Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Zimbabwe Catholic archbishop calls for an uprising

The Roman Catholic archbishop in Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, has called for a non-violent mass uprising like the one last year in Ukraine ahead of the 31 March national election. Ncube charged that President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party was deliberately preventing food from supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The opposition and international observer groups declared Zimbabwe's 2000 election, as flawed. In that poll the ruling party narrowly won the popular vote. The MDC said the election was rigged.

Zimbabwe has since clamped down on the media, shutting down independent newspapers and forcing representatives of foreign news organisations to flee the country.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

World Sindi Institute presses for human rights in Pakistan

The World Sindhi Institute (WSI) has sent a letter to Condoleeza
Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, urging the State Department to
reconsider its recent support of Musharraf's decision to continue as
Army Chief. Citing the lack of democratic freedoms and the
prevalence of gross human rights violations, WSI urged the State
Department to press the Musharraf regime for true reforms.
Secretary Rice visited Pakistan in a recent tour of Asia.

A copy of the letter is provided below.

March 25, 2005

The Honorable Condoleeza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice,

On behalf of the world Sindhi community (historically from the
region of Sindh, a province of Pakistan), and the World Sindhi
Institute, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you
on your recent appointment as Secretary of State. We wish you the
best of luck in your new position, and look forward to positive
changes in troubled areas of the world. With peace and security
increasingly important in global affairs, we ask for your attention
on the most pressing issues in Pakistan.

You recently commented that the U.S. government would not pressure
Musharraf to step down as army chief and effectively end his rule as
military dictator. This statement sends a negative message to the
Pakistani people – that the United States does not support
democracy in Pakistan. We ask you to support the rights of the
Pakistani people by demonstrating your continued support for and
commitment to a democratic Pakistan and promoting honorable human
rights practices. We urge you to reconsider this decision.

Secondly, we urge you to increase your level of support for human
rights in Pakistan. Extra-judicial killings, domestic abuse,
military brutality, police torture, rape, killings, and
disappearances are common, particularly in Sindh. All of these
instances of human rights violations are well documented by the
State Department, and we ask for your continued support and advocacy
to bring justice to the people of Pakistan. In particular, the
United States must press the Musharraf regime to denounce acts of
Violence Against Women (VAW). It must also ensure that such cases
are brought forth to the Pakistani judicial system, and that women
are not victimized by the legal process. The recent case of Dr.
Shazia Khalid has gained national press attention in recent months,
and justice has hardly been realized. She fled the country last
week in response to inaction and threats of violence. Her case is
but one example of the inability and unwillingness of the Pakistani
government to properly investigate cases of VAW and to bring them to
trial. Incidences of rape committed by the military, and within
Pakistani society as a whole, will continue until the U.S. no longer
tolerates corrupt leadership within the government, and holds it
accountable for fully prosecuting cases of VAW in Pakistan.

As regards the nuclear issue, the United States must continue to
monitor nuclear activity in Pakistan, and ensure that adequate
funding is allocated to perform such a task. The volatility and
instability of many South Asian governments creates an environment
ripe for nuclear proliferation, as the case of Dr. A.Q. Khan
demonstrates. The United States must remain focused on Pakistan and
ensure that nuclear devices, technology and expertise stay out of
the hands of those who may use them for destructive purposes.

We also ask that U.S. funds be denied to water projects along the
Indus River in Pakistan, in particular, the Kalabagh Dam and Thal
Canal. Dams and canals along the Indus have already had a
detrimental effect on Sindh, environmentally, socially and
economically. Additional projects will only worsen conditions. The
State Department must ensure that the Pakistani government does not
use U.S. funds to destroy the natural environment and the indigenous
people that occupy it.

We respectfully request the following of you, Dr Rice: Carefully
review U.S. policy towards Pakistan and its military ruler, and
offer support to the truly democratic movements that do exist,
however suppressed, in Pakistan. Authentic democratic movements,
particularly of the peace-loving and oppressed Sindhi, Baloch,
Serraiki and Pakhtun people, exist throughout the country – but
are stifled by authoritarian and unrepresentative regulations and
limited resources. Ongoing support of President Musharraf and his
military dictatorship, which shelters many of the terrorists that
the U.S. currently seeks, poses a serious threat to the United
States, Pakistan, and, indeed, the entire world. Your continued
support of democracy as well as human rights is of great importance,
and we urge you to answer its call in Pakistan.

I appreciate your time and consideration. My colleagues and I would
be available to meet with you and/or your assistants to further this
discussion. I may be contacted directly at 202-637-324/3245.

Sincerely yours,

Munawar Laghari
Executive Director
World Sindhi Institute
733 15th Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-637-3244/3245
Fax: 202-637-3246


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Protests in Kyrgyzstan

The deteriorating human rights conditions in Kyrgyzstan, culminating in the failure to deliver free and fair parliamentary elections this year, has brought out thousands of protestors, blocking roads, occupying administration buildings, and burning police stations in towns all over the country. In March 2002, officers shot and killed five unarmed demonstrators in the town of Aksy in Kyrgyzstan’s southern Jalal Abad province.

In recent years, the Akaev government has grown increasingly hostile to the development of an open political process and a vibrant civil society. This hostility intensified following the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in December 2004 and as elections approached in Kyrgyzstan. Human Rights Watch wrote to President Akaev in advance of the elections cautioning that this period would be a test of whether the Kyrgyz government is willing to meet public demands for responsive government and fair elections. The alternative is violating fundamental rights in order to avoid a repeat of Ukrainian-style “people power.”

Photographs of the street demonstrations show many protestors wearing pink scarves as a sign of unified opposition to the Akaev government. Despite the relatively small size of the crowds that have turned out thus far, this and other parallels have encouraged comparisons to Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution.”

Presidential elections scheduled for October 2005 will be a crucial moment. President has already served the two terms allowed for by law and has promised that he will not seek a constitutional amendment to allow him to run again. Protestors are demanding that he step down at the end of his term. If he steps down, he will set a positive precedent for all of the leaders of Central Asian states and the entire former Soviet Union.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Saint Patrick, anti-slavery activist

On St. Patrick's Day, it is interesting to note that St. Patrick was a survivor of slavery and a pioneering anti-slavery activist. Abducted in Britain in the 5th century, Patrick was taken to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped to Gaul, became a priest, and returned to Ireland to minister to those who once enslaved him. Patrick became one of the first people to speak out unequivocally against human bondage.

Meanwhile, a news release from Bangladesh indicates that child slavery is becoming rampant in that country.

Sarwar Hossain, 11, always wanted to see the Sundarbans and he readily agreed when an "unknown neighbour" offered to take him to the world's largest mangrove forest, reports BSS.

The boy was so delighted that he didn't bother to talk to his parents before embarking on the trip to the Sundarbans sometime in August 2004. It was too late when he realised that he was taken to a different destination.

Together with the stranger, Sarwar travelled to Dublar Char of Sarankhola Upazila in Bagerhat from his home district of Bhola. There he met the fate of many other children who were tactfully abducted from different places and forced to work for 'mahajans' in the charland.

Sarwar's father, Mosharraf Hossain of Pakhia village in Borhanuddin Thana of Bhola, was unaware of his whereabouts until the Coast Guard and forest officials rescued him along with 75 other minor boys in a joint raid on the char island on November
6, 2004.

Sarwar said he was forced to help catch, cut, select and dry fishes and do other fish processing works. He had to work most of the time and was only given two hours of rest in a day. He was beaten up when he refused to work.

There was no suitable sleeping place. He had to sleep either on boat, trawler or in open space. Nobody can adjust himself to the unhygienic environment of Dublar Char where there was no pure drinking water.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Terror in East Turkestan

One of the lesser known ethnic conflicts that is still ongoing is that of the Uighur people of East Turkestan. The Chinese occupation of East Turkistan began in 1949.

On August 27, 1949, a plane carrying the leadership of the Republic of East Turkestan was on its way to Beijing for talks with Mao Zedong. In circumstances that can be euphemistically called suspicious, the plane crashed, killing everyone on board. Upon hearing the news, Mao sent in the Communist military, and the occupation of East Turkestan began.

In the years since Uighurs have been brutally persecuted. Mosques have been razed to the ground. Political prisoners have been shot after show trials in which they are branded as terrorists. The Communists have sent wave upon wave of Han Chinese to East Turkestan to reduce the Uighur majority there. For nearly four decades, Communist China has conducted nuclear testing in East Turkestan. Most of these tests were conducted above ground, in open air, with no concern for those who would suffer from the nuclear fallout. Over 200,000 have died, and tens of thousands more have fallen ill with cancer.

The Chinese have followed the same tactics that they have used in Tibet, only Tibet has had a powerful spokesman in the person of the Dalai Lama. "Free Tibet" bumper stickers can be seen in the U.S. but never a "Free East Turkestan" bumper sticker.

In a cruelly ironic twist, the Chinese government has used the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. as an excuse for their terror in East Turkestan because the Uighurs are Moslems (just as the Russians have used the war on terror to win sympathy for their genocide against the Chechyans who are also Muslim.)

For over five decades, Communist China desperately tried to keep secret any evidence of resistance to the occupation in East Turkestan. On September 11, 2001, that all changed. While America licked its wounds, and the Uighur people loudly expressed their sympathy and support for the United States, Communist China saw an opportunity, an opportunity to smear an entire people for the regime’s benefit. Suddenly, resistance to Communism in East Turkestan was supposedly everywhere, and according to Beijing, all of it was tied to and supported by Osama bin Laden. Never mind that bin Laden himself never uttered one word about East Turkestan. Never mind that bin Laden himself was allowed to use Communist Chinese front companies on stock exchanges around the world to launder drug money for his terrorist operations. Never mind that Uighurs in this country and throughout the world have shown themselves to be the most pro-American Muslims on Earth.

Great powers are innately cynical and will use even the most horrendous of human tragedies to further their geopolitical goals.

Thanks to The China Letter for posting this article.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Niger begins enforcement of ban on slavery

Who says all the news is bad?

Niger has made its first effort to publicize and enforce an anti-slavery law that was passed in May of 2004. Last Saterday 7,000 people were freed for the first time in their lives.

The chief of the In Antes region will free slaves in the area under his control. 95% of the people of In Antes are owned and controlled by the other 5%.

In Niger, children are born into an established slave class. Out of a population of some 11 million, at least 43,000 people live as slaves.

Unfortunately, freedom won't be a panacea for Niger's slaves. With vast stretches of the Sahara desert within its borders, Niger is one of the world's poorest countries. Life expectancy is only 42 years. Over 60% of the population lives in poverty.

Still, Romana Cacchioli of Anti-Slavery International says that the overwhelming response of the freed slaves was hopeful.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Nepal: Security Forces 'Disappear' Hundreds of Civilians

Human Rights Watch has issued a report accusing the Royal Nepalese Army, which assisted King Gyanendra’s February 1 seizure of power, of responsiblity for a widespread pattern of enforced disappearances. In the last five years, more than 1,200 cases have been documented. According to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, in 2003 and 2004 Nepal recorded the highest number of new cases of “disappearances” in the world.

Among the testimonies recorded by Human Rights Watch are these:

The soldiers came to our village in the evening and burst into our house. As they were dragging my son to the street, I came out of the house, asked them where they were taking him, and begged them not to take my son away. But they pointed a gun at me and said they would shoot me if I did not go back into the house. They took him to the edge of the village, along with three other men, and an hour later we heard two long rounds of gunshots from there. But when we came, we found nothing there. An officer at the Rambhapur army post near our village first said we should bring a petition for their release, then suggested that they had been abducted by the Maoists, and finally said they had been taken to the Chisapani army barracks. But the officers there said they had no information.
--An elderly relative of 48-year old Jangu Tharu

After Som Bahadur was detained, for the first three months I visited him in the Fulbari army barracks. But one day I came to see him, and the army at the barracks told me he had been transferred to jail, but did not say which one. I searched every jail in the area, but could not find him. Then I inquired at the district police office in Pokhara, and the police said they had received his case, and were expecting him to be brought there. They told me he would come home soon, but he never did. Two months ago INSEC [local human rights group] inquired at the barracks again, and they said he was still alive, but they would not tell them where he was.
-- A relative of 29-year old Som Bahadur Bishwokarma

There were many soldiers in the village that night. One group took my older son, Khagga, away. Shortly after they left, we heard two gunshots from across the field, and wanted to go, but other soldiers were still in the house and they did not let us. They had their flashlights and guns pointed at us. The soldiers [that left with Khagga] then came back and took a wooden bed from our house…Another group then took my other son, Kala Ram away—I heard he was ordered, along with other men, to carry Khagga’s body on that bed to their van. Next morning we went to the field and found Khagga’s small sleeping veil that he took with him, all covered in blood, but we have not seen his body, and Kala Ram also never came back.
--Elderly parents of 34-year old Khagga Tharu and 23-year old Kala Ram Tharu

The mainstream media has been surprisingly quiet about Nepal. It doesn't fit into the oil story, it doesn't fit into the African tragedy story, it doesn't fit into the Muslim radical story, so it has no hook of interest for American audiences. But the suffering is just as real.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sex slaves hidden victims in trade

Along with thousands of people who try to cross the U.S. Mexican border every day are many woman destined to be trapped in world's most lucrative slave markets. Once in the U.S. the women are kept quiet by threats of violence against them or their families in Mexico.

"If you get caught with guns and drugs you'll get a long prison term," says Rick Castro, a deputy sheriff with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and a veteran of the war against modern slavers.

"But if you're a trafficker you've already told your victims that if they talk to the cops they'll be killed or raped. Or their family members back home will be killed. So there's less chance of being caught."

Little wonder that many victims keep quiet. Only 100 or so human trafficking cases have made it into US courts.

Slave trafficking ranks only behind drugs and weapons smuggling among the world's most profitable crimes. It's extent is not known with any certainty. The State Department estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the US each year, but other organizations estimate that the number is much higher.

"Maybe half that annual number, or more, become sex slaves," says Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, a Washington-based non-governmental organisation. "It's a very hidden crime. And it's one in which the crime is not an event, like a mugging reported to the police, but a process."

Trafficing in slavery is a world wide phenomenon. In France 90 per cent of female prostitutes are believed to be trafficking victims. Bales estimates that up to 250,000 slaves exist in the US. "The basic rule of trafficking is that people move from poorer to richer countries," he says. Many victims come from Russia, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. But the trade is pervasive. Women are traded from, say, Mali to Ghana, and from Ghana to Nigeria, then from Nigeria to Italy.

Rescue groups across the US work to rehabilitate physically and psychologically traumatised women, while toll-free, international hotlines in the US, the EU, Russia and other regions to receive calls from victims and their families. For example, San Diego's Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition has helped to rehabilitate 16 victims - from Korea, the Philippines, Mexico and Guatemala - in the past three months.

But law enforcement remains largely uninvolved in the problem and many victims are too frightened to testify resulting in few cases ever being prosecuted. "A lot are forgotten," says deputy sheriff Castro. "After years of abuse they almost forget who they are. They become numb and zombie-like. These girls are raped 20 to 30 times a day. Every day for years."

Slavery is a human rights area badly in need of publicity. Without public awareness, little will be done about it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Divesting from Sudan

Taking a page from the anti-apartheit movement, students at Harvard, Tufts and Boston universities have joined with an anti-slavery group to demand divestment from companies operating in Sudan.

A statehouse vigil in Boston will also urge university endowments and state pension fund in Massachusetts to divest from Sudan, said a statement issued Saturday.

The Massachusetts State Pension Fund has an estimated $1.4 billion invested in companies doing business in Sudan. Despite a campus divestment campaign, Harvard University recently increased its stake in the controversial PetroChina stock.

A candlelight vigil organized by the American Anti-Slavery Group and featuring student activists from the three educational institutions will begin Thursday afternoon.

"This is a crucial opportunity to show that we are leaders for a more just world, and will not tolerate our money and name being complicit in genocide," noted Brandon Terry of Harvard's Darfur Action Group and President Emeritus of the Black Men's Forum.

Terry is leading a campaign at Harvard for seniors to withhold their class gift until the university divests from PetroChina, a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Company, which recently partnered with the Sudanese regime in a $1 billion petroleum project.