Monday, May 31, 2010

Jungle Justice in Cameroon

In Cameroon, it is not uncommon to see a criminal striped naked - mercilessly pounded with sticks, stones, metals, et cetera - bleeding profusely and set ablaze by an angry crowd. This is "jungle justice."

"Jungle law" applies to criminals of all ranks - from pick pockets to armed robbers and murderers. Many "criminals" have even been killed for attempted thievery. Civil offenders also face jungle justice in Cameroon. I vividly remember the case of an exiled traditional ruler - Vugah Simon II of Kedjom Keku, a village in the North West Province, who was beaten to death and set ablaze. What was his crime? He was accused of selling village farmlands and destroying the tradition of the village he once ruled.

In Cameroon, it is common to see jungle law applied in the presence of police officers - many of whom are either in favor of the practice or are powerless in the face of an angry crowd. In many instances, jungle justice is served to "suspects" - long before the police arrive on the crime scene. There have been shocking instances where criminals in police or gendarme custody have been seized by an angry crowd and beaten to death.

WATCH a shocking video footage of the application of jungle justice in the economic capital of Cameroon - Douala ...

What law sanctioned the above case? Who was the judge? Who was the defence counsel?

Is Cameroon a lawless state where angry citizens take the law into their own hands and sentence criminals to death on the streets?

Proponents of jungle justice have attempted to justify this inhumane practice. Many argue that the police force is corrupt and criminals bribe their way out. No doubt, it is true that the police force is corrupt but does this justify carnage and barbarism?

The government of Cameroon has failed - and continues to fail - in its [legal] obligation to protect victims of jungle justice. The Preamble of the Constitution of the Republic states that all accused persons are entitled to the rights of defence and are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. It also provides that every person has the right to humane treatment under all circumstances. It is worth mentioning that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights are incorporated into the Constitution.

Cameroon is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other international conventions that prohibit torture, cruel or degrading treatment and uphold the right to life. Article 6(1) of the ICCPR guarantees every individual's "inherent right to life". This article stipulates that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life and that the right to life shall be protected by law. Article 7 provides that no one shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.

The state must fulfill its obligation under international and national law to protect and promote civil and constitutional rights of all individuals. To achieve this, the state should move quickly to put an end to such abysmal violation of rights.

Citizens of Cameroon seem to be unaware of the fact that they, as citizens of a democratic state, have a constitutional duty to respect the rights of other people. It is not uncommon to hear citizens complain about violation of their rights. What about the rights of others?

Many people mistakenly think that criminals do not have rights. The truth is all natural persons have rights by virtue of being human and every individual has a duty to respect the rights of others.

Jungle justice is unlawful, inhumane and a violation of constitutional and fundamental rights of countless victims. The government of Cameroon should end impunity and hold perpetrators of jungle justice accountable.

*Photos courtesy - and

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Facebook violates Right to Privacy?

It is true that many Facebook users do not have a clue about Facebook's privacy tools and policies. Personally, I have come across many Facebook profiles - profiles of people I do not know - but their photographs, personal information and postings are visible to everyone. When I became aware of this privacy and security breach, I immediately checked the privacy settings of my Facebook account and behold - all my personal information and photographs were available to everyone, including third party applications and websites! No doubt, many users join Facebook and for one reason or the other, want their personal information to be visible to everyone, but what about those who want to share information only with family and friends? What about the right to privacy? Recently, there have been rising concerns about privacy on Facebook - does the social networking site violate the right to privacy?

Facebook currently has more that 400 million users - many of whom, unfortunately, are not aware of the privacy loopholes and security features that enhance privacy on the site. On 18 May 2010, a friend of mine on Facebook posted an article on her wall, entitled - Facebook launches new security feature. I must tell you - the article addresses an important security concern, but surprisingly, Facebook failed to notify many - if not all users about the new security feature. Were you notified? Does this ring a bell? Does Facebook really care about the right to privacy and the security of its users?

It is worth mentiong that Facebook has an "opt out" - rather than an "opt in" privacy policy. This means that as a user, you must opt-out of a privacy setting that breaches your privacy, rather than opt-in; if you don't need any privacy. Simply put, by default, Facebook breaches the privacy of users!

One of Facebook's core principles is this: if people share more, the world will become more open and connected. Does this justify the sharing of personal and contact information, photographs and postings of users without their informed consent?

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's Chief Executive, said in an article in the Washington Post, that "a world that is more open and connected is a better world". Of course, this is true - but only to an extent.

Zuckerberg seems to have quickly forgotten about Nona Belomesoff - an 18-year-old Australian girl, allegedly lured to her death by a man she met on Facebook; Zuckerberg seems to have hastily forgotten about Ashleigh Hall - a 17-year-old girl lured to her death by a convicted sex offender on Facebook. Cases like these, urgently remind you to exercise caution in online interactions. Sharing personal information online could be fatal!

Recently, Facebook shared user information with advertising companies. This move is a vivid reminder of the story of Shi Tao - a Chinese journalist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison because Yahoo! exposed his identity.

Some have argued that by accepting the terms and conditions of Facebook, users can no longer claim a violation of the right to privacy. This is a valid argument, but irrespective of what you think, you would agree that it is more important to chase the fox away before you blame the chicken for wandering deep into the forest. In this information age, a violation of the right to privacy - a fundamental human right - has far reaching consequences. Criminals, repressive governments, you name it, have now turned to the internet and social networking sites like Facebook to gather more information about their next victims. By sharing personal information with third parties and failing to give users effective control over what is shared - and with whom it is shared - Facebook puts millions of unsuspecting users in harm's way.

What can Facebook do about this?

Facebook should pay more attention to the right to privacy and give users effective control over the information they share. It would be great to have a default setting where private information is shared with "only friends". Besides, the complicated privacy control settings should be simplified.

More importantly, as a Facebook user, you should be more responsible and pay particular attention to your privacy and security settings, as well as the information you share on Facebook.

Like I said in an earlier article - Authentic Personalities on Facebook - Facebook has gone beyond connecting friends.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Turkey jails Children for Supporting Anti-Government Protests

This morning, while watching the BBC, I was outraged by the story of Berivan, a 15-year-old Kurdish girl jailed for 8 years in a high security prison in Turkey - on charges of supporting a terrorist organization. Of course, the charge - "supporting a terrorist organization" caught my attention and sent me digging deep into the story. I wanted to find out how the little girl was supporting a terrorist organization. Was the minor a terrorist recruit? Did the 15-year-old attempt to blow up an aircraft or a public building in Turkey? Further reading led me to even more outrageous stories - which confirm the fact that the government of Turkey jails Kurdish children for supporting anti-government protests in south-east Turkey.

According to the BBC, there are currently more than 340 Kurdish children behind bars in Turkey, on charges of supporting a terrorist group.

In April 2010, the Turkish High court sentenced 15 Kurdish children for throwing stones at police officers and for participating in anti-government protests - in support of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - an organisation listed as a terrorist group.

Founded in the 1970's - the goal of the PKK is to secure the cultural and political rights of the Kurdish population - an ethnic minority group in Turkey, as well as to create an independent Kurdish state. It is worth mentioning that the organization has been involved in an armed struggle against the government and it is currently outlawed in Turkey

Does the participation of minors in anti-government protests and "chanting illegal slogans" in support of the PKK, justify "exceptionally harsh" anti-terror law that jeopardize the welfare of children?

Talking to the BBC, a Kurdish child said: "They're always unfair to us; they don't want us to speak our own language - we want to speak our own language and use our own flag. We don't want to be ruled by others".

Turkey is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and has a legal obligation under international law to protect the rights of children. Mindful of this obligation - why is the government of Turkey unwilling to amend such a flawed law that puts children ( from a minority ethnic group ) in jail? Why are children held in high security prisons - together with hardened PKK militants?

If you ask me - Turkey should amend the harsh anti-terrorist law that jails children for supporting anti-government demonstrations. While it true that the PKK is outlawed for threatening the "indivisible unity" of the Turkish Republic - it is also true that Kurdish children held in high security jails are not PKK militants and do not pose any real threat to the national security of Turkey. The children are simply victims of the long-standing conflict between the government of Turkey and the PKK.

The European Union (EU) and the international community should mount pressure on Turkey to quickly end the shameful practice of throwing children into adult high security jails - in the name of fighting Terrorism.

Help sign a petition to push for the release of Berivan and all Kurdish children in Turkish jails, here.

*Photo from PressTv: Berivan, a 15-year-old Kurdish girl who is jailed in January 2010 for throwing stones at police officers and chanting illegal slogans.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sweden Investigates Forced and Child Marriage

You would be shocked to learn that - while many young people around the world look forward to summer holidays, a good number of minors in Sweden get nervous - as the holidays approach. Every summer holiday, some young people in Sweden are forced to travel to the home countries of their parents - where they become victims of forced and child marriage.

Simply defined, forced marriage refers to marriage without the consent of one or both parties. Forced marriage is not uncommon in parts of Africa, Middle East and Asia. In Europe and the U.S., the practice is predominant among immigrant communities. Sweden is one of the European countries that face the problem of forced marriage. This explains why the government of Sweden has made a move in the right direction - the government has launched an investigation aimed at tightening a ban on forced and child marriages.

On 20 May 2010, according to The Local, Sweden's Integration Minister - Nyamko Sabuni and Minister of Justice - Beatrice Ask, revealed, in a joint statement, that forced and child marriages in Sweden are often entered into abroad and that the victims are often victims of "honor-related violence and oppression". The ministers announced that the ultimate aim of the investigation is to gather information on forced and child marriage and to suggest measures that would adequately protect victims of such flawed marriages. The investigation will be headed by Göran Lambertz, former Chancellor of Justice.

This commendable move by the Swedish government comes less than 2 weeks after the marriage of a 49-year-old Nigerian Senator - Ahmed Sani Yerima, to a 13-year-old Egyptian girl, shocked and outraged human rights activists.

We need more democracies - like Sweden - to send a strong message that forced and child marriage is an unacceptable practice that shames us all. Governments should follow in the foot steps of Sweden and outlaw forced and child marriage - even if entered into abroad.

Forced and child marriage is a violation of human rights and rights of the child. This is the case because the practice deprives victims of their freedom and autonomy of person. There is no denying that forced and child marriage exposes young people to physical and mental abuse, exploitation and sexual abuse.

In Sweden, marriage under the age of 18 is illegal - even if entered into abroad.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Burundi Expels Human Rights Researcher

The state of Burundi has a track record of political and ethnic-motivated violence - since it gained independence in 1962. In 1972, ethnic violence erupted between the dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority. The violence displaced thousands of Burundians - predominantly Hutus - many of whom fled to neighboring Tanzania and later became known as the 1972 Burundian refugees. In 1993 - barely 20 years after the ethnic violence of epic proportions, the assassination of a Hutu President by Tutsi extremists, triggered another civil war - characterized by "acts of genocide" (according to the United Nations) against the Tutsi minority. In 1994, another President - a Hutu - was assassinated, sparking another wave of violence... Without going into the complicated history of ethnic-motivated civil wars in Burundi, the country now has another Hutu President - Pierre Nkurunziza - elected in 2005 and is relatively stable. Human Rights Watch has been on the ground - in Burundi - doing what it does best - protecting human rights by investigating and documenting human rights violations. As you would expect, the government of Burundi - like many governments - is not happy with the work of the organisation and has reached a decision to expel a Human Rights Watch researcher.

On May 19 2010, Human Rights Watch announced that the government has withdrawn the work permit of Neela Ghoshal - a researcher for the organization in Burundi. The obvious question is, why?

According to Human Rights Watch, the decision to expel the researcher came after the organization published a report about human rights violations in pre-elections violence in the country. The report, entitled "We'll Tie You Up and Shoot You", documents violence against members of political parties. The violence involves the ruling political party and the main opposition party. The report exposes untold impunity in pre-elections violence: the perpetrators are known, but no one has been prosecuted.

The government of Burundi based its decision to expel the researcher on allegations that the report by Human Rights Watch is biased against the government. Human Rights Watch, on its part, argued that the report is based on "meticulous on-the-ground research".

Human Rights Watch cautions that the history of violence in Burundi "threatens to continue" and "intensify" - if the government does not move quickly to investigate and bring perpetrators of pre-elections violence to justice.

In my opinion, the government of Burundi should reconsider the decision to expel Neela Ghoshal. Human Rights Watch is a credible and "independent" organisation. Allegations that the recent report is biased against the government and ruling party does not hold water. Above all, the government should investigate pre-election violence and and put an end to impunity.

Municipal, Parliamentary, Presidential, Senatorial and Local elections in Burundi are scheduled to hold from 21 May 2010 to 7 September 2010. It is worth mentioning that Human Rights Watch researcher - Neela Ghoshal is expected to leave Burundi by 5 June 2010.

*Photo of the President of Burundi - Pierre Nkurunziza, by World Economic Forum

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Malawi: Protect, Don't Convict Homosexuals

On 18 May 2010, a gay couple in Malawi was slammed with 14 years in prison with hard labour. What does this verdict represent - justice or injustice? Should Malawi protect or convict homosexuals?

The couple - Steven Monjeza, 26 years old, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20 years old, were convicted for gay sex - an act considered to be "against the order of nature". As strange as this may sound, gay sex remains a crime in Malawi.

Not surprisingly, the conviction has been celebrated by many Africans, including religious groups - who consider homosexuality to be a taboo and a flawed way of life influenced by Western values. No doubt, many see the fight for gay rights in Africa and other parts of the world as an attempt by Western democracies to force African countries and other developing countries to accept homosexuality as a way of life.

Believe it or not - when all is said and done, Steven and Tiwonge will not be welcomed home - in the southern town of Machinjiri. They will be rejected by their friends and relatives - simply because their sexual orientation is considered to be a taboo. The government of Malawi understands the danger they face. This explains why the couple was allegedly denied bail after their arrest in December 2009.

According to a survey by The Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press, Africans are overwhelmingly hostile towards homosexuality. The survey reveals a high percentage of people who argue that homosexuality should not be accepted in the following African countries:
  • Kenya ------------------------------------- 99%
  • Senegal ------------------------------------ 98%
  • Mali --------------------------------------- 96%
  • Ghana ------------------------------------- 93%
  • Nigeria ------------------------------------ 95%
  • Uganda ------------------------------------ 95%
  • Ivory Coast -------------------------------- 84%
  • Angola ------------------------------------- 62%
  • South Africa --------------------------------63%
Malawi should amend the Stone Age law that criminalizes homosexuality and take necessary steps to protect; not convict homosexuals! There is no denying that homosexuals are an endangered minority group in Malawi and many other countries in Africa. They are persecuted by governments that have the obligation to protect them and rejected by their communities - including family and friends. In Africa, homosexuals stand between the devil and the deep blue sea!

Despite the blow to human rights and gay rights - delivered by the verdict of Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa in the case of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga and the state of Malawi, neighboring Uganda, according to, has made a move in the right direction - by recommending the withdrawal of a controversial Anti-Gay Bill. This is an indication that slowly, but surely, Malawi and other African states with hard-line gay laws will protect; not convict homosexuals.

Personally - as an African, I grew up in a society where homosexuality is a taboo and I am yet to understand the sexual orientation, but without jeopadizing my religious views and moral standing - I advocate freedom of choice, the right to privacy and all other human rights and fundamental freedoms. Under no circumstance should homosexuality constitute a crime - especially when it involves two consenting adults.

*Photo by Eldson Chagara/Reuters extracted from

Monday, May 17, 2010

Legal Aid in Finland

A couple of weeks ago, a [foreign] student in Finland asked me a question: where do you turn to if you lend someone a hugh amount of money and he is unwilling to repay the debt? I immediately knew the question was about debt recovery, but unfortunately, I did not have an answer to the question. His question reminded me of the bitter truth that in Finland, many do not know where to turn to - for protection under the law. Not surprisingly, I made it my mission to find an answer to this important question. Considering the fact that many people cannot afford an attorney, you would agree that legal aid in Finland is indispensable.

The right to legal aid in Finland is guaranteed under Section 21 of the Constitution - which provides everyone with protection under the law! It therefore follows that in Finland, if you cannot afford a lawyer (in an event where you need legal assistance), you reserve the right to legal aid - a situation where the state partially or fully covers the cost of hiring a lawyer.

As obvious as this may seem, many people in Finland, especially immigrants, are not aware about the availability of legal aid in this Scandinavian country. This explains why many violations of the rights of this vulnerable group of people go unheard by a well-constituted court of law, despite the availability of legal aid in English language - in a land where Finnish and Swedish are the official languages.

In Finland, if you cannot afford an attorney, legal aid is readily available in any sort of legal matter - including assistance to creditors (debt recovery). Legal aid is only unavailable to companies, associations, corporations etc. It is worth mentioning that you are not eligible for legal aid if your insurance covers legal expenses. But there are exceptions to this rule.

Is legal aid in Finland free of charge?

The cost of legal aid in Finland depends on your financial situation: monthly income, assets and monthly expenses. The amount of money you pay is determined by the amount of income you have left, after your monthly expenses are reduced from your monthly income. However, keep in mind that if you have no means of income, legal aid is free of charge.

In Finland, there are numerous Public Legal Aid Offices. Make sure you go through the contact information of legal aid offices and pick the most convenient one. Personally, I like the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Legal Aid Office, locate at Mannerheimintie 4, 6th floor, 00100 Helsinki. I like this office because it is very accessible - located in the heart of the city centre - opposite the Swedish Theatre; next to Clas Ohlson.

My wish for the student - whose question inspired this article - is that he gets legal aid for debt recovery.

Visit the Legal Aid website for details about legal aid in Finland.

*Photo by dweekly

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Egypt: Young Blogger in Prison

Yesterday, while reading an article - jailed journalist dies in Cameroon, I came across a story worth telling; a story about Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman - a young blogger in prison in Egypt.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and a beacon of democracy - like I said in the article about Lars Vilks. Althought the right to freedom of expression is expressly guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many states, do not hesitate to deprive individuals of this right - especially when it is used to expose state-sponsored violations of human rights and democracy. Kareem is only one of the many individuals arrested and imprisoned for critical writings in Egypt and worldwide.

According to English Pen, Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, a 25 years old Egyptian blogger, was arrested in November 2006 and sentenced to four years in prison in Febuary 2007, for defaming the President of Egypt - Mohammad Hosni Mubarak and insulting islam.

Kareem is young - 25 years old and a growing voice of the voiceless. Here is what he wrote (in English) about himself on his blog:

"I am down to earth Law student; I look forward to help humanity against all form of discriminations. I am currently studying Law in Al Azhar University. I am looking forward to open up my own human rights activists Law firm, which will include other lawyers who share the same views. Our main goal is to defend the rights of Muslim and Arabic women against all form of discrimination and to stop violent crimes committed on a daily basis in these countries."

Does his statement strike a chord?

If you know anything about Egypt, human rights and women's rights, you would understand, drawing from the above statement, why Kareem was arrested. English Pen reports that he was arrested after publishing critical articles on his blog.

Kareem's prison term is expected to be over on 5 November 2010. You can show support for the young blogger, by taking action on the FreeKareem Blog.

It is unacceptable to have a young blogger in prison - simply because his government thinks his views are flawed.

*Photo from FreeKareem photo Gallery.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sweden: Investigate attack on Freedom of Expression

Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist famous for depicting Prophet Mohammed as a dog in 2007, was attacked on 11 May 2010 in Sweden, while delivering a lecture on freedom of expression at Uppsala University - one of the World's Top 100 Universities. His controversial drawing earned him death threats from many individuals and organizations, including Al-Qaeda - which put a $150,000 bounty on his head (according to The Local). Lars Vilks has been under police protection for a long time now. What happened yesterday?

Dramatic video clips of the attack on Lars Vilks in a lecture hall in Uppsala University, have surfaced. WATCH

Believe it or not - this is an attack on freedom of expression; an attack on a fundamental human right and beacon of democracy. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Although the police succeeded to get Lars Vilks to safety, the situation outside the lecture hall was even more rowdy - with people shouting "Allāhu Akbar". WATCH

Lars Vilks was attacked because, in 2007, he expressed himself and imparted an idea in a way considered to be flawed. An attack on Lars Vilks represents a threat to freedom of expression in Sweden and beyond.

Three people were arrested following the attack, but were released today - 12 May 2010. Meanwhile, Lar Vilks' blog has been hacked.

The dramatic attack on Lars Vilks comes only two months after I publish an article about Jihad Jane - a woman whose mission was to murder Vilks.

The attack is under investigation.

Photo from Flickr

Nigeria: Bring Senator to Justice for Child Abuse!

Nigerian Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, 49-year-old former governor of the northwestern state of Zamfara, has outraged human rights, women's rights and children's rights advocates, by marrying a 13-year-old Egyptian girl, in a mosque in the nation's capital. He allegedly married the 13-year-old after paying a dowry of $100,000. Following an unprecedented public outcry from hundreds of activists and petitions to the Nigerian Senate to investigate the report, Ahmed Sani Yerima justified his unlawful conduct by saying he is only following in the footstep of the Prophet Mohammed. The good news is, Nigeria' Senate has made a move in the right direction - it has ordered an investigation into the allegations, in a bid to bring Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima to justice.

Nigeria is party to international human rights conventions that guarantee the rights of children, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC).

Article 21(2) of the ACRWC expressly outlaws "child marriage" and "child betrothal" and calls on states parties to take action to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 (the Senator's wife is only 13). Numerous articles of the CRC are relevant to child marriage, including Article 19 (1), which states that:

"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 parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child."

Nigeria clearly has an obligation under international law to protect children within its jurisdiction from all possible violations of the rights of a child. The state is obliged to protect and guarantee the rights of the Senator's "child bride" and to bring the lawmaker to justice for abusing and violating the rights of a child.

Child and forced marriage is a shameful practice! It violates human rights and the consequences of the practice are far-reaching. Nigeria's authorities, including the new President - Goodluck Jonathan, should ensure that the investigation does not "die a quiet death" before justice is served.

Photo of Ahmed Sani Yerima from Wikipedia.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Employment Opportunities at the International Labour Organization

Are you talented and passionate about human rights? Are you looking for employment opportunities that can enable you make a global impact in the field of human rights? More precisely - are you interested in promoting decent work and international labour standards? If you answer all these questions in the affirmative - you might be interested in employment opportunities at the International Labour Organization (ILO) - an organization devoted to promoting decent and productive work.

The ILO is currently accepting applications for a couple of vacancies, including one that I found fascinating - Technical Adviser (P3), a fixed-term appointment with duty station in Abuja, Nigeria - heartbeat of Africa. For more information about employment opportunities at the ILO, visit the official website and click on current vacancies. Endeavor to apply NOW because deadlines are fast approaching.

The ILO is also currently accepting applications for an internship - International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) Internship for summer 2010.

Good luck!

--Photo by REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw
: A child carrying unbaked bricks to a brick factory in Raichak, India, in December 2000.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Finland and the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights: What would ratification mean?

Last week's article on Significant Human Rights Instruments raised some questions for discussion pertaining to the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights), 1990. The questions are: how do you establish that Finland has not ratified the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights? What would ratification mean for Finland and how would it affect current labour practices in Finland?

To establish that Finland has not ratified the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights - you have to take a look at the status of ratification of the Convention. As of today, 8 May, 2010, there are 31 signatories and 41 Parties to the Convention. In other words, 31 countries have signed the Convention and 41 countries have ratified it - and Finland is NOT one of them. Hence, it is clear that Finland has not yet ratified the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights.

Now, what would ratification mean for Finland and how would it affect current labour practices?

Ratification would mean that Finland has willingly assumed the obligations laid down in the Convention and can be held liable under international law for failure to fulfill its obligations. Besides the obligation to respect the rights of migrant workers enshrined in the Convention, Finland would be obligated to submit reports to the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW), as stipulated in Article 73 of the Convention. Finland would be expected to report on legislative, judicial, administrative and "other measures" taken to guarantee the rights of migrant workers and members of their families. The Committee would examine the reports and make recommendations to Finland - on what should be done to adequately protect migrant workers within its borders.

Migrant workers in Finland are having a hard time integrating into working life and lack adequate legal protection. Until recently, Finland was not a popular destination for work-related migration. Hence, judicial, administrative and legislative measures that protect workers in Finland do not have provisions that adequately protect the rights of the ever-increasing number of migrant workers. This explains why untold exploitation of migrant workers in Finland goes unpunished.

By ratifying the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights, Finland would benefit a great deal from the recommendations and expertise of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights. The CMW would help Finland develop practices and methods that adequately protect the rights of migrant workers in this Scandinavian country.

All in all, as of today - Finland has not ratified the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights. It is my opinion, that ratification of the Convention will positively impact current labour practices in Finland.

Picture by Jyrki Kasvi:
Main building of the Parliament of Finland (eduskunta / Riksdagen).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Swedish-Eritrean Prisoner of Conscience in Eritrea

On May 3 every year, activists, media and rights groups worldwide celebrate World Press Freedom Day and remind governments of their obligation to respect freedom of expression - a fundamental human right. This right is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, many states have failed in their duty to respect the right of freedom of expression. This explains why, today, there are millions of people imprisoned worldwide simply because their political or religious views are considered to be flawed. Many are prisoners of conscience and most of them have never been charged with any crime. This is the story of Dawit Isaac, an Eritrean-Swedish prisoner of conscience. On Monday 3 May, 2010 (World Press Freedom Day), rights and media groups in Sweden called on the European Union (EU) to take action to secure his release.

According to Amnesty International, prisoners of conscience are:

"men, women and children imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs or because of their race, gender or other personal characteristics."

Dawit Isaac is imprisoned in Eritrea for the "peaceful expression" of his beliefs. He is an Eritrean-Swedish author, playwright and journalist who has been in jail since September 2001 in Eritrea. As if this is not enough, he has never been charged. Isaac owned the now-banned weekly newspaper - Setit and was arrested on 23 September 2001, together with eight other journalists, during a massive state-sponsored crackdown on private press. He has long "disappeared" in custody!

On Monday, rights groups in Sweden called on the EU to "gradually halt" aid to Eritrea, until the Eraeiro prison - a "death camp" where Isaac is said to be held, is shut down, inmates released and given medical attention and an open trial.

Some have argued that halting aid to Eritrea, in a bid to secure the release of a prisoner of conscience, is a step too far - but there is no denying that a crackdown on journalists in Eritrea represents a threat to democracy and the fundamental right of freedom of expression.

It is worth mentioning that the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights ruled on May 2007 that the arrest and imprisonment of journalists in Eritrea - including Dawit Isaac, was unlawful and called on the Eritrean government to release and compensate the detainees. However, the journalists remain jailed. This is a testament to the government's defiance of international law.

Although Eritrea recalled its ambassador to the African Union (AU) in November 2009, the government is still bound by the decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. This is the case because the decision was handed down before the recall. It is interesting to note that relations between the government of Eritrea and the AU was severed after the AU called on the United Nations security Council (UNSC) to impose sanctions on Eritrea.

The UNSC Resolution 1907 imposed targeted sanctions on Eritrea - including asset freezes, travel bans and an arms embargo, for aiding rebels in Somalia. More targeted sanctions from the EU, as requested by Swedish media groups, would bring more pressure to bear on Eritrea and secure the release of the Eritrean-Swedish prisoner of conscience and his colleagues.

Take action to secure Isaac's release here.

Photo of Dawit Isaac and cartoon - courtesy of The Local and WAN-IFRA/Cambon respectively.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Misguided Immigration Law in Arizona

The governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer (picture to the right) on April 23, 2009, signed into law - a bill that makes it illegal for immigrants to be in the state of Arizona. While anti-immigration supporters have hailed the new law as an attempt to cut down illegal immigration in Arizona, civil rights and immigration advocates worldwide have expressed concern about the new law - that it endorses discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity and will lead to racial profiling. Even the U.S. President - Barack Obama has given the bill a thumbs-down, branding it "misguided". What makes the new [misguided] immigration law in Arizona so controversial?

Without going into the intricacies of the law - it does the following:
  • It criminalizes illegal immigration in the state of Arizona.
  • It calls for legal immigrants in the state to carry documentation to proof their immigration status.
  • The police are required to check anyone with "reasonable suspicion", for evidence of legal status.
The first two points are acceptable, but the last point - that requires police to check the immigration status of people they "suspect" are in the state illegally, is unreasonable and would lead to racial profiling.

Arizona is battling an influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico. It is no secret that the new immigration law seeks to curb illegal immigration from Mexico, hence it exposes Hispanic people to unreasonable police stops for evidence of legal status.

Talking about "reasonable suspicion" and racial profiling - imagine a situation where a group of Hispanics and a group of Caucasians are relaxing on the streets of Phoenix; Which group will be checked by the police with "reasonable suspicion" for evidence of legal status?

Considering the fact that Mexicans are Hispanic and police in Arizona are on the look-out for illegal immigrants from Mexico - the police are more likely to check Hispanics; not Caucasians, for evidence of legal status. Believe it or not!

While it is true that many illegal immigrants will be checked and arrested, it is also true that many Hispanic-Americans and other Hispanics legally residing in the state of Arizona will be racially profiled. Many will be unreasonably stopped and searched by the police - simply because of their ethnicity. On the other hand, many Caucasian illegal immigrants will go unnoticed - because of their ethnicity.

Jan Brewer said the new law was enacted due to Washington's failure to combat illegal immigration.

Does Washington's "failure" to address immigration issues justify the enactment of a law that violates the civil rights and liberties of a group of people?

According to FOX News - President Obama has called on the Justice Department to examine the legal implications of the new immigration law in Arizona. Many immigration rights groups, on their part, have legally challenged the constitutionality of the new law in federal courts.

In my opinion, the new immigration law in Arizona is miserably flawed and clearly legalizes racial profiling. Certain groups of people, especially Hispanics will suffer; while other groups have been given a blank check. By endorsing the unequal treatment of equals, the immigration law undermines the fundamental principle of equality before the law. It is truly a low point in U.S. immigration jurisprudence.

The law should be stayed by federal courts!

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