Since pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in Syria in March 2011, at least 500 civilians have reportedly lost their lives and many more have fled their homes. Security forces in Syria have heavy-handedly cracked down on protesters despite President Bashar al-Assad's promise to implement reforms. The brutal suppression of free expression and right to peaceful assembly has cost Sami Khiyami, Syrian ambassador to Britain, his invitation to the royal wedding at Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011.
Earlier today, according to The Telegraph, Britain's Foreign Office issued a statement that included the following:
"In the light of this week's attacks against civilians by Syrian security forces, which we have condemned, the foreign secretary has decided that the presence of the Syrian ambassador at the Royal wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend." It is worth mentioning that the withdrawal of the Syrian ambassador's invitation less than 24 hours before the royal wedding comes after human rights groups and people of good conscience around the world condemned the invitation.
I welcome the news that the ambassador's royal wedding invitation has been revoked. The withdrawal of his invitation sends a loud and clear message to repressive regimes around the world that unless they wash their hands clean, they would not dine with "kings."
Authoritarian regimes should not be represented in royal weddings and other high profile occasions in free societies. It is a shame, however, that a few countries with unenviable human rights records like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, just to name a few, will be represented in Westminster Abbey tomorrow to watch Britain's future king marry his bride.
While it is unfortunate that the United Nations Security Council failed yesterday 27 April 2010 to issue a statement condemning violence against civilians in Syria, free countries like Britain should seize every occasion, including a royal wedding, to send a loud message against state-sponsored violence against civilians.
Speaking to the BBC earlier today, Sami Khiyami said he was "embarrassed" by the withdrawal of his invitation.
The brutal crackdown on civilians in Syria is unjustifiable and must be condemned in the strongest terms. The Syrian ambassador to Britain should be more embarrassed by the crackdown sponsored by the government he represents and the loss of innocent civilian lives
One year after the death of Germain Ngota Ngota (fondly known as Bibi Ngota), a Cameroonian journalist who died in prison in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital city, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the 28-year old government of Cameroon to carry out reforms so that no other journalist would be imprisoned for doing his/her job.
In an open letter to Paul Biya, President of Republic of Cameroon, CPJ recalled the death of Germain Ngota Ngota one year ago in the notorious Kondengui prison and blamed the regime for the death of the journalist. CPJ urged the government to carry out reforms and ensure that press offenses such as defamation and libel are tried in civil, not criminal courts. The organization also took state officials and security agents to task for arbitrarily arresting journalists who criticize them.
CPJ reminded the Head of State that Cameroon is party to the International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and that the state has failed to respect its obligations under the covenant.
Germain Ngota Ngota, now the face of press censorship in Cameroon, was arrested in February 2010 while investigating allegations of corruption and died in prison on 22 April 2010 while awaiting trial. Ngota suffered from high blood pressure and the authorities reportedly failed to provide him with adequate medical attention.
The plight of journalists in Cameroon and the dwindling right to free expression is there for everyone to see. There is an urgent need for reform so that journalists and those who speak out against corruption and other social ills are not arrested and imprisoned.
At a time when the U.S. is echoing calls for democracy and human rights in North Africa and the Middle East, allegations of torture, cruel and inhuman treatment of a high-profile prisoner in the U.S. have gone uninvestigated. A U.S. soldier - Bradley Manning (see photo) - who was arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of leaking classified information, including 25,000 diplomatic cables, to WikiLeaks has reportedly been held in solitary confinement since 2010, amidst widespread allegations of torture and other cruel and degrading treatment. The U.S. government has given a deft ear to these allegations and recently denied the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture unmonitored access to Bradley Manning.
Juan E. Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in a recent televised interview expressed concern about the conditions in which Bradley Manning is being held and the U.S. government's unwillingness to grant unmonitored access to the detained soldier.
During the interview, he spoke about the case of Bradley Manning, solitary confinement and what constitutes cruel, inhuman treatment or torture.
Denying the UN Special Rapporteur unmonitored access to a victim of alleged torture interferes with the work of the Rapporteur and the Human Rights Council of the UN as a whole. The U.S. government should grant the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture unconditional access to Bradley Manning and investigate allegations of cruelty against the soldier.
Blocking UN access to a victim of alleged torture undermines the U.S. government's voice in international human rights discourse and emboldens repressive regimes
Since pro-democracy protests erupted in Libya in February 2011, thousands of civilians have lost their lives and many more have fled their homes. Despite the loss of lives, suffering of innocent civilians and loud international and national calls for Colonel Gaddafi to step down, the strongman, in typical African leadership fashion, is showing no signs of ceding power or implementing democratic reforms. The consequences of Gaddafi's defiance and heavy-handed crackdown on calls for human rights and democracy in Libya are there for everyone to see. Earlier this week, the human rights community took a direct hit from the conflict when Misrata, a city in northwestern Libya, was shelled and a mortar claimed the life of award-winning photographer and film-maker - Tim Hetherington.
40-year-old Tim was killed on 20 April 2011 in Misrata while documenting the conflict.
According to a tribute to Tim Hetheringtonby Human Rights Watch, the British photographer and film-maker closely collaborated with the organization and covered many human rights stories, including violations in Afghanistan, Liberia and Libya. Tim Hetherington also documented atrocities in Sudan (Darfur), Chad and Sri Lanka.
Human Rights Watch acknowledges that the death of Tim Hetherington is a "devastating loss to the human rights community."
There's no denying that Tim Hetherington was killed in the line of duty - documenting human suffering in Libya as a result of Gaddafi's quest to cling to power after 42-years in office.
On 26 February 2011, the United Nations Security Council referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court. The passing of Tim Hetherington and many other unarmed civilians in Libya reiterates the urgent need for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to speed up investigations of war crimes in Libya and bring perpetrators to justice.
Thanks to brave people like Tim Hetherington, atrocities in Libya and other parts of the world have been well-documented.
A day before he was killed in Misrata, he wrote on his Twitter page: "In besieged Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO." Tim was killed in the line of duty with another photojournalist - Chris Hondros.
The international community as a whole, under the leadership of the United Nations and NATO, should step up the pressure and do more to protect civilians on the ground.
The slave trade is one of the worst "crimes against humanity" in human memory. The victims are uncountable and the horrific consequences of the heinous crime are far-reaching. It's hard to think of people making a party about this ordeal, but a group of students in Lund University - a prestigious university in southern Sweden - defied conventional wisdom and went ahead to organize what could be called an outrageous "slave trade" party.
On Saturday 16 April 2011, two student associations (Hallands and Helsingkrona), known as "Nations" in Lund University were involved in a controversial party showcasing a "slave auction". During the party organized by Hallands Nation, 3 people with blackened faces were reportedly tied up with ropes and led into the hall by a "slave owner." The "slaves" were "sold" off during the party.
The student associations involved claimed the "slave auction" was a joke, but Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund (National Afro-Swedish Association) condemned the slave trade joke and reported the reckless actions of "some of the best educated in Sweden" to the police.
In my capacity as a proud ex-student of Lund University, I have a moral obligation to join the National Afro-Swedish Association in condemning the actions of those involved in making a joke of the slave trade. The so-called "jungle" party organized by Lund University students is offensive, outrageous and evokes memories of the suffering and subjugation of a people. Such a "joke" was unnecessary and undermines the dignity and respect of hundreds of Lund University students of African descent.
This outrageous slave trade joke must be unequivocally condemned in the strongest terms. The university and state authorities should bring the organizers to book and take steps to ensure that an apology is issued to all students and concerned parties offended by such a display of poor judgement.
More importantly, the authorities should ensure that such an offensive party should never be organized by any educational association in Sweden.
In a related story, Jallow Momodou, a member of the National Afro-Swedish Association who openly condemned the racist joke and reported the associations involved to the police was racially attacked at his office in Sweden's third city - Malmö. After lodging a complaint against the slave trade party, Momodou arrived at his office to find posters depicting him as a man in chains (see photo above).
The outrageous "slave trade" party by Lund University students and the attack against a member of the National Afro-Swedish Association speaks volumes about the state of racism and disrespect for persons of African descent in Sweden in 2011.
Every year, Front Line, an organization that protects human rights defenders around the world, grants an award to one human rights defender who fights for human rights - usually at great personal risk in his/her country. This year, a Cameroonian has been nominated for the award, alongside five other human rights defenders from other countries with poor human rights records. The nomination of Jean Marc Bikoko, a Cameroonian trade unionist and human rights activist, for the 2011 Front LineAward for Human Rights Defenders at Risk once again shines the spotlight on Cameroon's human rights record and speaks volumes about the dangers faced by human rights defenders in the central African country.
According to Front Line, Jean Marc Bikoko, President of Centrale Syndicale du Secteur Public (CSP), works to safeguard the rights of employees in the public sector in Cameroon. He was arrested in November 2010 together with 6 other trade unionists for participating a peaceful sit-in in front of the Prime Minister's office in Yaounde, Cameroon's main city. The peaceful demonstration was organized by CSP and the organization sought authorization to peacefully assemble and express their grievances, but authorization was denied.
On the day of the sit-in, the trade unionists were rounded up by security forces, interrogated and prosecuted on charges of participating in a banned peaceful demonstration.
The right to peaceful assembly and free expression is enshrined in key human rights instruments that have been duly ratified by the government of Cameroon, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Cameroon's membership to the International Labour Organization (ILO) is even more relevant in this case since it concerns the rights of trade unionists and workers.
Cameroon is party to the ILO's Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (ratified on 7 June 1960), the Workers' Representatives Convention (ratified on 5 April 1976) and other significant international labour standards that promote the rights of workers and trade union members.
Article 1 of the Workers' Representatives Convention states that "workers' representatives shall enjoy effective protection against any acts prejudicial to them..."
Mindful of the government's legal obligation under international law - it goes without saying that the arrest of Jean Marc Bikoko, a workers' representative as defined by Article 3 of the 1971 Workers' Representatives Convention, for organizing and participating in a peaceful demonstration to demand the rights of public sector employees contravenes international human rights and international labour rights standards.
More so, the banning of a peaceful sit-in by the authorities amounts to an interference to restrict the right to peaceful assembly and expression.
It has been said that Cameroon has an "unenviable" human rights record, hence the nomination of a Cameroonian for the 2011 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk adds weight to the assertion and goes to show the dangers faced by human rights defenders and those who dare to speak out against basic rights violations in the African country.
You'd recall that last year, I urged you to help Human Rights Watch win the 14th Webby Awards by voting for the organization's video on maternal mortality in India that was nominated for the prestigious award. It's that time of the year again and this time, the organization has been nominated for three Webby Awards. You're once again encouraged to help Human Rights Watch win a Webby Award.
This year, 3 projects (2 videos and 1 photograph) by Human Rights Watch that expose rights violations in 3 countries have been nominated for the 15th Webby Awards. The nominated projects are:
Deadly Threats: Successors to the Paramilitaries in Colombia.
Dear Obama: Message from Victims of the LRA.
Exiled: Burma's Defenders.
The above projects are nominated under 3 Online Film & Video categories, namely:
Register now (or sign in using your Twitter or Facebook account) and vote for the 3 projects by Human Rights Watch. Your vote will help the organization win a 2011 Webby Award and show support for the organization's fight to protect and promote human rights worldwide.
Voting opened on 12 April 2011 and will close on 28 April 2011. You can vote in every category.
It is no secret that on 11 April 2011, after a power struggle that lasted four months, Laurent Gbagbo, former President of Ivory Coast, was finally kicked out of office and arrested by troops loyal to his rival - President Allasane Ouattara. The president's troops reportedly committed atrocities against pro-Gbagbo civilians during the campaign to oust Gbagbo.
Since violence broke out following the disputed November 2010 presidential elections, hundreds of civilians lost their lives and thousands fled their homes. Troops loyal to the deposed President Laurent Gbagbo were particularly under the microscope and accused of committing crimes against humanity.
With all eyes on Laurent Gbagbo and his men, troops loyal to Allasane Outtara were given a blank check and committed widespread atrocities during the march to force Gbagbo to cede power. Now that Gbagbo is out of office and under house arrest, serious allegations of horrendous crimes and atrocities committed by troops loyal to President Ouattara have surfaced.
Human Rights Watch sent an email to it's supporters on Friday 14 April 2011 - shining light on crimes committed by Ouattara's forces. These crimes include systematic rape, summary executions, killings along ethnic lines, and burning of villages. According to Human Rights Watch, Ouattara's forces massacred more than 100 people in Bloléquin, including babies, women and those "too old or feeble to flee". The town of Duékoué and other western towns were also devastated by Ouattara's forces and hundreds of Gbagbo supporters were brutally killed. Crimes against civilians by armed militia men violate international humanitarian law and must not go unpunished. President Allasane Ouattara should investigate and prosecute those responsible for grave crimes committed during the power struggle. Investigating only pro-Gbagbo forces will send a wrong message and jeopardize reconciliation efforts in Ivory Coast. Human Rights Watch interviewed many victims of violence and published a detailed news release on 9 April 2011 urging President Ouattara and his new government to investigate and prosecute perpetrators from both sides of the conflict. On a side note: During the conflict in Ivory Coast, there was a poll on this blog and readers were asked whether the United Nations should intervene militarily to protect civilians in the west African country. Only 18 people participated in the poll - with 14 (77 percent) in favor of military intervention, 3 (16 percent) against and 1 (5 percent) unsure. I appreciate all those who participated in the poll.
After the fall of Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011, I thought oppression and violation of fundamental rights and freedoms in Egypt - as seen under the Mubarak regime - will be a thing of the past, but since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was empowered to oversee a smooth transition to democracy in Egypt, Egyptians have continued to suffer repression and widespread violation of basic rights. In March, reports of women subjected to forced virginity tests by military personnel shocked rights advocates around the world; last week, two protesters were reportedly killed when the army stormed Tahrir Square to silence protesters calling for a speedy trial of Hosni Mubarak and his cronies on corruption charges. Today, Twitter has been buzzing with disturbing news of the imprisonment of a 25-year old Egyptian blogger, Maikel Nabil Sanad -for being critical of the military in a blog post - and many Egyptians on Twitter have made no secret of their outrage.
Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested on 28 March 2011, tried in a military court and on 10 April 2011, he was declared guilty for insulting the military and sentenced to 3 years in prison in violation of his right to hold and express opinions without state interference.
News of the arrest of a blogger for being critical of the military is disturbing and of course - frightening. Free people around the world must unequivocally condemn the arrest and imprisonment of Maikel Nabil for "insulting the military" in a blog post.
The imprisonment of a blogger in any part of the world - for expressing opinions on his blog - poses a threat to free expression and internet freedom everywhere.
Egypt is party to international human rights standards that expressly oblige the state to respect the right to hold and express opinions. This right is clearly stated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other significant human rights instruments. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces therefore has a legal obligation under international law to respect this right.
It is worth highlighting that the military court used evidence from Nabil's blog and Facebook page to convict him.
Yesterday, I came across the Despot Index published by Newsweek on 3 April 2011. The despot index shines the spotlight on some of the world's living ruthless and authoritarian dictators who exercise absolute control over millions of people and crackdown on any perceived or real dissent.
Besides highlighting the names of despots, the index includes their photographs, nicknames, trademark, worst crime, ill-gotten gains, future prospects amongst other things.
I found the nicknames particularly interesting and they speak for themselves. The nicknames include, The Lion, The Bulldog, Field Marshal, et al.
According to Newsweek, over 400 million people live under the "iron fist" of the "nasty tyrants" listed in the despot index.
The despot index by Newsweek, in my opinion, is far from complete and most of the listed despots retain a firm grip on power either through intimidation or electoral fraud.
Large scale human rights violations and other atrocities committed under repressive regimes of despots are well-documented, but it remains to be seen whether they will be brought to justice in a national or international criminal court.
Check out the despot index. Perhaps your Head of State made it to the list.
This evening, I received a heartwarming email from Freemuse titled, "Singer Lapiro de Mbanga released from prison."Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo, commonly known as Lapiro de Mbanga, is a popular Cameroonian musician who was arrested and imprisoned in 2008.
According to Freemuse, an international organization (based in Denmark) that promotes freedom of expression for musicians and composers, Lapiro was released at 2pm CEST (1pm in Douala) from the infamous New Bell Prison in the economic capital of Cameroon.
The singer was arrested in April 2008 on accusations of "complicity" in widespread demonstrations against high cost of living and a controversial constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits in Cameroon. He was sentenced to 3 years behind bars and slapped with a fine of 280 million CFA francs.
It is widely believed that the artist, a longtime critic of the Cameroon government and "voice for the voiceless", was arrested and imprisoned for condemning the controversial 2008 constitutional amendment in his song - "Constitution Constipe" (Constipated Constitution).
The release of Lapiro de Mbanga after 3 years in jail is welcomed, but there are still widespread concerns about his safety and security of person. He's an outspoken critic of a 28-year old regime that is poised to run for re-election later this year.
It is worth mentioning that there was a media blackout in Cameroon as to the exact time and date of Lapiro's release. Many supporters and human rights activists had limited information and were expecting the singer's release on 9 April 2011. Today on Facebook, someone stated: "As I write, tension is mounting in Douala as the population has been mobilising for the past 2 weeks to give Lapiro a hero's welcome tomorrow..."
Give it up for Freemuse and its collaborators for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Lapiro de Mbanga all through the difficult 3 years in jail and for aggressively campaigning for his release.
Since pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year, the authorities of a 28-year old regime in Cameroon have been on alert and ready to stifle any Egypt-style uprising. On 23 February, government forces ruthlessly clamped down on a small group of peaceful protesters in Cameroon's economic capital. This brutal crackdown was closely followed by the suspension of twitter-mobile - an instrumental tool in the fight for democracy and human rights around the world. More recently, state agents reportedly arrested two employees of Pamol Plantations Plc, a palm oil producing company, as the employees transported 150 youths from the North region to work in palm tree plantations in the southwest region of Cameroon (perhaps the authorities thought the youths were being transported to "Tahrir" square to demand the removal to the regime). The [arbitrary] arrest of two employees of Pamol led to the arrest of a local journalist - after questioning the authorities about arrests.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Lamissia Adolarc, a Cameroonian journalist based in Ngaoundere, capital of the Adamawa region of Cameroon, was arrested on 30 March 2011 on the orders of the governor of Adamawa - Enow Abraham Egbe. Adolarc was arrested for inquiring about the arrest of two Pamol employees accused of "fomenting a rebellion against the government."
It is no secret that events in the Arab world and North Africa have put longstanding repressive regimes on edge. But rather than arrest unsuspecting citizens in a bid to silence dissenters and stifle possible calls for democracy and respect for human rights, regimes with poor human rights records should implement reforms and respect the fundamental freedoms of all citizens.
The arrest of a journalist for doing his job is unnecessary and has no place in a free society.
CPJ has called for the immediate release of detained Lamissia Adolarc.
Two significant human rights instruments, namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) are enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon. In the preamble, which according to Article 65 is part and parcel of the Constitution, the state recognizes and affirms "...the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations and The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and all duly ratified international conventions...". Mindful of the aforementioned, the imprisonment of an author for "insulting" the first lady of the republic, Chantal Biya (see photo), in a book is therefore unconstitutional and a violation of "duly ratified" international human rights conventions.
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a network of organizations that promote and protect the right to free expression, issued an alert on 29 March 2011 condemning the imprisonment of Bertrand Teyou, a Cameroonian author, for "insulting" the First Lady of Cameroon in a book that was published last year.
According to IFEX, in 2010, Bertand Teyou published a book titled "La belle de la république bananière: Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais" (meaning: the beautiful of the banana republic: Chantal Biya, from the streets to the palace).
The author was arrested in November 2010 and slapped with a fine or 2 years in prison.
Freedom to hold and express opinions without state interference is a fundamental right and the foundation of a free and democratic society. This right is laid down in all significant human rights instruments, including the UDHR (Article 19), the ACHPR (Article 9 ), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), just to name a few.
The arrest and imprisonment of an author as a result of his publication is outrageous and contravenes every international human rights standard.
Bertrand Teyou is presently serving 2 years in prison due to his inability to pay the high fine of 2 million CFA francs plus other costs levied on him for writing a book about a public figure. Note that Bertrand is not the first Cameroonian imprisoned - in violation of free expression. Many have been imprisoned before him, including a prominent musician, popularly known as Lapiro de Mbanga - who is presently imprisoned after composing a song against the recent controversial constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits in Cameroon.
A declaration of the Committee for the Liberation of Bertrand Teyoureveals that First Lady Chantal Biya never lodged a complaint against Bertrand Teyou. Regional authorities in the economic capital - Douala - took upon themselves to arrest, prosecute and sentence the author before a planned celebration marking the publication of his book.
PEN International, an organization that promotes literature, encourages supporters to TAKE ACTION to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Bertrand Teyou. *Photo: First Lady Chantal Biya.
This afternoon, I was saddened by news that a Swedish UN worker for the United Nations Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) was shot dead in Abidjan as troops loyal to the internationally recognized President of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, clashed with forces loyal to the illegitimate President Laurent Gbagbo.
The Swedish woman, identified as Zahra Abidi, 34, was reportedly shot and killed by a stray bullet yesterday - Thursday 31 March 2011 in Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast.
The death of a UN worker as a result of the on-going power struggle in Ivory Coast resounds the need for all parties involved in the conflict to exercise restraint and stop killing civilians. Attacks against UN workers and civilians is a crime punishable under international law and perpetrators will be brought to book.
The noose is tightening on Laurent Gbagbo who refuses to cede power after losing the November 2010 presidential elections. International calls for him to step down have become louder and atrocities committed by his loyalists are well-documented. When it's all said and done, justice will take its course.
My thoughts and prayers go out to family and friends of the slain Swedish UN worker and all the numerous civilians who have been shot death in Ivory Coast since violence broke out following the disputed November 2010 presidential election.
I wish to warn family, friends and the public about scams and fraudulent schemes offering or soliciting money in my name. Anyone contacted purportedly by me or on my behalf in this regard should thoroughly verify theauthenticityof the message. The best way to do so is to contact me directly via this blog.
This blog is designed to tackle issues of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, politics, social trends and other global issues that would get you thinking and learning.
The blogeven adds another dimension as it inspires ordinary people to challenge the status quo - combat man's inhumanity to man and seek progress through social justice. I hope your time spent on the blog is time well spent. I'll see you when you see me! In the meantime, I invite you to follow me on Twitter.
Born and raised in a middle class family with strong Christian values in Cameroon, Central Africa, I learned quickly that all natural persons are born free and equal in rights. I graduated from the University of Buea with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree, and received a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in International Human Rights Law and International Labour Rights from Lund University, Sweden. My passion is in promoting human rights and the rule of law. I'm a married proud daddy of two.