May 31, 2006
Human Rights Watch released the following statement today. Political activists Karim al-Sha`ir and Mohamed al-Sharqawi were arrested last Thursday as they were leaving a peaceful demonstration in downtown Cairo. Agents of the State Security Investigations (SSI) bureau of the Interior Ministry arrested both men. The men claim they were beaten in custody.
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that security agents beat al-Sha`ir in the street.
According to his lawyer, al-Sha`ir said that the beatings continued once he was in police custody. In his statement, al-Sharqawi wrote that his captors at the Qasr al-Nil police station beat him for hours and then raped him with a cardboard tube. Then they sent him to the State Security prosecutor’s office in Heliopolis.
The State Security prosecutor ordered both men to be held for 15 days pending investigations. The authorities had released al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir from Tora prison on May 22 after detaining them in earlier protests on April 24 and May 7 respectively. The demonstration on May 25 commemorated the one-year anniversary of widespread violence by police and ruling party thugs against journalists and demonstrators urging a boycott of a constitutional referendum.
Al-Sharqawi wrote in his statement that around 20 State Security officers surrounded him as he attempted to leave last week’s protest by car and began beating him furiously:
“Their punches and kicks came one after the other… There were moments of so much pain, so many insults, so many blows… targeting all my body.” Al-Sharqawi wrote that he was stuffed into a police van, after which “they ordered me to put my head between my knees. Of course I obeyed. As soon as I did, they started hitting me on my back with all their strength.”
May 30, 2006
Protestors in Cairo on May 18, 2006. Courtesy: Reuters
May 27, 2006
I wrote 10 days about the reluctance of Arab countries to speak against the Sudanese government over the crises in Darfur or pressure them to allow a UN peacekeeping force. I found this opinion column on Beliefnet. com, a website on spirituality and religion.
I’m not sure when this column was written, it’s by Hesham Hassaballa, a physcian from Chicago who contributes regularly to the website on issues of Islam. The essay, Shameful Hypocrisy, looks at the history of the different ethnic groups in Western Sudan and also references what the Qu’ran says about Muslims fighting each other. On the site, there is a sidebar with readers’ comments. I’m posting the whole thing. Check out Hassballa’s blog God, Faith and a Pen for more postings on Islam in the face of terrorism.
By Hesham Hassaballa
When the photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib first emerged, the Muslim world rose up in condemnation. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, for instance, “expressed its strong condemnation of the brutal acts of torture perpetrated against Iraqi prisoners…in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Yet as the chorus of condemnation loudly rang across the Muslim world, worse crimes were being committed within the Muslim world–crimes that also were in “flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” As angry fingers were wagged at the West, they passed over vicious genocide being committed in the Darfur region of Western Sudan.
May 26, 2006
Three years ago Henriette Nyota said she was gang raped as her husband and four children were forced to watch. The men in uniform then disemboweled her husband and continued raping her and her two oldest daughters, 10 and 8. The assault went on for three days. “I wish they’d killed me right there with my husband,” she said, “What use am I now? Why did those animals leave me to suffer like this?”
A couple of days ago I posted an overview of an article found in this month’s Forced Migration Review on the lack of reproductive health needs in Darfur and how rape is being used as a tool of war. The quoted text is from an article in CNN today by Jeff Koinange on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (photo is from MSF). There aren’t enough medical professional or resources to treat women who have been sexually violated.
I want to excerpt part of the article which is an interview with Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere, the only physician in a hospital in eastern Congo where ten women who have been sexually-assaulted a day are treated and with financial resources earmarked for these women expected to run out by the end of June.
“Some of them have knives and other sharp objects inserted in them after they’ve been raped, while others have pistols shoved into their vaginas and the triggers pulled back,” said Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere. “It’s a kind of barbarity that only savages are capable of.” He added that “these perpetrators cannot be human beings.”
I didn’t include this passage to shock or upset, but to engage readers and force us to become more pro-active. We have to work to change policies overseas and look at normative approaches to dealing with sexual violence against women in an armed conflict.
May 25, 2006
A few days ago I wrote a post on Congolese warlord Gédéon, a resistance fighter in Katanga. He was targeting people registered to vote in Congo’s upcoming national elections, before being apprehended. Last year, Gédéon drove thousands of people in Katanga to leave their homes and recruited the young men into his movement. The U.N. estimates that 165,000 people have been displaced in central Katanga (southeastern province of DRC), many of them lacking access to food and medical assistance.
This is a story posted today on IRIN News Africa. It’s to help us understand how huge the Democratic Republic of Congo (geographically, it’s about one-fourth the size of the US) and why the country has been embroiled in different conflicts for so many years as unchecked tribal, rebel, and militia fighting continues unabated in the northeastern region, drawing in neighboring countries Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.
IRIN News has reported that 10,000 more people were displaced from Ituri as a result of an offensive from the Congolese army trying to disarm rebels in this northeastern district. There are 2.33 million people displaced (as of 2005) mostly in the eastern provinces because of fighting between government forces and rebels since the 1990s.
“The displaced are scattered in several small groups, which we could easily identify by helicopter, between five and ten kilometres west of Tcheyi,” Modibo Traoré, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ituri, said on Wednesday in Bunia, the district’s capital.
For years, there have been many militia groups fighting to control the mineral-rich Ituri. This has caused the deaths of at least 50,000 people since the late 1990s. Full government authority has been lacking in the area since the establishment of a transitional government in 2003, mostly due to continued militia activity. Joseph Kabila succeeded his father Laurent Kabila, as president of Congo-Kinshasa upon his assassination in January 2001.
May 24, 2006
CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It establishes a set of standards for combating discrimination against women and has helped women throughout the world. Women have used this treaty to gain basic human rights such as the rights to vote, to education, and to own property.
As of May 2006, the Treaty has been ratified by 183 countries with Brunei Darussalam signing today. Its universality counters claims that in certain cultures discrimination, domestic violence, and other forms of oppression are acceptable. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that has not ratified the Treaty. This is a detriment to the struggle for women’s rights, both domestically and internationally. The Treaty can also help address many of these injustices and abuses that exist for women in the States. Without the United States as a party to the Treaty, repressive governments can easily discount the Treaty’s provisions.
The U.S. still has not ratified CEDAW (along with Sudan and Somalia) the Convention on the Rights of the Child (again the U.S. enjoying good company with Somalia), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The U.S. has opposed the recognition of economic, social, and cultural rights like the right to education and healthcare. As well as placed “provisions” or limitations on enforcement the treaties it has ratified.
If you live in the states, you can urge your U.S. Senators to support ratification of CEDAW). Click here for a petition from Amnesty.
May 23, 2006
I promise to keep this short. This is to follow up on yesterday’s post on sexual violence against women in refugee camps. Here is some information I found about the subject in the context of international law and human rights treaties. Amnesty International has a “Stop Violence Against Women” section on their website. This has a lot of great resources for activists, those that want to know more about women’s rights and what’s being done or are interested in being a campaign coordinator.
This is from Amnesty International:
Foundations of Women’s Human Rights in International Law
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that human rights apply to all people equally, “without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language…or any other status”.
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),or the International Women’s Human Rights Treaty, was adopted by the UN in 1979. CEDAW was the first document to comprehensively address women’s rights within political, cultural, economic, social and family spheres.
- The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW)set forth ways in which governments should act to prevent violence, and to protect and defend women’s rights. DEVAW holds states responsible to “exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the state or by private persons”.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court includes as rape those situations where the victim is deprived of her ability to consent to sex, including providing sex to avoid harm or to obtain basic necessities. It recognizes rape and other forms of sexual violence by combatants in the conduct of armed conflict as war crimes. When rape and sexual violence are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, they are considered crimes against humanity, and in some cases may constitute an element of genocide.
May 22, 2006
Raped women have to live with the threat of HIV/AIDS, with access to only minimal medical care in Darfur and in refugee camps in neighbouring Chad.
A colleague of mine brought this article to my attention. It’s in the latest issue of Forced Migration Review(May 2006), dealing with people trafficking. This is the in-house journal for the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford. The whole issue can be downloaded as a PDF. If you get a chance, check out Abortion Care Needs in Darfur and Chad by Tamara Fetters. She is a researcher for Ipas, a non-governmental organization working to increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.
The writer examines why there is a lack of reproductive health services and treatment of complications that result from unsafe abortions or miscarriages in health facilities for refugees and those internally displaced.
The article states that violence against women in Darfur and in refugee camps in Chad are well-documented. These occur while women are foraging for water, fuel or animal fodder, or during imprisonment. There have also been cases of women being forced to submit to sex in exchange for ‘protection’ by police officers and male residents in the refugee camps.
In addition, Amnesty International reported that in armed conflicts that it investigated in 1999 and 2000, the torture of women was reported, most often in the form of sexual violence. Women and girls make up more than half of refugees in the world. These women are more vulnerable to rape and sexual violence. In addition, unaccompanied women and girls are often regarded as common sexual property in camps and may face forced prostitution as well as coercion into sex in exchange for food, documents or refugee status.
Rape is not an accident of war, or an incidental adjunct to armed conflict. Its widespread use in times of conflict reflects the unique terror it holds for women, the unique power it gives the rapist over his victim, and the unique contempt is displays for its victims. The use of rape in conflict reflects the inequalities women face in their everyday lives in peace time. Until governments take responsibility for their obligations to ensure equality, and end discrimination against women, rape will continue to be a favored weapon of the aggressor. – Amnesty International
May 21, 2006
A Mai Mai warlord known as Gédéon, in Congo’s southeastern province of Katanga turned himself in on Friday to MONUC peacekeeping troops. Human Rights Watch has called on the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help make sure the DRC’s transitional governemnt will charge Gédéon with war crimes for killing and torturing scores of civilians.
In April, HRW researchers learned that combatants under Gédéon’s command and his fellow Mai Mai leaders had killed, raped abused civilians since 2002. Sometimes, the Mai Mai publicly tortured victims before killing them in public ceremonies in order to terrorize the local population.
“Gédéon’s surrender is good news for the victims of Mai Mai atrocities in Katanga. He must now be tried for the widespread war crimes he is alleged to have committed. That would be good news for justice throughout Congo,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch.
The Mai Mai, in the province of Katanga, is a local defense force supported by the Congolese government when it was engaged in an armed conflict with Rwanda and Uganda. Most Mai Mai groups in Congo were formed to resist the invasion of Rwandese forces. IRIN News Africa has an interesting story with great background information on this region in DRC, as well as an interview with a Congolese colonel on efforts in bringing Gedeon to justice.
May 20, 2006
Human Rights Watch released a report last week on children in Rwanda being held in horrible living conditions in a detention center in the Gikondo neighborhood of the capital Kigali. The paper, “Swept Away,” documents how thousands of Rwandan children live on the streets of
Kigali and other urban areas.
Many of these children are orphans as a result of the genocide or AIDS pandemic and have no homes or adult supervision. City workers have been rounding up these kids since the late 1990s and since 2005 they are being detained in a former warehouse in Gikondo.
The report also states that Gikondo is a short distance away from some of the luxury hotels popular with Western tourists or international staffers. I imagine these hotel conference rooms being used by bureaucrats for their meetings on poverty erradication or refugee resettlement. Meanwhile a few kilometers away, the youngest citizens who most need protection are housed like animals with little if any access to education or nutrition/health care. Oh, all right, I’ll get off my soapbox.
Some detainees spend weeks or months living in these detention centers where they receive inadequate food, water, and medical care. They sleep on the floor without blankets or mattresses. Supposedly the detainees are charged as “vagrants” but there is no due process or formal judicial proceedings.
“Kigali city officials who are running the detention center recognize that it must be closed,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “Detaining children just because they are poor, dirty, and have no one to care for them violates their rights. Under international and Rwandan law, the state must protect these children, not just sweep them out of sight.”
The Institute of War and Reporting also prepared a paper on street children in Rwanda last August. It is available on ReliefWeb. While Rwandan government officials have pledged to do more to help street children and those living in detention, what is needed is more financial support for local communities in Kigali, so that they have social services in place to help those marginalized.