Monday, May 30, 2011

Why all Serbians should welcome arrest of Ratko Mladic

You're probably aware that 26 May 2011 saw the arrest of Ratko Mladic, a former General in the Bosnian Serb Army in Serbia. The arrest of General Ratko Mladic comes 16 years after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) issued an international warrant for his arrest on charges of genocide, complicity in genocide, persecution, exterminations and murder, deportation and inhumane acts, unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians, murder, cruel treatment, attacks on civilians and taking hostages [Source]. Despite these serious charges, not all Serbians welcome the arrest of Mladic.

Ratko Mladic was indicted in July 1995 for his role in the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks). The Srebrenica massacre perpetrated by troops under Mladic's control has been termed the "worst atrocity on European soil" since World War II.

According to the ICTY, General Ratko Mladic's men sought to "eliminate a part of Bosnian Muslims" during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.

While families of the victims, rights advocates and groups like Human Rights Watch welcome the arrest of Ratko Mladic, calling it an end to impunity, the runaway General who is now under arrest enjoys the support of many nationalists in Serbia. Yesterday 29 May 2011, about 10,000 protesters took to the streets of Belgrade, capital of Serbia, demanding the release of Ratko Mladic. Many regard Mladic as a "hero" and Serbia's "best General."

Massive support for a commander whose troops planned and executed the massacre of members of a particular ethnic group emboldens perpetrators of heinous crimes and tarnishes Serbia's image.

It is hard to comprehend why Ratko Mladic is hailed in Serbia as a hero. A true hero would have used his position as commander to stop his troops from killing 8,000 unarmed men and boys.

In the interest of justice and closure for families of the victims of the siege on Sarajevo (capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the Srebrenica massacre, all Serbians - including Serbs, Bosniaks and ethnic Hungarians - should welcome the arrest of Ratko Mladic and the 69-year-old General should be extradited to the Hague to answer charges for crimes committed under his command.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Man sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for homosexuality in Cameroon

Homosexuality is outlawed in Cameroon and punishable under Section 347 bis of the Cameroon Penal Code (CPC) with up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 francs CFA. A lot has been written about the persecution of homosexuals in Cameroon and both national and international human rights organizations have urged Cameroon to decriminalize homosexuality. Despite these loud calls, the authorities have turned a deaf ear. A recent arrest, trial and conviction of a Cameroonian man has once again put the plight of homosexuals in Cameroon on the spotlight.

A Cameroonian male, identified by Human Rights Watch as Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, was arrested on 2 March 2011 in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. Roger was reportedly held in Gendarme custody for 7 days without being charged - in violation of national law which stipulates that arrested persons should not be held in custody for more than 48 hours without being charged.

After 7 days in unlawful custody, Roger was transferred to Yaounde Central Prison. He was found guilty of homosexuality and sentenced to 3 years in prison by the Court of First Instance in Yaounde on 28 April 2011.

Roger Jean-Claude Mbide is currently imprisoned in the Central Prison in Yaounde.

Disturbingly, many Cameroonians are in favor of Section 347, ignoring the fact that the law is repugnant to equity and good conscience and alienates a vulnerable group of Cameroonians - many of whom have been forced underground, tortured, extorted, imprisoned or forced  to seek asylum abroad. This conflicts with Cameroon's obligations under international law.

Cameroon's "sodomy law" infringes on the privacy and other fundamental freedoms of individuals, including their right to free expression and equal protection of the law. It's in this vein that Human Rights Watch and two national organizations have written an open letter to Cameroon's Minister of Justice, Delegate General of Security and Secretary of State for Defense, condemning the imprisonment of Roger Jean-Claude Mbide and urging the three leaders to do the following:
  • Review Section 347 of the CPC.
  • Investigate recent conviction under the law.
  • Stop arrests under Section 347 of the penal code.
  • Over turn the conviction of Roger Jean-Claude Mbide.
  • Uphold the rights of all Cameroonians to a life of dignity and equality.
My upbringing frowns on same-sex. However, as a matter of principle, I respect and defend the rights and freedoms of all individuals without distinction of any kind. Consenting adults in a private relationship should not be subjected to arrests, ridicule, torture, verbal or physical abuse, extortion, and imprisonment.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Belgium: Cameroon embassy and right to access information

The right to access information is a basic right enshrined in key international human rights instruments such as in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR). It's incumbent on states to ensure that this right is respected by state representatives and employees in public offices. An aborted phone call to the embassy of Cameroon in Brussels, Belgium this afternoon put into question the commitment of the embassy staff to uphold the right to access information.

At about 4PM (GMT+2), a call was made to the embassy of Cameroon to get information about the requirements for applying for a new passport and opening hours.

The call was answered by a gentleman who spoke only French due to inability or unwillingness to speak English. He routed the call to an angry lady who struggled to speak English. Instead of providing the needed information, she hastily referred the caller to the embassy's website. Speaking English seemed to be a burden for her and rendered her audibly nervous and unwilling to help. Then the unexpected happened - she hung up the phone.

Undeterred and shocked by the unwelcoming reaction of someone representing his country abroad, the caller called back. This time, the same gentleman who routed the first call reluctantly provided the requested information in French - ignoring the possibility that the English-speaking caller does not understand French.

I visited the referred website and noted that most pages on the English section of the site are "...still under construction... soon available."

According to the website, the embassy opens from Monday to Friday from 09h30 to 16h00. This conflicts with information provided by the staff today: passport applicants must be at the embassy before midday and are not welcomed on Fridays.

The embassy's website, as of the time of writing, was last updated more than 2 years ago on 29 April 2009 and looks inactive, hence the caller had reason to believe that perhaps something has changed after all these years. The French section of the site was last updated on 25 July 2009.

Cameroon is a bilingual country and all its citizens have the right to access information in the language they fully understand. The Constitution of the Republic provides that all official communications or documents be made available in both French and English, but Cameroon's embassy in Belgium, like many other state offices, is yet to make information on its website available in both languages.

There's a need to educate individuals who represent Cameroon in embassies abroad and to ensure that persons working in public offices understand that their job is to serve the people and should not interfere with the people's right to access information. Embassy staff should be polite and be able to communicate in both official languages of the country they represent so that a group of nationals is not alienated.

More importantly, the website of the Cameroon embassy in Belgium is in desperate need of a make-over. The authorities should take advantage of the advent of new technologies and make information available online.

An unprofessional embassy staff and a website - - whose English section is perpetually under construction damages the reputation of Cameroon abroad and sends a wrong message to millions of English-speaking Cameroonians.

On a side note: Finland is a small country in Northern Europe which has two official languages - Finnish (Suomi) and Swedish (Svenska). The websites of Finland's embassies in Washington and Abuja for instance, carry both official languages and I bet embassy staff would aptly and happily communicate in both languages. This is a good example for bilingual countries to emulate.

UPDATE, 21.11.2011: The website of the embassy has been updated, predominantly with news about the 2011 presidential election. The site still lacks useful information such as passport application fees, visa fees and application forms.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cameroon: Opposition party barred from 2011 National Day celebration

May 20 is officially the National Day of the Republic of Cameroon, central Africa. This day is usually marked by nation wide celebrations, including march-pasts by members of the armed forces, civil society, political parties, students and other authorized groups. In the nation's capital, Yaounde, the march-past is usually chaired by the Head of State. This year, an opposition party was barred by the authorities from participating in the National Day march-past in Yaounde.

The Cameroon People's Party (CPP) was barred by the Senior Divisional Officer for Mfoundi Division from participating in yesterday's march-past in the May 20 boulevard in Yaounde. [Source]. According to the chairperson of the National Council of the CPP, the party, as required by law, deposited a written declaration to participate in the march-past with the authorities well ahead of time, but when party supporters show up for the march-past rehearsal on 18 May - two days before the ceremony - they were told they are not authorized to participate in the march-past.

The CPP was reportedly barred from the 39th National Day celebration because the a party declared its intention to participate after the 29 April 2011 deadline. The Chairperson of the CPP refutes this assertion - saying the  declaration was deposited before the deadline. [Source: In French].

The CPP marched in other parts of Cameroon, including Buea and Kumba in the South West region.

However, barring a political party from participating in National Day celebrations in the nation's capital goes contrary to basic principles of democracy and "multipartism." Such a decision by the Senior Divisional Officer of Mfoundi is unnecessary in a democratic society and infringes the right to free assembly and expression - the bedrock of free and democratic states.

Like members of all political parties in Cameroon, militants of the CPP reserve the right to participate in National Day celebrations all over the country without restriction. This right should not be arbitrarily denied.

Cameroon's presidential election is slated later this year in October. The barring of an opposition party from participating in the National Day celebration sends a wrong message and coincides with a recent call for free and fair election in Cameroon from the U.S. Secretary State, Hillary Clinton.

It's worth recalling that the Chairperson of the CPP was a victim of the February brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Cameroon's second city.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Turning Point: Face to face with boots, water canons, batons, riot police and impunity

Over the past few years, many people have asked me why I decided to study International Human Rights Law instead of the more appealing, and perhaps more lucrative, corporate or criminal law. I've always been reluctant to explain what inspired me to do what I do, but I recently decided to let the cat out of the bag in an article published on the 4th Issue of DUNIA Magazine.

The article is titled, Turning Point: Face to Face with Boots, Water Canons, Batons, Riot Police and Impunity. Incidentally, it comes at a time when many innocent civilians and pro-democracy protesters in the Middle East and North Africa are facing a similar situation in what has been termed the "Arab Spring."

It's my wish that this piece inspires oppressed persons around the world to rise above oppression and become advocates for nonviolence, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Now more than ever, the world is in dire need of fierce nonviolent advocates to promote and protect respect for human dignity.

Enjoy the read on and keep in mind that comments and feedbacks are welcomed. You're encouraged to subscribe for a hard or e-copy of DUNIA.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Petition to help stop bloodshed in Syria

It's widely known that since 16 March 2011, security forces in Syria have continued to crackdown on protesters calling for political reform. Unfortunately, international response to the conflict has been muted, despite reports of the massacre of peaceful protesters in the Arab state and the perpetration of crimes which fall within the jurisdiction of International Criminal Court (ICC). Last month, United Nations Security Council (UNSC) deliberated and failed to issue a statement condemning the widespread violence in Syria - barely weeks after the council unanimously referred a similar crackdown on the right to peaceful assembly and free expression in Libya to the ICC. Media coverage of the violence against civilians in Syria is dwindling and there's a growing need for the international community and people of good conscience around the world to help stop the bloodshed.

On 26 April 2011, Amnesty International called on the UNSC to, amongst other things, refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. As of today, this call has not been heeded and inaction in Syria and other countries with a similar predicament screams "double standard" and validates arguments put forward by international law skeptics.

Today, Amnesty reiterated the call to stop bloodshed in Syria with a compelling tweet which read:

Only 30 hours left. Sign the #Syria petition now and help us to gather more 30,000 signs. Tell your friends to sign... Pls RT."

The above tweet is a desperate call to human rights sympathizers to help save lives in Syria by simply signing a petition calling on Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, to stop the killing of civilians and respect the right to peaceful protests.

You're encouraged to sign the petition.

Signing the petition will go a long way to help stop bloodshed in Syria.

More than 400 people have reportedly died in Syria since protests erupted and thousands have been detained. We cannot look away. Take action now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Libya: ICC prosecutor applies for 3 international criminal arrest warrants

This afternoon, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague announced that his office has applied for 3 international criminal arrest warrants linked to the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Libya. This announcement comes less than 3 months after the United Nations Security Council unanimously referred the situation in Libya to the ICC.

Luis Moreno-Acampo, the prosecutor of the ICC announced that his office has applied to the Pre-Trial Chamber One of the court for three arrest warrants for the following Libyans:
  • Muammar Gaddafi
  • Saif al-Islam Gaddafi
  • Abdullah al-Sanussi
It's worth mentioning that Saif al-Islam is the second eldest son of Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi and, according to Moreno-Acampo, Saif is the "de facto Prime Minister" of Libya. Abdullah a-Sanussi is Gaddafi's brother-in-law, "executioner and the head of military intelligence."

In a press conference which I watched live on France24 this afternoon, the prosecutor announced that direct evidence gathered during investigations by his office shows that Gaddafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed civilians and demonstrators in their homes and in public spaces using live ammunition, heavy weaponry and snipers.

According to the prosecutor, "the crimes are crimes against humanity" and persecution of civilians "is still ongoing."

Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber are now expected to examine the prosecutor's application for arrest warrants and decide whether there's enough evidence to issue the warrants.

There's an urgent need to protect civilians in Libya from "wide spread and systematic attacks" by government forces. It's no secret that thousands of civilians, including journalists and pro-democracy demonstrators have been killed and persecuted in Libya since February 2011. Arrest warrants for perpetrators of such deadly attacks against demonstrators in Libya would send a loud message to repressive regimes that the world is watching and that crimes which contravene international law would not go unpunished.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Danish company supplies drug for death penalty in the U.S.

The European Union frowns on the death penalty and almost all European countries have banned state- sponsored killing. In Denmark, the last time the death punishment was meted out was in 1892 and the Scandinavian country completely abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 1978. Despite the ban on the death penalty in Denmark, a Danish pharmaceutical company, Lundbeck, supplies a drug used for the death penalty in the U.S.

H. Lundbeck A/S, commonly known as Lundbeck was founded in 1915 and became pharmaceutical in 1924. The research-based company produces a drug called pentobarbital which is used for executions in the U.S.

According to The New York Times, Lundbeck has sold pentobarbital to four major U.S. executioners: Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. The Lundbeck-produced drug has replaced sodium thiopental which was once the drug of choice for the U.S. killing machine.

Italy, Austria, Germany and Britain have stifled the supply of sodium thiopental which was widely used for executions in the U.S. Due to the limited supply of sodium thiopental, U.S. executioners have switched to Lundbeck-produced pentobarbital.

Amnesty International has called on the European Commission to stop the trade in torture and death penalty equipment. You're encouraged to sign the petition urging the President of the European Commission, José  Manuel Borroso, to effectively ban the trade in "tools of torture" by European companies. This would go a long way to prohibit the use of pentobarbital produced by Lundbeck for executions in the U.S.

Lundbeck claims the death penalty is against what the company stands for. If this is the case, the company should take concrete steps to ensure that its drug is only used to safe life as it was intended, not claim life.

A legal action charity known as Reprieve notes that Lundbeck is the only supplier of pentobarbital in the U.S. The organization has repeatedly slammed Lundbeck for not doing enough to keep its drug out of death chambers. The execution of Jeffrey Moths on 6 May 2011 in South Carolina brought the number of persons killed in the U.S. with the drug supplied by Lundbeck to seven. The Danish company has apparently chosen big business over respect for human life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Denmark: Man found guilty of racism against Muslim men

At a time when xenophobia is on the rise in Europe, a 68-year-old Danish man has been found guilty of racism by a court in Denmark. Lars Hedegaard, a proclaimed "free speech advocate", was found guilty for making offensive and denigrating comments against Muslim men.

In December 2009, Lars Hedegaard granted a 35 minutes interview that was published on a Danish blog. Here's what he said during the interview, amongst other things:

"Girls in Muslim families are raped by their uncles, their cousins, or their fathers," and "when a Muslim man rapes a woman, it is in his right to do so." [Source].

Lars was dragged to court for comments depicting Muslim men as rapists  and "warriors" who believe that "women have no value, they are not human beings. Their function is to be wombs - they bear the warrior's offspring and create new warriors..." [Source].

The free speech advocate was acquitted in January 2011 by a lower District Court on grounds that he didn't know his offensive comments would be published.

The decision to acquit Lars was appealed by the state prosecutor and on 3 May 2011, the Eastern High Court found Lars Hedegaard guilty of racism. He was fined 5000 Danish Kroner (about 985 U.S. Dollars as of today) for his derogatory comments against Muslim men.

Lars Hedegaard is said to be a free speech advocate and President of the Danish Free Press Society. In this capacity, he's expected to know that the right to free speech has limitations prescribed by law and should not be used to insult, defame or instigate hate against a group of people.

Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides for the right to freedom of expression and many proponents of "hate speech" in the name of free speech often invoke Article 19(2) of the ICCPR, but fail to put into perspective Article 19(3) of the same Covenant that provides "certain restrictions" to free speech "provided by law."

At the level of the European Union, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) guarantees free speech. Article 10(2) on its part lays down duties and responsibilities in the exercise of free expression.

Section 266b of the Danish Penal Code provides certain limitations to free speech in Denmark. It states:

Whoever publicly or with the intent of public dissemination issues a pronouncement or other communication by which a group of persons are threatened, insulted or denigrated due to their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation is liable to a fine or incarceration for up to two years.”

I concur with the decision of the Eastern High Court to fine Lars Hedegaard under Section 266b of the Danish Penal Code. There's a fine line between free speech and hate speech and it's important to ensure that the exercise of the right to free expression does not threaten, insult, denigrate or instigate hate against a group of people.

A lot has been written about the trial of Lars Hedegaard and comments on all the blogs and websites I've read reveal that many people are of the opinion that the conviction of Lars is an attack against freedom of expression. Some have labeled the trial a witch-hunt against truth-tellersThere's therefore a need to educate the public about the duties and responsibilities that go with freedom of expression.

*Photo of Lars Hedegaard.[Source].

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Iranian Journalist awarded UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize

Today 3 May is World Press Freedom Day - a day set aside by the United Nations to highlight the importance of press freedom and the right to free expression worldwide. All around the world on this day, journalists and individuals who work to inform the public, sometimes at great personal risk, are honored. It's in this spirit that today, UNESCO honors Ahmad Zeidabadi, an imprisoned Iranian journalist, with the UNESCO/Guillermo Carno World Press Freedom Prize.

According to UNESCO, a United Nations agency dedicated to build peace, eradicate poverty, promote sustainable development and dialogue, Ahmad was arrested and imprisoned following the controversial presidential elections held in Iran on 12 June 2009 and charged with plotting to overthrow the regime. He was sentenced to six years in prison and among other things, banned from practicing journalism.

On 10 December 2009, Amnesty International published a detailed 79-page report about repression and human rights violations in Iran during the disputed 2009 elections. The report titled Election Contested, Repression Compounded, documents widespread torture, killings and arbitrary arrests, including the arrest, detention and torture of Ahmad Zeidabadi.

Amnesty International reports that prior to and after the 2009 elections, the Iranian Government heavy-handedly stifled press freedom and free expression. Newspapers were shutdown and some web sites, including Facebook and Twitter, were blocked.

It is worthy to note that Ahmed is only one of the many journalists arrested in violation of press freedom during the 2009 crackdown. Other journalists arrested at the time include the following:
  • Lason Athanasiades
  • Masia Bahari
  • Saeed Laylaz
  • Bahman Ahmadi Amouie
  • Zhila Bani Yaghoub
  • Fariba Pajouh
  • Hengameh Shahidi
  • Hassan Sheikh Aghaei
  • Ahmad Bahari.
The list is inexhaustive.

Following the arrest of Ahmed Zeidabadi, he was reportedly held in solitary confinement for 35 days in a "confin-like cell only 1.5m long."

Today UNESCO has awarded Ahmed the 2011 UNESCO/Guillermo World Press Freedom Prize for his courage and commitment to uphold press freedom in Iran.

As of 3 May 2011, Ahmed Zeidabadi is still imprisoned. UNESCO has urged the Iranian authorities to release the journalist.

Here's a statement by Ahmed Zeidabadi to the Director General of UNESCO and members of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize jury on the occasion of the award.

You're encouraged to read the aforementioned Amnesty International report: Election Contested, Repression Compounded (in PDF). It exposes (on page 44) torture, ill-treatment and other abuses endured by the 2011 UNESCO/Guillermo Press Freedom Award laureate and many journalists, opposition supporters and other civilians in Iran in 2009.

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