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Apr 23
Her eye on the news
‘An unholy alliance’

Objecting to language that offers victims of rape access to sexual and reproductive health services, the Trump administration is reportedly threatening to veto a United Nations resolution aimed at preventing the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Aspects of the draft resolution, which would create a formal body to monitor and report atrocities, have already been stripped from the agreement because of opposition from the U.S., Russia and China. But according to U.N. officials, the U.S. government is continuing to oppose the agreement — apparently because it affords rape victims access to healthcare that could also be used to facilitate abortions. U.N. officials and European diplomats have said that caving to the U.S. could prove a setback for women’s rights across the world for decades.

“If we let the Americans do this and take out this language, it will be watered down for a long time,” a European diplomat told the Guardian, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It is, at its heart, an attack on the progressive normative framework established over the past 25 years.”

“Until the Trump administration, we could always count on the Americans to help us defend it. Now the Americans have switched camp,” the diplomat continued. “Now it’s an unholy alliance of the U.S., the Russians, the Holy See, the Saudis and the Bahrainis, chipping away at the progress that has been made.”

“We are not even sure whether we are having the resolution tomorrow, because of the threats of a veto from the U.S.,” added Pramila Patten, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict. “It will be a huge contradiction that you are talking about a survivor-centered approach and you do not have language on sexual and reproductive healthcare services, which is for me the most critical.”

Read the full story at the Guardian.

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‘Breaker of chains’

With Season 8 of HBO’s Game of Thrones two weeks in, the popular medieval fantasy series and its cast of powerful and nuanced women leaders is drawing acclaim from all corners — including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Warren, a prominent legal scholar turned presidential candidate best known for progressive policies such as a universal child care and the elimination of student debt, authored an op-ed for The Cut analyzing the two women vying for control of the Iron Throne of Westeros. Indeed, in Warren’s opinion, Game of Thrones is mainly “about the women.”

Queen Cersei Lannister, a ruthless villain who rose to power through her family’s wealth, is characterized by Warren as a servant of “the interests of the rich and powerful” who wants “to control the political system.” Unwilling to check her own “worst impulses,” she stands in stark contrast to Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen, the exiled daughter of the kingdom’s deposed former ruler. Once virtually powerless, Daenerys’s work freeing slaves at the expense of the corrupt and wealthy ruling class has won her both popularity and a powerful army.

Daenerys, writes Warren, is a true revolutionary who wants to reform the system into something more equitable and responsive to the needs of the vulnerable.

In Warren’s opinion, the world needs more women like Daenerys running things, and fewer leaders like Cersei — whose real-life counterpart Warren declines to identify.

Read the full story at The Cut.

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Unfair trial?

The trial of a Brooklyn man who was found guilty of raping and killing 30-year-old Karina Vetrano has been called into question after one of the jurors claimed he was bullied and coerced during deliberations. Despite this, the conviction of Chanel Lewis was upheld, and on Tuesday, he was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Speaking anonymously to the New York Times, the juror said he was the sole holdout on a jury that was ready to convict Lewis of first-degree murder and sexual abuse. He claimed that the jury foreman told them that he had concluded Lewis was guilty by the second day of the trial — a violation of the judge’s orders that they not discuss the case ahead of deliberations.

While in deliberations, the juror said, he tried to send a note to the judge asking how long they would have to stay that evening — only for the foreman to grab the paper and rip it up. After spending 12 hours in the courthouse, he said, he grew anxious that he would be held past 11 P.M. and reluctantly joined the rest of the jury in delivering the guilty verdict.

The case also faced criticism for dubious methods used in obtaining DNA evidence during the investigation of the August 2016 homicide. After investigators found DNA on the body that analysts said likely belonged to a black man, the police moved to collect DNA samples from hundreds of black men arrested in parts of Queens and Brooklyn. The defense had argued that the DNA evidence found against Lewis could be explained by something as simple as Vetrano touching a surface that Lewis had also touched before her death.

A videotaped confession in which Lewis admits to beating Vetrano had also been called into question, as the defense team noted that it was obtained from the visibly confused suspect after 11 hours in police custody. According to the holdout juror, the jury never even saw the confession video due to technical difficulties in the courtroom.

The first trial for Lewis ended in a hung jury after several jurors said that Lewis’s confession appeared coerced and the DNA evidence tainted.

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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Peace talks

After highly anticipated peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government fell through last week, a group of 20 Afghan emigres from Europe and the U.S. — including three women — met privately with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar instead.

The six-hour talks are being hailed as an important breakthrough in dialogue between women’s advocacy groups and the Taliban, which forced women to wear full-body niqabs and banned them from appearing in public without a male guardian when it controlled much of the country in the 1990s.

Masuda Sultan, a board member of Women for Afghan Women, told the Washington Post that she and other members of her organization had flown to Doha despite being barred from the talks. After the talks broke down, she said that she and others decided to try and engage in a dialogue themselves.

“This was the cracking open of the door,” said Sultan. “They asked for our advice, they said they had made some mistakes and they said they were serious about wanting peace. They spoke with us for more than six hours. If we don’t engage with them in dialogue, we will just be continuing the same war that has gone on for 17 years.”

“Our presence here says a lot,” added another participant in the Saturday meeting, Afghan-born teacher Khatol Momand. “We are told the Taliban have changed, that they don’t just want women to be a symbolic presence, they want them to play a role in society. But it is still too early to judge.”

Critics of the peace talks, including a range of women’s rights activists from across the country, continue to warn that the Taliban will try to seize control of Afghanistan and reinstitute their oppressive policies against women as soon as the U.S. pulls out its forces. But according to Sultan and other women leaders, no lasting peace will be possible without dialogue and communication from both sides.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.

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'Senseless'

Update: The two teenagers arrested in connection with the death of Lyra McKee have been released with no charges filed. On Tuesday, a 57-year-old woman was arrested in connection with the shooting death.

Two teenagers have been arrested in Northern Ireland in connection with the shooting death of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee.

On Thursday, McKee was covering riots sparked by police raids against suspected militant nationalists in the border town of Derry. Shots were fired and she was struck and killed. Shortly before her death, she tweeted a photo of the chaos with the caption, “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”

The shot that struck McKee was “fired indiscriminately,” according to Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy. “The gunman showed no thought for who may have been killed or injured when he fired these shots.”

The two suspects, ages 18 and 19, have not been identified. They were arrested under a terrorism law and are being held in custody in Belfast.

The riots took place in a neighborhood where many Irish nationalists live. It was once a place of widespread violence during the period of history known as the Troubles, when Irish nationalists battled with U.K. loyalists and British troops in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement, which ended the Troubles, was signed 21 years to the day before McKee’s death.

On Friday, at a vigil honoring McKee, her partner, Sara Canning, called her death a “senseless murder.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also condemned the killing, calling it “an attack on all of us, our nation and our freedoms.”

Read more at the Washington Post.

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