2019
February
07
Thursday

Tomorrow will mark something that didn’t happen in the Netherlands – one more sign of the slow disappearance of one of the nation’s most beloved traditions.

As a former Olympics reporter, I can attest to the Dutch passion for speedskating. We’ve written about it many times before. There is something spiritual in the sport – something that speaks deeply to the Dutch sense of joy, community, and identity. And all those emotions are wrapped into a single race, the daylong 11 Cities Tour, or Elfstedentocht, which is held whenever the canals in Friesland ice over.

Friday will mark the longest gap between races in modern history. It was last held in 1997 and only three times since 1963. From 1909 to 1963, it was held 12 times. Dutch scientists calculated a 6.7 percent chance of an Elfstedentocht in 2017. In 1950, it was 25 percent, The New York Times reports.

The potential consequences of climate change go far beyond speedskating races. And the whole topic can be politically fraught. For the Dutch, the race has shaped thinking about climate. But they still hope. Says one race organizer: “There will be a year that makes up for all the years we wait.”

Now, on to our five stories today, which touch on a different kind of sexual misconduct investigation in New Hampshire, justice for women in Mali, and counting bees.

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1. Climate’s pressure on energy firms isn’t just political, it’s financial

Our first story is also about how the changing climate is driving change – in this case, in the energy industry itself. The changes are incremental, but portend a potentially important shift in thinking.

Mark
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Pacific Gas & Electric crews worked to restore power lines in Paradise, Calif., in November. Facing potentially colossal liabilities over deadly California wildfires, the utility company announced last month that it would file for bankruptcy protection.

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When it comes to a changing climate, the energy industry faces more than just political pressure to transition toward cleaner power supplies. It’s also facing direct physical effects and financial risks. The bankruptcy filing by California’s largest electric utility last week is now Exhibit A – with a twist. Tottering financially due to its liability in California’s spate of big wildfires, PG&E is also a leading player in the state’s efforts to transition toward cleaner energy.

Bankruptcy will likely disrupt the company’s plans to bring in rising amounts of renewable power to the state. PG&E’s bankruptcy stems in part from California’s strict liability standard for wildfires. But from dry California forests to Texas refineries at risk of coastal flooding, climate threats are widespread. And they could influence wider policy debates over global warming.

“Up to now the conversation has been almost entirely about ‘What is the impact of business on the climate?’ ” says green-business analyst Joel Makower in Oakland, Calif. “Now the conversation is shifting to, ‘What is the impact of climate change on business?’ ”

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Climate’s pressure on energy firms isn’t just political, it’s financial

For the oil company ConocoPhillips, a warming climate means risks for the annual construction of an ice road that brings heavy equipment and supplies to its facility on the edge of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.

For energy companies in the Gulf region from Houston to New Orleans ​– home to key refineries for gasoline and other US fuels ​– it means heightened risks of storm and flood damage.

And amid litigation over devastating wildfires, warming is cited as a key factor tipping PG&E, California’s largest electric utility, into a bankruptcy filing last week.

These are all signs of how, when it comes to a changing climate, the energy industry is facing more than just political pressure to transition toward cleaner, lower-emission power supplies. It’s also facing direct physical effects and financial risks.

Given the industry’s central role in an expected global transition toward a low-carbon economy, this rising attention to risks has big implications. It may create more urgency for a switch to green energy.

“We're going through a very significant pivot around business and climate change, because up to now the conversation has been almost entirely about ‘What is the impact of business on the climate?’ ” says Joel Makower, chairman of GreenBiz Group in Oakland, Calif., which promotes environmentally sustainable business practices. “Now the conversation is shifting to, ‘What is the impact of climate change on business?’ ”

For everyone from CEOs to corporate shareholders and employees to consumers filling gas tanks or paying electric bills, he says, the concern may become: “How do you operate in a world where with fairly increasing certainty we’ll be seeing more extreme weather, more droughts, more floods, hurricanes etc.?”

The PG&E case is now Exhibit A – with a twist.

Is corporate liability too strict?

As the giant utility enters court-overseen bankruptcy proceedings, the spillover effects of climate change may slow California’s move to low-carbon power. Bankruptcy will likely disrupt the company’s plans to bring in rising amounts of renewable power to help the state meet its ambitious goals to address climate change. With those targets growing costlier to reach, electric utility ratepayers or taxpayers could be the ones to ultimately pick up the tab.

The connection between PG&E’s bankruptcy and climate change isn’t simple or universally agreed. Wildfires are a longstanding feature of the region it serves, and the company is being sued for the alleged role of its equipment in causing some of the fires. Moreover, California has a strict liability standard that, unlike in other states, can leave a company liable even if no negligence on equipment operation or brush-clearing is proved.

Still, the persistence of drought conditions in much of the state and two epic wildfire years are viewed by many scientists as features of a shifting global climate.

“PG&E is a wake-up not just for energy companies but for all companies,” says Nancy Meyer, director of business engagement at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) in Washington. “The physical risks of climate change are here and now. Companies are trying to figure out how to better quantify and report and manage those kind of risks.”

The resulting costs pose questions not only for corporations but for the rest of society.

When companies are asked to bear the costs of climate change, they have an incentive to guard their own future. But is there a point at which help from outside is warranted?

Some environmentalists have raised that question in PG&E’s case.

“Victims’ interests aren’t served by pushing utilities into bankruptcy, because that will convert wildfire sufferers into one more class of frustrated creditors pursuing inadequate funds. The same goes for utility customers, who always end up paying more in the aftermath of bankruptcies,” Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in the run-up to PG&E’s bankruptcy filing. “Another substantial casualty could be billions of dollars of funding for PG&E’s nation-leading clean energy initiatives, which are designed to help fight the effects of climate change, like these tragic wildfires.”

He urged reform of what he called California’s “judge-made law” on strict liability, but also called for a broader rethink of “how we design our communities and insurance systems to reduce both individual and collective exposure.”

Spreading the costs

Others say that, at the very least, there’s a troubling irony in PG&E’s predicament. Even leaders on environment, social, and governance (ESG) practices aren’t immune from damaging climate effects.

“PG&E has a good record when it comes to ESG ... and yet they still find themselves victim to physical impacts of climate change, which are very systemic in nature,” Ms. Meyer says “So as we start seeing more and more physical impacts of climate change, to some extent it’s going to be very difficult for the corporate community to bear all of those costs.”

To some extent, the risks have long been known.

“Refineries, offshore facilities, those kinds of major plants are designed with a long life span,” says Sabrina Watkins, who spent a decade as head of sustainability at ConocoPhillips before retiring a few years ago. “And we included climate change considerations in that analysis so that the facilities’ design would be robust to potentially changing conditions.”

“Certainly electric utilities have been on the forefront of this work,” she adds, noting how some power suppliers are adapting to prospects for changing rainfall patterns in their hydropower systems, alongside risks such as storms or wildfires.

Also, oil-industry CEOs have shown increasing willingness to discuss climate change and even to sign on to some “carbon pricing” policies designed to nudge Americans away from fossil fuels.

Sustainability advocates say the oil and gas industry needs to do much more to address physical risks.

“Of all industries, the utility industry and the fossil-fuel industry should realize that they are exposed,” says Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. “And they are also in the driver’s seat and helping make the transition to a clean energy future.”

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2. A storied New England school lets in a watchdog to curb sexual assault

New Hampshire’s Attorney General’s office has been conducting a sexual misconduct investigation at a prep school for more than a year. In a twist, it says its goal is not just a conviction, but change.

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For the past four years, St. Paul’s boarding school has attracted attention for sexual assaults and misconduct – including a criminal conviction of a senior who assaulted a freshman. So as students returned this week, a new watcher has arrived on campus – an “independent compliance overseer” who will monitor implementation of an unprecedented agreement the New Hampshire attorney general made with the school.

The new overseer, Jeffrey Maher, worked many sexual assault cases on the Nashua, N.H., police force and as an attorney, most recently overseeing campus safety and Title IX compliance at Keene State College. The hope is that the comprehensive agreement will ensure students’ safety and perhaps even become a model.

“It’s absolutely groundbreaking on a national level,” says Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, which has been conducting trainings with St. Paul’s leaders since last year. “The attorney general was willing to take the harder road.... It is an excellent opportunity to truly impact the culture at St. Paul’s in a very positive way.”

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A storied New England school lets in a watchdog to curb sexual assault

On Jan. 31, the eve of a short winter break at St. Paul’s boarding school, five people sat in the Gothic Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul to hear the white-robed teen choristers sing Compline, a service of evening prayers.

The 91st Psalm. The Lord’s Prayer. The reassurances rang out ethereally: “There shall no evil happen to you.”

The service was open to the public, and a reminder that people often do good things regardless of whether they have an audience.

But when no one is watching, sometimes people do really bad things, too.

For the past four years, the storied school has attracted attention for sexual assaults and misconduct – including a criminal conviction of a senior who assaulted a freshman as part of a sexual-conquest competition known as “Senior Salute.”

So as students returned this week, a new watcher arrived on campus – an “independent compliance overseer” who will monitor implementation of an unprecedented agreement the New Hampshire attorney general made with the school.

Instead of the fines that could have come with a criminal charge, the comprehensive agreement, it is hoped, will ensure students’ safety and perhaps even become a model.

“It’s absolutely groundbreaking on a national level,” says Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, which has been conducting trainings with St. Paul’s leaders since last year. “The attorney general was willing to take the harder road.... It is an excellent opportunity to truly impact the culture at St. Paul’s in a very positive way.”

Nationwide, K-12 schools and colleges are awaiting revised federal guidelines for Title IX policies relating to sexual harassment and assault. Last week the public comment period closed after more than 100,000 statements poured in to the US Department of Education, the majority of them critical of the proposed new rules.

But the monitoring agreement at St. Paul’s shows that part of the needed solution can come from local or state-level innovation when an institution’s track record suggests it can’t yet be trusted to police itself.

A growing list of reports have detailed decades of hushed-up sexual abuse by faculty at elite prep schools, including several related to St. Paul’s and one last week about the Key School in Annapolis, Md.

While her case involved a fellow teen, student Chessy Prout broke the silence for many survivors of all ages by testifying against Owen Labrie in 2015. After one failed appeal, Mr. Labrie has asked the New Hampshire Supreme Court to give him a new trial, claiming ineffective counsel.

In her memoir last year, “I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope,” Ms. Prout recounted being ostracized when she returned to campus after reporting the assault. Campus officials seemed to circle the wagons to protect the school’s reputation rather than protect her, she wrote. (She left, and her family settled a civil lawsuit and launched a survivor-advocacy nonprofit.)

As more allegations surfaced against students and staff after Labrie’s conviction, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald investigated for more than a year, convening a grand jury as the state built a case for potential charges of child endangerment.

A campus steeped in history

Established in 1856, St. Paul’s is on a collegiate-style campus nestled into the woods just off Pleasant Street, a few minutes’ drive from the main thoroughfare of the state capital. With graduates who include former Secretary of State John Kerry and special counsel Robert Mueller, it’s “steeped in a lot of history.... It took some time to peel back the curtain,” says Deputy Attorney General Jane Young in a phone interview.

The attorneys were motivated to work longer and harder, while juggling homicide cases, she says. “This was our chance to make a difference on that campus, and hopefully other campuses will learn.”

The investigation finally indicated to the Prout family that someone was “caring enough to do the work required … to try to hold the school accountable,” says Alexander Prout, Chessy Prout’s father and a graduate of St. Paul’s, in a phone interview.

Everyone agrees that the new overseer, Jeffrey Maher, has excellent qualifications. He worked many sexual assault cases on the Nashua, N.H., police force and as an attorney, most recently overseeing campus safety and Title IX compliance at Keene State College.

 

Mark Lennihan/AP/File
Chessy Prout, shown in New York in March 2018, is the author of 'I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope.' In it, she writes about her sexual assault while a freshman at the prestigious St. Paul's boarding school in New Hampshire, the criminal trial that followed, and her advocacy for young victims of sexual assault.

“We welcome Mr. Maher, and are confident that he will bring additional, useful perspective to our commitment to a safe, healthy, and nurturing community at SPS,” a St. Paul’s spokesperson wrote in an email to the Monitor. School leaders declined requests for interviews at this time.

St. Paul’s will pay Maher and give him 24-hour access to an office on campus and the ability to conduct interviews and inspect records. He will remain independent and report to the attorney general.

The agreement  also spells out requirements for trainings, mandatory reporting policies, transparency, and the ability of students to access an advocate from the local domestic violence and sexual assault center, the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire.

The hope is that students will “feel free to come forward … in a welcoming environment, and there will not be any retaliation,” Deputy Attorney General Young says. If the school does not comply, the attorney general could still bring charges.

‘Be Brave’

Located in an old white house near downtown Concord, the crisis center has long provided confidential services related to domestic violence and sexual assault to anyone in the surrounding county. A small framed sign on one wall urges, “Be Brave.”

One advocate will become “a regular face for the students, which is really important as far as relationship-building with young people,” says executive director Paula Kelley-Wall in a phone interview.

The center is also educating the campus community, which is important because “there are things about victim and offender dynamics that people simply don’t understand,” says Anne Munch, a Denver-based lawyer and consultant on improving sexual assault policies.

People often mistakenly assume that there are many false reports, or they characterize assaults as “misunderstandings” among young people as they explore their sexuality, she says.

It’s common for people to minimize the problem of sexual assault, Ms. Munch adds, because “quite frankly, it’s easier [to do that] than it is to really embrace the fact that we do have sex offenders of all ages, races, backgrounds that are among us.”

St. Paul’s previously announced a variety of trainings and policies aimed at changing the culture. And it has set up a way for survivors of sexual misconduct by adults at the school to access financial assistance for services such as therapy.

Much of the senior leadership has also changed, including the appointment of the school’s first female rector.

But Mr. Prout is still waiting for evidence of a genuine commitment to change. He’s concerned that some St. Paul’s leaders continue to prioritize lawyers’ dictates and protecting the endowment. An example, he says, is when Archibald Cox Jr., president of the Board of Trustees, spoke to the Concord Monitor last year about Labrie’s assault, saying “this specific event was very unfortunate, and it’s the kind of event that – whomever was to blame and however it happened – was a terrible thing for the people involved and a terrible thing for the school.”

“What happened to my daughter was not an event,” Prout says. “It was a crime.”

The oversight agreement holds promise, Munch says, but the degree of progress at institutions largely depends on willingness “to embrace the truth about what has happened, what is happening, and how to really change the culture of the place in a way that can be sustained.”

Munch has seen, though, that if people are motivated to do better, attitudes and practices can be transformed. 

She became a technical adviser to the Missoula County Attorney’s office after problems with how it handled rape cases led to a 2014 consent decree with the Montana Attorney General’s office.

“These were initially reluctant parties,” she says, but after two years of training and oversight, “they do such a great job with victims in Missoula, Montana now.”

Maher is expected to serve as independent overseer at St. Paul’s for three to five years. His success may depend on whether alumni and parents speak up in support of his mission, Prout says.

“We want the school to be a safe place and do good work,” Prout says. “I’m hopeful that Mr. Maher can be the beginning of that process, and then set an example for the rest of the country. If you silence victims, if you deny and cover up rape culture, you will be held accountable.... There are a lot of eyes around the country watching this.”

For help or information, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.

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3. Toronto serial killer is behind bars, but a community still seeks peace

Police can play an outsize role in helping communities that feel marginalized grow in their sense of safety and inclusion – or not. A recent case in Toronto offers a fresh perspective.

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Bruce McArthur, who pleaded guilty to murdering eight men in Toronto between 2010 and 2017, will likely spend the rest of his life in prison once he is sentenced on Friday. But the community that he stalked, Toronto’s Gay Village, is still struggling to recover – in large part because he reopened old wounds that predated his crimes.

Mr. McArthur’s victims were primarily of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, and many were vulnerable. As they disappeared, the community noticed – and grew frustrated with the police, whom they accuse of acting too slowly to protect Toronto’s ethnic and sexual minorities.

Toronto’s LGBT community has long had a tense relationship with police, dating back to the 1981 bathhouse raids, when almost 300 gay men were arrested. The raids caused a backlash against police and ignited the city’s gay pride movement. “Beneath a veneer of liberal tolerance and inclusion, there are an awful lot of problems,” says Gary Kinsman, professor emeritus at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. “That sort of mythology of Toronto being this very diverse, tolerant city has a lot of problems to it, especially when it comes to the police.”

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Toronto serial killer is behind bars, but a community still seeks peace

The sentencing of Canada’s confessed serial killer Bruce McArthur, expected on Friday in a case that, unsolved for most of a decade, terrorized Toronto’s gay community, closes a tragic chapter.

But amid accusations that police for years ignored concerns that the Church and Wellesley neighborhood, known as the “Gay Village,” was being stalked by a killer as disappearances mounted from 2010 to 2017, recovery still feels elusive for many in the LGBTQ community here. While relations with police are strained, the case has also deepened divides in the community itself over how to heal a relationship with the police that has long been fraught.

Mr. McArthur, a former landscaper, pleaded guilty on Jan. 29 to eight charges of first degree murder. His victims were primarily of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, and many were vulnerable. One was an asylum-seeker whose refugee claim had been rejected. One hid the fact that he was gay from his family, and was leading a double life. As the men disappeared, McArthur continued to date in the community, even as he eluded police.

His guilty plea spares victims a lengthy and emotional trial. But the case leaves many with questions, including ones about police operations that critics say failed to protect society’s minorities and marginalized. It’s been a wake-up call for a community that, despite being part of the mainstream fabric of a city that celebrates its diversity and openness, says justice isn’t applied equally to all.

“You really need to scratch the surface to see that beneath a veneer of liberal tolerance and inclusion, there are an awful lot of problems,” says Gary Kinsman, a professor emeritus in sociology at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, and longtime activist in the LGBTQ community. “That sort of mythology of Toronto being this very diverse, tolerant city has a lot of problems to it, especially when it comes to the police.”

A killer at large

Gay Village, in the heart of downtown Toronto, is on its surface a celebration of LGBTQ empowerment. Rainbow flags are everywhere, painted as crosswalks, on murals on the sides of brick buildings, on street signs.

But in the past decade, residents say they’d walk down Church Street, the main spine, and notice missing persons posters. Even to the layperson, patterns were apparent. The missing men were mostly dark-skinned and bearded. Rumors of a serial killer mounted.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Police investigate a home that accused serial killer Bruce McArthur worked at, in Toronto in July 2018.

“You would hear people talking about it in the Starbucks, and you’d hear your friends and your neighbors talking about it,” says Tom Hooper, a resident of the area and historian of police relations with the gay community at York University in Toronto. He says it felt like an uncomfortable joke at first. “I don’t think we were really in a space to believe that this would actually happen in our community.”

By the time McArthur was arrested last January, the case turned even more surreal. He had dismembered his victims and buried them in planters he kept on a property he used for his landscaping business.

McArthur had been on the police’s radar, including in 2016 when he was briefly arrested for a charge that he attempted to strangle a man in the back of his van. He was also convicted of assault in 2003. A month before he was arrested, after his last known victim disappeared, Toronto’s Police Chief Mark Saunders told the public that the evidence did not suggest a serial killer was on the loose.

The police have defended their work. McArthur’s case was incredibly complex and unusual, criminologists say, given his age and his persona, a man who had even played the role of Santa at a shopping mall.

Jooyoung Lee, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto who teaches a class on serial homicide, says division between police and communities are common in the wake of homicide, where there is both relief at an arrest and frustration that a killer operated for so long, often out in the open like McArthur.

“Serial homicide investigations are notoriously difficult,” he says. “They’re really rare, so most police officers don’t have firsthand experience on a serial homicide investigation,” he says. “But on the other hand, as a sociologist who studies crime, I also know that ... missing persons cases don’t elicit uniform responses from the police.”

‘The target of their surveillance’

The case is compounded by historic baggage, says Mr. Hooper. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada. But surveillance of the gay community persisted well beyond 1969.

Most well-known are the infamous 1981 bathhouse raids in Toronto, when almost 300 gay men were arrested under “bawdy house,” or brothel, laws. Most of those arrested were found innocent of the charges against them. The police action led to large protests over harassment of Toronto’s gay community, and ultimately came to be regarded as equivalent to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York. The police only issued a formal apology for the raids in 2016.

“In the 1970s when a white, gay man was walking on the street ... he immediately saw the uniform, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up,” Hooper says. “Because every time he has seen a police officer in the 1970s, he hasn’t been the target of their protection. He’s been the target of their surveillance.”

Then that changed. “Especially in the ’90s, white gay men started to become the target of police protection instead of their surveillance. And so a lot of the community did feel like there was this improvement, but a lot of the community was also left behind,” Hooper says. “Because for queer people of color when they see a cop on the street ... they think they’re the target of surveillance like everybody understood in the ’70s.”

That is at the heart of questions over how police handled the McArthur case, and what has become so divisive today, symbolized by the upcoming Pride Toronto march in June. The annual event began as a protest against police after the bathhouse raids in 1981, but eventually grew to incorporate officers in uniform in a display of solidarity.

Pride Toronto has barred the police from participating in the parade in uniform over the past three years; the split emerging in 2016 over claims of racist police practices raised by Black Lives Matter Toronto. And it continued this year, when last month the Pride Toronto membership voted, nearly down the middle, against uniformed police inclusion: 161 voted for and 163 against.

Finding a way back

Shawn Ahmed, a gay Muslim born in Canada to refugee parents from Bangladesh, says that the McArthur case has been used as a wedge issue. He says he understands more than anyone the frustration at the police.

“This particular killer had a clear type, and that type was me: brown and South Asian,” he says. It was only after his last victim, a white and well-known activist in the LGBTQ community disappeared, that the case was solved. “I can see why people are using this as an aha moment,” he says.

Police have acknowledged a degree of accountability, by holding an inquiry into the conduct of one officer’s handling of the McArthur case. Federal funds were announced in the fall for Pride Toronto, to help improve relations between LGBTQ communities and the criminal justice system in Canada.

But Mr. Ahmed voted for police inclusion in the June parade. He says police saved his life after a suicide attempt, rescued him after he was assaulted on the street, and are the first called when there is a problem. By shunning them, he argues, the gay community is not safer.

“I get the anger, I get the fear, I share it with them,” he says. “But at the same time it takes both ends to create the solution and to prevent future tragedies.”

Many in the Gay Village say police also carried out some exemplary detective work, but it’s been drowned out by the controversy. That has also cast a shadow over a community that has, despite divisions, shown signs of pulling back together. One community organization created a new system for those going on dates to email their contact info and intended destination to the group. If a dater doesn’t check in within 24 hours, the group tries to contact him or her. If there is no contact within 48 hours, the group contacts the LGBTQ liaison officer at the Toronto police.

“People are saying, ‘We’re not going to be defined by this horrific tragedy and what this one person did to certain members of this community. We’re going to be defined by love and by leading the kind of lives that make this community so special and resilient,’ ” says Dr. Lee. “Seeing the Gay Village thrive in the aftermath is encouraging.”

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4. How international court may give Mali’s women a second chance at justice

Behind a new approach to prosecute sexual violence in Africa is a new message to survivors: Your experiences matter, and the world's courts are paying attention.

Mark
Anna Pujol-Mazzini
Women who fled ethnic violence in central Mali gathered at the entrance to a makeshift camp in Dialakorobougou, Mali, in November 2018.

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In 2012, as Islamist militants swept into northern Mali’s cities, women saw their lives sharply limited. Everyday activities like shopping came with new rules: covering their hair, avoiding men besides their husbands, even sitting down while browsing goods. Many were raped, forced into marriage with the men they called “occupiers.”

Seven years on, however, not a single perpetrator has been prosecuted in Mali. That′s due to silence and shame, advocates say, as well as the region's ongoing instability. 

Now, a case at the International Criminal Court accuses a former Islamist police chief of overseeing forced marriages leading to sexual enslavement. The case represents more than another path for justice in Mali; it could also set a wider precedent. It is the ICC’s first case concerning “persecution on the grounds of gender” – and indeed, the court has never had a conviction for any case of sexual violence.

“It sends a message to both victims and perpetrators that the ICC is willing and able to prosecute if national courts are not,” says María Mingo Jaramillo, an officer for Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. “It is important to start developing jurisprudence on this crime.”

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How international court may give Mali’s women a second chance at justice

As Mariam Traoré began her work counseling women, she learned she would have to listen closely.

“They managed to catch me,” some of them would say. Or, “men dragged me somewhere and I did two hours.” “They wanted to rape me, but I defended myself,” another one would explain.

Despite the understatements and denials, “automatically, we understand what happened. These are cases of rape,” Ms. Traoré says, sitting in the office of the Association for the Development of Women’s Rights (APDF) in Mali’s capital, Bamako.

She gathered the testimonies in a dusty, black notepad filled with passport-sized pictures of girls as young as 13. The book speaks to the extent of sexual violence that fell upon Mali’s women in 2012. Amid a conflict pitting the state against separatist rebels and jihadists in the north, the crisis largely went unnoticed.

At first, when thousands fled to Bamako in search of safety, women refused to speak about a crime they thought unspeakable: one that left many excluded, and blamed, by their own families. “You are marginalized, rejected by society, as if you were trash. That’s why women keep quiet,” says Moctar Mariko, who heads the Malian Association for Human Rights.

And in a country where not a single perpetrator of sexual violence in the conflict has been prosecuted, the risks for women who come forward are often too high for the elusive reward of justice. But a recent case against Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud of Timbuktu could bring justice to survivors where national courts have failed, advocates say. The former Islamic police chief is accused of overseeing forced marriages leading to the sexual enslavement of women, among other crimes.

The International Criminal Court case, if it moves forward after a May confirmation hearing, would be the first ever to focus on “persecution on the grounds of gender.”

So far, there has been no successful conviction for sexual violence crimes at the court, despite a push by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda since 2014. (The conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice president of the Congo, was overturned in June.)

“It sends a message to both victims and perpetrators that the ICC is willing and able to prosecute if national courts are not. That applies to both Mali and beyond,” says María Mingo Jaramillo, a legal and program officer for Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, an advocacy group based in the Hague. “It is important to start developing jurisprudence on this crime.”

The ICC’s move “may encourage national courts to prosecute [gender-based persecution], which is prevalent in many conflicts around the world today, and is often overlooked.” 

Life under occupation

The takeover of key northern cities by Tuareg rebels and armed Islamist groups marked the end of life as they knew it for its women. In Timbuktu, they had to cover their hair with veils, could not be seen in public with men other than their husbands, and had to sit down while browsing goods in the market because bending over to pick up an item was seen as provocative.

Those who did not obey “were arrested, beaten, and sent to the women’s prison. In that prison, women were systematically raped,” says Bintou Bouaré Founé Samaké, president of the WILDAF women’s group, who went to the city to gather evidence for potential prosecutions.

But the violence wasn’t limited to those who went against the Islamists’ rules. Awa Touré (whose name has been changed for privacy) started spending most of her days indoors once they settled in her central Timbuktu neighborhood. After a trip to the market to buy food for the family, she received two marriage proposals from those she calls the “occupiers.”

“On the third proposal, they left us no choice. I did not consent. My parents did not consent,” Ms. Touré says by phone from her hometown. After the marriage, she was moved to another district and locked inside the house.

For 13 days, she was forced to have sex with him. Then he divorced her. “Out of nowhere this man destroyed my life: I didn’t know how to look at people, how to talk to people anymore,” Touré says. When she learned he had remarried shortly after, she was distraught to think that another woman had experienced the same thing.

Touré’s story is similar to other stories from all over the north. In other cases, armed men teamed up to pay bride prices jointly, with one officially acting as the “husband” and the others visiting, and raping, the unwilling wife at night.

In 2012 and 2013, WILDAF registered 173 survivors across the country who needed help with trauma, injuries, and pregnancies. Advocates say the real number of victims, however, are likely in the thousands. “We have statistics, but they do not reflect reality,” according to Bernadette Sene, the chief advisor for women’s protection for MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. 

Alternate road to justice?

When dozens of these women started demanding justice, human-rights groups in the country initiated lawsuits. The second complaint, focusing on war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape in Timbuktu, named Mr. Al Hassan as one of the perpetrators.

Al Hassan, who has been in custody in The Hague since March 2018, was a member of the Ansar Dine Islamist group that, alongside Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, imposed strict sharia law until Malian and French soldiers drove them out in early 2013. Despite a peace agreement in 2015, insecurity prevails, and there is no functioning justice system in the north.

At the height of the violence, the Supreme Court ruled that all conflict-related cases would be handled in the capital Bamako, which had been spared by the violence. The rights groups filed the sexual violence cases, a judge heard more than 30 victims, and evidence was gathered. Then in 2015, that ruling was reversed.

“We can’t file complaints anymore because there are no judges in the north to take up our cases; there is nothing in place to protect the victims,” says Mr. Mariko, from the Malian Association for Human Rights. Effectively, while authority to prosecute lies with northern courts, the sexual violence cases are gathering dust in Bamako offices.

In July 2012, however, Mali’s minister of justice requested an ICC investigation into war crimes committed in the north, stating that the country’s courts were unable to try the perpetrators. Among the crimes listed were “the rapes of women and young girls.”

Al Hassan’s case, and international justice, could provide an alternative to a gridlocked national justice system. But it covers a small fraction of the crimes committed against women since 2012. For those outside Timbuktu, justice remains distant.

And sexual violence did not stop when the occupiers left the city. Several women’s organizations even say that violence is on the rise, from frequent rapes on buses going to Gao, to the increasing number of attacks on women fetching water and wood in the central region – where ethnic tensions and jihadist violence have led to the killing of more than a thousand people in the past two years.

“The conflict shattered all the safeguards against violence against women,” Ms. Bouaré says. And in the meantime, “victims live with their aggressors on the ground.”

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5. Have you heard the buzz? Honeybees can count.

Math is often considered a uniquely human construct. But new evidence that bees can calculate simple addition and subtraction is pushing thinking about abstract thought.

Mark
Collin Andrew/The Register-Guard/AP
Researchers in Australia have found that the honeybee, ‘Apis mellifera,’ is capable of simple addition and subtraction.

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If his children were still in primary school, Adrian Dyer says he would have a new motivational phrase to get them to do their math homework: “Come on, it can’t be that hard. The bees can do it, too.”

The professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, is part of a team of researchers studying honeybees’ numerical comprehension. Their latest paper, published Wednesday, reveals evidence that the bees just might be able to do addition and subtraction.

This is not the first study to find evidence that nonhuman animals can be number crunchers. Orb-weaving spiders search for prey items stolen from their webs, suggesting that they keep running tallies. Some schooling fish seem to keep a head count of their friends. And pigeons (and monkeys) can rank quantities from smallest to largest.

There is some controversy over nonhuman animal arithmetic discoveries. Do they actually understand numbers like we do? Or is it more of an ability to understand relative quantities? Sorting out these questions could help scientists figure out just how special human mathematics can be – and possibly how our species came to rule the world.

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Have you heard the buzz? Honeybees can count.

What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of mathematics? Perhaps it’s formulas scribbled on a chalkboard. Or maybe architectural drawings. Or rocket trajectories. Or taxes. Regardless, there is likely a human hand behind it.

But researchers say that humans might not be the only number crunchers in the animal kingdom. Honeybees may also be able to add and subtract, according to a paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

And it’s not the first study to find evidence that nonhuman animals have minds for numbers. Orb-weaving spiders search for prey items stolen from their webs, suggesting that they keep running tallies. Some schooling fish seem to keep a head count of their friends. And pigeons (and monkeys) can rank quantities from smallest to largest.

Scientists say pinning down the distinction between humans’ and other animals’ numerical abilities may help us better understand ourselves, and how our species came to rule the world.

“Often when we look at animals and their intelligence, it gives us big insights into how we understand ourselves and the world we live in,” says Adrian Dyer, a study author and an associate professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. 

There is some controversy over animal arithmetic discoveries. Do they actually understand numbers like we do? Or is it more of an ability to understand relative quantities? Sorting out these questions could help scientists figure out just how special human mathematics can be.

The new bee study falls right in that controversial sweet spot. Study authors termed what the bees did addition and subtraction. But some scientists say that calling it mathematics may be overinterpreting the results.

In the experiment, the Apis mellifera bees were placed in a Y-shaped maze. Upon entering the stem of the Y, the bees encountered a set of either blue or yellow shapes. Blue indicated the problem would require the bees to add one shape, yellow to subtract one. When they approached the fork in the Y, the bees then had to choose between two more sets of shapes. The correct choice was either one less or one more than the original display, depending on the color. The incorrect choice could be any other quantity from 1 to 5.

Nearly 7 times out of 10, the bees chose correctly. The results suggest the bees were doing more than simply identifying which was “more” or “less,” says Professor Dyer, as both options could be greater than the original display for addition problems (vice versa for subtraction) and they’d still pick the correct answer.

What even is math?

But Rafael Núñez, director of the Embodied Cognition Laboratory at the University of California San Diego, says that this doesn’t necessarily indicate that the bees can comprehend numbers. Rather, he says, it shows that they are capable of discriminating between quantities.

It’s an issue of exactness, he says. He suspects the bees are using what he calls “quantical cognition” rather than numerical. The difference, he says, is similar to the difference between the words like “couple,” “few,” “several,” and “one,” “two,” “three,” “four,” “five.”

Another way to put it is that the bees are using approximate numbers, says Elizabeth Brannon, who studies comparative cognition in monkeys and both adult and child humans at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. And, she says, that’s part of what scientists think is one of the biggest distinctions between nonhuman animals’ relationship to numbers and humans’.

“The main hallmark of numerical discrimination in animals,” Professor Brannon says, has to do with ratios. “When animals are comparing two numerical values, they’re much better if they differ by a large ratio than if they differ by a very small ratio.”

Brannon herself trained monkeys to do addition and subtraction, with a similar method to the bee study. And she found that the monkeys could get the correct answer only if the ratio between the two choices was significant enough. For example, she explains, the monkeys could get the correct answer to 17 minus 7 if the choices were 10 and 5, but not if they were 10 and 9.

It remains unclear whether that’s an issue for honeybees, but the experiment did bring into question another idea about what separates human mathematics from animals’ arithmetic.

The use of symbols to denote specific numbers and mathematical functions was once thought to be unique to humans.

But this new study suggests that honeybees might be capable of using symbols, too, as the insects were trained to respond to blue and yellow as labels for addition and subtraction.

When studying animal cognition, the training element is key, says Rosa Rugani, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. Being capable of using symbols and naturally using them in their own wild environments are two different things.

“Animals, to survive in their natural environment, they don’t need to reach this level of abstraction,” Dr. Rugani says. They don’t need to have “+” or “-”. They just need to be able to gauge food resources, keep track of their group, navigate, and assess the threat of a pack of predators. So it may be more of an indication of an animal’s ability to learn labels, rather than a mind for math.

To separate out those two things, Rugani has studied number cognition in newborn domestic chicks. Her results have suggested they may have a concept of a number line and can tackle some arithmetic.

So what sets humans apart?

So are we humans predispositioned to have our numerical capabilities, or is it a learned or trained behavior?

Looking to language for clues, researchers found that some hunter-gatherer languages around the world have words for numerals only up to the number five – or even fewer, says Professor Núñez of UC San Diego. These societies just haven’t had a need to develop a complex number system

This suggests that humans’ mathematical abilities have been culturally developed as societies found a use for them, Núñez says. “It’s not that, because we’re humans, we [automatically] get math,” he says.

But there must be something that sets humans apart, says Jessica Cantlon, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who co-authored the monkey research with Brannon while at Duke University. Perhaps the combined use of symbols and precision work together to enable people to process complex mathematical concepts.

Her research has compared humans with other primates, and found that the two are matched in what they can do with approximate numbers up until the humans turn 3. Then, human children hit a threshold and are better able to understand the precision of numbers.

“What lets us access that kind of thinking?” Professor Cantlon says. “I don’t know. But that’s what everybody would like to know.”

Núñez thinks it’s a matter of having a few different general capacities (which he calls “biologically evolved preconditions”) and the cultural scaffolding to put them all together.

Regardless of how it all came together, Dyer says, “I think it would be a reasonably widely accepted perspective that mathematics is a primary thing which underpins the development of technology, and is very important to the success of modern humans.”

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The Monitor's View

Measuring victory over Islamic State

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The last stronghold of the Islamic State is expected to fall in Syria. And next week, President Trump hopes to declare a victory over the militant group. Yet the president and other leaders would be wise to expand the definition of victory. The causes of jihadi violence lie deep. 

While the four-year US-led military campaign against ISIS has succeeded, thousands of determined fighters remain at large. Many have returned to insurgent tactics, seeking to undermine weak societies from within. The ultimate battle is to transform the social, political, economic, and even theological conditions that help breed terrorism. Worldwide, such victories are adding up as many countries have become better at addressing root causes.

The examples show that quality of peace can matter more than the quantity of war-fighting capabilities. These victories do not always carry the euphoria of a military victory. Are countries improving systems of justice, security in everyday life, opportunities for work, and harmony between religious and ethnic groups? Such questions are more difficult to measure and often harder to achieve. But they reflect reconciliation between once-opposing hearts.

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Measuring victory over Islamic State

Sometime next week, President Trump hopes to declare a victory over Islamic State. The militant group’s last stronghold is expected to fall in Syria, a tiny remnant of a caliphate that once spanned almost half of Syria and a third of Iraq. He may then use this territorial triumph as a reason to withdraw the remaining United States forces from Syria.

Yet the president, like many political leaders, would be wise to expand the definition of victory over terrorists far beyond the retaking of land or the number of fighters killed. The causes of jihadi violence lie deep, requiring different kinds of victories that often go unheralded. They lie in the rebuilding of Muslim societies and the lives of individuals prone to terror.

While the four-year US-led military campaign against the caliphate has succeeded, thousands of determined Islamic State (ISIS) fighters remain at large. Many have returned to insurgent tactics of bombing and assassinations, seeking to undermine weak societies from within. The group has affiliates from Asia to Africa. The ultimate battle in such places, perhaps after a military campaign to clear a village or city of jihadists, is to transform the social, political, economic, and even theological conditions that help breed terrorism.

Worldwide, such victories are adding up. The number of deaths from terrorism has steadily fallen from a peak in 2014, according to the latest Global Terrorism Index. While the numbers are still too high compared to pre-2001 levels, many countries have become better at addressing root causes.

Iraq has a new government since the defeat of ISIS that is better at reconciling Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. In Nigeria, which suffered frequent attacks by Boko Haram, politicians compete in elections to build schools and improve livelihoods in the embattled northeast. In the Philippines, a plebiscite last month will create a self-governing entity in the Muslim south, scene of Islamic insurgencies for decades.

In Afghanistan, after 17 years of rebuilding democracy, negotiations have started to end the war with the Taliban, with the hope that the Taliban will turn against an ISIS affiliate. Tunisia keeps setting a model for Arab countries in expanding liberties and showing how an Islamist political party can embrace democracy. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is a model in rehabilitation of Muslim militants and creation of an inclusive society for their reintegration.

Such examples show that quality of peace can matter more than the quantity of war-fighting capabilities. Are countries improving systems of justice, security in everyday life, opportunities for work, and harmony between religious and ethnic groups? Have they made a convincing case against religious violence?

These victories do not always carry the euphoria of a military victory. They are more difficult to measure and often harder to achieve. They are seen in reconciliation between once-opposing hearts and less in parades of conquering soldiers.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

A clean slate for victims and abusers

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Is it inevitable that a traumatic experience causes lasting damage? Today’s column explores how an understanding of one’s innate spiritual purity can bring mental peace to victims and inspire remorse and repentance in perpetrators.

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A clean slate for victims and abusers

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Like many, I was moved by the recent surge of stories from survivors of sexual assault. The outpouring of stories made it clear to me how many people would benefit if the assumption that a traumatic experience is permanently damaging could be overturned in their lives.

Since Christian Science has shown me that we can be freed from the lingering effects of past tragedy, I longed to see others know that freedom. This isn’t to deny the problems experienced by so many trauma survivors, including victims of other violent crimes and veterans of war. Many have felt trapped in anger, anxiety, and undeserved shame, but some have found a route out of that mental maze – a spiritual liberation that doesn’t depend on the thoughts, words, or actions of others. It depends on a forever settled, spiritual fact, namely the unchanging relation we all have to our creator.

Christian Science explains that creator as God, divine Mind, and pinpoints our true identity as the manifestation of that Mind. Right where deep fear and anger might be, we can awaken to this identity, which is conscious of God’s eternal goodness, as “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy points out. It says, “Man and his Maker are correlated in divine Science, and real consciousness is cognizant only of the things of God” (p. 276).

Day by day, we can grow in grasping and evidencing our reflection of the divine Mind in a way that subdues and finally silences the relentless rehashing of traumatic events.

That was brought home to me recently by a moving account shared with me by a woman who had suffered severe childhood abuse. She had repressed memories of the abuse for decades until they resurfaced in later life, so overwhelming her that she became suicidal. (Her abuser was no longer alive, so she wasn’t able to confront him.)

She reached out to others but felt a lack of understanding in their response. So instead she sought answers directly from the Bible and Science and Health, and these had the desired impact. She said, “The concepts of a loving God and of being God’s cared-for child were a balm for me. I kept reading, and over the course of many months, the darkness lifted. Daily tears were replaced with daily prayer. I came to realize that ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (I John 1:5).”

She realized that as a child of God, her true heritage was spiritual oneness with that divine light. From that she grasped that her real being had never been touched by the evil acts of another. As she saw purity and innocence as her true history, she found full and final release from the mental turmoil.

Looking back with gratitude for the healing 25 years on, she offered this thought for anyone suffering from the ongoing impact of a past trauma: “There is hope; there is light; and they are freely yours right now and forever. And this light is strong enough to break through the darkness.”

What about the person who has caused trauma? Those who have committed wrongdoing can also attain an understanding of their spiritual nature that enables them to move beyond their past. Yet there’s a great difference between committing a crime and being its victim, and that difference plays out in what’s needed to gain freedom from guilt. It requires a moral awakening – genuine remorse and true repentance. This is a crucial step in seeking redemption from doing wrong.

We don’t all have firsthand experience of assault, terrorism, or war, nor do most of us cross the threshold into committing unlawful acts. But lesser incidents can still leave us feeling stuck in a past experience of vulnerability or regretful for having acted in unseemly ways. Whenever the recognition and acceptance of God-reflecting spiritual purity as our true nature overcomes a recurring sense of the past, it hints at the route to freedom for those facing more traumatic memories. And anyone who proves that even the darkest of memories can yield to the freedom of knowing what we truly are, is showing us all how God’s love can always wipe the slate clean.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Nov. 26, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Show before the show

Henry Nicholls/Reuters
A Cirque du Soleil cast member displays a place stick for a guest during preparations for the British Academy of Film and Television Awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House in central London Feb. 7.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( February 8th, 2019 )

Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look at the scandals enveloping Virginia politics. How do you balance the achievements of a long political career with accountability for old transgressions?

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