Monday, August 29, 2005

China allows UN torture probe.

After refusing for ten years, China has finally agreed to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit the country. The current rapporteur, Manfred Novak, is due to visit China from November 21 to December 2.

Apart from talks in Beijing, he is expected to travel to the Tibetan capital Lhasa to collect information about the condition of prisoners in Tibet, where many oppose the rule of China over the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan region.

Nowak also plans to visit the autonomous Xinjiang in Northwest China where the Uighur -- an Islamic Turk ethnic minority -- have reported persecution by the central Chinese government.

How much of the truth he will be able to uncover in so short a time is unclear.

The Falun Gong, a spiritual movement with millions of followers, claims its members are systematically tortured and many of them killed in re-education camps. The group is outlawed and persecuted across the country in an effort to stem the rise of the Buddhist and Taoist inspired movement.

Human rights activists also report frequent abuses of prisoners, including the use of torture to force confessions, and excessive use of the death pentalty.

The Chinese change of position on Nowak's visit may have been spurred by President Hu Jinatao's visit to the U.S. in September, with a view toward improving the climate of that meeting.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rolling Stone discovers slavery

Rolling Stone has discovered that slavery still exists.

Although Brazil outlawed slavery in 1888, landowners like Manica continue to hold thousands of men captive in the vast scrublands of Brasil Profundo -- Deep Brazil -- a desolate, sun-scorched region that sprawls across a million square miles in the country's vast interior. It's a brutal, lawless land, where drugs and small arms flow north through the "cocaine corridor" and mahogany and other rare woods stripped from the rain forest make their way to American furniture showrooms. Here, on huge cattle ranches and farms known as fazendas, enslaved men are forced to work without pay from sunrise to sunset under inhumane conditions. Those who refuse to follow orders are beaten and tortured; those who demand payment or attempt to flee are killed, their bodies mutilated and dumped in unmarked graves. Human-rights advocates in Brazil have documented the murders of more than 1,200 forced laborers, and many more killings are passed off as farming mishaps. One recent "accident" victim, a twenty-year-old named Carlos Dias, was killed by a bullet fired into his eye. "It's like your Wild West," Moreira says. "In the hinterland, the landowner is king." ...

The government puts the number of slaves at 25,000, but others say there are as many as 100,000. "No one really knows how many slaves there are in Brazil," says Patricia Audi, head of the anti-slavery program for the International Labor Organization in Brasilia. Around the world, an estimated 27 million people are held in bondage -- more slaves than at any other time in human history. In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of slaves toil in brickmaking kilns. In India, desperate parents sell their children to weave carpets. The Burmese government forces villagers to build roads and bridges, and the "Lord's Resistance Army" in Uganda kidnaps children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves. Gangs in Eastern Europe enslave women into prostitution, and more than 10,000 people in the United States are forced to work in brothels, farms and sweatshops.

Compared to some countries, Brazil has relatively few slaves -- but its effort to end forced labor is widely regarded as a model. Since 2003, the government's antislavery squads have freed nearly 7,000 workers. "They're among the leaders of the world," says Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves and author of Disposable People, the most comprehensive book on modern slavery. "While other countries pretend slavery doesn't exist, Brazil uses mobile squads with just one purpose: to find and eliminate slavery. That's what other countries should be doing."

If Brazil is the front line in the global war on slavery, the general is President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- known throughout the country by his nickname, Lula. A month after his inauguration in 2003, da Silva unveiled the seventy-five-point "National Plan for the Eradication of Slavery," which increased funding for the mobile squads and stiffened penalties for slaveholders. Critics said the plan was too ambitious, but the issue is clearly a personal one for Lula: He is the first chief executive in his nation's 500-year history to rise from the favelas, the slums that fester on the outskirts of major cities. When Lula waved to the crowds of working-class supporters who jammed the streets of Sao Paulo the day after his election, they saw the evidence that he was one of them: a gap on his left hand where the little finger should have been, amputated by a machine press when he was a young factory worker.

This is a powerful, important article about a subject the almost never makes it into the major media outlets. Rolling Stone is to be congratulated for the effort.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bangladesh: Impunity encouraging killings of human rights defenders

Amnesty International charges that successive governments in Bangladesh have failed to stop the assassination of people promoting human rights in the country which has encouraged such killings to increase in a climate of total impunity.

Titled a href="">Bangladesh: Human rights defenders under attack, the report highlights arbitrary arrest, torture and filing of unfounded criminal charges by government agents against those who dare to speak out on human rights abuses in the country. Such people are routinely subjected to death threats, physical attacks and sometimes assassination. Perpetrators are individuals or groups usually linked to armed criminal gangs, political parties or mercenary gangs thought to be linked to local politicians.

The government's inaction has led to a climate of impunity in which physical harassment, torture and assassination go unnoticed and unquestioned.

claimed Madhu Malhotra, Deputy Programme Director for Amnesty International.

At least eight people who spoke out against human rights abuses in Bangladesh have been assassinated since 2000 by assailants believed to be linked to armed criminal gangs or armed factions of political parties. Scores of others have been seriously injured, some permanently, and require continued medical attention. Several journalists have had their fingers or hands deliberately damaged to prevent them from holding a pen.

Amnesty International is calling on the Bangladesh authorities to implement safeguards against arbitrary arrest and torture of human rights defenders and ensure rigorous investigation of reports of death threats and attacks against people who expose human rights abuses in the country.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Moroccan POWs Freed

After an international campaign to free 404 Moroccan POWS who were the longest held POWs in the world, still imprisoned long after the fighting had ended. A wave of publicity organized by secured the prisoners release on August 18.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Uzbek refugees recount harrowing tales three months after Andijan violence

Interviews with Uzbek refugees who fled to Romania after the violence three months ago are tellign tales of violence, trauma and loss in eastern Uzbek.

Some of the refugee stories:

I heard in the prison that the President would be coming, so I went to the square. When I heard a helicopter, I got excited: a chance to voice our grievances. We heard speakers, and then suddenly shooting started around me in the streets. I saw one neighbour in front of me. His face was all bloody. Speakers urged us to leave but I was cornered.

My young son was killed in Babur Square. The bullet went through his ear, they said. I did not see it happen. I was also on the square with my other son and saw a young boy being shot in front of me. Now when I think about my dead son, I think about the young one I saw.

Others who fled were not so lucky. Some who fled to Kyrgyzstan were returned to Uzbeckistzan where they have been held incommunicado. Others are still being held by the Kyrgyz authorities.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Human trafficking: Authorities to travel to Guatemala

Representatives from the U.S. Attorney and sheriff's office may travel to the central American country to meet with officals there considering new legislation.

Ana MarĂ­a Monteagudo, consul general at the Guatemalan consulate in Miami, said plans are moving ahead for the trip, which could happen in mid-to-late September. Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy and Sheriff's Office representatives both have been invited to talk with the minister of foreign affairs.

Anna Rodriguez, a Collier County-based victim advocate and expert in the area of human trafficking who has worked extensively with the Sheriff's Office on the issue, said she also expects to take the trip. Of the suspected trafficking cases the Lee County Sheriff's Office has uncovered in recent months, most have originated in Guatemala, said Rodriguez, who also is the founder of the Immigrant Rights Advocacy Center.

Most prominently, three Guatemalan nationals were arrested in May, accused of forcing a now 14-year-old girl from that country into household labor and sexual slavery after purchasing her from her family.

U.S., Others Take Heat for Opposing U.N. Genocide Agreement.

International charity Oxfam is condemning governments that it claims are blocking efforts to prevent genocide and protect civilians from atrocities such as those seen during the 1994 bloodbath in Rwanda.

The organization is accusing prominent United Nations member states the United States, Brazil, India, and Russia of blocking, or at least giving the cold shoulder to, an emerging international agreement establishing an international duty to head off genocide and protect civilians from ethnic cleansing as seen in the Balkans.

Other governments opposed to the proposed measures, to be discussed at a U.N. summit in New York next month, include Syria, Iran, Cuba, Pakistan, Egypt, and Algeria, according to Oxfam.

Nicola Reindorp, head of Oxfam's New York office stated that

'It is hard to overstate how important this is. In one month's time, the biggest meeting of world leaders in history could endorse a new standard which could help stop a future Rwanda from happening.

We've taken the step of exposing the governments blocking the agreement so people around the world can call on them to change their minds.