Category Archives: human rights

Boochani: Asylum seeker on Manus wins Australian literature prize

Asylum photo                                Boochani has been held on Manus Island for more
                               than five years [Facebook]

A Kurdish asylum seeker has won one of the most important
Australian literature prizes, the Victorian Prize for
Literature.

However, Iranian Kurd Behrouz Boochani was unable to accept
the award personally in Melbourne because he is being kept on
Manus Island.

Boochani won the award, which comes with a monetary prize of
100,000 Australian dollars (approximately $73,000), for his
book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.
It was written in Farsi while he was held in the now-closed
detention centre on the island.

It comprises of text messages sent mostly through WhatsApp to
his translator.

The book also won the Non-Fiction Prize, worth 25,000
Australian dollars (approximately $18,000)

Boochani has been living on Manus Island since 2013 and, like
all detainees, is not allowed to leave.

“It’s a paradoxical feeling,” said Boochani.

“I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see
many innocent people suffering around me,” he told The Age
daily. “Give us freedom. We have committed no crime, we are
only seeking asylum.”

He fled Iran as he was in danger of being arrested by
authorities over his journalism work.

Boochani attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia
twice.

On the first attempt, the boat sank and Boochani was rescued
by Indonesian fishermen.

In July 2013, his boat, which held 75 asylum seekers, was
intercepted by the Australian Navy and he was transferred to
the Manus Island detention centre.

Manus is a territory belonging to Papua New Guinea but has
been used by Canberra since 2013 as a place to send asylum
seekers who try to reach Australia.

The practice has been denounced as contravening the human
rights of the refugees and migrants detained there.

Many congratulated Boochani on Twitter but also criticised
Australia’s “hypocrisy” and “cognitive dissonance”.

“I think it’s so great that Behrouz Boochani won the VPLA for
nonfiction tonight, but I’m also struggling with the cognitive
dissonance of a nation celebrating the story, the work, of a
man we’re still torturing,” author Omar Sakr wrote on Twitter.

“[He] is still imprisoned, and kept stateless by us. We must
free them.”

“Does anyone else see the jarring hypocrisy of a country that
is applauding a literary achievement with one hand and
torturing the author with the other?” another wrote.

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2019/01/boochani-
asylum-seeker-manus-wins-australian-literature-prize-
190131153103650.html

Myanmar: Wives of Reuters journalists devastated by verdict

reuters photoPan Ei Mon (L) and Chit Su Win wives of jailed Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo after their appeal was rejected [Ann Wang/Reuters]

by Joshua Carroll

Yangon, Myanmar – The families of two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after uncovering a massacre in Rakhine state were once again left devastated on Friday when a court rejected the pair’s appeal to overturn their seven-year prison sentences.

After the judge rattled through his ruling in a crowded courtroom in downtown Yangon, the wives of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo wept as senior foreign diplomats offered their commiserations.

While little has gone in the reporters’ favour since their arrests in December 2017, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, was still clinging to hope before today’s decision.

“We were even hoping to go to the jail to welcome them if they were released today, but it’s not happening,” she told a scrum of reporters outside the gates of Yangon’s regional High Court.

Neither of the men attended Friday’s ruling. They have both been unable to see their children for the past month. Wa Lone’s detention forced him to miss the birth of his baby daughter in August last year, while Kyaw Soe Oo has only been able to see his three-year-old daughter at court hearings and prison visits.

A message to journalists

The two journalists were sentenced in September under the country’s Official Secrets Act after being accused of holding classified documents.

Their nine-month trial was roundly condemned as a sham aimed at stifling independent reporting on the military’s large-scale killings of Rohingya.

“Journalists have got the message that they should avoid these kinds of issues,” Myint Kyaw, secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network, told Al Jazeera.

The military is adamant its actions in late 2017 were legitimate counterinsurgency operations, but the UN has called for senior officials to be prosecuted for genocide.

Defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung said he would talk to the reporters about whether or not to take an appeal to Myanmar’s Supreme Court. “We are very disappointed about today’s judgement,” he said.

In their September appeal, the defence pointed to testimony by a police captain who said his colleagues entrapped the reporters in a sting by handing them documents and then promptly arresting them.

But Judge Aung Naing hewed closely to the original ruling today before observers in a high-ceilinged courtroom dotted with cobwebs, and described the pair’s prison terms as a “suitable punishment”.

Besides a Supreme Court ruling, the reporter’s best hope of being released soon is a pardon from President Win Myint, who would take orders from the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Based on previous cases of journalists being jailed in the country, said Myint Kyaw, there is a chance the pair will receive a pardon, “but it will take time”.

‘A day in prison is an injustice’

Maja Kocijancic, the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: “We are confident that the President of Myanmar will promptly address this injustice and ensure, together with the government, that the press can fulfil its function as an essential pillar of democracy.”

Many are losing hope that former icon of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi will intervene on the pair’s behalf.

Bill Richardson, a senior US diplomat and former confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi, alleged last year that she referred to the two journalists as “traitors” during a heated exchange.

Richardson resigned from his position on an international advisory body on Rakhine soon after the confrontation.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting from Rakhine’s Inn Din village last year revealed how soldiers and villagers hacked and shot 10 Rohingya men and boys to death before burying them in a mass grave.

They were among almost 7,000 Rohingya who died within the first month of the military’s crackdown, which began in late August 2017, according to estimates from Doctors Without Borders.

The reporters were held incommunicado for two weeks following their arrests. Wa Lone later testified that he was hooded and deprived of sleep during days of interrogation.

“One day in prison was already an injustice,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response. “This appalling farce must end now.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/myanmar-wives-reuters-journalists-voice-despair-verdict-190111102521706.html

UAE activist Mansoor loses final appeal against 10-year sentence

UAE photoAhmed Mansoor was arrested in March 2017 and sentenced in May by Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court for ‘defaming the UAE through social media channels’ [File: Nikhil Monteiro/Reuters]

A United Arab Emirates (UAE) appeals court has upheld a 10-year prison sentence against prominent pro-democracy activist Ahmed Mansoor for criticising the government on social media, Amnesty International reported.

Mansoor, an electrical engineer and poet, was arrested in March 2017 and sentenced in May by Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court for “defaming the UAE through social media channels”.

Mansoor was among five activists convicted and later pardoned for insulting the UAE’s rulers in 2011.

He was arrested again in March 2017 at his home in Ajman on charges of publishing false information and rumours, and of promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda.

Mansoor was also charged with using social media to “harm national unity and social harmony and damage the country’s reputation”.

Local media reported that the father of four, Mansoor, was handed a fine of one million dirhams ($270,000) for insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols, including its leader.

Several international rights groups, including the United Nations human rights bodies, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the European Union Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights have condemned the sentencing of Mansoor earlier this year.

‘No space for freedom’

Responding to Monday’s decision by the court to uphold Mansoor’s sentence, Amnesty’s Middle East Research director, Lynn Maalouf said that the decision proves “there is no space for freedom [of] expression in the United Arab Emirates”.

His only ‘crime’ was “to express his peaceful opinion on social media, and it is outrageous that he is being punished with such [a] heavy prison sentence” she said in a statement.

“The authorities must ensure his conviction and sentence are quashed and release him immediately and unconditionally,” the statement read.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in October, Joe Odell, the campaigns manager for the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) said that since the cybercrime law in 2012 came into force, there has yet to be a precedent where a rights activity has successfully appealed their sentence.

“It is unlikely that the process will be a fair and independent one,” he said.

“His continued detention is in clear breach of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to which the UAE is a signatory,” Odell added.

In 2015, Mansoor won the Martin Ennals award for human rights defenders for his work in the UAE.

He’s been described by the awarding body as “one of the few voices within the UAE who provide a credible independent assessment of human rights developments in the country.”

An expert told the UN Human rights commision last year that Mansoor’s arrest and detention is a “direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.”

Human Rights Watch in March 2018 said Mansoor is believed to have been held in solitary confinement.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

House passes farm bill and controversial rule on Yemen debate

Bill photoUS Capitol dome. Credit: Dan Thornberg/Shutterstock.

By Christine Rousselle

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An agriculture bill supported
by a coalition of Catholic groups passed the House of Representatives on
Wednesday with bipartisan support. During debate over the bill, lawmakers also
passed a controversial rule regarding debate on US involvement in Yemen.

The bill now moves to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The “farm bill” concerns agricultural programs and food assistance. It is renewed
each year, and this process can sometimes be quite lengthy due to additions and
amendments added to the bill by members of Congress.

The version of the farm bill passed Dec. 12 was a compromise that eliminated some
of the more controversial aspects of an earlier version of the bill. Those controversial
provisions included expanded work requirements for people who receive
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. That bill passed the
House of Representatives in June, but only had the support of Republican members.

SNAP is used by approximately 38 million Americans each year to purchase food
items. Currently, able-bodied SNAP recipients who are between the ages of 18 and
49 who do not have dependents under the age of six, must work or volunteer for 20
hours a week or participate in a job-training program in order to receive benefits.
The proposed bill would have upped the upper age limit of this requirement to 59,
but that provision was dropped in the compromise bill.

In a controversial procedural move, a mostly party-line passing vote on rules for
floor debate of the farm bill also included a provision that would block legislators
from forcing a vote on military aid to Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the Yemeni civil
war.

This effectively limits the Senate’s Dec. 13 vote to withdraw military aid from Saudi
Arabia to a symbolic gesture.

This amended bill passed by a vote of 369-47 in the House of Representatives, and
87-13 in the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 11.

The bill was praised by a coalition of Catholic organizations.

“Agriculture policies should promote the production and access of nutritious food for
all people, using the bounty from the land God has called us to tend and steward to
aid the least of our brothers and sister in this country and around the world,” read a
Dec. 12 letter to the House of Representatives signed by several Catholic
organizations, including the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities
USA.
“We are pleased that the recently released Farm Bill Conference Committee Report
includes provisions that protect global and domestic nutrition programs and
strengthens rural supports and employment training programs,” they added.

The letter also stated support for the inclusion of two programs that contribute to
rural development, as well as the bill’s changes to international food security
programs. These changes will make the programs “more effective and allow them to
serve more people.”

The Catholic coalition expressed disappointment with other parts of the bill, including
subsidies to farmers and ranchers and a decrease in funding to conservation
programs. Each year, one of the hotly-debated points of the farm bill concerns
subsidies that are distributed to farmers, and critics of this say the money does not
always go to farmers who are in need of assistance.

The farm subsidies should be “prioritized” for struggling farmers, says the letter.

“It is disappointing that the Conference report does not take modest steps to limit
subsidy payments to farmers who are actively engaged in farming.”
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/house-passes-farm-bill-and-
controversial-rule-on-yemen-debate-78056

Researchers find ‘evidence of genocide’ against Rohingya

Genocide photoCardinal Tagle, president of Caritas International, visits Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, Dec. 3, 2018. Credit:Caritas Bangladesh

By Courtney Grogan

Chittagong, Bangladesh, (CNA/EWTN News).- As new evidence emerges of atrocities committed in Burma’s Rakhine state, the president of Caritas International visited Monday a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

In 2017 the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, faced a sharp increase in state-sponsored violence in Burma, also known as Myanmar. The violence reached levels that led the United Nations to declare the crisis “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh, and are living in refugee camps, many of which are located in a swampy sort of “buffer zone” along the border between the two countries.

Researchers with the Public International Law and Policy Group, contracted by the U.S. State Department to investigate Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya, found “reasonable grounds to believe that genocide was committed against the Rohingya,” in a report published Dec. 3.

The researchers interviewed more than 1,000 refugees, who shared their experiences of “mass shootings, aerial bombardments, gang rapes and severe beatings, torture and burning” by Burma’s armed forces.

Seventy percent of the Rohingya interviewed had witnessed their homes or villages being destroyed and 80 percent witnessed the killing of a family member, friend, or personal acquaintance.

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila visited Kutupalong refugee camp, more than 100 miles south of Chittagong, Dec. 3, describing it as “a cry to the whole world for a better politics based on compassion and solidarity.”

“When will we learn our lessons and be able to stop a crisis of this magnitude happening again? How as an international community and a human family can we get back to the basics of dignity, care and compassion?” continued Tagle.

The Filipino cardinal is the president of Caritas International, a group that has served the Rohingya refugee population since the crisis began. Caritas has helped nearly 500,000 refugees by providing shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, and living supplies.

“The situation of refugees from Myanmar was heartbreaking for me when I came first, but I’m seeing things improve,” Tagle said. “We wish for a permanent solution for these people who are stateless and helpless. It is our responsibility to be with them. We want them to have a happy life.”

Tagle found particular hope in seeing the efforts of the Caritas Bangladesh volunteers and staff to help the refugees during the Advent season.

“Here I am this first week of Advent with a people waiting for a future,” Tagle said. “For us Advent is waiting not for something but for someone. Jesus, who was born poor, who became a refugee but who never stops loving. I hope this message coming from this camp will encourage all of us never to get tired of loving.”

Bangladesh and Burma have agreed to a repatriation program which began last month, but few if any Rohingya have chosen to return to their homeland.

The Burmese government refused to use the term Rohingya, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship and numerous other rights since a controversial law was enacted in 1982.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/researchers-find-evidence-of-genocide-against-rohingya-30581

The Woman at the Heart of Sustainable Development

sustainable photo

Posted by Odile Ntakirutimana

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

All over the world, gender inequality makes and keeps women poor, depriving them of basic rights and opportunities for well-being.The root of this discrimination is in the way of considering women as nonexistent on their own as full human beings but as always attached to someone else: a daughter or a wife to someone.

In Africa, and in most patriarchal systems, women have been considered as entitled to no rights or to fewer rights than men. Popular beliefs in some cultures still consider them as having no right to own property in general and land in particular. If a woman hopes to someday inherit family property, the law may deprive her of an equal share, or social convention may simply favor her male relatives.

It is not uncommon in Africa to see a man take over a property of his deceased brother or uncle when the deceased has left descendants that are mainly or only girls. For many women therefore, access to land is not a guaranteed right and the consequences are even harsher for rural and unmarried or divorced women who cannot survive without land as it is their only source of income for themselves and their families.

Land is a very important natural resource and it is at the heart of human social activity in Africa. The inequalities in women’s rights to land affect their self-esteem and potential contribution to the welfare of the society; yet they are the primary producers of food, the ones in charge of working the earth, maintaining seed stores, harvesting fruit, obtaining water and safeguarding the harvest.

Many communities in African countries rely on subsistent farming as their source of livelihood. Women comprise on average of 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and over 50 per cent in parts of Asia and Africa.Research from the International Food Policy Research Institute has found that equalizing women’s status would lower child malnutrition by 13 percent (13.4 million children) in South Asia and by 3 percent (1.7 million children) in Sub-Saharan Africa. Experimental work suggests that increasing resources controlled by women promotes increased agricultural productivity.It is therefore a paradox that only 20 per cent of landowners globally are women.

The majority of women in developing countries face situations of discrimination at the hand of the national authorities and the international community. The European Union recognizes “in words” that women’s equal access to land helps guarantee the respect of fundamental human rights, including the rights to adequate food, shelter, non-discrimination and equality; the right not to be evicted; and the right to effective remedy, etc.

However big companies from the same EU and other wealthy countries are responsible of various human rights violations affecting women particularly in depriving them from accessing and using their land. This happens in the conclusion of large-scale land deals for commercial agriculture. The main goal of investment in land becomes then about providing food and energy for wealthier countries using the land and water of the poor. It stands to reason therefore that large-scale land deals exacerbate poor conditions of women access to land and ownership or further limit poor rural women’s opportunities for income generation.

Women have a right to equal access to all avenues to end poverty. Gender justice is not only a matter of social equity, but is also central to poverty reduction. While it is an established fact that the socio-cultural context of Africa undermines women’s right and access to land for food production and livelihood; large scale land acquisitions that are promoted in the name of “rural development” are extinguishing a candle that was already weak.

In Africa, a woman is a string that binds the family together. Therefore, land deals that take resources away from women do not only reduce the welfare of women but also participate in the disruption of the entire family system. It becomes imperative for private and international investors in Africa, who conclude land deals with local governments to consider the right of women to the land as an integral and essential part of their social responsibility to the community.

Furthermore, if they are genuinely motivated by sustainable development of communities, the profits of their investments are shared with those who are deprived to make way for their investments. Finally, African national Governments urgently need to bridge gaps between their existing programs that target gender equality and how they are applied in reality. The end of poverty cannot be achieved without ending gender-based discrimination.

http://aefjn.org/en/the-woman-at-the-heart-of-sustainable-development/

SEPHOS in Koudiadiène: a Paradox of Development

AEFJN photo

Posted by José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda

The 12 km road from Thiès to the commune of Cherif Lo (Senegal) is well paved and adorned with little villages on both sides of the road. Quite noticeable as well on approaching Koudiadiène are the grooves and depressions on the asphalt left by the trucks of great tonnage that ply the road daily. The crossroad of he village of Koudidiène is full of large trucks, merchants on the side of the road, women who weave in groups, young people who cross the road from one side to another going and coming to the secondary school and people waiting for the arrival of public transport that takes them to the city of Thiès.

During our visit to Koudiadiène; either to the religious communities, the medical dispensary or private homes of families, we soon discovered a common element: the dust from the mining site of SEPHOS are found on the tables, chairs, shelves, kitchen utensils, windows, books, trees, cars… The Sisters who work in assured us that they clean the dust every day in the morning and that in the evening everything is covered again by a whitish layer of dust from the mines. The glassy eyes of our interlocutors, the continuous clearing of their voices and the irritation of the throat is common for all its inhabitants. Myself, after spending a few hours in the area I begin to feel the throat irritation. “It is the dust of the mine” my guide told me when I requested to go to a pharmacy … This throat sensation would be my lot during the week-long visit in Koudiadiène and immediately it disappeared the same day I left to Dakar.

The representatives of the mining company SEPHOS deny that the dust comes from the mine and rather attributed it to the desert that is more than 100 kilometers away. However, the company fails to explain why other populations in the same region are not invaded by dust.

In the agreement reached between the mining company SEPHOS (of Spanish capital) and the villagers of Koudiadiène, in May 2017, Mr. Nolasco on behalf of the SEPHOS committed to a non-written agreement to a set of commitments with the population of Koudiadiène. This commitment would be based on the obligation of foreign companies to compensate for the damage caused to local populations with part of their profits and not based on a charity grant. Given the alleged toxicity of the dust, such concessions would alleviate the damage caused by the dust from the mine to the people who live in the surrounding areas of the mine.

Among these commitments, there were three specific actions related to the health and welfare of the population. SEPHOS would undertake simple measures that would reduce the emission of dust caused by the extraction of the mineral, such as covering the mineral with tarpaulins during the drying process, installing dust retention screens in the process of screening the mineral, as well as watering and repairing the access road to the mine through which large trucks ply and children walk go to school every day. Mr. Nolasco also committed himself to certain concessions such as donations of medicines to the dispensary of Koudiadiène and letting the use of the ambulance of the mine in case of health emergencies.

The dispensary of Koudiadiène mainly serves the district of Cherif Lo and its doors are open to the people as they come. The dispensary keeps strict records of the cases it encounters. As the graph shows, there has been a progression of cases treated in relation to skin, cough and throat and eye infections in the recent years. This data confirm what we have been able to observe in the village.

Given the claim of the company that the dust that accumulates in the village comes from the desert, AEFJN and REDES decided to take a sample of the dust and analyze it in a laboratory to find out the probable source of the dust. This sample was taken following the precise instructions of a mining engineer who accompanied us on our trip. The dust followed the recommended chain of custody so that its composition was not altered and has been analyzed in the laboratory of a recognized Spanish public university.

Among the first conclusions we have obtained is that the minerals found in the sample are not part of the composition of the sand that is normally found in the desert. On the contrary, the minerals found in the analyzed sample of dust (Sodium, Magnesium, Aluminum, Silicon, Phosphorus, Sulfur, Potassium, Titanium, Chromium or Manganese) are more typical of a mining quarry than of desert sand. Moreover, five of these minerals are found in a high concentration that are considered harmful to health. These are Magnesium, Aluminum, Phosphorus, Potassium and Iron.

If the sample of dust analyzed determines that it is not desert dust; If the dust is found only in the villas that surround the mine; If the dust analysis confirm the harmful concentration of five minerals for human health; If there has been an increasing number of cases registered in the dispensary of Koudiadiène; If those diseases are the same suffered by the workers of the mine … Then we consider that the security measures carried out by the company are clearly insufficient. That the mining activity is causing the emission of dust that affects the people of Koudiadiène and that dust is harmful to health.

The compensatory measures for local communities affected by mining companies in Africa cannot be left to the good will of the companies. Compensations must obey mandatory measures that are effective, transparent and verifiable by civil society. Otherwise the compensations will be lost or will be mere gestures of beneficence, or truncated by corruption. The EU cannot remain passive by the behavior of its companies and must demand from them the same ethical and legal behavior when they operate abroad.

The case of Koudiadiène is the case of a small company that operates a non-relevant mineral in a region of an African country. It is a small but paradigmatic example of the behavior of European companies operating in developing countries, especially in Africa. The EU must commit itself to the sustainability of the planet and look for long-term solutions that do not only look for their economic benefits but also prioritize the sustainability of natural resources. The EU has the obligation to be more demanding in its Transparency Directives, in the respect of human rights and, of course, to seriously commit itself to the initiative of the binding treaty of United Nations Business and Human Rights.

http://aefjn.org/en/sephos-in-koudiadiene-a-bad-paradigmatic-example/