Friday, December 17, 2010

Ivory Coast: Power struggle endangers lives

Laurent Gbagbo.
On 16 December 2010, following a warning issued by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to perpetrators of possible crimes in Ivory Coast, supporters of Alassane Ouattara - the internationally recognized winner of the disputed presidential elections - clashed with riot police loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, leaving at least 20 people dead.

Prior to this dispute that has raised concerns of another civil war in Ivory Coast, the electoral commission declared Alassane Ouattara the legitimate winner of the 28 November presidental run-off election, but the Constitutional Council (reportedly loyal to Laurent Gbagbo) later overturned the results and declared incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo the "legitimate" winner. This marked a major setback to attempts to secure a fragile peace in Ivory Coast.

The ensuing power struggle endangers lives in the west African country, and although power struggle and post-elections violence is typical in Africa, commonsense suggests that no life should be lost because of attempts to cling to power.

Times have changed and this time, the world is closely watching the events in Ivory Coast. The African Union, in a rare move, has asked Laurent Gbagbo to step aside, the European Union (EU), United Nations (UN), Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), United States, South Africa, France and Nigeria have done the same.

Ivorians have the right to elect their leader and according to the independent national electoral commission and the international community, the masses democratically elected Alasssane Ouattara. Laurent Gbagbo should do the right thing and relinguish his firm grip on power. The people have spoken and they deserve to have their voices heard.

Perpetrators of post-elections violence and crimes in Ivory Coast and beyond would eventually have their day in a national or international court of law.

November 2010 to February 2011 issue of Dunia Magazine

I'm glad to inform you that the second issue (November 2010 - February 2011) of Dunia Magazine is available and it includes my article on leadership, as well as other compelling, entertaining and educative articles on parenting (Why Asian Kids are outsmarting their peers), relationships (Love, kiss and tell from India), fashion and much more from talented Dunia contributors.

It is worth mentioning that my article on this issue focuses on a powerful lesson learned from cattle rearers. Yes! Cattle rearers.

Read more about the vision of Dunia Magazine on the official website and subscribe.

Dunia is available online and in print. Hard copies are shipped globally.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

ICC warns perpetrators of possible crimes in Ivory Coast

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, ICC Prosecutor.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo (pictured) has warned all parties involved in the disputed Presidential elections in Ivory Coast that the court would prosecute perpetrators of crimes - should violence escalate. This warning comes only a day after the Prosecutor presented a case against six Kenyans for massive crimes against humanity committed during the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya.

Ivory Coast is in chaos and recent events have raised fears of violence and possible commission of crimes - as incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo clings to power after reportedly losing the Presidential election to opposition leader - Alassane Ouattara.

Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo clings to power despite loud and clear calls from the international community, including the African Union, United Nations, European Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and countries including the United States, South Africa, France, Nigeria.

Earlier today, troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo clashed with supporters of Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan, killing at least one person.

This post-election chaos in Ivory Coast is representative of the sorry-state of democracy and the rule of law in Africa - a continent where incumbent Heads of States, more often than not overrule the peoples' choice in presidential elections and cling to power. This, no doubt, often leads to post-election violence and massive crimes against unarmed civilians. We have seen it in Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Kenya, you name it.

Although Ivory Coast is not party to the Rome Statute, the ICC Prosecutor's warning against possible violence in Ivory Coast is a timely deterrent against possible crimes against humanity in the west African state. Governments shouldn't use the principle of "Sovereignty" as a shield against justice.

No one should die as a result of power mongering and disputed presidential elections. Above all, under no circumstance should perpetrators of post-election crimes against humanity go unpunished.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sudan: Shocking video of woman flogged in public

A shocking video showing a distressed woman being flogged in public with what appears to be bull whips, by uniformed state agents enforcing a controversial law has outraged viewers.

The incident, captured in an amateur video, sheds light on a barbaric form of punishment implemented in the Republic of Sudan, the "largest country in Africa and the Arab world."

I must tell you - the video is graphic and hard to watch.

It is worth mentioning that Article 152 of the 1991 Penal Code of Sudan justifies public flogging as a form of punishment for "indecent" acts (note that the wearing of trousers by women is considered an indecent act in Sudan). The law remains in place despite international calls and pressure on the Sudanese government to abolish flogging.

This medieval form of punishment still meted out in Sudan in the 21st Century is state-sponsored, and perpetrators of such cruelty walk free. This undermines respect for human rights and sends across a wrong message.

Torture and cruel and inhuman forms of punishment are deplorable and make a mockery of human rights. Such practices should be outlawed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Open letter to Prime Minister of Australia about Wikileaks founder

Today, my request to join Amnesty International Support group on LinkedIn was confirmed (thanks to the moderator). Naturally, I visited the group's profile to join the discussions. Behold - the most popular discussion in the group at the time of my visit was an open letter to the Prime Minister of Australia in relation to the attacks on the founder of Wikileaks - Julian Assange, an Australian citizen.

In the open letter to Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, the authors express "grave concerns" for Julian Assange's wellbeing and their "believe that Julian Assange is entitled to all protections enshrined in the rule of law - and that the Australian Government has an obligation to ensure he receives them."

It is no secret that the debate about Wikileaks is heated, and that calls to "punish" the whistleblower seem to be louder than calls to ensure that his fundamental rights (including the right to a free and fair trial) are respected. I wouldn't join the debate at this point, but I would say that the right to freedom of expression is a fundamental right and governments have an obligation under international law to recognize and uphold this dwindling right. It is the responsibility of States to ensure that "confidential" information is not leaked. In an event where such information filters out, governments should refrain from cracking down on private individuals who make the information public.

At the moment, Julian Assange is under arrest on charges unrelated to Wikileaks. Legal action against Assange in relation to the publication of documents would be similar to the arrest of journalists in Ivory Coast for publishing a corruption report in July 2010.

Before you take sides or jump into hasty conclusions, find time to read Q&A about Wikileaks and Freedom of Expression, and Wikileaks and Internet Freedom.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2010 Nobel Peace Prize placed on an Empty Chair

Dignitaries, human rights advocates and people of good conscience from all across the world gathered today, 10 December 2010 - Human Rights Day - in Oslo's City Hall to participate in the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. They witnessed the placing of the prestigious award on an empty chair, in a ceremony that shed light on the sorry-state of human rights and fundamental freedoms in China.

You're probably aware that the laureate - Liu Xiaobo was unable to attend the ceremony because he is presently locked away in a jail in China for peacefully advocating human rights. However, the ceremony went on as planned - with a compelling speech from the Chairman of the Nobel Committee, and of course, the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu in absentia.

Thorbjorn Jagland, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, had some strong words for China. He unequivocally condemned state-sponsored repression and urged the regime to release Liu Xiaobo unconditionally - stating that "Liu has done no wrong" and that "China will grow strong if it grants civil rights."

In a symbolic gesture that sent chills down my spine, Mr. Jagland placed the Nobel Peace Prize diploma on the empty seat reserved for Liu Xiaobo. This was followed by a solemn standing ovation for Liu.

Make no mistake: The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was place on an empty chair, but the message echoed from the City Hall in Oslo to Chinese authories was loud and clear. Violation of fundamental human rights  and freedoms in China and beyond is unacceptable and undermines ecomonic growth. It's important to combine economic development and civil rights.

Yes, it's true that China is an economic powerhouse. But keep in mind that it's also true that human rights and civil liberties in the "People's Republic" is nothing to write home about.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Support the Empty Chair human rights campaign

Photo: Amnesty International USA Facebook page.
This afternoon, the Norwegian Nobel Committee confirmed during a news conference conducted by Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and Geir Lundestad, Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, that during the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December 2010, there will be an empty chair in Oslo's City Hall; a chair reserved for this year's Nobel Peace Laureate - Liu Xiaobo - because he can't travel to Oslo for obvious reasons - he is imprisoned in China for peacefully advocating political reform and fundamental human rights. The inability of Liu Xiaobo to occupy his seat and receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo has sparked what I call the "Empty Chair" human rights campaign.

Earlier today, Amnesty International USA posted a photo of an empty chair on Facebook and urged supporters to show support for Liu Xiaobo and protest his imprisonment by using the picture of an empty chair as personal profile picture on Facebook, and take further action by signing a petition to free Liu Xiaobo.

You are encouraged to support the empty chair human rights campaign as requested by Amnesty International USA, and spread the word.

It is worth mentioning that supporters in China cannot join the Facebook campaign because the social networking site is banned in China, as part of a calculated attempt to limit freedom of expression and perhaps silence critics.

Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison on 25 December (christmas day) 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power." His wife is currently under house arrest and can't travel to Oslo to collect the award on his behalf.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lapiro de Mbanga: Imprisoned Cameroonian musician speaks out

Lapiro de Mbanga. Source: Freemuse.
In April 2008, a renown Cameroonian musician and "defender of the common man" - Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo, popularly known as Lapiro de Mbanga was arrested and imprisoned for criticizing - in his lyrics - a controversial constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits in Cameroon. According to Freemuse, an organization that advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers, the singer was accused of inciting demonstrations against rising cost of living and the 2008 constitutional amendment.

Recently, a video interview of Lapiro de Mbanga conducted by Freedom to Create, an organization that promotes creative expressions, surfaced on the internet.

In the interview, Lapiro speaks about the effectiveness of music in inspiring change, what he is trying to achieve with his music and the sacrifice he is willing to make on behalf of his children and the youths of Cameroon. Watch...

The imprisonment of Lapiro de Mbanga reveals limitations on freedom of expression and the right to hold and express opinions in Cameroon. No doubt, many people in Cameroon have been effectively silenced, and the few who dare to speak out do so at their own risk.

Lapiro the Mbanga was sentenced to 3 years in prison. Sources say the song that cost his freedom - "Constitution Constipée" (Constipated Constitution) - was banned.

In a press release, the Executive Director of Media Foundation For West Africa, Professor Kwame Karikari, encouraged rights advocates and supporters to help secure the release of Lapiro de Mbanga by sending letters to the nearest Cameroonian embassy.

It is worth mentioning that in 2009, Lapiro was awarded the Freedom to Create Imprisoned Artist Prize.

Friday, December 3, 2010

West African girls enslaved in New Jersey freed

Almost every nation has outlawed all forms of slavery, but I was shocked this afternoon to learn that more than 20 West African girls were trafficked from Ghana and Togo, and held as slaves in the U.S., precisely in Newark, New Jersey, many years after the "land of the free" abolished all forms of slavery and servitude.

The girls were promised a world-class education and trafficked to the U.S., but upon arrival, they were held as slaves - working "7 days a week", sometimes "14 hours" a day in hair dressing salons for almost a decade. They lived in a middle class neighborhood and walked the streets, unnoticed, to and from work everyday. The traffickers collected all the money (including tips) the girls earned working as hair dressers.

After watching the report today on News Stream - a programme on CNN International anchored by Kristie Lu Stout - I managed to find a short video that briefly illustrates the plight of the young West African girls . Watch.

This case brings to mind the story of African women trafficked to Russia by a human trafficking and prostitution ring operating between Russia and Ghana (note that Ghana is mentioned in both cases of trafficking to Russia and the U.S.), and highlights the "slave owner" role played by Africans in modern-day slavery.

The traffickers in this New Jersey case are reportedly Africans - a husband, wife and son. A court recently sentenced them to 24, 27 and 4.5 years in prison, respectively.

Human trafficking is an unspeakable and intolerable violation of human rights, dignity and security of persons. Traffickers should bear the full weight of the law.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman released

I don't remember the last time I received good news remotely related to human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt. This explains why I warmly welcome and celebrate the release of Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman -  a prominent Egyptian blogger who was arrested in 2006 and sentenced to four years in prison for insulting islam and defaming the Egyptian President (by linking him to dictatorship and tyranny) on his blog. Kareem was released on 16 November 2010 after spending four years behind bars, despite campaigns by local and international human rights groups to secure his release.

You'd recall that in an article, published on 13 May 2010 about the young Egyptian blogger imprisoned, I stated (and I maintain) that the imprisonment of an individual simply because a government thinks his/her expressed views are flawed is a violation of the basic right to hold and express opinions on or offline.

It is worth mentioning that I was positively impressed by a heartwarming message of gratitude to everyone who supported the campaign to free Kareem, published on following the release of the blogger. Let me be clear: I supported the cause simply because I'm a firm believer in fundamental rights and freedoms.

Abdel Kareem Nabil is now free, but numerous bloggers remain jailed in many countries around the world, including Vietnam, Iran, Syria and Bahrian. Governments should take crucial steps to uphold freedom of expression.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

White bank robber disguised as black male

Photo of Conrad Zdzierak with and without mask.
Two days ago, a friend shared a compelling article on Facebook. The article tells the story of Conrad Zdzierak - a white bank robber in Ohio who disguised like a black man during his robberies.

He allegedly robbed four banks before he was arrested in April 2010. Yes, this happened way back in April but it's a story worth retelling - in case you missed it.

As you'd expect, the police went looking for an African-American suspect. Fortunately, no case of wrongful arrest was reported., but you can only imagine what could have happened if Conrad left no trace.

He confidently and successfully robbed four banks because he was aware of the fact that police officers were on the lookout for the "usual suspects". This case echoes wrongful arrests and convictions in the United States and beyond, and challenges the authorities to broaden the scope of investigations.

The disguise was, arguably, a calculated attempt by 30-year old  Conrad Zdzierak to evade justice and further stigmatize a vulnerable group of people.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ahmed Shaaban: Tortured to death by Egyptian police?

It was with a heavy heart that I read the story of Ahmed Shaaban - another young Egyptian allegedly brutalized to death by Egyptian police at Sidi Gaber police station in Alexandria on 7 November 2010.

Photo: Egyptian Chronicles.
According to Ahmed Shaaban's family, as reported by Amnesty International, the 19-year old disappeared in police custody on 7 November 2010 after he was arrested at a police checkpoint and transported to the now notorious Sidi Gaber police station in Alexandria. On 11 November 2010, the family was informed that the young Ahmed Shaaban's bruised body had been found in the Mahmoudia canal.

It is worth mentioning that the death of Ahmed Shaaban comes only 5 months after another young Egyptian - Khaled Mohammed Said was reportedly tortured to death by Egyptian police in the same police station.

Egyptian bloggers have expressed concern about Egyptian police brutality and the recent role of the Sidi Gaber police station - raising an important question: how many more young Egyptians have to be tortured to death before police brutality in Egypt is stopped?

The role of the police is to protect; not torture civilians. Egypt consented to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1986 and thus has an obligation under international law to protect civilians against torture. Needless to say, drawing from many reported cases of torture by state agents, the state has failed so far to meet this obligation.

Amnesty International has urged Egyptian authorities to fully investigate the death of Ahmed Shaaban.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Egypt: Respect court ruling against police presence on university campuses

It is no secret that human rights in Egypt is nothing to write home about. Since the imposition of Emergency Law in 1981, Egyptians have suffered violations of basic, fundamental and inalienable rights and freedoms, including freedom to hold and expression opinions, right to privacy and confidentiality of correspondence, freedom of association, right to free, fair and speedy trial, right to life, freedom from torture, just to name a few. Under Egypt's 29-year old "state of emergency", the police enjoy extensive powers and crack down on civilians with impunity. Continued police presence in public places, including university campuses, is reportedly typical.

A video published by CNN on 11 November 2010 highlights the ills of Emergency Law in Egypt and clearly captures unprecedented police presence on the campus of Cairo University. Watch...

The fact that someone interrupted the above CNN video coverage by covering the lense of the camera is testament to the high level of repression and press censorship in Egypt.

Police presence on University campuses does not create a condusive atmosphere for studies. Besides, university students are genuinely worried since police brutality is not uncommon in Egypt: in June 2010, 28-year old Khaled Mohammed Said was brutally killed in Alexandria. Egyptian authorities should respect the Supreme Court ruling against police presence on university campuses. Continued massive police presence on university campuses is attributable to a police state, and screams repression.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Justification of torture by George W. Bush sends wrong message

In his first interview since leaving office in 2009, former U.S. President George W. Bush shouldered responsibility for authorizing torture, and sent across a wrong message by attempting to justify waterboarding - a form of torture, and other cruel and inhuman practices against detainees.

Watch part of the compelling interview below:

The U.S. is party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) which it ratified in October 1994.

For clarity, article 1 of the Convention defines torture as: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

With the consent and authorization of George W. Bush, detainees in detention facilities like Guantanamo Bay were intentionally tortured for the purpose of obtaining information or confessions.

The U.S. has a moral, and legal obligation under international law to prosecute the perpetrators of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees. The victims are numerous and the perpetrators, including state agents who destroyed evidence of torture, are within reach. Failure to prosecute the culprits, even after such a public confession and shocking justification of cruelty by former President George W. Bush would further weaken the position of the U.S. in human rights discourse both at home and abroad.

As stipulated in article 2(2) of CAT, there is no exception to the law against torture. Freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is a non-derogable right.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Different colors by Lucky Dube

This evening, like most Friday evenings, I spent some time listening to music. I must tell you - very few songs impact me like a song by Lucky Dube, an iconic South African musician. The song in question titled, "Different colors" conveys a message of unity and is a commendable attempt to break racial barriers and unite all natural persons, irrespective of race or color.

Sadly, Lucky Dube is no more. But through his music, he continues to inspire listeners.

In the following video and lyrics, Lucky Dube denounces racial discrimination and urges everyone - including governments, politicians and, of course, YOU - to refrain from separating "the people". Watch...

Lyrics (unofficial):

Breaking those barriers
All over the world
Was not an easy thing
Yesterday your mouth was shut yeah
Couldn' t make a sound eh boy
But it' s such a good feeling today
When I can hear them from
Across the ocean singing this song
That the whole world should be singing
All the time

Chorus: (x3)

We' re...
Different colours / one people
Different colours / one people

Hey you government
Never try to separate the people
Hey you politician
Never try to separate the people

They were created in the image of God
And who are you to separate them
Bible says, he made man in his image
But it didn' t say black or white
Look at me you see BLACK
I look at you I see WHITE
Now is the time to kick that away
And join me in my song

Chorus: (x3)

Hey you politician
Never separate the people here
Hey you man hey you man
Never try to separate the people

Some were from America
We were from South Africa
Some were from Japan
We were from China
Some were from Australia
We were from the U.K.
Some were from Zimbabwe
We were from Ghana
Some were from Jamaica
We were from Russia
Some were from Aha-ha-ha
We were from Uhu-hu-hu.

Although bridging racial divide remains an uphill battle, you can't stop trying. And as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African human rights activist, Christian cleric and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, once said, "... never let anyone tell you that what you're doing is insignificant."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ugandan newspaper editor advocates hate and homophobia on CNN

It is no secret that homosexuality is a taboo in many African countries, but recently, a proposed controversial bill that promulgates life imprisonment and the death penalty for homosexuals, as well as the publication of a list of names, pictures and addresses of homosexuals in Uganda catapulted the East African country to the rank of [arguably] the most homophobic country on the planet.

You've probably heard that last month, a two- month old newspaper in Uganda that has adopted the name of a famous U.S magazine - Rolling Stone - published the names and photographs of 100 "top" homosexuals in Uganda and urged the police to "investigate", "prosecute" and "hang them". As if this is not enough, on 1 November 2010 the newspaper published, with impunity, more names and photographs.

Giles Muhame, editor of the newspaper, in a shocking interview with CNN, defiantly justified the publication of names, photographs and addresses of "top homosexuals." Watch...

While it is true that many Africans subscribe to this hateful and homophobic school of thought, it is also true that people of conscience worldwide believe that no natural person should be investigated, prosecuted and hanged on the basis of sexual orientation.

The publication of names, photographs and addresses of unsuspecting Ugandans does not only put the latter in harms way, but violates the fundamental right to privacy and security of persons.

A High Court judge in Uganda ordered the newspaper to stop publishing the names of people it says are homosexual because the publication is "an infringement or invasion of the right to privacy." This is a move in the right direction, but more could and should be done to bring the "Rolling Stone" impostor to justice for violating the right to privacy and inciting hate and violence against a vulnerable group of individuals.

It is worth mentioning that the renown U. S magazine Rolling Stone has condemned the Ugandan newspaper that bears its name and demanded they seize using the name.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nelson Mandela's Conversations with Myself

You've probably heard about Nelson Mandela's new book - Conversations with Myself - that was launched on 12 October 2010. If you've not read it and shelved it in your personal library yet, make sure you do. Nelson Mandela, former South African President, no doubt, has such an incredible life story that would never fail to inspire you, your children and your children's children to seek progress by promoting social justice and equality for all.

Many people have already read or listened to Nelson Mandela's incredible life story uncountable times from a variety of sources, but a recent report by Bob Simon, contributor for "60 Minutes", about Madiba and the new book is worth watching. The report captures the life of  [arguably] "the most admired human being alive." WATCH...

The new book offers "unique access" to the life and thoughts of the freedom fighter. It reveals the "private man behind the public figure," and guess what - the foreword is written by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Nelson Mandela's Conversations with Myself is available on It's highly recommended.

Read more about the book on the official website of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Remove racist graffiti in Finnish town of Mikkeli

This morning the title of an article, "The tale of two racist spray paintings in an eastern Finnish city" published on Migrant Tales (a blog I read religiously) caught my attention. As the title of the article reveals, it tells the story of racist graffiti in Mikkeli, a town in eastern Finland.

The racist graffiti were reportedly sprayed on walls in a school and a pedestrian tunnel in the small town of about 34, 000 people.

With the intervention of Kansainvälinen Mikkeli Ry (International Mikkeli), a new organization that fosters cooperation between immigrants and all residents of Mikkeli, the graffiti on the wall of the school was removed after a call to the principal. It is worth mentioning that the graffiti had been on the wall for months.

The Mikkeli municipality on its part has failed, as of today, to remove a more disturbing racist graffiti on the wall of a pedestrian tunnel, even though the authorities have reportedly been notified.

The local authorities of Mikkeli should remove the racist graffiti on the wall of the pedestrian tunnel. Inaction on their part sends across a wrong message - that racism is tolerated in Mikkeli and a certain group of people are not welcomed.

I won't post photos of the racist graffiti on this blog because they are offensive, provocative, and violate house rules and regulations.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Numerous bloggers detained in violation of freedom of expression

Bloggers are increasingly being arrested and thrown behind bars in many countries, arguably in an attempt to silence them and deter the growing number of critical independent bloggers who provide uncensored news from individual perspectives. In violation of the right to freedom of expression, many bloggers have been detained on "vaguely worded" charges directly related to information published on their blogs in countries like Ivory coast, Egypt, Iran, just to name a few.

An article published on CNN on 10 October 2010 highlights the growing threat to freedom of expression and the right to hold and express opinions that are not in line with the views of the authorities. The article showcases photos of detained bloggers, including the following:

1) Pham Minh Hoang: Blogger and mathematics teacher detained in Vietnam. He reportedly blogs about democracy and social justice in Vietnam, and was arrested in August 2010.

2) Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman: Law student, blogger and free speech advocate jailed in Egypt since February 2007.

3) Tal al-Mallohi: 19 year-old student and blogger detained in Syria without charge since December 1999.

4) Ali Abdulemam: Blogger and contributor for Global Voices Advocacy, arrested and detained in Bahrain in September 2010 for "spreading false news" online.

5) Hossein Derakhshan: The "blogfather" of Iran, sentenced to 19.5 years behind bars in Iran on 28 September 2010.

It is worth mentioning that this list is not exhaustive. There are detained bloggers who have not been mentioned. Regardless of their different stories, the numerous detained bloggers share something in common - they're paying a price for expressing opinions online; opinions that "authorities have no wish to see or hear."

The detention of bloggers signals a dwindling right to hold and express opinions online. Freedom of expression is a basic human right and cornerstone of a democratic society. No one should be jailed for peacefully expressing opinions that challenge a regime.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stop plans to split Cameroon Bar Association

An article posted on Facebook yesterday highlighted the level of control, power and authority wielded by the government of Cameroon over the country's Bar Council Association - an association of learned barristers, lawyers and trainee advocates. The article, originally published on The Post on 18 October 2010, sheds light on the Cameroon government's plan to split the Bar Association. 

According to The Post, a draft bill is to be tabled in Parliament, which if voted into law, would split the Bar Association into regions - perhaps into 10 since Cameroon is made up of 10 regions (provinces).

Lawyers in Cameroon, under the leadership of Barrister Eta-Besong Junior, President of the Cameroon Bar Council Association, have rightfully condemned the government's plan to "weaken" the association.

Commonsense tells me that a split would effectively weaken the Bar Association; an otherwise powerful association which is currently in diapers and under the spell of a 27-year-old (almost 28 years old) regime. A unified Bar Association is obviously stronger, and to an extent, promotes proper legal representation.

In a nutshell, the government should stop plans to split the Bar Association for obvious reasons: A split would greatly undermine the power of the Cameroon Bar Association and put into question the government's intentions for the many people in Cameroon who are in desperate need of quality legal representation.

It is worthy to note that the government of Cameroon has already greatly limited the Bar Association by tightly controlling the organization of Bar entrance examinations.

Let me end by quoting Barrister Henry Kemende: "...we are not going to accept the Balkanization of the Bar."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

President Obama urged to help arrest Joseph Kony

Joseph Kony. Source: Voices [Education Project].
This weekend's THE WEEK IN RIGHTS, a weekly email from Human Rights Watch to all its supporters, contained many human rights-related articles including a compelling article by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, urging President Obama to "get tough on human rights" and help arrest Joseph Kony.

Joseph Kony is the rebel leader and commander of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a ruthless rebel group that has committed well-documented carnage and untold atrocities in the DR Congo, Uganda, Sudan and Central African Republic.

In Congo, the LRA perpetrates atrocities such as mass rape and rape as a weapon of war - making the country arguably the worst place to be a woman. For decades, the rebels, under the leadership of Joseph Kony, have mutilated, slaughtered, kidnapped and raped civilians with impunity.

In 2005, arrest warrants were issued by the International Criminal Court for Joseph  Kony and four other LRA commanders. They are wanted at the Hague on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Efforts have been made to bring the rebels to justice but they remain at large either due to inadequate resources or lack of political will to track them down.

Over the years, the United States has used force on "humanitarian grounds" in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, but it remains to be seen whether the super power will intervene and take action against the LRA -  a rebel group that is responsible for one of the world's greatest humanitarian crisis. An intervention to help arrest Kony and protect civilians in the region would be justifiable on humanitarian grounds.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Human Rights Watch honors Cameroonian activist

In November 2010, Human Rights Watch, an independent international organization dedicated to protecting human rights around the world, will honor six human rights activists, including a Cameroonian - Steave Nemande.

Steave Nemande is a medical doctor and President of Alternatives-Cameroon, a non-profit organisation promoting equality, tolerance and respect for "socially excluded" individuals in Cameroon, especially members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. It is worth mentioning that under the leadership of Steave Nemande, Alternatives-Cameroun, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch, recently urged the government of Cameroon to decriminalize homosexuality.

Nemande is a courageous medical doctor who defies the odds and promotes the rights of members of LGBT people in a region where homosexuality is widely criminalized, and where very few people stand up for the rights of others (thoughtless of homosexuals). Dr. Steave Nemande deserves this honor by an accredited international human rights organization like Human Rights Watch. Perhaps, this gesture would encourage other young Africans to step up to the plate.

The other human rights activists honored are:
  • Liu Xiaobo, 2010 Nebel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Sussan Tahmasebi, women's rights activist from Iran 
  • Yoseph Mulugeta, former secretary general of Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) 
  • Elena Milashina, an investigative journalist exposing human rights violations in Russia 
  • Hossam Bahgat, founder of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
Human Rights Watch notes that all six activists have courageously defended, and continue to defend human rights, in defiance of "substantial threats of violence or imprisonment."

All six will be awarded the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism - an award that "celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line protecting the dignity and rights of others."
*Photo: Elisabeth Rull. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sweden Democrats walk out of church over racism sermon

Stockholm Cathedral. Photo by Jürgen Howaldt.
It is no secret that on 19 September 2010, Sweden Democrats, a hard line extreme right political party was voted into parliament for the first time since it was founded in 1988. You would agree that the results of this historic parliamentary election clearly indicated that an increasing number of Swedes share the polarising ideology of the Sweden Democrats. Meanwhile in Sweden, dust is yet to settle after the extreme right electoral gains as Sweden Democrats have been on the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The most recent drama staged by the party was a walkout of church on 5 October 2010 over a sermon about racism and xenophobia.

During a church service in Stockholm's Cathedral (Storkyrkan) preceding the opening of parliament (Riksdag), the bishop of the diocese of Stockholm delivered a sermon about the ills of racism and xenophobia. Here is what the bishop reportedly said, among other things:
“Yesterday evening thousands of people gathered in Stockholm and in various parts of the country to make their voices heard. To call out their disgust at that which divides people. The racism that says that you don’t have as much worth as I do; that you shouldn’t have the same rights as me; aren’t worthy of living in freedom..."
Sweden Democrats' parliamentary delegation considered the sermon to be an attack against them, hence walked out of church in protest.

The party has tried over the years to distance itself from racism and xenophobia, but its manifesto suggest otherwise.

While it is true that this walk out in protest against a racism sermon could be attributed to an attempt by Sweden Democrats to score political points, it is also true that racism and xenophobia have no place in a free society and should be unequivocally denounced wherever "two or three" lawmakers are gathered.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The new Arthur Koenig Fellowship by Human Rights Watch

Good news! Human Rights Watch has rolled out a new fellowship - the Arthur Koenig Fellowship. This fellowship is largely similar to the other fellowships organised by the leading human rights organisation, but there's a twist.

The new Arthur Koenig Fellowship is designed to help people from "disadvantaged economic backgrounds" join the human rights movement. In other words, [only] people from disadvantaged economic backgrounds are eligible to apply for the Arthur Koenig Fellowship.

This is good news for the uncountable number of economically disadvantage people of conscience looking for a chance to join the international human rights movement.

You are encouraged to read more about eligibility and application procedure for the Arthur Koenig Fellowship on the official website of Human Rights Watch, and perhaps apply. The deadline for applications is 18 October 2010.

Good luck!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Syria: Stop child abuse and torture by school teachers

A story on France 24 reminded me about the so-called "school corporal punishment" - institutionalized abuse and brutalisation suffered by pupils and school children in the hands of abusive teachers in many parts of the world. The story puts 2 abusive teachers in Syria in the spotlight, and resounds the urgent need to stop child abuse and torture by school teachers in Syria and beyond.

Two female teachers in Syria were caught on video - brutalising pupils entrusted to their care. As you'd expect in this age of information technology, the dramatic video was posted on the  internet and puts the Syria's educational system into question. WATCH...

Incidentally, tomorrow - 5 October - is World's Teacher's Day. Should this calibre of teachers be honored on this symbolic day?

Make no mistake - child abuse and torture by teachers is not only a Syrian problem. The ordeal prevails in many other countries. 

I'm no stranger to school corporal punishment. As a matter of fact, in high school, I was asked to participate in a debate. I vividly remember the debate question: "Should corporal punishment be allowed in boarding schools?" It's worth mentioning that at the time, there were people - students and teachers - who had very strong opinions both for and against corporal punishment.

Widespread occurrence by no means justifies child abuse by school teachers.

The Syrian Arab Republic is party to the Convention of the Rights of the child, which it ratified on 15 July 1993. The State therefore has a legal obligation under international law to protect children from all forms of "physical or mental" violence, including abuse and torture by school teachers. The 2 teachers caught in the above video should, by all means, be identified and brought to justice. Impunity in this widely publicized case would send across a wrong message.

*Photo of school kids in Syria: Gibbz Cadiz.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hossein Derakhshan: Blogger jailed in Iran

Hossein Derakhshan. Source: Daniel Lubetzky's Journal.
The sentencing of an acclaimed blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, is yet another reminder of the dwindling right to freedom of expression, thought, conscience and the right to hold opinions in Iran.

Hossein Derakhshan, 35, is a prominent Iranian-Canadian blogger, who is credited with pioneering blogging in Iran. "The Blogfather" as he is fondly called, was arrested 2008, detained for almost 2 years and sentenced to 19.5 years in jail on 28 September 2010 by Iran's Revolutionary Court.

What's his crime?

In 2006, Hossein Derakhshan made a controversial visit to Israel in an attempt to "humanize Israel for Iranians." While in Israel, he sought to show thousands of Iranians who read his blog what life is like in Israel. He explained his trip to Israel in the following words:
"This might mean that I won't be able to go back to Iran for a long time, since Iran doesn't recognize Israel, has no diplomatic relations with it, and apparently considers traveling there illegal. Too bad, but I don't care. Fortunately, I'm a citizen of Canada and I have the right to visit any country I want. I'm going to Israel as a citizen journalist and a peace activist. As a citizen journalist, I'm going to show my 20,000 daily Iranian readers what Israel really looks like and how people live there. The Islamic Republic has long portrayed Israel as an evil state, with a consensual political agenda of killing every single man and woman who prays to Allah, including Iranians. I'm going to challenge that image. As a peace activist, I'm going to show the Israelis that the vast majority of Iranians do not identify with Ahmadinejad's rhetoric, despite what it looks like from the outside. I'm going to tell them how any kind of violent action against Iran would only harm the young people who are gradually reforming the system and how the radicals would benefit from such situation."
Hossein Derakhshan's visit to Israel was highly publicized and it arguably didn't sit well with Iranian authorities. It is against this background that in November 2008, he was arrested in Tehran on accusation of spying for Israel.

Amnesty International notes that Hossein Derakhshan was convicted for:
  • "Cooperating with hostile states" 
  • "Propaganda against the system" 
  • "Propaganda in favor of counter revolutionary groups" 
  • "Insults to the holy sanctities", and...
  • "the setup and management of vulgar and obscene websites."
 The questionable circumstances surrounding the arrest, detention and conviction of Hossein Derakhshan cannot be overlooked. Everyone has the right to freely express views and opinions without State interference. But as stated by the Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme, Iranian authorities are good at bringing "vaguely worded charges... against those who peacefully express dissent."

In a related story, the fate of 43-year-old Iranian mother of 2, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani - sentenced to death by stoning remains unknown.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Egypt: Don't forget Khaled Mohammed Said

Photo: We're all Khaled Said Facebook page.
A 28-year-old Egyptian - Khaled Mohammed Said, allegedly brutalised to death by Egyptian police in June is yet to be forgotten.

The death of Khaled Mohammed Said, on 6 June 2010, sparked widespread protests in Egypt, with thousands of Egyptians demanding justice for Khaled Said, and an end to police brutality. Surprisingly (because there's reportedly a culture of impunity for police brutality in Egypt), two police officers were arrested and charged in relation to Khaled Said's death. This, no doubt, is good news. The arrests were celebrated as a milestone in Egypt and abroad.

The bad news is that a postponed trial of the policemen in question, originally scheduled for 25 September 2010, was further postponed to 23 October 2010.

Despite the postponement and delays, rights activists and police brutality protesters are undeterred. Many have urged rights advocates worldwide not to forget Khaled Mohammed Said (even if the trial is postponed for a few years) because justice for Said would mean a great blow to what has been described as "systematic torture" in Egypt.

Amnesty International recently released a video demanding justice for Khaled Mohammed Said, as well as an end to torture in Egypt. WATCH...

According to Human Rights Now, the 25 September trial was marred by protests and police intimidation.

Khaled Mohammed Said is clearly not forgotten. People of conscience in Egypt and abroad have fought a good fight so far, and continue to fight to secure justice for Khaled, and end police brutality in Egypt.

It remains to be seen whether justice would be served.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

House rules and regulations

When a blog picks up steam after being indexed by mega search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo!, it inevitably becomes accessible to readers from many parts of the world; readers with varying motives and opinions. Understandably, those with something to offer post comments on the blog. At this stage, without clear house rules and regulations, the blog stands a great chance of becoming a place of bickering and in some cases - a "marketplace."

Fortunately, I anticipated this scenario a long time ago. This explains why in a bid to protect readers and maintain order, I laid down a couple of house rules and regulations in advance.

But recently, a growing number of readers have posted comments that expressly violate these house rules and regulations, and I've had to go through the pain of rejecting comments.

Please endeavor to familiarise yourself with the rules before posting your comments.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Legal action against France over mass Roma expulsion

The European Commission has decided to take legal action against France over the controversial mass expulsion of Roma migrants. Talking to France 24 this morning, the EU Justice Commissioner - Viviane Reding said France breached European Union rules on freedom of movement by deporting the Roma. EU rules on freedom of movement give ALL European Union citizens the right to freely move and reside (for 3 months) in any member state. France is a member of the EU and the Roma are EU citizens but since July, thousands of Roma have been deported from France.

The mass deportation of the Roma clearly outraged Viviane Reding earlier this month, and the commissioner made no secret of her disappointment over France's action. She had some tough words for France, as highlighted in the video below. WATCH...

The commission notes that France has failed to incorporate the 2004 European directives of free movement into national law.

In today's interview (which I watched) on France 24, Viviane Reding said that "if France changes its laws quickly..." the legal action will be dropped.

Legal action by the European Union against France over the mass Roma expulsion is good news, but I'm disappointed by the Commission's decision not to take legal action against France for a discriminatory expulsion of the Roma, despite the fact that a leaked government memo revealed that the ethnic minority group was targeted. French authorities linked the Roma to a surge in crime and said the dismantling of Roma camps was a "priority."

It is no secret that the Roma have historically faced discrimination in Europe. The European Commission can do better to protect this vulnerable group of people against further discrimination in Europe.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy birthday, On The Road To Success!

It is true that as a busy blogger, it's easy to lose track of time and forget to celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the blog you work tirelessly to improve.

Yesterday, 27 September 2010, marked the first "blogoversary" (anniversary) of this blog, On The Road To Success.

It is worth mentioning that although I have been on Blogger since June 2009, the actual "birthday" of the blog is 27 September 2009 - the day it was published.

I'm happy to say that one year after the first article was published, the blog is slowly but surely taking a deserved place in search engines and in the human rights blogosphere. Although some readers have branded me a "political blogger", it is my wish that this blog morphs into a major human rights blog - promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms for all natural persons.

As we begin the second year here On The Road To Success, thank you for reading along and for revisiting the blog even when we disagree on certain controversial issues.

Happy birthday, On The Road To Success!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fellowships in International Human Rights: 2011-2012

Human Rights Watch, a leading organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights around the world is currently accepting applications for its 2011-2012 Fellowship programme. The organization invites applications from recent graduates with Master's degrees in the field of law, international relations, journalism, or other relevant fields from universities around the globe.

Fellows for the fellowship programme work full-time for a period of one year in New York or London, monitoring human rights developments, investigating violations, drafting reports and engaging in human rights advocacy campaigns.

It is worth mentioning that the work is paid. The salary for the last fellowship, 2010-2011, was $55,000 plus benefits. According to Human Rights Watch, the salary for 2011-2012 fellows may be increased.

Detailed information about job description, eligibility and application procedure for the fellowship in International Human Rights is available on the official website of Human Rights Watch.

Application deadline for the Fellowships in International Human Rights is 8 0ctober 2010.

Good luck!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Help Uganda's forgotten children

Children in a camp in north-eastern Uganda: The Guardian.
Today, I watched a video titled "The Compelling Story of The Forgotten Children." The video tells the story of abduction, torture, sexual slavery and rape meted out by rebels against thousands of children in Northern Uganda. The video urged me to help Uganda's forgotten children by simply telling their story. Perhaps this would make a difference.

The following video is truly a compelling revelation of an untold story that has not received a fair share of international attention. It's a story of gross violations of children's rights in the armed conflict in Northern Uganda. WATCH...

Northern Uganda has been engulfed in civil war since the 1980s. The civil war was sparked by a rebellion against the Ugandan government under the leadership of President Yoweri Museveni. The rebellion is led by two rebel groups - the Lord's Resistance Army (LRD) based in Northern Uganda and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) based in western Uganda.

LRA Leader - Joseph Kony.
It is worth mentioning that the ADF has reportedly lost steam, while the LRA, under the leadership of Joseph Kony, remains the main rebel group with a reputation of perpetrating the most heinous crimes against civilians in Northern Uganda. Victims of the war face rape, abduction, torture, mutilation, the worst forms of child labour, just to name a few.

In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Joseph Kony and 4 other LRA commanders, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

After watching "The Compelling Story of The Forgotten Children," you must be convinced that the children of Northern Uganda are truly forgotten and are in desperate need of all the help you can provide; no matter how small. Visit and lend a helping hand.

Although the LRA reportedly stopped atttacks in northern Uganda in 2006, stability in the region is fragile.

The perpetrators of violence against children in Uganda, including Joseph Kony are still at large. It remains to be seen whether justice will take its course.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

UN report: Israel violated international law during flotilla raid

Photo of Israeli soldier boarding the Mavi Marmara, by IsraelIMFA
Israeli forces intercepted a humanitarian aid flotilla on 31 May 2010 in a military mission that shocked the international community, including humanitarians and human rights activists around the world. The military mission left 9 people dead aboard the Mavi Marmara, a ship that was carrying humanitarian aid bound for Gaza. In its defense, Israel invoked the right to defend and secure its borders and condemned the attempt by the flotilla to break the Gaza blockade. Following the incident, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) ordered an investigation into the flotilla raid and an independent fact-finding mission was established by the Human Rights Council to investigate the incident.

On 22 September 2010, the fact-finding mission issued a report of the application of international law during the raid. The report concludes that Israel violated international humanitarian and human rights law during the interception of the aid flotilla in May.

In a vital part of the report (Part IV) which dwells on accountability and effective remedy, the mission notes that victims of the flotilla raid have the right to effective remedy and reparations, and hopes that Israel honors its obligations under international law and bring perpetrators of the violation to justice.

On 1 June 2010, in an article about Israel's right to defend and secure borders, I concluded that Israeli commandos used disproportionate force during the mission and should be held accountable for the lives lost during the interception of the aid flotilla. Israel is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and therefore has a legal obligation under international law to hold perpetrators accountable and compensate victims of the flotilla raid.

It remains to be seen whether Israeli authorities will bring those responsible for the violation of humanitarian and human rights law during the flotilla raid to justice.

Read the complete 56-page report (in pdf) published on the Human Rights Council website, here.

A defiant Israel argues that the report is biased.

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