Thursday, September 29, 2005

Concerns Grow Over Executions in China

Use of the death penalty in China has become, in the words of one news service, "rapid and highly efficient."

China executes more people than all the other countries in the world combined, some 10,000 a year as estimated by Amnesty International. China executes people for 68 offenses, including smuggling, tax evasion, corruption, "endangering national security" and separatism.

In one recent case a 20 year old boy was convicted after a 2 hour trial and killed a few months later. Some trials last less than an hour. One accused murderer was convicted, had his appeal denied and was executed within 24 days.

Appeals are rarely successful because they are heard in the same court that issued the original sentence. Legal aid is rare; even those defendants able to afford lawyers aren't allowed to meet with them until after police interrogation. Lawyers say that defending their client too effectively can get them arrested, harrassed or disbarred.

International criticism is bringing some reform. Recently government media reported that the Supreme People's Court would regain the authority it lost in 1983 to oversee capital cases. The nation's highest court is adding three criminal trial courts to handle death penalty review cases.

State-controlled media have also started publicizing more embarrassing cases. In June, newspapers reported that a farmer in the central province of Hubei who, after 10 days of nonstop interrogation, confessed to killing his wife, had to be released when she showed up alive.

However, Beijing has made it clear that death penalty limits would only go so far. Corruption, bribery and national security violations would remain capital offenses. Very likely, many innocent people will continue to be killed.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Depleted Uranium Toll Rises

Unusually large numbers of birth defects began to be reported in southern Iraq after the first Gulf War, with Basra particularly hard hit.

Now, as feared, a rising incidence of birth defects has spread north from Najaf to Baghdad.

According to Dr Nawar Ali, at the University of Baghdad, who works in the newborn babies research department:

There have been 650 cases in total since August 2003 reported in government hospitals - that is a 20 percent increase from the previous regime. Private hospitals were not included in the study, so the number could be higher.

Dr Ali blamed the rise on polluted groundwater, contaminated with radiation from depleted uranium used by coalition forces in the two Gulf Wars. Babies are being born with multiple fingers, unusually large heads, unilateral lips or no arms or legs.

The news comes amid reports that the number of deaths of Gulf War I Veterans from exposure to DU has topped 11,000.

Of the 580,400 soldiers who served in Gulf War I, more than 300,000 are on permanent medical disability. Terry Johnson, public affairs specialist at the VA, recently reported that veterans of both Persian Gulf wars now on disability total 518,739.

Depleted uranium is a crime against humanity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Work related deaths climb

The International Labor Organization reported on Monday that some 2.2 million workers die from job-related accidents and illness every year, and that the number is rising where employers and regulators skimp on safety measures in the mistaken belief that lower occupational health costs will boost companies' competitiveness. The ILO estimates that 22,000 children die at work each year.

The reported numbers almost certainly understate the problem. India reported 222 fatal work-related accidents while the Czech Republic, with a working population about one percent the size of India's, reported 231. The ILO pegged the real number of fatal accidents in India at 40,000.

China, where construction and low-cost production have powered economic growth, reported 12,554 fatal accidents in 2001. However, the ILO said the actual number of worker deaths in the world's most populous country likely was closer to 90,000.

The ILO blamed "rapid development and strong competitive pressures of globalization" for the upsurge in worker deaths, particularly in Asia. Since this globalization has largely been driven by recent free trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT, these deaths must be seen as a call to reform international trade agreements to incorprate workers rights and environmental standards.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women

The Asian American Network against Abuse of Women helding the first ever rally against abuse in Pakistan in New York City On September 17.

The rally was held to call attention to the human rights abuses that continue unabated in Pakistan: at least three “honor killings” occur each day and a woman is raped once every two and a half hours.

Under the feudal system and jirga system of justice carried out under the banner of religion, Pakistani women and men are denied their basic human rights and dignity. Women are the most victimized members of Pakistani society who pay with their lives and bodies for alleged crimes violating their family or tribe's so-called honor.

In a recent case, Mukhtar Mai was raped while on duty as a physician in Sui Balochistan, Shazia. Shazia was been maligned and effectively banished from her homeland and forced to take refuge in Great Britain. The alleged perpetrator, an army officer, continues to go unpunished and is a free man.

She has spoken out against the crime and has become a symbol of hope for thousands of women in Pakistan who live daily with the fear of violence and torture on their person.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Guatemala: Amnesty Internatinal calls for suspension of evictions and genuine agrarian reform

After touring Guatemala for two weeks, Amnesty International issued a condemnation of serious irregularities, human rights violations and discriminatory treatment of Guatemalan peasants and rural workers, during judicial procedures that result in the implementation of eviction orders.

Among the problems cited were:

Shortcomings in of the Labour Inspectorate operations to ensure that wages, compensation and benefits are regularly paid, in accordance with the law, on all Guatemala’s farms.

Shortcomings and delays in dealing with requests for the payment of benefits, circumstances which provoke lead to land occupations in support of these demands.

The inadequate response of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which often brings charges of “"usurpation”" and aggravated “"usurpation”" in a mechanical, rapid and systematic way, resulting in warrants for the arrest and eviction of hundreds of families from lands they have often occupied for generations. It is worrying that these actions follow neither the letter nor the spirit of Convention 169 of the International Labour OfficeOrganisation.

Evidence to suggest that the validity of incomplete and doubtful land title claims are not studied with due diligence. In certain cases, verification of the disputed land by the competent authorities is impeded by farm owners, yet eviction orders are still issued and executed.

Complaints by peasants rural workers about the lack of attention to, and investigation of, their denunciations of death threats and other acts of intimidation by farm owners and their employees and private security agents.

The almost systematic destruction of belongings and domestic goods and the burning of homes, during evictions.

A decade after the peace agreement was signed in Guatemala, indigenous and rural workers are still not receiving justice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Zimbabwe: Mass Evictions Lead to Massive Abuses

The Zimbabwean government policy of forced evictions has violated the human rights of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

" The Zimbabwean government has caused untold suffering to poor and vulnerable people. To make matters worse, Mugabe’s government is now delaying the provision of much-needed humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the evictions. "

Over the past two weeks, the Zimbabwean authorities have compounded the suffering by refusing to fully cooperate with United Nations agencies and humanitarian groups working to assist the evicted population. On August 26, President Robert Mugabe’s government rejected the terms of a draft U.N. emergency appeal that would have helped hundreds of thousands of those hardest hit by the evictions.

The 40-page report, “Clear the Filth: Mass Evictions and Demolitions in Zimbabwe,” documents how the government has violated the human rights of its citizens by arbitrarily forcing them to destroy their property without due notice, process or compensation, and by displacing thousands into the rural areas where they lack basic services such as health care, education, clean water or means of economic support.

“The Zimbabwean government has caused untold suffering to poor and vulnerable people,” said Tiseke Kasambala, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To make matters worse, Mugabe’s government is now delaying the provision of much-needed humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the evictions.”

The humanitarian consequences of “Operation Murambatsvina” (“Operation Clear the Filth”) have been catastrophic. Thousands of men, women and children are now internally displaced and are living without access to humanitarian assistance, particularly in the rural areas where acute food shortages are looming and humanitarian agencies have had difficulties tracing those in need of assistance.

The United Nations estimates that as many as 700,000 people have been evicted and their houses and properties demolished since the government launched the operation on May 19.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Amnesty International: U.S. Consortium's African Oil Pipeline Threatens Human Rights

Amnesty International accused U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil of putting profits over human rights with its involvement in a multibillion dollar oil pipeline that runs from Chad to a seaport in the West African nation of Cameroon.

Amnesty said in a statement there was "a prevailing climate of fear and intimidation around the pipeline, some of whose critics have already been arrested and intimidated."

"The US$4.2 (euro3.37) billion Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline risks freezing human rights protection for decades to come for the thousands of people who live in its path," Amnesty said.

Opponents say the pipeline threatens to pollute farmlands and has disrupted local communities. Some impoverished farmers in the region claim they've been denied access to water supplies and their land, which ExxonMobil refused either to compensate them for or to return to them," Amnesty said.

Human rights activists have long argued that oil, far from being a boon to citizens of developing countries, can exacerbate official corruption, weaken democracy and widen the gulf between rich and poor.

Monday, September 05, 2005

In Papua New Guinea, An Epidemic of Police Brutality Against Children

Torture, gang rapes, and other abuses have become common in law enforcement in Papua New Guinea according to a Rights Action Report.

The 124-page report, “Making Their Own Rules’: Police Beatings, Rape, and Torture of Children in Papua New Guinea,” documents boys and girls being shot, knifed, kicked and beaten by gun butts, iron bars, wooden batons, fists, rubber hoses and chairs. Some are forced to chew and swallow condoms. Eyewitnesses describe gang rapes in police stations, vehicles, barracks and other locations. Children are also routinely detained with adults in sordid police lockups and denied medical care.

“Extreme physical violence is business as usual for the Papua New Guinea police,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division. “Instead of protecting the public and children from violence, it is the police who are committing some of the most heinous acts of violence imaginable.”

Australia is the largest source of aid to Papua New Guinea, much of which goes to support the police, yet Australia does not make promotion of human rights an explicit purpose or condition of its aid. Australian officials admit that aid to the police has failed to reduce violence and other human rights violations by officers.

In addition to being abusive, Human Rights Watch said that police violence is ineffective in the face of the country's serious crime problem. Violent police tactics make people fearful of approaching police even to report crime and reluctant to cooperate with investigations. Even government studies have found police increasingly unable to fight crime.

One positive development has been the recent establishment by the Papua New Guinea government of juvenile courts and guidelines for police, magistrates and others designed to divert children from detention.

A Human Risghts Watch spokesman called the new guidelines "a step in the right direction."