Economist 6/15/14

  1.  To solve a horrible problem: the tendency of combatants in war and civil strife to commit sexual atrocities. The ambitiously named Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was co-hosted by William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, and Angelina Jolie, an American actress and activist.Rape in war has been illegal at least since the adoption of the Geneva Conventions in the 1920s, but it was only during the Yugoslav war in the 1990s that it became clear how often it is perpetrated as part of military strategy.Aid organisations have realised that refugee camps can sometimes facilitate further victimisation, by cramming the strong and weak close together in disrupted social structures. UN camps in Kenya for Sudanese and Somali refugees now include shelters with extra security for threatened women and children. But the number offered refuge in such safe spaces is tiny compared with the need.Complicating matters further, refugee camps now house just a third of the world’s refugees; most displaced people migrate to urban areas. Regional tribunals such as those held for Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Yugoslavia may convict large numbers once the fighting is over, but while it continues, and leaders focus on victory or peace negotiations, they are probably not feasible.
  2.  On Saturday June 14th Afghanistan held the last stage of voting to select its next president. In what seemed like a show of support for the process, 7m Afghans cast ballots, according to the official estimate.Neither of the remaining contenders, Abdullah Abdullah (pictured voting), an urbane diplomat who serves as the nominal leader of the opposition to President Hamid Karzai, nor Ashraf Ghani, a technocrat turned man-of-the-people, has indicated that he might take losing well. Dr Abdullah is an ophthalmologist by training but is better known as the aide to Ahmed Shah Massoud, a slain leader of the mujahideen who defeated the Soviets.
  3. On June 13th the Jamaican government announced plans to allow possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and to decriminalise the drug for medicinal purposes. Parliament is expected to vote on the changes in September. Cultivation and import have been illegal since 1913, but everyone’s granny remembers when the herb was quite openly on sale as a cure-all.In practice, most small-time ganja users are not arrested or prosecuted.A criminal record makes it hard to get a coveted American visa or to land jobs in Jamaica itself.Decriminalisation will also unclog the courts and free up police time.
  4. MANY countries seem obsessed with high-speed rail. In the British parliament for 2014-15, the government confirmed its commitment to a controversial high-speed link known as HS2. How did Japan come to be the world leader in high-speed trains?Geography influenced the rail network’s development: most of Japan’s 128m inhabitants live in a few densely-populated parts of the country. By linking those dense populations together—nearly 40m people in greater Tokyo with 20m residents of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto—the railway helped to shift business patterns.In 1987 Japan’s national railways were divided and privatised into seven for-profit companies. JR East, the largest by passenger numbers, does not require any direct public subsidy from the Japanese government, unlike the heavily-subsidised TGV in France. One reason for its efficiency is that JR East owns all the infrastructure on the route—the stations, the rolling stock and the tracks—meaning there are fewer management teams duplicating each other’s work. (By contrast in Britain, for instance, ownership of the tracks and trains is split up.) But the railway also thrives because of a planning system that encourages the building of commercial developments and housing alongside the railway route. JR East owns the land around the railways and lets it out; nearly a third of its revenue comes from shopping malls, blocks of offices, flats and the like.
  5. Chile is desperately short of cheap fuel. It produces virtually no oil and gas of its own and for years relied on imported natural gas from Argentina.When their own domestic demand grew, they closed the valves on the huge gas pipelines running through the Andes,In theory, the Chileans could import gas from neighbouring Bolivia but in practice history and politics rule that out.Chile has hydro-electricity in abundance but has been hit by severe droughts in recent years. Ms Bachelet promised that between now and 2025, 45% of new installed generating capacity in Chile will come from non-conventional renewable sources. On June 10th Chile’s government cancelled the huge HidroAysén hydroelectric project to build five dams in Patagonia, citing environmental issues.

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