Saturday, March 30, 2013

Nazi clock gift speaks volumes about Finns Party

The case of a city councillor for the Finns Party who donated a clock with Nazi insignia to a right-wing extremist group once again highlights what the party is made of.

The Finns Party, Finland's populist anti-immigration (and anti-immigrant) political party is no stranger to political scandals that repeatedly show that the party is made up people who share far-right extremist ideologies.

Councillor Risto Helin donated a clock bearing the portrait of Adolf Hitler and the swastika to a known anti-immigrant extremist group in west-coast town of Vaasa. [Source] The councillor reportedly sees nothing wrong with what he did.

According to Image, a cultural magazine based in Helsinki, the extremist group in question is called "Kerho" (in English: Club). Its members are young men who call themselves patriots, skinheads, racists and neo-Nazis. The group meets in a big yellow building at Vaasa city centre, close to the central railway station. [Source]

It is disturbing that Risto Helin gave a Hitler clock to a group of troubled young men who are enchanted by blind nationalism and a deadly ideology that claimed millions of lives under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. But even more disturbing is the fact that Helin sees nothing wrong with donating a Hitler clock to men who shamelessly identify themselves as racist.

In my view, Risto Helin's action was a show of support for the racists at the so-called Kerho. The councilman aligned himself and the Finns Party he represents with a local extremist group. No one gives a gift to or donates to a group that he/she does not support.

This is not the first time Helin is linked to right-wing extremism.

He was spotted wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of Blood & Honour - a neo-Nazi organization banned in many countries. Helin later claimed he did not know what the logo means. It is like me, a supporter of Amnesty International, wearing a shirt with Amnesty's name and logo on it, then claim I do not know what it represents.

Knowing what I know now, it is plausible to conclude that wearing the Blood & Honour T-shirt was a move designed to show solidarity with neo-Nazis. Helin just lacked courage to admit it.

The councilman seems to be unaware of many things.

He wore a neo-Nazi T-shirt and claimed he did not know what it means; he gave a Hitler clock to an extremist neo-Nazi group without knowing the repercussions or seeing anything wrong with it.

The last thing a city council needs is a councillor who promotes extremism and neo-Nazism and who does not know right from left or wrong from right. The Finns Party is full of such politicians.

*Photo of clock: Yle.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Call for interviewees in project to end exploitation of migrant workers in Finland

Migrant workers who have faced labour exploitation in Finland have an opportunity to make their voices heard by contributing to a research project. Their experiences will be presented in such a way that they will not be recognized.

Migrant workers in Finland, especially those from the so-called developing world are highly represented in the cleaning sector and other low skilled sectors, partly due to, in my view, unfair barriers in high skilled sectors. Many are exploited by employers who disregard labour laws and collective agreements. Effort is being made through various projects and initiatives to curb the exploitation. Migrant workers who have experienced labour exploitation in Finland have an opportunity to make their voices heard through the ADSTRINGO project - a project designed to address labour exploitation.

The ADSTRINGO project is an international project coordinated by the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the United Nations (HEUNI). The project is aimed at preventing exploitation of migrant workers in Finland and the Baltic Sea region by mapping out practices and problems in the recruitment of migrants workers. According to HEUNI, the project will prepare guidelines for employers and recruiters on how to identify and prevent labour exploitation.

A research report on Finland, Sweden, Lithuania and Estonia will also be published as part of ADSTRINGO project.

HEUNI researchers  would like to interview people who have been exploited for labour purposes in Finland, especially in the cleaning and restaurant sectors. Interviewees will be asked about working conditions, how they were recruited, and how they were treated by the employer.

According to HEUNI, interviews will be confidential and the institute's staff is bound be secrecy. Information obtained from the interviews will be published in such a way that interviewees cannot be identified.

At the moment, there is a need for African interviewees.

I encourage migrant workers, especially those of African origin who have experienced labour exploitation in Finland's cleaning and restaurant sectors to contact HEUNI and be interviewed. Your participation will be a valuable contribution to the fight against exploitation of migrant workers in Finland.

Questions about the interviews and how you can participate should be directed to HEUNI.

Note that I am not affiliated with the institute and I am in no position to answer questions about the project or the interviews. I am just a supporter of what the ADSTRINGO project seeks to achieve. I have however discussed with a researcher at the institute and I can facilitate direct contact.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Greek footballer banned for Nazi salute, ignorance no excuse

Nazism is a well-known and infamous political ideology in Europe. Its major elements include a gesture commonly known as the Nazi salute and a misguided belief that society should be dominated by a group of people considered to be "racially superior" while people considered "inferior" should be exterminated. A Greek footballer celebrated a goal with the Nazi salute and claimed he didn't know what it means. Unbelievable.

Nazism is a popular culture in European societies. It's therefore impossible for any right-thinking individual to believe a grown-up European who claims, in 2013, that he doesn't know what the Nazi salute means. The Hitler salute as it is also called is a gesture adopted in the 1930s as a signal of obedience to Adolf Hitler, a totalitarian and autocrat who aggressively promoted antisemitism, supremacist and racist policies that resulted in the murder of millions of people, including Jews and the Roma.

On 16 March 2013, Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis celebrated a goal with the Nazi salute. He scored the winning goal for this team - AEK Athens - in a Super League game in Athens, Greece. [SourceThe salute rightly attracted widespread condemnation and Greek football federation responded swiftly.

Giorgos Katidis was banned for life from playing for the Greek national team.

Insult to intelligence

The 20-year-old footballer issued a statement that he would not have made the gesture had he known what it means. He said he was pointing at a team mate in the stands.

In my opinion, it's an insult to the intelligence of victims of Nazism and analysts for Katidis to insist that he was "pointing" at a team mate in the stands. The Hitler salute he made (see photo) is distinctive and cannot be mistaken. It's hard to believe that the footballer didn't know what the controversial celebration meant, especially considering the fact that he's from Greece - a country where an economic crisis has propelled a fascist, xenophobic and neo-Nazist political party to prominence.

Suggesting that he didn't know what the gesture means is ludicrous and adds insult to injury.

In Greece, the Golden Dawn political party makes use of Nazi symbolism (including the Hitler salute) and has been linked to football hooliganism and racist violence against foreigners. The party's flag has a close resemblance to the flag of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party) - founded to promote far-right, racist politics in post-World War I Germany.

The Golden Dawn is a well-known far-right "extremist" movement in Greece.

Mindful of widespread hostility against immigrants and other minority groups marked by the rise of the Golden Dawn in Greece, it's plausible to conclude that Giorgos Katidis was saluting neo-Nazis in the stance and paying allegiance to a deadly ideology.

I welcome the decision by Greece's football federation to sanction Katidis. The sanction might be deemed too heavy, but it sends a loud good message: Nazism has no place in modern-day Europe.

In my view, Nazism is like a deadly virus. It claimed millions of lives across Europe after an outbreak in Hitler's Germany. Anyone spreading the virus in modern times or creating a conducive environment for it to fester should be isolated and sanctioned. A new strain of the virus, known as neo-Nazism, is spreading rapidly in Greece and other European countries. It should be eradicated before it's too late.

In Greece, neo-Nazism has gone beyond symbols and gestures in public spaces. Racist and xenophobic violence is rampant. In August 2012, an Iraqi migrant was stabbed to death in central Athens. Foreigners reportedly live in fear in the "birthplace of democracy". This is an affront to freedom and what democracy is all about.

Giorgos Katidis isn't the first Greek sports figure to be sanctioned as result of unacceptable behavior that could be linked to far-right activism. In July 2012, triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from Greece's Olympic team for targeting African immigrants on Twitter.

Greek sport authorities, in my view, are doing a better job than police and the judiciary to curb neo-Nazism and related crimes. Police have been accused of siding with the Golden Dawn and according to Human Rights Watch no one has been convicted of hate crime under Greece's 2008 hate crime statute, despite the fact that attacks against foreigners are "frighteningly common." [Source] The leader of Golden Dawn has been seen making Nazi salutes at public rallies [Source] - with no consequences for his actions.

There should be consequences for actions that insult, provoke and intimidate victims of "Nazi bestiality". Everyone, including athletes and politicians should be held to the same standards.

Glorifying Nazism emboldens far-right extremists and incites hatred, racism and antisemitism against vulnerable minority groups.

*Photo: BBC.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day theme speaks to men

Acts that undermine women's well-being are mostly perpetrated by men. It therefore makes sense that this year's theme of International Women's Day seems to speak directly to men. It's a call for an end to violence against women.

The theme of 2013 International Women's Day celebrated on 8 March is - "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women."

The UN General Assembly defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private." [Source]

International Women's Day - marked on March 8 every year - is a day dedicated to women around the world and the extraordinary challenges they face, including discrimination and gender-based violence. Violence against women include despicable acts like acid attacks, honor killing, rape and various forms of domestic violence and abuse.

Power to stop it

Men, including husbands, brothers and sons, are largely responsible for shameful acts of cowardice against women and girls. As perpetrators, they have the power to stop it.

In India, a young girl was brutally gang raped on a bus and died in hospital as result of injuries sustained during the senseless crime; in Afghanistan, a teen was shot to the head at close range for seeking education, and rape is used as a weapon of war in conflicts around the world. These are just a few of some of the most shocking acts of violence against women and girls. The acts of cruelty all have something in common - male perpetrators.

Many cases go unreported, but are equally heinous.

It's time for governments, groups, organizations, individuals and the international community to take concrete action to stop violence against women and girls. Victims should be protected and supported, and perpetrators should be prosecuted.

On 28 February 2013, United States Congress voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act aimed at improving access to justice and services to victims, including Native Americans, immigrants and LGBT victims. Other countries should enact and implement such laws.

Personally, I condemn all acts of violence against women and challenge all men to do the same. I don't have high regard for men who abuse women and I believe such men should be prosecuted. In my opinion, men have a major role to play in the fight to stop all forms of violence against women committed in private or in public. We can start by respecting women's rights and protecting our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, daughters-in-law and all women around us from violence, discrimination and ill-treatment.

I urge all men to tell a friend, father, husband, brother, brother-in-law or son-in-law on International Women's Day and every other day, that violence against women is unacceptable. Tell them that real men don't hit, abuse or violate women.

*Photo: PegasusNews

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cameroon: Arrest of Buea university student leaders is persecution

Leaders of University of Buea Students' Union (UBSU) face intimidation and arrest in relation to their work as active, elected members of the students' union.

I'm an alumni of the University of Buea (UB) and although I wasn't a registered or active member of UBSU during my studies in the institution, I'm aware of, and can attest to limitations on students' right to express their grievances in UB and other state institutions of higher learning in Cameroon. Recent arrests of UB students and the presence of security forces on campus (see photo of gendarmes on campus) indicate that the situation hasn't changed: the authorities continue to use intimidation and security forces to suppress free expression.

Pale, weak and hospitalized

The entire student body reportedly met on 6 February 2013 and declared a peaceful strike due to the "unresponsiveness and unwillingness" of the Vice Chancellor of the university to listen to students' complaints. According to an update on UBSU's Facebook page, four students were arrested on 12 February 2013 and brutalized in relation to a peaceful strike against what UBSU believes to be conditions on campus that greatly affect every student. The students were detained and appeared in court the next day. They were granted bail.

UBSU's acting president, Ronald Minang, was allegedly "kidnapped" on 12 February and was not seen for many days. He reportedly re-appeared more than a week later looking "pale and weak", and was hospitalized. According to UBSU, arrest warrants were issued for more than 40 students and many have been arrested, tortured and forced to sign various types of documents.

The acting president was reportedly arrested on 27 February when he went for a meeting with the Vice Chancellor.

What students want

Grievances that prompted the strike include a ban on businesses on campus that provide services such as photocopying, constant burglary, rape and insecurity on campus (especially in the girls' hostel), victimization of student leaders, inconsistencies in the issuance of transcripts of results, poor sanitary conditions in the university restaurant and poor quality of food served in the university restaurant.

UBSU would also like to see an end to the "continuous" presence of security forces on campus, an end to a practice where some lecturers allegedly force students to buy their text books or forfeit tests, and the recruitment of qualified lecturers.

In my opinion, many of the concerns raised by the students' union are genuine and can't, and shouldn't be ignored or overly dismissed as unreasonable. Intimidation, arrests and persecution of student leaders will not solve the crisis.

A ban on businesses providing photocopying services on campus, for instance, most definitely makes life difficult for students. Such a ban would only make sense if the university provides enough photocopy machines to replace banned photocopiers. But the university is either unwilling or unable to do so.

According to information on UBSU's Facebook page, university authorities decided to provide each faculty with three photocopy machines and there are faculties such as the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences (FSMS) with 6 to 10 departments - each with a population of thousands of students. Three photocopy machines are insufficient for a faculty. Students shouldn't be forced to stand on long queues or travel long distances out of campus to photocopy handouts, notes and other documents.

Violation of international standards

Arresting students and dragging them to court in relation to a peaceful strike is a violation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Cameroon is party to international and regional human rights conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) that uphold these rights. The state and its institutions are legally obligated to uphold international human rights standards.

Even more relevant to the rights of students is the African Youth Charter ratified by Cameroon in 2011. The charter clearly provides for young people's right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.

No stranger to abuse

Buea university is no stranger to student strike actions and repression by the authorities. Some strikes have resulted to deaths and destruction of property. The fact that strikes always reoccur after a few years is an indication that a heavy-handed response to student demands is no lasting solution.

In 2005, I witnessed a brutal crackdown on a peaceful student demonstration by police that left two students dead. I was among many students brutalized by security forces. The event marked a turning point in my life. Despite the deaths, another protest erupted the following year. Repression isn't a lasting solution to students' concerns.

Not free or democratic

Freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly are foundations of a free and democratic society. Violation of students' right to freely and peacefully express their grievances, and impunity enjoyed by perpetrators send a clear message that Cameroon is NOT free or democratic. Repression is endemic.

The administration of Vice Chancellor Nalova Lyonga Pauline Egbe should seek a lasting solution to students' grievances and stop arrests and intimidation of student union leaders. Needless to say, such tactics violate human rights and fundamental freedoms, and portray Cameroon in a negative light in the free world.

Minister of Higher Education, Jacque Fame Ndongo should listen to the cries of students affected by the violation and guarantee their safety and freedom. No one should be arrested or intimidated for peacefully expressing grievances.

UBSU on its part should conduct itself responsibly and refrain from violence or anything that could undermine its legitimate aim. The union should stick to its main objective - protect the interest of students in the spirit of the famous slogan, "All for One, One for All". Non-violence should be the mantra.

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