Justice watch: Keeping an eye on the law

Attempted rescue from slavery

DAKAR, SENEGAL - Antislavery activists in Mauritania are waging a rare public campaign to rescue Matalla, a 20-year-old camel herder they say fled to the protection of troops to escape a life of bondage.

His alleged owners have already tried to get him back from soldiers patrolling Mauritania's northern desert, the activists allege.

Slavery was outlawed in Mauritania in 1981, and in Niger in 2003. But the United Nations, US State Department, and human rights groups say slavery persists in north and west Africa.

The Boston-based American Anti- Slavery Group says more than 200,000 people currently labor as chattel slaves in Mauritania, Niger, and Sudan, countries located along centuries-old Arab-African Saharan trade routes.

In the desert, Matalla was reported to have thrown himself on the mercy of the soldiers, telling troops his owners had threatened to kill him after a brother ran away.

Anti-slavery activists say both black and Arab Africans keep slaves, justifying it by an incorrect reading of the Koran.

Compounding the tragedy, activists say, is Mauritania's poverty - so great that even those who escape to freedom may not find food, shelter, and jobs.

Tiny Cameras Prompt Bans

CHICAGO - Tiny cameras used to be the stuff of spy novels. Now they're everywhere, built into cell phones, digital organizers, and other devices.

The proliferation of Internet sites filled with pictures shot surreptitiously in public bathrooms, locker rooms, and other places has prompted some schools to ban the phones (the most common devices with cameras). Lawmakers in such states as Iowa and Colorado are considering their own measures.

"It's part of the next step of society. Almost everything you do, there's a chance that somebody's going to be recording it," says Jim Barry, spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group.

The association found that factory-to-dealer sales of camera phones grew from 1.2 million in 2001 to 6.3 million last year with estimates that last year's sales will double this year and triple in 2005. And many high-tech experts say it won't be long before phones with video capabilities are just as common.

Snowmobile ruling enforced

WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONT. - Getting a table at Bullwinkle's Saloon & Eatery is easy this winter. So is finding a room at any local motel - if they're still open.

This town - just outside Yellowstone National Park and largely dependent on park visitors - is much quieter than normal.

While snowmobiles still cruise the powdery streets of the self-proclaimed "snowmobile capital of the world," the numbers are far below those in previous years.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan put a cloud over the town's economic outlook when he ruled that the National Park Service had to revive a Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

The rules, originally scrapped by the Bush administration in favor of cleaner machines, favor mass-transit snow coaches, which would reduce pollution in the parks. Although a limited number of snowmobiles will be allowed to enter this winter, all will have to be part of commercially guided trips.

Crow Hunt Protested

AUBURN, N.Y. - Despite the crow's reputation as a destructive pest, a hunting contest to thin the swarms of crows that winter here gives the city a black eye, according to critics who would rather celebrate the big, black bird.

"We don't like the image it gives our city," said Rita Sarnicola, who heads The Crow Committee, a local group that is working to ban the second annual hunt.

"It's not hunting. It's killing for killing's sake. And then they throw a party," Ms. Sarnicola said.

The contest was held informally for several years until it was more elaborately organized and publicized last year, when nearly 150 hunters bagged 348 birds in a weekend. This year's hunt is expected to draw a larger crowd, including hunters from as far away as Kentucky and Arizona.

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