Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who wants to join Russia anyway?

It is incomprehensible why some people of Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation and people in other parts of Ukraine would like to follow suit. Perhaps they are uninformed about the state of human rights in Russia and how the Kremlin deals with [political] dissent.

Over 95.5% of voters in Crimea reportedly voted in a hastily organized referendum -- with the backing of masked, armed Russian gunmen -- to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. For many people in Crimea, the referendum - which has been described as a sham display of democracy was a "dream come true". Meanwhile in other parts of Ukraine there are violent attempts by pro-Russian provocateurs to break away from Ukraine and join "the motherland" (Russia).

Russia has a horrendous human rights record, which is worth considering before making a momentous decision to join the Federation. Basic rights like freedom of expression and association are stifled by repugnant laws like the "foreign agent law" that forced the closure of a prominent human rights non-governmental organization (NGO). Anti-gay laws fuel violence against Russia's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. In 2013, a disturbing video surfaced showing Russian neo-Nazis torturing and humiliating gay teens in Russia by allegedly using a social networking site to lure them. Ethnic minorities also face violations. According to The New York Times a gruesome video was circulated online in Russia showing the brutal killing of two men - apparently carried out by a Russian neo-Nazi group in 2007.

Activists and those who dare to criticize the Kremlin do so at their own risk. Members of the Pussy Riot punk band for instance were arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for protesting in 2012. In 2013 two members of the band were reportedly attacked while eating at McDonald's in a Russian city. The country, like North Korea and China, has its share of political prisoners. In 2011 two Russian businessmen were declared political prisoners by Amnesty International.

According to Amnesty International, street protests may soon become a crime in Russia. A draft law has been tabled in the State Duma (Russian parliament) that will further stifle freedom of assembly and expression.

In my view, the people of Crimea will someday realize - after voting to join Russia, adopting the Russian rouble their currency and moving to Moscow time - that human rights are limited in the Federation they so desperately opted to join. From a human rights perspective it is a bad idea for people in Ukraine or elsewhere to take steps to join the Russian Federation. Reports show that the authorities in Moscow have little regard for human rights -- hence will sooner or later fail to protect or violate the basic rights of the samepeople whose land they grabbed under the pretext of protecting them from neo-Nazis in Kiev.

The Kremlin claims it reserves the right to intervene in Ukraine to "protect ethnic Russians" from neo-Nazis in Ukraine. In my view, the claim does not make sense - since Russia does not protect people, including ethnic and sexual minorities in Russia from Russian neo-Nazis. Intervention in Ukraine is not about protecting people -- it is about satisfying the Kremlin's need to maintain its grasp on Ukraine and intimidate former soviet states, including Moldova, Estonia and Georgia. Russia's quest to occupy and annex parts of Ukraine is geopolitical. Ethnic Russians in the region are simply pawns in Moscow's geopolitical game.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Finns Party councillors reject Syria child refugees

Many members of the populist Finns Party in Finland, including members of parliament and councillors have, through words and actions, repeatedly shown that the party has little or no regard for refugees, immigrants and other minorities. 

According to Yle, the mayor of Lieksa in eastern Finland tabled a proposal to accommodate a maximum of  nine (9) refugee in the city as quota refugees from Syria. Finns Party city councillors opposed the humanitarian proposal and subsequently blocked the move.

The Syrian crisis has been described by former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband as "the biggest humanitarian test of the century", and many people of good conscience and aid organizations like the International Rescue Committee have launched appeals for aid to support thousands refugees and displaced Syrians, including children. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over one million children - described as "a lost generation" -  have fled Syria and three million children remain displaced inside the country.

In my view, Finns Party members of the Lieksa municipal council - by rejecting minor refugees from Syria - once again demonstrated xenophobia and moral bankruptcy - a few months after they refused to use the same meeting room with Somalians.

States and individuals around the world have an obligation (at least a moral one) to help protect a generation of Syrian children. States should take more quota refugees. Providing food and medical aid to refugees in squalid refugee camps is not enough. Refugee camps should not be long term accommodation. Individuals on their part should make secure donations to the UNHCR or any refugee agency or organization of choice. Save the Children and UNICEF are also accepting donations to help child refugees in Syria. Making donations on a personal level and accepting refugees (especially children) at the level of the state will go a long way to protect a vulnerable group of people from despair, faded opportunities and an uncertain future.

The kind of blind nationalism and exclusion demonstrated by Finns Party councillors is unacceptable, especially during a refugee crisis involving millions of children. People have the right to lawful association and to hold and expression political views - no matter how ludicrous some manifestos and views may be. But some stance - like refusal to accept under-aged refugees from a war zone - are an affront to good conscience and worthy of strong condemnation.

Stand #WithSyria.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Racist outcry in Finnish women's basketball "assault" case

A violent incident during a women's basketball game between players of Tapiolan Honka and Torpan Pojat thrust Finnish women's basketball and online racism to the limelight. Racist abuse - online or offline - must be condemned in the strongest possible terms whenever it prevails --- irrespective of what flares it.

Tapiolan Honka's American forward, Shanel Harrison, brought a basketball match on 8 March 2014 to a dramatic halt when she hit an opponent, Niina Laaksonen, in the face.

A video of the incident was, according to Ilta-Sanomat, uploaded to YouTube by the director of Finnish basketball association, but it was later removed by the basketball boss due to uncontrollable racist comments targeting the African American. However, the dramatic video had already been copied and uploaded by other internet users. Racist comments keep pouring in.


Tapiolan Honka fired the American the next day as a result of the incident --  without any official investigation into the matter or a decision by the basketball association. Finnish police launched an investigation into the matter on suspicion of assault.

Some internet users attempted to justify the despicable racist comments by blaming Harrison for "unsportsmanlike" behavior.

In my view, Shanel Harrison's action - provoked or unprovoked - was unsportsmanslike and should be condemned and sanctioned. In the same vein, racist comments that followed were uncalled for and should equally be condemned. Under no circumstance should such comments be justified. The unfortunate incident that Saturday had nothing to do with race. It is therefore racist and unintelligent to target the African American player for racist abuse.

Violence, although unacceptable, is not uncommon in sports. Ice hockey players, for example, are commonly violent on ice and get sent off -- but no one links their violence to race or racially abuse them, perhaps because ice hockey players are mostly white.

Tapiolan Honka acted swiftly and showed zero-tolerance for violence. It is my wish that the team responds in a similar fashion to all [future] cases of violence. Failure to do so would mean unequal treatment of Shanel Harrison.

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