August 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the August 31, 2015 edition of this Peace/Justice action email!

Every year or two this newsletter devotes an issue to evaluating the direction and intent of the newsletter. The end of summer (North America) seems a suitable time. So in this issue we will explore any insights gained from both our content in general as well as our longitudinal focus on Darfur.  In addition there are a few items at the end that have accumulated since the last newsletter.
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This newsletter began over 15 year ago, during the start of online petitions.  Its original loosely-defined intent was two-fold and the observations will be clustered accordingly:

#1: To allow people who were already immersed in life’s concerns, the opportunity to respond to the larger issues that swirled around them; within that if people were too busy to respond, to keep them informed of a few major issues not being covered by mainstream media.

  1. The format worked fairly well for busy people: It was eventually honed into a brief description followed by the action link (which could be done quickly) and including links for further background.
  2. The newsletters helped people stay informed when they were too busy to take action, and tried to highlight at least a few areas not typically seen on front pages of mainstream media.
  3. Actions have always been filtered to ensure integrity of the action and congruence within best development (and occasionally aid) principles. But starting with the economic collapse of 2008, the number of organizations dropped significantly and has never fully recovered. This has had a slight impact on the range of actions, which was and remains part of the exploratory nature of the newsletter.

#2: To explore the impact of this new form of advocacy and track its changes over time.

  1. There have been significant shifts over the past 15 years. Web technology has allowed organizations like Avaaz to create petitions with over 4 million signatures.  But the only metric that counts is “impact” – is the cause advanced by the action?  And the response remains the same as last time – “It depends.”  In brief it typically requires the self-interest of both the target group and possible pressure groups to align.
  2. Over the past few years the term “slacktivism” has gained coinage. Its most basic meaning is simply activism via a few clicks on web petitions or other social media sources.  It can also be more pejorative, explored below.
  3. Long before the term “slacktivism” gained coinage this newsletter tried to indicate on occasion that this form of advocacy was a modest targeted part of a much larger dynamic that was needed for success. Informally, the newsletter tried to distinguish the three basic  types of intended effects / targets:
    1. The action itself in sufficient numbers might bring about the change;
    2. The action would not bring about direct change but would help build the constituency that could help push the issue to success by others more directly involved;
    3. No action would likely bring about change, but it would be terribly amiss to have the world remain silent about the issue;

Anyone who viewed these actions as more substantial than that would have misinterpreted this project.

  1. The notion of slacktivism raises another observation. Any genuine contribution should be welcomed.  If there is a valid evaluation, it is measured against the adage of keeping “your eyes on the prize.”  That is, it needs to be: (a) an action that can somehow be connected to nudging the goal forward; and (b) the focus of the person doing the action must be on the goal and not on what it does for him/herself.  The latter definitely fails the whole concept (and is part of the pejorative sense of slacktivism).  “Eyes on the prize” also means an egoless effort – no one cares who has done what.  Of course people should care for each other, but in the context of assuring each remains well-anchored as each keeps their eyes on the prize.
  2. Even successful campaigns are generally contingent. Apart from some ideal prototypical success where a complete holistic transformation has taken place, most achievements leave various degrees of residual antagonists who will continue to look for chances to regain momentum.  The point is that while achievements can be celebrated one can never assume it will last –a watchful eye must be kept. For example, some year ago an action nudged Japan off its humpback whale hunts, but it recently has threatened to resume it.
  3. Crowdfunding: The final topic is also a new phenomenon whereby someone hears of a dire heart-wrenching story, for example, parents who need expensive medical care for special conditions in their child, but cannot pay for its enormous cost. And thus the news goes out to donate to help the family story.

    On the one hand they are irresistible stories, one can have a real impact and there is an immediacy in seeing the results.  On the other hand it highlights the gaps in our social safety net, etc.  If nothing is done about the systemic nature then again it easily slips into a “favoritism of the privileged loudest/visible voices” and “feel-do-goodism.”

    I think the best resolution is firstly to acknowledge this downside and then to commit to an overwhelming ratio of giving to root causes.  That is, for every dollar given to such crowdfunding, commit ten dollars to organizations that efficiently are attempting to deal with the underlying systemic imbalance.  There are many ethical base points at play here so feel free to explore them on the blog (link at top).  This includes the parallels to activism in general.




  1. When the media spotlight moves elsewhere and political avenues fail to resolve the situation, the death, displacement, rape, malnutrition, and lost futures in Darfur continue (now for 12 years). It becomes monotonous news, but it remains a devastating reality
  2. When the spotlight moves elsewhere, it can result in a sharp climb in violence. We saw that with the creation of the ruthless Rapid Support Forces (2014).  This has also been true in newly created South Sudan where many displacement camps have grown enormously and are on the verge of starvation.
  3. Advocacy helped keep tens or hundreds of thousands of people alive. But advocacy can’t bring about lasting peace when a government is intent on its destructive ways and the international community will not provide the government sufficient pressure to change its calculus. Primary bridling includes:
    1. Sudan’s almost totalitarian control (control/suppression of media; almost omnipresence of ruthless security services);
    2. Outside funding for Sudan (Qatar; Russia & Chine arms, etc.);
    3. Veto power of UN Security Council (China, Russia);
    4. Conflicted US policy (State Dept wanting to resolve issue; security agencies wanting terrorist info.; the latter continues to win);

      There are times, with all sides seemingly entrenched, when advocacy, while always looking for openings, can do little.  But it can at least let the people of Darfur know that they are not forgotten.

  4. A basic rule-of-thumb for despots: Slow down the rate of death and displacement and you can keep the atrocities under the news radar.
  5. Advocacy was most helpful in the early years, but it was slow to adjust its narrative to the changing dynamics, though that has been somewhat corrected. However in 2007 it made a blunder by knowingly over-inflating the number of deaths.  Its credibility has never fully repaired.
  6. When a conflict is not quickly resolved, it starts to compete for media attention and international resources. It is easy to start comparing tragedies in terms of priority.  That is always a mistake as a first principle – any death torture or displacement is equally abhorrent.  Of course given limited resource, priorities must be made but the point is that to start improperly is never to visit and reinforce the perspectives that might get us beyond such dynamics (by ensuring there are adequate resources for conflicts; developing better overall global strategies that reduce conflicts, etc.).
  7. UN (and African Union) hybrid Peacekeepers: it is better to have them than not.  Their firewood patrols – where they would accompany women gathering wood – have kept some people from being raped..  But in terms of being able to keep conflicting groups apart, it was an utter failure.  Here are three basic reasons:
    1. The Sudanese government did not {willingly} invite them in; it was more of a begrudging coercion. Thus they continually threatened to kick out the peacekeepers if they became too active (and did kick out some NGOs) and hampered all efforts by the peacekeepers.  This is far the main reason.
    2. In ongoing conflict and civil war-like scenarios, it is hard to distinguish all the relationships and sides as they eventually splinter; as well as groups that use the unrest to create an advantage over previously existing tensions, and those groups created solely to obtain power to loot, etc.
    3. Internally: While not diminishing those who have a commitment to a deeper sense of peacekeeping and have put themselves at risk for it, the effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping was undercut by:
      1. The makeup of the forces was often not up to standard. As one of my contacts notes, for some African recruits it was basically a pay cheque, much more money than any other option but not something they would risk their life for,
      2. Sometimes their actions were questionable and even reprehensible because for some peacekeepers, all they had known was a violent world;
      3. The supporting UN agencies did not provide sufficient support, for example, the long-term plea for a measly 18 helicopters;




Status of Hunt for LRA and Joseph Kony

In 2011 there began a more concerted effort to capture Kony, with some US Special Forces joining the African Union Special Task Force.  Since then the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has lost several key commanders, and over 260 people have defected.  The LRA is scattered in three countries.  The strategy has reduced the LRA attacks to mainly survival rather than growth.  But it also means attacks still occur and there remains controversy about whether this approach or a rapprochement style would finally bring things to an end.


Court Rules Against Gay ‘Conversion Therapy”

In what is considered to be a landmark civil-rights ruling, a New Jersey court ruled against the notion of “gay conversion therapy” – the notion that gay people can be “cured” and made straight through some form of treatment.  This newsletter already noted [Special issue on mental health] the serious harm that can be done and the harsh criticism of it from the American Psychiatric Association.
Landmark Ruling Against Conversion Therapy [Guardian]





‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock

The vast oceans hide many terrible deeds.  This newsletter has highlighted some of the environmental destruction as well as overt human trafficking.  But this article highlights another dimension: abuses suffered by the crews, as well as a whole industry hidden behind simple pet food.
Thailand ‘Sea Slaves’ [Four-part series; NYT: requires registration]


Mapping the World’s Current Wars

The conflict in places like Syria and Iraq dominate the news recently.  Their effect is global – from humanitarian crises, to migrant flows to money spent, etc.  But there are other conflicts that don’t make the headlines.  Our long-term focus on Darfur has made it clear that the world (at least the western media) can only highlight a couple of tragedies at a time.  The rest are seldom even given passing mention.

June 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the June 20, 2015 edition of this Peace/Justice action email!

Please note the urgent June 24 deadline to take action below! The action is to request the UN Security Council not to withdraw or reduce its peacekeeping troops form Darfur – they are the only remaining very thin line of protection for civilians, who are still caught in unspeakable swirls of violence!

Due to this urgent action, this June newsletter will have a second part, done later.

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On June 24 the UN Security Council will be meeting to decide whether to reduce or even possibly withdraw UNAMID, the UN peacekeeping troops in Darfur.  Sudan has been pressing for an “exit” plan.  Earlier there had been serious talk at the UN about reducing their presence in Darfur.

This needs to be seen against the backdrop of this past 18 months, where Sudan began very concerted efforts to defeat the rebel forces. The techniques remain the same – using indiscriminate bombing runs and militia attacks in rebel areas, resulting in large civilian displacement and causalities.  In addition tribal rivalry and a lawless element have added to the unrest.  This newsletter has tracked all of this (see: Current Status  [UntilAll]). The UN Refugee Agency estimates that well over 2 million people are currently displaced [].

It would be unconscionable to pull UNAMID out.  While this newsletter has been clear that UNAMID has been largely impotent, the solution lies in addressing the core issues which one of the following resolutions attempts to list.  In addition, as ineffective as UNAMID has been, it remains the last line of recourse for the civilians, whose lives remain caught in various repugnant layers of violence.

Thus please consider signing both petitions below:

Petition To UN Security Council:
Renew UNAMID’s Mandate

Petition to President Obama:
Keep UN Peacekeepers in Darfur





June 20 is World Refugee Day.  There are almost 60 million who have fled their homes, resulting in over 20 million refugees.  This past year has seen a higher rate largely due to the conflict in Syria.

Our longitudinal study of Darfur gives us a sense of the reasons, the world politics that maintains that status quo, the despair as one month becomes one year becomes a decade, and so on.  But our study of Darfur should also keep us open to the ongoing struggles around the world.  For some of those stories see:

March 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the March 31, 2015 edition of this Peace/Justice action email!

Due to other pressing projects, this again will be a minimal newsletter edition.  There are three actions.  The first involves a US notion of feasible, reduced support for nuclear weapons. The second action pertains to Michigan and discrimination, while the third action involves the potential for Arctic drilling.

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The amount of money spent on nuclear weapons is always a contentious issue.  For U.S. citizens, the following petition will allow you to consider whether the current priorities form a good balance.

Citizens for Global Solutions support the “Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act” [H.R.1534; S.831], suggesting that the current nuclear spending and priorities do not align with today’s security needs.  They believe that cuts in nuclear programs will not jeopardize security but rather will increase security if it is accompanied by a more relevant focus on contemporary threats.  Read more details in the link below.

US-only: Tell Your Representatives to Co-Sponsor the SANE Act:




The state of Indiana is getting so much negative reaction regarding discrimination after its “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was recently passed that it may be self-correcting, a topic for another day.  However, right now in Michigan, there are no laws preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and Michigan may try to implement a similar version of the Indiana law which could, worst case, entrench such discrimination.

As a specific example, a pediatrician in Michigan discriminated against a six-day-old baby because the baby’s parents are lesbian.  The couple came to the doctor’s office, but the doctor had “prayed on it,” and decided she could not care for their baby.

The following petition can be used to send a signal to Michigan lawmakers about how such a law would be perceived.  It might have been useful for the Indiana lawmakers to have fully understood the outside-state consequences (which include the freedom of people and companies to move or avoid an area) before the voted.  Democracy works best from a well-informed standpoint.

Take Action (open to all):
Tell Michigan Legislators Not To Discriminate

Indiana’s Law Puts Obstacles to Equality [The Atlantic]





Sudan will go to the polls in mid-April.  It is a foregone conclusion that President Bashir will be re-elected.  This means that the horrid conditions in Darfur, as well as the deplorable state of South Kordofan and the Nuba mountains will remain.

Up to six million people are at humanitarian risk in Darfur.  As mentioned last month the levels of death and displacement approach the most gruesome levels of the 2003-2006 outbreak of violence.  Villages remain empty or even worse, are being filled by outside Arabs.  One contact recently returned from Darfur has indicated that some of these outsiders have extremist tendencies.

There is no action at the moment for Darfur.  However a new set of strategies, relying partly on Sudan’s feverish mining of gold, is being developed, as noted in the link below.

Latest Potential Pressure Points for Sudan





Greenpeace is following the movement of a Shell oil rig as it makes it way to the Arctic.  This newsletter has previously explored the potential negative impacts of drilling for oil in the Arctic and has advocated for making the Arctic a sanctuary.  The following link can be used join the movement to save the Arctic and/or to track the progress of the oil rig and Greenpeace ship.

Take Action / See Progress



Canada Ratifies the Convention on Cluster Munitions

Good news: Canada became the 91st State Party (and 19th NATO member) to the Convention on Cluster Munitions on March 16, 2015.  Its stockpiles were completely destroyed as of June 2014.



Do you need a new cell phone?

There are continual voices that lure us to buy the ‘next’, the biggest or the best. Green America has produced a simple one-page flowchart to remind us that buying a new phone is not simply a financial decision.  It has environmental implications from e-waste to the cost of producing yet more rare and precious minerals and other components.  Our newsletter has already highlighted that some of those costs also sometimes include the fueling of conflict and the maintenance of sweatshop labour.

January 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the January 30, 2015 edition of this Peace/Justice action email!

Due to other pressing projects, this will be a minimal newsletter edition.  There is a single action – a follow-up action on Darfur.  If you want to take other actions, I have included links to some of Amnesty International’s websites.  In them you will find actions from LGBT issues, to issues of torture, denial of freedom, and so on.

Plus there is a huge “Thank you!” for the amazing response to the global Write-for-Rights campaign.

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Sudan’s President Bashir has recently initiated yet another deadly campaign against the people of Darfur.  Since the start of January, bombings and assault have displaced over 30,000 people with an unknown death toll (400,000 displaced in 2014).  With description of “cleansing” entire areas such as parts of East Jebel Mara, this has repulsive echoes of the early days of the Darfur crisis (for fuller overall details of conditions of Darfur and Sudan see: Current Status  [UntilAll]).

In addition, the U.N. is planning to further cut-back its forces, largely due to pressure from Sudan, even as violence has drastically increased.

A petition has been created to press the U.N. into more robust action.  Tell the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to the new wave of bombings.

Take Action:
Tell UN Security Council to Protect People of Darfur






While I have a list of other possible actions to take, I have not had time adequately to investigate them.  Thus if you want to take other human rights actions, please go to any of the Amnesty International websites.

Take Action:
International site:








Amnesty Write-For-Rights Campaign Success

A big “Thank you” goes out to all who participated in Amnesty International’s annual international Write-For-Rights letter writing campaign in December!  Over 3 million actions have been tallied so far – simply amazing!


UN Arms Trade Treaty Takes Effect

On December 24, 2014, the UN Arms Trade Treaty took effect, regulating the international trade in arms trade.  This newsletter has advocated for this treaty, although its effect is tied to broad support, especially from the large arms exporters.  Thus far, sixty-one nations have ratified it and thus are bound by it.   Of the large arms exporters:

  1. Britain, France and Germany have signed and ratified it;
  2. Russia, China and Pakistan have not even signed it;
  3. The world’s largest exporter, the U.S., has signed it but is unlikely to ratify the treaty since it requires approval by its Senate, and the concerns of the National Rifle Association (NRA) hold sway.

In the January 2013 newsletter the concerns of the NRA were explored as honestly as possible, although in the April newsletter the overall logic regarding the treaty concerns was deemed to be “incredulous” (although I remain open to further dialogue).
Announcement of UN Treaty (Reuters)
Actual UN Treaty Text


Western Sahara: Nonviolent Women’s’ Resistance

This newsletter raised the issue of problems brewing in sub-Saharan Africa long before they became mainstream news.  While many issues remain bleak, there are also signs of hope.  The following article highlights a nonviolent women’s resistance movement:
Nonviolent Women’s Resistance in Western Sahara  [openDemoracy]






Ten Wars to Watch for in 2015

Here is the annual list from International Crisis Group:



One Almond Requires One Gallon of Water


The following article combines two environmental sub-themes of this newsletter: (a) our disconnection between what we consume and the resources to produce it; (b) the growing issue of water.  And please note that it is a separate question regarding how much of that gallon of water is left to use again.
Almonds, California and Water   [Mother Jones]


November 2014 Newsletter

Welcome to the November 29, 2014 edition of this Peace&Justice action email!

Given that this is a human right’s newsletter, the primary action is to take part in Amnesty International’s global Write-for-Rights campaign.  In addition there is an action related to Darfur and the UN’s mishandling of the situation, and an action to raise again the hope that the U.S. will ratify the Convention on Child Rights.

In addition are a couple of follow-up and other articles of note.

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Consider joining the annual Write-For-Rights campaign, where hundreds of thousands of people around the world write letters or take other actions on behalf of those unjustly detained, tortured, imprisoned!  It takes place during the first 2-3 weeks of December, coinciding with Human Rights Day, December 10.  You can join a group, take web actions, or better yet create your own group (they can supply you with all necessary material)!

Take Action:




On October 31 Sudanese forces entered the town of Tabit, reportedly beating the men and then raping 200 women, many of them girls.  The UN peacekeeping force (UNAMID) was 30 miles away.  They sent a team to investigate three days later but soon after arriving and reportedly getting a little corroborating evidence, the Sudanese forces kept them out for a week.  When UNAMID came back they could not get anyone to confirm the atrocity.  Their eventual report denied any rape had taken place. Given other corroborating testimony, this has shed light not only on this incident but has confirmed the suspicions of many about UNAMID’s compromised reporting in general.  Apart from creating a furor at the UN, it has now frayed relations with Sudan who has verbally asked UNAMID for an exit path.

The following petition by Waging Peace (UK) demands an immediate investigation into the mass rape, that the UN provide immediate medical and psychological treatment for the victims and that the government soldiers be held accountable for their brutal crimes, including compensation for the victims.

The event is sickening.  And on a revealing ironic note, the town – Tabit – was one of five towns that were designated in June as one of Darfur’s “model villages”, that is, suitable for the voluntary return of displaced persons.  It demonstrates what most people knew – the effort by the government to paint the conflict as over, is an utter farce (for fuller overall details of conditions of Darfur and Sudan see: Current Status  [UntilAll]).

Take Action:

UNAMID Covers Up Darfur Atrocity [Foreign Policy]
Initial Report of Rape [Radio Dabanga]
Actual UNAMID Internal Report [Sudan Tribune; Eric Reeves]




The US and Somalia (and newly created South Sudan) are the only countries who have not ratified the Convention on The Rights of the Child.  November 20 was Universal Children’s Day.  The action below was to tell U.S. President Obama to announce on that day that he will submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

It may seem stunning to some to think that the US, who helped shape the Convention, has not ratified it.  As the background articles indicate, US failure to ratify it stems largely from concern over the possibility of it undermining parental authority. Many countries include formal reservations and declarations of interpretations, so that the Convention won’t override national interpretations of their laws and customs.  Given that all other Western countries with the same basic standards on issues of concern have not been affected by ratifying the treaty, such US concerns do not seem to be grounded in reality, but rather agendas.

US-ONLY: Tell President Obama to Sign:
Tell Obama to Ratify Treaty

Why is US Against Children’s Rights?  [TIME]
Why Won’t US Ratify Child Rights Convention?  [The Economist]
Actual Convention on Rights of the Child




The emergence of a new, well-funded, tech- and media-savvy terrorist group that uses grotesque acts and images as one of its chief vehicle for spreading fear and gaining recruits, has caught the Western world scrambling to react.  Analysis of this truly despicable group abound; there is little to add.  Short-term actions have already been implemented. Such actions at best can only contain the immediate situation and by their fast-reaction nature contain terribly compromised elements that easily spark other sometimes worse results.

This newsletter would be remiss not to note this new repugnant dynamic.  Specifically, how do we dissipate ISIS, so that it is only known as a footnote in history? Bombs and bullets (and intelligence gathering and other tactics) may reduce some immediate threat, but they cannot dispel an idea that has gained such deadly traction. For that one needs the long-term classic nonviolent strategy of strengthening the reasonable voices on all sides.  This will be explored more in the next newsletter.  One role is to use Islam itself to combat the horrible distortions (and yet that somehow have appeal) and provide a more solid and compelling alternative vision.  Given that 85% of the victims of Islamic terrorism are Muslims [Sanders: The Myth of the Muslim Tide], no one has a greater stake in this than Muslims.  The following is a sample:
Using Islam To Combat ISIS [Huffington Post;  MPAC]

Stay tuned for more on how this seemingly hyper-idealistic strategy can actually contain much grip.



Bee Decline Now Evidence Of Bird Decline

A decline in bee populations due to a new pesticide (neonicotinoid family) has previously been highlighted in this newsletter.  Now a Dutch study has linked it to a decline in the bird population, though it need further work.




Is Selection Process for UN Peacekeepers Flawed?

Reports coming from some of the top UN troop-contributing countries indicate that many troops are not adequately educated regarding basic human right.  Often they come from areas which have poor human right records.  Examples were given where UN troops, when previously in their country, were part of serious rights violations.  For others, it is a “reward” thus reducing any motivation to take seriously the UN mandate.  In 2012 the UN set up guidelines for this overall issue but the vetting  process thus far seem unable to address basic flaws.


Is U.S. Public TV Dominated by the One-Percent?

In a world where traditional meda is continually squeezed thereby diminishing the range of voices heard and in-depth journalism, one presumes that atleast in the public broadcast sphere there is a better range.  Yet a study by FAIR has found that most U.S. public broadcasting stations have governing boards dominated by the corporate sector.  Even billionaire David Koch sits as a trustee.

While recognizing the value of business people to ensure sound fiscal policies, the point raised here is one of dominance.  On the one hand those from the corporate world constitute 84% of the governing bodies and most are drawn from elite entities.  On the other hand there is a dearth of other areas – few academics, and almost no journalists, educators, artists and leaders of nonprofit groups.

June 2014 Newsletter

Welcome to the June 29, 2014 edition of this Peace&Justice action email!

This issue deals with the horrible escalation of violence in Darfur and the rest of Sudan, as well as the Egyptian’s court refusal to rectify its original sham trial resulting in the mass sentencing of hundreds of people to death.

In addition you will find articles on the global groundwater crisis, the current global country index, and a new campaign to counter the notion that homosexuality can by “cured” via therapy.
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The March newsletter raised the alarm bell regarding Darfur – the repugnant dynamics are back (see: Current Status  [UntilAll]).  Under the new guise called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), villages were again being razed, people killed or displaced, all linked back to Khartoum.  Recently even the New York Times highlighted the same abhorrent violence [‘Sudan Said to Revive Notorious Militias’, {requires registration}].  The violence also extends to previously noted areas in the Nuba mountains, and on both sides of the Sudan-South Sudan border areas. Pockets of famine and genocidal targeting are threatening both countries and the intensifying conflicts are pulling in neighboring states.

The advocacy group, Enough, now has the following action to help reinvigorate diplomatic actions to address the escalation of violence.  The U.S. has had a major stake in this area for years, helping to broker the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan, as well as being involved in trying to end the Darfur conflict, mottled as some say those efforts were. The action also calls for full international reengagement (for non-US citizens, consider also forwarding this to your government).

Take Action (open to everyone):
Ask U.S. Government to Reinvigorate Sudan Diplomacy  [Enough]





This newsletter previously recommended action to tell the Egyptian courts to stop the mass execution of over 500 people.  The courts proceeded, and appeals to both the court and the government have thus far had little or no impact.  Amnesty International considers the proceedings to be nothing short of a complete “travesty of justice.”  Thus they have initiated the following campaign to continue the pressure for a fair trial, which also includes a demand that the three Al Jazeera journalists be freed..

Take Action:
Tell Egypt to Stop Mass Executions  [Amnesty International]




Global Map of “Groundwater Footprint” and Stress

As has been highlighted here and elsewhere, water will likely become a major global tension-point in coming decades. We can see change in rivers, lakes and glaciers.  But for the first time we now have a map of the stresses being put on something we can’t see – groundwater levels.  In many ways this is even more ominous.  The following article, from McGill University and published in Nature, highlights a tool to start measuring the use (sustainable or not) of groundwater throughout the world.  It suggests that “groundwater footprint” may soon have the same coinage as “carbon footprint.”
Article and Actual Map of Global Groundwater Usage  [McGill University]


The 2014 Fragile States Index

Each year the Fund for Peace calculates its Fragile States Index which is published by Foreign Policy.  This newsletter again presents the annual data, which can make for interesting analysis of what is considered worthy of indexing and how the results are highlighted.
2014 Fragile States Index  [Foreign Policy]


New Campaign to End Gay Conversion Therapy

This newsletter has previously indicated the danger of “conversion or reparative therapy”, which is the notion that through therapy homosexual activity can be “cured”.  The medical community has abandoned such notions years ago.  And while some places have formally banned the practice (for example, the states of California and New Jersey in the US) it remains a topic of controversy.  Thus a new campaign has been launched to take direct aim at such notions.
New Campaign to End Gay Conversion Therapy  [TIME]

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Missed an action email?  An archive is kept at:


May 2014 newsletter

Welcome to the May 31, 2014 edition of this Peace&Justice action email!

This issue deals firstly with the widely publicized case of a pregnant Sudanese women sentenced to death [please note this newsletter was delayed to get the latest action].  Secondly this newsletter provides an update action to last year’s Bangladeshi factory collapse.
The blog associated with this newsletter is at:  Feel free to comment on any topic.

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A Sudanese court has sentenced a pregnant woman, Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, to hang for apostasy after she married a Christian man.  The death sentence would be carried out two years after she gives birth.  In addition she will receive 100 lashes for adultery (her marriage is not deemed valid) once she has recovered from giving birth.  Amnesty International has created a petition to protest against this horrible violation of human rights.  Amnesty considers Mariam to be a prisoner of conscience (violates freedom of thought, conscience and religion), her flogging to be torture, and is against the death penalty.

[Update: May 27: Mariam gave birth to a baby girl, Maya]

[Breaking News: May 31: Sudan’s Foreign Ministry has announced that the case will be repealed.  Thus the original action here has been removed (just before I was to send this newsletter).  But because this came from the Foreign Ministry and not the court itself, the spotlight should remain until Mariam is actually freed and all charges have been repealed.  Thus I delayed this email until I found the following replacement action.

Take Action:
Keep Pressure on Sudan – Demand Mariam be Freed!
Sudan: Pregnant woman faces death for apostasy   [BBC]
Sudan’s twisted history of using religion   [Al Jazeera]

Darfur and thus Sudan have been part of this newsletter’s longitudinal study.  We know how the political power remains an influx, multi-voiced dynamic (which has also been labelled, dysfunctional;  see: Current Status  [UntilAll]).  But it is unknown whether this incident bubbled up from obscurity or became a useful distraction.






Last year’s massive building collapse in Bangladesh killed over 1,100 people and injured countless others.  After a global protest, the corporations that profited from this tragedy were to pay into a $40 million fund to be collected by the International Labour Organization.

But one year later, less than half the money has been donated — and 15 retailers, including Ascena (Lane Bryant), JCPenney, and Benetton, are refusing to pay up.  Worse, very little has changed within Bangladesh.  Survivors and their families are still struggling, and little has been done to affect long-term change.  Thus consider the action below to demand that these retailers uphold their obligation to the Bangladeshi workers now!

Take Action:
Tell Companies to Keep Promise and Donate to Fund   []




SYRIA: Latest UN Report

A recent UN report has summarized the extent of the ongoing, four year-old tragedy in Syria.  Almost two-thirds of Syria’s population suffers from extreme poverty because of the civil war, calling it “catastrophic”.  Over 150,000 people have been killed.  Nearly 50% of Syria’s labor force is unemployed, and the country’s gross domestic product has shrunk by an estimated 40% since 2011. Losses from damage are estimated at $143.8 billion.  Full details:
 UN Report on Syria   [Reuters]


MALI: Violence Flares

This newsletter originally noted the unrest that was occurring in Mali, and later, highlighted the issue of Mali’s coup in 2012.  Since then France came in to overtake the northern area held by the Tuareg rebels.  France remains concerned about Islamist strongholds.  In the past few days there has been further fighting, whereby Tuareg separatists repulsed an attempt by Mali’s army to take control of their stronghold of Kidal.  A ceasefire has been agreed to, for now.  The point of this update is to note that as long as underlying issues remain unresolved, violence will remain near the surface.
Latest fighting   [Reuters]
Refugees divided on future of northern Mail   [IRIN]




When is civil society a force for social transformation?

The cluster that is called civil society, particularly though not exclusively in terms of number of charitable originations, has grown enormously for the last few decades.  The following essay probes the dynamics and asks why there is not a similar reduction in the social ills they try to address.  The essay even suggests there has even been a less positive impact than before.  The author offers two primary reasons.
Civil Society and Social Transformation   [openDemocracy]


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Missed an action email?  An archive is kept at:

March 2014 Newsletter

Welcome to the March 29, 2014 edition of this Peace&Justice action email!

This issue gets back to the usual emphasis of this newsletter on tangible actions.  While numerous significant topics swirl, three requiring immediate action have been selected. The first involves our longitudinal focus on Darfur, where recent events have stunningly shifted the violence to the type of atrocities not seen since violence originally erupted.  A second action involves the siege and subsequent starvation of people in Syrian town.  The third action deals with an unbelievable Egyptian court order to execute over 500 people.

In addition, there is also an action related to disturbing trends related to the Rohingya in Burma.  Finally there is some follow-up to a few previous issues.

Pour la traduction française: cliqueter ici; et cliqueter alors le bouton de traduction sur la page Web.
Para la traducción española: clic aquí; y entonces hace clic en el botón de traducción en la página web.





The Darfur crisis exploded 11 years ago, resulting in 300,000 people killed and over 2 million displaced.  Violence has never ceased – it only has periods of greater and lesser degrees.  This past year has continued an upsurge – almost 500,000 displaced [Amnesty International], and well over 100,000 in 2014.

Worse, some of the most ominous dynamics are now occurring, mirroring the early days of death and destruction.  It results from President Bashir’s determination to subdue the rebel forces, using the same tactics as during the repugnant early days – relying on militias, who spend most of their time attacking civilians.  The outcome is similar – compare the villages recently attacked over a Sample Few Days  [] with the horrific events of 2004 to 2006.

The actions are two-fold.  Neither will stop Bashir directly; they are simply the best tools that might lead him and those who support him, to recalibrate their calculus.  One action calls on select countries to prohibit Bashir from entering their nation, in accordance with the ICC mandate.  The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted President Bashir with charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  As such, any member country of the ICC is to prohibit him from entering their country, and if he does, arrest him.  Bashir has entered several countries (though, only after painstakingly being assured he will not be arrested – he does feel the ICC mandate).

The other action (for US citizens) is to advocate support for the “Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act”.  It was introduced in 2013, but still sits in committee.  After this recent, ongoing deplorable turn of violence, there is a growing demand to re-engage with this issue, so it is timely to sign.  The Act is better grounded than previous ones, aligning with the common call to address Darfur as part of the Sudan-wide solution.

Take Action (from United to End Genocide):
{US only}: Tell Congress to support Sudan Peace & Accountability Act

{Open to all}: Tell Countries to Uphold ICC, Keep Bashir Out





The Syrian conflict is now over three years old.  It has resulted in 100,000 people dead (about half of them civilians), and a staggering 2.5 million refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced.

Among all the horror of this period, has come a new even more perverted twist.  In what would amount to a war crime, Syria has also laid siege to the Yarmouk area, with a reported 128 people having starved to death because the siege prevented access to food.  Rebel forces have also hindered access.   Last week some food made it to the city, for only the second time.  But due to the delicate and tentative nature of this, pressure must be continued.

Take Amnesty International Action(s):
{US-only}:  Tell Your Senator to Cosponsor Syrian Humanitarian Bill

{Open to All}: Tell UN to Stop Yarmouk Siege, Protect Civilians

Squeezing the life out of Yarmouk: War crimes against besieged civilians [Amnesty report]
Reuter’s article on Yarmouk siege




Conditions continue to deteriorate for the Rohingya in Burma (Myanmar).  We have previously highlighted the agonizing situation of the minority Muslim Rohingya in the predominantly Buddhist country.  Terrible violence erupted in 2012, and new clashes are occurring again (hundreds have been killed, tens of thousands have fled, and 140,000 have been forced into horrible, overcrowded camps where they face severe restrictions and are denied basic necessities including lifesaving medical care).While part of this violence stems from extremist Nationalist/Buddhist groups (e.g., the shadowy ‘969’ movement), see the Background link for some of the much deeper, widespread reasons.

If left unchecked, the trajectory, already considered to be crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Fortify Rights, could eventually plummet to the level of genocide.  Part of advocacy is to raise up such dynamics in order to prevent them from reaching such repugnant end points.

Last week, members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.Res. 418: “Urging the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people”.  U.S. citizens can sign the petition to add their support to this bill.

Take Action (US citizens only; from United to End Genocide):
Urge House to pass bill to stop persecution of Rohingya
Worsening Plight of Rohingya [Mar/14; The Diplomat]
Acts are Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing [HRW; .PDF]




In an utterly stunning move, the Egyptian court ordered the execution of 528 people!  While those convicted were no angels – they were part of the Muslim Brotherhood and had been involved in protests, resulting in the death of one policeman, injury to several people and property damage – it is simply incredulous that any court would sentence them all to death.  The entire trial for all of them lasted only two sessions, with many convicted in absentia.  While this will likely be appealed, it is important that the international community provide strong, clear support for those Egyptians who are trying to bring a semblance of fairness to their legal system.

Take Action:
Tell Egypt to Reject Court Decision [Avaaz]




Conflict-Free Minerals – Intel Offers Help

We have followed the attempt to reduce the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by lobbying companies not to buy minerals from the conflict area.  While it was inspired by such pressure initiatives as the boycott against apartheid in South Africa, and more recently, the blood diamond project in Sierra Leone, the DRC initiative seemed manifoldly more difficult.  Nonetheless, Intel has spent five years trying to figure out how to rid itself of such minerals in its supply chain.  Having succeeded (one hopes) via a system of bagging, tagging and verifying minerals as they reach the smelter, it now wants to share the insights with other companies, thereby saving them the need to “reinvent the wheel.”  It will take to time know whether this is primarily PR or a genuine effort to step-up the dynamics.
Conflict-fee Minerals Initiative [Reuters]


Central African Republic (CAR) and Warning Signs of Genocide

For the past several months the Central African Republic has seen horrendous chaos and violence that has raised alarms about early warning signs of genocide.  While Muslims and Christians had been living in relative peace, a Muslim rebel coalition (Seleka) seized power last March.  That resulted in looting and killings, followed by reprisals from Christian “anti-balaka” groups. Eventually the leader stepped down, but that did not satisfy the anti-balaka forces, and the killing of Muslims has continued.  Over one million people have been displaced. With signs of genocide, French and then UN peacekeeping troops have been sent in, but in insufficient numbers thus far.  There are calls for a more robust intervention in CAR, with its largely non-existent institutional infrastructure
UN Warns: ‘Seeds of Genocide’ [Reuters]
A Muslim Community under Siege [HRW]


Uganda: Passed Harmful Anti-Gay Law

We have followed, and joined the petition against, the anti-gay bill that was introduced four years ago.  At that time it included the death sentence in extreme cases.  The huge outrage removed the death clause and put the bill into limbo.  But in February, Ugandan President Museveni, signed the altered bill into law. It is an affront to basic human rights, specifically the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.  But much worse, many punishments will result in a life sentence.

That said, perhaps even worse, is the effect on society.  If you read the Nigerian article, whose laws were modelled after Uganda, you find that although homosexuality has been illegal since the colonial era, people used to be tolerant.  But not now – mobs sometimes go hunting for gays, beating them, threatening their life and causing them to lose their jobs.  Many HIV/AIDS programs must scale back and thus IADS may skyrocket.  Why the dramatic change?  In several other African countries, “in many cases” much of the caustic change is due to the American anti-gay activists and the Christian right, who have helped change laws in nine countries.
Uganda’s President Sign’s anti-Gay Bill  [CBC]
Running Scared for Your Life if Gay In Nigeria [Mother Jones]


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Missed an action email?  An archive is kept at:


Jan. 2014 Newsletter: Peace/Justice & Issue of Mental Health

Welcome to the January 30, 2014 edition of this Peace&Justice action email!

After missing a few months, it will be good to get back to the regular action-oriented newsletters in a couple of weeks.  This newsletter, however, is the first in an occasional series to focus on a broader topic.  As promised well over a year ago, the first topic is the issue of mental health.

Pour la traduction française: cliqueter ici; et cliqueter alors le bouton de traduction sur la page Web.
Para la traducción española: clic aquí; y entonces hace clic en el botón de traducción en la página web.



This newsletter is primarily action-oriented.  But this section is the first topic in a new, occasional feature that will try to cover more in-depth or provide a broader perspective on a topic.  Given that stacks of books are written about any general topic, the goal of such a section is quite modest and can do no more than to expand slightly on a couple of topics within the fuller spectrum.  That was one reason why this feature was delayed until this newsletter had an accompanying blog (its address is at the top) – please consider using the blog to supplement or critique the ideas presented.

Our first focus deals with the issue of mental health and its far-reaching consequences. Mental health is not usually categorized directly as a peace and justice issue.  But individually people dealing with mental health problems are often marginalized or stigmatized, and thus as such it is becomes a peace and justice concern.  And as noted below, it is also a peace/justice concern in more standard ways.  This section will provide a few introductory comments and then highlight the current status and hopeful directions.



This section assumes that humans consist of incredibly complex layers that we have barely begun to understand.  This century holds great possibilities to unlock some of the chains that have held people in misery and have even brought about their death due to a primitive understanding of mental health. But noted below, it won’t come without much struggle, since concepts, framings and images will continue to be debated, refined and sometimes discarded.

This article assumes that attitudes are changing in the Western world, although we are in its early stages.  The above chains stem from an inherited worldview that either looked down upon those with mental health issues because they simply lacked the will to change, or worse, for other circumstances, relegated them to some incomprehensible deranged world, where they were locked away and out of sight.  Either way, if people were even aware of their (or their family’s) condition, it was kept hidden if possible, because it meant being ostracized and marginalized.  The shifts are occurring at two levels.  Within academia and the medical professions, there have been significant advances over the last 60 years, sketched below. As is often the case, it takes 10- 20 years for such changes to filter down to the general public.  Thus generally within society we are grappling with removing the stigma from these conditions (this is good), based on research from a decade or more ago.  Yet at the same time, due to the immediacy of the internet, we are also influenced by the current academic dynamics and its in-flux debates.  Due to this double level of dynamics, and the resulting bewildering array of attitudes that currently swirl around us, this article is structured around two anchoring affirmations (see further below).  They are meant to be the most basic and suitably affirming and empowering affirmations possible, given our current stage of progress.



Given that the ultimate touchstone of this newsletter is the notion of Well-Being, and thus also as preamble, I want to start by sketching the notion of a “well-adjusted person.”  I will use extremely broad brush strokes, given that this newsletter goes out to a few differing cultures, but then will hone in more specifically on Western society and North America in particular.

The well-adjusted person: This is no monotone, but includes the full diversity of people, from gregarious to quiet, wild risk-takers to cautious types, action-oriented to contemplative to research focused.  The common threads are that:

  • They have no desire or need to harm anyone including themselves;
  • They have a basic sense of dignity and self-respect;
  • They have a basic sense of fairness and compassion for others; and
  • They have a basic openness to life.

They will remain very human, with the failures, scars, and sadness that go along with times of joy, etc.   Wide diversity remains – any such person will exhibit either more, or less, of any of the above aspects, than someone else.  The chief point is that while carrying and at times exhibiting the lesser side of being human, such dynamics do not go beyond certain bounds nor impair basic functioning (and, as discussed below, to the extent “bounds” can be defined, for the past many decades that is traditionally the domain of the mental health professions).  In addition, to help keep clear all the shades of gray, many people along the continuums of various mental health dis-orders can fit quite well into the above extremely broad characterizations.  As framed within this article, well-being is the broadest category which includes aspects well outside any individual.  Within that, mental health informs a few of the aspects of well-being, as defined in the above link.



An informal definition of mental health is “the psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment.”  Thus, in terms of the focus, here, on mental health, the key concept is in establishing those “bounds” on the one side of which something is a normal, though painful, condition of life; to the other side of which something becomes a clinical diagnosis.  More on this in a moment, but in the context of this article it is important to raise a crucial, anchoring affirmation.



People dealing with mental health issues should be given the same dignity and respect due everyone else, and specifically, given the same regard and support as anyone dealing with a physical illness.  There should be no stigma or marginalization; rather there should simply be an exploration of symptoms leading either to its resolution, or if such does not exist yet, to its management within the context of normal living.

This broad affirmation is meant to cover the full spectrum of those dealing with mental health issues. What follows are two refining affirmations within that broad umbrella – those dealing primarily with biochemical aspects, and those dealing primarily with traumatic circumstances.  Naturally life does not completely fit into two such neat compartments, but the key point here is that among all the layers that make us who we are at a given point, there are those who do fit within these two broad categories and for whom the following refining affirmations need to be clearly raised. [and please feel free to go to the Blog and add any other areas that you feel should be included in Part II of this article, should such ever be contemplated].



There are clinical diagnoses that have nothing to do with “choice” or “will”, but are the result of varying complex interactions of biochemical and other factors.

For example, could there ever be someone with stronger will, grit and determination than the only person in history to win multiple Olympic medals in both the Summer and then Winter Olympics?  Her name is Clara Hughes and a couple of years ago she revealed how she suffered from deep depression through much of her life.  If she couldn’t “will” herself out of it – and she couldn’t – then no one can.  Clinical depression is an illness not a choice or weakness.  The same can be said for many other conditions – bipolar, seasonal affective disorder, and so on.

Awareness of this affirmation is essential, firstly to those who suffer such conditions, so that they recognize they are not at fault and are not alone but should simply seek the clinical help as they would for any medical condition.  Secondly, it is necessary for friends and family, so that they recognize and provide support for this reality.  Thirdly it is crucial for society at large to come to this awareness – in North America a shift is slowing occurring but much too slowly – so that the marginalization and stigma disappear.  Until you have seen or experienced it, it is hard to imagine the power of “shame”.to immobilize and silence oneself, feeling so unworthy or ashamed, cued by the seemingly unattainable “normal” world around oneself.  This backdrop of an utterly misplaced sense of “choice” or “will” arises from our inherited medieval views, and for the sake of all, we must ensure this affirmation overwhelms such antiquated and harmful notions.

The second part of the affirmation is further below.



With this basic affirmation to anchor us, it is also important to raise up the much murkier context within which we find ourselves as we go through the 21st century.  The mental health profession – for instance in the U.S. it would include the American Psychiatric and also Psychological Associations – is mandated with determining what constitutes a clinical diagnosis.  It is a field that holds enormous promise – many insights have already been of great benefit.  But it is also fraught with much controversy.  The U.S. profession’s basic touchstone or “bible” is the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  The first one – DSM-1 – came out in 1952. [It should be noted that the DSM is not the only “bible”; the World Health Organization system of diagnosing mental health conditions is called ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases)].

Firstly, insights do not simply happen – they are part of a process that starts with an awareness of the inadequacy of current paradigms, the grappling for better explanations, the testing of them, refining them, and so on.  An example of this would be the mental health profession’s history of grappling with the topic of homosexuality.  Officially classified as a mental disorder in 1952 (DSM-1: a “sociopathic personality disturbance”), by 1973 and then 1986 the profession had dramatically changed to viewing it as a normal variant of human sexuality (see Sketch of DSM Views of Sexuality [PDF]). Thus it took 21 plus another 13 years to settle the status of this issue.

Secondly, this essential back-and-forth process to gain insight has become vastly more complex over the last several years as science has greatly expanded its repertoire of tools available for exploration.  From neuroscience to epigenetics, it has expanded both the possibilities for greater insight and further blurred lines that had been distinct.



The current state – continuing to use the U.S. as a touchstone – is well illustrated by the newly revised Manual (DSM-5), released earlier this year.  It has been so controversial that it has resulted in numerous petitions and calls for boycotts (for example: Concerns from author of DSM-IV; and also: Concern/petition from U.K.).  The basic issue, oversimplified, is whether the more granular view that can be seen, should lead one toward seeing things as more, for instance, biochemically derived, or whether these reductionist tendencies are going too far, leading to lower thresholds for a diagnosis, more categories, and overall in many cases to over-medication.   Here is a quote to give a flavour of the debate:

The problem . . . {is the concept that} . . . mental illness is neurobiological, and that psychosocial factors are not that important.  This . . . has led to a serious over-prescription of medications.
Here, I think of a friend who went to see a psychiatrist during his divorce, and emerged from his first session with a diagnosis for “soft bipolar” disorder and prescription for anti-psychotics. Love, loss, guilt, thwarted dreams, sudden shocks, mounting pressures, these are slings and arrows, not chronic disease. [Globe and Mail, April 2, 2013]


To be clear, most everyone acknowledges that there are conditions that are created by biochemical imbalances and best addressed through medications that attempt to rebalance things (and hence the anchoring affirmation).  The main controversies lie beyond that.  This article will raise several aspects (and not directly linked to DSM-5).

1. Early stages of discourse, and guideline: there is simply the fact that we are in the early stages of this next level of discovery and discourse.  As noted it can take years or decades for a hypothesis to emerge as a clear insight.  Within that, the mental health / medical / scientific communities must grapple with the relationships around root cause(s), symptoms, diagnoses, treatments and results.

For those caught in such circumstances during this back-and-forth phase, a good guideline would be to work with your mental health professional, etc.  That is, on the one hand, their expertise should be recognized.  On the other hand, one should not be afraid to probe the bigger picture and current possible paths, questioning where a path is quite solid versus simply being the best hypothesis at the moment.  Some mental health practitioners are glad and even relieved to acknowledge areas where insight is not yet well-grounded, etc.  The internet, when used well via responsible websites, can be a source of seeing where the edges of an issue currently are, though one must guard against irresponsible sites which can post misleading, false and even harmful information.  One must also guard against the difference between being well-informed and being an expert (though, as noted below in the “20,000 word essay”, even “expert” can be a controversial term).

2. Issue of power:  There is the role of power, particularly Big Pharma (that is, the dynamics that form around the intersection of the giant multi-national pharmaceutical companies, political manipulation, corporate espionage and consumerist media and PR dynamics), a topic unto itself.  Insight occurs most often after years of research, which requires funding.  Fortunately some funding and support come without strings attached.  But the chief Big Pharma contours are: (a) that some research becomes determined by the funder’s priorities. This can skew the direction that research goes; (b) Big Pharma is large enough to sponsor its own research people, which at times can have an intended motivation to distort emerging insights; (c) As the stakes get higher, political dynamics can kick-in such as influence peddling, which can delay or distort regulatory policies as well as combining with PR efforts to deliberately distort facts. By analogy, the tobacco industry is a good example of such tendencies.    Insight will eventually emerge – tobacco does cause lung cancer – but when Big “Industry” uses its resources to fund pseudo-science plus joins that with political influence, the valuable insight can be delayed for years, causing terrible suffering.

Because of the above reductionist aspects, we find almost anything can be medicated.  But that doesn’t mean everything should be.   and we have Big Pharma that loves to find revenue avenues.  Thus we find ourselves in the swirl of modern medicine.  I am so thankful we have attained the level we have but I still call it primitive, and the process should be approached with clear eyes.  The responsible side of the drug business has produced many wonderful and live-saving medicines, but the enormous scope and power of the huge complex called Big Pharma requires watchdogs and vigilance.

Other sources of power that play into this controversy are the institutions themselves.  In this case that includes both the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations, as well as all the pressures within academia itself.  The “20,000 word essay”, below, gives a little sense of the buffeting that can occur within and among the associations and also academia.  In addition, insurance companies have a stake in these dynamics, although that is not explored here.

3. The issue of alternative therapies:  Meditation or yoga may be more effective at reducing anxiety for some people.  Substituting “natural” ingredients for synthetic ones may work for a fraction of the cost and with less side-effects in dealing with some mental health issues.  Acupuncture may play a positive role in some cases.  This broad category of “Alternative therapies” is a spectrum that ranges from sensible solutions (in contrast to some unneeded and costly items that Big Pharma might push) to utterly outlandish and potentially harmful claims.  There is a swirl of ideas around the boundary between the body and mind. In the same way that we remain in early stages of understanding the biochemical side, we also have a poor understanding of how the mind or other seemingly non-reductionist dynamics play into our mental health.  And thus while there is promise there must also be caution, especially for those for whom the Basic Affirmation holds.  If something is truly biochemical in origin, there can be great danger in thinking the power of one’s mind can dramatically alter things – it becomes a variation of thinking one can “will” oneself out of something that is bio-chemical in nature.

4. Meta View:  There does exist the notion that anyone who is “well-adjusted” to a Western (or globalized), highly dysfunctional, meta-power manipulated, and destructive system, can hardly be considered to be in a healthy mental state.  At first blush this notion may seem to have no overlap, dealing with the grand dynamics of sociology, political philosophy, etc.  But the point does have some merit if the comparative microcosm of one’s own personal mental health might be influenced by the environment (both the physical one of the quality of the air, water, land; and the dynamics of a society’s worldview and ethos)   This newsletter’s anchoring around Well-Being leans heavily in that direction, although this form of dysfunction is largely in a realm beyond the scope of this essay to pursue.

5. Universal; and role of poverty:  As this essay now moves from the biologically-based mental health issues, above, to mental health issues that arise from circumstances, below, it should be noted that these are universal conditions.  Specifically, both forms occur in both developed and developing countries.  What varies are the ratios.  For instance, as indicated in the following link, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that a much higher percentage of people with severe mental disorders will receive treatment in developed countries (50–65 percent compared to 15-25 percent in less developed countries).  However, poverty, even in developed countries, reduces the percentage who receive treatment.
Rethinking Mental Health In Africa  [IRIN]

For example, it is estimated that 18,000 Indonesians are still shackled (’pasung’), largely in remote areas with no mental health services, even though it has been illegal since 1977.  About 19 million suffer from various mental health disorders (in a population of 242 million), and another million from severe psychoses.  The Indonesian government is trying to rectify this situation, given there is a much better understanding of the mental health field.  The prime obstacle is trained professionals, although societal stigma also plays a large role.
Mental Health & Shackling in Indonesia  [IRIN]





The Basic Affirmation contains many general guidelines for action. In addition, within that is the phrase “given the same regard and support”:

Same Regard: This is the domain of a society’s ethos.  Action to change a worldview is best framed within the many stages and layers of the Process of Change model.  Awareness is the first stage, and as mentioned, there has been much movement, depending on location.  Regardless, while many brave people have publically made their illness known, the tipping point has not been reached where anyone would feel safe to disclose their status.  Writing articles, letters to editors and sharing with others remain a vital element to bolster this aspect.

Same Support: While this can and must include family and friend support, this is primarily the domain of politics – actions that invest in structures and policies that strengthen the support for mental health.  Many jurisdictions, when feeling fiscal pressure, decide mental health expenditures are a low priority and thus first to be cut.  Reversal of such wrong-headed calculus requires creation of or financial support for advocacy organizations, as well as such action as writing to one’s representatives, creating or supporting petitions in one’s area, or writing to media.  More actions are given at the end.


Related Articles:
[With such an enormous topic, I decided to keep this list minimal.  It simply gives a classic mainstream-critical view (New Internationalist) and also raises the role of media, which helps shape one’s worldview.  Beyond that it is more productive for one to do one’s own web search, within the above guidelines.]
DSM-5 Website
Mental Health & Social Views [New Internationalist]
Mental Health Facts (single page)  [New Internationalist]
Role of Media in Portraying Mental Illness [openDemocracy]

[The following 20,000 word essay is from Dr. Simon Sobo.  Schooled at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, he started as a Freudian, but quickly became highly critical of that approach, at least until the overall pendulum swung so far away, that he felt “the baby being thrown out with the bathwater” and reversed his own path, advocating for at least some nuanced place for Freud.  Retired now, he spent his whole career grappling with DSM-III and then the transition to DSM-IV. This newsletter is in no position to assess his professional stance.  The purpose is solely to illustrate, in longitudinal form, the dynamics he saw and felt, which include the back-and-forth of ideas; many of the above power issues, some of which he had the honesty to admit he had either fallen for or been part of; and even questioning whether anyone should be called an “expert.”]
One Assessment of DSM-IV [20,000 words]





There is a largely different form of mental dis-order that can arise within the peace/justice domain.  As opposed to the above situation, people here have no unusual biochemical or other factors that are responsible for the condition. This is the realm of the deeply traumatized victim  It is the world, for instance, of victims forced into being child soldiers; or victims of rape (often used as a weapon of war to demoralize a people); or as a witness to the slaughter of one’s family.  It is also the realm of being a soldier and being traumatized as a result.  Thus, as an example, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has entered our vocabulary, although its full impact is far from fully recognized.  Also, while PTSD is generally associated with war it is finding application within a much wider range of the human condition, such as domestic violence.



Personal trauma, whether clearly identified or not, can produce clinical diagnoses that exhibit themselves in various ways (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is the best known but not the only possible resulting disorder).

Similar to the first affirmation, awareness of such conditions is essential, firstly to those who suffer such disorders, so that they recognize they are not at fault and are not alone but should simply seek the clinical help as they would for any medical condition.  Likewise, it is necessary for the layers of friends and family, and of society at large, to recognize and provide support for this reality, and reduce the stigma around the issue.



Like the first affirmation, the notion of formal mental illness diagnoses arising from personal trauma, forms a spectrum, from clear cases through to increasingly controversial ones.  For instance, one dimension of the complexity is that people react differently to the same traumatic event.  The issue of resilience is but one aspect of the full picture about which we have an incomplete understanding.  Not every soldier develops PTSD.  That has been part of the difficulty of those who suffer with it – it can appear as though they are the weak ones.  Sadly, statistics such as those in the links below indicate how ravaging such a disconnected societal bravado can be, upon the individuals who commit suicide, and upon the soldiers’ families for the personality upheavals it can wreak on a family, even if it does not lead to suicide.  To reinforce our society’s abysmal lag in adequately responding to this, a few hours after I typed the previous sentence, the CBC indicated how three Canadian soldiers (who had fought in Afghanistan) had committed suicide that past week.

The term PTSD originated in the 1970s following the Vietnam war and was originally called post-Vietnam syndrome, though precursors to that would be “shell shock”, etc.  The broad contours are that following a traumatic event (which include feelings of intense fear, horror or helplessness) there are recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing memories of the event, and high levels of anxiety that last more than a month.  PTSD can also have a delayed onset, with symptoms not showing up until long after the precipitating cause.

Basic Clusters: Currently PTSD refers to a broader spectrum than simply the military domain, roughly forming three clusters, showing its expanded usage; those suffering from PTSD who are: (a) in the military; (b) in other professions who face traumatic scenes (for example, first-responders or disaster-relief workers); and (c) victims of violence, which includes victims within the dynamics involved in (a) or (b) [how many would that include among the millions in refugee or IDP camps which are sometimes still targeted, hiding in caves, surviving in temporary, dilapidated shelters and so on?], but also those who remain in the shadows, such as victims of domestic abuse.  Domestic abuse itself has barely emerged from being a taboo topic itself, depending on the culture, let alone acknowledging the spouses or children suffering PTSD as a result.

Child Soldiers: Child soldiers deserves special mention (UNICEF estimates up to 300,000 in 30 conflicts).  They end up doubly traumatized.  Firstly in most cases they are abducted.  They either simply disappear or a militia will come through the village, and the child will be taken often after having watched his family killed, raped or tortured. Secondly they are traumatized again as the leaders force them either to be sex slaves or to kill others, the latter sometimes initiated by killing either family members, best friends, or villagers (so they feel there is no way to return home).  The overall topic is beyond the scope of this essay, other than to say that effort is being made on the ensuing mental health issues which are part of the DDR (demobilization, disarmament and reintegration into society) process.  For an overview, see Child Soldiers [IRIN];  and Strategies & Measures  [],  Psycho-social work [].  While youth are more resilient, far too few make it into good DDR programs, and even if successful, the broader environment that they graduate into (few jobs, ongoing civil strife) can ensnare them.

Mass Internal Targeting.: Finally, while all trauma is ultimately personal, there is the additional level of dynamics that occurs when an entire group is victimized, such as occurred with Pol Pot in Cambodia, the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and so on.  There are layers of dynamics, from the deliberate perpetrators, to the willing participants, to the participants who knew they otherwise would be killed themselves, to the purely innocent, etc.  While this horrific type of trauma individually will share the above issues, it has the additional problem that because it can tear an entire society apart, there is a less resilient normal societal network to support oneself.  As well, the perpetrator may still live down the street.  Thus Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) were created, the best known being South Africa’s TRC, created in 1995 by Nelson Mandela and chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  In modern memory one might go as far back as the end of World War II, with its combination of the Marshall Plan and the Nuremberg Trials, as an early attempt to grapple with both restoration and justice, even given the multiple agendas at work.  Regardless, TRCs must be left as another huge future topic, except to make a couple of comments.  Firstly, in terms of the mental health of people, TRCs can help thousands of people, mottled as the outcome will be with such a blunt instrument.  But it is better for the world to be grappling and refining these processes, than not to hold them, if for no other reason than it reduces the historical revisionism that can occur.  Secondly, TRCs are almost always caught in the tension among truth, peace and justice.




Preventive – the foundation:

One must start with the proper perspective.  Human-based circumstances have brought about the trauma, pain and even death alluded to in this section.  Being human-based, the goal must be the elimination of all such circumstances.  This should not be interpreted as naiveté, but as clarifying the heart of the problem.  Yes it resides in our humanness, something we can never eliminate.  But we are more than our baser instincts and also deeper than any self-serving, groundless idealism.

Insight – defined not simply as the knowledge to shape a more decent world for all, but the actual movement in that direction – remains possible.  Eliminating the circumstances, whether war or oppressive aspects of an inherited worldview, remain as complex and layered as the issues above. But the stance here is that some basic insight has occurred and more will continue (though, for instance, I would gauge at least another century would be needed before we might say we have moved “beyond war”;  Sample controversy: Trends Indicate Less War [Foreign Policy] versus Bad Methods In Thinking Less War [U.Chicago Conference paper]).

The scope is enormous.  When citizens of developed countries (such as Australia, Canada, U.K. and the U.S.) think of PTSD and/or the effects of war the first image is usually that of their soldiers.  That image is apt – they suffer and this article is about ending such suffering. But this newsletter also wants to raise up the remaining victims in war that remain in a target country, images that are less likely to emerge, due to a convoluted mix of physical and emotional distance, inability to get journalists in and stories out, desires of governments to move on (and hence not learn crucial lessons), and so on.  A sample: How do you heal an entire country suffering from shell shock?  [ForeignPolicy].

The same complexity is involved regarding other issues in this section, such as domestic abuse.  It involves changing a nation’s ethos.  The WHO estimates that 30% of women have suffered domestic abuse, physical or sexual; in North America the estimates are 23%.

While the scope is enormous, insight continues even as it did for the sea-changes needed to end slavery (with exceptions), or to give women status as humans and then voting rights and someday equal treatment everywhere.

Because the full scope of this issue is so huge, this newsletter frames a two-level approach, outlined below, whereby at one level we do address the overall issues via preventive actions, while at the same time speaking about the more immediate remedial actions needed for those suffering now.

Finally, to reinforce this notion of complexity, over the last month yet another four Canadians from the military committed suicide.  A suicide here, another there, especially separated by over 2000 miles – they seem like tragic yet isolated events.  It can take time before people recognize a pattern.  Sometimes those patterns are recognized in the associated institutions but are ignored (and sometimes they do their best but lack adequate funding), and it is only when the pattern is brought to light, that proper remedial action occurs.  That said, at least in the developed countries the patterns are known, inadequate political and institutional action is an outrage, and an informed citizenry is the basic level to shift the direction toward more promising outcomes (recognizing that the “process of change” requires many layers to line up for success).


Preventive – the specifics:

  1. While basic conflict will always be part of what it is to be human, it does not follow that war is inevitable.  While many of our current structures and dynamics are set up to feed conflict and even war, we are also gradually developing a more adequate repertoire to resolve conflict before it turns to war, to create more suitable structures, to detect the early signs of genocidal tendencies, etc.  Support is needed for impetus in all layers: strengthening good governance, engendering nonviolent conflict resolution, alleviating poverty / empowering people, promoting independent media and watchdogs, and so on.
    [An example, related to the early warning signs of genocide, is occurring right now.  The conflict has deteriorated for months; the early signs were detected and reported.  Peacekeeping troops were sent in (by France and then Rwanda).  Things have somewhat stabilized.  The UN is considering further efforts, though it remains uncertain what will happen next.   See: Central African Republic and ‘Seeds of Genocide  ’[Reuters] ].

    While it needs another article to explore this avenue, it is important to raise the prevention of war in conjunction with eliminating the mental health issues that result.  Of course, war should be eliminated for its own numerous intrinsic values.  The above statement is meant to push mental concerns (PTSD, child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war, etc.) to their logical conclusion.  Without that, the cycle never ends.

    A basic corollary is that the significant mental issues arising from war indicate that we simply aren’t meant to harm one another.  Complex creatures that we are, it also indicates that we are good at doing harm and that the veneer of civilization remains far too thin.  A final note in the context of war and mental health is the article below on resilience training and the moral quandary that such work raises.

  2. Broad work is desperately needed to eliminate other domains where trauma occurs, such as domestic abuse.  This area, as was noted, is even farther behind, still emerging as a topic that had been taboo to talk about. The same process applies: raising awareness that a person’s basic safety is a universal right; providing programs that in the best case can keep families together, abused person(s) safe, while the dynamics fall in line with that universal right; and in the worst case, ensure the abused person’s safety while still trying to get any perpetrator to change or at least be prevented from harming others.
  3. The WHO has indicated 5 key barriers to increasing mental health services availability.  One needs to examine their own country as well as advocate for adequate and consistent global polices in the following areas:
    1. the absence of mental health from the public health agenda and the implications for funding;
    2. the current organization of mental health services;
    3. lack of integration within primary care;
    4. inadequate human resources for mental health;
    5. lack of public mental health leadership;
  4. Point (3) involves visionary leadership and financial support.  These are “common goods” issues and thus the domain of government.  Many countries are currently living under economic scripts that give low priority to mental health funding or off-load many responsibilities. Whether funding via taxes or some other mechanism, these mechanisms must be seen as a sacred trust, implying transparency, checks and balances and overall good governance (efficient, effective, robust). Pressed further, in today’s economic script, oversimplified, taxes are bad.  The more solid footing is that taxes are bad used badly.  But when used as above, they are a necessary and life-freeing strengthening of the social fabric.


  1. As noted, there are two organizations – the military and also the First Responders groups – that have or should have responsibility for helping identify and assist those with mental health issues arising from their profession.  Their priorities, funding and resources come from government.  Using the military as an example, the government is clearly far behind in adequately addressing these issues.  Pressure must be continued to rectify what in some sense is a betrayal – people heeding a government’s call (setting aside that whole issue itself) and afterward finding themselves insufficiently cared for.
  2. People with mental health issues (all types) are found in disproportionately high numbers on the streets and in prisons.  This calls for adequate mental health programs to prevent people from ending up there, and also once on the street, to having access to the proper treatment.  It further illustrates how primitive it is to have a punitive style justice system for mental health-based incidents.  Restorative justice must be the goal (& thus cross-cuts into both remedial and preventive sections).
  3. Child soldiers / Victims of rape: More support needs to be given to the organizations involved in this aspect of DDR programs (while sometimes this can be individuals donating to an organization, it is largely part of a nation’s foreign aid portfolio).  In countries suffering from child soldiers or victims of rape used as a weapon of war, there is little comprehensive work done on the extent of this victimization nor effectiveness of organizations trying to reintegrate such people back into society.  In overall mental health issues, the World Health Organization estimates that 75% to 85% of severe cases go untreated.
  4. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: Their goal is that “the past no longer invades the present but informs the future.” Funding is needed for more research and efforts.  As noted above they have value but it is such a delicate balance.  The article below explores both the cathartic and re-traumatization effects on victims during the TRC effort in Cambodia, specifically pertaining to Duch, who was on trial as an instrumental person behind the Khmer Rouge atrocities.
    Cambodia: Study of Promise and Pitfalls of Truth-seeking  [IRIN]


Related articles:

US Soldiers: At Least 30% Suffer PTSD [Daily Beast]
US Soldiers: A Suicide every 65 Minutes [Forbes]
More US Soldiers Die From Suicide Than War [Project Censored]
Cambodia: One in Seven Suffer Some Form of PTSD [Al Jazeera]

Muddying the waters further, there have been attempts to try to prevent war trauma (called “resilience training”). The treatment is called “Positive Psychology” and has been written about in the American Psychologist Journal.  However one watchdog organization ponders whether the relationship between the APJ and the military may be too cozy:
Does American Psychologist Journal have too cozy a relationship with the US Military? {Project Censored]




Hopefully anyone who is dealing with a mental health issue will find one of the three affirmations to be supportive.  Everyone should feel free to comment on the blog about any aspect of this article, in particular what one would want to see as Part II, if such might ever occur.

Raising the issue of mental health as a peace/justice issue is important in at least two ways.  Firstly, marginalization is a peace/justice issue. Thus it becomes a prime focus to stand with, provide support for, and advocate on behalf of those who suffer from the various forms of mental illness, whether an individual who is dealing with biochemical imbalances or an entire nation and the repercussions of war.

Secondly, a decent fair society – one in which all achieve well-being – is one which recognizes the interrelated nature of all these issues.  Foremost, freeing people from the entangled webs of mental health issues is good-in-itself.  Specifically it frees people, allowing their gifts and abilities to be expressed – wonderful goodness.  But it also, pragmatically, frees up the resources that were needed to help such people, and allows that energy to address other dimensions of global well-being.  For we still have a long way to go.

July 2013 Newsletter

Welcome to the July 31, 2013, issue of this Peace&Justice action email.

This issue is a brief summer version of the newsletter, much more sparse than usual due to time constraints. The most glaring omission, in terms of big news stories, is Egypt; there are always plenty of little-known conflicts that get missed.  Please accept my apologies.

Pour la traduction française: cliqueter ici; et cliqueter alors le bouton de traduction sur la page Web.
Para la traducción española: clic aquí; y entonces hace clic en el botón de traducción en la página web.







Tunisia was the start of the “Arab Spring.”  Recently, an 18 year old woman was alarmed by a Salafist (conservative Islamic) group who were opposing the equality of women.  She wrote a single word (“Femen”, the name of an international women’s movement) on a wall surrounding a cemetery, for which she has been jailed.  The charges and possible lengthy sentences are considered politically motivated and are deemed an infringement her right to freedom of expression.

Tell Tunisia to release Activist:





As with many of the recent popular protests, the one in Turkey started with a dispute over the use of a park, in this case Gezi Park, in Istanbul, Turkey.  Prime Minister Erdogan dug in his heels and has tried to quell the protests with violence, rather than listening to the demands.  Of course behind the park issue, are complex dynamics, including a long-simmering distrust of the conservative leanings of the Prime Minister.

Tell Turkey to Stop Using excessive Force:





If you use Twitter or Facebook, you may want to mobilize your social media skills to spread this report about stopping extra-juridical killings in Syria.  Basically, as has been part of the brutal campaign, some areas are being targeted to terrorize the civilian population as a means of reducing support for the rebels, as documented in the following Amnesty briefing:

Take Social Media Action:







Darfur: Sill Mired in Problems

Darfur is our longitudinal study.  There is no action for this month, but you can see a sketch of the latest events at


Guatemala Genocide Trial a Landmark . . . Then Scrapped . . . Then Conviction . . . Then Overturned

The last newsletter indicated that the landmark trial had been derailed by a separate court ruling but was holding out hope for an appeal.  So it is both a relief and a triumph of justice and vindication of those who testified that Efraín Ríos Montt, former leader of Guatemala, has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity:

However that relief was short-lived sine the verdict was then overturned [The Guardian (May 21)] . . . though as of June 4, in yet another twist, the Guatemalan Supreme Court rejected a motion to quash proceedings, and has set a new trial date of April 2014.


Bees:  Good News, Bad News:

A previous action called for the ban of a certain pesticide in the European Union.  The good news is that it has been banned, so thank you for all who took action.  As has been reviewed previously, such web actions seldom bring change on the own, but can help provide crucial support and backing as part of an overall strategy to bring change.  The following link provides a window into the pieces that were involved to getting the ban passed:

But in the U.S., the EPA just allowed a different but also toxic pesticide, sulfoxaflor, to be used on several crops, even while acknowledging it is highly toxic to honey bees.  It added an advisory for honey bees, but one which sounds quite unworkable, such as having to notify beekeepers before and after usage, advising them to keep their bees in the hive, etc.  This is not a precautionary approach to protecting such a vital link in the food chain:

Finally – recently in – researchers have discovered that the application of fungicides may be behind some of the rapid decline in bees.  Thus it is looking like a more complicated cocktail of interactions:


Burma & the Rohingya: Violent Buddhists, a silent Aung San Suu Kyi, and maybe an Al-Qaeda link?

Burma was noted in an earlier newsletter for its surprising, puzzling (and world-hesitant to acknowledge) overtures to open up its previously iron-clad country.  Recently there have been several articles highlighting the recent problems with two minority groups.  There is a long history behind it all, and on its face one sees the contradictions of, for example, supposedly nonviolent Buddhists being extremely violent (although other Buddhists did come to protect the victims), the world acclaimed human rights defender Aung San Suu Kyi being silent about the repugnant human rights violations, and even a possible Al-Qaeda thread in among there.  Again deeper analysis is needed, but the following are just a couple of articles trying to sketch the terrain.
TIME Magazine article
Toronto Star article


DRC: Searching For An Internal Solution For The Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been enmeshed in one of the world’s longest and deadliest conflicts (most often given as over 5 million deaths as a result of the conflict), stunningly for the most part off the mainstream news radar.  This newsletter has highlighted some of the initiatives that have been made.  Here is another analysis
Towards internal solutions to the DRC crisis [IRIN]







Brazil Protests:

Given the above actions on popular protests, and while there are many more than simply Brazil, there is an essay on openDemocracy that gives an interesting sketch of the basic issues and challenges facing the country and protestors.  Sparked initialling by student demand for better transportation given a hike in rates, the protest has spread, becoming neither anti-Brazil nor anti-football, but very broadly a call to implement a higher vision for Brazil.  It covers many areas and includes the broad dissatisfaction found within a rising country that now has a sufficiently large middle-class.  They have joined the protest over government policies that have led to hosting the Confederation Cup then the FIFA Cup then the Olympics – “first-world football stadiums and third-world hospitals, schools, and sewage facilities.”


Yemen: A Life on Hold

For those who prefer short videos, the following helps give some sense of the millions of people living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.  This video is about family who has been living for three years in IDP camp in Yemen, noting that many IDPs end up in such camps for 10 or 20 years.  The broader question about the value and perils of such videos must await another newsletter.