Sunday, December 30, 2012

CAR: Former renegade general seeks western intervention

The West does not always impose itself on the African continent. Some African rulers actually solicit western intervention in the continent. The president of Central African Republic (CAR), a former renegade general and rebel leader, sought French and American intervention to stop a rebellion that threatens his regime. 

It is an open secret that many people on the African continent and elsewhere blame the West for the perils of the African continent. Many critics argue that the West is an invisible hand engineering conflicts, corruption, poverty, disease and supporting dictatorships in Africa. According to an article on The Economist, titled Africa, oil and the West, a month rarely goes by without the discovery of oil deposits in Africa and only 5 of Africa's 55 countries are neither producing nor exploring for oil. Despite Africa's mineral, oil and agricultural wealth, a chunk of its people live below the poverty line and die of hunger while Western multinationals plunder their resources; sometimes with little or no corporate social responsibility - as in the case of Shell in the Niger Delta. As if the exploitation of resources is not enough, the international criminal justice system disproportionately targets Africans. It is partly against this backdrop that Africans are suspicious of the West - and rightly so.

However, many critics of the West lose sight of the fact that African leaders are partly and largely responsible for the sorry-state of affairs on the continent. Some have argued that our rulers are pressured by their western counterparts to submit to their demands. But a shameful request of Francois Bozize, president of Central African Republic (CAR), for American and French intervention in the central African country shows that some African leaders -without any pressure from the usual suspects - actually solicit western intervention.

On Thursday 27 December 2012, Francois Bozize expressly asked France, his country's former colonial master, and the U.S. to intervene in the internal affairs of CAR and help stop the advance of rebels seeking to overthrow his government. The president reportedly said "the French are our cousins. They should fix what is happening." [Source]

It is unheard of for the president of a sovereign country to expressly seek western intervention in his country's internal affairs. As a matter of fact, many countries that are truly independent abhor foreign intervention. Slain Muammar Gaddafi of Libya would attest to this - if he could.

The last time I checked, CAR became an independent state since August 1960. After more than 50 years of independence, the country should be able to fix what is happening. Unfortunately, misrule is dragging the country into instability and neo-colonialism.

President Bozize's request, in my opinion, is a disgrace to the continent and a source of embarrassment to its people - especially those who argue that African countries can handle their affairs. Bozize's request is an indication, that perhaps the West does not always impose itself on Africa - some African leaders actually solicit western intervention.

A quick search on the internet reveals that President Francois Bozize came to power through a bloody military coup that deposed a civilian government under President Ange-Felix Patasse in March 2003. Renegade general Francois Bozize, who reportedly served as army chief of staff under his predecessor, formed a "transitional government" and was affirmed as president after elections in 2005. He was re-elected in 2011 after a controversial election regarded as flawed. [Source]

Amnesty International reported in its 2012 annual report that Bozize's government imprisoned suspected critics together with their associates and family members. [Source] Freedom of expression is gagged under Bozize's rule and members of his security forces are accused of torture.

French and/or American intervention in the CAR to stop the rebels is not a lasting solution to the country's problems. President Francois Hollande of France rejected Bozize's call. Hollande reportedly said the days of French intervention in the internal affairs of a country are over. It remains to be seen whether France will keep its word in CAR and other countries in the region. According to an article published by the BBC, African governments with close ties to France have a poor record of governance, in terms of human rights, corruption and the concentration of power among a tiny ruling class. [Source] CAR - member of the so-called Francafrique - is, without a doubt, one of such countries with unhealthy ties to France.

The Seleka rebels who reportedly surrounded Bangui before Bozize cried out for help claim the government has broken its promises. President Bozize, a former rebel General, should return to the negotiation table and seek a political solution to the crisis. Military intervention by Western powers is not a sensible solution. President Bozize should also release prisoners of conscience, guarantee freedom of expression and put an end to torture and other ill-treatment as reported by Amnesty International.

*Photo of Francois Bozizi: LaMontagne.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Finland: Racially motivated hate crimes highest in 2011 than any time in decade

The majority of hate crimes reported to police in Finland in 2011 were racially motivated, and the police reportedly recorded the highest number of racially motivated hate crimes in 2011 than at any other time in more than 10 years.

The end of each year is always an interesting time. Besides holidays, parties and new year wishes and resolutions, many organizations and bodies release statistics that put events during the year or the previous year into perspective. One of such statistics, which I always look forward to, is Finland's hate crime statistics published by the Police College of Finland and the Ministry of Interior's Police Department. The 108-paged report published this year reviews hate crimes reported all across Finland in 2011. It reveals that in Finland, people are physically attacked on grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability, and as a hate crime motivation in 2011, race won by a landslide.

In the report, hate crime is defined as:
"... a crime against a person, group, somebody's property, institution, or a representative of these, motivated by prejudice or hostility towards the victim's real or perceived ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, transgender identity or appearance, or disability." [Source]
The report, titled Poliisin Tietoon Tullut Viharikollisuus Suomessa 2011, reveals that Finland saw an increase in racism and racial abuse in 2011. Police recorded 918 crimes that were suspected to be motivated by hate - a 7 percent increase compared to 2010. According to the report, majority of the crimes, 86 percent, were racially motivated. The report brings to light the fact that most racist hate crimes were committed in the evening and at night in public outdoors such as streets, roads or market squares. Restaurants, bars and dance spaces were also racist crime scenes. A surprisingly high number (12 percent) of suspected hate crimes were committed in victims' residential areas and staircases. In this internet age, it is worthy to mention that the internet accounted for 2 percent of suspected hate crimes. Religious background motivated 6.6 percent of the cases, sexual orientation motivated 4.6 percent, disability motivated 2.6 percent and three hate crimes (0.3 percent) were motivated by victims' transgender identity.

Assault was the most common form of racially motivated hate crime between 2003 and 2011. (See page 55).

By municipality, Finland's capital city, Helsinki, accounted for the highest number of suspected racist crimes reported to the police in 2011, followed by Vantaa, Turku and Espoo. By region, racist powerhouses included, Länsi- and Itä-Uusimaa (with Helsinki as capital), keski-Suomi (with Jyväskylä as capital), Pirkanmaa (with Tampere as capital), Pohjois-Savo ( with Kuopio as capital), Etelä-Savo (with Mikkeli as capital), Pohjois Karjala (with Joensuu as capital), Varsinais-Suomi (Turku as capital) and Satakunta (Pori as capital). Looking at a map on page 53 of the report, central, eastern, western and southern Finland could be aptly described as hate crime hot spots.

Somalis, according to the report, were the most targeted group. This puts into perspective results of a poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat in 2011 that showed that Somalis are most affected by racism in Finland.

Following the publication of the police report, Yle reported that there were more cases of racism and related physical abuse in Finland in 2011 than at any other time in more than 10 years. [Source] The news report also pointed out that hate crime and racism are not recognized as criminal offences in Finland's criminal code. This puts into question the objective of the annual hate crime report published by the Police College of Finland and the Ministry of Interior's Police Department since 1998. Statistics should not be gathered for the sake of it. Hate crime statistics, which have been gathered for over a decade, should be used to push for legislation against hate crime. It is incomprehensible that the Criminal Code of Finland sanctions "ethnic agitation" (see Chapter 11, Section 10) and does not sanction racially motivated physical abuse or hate crime that could result from such agitation.

"Monitoring" hate crime and publishing yearly statistics without hate crime legislation to deter perpetrators does not make sense. Statistics are not a deterrent. There is a need for hate crimes to be recognized as criminal offences in the Criminal Code of Finland, especially in light of the 2011 hate crime report that paints the grimmest picture of racially motivated hate crimes in more than 10 years.

Racism is a real problem in Finland and there is a lack of political will or leadership to address the problem. This explains why a Member of Parliament of the "True" Finns Party, Teuvo Hakkarainen, could make a racial slur on his first day in parliament against people of African descent and get away it. In a country where racism and racially motivated abuse are not tolerated, he would have resigned. Perpetrators of racism face no real consequences.

Believe it or not - racism damages Finland's image and the image of its people.

My Google Analytics (GA), a service that gathers statistics about visits to a website, shows that internet users are curious about the state of racism in Finland and that many people are searching the internet for related information about Finland and Finns. Some users searching for information end up on my blog, and according to GA, keywords about Finland that landed people on my blog between 21 November 2012 and 21 December 2012 include: "finnish people are racist", "are finnish people racist", "finland racial law", "racism in finland", "finland racist" and "finland xenophobia". Perpetrators of racism might think they are damaging the lives of their victims, but they are also damaging the image of their country and how they and their compatriots, the majority of whom are not racist - in my opinion - are perceived internationally. Racism is a double-edged sword. It negatively impacts both the perpetrator and the victim.

Make no mistake, not all hate crimes are reported or brought to the attention of the police. It is therefore plausible to conclude that the figures published by the Police College of Finland and the Ministry of Interior's Police Department are not representative of the real situation on the ground.

*Photo: bikyamasr.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Desmond Tutu: Homophobia, just like Racism

"We cannot claim that our societies are free and equal as long as some among us are treated as inferior and denied even their basic human rights." ~ Desmond Tutu
A video message from Archbishop Desmond Tutu on "the role of leadership in the fight against homophobia" caught my attention on 13 December 2012. In the video, the retired Anglican Archbishop, anti-Apartheid icon and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate likened homophobia to racism and highlighted the importance of speaking out against the denigration, arrest, harassment, imprisonment, torture and killing of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) people around the world. The compelling YouTube video was shared by a friend on Facebook and I thought it wise to share the message, together with my thoughts on the subject, with a broader audience.

This is not the first time Desmond Tutu has spoken out against homophobia. He was once asked by a student that if he could have one wish granted to reverse an injustice, what would it be? The archbishop said he would wish for the world to "end the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid." [SourceIn July 2012, he called for an end to gay stigma to help tackle HIV.

It is no secret that homosexuality is [still] a taboo in many parts of Africa and beyond. It is criminalized in many countries, including Cameroon and Uganda.

In Cameroon, people are routinely arrested, persecuted and imprisoned on grounds of homosexuality or perceived homosexuality. In 2011, a Cameroonian, Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, was sentenced to 3 years in prison for homosexuality under Cameroon's controversial anti-homosexuality law. Although Roger Jean-Claude Mbede was released provisionally on  16 July 2012, his appeal is still pending and other people like him continue to live in the shadow of discrimination, persecution and imprisonment. In Uganda, an odious anti-gay bill designed to imposed harsher sanctions, including the death penalty, on homosexuality was proposed in 2009. Although the death penalty clause was dropped, the misguided bill is still expected to pass and poses a threat to the rights of the LGBT community in Uganda and beyond.

Repressive laws in many African countries are bad enough, but even more worrying is the deafening silence of people of good conscience, especially young people and those with the power to change perception.

Many young people either support archaic anti-homosexuality laws or lack the courage and confidence to speak out against homophobia for fear of being accused of promoting homosexuality or fear of being perceived as homosexual (as if only women promote women's rights or only Roma promote Roma rights or better still - as if only victims of human rights violations work for human rights). Many seem to be unaware that the defence of human rights is not about self interest.

Imagine a world where people lacked courage to fight against social ills like racism, gender inequality, slavery, colonialism or other human rights violations and prejudices that shame humanity. South Africa would still be stuck in the racist apartheid era and African-Americans would still be disenfranchised and relegated to the back of buses.

I am of African descent and I know what prejudice looks like. I know how it feels to be a minority and to be discriminated against. I would not wish it on anyone, including LGBT people. I abhor homophobia as much as I abhor xenophobia, racism, discrimination against women, discrimination against the Roma and other minority groups. I refuse to turn a blind eye on homophobia simply because I am "straight" and not affected by it. It beats my mind that some people can afford to condemn discrimination based on race and at the same time perpetuate or support discrimination based on other grounds.

No double standards.

It does not make sense to be against discrimination on grounds of race, gender, religion or what have you, and at the same time support discrimination based on sexual orientation. Desmond Tutu once wrote, "I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups." [Source]

Talking about churches and faith groups - they are the powerhouses of homophobia. Many people quote the Bible to justify hatred against LGBT people. Those who invoke the Bible to justify an injustice somehow forget that the same scripture says, "Judge not and ye shall not be judged; condemn not and ye shall not be condemned." In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority." [Source]

We all have a responsibility to speak out against homophobia and all other forms of prejudices, and to respect the rights and freedoms of all people, without discrimination of any kind.

*Photo: The Telegraph.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lunch with Finland's former President: lessons learnt

On 11.12.2012, at about 11:15 AM, I walked into a restaurant for lunch in Finland's capital city of Helsinki. I occupied a seat in the buffet area of the restaurant and immediately spotted Finland's former president - "Rouva Presidentti" - Tarja Halonen serving herself at the buffet table.While I was still trying to come to terms with her simplicity, she walked towards me and took a seat directly behind me. As a matter of fact, we literally robbed shoulders on her way from the buffet table. While my casual encounter with Mrs. President may sound normal to Finns, to me it was a pleasantly surprising and lesson-packed encounter.

Where I come from, you do not bump into presidents or former presidents by accident in an ordinary restaurant around town.

Loud sirens and long convoys of luxurious vehicles announce the arrival and departure of top officials like Tarja Halonen. Roads leading to a restaurant where a person of her stature dines would be cordoned off for hours by police and security personnel. Petty businesses and public transportation in and around the area would be paralyzed. The movement of ordinary people would be restricted in the vicinity. People would be intimidated and sometimes harassed by security for "trespassing" in the area.

Tarja Halonen "demystifies" the presidency. She is testament to the fact that presidents, former presidents, first ladies, members of parliament, ministers, governors and other high-level officials are public servants and when they leave office, they do not carry it with them. Their role is to serve the people, not make life difficult and unbearable for them. Government officials are not gods and people who elect them should not be forced to treat them as such. Their presence in public spaces should not be cause for intimidation, rather they should inspire good.

Workers eat in the restaurant in question on a daily basis during lunch break. They were not shut out of the restaurant or forced to change their daily routine because a former president came for lunch in the same restaurant. I bet Tarja Halonen would not like that to happen.

Leaders and government officials, especially in the developing world, who command fear rather than respect have a lesson to learn from Finland's Tarja Halonen. She is not defined by her office or the position she once held. She occupied the highest office in Finland for two terms (eight years) (UPDATE: 12 years), [Source] dined and interacted with some of the most powerful people in the world and made decisions in the interest of one of the most advanced countries in the world. She was even named by Forbes among the world's 100 Most Powerful Women in 2009. [Source] However, she was not corrupted by power, neither did she let it get into her head. She remains a respected and admired citizen - even without flash -  and continues to inspire future leaders to keep it simple. After all, "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

This encounter convinced me that power does not corrupt everyone. Tyranny is a choice.

There are lessons to be learnt from daily experiences, and my encounter with Finland's former president is one of them. Hopefully, the next generation of leaders, especially in Africa where power corrupts, will learn from such daily experiences abroad and help demystify top government posts when they rise to the occasion. The world is in need of leaders who serve the people, not "leaders" who expect to be served and feared. Good leaders are not feared.

It is worth mentioning that this is not the first time I am impressed by Tarja Halonen. She first earned by respect and admiration when she acknowledged the rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland and spoke out against it - in a country where there is a muted response by public officials and politicians to the social ill, despite the real threat it poses.

*Photo: Yle.

Friday, December 7, 2012

In honor of 95 years of Finnish Independence

Finland is a great country in many respects. The Nordic country of 5.4 million people has graced the top spot in many international rankings. After 95 years of independence, Finland has a lot to show for its self-governance.

In 2010, Newsweek magazine ranked Finland the best country to live in - in terms of living conditions. The Global Gender Gap Report 2012 published by the World Economic Forum reveals that Finland is a leader in promoting gender equality. The Republic of Finland occupies second place in a ranking of 135 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index 2012. (See page 8 of the report). Finland ranked third, third, second, second, third, third on the index in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006 respectively. In the field of education, Finland's education system is ranked best in the developed world, according to a 2012 report published by Pearson. In its 2012 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International placed Finland at the top of the list of the world's least-corrupt countries.

Although at the moment smartphone giant Nokia is struggling to keep its head above water as its cash pile dwindles, it is worth highlighting that it is a Finnish invention.

Celebrations marking 95 years of Finnish independence are well-deserved. Finland has come a long way since independence from the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland.

The Finnish Declaration of Independence was adopted on 6 December 1917. [Source] The country has shown resilience - bouncing back from a gloomy colonial era under the Swedish Empire and the Russian Empire, and a bitter civil war that was fought from January to May 1918. [Source] Finland now stands tall as a force to reckon with in the region.

However, it is worthy to note that while the majority of native Finns enjoy freedom and opportunities that come with [real] independence, all is not well for all groups of people in Finland - especially immigrants and visible minorities. The threat of right-wing extremism, hostility towards Muslims and anti-immigration sentiments is real. Anti-immigration groups like Perussuomalaiset (PS), Suomen Sisu and others have hijacked public debate - spreading racism, prejudice, far-right ideologies and "blind nationalism".

Finland still has a lot of work to do in the field of diversity and equal opportunities for all without discrimination of any kind on grounds of race, color, ethnic or national origin and other grounds. Social and professional exclusion of certain groups of people because of what they look like or where they come from is obsolete.

Some people may wonder why I (a Cameroonian from West Africa) am concerned about the state of affairs in a country in northern Europe.

Well, it turns out I have two beautiful kids of Finnish nationality - by birth (Perustuslain 5 §). In the eyes of some people, they look different and they might be treated differently by a growing number of far-right ideologists. I therefore have a dog in the fight for equality in Finland. I will like to see my children judged for who they are not where their father comes from.
Lapsieni vuoksi toivon, että yhtenä päivänä kaikki Suomessa asuvat ihmiset nauttivat tasa-arvoa ja yhdenvertaisuutta, ilman syrjintää etnisen alkuperän, ihon värin, sukupuolisen tai muun henkilöön liittyvän syyn perusteella.
On the bright side, 6 November is a well-deserved Independence Day. Given its history, Finland has come a long way but the country should not lose sight of the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done to foster equality, diversity, mutual respect and acceptance. In the words of Maya Angelou: "It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finland: Best education system doesn't guarantee foreign students employment

Education is the cornerstone of development and any country that wishes to compete in a globalized world invests in education. Finland, a relatively obscure developed country in northern Europe, seems to understand the importance of quality education and is doing a better job than its Nordic and other western counterparts to improve its educational quality and output. On 27 November 2012, I was glad to learn that Finland's education system is ranked best in the developed world, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. The UK comes in sixth (6) while the US occupies the seventeenth (17) position. I instinctively shared the good news on my Facebook page and included congratulatory words for Finland: "Onnea Suomi". But I am under no illusion that the best education system guarantees foreign students relevant employment or jobs that match their education upon graduation in the Nordic country.

According to a 2012 report written by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, entitled The Learning Curve: Lessons in Country Performance in Education, Finland has the best educational system. The Nordic country ranks highest on a comparative Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment with a score of 1.26, while Indonesia tails the list with a score of -2.03. Results on the Index are based on inculcation of cognitive skills (mathematics, science and reading) and educational attainment (literacy and graduation rates) in 39 countries and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. 

Having the best schools in the world, as reported by Yle is certainly good news for Finland and thousands of people studying in Finnish schools. However, being a top dog in education is not enough. Graduates from the best schools and universities should be able to find relevant jobs after graduation. In Finland, all education and training leading to a degree is free of charge, although adult education institutions can charge a fee. Gender equality in higher education is relatively good - with more than half of all students entering universities and completing Mater's degrees being women. However, after completing degree programmes, the academic career of women in Finland becomes more difficult. According to a paper published by Centre for International Mobility (CIMO), titled Advanced and Unusual: Finland as seen by International Students and Trainees (see page 11) women are highly segregated in some job sectors. The same is true for international or foreign students - who are segregated in almost all sectors upon graduation.

Finland might have the best educational system in the world, but after graduating from universities some groups, including women and foreign students in international degree programmes, hit a virtual brick wall in the job market.

Numerous graduates from Finland's international degree programmes offered in English find themselves working as cleaners and dishwashers in Helsinki and other towns - long after graduation from some of Finland's most prestigious institutions of higher learning - due to difficulties finding jobs that match their academic skills. Some university graduates, for instance, end up working as contracted dishwashers in restaurants in some schools and universities. Others find themselves cleaning floors in child day care facilities, offices, cruise ships, construction sites and private houses. It is worth highlighting that foreign or international degree students are highly represented in this disadvantaged category of job seekers with degrees from Finnish universities and universities of Applied Sciences.

Some people argue that the plight of foreign graduates is largely due to language barrier. Many foreign students study in English and have little or no Finnish language skills, hence cannot compete with their Finnish counterparts in the labour market. This is a common argument put forward in an attempt to justify the low level of employment among university graduates with foreign backgrounds resident in Finland. However, those who blame towering unemployment on language seem to be unaware that even Finnish language proficiency does not guarantee foreigners employment - especially non-Europeans.

For many foreign students, limitations in the Finnish job market diminish the worth of Finland's top-notch education. A fancy degree issued by a highly rated Finnish university is not worth much in the labour market for many international graduates job-hunting in Finland. For many, leaving Finland upon graduation becomes the best option. It is mind-boggling why a country would invest so much in international Master's programmes and let its graduates languish in underemployment (working jobs that do not require high education) and forced to flee -  in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

The Pearson report puts Finland's educational system on the map and is bound to pique the interest of students around the world, and perhaps attract more international students seeking quality education. What the report does not reveal is that for foreign degree holders from Finnish universities, chances of finding relevant work in Finland after graduation are slim. It is very important for prospective international students to know this, especially those dreaming of finding relevant work after graduation. Helsingin Sanomat reported on 8 June 2009 that in spite of education, immigrants are not easily employed.

A survey in which 23 Finnish universities and universities of Applied Sciences participated revealed that 89 per cent of international students are "generally happy or very happy" with their Finnish institution and study in Finland. 83.9 per cent of the respondents would recommend their university or Finland as a destination for studies. According to the survey, students are concerned about finding a job after graduation. The survey shows that students seek not only a degree in Finland - many will like to find jobs after graduation.

According to Statistics Finland, 28,500 university degrees were obtained in Finland in 2011, 2 per cent less than in 2010. Of the degrees obtained in 2011, foreign students obtained 1,400 degrees and women accounted for 60 per cent of all degrees.

The unemployment rate among foreign residents in Finland hit 25.9 per cent in late 2009 - more than double that of the native-born population.

*Photo: United Education.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Inequality in the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme

A government that funds a programme and restricts participation to its nationals is not different from an entrepreneur, investor or individual who creates jobs and makes it company policy to employ only his or her compatriots; or a man who creates jobs and implements a discriminatory policy designed to employ only men.

The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme provides marvelous opportunities for young professionals under the age of 32 working in the field of development to gain hands-on experience in the field.[Source] It gives qualified young people the opportunity to work in organizations and United Nations (UN) agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Joint United Nations Programmes on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and others. Governments that fund the JPO Programme administered by the JPO Service Centre (JPOSC) restrict participation to their nationals - putting into question their commitment to guarantee equal opportunity for all people legally within their borders irrespective of national origin.

Through the JPO programme, young professionals working as JPOs gain significant experience of up to two years or more in the aforementioned UN agencies and developmental programmes around the world - working in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Russian Federation, Jordan and others. The JPO programme is a great. It accounts for 10-13% of the professional staff of participating organizations; it empowers young people and encourages them to participate in development work around the world. However, it has a surprising down side: it violates the principle of equal opportunity.

A closer look at the programme, especially the eligibility requirements for participation, reveals that it is discriminatory on grounds of nationality and national origin, and disproportionately empowers young people from donor countries - thereby breeding inequality between young people from developed countries and equally professionally qualified nationals of developing countries.

The JPO Programme is sponsored by a few "donor governments" and more often than not, only their nationals are eligible to apply for JPO positions. JPO vacancy announcements make no secret of this discriminatory recruitment policy. As of the time of this writing, donor countries whose nationals are eligible to apply include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, oil rich Kuwait, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, oil rich Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

It is fair to say that the aforementioned countries are doing a good job by creating marvelous opportunities for their young nationals to gain top-level international work experience. The countries are investing in the future by preparing their young professionals for leadership positions on the international stage. But by shutting out young professionals from less developed countries, the JPO programme breeds inequality. Some people would argue that donor countries should be free to decide how to spend their tax payers' money. This argument is invalid because discrimination based on nationality and national origin contravenes international human rights standards and, in many cases, violates national non-discrimination and equality laws. JPO Programme-participating governments have obligations under human rights covenants to guarantee equality within their borders.

No African country, as of the time of this writing, has sponsored the JPO Programme. This leaves young, qualified Africans in a disadvantaged position compared to their European counterparts. It is worth mentioning at this point that African governments are doing themselves a disservice by not investing in their young people. More often than not, state funds that could be used to sponsor programmes for young people, such as the JPO Programme, are embezzled and swindled into private coffers by corrupt officials.

On 20.11.2012, I received an email announcement of seven JPO vacant positions funded by the Foreign Ministry of Finland. I thought I was eligible to apply for one of the positions but two words (in Finnish) disqualified me: "...Suomen kansalaisuus" - meaning Finnish Nationality. The jobs are not sensitive diplomatic positions. It is unclear why the Foreign Ministry backs such as policy, despite the fact that Finland's  Equality and Non-Discrimination Act (Yhdenvertaisuuslaki) that came into force in 2004 expressly prohibits discrimination based on nationality, national origin and other grounds. Section 6 of the Act states: "Ketään ei saa syrjiä iän, etnisen tai kansallisen alkuperän, kansalaisuuden, kielen, uskonnon, vakaumuksen, mielipiteen, terveydentilaan, vammaisuuden, sukupuolisen suuntautumisen tai muun henkilöön liittyvän syyn perusteella."

A government that funds a programme and restricts participation to its nationals is not different from an entrepreneur, investor or individual who creates jobs and makes it company policy to employ only his or her compatriots; or a man who creates jobs and implements a discriminatory policy designed to employ only men.

Discrimination is what it is. Its definition should remain the same irrespective of whether the perpetrator is a government, international organization, or an individual. The JPO Programme is discriminatory on grounds of nationality and origin. It is a shame that the UN, an organization that promulgates "equal opportunity" and non-discrimination, allows such a policy in the recruitment of young professionals to staff its agencies and developmental programmes.

In "very limited circumstances", the JPO Programme recruits "very few" nationals of developing countries. As of 1 September 2012, there were 294 junior professional officers mostly working with UNDP. [Source] Only 25 (8%) of them were nationals of developing countries. [Source] Inequality in the JPO programme is staggering. Some effort has been made to recruit nationals from developing nations, but a lot more could be done. Recruiting "a small number" of  developing country nationals in "very limited circumstances" is tantamount to putting lipstick on a pig. Nationality should be dropped as a recruitment requirement.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

PETITION: To Chief of National Traffic Police, Finland

Recipient: Kari Rantala, Chief of the National Traffic Police

Subject: Guarantee Immediate Return of Driver's Licence

Dear (recipient's name),

I am writing to express deep concern in regards to the controversial seizure of a driver's license by police in Jyväskylä. The circumstances surrounding the seizure put into question the values of fairness and objectivity of the National Traffic Police.

On 28.10.2012, police seized the driving licence of X [name withheld here because the affected party wishes to remain anonymous online], a 29-year-old student of African origin in Viitasaari, Jyväskylä. He was driving to Helsinki from Oulu when he noticed a police van behind him in Jyväskylä. The van drove behind him for about 20 minutes and then pulled him over. The officers invited him into the police van where they checked his driving licence and car registration. According to his report, he was told that someone had called the police and reported that he had violated traffic regulations by driving over a yellow line and overtaking many cars in the process. According to the police, X overtook cars in front of him twice in a junction and once through the lane of oncoming traffic.

X disputed the claims to the no avail. Police seized his license - based on what they heard from a caller. The officers reportedly intimidated him to accept the claim but he stood his ground. Despite his word against the unknown caller's word, police seized his license for "gross traffic safety endangerment".

The police tested X for alcohol after seizing his license. Results revealed that he had not drank alcohol.

It has been three weeks, as of the time of this writing, since the driving licence was confiscated and X has not heard anything from the police. Neither has he been invited for a hearing. He has repeatedly contacted the Helsinki Police Department numerous times but there is no information about his driving licence. He has lost a job that requires him to have a driving licence.

I believe seizing a driver's license based strictly on hearsay constitutes a due-process violation and goes against values of fairness and objectivity promulgated by the National Traffic Police. The action of the officers in this case suggests bias based on the origin of the driver involved. I therefore respectfully demand the following:
  • Immediate return of the driver's license pending an investigation into alleged violation of traffic regulations
  • An investigation into circumstances that surrounded the seizure to ensure that there was no abuse of power by the police officers involved
  • Ensure that police do not take punitive measures without enough evidence to support a claim
I recognize the important role of traffic police in ensuring road safety. However, due process and National Traffic Police values of fairness, neutrality and objectivity should not be compromised in the process of keeping roads safe.


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UPDATE: Petition closed for signatures.

*Photo: Yle.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Finland: Questionable seizure of driver's license by police

I received a phone call two weeks ago that brought my attention to a case of questionable police action in Jyväskylä, central Finland. I hoped the situation would be rectified fast enough so that I would not have to write this blog post. The incident hit a little too close to home because it involved someone I know personally. It puts into question the professional conduct of Finland's traffic police and their commitment to guarantee everyone within Finland's borders equal protection without distinction of any kind.

On 28.10.2012, a friend of African origin was driving from Oulu in northern Finland to Helsinki in the south. After driving for about 4.5 hours, he noticed a police van by the side of the road. The van followed him and drove directly behind him for about 20 minutes - during which he committed no traffic offence - then pulled him over. He was invited into the van - where his driving licence and car registration were checked. One of the police officers [name withheld] told him that an unknown person (presumably a motorist) had called the police and reported that he (my friend) had violated traffic rules by overtaking in an area where he was not supposed to. According to the [ghost] caller, my friend drove over a solid yellow line towards on-coming traffic.

The driver disputed the claim to no avail. According to a written report he submitted to a number of authorities in Helsinki, including the Central Police Department and  the Registry of the Ministry of Justice, the police intimidated him to admit the traffic offense but he did not.

Word against word

My friend's license was confiscation based on an alleged phone call from an unknown caller. One of the officers said he "trusted" the caller hence seized the driver's license for "gross" traffic violation.

In a clear case of one man's word against another's, the police chose to believe one party without enough evidence to support his/her claim. This constitutes a due-process violation and goes against values of fairness and objectivity of the National Traffic Police.

Everyone with a driver's license in Finland should be concerned. The action of the police in this case is an indication that it only takes one phone call from an unknown caller for a driving licence to be suspended. Anyone who perhaps does not like you - either because you are an immigrant, Roma, Black, White, Hispanic, Christian or Muslim - could exploit this simple option: call the police and have your license seized thereby making life difficult for you.

Imagine a world where police acted purely on hearsay. People would exploit the situation for personal gains.

Alcohol testing

It was only after confiscating the driving licence that my friend was tested for alcohol. According to his report, he had not drank alcohol for weeks. He was clean.

The police took his license and issued him a 5-hour authorization to drive home. He has not driven since 28.10.2012 and as of the time of this writing, he has not heard anything from the police. He has been left in the dark for two weeks without any information about his license.

Anti-immigration sentiments

The police acted strictly on hearsay. As law enforcement officers, they know better. Hearsay is not admissible in the eyes of the law, yet they seized someone's license because they "heard" that he had committed a gross traffic violation. Mindful of reports about the rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland, it is plausible to believe that the immediate seizure of the driving licence of a driver of African descent without due process was motivated by bias, race, color, ethnicity or other discriminatory grounds.

Petition for restoration of driving licence

Based on the conviction that bias and discriminatory motives instigated the seizure of the license in question, we decided to petition the authorities to immediately restore the arbitrarily suspended right to drive. The petition is addressed to Mr. Kari Rantala, Chief of the National Traffic Police.

In a country where xenophobia runs deep, it is dangerous for the police to take drastic measures based on phone calls from unknown callers. Punitive measure based on phone calls could encourage xenophobes to victimize immigrants and other people with foreign backgrounds by making unsubstantiated calls to the police. While such calls should not be dismissed entirely, there should be thoroughly investigated before acting upon. Seizing a driver's license without enough evidence amounts to abuse of power and a violation of his right to due process and perhaps equal protection of the law.

We demand the following:
  • Immediate return of the driving licence
  • An investigation into circumstances that led to seizure in order to ensure that there was no abuse of power by the police officers involved
  • Ensure that police do not take drastic measures without enough evidence
A petition needs signatures in order for it to have more weight. Please, add your voice to the call for the restoration of the driving licence in question by signing the petition. Your signature could make a difference.

The petition will be open for signatures until Sunday 18.11.2012 at midday. It will be delivered to the Chief of the National Traffic Police on 19.11.2012. The driver whose license was confisticated wishes to remain anonymous online. However, his name is mentioned in the petition that will be delivered to the traffic police chief.

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UPDATE: Petition closed for signatures.

*Photo: TISPOL.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cameroon: An assessment of President Paul Biya's 30 years in Power

Following the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the U.S. has had 44 presidencies and has seen 43 people sworn into office as president. [SourceOn 6 November 2012, Americans return to the polls to renew their 44th President's contract or elect (God forbid) their 45th president. Elsewhere in my home country, Cameroon, 6 November 2012 marks thirty (30) consecutive years since a politician by the name of Paul Biya was sworn into office as president.

Paul Biya, 79 years old, replaced Cameroon's first president Ahmadou Ahidjo after the latter's resignation in 1982. He became the country's second president since independence in 1960 and has been at the helm of government since then. His presidency has been marred by allegations of corruption, electoral fraud, economic stagnation, poverty and gross human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary  arrests and imprisonment of journalists and authors, and brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, including University student demonstrators. Freedom of speech and expression - the foundation of free democratic countries - are restricted. Intimidation by security forces is rife. The right to good quality education is limited. Dilapidated schools abandoned by the government are a common sight. The regime has failed many of its young school goers. In certain government schools, children have no benches or tables. Good roads are almost non-existent. Health care in nothing to write home about. The list goes on.

Allegations of corruption and embezzlement of huge sums of money by government officials are rampant, while many ordinary people live below the poverty line. Police corruption is endemic and happens with impunity in broad day light.

Unemployment stood at an estimated 30% in 2001. [Source]

At face value, you would think that Cameroon is a lawless state where human rights are unknown, but we do have laws that guarantee respect for human rights. In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights are incorporated in our Constitution.

While Americans, disappointed with the pace of change and economic growth under a president elected only four years ago head to the polls with the conviction that their votes count, in Cameroon, the story is different: votes do not necessarily count. We have had one president with a track record of failure for thirty years. He recently won the 2011 presidential election that gave him seven more years in office. If you do the arithmetic - you will realize that Paul Biya will be 86 years old at the end of his current term.

Despite his record, there is little expectation that he will relinquish his grip on power after his current term. In 2008, his administration masterminded a controversial Constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits - thereby highlighting the possibility that he could be president for life. The amendment was followed by a "riot" that was brutally suppressed by heavy-handed security forces. Demonstrators were killed and critics like a popular musician called Lapiro de Mbanga were arrested, persecuted and imprisoned.

I am ashamed to say that I have known only one president throughout my adult life. Many Cameroonians my age share my frustration and we long for the day when change will come to Cameroon.

Many people have asked me why we have allowed one man to take us hostage for thirty years. Many wonder why we have not [violently] demanded regime change. Some think we do not care about the wrong direction in which our country is headed.

The truth is --- we do care.

The motto of our republic is PEACE - WORK - FATHERLAND. We are a peace-loving people. This partly explains why Cameroon is a beacon of peace and stability in a turbulent region marked by coups d'état and civil wars. Cameroon hosts refugees from neighboring countries like Central African Republic and Chad. [Source] We have lost fellow countrymen in demonstrations against the regime and the impact of civil unrest around the world is there for all to see. We know what instability looks like and we do not want to go down that road. At 79 years old and counting, Paul Biya can not be on the "throne" for another 30 years. We have survived thirty years of human rights violations and failed socio-economic policies. We are unhappy with the state of affairs in our country, but we refuse to push our country into instability because of one man. Cameroon is bigger that one man.

By virtue of our motto --- we love peace; we love our Fatherland and we will non-violently work our way out of this political hostage situation. It might take some time, but the country will soon rise from the rubble. Cameroon is bigger that one man.

President Paul Biya - the giant of Etoudi - has gone down in history as one of the longest serving Heads of States. However, when it is all said and done, history will judge him as a failure; a leader who failed his people for three decades. History will frown on him and on the few people in the so-called "équipe nationale" who benefit from the spoils of his administration to the detriment of the majority. His supporters say one of his achievements is peace and stability that Cameroon enjoys. But make no mistake: Cameroon is peaceful not because of its leader. Credit goes to the peace-loving Cameroonian people who have been pushed to the wall in unimaginable ways but reject a violent uprising.

We the people of Cameroon deserve a Nobel prize for peace for our handling of the situation in our homeland.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

African scammers arrested in Russia

I usually don't comment on such things on this blog but the story of African scammers arrested in Russia on suspicion of scamming is hard to ignore. The internet is a momentous innovation and like many useful things, it has downsides: scamming is one of them. Anyone who owns an email address has probably received an email designed to defraud. Nowadays it's easy for fraudsters to pretend to be who they're not and to plan and execute fraudulent schemes soliciting money in the name of individuals or corporations. All this can be done online with the click of a mouse. The story of Africans arrested in Russia on allegations of scamming puts this into perspective.

According to Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti), nine citizens of Cameroon and Nigeria resident in Russia have been detained in Russia on suspicion of using the names of Russian state-owned companies to swindle at least 900 million rubles ($28.8 million) from hundreds of firms in the European Union, United States and Southeast Asia. Russian law enforcement agencies reportedly believe that the actions of the West Africans involved in the scam damaged Russia's international trade relations.

The actions of the suspects also damage the reputation of Russia and more importantly - the reputation of their countries of origin - Cameroon and Nigeria. Such fraudulent actions could go a long way to hurt the developing economies of the two West African nations by scaring aware foreign entrepreneurs who want to do genuine business.

As an Africans and Cameroonian, this is embarrassing news but it should not be swept under the rug. I have no illusion that every African or Cameroonian or Nigerian agrees with me. There're those who think that such stories about the continent should not be highlighted by fellow Africans. Some argue that we should not air our dirty linen in public.

However, we can't sweep embarrassing stories under the rug and hope that they'll somehow go away. In order to redress a problem, it must be discussed. It's time we start having open, sincere discussions about the rogue actions of a few people and how such actions adversely affect us all. We must [publicly] condemn scamming thereby sending a clear message to scammers or prospective scammers that extortion is unacceptable. ourselves from such actions and seize every opportunity to highlight the fact that groups of people such not be judged by the actions of a few.

The suspects arrested in Russia reportedly face up to 10 years in prison and fines if found guilty.

I welcome the arrests. The culprits should bear the full weight of the law if found guilty. The governments of Cameroon and Nigeria should see this as an opportunity to take a tough stand against scamming.

Their actions are theirs alone and should not be used against innocent people from the region.

*Photo: Moonwell Photography.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Finland: Racist vandalism of Municipal election posters

Racism and xenophobia are daily realities in Finland and immigrants commonly face different forms of racism, discrimination and xenophobia. Although racism is no secret, it hits like a bombshell each time a glaring case, such as the racially motivated vandalism of municipal election posters in Mikkeli, is reported.

Municipal elections in Finland are held every four years on the fourth Sunday of October. [Source] The next municipal election is scheduled to take place on 28 October 2012 and there have been efforts and campaigns aimed at increasing immigrants' participation in the election. One of such efforts is the iCount project by the Co-operation Network of Multicultural Organizations (Moniheli). Over the past couple of months, Moniheli and other organizations have disseminated information aimed at encouraging eligible immigrants to participate in the 2012 Municipal Election.

The media has also tried to urge immigrants to vote. Such efforts have raised prospects and hopes of Finland becoming an inclusive society.

But disturbing news of stickers with racist messages pasted on municipal election posters in Mikkeli, eastern Finland, has marred hopes that Finland is moving forward. According to Yle, the picture of a candidate with immigrant background was torn off and racist messages were posted on election posters. The reported racist vandalism cut across party lines.

A change in Finnish legislation in 1992 allowed foreigners who have lived in a municipality for an uninterrupted period of two years to vote in Municipal Elections. Immigrant-voter turnout in Finland is 20% compared to 60% in other Nordic countries. [Source] Many immigrants - the majority of whom have been pushed to the fringes of society and limited to menial jobs due to exclusion and lack of diversity in Finland's professional work life  - don't vote in elections, in my opinion, because they believe they don't have a stake in Finnish society.

In the disgraced town of Mikkeli where racist vandalism of election posters occurred, 44,513 people are eligible to vote, among whom 683 are foreigners. [SourceAccording to the Ministry of Justice, a total of 4,307,881 people, out of whom 137,005 are foreigners are entitled to vote in Finland as a whole in the 2012 Municipal Election. [Source]

Racist vandalism of posters reveals that not everyone in Mikkeli welcomes the idea of immigrants participating in elections. Local branches of two political parties (Christian Democrats and the Greens) affected by the racist incident are reportedly planning to file a police reports.

Filing a police report in a blatant case of racist vandalism is a move in the right direction. But it will take more than police reports to combat the canker-worm of racism and xenophobia in Finland. What the country needs is more and more immigrants exercising their right to vote and getting involved in local government affairs and decision making. Eligible immigrants should defy the odds and go out and vote. History tells us that the right to vote is a fundamental right that has restored, at least to an extent, the dignity of disadvantaged and discriminated individuals or groups in many countries around the world.

More often than not, landmark changes - even in the most closed societies - come through the ballot box.

*Photo: Yle.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nigeria: Fully investigate torture and killing of four Uniport students by mob

On 5 October 2012, graphic photographs of four people killed by a mob in Rivers State, one of Nigeria's 36 states flooded social media. The four people killed were reportedly students of the University of Port Harcourt (Uniport). The photographs - too graphic to publish on this blog - shed light on so-called jungle law in Nigeria and utter disregard for human life.

According to news reports, the students were brutally killed in Aluu Community of Port Harcourt on allegations of theft. Aluu community has reportedly been targeted over the past couple of months by armed robbers and the students were suspected of being linked to the robberies.

Some argue that many Nigerians have lost confidence in the criminal justice system due to endemic bribery and corruption, hence people take the laws into their own hands. In 2010, Human Rights Watch reported that institutionalized corruption in Nigeria's police force fuels human rights abuses. The killing of four students in River State sheds more light on how lack of confidence in the police force fuels human rights violations.

The torture, degrading treatment and gruesome killings must be condemned in the strongest terms - regardless of the motive.

Mob justice has no place in a civilized society. The right to life and freedom from torture are absolute rights. No individual, government or community should have the power to torture and kill suspected or guilty criminals. The government of Nigeria has an obligation under international and national law to protect all persons within its borders from torture and arbitrary killing by vigilante community groups operating outside the law. The federal government should investigate the killings and hold all those involved accountable. Thirteen people have been arrested in relation to the killings. This is a move in the right direction but a lot more should be done to stamp out jungle law and restore confidence in law enforcement in Nigeria. Perhaps the authorities should also investigate why the police did not respond in time to stop the killing. The four students were stripped naked, paraded on the streets, beaten and burnt alive. Law enforcement had enough time to intervene but failed to do so.

Aluu community members should reject such barbarism carried out in the name of "protecting" the community. Looking at photos of the killings, it is disturbing to see members of the community standing on the sidelines - watching the killing unfold. The photographs reveal that many of the bystanders and participants in this heinous crime were young people - Nigeria's future. What a shame. Young people should be flag-bearers of change and a better future for Nigeria; not perpetrators or supporters of mob justice and other horrific acts.

Nigeria has laws and a criminal justice system. Suspected criminals should be prosecuted through legal channels. People should not take the laws into their own hands. All those involved in brutal killings on the streets in the name of "protecting" the community should bear the full weight of the law.

It is worth mentioning that "mob justice", a perfect example of man's inhumanity to man, is not peculiar to Nigeria. This archaic form of punishment is meted out in many other countries around the world. Regardless of where and why it happens, it is wrong and unjustifiable.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Misguided response to desecration of Islam

Over the past couple of days, I tried to make sense of violent, anti-American protests, killings and destruction of property in the Muslim world sparked by a video made in the United States. Anyone interested in international affairs remembers what happened in Benghazi, Libya on 11 September 2012 - the day J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, was killed during a protest against a video mocking Prophet Mohammad.  The ambassador was killed with three other Americans and the US government believes that the attack that claimed the ambassador's life was an act of terrorism.

Terrorism is defined as "... the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objective." [SourceMindful of the definition of "terrorism", it is plausible that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was an act of terror by radical Islamists designed to coerce the US administration and intimidate the non-Muslim, civilian population.

Besides the consulate in Benghazi, other US diplomatic posts in the Middle East were breached by violent mobs operating outside the law. Violent protests spread across the Muslim world with incidents reported in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, deadly protests left at least 19 people dead on a  day dubbed "day of love" for the Prophet Mohammad by the Pakistani government. This was a disservice to Islam and the Prophet.

Protesters have the right to express their grievances but it cannot be overemphasized that rights come with responsibilities. Rights should not be enjoyed in a way that violate the rights of others. The author of the controversial video has the right to express himself and at the same time he has a moral - if not legal duty to ensure that his rights do not undermine the rights of others.

The movie that sparked all this violence is distasteful. It desecrates Islam. In this vein, it should be condemned.

On the other hand, the response to the video is equally distasteful and reprehensible. The video in question was made by an individual in the US and the Obama administration has distanced itself from it. Top US officials including President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have strongly condemned the video. It is therefore senseless to go attacking US embassies and diplomatic posts because of the action of an individual who has nothing to do with US policy. Such assaults suggest anti-Americanism and justify the deployment of American troops to "protect" the country's interests around the world.

The world would be literally "unlivable" and chaotic if we all go burning flags, attacking embassies and killing diplomatic staff because of the actions of nationals they represent. During a visit by the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William to France, a photographer took topless photographs of the Duchess and the photographs were published in a French magazine. Many Brits and supporters of the Royal Family were offended by what some termed a "grotesque" violation of privacy. French embassies were not attacked by supporters of the monarchy because of the actions of a few individuals in France. The photos were condemned and the offended royals pursued legal means to redress the situation.

Violence is not a sensible and effective response to desecration of a religion. Widespread violence failed to stop a French magazine from publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad barely one week after ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed. Again - the decision by the French magazine to publish caricatures of the prophet is provocative. It is also not a cause for violence.

When rights are violated or when people are offended by the actions of others, it is the business of law enforcement and courts to ensure that justice is served. Offended persons should seek redress through legal channels and refrain from operating outside the law. French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, shared this view during an interview with France 24.

It is unreasonable to attack embassies and diplomats because of the actions of reckless or hate-mongering individuals. Many Muslims understand this - that is why there were counter demonstrations by Muslims against the violence. Not all Muslims endorse violence in response to desecration of Islam.

I am sure many Americans were offended by the denigration of their flag in Egypt, Pakistan and other countries where diplomatic grounds were breached, and the killing of ambassador Christopher Stevens. But no embassies were attacked as a result.

Violence is no solution to offense or provocation.

*Photo: The Week.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hungary not doing enough to protect Roma from neo-Nazis

In its 2012 annual report, Amnesty International noted that discrimination against the Roma remained "entrenched in many areas of life" in Hungary. According to the human rights group, Roma suffered intimidation from vigilante groups between March and April and the police did little to protect them. [SourceHungarian nationalists with links to the far-right Jobbik party continue to intimdate and terrorize the Roma with impunity.

The Roma have a long history of discrimination and repression in Europe. Methods of repression suffered in the past by members of the ethnic minority group included enforced assimilation, enslavement, internment, expulsion and mass killings. A few thousand of them survived the Holocaust and Hitler's concentration camps. [Source]

It's a shame that their persecution has taken other forms in modern-day Europe and has continued for the most part unabated. They are segregated, discriminated and stigmatized in European societies that pride themselves as free and democratic.

In a book titled "Human Rights in Europe: no grounds for complacency" (pg. 57), Thomas Hammarberg, former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights stated: "In many European countries the Roma population is still denied basic human rights and made victims of flagrant racism. They remain far behind others in terms of educational attainment, employment, housing and health standards and they have virtually no political representation. Their exclusion from society feeds isolationism which in turn encourages prejudice against the Roma among xenophobes."

It doesn't take an expert in human rights to agree with Thomas Hammarberg. The plight of the Roma in Europe is there for everyone to see. They are treated with disdain and discriminated against and it is no secret that governments in the region have not done enough to restore and uphold their dwindling rights.

In Hungary, the Roma population is having a tough time in the hands of racist, far-right nationalists. According to news reports, Hungarian nationalists incite anti-Roma sentiments with impunity. Hungary's authorities are reportedly not enforcing legislation outlawing incitement of hatred and the Roma bear the brunt of this anarchy. Neo-Nazi thugs with links to the extreme right-wing Jobbik political party attack and terrorize Roma people without fear of retribution. On 5 August 2012, about 1,000 neo-Nazis reportedly staged a "peaceful" demonstration against the Roma during which they shouted "You're going to die here!" and hurled objects at Roma houses in Devecser.

The government of Hungary has an obligation to protect the Roma from organized gangs of neo-Nazis. Such gangs fan flames of hatred against the Roma. "Anti-Gypsyism" promulgated by far-right extremists will not solve any problems in Hungarian society, including what has been termed "gypsy crime" in the stronghold of the radical Jobbik party. It can only worsen relations between the Roma minority and non-Roma majority.

The Roma are in desperate need of adequate housing, education and jobs. They should not be further victimized and terrorized by intolerant [criminal] gangs after many years of failed and discriminatory government policies that have relegated them to the fringes of society in Hungary and beyond.

Anti-Roma activities or demonstrations designed to incite hatred against the Roma and alienate them should be condemned in the strongest terms and members of vigilante, neo-Nazi groups that spread hatred against Roma and other minority groups during peaceful hateful demonstrations should be brought to book.

The following video sheds more light on the plight of the Roma in Europe.

*Photo of Roma women and children. Source: truthdive.

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