Tag Archives: human rights

#MeToo? Not me.

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
October 16, 2017

#MeToo?

Oh. Ummm. Well, sure. Yeah. Of course. I’m a female human — and so I, too, have been abused and harassed in my life. Haven’t we all — or almost all?

Is putting “Me too” as a status update on social media the way to address it? Is the now-viral hashtag “Me too” the way to respond to the issues raised by American entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose scandals now slime every media platform? Is “Me too” going to heal the insults and injuries inflicted on victims? Does “Me too” counter the silencing of not only the victims, but the censorship of everyone who tried to publicize their stories or the problem?

Maybe? Sorta? I dunno?

I’m no fan of clicktivism. I kinda prefer a friend’s suggestion of the hashtag #FuckHollywood. Because if a mogul is the latest poster boy for male moguls accused of abusing women, Hollywood leads in the commercialization of sexuality, force-fed to us in every ad and entertainment event.

But since we’re all exposing our wounds on social media —  yes, the same corporate-owned/publiclytraded- manipulative-commercial-exploitive-abusive-AnythingForProfit-DamnedDangerous platforms we know are infested with spam and abusive trolls —  as if Facebook and Twitter are suddenly, magically, sacred safe spaces where we can bare our souls, I have some thoughts.

First, I say respect and empathy are owed anyone sincere who with good intentions adds their tremulous, fragile, scared and so very very brave voice to this social media chorus and and says, in public, “me too.”  Bravo to you all.

Second, recognizing I’ll be seen as a #nastywoman by other women and their male champions, I disagree with my sisters slapping down the males daring to post “me too.” Who gave you the right to dismiss the experiences of others? Who gave you ownership of the term? Not me.

Who says women are so weak that we must refuse male victims shelter in the “me too” tent, and so virtuous that we’ve earned that right? Not me.

When I was at my most vulnerable —  in childhood, as a student, as a youngster starting a career —  those who most hurt me, most of them not directly sexually but physically and mentally, were women. Humans who abuse are always humans with power — power trumps gender, and nobody has more power than adults caring for youngsters, educators over students, or bosses bossing employees.  My own experiences with vicious women taught me to never give anyone an automatic free pass on abuse of power.  (There were bad men too, but in my own life blessed with good men the bad men were outnumbered by the vicious women.)

Who says the fact that women are rampantly, horribly, constantly abused in our society negates the fact that men are also abused? Not me. And I suggest dismissing abuse of men as a mere numbers game, or ranking types and severity of abuse, is disingenuous.

We all know people who as boys and teens were assaulted by women (and who were too “gallant” to respond). We know boys and men raped by male predators, or assaulted by male bigots because they were gay or the bigot thought they were gay, who were too silenced by shame to respond. (Catholic priests are not the only predators in our sexually messed -up cultures.)  Who says that’s irrelevant because, what, they got what they asked for by having a penis, and we women didn’t/don’t? Not me.

Thirdly, complicating Hollywood’s dumbed-down, simplisitic take on human sexuality and power politics, consider the many who do not neatly match the “gynocentric” world, those who will never be easily tagged as male rapists or female virgins/victims because they’re part of our vast lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Who says LGBT people can’t say “me too,” too? Not me.

If the “me too” trend can make everyone more aware of abuse, more sympathetic, more thoughtful, more active in standing up against abuses of all kinds, OK, I’m in. If “#MeToo” helps to fix the problem of sleazy people abusing their power, I’m in.

But I have an nagging a suspicion that “Me Too” is another overwrought outpouring of simplistic emotions, that some  are already using it to divide and conquer us, that it will be quickly forgotten as we move onto the next big shiny thing.

Who needs another maudlin, mawkish, unaware, unawoke, First World, hubristic, Hollywood hashtag  kerfuffle to distract us? Not me.

Copyright Deborah Jones 2017

Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for republishing.)

If you value this story, the author would appreciate a contribution of .27 cents, Canadian, to help fund her ongoing work and pay for this site. Click on paypal.me/deborahjones to be taken to Deborah Jones’s personal PayPal page.

 

Links:

#MeToo Floods Social Media With Stories of Harassment and Assault, by Anna Codrea-Rado, New York Times

#MeToo on Twitter.com

#MeToo on Facebook

Harvey Weinstein on Wikipedia

What Facebook Did to American Democracy, And why it was so hard to see it coming, by  Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic

 

DebJones in Spain

Deborah Jones is a partner in Facts and Opinions.

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~~~

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Gulf States Curbing Opposition

A worker walks past a balloon with a United States flag on it as part of welcome celebrations ahead of the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

By Sami Aboudi 
May 19, 2017

DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, departing from his predecessor’s practice, is expected to sidestep human rights questions when he meets Gulf Arab leaders at the weekend and focus, to the dismay of beleaguered government critics, on business and security.

Civil liberties monitors point to freedom of expression as a right increasingly constrained in Gulf Arab states including summit host Saudi Arabia, which is planning to buy tens of billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. arms.

Gulf Arab states began stepping up the muffling of political discussion in the dying months of former president Barack Obama’s term and have continued this under Trump, they say.

“Given Trump’s tenuous relationship with freedom of the press and free expression in general, we have no expectation that Trump would raise these issues during his visit,” said Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In Washington, a senior Trump administration official said human rights would not take centre stage in Riyadh, where Arab leaders are expected to discuss combating Islamist militancy and what they see as the growing influence of adversary Iran.

The official said Trump preferred to keep such conversations private, much as he did with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently when he obtained the release of an Egyptian-American humanitarian worker.

Trump’s visit is likely to contrast with one Obama paid to Egypt in 2009 when he made an appeal to the Muslim world promoting self-determination, democracy and individual rights.

The Saudis “don’t want any more talk about human rights, democracy, political reform or gender equality. They had enough of that from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

“They’re pretty confident they’re not going to hear it from Donald Trump.”

While experts are not surprised, since the Gulf states’ monarchies abhor discord and dislike free-wheeling political debate as practised in the West, they are nevertheless dismayed.

The output of several columnists, economists and clerics in regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and some of its smaller neighbours has either dried up or grown circumspect since the second half of 2016 in what critics see as an unacknowledged state drive to stifle public criticism, rights monitors say.

Among those who have fallen silent are critics, both liberal and conservative, of the kingdom’s ambitious plan to diversify the economy and open up the country culturally under a plan known as Vision 2030.

Until late last year Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi commented about issues including Trump’s rise to power on social media and a column in the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily. He also spoke in public appearances at think tanks.

In December, news circulated on social media that Kashoggi, former editor of the Arabic-language al-Watan daily, one of the kingdom’s top newspapers, had been ordered to stop writing or Tweeting. His account has been silent since November last year.

Khashoggi declined to comment on the reported ban.

DISSENTING VOICES

Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Gulf states have stepped up efforts to curb dissent with tough new cybercrime laws, sentencing offenders to prison terms for Web posts deemed insulting to rulers or threatening to public order.

But in the past two years, unnerved by low oil prices and the slow progress of a war in Yemen targeting the influence of arch foe Iran, Gulf authorities became even less patient with dissenting voices in the media, analysts and rights groups say.

Madawi Al-Rasheed, visiting professor at the Middle East Centre, London School of Economics, said Riyadh was engaged in an effort to muzzle intellectuals with “dissenting voices”.

“There are so many of them, both men and women, who have left the kingdom,” she said.

Activists say muzzled writers include economists, academics, columnists and Muslim clerics. There are no precise figures on how many have been affected, but estimates by activists put the number at more than 20 from Saudi Arabia alone.

While some were merely advised not to air their views on social media, more vocal critics have found themselves behind bars, facing possible indictments on charges such as disobeying the ruler or incitement against the state, rights activists say.

“The pursuit by security is increasing rapidly and … it is killing the voice of moderation,” said Walid Sulais, a Saudi rights activist who fled abroad in late 2016 after authorities summoned him for questioning over his rights work.

PRESSURES

Gulf Arab officials did not respond to requests for comment on the issue of free expression. But asked about the expected absence of human rights from Trump’s agenda, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the issue was one of definition.

“We look at human rights as the right to safety, the right to a decent life, the right to a job, the right to food. We see it as the right to live your life without people imposing on you,” he told a news conference on Thursday.

“Every Saudi has the right to petition his monarch or the governors. The doors of our leaders are open. We have built institutions. We have a thriving press corps. We have a consultative council that started with 60 members, today it has 150 members, and 30 of them are ladies, distinguished ladies.”

Gulf states have increasingly chafed at what they see as a campaign of vilification by Western media and rights groups. They insist they respect rights which do not violate Islamic Sharia laws and their societies’ conservative traditions.

Political parties are banned in Saudi Arabia as are protests, unions are illegal, the press is controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison. Riyadh says it does not have political prisoners, while top officials have said monitoring activists is needed to keep social stability.

In a statement on Jan. 15, Bahrain’s information minister scolded Gulf media, warning outlets to “shoulder their responsibilities” and counter foreign attempts to “spread sedition” in Gulf states – an apparent reference to Iran which

Bahrain accuses of fomenting unrest among Bahraini Shi’ites.

Iran denies interfering in the affairs of Gulf states.

Other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman, have also been accused by rights groups of curbing free expression. In Qatar, activists noted that Faisal al-Marzoqi, a prominent commentator with more than 100,000 Twitter followers, had not tweeted since November 2016.

The UAE said on March 21 it had arrested political activist Ahmed Mansoor, an electrical engineer and poet, on charges of spreading sectarianism and hatred on social media, a move criticised by Amnesty International.

Defending the move, Mohammed al-Hammadi, editor of the pro-government al-Ittihad newspaper, wrote that Mansoor “either will be convicted or will be cleared through the rule of law and the justice of the judiciary, so what is the problem with this?”

In February Saudi social media reported the arrest of prominent clerics Sheikh Essam al-Owayed and Saad al-Breik.

In a Twitter post on Feb. 23, Owayed wrote in apparent reference to liberalising reforms: “Any decision-maker who thinks he can change the faith and identity of this country by opening the doors to decadence would be calling for a war in which he would be the main loser, no matter who he is.”

Owayed’s Twitter account has had no new postings since then, while the last Twitter message on Breik’s account dates to March 20. Neither Owayed nor Breik could be reached for a comment.

On May 4 on a visit to Saudi Arabia, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson urged Riyadh to stop using a 2014 counter-terrorism law and security prohibitions against human rights defenders and writers.

“When he is meeting with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries there, he should be equally as clear that any counter-terrorism efforts must include safeguards to protect the rights of individuals to express their opinions and assemble peacefully,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Reuters.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in Washington; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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A daughter’s freedom vs her sibling’s lives

Zeinab, 14, applies her make-up before heading to school inside her shelter at a camp for internally displaced people from drought hit areas in Dollow, Somalia April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

By Zohra Bensemra
April, 2017

As the village wells dried up and her livestock died in the scorched scrubland of southern Somalia, Abdir Hussein had one last chance to save her family from starvation: the beauty of her 14-year-old daughter, Zeinab.

Last year, an older man offered $1,000 for her dowry, enough to take her extended family to Dollow, a Somali town on the Ethiopian border where international aid agencies are handing out food and water to families fleeing a devastating drought.

Zeinab refused.

“I would rather die. It is better that I run into the bush and be eaten by lions,” said the slender dark-eyed girl in a high, soft voice.

“Then we will stay and starve to death and the animals will eat all of our bones,” her mother shot back.

The exchange, related to Reuters by the teenager and her mother, is typical of the choices facing Somali families after two years of poor rains. Crops withered and the white bones of livestock are scattered across the Horn of Africa nation.

The disaster is part of an arc of hunger and violence threatening 20 million people as it stretches across Africa into the Middle East.

It extends from the red soil of Nigeria in the west, where Boko Haram’s six-year jihadist insurgency has forced 2 million people to flee their homes, to Yemen’s white deserts in the east, where warring factions block aid while children starve.

Between them lie Somalia’s parched sands and the swamps of oil-rich South Sudan, where starving families fleeing three years of civil war survive on water-lily roots.

Parts of South Sudan are already suffering famine, the first in six years.

In Somalia, the United Nations says more than half the 12 million population need aid. A similar drought in 2011, exacerbated by years of civil war, sparked the world’s last famine, which killed 260,000 people. Now the country teeters on the brink again.

At the moment, the death toll is still in the hundreds but the numbers will spike if the March-May rains fail. The forecast is not good.

As U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to slash aid budgets, the United Nations says the drought and conflicts in the four countries are fuelling humanity’s greatest collective disaster since World War Two.

“We stand at a critical point in history,” Undersecretary-General for humanitarian affairs Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council in March. “We are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.”

The United Nations needs $4.4 billion by July, he said. So far it has received $590 million.

Missing from the statistics are the heart-wrenching choices families make every day to survive.

Sheltering under the bare branches of a thorn tree as she waited for a cup of flour, one mother who just arrived in Dollow said she had been feeding her younger children while the older ones went hungry.

Another had left her sick 5-year-old son by the side of the road with distant kinsmen as she led children that could still walk towards help. A third woman bid goodbye to her crippled husband and walked through the desert for a week, carrying their toddler, to the place where there was food.

Hussein traded Zeinab’s freedom for the lives of her sisters.

“I felt so bad,” she told Reuters in the ragged dome of sticks, rags and plastic that shelters her and 14 other relatives. “I ended the dreams of my baby. But without the money from the dowry, we would all have died.”

Zeinab, whose henna’d hands are also covered with her own inky teenage doodles, wears a tight-fitting headscarf and a long, drab skirt. Underneath are a pair of trousers with a spray of coloured rhinestones at the bottom, and an iron will. She wants to be an English teacher. She wants to finish school. She does not want to be married.

“I want something different to this,” she said, as her 2-year-old nephew rolled naked in the sand and his baby brother cried weakly.

Weighed against Zeinab’s dreams were the lives of 20 nieces and nephews, the sons and daughters of her three elder sisters, all married young and all widowed or divorced. There was also her careworn older brother, her gap-toothed younger sister and her middle-aged parents.

Once the family had cows and goats and three donkeys that they hired out with carts for transport. But the animals died around them and Zeinab became their only hope of escape.

For a month, she refused, withdrawing into herself and running away when they forgot to lock her in her room. Finally, faced with her family’s overwhelming need, Zeinab relented.

“We didn’t want to force her,” her mother said wearily, worry lines etched into her forehead as her daughter sat stony-faced beside her. “I could not sleep for stress. My eyes were so tired I could not thread a needle.”

The dowry was received, the marriage celebrated, and union consummated. Zeinab stayed three days and ran away.

When her family hired cars to drive them the 40 kilometers to Dollow, Zeinab went with them. She enrolled in the local school, where stick walls topped by corrugated iron sheets serve as classrooms for 10 teachers and around 500 students.

Her husband followed.

“He says, if the girl refuses me I must get my money back. Or I will take her by force,” Zeinab said quietly. “He sends me messages saying give me the money or I will be with you as your husband.”

Her family cannot repay even a fraction of the dowry. Their only assets are their two stained foam mattresses, three cooking pots and the orange tarpaulin that covers their makeshift dome. There is nothing else to sell.

Then Zeinab’s English teacher Abdiweli Mohammed Hersi decided to step in. Hersi has seen hundreds of students drop out due to the drought.

One girl left to work as a maid to help feed her family. Her generation was the first where the daughters were sent to school. A boy sickened and died; cholera has exploded throughout Somalia as the bacteria infects dwindling water supplies.

Five girls this year also left for forced or early marriages, Hersi said. Young, reluctant brides are not unheard of in Somalia, but they are less common in good times, he said, at least in Dollow.

“Before the drought, the cases were less,” he said, an inflatable globe hanging from the ceiling of his classroom. “Some parents do give their children to other men to get that money.”

No one knows how many families are making choices like Zeinab’s.

“While we don’t yet have firm data, we understand from some reports that the numbers are small but increasing, particularly in the south and central regions,” said Jean Lokenga, chief of Child Protection for the United Nations Children’s Fund in Somalia.

Other aid groups said most drought-stricken families are too poor to pay dowries after their animals died. None knew of a program to help girls like Zeinab.

Hersi took Zeinab to a local aid group, who took her to Italian aid group Cooperazione Internazionale. The regional coordinator, visiting on a trip with EU donors, decided to intervene.

“We must do something for this girl,” said Deka Warsame, pouring tea for colleagues gathered to hear the story as the call to prayer sounded through the rooftops. “Otherwise it will be a rape every night.”

Her staff held a collection and came up with enough cash to repay the dowry. Warsame told Zeinab the group would mediate a meeting between the men of the two families. Her husband would get back his money if he divorced her in front of witnesses.

Zeinab’s dark eyes flicked up from the floor.

“Will I be free?” she asked.

Copyright Reuters 2017

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Rule of Law vs Rule by Man

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
January 29, 2017

A sign at the Women's March protesting President Donald Trump's inauguration in Vancouver, on January 21. © Deborah Jones 2017

A sign at the Women’s March protesting President Donald Trump’s inauguration in Vancouver, on January 21. © Deborah Jones 2017

The American Dream has shrunk to one simple question: rule of law, or rule by man?

Will Americans govern themselves by laws — or be ruled by a man? The question is as old as civilization. Every political idea in history has confronted it.

Peoples ruled by man could only pray for a wise, smart, and far-seeing ruler — or wage war to overturn him. (Most were and are men, though many claimed divine endorsement.) Historically, enough people were unhappy with rulers and arbitrary rules to fight for democracy, to claim some degree of sovereignty for each person, to find ways to work together to draft enduring laws.

America once embodied this dream, but such ambitions, and its democratic notions of equality and opportunity, have been long crumbling. High-quality evidence (see this Princeton research, or this Guardian report, or this ProPublica series on Dark Money in politics) suggests America’s democracy is illusory, and a sophisticated, slick and secretive “rule by the rich” is winning a war on its founding ideals.

The situation would be easier to grasp if there were an easy catch phrase. “Neoliberalism” gets much attention, and blame. But the campaign against America’s democracy is far more complex, and shape-shifting, than any academic concept like neoliberalism. Perhaps it’s more like “rule by paid-off lawmakers and other useful idiots,” all secretively manipulated by for-profit corporations, oligarchs and ideologues, who insist their subjects believe, cultishly, in whatever economic models most benefits the leaders at any point in time. And that’s a mouthful, unfit for either sound bite or tweet.

“The United States is a nation governed by the rule of law and not the iron will of one man,” insisted  Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, this weekend. Citing America’s constitutional laws, the ACLU led the fight against the ban President Donald Trump issued Friday on people from Muslim-majority countries, including refugees. Late on Saturday, a judge sided with the lawyers and imposed a partial stay on the ban.

Score one for for the lawyers, and the rule of law.

But that was just one battle in a long-running war. Rule of law is up against rule by man. Expect casualties.

Copyright Deborah Jones 2017

Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for reprint inquiries.)

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Deborah Jones is a partner in Facts and Opinions.

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U.S. Ban Causes Immigration Chaos, Fury

A woman exits immigration after arriving from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

A woman exits immigration after arriving from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Yeganeh Torbati and Doina Chiacu 
January 28, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s most far reaching action since taking office plunged America’s immigration system into chaos on Saturday, not only for refugees but for legal U.S. residents who were turned away at airports and feared being stranded outside the country.

Immigration lawyers and advocates worked through the night trying to help stranded travelers find a way back home. Lawyers in New York sued to block the order, saying many people have already been unlawfully detained, including an Iraqi who worked for the U.S. Army in Iraq.

Confusion abounded at airports as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new rules, with some legal residents who were in the air when the order was issued detained at airports upon arrival.

“Imagine being put back on a 12-hour flight and the trauma and craziness of this whole thing,” said Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston. “These are people that are coming in legally. They have jobs here and they have vehicles here.”

The new Republican president on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries. He said the moves would protect Americans from terrorism, in a swift and stern delivery on a campaign promise.

The ban affects travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and extends to green card holders who are legal permanent residents of the United States.

Arab travelers in the Middle East and North Africa said the order was humiliating and discriminatory. It drew widespread criticism from U.S. Western allies including France and Germany, Arab-American groups and human rights organizations.

Iran condemned the order as an “open affront against the Muslim world and the Iranian nation” and vowed to retaliate. Of the seven countries targeted, Iran sends the most visitors to the United States each year – around 35,000 in 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The ban extends to green card holders who are authorized to live and work in the United States, Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said.

It was unclear how many legal permanent residents would be affected. A senior U.S. administration official said on Saturday that green card holders from the seven affected countries have to be cleared into the United States on a case-by-case basis.

People shout during anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protests outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

People shout during anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protests outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

LEGAL RESIDENTS STUNNED

Legal residents of the United States were plunged into despair at the prospect of being unable to return to the United States or being separated from family members trapped abroad.

“I never thought something like this would happen in America,” said Mohammad Hossein Ziya, 33, who came to the United States in 2011 after being forced to leave Iran for his political activities.

Ziya, who lives in Virginia, has a green card and planned to travel to Dubai next week to see his elderly father. “I can’t go back to Iran, and it’s possible I won’t be able to return here, a place that is like my second country,” he said.

Saleh Taghvaeian, 36, teaches agricultural water management at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, said he feared his wife would not be able to return from Iran after a visit.

In Cairo, five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni were barred from boarding an EgyptAir flight to New York on Saturday, sources at Cairo airport said. Dutch airline KLM [AIRF.PA] said on Saturday it had refused carriage to the United States to seven passengers from predominately Muslim countries.

Canada’s WestJet Airlines said it turned back a passenger bound for the United States on Saturday in order to comply with the order. A spokeswoman did not say which country the passenger had come from.

At least three lawyers from the International Refugee Assistance Project were at the arrivals lounge at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, buried in their laptops and conference calls, photocopies of individuals’ U.S. visas on hand.

U.S. AGENCIES SCRAMBLE

Women check their luggage after arriving on a flight from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Women check their luggage after arriving on a flight from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

In Washington, the agencies charged with handling immigration and refugee issues grappled with how to interpret the measure. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were not consulted on the executive order and in some cases only learned the details as they were made public.

At the State Department, a senior official said lawyers were working closely with their counterparts at Homeland Security to interpret the executive order, which allows entry to people affected by the order when it is in the “national interest.”

However, a federal law enforcement official said, “It’s unclear at this point what the threshold of national interest is.”

Senior administration officials said it would have been “reckless” to broadcast details of the order in advance of new security measures. The officials told reporters that Homeland Security now has guidance for airlines.

They dismissed as “ludicrous” the notion that the order amounted to a “Muslim ban.” Afghanistan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Oman, Tunisia and Turkey were Muslim-majority countries not included, an official said.

Since it was announced on Friday, enforcement of the order was spotty and disorganized.

Travelers were handled differently at different points of entry and immigration lawyers were advising clients to change their destination to the more lenient airports, she said. Houston immigration lawyer Yegani said officials denied travelers with dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship from boarding planes in Canada to the United States.

The order seeks to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution. In a television interview, Trump said the measure was aimed at helping Christians in Syria.

Some legal experts said that showed the order was unconstitutional, as it would violate the U.S. right to freedom of religion. But others said the president and U.S. Congress have latitude to choose who receives asylum.

Lawyers from immigration organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court in Brooklyn on behalf of two Iraqi men, one a former U.S. government worker and the other the husband of a former U.S. security contractor.

The two men had visas to enter the United States but were detained on Friday night at Kennedy airport, hours after Trump’s executive order, the lawsuit said. One of the men, former U.S. Army interpreter, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was later released.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu, Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Mica Rosenberg, Jonathan Allen and David Ingram in New York; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

 

Travel Bans Called Unjust in Middle East

By Eric Knecht and Maher Chmaytelli
January 28,2017

People exit immigration after arriving from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

People exit immigration after arriving from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

CAIRO/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Arabs and Iranians planning U.S. trips reacted with fury on Saturday to new American travel curbs they said were insulting and discriminatory, as five Iraqis and a Yemeni were stopped from boarding a New York-bound flight in Cairo.

In some of seven Muslim-majority countries affected by the restrictions, would-be travellers preparing family visits, work trips or seeking to escape war reported chaotic disruption to their plans. Some said they had been humiliated.

Iran, one of the seven countries, said it would stop U.S. citizens entering the country in retaliation to Washington’s visa ban, calling it an “open affront against the Muslim world and the Iranian nation”.

“It’s not right to portray huge groups of Arabs and Muslims as possible terrorists,” Najeeb Haidari, a Yemeni-American security manager in Yemen, said a day after Trump put a four-month hold on refugee arrivals and temporarily barred travellers from war-torn Syria and six other mainly Muslim nations.

“This is a stupid, terrible decision which will hurt the American people more than us or anybody else, because it shows that this president can’t manage people, politics or global relationships,” Haidari added.

Sudan called the decision to ban entry of its citizens very unfortunate in light of “historic steps” just weeks earlier to lift U.S. sanctions for cooperation on combating terrorism.

In the most sweeping use of his presidential powers since taking office a week ago, Trump signed an executive order on Friday to pause the entry of travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days.

He said separately he wanted the United States to give priority to Syrian Christians fleeing the war there. The travel curbs began immediately, causing confusion for would-be travellers with passports from the seven countries.

UNFAIR DECISION

Sources at Cairo airport said the five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni, arriving in transit to Cairo airport, were stopped and re-directed to flights headed for their home countries despite holding valid visas. [L5N1FI0CI]

A Syrian family holding U.S. visas who had travelled overnight from Beirut to Paris was prevented from boarding a connecting flight onto Atlanta, Lebanese airport sources said. They flew back to Beirut later on Saturday.

In Doha, Qatar Airways advised passengers bound for the United States from the seven newly banned countries that they needed to have either a U.S. green card or a diplomatic visa.

Farea al-Muslimi, a U.S.-educated Yemeni political commentator with the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies said, “It’s insane – but what part of Trump is sane?”ers.”

“This punishes thousands of innocent people for things they have no control over, when the last few attacks in America had to do with radicalized U.S. citizens, not foreigners.”

A 34-year-old Sudanese man who won the U.S. Green Card lottery said he was worried he would be forbidden entry. “If I’m barred…this will destroy my life because I resigned from my work in Sudan and was preparing to settle in America,” he said.

Fariba, an Iranian-American who declined to give her family name and lives in New Jersey, said her parents would not be able to make a planned visit to celebrate Iranian New Year in March.

“What have we done to deserve such a ban? … This ban will ruin our lives. Thank you Mr. President. Are you making America great by hurting innocent people?”

Some people planning U.S. travel said the curbs would harm their careers. Others feared for the safety of their families.

“HUMILIATING INSULT”

In Baghdad, Bayan Adil, a doctor working in the Iraqi Health Ministry who applied for a U.S. visa to attend a medical seminar, said Iraqi academics should visit Europe instead of the United States, where they were no longer welcome.

“Trump’s decision is unfortunately a humiliating insult not only for us as academics but for all Iraqis,” she said.

Her comments were echoed by Abd Al-Jafar, a 43-year-old university professor in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, who said he had sought to go to the United States for doctoral studies.

“This decision, if implemented, will be a disaster,” he said. “I have work in Sudan and have no desire to emigrate to the U.S., just to study there. This decision is illogical.”

In Beirut, Joumana Ghazi Chehade, 34, a refugee from Yarmouk in Syria living in the Lebanese capital’s Burj al-Barajneh camp, said the decision would “destroy a lot of people”.

“Of course we’re not going to go blow anything up … All we are asking for is security and freedom.”

Mirna, an American and a mother of two living in Syria, said it was clear Trump “doesn’t want to receive Syrian Muslims … we have to expect the worst from him because he is a crazy man.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Babak Dehghanpisheh, Noah Browning, John Davison, Khalid Abdulaziz and Ahmed Elumami.; Writing by William Maclean; editing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Helen Popper)

Canada Welcomes Refugees

By David Ljunggren and Anna Mehler Paperny
January 28, 2017

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed those fleeing war and persecution on Saturday even as Canadian airlines said they would turn back U.S.-bound passengers to comply with an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

A day after U.S. President Donald Trump put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travellers from the seven countries, Trudeau said in a tweet: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

A second tweet included an archive photo of Trudeau welcoming a Syrian refugee at a Canadian airport in 2015.

Confusion abounded at airports around the world on Saturday as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new U.S. rules.

In Canada, WestJet Airlines said it turned back a passenger bound for the United States on Saturday to comply with an executive order signed by Trump on Friday. WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said the airline would give full refunds to anyone affected by the order. It did not say which country the passenger had come from.

The order would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks, the president said.

Stewart said WestJet had been informed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) that the ban did not apply to dual citizens who had passports from countries other than those covered by the ban: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“U.S. CBP has confirmed it is the citizenship document they present to enter the country, not the country of where they were born,” Stewart wrote in an email.

Air Canada, the country’s other major airline, said it was complying with the order but did not comment on whether it had yet denied travel to any passengers.

“We are required to ensure passengers have the required documents for entry into, or transit the countries they are travelling to,” said spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur. “In the case of these nationalities, they are not permitted to enter the U.S.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Anna Mehler Paperny; Writing by Amran Abocar, Editing by Nick Zieminski and Grant McCool)

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Is Your T-Shirt Clean of Slavery? Science Will Tell

A man hangs shirts out to dry in an open-air laundry in Mumbai, India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo               GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD PACKAGE Ð SEARCH ÒBUSINESS WEEK AHEAD SEPTEMBER 12Ó FOR ALL IMAGES - RTSNAG5

A man hangs shirts out to dry in an open-air laundry in Mumbai, India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo

By Liz Mermin 
December, 2016

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Shoppers lured by a bargain-priced T-shirt but concerned about whether the item is free of slave labour could soon have the answer – from DNA forensic technology.

James Hayward, chief executive of U.S.-based Applied DNA Sciences Inc. that develops DNA-based technology to prevent counterfeiting and ensure authenticity, said his researchers have been working in the cotton industry for up to nine years.

He said this was prompted by rising concerns about the global cotton industry, that provides income for more than 250 million people, using child and slave labour in harvesting the crop and the during the production process to make clothes.

Hayward said cotton was one of the most complex supply chains he had come across because it was grown in more than 100 countries and goes through a multi-stage transformation process before emerging in “fast fashion” that is cheap and disposable.

“Often each country (is) performing a single function in the transformation of a mature cotton fibre, a single cell into a finished product like a cotton shirt .. along the way there are many opportunities for cheating,” said Hayward.

“Our primary aim is to cleanse the cotton supply chain and by that, I mean eliminating any diversion, any mislabelling, any counterfeiting that can take place throughout the cotton supply chain,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Hayward said an ideal way to ascertain the true identity of a natural commodity was to use the DNA that nature gave that commodity or to mark it with a manufactured DNA.

This could allow the cotton can be traced to where it was picked before it went into the ginning process that cleans away seed and other debris for packaging into bails to ship around the world for spinning, dyeing and to make into clothes.

ORIGINS TRACED

During this process mislabelling can happen and substitute fibres added to cotton, with retailers and governments increasingly aware of this.

Hayward said a key issue is where the substitute fibres originate from as some countries have used state-sponsored slavery to collect that cotton.

Modern slavery has become a catch-all term to describe human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, sex trafficking, forced marriage and other slave-like exploitation.

An estimated 46 million people are living as slaves, according the 2016 Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation, which said Uzbekistan – the world’s fifth-largest cotton exporter – Turkmenistan and Tajikistan were forcing people to work in the annual cotton harvest.

Over 264 brands have signed up to a global pledge set up by the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN), run by the California-based charity As You Sow, vowing not to use Uzbek cotton until the government stops using forced child and adult labour.

“I think many consumers would be appalled to contemplate the notion that their garment they’re wearing could be the product of human trafficking,” Hayward said.

He said Applied DNA Sciences was primarily working with two different types of DNA – an engineered DNA made from a botanical source that allowed it to track that fibre back to its origin.

It was also trying to identify the natural DNA found in cotton fibre that allowed researchers to know which species the cotton fibre is and where it comes from.

He said this gave hints that could provide a trail from finished goods back to the crop although the level of analysis had not gone far enough yet to be truly forensic.

But he said it would let a retailer or brand owner pick up their level of attention and investigate a bit further into their supply chain – particularly as they are facing mounting pressure from governments to ensure supply chains are clean.

“We do expect that in the next year or two it will be forensic and we will be able to distinguish the global cultivars of cotton based on their point of origin,” he said.

“While our project is not yet complete we can certainly discern the differences between some Uzbek strains of cotton versus American sources of a similar cotton … the DNA tells a story and it’s very commercially and also relevant to humanity.”

Hayward said unravelling the complex cotton supply chain could set an example on how to tackle other industries.

“If we can help fix that we can help fix much easier to sort our supply chains like pharmaceutics,” he said.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Necropolitics in Mexico and Central America

By Ariadna Estévez
December, 2016

Despite the presence of armed forces in the street, the most violent neighbourhoods of Honduras are plagued by insecurity. Children can rarely go out and play, even during daytime. Families’ movements are restricted by gangs, who impose “invisible borders” between their gang territories. European Commission photo, by A. Aragón 2016/Flickr

Despite the presence of armed forces in the street, the most violent neighbourhoods of Honduras are plagued by insecurity. Children can rarely go out and play, even during daytime. Families’ movements are restricted by gangs, who impose “invisible borders” between their gang territories. European Commission photo, by A. Aragón 2016/Flickr

Gang violence is forcing people to flee Central America and Mexico, heading north to the United States in record numbers. Right?

That’s the standard narrative: organised crime and drug trafficking have given Central America’s “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) the highest homicide rates on earth, sending scared citizens packing.

Indeed, Honduras ranks second, behind Syria, among the world’s most dangerous countries, followed by El Salvador (6th), Guatemala (11th) and Mexico (23rd). And San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, has the highest homicide rate on the planet.

This is a humanitarian crisis and regional tragedy. And as far as the United Nations and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, are concerned, bad guys are to blame.

But this common received wisdom about violence in Central America and Mexico overlooks two facts.

Both areas are rich in natural resources, including fine woods (such as mahogany) and metals (such as iron, lead, gold, nickel, zinc and silver). And not all the violence plaguing the region is gang-related; it also encompassses feminicide, the killing of environmental activists and political murders and forced disappearances.

My argument is that criminal violence, while potent, is just part of a dangerous cocktail that serves to “cleanse” places where local communities are defending their home territory.

Necropolitics: a killer agenda

This isn’t a conspiracy theory, and this hypothesis is not mine alone. Data indicates that in resource-rich countries, the concurrence of forced displacement with criminal, misogynistic and political violence cannot be a coincidence.

This killer combination reflects a policy of forced depopulation aimed at obtaining “conflict-free” exploitation of natural resources that are increasingly valuable in the modern global economy, such as minerals used by new technologies and renewable or clean energy sources.

To execute this strategy, a variety of armed actors, including drug traffickers and gang members but also mercenary killers, security guards and “sicarios” – in Mexico and Central America are selling their killing expertise to powerful entities, from repressive governments to transnational corporations (or both, working together). Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe has called this phenomenon Private Indirect Government.

This “necropolitics” – the politics of death – is the violent core of what scholar Bobby Banerjee defines as necrocapitalism, that is, profit-driven deaths.

Why negotiate with poor indigenous communities sitting atop valuable oil, water, wood and ore if they can be pushed off their land with hidden criminal, political and misogynistic forces?

Central America’s resource curse

Nearly every Latin American country confronting high homicide levels also has precious woods, metals and hydrocarbons. For the purposes of my argument, let’s look at illegal and legal logging in Honduras, mining across Central America and hydrocarbon extraction along the US-Mexico border. These situations demonstrate how forced displacement, political repression, criminal and gender violence in resource-rich territories coincide.

In Honduras, displacement patterns indicate that criminal violence may not the main push factor. According to a 2016 report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the number of displaced persons increased nearly 600% from 29,000 to 174,000 between 2014 and 2015.

Oddly, that’s precisely when homicide rates decreased. The report is vague on this paradox, suggesting that the increase may relate to worsening economic conditions.

I would counter that the increasingly violent repression of environmental activism, not criminal violence, was the primary displacing force during that period.

From 2010 to 2014, more than 100 Honduran environmental activists were killed. By 2014, the country was seeing massive demonstrations against corporate activity in Río Blanco – the same river defended by environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in 2016.

Honduras is rich in natural resources, with 41.5% of its territory covered with forests. Yet it is the third-poorest country in the Americas. Conditions there have worsened there since a 2009 coup d’etat.

The poorest Hondurans live in rural areas, where longstanding agricultural, logging and livestock activities have created an environmental crisis. Widespread deforestation, erosion and environmental degradation are exposing communities to natural disaster. That’s why farmers and indigenous groups are increasingly organising against corporate interests in their jungles, and why they’re being killed and displaced.

While much of Honduras’s criminal violence takes place in cities such as San Pedro Sula, it is also concentrated in supposedly protected rural areas that have illegal mining and logging activities.

The Río Plátano biosphere, one of the country’s three major protected areas, and the La Ceiba district, near the Pico Bonito conservation zone, both have gang and cartel activities, and are among the areas sending the greatest number of child refugees to the US.

The government is a partner in this illicit extraction. According to a Global Witness report, from 2006 to 2007, the Honduran state paid more than US$1 million to timber traffickers.

Women, the environment and murder

It’s a common mistake to consider violence against women a private, non-political act. But women are often on the front lines of environmental activism because they tend to oppose activities that are harmful to their children, homes and communities. While there’s no data on the exact number killed, the necropolitical dangers women face is sufficient to merit a network of female environmentalists.

In 2015, Honduras had the world’s highest feminicide rate. The most famous case is that of 44-year-old Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, who was killed in March 2016.

In her final days, Cáceres received texts and calls warning her to give up her fight against the Agua Zarca dam and had recently had an altercation with employees of a Honduran energy company, Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., or Desa. She was eventually shot dead in her home.

Feminicide has similarly flourished in Mexico’s most shale-rich states. There, the case of Josefina Reyes Salazar is iconic, though still shrouded in mystery.

A women’s rights and environmental activist in Valle de Juárez, Salazar was killed in 2010 along with other members of her family, because they opposed the militarisation of their town, which was located in an area rich in shale gas.

The Mexican case

According to a forced displacement report, of the 287,000 Mexicans displaced by violence and 91,000 displaced by disaster, most are in the states of Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Durango, Michoacán, Guerrero and Veracruz.

Beyond their high levels of drug-related violence, all of these states are also rich in minerals, renewables and shale gas. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll focus here on shale gas extraction along the US-Mexico border.

A significant number of the forced disappearances and murders in which the army and criminal gangs are involved have taken place in this swath of land, located above a major Texas shale gas source known as Eagle Ford Shale Basin.

This area is also, notoriously, run by gangs, from the Juarez Cartel that once made Ciudad Juarez the world’s most violent city to the Zetas, who are responsible for thousands of Mexico’s 300,000 forced disappearances, and the Gulf Cartel, whose leaders were protected by local politicians.

Fracking, the method used to extract shale gas, has significant environmental costs, requires 7.6 to 15 million litres of water per extraction and contains contaminating chemicals.

27,000 wells fuel Eagle Ford’s shale gas exploitation. In an arid place where water is already scarce, this intense water use is hurting agriculture and leading to increasing protests.

According to a special report by the National Human Rights Commission, most of Mexico’s displaced people are farmers from communities with self-sustaining economies, environmental and human rights activists, small business owners, local government officials, and journalists.

This makes sense. With the exception perhaps of business owners, these populations represent a specific threat to extractive capitalist interests, either through resistance (activists, law-abiding public officials, farmers) or exposure (journalists).

Thus, while gangs and drug-related violence are major Latin American social problems, civil society must start discerning the entire array of depopulating strategies in Central America and Mexico.

Mexico’s national media is already drawing this link with shale gas extraction. It’s time to complicate the narrative of violence across Mexico and the Northern Triangle by examining the role of transnational corporations, local political elites, and economic oligarchies in the region’s daily displacement and production of death.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

Ariadna Estévez 3 Articles 0 Comments Professor, Center for Research on North America, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) ProfileArticlesAriadna Estévez  received her doctorate in human rights from Sussex University in Brighton, UK; her master’s in political sociology from the City University in London, England; and her bachelor’s in journalism and collective communications from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She is currently a full-time researcher at the Center for Research on North America (CISAN-UNAM).

 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

 

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Ethnic Cleansing Roils Burma’s Democracy Transition

Migrants collect rainwater at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, in Myanmar June 4, 2015. Soe Zeya Tun: This group of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were rescued from a boat carrying 734 people off Myanmar's southern coast. Those on board had been at sea for more than two months - at the end with little food or water. The men in this photo were part of a group of 400 crammed into a warehouse by Myanmar police. They had arrived the day before, but while the women, children and some men had already been moved, these men were left behind. There was no sign of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR or foreign aid agencies. Just moments before this shot, the sky opened and the monsoon rains started coming down. The men were jostling with each other for space to catch water in their bottles and plates. The authorities were hesitant to grant us access at first, but as the morning wore on and the rains started, we were able to enter and start photographing and speaking to migrants. Just after taking this photo, the men were loaded into buses and trucks and driven to a camp where international aid agencies were waiting. I have worked on long and difficult assignments where I have gone days without a proper shower. But for these people it had been months without enough water. Everyone was dirty and had likely washed little while at sea. I could see just how meaningful it was for them to suddenly have a chance to drink and clean themselves with whatever small amount of water they could capture. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Migrants, mostly Rohingya, collect rainwater at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, in Myanmar June 4, 2015. For the full story, see 2015 Photos of the Year, by Reuters REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
November 26, 2016

Burma’s 50 million people languished under a most vile military dictatorship for 50 years, but that has not made them a tolerant and open-handed society.

The country’s military is in the middle of a scorched earth operation against the one million minority Muslim Rohingya in Burma’s north-western Rakhine state that United Nations officials and international human rights agencies have called “ethnic cleansing.”

Scores, if not hundreds of people have been killed by the army and police since an attack on three police outposts on the border with Bangladesh on October 9. Police claim the attacks were by an Islamic militant group called the Rohingya Solidarity Organization and that nine policemen were killed.

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An official of the UN refugee agency says that in their reprisals the Burmese army and police have killed not only men, but many children and that women have been gang raped. Tens of thousands of people have fled over the border into Bangladesh or taken to boats in efforts to reach predominantly Muslim countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. For more than six weeks, UN agencies have been unable to reach the 150,000 people in Rakhine State, who normally receive food and medical aid because their livelihoods are restricted by the Burmese authorities.

The international agency Human Rights Watch says satellite pictures indicate at least 1,200 buildings have been burned to the ground in the police and army sweep. International concern and condemnation of the Burmese security operation is likely to grow. The neighbouring government in neighbouring, majority Muslim Malaysia says it will take up the issue on the international stage. There have already been demonstrations against the Burmese military in Malaysia’s principal city, Kuala Lumpur, and also in Jakarta, capital of the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia. Other protests have been held in Thailand, the exile home for tens of thousands of refugees from Burma’s long wars with ethnic minorities.

Burma has gone from military dictatorship to kleptocracy without drawing breath, writes Jonathan Manthorpe as fall elections loom.

Burma has gone from military dictatorship to kleptocracy without drawing breath, wrote Jonathan Manthorpe prior to Burma’s last elections.

Burma’s purge of the Rohingya has been going on for decades. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees there are 200,000 Rohingyas in camps in Bangladesh, including about 90,000 unregistered refugees in two unofficial camps. The Bangladeshi government is trying to close the border, fearing that if it makes it easy for Rohingya’s to cross, the Burmese military will take advantage and expel the entire population.

For outsiders, the difficult thing to comprehend is that most Burmese, who are staunch Buddhists, support the eradication of the Rohingya, very many of whom have lived in Burma – also called Myanmar – for several generations. Hatred of the Rohingya is so intense that they are denied citizenship, their movements within the country are restricted, they are banned from entering professions such as medicine and law, and they may not run for public office.

The campaigns against the Rohingya has been particularly problematic for the reputation of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who while under detention for nearly two decades, became the international symbol of resistance to the military dictatorship.

In response to the public distaste for the Rohingya, Suu Kyi has remained largely silent about their plight. When she has spoken it has been only in the most general terms. Those statements have usually been to express the hope that the transition to democracy will bring peace agreements with all the country’s ethnic minorities, several of which have mounted armed insurrections for three decades and more.

Suu Kyi’s careful politicking highlights the tenuous nature of Burma’s transition to democracy, which began when the military introduced in 2011 what it said was a civilian government. In reality, this was a government of soldiers in mufti, but that changed somewhat in November last year when the NLD won a majority of seats in the parliament.

However, the military remains in charge. A quarter of the parliamentary seats are reserved for the military. This gives the soldiers a veto over any constitutional changes, which would require support of more than 75 per cent of parliamentarians. The most high profile of potential constitutional changes is one that would allow Suu Kyi to become president. At the moment she is banned under a section of the constitution written by the military that prohibits anyone with foreign family ties from becoming president. She was married to Oxford University professor Michael Aris, who died in 1999, and she has two children who are British citizens.

The military also retains direct control over the key security ministries and departments of Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defence.

It is clear that there is a tortuous path ahead in the relationship between the military and Suu Kyi’s NLD if Burma is to complete the transition to a fully functional democracy.

The conflict with the Rohingya illustrates a major problem. The military maintains and will continue to insist on its primacy in dealing with recalcitrant ethnic minorities, most of which have homelands in Burma’s border regions with China, Thailand, Laos and Malaysia as well as Bangladesh.

In the last few days fighting has also broken out again in Burma’s northeastern Shan state bordering China. There, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the impoverished country’s most powerful militias, joined three smaller groups – the ethnic Chinese Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and its allies, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Arakan Arm – to take on the government’s military. The fighting has pushed thousands of people to flee over the border into China.

After decades of being unable to conclusively crush the armed separatist movements among Burma’s 135 recognised ethnic groups, the military has pursued a campaign of bribery with some success. Most of the insurgents have made peace agreements in the last 10 years or so in return for being put on the government payroll and being recognised as peacekeepers within their regions under loose government supervision.

But these deals are tenuous, as the renewed fighting in Shan state illustrates. The NLD persuaded the military to agree to a broad-based peace conference, which was held in August. Another parley is due in February, but while there is upheaval in Shan and Rakhine states the military, led by flambouyant Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, will be reluctant to cede the file to civilians.

The generals do need to maintain a functional relationship with the NLD government, though. Not least of the pressures on the generals and other senior officers is to protect the vast fortunes that many of them have made during the decades of international sanctions imposed during the military dictatorship. There are also attractive prospects of being able to add to those fortunes now that sanctions are being lifted and investment is flooding into the country.

It was never going to be a simple matter for Suu Kyi, the NLD, and, indeed, other political parties to wrest complete control of parliament and government from the military. The NLD has an added problem that the party has an intensely hierarchical structure. This limits the experience available to middle-raking officials – and therefore usually the up-and-coming future generation of leaders – especially in dealings with the military. And because of the cloistering of Burma during the decades of military rule, which started in 1962, there is a good deal of political naivety among NLD members. There is a blithe assumption among Suu Kyi’s followers that constitutional amendments removing military political power are inevitable and that they will soon no longer have to deal with the generals as equals.

The military modelled the current Burmese constitution on the former system in Indonesia, where the military kept ultimate control and a veto over ostensibly civilian governments. That system lasted over three decades from when Maj.-Gen. Muhammad Suharto seized power in 1967 until he was forced from office in 1998.

Burma also probably faces a generation of transition until it can be called a true democracy. And, as is all too evident in the current upheaval, the country could easily slip back into military rule. That possibility is heightened by events on the international stage. The assumption of the United States presidency by isolationist Donald Trump appears to be a major victory for capitalist authoritarian states like China and Russia. Burma is already surrounded by Southeast Asian nations where the transition to democracy is stalled – such as in Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Laos – or where it is in reverse – such as in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. Ironically, it is only in Indonesia – once the bad boy of the region – that democracy is flourishing.

What becomes of the Rohingya in this scenario is anyone’s guess. To begin with, there is little agreement among historians and ethnologists about who they are and how they got to Burma. The political story promoted by the Burmese military and accepted by the bulk of Burma’s people is that the Rohingya were moved into Rakhine state when both Burma and what is now Bangladesh were part of the British Empire. However, some scholars say that Muslim Rohingya first began settling in Rakhine state in the 16th Century. This theory, dismissed as a fairy tale by some academics, says the community was established by Arab seafarers and was a monarchy for 350 years.

The British annexed Rakhine after the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1826. People from neighbouring Bengal, now Bangladesh, were encouraged by the British to move to Rakhine to work as farm labourers. The Muslim population of the area continued grow over the next 120 years, punctuated by many outbreaks of conflict with local Buddhists.

In 1982, Burma’s most famous military dictator, Gen. Ne Win, imposed a nationality law, which denied citizenship to the Rohingya, denied them freedom of movement within Burma, and severely restricted their economic opportunities. His action was in response to sometimes violent protests by Buddhists in Rakhine state against the influx of Rohingya’s from over the border in the Bangladesh liberation war from Pakistan between 1971 and 1973. Upwards of 500,000 Rohingya – or Bengalis as they are known disparagingly among Burmese – are believed to have settled in Rakhine in the 1970s.

The state has seethed with violence and discontent since Ne Win’s edict. There has been communal violence incited by both the Muslims and the Buddhists. The heavy-handed tactics of the police and the army have only added to the tensions that made Rakhine into a classic war zone of death and destruction.

Emotions and prejudices are so intense that it is hard to imagine that even if Burma were to find some accelerated path into a full democracy a peaceful and equitable solution to the Rohingya problem could be found.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related in F&O’s archives:

Myanmar’s abuses yield ready supply of slaves. By Penny Green,  Alicia de la Cour Venning & Thomas MacManus.

Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi: The Image And The Reality  JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 9, 2016

Generals in mufti still control BurmaJONATHAN MANTHORPE: International AffairsApril, 2015

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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“Race” does not exist

Julian Fong Creative Commons

Julian Fong Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
October 22, 2016

One weekend, about 25 years ago, when I was fortunate enough to be on a journalism fellowship at Harvard in Boston, I went to something called the Saturday class. The Saturday class was specifically started to help African-American students find what we might call these days a “safe space” to discuss ideas and issues that were important to them, but that anyone could attend.

This particular morning a couple of other white people had come to the class to hear Henry Louis Gates speak. Gates, a leading scholar on African-American history, would later go on to “fame,” in his role hosting a PBS show about the genetic history of well-known people, and the “beer” incident, in which he was accosted by a Cambridge cop as he was trying to get into his own house. (Gates, the cop and president Obama later had a beer together to talk about the incident).

At that time there was a great deal of discussion about the African-American community’s efforts to reclaim significant black figures who had been portrayed as white, or forgotten. Gates wanted to talk that morning about one of these figures in particular – Cleopatra.

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His argument was that while his students may have shared the same skin color as Cleopatra, they did not share the same experiences. As he said, in words I have never forgotten, “If Cleopatra came back today, she wouldn’t be doing the Moon Walk” (a reference to Michael Jackson’s then-popular dance.) What he meant was, there was no such thing as inherent “blackness,” no racial component that all black people shared.

What was shared among his students, he added, was the experience of being black in America. (Which Cleopatra did not share, and thus no moon walking.) The way people treated you because of the color of your skin. The odds you faced, the choices you were forced to make, how you raised your children.

Race was not a genetic or biological thing, he argued, but a social construct, a product of the way we act towards each other. Nothing more, nothing less. Racism is a reflection of that construction – where we treat people different based not on genetic factors (although racists like to see it that way so they can call other people “Inferior”), but entirely on the color of their skin.

In fact, science proved LONG ago we are all one race, with different skin pigmentation and susceptibility to certain diseases based on the environment our ancestors had to deal with.

In a 2015 article in the Guardian, Adam Rutherford wrote that human genome  studies increasingly show that “race” does not exist.

“There are genetic characteristics that associate with certain populations, but none of these is exclusive, nor correspond uniquely with any one group that might fit a racial epithet. Regional adaptations are real, but these tend to express difference within so-called races, not between them. Sickle-cell anaemia affects people of all skin colours because it has evolved where malaria is common. Tibetans are genetically adapted to high altitude, rendering Chinese residents of Beijing more similar to Europeans than their superficially similar neighbours. Tay-Sachs disease, once thought to be a “Jewish disease,” is as common in French Canadians and Cajuns. And so it goes on.”

I bring up this issue in response to the alt-right movement that has crawled out from under its rock and has taken up a place in the sun thanks to the candidacy of Donald Trump. The predominantly white alt-right folks, along with their kissing cousins in the KKK and similar white supremacy movements, are loudly arguing about the need to discriminate against those who look different, piggy backing on the fear that Trump has trumpeted about illegal immigrants taking over the country, Syrian refugees being secret agents of ISIS, etc.  Much of this, in America and Europe, is born of a fear of no longer being part of a dominant group, and the loss of power. (Loss of power is also why the alt-right hates women, even white women, because the alt-right is supremely patriarchal at its core.)

And while Donald Trump will lose by a lot on November 8th, the alt-right movement will not go away so easily. Thanks in particular to things like social media and the Internet, count on them spreading their lies and hatred for a while to come. Losing to a woman will only make it worse, coming on the heels of losing twice to an African-American president.

Which makes it all that more important for the rest of us to fight back and remind people that biology is NOT destiny. That we really can make a better country by changing the way we treat people. Cultural differences, based on things like economy, religion, environment, will always exist – they exist within individual countries, for heaven’s sake. But if we understand people are who they are not because they are biologically or genetically inferior, but because, like Cleopatra, they just never had a reason to do the moon walk, it will be much easier to counter the arguments of the alt-right forces and show that “race” is not what they want us to believe it is.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com
LINKS

There is no such thing as ‘race’: Newsweek http://www.newsweek.com/there-no-such-thing-race-283123

Why racism is not backed by science: Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/01/racism-science-human-genomes-darwin

~~~

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Drug Killings Divide, Subdue, Philippines’ Powerful Church

Filipino Catholic devotees attend a regular mass at a National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque city, metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Filipino Catholic devotees attend a regular mass at a National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque city, metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Clare Baldwin and Manolo Serapio Jr
October, 2016

MANILA (Reuters) – Catholic priests from the Philippines Church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by new President Rodrigo Duterte.

In interviews with Reuters, more than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support. Challenging the president’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

Duterte, who had a 76 percent satisfaction rating in a survey released last week, has quashed opposition to his war on drugs and blasted critics in curse-laden language. More than 3,600 people, mostly small-time drug users and dealers, have died at the hands of police and suspected vigilantes since he took power on June 30.

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In another poll conducted by the same agency, the Social Weather Stations, 84 percent of respondents said they were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the war on the drugs, although a majority said they had qualms about the killings.

Opposing the drug war “in some locations becomes a dangerous job”, said Father Luciano Felloni, a priest in a northern district of the capital, Manila. At least 30 people, including a child and a pregnant woman, have been killed in his ‘barangay’, or neighbourhood, where he is setting up community-based rehabilitation for drug users.

“There is a lot of fear because the way people have been killed is vigilante-style so anyone could become a target … There is no way of protecting yourself.”

Another priest, who like several others asked for anonymity because of possible reprisals, said it was risky to question the killings openly. Dozens of drug addicts and pushers are being killed every day, but anyone who criticises Duterte’s campaign could suffer a similar fate, he said.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Church was free to make statements, and there was no cause “to even imply” that anyone in the clergy would be targeted.

However, Abella added: “The Church needs to consider that recent surveys show the people trust and appreciate the president’s efforts and it would do well to take heed and not presume that the people share their  belief system.”

“We expect them to be reasonable and considered.”

Duterte said on Monday he would not stop the campaign.

“I’m really appalled by so many groups and individuals, including priests and bishops, complaining about the number of persons killed in the operation against drugs,” he said in a speech in the southern city of Zamboanga.

“If I stop, the next generation would be lost.”

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“CHURCH WILL LOSE”

Some priests have supported Duterte’s war on drugs.

“Are the means unnecessarily illegitimate?” said Father Joel Tabora, a Jesuit priest in Davao, where Duterte was mayor for 22 years, and where about 1,400 people were killed from 1998 until the end of last year in a similar anti-crime and anti-drug campaign, according to activists.

“People are dying, yes, but on the other hand, millions of people are being helped,” said Tabora.

Three decades ago, the Church in the Philippines championed a ‘People Power’ revolution that reverberated around the world and ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It also participated in a popular movement in 2001 that led to the impeachment and removal of another president, Joseph Estrada.

For the Vatican, the Philippines is a key eastern hub: it has the third-largest population of Catholics globally and accounts for more than half of Asia’s roughly 148 million Catholics.

Nearly 80 percent of the 100 million people in the Philippines are Catholic and, unlike in many other countries where the faith was once strong, the vast majority still practice with enthusiasm.

Duterte, who is not a regular church-goer himself and says he was sexually abused by a priest as a boy, has publicly questioned the Church’s relevance and he dubbed May’s presidential election a referendum between him and the Church.

His victory by a substantial margin indicates that despite its appeal, the political clout of the Church is waning, some priests say. Indeed, many churchgoers who spoke to Reuters said they supported the war on drugs.

At the San Felipe Neri Parish Church in Manila on a recent Sunday, Father Francis Lucas said in a sermon that the Philippines was going through a “moral crisis”.

“Why are all of these killings happening?” he asked, pacing in front of hundreds of people packed into wooden pews. “You have to love and care for one another.”

Lucas is one of the few priests to oppose the killings in his sermons. But he later told Reuters it was unfair to expect the Church to influence the course of the war on drugs because it no longer had the secular power it once enjoyed.

“How come everybody wants the Church to act when others don’t?” Lucas said. “Yes, we have influence but times have also changed.”

In the car park outside the church, where people had spilt out and were listening on loudspeakers, his sermon did not go down well.

“The Church has to back off,” said Jenny Calma, a 34-year-old mother of two.

“We voted for our president because he promised to stop drugs,” Calma said as her children played between parked cars.

“The Church will lose” if it takes on Duterte over the killings, she added. “The feeling, the atmosphere in the community – sometimes the Church understands, sometimes it doesn’t.”

People gather around religious statues and objects after a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

People gather around religious statues and objects after a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“LIFE IS CHEAP”

Nevertheless, some in the clergy are providing shelter to individuals trying to flee the campaign.

“There are cases where asylum is being sought and given, which are not brought to the attention of media … especially during these times when life is cheap and summary execution is a way of living, and extra-judicial killing is a matter of course,” retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz told Reuters.

He was also head of the country’s apex Catholic body, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Cruz said details of the priests involved, their locations and who they were protecting were restricted because of the dangers involved.

Reuters spoke with one priest who temporarily hid someone fearing for his life, but the priest declined to be named because of concerns about his safety. He said that if any details were revealed he would become a target.

At the Vatican, a senior official said the Holy See’s Secretariat of State was following the situation in the Philippines closely but, as with all countries, would leave it to the national bishops’ conference to make its position on internal matters known to governments.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the issue, however called the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines worrying.

After Duterte took power, the first official comment from the Philippines’ conference of bishops came in mid-September. By then the president had been in office for two-and-a-half months and almost 3,000 people had died.

In that message, the CBCP said “deaths because of police encounters, deaths from extra-judicial killings” were cause for mourning and that drug addicts needed healing. But it also echoed the president’s language, noting that the drug users “may have behaved as scum and rubbish”.

Cruz said the Church was being “prudent” because so many people supported the summary execution of drug dealers.

“The CBCP also has to be very careful because it might unnecessarily offend a good number of people with goodwill, who are Catholics themselves,” he said.

Under long-serving Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Philippines Church helped topple Presidents Marcos and Estrada and campaigned against the death penalty, which was suspended in 2006.

Sin, who retired in 2003 and died two years later, saw the Church’s role as socio-political. However, before he retired, he initiated the division of the Archdiocese of Manila into multiple dioceses all run independently under different bishops.

Now, priests say, the Church’s leadership is more fragmented and, because of that, carries less clout. Since the division, the Church has lost critical political battles, most notably failing to block a reproductive health bill promoting artificial contraception in 2012.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato, Neil Jerome Morales and Andrew R.C. Marshall in Manila and Philip Pullella at the Vatican; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Related on F&O:

Trump is a feeble version of the Philippines’ Duterte, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

In the hierarchy of demagogues, Donald Trump is not in the same league as the Philippines new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike Duterte, whose approval rating is at 91 per cent since he came to office at the end of June, Trump doesn’t have the guts to say what he means.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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