The Vatican has refused to provide a United Nations panel with information on the Church's internal investigations into the sexual abuse of children by clergy, arguing that its policy was to keep such cases confidential. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child put some tough questions to the Vatican relating to sexual abuse ahead of direct questioning in January. However, the Vatican’s response has been criticised by children’s rights groups as disingenuous and misleading.
US President, Barack Obama, has urged Americans not to be discouraged by the rocky rollout of his plan for free and reduced healthcare – dubbed Obamacare. Problems with the healthcare system’s website, starting at its launch in October, have seen the new law face criticism and Obama’s approval ratings drop. But during a speech this week the president promised that problems will be fixed and accused rival politicians of “rooting for this law to fail”.
Belgium has taken a step closer to introducing the right to grant euthanasia for terminally ill children after a parliamentary committee voted a new law through by a large majority. If passed by the nation’s parliament – the next and final step – Belgium would be the first country in the world to remove an age limit for the controversial procedure. However, opponents have said it is impossible to determine whether a child is able to take such a decision. Belgium is already one of the world's most liberal countries when it comes to euthanasia, making it available to adults who are not terminally ill.
A peace deal between FARC rebels and the Colombian government would greatly help cut cocaine production in Colombia, but officials fear new crime gangs could fill the gap while anti-narcotics police fight a new scourge: synthetic drugs. While recent crackdowns have helped decrease cocaine production and crushed cartel activity, new fears have arisen over the growth of synthetic drugs, which are far easier to produce and ship.
The use of torture to extract confessions in China is a long standing and wide-spread practise which has often drawn international condemnation. But now China’s Supreme People’s Court has made a statement saying the practise must be ruled out as they plan to implement more protections for those accused of crimes. However, Human Rights Watch is sceptical that changes will be made as the nation’s judicial system is not truly independent and ultimately answers to the Communist Party.
Google’s Eric Schmidt has predicted the end of censorship around the world in just one decade. His statement came after a visit to North Korea, a country disconnected from the rest of the world with no real access to the internet and heavy media censorship. Schmidt also stated that better use of encryption will eventually help people overcome government surveillance.
Recently, Bulgaria has seen a rise in racist attacks on immigrants. Over the past year, there has been a large influx of refugees arriving in Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU. The refugees come mainly from Syria but their arrival has prompted anti-immigrant protests by far-right groups. However, the escalating violence aimed at refugees has been condemned by both the president and prime minister in a rare joint statement.
According to folklore, when Saint Nicholas arrives in the Netherlands at the Christmas season, he is accompanied by his servant, Black Pete. At parades and pageants, the part of Black Pete is usually played by a white person in a “blackface” wearing a curly wig and a red-painted mouth. But the tradition has recently come under fire for being racist, stirring an emotional debate amongst the Dutch, who see themselves as tolerant, cool-headed and committed to social harmony.
The German recluse who hoarded his late father's trove of Nazi-looted art may be its legal owner but critics argue the Berlin government should take it back on behalf of those originally dispossessed. Last year, customs seized 1,400 art works by European masters dating from the 16th century which had been hoarded by the father of Cornelius Gurlitt. However, the legal status of the haul is ambiguous and there are fears Gurlitt may even get to keep it.
A three-man crew has successfully blasted off into space with the Olympic torch ready to take the iconic flame on its first spacewalk. The space flight is part of what will be the longest torch relay before a Winter Olympics, which President Vladimir Putin hopes will boost Russia's image and show what the nation can achieve more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The UN Security Council has given the go-ahead for troops to be sent to Central African Republic to protect a UN political mission in the virtually lawless country where a senior aid official said half the population needs help. The landlocked, mineral-rich nation of 4.6 million people has slipped into chaos since northern Seleka rebels seized the capital, Bangui, and ousted President Francois Bozize in March. UN officials and rights groups say both sides have committed war crimes.
An estimated $1.3 million worth of art from more than 130 artists, mostly from Syria and Lebanon, is being auctioned at below-gallery prices in Beirut to raise money for Syrian refugee children. About half of Syria's two million war refugees are children, according to the United Nations. At least 100,000 people have died in nearly three years of conflict. Many have fled to Lebanon and live in appalling conditions - in tents or abandoned buildings, with limited food, medicine, clothing and education.
As the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia has high demand for clothing that adheres to religious rules emphasizing modesty for women. However, the Muslim fashion industry is worth an estimated $100 billion and Indonesia’s government is championing the country’s young designers to make Indonesia the capital of cool Muslim fashion. Young designers showed off their collections at Jakarta Fashion Week, defying stereotypes of Muslim fashion with bright colours and retro prints.
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea is the world’s most heavily guarded border, with soldiers and roadblocks everywhere. However, rather than defending the border from invaders, the soldiers are now struggling to keep out tourists. Tourists on both sides of the divide have been flooding to see the DMZ. On the South side there are souvenir shops and theme park rides with DMZ brand t-shirts and chocolate for sale. On the north side is a more muted affair, with Peace Village (nicknamed Propaganda Village in the south) teaching visitors dubious facts about the Korean war.
A Roman Catholic bishop under fire for spending 31 million euros on a luxurious residence in Germany has been told to examine his conscience by the head of Germany’s bishops. Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst – dubbed ‘The Luxury Bishop” by the German press – caused public outcry after it emerged his new home cost more than six times previously estimated. At a time when Pope Francis has been lauded for stressing humility and serving the poor – himself shunning the papal apartments for a more simple residence – the crisis has been deeply embarrassing for the Catholic Church.
The head of Rome’s Jewish community praised protesters who blocked the funeral of a convicted Nazi war criminal in Italy who was responsible for one of Italy’s worst wartime massacres. Former SS officer, Erich Priebke, was serving a life sentence under house arrest for his role in killing 335 civilians in caves near Rome in 1944 when he died aged 100. The protest forced a suspension of the funeral and his body is now lying at a military airport outside of the capitol.
The United Nations has warned that next year’s withdrawal of NATO-led combat forces could result in Afghanistan becoming a ‘narco-state’. Afghanistan is the biggest producer of opium in the world and the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime believes pulling NATO soldiers out will only worsen the situation.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wrote an open letter to British actor Benedict Cumberbatch ahead of the release this month of Walt Disney Co's DreamWorks film, "The Fifth Estate." Cumberbatch portrays Assange in the film but the Swedish whistleblower slammed his involvement and turned down the actor's invitation to meet in person.
The FBI has shut down "Silk Road" an anonymous Internet marketplace for illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, and criminal activities such as murder for hire. The site – which has operated since 2011 – offered tutorials on hacking ATM machines and contact lists for black market connections. It was also linked to the rise in popularity of digital currency Bitcoin, which was used to buy drugs and have them shipped to New York, USA.
A Chinese viewing tower in the shape of a giant, copper puffer fish (costing $11.4 million) has raised eyebrows and is the latest in a series of bizarre and extravagant targets of state investment. The Chinese government has often been criticised for wasteful investment to power the economy and many residents are questioning whether such expensive and impractical buildings are needed. However, others argue that the big fish tower improves the image of Yangzhong county, where it hovers 15 storeys above ground.