Saturday, February 25, 2012

Immigrants stage demonstration against intolerance in Finland

Immigrants in Oulu, northern Finland, staged a demonstration on 24 February 2012 against the shooting to death of an immigrant in a pizzeria. The demonstration reportedly attracted over 200 participants. A video posted on Ilta-Sanomat briefly captures the "march for peace" and sheds new light on the plight of immigrants. The demonstrators urged decision makers and the police to promote tolerance and to step up efforts to make the city more secure. [Source]. A similar demonstration was reportedly staged in the nation's capital on the same day. YLE News noted that the "racially-flavoured" shooting in Oulu followed two other violent acts against immigrants.

Immigrants in Finland have safety concerns.

Following the deadly Oulu shooting, many immigrants believe any of them could be a victim. I have had a discussion with at least two people who feel this way. Many are scared.

One immigrant who has lived in Finland for 18 years and owns a pizzeria said he is scared and that things have changed over the past three years. He lives in Oulu - where the shooting took place - and has noticed that the city has become more racist. [Source].

It is worth mentioning that my Tuesday article condemning the Oulu pizzeria shooting and urging people of goodwill in Finland to do the same was not well received by some readers. The article was published on Migrant Tales, a blog that debates issues facing the immigrant and minority community in Finland, with the title: Zuzeeko's Blog: Finland - Shooting of Immigrants in Oulu Pizzeria must be condemned. It has received some unsettling comments. In the spirit of the Perussuomalaiset councilman who said the shooter should be given a medal, some readers have attempted to defend the shooter or make excuses on his behalf.

It has been said that "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". Intolerance, hate crime, racism, discrimination and all social ills are morally reprehensible and must always be condemned by people of good conscience - no matter how loud voices in favor may seem.

*Photo: Ilta-Sanomat.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finland: Shooting of Immigrants in Oulu pizzeria must be condemned

In a country where a Member of Parliament for the Perussuomalaiset (PS) political party can openly use racist and derogatory language (video) against Muslims and people of African decent and is not forced to resign as representative of the people, it is easy to conclude that racism is deep-seated. However, any racially motivated shooting or killing must be unequivocally condemned in the strongest terms by all people of goodwill.

On Saturday 18 February 2012, a gunman opened fire in a pizzeria in Oulu, northern Finland - killing one man and injuring another. The gunman - a 24-year old Finn - turned the gun on himself and later died in a hospital on Sunday evening.

The pizzeria shooting claimed the life of a 21-year-old man of Moroccan origin and left a 42-year-old Moroccan man wounded. The owner of the pizzeria - an Algerian - was not hit. According to a news report published on Monday 20 February 2012 in Metro Helsinki, a daily newspaper in Helsinki, the shooting could have been motivated by racism. Other sources say police believe the shooter was not motivated by racism.

However, given the current toxic political climate and hateful rhetoric by some influential politicians, Members of Parliament and ordinary Finnish citizens targeting immigrants, racism cannot be easily ruled out as a motivation.

Following the Oulu pizzeria shooting, for instance, Tommi Rautio, a board member of PS - a right wing anti-immigration party - reportedly wrote on Facebook that the shooter should be given a medal because there is "a war going on and for every war decorations are handed out." [Source]. This speaks volumes about what the PS is made of and sheds light on the sorry-state of affairs in Finnish-Immigrant relations.

poll commissioned by Helsinki Sanomat revealed that Muslims in general are among the groups most affected by racism and intolerance in Finland. In 2011, President Tarja Halonen expressed concern about the rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland.

The Oulu pizzeria shooting is the third incident in less than one month that resulted in the tragic death of immigrants - two Somalians and one Moroccan.

Finland is going down the wrong road. All persons of good conscience in the Nordic country must condemn racism and racially motivated crimes in the strongest terms and distance themselves from people who use immigrants and other minority groups as targets or punching bags. Politicians who use their influence to preach hate or sway public opinion against minority groups must be held to account, especially when their words are translated into action. More importantly, law enforcement must take hate crimes more seriously and ensure that perpetrators bear the full weight of the law. No one should be killed or discriminated against because he or she looks different or professes a different faith in a society that prides itself as free and democratic.

*Photo of Finnish police car: Wikipedia.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

UN Working Group urges Cameroon to compensate imprisoned musician

I received a press release from Free Muse, an organization that advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide, on 16 February 2012. The news release was about the legal opinion of the UN working Group on Arbitrary Detention in the case of Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo, commonly known as Lapiro de Mbanga - a Cameroonian musician who was arrested, tried and imprisoned for 3 years in 2008.

Lapiro de Mbanga was arrested on 9 April 2008 following a mass demonstration in Cameroon. According to Free Muse, he was arrested for singing a song that criticized a controversial Constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits and granted the Head of State immunity for crimes committed in office.

According to information communicated to the UN Working group, Lapiro was arrested on accusations of mass looting, destruction of public property, obstruction of public way, attack on public property and participating in illegal meetings. On 24 September 2008, he was condemned - after what was widely seen as a "political trial" - to 3 years in prison for participating in illegal meetings, obstruction of public way and mass looting. [Source].

Despite condemnation by rights groups and campaigns to secure his release, the artist served 3 years in the   infamous New Bell Prison in Douala. The prison, according to Amnesty International, has an official capacity of 700 but held 2,453 inmates in August 2011. [Source].

Lapiro was released on 8 April 2011.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, whose mandate includes investigating cases of deprivation of  liberty imposed arbitrarily or otherwise in violation of relevant international human rights standards, concluded that the arrest of Lapiro de Mbanga and ensuing deprivation of liberty was arbitrary and resulted in the violation of rights laid down in the following articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):
  • article 3 - right to liberty and security of person,
  • article 5 - freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • article 7 - right to protection of the law without discrimination
  • article 8 - right to effective remedy
  • article 9 - freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention
  • article 10 - right to fair trial
  • article 11 - right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
  • article 18 - freedom of thought conscience and religion
  • article 19 - freedom of opinion and expression
  • article 20 - freedom of peaceful assembly and association
  • article 21 
The Working Group also concluded that the arbitrary arrest  resulted in the violation of following articles of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - to which Cameroon became party in June 1984:
  • articles 2(3) 
  • article 9
  • article 10
  • article 14
This is a very long list of violations suffered by one man in the hands of his government.

The UN Working Group urged the government of Cameroon to compensate Lapiro for damages suffered as a result of his arbitrary arrest and detention, grant him amnesty or pardon and take measures to guarantee his right to security of person.

The opinion and recommendations (in French) of the UN Working Group is dated 1 September 2011.

The government of Cameroon must respect its obligations under international law and fulfill the demands of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The authorities are obliged to ensure that people, including musicians, journalists, peaceful protesters or ordinary citizens, are not arbitrarily arrested or subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

ASIDE: FreeMuse interviewed Lapiro de Mbanga on 8 May 2011 - one month after his release from New Bell Prison. Watch the video interview.

It is worth mentioning that Lapiro is French-speaking.

Photo source: IFEX.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Study International Human Rights Law at Lund University

Lund University is a world class university located in the beautiful city of Lund in southern Sweden. The university has been repeatedly ranked among the world's top universities. In 2009 for instance, Lund University was ranked among the world's top 100 universities. In 2011, it was listed in the QS world university rankings, the Times Higher Education World University World Rankings 2011/2012 and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities 2011/2012. Anyone thinking about pursuing a Master programme in International Human Rights Law should consider Lund.

I obtained my Master of Laws degree in International Human Rights Law from Lund University. The two years (2007-2009) spent at Lund University were a high point in my life. I therefore naturally recommend the University.

Apparently, I'm not the only ex-student recommending this prestigious institution of higher learning.

On 14 February 2012, a short video was posted on Lund University's Facebook page in which an alumna living and working in Jordan spoke highly about Lund University and how the institution influenced her career. WATCH.

Lund University is highly recommended.

Visit Lund University's website for more information about the Master programme in International Human Rights Law.

*Photo: Dunia Magazine.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Vanessa Tchatchou: Illegally separated from baby in Cameroon

As Cameroonian youths celebrate Youth Day on 11 February 2012, it is of utmost importance to highlight that one of their own, Vanessa Tchatchou - a teen mom whose baby was reportedly stolen after birth in a hospital in the nation's capital - is yet to know the whereabouts of her baby and continues to struggle for justice. The authorities must fully investigate the disappearance and bring anyone responsible to book.

According to news reports, 17-year-old Vanessa Tchatchou successfully gave birth to a baby girl on 20 August 2011 at the Gynaeco-Obsteric and Paediatric Hospital in Ngoussou, Yaounde. The baby disappeared from an incubator in the hospital after birth and her whereabouts remain unknown almost 6 months after she disappeared. [Source].

Vanessa Tchatchou launched a sit-in in the hospital since the disappearance and is demanding answers.

"L'affaire Vanessa" - as the case is widely referred to in Cameroonian circles - has grabbed headlines in Cameroon and sparked public outrage and protests in the nation's capital - with many people calling for an investigation into the matter and the return of the baby.

Political opposition leaders have condemned the "indifference" of the authorities to the plight of the teen mom.

From a human rights standard point, "l'affaire Vanessa" is covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Cameroon is a party. The rights of both victims in the case - Vanessa and her missing baby - are laid down in the convention.

Article 9 of the CRC, for instance, requires States Parties to ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will.

Article 16(1 ) states that no child shall be subjected to unlawful interference with her family.

Article 16(2) stipulates the child's right to protection of law against such interference.

Although there is no evidence to suggest that the state is directly responsible for the disappearance of the newborn, the state has a legal obligation to protect the victims and uphold their rights.

Any action taken by the state in this case should be in the "best interest" of Vanessa and the missing baby. It is absolutely in the best interest of the missing child to be reunited with her mother.

The authorities must undertake a full and impartial investigation into the disappearance and bring those responsible to justice. The state must ensure that Vanessa has full access to judicial, health and social welfare services during this trying period.

The right to free expression and association of protesters standing in solidarity with Vanessa Tchatchou must also be guaranteed. It is worth mentioning that a number of supporters were reportedly arrested on 9 February 2012. [Source].

In his message to the youths on 11 February 2009, President Paul Biya of Cameroon said that 11 February "has been chosen by government for reflection and sustained efforts to nurture responsibly, and meet the needs of the country's youths." [Source]. Cameroonian youths need justice and protection of the law.

*Photo: Yahoo Groups.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Petition for release of Jean-Claude Mbede imprisoned in Cameroon

It is no secret that homosexuality is outlawed in Cameroon and sanctioned under Article 347 bis of the Cameroon Penal Code with imprisonment from 6 months to 5 years and a fine of from 20,000 francs CFA to 200,000 francs CFA. Homosexuals and persons perceived to be homosexuals are routinely arrested, tried and imprisoned in Cameroon, [Source: Amnesty Annual Reports] despite the country's commitment under international law to respect human rights standards. Jean-Claude Mbede is one of the many people arrested under Article 347 bis. Amnesty International in Finland launched a campaign for his release on 1 February 2012.

Jean-Claude Mbede, 31 years old,  is a Cameroonian who was arrested in march 2011 and sentenced in April 2011 to 3 years in prison for homosexuality. He is currently locked up in Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital city,[Source] which has a capacity of 700 inmates but held 3,852 inmates in August 2011.[SourceIt is worth highlighting at this point that as many as five prisoners die each year due to lack of medical attention and poor hygiene in Cameroon's prisons. [Source]

Amnesty International considers Jean-Claude Mbede to be a prisoner of conscience and is calling for his release.

Sign a petition by Amnesty International urging for the immediate and unconditional release of Jean-Claude Mbede, amongst other things.

The petition form is in Finnish. Note the following:
  • Etunimi = First name
  • Sukunimi = Surname
  • Paikkakunta = Region
  • Sähköposti = Email
  • Puhelinnumero = Phone number
  • Allekirjoita vetoomus = Sign petition.
Check the boxes on the petition form if you would like your name to be displayed on the front page of the petition and if you would like Amnesty Finland to send you information about petitions, campaigns and other activities.

More information (in Finnish), including a short video with English subtitles, about Jean-Claude Mbede:


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