Federal student loan payments in the United States were paused at the start of the pandemic and was supposed to continue in September of 2021. However, this pause was extended till the end of January 2022. This extension is being made for the last time, with the interest rate remaining at 0% while the pause is in action.
This extension on loans was decided upon on Friday (6th August) and is supposed to help borrowers as well as loan servicers. The loan was extended in light of recent uneven economic recovery as a result of two major student loan services ending. The Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona stated that “as our nation’s economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment”. Another statement made by the Executive Director of Student Debt Crises, Natalia Abrams was that “while today’s announcement provides some financial security for borrowers and their families as they recover from job losses, reduced hours, or shut down businesses, the reality is that the President can do much more”.
People are now demanding the student loans be forgiven altogether. This fourth student extension has benefited a total of 41 million borrowers which included several million current students. The halt in student loans started last year when former President of the United States, Donald Trump, signed the CARES act in March of 2020, the beginning of the pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley have all applauded the president but also said in a statement that “student debt cancellation is one of the most significant actions that President Biden can take right now to build a more just economy and address racial inequity”.
It is great that student loan payments have been extended and it would be even better if the student loan is canceled altogether. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also stated that “he can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power”, in a press conference regarding student loan debt cancellation. It seems that the students will have to start planning on how to pay back the debt soon, although they have been given a break.
How are three countries in the Global South dealing with increasing femicide rates?
A woman or girl is killed by someone in her family every 11 minutes. The Global South have recently been experiencing a spike in femicide rates, this can be due to several reasons: better reporting standards, the COVID-19 pandemic, or even more awareness about the issue on social media. Pakistan, Egypt, and Mexico have recently experienced a number of femicides.
The Pakistani Government came severely under pressure for the treatment of women throughout 2021 and that continues in 2022. Early this year, Aneesa and Arooj Abbas who lived in Spain were allegedly murdered by their husbands, uncle, and brother after they were forced to marry their husbands last year in Pakistan. The investigating officer said that “both the sisters were killed in the name of ‘honour’.” But this is not new to Pakistan. In 2016, Qandeel Baloch one of Pakistan’s first social media stars was murdered by her brother, Waseem Azeem, as he believed she brought dishonour to family because she would post photos and videos that broke strict social taboos within Pakistan.
At the time of Baloch’s case, a perpetrator’s sentence could be pardoned by their family. Even though Azeem was not pardoned by his family, this law was risky as it opened the gap for a murderer to walk free when most honour killings are agreed upon by the entire family. That same year, in October an anti-honour killing bill passed which guarantees a mandatory 25-year sentence for the perpetrator and removes the right of families to pardon the perpetrator. However, if the perpetrator is sentenced to death, then the family can pardon his sentence, but they will still need to serve a mandatory 25-year sentence.
Despite good progress within the country, much still needs to be done to protect women from violence and it starts with attitudes towards these issues. During the ‘rape epidemic’ last year, the Prime Minister at the time, Imran Khan was accused of being a ‘rape apologist’ because he said “If a woman is wearing very few clothes it will have an impact on the man unless they are robots. It’s common sense.”
Like Pakistan, Egypt is no stranger to the poor treatment of women and the recent murder of 21-year-old university student, Naira Ashraf in Egypt proves that. Ashraf was murdered in broad daylight in front of her university by a classmate, Mohamed Adel because she had rejected his marriage proposal several times. Adel received a death sentence on 28th June 2022.
However, the situation would be very different if they were married. According to Egypt’s penal code Article 237 says “whoever surprises his wife in the act of adultery and kills her on the spot together with her adulterer-partner shall be punishment with detention instead of the penalties prescribed in Articles 234 and 236” meaning, husbands who kill their wives are sentenced, but their punishment is less severe than if the two were not married. Whereas, if a wife kills her husband, she will be given full sentence. This could have meant that Adel could have gotten a less severe punishment if he was married to Ashraf.
Therefore, severe improvement needs to be achieved in Egypt as it is an injustice for married men to face a less severe punishment if they murder their wife, this leads to women being exploited and not possess the ability to fight for justice. Human rights lawyer, Nehad Abo Komsan said: “As long as we do not take the complaints of young women seriously, and as long as we say that those fighting for women’s rights are emboldening girls and causing trouble, this will be the result.”
Approximately 10 women are killed every day in Mexico and one of them on 9th April was Debanhi Escobar, an 18-year-old who was sexually abused and murdered. Her body was found later in a motel in Nuevo León. An initial government autopsy concluded that Escobar’s death was an accident, that she fell into a water tank and died from a single blow to the head. However, an independent autopsy concluded she was sexually abused and murdered. Mario Escobar, Debanhi Escobar’s father, requested the findings of the independent autopsy due to his distrust within the Mexican Government’s findings. No one has been sentenced until this day.
The Mexican Government have been accused of not handling this case well when the Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that the discovery of Escobar’s body in a motel “shouldn’t worry” Mexicans as it “happens everywhere”.
There is a lack of trust by the public as they believe femicide cases will not be taken seriously by the Mexican authorities. Mario Esobar stated “My daughter is dead and I don’t know what to do…I’m angry at myself for trusting the authorities of Nuevo León. I made a mistake.”
The current Mexican Federal Penal Code (CPF) makes femicide illegal (Article 325) by sentencing the perpetrator forty to sixty years in prison. However, as Mexico is split into 32 states, states can individually regulate and classify crimes as they deem appropriate.
Furthermore, the President of Mexico has been criticised for not doing enough to protect women from violence before they could potentially face murder as he cut the national budget for the federal women’s institute in 2020 by 75%. Alongside this, the President proposed to stop funding all together towards women’s shelters. He has also been criticised for calling most of the domestic violence phone calls – the Mexican hotline receives – as “fake” however, he has not presented any evidence to support his claims.
The laws of these three countries inadequately protect women from violence. To decrease femicide rates you need to have adequate laws to protect women from violence before they face murder. Without sufficient laws, women are not properly protected. However, achieving protective laws can take time to attain, the first step is to change attitudes of those who are in power.
Amnesty International in India calls for the release of Mohammed Zubair
Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of ALT news was arrested on Monday the 27th of June for allegedly inciting enmity among people by hurting their religious sentiments and the chair of board of Amnesty International India has called for his release.
Mohammed Zubair was taken into custody by the Delhi Police for “promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race and place of birth, residence, language, etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony” and for “outraging religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs under the Indian Penal Code for his satirical tweets that were posted in 2018 which criticised the censorship and rising discrimination against minorities under the current government of India where the Bharatiya Janata Party holds key power.
Prateek Sinha who is the other co-founder of ALT News had tweeted about Zubair’s arrest mentioning that they were not given a copy of the First Information Report (FIR) and that the Police was taking the journalist to an undisclosed location.
Speaking about the arrest, Aakar Patel, the chair of board for Amnesty in India said:
“The Indian authorities are targeting Mohammed Zubair for his crucial work combatting the rise in fake news and disinformation and calling out discrimination against minorities. The arrest of Mohammed Zubair shows the danger facing human rights defenders in India has reached a crisis point.
Patel also spoke out concerning the FIR issue. He said “The fact that he was not provided a copy of the FIR and was detained incommunicado during the initial hours following his arrest shows just how brazen the Indian authorities have become. Harassment, intimidation unlawful and arbitrary arrests, and imprisonment of human rights defenders for tirelessly seeking truth and justice has become alarmingly commonplace in India.”
He also called on the Delhi Police to immediately and unconditionally release Mohammed Zubair and to end the relentless harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, and activists. Patel also said that Zubair’s arrest is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression, abuse of power by authorities and sends a message that dissent is not tolerated in the country.
It should be noted that the arrest of Mohammed Zubair comes after the suspension of the official spokesperson of BJP who made derogatory remarks on the Holy Prophet Muhammad of Islam and his youngest wife after which the country has been in a state of turmoil since.
African states refuse to back renewal of sanctions on Democratic Republic of Congo
African states refuse to back renewal of sanctions on Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Kenya, Gabon and Ghana are amongst the African states refuse to back renewal of sanctions as they voted against the UN Security Council renewing Western imposed sanctions regime on the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo on 30th June 2022. As well as these three countries, China and Russia also abstained from the vote.
The sanctions included an arms embargo, a travel ban and asset freezes, as well as the state being banned from providing weapons to non-government entities operating in the democratic Republic of Congo. One other facet of the resolution is a notification requirement which some representatives claimed served as a hindrance to the DRC’s ability to limit armed groups and defend their country. It is worth noting that the DRC has children as young as 6 working in mines for large corporations.
Gabon’s Edwige Koumby Missambo stated that the requirement impeded the Democratic Republic of Congo’s power to effectively and immediately counter the activities of anti-government armed groups, and that it should be lifted in definitive terms so the Congolese Armed Forces could defend their country. She said that the international community should respect the sovereignty of the country and put the interest of civilians first and foremost. Missambo said that, “Halting operational capacities in the area of security of a state that is led by democratically elected authorities is tantamount to giving license to armed groups whose agenda is to foment terror and chaos among civilians.”
Gideon Kinuthia Ndung’u of the Kenyan delegation, while praising the steps of the new resolution to lift the notification requirement on non-lethal military equipment used for humanitarian and training purposes, stated that it did not properly address the appeal made by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fully lift the notification requirement. He said that there was a failure to acknowledge the recent steps that the government of the DRC had taken for better security and control of its weapons and ammunition management system.
Nicolas de Riviere of the French delegation which was the main drafter of the resolution voiced his regret that the resolution did not receive unanimous support as some African states refuse to back renewal of sanctions.
UN World Food Program Lowers Aid in South Sudan
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) recently decreased aid services in South Sudan, a major blow for the Central African country where over two-thirds of the population faces food shortages and hunger.
“Faced with increasing humanitarian needs and insufficient funding, we have taken the painful step to suspend food assistance to 1.7 million people,” said Adeyinka Badejo-Sanogo, WFP Acting Country Director in South Sudan. Instead of assisting an estimated 6.2 million people in the country, the WFP will now only provide aid for 4.5 million.
Large floods over the last three years have destroyed farms and homes across South Sudan, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. This year, UN officials anticipate more flooding, which will put around 600,000 people at risk of displacement. Violence in South Sudan has similarly forced many people to leave their homes, placing them in vulnerable situations. According to Ms. Badejo-Sanogo, “So far this year, we have seen 200,000 people newly displaced as a result of conflicts.”
South Sudan’s people are in a dire situation, and the international community must make greater efforts to send humanitarian aid to the country. Unfortunately, the Russia-Ukraine War has already diverted many countries’ focus, and nations are struggling with their own economic problems.
But ultimately, even if aid to South Sudan can be increased, it is only a temporary solution. Developing the infrastructure to combat flooding and quelling violence in the nation will create more sustainable long-term solutions.
How the United States can Solve its Gun Violence Problem
Here’s what the U.S. can learn from firearm laws in individual states and across the globe
Jasmeet Sidhu knew worshippers inside a Wisconsin Gurdwara when a white supremacist entered and began firing.
He shot ten congregants, killing six.
Sidhu’s loved ones survived the 2012 attack, but she was never the same. Sidhu, who’s now a senior researcher at Amnesty International USA, felt afraid whenever she took her kids to the Gurdwara after that.
Later that year, a gunman shot and killed twenty-six people, including twenty children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“I felt just shaken to my core that we can live in a country where you can send your kids to school or you go to pray or you go to a mall or you go to a movie theatre, or you send your kid to college and you never know if they’re going to come back,” Sidhu said.
The recent shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde have reignited debate about gun control in the United States. In the aftermath of the shootings, the country took conflicting steps – the House of Representatives set a process in motion to raise the minimum age to buy some firearms, while the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that individuals can carry handguns in public.
Where countries across the globe have tightened their laws after mass shootings, the U.S. has long been stuck in deadlock. While no gun policy is bullet-proof, experts like Sidhu say there are several models both within the United States and beyond which have proven they work.
Raising the age to buy a gun
Currently, federal U.S. law allows federally licensed dealers to sell shotguns and rifles, as well as ammunition for both, to individuals eighteen and up. Other firearms, such as handguns, and the relevant ammunition can only be sold to individuals twenty-one and older.
That changes when the seller isn’t licensed; in other words, in private person-to-person sales. In those cases, handguns and handgun ammunition can be sold to individuals eighteen and older. As for long guns and long gun ammunition, individuals of any age can purchase them from unlicensed sellers.
In early June, after the recent mass shootings, New York also upped the minimum age for buying a semi-automatic rifle to twenty-one, joining other states including Florida, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont and Washington in doing so. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a federal bill to raise the minimum age to buy an assault rifle from eighteen to twenty-one, though the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
“As we saw from the recent shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, and then the Uvalde shooting in Texas, these are individuals who waited until they were 18 and then legally went out and purchased a gun,” Sidhu said. “The problem there is that they were able to go buy a gun legally.”
“In a country where you can’t drink until you’re 21, and there’s so many restrictions on other aspects of life until you’re 21, it seems odd that you would have access to… weapons,” she added.
Sidhu noted that the U.S. had a lot of drunk driving accidents when the drinking age was eighteen. Once the government raised the national drinking age to twenty-one, studies showed a direct reduction in drunk driving accidents by youth, according to the United States Department of Transportation.
On the flip side, one rebuke to gun control is the argument that people who aren’t allowed to have guns will find a way to get one, says Kerri Raissian, director of the Center for Advancing Research, Methods, and Scholarship (ARMS) at the University of Connecticut.
“The fact that most of these very recent mass shooters have waited until they were 18 and actually waited until the time that they were legal, provides us some of the preliminary evidence that gun laws do work,” she said.
Raissian noted that young men are particularly at risk of homicide and of arrest for homicide, a risk that declines with age.
After a 2002 shooting where a nineteen-year-old gunman killed sixteen people, Germany raised the age for carrying sports weapons to twenty-one, instead of eighteen. Following another shooting in 2009, the country introduced random police checks for gun owners.
Germany already had relatively low rates of gun violence in 2002, with 1.29 gun deaths per 100,000 population, according to GunPolicy.org. But after the new rules were introduced, that number dropped to 1.01 gun deaths per 100,000 population by 2018, twelve times lower than the U.S. for the same year.
Assault Weapons Ban
From 1994 to 2004, the United States had an assault weapons ban which reduced the number of mass shootings in the country, Sidhu said. The ban expired under President George W. Bush.
Though handguns are behind most gun violence, She notes that assault weapons are particularly dangerous because of their ability to do a lot of damage in a short time.
In 1987, after a gunman with two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun killed sixteen people and wounded fifteen others before killing himself in Hungerford, Britain, England banned certain semi-automatic rifles, among other restrictions. Later, after a gunman killed sixteen children and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996, England effectively banned civilians from owning handguns.
The rate of gun violence in Britain is quite low – in 2016, England and Wales had an annual rate of 0.15 gun deaths per 100,000 population, according to GunPolicy.org.
Australia also banned all semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns after a mass shooting in 1996 which killed thirty-five people and injured eighteen. People surrendered guns in droves under an amnesty program. It’s estimated that the buyback cut down the number of gun-owning households by almost half, according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.
Similarly, after the Christchurch Mosque shooting in New Zealand where a gunman killed fifty-one people in 2019, the country banned assault weapons, as well as most semi-automatics, parts that convert firearms into semi-automatics, magazines over a certain capacity and certain shotguns. The country had 1.24 annual gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, the latest data available at GunPolicy.org.
Universal background check system
In the U.S., the Gun Control Act bans felons, individuals who’ve been dishonourably discharged from the Armed Forces and those without baseline mental capacity from owning guns, among others. Following the assassination attempt of former President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the country mandated background checks for individuals who purchased guns from federally licensed dealers.
But not much has changed since, Sidhu says.
Background checks don’t apply to non-licensed (i.e; person to person) sales or to inherited firearms.
Raissian points to other inadequacies in the current system, noting that juvenile criminal records in some states are sealed once the offender turns eighteen, preventing adequate background checks from being performed in some cases for those who purchase a gun shortly after their 18th birthday.
The new Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, passed at the end of June, introduces a more thorough review process for gun buyers under twenty-one years, including a juvenile record check.
Besides background checks, many scholars say gun owners should also be licensed, Raissian adds. Some states have introduced licensing systems, like Connecticut where gun owners must apply for a permit. In Massachusetts, police also interview applicants for a gun license.
Japan has almost no gun violence, with tight restrictions on who gets a gun. Handguns are banned, so residents can only buy limited firearms, such as shotguns and air rifles, but they have to pass multiple tests, including a mental health evaluation and background check to own a gun. In 2018, the country had 0.01 gun deaths per 100,000 people.
Red flag laws
These laws give family and law enforcement the ability to petition a court to take an individual’s guns away for a period, if they’re seen as a threat to themselves or others.
While some states already have some version of red flag laws in place, the new Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in the U.S. offers financial incentives to states to introduce them, though it doesn’t require states to create those laws.
In May, Canada introduced a bill which would give courts the power to require individuals seen as a danger to themselves or others, to surrender their guns among other changes including a national handgun freeze and revoking firearms licenses from people involved in domestic violence or criminal harassment.
“Most mass shooters have had some violence against women in their history,” said Raissian. “We need to learn more about that connection, but it is possible that interrupting the cycle of violence (and) holding domestic abusers accountable can not only make women safer, it could make all of us safer.”
Research has shown that keeping guns away from people convicted of domestic violence reduced the number of gun homicides. It didn’t lead to an increase of homicides committed by other weapons.
“This is important to the argument that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ If that were true, we would see an increase in non-gun homicides,” Raissian added.
“But again, because guns are so effective at killing people, even if you try to kill someone with another weapon – and I don’t know if that happens or not, that’s not in the data – but even if you try, you’re just so much less likely to be successful in a homicide because guns are just very good at what they’re designed to do.”
‘Human rights begin at home’
There is also work to be done enforcing existing laws.
Beyond background checks at the point of sale, Raissian says there is a weakness in seizing guns from prohibited people found to be in possession of firearms.
“We could go a long way by enforcing… laws that we already have to enhance public safety,” she said. “That requires no votes in Congress.”
At the heart, experts agree that no policy will eliminate gun violence in the United States.
Raissian points to the nuances in individual states, where some have more suicide-related gun deaths compared to others where homicide plays a major role.
“America has a gun death problem, absolutely, but each state has its own version of that gun death problem,” she said.
For Sidhu, the push toward promoting gun rights is not an actual reflection of the United States constitution, but a stretch of what the Second Amendment was actually intended for. It reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” which Sidhu interprets as being primarily concerned with the right of the militia to keep and bear arms.
But over time, it has been interpreted to mean that any individual has the right to have a gun, she says.
With Ohio recently passing a law allowing teachers and other staff to carry guns at school, Sidhu adds that the mentality that the public can be better protected with more good guys with guns is “incredibly flawed.” In the Uvalde shooting, armed officers arrived at the school but were late to act, she noted.
People with inadequate gun training (the law drops training requirements from more than 700 hours to a maximum of 24) and high stress environments are likely to do more harm than good, Sidhu continues, adding that it’s not fair to expect teachers to now carry a weapon to protect their students on top of their regular jobs.
“The answer is not to give everybody in the country a gun so they can protect themselves, the answer is we need to put some common sense regulations in place to restrict the access of guns from individuals who are likely to misuse them,” she says.
“Human rights begin at home.”
Critics claim, G7 failed to combat food crisis
G7 failed to combat the food crisis. The summit which comprised diplomats from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US, discussed several issues, with the Ukrainian War at the top of their agenda.
The G7 gathered last week to discuss how to tackle the global food crisis that has been exemplified through the Russian and Ukrainian War, however critics claim that the G7 failed to combat food crisis issues. The summit which comprised diplomats from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US, discussed several issues, with the Ukrainian War at the top of their agenda.
On 28th June, the G7 promised to spend $4.5 billion this year to address the global hunger crisis. Amid this pledge, the G7 has urgently requested for the Russian Government to end the blockade of Ukrainian Sea ports. The blockade has led to a halt of Ukraine’s exports including essential goods such as cooking oil and in particular, cereals such as maize and wheat. As of April 2022 the price of oils has increased by 137.5% compared to the averages of 2014-2016, whilst the price of cereals has increased by 69.5% compared to the 2014-2016 averages. In a statement on the support for Ukraine, the G7 stated, “We urgently call on Russia to cease, without condition, its attacks on agricultural and transport infrastructure and enable free passage of agricultural shipping from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea.”
The $4.5 billion pledge is to help those who are the most vulnerable from hunger and malnutrition, but it will not be enough to help protect all those suffering from the global food crisis.
Several activists have called out the G7 for falling short on what is needed to tackle the crisis. Max Lawson, the Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam stated, “The G7 have simply failed to take the action that is needed”. Additionally, Lawson expressed that, “The $4.5 billion announced is a fraction of what is needed. The G7 could have done so much more here in Germany to end the food crisis and prevent hunger and starvation worldwide”.
Furthermore, the World Food Programme (WFP) urged the G7 to, “act now or record hunger will continue to rise and millions will face starvation”. The WFP’s plan requires $22.2 billion from the G7 to help those who are suffering from the crisis, however, the G7 pledge is far from it, $17.7 billion less than what is needed. This comes after the WFP suspended food assistance to South Sudan due to a lack of funding and priorities elsewhere. South Sudan is one of the worst affected countries by the global food crisis as internal conflict, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change has all led to inflated food prices within the country.
South Sudan is not alone, extreme weather and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic previously inflated global prices, the Ukrainian War only exemplified it. Climate change has led to the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as flooding, droughts and megafires. The recent earthquake in Afghanistan and flooding in Bangladesh
are just some examples as to how climate change has increased the likelihood of extreme weather to occur. Extreme weather has damaged crops in several countries, thus, not only damaging the supplies of food for the countries themselves but also for the rest of the world. Alongside extreme weather, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely inflated global food prices. The pandemic caused supply chain disruptions which increased food prices. However, the downside of supply chain disruptions is panic buying and hoarding, which increased the demand leading to further inflated prices.
How are three countries in the Global South dealing with increasing femicide rates?
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