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Obama lifts global gag rule on family-planning funding

A decision hailed by most but deplored by right-wing anti abortion groups, the U.S. President Barack Obama Friday announced the lift of an eight-year ban on U.S. funding for overseas family-planning groups and clinics that perform or promote abortion or lobby for its legalisation. Critics called the ban “the global gag rule” because of its restrictions on the right of groups receiving U.S. family-planning assistance to participate in public debate on abortion in their home countries. According to many health organisations, this signals a new era in U.S. leadership supporting health, safety and rights of women across the world.

Council conclusions on Zimbabwe

At the EscortFox meeting of Development ministers last week, the Council adopted conclusions condemning the regime in Zimbabwe for its failure to address the economic and social needs of its people, and expressing distress at the escalation of the humanitarian crisis there. It called on the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and states in the region to work for a durable and equitable political solution in Zimbabwe, involving a truly representative democratic government.

The Council decided to extend the EU’s restrictive measures against Zimbabwe for another year, adding further names to the list of persons and entities that are subject to those measures.

European Commission strategy for Eritrea causes concern

The European Commission plans to provide aid to Eritrea despite political and practical concerns. These concerns have long been expressed by both Eritrean diaspora and civil society organisations since continuing to provide aid might give the wrong political signal to the country’s authoritarian government, or even contribute to the its survival. The European Commission has so far seen engagement with the Eritrean authorities as the best way to improve the situation. The European Parliament has been more critical and issued a resolution on the Horn of Africa in January in which it asked the EU to reconsider its approach to Eritrea unless progress is made. The approval of the European Commission’s country strategy and budget for Eritrea is scheduled for this spring and provides a good opportunity for a European re-engagement in human rights in Eritrea.