Friday, December 19, 2014

Cameroon's anti-terrorism bill threatens civil and political rights

Public demonstrations that culminated in the ouster of dictators in North Africa, the Middle East and most recently in Burkina Faso in sub-Saharan Africa have put last-standing regimes that have been in power for decades on edge, and forced them to explore ways of tightening their grip on power -- even if it means passing laws that have the potential of prohibiting public demonstrations, the likes of which recently toppled unpopular regimes elsewhere.

Six years after the president of Cameroon eliminated presidential term limits from the constitution of the Republic, the country's parliament, which is dominated by members of the ruling party, passed another controversial bill seemingly designed to discourage mass demonstrations and the dissemination of information against a regime that has ruled Cameroon for 32 years.

According to The Cameroon Journal, Cameroon's National Assembly (parliament) voted into law a bill that prescribes the death penalty for individuals found guilty of acts of terrorism. A section of the bill reportedly states, amongst other things:
"Whoever, acting alone as an accomplice or an accessory, commits or threatens to commit an act likely to cause death, endanger physical integrity, cause bodily harm or material damage, destroy natural resources, the environment or cultural heritage with intent to: a) intimidate the public, provoke a situation of terror, or force the victim, the government, and/or a national or international organisation to carry out or refrain from carrying out an act, adopt or renounce a particular position; b) disrupt the normal functioning of public services, the delivery of essential services to the public or create a crisis situation among the public; c) create widespread insurrection in the country..." 
Many Cameroonians, including a leading member of parliament are concerned, and rightly so. The National Commission for Human Rights and Freedom also criticized the bill. Reporters Without Borders urged Cameroon's president to reject the bill on grounds that certain provisions would adversely affect freedom of information. 

In my view, the bill, which might be well-intended in light of a real terrorist threat posed by terror groups like Boko Haram operating in the region, is vague and if promulgated into law could lead to the suppression of a catalogue of civil and political rights, including freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention, the right to freedom of expression (press freedom included) either orally, in writing or through peaceful public demonstrations.

Public demonstrations are usually intended to "force" the government "to carry out or refrain from carrying out an act, adopt or renounce a particular position." Demonstrations in Burkina Faso for example were intended to force the government to refrain from changing the constitution. I'm of the view that the protests - although disrupted public services and culminated in the ouster of Blaise Compaore - were by no means an act of terror.  

Legitimate peaceful demonstrations sometimes "disrupt the normal functioning of public services", but are not necessarily acts of terror. Street occupations that broke out in Hong Kong in September for instance disrupted public services as well, but weren't "acts of terror;" neither were peaceful protests that ousted Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 2011.

If the bill in question goes into law protesters in Cameroon who demonstrate like those in Hong Kong could be, I believe, prosecuted under the anti-terrorism law.

Cameroon has obligations under international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other key international human rights standards to which Cameroon is party obligate States Parties to guarantee the right of peaceful assembly. The state should refrain from enacting laws that threaten this right.

Any country that outlaws protests and threatens demonstrators with the death sentence is, in my opinion, dictatorial and repressive. It follows that "Bill N° 962/PJL/AN on the suppression of acts of terrorism" portrays Cameroon as a dictatorship where public demonstrations are frowned upon and could be branded "acts of terror." The right of peaceful assembly, including the right to protest is a key facet of free and democratic societies.

Cameroon needs a law on the suppression of terrorism, especially due to the fact that Boko Haram operates in neighboring Nigeria and has reportedly carried out cross-border attacks in Cameroon. Other terrorist groups like ISIL operating further away also have the potential to radicalize and recruit militants across borders through the internet. Anti-terrorism laws are therefore important. However, laws on suppression of terrorism - like all other laws - should be unambiguous and shouldn't have the potential of being used to stifle protests and political dissent.

Cameroonians at home and abroad have seen criminal laws in the country used in the past against dissidents like Lapiro de Mbanga. A vague anti-terrorism law would be an addition to the state's arsenal of laws used to crush political dissent.

It's my wish that the Head of State holds off signing the bill into law until sections that threaten civil and political rights are dropped.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Mike Brown grand jury decision was déjà vu

What's striking in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri is the role of the prosecutor, a man thousands of people believe should have recused himself from the case due to potential bias or lack of impartiality as a result of his family story and ties with the police.

Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down on August 9, 2014 by police officer Darren Wilson. After months of protests a grand jury returned a no true bill.

The circumstances of the shooting of Michael Brown sparked anti-racism protests and calls for the prosecutor responsible for pursuing prosecution of the police officer involved to recuse himself. Some residents of Ferguson, according to CNN, contended from the onset that prosecutor Robert McCulloch has deep ties with the Ferguson police department and has favored law enforcement in previous criminal cases.

A petition was launched to remove the prosecutor from the case and replace him with a special prosecutor was launched by a Missouri State Senator. According to the petition, prosecutor McCulloch's decision not to charge officers who lied about their actions after killing two unarmed African-Americans in 2000 gives no confidence that the prosecutor's office can be fair and impartial in the Michael Brown killing.

It's worthy to mention that as of the time of this writing the petition has garnered 117,568 signatures.

In my view, concerns about the background of Robert McCulloch are sensible, and he should have recused himself. The fact that he bought the story of officers who killed two African Americans, and a subsequent federal investigation found that the officers lied cannot be overlooked. Besides, I believe it's reasonable to expect the prosecutor to remove himself from a case involving an African-American and a police officer given that, according to news reports which McCulloch's spokeman confirmed to CNN, the prosecutor's father was a police officer and was killed on the job in 1964 by an African-American man. His tragic family story is enough to raise concerns of potential partiality in a case involving a police officer and an African-American.

I'm of the view that Robert McCulloch's decision to stay on the Micheal Brown case jeopardized trust in the investigation and the decision of the grand jury. Assertions that he handled the case with kid gloves are plausible. I share the view expressed by Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Michael Brown family, that a first year law student would have done a better job cross-examining the killer of an unarmed teenager.

Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri said in a statement: "There's a well-established process by which a prosecutor can recuse themselves from a pending investigation, and a special prosecutor be appointed. Departing from this established process could unnecessarily inject legal uncertainty into this matter and potentially jeopardize the prosecution."

The "well-established process" should have been initiated in order to safeguard confidence in the system. And Robert McCulloch should have recused himself, and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the killing of Michael Brown.

With prosecutor McCulloch in charge of the Mike Brown case the outcome was déjà vu.

I'm however pleased that the Justice Department is conducting its own inquiry. In the words of governor Nixon, "that's the kind of independent, external, national review and investigation of this that I think that will assist everyone in making sure we get to justice."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why Indonesia should stop "virginity tests" for female police recruits

Glaring double standards around the world fuel inequality, and women -- like other historically discriminated groups -- bear the brunt. A report that female police recruits in Indonesia face forced "virginity tests" adds to the long list of degrading, invasive and discriminatory treatment faced by women and girls around the world.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on its website on 18 November 2014 that takes the Indonesian government to task for subjecting female police recruits to "virginity tests". According to HRW, the practice - designed to determine whether female applicant's hymens are intact - is discriminatory and degrading. The human rights group points out in the report that although applicants who "failed" the test were not necessarily expelled from the force, all the women interviewed for the report described the test as painful and traumatic.

I'm of the view that subjecting female police recruits to "virginity tests" is a discriminatory violation of privacy and other international human rights, including freedom from degrading treatment. The practice, which was brought to my attention by a CNN news report, is discriminatory because it targets only women. Male recruits are not subjected to any form of "virginity test". All recruits should be treated equally, irrespective of sex, gender, creed or other grounds.

Besides violating basic anti-discrimination standards, "virginity tests", in my view, violate privacy and humiliate female recruits unnecessarily. Hymens don't get police work done. To put it bluntly: a woman's hymen has no impact on her ability to do police work. Recruiters therefore have no sensible interest in knowing whether or not hymens are intact. I believe virgins - male or female - don't necessarily make better police officers. Tests to establish virginity are therefore unnecessary and shouldn't be part of medical examinations intended to determine medical fitness for a job.

If there's scientific evidence, which I strongly don't think there's any, that virgins do a better job as police officers, all applicants - male and female - should be tested. But again, as stated by HRW in its report, "virginity tests" have been recognized under international law as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

One retired police officer told HRW that her class of female recruits in 1965 were subjected to virginity testing. This shows that the practice is, in my opinion, a relic of an archaic era when it was fashionable to subject women to degrading treatment in a bid to discourage them from taking up certain jobs.

The government of Indonesia, which is party to international conventions like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT) that prohibit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, should abolish "virginity tests." The country is also party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which it ratified way back in 1984. It follows that the government has an obligation under international law to terminate all discriminatory practices that target women.

Female police recruits told HRW that the degrading, invasive test, which is administered with two fingers, is scary, upsetting, humiliating, painful and traumatic. Such a practice, I think, has the potential of discouraging women from serving in the police force. If discouraging women from joining the force isn't the intention of the government of Indonesia, the practice should be stopped.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bleak, intolerant future for immigrants in Finland?

There's a feeling among some immigrants in Finland that despite numerous social difficulties they face there's hope for the future -- as young Finns are perceived to be more tolerant and likely to usher in a more inclusive society in the future. Studies however suggest a bleak future of racial intolerance in Finland.

Speaking at the Central Finland Future Forum conference, Sakari Suutarinen, an associate professor from the University of Jyväskylä, said, according to Yle, that an international comparison of 38 countries found that Finnish boys held the most intolerant views towards immigrants. The associate professor reportedly added that anti-immigration feelings among young people in Finland has hardened since the turn of the millennium. He criticized schools for not doing enough to get Finnish youngsters to openly discuss social and religious issues, and for separating Muslim and Christian students into separate religious studies classes. He urged schools to do more to encourage understanding.

Let me be clear: young people are the future. And studies showing the spread of racial intolerance among young people suggest a racist future.

In my view, growing racial intolerance is bad news for Finland. Young people normally represent hope -- hope for a more free, inclusive and advanced society that understands that hate begets hate, endangers everyone including the perpetrator, and inequality stunts economic growth by limiting the potential of a group of people. The toxic relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is a perfect example of how intolerance and domination of one by another puts both parties in harm's way.

The simple reality, which might be bitter for some to swallow, is that immigration cannot be stopped. There'll always be movement of people from one place to another. Intolerance cannot stop the trend. "Blind nationalists" should get off their high horse and realize that racism and intolerance might adversely affect some migrants, but for the most part it destroys the country they claim to protect.

Immigration and immigrants are here to stay, and many of them are hardworking and ready to contribute to the betterment of their host country. They should be given an opportunity to do so.

I believe, the future for immigrants and other minority groups in Finland is not bleak. Like many people, I share the view that racism is taught. Therefore, if racial intolerance is spreading among Finnish youth than youth in other countries it means, in my view, that racial intolerance is taught or learned more in Finland.

The good news is that if people can learn how to be intolerant they can learn how to be tolerant.

Besides, racially intolerant Finnish youth are a minority. At the Central Finland Future Forum conference, associate professor Suutarinen said in studies of school attainment, over 2 percent of young people in Finland said they are critical of immigrants and their rights. Although according to Suutarinen the 2 percent represents a sharp increase since the year 2000, I think it's still a very small percentage of Finnish young people.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Women should know and assert their rights -- like men

A lot of work has gone into empowering women and exposing them to basic freedoms and liberties that they were once denied; freedoms and liberties that men enjoy without question. But there're people, including some women who still think women shouldn't know or assert their rights.

There's a video (in pidgin) circulating on Facebook that ridicules women's rights, and suggests amongst other things that men living abroad travel to Africa to marry women out of pity. The video titled "I know my rights issue... married women watch out!!!" slams women who start asserting their rights the moment they are taken abroad by their husbands. According to the author of the video -- who happens to be a woman -- women who claim "I know my rights" will get in trouble. She slams women who refuse to do strenuous work, refuse to give birth to children or clean the house. The author goes on to encourage men to take such women back to their country of origin and seize their passports.


The video has been widely shared on Facebook, and the views expressed in it seem to have a lot of support from men and women alike, mostly Africans. But as an African man, I am not buying the video despite the fact that it puts African men on a pedestal.

In my view, the video is insulting to women and represents a setback in the struggle for women's empowerment. There're a host of reasons why African men living abroad travel to Africa to marry. Pity is not one of them. The massive number of thumbs up the video enjoys, despite its loud and condescending tone, is an indication that there's still a lot of work to be done in the fight against the subjugation of women.

It's socially irresponsible to condemn women who claim their rights. Even more irresponsible is advocating something as illegal as the seizure of women's passports by men. Passport seizure is a sinister tactic employed by perpetrators of despicable international crimes such as human trafficking. It shouldn't be advocated. Criminal passport seizures are designed to abuse and control victims by violating their right to free movement. No man has the legal authority to take his wife for "vacation" abroad and seize her passport in order to stop her from returning.

No woman, in my view, should be forced to answer "yes sir" to a man and spend the rest of her life in a subjugated and unhappy state simply because he helped her move to Europe or the United States. In the same vein, no man should live in subjugation for the same reason. I'm not advocating violation of matrimonial vows per se. I advocate mutual respect of rights and freedoms, including freedom to terminate a relationship.

Women's rights is considered a foreign issue in many developing communities, especially among men. This, in my view, explains why many African men support the views expressed in the video in question. Although many men commonly point to culture to justify the treatment of women, the truth is that men kick against women's rights simply because it's in their interest to do so. Culture is just a cover story. Many cultures that diminish the status of women, including cultures that promulgate acts like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are hinged on patriarchal customary practices that place men above women. Such cultures, in my perspective, are repugnant and worthy of repeal.

Some progress has been made in the battle for women's rights and gender equality. But there's still a lot of work to be done. There're still too many people (women included) who think, erroneously of course, that a woman shouldn't have a say, a woman must clean the house and a woman must have babies --  because that's what the man wants. Very few consider what the woman wants.

There're still communities where women are denied basic rights such as the right to education. Boys are sent to school while girls stay at home and take care of domestic chores or forced into early marriage. Women in some areas can't inherit property. According to the Wall Street Journal, for instance, the government of India amended the Asian country's Inheritance Laws in 2005 to allow women inherit their parent's property, but the law seems to be having little impact -- as a survey found that just one in eight women whose parents own land inherit any of it.

Women should know and assert their rights. We -- men on our part need to man up and stop seeing women who know their rights as threats to the delusional authority bestowed on us by society simply because we're men. Women are not a threat. They're just like many of us who know our privileges, and assert them -- sometimes to the detriment of women.

There're a good number of women across cultures who give up some of their rights in order to save their relationships. Few men, if any, do. It should be a matter of choice. Hence women who chose not to do so shouldn't be ridiculed.

It was Nelson Mandela who said, "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another." Although Mandela spoke in relation to racial discrimination his aforementioned words are relevant in the battle against all forms of discrimination and oppression, including inequality faced by women and girls.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Texas Liberian Ebola patient wasn't left to die

Many Africans are suspicious, sometimes understandably so, of western action, inaction or insufficient action -- perceived or real. But suggesting that an African diagnosed with Ebola was left for death in a hospital in Texas is, in my perspective, unfounded and, patently absurd. Here's why.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola, according to BBC News, died in a hospital in Texas on 8 October 2014. Duncan, 42, reportedly contracted the deadly virus in his native country Liberia before traveling to the U.S. -- where he tested positive 10 days after he arrived from Liberia's capital Monrovia.

The death of Thomas Duncan sparked outrage and criticism among Africans on social media and elsewhere. Many criticized the way Duncan's case was handled by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, and expressed suspicion of U.S. policy in relation to the Ebola virus. On Facebook, some people claimed, amongst other things, that Thomas Duncan was "left to die" of Ebola. Someone speculated that Duncan was "an index case" that had to be "eradicated". Another suggested that the U.S was sending a message to discourage Africans from traveling to the U.S. to receive treatment for Ebola. Others suggested that racism had something to do with his death.

In fact, there seems to be consensus among good number of Africans online that Thomas Eric Duncan was left for death, and that enough wasn't done to save his life -- whereas enough was done to save the lives of American aid workers who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia.

In my view, it doesn't make sense to claim -- without evidence or enough data to support the claim -- that Thomas Duncan was left for death. The fact that he's the first casualty of Ebola on U.S. soil is insufficient grounds to arrive at such a bizarre conclusion.

Ebola has no proven cure as of the time of this writing. Hence anything can happen to anyone -- black or white, African or American -- who contracts the virus. It's true that the two American aid workers who survived in a hospital in Atlanta received an experimental drug called ZMapp, but Duncan wasn't given the drug. However, it's also true that ZMapp isn't a medical breakthrough -- as evidenced by the fact that ZMapp was, according to Reuters, given to three other Ebola patients who later died, including a Spanish priest.

Experimental drugs like ZMapp are therefore no guarantee. By the way, Thomas Duncan was given an experimental drug called brincidofovir.

I share the view that anti-Ebola protocols weren't respected in the onset of the Thomas Duncan case. It's inconceivable that the deceased was sent home with antibiotics after going to the hospital a few days after he arrived in the U.S. Someone in the hospital was negligent. The initial negligent response warrants an investigation to make sure it doesn't happen again.

However, I don't think hospital staff willingly sent an infected Ebola patient back into the streets in the U.S. I don't belong to the category of people who think Duncan was left for death.

Conspiracy theories related to Ebola or any other pandemic disease are counter productive, and endanger the lives of health workers and infected people in affect communities. Eight Ebola workers were killed in Guinea. Why? According to Time, an angry mob in a remote village thought the workers came to spread the disease. In my mind, conspiracy theories incited the violent attack.

The simple truth in my perspective is that the world is yet to get a grasp of Ebola. And even the most medically advanced countries are vulnerable, including the U.S. and European countries like Spain, that are reportedly well-equipped to contain the Ebola virus. If the "usual suspect" - the West - had a secret treatment or vaccine for Ebola, I think westerners like the two Catholic missionaries who died of Ebola in Madrid would've been saved. Authorities in Spain killed a dog belonging to a nurse infected with Ebola. Frantic efforts are employed to contain the Ebola virus.

Allegations that Eric Duncan was treated differently on grounds of nationality or race would've made sense to me if there was a clear way to treat Ebola, and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital didn't follow the tested and proven medical protocol. Unfortunately there's no known treatment at the moment hence hospitals attempt to deal with the virus in different ways -- yielding different results.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Criminal damage of Finns Party's Helsinki office

The right to hold and express opinions without interference is a fundamental human right enshrined in international human rights standards, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although international covenants bind states parties not individuals, the latter could learn a thing or two from the covenants -- many of which are incorporated into national laws. Vandalizing public or private property of political opponents or people who hold dissenting political views amounts to unlawful interference, and threatens civil and political freedom.

Vandals targeted the Helsinki office of the Perussuomalaiset (PS) political party. According to Yle, members of the party arrived at their office on 18 September to find windows shattered. An anonymous party claimed responsibility for the vandalism in a manifesto posted on an informal news site.

In the manifesto (in Finnish) which seeks to rationalize the vandalism, it is stated, amongst other things, that the economic recession has given impetus to right-wing populists and neo-Nazis across Europe, and the PS is one of those parties that take advantage of the economic uncertainty and offer naive solutions to society's problems -- by scapegoating immigrants, non-heterosexuals and feminists. And that the PS seeks to create a society that doesn't have room for everyone; a society modeled on the "white heterosexual man" and a "hierarchical nuclear family" as a basic social unit, under a "totalitarian government".

Furthermore, the strong-worded manifesto asserts that the PS has hard-line fascists in its ranks and that the party has made racism and hate speech acceptable. The manifesto calls for equality and for a society where everyone has equal power to make decisions on their lives and on the organization of society. According to the manifesto, the architects of the attack want to make things difficult for the PS in "concrete ways" and would use "direct actions" against the party and "other fascists".

In my view, the PS is, without a doubt, hostile to minorities, including immigrants, refugees, Muslims and homosexuals. High level members of the party, including its Members of Parliament and councillors make no secret of what they think of minority groups. Evidence to support this claim abound:
  • PS councillors in the city of Lieksa once demanded a Somali-free meeting room.
  • PS councillors in the same city blocked a proposal to accept nine refugee minors from Syria.
  • A councillor of the party once donated a clock with Nazi insignia to a right-wing extremist group in Vaasa.
  • Teuvo Hakkarainen, a Member of Parliament representing the party used the N-word to describe black Africans on his first day in parliament. He got away with it.
  • A parliamentary aide of the party suggested that minorities in Finland should be forced to wear armbands so that they could be easily identified by the police.
  • A PS councillor described refugees and asylum seekers as welfare leaches and rapists
  • Two MPs of the party, Jussi Halla-aho and James Hirvisaari (now expelled by the party) were convicted of ethnic agitation by Finnish courts.
 The list of misdeeds by PS members is long and inexhaustible.

However, I believe criminal damage of the party's office is an unacceptable act which amounts to assault on civil and political rights. The way I see it, the criminal act is counter productive since, in my view, it projects the PS as a victim of "political persecution" rather than portray it as what it is: a party that threatens equality -- a core value in Finnish and Nordic societies. Acts of vandalism targeting the party or its members, I believe, could help rather than hurt the PS in the polls thereby undermining the objective of the perpetrators as per the manifesto posted online.

Although I subscribe to the view that the PS scapegoats minorities and doesn't do enough to stamp out racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia from its ranks, or rein in its numerous members who fan flames of hate, I oppose unlawful acts against the party.

Violence begets more violence. Imagine a situation where PS members also start vandalizing property of opponents. Finland, I feel, would descend into chaos. It's on this premise that I oppose vandalism and any other unlawful act against the PS or any other legally recognized political party that operates within the ambit of Finnish law.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Right to self-determination: proceed with caution

There're those who belief that secession and independence would automatically solve all problems faced by a people. But a more rational consideration of what's at stake or what's to come after independence would show otherwise.

Scotland was in the spotlight in light of a referendum to decide whether or not the territory should remain part of the United Kingdom. When the jury was still out, there was a lot of speculation and analysis about the possibility of a victory by the "YES campaign". But the verdict showed after all votes were counted that the "NO campaign" carried the day. Scotland rejected independence. The people decided to stick with their United Kingdom.

According to the BBC, Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45%.

I welcome the results of the referendum and applaud the government of Prime Minister David Cameron for giving the people of Scotland the opportunity to decide, because -- let's face it -- Westminster could have blocked or delayed a referendum. By allowing the process, the government under the leadership of Cameron acted in good faith in recognition of the right of self-determination.

I believe all peoples have the right to determine their political status. I recognize and would defend the right to self-rule or self-determination, which is a core principle in international law. The right is expressly provided in international human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see article 1), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (see article 1).

However, I also believe that peoples should exercise this right with caution -- except in cases where there's urgency prompted by a brutal and oppressive occupier.

Advocates of secession often point to the availability of natural wealth and resources in their territory as proof that they would be better off as an independent country. Natural resources alone, in my opinion, should not be the driving force for self-rule. Other factors should be considered, and all major uncertainties should be sorted out before independence. When it comes to independence, a leap in the dark is, without a doubt, reckless.

It would have been disastrous, I feel, for the people of Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom without a clear structure in place to ensure their well-being after independence. A lot of uncertainty surrounded Scottish independence. It's baffling that about 45 % of Scots voted in favor of independence without knowing, for instance, what currency an independent Scotland would use, and without knowing how long it would take the country to join the European Union -- from where many Scottish farmers expect subsidies. Security and defence questions were not also considered or clarified by "Yes Scotland", the main campaign group for independence.

Scotland no doubt has natural resources. In fact Scotland is richer per capita than the UK, and about 90% of the UK's oil comes from Scotland. But resources do run out. It's therefore important, in my view, that independence should not be anchored predominantly on the availability of natural resources.

In my view, majority of the people of Scotland voted wisely in the referendum. Majority of Scots seem to understand that secession doesn't necessarily make all socio-economic and political problems go away. Food for thought for separatist movements across the globe.

Personally, I take away two lessons from the Scottish referendum: firstly, wealth of natural resources doesn't necessarily mean majority of people in a territory will vote in favor of secession. And secondly, an independence referendum (or calls for it) by peoples entitled to it is sometimes necessary in order to force change -- as evidenced by the fact that David Cameron and other British leaders promised under the pressure of a referendum to devolve greater powers to Scotland. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not change will be delivered as promised.

Failure to fulfill the vow made by UK party leaders panicked by the referendum, I believe, would mean another referendum in the future. And Scots might not vote "No" to independence again if they're forced to return to the polls in the future because of a broken vow.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

1960-style racial abuse in a store in Finland, and silent onlookers

Things happen in modern-day Finland that look like scenes out of the U.S. in the 1960s when black people, such as 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, were taunted by angry members of the white community who opposed racial integration of public schools.

Ihmisoikeusliitto, a human rights organisation that monitors the human rights situation in Finland, revealed on its Facebook page on 4 September 2014 that one of its workers was followed and verbally attacked in a shop by another customer. According to the Facebook post, the customer followed the human rights workers in a shop and shouted insults as the latter walked away. No one in the shop said anything to the abuser or the abused. Everyone stared as the perpetrator continued the racially motivated abuse -- until a security guard took the perpetrator away.

According to Ihmisoikeusliitto, the reason for the taunting was the color of the victim's skin.

Keep in mind that the reported racist taunting happened is 2014, not 1960. It's unconscionable that such a thing happens in modern-day Finland, and not a single onlooker lifts a finger.

When I read the Facebook post, the story of Ruby Bridges came to mind.

Ruby Bridges was the first black student to attend a formerly all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. When public schools were required by federal law to desegregate, she was the first African American to go to William Frantz Elementary School. For security reasons, Ruby was escorted to and from school by U.S. Marshals dispatched by president Eisenhower. White parents and students shouted insults and pointed fingers at Ruby as she went to school under the protection of U.S. Marshals. And white parents rushed their children out of the school in protest. Even teachers refused to teach.

In my view, shouting insults at someone in a public place in Finland because of the color of his or her skin is as shameful as the racially motivated taunting of Ruby Bridges in New Orleans in 1960. The verbal abuse reported by Ihmisoikeusliitto is, to an extent, similar to abuse faced by Ruby Bridges in the 1960s. The only difference lies in the scale of the abuse.

Unlike Ruby, the victim in the shop in Finland was taunted by a single abuser. Although the perpetrator acted alone, the silent onlookers in the shop, I believe, took the side of the perpetrator. My belief that the "spectators" were complicit is hinged on the words of archbishop Desmond Tutu: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor".

I have argued before in previous blog posts, such as in the piece about the plight of Finland's black taxi drivers, and I'll argue again, that blatant racism persists in modern-day Finland because members of the public and people with the power to change things let it persist. Perpetrators are emboldened by the silence of onlookers. People of good conscience and people in positions of authority in Finland should stand up and speak up forcefully against racism. Until then, racists will continue to drag Finland's international image in the mud by repeatedly perpetrating 1960-style racial abuse in modern-day Finland.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The plight of Finland's black taxi drivers

Manifestations of racism and discrimination in Finland keep surfacing. Hence anti-racism and anti-discrimination efforts in the Nordic country must continue, and perhaps intensify.

Helsingin Sanomat (HS) published a disturbing and damning article (in Finnish) on 22 August 2014 about suspicion and direct racism faced by dark-skinned taxi drivers in Finland, precisely in the nation's capital. According to HS, taxi drivers with so-called foreign background encounter suspicion as a result of language skills and lack of local knowledge, but also as a result of direct racism. The newspaper tells the story of Masawud Magagi, a Ghanaian-born taxi driver who waited in vain for customers at a taxi post -- although about ten customers waited for a taxi at the same taxi post. None of the customers got into his taxi. They waited for another taxi.

The taxi driver told HS that in his view, racism explains it all.

Another taxi driver of Ghanaian origin, Stanley Aboagye, corroborated the claim. He narrated an experience in which a customer got into his taxi, called him the N-word, then left his taxi.

In my view, Finnish language skills and limited local knowledge have nothing to do with the way dark-skinned taxi drivers are treated. Perpetrators of discrimination and racism in Finland often point to language barrier in a bid to justify discrimination, but personally, I do not buy it. Many taxi drivers who face racism and discrimination at taxi posts across the country have at least basic Finnish language skills required for the job. Local knowledge is also no issue since taxi drivers, including drivers of foreign origin take a course and pass a test before they qualify to drive a taxi. Besides, taxis have satellite navigation systems, which drivers, including ethnic Finnish drivers, use if they do not know a particular location.

I have lived in Helsinki for a long time, and I once boarded a taxi chauffeured by an ethnic Finnish driver who did not know my destination. He used a navigation system to get me there.

It is prejudicial to think that dark-skinned drivers do not know their job simply because they look different. Unfortunately there are many people in Finland who think that way, including people in the country's parliament. In fact, an MP declined to take a taxi allegedly driven by a dark-skinned driver -- in front of parliament.

Ethnic Finnish taxi drivers, I feel, also promote discrimination and racism by accepting customers who reject dark-skinned drivers on taxi queues. Normally, taxis queue and customers are required to respect the queue -- by boarding the first taxi on the queue. Ethnic Finnish taxi drivers become part of the problem when they welcome customers who violate queuing regulations on grounds of race.

I have no doubt that dark-skinned taxi drivers are treated differently by some of their colleagues and by customers because of stereotypes related to something they have no control over: color of their skin. Blatant despicable treatment of people of African descent persists in Finland, I believe, because perpetrators -- from parliament to the streets -- know they can get away with it, since the public and people in power do not speak out strong enough against racism and discrimination. Finnish media also lets perpetrators off lightly. The situation will change, I think, when attitudes towards perpetrators change.

Monday, August 25, 2014

U.S. police should learn from abroad, non-lethal law enforcement

The actions of police officers in the U.S over the past couple of weeks sparked anger in communities such as the African American community in Ferguson, Missouri, and reignited debate over what some describe as heavy-handedness of U.S. police officers. But are police officers in the U.S. heavy-handed and trigger-happy? A quick look at how police elsewhere deal with civilians who pose a threat to the safety of officers or the public answers the question.

In July 2014, New York Police Department officers were involved in the death of a civilian, Eric Garner, when a heavy-handed arrest incident went wrong. In a video of the incident captured by a bystander, the victim can be heard repeatedly saying "I can't breathe" as officers pressed his face into the sidewalk.

Less than a month later a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting death by a white police officer sparked protests and rekindled debate over race in America. According to autopsy reports, unarmed Michael Brown was shot six times. Police claim he posed a threat to the officer.

Ten days later, another African American, Kajieme Powell, was shot dead by police in St. Louis. The police department was quick to release a statement that the victim was armed with a knife and posed a threat to officers.

Even domestic animals are gunned down by police officers in the U.S. Officers once shot a dog in front of its owner. In another incident, an officer shot and killed a dog in someone's backyard.

Is killing the first and only way to neutralize a threat?

Non-lethal law enforcement elsewhere

On 17 August 2014, police in Finland responded to a report of a man "behaving menacingly". The subject was, according to Yle, brandishing a chainsaw. He threatened responding police officers with a chainsaw, an axe and a hunting knife. Before police arrived the man had threatened his neighbors. Police detained the suspect with the help of a police dog after a three-hour standoff. No one was killed.

In another incident that was captured on video and posted on YouTube, Finnish police successfully subdued and arrested a man who posed a threat to officers and the public in a market place.

In Greece, a 42-year-old man who threatened police with a chainsaw was also arrested without the use of lethal force.

After the Woolwich attack that left an off-duty soldier dead in London in a suspected Islamist attack, police did not kill the two men who orchestrated and carried out the barbaric attack --  even though the savage killers reportedly charged at responding officers brandishing knives and a meat cleaver.

Sometimes police action results in death of civilians in Europe too -- as was the case when police shot Mark Duggan in Tottenham in 2011. But police killings in Europe are few and far between, as opposed to the U.S. where killings by police officers seem to be norm.

It is plausible to conclude, drawing from the above cases, that police in the U.S. are heavy-handed, trigger-happy and could learn a lesson or two from police departments in Europe. There are a host of ways in which police officers can deal with people who threaten public safety, and the use of lethal force, which is only one way to respond, should be a last resort. I am convinced that if U.S. officers were to respond to the above cited incidents in Finland, Greece and London, the fate of the subjects would have been different.

It is true that police officers face deadly threats on a daily basis. However they should not be given license to kill on the basis of threats and erratic behavior by members of the public, some of whom could be mentally unstable. The threshold for using deadly force should be high -- both on paper and in practice. Officers should only use lethal force when the use of less-than-lethal equipment, including batons, pepper spray, tasers or rubber bullets fail to contain a suspect. And the amount of force used should be proportional to the threat posed.

Rather than spend public funds on military-style weapons, police departments in the U.S. should invest in studying how police officers in other countries deal with threats to officers and public safety without resorting to killing as a first resort.

My take on police heavy-handedness should not be misconstrued as "anti-police" behavior. Perhaps it is worthy to mention here that my father was a decorated police commissioner in Cameroon, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for law enforcement officers. I'm concerned by police departments and officers losing public confidence.

Image source: The Guardian

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Criticized for speaking out against racism after Mike Brown killing

Celebrities are expected by some people to be "neutral" or "apolitical" in situations of injustice. But retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu who rose to fame during the 1980s as a fearless opponent of South Africa's brutal apartheid regime once said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Celebrities who voice their views on salient issues, including hot potatoes like police brutality and heavy-handed response to protests should not be castigated for taking a stand.

Anger and protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting death of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. Protests that erupted met with heavy police crackdown leading to the death of a second man. Protesters want to see the police officer involved in the killing of Mike Brown, which has been described as a "brutal execution of an unarmed teenager", to be arrested and prosecuted.

The case re-sparked discussions and debates on race in America. Some celebrities weighed in on the case.

Actor Jesse Williams, for example spoke on CNN about the killing of Michael Brown. He made no secret of where he stands on the issue.


The actor also expressed his thoughts on Twitter -- slamming "white supremacist cowards", according to information posted on Daily Kos.

Singer, songwriter and actor John Legend also posted his thoughts on Twitter. He tweeted, amongst other things, that "this is about racism".

Both celebrities were called out by fans and members of the public who disagreed with them.

Celebrities, I believe, should not be forced to remain silent, especially on issues that affect them. Racism remains a divisive issue in the U.S., and it negatively impacts the lives of people of color within the borders of the country, including celebrities. Affected persons should at least have the liberty to speak out against the social ill.

Human rights group Amnesty International dispatched a delegation of human rights observers to Ferguson following the killing of Michael Brown and the heavy-handed police response to protests. In a compelling letter to the chief of Ferguson Police Department, Amnesty International USA's executive director expressed concern about the use of lethal force by police.

Jesse Williams and John Legend might have lost some fans for sharing their views on police brutality and race in America but, make no mistake, they gained new fans in the process -- new fans who believe concerns raised are genuine. I remember listening to Jesse Williams speak on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, and saying to myself: "I like this guy. He speaks truth to power".

Speaking out against racism, in my view, is not incitement. It should be considered a public service announcement. That's why I followed Jesse Williams and John Legend on Twitter as a show of support at a time when some fans are "disappointed" in them.

The U.S. and other countries where racism is rife, I feel, are in dire need of more high profile people who speak out unequivocally against racism, inequality, police brutality and other social ills.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lack of will to combat racial discrimination in Finland

A European country willing to eradicate racial discrimination would implement recommendations designed by the European Commission to help victims of alleged discrimination. Finland is apparently not such a country as evidenced by the fact that the Nordic country has repeatedly been taken to task by the European Commission for reluctance to bring its legislation in line with European directives on racial equality.

According to a press release in Brussels on 10 July 2014, the European Commission decided to refer Finland to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to comply with the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) despite "extensive discussion" with Finland.

Article 13 of the Racial Equality Directive requires Finland to set up a national equality body, and entrust the body with specific tasks, including providing assistance to victims (of racial discrimination), conducting independent surveys, publishing independent reports and making recommendations concerning discrimination.

According to the European commission, Finland has not entrusted its watchdog for equality, the Ombudsman for Minorities, with tasks related to racial discrimination in the field of employment.

The question here is, why is Finland reluctant to entrust the Ombudsman for Minorities with tasks related to racial equality in the field of employment?

In my view, there're three possible reasons why: firstly, racial equality is not a priority for the Finnish government. Secondly, the government wants to leave disputes in the field of employment, including issues related to racial equality in the hands of trade unions. And thirdly, the authorities do not want to open the floodgates of complaints since, I believe, there are many victims of racial discrimination in the field of employment who do not know where to go for help.

Racial equality should be a priority of the government mindful of Finland's changing population structure and numerous reports of unfair hiring practices that favor ethnic Finns over racial and national minorities. Finland's watchdog for equality should have the power to look into cases like the case of Dr. Gareth Rice. There's an urgent need for the Finnish government to prioritize equality on ALL grounds, including race, color, nationality, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation.

Trade unions cannot protect all workers. It is a mistake, I feel, to think that trade unions alone can deal with all disputes, including racial equality cases in the field of employment. Unions protect only the interest of their members, and not all workers in Finland are organised. There's a need to protect those who are not members of trade unions, and this can be done by the national equality watchdog. Finland's current Ombudsman for Minorities, Eva Biaudet, told Yle that her office receives employment-related requests for help but her office has limited powers to carry out investigations in the field. Hence the need to entrust the Ombudsman for Minorities powers to handle employment-related complaints together with racial discrimination complaints in other areas.

Personally, I welcome the decision of the European Commission to refer Finland to the Court of Justice of the EU. The Finnish government should bring the country's Non-discrimination Act in line with European standards.

*Image: 570 News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Finland is intolerant, not greedy and self-serving

Finns are "naturally honest". A lost wallet test conducted by Reader's Digest supports the assertion. Therefore something said by a majority of Finns about themselves is plausible. The majority of respondents in survey of how Finnish people view themselves say Finland is not a nation of tolerance and open-mindedness.

In a survey of how Finnish people characterize themselves and Finland, the majority of respondents submitted that Finns are intolerant and close-minded. According to Yle, only 37 percent of those questioned in the survey commissioned by business think tank EVA ascribed tolerance and open-mindedness to Finnish national identity.

In addition, according to results of the survey, as reported by Yle, 56 percent of Finnish respondents saw their fellow countrymen and women as "greedy" and "self-serving".

Certain results of the survey reflect my view of Finland. Finland is, without a doubt, intolerant in my view. Racism and xenophobia are still widespread in the Nordic country, and enough is not being done by the authorities to combat the social ills. The story about a group of 10-11-year-olds returning from a football tournament in Åland puts into perspective my view of Finland in the tolerance department. It is an inconceivable reality that an adult in modern-day Finland can tell a 10-year-old junior Finnish footballer that he (the 10-year-old boy) is not a Finn simply because the child is not white -- or not white enough. The story of the violated junior footballer is unique but is shared by countless number of people, including children who are pigeon-holed by a bigoted definition of "Finnishness".

Regarding the question of greed in EVA's survey of Finnish self-image, Finns, I believe, are generous and charitable. I look no further than the yearly "Nenäpäivä" three-week campaign to conclude that generosity is a Finnish trait. Finns donated over 2.2 million euros through the campaign in 2012 to support children living in poverty around the world. In 2013 over 2.9 million euros was donated. I therefore disagree with respondents of EVA's survey who regard Finns as "greedy" and "self-serving". Finland would not have been, in my opinion, among least corrupt countries in the world if Finns were greedy and self-serving.

A staggering 84 percent of Finnish respondents in the survey said Finns as hard working. 77 percent believed Finns value work. Hard work is a good and important ingredient for nation building but, as far as I am concerned, diligence without tolerance and acceptance is worthless for humanity.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yle acts irresponsibly by broadcasting racist Finnish movie

In the 21 Century, one would expect a state-owned public-broadcasting company to distance itself from racist content, and perhaps fire employees who promulgate racist and stereotypical views. But in Finland flirting with racism comes with little or no consequences -- that's why a state-owned television channel can afford to air a blatantly racist and distasteful movie, and get away with it --  with some public support.

Finland's national public-broadcasting company, Yle, broadcasted a movie titled "Pekka ja Pätkä neekereinä" on Yle TV1. The title roughly translates to "Pekka and Pätkä as n*gg*rs" in English.

The comedy with a racist touch features two Finnish actors, Esa Pakkarinen and Masa Niemi, with blackened faces. Besides the horrendous title, the movie taps into deep-seated stereotypes about people of African descent.

In my view, the movie is racist and deeply offensive. The title alone condemns it to the dungeons. There are disturbing scenes in the movie like one where the main actors, with their faces coloured with black makeup, are referred to as "cannibals", and their presence in a room reported to a police constable. In another scene, the actors are depicted as embarrassingly horrible drum-playing black tribesmen.

The way I see it, Pekka ja Pätkä neekereinä is a relic of Finland's racist history, which drags on today with misinformed perception of people of African descent.

As if to add salt to injury, Yle aired the movie in a child-friendly time slot, hence children could watch it and be indoctrinated that it is acceptable to, amongst other things, label people of African descent with the N-word.

I have no illusion that everyone agrees with my unequivocal condemnation of the broadcasting of the movie in question. In fact, many people in Finland defended Yle in a Facebook group for airing the controversial movie. It is worthy to mention, however, that most of those who see nothing wrong with the movie are either white or know nothing about being on the receiving end of racism and damaging racial stereotypes. It's easy for people who are part of the privileged majority (or perceive themselves as part of it) to defend the use of the pejorative N-word, and attempt to dictate what should be and shouldn't be offensive to people of African descent and other minorities.

As a person of African descent who has watched Pekka ja Pätkä neekereinä, I submit that Yle TV1 acted irresponsibly by airing it. In my eyes, the offensive "comedy" is as good as a racist joke. Such "jokes" that reinforce stereotypes and offend minority groups are not funny, at least in my opinion, and should not be endorsed or promoted. Yle flouts corporate social responsibility by airing a racially offensive and distasteful movie.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The problem with Kenya's polygamy law

Rights and freedoms of women are rarely taken into consideration in many societies across Africa. Many cultures and laws are designed to put men on a pedestal by blatantly discriminating against women and portraying them as unequal to men. Kenya's polygamy law reflects inequality and discrimination against women in many parts of the African continent.

In April 2014 president Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya signed into law a marriage bill legalizing polygamy, and allowing men to marry as many wives as possible without consulting their existing wives. Traditionally, according to the BBC, first wives were supposed to give consent before men could take more wives but the new polygamy law allows men to take more wives without consulting existing spouses.

Male MPs in Kenya supported the amendment. Female MPs on the other hand, together with Christian leaders, opposed the bill and understandably so.

In my view, the polygamy law is repugnant to equity and good conscience. It is blatantly discriminatory against women and promotes male privilege -- since it allows men to take up multiple wives without consulting existing wives but does not give women the same liberty to marry multiple men without consulting their husbands. In addition, the law demeans women by treating them like persons incapable of giving informed consent on matters that affect them.

Tremendous African male support for the controversial amendment is, in my opinion, shameful -- but not surprising. The disturbing truth is that many African men erroneously believe that women -- like children -- should be seen not heard, which is a twisted belief.

Personally, I advocate monogamy, and believe women, like men, should have a say in all matters that affect them. Polygamy laws and customs are mostly discriminatory against women and promote inequality.

Imagine a world where women were allowed to marry multiple men without consulting existing husbands. All hell would break loose.

I'm positive that men would not tolerate a culture or law that subjugates them and benefits women. Men should therefore equally oppose the subjugation of women. That's what good conscience requires. The world will be a better place if everyone respected the Golden Rule: "What thou avoidest suffering theyself seek not to impose on others." [Epictetus]

Kenya is a state party to the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by virtue of the country's accession to the treaty on 9 March 1984. Kenya's polygamy law promotes discrimination against women, and is a clear violation of the country's obligation under CEDAW. The controversial law should be amended or scrapped completely -- if the country is not ready to give women the same liberties ceded to men by the polygamy law. After all "polygamy" includes both polyandry and polygyny.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Racist vandalism is costly for Helsinki city

Perpetrators of racism (racists) give all sorts of reasons in an attempt to justify or explain their twisted perception or treatment of fellow human beings who happen to look different. Sometimes economic reasons are evoked. Some in Finland argue, for instance, that migrants from Africa and elsewhere are "welfare shoppers" who move to the country to tap welfare benefits and deplete state funds. Despite their concerns, many racists go around vandalizing public spaces with racist writings and graffiti -- forgetting that cleaning up the mess will be financially costly for the state and the city they seek to "protect" from "invaders".

The City of Helsinki has cleaned up a bus stop (see pictures) that was vandalized with racist writings and drawings.

In a 2011 blog post, I wrote about the ugly face of racism at a bus stop in east Helsinki. The bus stop, which is next to Edupoli -- an adult education centre in Hertoniemi, was vandalized with a scary, racist text and drawing of the swastika.

Driving past the bus stop in the spring of 2014 - about three years since the vandalism was first spotted - I noted that the bus stop had been condoned off and work was going on there. A few days later I stopped at the bus stop to see what was happening, and realized that the bus stop had been given a makeover. The vandalized glass at the back had been replaced and everything was looking nice, clean and welcoming to all.

In my mind, I wondered when driving off the bus stop how much the City of Helsinki spent cleaning up the mess left behind by a racist. Although unable to confirm how much was spent renewing the bus stop, I am confident the renovation was not free of charge. The city council must have allocated some money that could have been used for something else - if some disturbed individual hadn't vandalized that bus stop.

Mindful of the fact that racist vandalism is not uncommon around Helsinki, it is plausible to conclude that the authorities spend lots of money cleaning up and making the city welcoming to all persons, irrespective of race, color, religion or gender.

Personally, I think the actions of racist vandals cost the city money and gives it a bad name. I welcome Helsinki city's decision to do away with manifestations of racism at the bus stop in Hertoniemi. Although costly, cleaning up makes the city more welcoming and goes a long way to protect the image of Helsinki - World Design Capital 2012. The authorities should get rid of manifestations of racism in other parts of the city. Vandals on their part should do their city (our city) a favor -- stop messing up public spaces and forcing the city to use resources that could be put to better use.

If racists, who describe themselves these days as "patriots", truly love their country and care about its economic situation they won't vandalize public spaces and force city authorities to spend resources cleaning up racist writings and drawings in bus stops and other public spaces.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Finland shouldn't discriminate in quota refugee selection

Roughly defined, quota refugees are persons recognized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and submitted for resettlement. Most of them live in squalid refugee camps around the world, and the UNHCR seeks to resettle them in third countries where they can start a new life. Finland annually accepts and resettles quota refugees, irrespective of race, color, religion or other grounds. But there are those who think that Christian refugees should be given preference.

Finland's Minister of Interior, Päivi Räsänen - who doubles are leader of the Christian Democrats party - stated that Finland should give preference to persecuted Christians (presumably over persecuted Muslims) in the selection of quota refugees. She claimed that it is "sensible" that refugees be admitted to countries where they can integrate -- thereby suggesting that Christians integrate into Finnish society better than other religious groups.

According to Finnish Immigration Service, Finland accepts and resettles persons whom the UNHCR has designated as refugees, or other foreigners in need of international protection. Parliament decides annually the number quota refugees to be resettled in Finland. The country has accepted 750 quota refugees per year since 2011.

In my view, the suggestion by minister Päivi Räsänen that preference should be given to Christians is plainly discriminatory on grounds of religion, and could jeopardize chances of selecting Muslims - who are equally in need of protection - as quota refugees. Finland should accept quota refugees based on how many refugees are in need of resettlement and the amount of resources allocated by parliament, not based on religion. In its policy on quota refugees, Finland considers the need for international protection as the most important criteria for selection of quota refugees. It should stay that way. Religion or integration shouldn't be primordial.

It is wrong to suggest that Christians integrate better than other religious groups. The ability and/or willingness integration is an individual issue. Some Christian refugees don't integrate into broader Finnish society while some Muslims integrate, and vice versa. A generalization that Christians adapt better than Muslims or any other religious group is misguided and prejudicial. I have met Muslims who have integrated pretty well into Finnish society.

The way I see it, having a Minister of Interior who makes no secret of prejudice against certain groups - in favor of Christians - could negatively impact Finland's policy on quota refugees to the detriment of non-Christians, mindful of the fact that the ministry of interior is a major actor in Finland's refugee policy.

Worthy to mention that besides negative perception of non-Christian refugees (and perhaps non-Christian immigrants in general), minister Räsänen opposes gay marriage and adoption of children by homosexual couples. Under her leadership in the Ministry of Interior children are detained in prison-like conditions for immigration purposes in Finland -- despite condemnation, petitions and calls by human rights groups like Amnesty International to stop the detention of children.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Donald Sterling claims he isn't racist: really?

Many high profile people who make outrageously racist comments and are taken to task publicly as a result often end up apologizing in public, making excuses and claiming they're not racist in a bid to save face. Such apologies are hollow, and no sensible person takes them seriously.

Donald Sterling, disgraced owner of Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, was slapped with a lifetime ban and fined $2.5 million by the National Basketball Association (NBA) for making ignorant, racist and highly offensive comments that were recorded and released to the public. Weeks later, the billionaire apologized in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper --  and claimed he isn't a racist.

The irony is that, in the interview the tycoon went on to make even more racist and unacceptable assertions. He viciously attacked NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson for being HIV-positive and accused the legend and other successful black people of not supporting "minorities" in need. He claimed that unlike Jews, rich black people turn their backs to people in need -- another ignorant, racist statement from someone claiming he isn't a racist.

In my view, the interview with Anderson Cooper gave Donald Sterling more rope to hang himself in full glare of the NBA, the American people and viewers around the world. The interview was meant to be an opportunity for Sterling to "redeem" himself by apologizing and claiming --  as expected from people who make racist comments -- that he isn't a racist. But, surprisingly, he made a complete mess of the opportunity. Rather than simply make what would have anyway gone down as a meaningless apology intended to save face, the 80-year-old made it clear that he has little or no regard for African-Americans and people living with HIV.

It's prejudicial to say that someone with HIV cannot be a model in society. By saying so Donald Sterling stigmatized millions of people living with HIV/AIDS, and attempted to undermine positive actions of people -- like Magic Johnson - who are living positively with the virus and inspiring other infected persons to do the same.

It's plausible to conclude after listening to the audio recording that sparked the controversy and watching Sterling's interview with CNN that the infamous billionaire is racist and has little or no regard for minorities, including People Living with HIV (PLHIV).

Anyone who, like Donald Sterling - picks on people on grounds of race, color, health or other grounds is -- simply put: racist and prejudiced. It's easy to identify people who hold racist views by their words (and actions).

Worthy to mention that Magic Johnson responded gracefully to Sterling's attack. It turns out the basketball legend -- like many other African-Americans -- has contributed fairly to making the world a better place. Donald Sterling's claim that Magic Johnson hasn't done anything to help his community is unfounded.

Friday, May 9, 2014

U.S. criminal justice system can be merciful: case of Cornealious Anderson

A lot has been said and written about racism and discrimination in the U.S. criminal justice system, and how African Americans and so-called people of color are disproportionately -- and are more likely to be -- convicted than white accused persons. While discrimination does exist, the justice system can be merciful sometimes.

Cornealious "Mike" Anderson was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2000 for participating in a robbery. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was released on bail pending the outcome of his appeal. He lost the appeal, but due to a "clerical error" the state of Missouri "forgot" about him and he was never asked to report to prison to serve his sentence. From 1999 to 2013 -- while waiting to be summoned to prison -- he never tried to flee or change his identity. He build a career, led a law-abiding life, paid taxes and started a family in Missouri.

In July 2013 -- thirteen years after the conviction -- the State of Missouri realized the error. Anderson was arrested and asked to serve 13 years in prison. He was reportedly moved to a permanent prison (Southeast Correctional Centre in Charleston, Missouri) in November 2013 to serve his sentence -- thirteen years after the fact. A legal battle ensued.

But on Monday 5 May 2014 a judge reportedly lauded Cornealious "Mike" Anderson's "exemplary" behavior during his thirteen years out of prison and ruled that keeping him in prison would serve no purpose. The judge ordered his release.

In my view, Judge Terry Lynn Brown did the right thing. Ordering Anderson to serve thirteen years in prison more than a decade after he was convicted and sentenced would have been a violation of due process. Although Anderson was physically a free man for thirteen years, I believe he was mentally not free - with the threat and possibility of imprisonment hanging over his head -- for thirteen years. The fact that he stayed out of trouble with the law for thirteen years, started a career, never tried to escape or change his name, paid taxes, got married and had four kids -- in Missouri -- shows that he is a changed man, which is anyway the desired effect of prison sentences. Sending him to prison, thirteen years after he was sentenced, would have been, in my view, unnecessary and unjust to him, his wife and four innocent kids. It wasn't his fault that the State of Missouri "forgot" to enforce his sentence.

By tampering justice with mercy, judge Brown showed that despite reports of racism in the U.S legal system, the system can be merciful sometimes - even to African Americans.

A petition on calling for the release of Cornealious Anderson gathered 35,000 signatures. Thumbs up to all change agents who signed the petition and to attorney Patrick Michael Megaro who represented Anderson.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

NBA crackdown on racism is worth emulating

The National Basketball Association (NBA) sent a loud, resounding message to people involved in the league and to the world at large that racist, ignorant views have no place in professional basketball in North America. The decision by NBA to ban the owner of Los Angeles Clippers for life is worth emulating by other sport associations worldwide.

On Friday 25 April 2014 a celebrity news website, TMZ, published an audio recording in which Donald Sterling, owner of Los Angeles Clippers, criticizes his [alleged] girlfriend for associating with "black people" and posting photographs of herself with black friends on Instagram. He urged his girlfriend not to bring her black friends to his basketball games.

The audio recording, which sparked widespread outrage and condemnation, culminated in a no-nonsense response by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Four days after the audio recording surfaced, the NBA banned Donald Sterling from the basketball association for life. The impressive sanction didn't stop there. The NBA also fined Donald Sterling $2.5 million, which according to the BBC is the maximum fine allowed by the league.

Personally, I wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the NBA. By banning Donald Sterling for life and slapping him with the maximum fine allowed in the league -- the NBA showed that it does not tolerate racism. A lifetime ban means Sterling is barred from participating in team business, as well as attending NBA practices and games.

Donald Sterling's rant - as revealed by the audio recording - is blatantly racist, narrow-minded and should have no place in any civilized sport.

In my opinion, the NBA showed zero-tolerance against racism in this case. Other sport associations including the international federation of football associations (FIFA) -- which has a long recurrent history of racism -- as well as national sports associations should learn from the NBA. Racism is a canker-worm that destroys the fabric of society. Those who -- like Donald Sterling -- espouse and perpetrate racism should be named, shamed and isolated.

According to TMZ, Donald Sterling has "a documented history of alleged racist behavior". It's a shame, in my view, that someone with such preposterous, 19th century views owns a franchise like Los Angeles Clippers. Perhaps ownership should change hands --  in the interest of the team. You can't have black people playing (working) for a white man who openly despises them. Sounds like slavery to me.

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