Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Unauthorized Amnesty International membership cards and activities in the DRC and Cameroon

Amnesty International is an international human rights organization working for human rights globally. I was embarrassed this morning by a public statement released by the organization on 27 March 2012 that someone is misusing its name for personal gains in Cameroon, my country of origin, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

According to the public statement, an individual operating from Cameroon has made false claims in the DRC to be a representative of Amnesty International and the individual in question is doing two shameful and illegal things:
  • selling unauthorized Amnesty International branded membership cards
  • offering unauthorized training sessions in the name of Amnesty International in exchange for payment.
According to Amnesty International, these activities are unauthorized and the organization does not have an office in Cameroon or the DRC, neither does it have representatives authorized to speak on its behalf in Cameroon and the DRC. The statement reveals that Amnesty International does not sell or provide membership cards and its members in Cameroon and DRC are not authorized to speak on its behalf.

Personally, as a Cameroonian and supporter of Amnesty International currently working as an intern at the organization's Finnish Section, I am shocked and embarrassed by such a scam masterminded by someone in my home country.

It is no secret that there are many scammers operating fraudulent business schemes in Cameroon and they would stop at nothing to swindle money from unsuspecting individuals in Cameroon and abroad. Many will stop at nothing to defraud, but receiving money in the name of an international human rights organization represents a new low for scammers.

Scams of this nature tarnish the reputation of Cameroon and its people on the international stage. The authorities must fully investigate such actions and bring all those involved to book.

Read Amnesty International's public statement on the subject, published in English and French. Spread the word.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Advice for young black boys after Trayvon Martin killing

I read a lot - books, articles, magazines, newspapers and journals - but few writings have evoked my emotions like a piece writing by Touré, published on TIME Ideas on 21 March 2012. The well-written piece titled: "How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin" was written following the killing of Trayvon Martin and provides advice to young black boys.

You've probably heard about Trayvon Martin (see picture) -  a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager shot dead on his way from a convenience store by a volunteer watchman in a neighborhood in Sanford Florida. According to the watchman, George Zimmerman, 28, Martin looked suspicious and "up to no good". The shooter claimed self-defense after the killing and he has not been arrested or charged. Inaction by the Sanford Police Department sparked protests and allegations of racism and discrimination in law enforcement.

"How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin" contains 8 points about the "potentially fatal condition of being black". The first point reads as follows:

"It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Black maleness is a potentially fatal condition. I tell you that not to scare you but because knowing that could save your life. There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It’s possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity. Being black could turn an ordinary situation into a life-or-death moment even if you’re doing nothing wrong."

The 8 talking points highlight potential dangers of being a young black man.

It is a shame that we - people of African descent - a people with a long history of discrimination, disenfranchisement, inhuman treatment and other forms of untold human rights violations - continue to feel threatened by racism and suffer prejudice and unequal treatment in modern-day societies - because of skin color. Many of us are law abiding citizens with a lot of potential, but to racist and prejudiced eyes, we are "less human, less valuable, less worthy, less beautiful, less intelligent". We all know this is not true.

A 17-year-old unarmed teenager just lost his life because he looked suspicious. As of the time of this writing, his shooter has not been arrested or charged - even though he is known and within reach. There is no denying the fact that any black kid could be a Trayvon Martin.

The authorities must investigate what happened in that neighborhood in Sanford Florida on 26 February 2012 and bring the shooter to book. Failure to arrest and prosecute George Zimmerman for the killing of an unarmed teenager will make a mockery of justice, the rule of law and civil rights in the the U.S. and beyond.

*Photo source: The Guardian.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Demand justice for fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin

March 21 is designated International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The day is an opportunity to remember the "pernicious impact" of racism. In the words of Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the UN, "racism continues to cause suffering, for millions of people around the world...". In many parts of the world, individuals and families bear the brunt of racism and racial discrimination. Recently, for instance, a grieving mother in Florida said her son, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was killed because of the "color of his skin".

Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Sanford, Florida on 26 February 2012, by a volunteer neighborhood watchman. The killer, George Zimmerman, 28 years old, claimed he killed the unarmed teenager in "self-defense" and he has not been arrested or charged since the killing. This has reignited allegations of racism in the U.S justice system.

Trayvon Martin was reportedly shot dead on his way home from a convenience store. Before the shooting, Zimmerman, the neighborhood's volunteer watchman, called the police and reported a suspicious man in the neighborhood.  According to a record of the call released by the police, Zimmerman the watchman told the 911 police dispatcher that the teenager "looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something". The watchman then followed the teenager and pulled the trigger after a scuffle. It is plausible to conclude that Trayvon Martin was suspected because of his looks.

Surprisingly or not surprisingly - depending on how you see it - the police accepted Zimmerman's claim that he killed the unarmed teenager in self-defense.

Zimmerman's self defense claim, in my opinion, does not meet the "proportionality" standard. Force used in self-defense must be proportionate to the threat or perceived threat of harm. Pulling the trigger in this case was unreasonable, unnecessary and amounted to disproportionate use of force against an unarmed teenager who had with no criminal record.

Letting George Zimmerman walk free after a cold-blooded killing adds weight to reports of racism in the U.S justice system.

Many people, me included, argue that if it was a person of African descent who shot an unarmed white teenager in "self-defense", the outcome would have been completely different. Unlike George Zimmerman, s/he would have been arrested without delay and charged for murder, and the prosecution would have most probably demanded the maximum penalty.

Some have argued (see opinion piece by Carolyn Edgar, a lawyer and writer in New York City, published on CNN on 19 March 2012) that Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, acted in self-defense. But the Sandford police chief, Bill Lee, reportedly characterized the victim as the aggressor and blamed him for "beating the crap" out of George Zimmerman before being shot in "self-defense". It is unclear whether the police chief would have blamed the victim if he was a white kid - killed by a black volunteer watchman.

In Florida, the use of force in self defense is permissible if the person claiming self-defense uses force as permitted by law.

In my opinion, from the "proportionality" standpoint, the use of lethal force by George Zimmerman is not justifiable, neither is it permitted  under s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 of the Florida Statutes governing justifiable use of force. Hence Zimmerman does not have immunity from criminal prosecution or civil action. He should be arrested, charged and prosecuted. Failure to do so will set a dangerous precedent in Florida.

Following the reluctance of Sanford Police Department to bring George Zimmerman to book, the U.S. Justice Department announced on 20 March 2012 that it will investigate the killing. In the interest of justice, the investigation must be impartial and void of any form of racial prejudice, stigma or bias.

It is a shame and a blow to the credibility of the Sanford Police Department - and the U.S justice system in general - that the 2012 International Day for the Elimination of Racism was marked by accusations of racism and double standards in law enforcement.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Racial slurs against Migrant Tales blogger in Finland

Many foreigners living in Finland have come to terms with the bitter reality of the fact that racism and xenophobia run deep - both online and offline. In 2011, Former president Tarja Halonen acknowledged the rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland and urged Finns to "dare defend" victims of racism. The Deputy Prosecutor General, Jorma Kalsky, condemned politicians for using hate speech to win votes. The Ombudsman for Minorities, Eva Biaudet expressed concern about hate speech online and on the ground. Despite all these calls by some top ranking Finnish officials, racism persists. A fellow blogger who writes about "salient issues" facing immigrants and minority groups in Finland was recently attacked online with racial slurs and xenophobic language.

On 17 March 2012, the author of Migrant Tales reported on his blog that his picture was copied from Facebook without his consent and posted on a Finnish website alongside offensive and abusive language against his person.

I read the post and was taken aback by the language used against him. He was called "an immigrant douche","mudface", "immigrant mudface" and "n*****" - for advocating multiculturalism and diversity in Finland and for "bashing" the True Finns (Perussuomalaiset) - an extreme right-wing anti-immigration political party.

The racist content is posted on a Finnish website either anonymously or using pseudonyms. It is worth mentioning at this point that I have long held the view that people who post abusive and unreasonable comments online anonymously or using pseudonyms are cowards who lack the courage to take responsibility for their actions.

It is ironic that people who think that there's no racism and/or xenophobia in Finland use racist and xenophobic language to make their case. This is a perfect example of what "shoot yourself in the foot" means.

This outright display of racism and online bullying adds perspective to the plight of immigrants and minority groups in Finland and proves Migrant Tales right.

The administrator of the website that provides the platform for hate and racial slurs has misguidedly tried to evoke freedom of expression as justification for racist and xenophobic language posted on his site. He seems to be unaware that rights come with duties and responsibilities. Article 10(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states that the right to free expression "may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary".

It therefore follows that racial slurs, hate speech, incitement of hate and death threats are not protected by Article 10 of the ECHR and other human rights instruments.

Finnish law frowns on racism, incitement of hate, death threats and the violation of the rights of others, including the right to privacy - which was violated the moment a private individual's picture was hijacked from Facebook without his permission, superimposed with racially offensive texts and posted on a hostile website.

These attacks against Migrant Tales are criminal and immoral attempts to intimidate and silence a blogger who writes about issues facing immigrants and minority groups in Finland.

According to Migrant Tales, the matter was reported to the police on 17 March 2012.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sudan: What arrest of George Clooney means for Omar al-Bashir

Hollywood superstar and activist, George Clooney, was arrested in front of the Embassy of Sudan in Washington D.C. on 16 March 2012 The arrest was not connected to possession of drugs or firearms - two common reasons why many Hollywood stars get arrested. George Clooney and other activists, including his father - Nick Clooney - were arrested protesting against human rights violations in Sudan, committed by the government of president Omar al- Bashir, a fugitive of the ICC. He is wanted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, western Sudan.

Before the arrest, George Clooney said:
"The second thing we are here to ask is a very simple thing. It's for the government in Khartoum to stop randomly killing its own innocent men, women and children. Stop raping them and stop starving them." 
 The government of Omar al-Bashir is reportedly using food as a weapon of war against civilians by stopping groups such as the UN Refugee Agency, World Food Program and the Red Cross from delivering food and medicine to people in the Nuba mountains - the border region between Sudan and South Sudan. [Source].

Government actions against civilians in Sudan include, indiscriminate bombing, destruction of livelihood and blockade of humanitarian aid. Amnesty International, a number of U.S Congressmen and other human rights organisations participated in the protest that resulted in the arrest of George Clooney. [Source].

The high profile arrest is bad news for Omar al-Bashir because, thanks to George Clooney, many more people are aware of the atrocities the Sudanese government has committed and continues to commit against a civilian population - including women and children dodging bombs in the Nuba mountains. These violations are reportedly as a result of desperate attempts to quell an armed rebellion in the region.

If the adage that "the enemy of my friend is my enemy" is true, then Omar al-Bashir has just got himself some more "enemies". This is the case because Clooney has a lot of friends (fans) around the world - many of whom will now take action with Amnesty International to help bring al-Bashir and other ICC fugitives to justice.

International law fugitives like Omar al-Bashir and Joseph Kony endanger the lives of civilians wherever they walk free.

*Photo: GPS.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thomas Lubanga ICC verdict: A blow to impunity for war crimes

On 14 March 2012, the International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered its first verdict since it was established in 2002. The court found Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of using child soldiers in the Forces Patriotique Pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC) during armed conflict in the Ituri region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, between 2002 and 2003. Thomas Lubanga has gone down in history and will be remembered as the first person to be arrested on an ICC warrant and convicted by the court. This is not an enviable record; it is a loud message to war criminals and a blow to impunity.

Thomas Lubanga was the commander in chief of the FPLC, an armed group that enlisted and conscripted children under 15 years old as soldiers, and was involved in other human rights violations. He was arrested on 17 March 2006 and his trial began almost 3 years later at the Hague on 26 January 2009. [Source].

I have no illusion that everyone will welcome this landmark ICC verdict. Many international law skeptics don't support the work of the court. They argue that it's a "western tool" designed to hunt down Africans. This assertion is based on the fact that all accused persons currently wanted and before the court are African.

It is true that the failure to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of alleged crimes, including former U.S president George W. Bush (and other top ranking members of his government), in other regions is an affront to the ICC and international justice. However, it's worthy to note that the absence of the international justice system, the ICC and other international criminal tribunals would embolden perpetrators of some of the most shocking crimes in Africa and beyond.

At the moment, only African cases are before the ICC, but a long list of charged and convicted war criminals reveals that international justice does not target only Africans. Over the years, numerous people from other parts of the world have been brought to justice in various international courts and tribunals. Recently, Ratko Mladic, former General of the Bosnian Serb army was extradited to the Hague for his role in the massacre of over 8000 Bosniaks during the 1992 - 1995 Bosnian war.

The Khmer Rouge trial also shows international law at work in Cambodia.

The books have not yet closed on alleged crimes authorized by George W. Bush and some top ranking officials in his administration. In July 2011, Human Rights Watch urged the US to investigate and prosecute crimes committed under the Bush administration. In October 2011, Amnesty International urged Canada to arrest, prosecute or extradite George Bush.

The conviction of Thomas Lubanga is a blow to impunity for war crimes and an indication that the international justice system works, despite concerns about double standards and snail's pace of proceedings. The system is capable of providing closure and justice for victims of grave crimes. In the words of a Congolese activist in a video released by Amnesty International, "when there is a verdict, victims feel recognized and... many will be scared... especially those military groups that are still very active, many of whom think that international justice is just a myth."

Other war crime fugitives wanted at the ICC are still at large, including Bosco Ntanganda and the infamous Joseph Kony. Governments have "consistently failed" to bring them to justice. [Source].

International law fugitives put civilians at risk. You are encouraged to join efforts to bring them to book. Sign a petition by Amnesty International urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to dedicate additional resources to protect civilians and to help governments arrest and surrender ICC fugitives.

Photo source: Human Rights Now.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Video clip by European Union sparks racism row

In Europe, it is no secret that people of color belonging to minority groups are commonly blamed for crime, violence and other things that go wrong in the continent, by a growing number of individuals who see anything "foreign" or "different" as a threat to European culture and way of life. Many migrants from emerging or less developed economies bear the brunt of racism, xenophobia and stigmatization on a daily basis. Despite all odds, the European Union (EU) and its institutions, such as the European Commission are doing a noticeable job to promote respect for human rights, freedom, equality and diversity in the continent. But a recent video released by the Directorate General (DG) for Enlargement, a department of the European Commission, has sparked a racism row and outrage.

The "EU propaganda film", as the video is called, shows a Caucasian woman "attacked" by men belonging to some minority groups in Europe. The video, which was reportedly intended to show Europe as a force for peace and to attract new countries to join the EU, has come under fire. [Source]. Viewers have slammed it as "racist, sexist and imperialist". Some have branded it "distasteful" and "supremacist".

The controversial clip can be interpreted in many ways, but either way - believe it or not - it portrays non-Europeans as violent and aggressive. The woman in the video visibly represents a calm, non-violent and peaceful Europe while her visibly non-European "attackers" represent a "threat" that European countries must unite to neutralize.

A bunch of producers in Hollywood who thrive on reinforcing stereotypes in movies could get away with such a video that depicts individuals representing people of African decent, Asians and Indians as the "bad guys", but in matters related to the way people or groups of people are portrayed, the European Commission knows better and must be held to higher standards.

Following the racism row that followed the release of the video, DG for Enlargement released a statement that it has decided to stop the campaign and withdraw the video.

Given the EU's commitment and efforts to promote human rights, equality and diversity in Europe, I agree with Stefano Sannino, Director General of DG Enlargement, that the clip was not intended to be racist. However, there is no denying that the video reinforces stereotypes and prejudice.

Shout out to Afro-Europe International Blog for bringing this story to my attention.

 *Photo: Daily Mail.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Finland: Read Amnesty International's Newspaper

Amnesty International, Finnish Section, publishes a newspaper - Amnesty-lehti - four times a year. The newspaper is produced in part by volunteers and contains a variety of human rights issues. Amnesty-lehti is part of Kultti - an association with a membership of over 180 cultural, scientific and advocacy magazines. The first issue this year, Amnesty-lehti 1/2012, was released on 5 March 2012 and contains an article written by me.

I wrote an article for the 1/2012 issue of Amnesty-lehti titled "Excitement and Sadness". It is on page 19. There is also a short text on page 3 in which I briefly explain why I got involved in human rights.

Amnesty-lehti is distributed to members of Amnesty International in Finland and can be read online. The 1/2012 publication covers a variety of human rights issues such as the arms trade, women and discrimination in Yemen, human rights in Syria, the Niger Delta oil spill and Amnesty International's call for Shell to take responsibility for oil spill and pollution, Guantanamo, torture, an interview with Finnish writer Märta Tikkanen and many other issues.

You're encouraged to read Amnesty-lehti. It is published in Finnish language, but my article in the 1/2012 issue is in English.

Permit me to seize this opportunity to thank the good people at Amnesty International in Finland for giving me this wonderful opportunity to write an article for Amnesty-lehti. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Amnesty International and the work the movement is doing to advance respect for human rights globally.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

YLE News report could fuel hate against Roma in Finland

While researching Finland's asylum application procedure on 2 March 2012, I came across an unsettling news report about people of Romani descent, published by YLE, a major English language news outlet in Finland. The article, titled "Beggars Seek Asylum in Finland" picks on the Roma - a minority group that has historically been discriminated against and pushed to the fringes of society in every European country where they find themselves. [Source]. In 2010, people of Romani descent were deported from France - in violation of EU rules on freedom of movement. In Finland, according to a poll commissioned by Helsinki Sanomat, the Roma, besides Somalis and Muslims in general, are disliked the most. The news item published by YLE does nothing but fuel such negative attitudes toward the Roma by tying them to three things: begging, asylum, and social welfare benefits.

The following news report was published on the website of YLE on 28 April 2010 but is still relevant. It reads like a statement - a cautious "warning" - made at an anti-Roma rally:
"Beggars of Romani decent from Rumania have begun seeking asylum in Finland. Over 50 applications for asylum have been submitted to police at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
Some of those seeking asylum are actively engaged in begging on the streets.
The Rumanians cannot, however, be granted asylum as they are EU citizens. They have the right to social benefits for as long as the applications are processed.
During this period they can reside in a reception centre and are entitled to receive social benefits to the tune of 292 euros per month if they procure food themselves or to 87 euros monthly if they consume food provided by the centre.
In April, the number of asylum applications submitted by Rumanians was equal to their total number last year.
A senior official at the Social Services Department of the City of Helsinki says the beggars can normally gain one month of benefits by filing an asylum application." [Source]
Mindful of the fact that not only the Roma are seeking asylum in Finland, it is unclear why this report focuses on the Roma. There is something inherently wrong with picking out one group of people from the pack.

Immigration, asylum and social welfare benefits are political hot potatoes and frequently used by a growing number of far-right extremists in Finland to fan hate against immigrants and other minority groups. YLE knows better that vulnerable groups tied to these hot potatoes could easily get burned.

Such reporting fuels negative sentiments against people of Romani descent from Romania and elsewhere by insinuating that their sole aim is to benefit from Finland's welfare system. It's of utmost importance that asylum cases be dealt with on individual basis. It would be more helpful and less prejudicial for YLE to shine the spot light on why the Roma are fleeing Romania and other parts of Europe to seek asylum in Finland and why they beg rather than find decent work. It would be interesting to know whether employers in Finland are willing to employ "the Rumanians" without discrimination, even in unskilled jobs, so that they won't have to beg on the streets to make a living.

*Photo of Roma woman begging in Helsinki: Kukka Ranta.

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