July 21, 2006
New York-based Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti, 57, died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago today on July 21, 2004, after speaking at an anti-war forum for the Philadelphia Ethical Society. His death came 100 days after he was released from immigration detention. Federal agents and the New York City police arrested Abdel-Muhti in April 2002. He was illegally held for two years by BICE (formerly the Immigration & Naturalization Service).
Abdel-Muhiti was working as a producer with the New York radio station WBAI at the time of his detention. His attorney Jeff Fogel made the following statement on a WBAI press release:
“Even though he didn’t have lawful immigration status in the US for the last 35 years…Farouk never missed a protest. He was never in hiding even though he was ‘illegal.’ Yet it was his activism that got him arrested in April 2002. It was only once he started arranging for radio interviews with Palestinians in the West Bank and doing live on-air translations of those interviews on WBAI that he was actually arrested by the Absconder Task Force- a group that’s been basically responsible for solely arresting Muslim men of South Asian or Arab extraction.
July 12, 2006
Amnesty International released a report Monday on evidence of torture by Algeria’s military arm in secret locations
Based on a series of case studies collected between 2002 and 2006, the report, Unrestrained Powers: Torture by Algeria’s Military Security,examines several cases of torture or other ill-treatment by the DRS (Département du renseignement et de la sécurité) in secret detention centres without access to lawyers, independent doctors, family, or any civilian oversight. The paper shows how the “war on terror” is serving as an excuse to perpetuate torture by Algeria’s “Military Security” intelligence agency.
“As a first step, President Bouteflika should acknowledge the disturbing allegations of abuse documented in this report and publicly commit to investigating them. He must also ensure that DRS officers no longer arrest or detain suspects and that any responsible for torture or mistreatment of detainees are promptly brought to justice,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
Countries such as Canada, France, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Spain have forcibly returned individuals suspected of terrorist activities to Algeria despite that the DRS usually detains and interrogates such individuals.
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.
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 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 13, 2006
Yesterday nine bombs exploded in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, killing four people and wounding dozens. The attacks came three days before the May 15th anniversary of last year’s general election. The election’s ballots have been called seriously flawed by international observers. Opposition politicians also have refused to take up their posts to protest what they called government rigging.
Different sides are blaming each other for the bombings. Government officials said separatist and opposition groups, notably the Oromo Liberation Front, are responsible. The government has previously accused the OLF of trying to stage a coup because of the disputed elections. Meanwhile, the Oromo rebel movement denied involvement in the attacks in and accused government officials of a cover up.
There hasn’t been much mentionin the press about the upcoming European Parliament Hearing on Human Rights in Ethiopia scheduled for early next week. I want to share an item I found to give a fuller view of the human rights and political situation in Ethiopia. Since the elections last May, there has been an increase of government brutality against opposition groups.
There is a radio interview on the Ethiopian Politics blog with Obang Metho, Director of International Advocacy for Anuak Justice Council. It’s a long interview–about 45 minutes. Metho makes interesting points on the work the council has done by forming partnerships with international law and human rights groups on the injustices carried out by the government.
May 12, 2006
The mainstream media is starting to pick up on what happened to Egypt’s prominent blogger and activist Alaa Abd El-Fatah earlier this week. Today’s Boston Globe ran a story on the clashes between demonstrators and security officials in Egypt after the government arrested 11 political reform activists.
The (UK) Guardian also reported today that El-Fatah has started blogging again from his prison cell by smuggling out notes on paper. If you check out his blog, he says some of his fellow protestors in jail are on a hunger strike. With the attention his case has received, I hope the activists will be released soon. So far, there is no indication that the men have been tortured.
Human Rights Watch first reported the detention on Tuesday when El-Fatah was first detained:
“These new arrests indicate that President Mubarak intends to silence all peaceful opposition,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The activists detained over the past two weeks should be released immediately, unharmed. The Egyptian government is responsible under international law for their safety.”
HRW said that more than 100 people have been detained the past two weeks for exercising freedom of expression. Most of the activists have been campaigning for greater judicial independence. This comes after an organization of judges refused to certify the results of last year’s parliamentary elections after more than 100 of the judges reported irregularities at polling stations.
El-Fatah was charged with illegal assembly, blocking traffic, insulting President Mubarak, and verbal abuse of police officers at the time of his arrest. He is co-author of the blog Manal and Alaa’s Bit Bucket and is one of the most active people working to support the blogosphere in Egypt. His site is an aggregator collecting almost all Egyptian bloggers. It won a prize last year in a blog competition organized by Reporters Without Borders .
May 7, 2006
Nicholas Kristoff has an op-ed in yesterday’s NYT called the Heroes of Darfur. It’a nice piece on what ordinary and famous people have done to raise awareness about Darfur. One interesting note–he says CBS Evening News dedicated two minutes of air-time to the conflict in 2005. Wow! With so many obligations to Viacom and their sponsors, I’m surprised they had the two minutes to spare.
The op-ed is in the Times Select section (silly NYT…to make $50 upfront they block their best writers from reaching a wider audience and having the impact a paper of record is suppose to have), so I can’t link or copy-paste it. But I can direct you to read the op-ed via blogger The Unknown Candidate who has disregarded the copyright. Good for him! Access to knowledge should be free.
Just to show you the power of interactive media and using it to educate young people. In his article Kristoff mentions Darfur is Dying a video game conceived by activists at UC-Berkeley and produced by MTV university as a part of its Sudan resource center. In the game, you can choose to be a Darfuri character and it simulates what it’s like for a person living under hostile conditions. I think you have to download Flash to open it.
It feels a bit strange at first, using your arrow keys to make a young girl retrieve water from a well while she’s being pursued by the Janjaweed. But it’s effective in how it engages people and help them understand a conflict from which they are so far removed.
In regards to global commitment to stopping the genocide in Darfur…Right of Center had this critique to make about Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay congratulating the Sudanese government on the accord and patting himself on the back too. It’s an excellent point to behavior that is mirrored in the G-8 countries:
” Funny, the AU has never mentioned Peter MacKay’s involvement in the peace agreement recently signed. But what about the $250M given to Darfur?” says the loyal [Progressive Conservative Party] supporter. In reality $250 million is nothing in terms of international and/or humanitarian aid. It’s a drop in the bucket for many governments, especially for Canada with her surplus’. Oh, and let’s not forget the extremely generous donation of $40M to non-government agencies working within Darfur. Oops, I meant to say $40 million since 2003. Drops in the bucket from one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Our “commitment” is anything but, and both Liberal & CPC governments are to blame for this laughable attempt at helping those who are dying every day.”
May 6, 2006
Newly arrived refugees receive assistance at UNHCR’s Gaga camp in eastern Chad….
Reuters‘ story yesterday on the latest situation in Darfur reports that only the largest rebel faction signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government. After two years of negotiations, this will not end the conflict. I hope–but doubt that it can still bring protection to the millions of refugees.
A faction of the SLA–Sudan Liberation Army signed the accord, but rival leader Abdel Wahed Muhammad al-Nor and the group Justice and Equality Movement refused. The government has said it will allow UN peacekeeping forces once an agreement with the rebel groups has been met.
I’m afraid that all this accord accomplishes is deflecting international criticism and pressure. The sincerity of the government is doubtful because they have reneged on so many agreements in the past. Sudan is under no serious pressure from the rebels or any threats of an external military internvention. Why hasn’t there been any international effort to treat Sudan as an outlaw state?
“Signing an incomplete deal guarantees that there will be no peace in Darfur and that suits the government. I am sure the government will look to exploit divisions in the rebels to fuel fighting in Darfur.” –John Prendergast, senior adviser to the International Crisis Group.
May 3, 2006
I heard back from colleagues and friends who attended the “Save Darfur” rally in DC this past weekend. Thanks to everyone who was able to make the trip. They tell me they heard Barack Obama, Elie Wiesel, Samantha Powers and Rev Al Sharpton speak on the issue. I hope that the African Union can continue to mediate between the Sudanese government, rebels and tribal leaders for resolve in Darfur as the deadline for talks was extended yesterday.
The Washington Post had the article “Divisions Cast Aside” on the rally in Monday’s paper. While more people need to know more about the issues and more voices need to be heard, it was great that so many different groups, beliefs and ethnicities came together to support this cause.
“…the Rally to Stop Genocide appeared to be distinctive for being one of the more diverse rallies the capital has seen in years. Most demonstrations attract fairly homogenous crowds, who often share political, religious and ethnic makeup, as was the case when Latinos dominated immigration protests last month. But yesterday’s rally brought together people from dozens of backgrounds and affiliations, many of whom strongly disagree politically and ideologically on many issues.”
I’m not so sure about many strongly disagreeing politically. From what I’ve been told the crowd was progressive and shared the same concern–stopping genocide. Yet, I wonder how many people have thought about—the many times when peace talks were in place and the government or militias continued to carry out atrocities against civilians. It’s happened many times in Africa….Rwanda, DR Congo, Angola, West Africa and Somalia. Mass protests are not always enough. We have to consider pressuring governments to carry out a military intervention if these peace talks fail in Sudan.