June 24, 2006
Earlier in the week it was reported in various news sources that charity campaigners for Namibia’s National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) wanted Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt banned from Namibia. They called the couple “colonial overlords” and accused them of taking over the African country when their daughter Shiloh Nouvel was born.
An NSHR spokesman said: “To shut down a national border so she can give birth in peace is a massive abuse of power.” The human rights campaigners claim Angelina and Brad “used heavy-handed and brutal tactics” to persuade the Namibian government to agree to their demands.
What’s even more interesting are all the comments bloggers are posting on this story. Mostly criticizing the Hollywood couple while pointing out social issues they should be supporting back in the States instead or how different things are for pregnant women in Namibia. Of course it’s different. Angelina was never going to squat in a bush while biting down on a leather strap to keep her mind off childbirth pain. When you have unlimited financial resources you can afford to fly in your obstetrician from L.A. and stay in an exclusive resort minutes away from hospital with all the security detail you want.
I think bloggers are missing the big picture. Perhaps Angelina chose to give birth in Africa as a sign of solidarity with African women and because she appreciates its people and culture. More Americans now know where Namibia is, thanks to Angelina and Brad. Wasn’t that alone worth their efforts? These two are a savvy couple who know Westerners have a morbid fascination with celebrities. They’ve exploited that to raise awareness and get as much money as possible for their baby pictures and put that money to good use. Hopefully it’s not just handing a large check over to UNICEF, Save the Children or WorldVision, but that the money is distributed at a local level.
June 22, 2006
I wanted to share this column in Black Britain written by Godwin Nnanna, “Why Charles Taylor Must Answer for His Deeds?” It was written in April, but makes an excellent point about the problems in many African countries since gaining independence.
The post-colonial leadership, with few exceptions, established defective political and economic systems in which enormous power was concentrated in the hands of the state and, ultimately, one individual. Power in most of Africa today resides with the national governments and not many of the continent’s leaders are doing anything to reverse it. Rather than do that, the Taylors of the continent through progressive impoverishment of the people, have churned out more sycophants in their camps than reformers – sycophants who will rather campaign that such leaders stay in power longer than necessary than insist that national constitutions be upheld.
This explains why incumbent leaders in Africa never lose elections even when it is obvious that they run oppressive governments. When they are shown that the tune has changed as the Special Court in Sierra Leone is currently doing in the case of Charles Taylor- perhaps, a lot more of the enemies of Africa who by either hook or crook have found themselves in power, will learn to act with the future in view.
June 21, 2006
Great Britain has stepped up and offered to house the former Liberian president Charles Taylor if he is convicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court at the Hague. This is great news because the trial was stalled unless a third country could jail the dictator.
AllAfrica.com reported today the Netherlands agreed to host the trial if a third country would jail Taylor if he were to be sentenced to a prison term. Britain promised last week to hold Taylor in jail, and drafted a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing his transfer to the Netherlands for trial
I wrote a post last month when Charles Taylor was arrested in regard that it would not be better for Taylor to be tried in a neighboring African country instead of the ICC. The governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone expressed fear that a trial at home could mount another insurgency in the fragile region. Taylor could be the first African leader convicted by an international court if found guilty of these crimes.
This is a major step for the young court in its first trial of a former head of state. To avoid the mistakes in Slobodan Milosevic’s trial, it is important for the ICC to study the failures of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) as it enters this new phase.
The former Serbian president was charged with war crimes and genocide during the Balkan wars. It’s hard not to think of Milosevic’s prosecution as a massive failure given that he died in his cell before his trial ended. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent bringing him to justice could’ve gone to rebuilding the Balkans. Is a trial without a verdict a waste of time and money?
Milosevic’s death was bad news for international criminal justice. But there’s more to a trial than securing a conviction. The underlying idea that those who commit crimes against humanity won’t escape unpunished is too important to be set back by one death. For all the trial’s weaknesses, there are lessons to be learned as prosecutors work to send a powerful message to Africa’s despots—no one is above the law.
June 20, 2006
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, marked World Refugee Day by requesting more long-term support for the millions of refugees who have returned home. In the last four years, more than six million people have returned home from other countries bringing the world’s number of refugees to its lowest level in more than 25 years.
“The international community needs to devote much more attention to the transition between relief and development, to rebuilding societies which have been ripped apart by violence,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
The UN and international agencies have different events planned to mark this day. This year also marks the 55th anniversary of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, which was designed to lay the basis for the protection and then resettlement of people fleeing from persecution and tyranny.
This is a good time to be reminded that states have an obligation to protect and care for refugees once they have resettled and provide for their basic rights such as a freedom of religion and movement, the right to work, access to education and travel documents.
The BBC News reported that Mr. Guterres is spending the day with Liberian returnees coming back from Sierra Leone and accompany them on their journey home. Liberia is emerging from a protracted civil war that destroyed much of its infrastructure as its former president Charles Taylor is being brought in front of the ICC to face charges on crimes against humanity. Read the rest of this entry »
June 19, 2006
Another item to share that hasn’t received coverage in the press. Human Rights Watch has reported in A Long Way from Home that the Burundi government is detaining former child soldiers associated with the rebel National Liberation Forces. HRW previously reported on Rwandan children being detained as well.
Dozens of former FNL child soldiers are being held in prisons, jails, and a detention center without any clarity of their legal status or knowledge of when they might be returned to their families.
The human rights group has documented that the children in the prisons are kept in overcrowded cells and are not being properly feed. They are also housed with convicted adult criminals or seasoned combatants. This is in violation of national and international law.
“The lack of a consistent government policy for former FNL child soldiers has compounded their suffering. Government ministries must coordinate their policies to ensure equal treatment, assistance and rehabilitation to these children,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa advisor at Human Rights Watch.
Burundi is one of the poorest and most conflict-ridden countries in Africa and in the world with a GDP per capita of US $106 for last year and 68% of the population below the poverty level. The country’s economy is sustained by Western foreign aid.
Burundi has ended a civil was in recent years where Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader of the Hutu National Council was elected unopposed as president in 2005.
Read the rest of this entry »
June 18, 2006
The results of a survey conducted by the Amman Human Rights Centre (AHRC) were reported on Tuesday by IRIN News claiming that state control in the Arab world limits freedom of opinon of its major news organizations.
“Arab regimes are increasingly imposing restrictions on journalists to prevent them from exposing their practices, mostly in terms of corruption and human rights. There are more taboos every day, and journalists find themselves targeted by police, the judiciary system, political parties and even armed groups,” said AHRC head Neham Assaf.
The countries that have been the most dangerous for journalists are Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian. The report stated that at least 24 journalists were killed in Iraq in 2005, while 11 others were kidnapped. “Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza continue to be the most dangerous places for journalists to conduct their work,” Assaf said. “They must be provided with protection in order to tell the truth.”
Over the course of last year, the study monitored the press in 16 Arab countries, including Jordan; the United Arab Emirates; Bahrain; Algeria; Sudan; Iraq; Egypt; Algeria; Kuwait; Yemen; Tunisia; Djibouti; Palestine; Lebanon; Libya; and Syria. Assaf pointed out that his organisation “faced difficulties in monitoring the press in Saudi Arabia and Oman”.
June 17, 2006
This was posted on Amnesty International’s website. Interesting information on what statistics don’t reflect about refugees and the internally displaced, especially in light of World Refugee Day being this Tuesday.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are fewer refugees worldwide today than at any time in almost a quarter of a century. Since 2000, the number of refugees has fallen steadily to just over 9 million in early 2005. Between January 2001 and December 2004 an unprecedented five million refugees returned to their countries of origin. But the reality is far bleaker and more complex than the numbers suggest. Large numbers of people returned to, for example, Afghanistan, Iraq and Burundi during this period in conditions that were not voluntary, safe or dignified.
The persistent focus on statistics by both the international community and individual governments has often led to the rights of refugees being disregarded. Ever-increasing numbers of asylum-seekers have been prevented from accessing protection, either physically or through complex legal procedures. Increasingly restrictive policies in the context of the “war on terror” have fuelled racism and xenophobia, with some politicians and segments of the media linking all refugees with criminality and terrorism.
June 16, 2006
Today marks Day of the African Child. UNICEF issued a press release asking the international community to recognize that young people are Africa’s greatest resource and to help them overcome the challenged they face.
The Day of the African Child is celebrated every year since 1991 in honor of South African children killed by their government in 1976. Thousands of black school children in Soweto, South Africa, protested the sub-standard quality of their education under apartheid and demanded to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of boys and girls were shot and in the two weeks of protests that followed, more than 100 people were killed and 1,000 injured.
“This landmark event was a demonstration of great courage and conviction by the children of South Africa, who stood up for what they believed. It is a powerful reminder of the decisive role that children can have in bringing about change and of the importance of ensuring a quality basic education for all.” — UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman
The good thing about this release it that it shows us how violence is inter-related to other issues that marginalize the young. Violence against children is a serious threat in particular because of the continent’s disproportionate burden of conflict, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS. Children living in conflict areas are at risk of gender-based violence because of the lack of family and community protection.
Women and children fleeing their homes because of armed conflict are more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation. This exploitation increases their risk of HIV infection. In turn, HIV/AIDS has left many African children orphans. In sub-Saharan Africa, 12 million children under the age of 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. In turn, losing the people who would’ve protected them from violence.
June 15, 2006
As the director of the Algiers-based daily newspaper Le Matin, Benchicou served two years in prison–his full sentence. Before his conviction in June 2004, Benchicou and his newspaper criticized Bouteflika and other ministers in his government. In February 2004, Benchicou published a biography Bouteflika, an Algerian Fraud, prior to his re-election.
“Authorities claimed that Benchicou violated customs regulations to justify putting him in prison. But his real crime was attacking the president and his associates at a time when they were determined to mute such criticism,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division.
Such prosecutions and other pressures have significantly curbed press freedom in Algeria compared to seven years ago, when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was first elected.
June 8, 2006
This column was posted today on Middle East Online. It’s an interesting read in response to recent reports about the struggle for power between the new Somali government, Islamic high court who want to oust the government in Baidoa and warlords who controlled large parts of the countryside for the 15 years that the government was in Tanzania. The US Dept. of State also has denied allegations by the Somali government (despite rumors of troops from Ethiopia–a US ally–surrounding the Somali border and providing assistance to the warlord alliance) that it’s trying to undermine the new government to prevent Somalia from becoming an Islamic state or imposing Sharia law. Happy Reading!
Somali Islamists denies any links to terrorism
NAIROBI – In their first diplomatic overture since seizing control of most of the lawless Somali capital Mogadishu this week, Islamic court leaders have denied any links to terrorism or radical anti-western Islam.
The chairman of Mogadishu’s 11 Islamic courts said in an open letter to diplomats that the movement is religious and not political in nature and that its armed wing was formed solely to combat rampant insecurity in the city.
“We share no objectives, goals or methods with groups that sponsor or support terrorism,” Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said in the letter, which was delivered to the diplomatic corps in the Kenyan capital on Tuesday.