Sunday, December 25, 2011

Nigeria: Christmas Day attacks against Christians and religious freedom

It's unusual to find time to write on Christmas day given the busy and festive nature of the day. But silence is not an option following deadly events targeting Christians in Nigeria, as they celebrate Christmas in Africa's most populous nation. As we celebrate Christmas in freedom in free parts of the world, it's important to remember that many people around the world face persecution, discrimination and killings simply because of their religion. Many cannot practice their faith freely because it is either outlawed, threatened or not tolerated in the societies in which they live.

According to  news reports, bomb blasts, including one at a Catholic church, targeted Christians  in Nigeria on Christmas day - a Holy day on the Christian calender. This follows a recent spike in sectarian violence in the west African nation.

In 2010 Human Rights Watch urged the Nigerian government to investigate the massacre of at least 200 Christians in central Nigeria on 7 March 2010.

When talking about persecution, discrimination and killings because of religious views, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and the Ahmadis in Pakistan immediately come to mind, besides Nigeria's Christians who are increasingly being targeted by Islamists.

Non-Jewish Israelis, including Israeli Arabs, also come to mind. According to the U.S. Department of State, Israel's non-Jewish citizens (approximately 20% of the population) face "de facto discrimination." [Source].

Discrimination, persecution, killings and other forms of human rights abuses on grounds of religion or belief contravene Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and other international standards. Governments have a duty to protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

A radical Muslim group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the Catholic church Christmas bombing. The group is reportedly in a campaign to impose Shariah law across Nigeria. It is worth mentioning that the same group claimed responsibility for Christmas eve bombings that targeted churches in 2010.

There is a growing need for the authorities in Nigeria to protect the nation's Christians.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Nigeria and elsewhere.

*Photo source:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who inspires you to care about human rights?

On 8 December 2011, I received an email from Amnesty International USA - an email sent to all supporters - with these words in the subject: who inspires you? It is interesting to mention that on 18 July 2010, I asked the same question: who inspires you?

The email from Amnesty International USA was about "human rights awakening." It was a call for action for human rights advocates and supporters to publicly recognize the person who inspired them to "rise up, speak out and defend basic rights."

The email stated that your human rights hero could be a human rights defender, a parent, a coworker, a Facebook friend, high school teacher, icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, just to name a few, or ANYONE who inspired you to care about human rights.

Readers of this blog probably already know who my hero is.

His name is Nelson Mandela.

I have previously written a few lines about this "last pure hero" and his extraordinary work to uphold human rights and a "free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities." Nelson Mandela championed the fight against apartheid in South Africa and went on to become South Africa's first democratically elected president. He paid a high price for freedom in South Africa.

After becoming president, Madiba, as he is fondly called, did not cling to power either through intimidation or rigged elections like most African leaders do, neither did he clamp down on those who mistreated and condemned him to 27 "dark years" in prison.

He received the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

In 2009, the United Nations declared 18 July Nelson Mandela International Day - in honor of the icon.

A lot has already been written about this great man. There are many books that aptly tell his story, including the following:
  • Conversations with Myself, by Nelson Mandela (with foreword by Barack Obama) .
  • Mandela's Way: Lessons on Life, by Richard Stengel.
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, by Nelson Mandela.
Who inspires you?

It is your turn to name the person who inspired you to care about human rights. Enter the name of the person who inspires you as requested by Amnesty International USA. You could win a prize - if you live in the U.S. If you do not live in the U.S., I guess you could still participate and help build the hero wall.

It is interesting to look at the wall and see who inspires people to care about human rights.

*Photo of Nelson Mandela: jokeroo.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mali: Child labor and poisoning in gold mines (video)

"They carry weights heavier than their own weight, climb into unstable shafts and touch and inhale mercury, one of the most toxic substances on earth." 
(Juliane Kippenberg, Senior Children's Rights Researcher, Human Rights Watch).

Children are a vulnerable group of individuals in need of protection, but more often than not, in many countries around the world, they fall prey to unspeakable violations, including economic exploitation through child labor and sexual abuse. Child labor, a violation of the rights of the child, happens in plain sight in many countries, especially in developing countries or so-called "emerging economies" where people make money by exploiting the services of children. A case in point is Mali - a west African country where child labor is common practice in gold mines.

According to Human Rights Watch, Mali's mines produce gold with child labor. Children in Mali, besides digging mining shafts and working underground, carry heavy weights of ore and work with toxic mercury, in a process aimed at separating gold from ore.

The report also reveals that many children involved in hazardous work in Mali do not go to school because education is inaccessible and unavailable for children. Health care is also limited (with one physician per 20,000 patients), despite the health problems that result from mining.

A video posted on the YouTube channel of Human Rights Watch better captures the plight of children in Mali.

The Republic of Mali is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which it ratified on 20 September 1990. Despite the country's obligation under international law to protect children, guarantee the right to education and ensure "decent work" within its borders, children are continuously being exploited.

It's a shame that Mali is reportedly Africa's third largest gold producer (after South Africa and Ghana), yet the government is unable and/or unwilling to make education accessible and available to its children. This is typical in a continent where corruption is endemic and plays a major role in widespread poverty and desperation that has forced families to victimize children under hazardous conditions in the name of supplementing family income.

It remains to be seen whether someone with the power to change things in Mali would read Human Rights Watch's recently published report titled, "A Poisonous Mix: Child Labor, Mercury and Artisanal Gold Mining in Mali" (in pdf) and take action to restore the childhood and rights of Mali's exploited children. The report contains maps, disturbing pictures and recommendations which the government of Mali ought to take seriously.

According to Human Rights Watch, between 20,000 to 40,000 children work in Mali's artisanal gold mines. Many start working at about six years old.

Human Rights Watch acknowledges (page 6 of the report) that the government of Mali has taken some important steps to protect children's rights. However, a lot more needs to be done. A viable economy cannot be built on the backs of children.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Human trafficking and organized Prostitution in Finland

Earlier this year, CNN joined the fight against modern-day slavery with the objective of  shining the spot light on the plight of victims of modern-day slavery and help "unravel the complicated tangle of criminal enterprises trading in human life." Through the CNN Freedom Project, the news network has done a good job so far bringing to light cases of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, such as the case of African girls held as modern-day slaves in Newark, New Jersey. There are about 10 to 20 million modern-day slaves worldwide. Cases of people held in slave-like conditions have been reported in Russia, China and even Sweden. Unfortunately, Finland, a small and relatively safe Nordic country, has added to the list - following news of women allegedly trafficked and held as prostitutes in Lahti.

According to news reports, police recently uncovered a case of organized prostitution and human trafficking in Lahti, a city located about 100 kilometers north-east of Helsinki, Finland's capital. The victims - women from Thailand, Africa, Russia and Estonia - were exploited by a young couple in the small town. The couple took home "hundreds of thousands of euros" from the illicit business. [Source].

An investigation is on-going.

It is worth mentioning that governments around the world are making noticeable efforts to take human traffickers and modern-day slave owners out of business. For example, in the Newark, New Jersey case, the perpetrators were tried and convicted; in Sweden, the Chinese migrant worker who was held in "slave-like" conditions received reparation, and in China, police recently busted a human trafficking ring and arrested hundreds of suspects.

These are commendable steps to unravel this criminal enterprise that thrives on human rights violations.

It remains to be seen whether those allegedly involved in human trafficking and organized prostitution in Lahti, Finland, would be brought to justice.

Side note: YLE reported that victims of trafficking in the case that is currently being investigated in Lahti come from Thailand, Russia, Estonia and Africa. This raises an important question: where in Africa are the victims from? Africa is not a country; it is a continent made up of 54 sovereign countries (as of time of this writing). It would be more helpful to identify the African countries from where victims originate so that human rights advocates and researchers would know where exactly to direct their efforts.

*Photo: A campaign by Amnesty International (German Section) designed to fight human trafficking - on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of human rights. The idea: a woman was put in a transparent suitcase and the case was place on the luggage belt at an airport in Munich, Germany. [Source].

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Laurent Gbagbo's first criminal court appearance (video)

Former president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, appeared for the first time before a panel of three international criminal court judges on 5.12.2011 - a historic day for the court. It was his first official public appearance since he was ousted on 11 April 2011.

Gbagbo refused to step down after he was declared loser of the November 2010 presidential election. His refusal to accept defeat and step aside plunged Ivory Coast into months of armed conflict during which more than 3000 people were reported dead.

Video footage posted on the YouTube channel of the International Criminal Court showed a "subdued" Laurent Gbagbo dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie. The former leader appeared humble and made an emotional presentation of himself: his name, place and date of birth. He also recounted the circumstances surrounding his arrest by French forces on 11 April 2011, his detention in Ivory Coast and subsequent transfer to the The Hague.

He waived his right to have the charges read out to him, and admitted that he had been informed of his rights.

The wheels of justice have started to turn.

Laurent Gbagbo had a choice to either denounce violence and step down in the interest of peace or face justice for crimes committed as a result of his decision to cling to power. He apparently chose the latter.

Gbagbo is the first former head of state to appear at the International Criminal Court (ICC) since its inception in 2002. He won't be the last - so long as people in authority around the world continue to disregard human rights and the will of the people. Laurent Gbagbo's appearance before the ICC sends a resounding message to those in power that there is no impunity for crimes against humanity and other rights abuses committed against civilians.

Images of Laurent Gbagbo in the dock and Hosni Mubarak in cage are reminders that no one is above the law, especially in this age of international justice.

Mr. Gbagbo is accused of crimes against humanity committed in Ivory Coast. He has the right to be presumed innocent of all charges until proven guilty. His next court hearing is scheduled of 18 June 2012.

*Photo: The Guardian.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nigeria: Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slave Trade (video)

The Federal Republic of Nigeria, with a population of 158.2 million people, is Africa's most populous country and a great oil producing nation. [Source]. But corruption, bad governance and other social ills account for widespread poverty, desperation, crime and rights abuses in the west African country. In 2010, New York-based Human Rights Watch took Nigeria to task for institutionalized corruption in the police force that fuels human rights abuses. Rights violations in Nigeria include, human trafficking - resulting in modern-day slavery.

A video shared on Facebook puts human trafficking in Nigeria into perspective. The video, titled "The Nigerian Connection" shines the spot light on the plight of Nigerian girls trafficked to Italy and "trapped in a nightmare world of prostitution and exploitation".

The video report is difficult to watch. It was aired on "People and Power", a current affairs program on Al Jazeera English, and published on YouTube. The first part of the two-part series captures the dangerous and degrading situation faced by victims of trafficking in the country of destination - Italy.

The second part showcases the dire situation in Nigeria - the country of origin.

It's true that organized crime plays a direct role in human trafficking and modern-day enslavement of Nigerians, but poverty that results from bad governance also plays a role that cannot be overlooked.

Innocent girls are easily lured into modern-day slavery because opportunities to make a decent living in Nigeria are either limited or non-existent. Families are promised a "better life" and children are whisked away into slavery.

A "chosen few" individuals enjoy the wealth of the great oil-producing nation, to the detriment of the majority. This is true in Nigeria and it's also true in other  African countries where endemic corruption, including embezzlement of public funds fuels unspeakable human rights abuses.

Italy is the destination of more than 10,000 prostitutes trafficked from Benin City, southern Nigeria. [Source]. In 2009, I wrote about African girls trafficked to Russia - where they were reportedly held as prostitutes and modern-day slaves. People are held in modern-day slavery in many parts of the world, including the U.S. In 2010, the plight of West African girls held as modern-day slaves in the US was brought to light.

There is a growing need for concerted efforts by governments, civil society groups and individuals against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

*Photo: Source.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Interracial Marriage Ban: Kentucky Church upholds practice akin to Apartheid

First Published in: Dunia Magazine

"... the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church does not condone interracial marriage. Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions..."

The world is yet to forget apartheid in South Africa and its devastating impact on black South Africans. Under the apartheid regime, "non-white" South Africans - the majority of the population - faced state-sponsored and institutional racism of untold proportions. Blatant racism was the order of the day in apartheid South Africa. Racism and racially motivated crimes were backed by immoral laws designed to completely destroy a group of people and hold them captive in their own country. Immoral apartheid laws in South Africa included the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act introduced in 1949 - a law that prohibited interracial marriages, and what was called the Immorality Act - which outlawed interracial sexual relations. [Source: Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, page 98].

Apartheid, "a crazy concept born of prejudice and fear" - in the words of Jan Christiaan Smuts, collapsed in South Africa in 1994. However, 17 years later, practices akin to apartheid continue to be upheld in many communities around the world.

Recently in Kentucky, a church reportedly banned interracial marriage and denied a young couple the right to marry, as laid down in Article 23(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which the United States of America is party.

Members of the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, located in Pike County, according to news reports, voted to ban interracial marriages after a white member of the church engaged to a black African from Zimbabwe. Hell apparently broke loose after the engagement and a pastor, identified as Melvin Thompson, made a misguided recommendation against interracial marriage.

The congregation voted overwhelmingly in favor of the anti-interracial marriage proposal put forward by the pastor. [Source].

Some members of the church chose not to vote.

Those who abstained from voting are as guilty of racism as the architect of the proposal and those who voted in favor.

People of goodwill must always vote against racism - when it comes down to a vote.

It has been said that if you're neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Ironically, the church is called Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church. A name-change ought to be considered.

A ban on interracial marriage strongly suggests that the word "freewill" should be erased from the name of the church, since the institution obviously does not respect the freewill of its members of marriageable age to marry - irrespective of race.

The right to marry should not be denied on grounds of race, color, descent or ethnicity.

It is worth mentioning that the Gulnare [Freewill] Baptist Church, which is now famous for all the wrong reasons, is not the only institution in the world that upholds practices akin to apartheid.

In November 2011, it was reported that a school is Norway racially segregated students. Bjerke Upper Secondary School in Oslo, capital of Norway, grouped students based on race, in a bid to retain ethnic Norwegians in the school. What a shame.

Racism is unconstitutional in the United States and other free countries, it is illegal under international law and should be stamped out in all its forms. Racism should be condemned in the strongest terms when and wherever it prevails.

A ban on interracial marriage has no place in a free and democratic society.


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