Saturday, July 30, 2011

Massacre in Norway and growing Extreme Right-Wing Populism in Nordic Countries

First Published in: Dunia Magazine

As the good people of Norway try to make sense of the gruesome 7/22 massacre that left at least 76 people dead and 96 injured, there is rising concern about the recent surge in right wing populism in Norway and other Nordic countries – Finland, Denmark and Sweden – where anti-immigration sentiments and islamphobia could also turn deadly.

Last Friday, a Norwegian man, 32 years old, changed his country forever when he detonated a bomb in a state building in Oslo, the main city of Norway, killing at least 7 people. A few hours later, according to the Norwegian police, the same man went on a shooting spree in Utoeya, an island just outside Oslo, killing mostly teenagers.

You would think that after such a massacre, the killer would turn the gun on himself and take his life, but the killer in this case was arrested alive and as of the time of this writing, is in police custody. The killer, identified as Anders Behring Breivik, told police that he orchestrated the massacre but is not criminally responsible.

He appeared in court on Monday, 25 July 2011, calm and ”unaffected,” and did not plead guilty to killing 76 people. The defiant Anders attempted to justify his monstrous action by arguing that the goal of the twin attacks was to ”save” Norway from ”Maxist and Muslim colonization.”

This extreme stance expressed in a deadly fashion by Anders Behring Breivik is shared by a growing number of people in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. The past couple of months have seen a surge in support for extreme right-wing views in these countries.

In Sweden, an extreme right political party, Sweden Democrats (known in Swedish as ”Sverigedemokraterna”) that promulgates xenophobia and islamophobia won seats in parliament for the first time since the party was founded in 1988. The party secured 20 out of 349 seats during the historic September 2010 parliamentary election that changed Sweden’s political landscape. This right-wing political gain came a few months after a group of neo-Nazis staged an anti-mosque demonstration in Gothenburg – Sweden’s second city, on Sunday  11 April 2010.

The September 2010 victory for extreme right populism in Sweden set the stage for extreme right gains in neighboring Finland.

In April 2011, an extreme right party in Finland, True Finns ( known as ”Perussuomalaiset” in Finnish), made significant gains in parliament – winning 39 out of 200 seats, despite the fact that the party supporters and representatives make no secret of their hard-line stance.

On the first day in parliament following the April 2011 election, for instance, a parliamentarian representing  the True Finns made outright derogatory and racist comments on camera against Muslims and Africans. He used a well known and unacceptable racist word to refer to African asylum seekers and mimicked a Muslim call for prayers.

In Denmark, the story is not different. The Danish People’s Party (known as ”Danks Folkeparti” in Danish) kicks against immigration, multi-culturalism and the ”Islamification” of Denmark.

It is worth highlighting that Norway’s confessed mass killer, Anders Behring Breivik, reportedly shares the same views as Finland’s True Finns, Sweden’s Sweden Democrats and Denmark’s Danish People’s Party and all three parties are becoming increasingly and disturbingly popular in their respective countries.

As a matter of fact, a poll published by Helsinki Sanomat, a national daily news outlet in Finland, on 25 July 2011 showed that support for the True Finns has continued to grow, reaching 22.7 per cent after the April 2011 election, while the National Coalition Party has dropped to second place with 21.1 per cent.

Incidentally, the poll was published on the day Anders Behring Breivik, the confessed killer who shares the views of the True Finns, went on a shooting spree in neighboring Norway – in a bid to ”save” Europe from Muslim immigrants.

Make no mistake - the surge in anti-immigration sentiments, islamophobia and extreme right-wing populism in the Nordic countries is real. Urgent steps must be taken to ensure that extreme views promulgated by  increasingly influential right-wing political parties and individuals do not turn deadly.

The right to hold and express opinions is a fundamental human right. However, this right should not be exercised in a manner that infringes the rights and freedoms of others.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Civitas: Working for human rights in Cameroon

The Republic of Cameroon is a country with no shortage of human rights violations and limitations on fundamental freedoms. A lot has been written about the central African country where human rights remain illusive. Many would agree that there is need for more organizations to step up to the plate and help promote respect for human rights in the country. There are many organizations doing a good job on the ground, but there is still room for more groups to join the noble cause. A new organization called Civitas has joined the ranks of independent nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations  working for human rights in Cameroon.

Civitas is duly registered and legally recognized in Cameroon. The rights group is based in Bamenda, with its main office in GRA Up-Station and international bureaus in the United States and Finland.

The main objective of Civitas is to ensure that all individuals "enjoy all rights laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

The organization also promotes environmental protection initiatives.

With violations in Cameroon like breast ironing, endemic police brutality, as well as torture and imprisonment of journalists, Civitas clearly has a lot of work to do.

Visit the official website of Civitas - - and show support for the challenging work of the organization. You are also encouraged to join Civitas on Facebook and Twitter. More importantly, sign up for the organization's newsletter and receive updates about projects, campaigns, calls for action and news releases.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sub-human prison conditions in Uganda

It is known that inhuman conditions define prisons in many African countries. In Uganda , the story is not different. A recent revelation of "hard life" in Ugandan prisons adds weight to this assertion and highlights the need for a complete overhaul of the country's criminal justice system.

On 14 July 2011, Human Rights Watch released a report about deplorable prison conditions in Uganda. The organization said the treatment of prisoners in some of Uganda's prisons "amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and even torture."

The 80-page report is based on visits by Human Rights Watch researchers to 16 prisons - where "prisoners often sleep on one shoulder, packed together so that they can only shift if an entire row agrees to roll at once."

Human Rights Watch interviewed 164 prisoners and 30 prison officers between November 2010 and March 2011.

The report reveals that Uganda's prisoners face inhuman conditions, including, but not limited to the following:
  • Forced hard labor for the benefit of prison staff and private land owners.
  • Brutal beatings by wardens and katikkiros (prisoners with disciplinary authority).
  • Overcrowding (all categories of prisoners are mixed and "squeezed like iron sheets").
  • Deprivation of food and nutrition.
  • Insufficient water (prisoners sometimes drink stagnant water).
  • Isolation in cells ranging from one meter by one meter to four meters by five meters in size; with a bucket for a toilet.
  • Insufficient health care for prisoners, including pregnant inmates and those infected with HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
To say the least, the report shines the spotlight on a broken criminal justice system that locks away, in sub-human conditions, individuals, many of whom have not been convicted of a crime or had a day in court.

The disturbing report is titled "Even Dead Bodies Must Work."

It is worth mentioning that the title of the report mirrors the exact words of a warden to sick prisoners in Uganda's Muduuma Prison.

According to the report (see map on page iii), Human Rights Watch visited prisons and reception centers in Fort Portal in western Uganda, Masaka in central Uganda, Jinja in eastern Uganda, Muinaina, Butuntumura, Mutufu, Masafu, Bubukwanga, Kitalya and Kampala, the largest city and capital of Uganda.

The government of Uganda should implement the recommendations put forward by Human Rights Watch in page 5-6 of the report, so as to restore the basic rights of prisoners.

*Photo: Source.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Human Rights Watch urges US to investigate George Bush for torture

One of the world's leading rights organizations, Human Rights Watch, published a report on 12 July 2011 in which the organization urged US president Barack Obama to "... begin a criminal investigation into US government detention practices" under the Bush administration.

It is known that the Bush administration authorized the commission of widespread and systematic acts of torture against detainees in US custody. The administration allegedly authorized the abduction and transfer of individuals suspected of terrorism to countries where they were tortured.

Perpetrators of torture, more often than not, try to distance themselves from allegations of torture and deny it happened under their watch, but George W. Bush makes no secret of his involvement in "enhanced interrogation techniques" that violate basic human rights and international law.

In a controversial interview in 2010, W. Bush, 43rd president of the US, admitted he authorized torture and attempted to justify torture and other cruel practices exacted against detainees in US custody.

The 107-page report by Human Rights Watch exposes torture in US counter terrorism operations, including the CIA Detention Program and the CIA Rendition Program. The report shines light on the role of four key US officials:
  • Former president, George W. Bush.
  • Former Vice President, Dick Cheney.
  • Former Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
  • Former CIA Director, George Tenet.
Human Rights Watch believes there is enough evidence to launch a criminal investigation and prosecute the above officials for torture and ill-treatment of detainees. 

The US has signed the UN Convention Against Torture and has a legal, as well as moral, obligation to investigate and prosecute acts of torture, cruel and inhuman practices. Failure to carry out an impartial investigation into state-sponsored torture under the Bush administration weakens the voice of the US in international human rights discourse.

Some torture techniques cited in the report include waterboarding, stress positions, light and noise bombardment, near suffocation, sleep deprivation, hooding during questioning, use of detainees' phobias, "short shackling."

In the report (page 58-59), Human Rights Watch points out that the US has criticized other countries, including Burma, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran and Libya for using the above techniques against individuals in custody.

You are encouraged to read the detailed report by Human Rights Watch, "Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees." 

An opinion piece published on the Washington Post, titled "The books aren't closed on Bush's torture policy," written by the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch is also worth reading.

*Photo of George W. Bush. Source:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Systematic torture and killings in Syria: Where is the UNSC?

The rapid response of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to recent uprisings in Ivory Coast and Libya gave the UNSC a new face and sent a strong message to oppressors that the council would swiftly take "all necessary measures" to protect abused and violated civilians. The council did not take long to condemn violence in Libya and unanimously voted in favor of the historic Resolution 1970 (2011) that imposed sanctions (travel bans, arms embargo and asset freezes) on the Gaddafi regime and referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Unfortunately, the UNSC has so far failed to condemn a similar situation in Syria - where systematic torture, state-sponsored murder and extrajudicial killing of civilians and pro-democracy protesters is the order of the day.

Since demonstrations erupted in Syria in February and picked up steam in mid-March 2011, rights groups have documented widespread and systematic violence against civilians calling for democracy and human rights. Amnesty International has championed the call for the UNSC to intervene, stop bloodshed and refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. The organization believes that crimes committed in Syria by members of the security forces amount to crimes against humanity.

On 6 June 2011, Amnesty published a new report - shining light on ongoing torture, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions in Syria. Once again, more than two months after its initial call, the organization urged the UNSC to refer Syria to the ICC.

Last night, I read the 22-paged report. It documents the plight of civilians in Syria and highlights the need for the international community to act against Syria's heavy-handed crackdown on protesters.

According to the report, which focuses on violence in the western town of Tell Kalakh, the state uses snipers and heavy artillery against civilians. Security forces open fire on ambulances, destroy water supplies, loot and vandalize private property, arbitrarily arrest, torture and murder Syrians, including children. Victims include lawyers, electricians, construction workers, hairdressers, painters, shopkeepers and retired army officers. No one is spared!

Security forces use untold torture techniques, such as what is locally called "shabah" (ghost) and "dulab" (tyre).

After reading the report , titled: "Crackdown in Syria: Terror in Tell Kalakh", I'm convinced more than ever that the situation in Syria should be referred to the ICC. Those responsible for murder, systematic torture and other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment of civilians should be investigated and brought to book.

UNSC silence on the dire situation in Syria emboldens the brutal Assad regime and puts the council's "swift and decisive" intervention in Libya into question. Double standards undermine the reputation and credibility of the UNSC.

More than 1,350 civilians and 350 security agents have reportedly lost their lives in Syria since mid-March 2011. [Source].

*Photo: The FINANCIAL.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Arrest warrant for Charles Ble Goude

You would remember that during the post-election standoff between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast, it was reported that Charles Ble Goude, Youth Minister under now ousted and humiliated President Laurent Gbagbo, was inciting violence against opposition supporters and foreigners. Ivory Coast has now issued an arrest warrant for the runaway "street General."

On 25 February 2011, Charles Ble Goude, urged young Gbagbo supporters to "join the army", "denounce" foreigners and "liberate" the nation.

His call for "real" Ivorians to attack foreigners led to a spike in violence against foreigners in Ivory Coast. Foreigners from other African countries including Nigeria, Niger, Mali and Bukina Faso were attacked by pro-Gbagbo youths and some were beaten to death or burned alive.

It is worth highlighting that these deathly attacks came after Charles Ble Goude, publicly urged Ivorian youths to "denounce" foreigners. The crimes committed by Gbagbo youths under the influence of Goude, according to Human Rights Watch, amount to crimes against humanity.

In March, thousands of youths reportedly responded to Goude's call to join the army and gathered at a military base in Abidjan to take up arms against opposition supporters.

A Public Prosecutor in Ivory Coast issued an international arrest warrant for Charles Ble Goude on 1 July 2011.

Ble Goude is wanted for inciting hatred, ethnic violence and xenophobia. [Source]. The former Youth Minister reportedly fled the country following the fall of his boss, Laurent Gbagbo.

Incitement of violence is unacceptable and perpetrators should face justice for crimes committed. The issuance of an arrest warrant for Charles Ble Goude is welcomed, but it is only a step towards justice. Concrete steps should be taken to bring Goude to book for his role in the recent post-election violence which claimed many innocent lives in Ivory Coast.

According to Reuters, Goude is believed to be hiding in Ghana.

There should be international cooperation to bring the militant youth leader justice.

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