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.

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