Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Discussion about human rights situation in Cameroon

Amnesty International - Finnish Section - is organizing a discussion about the human rights situation in Cameroon, especially the systematic discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-gender people, on 1 February 2012 in Helsinki, Finland. I will be participating in the discussion.

I will open the discussion with a PowerPoint presentation - a general overview of the human rights situation in Cameroon.

Venue: Amnesty office, Ruoholahdenkatu 24, Helsinki (there will be direction signs from the street to the E-door)
Date: 1 February 2012
Time: 18:00 .

During the evening, Amnesty International's expert on gender and sexuality-based discrimination, Pia Oksanen, will present the organization's campaign to free Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, a Cameroonian sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for homosexuality in Cameroon in April 2011.

My presentation will be in English and the discussion will be in Finnish. Amnesty's activists and people interested in the work of the organization are warmly welcomed to join the discussion.

For more information about the state of human rights in Cameroon, read Amnesty International's Annual Report 2011 about Cameroon.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Photo of protest sign at Cameroon embassy in Washington DC: Pan-African Visions.

Monday, January 30, 2012

African states urged to reaffirm support for international justice

In a letter to Foreign Ministers of African states parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC), more than 30 African civil society organizations and international organizations with a presence in Africa urged African states parties to the ICC to reaffirm support for international justice. The letter, signed by 34 organizations, was written ahead of the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU), which ends on 30 January 2012.

The letter to Foreign Ministers of African states parties to the ICC came less than a week after the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said during the launching of the organization's World Report 2012 in Cairo, that the AU was founded to promote democracy but has acted in the last year as if it is a "dictators' support club" that backs authoritarians and ignores the democratic interests of the people. It is hard to disagree with this assertion.

The AU consists of Heads of States who cling to power through controversial elections and constitutional amendments that tamper with presidential term limits. President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, for instance, recently amended the Constitution so as to be eligible to run for (re-)election. This is similar to what happened in Cameroon in 2008 - when President Paul Biya's government eliminated presidential term limits from the Constitution.

With more similarities than differences, such Heads of States are bound to support each other, even if it means turning a blind eye on blatant rights violations or providing safe haven for ousted dictators and their cronies.

Besides failing to take a tough stance against dictators during the "Arab Spring", African states failed to protect the rights of Sub-Saharan Africans who were systematically targeted in Libya during pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011 on accusations of working as mercenaries for the Gaddafi regime. During the conflict, Sub-Saharan Africans in Libya were considered a vulnerable group in desperate need of evacuation, but they were abandoned by their governments and the AU. Many African states turned a blind eye on human rights and democratic interests in Libya, and were preoccupied with blaming western democracies for interfering in the "internal affairs" of Libya.

The ICC is committed to ending impunity for international crimes such as crimes committed in Libya during the 2011 revolution that toppled a 42-year-old regime. African governments should support the ICC and do more to protect the interests of victims of rights violations and oppression, not the interests of dictators and perpetrators of crimes under the jurisdiction of the court.

Impunity for grave crimes is not an option. Perpetrators of crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC should be brought to justice at the Hague - especially in cases where a fair trial is not guaranteed in a national court.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Anti-racism Rap music competition in Finland

While searching for information about the Finnish Red Cross (Finnish: Punainen Risti) on 23 January 2012, I came across news about a rap music competition organized by the organization's Savo-Karjala district in Finland.

For the first time, the Red Cross in Finland is organizing an anti-racism rap competition (Finnish: rasisminvastaisen rap-kilpailun). The competition is open to all young people under 29 years old from all around the country.

The organizers invite young rap music producers (amateurs or professionals) to submit a rap song (video or audio) recorded in DVD or CD-ROM, or stored in a USB memory stick. It could also be sent via email (dvd-, mpg-, avi-, wmv-, mov-, wav or mp3 format).

A home recorded song that has not been previously published is sufficient.

According to information published (in Finnish) on the website of the Finnish Red Cross, recordings should be sent to the address: Suomen Punainen Risti, Savo-Karjalan piiri/Rap-kilpailu, Kauppakatu 35, 80100 Joensuu or to an email address available of the websiteThe deadline for submission is 29 February 2012

Results will be published and the best presentations will be seen and heard in Joensuu, eastern Finland, on 21 March 2012 - UN Anti-Racism Day, officially known as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The winner receives a two song publication contract and a performance at a festival next summer. The second and third best participants will receive music-making products.

Mindful of recent concerns about the rise of racism in Finland, this anti-racism rap music competition, in my opinion, is a move in the right direction in the fight against racism.

A poll by Helsinki Sanomat, the biggest daily subscription-based newspaper in Finland, revealed in November 2011 that two thirds of Finns feel that Finland is a "fairly racist country". In 2011, President Tarja Halonen also acknowledged the rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland.

Getting young people in Finland involved in the fight against racism is absolutely a good idea. The present state of affairs in the Nordic country begs for more of such initiatives.

You are encouraged to participate in the anti-racism rap competition

*Flyer: Punianen Risti.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Human Rights Watch's 2012 World Report

Human Rights Watch released its 2012 World Report for the first time in Cairo, Egypt. The 676-paged report contains 6 thematic essays and covers human rights issues in more than 90 countries in Africa, Asia, Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

The introductory essay titled "Time to Abandon Autocrats and Embrace Rights: The International Response to the Arab Spring", written by the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch - Kenneth Roth - focuses on international reaction to the "Arab Spring" and takes western democracies and dictatorial regimes of the world to task for backing autocrats and strongmen of the Arab world and putting a lid on popular protests - in a bid to protect their interests rather than human rights.

Another thematic essay -"Europe's Own Human Rights Crisis" - touches on dwindling respect for human rights in Europe and the complicity of some European Union countries in rights violations in North Africa. It highlights concerns about rights violations in Europe's counterterrorism efforts, intolerance towards migrants and minorities (especially Muslims, Roma and undocumented African migrants) and the rise of populist right wing extremism in Europe.

The World Report 2012 contains compelling photographs from the Arab Spring and a lot of useful information about the state of human rights around the world.

When I first downloaded the report, I immediately rushed to the Table of Contents and browsed through the list of African countries covered. The report touches on many countries in the African continent and elsewhere.

It's somewhat impractical to expect such a report to cover all countries in the world.

However, the absence of Cameroon on the list of 19 Sub-Saharan and Southern African countries was disappointing - especially because in the wake of the "Arab Spring" - which appears to be the theme of the World Report 2012 - security forces in Cameroon brutally crushed a demonstration inspired by pro-democracy protests in North Africa and the Middle East. A few weeks later, the government reportedly ordered the suspension of twitter mobile for "security reasons". Although the service was restored one week later, the damage had already been done.

It is worthy to mention at this point that the absence of Cameroon in this report does not mean that the country has an admirable human rights report card. There are real human rights concerns in the central African country that are worth highlighting in every human rights world report.

Watch a video of the presentation of the report in Cairo.

*Photo: Human Rights Watch.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Make every day a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Although Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered in one way or the other - every day of every year - in the U.S. and beyond, the U.S. pauses officially once a year to honor this great American. On 2 November 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill creating a national holiday - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - a day dedicated to remember Dr. King and what he stood for. [Source].

This year, 2012, Martin Luther King Day is on Monday, 16 January. It is worthy to note at this point that Martin Luther King Day has no fixed date. It is observed every year - since 1986 - on the third Monday of January. [Source].

A lot has been written about Dr. King. He was a civil rights icon who led a non-violent movement against racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S. He advocated equality and non-violent protest in the face of unprecedented discrimination, disenfranchisement, brutality and other forms of injustice targeting Americans of African descent.

This great American is best known for his "I Have A Dream" speech - a compelling speech delivered in August 1963 to a crowd of a quarter of a million people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I do not keep copies of speeches, but I must confess - a copy of this landmark speech is in one of my files. I printed it out sometime in 2007 and carefully read it. It made sense then as it makes sense today.

Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, but his words live on and continue to inspire hope for a world void of racial segregation and discrimination.

In many parts of the world, individuals are still being "judged by the color of their skin."

I am confident that if Dr. King were alive today, he would agree that although some progress has been made in the fight against racial discrimination, "traces of bigotry still mar America" and many other countries. There is still a lot of work to be done.

He would unequivocally condemn all human rights violations, including the death penalty - which, according to Laura Moye, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director at Amnesty International USA, is "discriminatory and used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities."

You are encouraged to stand up for human rights. Promote and respect the rights of all individuals, irrespective of race, color or other grounds, and make every day a Martin Luther King Day.

*Photo: Write Spirit.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Finland: Demonstration to mark 10 years of unlawful Guantanamo detentions

The notorious U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba might be a continent away, but human rights violations committed there under the auspices of the U.S. government have not gone unnoticed in many parts of the world, including the Nordic country of Finland - where Amnesty International, Finnish Section staged a "close Guantanamo" demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy in Helsinki.

11 January 2012 marked 10 years since the first group of detainees arrived at notorious prison. Human rights supporters, activists and concerned citizens of the world marked the 10th anniversary with peaceful symbolic demonstrations against unlawful detentions in the facility.

Many detainees have reportedly been tortured and held without charge indefinitely for many years in Guantanamo Bay and the orange jumpsuit worn by its inmates has become the "face" of unlawful, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees.

According to Amnesty International, 171 detainees were being held at Guantanamo Bay in mid-December 2011 and at least 12 of those who first arrived on 11 January 2002 were still detained. Among the 12 detainees who first arrived and are still in detention, only one has been charged and convicted (by a military court). The remaining 11 have not been charged. [source].

In a report published by Amnesty International titled Guantanamo: A Decade of Damage to Human Rights, the organization recalled (see page 2) that the U.S. Justice Department was aware of the fact that detentions in Guantanamo would violate international law, precisely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the U.S. ratified in June 1992.

The ICCPR prohibits torture and other cruel inhuman treatment or punishment (Article 7), arbitrary arrest or detention (Article 9). The ICCPR also stipulates in Article 9(2) that anyone arrested shall be promptly informed of the charges against him.

It is worth reiterating at this point that many detainees in Guantanamo have not been charged.

Article 9(3) of the ICCPR states that arrested persons shall be brought "promptly" before a judge and shall be "entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release." The convention makes provision for compensation of victims of unlawful arrest or detention (Article 9(4)).

Practices in Guantanamo Bay and the response of  U.S. authorities violate all the aforementioned articles of the ICCPR.

The U.S. is also party to the UN Convention Against Torture, ratified in October 1994; a convention breached by the Guantanamo scandal.

According to Amnesty International, Guantanamo became a symbol of torture and unlawful treatment of detainees - in violation of international human rights standards and U.S. obligations under international law.

On 10th anniversary of Guantanamo, Amnesty International urged the U.S.to close the facility, charge or release the detainees, bring to justice former and current U.S. officials responsible for rights violations, provide access to effective remedy for victims of violations, among other things.

In Finland, more than 8,674 kilometers from Cuba - where the infamous detention facility is located - the demands for justice were delivered by Amnesty International - Finnish Section during a demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy in Helsinki on 11 January 2012. The march to the embassy started at about 15:00. Some activists dressed in orange jumpsuits and some carried Amnesty banners that read:
The message was clear.

Note that rights groups and advocates are not against the trial or prosecution of suspects. Amnesty International, for instance, demands - among other things - that the U.S. should either charge and prosecute the detainees in fair trials or release them. [Source]. This is in line with Article 9(3) of the ICCPR.

More importantly, rights groups and activists want to see perpetrators of unlawful treatment of detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere brought to book. 

Amnesty's report, Guantanamo: A Decade of Damage to Human Rights, is worth reading. It contains "10 Anti-Human Rights Messages Guantanamo Still Sends."

*Photo: Amnesty International - Finnish Section's Facebook page.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Luis Suarez: Racist rant condemned, sanction welcomed

Racism shows its ugly face in many areas of life, including sports. The "beautiful game" of football is plagued by racism perpetrated either by players against players or supporters against players. Victims include some of the most celebrated and successful players like Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry, Roberto Carlos, Patrice Evra, just to name a few. These men have faced racial abuse either by way of monkey chants, spitting, bananas thrown at them from the stands or racist slurs by a fellow player or coach. In 2004, Luis Aragones, former Spanish footballer and national coach, used racially offensive language against a player (Thierry Henry). Racial abuse is more commonly perpetrated by supporters on the stands; rarely does it happen on the pitch. But recently, there have been reports of "player-on-player" racial abuse. One of the perpetrators of racism on the pitch is Luis Suarez, a national of Uruguay who plays for Liverpool. He was recently sanctioned for racism by the Football Federation (FA).

Suarez has been on the headlines for the wrong reasons.

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the striker demonstrated gross indiscipline in Football when he deliberately robbed Ghana, and Africa as a whole, of a deserved victory. He was hailed as a "national hero" at the time. His teammates carried him shoulder-high as they celebrated a stolen victory.

At the end of 2011, Luis Suarez was involved in a more sinister controversy.

It was alleged that he racially abused a fellow footballer, Patrice Evra, defender for Manchester United, during a game between Liverpool FC and Manchester United in October.

Suarez was found guilty by an independent commission of racially abusing Patrice. Consequently the FA slapped him with an eight-game ban.

24-year-old Suarez tried without success to defend himself when he said:

"In my country, 'negro' is a word we use commonly, a word which doesn't show lack of respect and is even less so a form of racist abuse. Based on this, everything which has been said so far is totally false." [Source].

The striker and those who use this argument to defend him seem to be unaware that whether or not the word "negro" is commonly used in Uruguay is irrelevant in this case. What matters is "intent" and the circumstances under which the word was used (note that Suarez reportedly directed the word at Evra seven times in two minutes).

The consequences of racial abuse and racism on players and other victims are far-reaching and there is a need to protect victims.

I advocate a policy of "zero tolerance" for racism and strongly believe that persons who utter racist and offensive slurs, in a bid to offend or dehumanize, should be punished to the full extent. I therefore condemn in the strongest terms Suarez's offensive rant and welcome the decision of the FA to sanction him. Tougher sanctions for racial abuse and racism in football should be considered.

Racial abuse between players on the pitch cannot be solved by a handshake - as misguidedly suggested by Football boss, Sepp Blatter, in an interview with CNN World Sport.

It is worth mentioning that another player, Chelsea's John Terry, is under investigation for making racist comments on the pitch.


*Photo of Suarez and Evra: Mail Online.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Top 25 Most Popular Articles on DuniaMagazine.com in 2011

You are probably aware that I am a contributor for Dunia Magazine. Last year (2011) was a great for me partly because I was blessed with the opportunity and inspiration to write many articles. The archive of this blog alone registered 119 posts (down from 151 in 2010). I also made a good number of contributions for Dunia Magazine. Today, Dunia published the Top 25 Most Popular Articles on DuniaMagazine.com in 2011. I was humbled and encouraged to learn that two of my articles made it to the list.

It is interesting to mention that it is a countdown list - from the 25th to the 1st most popular article.

When I started looking at the list, I was confident that at least one of my articles would make it. But when I reached the 10th place, my confidence began to wane. I continued the countdown and behold - the 8th most read article was mine. It is titled, My Journey to Lund, Sweden - A Life-changing Experience.

At this point, I became even more confident that perhaps, with seven more articles to go, another article of mine would make it. Hence I continued the countdown.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got to 2nd place and realized that Dunia's 2nd most read article, titled Young Girls Face Breast Ironing in Cameroon, was written by me.

I would like to seize this opportunity to thank Dunia's Publisher and Editorial Director for approving my articles and for giving me the opportunity to reach a wider audience through writing. I look forward to greater cooperation in 2012.

I would also like to acknowledge all the other contributors whose articles made to Dunia's top 25 in 2011. In this age of information technology, with a lot of material out there on the internet, it is not easy to get internet users to actually read what ordinary writers have to offer.

You are encouraged to "like" Dunia Magazine on Facebook and follow Dunia on Twitter. I am on Twitter too. Do not hesitate to follow me.

*Photo: The Gazette.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

Another year is gone. Happy New Year 2012. Personally, 2011, despite tsunamis (Japan comes to mind), famine in Somalia and brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, was a great year in many respects. My set goals were achieved, including the daunting goal of learning a new language - Finnish. This was only one of my goals for 2011. I wrote it down at the beginning of the year and took necessary steps to achieve it. It is worth mentioning that improving this language skills is one of my goals for 2012.

Last year, in my happy new year 2011 message, which happens to be the most popular article on this blog as of the time of this writing, I stressed the importance of written goals or "new year resolutions". I still stand by my words and once again encourage you to write down your goals or resolutions for 2012. Write them down where you would see them daily and be reminded of what you intend to achieve.

There is power in written goals.

At the stroke of midnight - breaking 2012 - I was at Senate Square (in Finnish: Senaatintori) in Helsinki, Finland. While there, I had the unique opportunity to witness the good people of Helsinki usher in 2012 in style. At 0:00, fireworks went off at the Square and I captured the moment in a short video. Check it out.

Happy New Year 2012 and of course make it bigger than 2011.

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