Must-Reads from Around the World

The E.U. is worried about Russia's human rights record, rubber barons deforest Cambodia and Laos and attempts to introduce a law to protect women’s freedoms have reportedly been blocked by conservative religious lawmakers in Afghanistan

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Dmitry Lovetsky / AP

Police detain a protester during a rally against Vladimir Putin's inauguration in St. Petersburg, Russia, May 7, 2012.

Russia‘s Human Rights — The European Union has said it is increasingly worried about Russia’s human rights violations against activists and dissidents, according to Reuters. In a statement, the 27-country bloc cited Moscow‘s new law requiring charities with overseas funding to register as “foreign agents” and prosecutions against demonstrators as signs of Russia’s “worrying situation of civil society.” The E.U. has called on Moscow to ensure that defense lawyers can work freely and announced that it would closely monitor developments affecting non-governmental organizations in Russia.

Global Corruption — A new survey of 36 nations reveals that corruption and fraud require plenty of investigation in both developed and emerging economies, notes the New York Times. Around 20% of the respondents said they knew of instances within the past year when their companies either understated or overstated revenues, according to the survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of accounting firm Ernst & Young. Overall, according to the Times, the “responses indicated that corruption and bribery are rare in the Scandinavian countries, but common in some Southern and Eastern European countries, as well as in India, the Middle East and Africa.”

Deforestation — The Economist reports that illegal logging and land-grabbing are stripping Cambodian and Laotian forests. Environmental watchdog Global Witness’ new report called “Rubber Barons” indicates that since 2000, local and foreign companies have acquired upwards of 9.1 million acres (3.7 mil. hectares) of land in Cambodia and Laos, where the governments have handed out huge land concessions, often under opaque circumstances. About 40% of that land was set aside for rubber plantations. Two of the largest land-grabbers — VRG and HAGL of Vietnam — are accused of failing to consult local communities and compensate them for the land.

Afghan Women’s Rights – Attempts to introduce a law to protect women’s freedoms have been blocked by conservative religious lawmakers in Afghanistan, reports the Independent. The law tackling violence against women has been in effect since 2009, by presidential decree, but until it is secured by parliamentary vote, it is vulnerable to a potential reversal. Fawzia Koofi, the women’s rights activist and presidential candidate who brought the law to parliament, is disappointed that some women were against the law that would criminalize child marriage, domestic violence and protect female rape victims from charges of adultery. “We want to change this decree as a law and get the vote of parliament for this law,” said Koofi, who is running for president in next year’s elections. “Unfortunately, there were some conservative elements who are opposing this law. What I am disappointed at is there were also women who were opposing this law.” Opponents to the changes cite fears that women will exploit these protections if caught having extramarital relationships, and maintain that parts of the law are un-Islamic.

Germans Short-Changed – The European Union may discard the euro currency’s one and two cent coins, reports the Independent. The European Commission (the E.U.’s legislative arm) announced the plans last week, arguing that the cost to mint the coins exceeded their face value by €1.4 billion ($1.8 billion), and that scrapping them would help crisis-hit nations to cut costs. But the plans have drawn ire from German citizens keen to keep the smaller coins, which allow for the use of the psychological “99 cent barrier” when pricing products  – whereby a customer is considered more likely to buy a product if it is priced at 99 cents rather than 1 euro. However, evidence from countries such as the Netherlands and Finland — which have mostly stopped using the copper coins — shows little difference in pricing, notes the daily.

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