For the second year in a row, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that India be added to a list of countries of particular concern (CPCs) for the worst violations of religious freedoms in 2021.
Previously, in 2021, the US State Department issued a strong and critical report on human rights in India.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government commission in the United States dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief around the world.
It serves as an advisory body to the United States Congress.
The USCIRF 2022 Annual Report makes recommendations to improve the US government’s promotion of religious or belief freedom abroad.
Its headquarters are in Washington, DC.
The USCIRF was established by the US government in 1998 in response to the failure of the International Religious Freedom Act. Its recommendations are non-binding on the State Department.
Traditionally, India does not accept USCIRF’s viewpoint.
Country of Particular Concern (CPC): A nation designated by the US Secretary of State as violating religious freedom severely under IRFA is designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) (International Religious Freedom Act of 1998).
A country on the “Special Watch List” is one that does not meet all of the CPC criteria but engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.
The Report also includes USCIRF’s recommendations for violent nonstate actors to be designated as Entities of Particular Concern (EPCs) by the US State Department under the International Review of Financial Analysis (IRFA).
Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam are among the countries recommended for CPC status, in addition to India.
Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are among the countries recommended for redesignation as CPCs.
Algeria, Cuba, and Nicaragua were placed on the Special Watch List in 2021.
Azerbaijan, CAR, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan are among the others.
Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP or ISIS-West Africa), and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam Wal Muslimin are EPCs (JNIM).
According to the report, the government “repressed critical voices,” particularly those of minority communities and individuals reporting on them.
It mentions the arrest of rights activist Khuran Pervez in Kashmir, as well as the death in July 2021 of octogenarian Father Stan Swamy, who was arrested in October 2020 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967. (UAPA).
The report also discusses the difficulties that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) face, particularly in terms of foreign funding.
It also emphasises anti-conversion legislation. Karnataka’s government ordered a survey of churches and priests in the state in October 2021, and police were authorised to conduct a door-to-door inspection to find Hindus who had converted to Christianity.
Despite the economic fallout from the pandemic, global military spending increased in 2021, reaching an all-time high of USD 2.1 trillion, according to the most recent data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
As a result of a strong economic recovery in 2021, the global military burden—global military spending as a percentage of global GDP—will fall by 0.1 percentage point, from 2.3 percent in 2020 to 2.2 percent in 2021.
SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to conflict, armaments, arms control, and disarmament research.
It was founded in Stockholm in 1966. (Sweden)
Russia increased its military spending by 2.9 percent in 2021, to USD65.9 billion, at a time when it was beefing up its forces along the Ukrainian border.
NATO Members’ Spending: In 2021, eight European North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members met the Alliance’s goal of spending 2% or more of GDP on their armed forces.
This is one fewer than in 2020, but it is an increase from two in 2014.
India’s military spending was the third highest in the world, at USD76.6 billion.
This was a 0.9 percent increase from 2020 and a 33 percent increase from 2012.
In the face of ongoing tensions and border disputes with China and Pakistan, which occasionally escalate into armed clashes, India has prioritised the modernization of its armed forces and self-sufficiency in arms production.
In an effort to strengthen the indigenous arms industry, 64 percent of capital expenditures in the Indian military budget for 2021 were designated for acquisitions of domestically produced arms.
The European Parliament and European Union (EU) Member States recently announced a political agreement on the Digital Services Act (DSA) 2022.
It is a landmark piece of legislation designed to compel large Internet companies to combat disinformation and illegal and harmful content, as well as to “improve Internet users’ and their fundamental rights.”
The proposed Act aims to put an end to the era of self-regulation by technology companies by giving “practical effect to the principle that what is illegal offline should be illegal online.”
In India, a similar bill (Data Protection Bill 2019) is currently pending in Parliament.
The DSA, as defined by the EU Commission, is “a set of common rules on intermediaries’ obligations and accountability across the single market,” and it provides greater protection to all EU users, regardless of their country of residence.
The DSA will strictly regulate the way intermediaries, particularly large platforms like Google, Facebook, and YouTube, operate when it comes to moderating user content.
The era of self-regulation is over: Rather than allowing platforms to decide how to handle abusive or illegal content, the DSA will establish specific rules and obligations for these companies to follow.
DSA will apply to a “wide range of online services, from simple websites to Internet infrastructure services and online platforms,” according to the EU.
The responsibilities of each of these will differ depending on their size and role.
Platforms that provide Internet access, domain name registrars, and hosting services such as cloud computing and web hosting are all covered by the legislation.
More importantly, Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) will be subject to “stricter requirements.”
Any service in the EU with more than 45 million monthly active users, for example, will fall into this category.
Certain new obligations will not apply to companies with fewer than 45 million monthly active users in the EU.
Once the DSA becomes law, each EU Member State, along with a new “European Board for Digital Services,” will be in charge of enforcing it.
For VLOPs and VLOSEs, the EU Commission will conduct “enhanced supervision and enforcement.”
Penalties for breaking these rules could be severe, amounting to as much as 6% of the company’s global annual revenue.
New Removal Procedures: Online platforms and intermediaries such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube, among others, will be required to implement “new removal procedures” for content deemed illegal or harmful.
Impose a Duty of Care: Marketplaces like Amazon will be required to “impose a duty of care” on sellers who use their platform to sell products online.
In order to ensure that consumers are properly informed, they will need to collect and display information on the products and services sold.
The DSA adds “an obligation for very large digital platforms and services to analyse systemic risks they create and carry out risk reduction analysis.”
This audit for platforms such as Google and Facebook will need to be performed on an annual basis.
Independent Researchers: The Act proposes granting independent vetted researchers access to public data from these platforms in order to conduct studies to better understand these risks.
Misleading Interfaces: The DSA proposes a ban on ‘Dark Patterns,’ or “misleading interfaces,” which are designed to trick users into doing something they would not agree to otherwise.
The DSA includes a new crisis mechanism clause that refers to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and will be “activated by the Commission on the recommendation of the board of national Digital Services Coordinators.”
These special measures, however, will only be in effect for three months.
It also proposes “transparency measures for online platforms on a variety of issues, including the algorithms used to recommend content or products to users.”
Indian astronomers from the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) have discovered Gaia 20eae, a young star that exhibits episodic accretion.
Episodically accreting young stars are young, low-mass stars that have not begun hydrogen fusion in their core.
They get their energy from gravitational contraction and deuterium fusion (pre-main-sequence phase of the star).
These pre-main-sequence stars are surrounded by a disc from which they gain mass by steadily feeding on matter from the disc-shaped region of gas and dust surrounding the star.
This is known as mass accretion from the star’s circumstellar disc.
Their feeding rate increases on occasion. This is referred to as enhanced mass accretion from their circumstellar disc.
During such episodes, the star’s brightness in the optical bands increases by 4-6 magnitudes.
So far, 25 such star clusters have been discovered.
Episodic accretion is the process by which stars accrete (grow by accumulation) through a disc from a more spherically distributed envelope, adding mass to the disc and making it unstable on an irregular basis.
As a result of such instability, the star’s accretion rate and luminosity increase.
ARCT-154, a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine developed by Arcturus Therapeutics Holdings, has shown promising results in ongoing phase 1/2/3 trials against Covid-19.
An mRNA vaccine employs messenger RNA, which encodes the coronavirus spike protein.
This means that the mRNA instructs the cell to produce copies of the spike protein, allowing the immune system to recognise the spike and mount a response if and when an infection occurs.
A self-amplifying mRNA vaccine improves on the conventional RNA platform.
In addition to the vaccine antigen, it encodes four additional proteins that allow amplification of the original strand of RNA once inside the cell.
The self-amplifying mRNA vaccines promise the flexibility of plasmid DNA vaccines while also improving immunogenicity and safety.
The efficient delivery of nucleic acid to the cytoplasm of a cell, where it can amplify and express the encoded antigenic protein, is critical to realising the full potential of these vaccines.
Benefits – The primary advantage is that it requires a lower dose.
Because its’self-amplifying’ design allows for smaller doses, the new vaccine is easier to store and less expensive.