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Monday, April 5, 2010

Dubai brings sexual abuse of children into the open


Although the number of children affected cannot be verified, it is believed that there has been a rise of cases of abused children in the UAE. On Thursday, 1st April, in attempts to create awareness, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children launches a month-long Protect Childhood Campaign in schools, businesses and malls to speak with people about what they can do to protect children. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Malaysia drops caning sentence for beer-drinking Malysia women

On Thursday, Reuters reported that Malaysia has officially dropped a caning sentence imposed on women for drinking beer, a practice which has raised concerns about intolerance in the Muslim country. 

According to Reuters, the canings reflected growing conservatism in the country and was beginning to become of concern to investors.

Malaysia practices a dual-track legal system, with Islamic criminal and family law applicable to Muslims and non-Muslims, who comprise about 45% of the population, are subject to civil law.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Iranian gays increasingly fleeing their country

According to The Washington Post, about 300 gay people have fled Iran since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president and particularly after June's crackdown. Many of them have reportedly joined the 2,000 Iranian dissidents and political refugees in secular Turkey, where homosexuality is tolerated. Refugees in Turkey are dispersed throughout various smaller cities as they seek permanent asylum through the UN in countries such as the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Others experiencing pressure from the Iranian government are student groups, journalists, human rights activists, and artists.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Belgium moves to ban burqa and niqab in public


It seems that Belgium is not following suit (France, the Netherlands) to ban burqa and niqab in public. 

According to The Guardian, the Home affairs committee of Brussels federal parliament voted unanimously to ban partial or total covering of faces in public. 

"It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and enclose an individual. Wearing the burqa in public is not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society."

If the vote is ratified in April, as expected, Belgium will become the first European country to ban the burqa and niqab in public.

Major Development, France: PM against total Islamic veil ban


On Tuesday, the French Prime Minister advised the government that any total ban on face-covering Islamic veils could be unconstitutional. (I am in complete agreement here. The ban encroaches on human rights.) 

According to BBC, Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked the State Council for a legal opinion before drawing up a law on the subject. The State Council said a ban could be justified in some public places. Moreover, those drafting the legislation could ignore Tuesday's ruling, which stipulates that any law could be in violation of the French constitution as well as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

What do you think? Should the law be passed or not?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Special Report by WFUNA: Human Rights Council discusses the problem of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia


Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance are a concern to all peoples and countries. For this reason the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, whose mandate is to make recommendations with a view of the effective implementation of the declaration and programme of action, held its session in October 2009. 

The Human Rights Council Tuesday afternoon opened its discussion and held a general debated on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance. The Council heard the presentations by the Chairpersons of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. 
 
A Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action had submitted the report on its 7th session to the Human Rights Council, pursuant to Resolution 11/12 of 18 June 2009. The Report contained summaries of the deliberation of the Working Group as well as adopted conclusions and recommendations.
 
It was noted that the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference, together with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, provides the most comprehensive.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Women's Rights, Saudi Arabia: Placing more emphasis on working women

It seems that Saudi Arabia is moving towards change, highlighting women in this significant development. My first thought upon reading about this was: the economy.. it must the desire to develop the economy and sees this as an essential step in that direction. Women are largely an untapped resource. 

According to Bloomberg, King Abdullah is pushing to raise women's employment in a country where only 15% of the labor force is female. More working women would give Saudi and international companies higher-skilled employees, since almost 60% of Saudi university students are women, and help Saudi Arabia diversify from energy by building technical skills.

"By including more women in the labor force, you increase productivity" and thus add jobs to the economy, said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Riyadh-based Banque Saudi Fransi. "By employing them, the government will get a return on its investment in education."

Moreover Abdullah is promoting women's rights as part of a broader drive to rein in the influence of the clerical establishment, which controls the educational and legal system in a country where unemployment for those between ages 15 and 24 is 25%. The king is establishing a new commercial courts outside the existing judiciary, which follows Islamic Sharia law, and promoting science and technology under a five-year unveiled in 2005 to enhance job skills. 

That said, Bandar bin Mohammed al-Aiban, president of the government-run Saudi Human Rights Commission, states that the kingdom's form of Islam means progress will be slow. It forbids mixing among unrelated people of opposite sexes, requires women to get a male relative's permission to work and prohibits women from driving a car.

I have to say that I appreciated Mr. al-Aiban's comment: "It's piecemeal, one step at a time. We're an Islamic society that has its own traditions, which most families, not the government, would adhere to." I definitely agree. One step at a time. And, well, progress is progress even if it is slow to come. I see this as smart economics where women's rights benefit.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Women's Rights, Yemen: Women protest child bride law

On Sunday 21 March in Yemen, hundreds of women gathered in front of Sana'as's parliament building to protest for their rights, specifically against the government establishing a minimum legal age for marriage.

According to The National, most of the protesters carried the Quran and some held posters that said such a requirement for marriage went against sharia, or Islamic law. "Yes to the sharia rights of Muslim woman," read one poster. 

Following the demonstrations on Sunday, hundreds of Yemeni women held a counter protest on Monday outside Yemen's parliament building in support of the legislation. "No to the abuse of childhood, prevention of happiness and usurpation of life," one poster read. "Setting an age for marriage is a legal, humanitarian and developmental necessity," said another. 

The demonstrations came in the wake of a measure first approved by parliament last year, which stipulated that parents who marry off their daughters before the age of 17 and sons before 18 could face a year in jail or be fined US$500 (Dh1,800). 

According to Ms. Hooria Mashhoor, the vice chairwoman of the Woman's National Committee, "The speaker of the parliament names a committee to sit down and talk with the MPs who repealed the minimum age article. He suggested that the committee can discuss with these MPs that the marriage age remains as it is but the fine on the parents violating it can be removed. Some of the delegates, however, refused. We will see what comes up."

Depending on your viewpoint, this can be seen as an issue of the rights of a child and/or the rights of a woman. That said, even if it is perceived as as a case of the rights of a woman, it can still be argued from either side as some women support the law and some don't. I decline from taking a side; however, if I had to comment, I would have to say something along the lines of: If a girl, or even boy, is under the age of 16, she is considered a child. Anything under that I do not believe a girl or boy should be getting married or having children. They typically have not even finished puberty before that age. But, that is only my opinion. Thus, that said, girls and boys all over the world are having sex and even babies before the age of 16. So, as I have already stated, I decline to take any side.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rights of the Child: abuse on the internet

Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in the world. Although their rights should be actively protected, often these rights are far from being respected. 

In efforts to fight child abuse on the internet the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has joined a group of international law enforcement agencies and plans to eventually prohibit anyone with a record for paedophilia from entering the country. According to The National, the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT), established in 2003 to fight online child abuse, aims to dismantle global paedophile networks, co-ordinate cover internet investigations, share and develop intelligence and target sex offenders. As a member, the Ministry of Interior will focus on spreading awareness about online child abuse, introducing and enforcing legislation, joining global operations, developing monitoring tools and establishing a national child helpline. Major Gen Nasser al Naimi, the secretary general of Minister of Interior's office, who represents the UAE on the VGT, said he believed the partnership would "reinforce the country's position to protect the rights of the child".

Child pornography on the internet is a form of sexual exploitation using media. Children are victims on over 4 million sites, with an increase, and predators are increasingly connected. Still some countries only take into the age of consent and have not enforced protection measures. This can be contributed to lack of information available and cost. Strategies to combat child pornography are lacking and weak, they lack cooperation and coordination between developed and developing countries, and child pornography continues to develop and is becoming a very profitable industry. Considering child porn is a crime and a grave violation of the rights of child, States are recommended to adopt legislation such as that done by the UAE. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Water is Precious: Raise Awareness - World Water Day

All human beings have the right to access to and to safe and clean water. Yesterday, 22 March, marked World Water Day, held annually as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. And this is definitely much needed attention.

 "The sheer scale of dirty water means more people now die from contaminated and polluted water than from all forms of violence including waters," said the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Moreover, the two million tons of waste, which contaminates over two billion tons of water daily, has left huge "dead zones" that choke coral reefs and fish.

"Day after day, we pour millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste into the world's water systems. Clean water has become scarce and will become even scarcer with the onset of climate change" said Secretary Ban Ki-moon in his message for the day, which this year focuses on "Clean Water for a Healthy World" as its theme. In his message, Mr. Ban stressed that water is vitally linked to all UN development goals, including maternal and child health and life expectancy, women's empowerment, food security, sustainable development and climate change adaptation and migration. As such, the General Assembly recognized 2005-2015 as the International Decade for Action "Water for Life". 

Read UNEP's "Sick Water" for World Water Day and Clearing the Waters: A focus on Water Quality Solutions, a publication which found that repairing key water and sewage networks can not only secure water supplies, but also lower pollution and boost employment.

Access to clean water and adequate sanitation are an inalienable human right. Moreover, they are a prerequisite for lifting people out of poverty. 

Water is taken for granted. Please be aware of the water you use and the water you might be wasting. Water is precious!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Women's Rights, Afghanistan: Women fear loss of progress


The issue of women's rights in Afghanistan is resurfacing as Afghanistan's future remains uncertain. 

'Afghan women fear loss of hard-won progress'. According to The Washington Post, the head-to-toe burqas that made women a faceless symbol of the Taliban's violently repressive rule are no longer required here. But many Afghan women say they still feel voiceless eight years into a war-torn democracy, and they point to government plans to forge peace with the Taliban as a prime example. It seems that although gender activists have been pressing the administration of President Hamid Karzai for a part in the any deal-making with Taliban fighters and leaders, they have not yet been approached by the government. This is reportedly largely due to the belief that women are not important, a mind-set which is still inherent in Afghanistan. 

The Washington Post reports that the Taliban's repressive treatment of women helped galvanize international opposition in the 1990s, and by some measures democracy has revolutionized Afghan women's lives. Their worry now is not about a Taliban takeover, but that male leaders, behind closed doors and desperate for pace, might not force Taliban leaders to accept, however grudgingly, that women's roles have changed.

So I think it would be stating the obvious to say that women's rights are again in quite a precarious position. (Although one could argue that women's violence remains a regular occurrence in Afghanistan.)  Peace and security again (And I would personally say 'as usual', though I would also personally place peace and security over my own rights.) take precedence over rights, and in this case women's rights.

Special Report by WFUNA: The process of adopting the outcomes of the 6th Universal Periodic Review (UPR)


The Human Rights Council has started the process of adopting the outcome of the 6th Universal Periodic Review held in late 2009. On Wednesday 17 March, the council reviewed several Countries: Eritrea, Cyprus, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Norway, and Albania.
 
The Council adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Eritrea after a hearing statements from States and NGOs. During this discussion, speakers noted that Eritrea was the victim of an unfair international economic order and they commended the country for work on the promotion and protection of the human rights of its people within this context. Eritrea's decision to allow official visits by international human rights organisations was  welcomed by the international community.

An issue of concern was the fact that the Government is seen to continue to arbitrarily arrest, detain, abuse and torture political dissidents, religious adherents and independent journalists. Some noted with concern that  the criminalisation of consensual same-sex interaction is still in place in Eritrea.
 
Cyprus is considered to take its international commitments seriously, particularly with regard to human rights, and that among States under Review was potentially the most promising. The State has accepted the overwhelming majority of recommendations however some of them, such as those relating to migrant workers and their families, were not accepted. Cyprus was concerned that a number of recommendations were linked not to human rights but to the country's political environment. The rights of children and the issue of gender equality were of prime concern.
 
The international community found that efforts made by the Dominican Republic were truly outstanding ones. The Dominican Republic accepted the majority of the recommendations coming out of its review (67 out of 73). The country highlighted its plans on the issues of inequality (a plan on national equality and gender equity), education, illicit smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons. Members of the Council welcomed the measures the Dominican Republic had taken to help families in a precarious situation, to eradicate hunger and to tackle poverty.
 
The Council adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Norway on Wednesday afternoon. 16 recommendations out of 39 were not accepted by the country. Norway was commended by the members of the Council for its efforts to eliminate cultural discrimination, domestic violence, human rights education. Norway's international priorities are the following: to continue to protect human rights internationally, which includes protections of human rights defenders, freedom of expression and efforts to combat capital punishment, torture and all forms of discrimination.

Special Report by WFUNA: Report presented to the Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on Torture

During the 5th day of the Human Rights Council's 13th Session, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment presented his report. He began by speaking of the extensive research undertaken to put together a global study on torture, including 16 official mission and a number of other visits as well as three joint studies with other human rights mandate holders. The rest of his presentation focused on his country visits and his experiences in carrying out his mandate.

Rather than "naming and shaming", the special rapporteur chose to give a general representation of countries when he highlighted the grave situation in Equatorial Guinea, where he considered torture to be systematic and cooperation with the government to be lacking. With regards to other country visits, he outlined that to Kazakhstan, where torture is not widespread and remains more than isolated, and to Uruguay and Jamaica, where government officials were cooperative and a few isolated cases were discovered and conditions in places of detention were surprisingly poor. The special Rapporteur expressed his extreme disappointment that a number of States showed disregard for agreed Terms of Reference and denied him confidential interviews with people in detention. Moreover, in some cases there was a serious disrespect for the UN Human Rights system, a considerable waste of scarce UN resources. No apology has been received nor has the Human Rights Council condemned this serious misconduct.

He mentioned that some States, which were obstructive in his presence, appeared to have prepared places of detention specifically for his visit. That said, some States were commended for their cooperation and openness as well as their willingness to respond; in one case the immediate closure of certain prison sections considered to have very poor conditions. Adding to this, he went on to express his concerns that a general respect for Special Procedures mandate-holders was growing amongst governments. He also states his regret that the Council had decided to postpone consideration of the joint study on secret detention to the 14th Session to be held in June. He then articulated his feeling that independent experts ought not be treated with such disrespect and that this discredited the legitimacy and operation of the Council.

In the rest of his presentation to the Council he highlighted the need to overcome the current attitude of confrontation and mistrust and contended that victims of human rights violations deserve better. In outlining conditions of detention he stated that the treatment of people deprived of liberty could be seen as the best measure of human rights in a country. He called for prisons to be opened up to scrutiny and encouraged the training of judges and other state officials in preventing violations of rights related to actions deeply rooted in culture and tradition; for example, female genital mutilation. Lastly, he called for due consideration of a draft convention on the rights of detainees.

In Celebration of International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March) - Reported by WFUNA: The Role of Sport in Fighting Racism

On Friday 19 March, the OHCHR commemorated the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March) with a panel of discussion on the role of sport in fighting against racism. Member States and other attendees heard from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, as well as a statement delivered on behalf of the Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The discussion focused on the upcoming FIFA 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa and the important opportunity for fighting against racism that such events represent.

Hearing also from a representative of the Anthony Walker Foundation, the panel discussion highlighted how the profile of sports teams and their players can be used to fight against racism, in particular through influencing members of the public mentalities towards people of different racial backgrounds. In reaction to the tragic situation of Anthony Walker's death, a short film has been made to make sports fan think about their attitudes and to question what they are supporting when they support a football team. After the screening of a short documentary on the background of the short time and collaboration with the Liverpool Football Club, "Color Blind" was screened at the meeting - watch the short film here.


For more on the UN's efforts in working with the world of sports, check out the website of the International Platform on Sport and Development.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Right to Sanitation: still neglected

Having access to safe sanitation is central to living a life in dignity  and upholding human rights. According to the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking and sanitation, the lack of access to sanitation has a profound negative impact on many human rights. Note that diarrhea is one the chief 'killers' of children under 5 in the world. That said, despite its importance, sanitation is frequently neglected and is not prioritized.

Despite improvements, the lack of access to toilet still presents health risks. According to The New York Times, open defecation, which the World Health Organization describes as "the riskiest sanitation practice of all" is on the decline in many countries. That said, approximately 36 million people around the world still practice it. "While Africa has the fewest toilets, it is also very rural, so the problem is at its worst in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan, where the rate is estimated at 44%. In many slums, where shanties are pressed together for miles on end, with no water pipes between them and drinking water sold from passing carts, millions are forced to squat along railroad track, or to use bits of vacant land."

Can you imagine your life without access to sanitation? I think not.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

To Enlighten: HIV infections increasing among homosexuals

I do not desire to comment on this issue as I think its so abominable, however I do seek to enlighten so thought I would share.

Reportedly, in countries where laws criminalize gay and lesbian relationships, HIV infections are on the rise and sufferers aren't seeking help (can you blame them?). "It is unacceptable" that 85 countries still have laws criminalizing same sex relations among adults, including seven that impose the death penalty for homosexual practices, stated Michel Sidibe, the head of UNAIDS. Sidibe said he was "very scared" because bad laws are being introduced by countries (he did mention the proposed Ugandan law) making it impossible for these at risk groups to have access to services. "You also have a growing conservatism which is making me very scared." Read more here.

Women's Rights, Egypt: Female Mutilation in steady decline


Some positive news for the day: Egypt's rate of female mutilation drops to 66%. The National reports that according to human-rights campaigners, the practice of circumcising young girls is slowly declining in Egypt. 

"The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) remains common in Egypt, particularly for women in rural areas and those with low incomes." Although the progress is slow, it does demonstrate that the government-led campaign to combat the practice is proving successful. "Campaigners said the incremental but significant reduction in FGM shows the effectiveness of confronting cultural taboos with highly public media campaigns." Read more here.

"Female genital mutilation is a very, very old tradition. We have to be patient to see the results through the generations, not immediately," said Ms. Vivian Fouad, a training coordinator for the FGM-Free Village Model Programme at the ministry of state for family and population. " 

I will personally decline to comment on the tradition and be content with the results. 

DVF Awards honor women working for change

This past weekend, March 12-14, powerful women leaders gathered for the first annual Women in the World Summit held in New York City. On Saturday evening, 13 March, the inaugural DVF Awards, an event launched by designer Diane von Furstenberg to honor women for their work in bringing about change in their countries, a host of powerful ladies, including Queen Rania of Jordan, Hilary Clinton, Meryl Streep and others, came together to show their support.

During the ceremony, Meryl Streep presented a leadership award to Ingrid Betancourt, the former Colombian presidential candidate who endured years of captivity in jungle camps after being kidnapped in 2002 by leftist FARC guerrillas. Betancourt, Sadiqa Basiri Saleem, an Afghan women's rights activist, Danielle Sain-Lot, an activist in Haiti, and Katherine Chon, head of the U.S.-based Polaris Project, which combats human trafficking, were the four women honored.

A designer, a queen, a film star, a secretary of state, various human rights activists... I would have to say that it must have been interesting to attend the event and see all of these women from different walks of life who have each had an impact in their own way.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Special Report by WFUNA: Annual meeting on the rights of the child

The Annual Meeting on the Rights of the Child took place at the Palais des Nations on Wednesday 10 March. 

During the meeting, the international community reported on the significant actions which have been taken by different countries on institutional, normative and political levels to promote and protect children's rights. The day's debates were mostly centered around issues of sexual violence against children. It was mentioned that sexual activity is often seen as a private matter, making communities irresolute and disinclined to act and intervene in cases of sexual exploitations; these attitudes only make children even more susceptible to sexual abuse. Sexual violence increased the vulnerability of children to HIV infection both directly and indirectly, an argument for why ending sexual violence is a vital step in efforts to prevent the spread of HIV.

20 years ago, UNICEF helped to develop the Optional Protocol to protect children form the worst forms of commercial sexual exploitation, elaborating further on some of the crucial child protection measures contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Optional Protocol also calls for State parties to criminalize all violations of children's rights, particularly the sale of children for the purposes of sexual exploitation, organ transfer, forced labor, and adoptions and offenses relating to child prostitution and pornography. 

Members participating in the discussion expressed their concerns for the widespread practice of children's rights violations and violence against children. Many states agreed that the efficient lawful surveillance of schools should be organized. Numerous scandals in residential institutions and schools show that sexual violence can happen anywhere and that anyone can be an abuser.

In the interactive dialogue, participants came to the point that violence against children is never justifiable. Speakers agreed that it is crucial to create an environment in which children were self-assured and resistant. Children should also be able to press for reparation and should be able to directly address state authorities.

The Human Rights Council has focused much attention on the obligations of the international community to take all necessary steps to ensure that children have access to child-sensitive services and mechanisms guaranteeing their protection, effective preventive measures and adequate responses to sexual violence, wherever and whenever it takes place.

Special Report by WFUNA: HRC: arbitary detention, enforced disappearances and human rights of internally displaced persons



The next meeting of the Council took place on Tuesday 9 March, during which it held an interactive dialogue with the rapporteurs of the Working Group on arbitrary detention and on enforced disappearances and the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

Almost all participants expressed its strong support for the Council's Special Procedure. That said, a number of participants expressed concern on the widespread and abusive practice of many governments around the world in detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects in secret at undisclosed locations, which are viewed as violations of international human rights laws.

Morocco

The Working Group's annual report on Morocco included both a summary of communications between the government and the group in 2009 and information about the implementation of the recommendations made by the group during its visit in 2007.

Malta

The report of the Working Group's visit in January 2009 recommends that the government change its laws and policies on administrative detention of migrants in an irregular situation as well as of asylum-seekers. 

Senegal

The report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons identified numerous challenges remaining with regard to the human rights of internally displaced persons. The report also highlighted the achievements, activities and progress made during the tenure of the present mandate-holder.

Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo)

The report of the Representative highlights the achievements of Serbia in its straightening of the institutional framework to address internal displacement. That said, it also expressed concern for the number of returns to and within Kosovo which remains disappointingly low.

Somalia

The report warns the international community that there is a large number of internal displacements in Somalia, and makes recommendations to prevent future displacement and mitigate its consequences - in particular addressing the shelling of residential areas and ending the climate of impunity. 

Georgia

The report notes that only a few internally displaced persons have been able to return to the Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, and, of those displaced persons within South Ossetia, many are still waiting on the reconstruction of their houses. For key questions were aroused: (1) what is a durable solution for internally displaced persons; (2) what key principles should guide the search for durable solutions; (3) how should a rights-based process to support a durable solution be organized; and (4) what criteria should determine to what extent a durable solution has been achieved.

Republic of Chad

The Representative's visit took place in February 2009. Its report underlines the existence of a sever crisis in Chad with regards to protection, characterized by the precarious situation in which displaced persons live and the general insecurity that prevails in the East.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Africa 'stepping backward on human rights'

In keeping up with this anti-gay "wave of hate" (Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's words, which are incredibly accurate) that seems to have taken over Africa, I thought I would post on Archbishop Tutu's call for politicians and the clergy to end this current of anti-gay hate that has swept over Africa. Archbishop Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, declared proposed anti-gay measures in Uganda and other African countries (among of which are Malawi, Senegal and Kenya) as "terribly backward steps for human rights". 

Archbishop Tutu in The Washington Post, "Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God's family. And of course they are part of the African family. But a wave of hate is spreading across my beloved continent. People are again being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms.. Politicians who profit from exploiting this hate, from fanning it, must not be tempted by this easy way to profit from fear and misunderstanding. And my fellow clerics, of all faiths, must stand up for the principles of universal dignity and fellowship. Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice." Read the rest here.

I have to say that I found Archbishop's speech/statement powerful and inspiring, and I can only hope that it is truly heard and carried forth.

The Internet: at the forefront

The United States officially released its 2009 report on human rights on Thursday. The report specifically emphasizes battles over the Internet.

If you have been following my posts, you will note that I have written two this week on the right to access to the internet. In a nutshell, the internet is emerging as a "prime battleground" regarding human rights, with governments in China, Iran, North Korea and other countries cracking down on access to the internet.

Mr. Posner, assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, said that in places like China and Iran, "connective technologies" have proved to be double-edged. While they allow a ferment of sometimes spontaneous organizational activities by dissidents and government critics, they also give governments "greater energy in curtailing freedom of expression". 

The internet definitely seems to be at the forefront these days. Though I suppose this is not much of a shock, or should not come as much of one at least, considering that we live in an age of technology. In fact, I just read an article in TIME called 'Generation Next', describing technology as the greatest difference between this generation and past generations. This generation has "learned to leverage technology to build community, tweeting and texting and friending."

Friday, March 12, 2010

China: Developments across the virtual community


In following up on my recent post on the right to access to the internet, I thought I would share this morsel.
The Globe and Mail reported that Chinese activists are sidestepping official controls to blog and use Twitter as meeting places to discuss police intimidation. Some activists post detailed accounts of their encounters, while others relay tips and strategies for managing them. The Globe and Mail calls this the "tea party movement", an interesting and actually quite accurate description for what is going on in China. Effectively, the virtual community is standing together indirectly against the government. By trying to control access to the internet, I believe this is what China has been trying to prevent; Beijing fears the country's emerging civil society and its potential to challenge the government. The more people have access to internet technologies, the harder it will be for the Chinese government to clamp down on freedom of speech and expression.

Observers believe that "the ability to connect and share experiences diminishes authorities ability to frighten potential critics into silence". Isn't this what the U.S. was hoping to accomplish - open closed societies with the internet?

Follow-up: European Parliament backs the Goldstone Report


The EU takes action by following up on the UN report on the Gaza war. (Note that 'follow-up' is often neglected, but is actually essential to progress and a key time to continue producing efforts.)

The European Parliament has officially passed a resolution backing the findings of the Goldstone Report and demanding that Israel open Gaza war crimes investigations. According to The Washington Post, the parliament also called on Israel to immediately open border crossings with the Gaza Strip, saying its blockade is worsening the humanitarian crisis there.

The parliamentary move, which will give the EU an "unprecedented role" in evaluating the progress of Israel's war crimes probe, was strongly criticized by Israel. "We find this resolution flawed and counterproductive", said Yoel Mester, spokesman for Israel's mission to the EU.

The move will likely "chill" Israeli-European relations. 

This is significant progress/a large step forward from the EU's official response to the Goldstone Report when it was first presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2009. On behalf of the EU, the representative of Sweden merely stated "the report will be seriously considered". Read more on the Goldstone Report here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Special Report by WFUNA: Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism

On Monday 8 March, the 13th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council heard a report from the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. The report focused on the Erosion of the Right to Privacy through measures by States claimed to be motivated by security and countering terrorism, particularly in relation to a lack of legal safeguards for surveillance and security activities that can severely impede on freedom of movement, of association and of expression.

The Special Rapporteur also stressed the need to integrate the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms into legislation relating to counter terrorism and not to allow for rights and freedoms to be sidelined by other laws. He also highlighted the ineffective, unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion of full-body scanners at airports, referring to the discriminatory nature of ethnic profiling. With regards to this, he further stated that the hasty decision to implement them was a political response so as to seem active in their (States) response to acts of terrorism.

Continuing on the topic  of counter-terrorism technologies, specifically in regard to the detection of explosives, he expressed concern about the current 'bad habit' of "going after the bad guy" rather than looking for or using existing technological solutions that are more effective and less intrusive on fundamental rights. He suggested that technologies taking privacy rights into consideration would be more successful and that States should encourage this. The special rapporteur also mentioned his desire to establish a process that would build on existing data protection and a future declaration on global information protection. Lastly, he reported on detention on the basic terrorism concerns and his visits to Egypt and Tunisia.

In response to his report, Egypt reiterated their collaboration with the special rapporteur in its efforts to draft a counter-terrorism law that would replace State-of-Emergency powers in place since the assassination of the Egyptian president in 1981. The special rapporteur, however, expressed his disappointment in not being allowed to carry out interviews as per his mandate and the nature of the collaboration in regards to the drafting of the new law. Tunisia responded positively to the report and highlighted the improvement in measures to promote and protect rights in countering terrorism. Also of note was the statement made by the Mexican delegation, in which they expressed their view that the special rapporteur had acted outside of his mandate.

India: more women in parliament


With International Women's Day heading the week off, I thought I should mention this little tid bit that has ensued this week: 'India moves to reserve seats for women in parliament'. According to The Globe and Mail, India's upper house of parliament voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday for a historic bill that would reserve one-third of legislative seats for women, despite a boycott by socialist members. The bill now goes to the lower house, where it is likely to pass. 

Definitely a nice compliment to the week.

Excitement over new human rights post

The U.N. headquarters is getting charged up with what I am calling a bit of a frenzy, for a newly created top human rights post, the new assistant secretary-general for human rights position created by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in December.  According to Foreign Policy, human-rights groups and governments backed the creation of the post as a means to increase the profile of human rights at the UN decision-making policy level; the new rights official will serve as a liaison for the Geneva-based office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in deliberations in New York. Five candidates and their supporters are lobbying to hold the new position.

I do wonder, though, if this new position will live up to expectations. Will it allow human rights to adopt a more distinguished profile and make the UN more efficient and effective when it comes to human rights? Moreover, who will be the final candidate? The debate: will Ban "select a strong rights advocate for the position or will he chose a more discreet diplomatic operator who can prevent the post from generating controversy in an organization that includes many countries with poor rights record". Note a leaning/strong possibility for the latter.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Internet Access: A Fundamental Right


The internet is a tool through which people can exercise freedom of speech and expression. Each and every person has the right to access and open Internet, which is neither censored nor filtered by government or business.

Access to internet as a fundamental right is gaining strength around the world. BBC reports that countries like Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human rights for their citizens. The EU also recently adopted an internet freedom provision, stating that any measure taken by member states that may affect citizens' access to or use of the internet "must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens". Countries like Mexico, Brazil and Turkey also strongly support the idea of internet access as a right. Read more here.

Dr. Hamadoun Toure, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) stated, "The right to communicate cannot be ignored. The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created." He said that governments must "regard the internet as a basic infrastructure - just like roads, waste and water". "We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate." 

That said, there are governments who seek to censor information and the media, thus undermining the internet's potential. For instance, in countries like China, Iran and Russia, governments frequently censor information and persecute bloggers and other online activists who they see as a threat to the status quo.

The right to access to internet is coming to the forefront. In fact, according to The New York Times, the United States is seeking to exploit the internet's potential for prying open closed societies by allowing technology companies to export online services like instant messaging, chat and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba and Sudan.

International Women's Day Provides Women Around the World with Strength


At a forum celebrating International Women's Day in Kuwait on Monday, Aseel al Awadhi, a Kuwaiti MP, stated that the Parliament's Committee for Women and Family Affairs will propose legislation this month in an effort to end discrimination against women

The National reported that the bill will focus on changing laws that prevent Kuwaiti women who marry non-Kuwaitis from passing citizenship to their children and try to boost the number of women in top positions in government and judiciary. Read more here.

International Women's Day is not only a time to acknowledge the struggles women still face around the world, but it is also a time to reflect on progress made and to call for change. This forum is one of thousands of events that were held around the world to celebrate International Women's Day on Monday. To me, this is a clear sign of commitment and progress, and gives women, and especially those who really struggle against discrimination, around the world hope.

See Ban Ki-moon's Message from the UN on International Women's Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ye8iGQ1d9Cg

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

UN Seeks to Move Forward On Accountability Issues in Sri Lanka

Last week, at the Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, during her presentation of her annual report, repeated her call for an independent investigation into war crimes allegations in Sri Lanka. "I am convinced that Sri Lanka should undertake a full reckoning of the grave violations committed by all sides during the war, and that the international community can be helpful in this regard". (Read more here.)

Sri Lanka's president, however, has officially rejected the United Nations plan to appoint a panel of experts to look into allegations of human rights abuses during the nation's civil war. According to The New York Times, in a phone conversation on Friday evening, President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, that such a step was "totally uncalled for and unwarranted".

In New York, Mr. Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, confirmed that the Secretary General had told Mr. Rajapaksa that he intended to form a panel to "advise him on the way forward on accountability issues related to Sri Lanka". 

I suppose we will see what happens! I will report on any further developments. Stay tuned!

Iraq's Elections May Determine Future

Dear Readers,

I wanted to give you this piece on 'Iraq's Elections May Indicate Future' by Human Rights Watch. Essentially, "what happens during - and following - Iraq's elections will be a key indicator of whether the country will fall again into violence or move toward political stability and respect for human rights."

On that note, I would like to report that 60% of Iraqis (which equals to about 11.7 million people), vote in the parliamentary elections this weekend despite violent attempts to disrupt the vote. Read more here.

Let's hope for the best!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities, Progress For All: International Women's Day!


Today, 8 March, celebrates International Women's Day! Today, in many countries throughout the world, women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.



In recognition of this important anniversary, the theme of this year's International Women's Day is "Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All". 

"Gender equality and women's empowerment are fundamental to the global mission of the United Nations to achieve equal rights and dignify for all... But equality for women and girls is also an economic and social imperative. Until women and girls are liberated from poverty and injustice all our goals - peace, security, sustainable development - stand in jeopardy." 
                                         - Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
 

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