Saturday, April 30, 2005

Radical Islam, Sharia, and Human Rights

The Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House has published a study of the spread of radical Islam; Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari'a Law. The book describes the impact on human rights and democracy when states adopt a starkly repressive version of Islamic law or extreme Shari'a. Propagated largely by the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Iran, extreme Shari'a rule has spread over the last quarter century to a number of regionally influential countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

Radical Islam's Rules documents effects of extreme Shari'a on human rights that are far more serious than the punishments of amputation and stoning that receive most international critical analysis. In practice, the status of women, the criminal code, religious freedom, the judicial system, educational systems, and the economy are all expected to conform to a purported seventh century model. However, the greatest danger of these laws is to democratic principles and systems themselves. Since their advocates assert they are divine, the laws cannot be debated or subordinated by man-made constitutions, legislative limits, or popular referenda.

In the countries surveyed, state imposition of extreme Shari'a is characterized by a lack of due process, stemming from vague and haphazard laws, untrained judges, and extrajudicial enforcement; cruel and unusual punishments, such as amputation, the removal of eyes, stoning, and crucifixion; the denial of equal rights under law to women, who are reduced to second-class status in marriage, divorce, and inheritance, and are denied full civil and political rights, equal education and employment opportunities, and equal treatment under the law. Rape and other forms of sexual exploitation often go unpunished due to rules of evidence that give women's legal testimony less weight than men's; the denial of equal rights under law to non-Muslims, making them second class citizens and worse, nonpersons without legal protection, sometimes even from extra judicial killing. Non-Muslims are denied full civil and political rights, particularly regarding religious freedom, and are discriminated against in state education and employment and under rules of evidence; the state enforcement of blasphemy or apostasy laws that can carry the death penalty against Muslims who are not part of the dominant group, who dissent from the state-imposed version of Islam, or who criticize the government's policies; weak or non-existent democratically elected legislatures, whose power is negated by un-elected religious authorities officially responsible for voiding laws that they deem to be inconsistent with Shari'a; and denial of religious freedom to individuals, particularly those who are Muslim, through blasphemy and apostasy laws that punish dissent and debate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Sindhi rights

A little known ethnic group that is suffering from discrimination, and government sponsored violence is theSindhi of south eastern Pakistan.

Decades old villages of Sindhi people have been declared illegal by Karachi administrative authorities and a processing of leveling such villages has already started.

These decades old villages are being treated as illegal settlements and Sindhis are seen as illegal settlers in Karachi’s villages.

Villagers have resisted government authorities moves and fearing peoples outburst the process of leveling the villages has been delayed for time being, but the fear to attack these villages remains there.

Currently there are 17 villages in rural areas of Karachi, which are
identified by city district government authorities as illegal and to be

The villages look like slum areas, poverty and joblessness is highest in these villages, basic amenities of life have been a dream for residents of these villages.

Sindhi parties led by Awami Tahreek has launched a movement to save these villages. AT chief Rasool Bux Palejo and AT Karachi chapter President Noor Nabi Rahojo, along with other activists have visited these affected villages and expressed their solidarity and support to struggling villages. Even some NGOs have come to defend these settlements.

But the Sindhi plight, like that of many other ethnic minorities around the world, remains well below the media's radar screen. Saving their rights will be a difficult fight.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | Kenya looks underground for power

Kenya looks underground for power

In frica's Rift Valley, a giant fissure in the Earth's crust running 9,500km from Lebanon to Mozambique. The plumes of escaping steam, and bubbling lakes, hint of volcanic turmoil beneath the surface. Experts from the United Nations say if this geothermal energy were harnessed, it could provide power to some of the world's poorest nations. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, and even Zambia have the potential to tap in. But so far, Kenya is the only nation which has made headway.

Kenya's Ol Karia station is the continent's biggest geothermal power-generating plant. It takes its name from a nearby volcano, which erupted 150 years ago and is still active. Here there are 22 wells across the site, piercing the Earth's crust, and tapping into rock as hot as 345C deep below the surface. Water pumped into the well produces steam, which powers the turbines.

But even Kenya has been slow to exploit this resource. Potential sites could be identified and millions of dollars spent drilling wells, but the result could be zero. The consistency of heat or the rock type may not be suitable for geothermal electricity. This unpredictability makes African governments nervous. Unep, through its Global Environment Facility, is trying to help with the costs and to encourage private investors.

Geothermal energy should be a potential source of power in other parts of the word. The Pacific Rim, circled with volcanoes, seems like one obvious spot for exploitation. Even the U.S. should have the potential to exploit this resource.

Human Trafficking Getting More Attention

As many as 2 millionmen, women and children are tricked, lured or coerced into involuntary servitude every year. While, historically, international law has defined trafficking as the movement of women and girls across borders for the purpose of prostitution, human rights organizations are coming to realize that trafficking in persons is far broader in scope. In addition to forcing young women and girls into prostitution, traffickers also use violence, deception, coercion, or exploitation to keep both men and women in slavery-like conditions. People can be trafficked into abysmal working conditions on farms, in factories, or in domestic households. Children are especially vulnerable to such forms of exploitation, including being forced to work in sweatshops, or as child soldiers.

Asia is a particularly burgeoning market where sex trafficking is concerned. Women are especially victimized in poor countries like Nepal where they have low status and limited employment opportunities. UN agencies estimate that some 200,000 Nepalese women and girls are in sex brothels in India, for example. While there are heated debates over what constitutes voluntary vs. involuntary prostitution, it remains that thousands of women and girls are forced into this business. Countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Bangladesh are also at the center of the sex trafficking trade.

It is thought that about $7-9.5 billion is made every year from human trafficking. After arms sales and drug dealing, trafficking in persons is the fastest growing criminal industry. Additionally, because there is little risk of prosecution for traffickers themselves, the business continues to thrive. Some governments are starting to impose stricter penalties on those caught for trafficking, but, from the trafficker's perspective, the gains to be made still far outweigh the risks.

Monday, April 18, 2005

U.S. and other countries deporting people for torture

Human Rights Watch has charged numerous western governments, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, and Germany, of increasingly sending suspects to abusive states on the basis of flimsy “diplomatic assurances” that expose the detainees to serious risk of torture and ill-treatment.

“Governments that engage in torture always try to hide what they’re doing, so their ‘assurances’ on torture can never be trusted,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is a very negative trend in international diplomacy, and it’s doing real damage to the global taboo against torture.”

States that offer such assurances include some of the most abusive regimes in the world—Syria, Egypt and Uzbekistan. Transfers have also been effected or proposed to Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Russia, and Turkey, where certain people—for example, suspected Islamists, Chechens, or Kurds—are singled out for particularly brutal abuse.

Officials in the United States recently acknowledged that they had sent an undisclosed number of suspects to countries where torture is a serious human rights problem. In an increasing number of those cases—so-called “extraordinary renditions”—the suspects have credibly alleged that they were tortured.

“Governments that are using diplomatic assurances know full well that they don’t protect against torture,” said Roth. “But in the age of terror, they’re convenient. Only pressure from the public in Europe and North America can stop this negative trend.”

Governments rely on a variety of devices to transfer suspects to other countries, including renditions, removals, deportations, extraditions and expulsions. But none of them is legally permissible if the person to be transferred is at risk of torture on return.

“If these suspects are criminals they should be prosecuted, and if they’re not, they should be released,” said Roth. “But shipping them off to countries where they’ll be tortured is not an acceptable solution.”

Friday, April 08, 2005

Massacre in Rio Getting Little Attention

Violence is a way of life for many of the poor. In the slums of Rio de Janeiro shootings are common and death squads of former and off-duty police officers, funded by local businessmen, are known to knock off undesirables. In Mexico City, policemen shoot street children as if they were just another pest.

But even by the these brutal standards, last week's massacre of 30 people apparently by a band of rogue policemen in Nova Iguacu, Brazil was shocking.

So-called police death squads have been operating with impunity in Baixada for 25 years, locals and human rights groups say.

"Everybody knows death squads operate here, most people even know the names of the people associated with them," Lindbergh Farias, mayor of Nova Iguacu, said in a radio interview following the killings.

So far, 12 current or former police officers have been arrested and eight of them have been charged with murder. Four allegedly did the shooting; the others provided backup.

According to State Security Secretary Marcelo Itagiba, they were upset over the arrest of eight fellow officers caught on video dumping the bodies of two men, both suspected criminals, outside a police station and throwing the head of one decapitated victim over the gate.

And yet, the March 31 shootings failed to create much of a stir in Rio, partly because it was eclipsed by the pope's death partly because people are accustomed to bad news coming out of trash-strewn slums like Nova Iguacu, which is in the poor, gritty Baixada Fluminense section of the city. It is old news

Two police massacres in 1993 — the Candelaria massacre, in which police killed eight people when they opened fire on at least 40 street children sleeping in front of a cathedral, and the Vigario Geral massacre that left 21 people dead — generated far more attention because they occurred in downtown Rio.

Rio Mayor Cesar Maia said he didn't believe the brutality would harm the city's image or have any impact on its hosting of the 2007 Pan American Games because they were unprecedented and "because there is no reasonable expectation they will be repeated."

"The barbarous crimes cause indignation and revulsion but they don't create a sense of everyday risk," Maia told the Associated Press.

Unless, of course, you're poor.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Egyptian students held in pre-dawn raid

Egyptian State Security Investigations officials took university students Abul Futuh Tahsin Abul Futuh, 21, and Tahsin Tahsin Abul Futuh, 23, into custody after raiding their home in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City at around 4 a.m. this morning. According to family members, four SSI officers searched the house and confiscated papers and a computer before taking the two brothers, saying it was a “standard security procedure” and that the two would be back “in two hours.” The authorities have not returned them or provided information as to their whereabouts.

“These kinds of arrests have become typical for the SSI, which routinely subjects persons to torture and ill-treatment during questioning,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “Time after time, families are told that their father or son will be back in a few hours, and then hear nothing for weeks and sometimes months.”

Family members told Human Rights Watch that the two brothers have attended a Nasr City mosque whose imam was arrested several days ago, but that neither was involved in any political activities. They said that some nine other persons associated with the mosque have also been detained in the Nasr City area in recent days.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pope John Paul II

"The human race is facing forms of slavery which are new and more subtle than those of the past. For far too many people, freedom remains a word without meaning."
--John Paul II, 1999

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Global mining exploitation, community development and Indigenous rights

From Rights Action

There is increasing international interest in local resistance to metallic mining activities, particularly in the opposition of indigenous communities in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala, to Glamis Gold Ltd’s Marlin project. This interest and concern was stimulated by news of the murder of indigenous demonstrator Raul Castro Bocel by State security forces, when the Guatemalan government sent in the army and police to repress protests in Los Encuentros and ensure the safe passage of a convoy of mining equipment belonging to Glamis Gold.

This report focuses on the current situation in Guatemala and Honduras, as regards metallic mining activities, transnational companies and community-based responses. The current situation, however, cannot be discussed only in terms of mining in Guatemala and Honduras; the current situation is a product of recent legislation and regulatory framework changes, which, in turn, are the product of a ‘development’ model devised, promoted and carried out by the same global actors profiting from the unjust and exploitative neocolonialist global system.

Diverse global actors are involved in the mining industry around the world. The World Bank Group, via its private sector entities the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), is directly involved in financing and insuring transnational mining corporations, as well as its involvement as a direct shareholder in several mining projects. The World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have also been involved in mining legislation and policy reforms—benefiting companies at the expenses of local peoples and communities—in dozens of countries worldwide.

Canadian government entities, such as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the Export Development Corporation (EDC), have played similar roles in promoting and implementing legislation and policy, fi nancing and insuring mining projects and promoting the industry—using public funds—to support Canadian mining companies. The United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and the Export-Import Bank are engaged in the same activities as their Canadian counterparts. United Nations agencies and private security/military companies promote and protect an industry that disproportionately affects indigenous peoples, as do the regional and bilateral ‘Free’ Trade Agreements that protect investors and further establish the neoliberal agenda.

Both with long histories of natural resource exploitation dominated by foreign control, persecution and genocide, Guatemala and Honduras have both been the sites of an onslaught of transnational mining company activity. Over one-third of Honduras and one-tenth of Guatemala are covered by mining concessions and licenses, many of which, in the case of Guatemala, are located in indigenous territory. This upsurge in metallic mining activity is the product of mining legislation reforms in the late 1990s, when global actors saw a ‘window of opportunity’ to pursue their ‘development’ agenda with the signing of the Peace Accords in Guatemala and Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. Dozens of Canadian and US companies are operating in the region.

A ‘leader’ in Central America, Canadian/US company Glamis Gold Ltd is currently involved in an arbitration case against the US under the North American Free Trade Agreement for protective measures taken by previous Californian governmental institutions to protect First Nations sacred sites from the damages of open pit mining. The same company operates the San Martin gold mine in the Siria Valley, Honduras, where devastating impacts include illnesses, water shortage, contamination, failed crops, and many others. Charges were laid against a representative of Glamis subsidiary Entre Mares for a number of environmental and other crimes; however, these cases lie ‘dormant’ in the Honduran ‘justice’ system, symptomatic of the global impunity in which transnational mining companies and other global actors operate. Glamis Gold is also the owner of the Marlin project in Guatemala, where indigenous communities’ rights and demands have been completely ignored and violated, as the January 11th murder of an indigenous demonstrator has shown.

From San Marcos to the Siria Valley to numerous communities and organizations around the world, community-based resistance is not the product of foreign anti-development agitators or ignorance, as mining companies and international institutions claim. In the face of the imposed ‘development’ model and regulatory framework that is at complete odds with their interests and local community development initiatives, communities are struggling to defend their lands, territory, water, resources, food sovereignty, environment, health and needs from the invasion of destructive mining activities operating amidst impunity and strong support from global actors. Despite this incredible power imbalance, several communities in Central and Latin America have successfully detained mining activities—at least temporarily.

While it is important to support the struggles, priorities, demands and needs of local communities, it is crucial that international solidarity initiatives address the global ‘development’ model of which mining is but one example. A global justice movement dealing with mining issues in Honduras and Guatemala must confront the unjust and oppressive global system and the global actors profiting from the continued exploitation.