Sunday, August 28, 2011

Abuse in fruit farms in South Africa

Farmers who make significant contributions to the production of South Africa's fruits and wine reportedly face abuse in the Western Cape province, where they are denied fundamental rights, including the right to adequate housing, safety and health. They lack basic necessities like toilets and drinking water.

Human Rights Watch reports that there are attempts to stop farm workers in the Western Cape from forming Unions. [Source]. This is in violation of workers' right to organize, provided in the Constitution on South Africa and international conventions such as the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention that was ratified by South Africa in February 1996.

According to Human Rights Watch, farm workers in the Western Cape work under dangerous occupational safety and health conditions and the government has failed to protect them from exploitation and abuse, despite the fact that the country benefits enormously from fruit and wine industries - powered by the workers.

The following video by Human Rights Watch, shines light on the plight of farm workers in the Western Cape of South Africa.

South Africa is a respected member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency that promotes social justice and labour rights.

The government recognizes, at least on paper, the need to protect workers from poor working conditions, exploitation and other forms of abuse. Reports of widespread workers' abuse in modern-day South Africa damages the image of the "rainbow nation" abroad. The government should take steps to restore the dignity of farm workers in the Western Cape.

Human Rights Watch recently published a detailed report about untold violation of workers' rights in the Western Cape. The 96-page report, titled "Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa's Fruit and Wine Industiries" (pdf format) includes photographs of some of the dilapidated structures where farm workers live.
Photo source: BBC.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cameroon: Child labour video series

Child labour is a key concept in international law but unfortunately, it has no clear definition. UNICEF defines it as work that exceeds "a minimum number of hours, depending on the age of a child and on the type of work" [Source]. The International Labour Organization (ILO), on its part, defines child labour as "work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development." [Source]. The organization states that work that does not affect children's health, personal development or interfere with their schooling should not be eliminated. This includes helping parents at home, assisting in the family business or working to earn pocket money.

Lack of clarity in the definition of child labour has given perpetrators of child labour and child exploitation freedom to interpret the concept to their advantage. Abusive parents and guardians argue that working long hours (under pressure and abusive conditions) in the family business is necessary for the child's personal development and helps the child to better appreciate what it means to be hardworking.

Some advocates for child labour have invoked poverty and economic hardship as justification of child labour - arguing that children must work hard in order to support struggling parents in developing countries.

Even more bizarrely, some have argued that "child labour" is a western concept that is not applicable in developing countries.

This mentality, together with the ambiguous definition of "child labour" explains why thousands of children suffer in developing countries. Many perpetrators of child labour and economic exploitation of society's most vulnerable mistakenly think that a viable economy could be built on the backs of children.

On 19 August 2011, I shared an article on Facebook condemning the economic exploitation of children in Bamenda, north west region of Cameroon. The article, which raises genuine concerns about the plight of children as young as 6 years old, was dismissed as "absurd" - an indication that even some educated Cameroonians of the "Facebook generation" still think that there is no problem when parents send out 6-year-olds to the streets to sell groundnut, sweets and biscuits - in the name of supporting the family business.

The following video series explains why child labour in Cameroon should be discouraged in its early stages before victims graduate into more severe and hazardous forms of child labour. It is the story of Etienne Babila, a child labourer rescued by the ILO from a cocoa farm in Cameroon.



Cameroon is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 32 of the convention state that: "States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development."

The state has a duty to protect its children.

Photo: Civitas.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cameroon: The right to quality education denied?

The right to education is a basic right enshrined in key human rights instruments duly ratified by the Republic of Cameroon, but for many young people, mostly in remote areas in the central African country, the right to quality education is a myth.

A video posted on YouTube shines the spotlight on a broken educational system in Cameroon and puts into question the government's commitment to equip young Cameroonians with the tools needed to compete in a global world.

The sorry-state of the Government High School in the above video is shocking and the determination of the teachers and parents to provide better conditions for students in the school is commendable.

Education is a vehicle out of poverty. It is impossible to see how a country would develop and lift its people out of poverty without investing in quality education for children, both boys and girls.

The government of Cameroon has made commendable strides to promote education. There are many relatively good public schools in the country and outstanding private schools that provide top-notch education for young Cameroonians. Like a good number of Cameroonians, I was lucky to attend one of the best and well-equipped schools in Cameroon.

However, children in "forgotten" parts of Cameroon like Kitiwum seeking quality education are equally Cameroonians. Their right to quality education should be equally guaranteed without discrimination.

In January 2011, Cameroon ratified the African Youth Charter. Article 13(1) of the Charter clearly states that:

"Every young person shall have the right to education of good quality.

The right to education is also expressly stated in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) TO WHICH Cameroon is a party.

The state should fulfill its obligation under international law by providing quality education for all young people.

It is worthy to note that about 69 million school-aged children are not in school and 31 million of them are in sub-saharan Africa. [Source: UN Fact Sheet].

Photo of school bell. Source: CATTU.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Court upholds torture lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld

It is well-known that the administration of George W. Bush subjected thousands of individuals to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Rights groups around the world have urged the U.S. government to investigate the well-documented and shocking allegations of torture, and bring the perpetrators to justice. A U.S. court ruling reveals that it is possible to drag top ranking torture advocates like Donald Rumfeld, former U.S. Defense Secretary, to court.

On 8 August 2011, the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Donald Rumfeld could be held liable for acts of torture exacted against two U.S. citizens who were held without charge by U.S. military personnel in Iraq in 2006.

According to the court, two American civilians were allegedly detained and tortured in 2006 by U.S. military personnel in Camp Cropper, a U.S. military prison in Baghdad, Iraq. The plaintiffs, identified as Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, were allegedly subjected to enhanced "interrogation techniques," including sleep, food and water deprivation, and other forms of physical and psychological torture. They were held in solitary confinement in separate cells, without legal representation and "...each had a concrete slab for a bed..."  throughout the unlawful detention period.

Donald Vance was reportedly detained for three months and Nathan Ertel was held for six weeks. Both were released without charge.

The Court of Appeals termed the torture allegations - "extraordinary" - and upheld, among other things, the decision of a lower court to dismiss Rumsfeld's motion to kill the case.

The court affirmed that Secretary Rumsfeld could be held personally responsible for allegations of torture (see pages 14-30 of the judgement) and that he is not protected by "qualified immunity" (pages 30-42 of judgement).

The Appeals Court's decision comes less than one month after Human Rights Watch urged the Obama administration, in a detailed 107-page report, to investigate George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenet and of course, Donald Rumsfeld - for alleged torture.

It is interesting to note that some of the torture techniques allegedly used against Vance and Ertel are similar to torture techniques exposed by Human Rights Watch in its report.

The lawsuit brought against Donald Rumsfeld is a civil lawsuit and the former Defense Secretary could appeal the decision of the Chicago Court of Appeals.

There is overwhelming evidence of torture authorized by top officials in the Bush administration. The perpetrators are not above the law. They should be investigated and brought to justice.

The two victims of alleged torture by U.S. military personnel  filed a case against Rumfeld on 18 December 2006. It remains to be seen whether justice would take its course.

Watch the following video in which one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Rumsfeld speaks about his ordeal and quest for justice.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Finland: Stop using racist hate speech to win votes

Over the years, Muslims and immigrants have been used as punching bags in Finland, but the situation is gradually spiraling out of control. Extreme right-wing politicians have hijacked the immigration debate and taken to the internet to incite hatred against immigrants and Muslims. The 22 July massacre in Norway has put the spot light on some politicians who have made a name for themselves by targeting Muslims and immigrants. The surge in extreme right populism and incitement of hatred online has prompted some prominent Finns to speak out - urging politicians to stop using racist hate speech to win votes.

On 3 August 2011, Finland's deputy Prosecutor-General, Jorma Kalske, condemned politicians in Finland for using racist hate speech to appeal to voters, pointing out that it is illegal to openly discriminate against minority groups.

Finland's Ombudsman for Minorities, Eva Biaudet, has expressed concern about hate speech both online and offline in Finland. According to Eva, the law should come down more heavily on hate speech and anonymous comments should not be published in online discussion forums. The use of pseudonyms should be limited to exceptional cases.

The president of Finland, Tarja Halonen has also expressed concern about hate speech and hardening attitudes in Finland.

Others who have spoken out include Finland's Culture and Sports Minister, Paavo Arhinmäki and Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja.

These are just a few of the many people of good conscience who have spoken out on behalf of voiceless immigrants in Finland - many of whom cannot speak for themselves due to language barrier.

The True Finns, a far right-wing political party that is gaining followers, has come under fire for spreading hate. The party's members of parliament make no secret of their extreme views about immigrants and Muslims. One particular Member of parliament for the party, Jussi Halla-aho (see photo), has come under fire in the wake of the politically motivated July 2011 Norwegian killings.

Jussi Halla-aho has been on the headlines in Finnish media and has been described by Helsinki Times as "the most articulate immigration critic in Finland today." Helsinki Times reports that the Member of Parliament "isn't afraid to make comments that many people describe as incitement to hatred."

Hate speech and racism has no place in a free and democratic society. The authorities in Finland should keep an eye on growing right wing extremism, championed by extremist elements of the True Finns. Those who incite racial hatred and use hate speech to score political points should be held to account.

In 2009, Jussi Halla-aho was fined 330 euros for defamation of religion. A charge for inciting racial hatred was overturned.

Tougher sanctions should be considered to stop incitement of hatred against Muslims, immigrants and other vulnerable minority groups in society.

Photo of Jussi Halla-aho: YLE.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hosni Mubarak in a Cage: A Symbolic day for Oppressors and the Oppressed

First Published in: Dunia Magazine

On 3 August 2011, Egyptians and the world watched in shock as Hosni Mubarak, the man who had ruled Egypt with an iron fist for almost 30 years, was wheeled into a Cairo, Egypt courtroom in a cage serving as a dock, to stand trial for crimes allegedly committed during his repressive reign. To most Egyptians and victims of oppression worldwide, this was a symbolic day; and one will remain edged in the minds of dictators and oppressors in Africa and the Middle East.

It is known that Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt for almost 30 years and was kicked out of office after the historic 18-day popular uprising that started when on 25 January 2011, Egyptians from all walks of life – Christians and Muslims, men, women and children – took to the streets of this beautiful and historic country, from Cairo to Alexandria, and other parts of the Land of the Pharaohs, demanding an end to ”emergency rule” and of 30 years of oppression. The 18 days, millions of protesters braved water cannons, tear gas and live bullets; hundreds lost their lives and thousands more sustained injuries from clashes with security agents, but these ultimately culminated in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

Grappling at Straws

In a desperate bid to stop the protests, Hosni Mubarak had dismissed his cabinet, appointed a Vice President and a new Prime Minister, and asked the Prime Minister to form a new government.

This was Mubarak’s idea of ”political reform”; dismissed by the people who recognized them to be the cosmetic changes they really were. It became clear Egyptians were not going to settle for anything order than an end to the almost three decades of Mubarak rule, a democratic Egypt and justice for victims of 30 years of repression.

Faced with mounting pressure and no signs of protesters throwing in the towel, Mubarak unexpectedly resigned on 11 February 2011. Mubarak’s resignation was, no doubt, historic, and welcomed by millions of Egyptians, but this did not get him off the hook.

Demonstrators continued to pressure the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in charge of facilitating Egypt’s transition to democracy, to bring the former president to justice for crimes committed during his time in office.

The Wheels of Justice

In May 2011, Hosni Mubarak was charged for corruption and ordering the killings of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators during the mass protests that culminated in his ouster.

Despite these strides, many in Egypt and abroad remained skeptical and never thought the strongman would ever be brought to trial.

On 3 August, the world was overwhelmed and shocked as they watched Mubarak wheeled into court on a hospital bed to plead ”guilty” or ”not guilty” to the charges brought against him. On this day, Egyptians on social networking sites made no secret of their feelings.

On Twitter, an Egyptian woman wrote:

"I’m in shock. #Mubaraktrial started. #Mubarak & sons in courtroom, as well as ex-minister of interior.”

Another Egyptian tweeted:

”… #MubarakTrial officially started. And I might start crying any minute now. Long live #jan25.”

Many never thought this day would come.

Power by the People

Hosni Mubarak in the dock, after 30 years in the highest office in the land, is a grim reminder to dictators around the world that power comes from the people and those who abuse power will one day have their day in court. The brave people of Egypt have shown to the world especially those living in oppression that it is possible to peacefully demand the removal of oppressors and drag them to court for crimes committed while in office. Circumstances might be different in other countries, but there is one major similarity: the government’s power comes from the people.

Hosni Mubarak is innocent of all charges until proven guilty. If found guilty, the strongman could be slapped with the highest penalty in the land – death.

Regardless of the outcome of the Mubarak trial, 3 August 2011 has gone down in history as a fairly good day for the rule of law in Egypt. The image of ”almighty” Mubarak in a cage will forever revolutionalize the way Egyptians in power do business. Believe it or not.

A quick and fair trial of Mubarak and his cronies is what is needed to put Egypt on the path to peace and stability.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Misguided call to reinstate death penalty in the UK

There are calls for the death penalty to be reinstated in the United Kingdom (UK) amid concerns of a spike in crimes considered "so heinous that only the ultimate penalty is sufficient." There are genuine worries about increasing rising crime wave in the country and proponents of the death penalty have argued that the criminal justice system has so far failed to deter perpetrators of violent crimes and to protect the public from such crimes. Hence a campaign has been launched to reinstate the death penalty so as to get rid of offenders who kill police officers and babies. No doubt, crime is unacceptable and perpetrators must bear the full weight of the law. However, a call to reinstate the death penalty in a bid to fight crime is misguided and undermines the same human dignity that the justice system is designed to uphold and protect.

The right to life is an inalienable right protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rightss (UDHR) and all key human rights standards ratified by the UK, including the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Forms of Punishment (CAT).

It is worth highlighting that the right to life is "non-derogable" as per Article 4(2) of the ICCPR, ratified by the UK in May 1976. This means the inherent right to life must be respected by the state under all circumstances - even in a "time of emergency which threatens the life of the nation..."

The right to life ranks right up there with other non-derogable rights, including the following.
  • Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • Freedom from slavery and servitude.
  • Freedom from imprisonment due to inability to fulfill a contractual obligation.
  • The right to be recognized as a person before the law.
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The UK abolished capital punishment in 1969 (source: France 24) and has a legal obligation under duly ratified international covenants not to deprive any individual of the right to life.

Protocol No. 13 to the ECHR expressly prohibits the death penalty in "all circumstances" and asserts that "the abolition of the death penalty is essential for... the full recognition of the inherent dignity of all human beings." Article 1 of the Protocol states: "The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed."

It is true that the death penalty undermines human dignity. Calls to bring back the death penalty in the UK are misguided and do no provide real solutions to violent crimes. Countries that still have the death penalty in legislation have no shortage of heinous crimes that proponents of the death penalty in the UK mistakenly think capital punishment would deter.

State-sponsored killing is no solution to crime. A reinstatement of the death penalty in the UK, more than 40 years after it was abolished, would be a move backwards.


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