Friday, June 12, 2015

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Pig eyes cure blindness

By Zhang Yiqian 

In July, an artificial cornea that Chinese scientists spent more than 10 years developing will go into mass production. The corneas come from the eyes of pigs. Doctors say this will help close the gap between number of blind patients and donors.
Medical workers implant a cornea into a patient's eye in a hospital in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province. Photo: IC

Huang Yuanzhen has had a pig's cornea in her right eye for five years.

She's able to joke about it now, telling this fact to people she meets to surprise them. But when she first heard that doctors wanted to implant a slice of pig eye into her body, she was frightened and disgusted.

In 2010, the then 52-year-old farmer living in Songzi township, Central China's Hubei Province, accidentally poked her right eye with a bamboo splint while working in the field. She immediately felt pain and couldn't open her eye.

When she could, finally, she could see nothing but darkness. In the next few months, she went from hospital to hospital to seek help, accompanied by her family. She was told by doctors that she had an ulcer that covered more than half of her cornea, and was diagnosed as blind in that eye.

But the turning point came soon, when her doctor at Wuhan Union Hospital, Zhang Mingchang, asked whether she'd be open to transplanting an artificial cornea into her eye. She was also told a pig cornea was the main material for this new invention.

"I felt scared about it being a pig's eye," Huang said. "But the doctor said if I choose this, the company [that developed the cornea] would pay for the surgery." Besides, she constantly fell or bumped into people with only one eye, and her right eye throbbed with pain.

She decided to accept the surgery.

Vision for a cure

About 10 years before Huang accepted her surgery, Jin Yan, a professor and researcher at The Fourth Military Medical University, received a request from Hong Kong-based company China Regenerative Medicine International (CRMI).

The company asked him if he would like to cooperate with them to develop artificial corneas.

In China, keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea, is the second biggest cause of blindness, after cataracts. According to World Health Organization data, there are more than 4 million patients with keratitis in China, and the number is increasing by 100,000 each year.

The surgical solution for the disease is a cornea transplant. But there is a large gap between the number of patients and cornea donations.

"There are about 5,000 donations every year, it covers only a very small number of patients," Jin said.

Many teams around the world have tried developing artificial corneas. But so far none succeeded beyond clinical tests.

"Doctors and researchers have long been trying to develop artificial corneas," he said. "But due to its complex structure and fragility nobody has succeeded before."

Jin had previously worked with CRMI in developing a prosthetic skin, which speeds up patients' healing process and is an effective treatment for ulcers. So when he started trying to develop artificial corneas, he thought of using collagen.

But soon his team ran into the same dilemma as international researchers. They found out that there's no way collagen can imitate the thin but complicated fiber structures in a human cornea. That's when the team turned to animals.

The animal's eye needed to be similar to a human's. The animal need to be easy to raise and keep healthy. Based on these needs, the team considered cats and goats, and finally settled on pigs.

Choosing an animal was just the first step. The more difficult part was to figure out how to counter rejection by the host body after transplantation.

The most common way is to remove donor cells and antigen molecules to diminish the host immune reaction, but it was hard to find a method that could both remove the cells and leave the pig cornea's structure intact.

Developing this procedure took a few years.

After that, Jin's team conducted thousands of animal experiments. More than 10,000 pigs were used by the research team.

The team later named the artificial cornea "Aixintong," a generic sounding name that offers no clue to the product's porcine pedigree.

Patients' gospel

Huang tried opening up her eyes after the surgery and found her vision to be fuzzy.

She was not aware that she had become the first person in China to receive an artificial cornea transplant.

Her vision gradually improved and her right eye recovered to about 80 percent the level of her left eye.

She was not aware that after her, doctors were encouraged, and another 114 transplants were performed in five hospitals across China. Out of these transplants, 109 succeeded.

These patients were required to come back for re-examinations in a few months. The result was surprisingly good: the artificial corneas worked about as well as natural ones.

In April, the China Food and Drug Administration gave Aixintong a medical certificate, recognizing the product as the first cornea bioengineered and patented by Chinese scientists and granting it approval to be used.

In July, the artificial cornea will be mass-produced and used in surgery.

Right now, some patients are already inquiring about the cornea in the Wuhan Union Hospital, where Huang Yuanzhen got treated. In the past, people who couldn't wait on a donated cornea often had to have their eyeball removed because it could become infected.

In January 2015, Huang Jiefu, director of the human organ transplant clinical technology application management committee under the National Health and Family Planning Commission, announced that China's human organs will be sourced only from donors, not from executed criminals.

Facing a situation with even fewer organs to be used in transplantation, the Chinese scientists pushed to mass-produce Aixintong.

Preparations to use the artificial corneas are in place. According to media reports, the Shandong Ophthalmology Hospital has begun training surgeons to implant the artificial cornea. The program is hoping to recruit 100 doctors this year.

A doctor in Shandong Province told the China Youth Daily that in the future, patients may be able to get cornea transplants within two days of diagnosis.

In order to supply pig corneas, scientists established a pig farm in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. All pigs in the farm have their own "ID number."

 If a cornea is found to be faulty after transplant, scientists can easily track which pig it came from.

Doubts remain

Jin said many questioned his research at the beginning. When he went to academic conferences, only a small number of people thought he might succeed.

Despite his success, his innovation has not been widely adopted internationally at this time.

After Jin's team published the results, a research team in the US published a paper in the scientific journal of the Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, pointing out there may be imperfections in the decellularization methods currently used by international research teams. It names Jin's team in particular.

Even doctors in China had doubts when they were conducting clinical experiments with Aixintong. The invention was too new.

Zhang Mingchang from Wuhan Union Hospital said when he was performing surgery for Huang, he had his doubts. He didn't even know whether Aixintong was safe, let alone whether it would work.

When performing surgery, he had a few backup corneas, including one from a human donor, in case Aixintong failed.

But after Huang's recovery and after the re-evaluation of her eye's condition in 2013, Zhang's doubts gradually vanished.

He became even more optimistic about the prospect of Aixintong after completing 47 transplantations as a clinical trial and maintaining a success rate of over 90 percent.

Huang had no idea of the doubts and controversies involving Aixintong.

In May, she was invited by the CRMI to come to the launching ceremony of Aixintong in Beijing. Afterwards, she went to Tiananmen Square for the first time. It was unbelievable that she could see those sites with both eyes, especially when she thinks back about the days she thought she would be blind in one eye forever.

During the ceremony, she couldn't explain how the cornea worked, but she kept saying, "This works well, I can do work on the farm fields again."

China - U.S. should act to reduce frictions with China to achieve healthy ties

In a welcome respite from weeks of harsh rhetoric andgroundless accusations against ChinaWashington on Wednesday said the United Stateswill continue to engage with China in the foreseeable future since the policy has servedU.Sinterests well.
Considering the increasing interdependence between the two countriesto continueengagement with China is indeed the right choice for the United States.
Howeverit seems that Washington has been repeatedly forgetting that condescension andcritique will not help its engagement with China.
To make U.S.-China interactions more efficient and productiveresponsible U.S.politicians should at least refrain from remarks or moves that may undermine mutualtrust.
In the past few daysvarious U.Sofficials and lawmakers have accused China of an allegedmassive cyber breach of the U.Sfederal government networks.
Despite the fact that the probe is still going on so as to trace the origin of the allegedhacker attacksmany U.Sofficials have already jumped to the conclusion that China is toblame for the attacks.
Besides cyber securityanother case that highlights the United Statesdeep bias againstChina is the South China Sea issue.
After years of turning a blind eye to reclamations by Vietnam and the Philippines in thedisputed areathe United States recently became a harsh critic of China's constructionefforts there.
The United States also provided China's rival claimants with military assistance and wordsof assurance that the United States will continue to challenge China's claims regarding theSouth China Sea.
The clearly lopsided approach has brought unprecedented tension in the area and putregional stability at risk.
Relations between China and the United Statesthe world's two largest economies and alsoheavyweight global playershave an impact that goes far beyond the bilateral scope.
A smooth development of China-U.Sties is a boon not only for the two countriesbut forthe whole worldand any serious setback in their relations will be a cause for worldwideconcern.
It is hoped that Washington is on the same page with Beijing in building a new type ofrelationship between major countrieswhich features win-win cooperation and mutualrespectinstead of confrontation and zero-sum games.
China attaches great importance to its ties with the United States and has been seriousabout promoting the bilateral relationship.
Washington's habitual and groundless accusations against China as the world's primaryexporter of hacking attacks come at the price of damaging mutual trustwhile the U.S.maneuvers regarding the South China Sea so far have produced the same effect but onlyworse.
For U.S.-China ties to prosperWashington should waste no time in changing its attitudeand resolving its differences with Chinawhich can be done only by engaging in realdialogue.

Where is the Middle East heading?

Alexey Khlebnikov 

Russian Middle East experts unanimously agree that the current deepening of division lines across the Middle East increases the risk of a bigger regional conflict and urge for close coordination with the West.
A man searches for survivors under the rubble of houses destroyed by Saudi airstrikes in the old city of Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, June 12, 2015. Photo: AP
Amidst the ongoing turmoil in Syriatensions in Yemen and the increasing threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Russia's experts are preoccupied with the future of the Middle East. 
Recently, they gathered in Moscow to discuss the current transformation of the region within the framework of the “Middle East Week” organized by the Moscow State Institute of International Affairs (MGIMO-University) and unanimously agreed that the current deepening of division lines across the Middle East increases the risk of a bigger regional conflict.
“The conflicts that are happening across the region increase the level of disintegration, which can lead to the deterioration of international security problems and to the change of world trade and energy flows,” said Rector of MGIMO-University Anatoliy Torkunov.
What has profoundly changed in the Middle East in recent decades is the changing power balance and fragmentation of the Arab world.
Traditionally strong Egypt, which claimed to be the leader of the Arab world, as well as relatively strong but ambitious Iraq and Syria – all lost their positions. Iraq lost its position due to the U.S. invasion in 2003 and further occupation; Syria and Egypt because of the “Arab Spring” which threw one country into civil war and put another on the brink of economic collapse.

This led to the absence of unity among the Arab nations because everyone holds a different approach to the chaos that occurred in the region and how to deal with it.
In such circumstances, the Saudi Arabia-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states form a sort of regional power center. With an abundance of energy resources giving them a certain degree of economic independence, the GCC states managed to come through the turbulence of the last few years almost untouched, albeit seriously challenged.
As a result, the balance of power in the region tilted more towards the economically and politically stable Saudi Arabia-led GCC states.
Also, Shia Iran has become the most influential state in the Persian Gulf capable of challenging Saudi leadership. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq contributed to that, resulting in the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the weakening of Iraq and the rise of Shia groups to power. Consequently, Iran expanded its power through Iraq into the Mediterranean, creating the so-called “Shia crescent” in the region – Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon, which Sunni Arab states are so afraid of.
The majority of Russian Middle East experts argue that the role of the Sunni-Shia confrontation is highly overestimated as a major source of instability in the region.
Lana Ravandi-Fadai, Russian Academy of Sciences
In this vein, senior researcher at the Oriental Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Lana Ravandi-Fadai underlined that, “Iran’s role in the region is overestimated and Tehran’s ability to influence political processes in the Middle East is exaggerated.” She also echoed other experts and Russian diplomats arguing that, in general, the Sunni-Shia struggle in the region is clearly overstated.

Former Russian ambassador to Yemen, Libya and Tunisia Veniamin Popov argues that, “Previously people in the region did not pay much attention to the Shia-Sunni division at all, because there was none.”
The rise of Iran and the quite real possibility that the sanctions that are keeping Iran down might be lifted will most likely lead to Iran’s faster economic development. This would lead to an increase of political influence in the region, something that threatens Sunni leadership in the Middle East, thus creating more instability.
As Saudi Arabia and the GCC states have become the power center of the Sunni Arabs in the region, their perceptions of regional security and threats automatically affect the entire regional security system.
Russia and the US must coordinate their actions in a volatile region
Recent developments in the region indicate that the current Sunni Arab leadership perceives threats to security and stability differently. Saudi Arabia, being the regional leader, perceives the political threat from Shia Iran as more acute than the conventional military and ideological threat from Sunni Islamism.
From this perspective, the threat from Iran puts the entire region at greater risk of instability. Recent developments in Yemen have proven that.
In March of 2015 Saudi Arabia spearheaded a coalition of nine Arab states into a military air campaign against the Houthi coup in Yemen. Saudis see Iranian involvement everywhere when Shia minorities in the Gulf protest (Bahrain, Yemen, and within Saudi Arabia itself).
However, Iranian political influence is not an existential threat to Saudi Arabia, unlike radical Sunni Islamism, whose adepts already declared a war against the Kingdom and conducted a suicide attack on its territory in May 2015.
As a result, Yemen is in tatters and regional stability is under greater threat than it was before. Moreover, it increased the threat from terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda of the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS, as they are the ones who benefit from the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. In this situation, Houthis represent the only force on the ground which can fight against AQAP and IS.
Pakistan and Egypt, which were initially ready to deploy their ground troops to Yemen, currently are reluctant to do so. Saudi Arabia alone is unlikely to deploy its ground troops without backing from the U.S. The White House is also reluctant to launch any ground campaign in Yemen, but is still expressing its support for Saudi Arabia.
Ambassador Popov noted that, “The U.S. is currently in a very unpleasant situation in Yemen: Previously Washington conducted anti-terror operations against Al-Qaeda which now controls twice more territory.”
Partly because of this, partly because of Washington’s “betrayal” of Riyadh (flirting with Tehran over its nuclear program), Saudi Arabia’s elite started to understand that they needed to start seeking alternative supporters whether it is China, Russia or Europe, Popov said.
Another aspect here is that the U.S. is already involved in crisis in Syria and Iraq and cannot afford to get bogged down in Yemen or even to create another volatile area in the regionbecause it directly affects its attempts to counter terrorism in the Middle East and to make a deal with Iran. Therefore, the U.S. cannot solve the whole pack of problems in the region alone.

Russian experts and diplomats see current conditions in the Middle East as a unique opportunity for a larger coordination of actions between Russia and the West, especially the U.S. This is the moment when Russia and the U.S. can have a fresh start.
As the deadline for the final nuclear deal agreement with Iran, June 30, is approaching and the possibility of its successful conclusion is looming, major powers should take more decisive steps in settling the crisis in Yemen. In these circumstances, the U.S. and Russia should exercise their influence over all involved parties in the conflict and make them sit around the table and negotiate.
Major powers should resolve the crisis in Yemen so that it does not reach the scale of the one in Syria. Either way, it might be too late and it may give Islamists another fertile ground for operations, which will minimize the impact of any major anti-terrorism attempts of the world’s powers in the Middle East.

Saudi Warplanes Target Bus in South Yemen, 20 Civilians Killed

The Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a bus in the Southern parts of Yemen left at least 20 passengers dead, informed sources announced on Friday. 

The sources said that at least 20 civilians were killed and some more wounded in the Saudi fighter jets attack on the Yemeni bus. 

Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen in the last 79 days to bring its ally, fugitive president Mansour Hadi, back to power. 

The airstrikes have so far claimed the lives of more than 4,534 civilians, mostly women and children. 

According to a recent report by Freedom House Foundation, most of the victims of the deadly Al Saud campaign are civilians, including a large number of women and children. 

Yemen needs permanent ceasefire: Aid organizations

Yemenis gather amidst the rubble following a Saudi airstrike launched in the capital Sana’a on June 8, 2015. (AFP photo)

A coalition of 13 aid organizations has called on the international community to support an urgent permanent ceasefire to save the lives of millions of Yemenis.
In a joint statement released on Thursday, the relief agencies also called for lifting Saudi aerial and naval blockade on Yemen and demanded “an end to arms transfers to those responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law, and a sizeable increase in humanitarian and longer term development funding.”
The humanitarian groups urged the international community to take immediate action to stop the violence and respond to the aggravating crisis, instead of sitting “back and watch”.
“Millions are at risk of dying from the conflict, preventable diseases, and hunger,” said Hanibal Abiy Worku, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director in Yemen. “That the world continues to sit back and watch as a humanitarian disaster of this magnitude unfolds in Yemen is unacceptable and irresponsible.”
“Failure to end the fighting and address root causes of the conflict will have a catastrophic impact on the humanitarian situation,” the statement further read.
The relief groups also said the Yemenis are in dire humanitarian needs as more than 12 million people were going hungry due to a growing shortage of wheat and other staples and over 15 million “are without access to healthcare as hospitals shut down due to lack of medical supplies and power cuts.”

UN-brokered talks
Peace talks between Yemeni political factions and former regime officials, to be brokered by the United Nations, had been initially scheduled for May 28 in the Swiss city of Geneva, however, they were postponed after Yemen’s fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, put a pre-condition and refused to attend the negotiating table.
Last week, the UN confirmed that the talks were to be held on June 14, however, they have been postponed again, from Sunday to Monday, as one of the delegations is arriving late in Geneva.
“Regardless of the outcome of the peace talks, the blockade needs to be immediately lifted and all obstacles hindering the provision of humanitarian aid and other essential commodities should be removed, otherwise more children will die from preventable diseases,” Priya Jacob, acting country director for Save the Children Yemen, was quoted as saying in the statement.
The UN says at least 2,300 people have been killed and 7,330 injured due to the conflict in the Arabian Peninsula state since March 19.
Saudi Arabia launched military attacks against Yemen on March 26 – without a UN mandate – in a bid to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement, which currently controls the capital Sana’a and major provinces, and to restore power to Hadi, who is a staunch ally of Riyadh.

#YemenCrisis - Saudi-led warplanes hit 'jewel' of Islamic culture in Sanaa

UNESCO has condemned the destruction of part of the Old City of Sanaa in Yemen by a Saudi airstrike.
The strike on Friday killed five people and destroyed three houses, laying waste to much of the World Heritage Site.

ocals said it marked the first direct hit on old Sanaa since the Saudi-led coalition began their bombing campaign against Houthi militias in Yemen in late March.
AFP reported that the airstrike hit the Qassimi neighbourhood, which contains thousands of houses built before the 11th century.

UNESCO on Friday expressed its alarm at the scale of the destruction.
“I am profoundly distressed by the loss of human lives as well as by the damage inflicted on one of the world’s oldest jewels of Islamic urban landscape,” said UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova.
“I am shocked by the images of these magnificent many-storeyed tower-houses and serene gardens reduced to rubble. This destruction will only exacerbate the humanitarian situation and I reiterate my call to all parties to respect and protect cultural heritage in Yemen. This heritage bears the soul of the Yemeni people, it is a symbol of a millennial history of knowledge and it belongs to all humankind.”
The Saudi-led coalition has stated its desire to see exiled former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi restored to power in Yemen and undermine what they see as Iranian-backed instability in the country.
The destruction wreaked upon the Old City of Sanaa, however, marks just the latest piece of Yemen's historical antiquities to be damaged in the fighting, coming less than two weeks after the Dhamar Regional Museum in the Hirran province of Yemen's Dhamar district was "completely destroyed" by Saudi airstrikes, according to the Khabar News Agency.
Writing for al-Araby al-Jadeed, journalist Abubakr al-Shamahi lamented the level of damage caused to Yemen’s ancient heritage by the Saudi-led bombing campaign.
“Dar al-Hajar, the rock palace that lies in a valley just outside Sanaa, was almost hit by missiles last week,” he wrote. “The Marib Dam, on the site of what locals say is the world's first ever dam, has been hit. The archaeological sites of the ancient civilisation that dam allowed to prosper, Sheba, have barely been uncovered from the sands. Yet even they have not escaped, with the Temple of Sheba, one of Yemen's national symbols, caught in the crossfire during the fighting in the area.
“Of course, the lives of the thousands killed in Yemen's war are more important. But I, and many other Yemenis, feel a deep sense of pain when we see the destruction of our heritage, places that we want to share with the world."
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Raif Badawi granted Quebec immigration selection certificate

The Quebec government has granted imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi a selection certificate, a first step meant to speed up his immigration process.
"Quebec is behind Raif Badawi," said Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil, who used a special discretionary power to grant the certificate.
"His treatment is outrageous — it's cruel and unusual punishment," she said on Friday.

Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar and the couple's three children now live in Sherbrooke, Que., after escaping Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Haidar and her supporters have been pressuring the Canadian government to work to extricate Badawi from his current situation and allow him to join his family in Quebec.
Federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney on Friday said Canada will continue to pressure the Saudi government to release Badawi.
He said Quebec's selection certificate will help fast-track any possible steps taken to bring Badawi to Canada.
"This is an important development that will definitely facilitate the process, and we hope it will lead to a positive outcome," Blaney said.

Flogging delayed again

​Meanwhile, Badawi has again avoided a flogging in Saudi Arabia.
The 31-year-old blogger imprisoned for criticizing Islam and promoting liberal thought via his website is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. He is also supposed to receive 1,000 lashes delivered in batches of 50 over 20 weeks. 
Ensaf Haidar
Ensaf Haidar is the wife of Raif Badawi. She lives in Sherbrooke, Que., with their three children and has been lobbying the Canadian government to assist in freeing Badawi after he was jailed in Saudi Arabia. (CBC)
However, he was publicly flogged only once after receiving his sentence. Every other scheduled public flogging has been delayed, according to reports from Amnesty International.
This most recent postponement comes a few days after the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia upheld the sentence imposed on the blogger.
Badawi has been imprisoned since 2012 for criticisms in his blog that promotes human rights and democracy in his country.
Badawi's detention and sentence have stirred up worldwide condemnation. Quebec politicians unanimously adopted a motion in February calling for his immediate release.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also spoken out against Badawi's treatment, but has said Ottawa's influence is limited by the fact he is not a Canadian citizen.

What Will Stop Saudi Arabia From Flogging Its Citizens?


Saudi Arabian authorities have upheld the sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and 1,000 lashes handed down to blogger Raif Badawi. While the court judgment to uphold the punishment of 1,000 lashes has received particular scrutiny, corporal punishment is still routinely used as an official part of criminal justice by many countries—and that’s a clear violation of international law.
Even though punishments such as flogging are routinely handed down by courts in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, international human rights law heavily restricts the use of corporal punishment as a part of criminal justice.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture all prohibit torture and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Various United Nations organs, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N. Human Rights Committee, have made it clear that flogging amounts at the very least to cruel and inhuman punishment.
Nonetheless, the use of flogging and other corporal punishments continues in many countries.
Bad Company
While Saudi Arabia stands out as a particularly extreme user of corporal punishment, it is by no means alone in its continued use of physical abuse to sanction criminals.
In Afghanistan, a proposal to reform the criminal code was put forward in 2013 that would have reintroduced stoning, flogging and amputation. In Iran, a wide range of crimes are punishable by flogging, including the consumption of alcohol, flouting of public morals and mixing of sexes in certain public areas. In certain circumstances, flogging is also used to maximize the suffering of those criminals sentenced to death.
Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, flogging is not limited as a punishment merely for the crime of “insulting Islam” (as in Badawi’s case); it’s also used as a punishment for sexual deviance (which can simply mean being suspected of being homosexual) or for the crime of adultery. In some cases, women have been convicted and flogged for adultery, despite claiming to have been raped, having been deemed adulterers because they were unable to prove who their rapists were.
Other methods continue to proliferate. Besides flogging, Saudi Arabia is also well-known for using forced amputations. Stoning, meanwhile, is used in assorted countries and by ISIS and essentially amounts to capital punishment.
All in all, corporal punishment is still used all over the world including such diverse places as YemenTrinidad and Tobago, and Tanzania.
No Exceptions
While Saudi Arabia’s continued and consistent use of corporal punishment is at odds with international law and has seen the country roundly criticized on numerous occasions, the Saudi government has been consistently unwilling to change its position.
In 2004, the Saudi delegate to the U.N. Committee Against Torture fiercely defended the legal traditions of Saudi Arabia and rejected the convention as international interference in domestic legal affairs by “Westerners who were unfamiliar with Islamic law." He stated that anyone who petitioned for or attempted to amend corporal punishment laws in Saudi Arabia, which of course claim a religious basis, was “not a good Muslim” and failed to recognize that the point of corporal punishment is to “protect society."
This is the standard Saudi defense of corporal punishment, but it appeals to a legal principle that does not actually exist. While the Saudi government supposedly holds the Koran to be divine law and therefore defends its domestic legislation as sacrosanct, international conventions simply do not allow rights to be violated because domestic law “overrides” them, whatever the rationale.
Stand Firm
In the short term, the future for victims of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia and in other countries that practice it looks bleak indeed. Despite international condemnation, there simply is no serious impetus for change on the ground.
This is particularly true in conservative countries whose governments use strict religious doctrine to control the population, a style of politics in which Saudi Arabia is something of a world leader. And while the United Nations repeatedly records and condemns the Saudi government’s violations of fundamental rights, it is unable to enforce change.
But the long-term prospects for change are far brighter. Just because international law is sometimes very difficult to implement at the national level does not make it meaningless. That Badawi’s name is in the public arena, with governments and international organizations exerting such pressure on the Saudis to call off his flogging, has undoubtedly affected the Saudi perspective.
While his sentence has been upheld, Badawi’s next flogging is currently still pending. The Saudi government has claimed that this is for medical reasons, as the scars from his first round have not sufficiently healed, but many commentators believe that the real reason is the sheer international pressure on the Saudi government.
This pressure needs to continue if the use of corporal punishment to control citizens becomes a complete political taboo. No state should think it can afford the opprobrium that greets this barbaric and repressive practice.
If we get to a point where the norm against flogging and the like is that strong, other forms of repressive control over the general population may also start to relax—and greater standards of human rights protection, including the right to free speech, may come within reach.

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Video Report - President Obama Dealt Humiliating Trade Bill Defeat

U.S. - House Rejects Trade Bill, Rebuffing Obama’s Dramatic Appeal

House Democrats rebuffed a dramatic personal appeal from President Obama on Friday, torpedoing his ambitious push to expand his trade negotiating power — and, quite likely, his chance to secure a legacy-defining trade accord spanning the Pacific Ocean.
In a remarkable rejection of a president they have resolutely backed, House Democrats voted to kill assistance to workers displaced by global trade, a program their party created and has stood by for four decades. By doing so, they brought down legislation granting the president trade promotion authority — the power to negotiate trade deals that cannot be amended or filibustered by Congress — before it could even come to a final vote.
“We want a better deal for America’s workers,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader who has guided the president’s agenda for two terms and was personally lobbied by Mr. Obama until the last minute.
Republican leaders tried to muster support from their own party for trade adjustment assistance, a program they have long derided as an ineffective waste of money and sop to organized labor. But not enough Republicans were willing to save the program.
Republican leaders then passed a stand-alone trade promotion bill, 219 to 211. That measure cannot go to the president for his signature because the Senate bill combined both trade adjustment and trade promotion.
Republican leaders now have two legislative days, beginning Monday night, to bring back the trade adjustment legislation for another vote.
“We are not done with this,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader.
Republicans now hope is that House Democrats will panic at the prospect of trade promotion authority now passing the Senate alone, without worker assistance.
But the sheer number of lawmakers who would have to change their votes make passage a second time doubtful, Republican leadership aides conceded.
The vote was an extraordinary blow to Mr. Obama, who went to the Capitol on Friday morning to plead personally with Democrats to “play it straight” — to oppose trade promotion if they must, but not to kill trade assistance, a move he cast as cynical. On Thursday night, he had made an unscheduled trip to the annual congressional baseball game to try to persuade Ms. Pelosi.
But a president who has long kept Congress at arm’s length may have paid a price. Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas, said Mr. Obama mustered rousing applause Friday morning as he went through the battles he had fought with fellow Democrats — on labor organizing, health care access and environmental protection. But he could not change minds.
“I wish there had been much better outreach,” Mr. Cuellar lamented.