Thursday, September 30, 2010

House rules and regulations

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Legal action against France over mass Roma expulsion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy birthday, On The Road To Success!

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

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

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

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

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

Happy birthday, On The Road To Success!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fellowships in International Human Rights: 2011-2012

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Help Uganda's forgotten children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

UN report: Israel violated international law during flotilla raid

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

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

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

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

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

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

A defiant Israel argues that the report is biased.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sweden: Surge in Xenophobia puts Sweden Democrats in Parliament?

Photo of a member of Sweden Democrats, 1996: Expo.
You've probably heard that Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) - a xenophobic, extremist, far-right political party won seats in parliament for the first time since the party was founded in 1988. The break through came in a historic parliamentary election held on September 19, 2010. Does this radical-right political gain represent a surge in xenophobia in Sweden?

Following the election, Sweden Democrats secured 20 out of the 349 seats in the Swedish parliament (Sveriges riksdag). 20 seats might sound negligible, but with only 20 seats, this party that describes itself as nationalist has become a key player in Swedish lawmaking.

I must confess - prior to Sunday's general election, I knew nothing about the ideology of Sweden Democrats. But after reading about the party, I'm convinced that this election signals a surge in xenophobia in Sweden.

Sweden Democrats make no secret of a xenophobic and discriminatory ideology which targets immigrants and ethnic minorities, including Sweden's Sami  people (an indigenous ethnic minority group in Sweden). I won't dwell on the SD ideology, but it is worth reiterating that most of the party's beliefs are outright discriminatory and extreme.

Like many observant people who have kept a close eye on recent events in Sweden, including an increase in "white power" groups and the anti mosque demonstration in Gothenburg - Sweden's second largest city, I'm not surprised that a party with racist roots has secured seats in the Swedish parliament.

A lot more has happened, but these two instances clearly signaled a surge in xenophobia in Sweden.

Many Swedes, immigrants and foreign students in Sweden have expressed concern about this victory for xenophobia. In an article highlighting the reaction of some voters, published on the BBC website, a Swede (my classmate at Lund University) living in Norrkoping wrote, "I'm sad... but I'm not altogether surprised." Another voter in Malmö wrote, "... I feel that we are no longer the tolerant country we once were."

On Facebook, I was moved by the reaction of a foreign student living in Sweden. Following the election, the student updated his Facebook status with the following words: "Now that the Extreme Far Right Nazist party (Sverige Democraterna) has been voted into parliament, i guess it's time for me to flee the country... eller hur???"

Sweden is already tough enough for immigrants, many of whom meet unprecedented obstacles in the quest for acceptance and integration into Swedish society. With Sweden Democrats in parliament, minority rights and the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers in Sweden will dwindle.

History links Sweden Democrats to neo-Nazis.

Only time will tell what the historic election of September 19, 2010 will do to Sweden's reputation of promoting and protecting principles of human rights and equality.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lady Gaga: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" video message

I'm not a big fan of Lady Gaga and I never thought I'd be writing about the popstar, but like I said in an earlier article - when celebrities use their star power to do more than entertain, they earn my admiration and respect. This explains why I recently became a fan of Ben Affleck, Isaiah Washington --- and now Lady Gaga --- whose recent video message to the U.S. Senate about the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy caught my attention.

The video was posted on YouTube on September 17, 2010 and as of this moment, it has registered 1, 303,113 views. The video message from Lady Gaga about the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy speaks for itself. WATCH...

I have newfound respect for Lady Gaga for standing up against injustice and inequality in the United States armed forces. Homosexuality remains a controversial topic and very few "straight" individuals have the audacity to publicly defend the rights of homosexuals.

It is true that I'm not trying to "agree with" or justify homosexuality. But it is also true that I'm an advocate for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other significant human rights instruments that prohibit discrimination and unequal treatment of individuals. Article 2 of the UDHR states: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status..."

Where would you draw the line?

As Lady Gaga rightly pointed out in the video message - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is discriminatory, unconstitutional and should be repealed.

Christiane Amanpour, one of my favorite news reporters and anchors once said, "it often takes high-profile people to remind the world of a massive injustice." Join Lady Gaga to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
*Photo: Lady Gaga official Site.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Students call U.S. lawmakers to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Photo source: The Huffington Post
Simply defined - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a policy that forbids gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers in the United States military from revealing their sexual orientation. The policy also restricts military superiors from asking or investing the sexual orientation of servicemen and women - unless there is solid evidence of homosexuality. Civil rights advocates - including President Barack Obama - have advocated a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy to allow homosexuals to freely and openly serve in the U.S. armed forces. On September 14, 2010, in a commendable display of tolerance and human rights advocacy, two University of Colorado students organised a small campaign - calling U.S. lawmakers to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

The two students - identified as Lauren and Ellie - posted a video of themselves on YouTube, calling the office of the Senator for Colorado - Michael Bennet. In the short phone call, they urged the lawmaker to vote in favor of a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." WATCH...

From the video, it is evident that the students are firmly against the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, and guess what --- Senator Micheal Bennet responded to the students' call in a very short video. WATCH...

Last week, I wrote about using video for human rights advocacy. These two young students have just made their voices heard through video and have drawn their senator's attention to their campaign.

What are your thoughts? Should "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" be repealed?

On September 9, 2010, a federal judge ruled that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is unconstitutional, but remains to be seen whether the U.S. Senate will repeal the law.

On a side note: I look forward to the day when students and voters in my country - Cameroon - would be able to freely call up lawmakers (parliamentarians) and make their voices heard. Until that day, I'm afraid the concept of "government of the people, by the people, for the people" is a myth in Cameroon and many other African states.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nigeria: Goodluck Jonathan declares presidential candidacy on Facebook

It was announced on the 3:00 pm newscast on CRTV that Nigeria's acting President - Goodluck Jonathan - on September 15, 2010 declared his candidacy for the 2011 presidential race on his Facebook page. This might be no news in the West - where many leaders have Facebook accounts, but it is breaking news in Africa - where in a bid to evade accountability, leaders distance themselves from social networking sites and from the people they lead.

You would agree that creating a Facebook page means Goodluck Jonathan is open to suggestions, criticism and is ready to listen to Nigerians on the social networking giant.

In a Facebook note entitled, "Declaration of Intent For The 2011 Presidential Race," Goodluck Jonathan reminded his "dear compatriots" that four months ago "providence" made him president following the death of his predecessor - Umaru Musa Yar'adua, and called on Nigerians to give him their "support" and "prayers."

I have read the declaration of intent and I was sincerely impressed by what the President said, amongst other things:
"Today, I confirm that after wide and thorough consultations spanning the six geo-political zones that make up Nigeria, with members of my family, my party, the opposition, civil society, the Private Sector, members of the Labour Unions, religious leaders, youths and student groups and our revered traditional institutions, I Goodluck Ebele Jonathan by the grace of God hereby offer myself and my services to the Nigerian people as a candidate for the office of President in the forth coming 2011 elections."
I noted that Goodluck Jonathan refrained from making many promises in his declaration of intent to run for president. Talking about promises, he simply said: "The only promise I make to you my friends, fellow citizens and Nigeria, is to promise LESS and deliver MORE if I am elected."

Pundits would term the creation of a Facebook page a "tactic" and an attempt to score political points, but without going into politics, permit me to reiterate that by creating a Facebook page, Goodluck Jonathan has demonstrated skills of good governance, leadership, transparency and accountability.

It is worth mentioning that president Goodluck Jonathan joined Facebook on June 28, 2010 in fulfillment of a promise made to students at the University of Port Harcourt in May 2010. As of today, 211, 682 people like Goodluck Jonathan's Facebook page.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Goodluck Jonathan represents a new generation of African leadership? Besides inspiring hope on Facebook, would Goodluck Jonathan deliver democracy, peace , human rights and development in Nigeria - if elected in 2011?

By the way, on May 6, 2010, BBC stated that "as his name suggests, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has a habit of being in the right place at the right time."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

DR Congo: Worst Place to be a Woman

The Democratic Republic of Congo is arguably the worst place to be a woman. An armed conflict in the West African country has been described in the most harsh terms:
  • The deadliest conflict since World War II
  • Africa's First World War
  • The great war of Africa
  • The greatest humanitarian crisis on the planet
Words cannot aptly describe the conflict in DR Congo; words cannot aptly describe the suffering of the Congolese people who have faced unspeakable human rights violations - including rampant rape, forced labour and the worst forms of child labour - for more than a decade.

In DR Congo, both government troops and rebel groups use rape as a weapon of war. The casualties of the war are numerous and women and girls are the most vulnerable. More than 200,000 women and girls have been raped in DR Congo since 1998 and there is a growing need to protect civilians.

A video by Human Rights Watch paints a grim picture of DR Congo - the worst place to be a woman. WATCH...

Systematic mass rape and other forms of violence against women and girls in DR Congo have been documented and reported by Human Rights Watch and other rights groups and individuals for more than a decade, and the largest UN peacekeeping force - United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), formerly known as United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) - is on the ground in Congo, but it remains to be seen whether civilians would be protected from violence in a country that is so rich, yet so poor and unstable.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

George Soros grants $100 million to Human Rights Watch

"Human rights underpin our greatest aspirations" - George Soros
Human Rights Watch sent a fascinating email on September 8, 2010 to the organization´s supporters. The title of the email read - "George Soros's Gift, and Challenge, to Human Rights Watch." The email, signed by American Attorney and Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, announced that George Soros will grant $100 million to Human Rights Watch.

Who is George Soros?

George Soros is a businessman (stock investor), philanthropist extraordinaire and proponent of liberal politics. He was born in Hungary in 1930 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1956. He has commendable track record of donating staggering sums of money to support causes or organisations that push for democracy, human rights and good governance.

According to Human Rights Watch, the grant of $10 million a year over a period of 10 years will be used to "expand and deepen" the presence of the Human Rights Watch around the world, by staffing offices and funding research that uncover human rights violations.

This grant highlights the value of human rights. Unspeakable human rights violations occur in many "forgotten parts of the world," and George Soros clearly understands the urgent need to document and report such violations, and pressure governments to hold perpetrators accountable. With such a hugh donation, Human Rights Watch would have more researchers on the ground to give voice to the voiceless.

On a side note: Last month, Human Rights Watch urged Cameroon to decriminalize homosexuality. It is worth mentioning that the organization rarely reports violations in Cameroon, perhaps due to insufficient resources. Personally, I would like to see Human Rights Watch use part of this generous grant from George Soros to carry out more research in Cameroon - documenting and reporting otherwise unreported human rights violations in the West African country, especially as the country gears up for elections in 2011.

As a "challenge," George Soros expects Human Rights Watch to raise another $100 million that would further facilitate the work of the organisation.

"Invest in human rights" by making a donation and help Human Rights Watch meet the George Soros challenge.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Using video for human rights advocacy

On September 6, 2010, I watched an educative video series on WITNESS. The video highlights the art of using video for advocacy - human rights advocacy.

It is said - a video is worth more than a thousand words. In this light, video has a greater potential to get the word out and effect change in the field of human rights.

The video series touches on four key issues relating to the use of video for human rights advocacy:
  • Getting ready to make a video
  • Filming
  • Protecting interviewees
  • Editing and distrubuting the video
Below is the video series (four videos that play continuously). WATCH...

With the advent of cellphones with built-in video cameras, most people possess cameras and can document human rights violations if they happen to be at the wrong place at the right time. I hope this video series inspires people of conscience to use video to raise awareness about human rights violations they witness.

Read more about how to effectively use video advocacy, here.

Permit me to leave you with the slogan of WITNESS - "See it, Film it, Change it."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Israel: Arab man convicted for consensual sex with Jewish woman

This happened more than a month ago in Israel, but, like many people, I missed the story. In July 2010, an Arab man was convicted of rape after he posed as a Jew and had consensual sex with the Jewish woman. 

Sabbar Kashur - a 30-year-old married Arab male met a Jewish woman in Jerusalem, told her he was a Jewish bachelor and the two consenting adults had sex shortly after the meeting. The woman reported Kashur to the police after she later discovered that he was not a Jew. Kashur was charged, convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison for "rape by deception."

According to The Guardian, Arabs make up only 20% of the population of Israel, and Arabs are commonly marginalised.

As you would expect, Sabbar Kashur has criticised the verdict of the Jerusalem District Court - branding it "racist".

Rape by deception, according to Wikipedia, is a crime recognised in some jurisdictions including California and Tennessee in the U.S. Incidentally, it is a crime in Israel. Hence the conviction of Kashur for having consensual sex by deception with a Jewish woman is justifiable under Israeli law.

Perhaps, the case would have been decided differently in a European court, where the use or threat of violence and the absence of consent are key ingredients in the definition of rape.

Sources reveal that Sabbar Kashur will appeal the conviction for consensual sex.

*Photo: The Guardian.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Employers abuse migrant domestic workers in the Middle East

A tweet by Migrant Rights (@MigrantRights) on twitter on September 2, 2010 called my attention to rampant abuse of migrant domestic workers - many of whom are tortured and mistreated by employers - in the Middle East. The tweet provided a link to an article on The Economist, entitled Maids in the Middle East: Little better than slavery. The article sheds light on slavery-like conditions which migrant domestic workers from Asia and Africa endure in the Middle East. While reading the article, one question lingered in my mind: Are migrant domestic workers in the Middle East modern-day slaves?

According to The Economist, many migrant domestic workers are forced to work under conditions reminiscent of the slave trade era - long hours, little food, no time to rest, with little or no pay.

In August 2010, rights advocates were alarmed by the story of Lahanda Purage Ariyawathie, a 49-year-old Sri Lankan woman who was tortured by her employer in Saudi Arabia.

Ariyawathie, like many migrant workers looking for an opportunity to make a decent living abroad, left Sri Lanka to work as a housemaid for a Saudi family in Saudi Arabia. While in Saudi Arabia, Ariyawathie was mercilessly tortured by her employer. According to the BBC, her employer embedded a total of 24 nails (5cm/2inches long) into her body. Scars (cicatrices) on the victim's body (see photo above) are testament to her ordeal.

Ariyawathie's story of torture, physical and psychological trauma is shared by many migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East.

It is no secret that employers abuse migrant domestic workers in the Middle East with impunity. Rights groups have repeatedly called on governments in the region to protect domestic workers and bring perpetrators of such cruel and inhuman treatment of domestic workers to justice, but it remains to be seen whether governments in the region would heed the call. In the meantime, on a personal level, migrant workers should reconsider traveling to the the Middle East to work as housemaids.

Watch a slideshow of some graphic photos of Ariyawathie's injuries, here. Viewer discretion is advised.

*Photo of Ariyawathie's scars: The Sunday Leader.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nadja Benaissa: Sentenced for spreading HIV?

You've probably heard about Nadja Benaissa, a 28-year-old German pop star who was recently slammed with a 2-year suspended sentence for infecting a former partner with HIV. Nadja Benaissa was dragged to court on accusations of failing to inform her lovers that she was HIV positive. She faced up to 10 years imprisonment, but a German court tampered justice with mercy because the celebrity confessed and showed remorse.

Nadja Benaissa was arrested in April 2009 and charged with causing bodily harm by having unprotected sex without telling her partners that she was HIV positive. On August 26, 2010, the court found Nadja Benaissa guilty of causing "grievous bodily harm" and "attempted bodily harm." Nadja denied to have deliberately infected her former partner who contracted HIV during their relationship.

This verdict has sparked criticism from AIDS organisations. Many argue that Nadja Benaissa has been unfairly treated and stigmatized. Others argue that "safe sex" is the responsibility of everyone involved in a relationship; not the sole responsibility of the infected partner.

I sympathise with Nadja Benaissa because she discovered that she was HIV positive when she was only 16 years old and pregnant, and kept the infection secret to protect her child. But in the interest of public health, I concur with the verdict of the court.

Practicing protected sex is the responsibility of everyone involved in a relationship, but mindful of the high risk of transmitting HIV, Nadja should have abstained from [unprotected] sex or disclosed her HIV status to her partners. Perhaps, such a disclosure would have discouraged her former partners from recklessly participating in unprotected sex.

It is worth mentioning that Nadja Benaissa infected one of her partners and one remains free of HIV. The court ordered her to do 300 hours of community service (possibly helping people with HIV).

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