Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:31:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Indonesian President Unyielding on Death Penaltyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:38:53 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139870 Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

When Indonesia’s law and human rights minister visited one of the country’s prisons in December last year, he met a Nigerian convict on death row for drug trafficking, who performed songs for him before leaving him with a parting gift.

“He sang […] beautifully,” Yasonna Laoly, the human rights minister, tells IPS. “He first quoted from the Bible before he gave me a souvenir when I left – it was a painting, a beautiful one.”

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty. Jokowi is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm." -- Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras)
A month ago, at one of the weekly Christian services held at his ministry in the capital, Jakarta, a pastor came up to the minister to plea for some prisoners facing the death penalty.

She brought up the Nigerian man Laoly had met last year, stressing that he had reformed, converted to Christianity and become a good person.

“She asked me, ‘Why can’t you help?’,” explains the minister, who has also received an album of songs from the Nigerian death row inmate.

“I told her that, psychologically, it bothers me, but I have to face the case,” Laoly tells IPS, adding that he “does not believe in capital punishment”.

“I spoke to the Attorney General [H.M. Prasetyo], who was with me when I visited him and he just replied: ‘This is the law of the country and we have a policy’.”

The government of this archipelago nation of 250 million people has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to drug trafficking and smuggling, and has no qualms about using the death penalty for such offenses.

Just after midnight on Jan. 18, six drug convicts were executed by firing squad, the first imposition of capital punishment since President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took office last October.

Another 10 drug convicts – citizens of Australia, France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria and Indonesia – are slated to be executed next, following their transfer to the island prison of Nusakambangan.

Prior to Widodo’s presidential election victory last year, capital punishment in the archipelago had declined. Four people were executed in 2013 after a five-year hiatus and no capital sentences were carried out by the state in 2014.

Still, there are currently 138 people – one-third of them foreigners – on death row, primarily for drug-related offenses. The government claims its hard-line stance has to do with the growing drug menace in Indonesia – at present, 45 percent of drugs in Southeast Asia flow through this country, making it the largest drug market in the region.

Citing statistics from the country’s National Narcotics Board (BNN), Troels Vester, country manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put the number of drug users at 5.6 million this year.

Government statistics further indicate that drug abuse kills off some 40 Indonesians every day, a figure hotly disputed by local rights groups.

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Officials say that rampant drug use also fuels a demand for medical and health services, putting undue pressure on the government to expend public resources on treatment and counseling, HIV testing, and anti-retroviral therapy for those people living with HIV/AIDS.

But the United Nations says that the use of the death penalty will not necessary reduce Indonesia’s drug woes, and has urged the country to stopper the practice of capital punishment in line with international law.

Earlier this month some 40 human rights groups from around the world dispatched a letter to the Indonesian president, reminding him, “Executions are against Article 28(a) of the Indonesian Constitution, which guarantees everyone’s right to life.”

The letter further stated, “They are also in breach of Indonesia’s international legal obligations under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which recognises every human being’s inherent right to life.”

Such efforts have so far failed to sway the president, or stay the country’s harsh hand of justice.

Ignoring international pressure

Widodo has also rejected political bids for clemency, including entreaties from foreign governments to spare the lives of their citizens; five of the six drug convicts executed in January were foreigners.

In January, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands personally requested Widodo to pardon Dutch national Ang Kiem Soe – convicted of being involved in a scheme to produce 15,000 ecstasy pills a day – but Widodo was unmoved.

Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Jakarta after their nationals were executed in January, while Australia has been campaigning furiously to save two of its own citizens, with the country’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, attempting an eleventh-hour prisoner swap, which was rejected.

Widodo has met all such efforts with a simple answer: there will be “no compromise” on the issue.

Human rights advocates like Amnesty International have slammed the Indonesian president’s “backwards” stance on capital punishment, accusing him of manipulating data to support his decisions.

“He says that 40 to 50 people are dying every day from drugs, but where is that figure coming from?” asks Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), adding that the president’s actions came as a surprise as he never shared his views on capital punishment during his campaign.

“The hospitals, doctors and the health ministry aren’t giving us data. These figures are from the anti-drugs body BNN, but they have never been proven,” Azhar adds.

Other activists like Hendardi, head of the Setara Institute, believe the president is using the death penalty to protect his image and regain public support following criticism over his government’s weak performance in law enforcement.

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty,” the human rights defender tells IPS. “Jokowi [a popular nickname for the president] is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm. I think he is trying to gain back popularity as the death penalty is still favoured among Indonesians.”

While there has been no comprehensive nationwide poll to assess public opinion on, or popular support for, capital punishment, surveys conducted by the media suggest that some 75 percent of the population is in favour of death sentences, primarily for terrorism, corruption and narcotics charges.

Death sentences are typically carried out by a firing squad comprised of 12 people, who shoot from a range of five to 10 metres. Prisoners are given the choice of standing or sitting, as well as whether to have their eyes covered by a blindfold, or their face concealed by a hood.

Inmates are generally informed of their fate just 72 hours prior to execution, a practice that has been blasted by human rights groups.

While the human rights minister admits that the death penalty may not solve all the country’s drug problems, he believes that a firm policy is the first step to preventing millions from falling “into ruin” at the hands of narcotics.

UNODC estimates that there are 110,000 heroin addicts and 1.2 million users of crystalline methamphetamine in Indonesia. But experts like Azhar feel the problem cannot be ‘executed away’. Instead, the Kontras coordinator suggests the country adopt a humane approach to law enforcement.

According to Amnesty International, some “140 countries have now abolished the death penalty. Indonesia has the opportunity to become the 141st country.” However, if the president’s resolve remains unchanged, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Acting Tough to Earn Respect as Policewomen in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 19:49:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139867 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/feed/ 0 Victims of Clerical Sex Abuse Join Forces in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/victims-of-clerical-sex-abuse-join-forces-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=victims-of-clerical-sex-abuse-join-forces-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/victims-of-clerical-sex-abuse-join-forces-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 07:26:00 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139780 Actors Luis Gnecco (left) and Benjamín Vicuña in a scene from “Karadima’s Forest”, a film that portrays pedophile Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, seen here with one of his victims, James Hamilton, his “favourite”, who finally dared to speak out. Credit: Courtesy of Constanza Valderrama

Actors Luis Gnecco (left) and Benjamín Vicuña in a scene from “Karadima’s Forest”, a film that portrays pedophile Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, seen here with one of his victims, James Hamilton, his “favourite”, who finally dared to speak out. Credit: Courtesy of Constanza Valderrama

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Latin America are taking the first steps towards grouping together in order to bolster their search for justice – a struggle where they have found a new ally: filmmaking.

“Besides entertaining us, movies urge people not to forget, to memorise what is happening to us as a society,” Chilean filmmaker Matías Lira told IPS.

He added that, with respect to the sexual abuse committed within the Catholic Church, “the media has a pending task, and society has a duty.”“When they named Pope Francis, we felt that in the Vatican we had someone from home, someone who spoke our own language, who understood our culture; it was an enormous source of pride. But the first victims he met with were from the United State, Germany and Great Britain; he never met with us.” -- Juan Carlos Cruz

Based on this premise, Lira directed “Karadima’s Forest”, based on real events. The film, which comes out in Chile in April, tells the story of a priest who sexually and psychologically abused dozens of boys and young men, and who was one of the country’s most influential priests thanks to his enormous charisma and his reputation as a “saint” – which was even his nickname.

There is great expectation surrounding Lira’s film in Chile, a country with a highly conservative society where 67 percent of the population of 16.7 million identifies as Catholic.

The film comes after “The Club”, by Pablo Larraín, winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in February, which also tackles the question of pedophile priests in Chile.

The case of Fernando Karadima is emblematic. As the parish priest of El Bosque (“the forest”), in the wealthy Santiago neighbourhood of Providencia, the priest forged an empire with the backing of high-level church authorities from the early 1980s until his retirement from his post in 2006.

An ecclesiastical court sentenced him in 2011 to “a life of prayer and penitence” for pedophilia and ephebophilia (a sexual attraction to post-pubescent adolescents), after he spent decades abusing boys and young men who trusted him, while amassing a fortune from donations to the church, according to an investigation by the Centro de Investigación Periodística (Centre for Investigative Reporting).

Journalist Juan Carlos Cruz was one of those youngsters. He met Karadima when he was 15 years old, right after his father died, when he was grieving and vulnerable.

“They recommended that I go and talk to this priest, who was considered a saint, a man of enormous kindness. He was a very influential man and it was incredible when he paid attention to me,” he told IPS.

“He told me that from then on he would be my father, that I had to make my confession only to him, and that he would be my spiritual director,” he added.

Cruz said that at the age of 15 he was dazzled by the priest’s powerful friends: ranging from then dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) to Angelo Sodano, who during the military regime in Chile was apostolic nuncio (1978-1988) and later became the Vatican’s secretary of state (1991-2006), and including businessmen, senior military officials and high-level politicians.

Joining forces against regional cover-up

To confront the church’s policy of covering up the sexual abuse by priests, victims in Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru created a network called Unidos (United).

In the Feb. 16 meeting held to found the network, in Mexico City, they called on Pope Francis to take effective actions and hold to account in civilian court both the perpetrators and those responsible for covering up the crimes.

In a letter to the pope, they said that only with a profound overhaul of the church and civilian trials of those responsible “will there be a beginning of the end to this huge holocaust of thousands of girls and boys sacrificed to avoid scandal and to safeguard the image and the prestige of the representatives of the Catholic Church in the world.”

One especially illustrative case, according to the new network, is that of Józef Wesołowski, a former apostolic nuncio in Santo Domingo (2008-2013) who was accused of pedophilia and is under house arrest in the Vatican, where he fled from the Dominican justice system.

“Although the Dominican courts are seeking his extradition, they’re holding him there, where he is protected,” said Cruz.

“In Latin America they step on us a little because our legal systems aren’t like those of the United States or Europe. In Philadelphia, where I live, there are 34 priests in prison, and they sentenced the vicar general to 21 years for the cover-up,” he added.

In February 2014, the United Nations accused the Vatican of violating the Convention of the Rights of the Child, because of the sexual abuse committed by its priests.

Shortly after Cruz met Karadima – who is now 84 – the priest began to sexually and psychologically abuse him.

“Psychological abuse sometimes is the most complicated: living under constant threat, under his yoke, living in fear and not being able to forgive yourself for it even once you’re grown up,” said Cruz from the United States, where he now lives.

“I consider myself an intelligent guy who has gone far. I’m vice president of a multinational corporation responsible for 130 countries. Nevertheless, I can’t forgive myself for how I let that man torture me for eight years,” he lamented.

Karadima’s horrific abuse came to light in May 2010, when Cruz and other victims recounted what they had suffered on the weekly programme Informe Semanal of the public TV station Televisión Nacional (TVN).

James Hamilton, the priest’s “favourite”, had contacted TVN after seeing a report on that channel about the aberrations committed for years by Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, the founder of the ultraconservative Legionaries of Christ congregation. Maciel had a great deal of influence in the Vatican during the papacy of John Paul II (1978-2005).

Maciel, the most famous pedophile priest in the region, who even had children despite his vows of celibacy, died in 2008, two years after Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) removed him from active ministry for creating a “system of power” that enabled him to lead an “immoral” double life “devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment.”

Advocates of the victims unsuccessfully sought to bring to a halt the beatification of Pope John Paul II, arguing that he systematically covered up the sexual abuse committed by the powerful Mexican priest.

In Chile, Karadima’s victims are now fighting the appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of the city of Osorno. According to Cruz and other victims, Barros witnessed and participated in the abuse by Karadima.

But far from listening to the victims, the Apostolic Nunciature or Vatican embassy confirmed its support for Barros, who became bishop on Mar. 21.

“That support is arrogant and stupid,” Cruz said.

Karadima’s victims also accuse Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, who was named adviser to Pope Francis, Benedict’s successor, of taking part in the cover-up. Several investigations concluded that Errázuriz turned a deaf ear for years to the victims’ complaints, when he was archbishop of Santiago.

His successor, Ricardo Ezzatti, is also accused by Karadima’s victims of helping cover up the powerful priest’s crimes.

This is one of the reasons that prompted the victims of abuses by different priests in various countries of Latin America to meet in mid February in Mexico City to join forces and try to draw attention – mainly the attention of the first Latin American pope, Francis, from Argentina – to the problem.

“When they named Pope Francis, we felt that in the Vatican we had someone from home, someone who spoke our own language, who understood our culture; it was an enormous source of pride. But the first victims he met with were from the United State, Germany and Great Britain; he never met with us,” said Cruz.

“I just want to sit down with him and tell him what we have gone through,” he said.

And that is because, even though he believes the Catholic Church in Latin America covered up the abuse by its priests, Cruz is still a fervent Catholic.

“I go to mass every Sunday,” he said. “I’m not going to let them also steal something so precious as my faith.”

Lira, the filmmaker, is also Catholic, although he said the priesthood “has a great debt to society” in Chile and the rest of the region.

“They should understand that apologising is not enough; what matters is that actions are taken,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Nobel Peace Laureate Calls for Global Human Compassion to Combat Child Slaveryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:38:26 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139760 By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi has called for globalised human compassion to combat the global and persistent problems of child labour and child slavery.

“We live in a globalised world, let us globalise human compassion, ” Satyarthi told an audience at the United Nations Tuesday.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi speaks at the DPI/NGO Special Briefing: Ending Child Slavery by 2030. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi speaks at the DPI/NGO Special Briefing: Ending Child Slavery by 2030. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Satyarthi, a tireless activist against child labour, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 together with Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Satyarthi said that he was confident that he would see the end of child servitude in his lifetime but emphasised that everybody had a moral responsibility to address the issue.

Child labour still remains a truly global problem hurting millions of children worldwide.

In South Asia 250,000 children, some as young as four, work up to eighteen hours a day tying knots for rugs that are exported to the U.S. and Europe.

In Haiti, UNICEF estimates that 225,000 children, mostly girls, between the ages of five and 17 live as ‘restaveks’, live-in domestic servants with wealthier families.

In the Central African Republic, the U.N. reports there are some 6,000 child soldiers, including young girls used as sex slaves.

Worldwide more than half of all child labourers work in agriculture, including in the United States where Human Rights Watch reports children working on tobacco farms are exposed to nicotine poisoning.

In total, the International Labor Organization reports that there are 168 million children in child labour, and that more than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work.

Satyarthi said that behind every single statistic there is a cry for freedom from a child that we are not listening to.

“That is the cry to be a child, a child who can play, a child who can love, a child who can be a child,” he said.

Satyarthi contrasted the number of children in full time work with the 200 million adults who are jobless worldwide. He explained that addressing this imbalance was a complex issue, in part because in vulnerable populations children were seen as easier to exploit than adults.

Satyarthi also expressed concern that while progress has been made on child labour, the more heinous crime of child slavery has stagnated.

“The number of child slaves, the children in forced labour has not reduced at all”

He said the number of child slaves worldwide had stagnated at 5.5 million for the past fifteen years.

Satyarthi said that the United Nations played a key role in addressing child labour. He emphasised that there needed to be clear language on tackling child labour in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

He also called for greater cooperation between organisations working to protect children to ensure a holistic strategy.

Also speaking at the event, Susan Bissell, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection said, “The first line of defense against falling victim to slavery is the child and his or her family.”

“By empowering families socially and economically and building their resilience to recognise child slavery, and being aware of their rights and how to exercise them, we can deliver a first strong blow against slavery,” she said.

Bissell also called on the private sector to stamp out child slavery, saying that children’s rights should be seen as a relevant business mandate.

Satyarthi concluded his speech with a strong call to action.

“If one single child anywhere in the world is in danger the world is not safe. If one single girl is sold like an animal and sexually abused and raped, we cannot call ourselves a cultured society.

“I refuse to accept that some children are born to live without human dignity,” he added. “Each one of you has some moral responsibility. It cannot go on me alone.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Unseen and Unheard: Afghan Baloch People Speak Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:08:47 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139744 Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Balochistan, divided by the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a vast swathe of land the size of France. It boasts enormous deposits of gas, gold and copper, untapped sources of oil and uranium, as well as a thousand kilometres of coastline near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

Despite the wealth under their sandals, the Baloch people inhabit the most underdeveloped regions of their respective countries; Afghanistan is no exception.

“Against all odds, our national identity is [growing]. We just need the rest of the world to know about us.” -- Baloch intellectual and historian Abdul Sattar Purdely
Often overlooked, the Afghan Baloch count as just one among the many groups that make up the colourful ethnic mosaic of Afghanistan. And like the Pashtuns, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks, they have also seen their land divided by the arbitrary boundaries in Central Asia.

Baloch historian and intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS there are “about two million of us in Afghanistan, but only those living in the southern provinces of Nimroz and Helmand speak Balochi.”

In his late sixties, this former MP during the rule of Mohammad Najibullah (1987-1992) is today a professor, writer, and a leading advocate for the preservation of the Baloch language and culture in Afghanistan.

In coordination with the Afghan Ministry of Education, Purdely has written textbooks in Balochi that go as far as the 8th grade, which are already being used in three schools.

The Baloch in Afghanistan make up just a tiny portion of a people scattered throughout the Iranian Plateau, but they are united by the experience of religious, linguistic and ethnic persecution in a region increasingly marked by Islamic extremism.

A shepherd and his family walk their cattle in Zaranj, capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. In the absence of comprehensive census data, the Baloch intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS that Afghan Balochs number about two million, though not all speak the Balochi language. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A shepherd and his family walk their cattle in Zaranj, capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. In the absence of comprehensive census data, the Baloch intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS that Afghan Balochs number about two million, though not all speak the Balochi language. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch people, who hail from the Iranian plateau, have settled for centuries alongside the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. But severe droughts and the excessive use of the river’s water for opium cultivation in Nimroz have lead to the collapse of agriculture in the province, affecting scores of Baloch families. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch people, who hail from the Iranian plateau, have settled for centuries alongside the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. But severe droughts and the excessive use of the river’s water for opium cultivation in Nimroz have lead to the collapse of agriculture in the province, affecting scores of Baloch families. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The majority of the Baloch people are Sunni Muslims but their moderate vision of Islam has turned them into victims of growing Islamic extremism in the region. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The majority of the Baloch people are Sunni Muslims but their moderate vision of Islam has turned them into victims of growing Islamic extremism in the region. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The neglected village of Haji Abdurrahman, in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, is a hub for Afghan and Pakistani Baloch people, the latter seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Dozens of families struggle to survive in this cluster of mud houses without electricity or running water.

The neglected village of Haji Abdurrahman, in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, is a hub for Afghan and Pakistani Baloch people, the latter seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Dozens of families struggle to survive in this cluster of mud houses without electricity or running water.

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch teenager poses next to his portrait inside his house in Nasirabad, another mud-hut village in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province. Like the majority of the local population, he is also illiterate. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch teenager poses next to his portrait inside his house in Nasirabad, another mud-hut village in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province. Like the majority of the local population, he is also illiterate. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

In Pakistan, for instance, the Baloch people have long weathered a crackdown against what the government calls an insurgency, while “Tehran is constantly trying to quell any Baloch initiative in Nimroz [a province in southwest Afghanistan] as they consider it a potential threat to their security,” according to Mir Mohamad Baloch, a political and cultural activist.

This Afghan-born Baloch tells IPS that an independent Balochistan is a “life dream” for him – but under current political conditions in the region, this dream is a long way from reality.

Currently, Zaranj hosts the only TV programme in Balochi in Afghanistan for one hour a day between five and six pm. Although the first TV channel in Balochi was set up in 1978 preceding the printing of the community’s first books and newspapers, the fall of the Communist government led to a sharp cultural decline in Afghanistan.

Historically a nomadic group, the Baloch people have endured years of brutal repression for their moderate vision of Islam. Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, even issued a fatwa, an Islamic edict, against the people of Nimroz, calling for the ethnic cleansing of the Baloch and Shia population.

“Against all odds, our national identity is [growing] bigger despite the ongoing chaos in the country,” proclaims Abdul Sattar Purdely from his office in downtown Kabul. “We just need the rest of the world to know about us.”

A Baloch family from the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar stand for a photograph. While millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan over the past four decades, Pakistani Balochs are taking the opposite route, fleeing to Afghanistan to avoid repression by the Pakistani government. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch family from the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar stand for a photograph. While millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan over the past four decades, Pakistani Balochs are taking the opposite route, fleeing to Afghanistan to avoid repression by the Pakistani government. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

 

This Pakistani Baloch elder and his two sons are today hiding in Afghanistan. Rights groups have criticised the Pakistan government’s crackdown on the Baloch people. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

This Pakistani Baloch elder and his two sons are today hiding in Afghanistan. Rights groups have criticised the Pakistan government’s crackdown on the Baloch people. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch fighters from the Balochistan Liberation Army crouch at an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are several Baloch insurgent groups fighting for independence in Pakistan. Some of their fighters often cross the border to evacuate the wounded and treat them in Afghan hospitals. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch fighters from the Balochistan Liberation Army crouch at an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are several Baloch insurgent groups fighting for independence in Pakistan. Some of their fighters often cross the border to evacuate the wounded and treat them in Afghan hospitals. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Karim and Sharif Baloch, both of them from Pakistan, show the portraits of their lost brother and father at their current residence in Zaranj. They tell IPS their relatives were killed in 2011 during a Pakistani military operation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Karim and Sharif Baloch, both of them from Pakistan, show the portraits of their lost brother and father at their current residence in Zaranj. They tell IPS their relatives were killed in 2011 during a Pakistani military operation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck travels down a lost road in Nimroz, the only Afghan province where the Baloch minority form a majority. In the country’s remote southwest, Nimroz shares a 500-kilometre border with both Iran and Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck travels down a lost road in Nimroz, the only Afghan province where the Baloch minority form a majority. In the country’s remote southwest, Nimroz shares a 500-kilometre border with both Iran and Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck pauses at the Afghan-Iranian border in Zaranj, the administrative capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. Pakistani writer Amhed Rashid tells IPS this province is a smuggling hub through which heroin goes out and weapons come in. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck pauses at the Afghan-Iranian border in Zaranj, the administrative capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. Pakistani writer Amhed Rashid tells IPS this province is a smuggling hub through which heroin goes out and weapons come in. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Rape in Conflict: Speaking Out for What’s Righthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 12:21:59 +0000 Serra Sippel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139727

Serra Sippel is President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

By Serra Sippel
WASHINGTON, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned speech marking the 50th Anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the bloody attack on civil rights marchers by police.

President Obama issued what was tantamount to a call to action for Americans to speak out for what is right. He stated: “…Loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.”

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

As a longtime advocate for the health and human rights of women, I take President Obama’s words to heart. They express the core tenet of policy advocacy.

Advocates should applaud and praise government when it does the right thing for women and girls. And when it doesn’t, we must speak out for what’s right, even if it is disruptive and causes discomfort.

Last week, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) hosted a panel at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) where panelists from Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and Dandelion Kenya spoke about the brutal sexual violence and rapes that women face, and the absence of comprehensive post rape care for these women and girls, especially when it comes to abortion access.

The discussion was disturbing and emotional as we heard about the fear, stigma, and suffering that so many women face while governments stand by and refuse to provide comfort and care—including the United States.

The status quo – that no U.S. foreign aid should support safe abortion access – is causing too much suffering in this world and it must end.

Only a few months ago the U.N. secretary-general released an important report stating: “In line with Security Council resolution 2122 (2013), I call on all actors to support improved access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in conflict-affected settings. This must include access to HIV counseling and testing, which remains limited in many settings, and the safe termination of pregnancies for survivors of conflict-related rape.”

The Obama administration has taken great strides toward women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health in U.S. foreign policy, from the USAID Strategy on Female Empowerment and Gender Equality to the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

And at the United Nations last September, President Obama focused on the serious problem of rape in conflict, acknowledging that, “mothers, sisters, daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war.”

We applaud and praise the administration for such bold action. However, when it comes to reproductive rights and access to safe abortion for women and girls globally, the Obama administration has failed to demonstrate the same bold leadership.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. joined governments from around the world in a promise to women and girls that where abortion is legal, it should be safe and available. Today, the U.S. has not lived up to that promise. And when it comes to abortion access for women and girls raped in conflict, inaction by the U.S. government is unconscionable and advocates must speak out.

The time is now for the president to stand with women and girls and take executive action to support abortion access for women and girls in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The time is now for the president to answer the call to action echoed by advocates from around the world.

We have sent letters to the president from religious leaders and CEOs of global human rights and women’s rights organisations. We have brought advocates from South Africa, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda to speak directly to the White House to implore the president to act.

We rallied in front of the White House asking the president to stand with women and girls. And, we have gathered at CSW to share first-hand accounts of what women and girls are experiencing globally.

Ending the status quo on foreign aid and abortion means to boldly embrace the notion that women and girls matter. Our U.S. foreign aid must be used to save and improve lives—and that is what safe abortion does, especially for those raped in conflict.

CHANGE and others will continue to “speak out for what’s right” and “shake up the status quo,” because the lives of women and girls matter. I hope we can count on President Obama to join us.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pro-Democracy Activists at U.S. Event Jailed in DR Congohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 18:25:38 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139714 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

Journalists, activists, hip hop artists and a United States diplomat were rounded up by police at a pro-democracy event on Sunday in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sponsored in part by the U.S. government. Security forces charged them with threatening stability, according to a government spokesperson.

The diplomat, Kevin Sturr, “Was among a group of people believed to be in the process of bringing an attack against state security”, said Congo’s Information Minister Lambert Mende. Sturr, who works with the USAID’s democracy and good governance program in Congo, was returned to the U.S. Embassy late Sunday night, Mende said on Monday.

The activists included members of Burkina Faso’s Balai Citoyen and Senegal’s Y’en a Marre movements. Both have led large-scale protests in recent years against presidents attempting to extend their time in office.

The round up was an unpleasant surprise for U.S. officials. “This event is one of many activities the U.S. government supports that involve youth and civil society as part of our broader commitment to encourage a range of voices to be heard,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki complained that U.S. authorities had not been officially informed about why Sturr was detained. “Our ambassador in Kinshasa has raised this at the highest levels with the DRC government,” Psaki said.

Congolese government officials and ruling coalition parties were invited to the event and some attended, the Embassy said, describing the youth groups involved as well-regarded and non-partisan.

According to the Minister, the Congo’s intelligence services believed the news conference — billed as an exchange between African civil society organizations — was in fact a project organized by “instructors in insurrection”.

“There are the three Senegalese and the Burkinabe and their Congolese accomplices who continue to be questioned,” Mende added. “Each will have his fate… Either they will be released or put at the disposition of the public prosecutor.”

Foreign activists arrested included Fadel Barro, a member of the Senegalese collective of journalists and hip-hop artists “Y’en a Marre”, which helped organize protests against former President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term in 2012.

The group had gathered to support “Filimbi” – a Congolese movement that aims for greater youth participation in politics, when they were rounded up.

Proposed changes in Congo’s electoral law have sparked mass protests against what many view as an attempt by President Joseph Kabila to prolong his time in power. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 40 people were killed in Kinshasa and the eastern city of Goma at protests so far this year.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Veto Costs Lives as Syrian Civil War Passes Deadly Milestonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 12:27:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139703 The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

As the long drawn-out Syrian military conflict passed a four-year milestone over the weekend, the New York-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) summed it up in a striking headline: 4 years, 4 vetoes, 220,000 dead.

It was a harsh judgment of the 15-member Security Council, the most powerful political body at the United Nations, which critics say is desperately in need of a resurrection."Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history." -- Dr. Simon Adams

The devastating civil war and the sectarian violence in Syria have also displaced over 11 million people – more than half of Syria’s population – with 12 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

Dr. Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for R2P, told IPS Syria is clearly the most tragic failure of the U.N. Security Council in a generation.

“Each veto and the inaction of the Council has been interpreted as a license to kill by atrocity perpetrators in Syria,” he added.

The four vetoes, cast by Russia and China to protect the beleaguered government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, were cast in October 2011, February 2012, July 2012 and May 2014.

Dr. Adams said 220,000 dead is a horrifying indictment of the magnitude of the Security Council’s failure in Syria. “They constitute 220,000 reasons why we need reform of the veto rights of the five permanent members when it comes to mass atrocity crimes.”

The five (P-5) holding veto powers are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – and each of them has exercised the veto mostly to protect their close allies or their national interests over the years.

Since the creation of the United Nations 70 years ago, the two big powers have cast the most number of vetoes: a total of 79 by the United States and 11 by the Russian Federation (plus 90 by its predecessor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR), while China’s tally is nine, according to the latest available figures.

“The veto costs lives. Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history. They have a responsibility to protect and a responsibility not to veto,” Dr. Adams said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently called for a political solution, said the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of the war that has torn their country apart.

They and their neighbours, he said, continue to suffer under the eyes of an international community that is divided and incapable of taking collective action to stop the killing and destruction.

Retracing the violent history of the ongoing conflict, Ban recalled that it began in March 2011, when thousands of Syrian civilians went to the streets peacefully calling for political reform.

But this legitimate demand was met with a violent response from the Syrian authorities. Over time, civilians took up arms in response, regional powers became involved and radical groups gained a foothold, he added.

In what appeared to be a diplomatic turnaround, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has not ruled out a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome,” he said during a television interview Sunday, although the U.S. has been supporting rebel forces trying to overthrow the Assad regime by military means.

Angelina Jolie Pitt, a Hollywood celebrity and Special Envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said: “People are entitled to feel bewildered and angry that the U.N. Security Council seems unable to respond to the worst crisis of the 21st century.”

She said it is shameful that even the basic demand for full humanitarian access has not been met.

Meanwhile, neighbouring countries and international humanitarian agencies are being stretched beyond their limits.

“And it is sickening that crimes are being committed against the Syrian people on a daily basis with impunity. The failure to end this crisis diminishes all of us,” Jolie declared.

Ban said the lack of accountability in Syria has led to an exponential rise in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.

Each day, he said, brings reports of fresh horrors: executions, widespread arbitrary arrests, abductions and disappearances as well as systematic torture in detention; indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, including with barrel bombs; siege and starvation tactics; use of chemical weapons, and atrocities committed by Daesh (the Islamic State) and other extremist groups.

Dr. Adams told IPS President Assad and all atrocity perpetrators in Syria belong in handcuffs at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

“The U.N. Security Council has failed to end a conflict that has already cost 220,000 lives, but the least they can do now is refer the situation to the ICC so that victims have some chance of justice,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Contradictions Beset U.N. Response to Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 23:36:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139694 The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

An internal United Nations expert report released Monday by the non-governmental organisation AIDS-Free World reveals serious contradictions in the U.N.’s reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

The leaked expert team report, dated Nov. 3, 2013, begins by stating, “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has been judged the most significant risk to U.N. peacekeeping missions, above and beyond other key risks including protection of civilians.”Victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.” -- Paula Donovan

AIDS-Free World, which released the report, is concerned it “contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his 2015 update on Feb. 13.

Some of the key issues highlighted by AIDS-Free World include problems with the way the U.N. collects information about sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers; delays in action taken which lead to effective impunity for U.N. peacekeeping personnel; and what the expert’s report described as “a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”

In an open letter addressed to “Ambassadors of All United Nations Member States” sent Monday, AIDS-Free World wrote, “We know that the UN has never disseminated the Expert Team’s Report. We therefore suspect that few if any governments are aware that independent experts, commissioned by the Secretary-General, made pointed criticisms about the way sexual violations in UN peacekeeping missions are handled.

“We are releasing the Report today because we believe it contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress. It should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

Inadequate reporting mechanisms

IPS spoke with Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, who said that the expert team that compiled the 2013 report had the required expertise to address the complex problem of abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and asked pressing questions.

Donovan explained that by contrast, the secretary-general’s recent report used inadequate and incomplete reporting mechanisms that didn’t account for the complexities of addressing an institutional culture of impunity towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Each year the secretary-general is required to report to the General Assembly on how he is doing. Are these special measures for protection against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse working? Are we getting closer to zero [cases]?”

However, the expert team reported that were a number of reasons for underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse and that “U.N. personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of SEA that are not being counted or investigated.”

“The U.N. does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA,” the report said.

Donovan said that the secretary-general’s focus on reporting a decrease in the number of allegations was problematic for a number of reasons. “One thing that people who understand these issues know is that when numbers go down, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that incidents have gone down. It may be a lack of confidence in the reporting process.”

Donovan added that experts on sexual violence would advise that, “when you put a programme in place that actually begins to prevent and punish sexual exploitation and abuse, one indicator that your programme is working is that people feel safe enough to come forward.”

She said that U.N. peacekeepers were working “to protect the most vulnerable people on earth.”

For many reasons, therefore, victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.

“If you make it clear to people that you can demonstrate that it is a safer decision to report than to stay silent, that’s an indication that your programme is working,” Donovan siad.

Donovan added that the U.N.’s focus on reporting “allegations” as against actual cases meant that its reporting bears no resemblance to reality.

She also added that the numbers reported by the secretary-general were incomplete as well as inaccurate, because they did not include data from UNICEF, which has its own separate reporting mechanism.

Hopes for high-level review

There are hopes that the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will help find practical solutions to issues of impunity and transparency within U.N. Peace Operations, including those raised in this report.

Noting that the review panel was not entirely independent, given one of it’s members had been simultaneously U.N. under secretary-general in charge of Field Support for the first several months of the panel’s work, Donovan said that she still had hope that the review could address these complex issues.

Donovan said that Aids-Free World has sent a copy of the expert team’s report to panel chair José Ramos-Horta and that “if he chooses to independently take this on and insist that the U.N. take this on than there is the possibility of success.

“Under the leadership of José Ramos-Horta, it is possible that it won’t just be another panel,” she added.

Ramos-Horta shared a link to an article about Sexual Abuse by U.N. Peacekeepers with his more than 30,000 Facebook followers on Mar. 6.

Lack of U.N. freedom of information policy

Donovan told IPS that when Aids-Free World originally learned that there had been an expert inquiry, they wrote to the U.N. and asked for a copy of the report.

“We were told that it was not a public document,” she said.

Most governments have quite a clear Freedom of Information policy, which includes ways of categorising classified and unclassified documents. That is not necessarily so for the U.N. so it is unclear why this particular report was not released, Donovan said.

Asked for a response, the Office of the Spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General said in a statement, “The proposals and initiatives presented to the General Assembly in A/69/779 reflect an integrated approach aimed at strengthening prevention, enforcement and remedial action in connection with sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel.

“The report also revisits a number of proposals set out in the seminal 2005 Secretary-General report to the GA ‘A comprehensive strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations peacekeeping operations’ which was prepared by a special task force chaired by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, then Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations.

“The report included recommendations for holding courts martial in host countries and establishing a trust Fund for Victims. Prevention, combatting and remediating acts of sexual exploitation and abuse are a top priority for the organization and will continue to be focus of sustained efforts to address the issue.”

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Often Forgotten In Cases Of Forced Disappearancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-often-forgotten-in-cases-of-forced-disappearance/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 22:10:55 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139693 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Governments must do more to address the impacts of forced disappearances of women, according to an international justice report released Monday.

Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has documented over 54,000 cases of such disappearances from all over the world.

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in releasing its report ‘The Disappeared and Invisible: Revealing the Enduring Impact of Enforced Disappearances on Women,’ urged governments to better address the effects of such crimes on females.

The report states women are the minority of those who are forcibly disappeared, but “the majority of family members who suffer exacerbated social, economic, and psychological disadvantages as a result of the loss of a male family member who is often a breadwinner.”

In surveying 31 countries – mostly in Africa and Central and South America – the ICTJ urged governments to remember “the need to consider women’s experiences, including when implementing measures like truth commissions, prosecutions, and reparations.”

The report states while women who have been forcibly disappeared experience much the same treatment as men in detention – including torture and ill treatment – women are often subject to gender-based violence including sexual violence and separation from their children.

The ICTJ said women left behind when a family member or partner is disappeared experience “ongoing victimisation” including poverty, family conflict and psychological trauma, as well as often being forced into low-paying, dangerous or exploitative working arrangements to support their families. Women may also face difficulty in accessing bank accounts, social services or ownership rights of property, which may be held in their partner’s name.

Flow-on effects are felt by children and other family members, including impacts on education, health and general well being.

“Although women make up the minority of those who are disappeared around the world, in almost every country we studied… they make up the majority of those who suffer serious, lasting harm after a disappearance,” said Amrita Kapur, senior associate for ICTJ’s Gender Justice programme.

“When a loved one goes missing, most often women are on the forefront of the search for truth and vulnerable to further abuses, even as they take on the role of breadwinner while raising children. Women’s stories are not being told, making it harder for governments to respond effectively.”

The report is part of an ongoing project between ICTJ and UN Women.

The report posits a set of recommendations to better support women who are left behind after the forced disappearance of a partner or family member. Chief among the findings is a call for a new legal category allowing relatives of a disappeared person to access benefits, inherit wealth and assets, and to dissolve marriages even without the person being declared dead.

The report cites the fact that remaining partners are often unwilling or unable to have their disappeared partner declared dead, but that many social benefits or legal avenues for redress only become available upon declaration of death.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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U.N. Panel to Investigate Dag Hammarskjöld’s Deathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-panel-to-investigate-dag-hammarskjolds-death/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-panel-to-investigate-dag-hammarskjolds-death http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-panel-to-investigate-dag-hammarskjolds-death/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 21:59:34 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139692 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on Monday, appointed an independent panel of experts to examine new information that has emerged from the investigation into the death of former U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. 

Ban designated the Chief Justice of the United Republic of Tanzania, Mohamed Chande Othman, as the head of the panel. The other panelists are Kerryn Macaulay, Australia’s Representative on the Council of the International Civil Aviation (ICAO), and Henrik Ejrup Larsen, a ballistics expert at the National Center of Forensic Services in the Danish National Police.

The panel is expected to assess the “probative value” of new information given to the secretary-general from the Hammarskjöld Commission, related to the plane crash, in which the ex-U.N. chief, and the party accompanying him, lost their lives.

In mid-March, Ban informed the General Assembly that the Hammarskjöld Commission had discovered “new evidence…relating to the conditions and circumstances” of the case.

The accident happened on the night of Sep. 17, 1961, in what is today Zambia.

Based on a General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2014, the panel will start its work on Mar. 30, 2015, and will report directly to the secretary-general Jun. 30, 2015.

All 193 member states have been encouraged to collaborate and release any relevant material relating to Hammarskjöld’s death.

Hammarskjöld, the second secretary-general of the U.N., served from 1953 until 1961. At the age of 47 he was nominated secretary-general, and remains the youngest man to have held the position. His plane crashed near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo with Zambia, while he was on a mission to negotiate a ceasefire during the Katanga crisis.

Initially filed as a tragic plane accident, the United Nations is launching this investigation to clarify the doubts over the Swedish diplomat’s death.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Meet the 10 Women Who Will Stop at Nothinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139652 Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

On Apr. 6, 2013, Nadia Sharmeen, a crime reporter, was assigned to cover a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups in Bangladesh whose demands included a call to revoke the proposed National Women Development Policy.

When Sharmeen arrived, she directed her cameraman to get a shot of the crowd and proceeded to interview some of the attendees.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal.” – Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist attacked by a mob of 60 men while covering a rally by the fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam in 2013
“Suddenly a man came up and asked why I was here as a woman,” she tells IPS. “I told him I was not here as a woman, I was here as a journalist. But he did not accept this and started shouting at me to leave.”

The man’s verbal aggressions quickly drew the attention of a large crowd, and before she knew what was happening, a group of 50 or 60 men were attacking her.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal,” Sharmeen recounts.

Eventually, her colleagues braved the angry mob and managed to get her to the safety of a hospital. But the damage was done; her injuries left her bed-ridden for five months, and in need of multiple surgeries.

Forsaken by her employer, who refused to pay for her medical treatment and finally forced her to resign, Sharmeen got through the ordeal with nothing but her own strength and the unwavering support of her family.

Today, she is one of 10 women recognised by the U.S. Secretary of State for outstanding courage in their pursuit of peace and equality, and is currently touring the country as a recipient of the 2015 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of an event held at the New York City Foreign Press Center Friday, Sharmeen says she considers herself “lucky”. She had a family who stood by her, and did not suffer permanent brain damage despite being kicked repeatedly in the head by scores of angry men.

Given the realities on the ground in the country, her analysis is not far from the truth: thousands of Bangladeshi women live in the shadow of violence, which manifests itself in countless ways. In 2011, for instance, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence. In total, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Other forms of discrimination – such as a 57-percent employment rate for women compared to 88 percent for men – also ensure that women systematically get the raw end of the deal.

According to some data, inequality of the sexes begins at birth, with a female child mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births outstripping a male mortality rate of 16 deaths per 100 live births.

In a country where gender bias is finely woven into the social fabric, it is not easy for women to get back up after being beaten down. But that is exactly what Sharmeen did.

Sparking hope across Asia

This year, five of the 10 IWOC honorees hailed from Asia, where women comprise half of the region’s population of four billion.

Their struggles represent the diversity of challenges faced by women across Asia and the Pacific, where patriarchal laws and attitudes run deep.

Sayaka Osakabe, for instance, has spent the last several years fighting a form of discrimination that is perhaps more prominent in Japan than any other country in the region – ‘Matahara’ or maternal harassment, the practice of applying tremendous social on pressure on women to “choose” between having a child or having a career.

Quoting statistics from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Osakabe tells IPS that one out of four women are subject to maternal harassment, while 60 percent of all working women generally resign after the birth of their first child.

Osakabe herself faced harassment from her employers during two successive pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriages because she was denied maternity leave.

On one occasion, her employer went so far as to turn up at her doorstep and inform her that she should not expect to renew her contract because she was causing “so much trouble” in her workplace.

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Determined not to accept such blatant discrimination, she has focused all her efforts on fighting Matahara, in the hopes that others will not suffer the same fate she did. She founded the organisation Matahara Net, which in less than a year has reached out to over 100 women facing maternal harassment.

Her struggle sparked government action, including the first-ever court ruling that demotions or dismissals due to pregnancy are, in principle, illegal.

It has been a hard-won victory. Osakabe tells IPS she faced “tremendous backlash” from many corners of society, including from women.

“Housewives and high-career women – two groups forced to choose between their jobs or having babies – are the ones who target me the most,” she says.

In a country where women account for one in three people living below the poverty line, and comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary, ‘matahara’ threatens to widen an already gaping gender gap.

By 2060, Japan’s population is projected to shrink to two-thirds of its current 127 million people, and officials are worried about the future workforce – yet society continues to demonise women who want both a family and an income, Osakabe says.

Life or death choices

Other award winners, like Burmese activist May Sabe Phyu, face a different set of challenges. Phyu is active in the movement to bring justice and dignity to ethnic and religious minorities, specifically to the internally displaced people (IDPs) in her native Kachin State, where civil conflict has driven over 120,000 people from their homes since 2011 alone.

In a country that has is becoming increasingly intolerant of minorities, she works against a bloody backdrop: just two months ago, Burmese soldiers raped and killed two Kachin women working as volunteer schoolteachers in a remote village in the Shan state.

Phyu herself has received threats and faces constant harassment and legal charges, but she forges on.

As a co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women Peace Network, she advocates tirelessly for the rights of displaced women and children who are most vulnerable to violence in makeshift camps. She also heads Gender Equality Now, an umbrella group of over 90 organisations collectively advocating for women’s rights.

None of these accolades have corroded her humility.

“When I heard I had been selected for this award I asked myself, ‘Do I really deserve this?’” she tells IPS, adding that many other women have shown even greater courage than she in times of adversity.

She speaks of her friend, also a Kachin woman, who first enlightened her of the plight of the IDPs and gender discrimination.

“She is my symbol of courage and whenever I’m feeling down I just look at her, listen to her, and her voice and her anchorage brings me fresh strength,” Phyu says.

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

The remaining honorees from Asia include Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Air Force Pilot in Afghanistan’s history, and Tabassum Adnan, a resident of the formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley who survived 20 years of physical and mental abuse before going on to lead the first-ever women’s only Jirga (council) dedicated to issues such as acid attacks, honour killings and ‘swara’ – the practice of exchanging a woman to settle disputes or compensate for crimes.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are deadly places for women at the best of times, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reporting more than 3,000 cases of violence against women during a six-month period in 2012 and Pakistan police records stating that some 160 women suffered acid attacks in 2014, though NGOs say the number is much higher.

In both countries, choosing to fight back is often a matter of life or death, but such a calculation has not deterred these women from walking the path to freedom.

Other award winners include activists and journalists from Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo and Syria.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Jailed Journalist’s Family Looks to Iran’s New Year with Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/jailed-journalists-family-looks-to-irans-new-year-with-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jailed-journalists-family-looks-to-irans-new-year-with-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/jailed-journalists-family-looks-to-irans-new-year-with-hope/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 20:28:34 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139634 Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief, has been detained in Iran since July 22, 2014. Credit: http://freejasonandyegi.com/

Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief, has been detained in Iran since July 22, 2014. Credit: http://freejasonandyegi.com/

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Mar 12 2015 (IPS)

The lawyer for Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Washington Post reporter detained in Tehran since Jul. 22, 2014, has officially requested temporary bail for her client during Nowruz, the beginning of the Persian calendar year when some prisoners have customarily been granted furlough requests.

“This time of year, with his birthday and Nowruz [Mar. 21] coming up, we are certainly hopeful that the folks in government will see that there is really no justifiable reason for Jason to be in prison,” said Jason’s brother, Ali, in an interview here Wednesday with IPS.“[The Rouhani government] would like to see him free, but they have shown to be completely unwilling to spend any of their political capital on this case or any of the other horrendous violations going on in the country." -- Hadi Ghaemi

Rezaian, who spoke at the National Press Club’s event today naming Jason as a recipient of its John Abuchon press freedom award, said his family has not been officially informed of the charge his brother is facing.

The Iranian judiciary, which does not recognise dual citizenship, hasn’t publicly announced charges. But Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Sept. 17 that Rezaian, whom he described as a “fair reporter,” is aware of the charge during an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

Mohammad Larijani, a top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader and the head of the judiciary’s human rights council, was also unspecific but told Euronews Nov. 11 that Rezaian was “involved in activities beyond journalism.”

The influential politician added that he expected Rezaian to be released soon: “My hope is that before going to the court process, the prosecutor could be content to drop the case to see that maybe the accusations are not quite substantial.”

Four months later, Rezaian is facing trial in the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary court, which operates separately from criminal and civil courts and handles cases categorized by the judiciary as pertaining to national security issues.

Human rights groups say the court tries people for ideological and political reasons and that case outcomes are often predetermined with harsh sentences.

“Jason is not only a credentialed journalist engaging in journalist activities, he’s also a reporter for the Washington Post and it should be understood that his job requires him to speak to people and understand what is going on in Iran and portray the life and the activities of the people there,” Ali Rezaian told IPS. “He has done this fairly for more than a decade.”

Longest-held Western journalist

Born to an Iranian father and American mother, Jason Rezaian, who covered Iran for IPS until 2012, will likely spend his 39th birthday in Iran’s notorious Evin prison on Mar. 15.

Rezaian moved to Iran, where press freedom is severely limited, in 2008, and became the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief in 2012.

No other journalist working with a Western news outlet has been held as long as Rezaian, who has been detained for more than 230 days.

Ali Rezaian told IPS that his brother loved his life in Iran and would often encourage foreigners to see the country for themselves.

“He always said: ‘You should come and see it; it’s a wonderful place.’ And if people would say things that were not right about Iran he would say: ‘You don’t understand; come and see it.'”

Extending beyond the common Western news themes of the nuclear programme and political infighting, Rezaian’s journalistic portfolio is heavily focused on the social and cultural aspects of life in Iran.

“You know, you look at the work that he did with the Post and he spent a lot of time showing people a different side of Iran than we are regularly exposed to here in America,” said Rezaian.

“It’s just his nature to communicate with all sorts of people and its part of being a journalist, to ask questions, to try and reach out to people on both sides of the discussion to promote understanding,” he said.

Since being detained, Rezaian reportedly struggled to get several health conditions treated in a timely manner and has lost 50 pounds. But he may be suffering most from the isolation and lack of human contact, according to his brother, who said Jason spent five months in solitary confinement before being moved to a cell with another prisoner.

Initially seeking to personally request her son’s release from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Rezaian’s Istanbul-based mother Mary was only allowed to see her son in Evin prison twice in December.

“I need a head doctor, because this is going on way too long,” Jason Rezaian told his mother after showing her he had not been tortured during a videotaped meeting, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Since then, his family abroad has been unable to speak to Jason and the frequency and amount of contact with his wife, reporter Yeganeh Salehi who was detained with Rezaian and released on bail in October, has dramatically decreased.

Campaign

The National Press Club released a letter today signed by prominent American journalists addressed to Iranian judicial chief Sadegh Larijani expressing “grave concern” over Rezaian’s detention and what it called “the ongoing disregard for the legal protections assured its citizens by the Iranian constitution.”

Boxing star Muhammad Ali also issued a statement through the club. “To my knowledge Jason is a man of peace and great faith, a man whose dedication and respect for the Iranian people is evident in his work. I support his family, friends and colleagues in their efforts to obtain his release,” he said

In addition to his family’s stepped up efforts and calls by the U.S. government, his editors, and journalistic institutions for Rezaian’s release, an online support petition has received more than 235,000 signatures from around the world.

The hashtag “#FreeJason” continues to be circulated on social media including Twitter and Facebook.

But while some of the conditions of Rezaian’s custody have improved, he remains incarcerated while he and his family agonise over his fate.

His story is meanwhile competing for media coverage with the intensive talks over Iran’s nuclear programme aimed at reaching a final agreement by the end of June.

“This case has been a headache in the Iranian government’s foreign policy dealings with the outside world,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “But due to the sensitive time of the negotiations its probably not getting the attention it should.

“[The Rouhani government] would like to see him free but they have shown to be completely unwilling to spend any of their political capital on this case or any of the other horrendous violations going on in the country,” he said.

“Iran needs to feel more heat to release him,” added Ghaemi.

A State Department official told IPS, “We are doing everything we can to secure the release of Jason Rezaian and the other U.S. citizens detained and missing in Iran.”

The cases of American citizens were being kept separate from the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, added the official.

“Nowruz is a wonderful time for the higher-ups in government to take a hard look at the evidence that some people say they have to decide if that’s really deserving of time in prison, let alone nearly eight months, and if not make it clear to those in power that Jason should be acquitted,” said Ali Rezaian.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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What’s Driving the Merciless Asylum Seeker Policies in Australia?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/whats-driving-the-merciless-asylum-seeker-policies-in-australia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-driving-the-merciless-asylum-seeker-policies-in-australia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/whats-driving-the-merciless-asylum-seeker-policies-in-australia/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 16:55:22 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139606 The Australian Human Rights Commission has condemned the government’s asylum seeker detention policies. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The Australian Human Rights Commission has condemned the government’s asylum seeker detention policies. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

As conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere pushed the number of refugees to 13 million last year, the international community is struggling to shoulder the humanitarian responsibility of protecting those fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands.

But in Australia – a wealthy nation, far from major war zones, whose 23 million people enjoy a per-capita GDP of 67,458 dollars – the government has implemented ruthless policies for the roughly one percent of global asylum seekers who hope to find refuge on its shores.

“[Australians] are being systematically conditioned into accepting the cruel treatment of others as necessary and inevitable.” -- Australian writer and social ecologist Isobel Blackthorn
Why, in a country boasting of prosperity and peace, are asylum seekers demonised for seeking safety and freedom? Why have policies resulting in degrading human treatment, amounting to torture, as recently found by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, been implemented with so little public resistance in Australia?

Last year Australia received 4,589 asylum applications compared to 29,009 in France and 51,289 in the United States. Over 37 years Australia received a total of 69,445 asylum seekers, only slightly higher than the 67,400 Germany received during the first six months of last year.

Immigration is a contentious issue in many countries, but Australia is the only one to indefinitely incarcerate asylum seekers in immigration detention centres on arrival.

Those who arrive by sea are transferred to offshore detention centres in the developing Pacific Island states of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. They are refused resettlement in Australia, even if assessed as refugees. More than a year ago the government began turning asylum-seeker boats back at sea.

“There is no greater deterrent to protecting our borders and stopping boats coming to Australia than by stopping the boats physically […],” Scott Morrison, then Minister for Immigration, said to media this past November.

This is necessary to stop people drowning at sea, the government argues, despite the policy threatening the lives of vulnerable people and violating the principle of non- refoulement laid out in the 1954 U.N. convention referring to the status of refugees.

In a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council Monday, Juan Mendez, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, concluded that Australia’s “Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment, which has passed both the house and the Senate of Australia at this point, violates the [Convention Against Torture, or CAT] because it allows for the arbitrary detention and refugee determination at sea, without access to lawyers.”

Mendez’s report also found that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, together with reports of ill-treatment and outbreaks of violence, constituted a violation of the human right “to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as provided by articles 1 and 16 of the [Convention Against Torture].”

In a statement published on Mar. 9, Daniel Web, director of legal advocacy at the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Center, said, “Under international law, Australia can’t lock people up incommunicado on a boat somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Nor can we return people to a place where they face the risk of being tortured. Yet these are precisely the powers the Government has sought to give itself through recent amendments to its maritime law.”

Australia’s mandatory and prolonged immigration detention policies are also “in clear violation of international human rights law”, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) recently reported.

Refugee assessments were suspended more than two years ago to remove advantage to those arriving by irregular means. By mid-2014, approximately 3,624 asylum seekers, including 699 children, were in detention centres.

Long confinement on average for 413 days in harsh living conditions were key factors in 34 percent of children and 30 percent of adults being diagnosed with serious mental disorders. There were 1,149 recorded incidents of serious assault, including sexual abuse, in detention centres, and 128 of children self-harming, the AHRC found.

The government’s recent announcement that children below 10 years will be released into community detention with bridging visas won’t apply to those who arrived before Jul. 19, 2013.

There is recognition by Australian legal and policy experts that “critical to any asylum policy is not whether it deters, but whether the needs of those seeking protection are met.” Organisations such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Refugee Action Coalition also provide refugee advocacy and support.

But a 2010 public survey revealed more than 60 percent of respondents accepted the government’s hard-line stance.

Conditioning the public to accept cruelty

For some experts, even more disturbing than the policies themselves is public acceptance of routine ill treatment of refugees.

“Australia has fought its ideological war with as much moral insanity as would be found in a dictatorship,” the Australian writer and social ecologist, Isobel Blackthorn, wrote in the National Forum last year.

“We are being systematically conditioned into accepting the cruel treatment of others as necessary and inevitable.”

Professor Nick Haslam, head of Melbourne University’s School of Psychological Sciences, told IPS, “Activists have been quick to criticise successive governments while letting the general public off the hook.”

Official references to asylum seekers as “illegals”, suggesting criminality – despite the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stating clearly that “seeking asylum is not illegal and respecting the right to seek asylum includes provision of humane reception” – have not been sufficiently challenged.

There has been little public resistance to the electoral point-scoring of politicians who ignore the ‘push’ factors, such as global conflict, and regale the ‘pull’ factors, that the good life in Australia is attracting an invasion. This theory ignores the fact that the vast majority of asylum seekers head to Europe and the United States.

According to Blackthorn, “Many in Australian society adopt without question the views and falsehoods promulgated by politicians and the media that set out to inflate our sense of entitlement in ‘the lucky country’.”

In the 1990s, Robert Manne, Emeritus Professor at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, identified a “new complacency” in Australia following the demise of communism, when many western leaders believed their actions were now beyond reproach.

During the Australian Liberal Government, led by Prime Minister John Howard from 1996-2007, “[National] self-criticism gradually became confused with un-Australian self-hatred,” Manne wrote in 2011, with social and political passiveness encouraged.

Complacency and parochialism have been exacerbated by geographical isolation and two decades of uninterrupted economic prosperity due to the mineral resources boom.

“Lacking a history that makes it easy to imagine the kind of desperation borne of political oppression and fear, many Australians are genuinely disturbed by the disorderly nature of the refugee scramble for safety,” Manne stated.

Haslam told IPS that public indifference is “driven primarily by the perception that asylum seekers are undeserving opportunists who are seeking entry to the country in an unfair manner” and that many are economic migrants, rather than in need of protection.

In reality, more than 88 percent of asylum seekers between 2008 and 2013 were found to be legitimate refugees.

Blackthorn suggests that the “asylum seeker issue feeds a nationalism that comes dangerously close to the far right”, adding that if the public doesn’t collectively use its democratic right to demand change of their government it is possible that “Australia will fall foul of the sorts of extremisms that have led to so many fleeing their homelands.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: A Year of Progress for “Children, Not Soldiers”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-year-of-progress-for-children-not-soldiers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-year-of-progress-for-children-not-soldiers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-year-of-progress-for-children-not-soldiers/#comments Sat, 07 Mar 2015 13:41:27 +0000 Leila Zerrougui http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139551 Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Nov. 1, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Nov. 1, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Leila Zerrougui
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 7 2015 (IPS)

One year ago, representatives of the last eight governments of the world named by the U.N. secretary-general for the recruitment and use of children in their security forces gathered at the United Nations in New York to declare they were ready to take the steps necessary to make their security forces child-free.

The gathering in itself was historic. And so is the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers”, launched jointly with the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF exactly a year ago. The campaign builds on the growing international consensus that children do not belong in security forces and seeks to galvanise support to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by national security forces in conflict by the end of 2016.A few years ago, it was not uncommon in my travels to be greeted by military commanders, surrounded by children in uniforms and carrying weapons. That has become unacceptable now.

The countries concerned by the campaign are: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but we have come a long way. A few years ago, it was not uncommon in my travels to be greeted by military commanders, surrounded by children in uniforms and carrying weapons. That has become unacceptable now.

Governments identified by the U.N. secretary-general acknowledge that children do not belong in their security forces and most have taken concrete steps to make sure their children do not become soldiers.

In the campaign’s first year, progress has been steady. The campaign received broad support and we achieved results that are making a difference in children’s lives. Chad has completed all the reforms and measures included in its Action Plan signed with the U.N. and has been taken off the U.N. secretary-general’s list of child recruiters.

Over 400 children were released from the national army in Myanmar. In all of 2014, in DRC, there was only one case of child recruitment by the national army, and the child was quickly released. In Afghanistan, the recruitment of children is in decline and only five cases were recorded by the U.N.

Six of the seven remaining countries concerned by the campaign have now signed and recommitted to Action Plans with the United Nations. These Action Plans are agreements that indicate all the steps necessary to end and prevent the recruitment of children in government forces.

The “Children, not Soldiers” campaign has also accomplished its purpose as a rallying cry to make the issue of child soldiers a top concern of the international community. “How can we help?” was the question asked by officials from dozens of countries, NGOs, partners from the U.N. system, regional organisations and many more.

Officials from countries involved in the campaign have also met with representatives from other countries who ended the use of child soldiers in their armies. These were opportunities to share experiences, successes and challenges.

This is positive, but the campaign’s first year has also shown that goodwill and commitments with the U.N. are not enough to guarantee that children will not become soldiers.

The conflict in South Sudan is a cruel reminder that acting on provisions included in an Action Plan, such as the establishment of child protection units in a country’s armed forces, or taking steps to criminalise the recruitment of children is not enough to guarantee that boys and girls will be fully protected if conflict strikes again.

In Yemen, months of work leading to the signature of an Action Plan in May 2014 have been derailed by the current political situation. Instead of the anticipated progress, data gathered by the U.N. indicates a spike in the recruitment of child soldiers by all parties to the conflict.

Even the armed group Al-Houthi Ansar Allah, whose leaders were actively engaged in dialogue with the U.N., have reneged on their commitment to protect children.

We cannot afford to watch silently while children once again pay the price for political instability in their countries. We keep reminding parties to the conflict that they cannot recruit or use children, that it is a war crime. We ask all those involved in peace talks to make sure that releasing children is a priority.

The big lesson of this campaign’s first year is that the road to child-free government armies is promising, but also full of obstacles. The setbacks of 2014 show that even if measures to protect children are put in place, gains can be reversed under the pressure of conflict.

We also have a better understanding that many countries face similar challenges. Addressing these common challenges will be a priority in the campaign’s second year.

Accountability is central to our work. To enhance accountability, I will encourage all countries concerned by the campaign that have not yet done so to criminalise the recruitment and use of children and to spell out consequences for offenders. Investigations and prosecutions of child recruiters remain far too rare, even in countries that have criminalised the recruitment of children. Without sanctions, children will never be fully protected.

Another challenge faced by most countries is verifying the age of their soldiers. That may seem like a problem easy to solve, but it is in fact a delicate and difficult task to execute in countries that do not have well-established birth registration systems.

The U.N. will continue to work with governments to establish or refine age-verification procedures to identify underage recruits and release them from the army.

Releasing children found in the ranks of national forces is essential, but they cannot be left on their own to rebuild their lives. Adequate resources must be available for community-based programmes that provide psycho-social assistance and help children build their future through educational and vocational opportunities. Helping children and their communities is the best way to not only prevent re-recruitment, but also to build peace and stability.

Throughout the year, I will continue to reach out to member states concerned by the campaign, the international community, regional organisations and all relevant partners to mobilise political, technical and financial support to address challenges faced by countries in the implementation of their Action Plan.

This is essential to encourage and guide concerned countries who must put in place mechanisms strong enough to safeguard the progress accomplished to protect children from recruitment, now and in the future should a new crisis strike.

The campaign has already received tremendous support from many who could make a real difference. This year, I call on everyone to join us, because, together, we can make sure that they are children, not soldiers.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Congolese Citizens Forced to Pay for Police, Protection Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/congolese-citizens-forced-to-pay-for-police-protection-services/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 22:20:35 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139543 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo are as dangerous and lawless as ever, with police and the state offering citizens little or no protection from armed groups.

‘Secure Insecurity,’ a report released Friday by Oxfam, claims citizens in some parts of the DRC are “forced to pay for protection that the state should be providing to its citizens as their right.”

The report says some police charge citizens for their services – US$5 to report a crime, US$10 or up to the equivalent of US$40 to investigate – but even when state protection is freely available, it is often ineffective.

“As a woman in her early thirties told Oxfam: ‘When I went to see the chief about a case of rape in our district, the chief told me that justice doesn’t concern women’,” the report stated.

Stories included in the report also claim the Congolese army and police regularly beat and assault citizens.

Oxfam says the report “reveals how little progress has been made towards building legitimate and credible state authority in many parts of eastern DRC, a disturbing conclusion.”

One woman from the Ruzizi Plain area of Uvira is quoted as saying “we don’t know where to turn, we just want some fresh air; we want peace.”

Oxfam claims “the world’s attention largely moved away from the [DRC]” in February 2013, after the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, in which the government promised to reform security services and build the state’s authority nationwide.

However, a series of renewed conflicts between rival army and militia groups since October 2014 have killed 250 people in the country’s east.

Militia groups have also demanded crops from farmers, set up illegal roadblocks and charged money for passage through, and extorted money from vendors returning from markets. State officials have also been accused of extortion, forced labour, and demanding payment for protection.

‘The population needs to live in peace and security in the areas that are under our [the government’s] control,” a police commander in North Kivu told Oxfam.

“We have deployed a police unit, but it’s too small to assure the security of the population on that hill.”

Conflicts over land, between different ethnic groups, has also led to “theft and slaughter of livestock, killings, kidnappings, destruction and expropriation of fields, preventing access to land and forced displacement.”

Oxfam urged the Congolese government to make the provision of state services in rural areas a priority, as well as reform security services, and ensure security and military salaries are paid.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Can Indigenous and Wildlife Conservationists Work Together?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/can-indigenous-and-wildlife-conservationists-work-together/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-indigenous-and-wildlife-conservationists-work-together http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/can-indigenous-and-wildlife-conservationists-work-together/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:28:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139518 “The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid,” say the Baka of Cameroon.  Credit: © Survival International

“The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid,” say the Baka of Cameroon. Credit: © Survival International

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

Indigenous and wildlife conservationists have common goals and common adversaries, but seem to be struggling to find common ground in the fight for sustainable forests.

The forest lifestyle of the Baka people of Cameroon helps provide improved habitats for wild animals.“When wildlife trafficking and bush meat trade results in the decline in wildlife populations, the very first people to suffer are indigenous people who need those wildlife populations to survive.” -- James Deutsch

When the Baka clear a patch for a camp, the clearing later turns into secondary forest that gorillas prefer, Mike Hurran, Survival International Africa campaigner, told IPS.

“When they harvest wild yams that grow in the forest, they always leave part of the root intact and that spreads the pockets of wild yams through the forest that elephants and wild bush pigs like,” he said.

They have “sophisticated codes of conservation” and have lived sustainably for generations following the ‘ancestor’s path’.

But pressures on the Baka’s forest home are coming from many angles; logging, mining, and illegal poaching.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), worldwide wildlife trafficking is now worth an estimated 23 billion dollars annually, threatening endangered species and ruining opportunities for sustainable development.

On the ground, tackling wildlife crime is becoming increasingly difficult. Poachers, backed by the same international crime syndicates that traffic in drugs and people, are employing increasingly sophisticated techniques.

At the same time, forests are under increased pressure from resource exploitation. Mining and logging destroy habitats and brings thousands of workers to the forest who themselves hunt, eat and trade wild animals.

“When wildlife trafficking and bush meat trade results in the decline in wildlife populations, the very first people to suffer are indigenous people who need those wildlife populations to survive,” James Deutsch, vice president, conservation strategy for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), told IPS.

Deutsch said conservationists and indigenous people have common adversaries, in organised crime syndicates and the extractives industry.

However, Survival International is concerned that although conservationists have in recent years expressed a greater commitment to working with indigenous communities, this is not always reflected on the ground.

“What these anti-poaching squads are doing, and by extension the conservation agencies that fund them, is really just focusing on the least powerful people, who are really just hunting to feed their families as they have for generations,” Hurran said.

“Often the poaching squads [that] enforce wildlife law are maybe corrupt or they don’t have much respect for the human rights of tribal people, such as the Baka,” he said.

“The Baka have told us that even when they are hunting in their special zones, using techniques which are recognised as traditional and legal and hunting just for food and not for sale, sometimes their meat is confiscated, and they are being harassed or beaten by anti-poaching squads,” Hurran added.

Survival International has named specific international conservation organisations that they say provide funding to these anti-poaching squads, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cameroon.

In a statement provided to IPS, WWF said, “On the ground, advancing the status and rights of tribal communities while also protecting the resources vital to them and the global community is extraordinarily difficult… WWF agrees that parks need people, and models such as Community Based Natural Resource Management being pursued by WWF globally over many years have ensured that many parks have people.

“WWF is open to a collaborative approach to these issues.  WWF is standing by commitments to assist a Cameroon National Human Rights and Freedom Commission investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Ecoguards and military and is reviewing field experience and our activities in support of the Baka and forest protection in Cameroon.”

Deutsch also echoed WWF’s call for a collaborative approach, saying that a deeper partnership between the human rights community and the conservation community is needed to address complex conservation challenges. Survival International also says WCS funds similar anti-poaching squads in the Republic of Congo.

“The conservation community has to be committed to partnering with indigenous people, because that’s the only way that we’re both going to find a future for wildlife, but also do it in such a way that human rights are respected and traditional societies are respected,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch, who previously led WCS’s programmes in Africa for 11 years, said that solutions were not simple and required perseverance, working with local communities on the ground.

One area both sides agree on is shortfalls in national and international laws protecting indigenous people.

WWF’s statement said that complications included “lack of official recognition in law or in practice of customary rights (and) shortfalls in knowledge, commitment and infrastructure necessary to support international human rights agendas.”

Survival International also acknowledges that national and international laws need to provide more protection to tribal people, both on paper and in practice.

“The criteria that the Baka people need to meet in order to hunt legally is very strict and unrealistic, so often they are considered poachers, when they aren’t,” Hurran said.

Speaking at a United Nations event on World Wildlife Day on Tuesday, Nik Sekhran, director of the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Cluster, said, “For many communities and for indigenous people around the world, sustainable use of wildlife and sustainable use of flora for medicines for food … is really critical to their survival.”

The financial benefits of wildlife tourism are often cited as an important reason to support wildlife conservation in developing countries. However, tourism income does not always trickle down to the poorest communities in developing countries.

“It’s particularly a challenge with hunter-gatherer people,” Deutch said. “There are many cases where wildlife tourism has been created and the intention has been to benefit hunter-gatherer societies and yet in some cases it’s been difficult to make sure that the benefits go to those people because they are less able to deal with the scrum for resources that results.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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42 Human Rights Groups Slam Indonesia’s Death Penaltyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/42-human-rights-groups-slam-indonesias-death-penalty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=42-human-rights-groups-slam-indonesias-death-penalty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/42-human-rights-groups-slam-indonesias-death-penalty/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 22:27:42 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139511 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

More than 40 human rights groups from around the world have penned an open letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, pleading for the halting of 10 imminent executions.

The letter, published by the International Federation for Human Rights on Tuesday, “condemn[s] in the strongest possible terms” the planned execution by firing squad of a group of prisoners in Nusakambangan prison, in central Java.

A total of 42 human rights and anti-death penalty groups from countries as far afield as Cameroon, France, Iran, Laos, India, Switzerland, Italy, Vietnam and Nigeria have signed the letter, criticising Indonesia’s execution policy and calling for urgent review of the group scheduled to be killed.

The group includes two Australians, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who have been in Indonesian custody since 2005 after leading the so-called “Bali Nine” drug gang who attempted to smuggle eight kilograms of heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

The pair, sentenced to death in February 2006, have languished on death row ever since, with an exhaustive series of appeals and reviews all ultimately unsuccessful.

Chan and Sukumaran had their clemency appeals recently rejected by Widodo, despite intense lobbying from the Australian government. The affair has strained ties between Indonesia and Australia.

The letter claims the rationale behind executions for drug-related crimes are based on “an outdated and criticized” Indonesian study, saying the impact of drugs on Indonesian society was vastly overstated and that there is no evidence that executing those involved with narcotics has any deterrent effect.

Widodo has stood behind the death sentence for Chan and Sukumaran against mounting international pressure, claiming the lives of 4.5 million Indonesians are “in ruin” because of drugs.

The condemned group said to also include Brazilian, Filipino, Ghanaian, Nigerian and French citizens - was expected to be executed in coming days. However, in an interview with Al-Jazeera, Widodo said the executions would not take place this week. The execution date is tipped to be revealed on Friday.

Your decision to authorize more executions in the coming weeks and months has tarnished Indonesia’s international image and risks damaging bilateral relations between Jakarta and capitals of abolitionist countries, which represent 70% of the international community,” the letter states.

“Executions are against Article 28(a) of the Indonesian Constitution, which guarantees everyone’s right to life. They are also in breach of Indonesia’s international legal obligations under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which recognizes every human being’s inherent right to life.

The letter calls for Indonesia to halt and commute all planned executions and instate a moratorium on further sentences, and abolish the death penalty altogether.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Prominent Lawyer Defending the Poor Gunned Down in Mozambiquehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/prominent-lawyer-defending-the-poor-gunned-down-in-mozambique/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prominent-lawyer-defending-the-poor-gunned-down-in-mozambique http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/prominent-lawyer-defending-the-poor-gunned-down-in-mozambique/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:53:50 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139507 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

As billions pour into Mozambique from foreign investors scooping up fields of coal and natural gas, the signs of newfound wealth are impossible to miss.

Expensive European-style bars and restaurants line the streets of central Maputo. The latest Toyota Pradas, Range Rovers and Jaguars drive down streets named Julius Nyerere, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung, former socialist leaders who might have heart failure at the wealth gap found here today.

The World Bank called Mozambique’s transition from a post-conflict country to one of Africa’s “frontier economies” nothing short of impressive. “The country has become a world-class destination for mining and natural gas development,” the Bank wrote.

Yet, according to the Bank, this rapid expansion over the past 20 years barely moved the needle for the poor. “The geographical distribution of poverty remains largely unchanged,” the Bank wrote in October last year. Per capita income is 593 dollars, less than one-third of the sub-Saharan average.

In 2014, Mozambique ranked near the bottom – 178 out of 187 countries – in the U.N.’s Human Development index.

Malnutrition has worsened significantly; life expectancy at birth is just 50 years. Malaria remains the most common cause of death, especially among children.

With signs of great wealth amidst nationwide poverty, resentment has been growing in backwater regions that have not shared in the bounty.

This week, a prominent lawyer exploring the case to decentralise power and create autonomy for those peripheral regions was cut down in cold blood on the streets of the capital, Maputo. Gilles Cistac, 54, was shot by four men in a car while riding a cab to work, police said.

A spokesman for the former rebel group Renamo said Cistac had been killed because of his views on decentralisation.

“He was killed for having expressed his opinions regarding the most contentious political issues in the country,” Renamo spokesman António Muchanga told Reuters Tuesday.

Cistac, a professor of law at the national Eduardo Mondlane University, recently told local media that the creation of autonomous regions would be allowed under the constitution. Renamo, similarly, has proposed that Mozambique be divided into two countries.

But Frelimo, the ruling party, has repeatedly rejected calls for regional autonomy, although President Filipe Nyusi agreed to debate decentralisation in parliament after Renamo parliamentarians refused to take up their seats following elections in October 2014.

Regarding the murder of Cistec, Presidential Spokesman Antonio Gaspar said, “We condemn the attack and demand that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice. The government has instructed the interior ministry to hunt and arrest those who assassinated Cistac so that they can be severely punished.”

Meanwhile, U.S. oil major Anadarko and Italy’s Eni are developing some of the world’s biggest untapped natural gas reserves in the north of the country – a Renamo stronghold, which the group has proposed to rename the Republic of Central and Northern Mozambique.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Burundi-Watchers See Erosion of Human Rights and Civic Freedomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/burundi-watchers-see-erosion-of-human-rights-and-civic-freedoms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burundi-watchers-see-erosion-of-human-rights-and-civic-freedoms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/burundi-watchers-see-erosion-of-human-rights-and-civic-freedoms/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:50:18 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139506 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

The bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s when Burundi was widely considered a police state may be making a comeback.

Some 300,000 people lost their lives in the country’s civil war from the 1990s to 2003, which broke out following the death of the country’s first democratically elected president.

Human rights defenders and journalists are now routinely smeared as enemies of the state.

According to a recent report by an East African rights group: “Human rights defenders in Burundi are operating in one of the most restrictive and hostile environments in East Africa as evidenced by an alarming pattern of harassment, intimidation, threats and legislative reforms.” Public gatherings have been banned, members of the opposition are attacked. Violence is escalating in the run up to the June 2015 elections, the East and Horn of Africa defenders project observed.

Even group jogging, a popular Burundian hobby that officials now say leads to uprisings, has been banned.

A tiny dot wedged between Tanzania to the south and east, and Rwanda to the north, the DRC to the west, Burundi was once a battleground between Hutus and Tutsis, much like Rwanda. The current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was a Hutu rebel leader.

The most contentious issue to date is whether the current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, will try for a third term – an apparent violation of the constitution.

A prominent rights activist, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, fears that a militarized youth wing of the ruling party is responsible for extrajudicial killings including beheadings.

An international spotlight was drawn to Burundi in September with the murder of three Italian nuns at their convent in Bujumbura. A radio journalist, Bob Rugurika, broadcast the purposed confession of a man claiming to be one of the killers.

Authorities detained Rugurika and then charged him with complicity in the murders and disclosing confidential information about the case.

His release last month prompted huge rallies of support. Hundreds of people crammed into dozens of cars and motorbikes followed Mr Rugurika after being released from prison some 30 miles away, the AFP news agency reported.

“I have no words to thank the Burundian population,” Mr Rugurika said in a radio broadcast. “Thanks to your support, your commitment… I’m free at last.”

A spotlight has again been drawn to Burundi with the late night prison breakout this week of the president’s political rival, Hussein Radjabu. A former ally of the current president, he was regarded as Burundi’s most powerful man until his arrest in 2007.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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