Monday, September 23, 2013

Nairobi mall attack could hurt Somalis in Finland

Al-Shabaab, a somali-based terrorist group affiliated to al-Qaeda released the names of alleged perpetrators of the Westgate mall terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya that left 62 people dead and over a hundred wounded. According to the revealed list, one of the attackers came from Helsinki, Finland. If this is true it could have damaging consequences on Somalis in the Nordic country.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack in retaliation to Kenyan military operation in Somalia, and released the names, ages and countries of origin of the alleged attackers. According to the list, one of the alleged attackers identified as Ismael Galed came from Helsinki, Finland.  The other 8 were recruited from Canada, Somalia, U.S.A, Kenya and the U.K.

According to Finnish police, the name released by al-Shabaab and linked to Finland is not in the country's population register but investigation continues since it is common for al-Shabaab's militants to adopt fictitious names so as distract the authorities. The Somali union in Finland said the name is unknown in the community.

Personally, I hope the alleged attacker from Finland does not exist since his existence would have negative repercussions on innocent members of his community.

Al-Shabaab reportedly recruits from Somali communities around the world. According to Statistics Finland, there were 7,4768 Somalians in Finland in 2012 - making them one of the largest groups of foreigners in the country. A poll in 2011 placed Somalis among minority groups most affected by racism and intolerance in Finland.

In my assessment, news that one of the Westgate attackers came from Helsinki would increase intolerance and negative attitudes towards Somalis - many of whom already face discrimination and high unemployment in Finland. Extremism and participation in terrorist attacks by individuals from Finland and elsewhere should be condemned and prosecuted when possible, security should be tightened and members of the public and security forces should be more vigilant. The threat of terrorism is real and militants may be hiding in plain sight. However, there should be no backlash of intolerance and increased negative attitudes towards vulnerable communities from where militants could be recruited. A backlash would only increase chances of recruitment by terrorist groups. Disgruntled young men pushed to the fringes of society could easily be recruited for purposes of terrorism.

This is not the first time al-Shabaab is linked to Finland. In 2011 it was revealed that six persons resident in Finland had links to the terrorist organization. Regardless, I think people should be treated as individuals and their actions should not be attributable to everyone in their community of origin.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Minorities in Finland face unequal treatment, even in death

Family murders are common in Finland and whenever they happen the media mentions the nationality or origin of the perpetrator and the victim. But the origin of the most recent victim of Finland's string of disturbing family murders was kept under wraps. Some people, including me wonder why.

On 1 September 2013, a 42-year-old Finnish man killed his wife in their home (see photo) in Nurmijärvi, a town in the Helsinki metropolitan area. The man killed himself thereafter and seriously wounded his slain wife's 3-year-old daughter.

Finnish media usually reports the nationality of family murder victims, but there seemed to be a cover up in the Nurmijärvi case. In June 2013 the media made no secret of the killing of an Estonian woman by her Finnish partner. The unambiguous report of the June case involving two white Europeans puts into question why a young [African] woman killed in Nurmijärvi under similar circumstances related to domestic violence was merely labelled "maahanmuuttajataustainen" (immigrant background) by news outlets.

According to sources who wish to remain anonymous, the 26-year-old woman of "immigrant background" was from Democratic Republic of Congo.

In my view, it is not by chance that the African victim's origin was omitted from Finnish news reports. The information blackout was a calculated attempt to avoid speculation by members of the public that the killing was racially motivated. I do not believe that race motivated the killing, since the killer was married to the victim. However, I do believe there was a cover up in a bid to sway public discourse away from the murky waters of immigration and growing racism in Finland. The glaring omission reveals that issues related to people of African descent in Finland are rather swept under the rug.

Otherwise it is incomprehensible why the media identified the Helsinki west harbor victim a few months earlier, for instance, as an Estonian and concealed the origin of the Nurmijärvi victim who happened to be African. Some might consider it an unintentional omission or oversight. But I do not see it that way since all prominent news sites left out the information the last time I checked.

Private individuals are protected by privacy laws and issues like their finances and bank records are usually a no-go area for the media. But Iltalehti took a cheap shot at the Nurmijärvi victim's reputation by publishing information about her financial difficulties in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In my assessment, it is inappropriate to make national news out of a private individual's finances, especially when the information has no bearing on a case. Making news of a murder victim's financial record, which has no bearing on the case, was out-of-the-ordinary, irresponsible and unnecessary.

I have seen a photograph of the slain 26-year-old Congolese. She was young and seemingly full of life. I am sure she will be missed by her family, friends and loved ones. Thanks to independent research and credible sources I can now put a name and face to a slain member of Finland's visible minority community who was labelled and treated unlike the majority, even in death.

According to a source, a funeral will take place in Jyväskylä on 14 September 2013.

Image: Iltalehti

Monday, September 9, 2013

A vote for impunity by Kenya's parliament

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is controversial among Africans. Many argue that the court targets Africans suspected of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court and turns a blind eye to similar international crimes committed by western leaders. It is commonly argued that if George W. Bush and his associates like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were Africans, they would have been hauled to The Hague for crimes against humanity, including widespread torture, enforced disappearances and severe deprivation of physical liberty of terrorism suspects. Arguments against the ICC are compelling, but at the same time a vote to leave the court is tantamount to a vote for impunity.

On 5 September 2013, Kenyan MPs approved a motion to leave the ICC. The vote paves the way for Kenya to drop its obligations under the Rome Statute. Parliament claims that withdrawal from the Rome Statute is aimed at protecting Kenyan citizens and defending the sovereignty of Kenya.

When the news broke I tweeted a link to the news report with the words: "#Kenya MPs vote to withdraw from #ICC. Disappointing! A vote for impunity." I stand by my words.

The vote, in my assessment, is aimed at protecting President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, both of whom have been charged with crimes against humanity by the ICC. Kenya's parliament is dominated by a coalition created by the duo. The parliament therefore has an interest in shielding them from prosecution at The Hague.

In my view, a vote to leave the ICC is a vote in favor of impunity. The ICC was set up by the Rome Statute to deal with crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and crimes of aggression. Withdrawal from a treaty that binds Kenya to the court means crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court committed in Kenya will go unpunished. There have been no justice for crimes committed during post election violence in 2007 in which more than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced. Impunity for the worst crimes is what Kenya's parliament, which is dominated by a coalition formed by suspected perpetrators of the 2007 violence, seeks to achieve. The controversial vote is not intended to protect the common man.

Pulling out of the Rome Statute is not a solution for perceived "hunting" of Africans by the ICC. The court can anyway pursue charges against suspected perpetrators in non-member states based on referrals by the U.N. Security Council - as in the case of crimes that were committed in  Darfur, Sudan and Libya under Omar al Bashir and Muammar Gaddaffi respectively.

In my opinion, in order to keep the ICC at bay African states should build strong legal institutions capable of delivering justice to victims of serious crimes of international concern. The ICC complements national criminal jurisdictions and comes in when a state is unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute crimes within the jurisdiction of the court. A vote to withdraw from the court without a developed and impartial national criminal justice system is misguided.

Kenya ratified the Rome Statute in March 2005. Withdrawal won't halt on-going prosecutions. But it could affect initiation of future investigations and prosecutions.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

MPs ignore bigger fish to fry in Finnish society

Public discourse in Finnish online forums and blogs written by far-right elements and Finns Party MPs suggest that immigration is the biggest problem in Finland, but a closer look at Finnish society reveals more pertinent issues that people on the far-right of the political divide ignore, including domestic violence, family killings and violence against women and children.

Populist Finns Party members lead the way in fanning flames of hate against immigrants and other minorities in Finland. They slam immigrants and refugees and portray Muslims as villains. MPs like James Hirvisaari and Jussi Halla-aho have been convicted by Finnish courts for inciting hatred, but they remain defiant. Another notorious MP from the populist right-wing Finns Party, Teuvo Hakkarainen, more recently wrote a controversial blog post in which he described Muslims in Turku as the "worst Jihadists". It's worthy to remember that Hakkarainen used the n-word to describe people of African descent in a video interview on his first day in parliament.

From writings and utterances of Finns Party lawmakers (who also happen to be lawbreakers), you would think that immigration is the most serious problem in Finland.

In my view, there are bigger fishes to fry in Finnish society.

Numerous women and children have been killed in Finland as a result of domestic and family violence and the authorities have not done enough to arrest the problem.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, 55 people - including 48 children have been killed since 2003 as a result of family murders and the authorities have not acted adequately. For example, verbal threats of violence are usually not taken seriously. Helsingin Sanomat gathered 11 cases of family murders since 2011 - the most recent being a twin murder in Jyväskylä in August 2013.

The list of family murders doesn't include the 1 September 2013 case where a Finnish man killed his immigrant wife and seriously wounded her three-year-old daughter with a handgun, nor the 15 June 2013 killing of an Estonian woman in broad daylight by her Finnish partner in a parking lot in Helsinki's west harbor.

By my rough count, there have been three cases of family-related murders in less than three months this year - resulting in death of three women. This, in my assessment, is a more serious societal problem than immigration.

Finns Party MPs and other proponent of extreme views shared by Norway's mass murderer Anders Breivik shouldn't waste durable time in parliament taking cheap shots at immigrants and refugees. They should focus on tackling crippling societal problems like alcoholism, domestic violence and family killings.

A disturbing report revealed that a homicide is committed in Finland every third day. Majority of the perpetrators are discriminated, unemployed and alcoholic men. According to the report, more homicides are committed in Finland than in any other Nordic country.

MPs like Hakkarainen, Hirvisaari and Halla-aho focus on inciting hatred and shy away from discussing life-threatening problems that plague their constituencies. Perhaps, given their track record, the MPs would address the issues if perpetrators were mostly Muslims, immigrants, Roma or other minorities.

Search this Blog

Related Posts with Thumbnails