections in 2006, women are now able to vote, although this is far from universal, as the electorate is hand-picked by the authorities. In elections to the federal national council on Saturday, women made up 46% of the electoral college, and one of the 20 seats up for grabs on the council went to Sheikha Isa Ghanem Al Ari, a female candidate.

While progress has been made from a legal perspective, many women are still disenfranchised in practice, particularly in countries where security is poor. In Afghanistan, violence and the influence of the Taliban in certain areas meant female turnout in the 2009 presidential election was low. In one area with an estimated population of between 35,000 and 50,000, the district governor said no women had voted at all.

Lizzy Davies

5 August 2011

Amnesty International today urged governments in the Americas to stop prioritizing development projects at the expense of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
 
The call came ahead of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on 9 August. 
 
“The ongoing human rights violations against tens of millions of indigenous people across the Americas are alarming”, said Susan Lee, Americas Director at Amnesty International. 
 
“After centuries of abuse and discrimination, their cultural and physical survival is at stake because there is insufficient political will to acknowledge, respect and protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights when these rights are seen as obstacles to economic growth.” 
 
The expansion of agricultural and extractive industries and major development projects such as dams and roads into traditional indigenous lands are a significant and growing threat to Indigenous Peoples. 
 
Across the Americas, Indigenous Peoples are seen as standing in the way of commercial interests, and are threatened, harassed, forcibly evicted, displaced and killed in the drive to exploit natural resources in the areas where they live. 
 
In Brazil, for example, the construction of the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu river in the Amazon basin is going ahead despite an order from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to halt the project to fully assess its impact on the local indigenous communities. 
 
Countries across the region – including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Peru – have failed to consult Indigenous Peoples before passing laws that would threaten their livelihoods. They also carried out development projects in Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral lands without respecting their right to give free, prior and informed consent. 
 
In countries such as Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico, indigenous leaders and community members regularly face criminal prosecution under charges that seem to be disproportionate and politically motivated.
 
"Economic development doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game in which Indigenous Peoples’ rights are sacrificed," said Susan Lee. 
 
“All of the countries in the Americas have endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – but states must abide by it in order to move beyond the centuries of marginalization and discrimination.”

READ THE FULL REPORT:
SACRIFICING RIGHTS IN THE NAME OF DEVELOPMENT 
Indigenous Peoples Under Threat in the Americas 

South Sudan became the world’s newest nation early Saturday, officially breaking away from Sudan after two civil wars over five decades that cost the lives of millions.

In the new country’s capital, Juba, streets pulsed with excitement. Residents danced, banged on jerry cans and chanted the name of the world’s newest president, Salva Kiir.

One man knelt down and kissed the ground as a group ran through the streets singing “We will never, never, never surrender.”

“Ah, I’m free,” said Daniel Deng, a 27-year-old police officer and former soldier who broke out in a wide grin.

The Republic of South Sudan earned independence at 12:01 a.m. Saturday (local time), breaking Africa’s largest country in two. It marked the culmination of a January independence vote, which was guaranteed in a 2005 peace deal that ended the most recent north-south war.

After the celebrations die down, residents of South Sudan face an uphill climb. While the new country is oil-rich, it is one of the poorest and least-developed places on Earth. Unresolved problems between the south and its former foe to the north could mean new conflict along the new international border, advocates and diplomats warn.

Saturday’s early morning celebrations were joyous for the freedom gained but tinged with the memories of family lost. At least 2 million people were killed in Sudan’s last civil war, fought from 1983-2005.

“I came here for this moment,” said Chol Allen, a 32-year-old minister who escaped Sudan in 2003 and eventually settled in Memphis, Tenn. He returned to Juba two months ago for the midnight party, though he plans to go back to the United States, where he has a 4-year-old daughter.

“We were all born into war. All of us,” he said, then pointed at a crowded pick-up truck of youngsters. “This generation will see the hope of the newborn nation.”

John Kuach, a former child soldier who joined the army after his father died in fighting with the north, first fought at age 15. At dinner late Friday, he draped the South Sudan flag around his shoulders and called Saturday “a big day.”

“But some people are not happy because we lost heroes, those who were supposed to be in this celebration. So we are thinking, ‘Is this true? Is this a dream? A new country?’ ”

The internationally brokered 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south war expired at midnight Friday. That’s when Sudan — which South Sudan is breaking away from — officially recognized the new country.

South Sudan is expected to become the 193rd country recognized by the United Nations next week and the 54th U.N. member state in Africa.

Later Saturday, world leaders will attend a celebratory ceremony. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon already has arrived. Former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell also will attend, as will Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose country already has recognized South Sudan.

The young government faces the huge challenge of reforming its bloated and often predatory army, diversifying its oil-based economy, and deciding how political power will be distributed among the dozens of ethnic and military factions. It must also begin delivering basic needs such as education, health services, water and electricity to its more than 8 million citizens.

Abdule Taban wore a wide smile during the night’s street party, but the 25-year-old was also reflective.

“In independence we are going to have hospitals and schools and a lot of development around here. Our mothers and sisters died in the past. Hospitals were very far from us,” said Taban, as South Sudanese dusted in white cow dung — a traditional camouflage here — danced around him.

A draft constitution passed this week lays the groundwork for the president and legislators, who were elected last year, to serve out their five-year terms. The legislature’s few opposition lawmakers are unhappy with the draft, but it now serves as an interim constitution until multiparty elections are held.

A $1 billion yearly U.N. peacekeeping mission with a 10,000-member peacekeeping force has monitored implementation of the 2005 peace deal. The mission has drawn criticism for its failure to protect Sudanese civilians caught in violence along the north-south border and in the south, where conflict has killed nearly 2,400 people this year alone.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a new peacekeeping force for South Sudan, authorizing the deployment of up to 7,000 military personnel and 900 international police, plus an unspecified number of U.N. civilian staff including human rights experts.

The Obama administration has devoted considerable time to ensuring the fragile peace deal holds.

With the raising of South Sudan’s flag in the world’s newest capital, Juba, the international community may breathe a collective sigh of relief that independence has been reached. Al-Bashir has pledged to accept losing about one-third of his country’s territory, an area that contains valuable oilfields.

But relations between the two already are looking bleak, with hostilities raging between northern troops and southern-allied forces in a northern border state, a tense stalemate over another disputed border zone, and a breakdown in negotiations this week over the future of Sudan’s oil industry.

While South Sudan is now expected to control of more than 75 per cent of what was Sudan’s daily oil production, it has no refineries and southern oil must flow through the north’s pipelines to reach market.

North-south negotiations under way in the Ethiopian capital this week broke down over disputes between the two sides over how to resolve the ongoing crisis in the Nuba Mountains region in northern Sudan, where black Africans from the Nuba tribe have taken to caves to take shelter from aerial bombing by the northern army in the past month.

Western diplomats say hostilities in that area have stymied efforts to resolve other critical outstanding issues between the governments. Princeton Lyman, the U.S. envoy to Sudan, said Friday that relations between the south and north will be “strained and a little rocky.”

“I don’t expect that these countries are going to love each other but I do think they are bound up in each other,” he said, citing the dependence north and south have on each other for trade and especially oil, which is the lifeblood of the economies of both governments.

Oil has been a major sticking point at the negotiating table, and tensions worsened after the northern army’s seizure of the disputed zone of Abyei in May.

Despite calls from the UN Security Council and others to remove its troops from Abyei after they displaced about 100,000 residents, the Sudanese Armed Forces continue to occupy the Texas-sized territory.

The 2,100-kilometre border is disputed in five areas, several of which are being illegally occupied by either northern or southern troops.

“Everyone is for peace in and between Sudan and South Sudan,” said John Prendergast, founder of the Washington-based Enough Project.

“It is clear that as long as the government of Sudan can without consequence militarily occupy Abyei, bomb the Nuba Mountains, continue military operations in Darfur, and support militias in southern Sudan, then there will be no peace,” said Prendergast, who urged the U.S. government to work with allies to create “significant costs for ongoing human rights abuses and broken agreements.”