Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Military Drones for Migrant Control in Europe?

You're probably aware of the fact that immigration is a sensitive and highly polarized topic nowadays - with politicians and immigrants in democratic European countries, like Finland, facing death threats for "treasonous" immigration policies. It's with little doubt therefore that the European Union (EU) is considering the use of military hardware - unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance and track down of migrants along the union's borders, according to IPS. In June this year, FRONTEX - the EU's border management agency will meet in Spain with manufacturers of military drones, for presentations on how the hardware can be used by coast guards for migrant control in Europe.

Although the technology would be used for nonmilitary work - border surveillance, human activists and organizations, including Amnesty International have expressed concern about this controversial move. Every individual has the right to seek asylum in a country other than his country of origin and military drones for migrant control would jeopardize this right. This is the case because many migrants would be intercepted in the high seas and returned without due process, to countries where their basic human rights are not guaranteed. People seeking protection in the EU have the right, under international law to have their case heard and not to be returned to face torture, political persecution, inhumane or degrading treatment or death. This right is enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many other human rights instruments guarantee this right.

Without going into the intricacies of international law, the bottom line is - the EU knows better! Military drones for migrant control in Europe is a threat to the "dwindling right" to seek asylum.

What are your thoughts? Should military drones be used for migrant control in Europe? Do you favor Europe's "security approach" to immigration?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Alarming Rate of Maternal Deaths in the U.S.

You've probably listened to or participated in the highly polarized U.S. health care debate. While many Americans are more concerned about who will pay for the $940 billion health care bill that is designed to save the lives of millions of struggling Americans, human rights activists and organizations worldwide are alarmed by the broken health care system and the alarming rate of maternal deaths in the U.S. It is no secret that the U.S. health care system engineers the death of millions of Americans from pregnancy-related complications, child birth complications and other preventable diseases. America might be the richest country on the planet, but the alarming rate of maternal deaths in the U.S. is not very different from the rate of maternal deaths registered in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Human rights group - Amnesty International, in a recent report - Deadly Delivery: The Maternity Health Care Crisis in the USA, issued on 5 March 2010 revealed that women in the U.S. face a greater risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications than women in 40 other countries. The report notes with dismay, that a woman in the U.S. has a five times greater chance of dying in child birth than a woman in Greece, three times greater chance of dying in child birth than a woman in Spain and four times greater chance of dying than a woman in Germany. Even more alarming is the fact that more than two women die DAILY in the U.S. from pregnancy-related complications. Yes! It's that bad!

At this point, you must be outraged by the aforementioned statistics, but the prevalence of discrimination in the U.S. health care system is even more outrageous and dumbfounding. Minority women - Native Americans, African Americans, Immigrants and women who speak little English face a greater risk of dying in child birth and pregnancy related complications. It's worth highlighting that black women are nearly four times likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women - in America.

The report by Amnesty International documents the case of a 33 years old African-American woman - Inamarie Stith-Rouse. She arrived at a hospital in Boston Massachusetts in June 2003, pregnant. She underwent an emergency cesarean section and later went into a coma. She died four days later; living behind a healthy baby girl. Why did she die?

Her husband - Andre Rouse told Amnesty International that:
"She started to complain of shortness of breath. I couldn't find the doctor. They kept paging her but she wasn't around. The oxygen machine kept beeping.... No one was taking it seriously..."

Andre told Amnesty International that he felt race played a part in the hospital staff's lack of response.

White women in the U.S. have a mortality rate of 9.5 per 100,000 pregnancies and African-American women - 32.7 per 100,000 pregnancies. As reported by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

What are your thoughts? Do African-Americans and other minority groups face discrimination in the health care system in the U.S.? Have you faced any form of discrimination?

Does gender, race, ethnicity, immigration or other status affect access to health care in the U.S.?

You'd agree that the alarming rate of maternity deaths in the U.S. and the alleged discrimination in the health care system is a cause for concern. America is purportedly the leader of the "free world" and the government has an obligation to ensure quality health care - without discrimination of any kind, to all.

The U.S health care system has been a failure for decades; this explains why you should welcome the historic health care reform bill that was passed by the U.S Congress. Many have kicked against the bill, but have no doubt - the bill (which is now law) would go a long way to guarantee the right to life and health care for millions of struggling Americans. Perhaps it will also reduce the alarming rate of maternal deaths in the U.S.

By the way, "socialized" health care systems like those in place in Scandinavian countries have proven to be highly successful. Don't you think?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Impunity for Sex Offenders in Scandinavia

For awhile, I've privately held the view that criminal laws in Scandinavia are for the most part - loose and do not adequately sanction offenders. No doubt this is the case because it's not uncommon for criminals to walk the streets because they have been handed down suspended sentences for the worst crimes. You might dismiss my view, but a credible international human rights organization - Amnesty International - shares the same view and has slammed Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden for allowing impunity for sex offenders. In many jurisdictions around the world, rape is a felony and offenders bear the full weight of the law, but in Scandinavia, the story is different.

In a report, entitled Case Closed: Rape and Human Rights in Nordic Countries, published on 8 March 2010, Amnesty International cited, with regret, the level of impunity for sex offenders in Scandinavia. The report documents a couple of disturbing cases of rape, including: The case of a man in Finland who forced a woman to have sex in a car park toilet by banging her head against the wall and twisting her arm behind her back. The court held that it was not rape because the violence was of a "lesser degree". The man was given a suspended sentence of 7 months in prison for coercion (...not rape).

Justice served?

Cases of rape in the Scandinavian countries are rarely reported and those that are reported rarely make it to court. The few that make it to court are commonly acquitted. In other words, rape victims are not adequately protected by law all across the region; instead the credibility of their complaints are more often than not - questioned.

In Finland, the level of impunity enjoyed by sex offenders is alarming. Victims of rape have little chance of seeing justice served, with only between 2% and 10% of rape cases reported. According to Amnesty International, Finland is at the bottom of the list of Scandinavian countries when it comes to protecting victims of rape and bringing perpetrators to justice.

The report highlights the fact that in Scandinavian countries - Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, the definition of rape in domestic law is not in line with rape, as defined by the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. According to the courts, the absence of consent is key, in the definition of rape. In sharp contrast, all four Scandinavian countries define rape as "the use of violence or threats of violence". Hence, in Scandinavia, violence and threats are the main ingredients that constitute rape as an offence. It goes without saying therefore that in the region, non-consensual sex without considerable violence does not constitute rape. This is clearly not in accordance with international law.

Amnesty International criticized Finnish legislation, which defines rape as "coercion into sexual intercourse". As if this definition is not flawed enough, the punishment is remarkably lenient - usually a fine or a few months in prison.

In Finland and Denmark, non-consensual sex with a drunk victim is not rape. This explains why a Finnish District Court sentenced a man to 8 month [suspended] imprisonment for non-consensual sex with a drunk woman on board a ferry from Finland to Sweden. The perpetrator was convicted for sexual abuse; not rape.

In my opinion, in a civilized society, non-consensual sex with a drunk victim should be ruled as rape and heavily sanctioned. Do you or do you not agree?

Did you notice that not much has been said about Sweden so far?

Well, let's say I was saving the worst for last: Sweden tops the European Rape League - recording the highest number of reported cases of rape in Europe (46 cases per 100,000 residents). This makes Sweden - the "rape capital" of Europe. The record high rate of rapes in Sweden is accompanied by a record low rate of convictions. Amnesty International noted that Sweden's rapists enjoy impunity and criticized Sweden's record low rate of rape convictions. It is worth mentioning that the United Nations is also alarmed by Sweden's over-the-top rape record.

Although Scandinavian countries pride themselves with the attainment of gender equality in many aspects of daily life, they have failed so far to protect women from rape and other forms of violence.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ben Affleck Changing Congo

The DR Congo is home to millions of people who have been devastated by war since 1996. As I mentioned in an earlier article - Africa's First World War: The Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the conflict is one of the deadliest conflicts the world has ever seen. It has left more than 5 million (and counting...) people dead, over the past 12 years and analysts say it is the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet. Unfortunately, the world is yet to understand the gravity of the conflict. It is with little doubt therefore that it took actor and activist - Ben Affleck many years and a couple of trips to the DR Congo to fully understand what the Congolese have to endure.

Do you have any idea about what's happening in the Congo? You probably don't care because you're not directly affected. Right?

The fundamental human rights of millions of people in the DRC (a country the size of Western Europe) are being violated with impunity, while the world quietly watches. A few months ago, everyone was talking about Haiti - Are the lives of Congolese people less important?

As one of my 10 favorite CNN anchors - Christiane Amanpour rightly pointed out - "it often takes high-profile people to remind the world of a massive injustice". Unfortunately, not many high-profile people have stood up for Congo, but Ben Affleck has refused to be silent. He is using his star power to shed light on the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in the Congo and is working to bring change to the region.

Now, let me be clear - prior to Ben Affleck's move to making a change in Congo, I was not a fan. I'm not a movie freak and therefore not impressed (with due respect) by big screen performances. However, when actors [individually] use their star power to do more than entertain, they win me over. No doubt, I became a fan of Isaiah Washington because of his role as chief of the Mende people of Sierra Leone; not his role as Dr. Preston Burke in Grey's Anatomy. In the same vein, Ben Affleck's commitment to help victims of rape in the DR. Congo just earned him one more fan.

On Monday, Ben Affleck launched the Eastern Congo initiative to help the Congolese people rebuild, after more than 14 years of armed conflict. His goal is to empower community-based organizations in Eastern Congo (the hotspot) - working to help victims of rape and to help child soldiers make a smooth transition to civilian life.

The human rights violations in the Congo are unprecedented - abductions, forced labour, sexual slavery, forced labour, the worst forms of child labour and the unspeakable war crime - rape as a weapon of war.

Talking to CNN's Amanpour, Affleck highlighted the story of a woman he met in Eastern Congo:
"They, in her words, treated her like an animal and a slave. She was a bush wife to six men who raped her. She became pregnant. She eventually escaped by asking basically permission to take a bath and making a mad run for it..."
According to Ben Affleck, a lot more can be done by the international community to help the Congolese people rise from the rubble.

For more on Ben Affleck's initiative for changing Congo, visit The Amanpour blog.

My Masters thesis - Forced Labour in Armed Conflicts: Special Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, also dwells on the conflict in the DR Congo. You're welcome to read it and be inspired to take action. The people of Congo need your help.

Remember, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Young girls face breast ironing in Cameroon

A young Cameroonian girl told the BBC: "My Mother took a pestle, she warmed it well in the fire and then she used it to pound my breast while I was lying down. She took the back of the coconut, warmed it in the fire and used it to iron the breasts. I was crying and trembling to escape but there was no way."

Growing up in Cameroon, the concept of breast ironing had been brought to my attention at some point, but I did not pay close attention to the torture, degrading and inhuman treatment the victims endure. Today, an article published on the Washington Post prompted me to dig deeper, in a bid to uncover the long-standing tradition of breast ironing in Cameroon and what the State is doing to put an end to this barbarism.

Breast ironing is a rudimentary practice that involves the pounding or massaging of budding breasts of adolescent girls usually with hot objects such as grinding stones, coconut shells or wooden pestles - a bat-shaped object, normally used to crush tubers (see photo below).

Why is it done?

The rationale behind this practice is to make developing breasts disappear so as to protect young girls from sexual advances from [unscrupulous] men, thereby avoiding early sex and teenage pregnancies.

Like female genital mutilation, breast ironing violates the fundamental rights of women and young girls - the right to health, physical integrity; not forgetting freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

In Cameroon, breast ironing is common practice in all the ten regions. According to the BBC, 26% of young girls face breast ironing in Cameroon. No doubt in 2006, a much-needed nationwide campaign was launched to shine light on the ordeal of breast ironing in Cameroon. WATCH...

It is worth mentioning that the perpetrators (mostly mothers) show no remorse. They argue that it's not a new practice and that it protects their daughters. Is this not the same argument advanced in favor of the much dreaded female genital mutilation? Does the need to check "early sex" and unwanted pregnancies justify cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment? Is torture justifiable?

It is worth mentioning that Cameroon is party to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which entered into force in September 1990. Article 19 of the Convention states:
"States parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse while in the care of parents(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child."
Cameroon ratified the Convention on 11 January 1993 - it goes without saying therefore that the State has a legal obligation under international law to protect children within it's borders from the maltreatment, physical or mental violence and injury inflicted by the bizarre practice of breast ironing.

The victims of breast ironing in Cameroon are uncountable, the perpetrators are known and are within reach, but they go scot-free. Young girls who face breast ironing in Cameroon are only protected by the law if it is medically proven that the breast has been damaged and the case is reported within a few months.

*Photo of school children in Cameroon: Hoyasmeg.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bluntly Racist Public Announcement at Wal-Mart Store

Last week, I wrote about Racism: A Taboo in the U.S. and a Celebartion in Europe. Little did I know that Racism would become a frequent topic, On The Road To Success.

As an unapologetic black man living in a land where the majority of people don't look like me, I have heard all sorts of unspeakable utterances directed at blacks, but I must tell you - news of a bluntly racist public announcement at a Wal-Mart store in New Jersey left me wanting.

Customers at a Wal-Mart store in New Jersey were stunned by a public announcement - ordering black people to leave the store on Sunday 14 March, 2010. Many even thought they misheard the announcement. The racist announcement came from the public address system and it went thus:
"Attention, Wal-Mart customers: All black people, leave the store now."
The announcement left Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. officials apologizing once again and black customers devastated. Investigations are underway - with security tapes being reviewed to determine who made the racist announcement.

Many Americans depend on Wal-Mart for all their needs, but some customers who were at the store on that fateful day have done what I would do - express anger and plan to boycott Wal-Mart until the issue is addressed.

Although Wal-Mart officials have condemned the announcement, more needs to be done - the perpetrator should be brought to justice! Racism is unacceptable and perpetrators should bear the full weight of the law.

According to the Associated Press, the Gloucester County Prosecutor began an investigation on Monday and said on Thursday that some public address system phones are accessible to the public and security cameras do not survey all of them. How unfortunate!

Keep in mind that this is not the first time Wal-Mart has ran into problems with black customers; black employees have had their share of problems with the retailer - Felicia Gray-Watson, dragged Wal-Mart to court in 1996 for racial discrimination in the workplace.

In February 2009, barely one year ago, Wal-Mart paid $17.5 million to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit - over truck driver discrimination. It is alleged in a lawsuit of May 2009, that Mexican employees face repeated verbal harassment.

Discrimination at Wal-Mart is not limited to race. The retail giant has also faced charges of sex discrimination - Wal-Mart agreed to pay $12 million to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit.

All in all, you would agree that discrimination is what Wal-Mart is made of. The recent bluntly racist public announcement at Wal-Mart store is just a reminder of the fact that the retailer does not welcome diversity.

What are your thoughts? Do you still think Wal-Mart treats people with dignity and respect?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Final Fall of Bill Gates?

The wind of change is truly blowing across the world and the status quo is being challenged like never before. Recently, tables turned in the field of politics when an unexpected African American challenged the status quo, running on a platform of change. He now sits in the highest office on the planet. In the business world, business moguls are being tested like never before. The visionary Microsoft co founder, Bill Gates has lost the title of the world's richest man - a title he has held for 14 of the past 15 years. The fall of Bill Gates to second place on the world's richest list could not go unnoticed, because he was replaced by an unlikely businessman, who just made his debut on the top spot.

The obvious question is - who is now the world's richest man? Who is the brain behind the fall of Bill Gates?

His name is Carlos Slim Helu. He is the richest man on the planet in 2010, according to Forbes. Now 70 years old, Slim is widowed, a father of 6 and a self made billionaire from Mexico.

What is his net worth? He is worth $53.5 billion, with up to $18.5 billion in the past 12 months.

When news of the fall of Bill Gates to second place in the world's richest list broke on CNN, as you would expect, many people made comments - sympathizing with the visionary. I read a couple of the comments. Some people argued that Mr. Gates donates a lot of money to charity and has not lost (in the true sense of the word) his net worth as such. I thought this was a lame argument! No doubt, he has made more money this year, but who doesn't donate to charity? According to Forbes, Mr. Slim has donated to the tune of $65 million to fund a research in genomic medicine.

Why did Bill Gates fall to second place? I think he has been knocked out of the way by the on-going digital tsunami in the telecom industry. Telecom has hit a new level and has propelled the Mexican telecom tycoon to first place on Forbes rich list 2010, relegating Bill Gates and America's "favorite investor" - Warren Buffet, to second and third place respectively.

Warren Buffet was the world's richest man in 2008 and second in 2009. In the past 12 months he made a mind boggling sum of $10 billion, but ranks third on the world's richest list 2010.

Does the rise of Carlos Slim atop the world's richest list signal the final fall of Bill Gates? Absolutely not! Bill Gates, now worth $53 billion, has seen tougher times over the years and has demonstrated remarkable resilience. It is worth reiterating that this is only the second time he has been edged out of the top spot, since 1995. For instance, in 2008, he dropped to third place on the world's richest list and managed to bounce back. I have no doubts that Bill Gates would reclaim his hard-earned place on this envied list.

As you can see, I am rooting for Bill Gates, but as a licensed representative of an Inc. 500 telecom company, the rise of a telecom tycoon to first place on the world's richest list is good news.

You would agree that telecom has an enormous potential and provides hugh opportunities (even for ordinary people like you) as discussed in earlier articles: How to Make Money Every time Someone Pays a Phone Bill and An Opportunity in the Nigerian Telecommunications Market.

Now that the tables have turned on Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, one pertinent question remains unanswered - Is telecom the new money making machine?

I would like to hear from you.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What happened to Religious Freedom in Nigeria?

Do you worship or practice your religion freely? If you do, count yourself lucky because in some parts of the world, religious freedom is a luxury many can't afford.

Roughly defined, religious freedom is the freedom of a person or community to believe in, practice and promote the religion of their choice without interference or harassment. It is a fundamental human right and ranks up there with other basic rights and liberties like freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly; enshrined in many human rights documents, including the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Article 18 of the UDHR states:
"Everyone has the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, or freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
You'd agree that it took decades of religious wars, bloodshed and persecutions for states to realise that one of the major roles of modern governments is to protect the religious choice of people within its borders. Unfortunately, some states, including Nigeria are yet to fulfil this moral and legal obligation. The question is - what happened to religious freedom Nigeria?

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation, with a population of more than 150 million. The country is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians - with the former predominantly in the north and the latter in the south.

Outburst of violence between Muslims and Christians is not uncommon and the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau State happens to be a notorious battleground, recording bloodshed from religious violence since 2001. In September 2001, sectarian violence claimed more than 1,000 lives; in May 2004, more than 700 died; in 2005, up to 500 deaths were recorded; in November 2008, at least 700 people were killed in Muslim-Christian riots; in January 2010, violence between Muslims and Christians broke out in the same city. This time, at least 70 people were killed and about 600 injured. Most recently - March 7, 2010, at least 200 Christian villagers in Plateau State were brutally killed, according to Human Rights Watch.

How does this concern you? Well, I asked myself the same question before I watched the following videos. Viewer discretion is advised!
What are your thoughts? Do you think the government has done enough to guarantee religious freedom in Nigeria? It is worth mentioning that some of the atrocities are allegedly committed by government forces, but as you'd expect, the government refuses to shoulder responsibility. Below is Part 2 of the video:
I have not independently verified the allegations, but one thing is indisputable - for many people in Nigeria, religious freedom is an illusive concept.

Nigeria has a moral obligation to comply with the principles of the UDHR. Moreover, the government of Nigeria is party to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and has a legal obligation to guarantee religious freedom to all individuals within its territory and to provide effective remedy to victims of violations of the rights recognized by the Covenant.
Do you think Nigeria is doing enough to curb sectarian violence? Is the government culpable? Above all, where is the international community?

Is this not massacre?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blue-Eyed Blond-Haired Terrorists

The attempted terrorist attack by a Nigerian - Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on Christmas Day 2009 took many Africans by surprise. Call it naivety, but the truth is prior to Umar Farouk's attempt to blow up Delta Northwest Airline flight 235, many had never envisioned the possibility of a West African suicide bomber or terrorist. The events of December 25, 2009 in Detroit raised many questions, many of which remain unanswered. Is terrorism taking on a new face? The international counter-terrorism community has not ruled out this possibility and there have been warnings of the possibility of terrorists who blend perfectly into their surroundings before attacking. It's worth mentioning that this fear is not unfounded because in September 2007, Germany arrested three terror suspects, two of whom were ethnic Germans. Did the arrest of September 2007 signal a new trend of blue-eyed blond-haired terrorists?

Earlier this week, a blue-eyed, blond-haired Pennsylvania woman was indicted for conspiracy to support terrorists and kill a person in a foreign land. The woman, Colleen LaRose, 46, now popularly known by her online name - "Jihad Jane", is being held at the Federal Detention Centre in Philadelphia.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, she recruited men to "wage violent jihad in South Asia and Europe, and recruited women on the internet who had passports and the ability to travel to and around Europe, in support of violent jihad."

Online, "JihadJane"said she wanted to become a martyr and use her European looks to "blend in with many people."

She was recruited when she posted a comment on YouTube that she is "desperate to do something" to help Muslims, according to the indictment. It's with no doubt therefore, that she agreed to kill a citizen of Sweden - Lars Vilks (the artist who angered Muslims by drawing the Prophet Mohammad with the body of a dog).

"JihadJane" actually traveled to Sweden in August to execute this mission. However, the mission was aborted when she was arrested 2 weeks after she was sent the direct order to kill Lars - in a way that would frighten "the whole Kufar [non-believer] world".

Experts have issued a dire warning that there might be more cases of "Individuals carrying American, British, French, any European passport who are indistinguishable from other citizens and who have been somehow radicalised..." (Jerrold Post, author of THE MIND OF THE TERRORIST).

You should know by now that holders of European passports do not require visas to travel to the U.S., hence do not have to visit U.S. Embassies or consulates for interviews.

Does the advent of a new trend of blue-eyed, blond-haired terrorists signal a new era in U.S.-Europe relations? Should European citizens be allowed to travel to the U.S. without visas? More importantly, do you still think only "Arab looking" people or people with Arabic names are potential terrorists?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Racism: A Taboo in the U.S. and a Celebration in Europe

Racism is a social ill that dogs every country on the planet, although it is widely condemned. Many states have recognized the fact that racism is immoral and illegal. No doubt, many have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) - a UN human rights instrument designed to eliminate racial discrimination and foster good race relations. As a matter of fact, as of today, 173 states have ratified this convention. It goes without saying that these states have the obligation to eliminate racism within their borders. European states are committed (at least on paper) to combat and eliminate racism (and other human rights violations), evidenced by their wide ratification of international human rights conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which explicitly prohibit racism and racial discrimination. I'll save you the trouble of an international human rights law lecture, but the point is that despite Europe's firm commitment to protect human rights, racism - which is a taboo in the U.S. is a celebration in Europe. The following video elucidates this assertion.
I don't know about you, but the day I watched this video I was appalled by the level of impunity - no arrests, no charges filed, no apologies. The perpetrators are known, but they go Scot free. This is what happens in Europe, where as of today, 47 major states have ratified the ECHR - yet racism remains a celebration, within their borders.

No doubt, victims of racial abuse (soccer players, in this case) are devastated by outright racism from fans. Unfortunately what they get in the form of justice is rhetoric from the authorities on how to deal with racism in the future - by abandoning matches and stripping teams of 3 points. Is this what we now call justice? Would abandoning matches and stripping teams of 3 points deter racist fans? How many witnesses do you need in a stadium to prove racial abuse in a court of law?

Now, I want you to imagine a Super Bowl game in the U. S., where fans on the stands utter monkey chants and throw bananas to the pitch. What would be the outcome? Would the perpetrators be allowed to walk away? I bet the response would be different.

European states should fulfil their obligation under international law to guarantee the fundamental human rights of people within their borders, irrespective of ethnicity, color, race etc. Racism is immoral and illegal, hence should be treated as such.

Above all, Europe should learn from the "Free World" (United States) that racism is a taboo; not a celebration.

Don't you think?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Immigrants Keep Sweden Clean

The fact that immigrants (irrespective of academic qualification) are reduced to cleaning Swedish cities is probably no news to you, especially after reading articles like - A Mockery of Education in Scandinavia and Odd Jobs for the Highly Educated in Europe. However, you might be interested to learn that official figures from Statistics Sweden (SCB) have confirmed my worries - Sweden has no regard for [educated] immigrants.

According to an article published in The Local, a new report by SCB for 2008 shows that immigrants make up 41% of people working as cleaners in Sweden, although this vulnerable group makes up only 16% of the workforce.

In Sweden's capital and largest city - Stockholm, 80% of office or hotel cleaners were not born in Sweden. Other major cities like Malmö and Gothenburg register high percentages of immigrants in the same field - 66% and 56% respectively. Are immigrants good for nothing else?

The report shows that a good number of foreigners are nurses, hospital orderlies (people who do the hospital jobs that nurses won't do), child minders and personal assistants. Foreigners were under-represented in the military, police force, fire fighter departments and air traffic control.

All in all, the report reveals some good news; foreigners are well-represented in certain professions - many are bus drivers, tram drivers, dancers and language professionals. You must be surprised I termed this "good news", but trust me - Sweden has come a long way to even let foreigners drive buses and trams.

Note that the report does not mention highly skilled and relatively well-paid careers - those enjoyed by lawyers, bankers, doctors, etc. In my opinion, these are "no-go areas" for immigrants in Sweden, as of today. Whether or not the situation will change, is a matter of time.

What are your thoughts about these shameful statistics? Is Sweden doing enough to integrate immigrants?

I look forward to reading your comments.

Monday, March 8, 2010

10 Favorite CNN Anchors and Reporters

Prior to the United States 2008 presidential campaign, I was not a fan of the Cable News Network (CNN), for obvious reasons - it focuses a lot on the U.S., with limited international news. During the campaign, I became a stunch fan of the news network - inspired by the professional reporters, anchors and political analysts like Bill Schneider, Roland S. Martin, Candy Crowley, David Gergen, who gave varying opinions about the man - Barack Obama who was taking the world by storm. The heated presidential debates on CNN were mind boggling and the panel of the "best political team on television" made the events surrounding the debates even more engaging. Below is a list (not in order of merit) of my 10 favorite CNN anchors and reporters, as of today.

1) Richard Quest: He covers breaking news and business stories. His regular programme - "CNN Business Traveller" is one of my favorite television programmes and source of one of my favorite quotes: "Wherever your travels may take you, I hope it's profitable." - Richard Quest.

2) Christiane Amanpour: She sits with royalties, interviews and debates with heads of states, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Pervez Musharraf, you name it - in her 30-minutes daily interview programme - Amanpour.

3) Larry King: Who doesn't know Larry King? He's the Emmy Award-winning host of CNN's highest-rated programme - Larry King Live. He's called the "master of the mike" and according to CNN has done more than 40,000 interviews.

4) Wolf Blitzer: He's CNN's lead political anchor and host of The Situation Room - a political news programme that airs every weekday and Saturday evenings. I vividly remember his coverage of the 2008 U.S. election night - when he said, "CNN can now project that Barack Obama, 47 years old will become the President Elect of the United States."

5) Anderson Cooper: He's one of the best anchors and reporters in the network, and host of the programme - Anderson Cooper 360°. I've watched him closely and would call him a "humanitarian in his own right" - for his role in the 2005 Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

6) Jeanne Moos: She reports on unusual stories, with a touch of satire. She cracks jokes and makes fun of an otherwise depressing story. You'd agree that news is predominantly depressing, but thanks to people like Jeanne Moos, you can always find something to laugh about.

7) Isha Sesay: She anchors one of my favorite weekly programmes - "Inside Africa". As a matter of fact, yesterday, I watched an edition of another programme - "African Voices", where she highlighted the remarkable story of Isaiah Washington.

8) Errol Barnett: He incorporates social media into CNN reporting, in his programme - "iReport for CNN". He joined CNN recently - in 2008 and has prospects of a bright future with the network.

9) Becky Anderson: Presenter of CNN's "Connect The World". She presents with confidence and talks just like Richard Quest. A lady to watch!

10) Fareed Zakaria: Anchor of "Fareed Zakaria - GPS", a weekly programme focused on international affairs. According to CNN, Fareed has a bachelor's degree from Yale university and a doctorate in political science from Havard University. The guy is well-schooled and knows what he's talking about. You won't be disappointed.

Now that you know my 10 favorite CNN anchors and reporters, I'm confident you can decipher my favorite topics in the news.

Who are your favorite CNN anchors and reporters?

I look forward to reading your comments.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Returnee African Americans

"The river that forgets its source will dry up."
Today, I watched a CNN programme -
African Voices (recorded) that stroke a chode and exposed me to the fact that more and more African Americans want to return to Africa to start a new chapter of their lives. Is this the beginning of a new era in African and African American relationships? Many have apparently realised that it's important to know where you come from. This is the story of Isaiah Washington (played Dr. Preston Burke in Grey's Anatomy) - how he discovered his roots in Sierra Leone, West Africa and is determined to rebuild the land of his ancestors. I found the story of this iconic returnee African American very inspiring and worth sharing On The Road To Success.

After taking the DNA test that traced his roots to Sierra Leone in 2005, Isaiah Washington embarked on an ambitious mission of rebuilding a nation ravaged by war. In 2006, he traveled to Sierra Leone - a journey that changed his role from the spotlight in Hollywood to the poverty-stricken streets of Sierra Leone. According to CNN's Isha Sesay, a child trying to collect clean water from a broken pipe in the streets, forced him to take positive action to help improve the lives of the people of one of Africa's poorest nations. While in Sierra Leone, a visit to an old slave castle inspired Washington to shift his focus to Africa and make a connection with his ancestors.

In a bid to honor their son, Isaiah Washington was inducted chief by the Mende people and given an African name - Gondobay Manga. In 2007, he founded the Gondobay Manga Foundation to help rebuild Sierra Leone - "one village at a time".

Isha Sesay points out that in 1987, Washington's 10 year plan was to become a major actor - he did. In the next 10, he wanted to make more money - he did. No doubt therefore, Washington told CNN that he has always done everything in 10 years and by 2016, he would've helped rebuild a nation.

I welcome Isaiah Washington's move to trace his roots and reconnect with his ancestors. Many others have found their roots, why not you? I encourage you to do the same because it would go a long way to break the curse of servitude and give you some peace of mind. Remember, "DNA has memory."

That said, time will tell whether or not Washington will accomplish his ambitious goal of rebuilding his motherland - Sierra Leone.

Are you in search of your roots? Would returnee African Americans be accepted in the continent because it's their heritage or would they be welcomed because of their potential to help rebuild the motherland?

As always, I look forward to reading your comments.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Finland

Yesterday, while reading a newspaper - HELSINKI TIMES, an article entitled " Ethnicity and health most common forms of work-related discrimination" caught my attention and reminded me of the need to shed light on the exploitation of migrant workers in Finland.

A migrant worker, as defined by Article 2 (1) of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers) is:

"... a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State to which he or she is not a national."
Migrant workers are predominantly a vulnerable group because of socio-political and economic reasons. Unemployment and economic instability prompts governments to give preference to nationals over foreigners seeking employment. The vulnerability of migrant workers is evidenced by the low rates of ratifications of the international conventions such as the ILO Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) , 1947 and the Migrant Workers Convention, 1975 - that seek to give migrant workers the "dignity they deserve as human beings." Many states (mostly western democracies), have not ratified the aforementioned conventions, leaving migrant workers exposed to untold challenges and human rights violations within their borders. In Finland, blatant exploitation of migrant workers is not uncommon.

I've been on the ground in Finland and seen it first hand - discrimination at the work place, xenophobia, reduced employment opportunities, gross exploitation, long workdays without appropriate compensation, you name it. This is the story of the average migrant worker in Finland.

Recently, my attention was drawn to the case of an African who was assigned a particular task at work, with 6 hours to get it done. It was clear that the African employee needed more time to effectively and conveniently do the job. A few days later, the employer reduced the number of hours - to 5 hours - for the same task. As if this was not enough, the unscrupulous employer added some more work. In other words, reduced number of working hours was accompanied by an increase in work load.

This is just one of the many cases of overworked and underpaid migrant workers in Finland, and it is not uncommon to hear such complains from migrant workers in Finland.

Do you think an employer in Finland would do the same to an employee of Finnish descent?

A study conducted by the Finnish League for Human Rights found that health and ethnic origin are the main reasons why discrimination at the work place prevails in Finland.

"In one example of a case, four foreign employees had been inadequately paid, their workdays were long, and they had worked every day of the week without overtime compensation. They also had not been allowed to take their annual leave and had been obligated to perform certain tasks without pay," says the researcher - Mikko Joronen.

Can you relate?

For the purpose of this article, permit me to mention the exploitation of  foreign students in Finland. Foreign students are also in trouble!

They are expected, by Finnish law, to work only 5 hours a day (25 hours a week) in order to have enough time for studies. Unfortunately, employers tend to exploit this limitation - giving students work that would normally take 7-8 hours and expect them to get it done in 5 hours. Talk about overwork and underpay!

In my opinion, the lack of Finnish Labour legislation in English (a language understood by most migrant workers) fuels the exploitation of Migrant workers in Finland. Unscrupulous employers know that employees with foreign backgrounds don't speak or understand the local language; hence do not know their rights and the legal protection available to them.

All in all, it is true that migrant workers in this Scandinavian country are void of dignity and respect. In this vein, I recommend the following:
  • Finland should ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and othe related Covenants.
  • Finnish authorities should provide labour legislation in English.
  • Finland's Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate should frequently carry out inspections.
  • The government should crack down on exploitative employers.
  • Victims of work-related exploitation should report to the Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate.
  • Victims of work-related exploitation should be compensated.
What are your thoughts? Are you a victim of exploitation at the work place? Why would a "democracy" fail to ratify Conventions designed to protect migrant workers? More importantly, what would be your advise to an exploited migrant worker?

As usual, I look forward to reading your comments.

For more information (statistics and surveys) about migrant workers in Finland, click here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Forced Labour in Armed Conflicts: Special Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo

I completed and defended my Master thesis, entitled Forced Labour in Armed Conflicts: Special Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It's true that it has been a long time coming, but it's also true that it's better late than never. Isn't it?

Now that I'm done, I thought it wise to publish it here so that you can have an idea about what the project is all about. Below, is an electronic copy of my Masters thesis (full text in PDF) - "Forced Labour in Armed Conflicts: Special Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo."

I hope this thesis strikes a chord with you and prompt you to move in the right direction. The conflict in the DR Congo is of particular interest to me because the region is so rich, yet so poor. Despite it's riches, the DR Congo is home to the world's poorest people - many of whom have been caught in an armed conflict, since 1996.

Is Africa in general and the DR Congo in particular, cursed by its riches?

As usual, I look forward to reading your comments.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to Escape a Snow Burial

It is no secret that the amount of snowfall this winter has been unprecedented and it has given global warming skeptics around the world more reason to question the rate at which our planet is warming. The United States has seen the heaviest snowfall since 1922 and Europe is constantly struggling with snow storm and icy road alerts. That said, snow might have managed to bury Barack Obama's climate change bill, but it is not done yet because it might bury you as well, if you're not precautious over the next couple of months. It's important to know how to escape a snow burial.

The advent of warmer weather is melting the hugh amounts of snow that have accumulated on roof tops. Hence, massive lumps of snow are bound to hit the ground. This is not rocket science, yet it is not uncommon for these massive lumps of snow to bury or injure unsuspecting passers-by.

On Friday 26 February 2010 in Southern Sweden, melting snow from a roof buried a baby in his pram. This is an extremely unlucky incident, but the baby survived with only a few scratches.

In the city of Stockholm, several people have been injured by snow from roof tops - including a 55-years-old woman who was serious injured by falling snow from a 7 floor building.

No doubt, these are unfortunate instances, but they go a long way to warn you about the possibility of a snow burial, as you go around you daily activities.

Yesterday, while taking out the trash, I felt as though someone had poured very cold water on my head. As I looked up, I realised that I was standing in position for a snow burial. Can you imagine what would have happened if the hugh amount of snow overhead crumbled on me? Perhaps I would have added to the statistics of the many unsuspecting people who have been buried or injured by falling snow from roof tops.

Have you ever envisioned the possibility of a snow burial? You might take it for granted and just walk around blindly, but the threat is real. Endeavor to look up before you pass or stand under any surface with accumulated snow. You might escape a road accident because you looked left and right before crossing the road, but get buried by snow at your door steps - simply because you failed look up. A word to a wise is enough!

Have you witnessed or managed to escape a snow burial?

As usual, I look forward to reading your comments and my wish for you is that you don't get buried or injured by melting snow from a roof top.

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