Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ugly face of racism at bus stop in Finland

A lot has been said and written about racism in Finland, a social ill boosted by anti-immigration sentiments and what far-right populists have termed the "Islamization" of Europe. Speaking on the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International, a renown human rights organization, the president of Finland acknowledged the rise of racism and xenophobia in the Nordic country. This presidential statement came after a member of parliament used racist and derogatory language on his first day in parliament against Muslims and immigrants of African descent. Racism in Finland shows its face in many ways, including racist graffiti in public places and through what could be termed "drive-by racism" - a form of racial harassment in which racial slurs are shouted from a moving vehicle. More recently, the ugly face of racism was seen at a bus stop around Hertoniemi, Helsinki, Finland.

Someone of questionable moral standing used what appears to be a sharp object to write a hateful and racist message on the glass at a bus stop. The disturbing message is there for everyone using the bus stop to see. It reads:

"All N*****s Must Die."

It is worth mentioning that "N*****" stands for what is commonly known as the N-word. The word is spelled out in full on the bus stop. It is not legible in photographs but if you stand at the bus stop (pictured) you cannot miss it.

The disturbing message is accompanied by a hastily drawn swastika - symbol of the Nazi Party of Germany.

The ugly face of racism at this bus stop speaks volumes about the current state of affairs in Finland. Such a message in a public place undermines the reputation of Finland as a free, civilized, tolerant and democratic country.

The hateful message is very disturbing; even more disturbing is the fact that no one seems to be alarmed by such a message at a bus stop that is used daily by many people, including immigrants studying in a nearby adult learning centre (Edupoli).

The message was first seen at the bus stop more than a month ago. At the time of this writing, it has not been removed.

Racism in Finland and its devastating impact on people of African descent and immigrants from other parts of the world is further compounded by reports that some law enforcement officers in the country said racist harassment should not be reported to the police. A police officer from Pieksämäki reportedly told Migrant Tales that victims of racist harassment should "just walk away."

This goes to show that racists and those who harass individuals because of skin color, nationality, religion or ethnicity have been given a blank check by law enforcement.

Law enforcement in Finland should take racially motivated crimes, including harassment in public places, more seriously. Ordinary people of goodwill on their part should speak out against racism and stand with victims wherever this social ill shows its ugly face. Simply looking the other way emboldens aggressors.

The authorities have a responsibility to remove racist and hateful messages from public places, including bus stops, and perhaps run educational programs and campaigns to educate the public about the ills of racism and hate.

Monday, October 24, 2011

No impunity for arbitrary killing of Muammar Gaddafi

There is reason to believe that Muammar Gaddafi, former leader of Libya, was summarily executed on 20 October 2011 in custody of rebel forces in Sirte - in violation of the rule of law and laws of war. There should be no impunity for such a high profile arbitrary killing in a "liberated" Libya.

News of the capture of Muammar Gaddafi took the world by storm and there was great expectation that the strongman would face justice in a national or international court for crimes allegedly committed during his 42-year tyrannic rule and more recently during a brutal crackdown on popular protests that broke out in February.

A few minutes after news of the capture, it was reported that the "big fish" had been killed in a "cross fire" between fighters loyal to him and opposition fighters. This was confirmed by the Chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC). However, shocking video footage of the capture revealed that Gaddafi was captured alive, beaten, wounded and possibly executed by the rebels.

Graphic video clips of a bloodied and inhumanely treated Gaddafi posted on the internet attracted condemnation from rights groups. New York-based Human Rights Watch reported that there is evidence that suggest that Gaddafi might have been summarily executed in the custody of opposition fighters from Misrata. The rights group urged the NTC to investigate the deaths of Gaddafi and his son.

According to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, "there is ample evidence" to launch an investigation into the unexpected deaths of Muammar Gaddafi and his son Muatassim Gaddafi - captured alive on the same day.

Peter Bouckaert, Emmergencies Director at Human Rights Watch, was in Sirte to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Muammar Gaddafi and his son. Peter Bouckaert visited the scene of the battle that culminated in the capture of the Gaddafis and reported his findings in a video that was shared on Twitter by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch.

There should be no impunity for arbitrary killing.

On 23 October 2011, doctors conducted an autopsy on the body of Muammar Gaddafi at a hospital in Misrata and confirmed that the toppled leader died of a gunshot wound to the head. It remains unclear who fired the fatal shot. This should be impartially investigated.

All Libyans are entitled to equal protection of the law. This includes all those accused of serious crimes, including captured supporters of Muammar Gaddafi.

*Photo source: The Guardian.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Killing of Colonel Gaddafi is not justice

Disturbing images of a wounded, roughed-up and reportedly dead embattled Muammar Gaddafi - once the strongest man in Libya for more than 40 years - being dragged on the ground in his hometown of Sirte earlier today did not represent justice (in the true sense of the word) for the numerous victims of his brutal 42-year reign in Libya. The images depict man's inhumanity to man and a total disregard for human life by the National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters involved in the historic operation.

Gaddafi was increasingly unpopular both at home and abroad. He was accused of serious human rights abuses and was wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in the brutal crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations that erupted in Libya in February.

Images of a bloodied Gaddafi, in what appeared to be mob justice on the streets of Sirte, have evoked sympathy for the dictator and put into question the NTC's commitment to uphold the rule of law in Libya.

The gruesome killing of accused persons, including those accused of the most heinous crimes, without due process of law must be condemned.

Colonel Gaddafi was no doubt a brutal ruler and scenes of celebrations in Libya - even in the strongman's hometown - add weight to this assertion.

However, it is worthy to note that Gaddafi was denied the right to due process and protection of the law. His basic rights as a human being were violated in the same manner in which he was accused of violating the rights of Libyans. This does not make those involved in the killing any better than the controversial colonel.

Surprisingly, world leaders, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have termed the killing a "major step" for Libya and the beginning of a democratic transition. No world leader, as of the time of this writing, has expressed concern about the lawless matter in which the toppled leader was killed.

Muammar Gaddafi was "arbitrarily deprived of his life" today, 20 October 2011 by NTC forces. The NTC failed to guarantee the rights of the accused as prescribed by law. Gaddafi should have been taken alive and brought to justice. It would have been a victory for the rule of law to see him in the dock in a well-constituted national or international criminal court. This would have been justice for victims of his tyrannic rule.

The killing of Gaddafi marks the end of an era in Libya, but it does no represent justice. As Libyans celebrate their new-found freedom, it is important to remember that the right to life in non-derogable under international law.

This is in no way in defense of Colonel Gaddafi and his firm grip on power; it is in defense of the rule of law.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Dear Obama" responds to calls for help from LRA victims

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is a notorious armed Ugandan rebel group that continues to terrorize civilians in Northern Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The LRA is reportedly responsible for unspeakable violations committed against civilians in central African region. These atrocities include mass rape, mutilations, mass killings, torture, kidnappings and the recruitment of child soldiers. The infamous leader of the rebel group - Joseph Kony - is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. For decades, right groups have demanded tougher action against the LRA. Finally, the Obama administration has responded to calls for help and taken noticeable steps to protect LRA victims.

In 2010, Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch urged President Obama to "get tough on human rights" and argued in favor of the "humanitarian use of force" against the LRA .

Human Rights Watch launched an aggressive campaign to inspire action against the LRA . The organization produced a compelling video titled "Dear Obama" - in which victims of LRA abuse, including men, women, girls and boys, make direct appeals to President Obama - literally begging for help.

The video was nominated for the 2011 Webby Awards.

To many skeptics, this was a long shot.

However, "dear Obama" responded to loud calls echoed by Human Rights Watch. He ordered the deployment of about 100 U.S. military personnel with "appropriate combat equipment" to Uganda to work together with forces in the region to remove Joseph Kony and his commanders from the region. According to a letter from President Obama to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, U.S forces will provide "information, advise and assistance" to regional partners. They "will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self defense."

According to Human Rights Watch, Obama signed a bill on 24 May 2010 that committed the U.S. to help arrest Joseph Kony and protect civilians in the region. More than 200 civilians have been killed and 3000 abducted during LRA operations since 2008.

Obama's decision to deploy forces to Uganda to help stop atrocities committed by the LRA has attracted blind criticism from opponents of his administration, some of whom have arguably never heard about the LRA prior to the president's bold move in the interest of human rights. According to Rush Limbaugh, a conservative American radio talk show host, Obama has sent troops to "wipe out Christians" in Africa. This is a laughable case of misinformation. The talk show host clearly failed do his homework on the subject.

On the other hand, rights advocates who are well-informed about atrocities committed by the LRA and understand the concept of "responsibility to protect", welcome Obama's decision to join efforts to bring Joseph Kony and his cronies to justice.

N.B: See photo of one victim of LRA brutality above. In February 2002, he was kidnapped, deformed and amputated by Kony's men. His ears, lips, nose and hands were chopped off. [Source]. Thousands more have suffered atrocities of varying proportions committed by the LRA .

Thursday, October 13, 2011

US civil rights activist visits Lund University in Sweden

American civil rights activist, the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson was in Lund University, southern Sweden on 12-13 October 2011 during which he participated in a workshop and gave an open lecture about "civil rights in the US today," aimed at students of Lund University's Master program in international human rights law.

A short video of Jesse Jackson's visit to Lund University was posted this afternoon on the University's official Facebook page (international version).

Here is a key phrase from the short video interview: "learning how to live together in a multiracial, multicultural setting..."

This message comes at a time when racism and xenophobia in Europe are running high. This is true in many countries, including Sweden that has a party with Nazis "connections" in parliament and a growing number of so-called "white power groups" on the streets.

In Finland, President Tarja Halonen recently acknowledged the rise of racism in the Nordic country and members of parliament of the growing "True Finns" political party make no secret of their xenophobic and "Islamophobic" stance.

The 22 July massacre in Norway further puts the dire situation in Europe into perspective.

It is important to heed Jesse Jackson's call for equality.

I welcome Reverend Jackson's visit to this part of the world in general and to my alma mater in particular. Lund University happens to be one of the world's top 100 Universities (2011-2012). The university was also among the top 100 universities in 2009.

Photo: Eric Guo.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nobel Peace Prize 2011 challenges prejudice against Arab women

On Friday 7 October 2011, the Nobel Committee in Oslo announced three winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. This year, the peace prize worth $1.5 million was split between three women, including Tawakkul Karman - the first Arab woman to win the prize.

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize is of great significance because it highlights the struggle for women's rights by brave women around the world, and the role of women in the fight for peace, democracy and human rights in Africa and the Middle East. Even more significant is the fact that one of the laureates, 32-year-old Tawakkul Karman, is the first Arab woman to receive the prestigious prize for peace since 1901.

Tawakkul Karman is a journalist from Yemen and human rights activist. She is at the forefront of pro-democracy demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been in power since 1978 - one year before Karman was born in Taiz, Yemen.

Karman is a leading figure in the pro-democracy demonstrations in Yemen. According to Reuters, she has been dubbed "Mother of the Revolution." She was out on the streets demonstrating when news broke that she had been awarded the peace prize.

She reportedly led demonstrations in Yemen earlier this year, in support of Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions that ousted Zine El Abedine Bin Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. To say the least, she has been an ardent supporter of reform in the North Africa and the Middle East. No doubt she branded the award of the prize "a victory for the Arab Spring in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen."

The award of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to a woman who wears the Islamic veil challenges prejudice and stereotypes against Muslim woman who wear the headscarf - many of whom continue to face untold discrimination in many areas of life simply because of their belief and the way they dress.

The prize comes at a difficult time for Arabs and Muslims around the world.

In Europe, islamphobia is on the rise in many countries, including the Nordic countries of Finland, Norway and Sweden - where the immigration debate has gone soar and Arabs and Muslims are used as political punching bags by a growing number of extreme right-wingers.

In the U.S., Arabs and Muslims are the "usual suspects" and are having a tough time in a society that prides itself as "free."

In the Middle East and North Africa, thousands have lost their lives in what has been termed the "Arab Spring." In Syria alone, more than 2700 have been killed by a brutal regime and the UN Security Council has been unable to act because Russia and China decided to side with the oppressor. In Yemen, a dictator clings to power despite popular calls for him to relinquish power.

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize is a victory for millions of Arab women who struggle to overcome discrimination and prejudice in both closed and open societies around the world. They too deserve to be treated  with respect and without discrimination of any kind. Among them are respectable citizens of the world, working hard, sometimes at great personal risk, to make the world a better one for all.

The "Islamic headscarf" is not what defines an individual.

Nobel laureate Tawakkul Karman is the founder and head of an organization called "Women Journalists without Chains."

The other two women - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia) and Leymah Gbowee - who share the Nobel Peace Prize 2011 cannot be overlooked. They too are phenomenal women who have challenged the status quo and asserted the pivotal role of women in Africa and beyond.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Syria: Blood on the hands of Russia and China

The people of Syria are suffering under an increasingly unpopular repressive regime that preys on its citizens in a bid to cling to power. Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, Syrians took to the streets to demand political reform, freedom and respect for human rights. The brutal regime of President Bashar Al-Assad responded with disproportionate brute force - killing scores of protesters. The "bloodthirsty crackdown" in Syria has attracted international condemnation from human rights groups and free countries around the world, but China and Russia - two countries with questionable rights records at home - have shamelessly opposed any attempts by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to send a strong message to the Assad regime that using tanks, snipers, air-power and systematic torture against civilians is intolerable.

On 5 October 2011, Russia and China vetoed a UNSC resolution drafted to urge Syria to end the military operations against civilians or face diplomatic and economic sanctions, including an arms embargo.

Since the state started killing civilians in March, more than 2700 people have reportedly been killed, including a 13-year-old boy brutally killed in custody [WARNING: Very graphic video] of government forces.

In June 2011, Amnesty International published a report about the crackdown in Syria and expressed concern that crimes committed in Syria amount to crimes against humanity.

It is a shame that Russia and China have turned their backs on the people of Syria, despite overwhelming evidence of atrocities committed against them by an ally of the two veto powers. By opposing the UNSC resolution, the two "unfree" countries have sided with an oppressor against his people. Both counties, under the leadership of Dmitry Medvedev and Hu Jintao, have once again shown the world what they are made of.

Both countries have blood on their hands.

Mindful of allegations of possible crimes against humanity in Syria reported by Amnesty International and loud calls for help from the oppressed in Syria, Russia and China have failed in their "responsibility to protect" the people of Syria from a ruthless strongman.

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