Exposing underreported news

International news is a hectic business. Seven continents and 195 countries create an ambitious amount of ground to cover every news day. Many argue that the onslaught of the 24-hour network news cycle has led to the distortion and exaggeration of many stories. However, an even more problematic issue remains. As celebrity news and pop culture dominate contemporary news broadcasts, many worthy international stories never make the final cut. To give these stories the coverage they deserve, Cord International chose to highlight the most underreported international news stories of the past decade.

Haiti’s turmoil

The New York Times places Haiti among the world’s poorest and least developed countries. The nation, riddled by political turmoil and devastated by tropical storms, shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

Since 2004, the UN has spent approximately $5 billion on peacekeeping operations in the troubled country. Today, with funds from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Haiti remains the second highest recipient of Canadian financial assistance in the world only after Afghanistan.

–Paula Millar

Brazilian Boom

The BBC hails Brazil as South America’s most powerful country, an economic powerhouse and one of the largest democracies on earth today.

In 2007, oil was found off the coast of Brazil. The discovery only further legitimized Brazil as a deserving member of BRIC.

A find of this magnitude harbours the potential to turn Brazil into a major exporter of oil. In the coming years, many believe we may see Brazil rise to rival such traditional oil-producing nations as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

–Paula Millar

El Salvador’s water privatization

Water, one of the most relied upon natural resources in the world, has caused national struggles as it is increasingly privatized in Latin American countries, particularly El Salvador.

Water privatization in El Salvador is the result of a 12-year civil war that left 50 per cent of the population in poverty and a national debt of $2.8 billion. As a result, El Salvador was vulnerable to the privatization of public sector infrastructure, including the country’s water.

The vast majority of Salvadorans who live in poverty-stricken conditions now have to pay for the basic need of water. According to WorldPress.org, even when one pays their $7-per-month water bill, tap water is not always available and is often brown in colour due to high levels of contamination.

The strong opposition by Salvadoran citizens to the privatization of water in El Salvador has resulted in mass protests.

–Mara Silvestri

Uganda’s troubled north: Joseph Kony’s LRA and child soldiers

For over two decades, Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have terrorized the children of northern Uganda. To date, despite being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005, Kony’s crimes against humanity continue unimpeded and underreported.
Included in the 33 charges laid against Kony are accusations of murder, rape and the forced enlistment of child soldiers. UN estimates place the number of underage combatants in the LRA at around 1,500.

Nearly all of these children have been kidnapped and taken from their families in systematic raids on rural villages.

While Kony has denied the charge of forced enslavement of children, the impacts of LRA raids on northern Acholi communities are self evident. Every night, thousands of children travel distances up to eight kilometres on foot to well-lit urban centres where they seek refuge from the constant threat of kidnapping.

According to UNICEF, since the LRA’s inception in 1986, over 20,000 children have been kidnapped with 12,000 of those occurring after June of 2002. Irin News reports that captured children who attempt to escape are mutilated or killed, often by other children as a rite of initiation.

Despite an ICC indictment, Kony remains elusive, finding refuge in the neighbouring countries of Sudan and the Congo. Similarly, attempts at a ceasefire have proven equally frustrating. A peace agreement was negotiated in December of 2008 between the LRA and the Ugandan government; however, Kony failed to attend the treaty signing.

Weeks later, the LRA carried out attacks on several villages and civilian targets in the Congo. EU observers placed the death toll at over 400.

As of 2009, Kony remains at large and continues to maintain control over an army of child combatants that gains new recruits by the day.

–Praveen Alwis

Terrorism plagues Russia’s tumultuous Northern Caucasus

The North Caucasus is an area in the southern tip of Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas. It is home to a multitude of ethnicities, languages and a vibrant culture.

Despite its vitality, the North Caucasus has often been troubled with incessant fighting.
While the problems started with the crumbling Soviet Union, desperate attempts by Russia to retain the satellite states have snowballed into a power struggle a decade in the making.

Among them, Chechnya has experienced an asphyxiating stranglehold of Russian authority. The Chechen people have endured repression, discrimination and mass murder. Many argue such instances satisfy the definition of genocide.

Ingushetia, Chechnya’s neighbour to the west, is also experiencing an escalation of violence. The Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was severely wounded following an attack by suicide bombers earlier this year.

This comes after a peak in violence in 2004 in which members of the Ingush cabinet and a dozen others were victims of an onslaught involving hundreds of gunmen.

In North Ossetia, allegations surfaced that Ingush fighters, in collaboration with Chechen militants, were responsible for capturing more than 1,000 hostages at a school in the town of Beslan. Russian security forces conducted a disastrous siege of the school which left 330 people dead, half of whom were children.

This past year, in light of a perceived diminished threat to national security, the 10-year Russian-led counterinsurgency effort was ended. However, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev recently stated that the North Caucasus still remains complicated. With over 300 crimes committed by terrorist organizations thus far in 2009, the decade of violence has no foreseeable end.

–Alexandros Mitsiopoulos

Britain’s children

Over the past decade, the rise in Great Britain’s poverty has slipped under the radar of major news headlines. Unlike the United States, Great Britain has experienced a sharp rise in poverty. In fact, poverty in the country has more than doubled since the 1970s. This is the result of policy changes which led to reduced work in the United Kingdom.

According to UNICEF, since 2000 more than one fifth of Britain’s children have been living below the poverty line.

At the beginning of the decade, The Campaign to End Child Poverty made a goal to halve child poverty by 2010 and end it by 2020 through policy changes aimed at increasing work and pay. However, child poverty has increased by 200,000 in the last two years.

–Deanna Sim

Communist leadership breeds civil unrest in Moldova

Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, describes Moldova as “the poorest, weakest and probably most obscure country in Europe.” Such a portrayal could not be more accurate.

Most North Americans do not know of the country’s existence, let alone its political turmoil. Wedged between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the east, Moldova is easy to forget about.

The country was born out of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. Hilter and Stalin drew arbitrary lines across Eastern Europe, effectively partitioning the northeast of Greater Romania to make Moldova. At this time, Moldova fell under the control of the USSR.

To date, the country remains the poorest in Europe. As well, in 2001, Moldova became the first former Soviet member state to elect a communist president.

In April 2009, a student-led rally protesting the re-election of the Communist regime went haywire.

As demonstrators overwhelmed the police presence and effectively stormed Moldovan parliament, mainstream news coverage evaded the country. Even as protestors trashed the federal government’s administrative buildings and walked on the board tables of the legislature, Moldova failed to make the headlines.

–Paula Millar

Transdnistria remains loyal to the USSR

Formally speaking, Transdnistria does not exist.

To date, no country, Russia included, has formally recognized the self-proclaimed independence of this rebel-controlled breakaway state on the European continent.

Transdnistria is a thin strip of territory between Moldova and Ukraine. However, this was not always the case. As the disintegration of the Soviet Empire began, a Russophone-heavy area separated from Moldova.

Today, the region is the home of Soviet loyalists. The country’s economics are solely based on the production and sale of arms to other countries.

While this may seem unbelievable, it is even more puzzling to imagine the absence of media coverage of such a seemingly fictional scenario in mainland Europe.

Today, Transdnistria’s capital city of Tiraspol remains adorned with Soviet-era propaganda and is perceived as a hotbed for crime. Kidnappings, random prison sentences, human trafficking and disappearances are a way of life.

–Paula Millar

Belarus: Home of Europe’s last dictator

Alexander Lukashenko is the president of Belarus. If you have not heard of him, you are surely not alone.

While Belarus is officially a democracy, in reality, Lukashenko remains Europe’s last dictator. To date, the Belarusian leader has openly praised the work of Adolf Hitler and numerous heavy-handed Soviet leaders. Today, many call what Lukashenko is up to in Belarus a “neo-Soviet project.”

Despite the Belarusian regime’s status as a totalitarian dictatorship, the country has been off the international community’s radar for some time. In 2005, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice classified Belarus, along with five other nations, as “outposts of tyranny.”

However, even this assertion did not guarantee media coverage of the worsening situation within the nation’s borders.

Belarus, which has been independent of the Soviet Union since 1991, was a functioning democracy for three years before Lukashenko was elected. While opposition parties are allowed in Belarusian elections today, it is well known that they have no real chance of gaining power.

–Paula Millar