Tuesday, August 31, 2010

U.S: Undocumented Immigrants face sexual abuse in detention facilities

Last week, a news release by Human Rights Watch, revealed that in the U.S., undocumented immigrants face sexual abuse, harassment and assault in detention facilities. The immigration debate in many countries, including the U.S., has taken a negative tone, but should illegal immigrants in detention be left at the mercy of guards who sexually abuse, assault and harass women in detention facilities?

According to Human Rights Watch, in May 2010, a guard at the T. Don Hutto immigration facility in Texas allegedly "groped women" in detention. It is worth mentioning that this alleged sexual abuse of women at the T. Don Hutto immigration facility in not the only reported incident.

In 2008, five undocumented immigrants - women - were assaulted by a guard, in their rooms at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Texas.

You might be tempted to think that undocumented immigrants in detention face sexual abuse only in detention facilities in Texas because the aforementioned cases occurred in Texas, but reports of sexual abuse, harassment and assault have been documented in detention facilities in many states - New York, Washington State, New Jersey, Wisconsin, California, and Arizona.

It is true that the frequency of sexual abuse of undocumented immigrants in detention in the U.S. cannot be measured because many cases go unreported, since many victims are deported while abusive guards, more often than not, go unpunished and ready to take on the next victim.

You would agree that undocumented immigrants, by virtue of being human, have inherent rights, and should not be left at the mercy of guards in detention facilities. Undocumented immigrants are a vulnerable group of people who should be fully protected by the State. More importantly, perpetrators of sexual abuse in detention facilities should be brought to justice! Impunity sends a wrong message to perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse.

In a recent report published on August 25, 2010, Human Rights Watch sheds light on reported incidents, as well as allegations of sexual abuse in immigration detention centres in the U.S. The rights group also makes recommendations on how the issue could be addressed.

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. Department of Homeland SecurityImmigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Congress will make a moves in the right direction, based on recommendations by Human Rights Watch - to end sexual abuse, assault and harassment of undocumented immigrants in immigration detention facilities. 


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Police corruption fuels human rights abuses in Nigeria

In a news release published on August 17, 2010, Human Rights Watch took the Nigeria Police Force and government officials to task for institutionalized corruption, including extortion, embezzlement and bribery in the police force. The rights group expressed concern that endemic corruption in the Nigeria Police Force fuels human rights abuses in the West African country.

Following a research based on interviews with more than 145 victims and witnesses of corruption in the Nigeria Police Force, Human Rights Watch noted with  dismay that armed police officers commonly extort money, on a daily basis, from drivers and civilians at police roadblocks all across Nigeria. Unsuspecting people who resist extortion risk arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention. In some cases, people who refuse to pay bribes are subjected to assault and police brutality. Worst of all - some civilians who refuse to pay bribes have been shot to death.

In a report entitled, "Everyone's in the game: Corruption and Human Rights Abuses by the Nigeria Police Force," the rights group highlights the following ills in the Nigeria Police Forces, amongst other things:
  • Extortion and bribery
  • A system of "returns" in which enlisted officers are required to pay a portion of extorted money to senior police officials
  • Embezzlement by senior police officials
  • Justice and public safety for sale by police officers
  • Failures of oversight by government ministers and officials
More importantly, this detailed report on police corruption and human rights abuses in Nigeria makes recommendations on how police corruption - a deeply embedded problem in Nigeria could be rooted out.

It is true that police corruption is endemic in Nigeria and fuels human rights abuses, and it is also true that police corruption is not limited to Nigeria. The practice prevails in different forms in various parts of the world.

Irrespective of where police corruption prevails, one thing is clear - it fuels limitations on basic human rights, and undermines the Rule of Law.

While reading the news release about corruption fueling police abuses in Nigeria, I came across cartoons that capture police corruption in Africa's most populous nation. Make sure you check out the cartoons.

I also found it embarrassing to note that Nigerian police officers often allegedly ask ordinary citizens a shameful question: "anything for the boys?"

*Photo of Nigerian Policemen: NaijaFeed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Human rights groups urge Cameroon to decriminalize homosexuality

It is no secret that homosexuality is a criminalized taboo in Cameroon, like in Malawi and many other African countries where abuse and violence against homosexuals, transgender and bisexual people is common practice. In Cameroon, homosexuals are subject to arrest and prosecution by state functionaries. Members of this minority group also face rejection and violence from family members in their homes. It is against this backdrop that Human Rights Watch and Alternatives-Cameroun, a non-profit organization working for equality, tolerance and respect for socially excluded people in Cameroon, urged the government of Cameroon to decriminalize homosexuality and same-sex acts.

According to a news release by Human Rights Watch on 19 August 2010, suspected homosexuals in Cameroon are being arrested and beaten while in custody. Suspected lesbians suffer violence and expulsion from their homes, and in some cases, their children are taken away.

Cameroon is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Hence, the State has a legal obligation under international law to threat all individuals equally - without any distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion or other grounds.

It is true that many Cameroonians are in favor of the law that criminalizes homosexuality, and would kick against a call to decriminalize the practice. This is the case because many argue that homosexuality is an immoral "Western" practice. But it is also true that criminalization of homosexuality in Cameroon amounts to unequal treatment of individuals before the law, on grounds of sexual orientation. Believe it or not!

Decriminalizing homosexuality in Cameroon would go a long way to guarantee equal treatment of homosexuals before the law. However, only education and effective sensitization of the public would end widespread prejudice against homosexuals in Cameroon.

As a side note, I was elated by the Human Rights Watch news release about a "forgotten" country - Cameroon. You would agree that this West African country is, more often than not, left out in international human rights discourse. Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organizations should spend more time in Cameroon and shed light on more untold human rights violations in the country. Talking about human rights and the Rule of Law in Cameroon - the criminalization of homosexuality is only a tip of the iceberg.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

First issue of Dunia Magazine now available

On 8 August 2010, I introduced you to Dunia Magazine - a magazine that celebrates cultural diversity and breaks stereotypes. I also informed you that team Dunia have been working tirelessly to meet the Mid-August deadline for the first issue.

Today, I'm excited to inform you that the first issue of Dunia Magazine is now available and you can subscribe online.

john cena

Dunia magazine will be published quarterly (after every 3 months).

Team Dunia is dedicated to bringing the world to you in print!

Subscribe today on www.duniamagazine.com.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Ombudsman for Minorities in Finland

Eva Biaudet. Photo: Wikipedia.
An ombudsman, as defined by The Free Online Dictionary, is a government official, especially in Scandinavian countries, who investigates complaints against the government or its functionaries. An ombudsman for Minorities, for instance, receives and investigates complaints made by individuals from ethnic minorities. On 6 May 2010, a new ombudsman for Minorities - Eva Biaudet was appointed in Finland. She is in charge of promoting non-discrimination, equality and legal protection of minorities and foreigners in Finland.

The appointment of an ombudsman to advance the rights of minorities is always good news, but the appointment of Eva Biaudet was received with a pinch of salt. This is the case because the new ombudsman for minorities, Eva Biaudet, reportedly did not meet the job requirement.

Applicants for the position were expected, amongst other things, to be holders of a post-graduate university degree. This, according to Six Degrees was the first prerequisite for the job, and 29 out of 31 applicants for the position fulfilled this requirement. The new ombudsman for minorities, Eva Biaudet was one of the two applicants who did not have a postgraduate degree.

The million dollar question every objective person is asking is: why was Eva Biaudet appointed as Finland's new ombudsman for Minorities instead of someone (out of the 29 applicants who had a postgraduate degree) who fully met the requirements?

Why did the authorities bend the rules in this case?

It is interesting to note that, as mentioned earlier, there were eligible applicants (from ethnic minorities) with postgraduate degrees, like Husein Muhammed - a foreign-born lawyer and politician.

The new ombudsman for Minorities in Finland was appointed more than 3 months ago, but questions remain unanswered: are foreign-born individuals who meet the prerequisite for the position of Ombudsman for Minorities "unqualified" to receive and investigate complaints from ethnic minorities and foreigners in Finland?

Despite the controversy surrounding the new appointment, the office of the Ombudsman for Minorities is designed to protect and promote the rights of ethnic minorities and foreigners in Finland.

The office can be reached via telephone: +358 (0) 71 878 8666, on weekdays between 10am and 12pm.

More information about the role of the Ombudsman for Minorities in Finland is available on the office website.

Eva Biaudet was appointed for a 5-year term. 
*Photo: Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Michael Anthony Green: Wrongful Conviction for Rape in Texas

I'm a jurist. But, with due respect for the law, sometimes I wonder whether some court verdicts represent justice or mere courtroom victories. The case of the wrongful conviction of Texas man - Michael Anthony Green for rape leaves me with no doubt that a good number of court verdicts, are arguably mere courtroom victories.

Michael A. Green, now 44 years old, is an African American male who was wrongfully convicted of rape, and spent 27 years of his life in jail, for a crime he did not commit.

Today, while reading the story of Michael A. Green, it dawned on me that this could happen to anyone. You could be wrongfully accused and wrongfully convicted by a well-constituted court for a crime you did not commit, especially in the U.S criminal justice system where the law allows victims of crime to identify suspects in a lineup or photographs. According to Innocence Project, most of the 258 wrongful convictions in the U.S. stem from flaws in the the justice system like misidentification. Michael A. Green is one of the many innocent people convicted by a flawed criminal justice system.

In 1983, Michael A. Green was arrested and wrongfully convicted by a well-constituted court for abducting and raping a white girl. Pictures of suspects were shown to the victim and behold - she identified an innocent man - Michael A. Green - as one of her four attackers in a lineup of suspects.

Following the misidentification, Michael A. Green refused to plead guilty and was sentenced to 75 years behind bars.

After spending 27 years in prison, Michael A. Green was released a few weeks ago after DNA testing exonerated him. It is worth mentioning that the DNA testing was in line with a law passed in 2001 in Texas - granting convicts the right to request DNA tests to prove innocence.

Michael A. Green was exonerated of rape and walked out of jail a free man on 30 July 2010, but many innocent people are still behind bars.

What are your thoughts? Did the conviction of Michael A. Green represent justice for the victim or a mere courtroom victory?

Many innocent men and women are victims of courtroom victories and remind incarcerated in jails all around the world for crimes they did not commit. Reviewing cases to prove innocence is worthwhile in the administration of justice. More importantly, the process of identifying suspects in lineups or mug shots should be reviewed. Commonsense tell you that victims of rape are more often than not traumatised, and in the quest for justice, could pick a wrong person as the assailant.

Read more about the circumstances surrounding the wrongful conviction of Michael Anthony Green for rape in Texas, here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lebanon: Discrimination against blacks and maids in Swimming pools

Earlier today, I was shocked by a disturbing report about discrimination against blacks and maids in swimming pools in Lebanon. Lebanon is reportedly on the fringes and at times at the heart of the Middle East conflict and it's one of the most complex and divided countries in the region. News reports about the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel and the volatile situation in the region have completely eclipsed untold human rights violations, including discrimination and racism, suffered by minorities in Lebanon. Discrimination and racism against blacks and maids is rampant in Lebanon.

While the international community focuses on how to foster peace and stability in Lebanon and the Middle East, minority groups such as blacks and Asians and other under privileged individuals such as maids (mostly from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Ethiopia) battle discrimination, oppression and abuse in Lebanon.

Following numerous complaints about growing discrimination against blacks and maids in swimming pools and beaches in Lebanon, two activists, armed with a hidden video camera, staged a visit to a beach (Sporting Beach Club) in the capital of Lebanon - Beirut - to uncover alleged blatant discrimination against blacks and maids in the facility. The video footage of their visit is shocking and shames us all. WATCH...

It is hard to believe that this happened in July 2010; not 1950!

People should not be excluded from swimming pools because of race, skin color, social class, gender or social status.

It is disturbing that maids and people of African descent are not allowed to access recreational facilities. But even more disturbing is the fact that some facilities have signs that are reminiscent of the apartheid era in South Africa and the hostile environment against blacks in the U.S. in the 1950s. The signs expressly state who/what is not allowed in the facility. A sign posted in a Beirut swimming pool for instance prohibits radios, cameras, MAIDS, etc.

The impunity with which these swimming facilities operate is alarming.

Racism, segregation and class stratification has no place in modern society. The unity government of President Michel Suleiman should make a move in the right direction and restore the dignity of the many blacks and maids who face discrimination in swimming pools in Lebanon.

Join the Anti-Racism Movement in Lebanon on Facebook and take a firm stand against racism and discrimination.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dunia Magazine: Celebrating cultural diversity and breaking stereotypes!

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been working in partnership with some great ladies blogging at blogface2face and Growth Mentality, to produce a magazine that would connect you with ordinary people doing extraordinary things around the world. After many hours of brainstorming, we settled on a name - DUNIA - meaning world in Swahili. The name captures the vision of the magazine - which seeks to connect us with diverse cultures around the world, and shed light on how your cultural values affect your level of success. Dunia Magazine brings the world to you in print!

The cover of the first issue of Dunia Magazine is ready and was first released to the public on 17 July 2010 for comments and suggestions. I must tell you, the feedback has been great!

Many prospective readers are excited about the vision of Dunia Magazine, and have responded in their numbers to a call to join the mailing list on the Dunia website.

Like every great project developed by ordinary people like you and I, Dunia Magazine has met with a fair share of skepticism.

Two weeks ago, with great excitement, I sent out messages to a couple of friends on Facebook, urging them to make suggestions and join the mailing list. As you'd expect, some friends responded, while others did not. Among the replies, one caught my attention: A good friend sincerely said the first cover is obviously looking good, but he would comment only after the FIFTH issue of Dunia Magazine. He meant no disrespect, as he pointed out that projects like this are always glamorous in the beginning, but fade away with time. He pointed out that sustainability would earn his praise. This, no doubt, is a valid argument, and luckily, team Dunia has what it takes to earn his praise.

Would Dunia Magazine stand the test of time?

Absolutely! With your support, Dunia Magazine will be released quarterly. The Dunia team has what it takes to sustain the project and in the process - break stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudices about different cultures and people.

The team has already written about the vision of Dunia Magazine, and how you can advertise on Dunia Magazine. But, it is worth reiterating that the content of the first issue is ready and we're now working hard to put Dunia Magazine on print and on the map. We're on schedule and copies of Dunia will be available as planned in mid-August 2010.

For updates, please visit the Dunia Magazine website and join the mailing list.

Let us know your suggestions and thoughts on the forthcoming magazine.

Dunia Magazine is truly the magazine that connects us!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Nicolas Sarkozy fans flames of xenophobia in France

Xenophobia, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, refers to fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange and foreign. Recent events in France point to the fact that French President - Nicolas Sarkozy is fanning flames of xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments in the European country.

On 30 July 2010, Nicolas Sarkozy warned that foreign-born French citizens would be stripped of French nationality if they "threatened the life of a police officer" or commit serious crimes. For right-wing anti-immigration supporters, this sounds like good news, but for people of good conscience and in the eyes of international human rights law, such a move would be discriminatory. Explicitly linking immigration to crime and fanning flames of xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments is outrageous.

In the same month of July 2010, the forced eviction of African immigrants from a camp in the outskirts of Paris shocked rights advocates, and Nicolas Sarkozy promised to destroy the camps of the Roma minority and evict this vulnerable group of people who face untold discrimination in France and beyond. He accused the immigrants for a spike in crime in France.

It is interesting to note that Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have forgotten that he is the son of an immigrant. According to the BBC, the president is the son of a Hungarian immigrant and his mother is of Greek Jewish origin. In other words, Nicolas Sarkozy is of foreign origin. Why then does the President fan flames of xenophobia in France?

Why does Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of an immigrant, stigmatize less fortunate immigrants?

Foreign-born French citizens, non-immigrant French citizens and immigrants in France are all natural persons entitled to equality before the law. Explicitly linking immigration to crime could win Nicolas Sarkozy some votes in the up-coming 2012 elections, but would have dangerous repercussions on a country that has benefited enormously over the years from a long history of immigration and diversity.

You would agree that politically, immigrants are an easy target and immigrant-bashing is more often than not a last resort for increasingly unpopular politicians.

Ahead of the 2012 elections, Nicolas Sarkozy is unpopular, running out of ideas, running out of time and is in desperate need of votes from anti-immigration right-wing voters - as argued in an editorial on The New York Times, titled Xenophobia: Casting Out the Un-French.

It remains to be seen whether fanning flames of xenophobia in France would win Nicolas Sarkozy another term in office.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Obama meets young African Leaders in the White House

On 3 August 2010, President of the United States and leader extraordinaire, Barack Obama met with young African leaders in the White House, to discuss the vision for moving Africa forward. In the East Room of the White House, Africa was represented by 115 young African leaders from 40 sub-Saharan countries.

Speaking to the young African leaders, the President touched on key issues, including:
  • Business
  • Jobs
  • Trade
  • Investment
  • Agriculture
  • Technology
  • Bribery and corruption
  • Good governance
  • Human rights
  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Civil society
  • Health (HIV/AIDS)
  • Democracy, etc.

A friend of mine on Facebook shared the following video of Obama's town hall with young African leaders, and I thought it wise to share the video with you. WATCH...

I must tell you - I was not in the White House during the town hall, but as a young African watching the video, I felt connected with the President like he was talking to me directly.

The questions posed by the young African leaders sounded very much like questions I'd ask the President in such an occasion. I was particularly impressed by the question posed by the young African leader from Mozambique, about Obama's recommendation to young people in Africa - in terms of principles of non-violence, good governance and democratic principles, as well the question asked by Sidney Chelsea from Zimbabwe.

The fact that President Obama took Africa's octogenarian leaders like 86-year-old President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe to task was commendable. This is the case because, as Nelson Mandela once said, an "octogenarian shouldn't be meddling in politics."

Obama's meeting with young African leaders in the White House signaled a remarkable step in moving the continent forward. The future of Africa is truly in the hands of young African leaders.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

France: Forced Eviction of African Immigrants in Paris

Earlier this week, I was appalled by a video footage of French police officers enforcing a forced eviction of African immigrants, predominantly women and children, from a housing camp in a suburb in Paris, France. The video, reportedly shot on 21 July 2010, shocked rights advocates worldwide, and is clearly a testament to abysmal failure of French authorities to provide immigrants with a basic need - shelter.

The following amateur video reveals what happens when a democracy fails to provide adequate housing to a vulnerable group of natural persons, irrespective of their origin. WATCH...

It is true that some of the women roughly evicted by police from La Courneuve neighborhood are undocumented immigrants, but it is also true that many are legally residing in France and the government has an obligation to provide adequate housing to all individuals within its borders.

As you would expect, many have blamed the immigrants for carrying children on their backs during a protest. Some have even suggested that the women used children as "human shields" - completely ignoring the fact that these women are homeless and have no decent shelter to leave their children.

Did the police use excessive force in executing the eviction of these African immigrants?

There is no denying that immigrants are a particularly vulnerable group of people in desperate need of protection. Unfortunately, more often than not, what they get is untold violation of their ever dwindling basic rights in the countries where they seek protection and a better life.

French authorities have failed to provide immigrants with the basic right to housing . Hence, in a desperate attempt to provide shelter for their families, immigrants pitch tents in the "roughest neighborhoods" in Paris and beyond.

It remains to be seen whether the forced evictees in the above video would be provided adequate housing in France or return to camps after such a traumatic encounter with French law enforcement officers.

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