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Posts Tagged ‘human rights

Tunisia’s political struggle as documentary graffiti

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The ‘Zoo Project’ is a Franco-Algerian graffiti artist based in Paris, and who visited Tunis in March and April and created images of political struggle. As well as a series of murals, Zoo Project created 40 life-sized figures representing some of the 236 people who were killed in the uprising in Tunisia earlier this year.

This is a gritty, truthful, considerate and refreshingly public way to illustrate what happened in Tunisia, and the questions that remain. Here’s a selection from a terrific, socially highly carged gallery of street art. [Thanks to The Guardian global development news for posting this.]

Zoo Project created 40 life-sized figures representing some of the 236 (according to official numbers) people who were killed in January's uprising. This has been called the martyrs series, Tunis. This creation was found in the Bab-Souika district. Art: Zoo Project / Photo: zoo-project.com

The Constitutional Democratic Rally party (RCD) was swept from power on 14 January 2011, after 23 years of repressive rule. Mass protests in Tunis, and in towns across the country, were sparked when Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed graduate, set fire to himself in front of government buildings in his home town of Sidi Bouzid. Art: Zoo Project / Photo: Elissa Jobson

Tunisians are adjusting to the realities of free political speech. Politics, human rights and the justice system are now discussed openly in the cafes and bars of Tunis. But some habits are hard to shake and people can still be heard speaking in hushed tones when the conversation turns to the police or the Ben Ali regime. Art: Zoo Project / Photo: Sondos Belhassen

The popular uprising that unseated the dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January grew out of chronic youth unemployment; social and economic disparities between the affluent coastal regions and the impoverished interior; and a lack of political freedom. Art: Zoo Project / Photo: Elissa Jobson

International Women’s Day 2011

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. The day was commemorated for the first time on 19 March 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, following its establishment during the Socialist International meeting the prior year.

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The UN system in general and UN Women in particular have planned events and campaigns for this 100th year of International Women’s Day, and the news and events page is a good way to follow these.

There are also – a Facebook page, a Twitter broadcast and YouTube video streams for UN Women.

Unesco has lined up events and programmes to celebrate International Women’s Day. The 2011 edition of Women Make the News, which is designed to promote gender equality in the media, will also start on 2001 March 08, International Women’s Day. The theme for this year, Media and Information Literacy and Gender, aims to improve understanding about gender perspectives in the media and information systems.

A special issue of UNESCO’s Courier magazine will also be published to mark the occasion. Speaking for the Voiceless: Five Women in Action features interviews with Michaelle Jean (Haiti), Sana Ben Achour (Tunisia), Aminetou Mint El Moctar (Mauritania), Sultana Kamal (Bangladesh) and Monica Gonzalez Mujica (Chile).

The development news agency, IPS, has a number of reports and features focusing on gender.

Patricia Guerrero, founder of a human rights group in Colombia

Patricia Guerrero, founder of a human rights group in Colombia

In ‘We Denounce the Militarisation of Our Lives’, Patricia Guerrero, founder of a leading human rights group, is interviewed about paramilitary cadres in Colombia which continue to threaten, harass and violently attack women’s rights activists. Guerrero helped found the ‘City of Women’ outside Cartagena in 2003, a space where women displaced by the fighting could evolve from victims to agents of change. Altogether, some 5.2 million people were forced to flee rural areas of this South American country between 1985 and 2010, according to a report released in February by the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement.

In ‘No Quiet Old Age for South Africa’s Grannies’, IPS reports on how grandmothers are indispensable in South Africa. They may have been hoping for a restful old age, but the AIDS epidemic has seen them taking on motherhood for a second time, caring for grandchildren whose parents have died of the disease. The 76-year-old Thandiwe Matzinga raised nine kids of her own, three of whom have died of AIDS. She’s one of South Africa’s many grannies who care for their grandchildren.

Thousands of women farmers in Brazil have demonstrated against the use of toxic weedkillers and pesticides on crops and in favour of agricultural techniques that protect their families’ health. According to the Brazilian Crop Protection Association (AENDA), which represents producers of farm chemicals, Brazil uses more than one billion litres of agricultural chemicals a year, making it the top consumer country since 2009 of weedkillers and insecticides. Amanda Matheus, a national coordinator for the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), told IPS that the use of agrochemicals “is driven by an alliance between large landowners and transnational corporations that gain control of the land and invest in monoculture plantations, such as sugarcane and eucalyptus”.

Space for civil society is being contracted in India: UN Human Rights expert

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Rights activist Binayak Sen. A Division Bench of the Chhattisgrah High Court has begun hearing Dr Sen's appeal against the life sentence awarded to him in a sedition case. The Hindu has reported that a delegation of European Union observers was on Monday allowed by the Chhattisgrah High Court to witness proceedings on rights activist Binayak Sen's appeal against his life term in a sedition case, which his lawyer and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ram Jethmalani termed as 'political persecution'. When Dr Sen's appeal came up for hearing, a division bench comprising justices T P Sharma and R L Jhanwar considered the reference on the EU proposal made to it by the State government and decided to allow the eight-member team to attend the proceedings. The request of the EU to be present in the court had earlier been sent by the Ministry of External Affairs to the Chhattisgarh government, which had in turn, referred the matter to the High Court. Photo: The Hindu

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, expressed her concern for a contraction of the space for civil society in India, despite the country’s “comprehensive and progressive legal framework as a guarantor of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the existence of the National Human Rights Commission as well as a number of state and statutory commissions mandated to promote and protect human rights.”

“I am particularly concerned at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adavasis (tribals), religious minorities and sexual minorities, who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities,” Sekaggya said at the end of her first fact-finding mission to India.

(The Hindu has reported on the Sekaggya mission and on the Binayak Sen case here.)

Sekaggya underscored the testimonies she received about human rights defenders and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. Photo: The Hindu

In her view, the existing national and state human rights commissions should do much more to ensure a safe and conducive environment for human rights defenders throughout the country. To that end, she urged the Government to review the functioning of the National Human Rights Commission with a view to strengthening it.

The independent expert also noted “the arbitrary application of security laws at the national and state levels, most notably the Public Safety Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, as these laws adversely affect the work of human rights defenders”. She urged the Government to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as well as the Public Safety Act and review the application of other security laws which negatively impact on the situation of human rights defenders.

(The full statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders is here and is from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.)

“I am deeply concerned about the branding and stigmatization of human rights defenders, labelled as ‘naxalites (Maoists)’, ‘terrorists’, ‘militants’, ‘insurgents’, or ‘anti-nationalists’,” Sekaggya said. Defenders, including journalists, who report on violations by State and non-State actors in areas affected by insurgency are being targeted by both sides.

“I urge the authorities to clearly instruct security forces to respect the work of human rights defenders, conduct prompt and impartial investigations on violations committed against human rights defenders and prosecute perpetrators”. The human rights expert further recommended that the Government “enact a law on the protection of human rights defenders in full and meaningful consultation with civil society.”

Sekaggya commended the Government for opening its doors to her mandate and for enabling her to visit five states, which assisted her in gaining a clear understanding of the local specificities in which human rights defenders work.

Why Rajapakse of Lanka wants to throw out 70,000 Colombo families

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Taking its cue from India, the government of Sri Lanka is targeting urban poor to force them out of their homes in shanty towns, grab the land, and re-develop it for profit.

Using the well-worn routes of citing the home owners’ lack of land titles, and changes in urban planning regulations which are exclusionist, the residents of shanty-towns such as Wanathamulla and Maligawatta in central Colombo are on the point of being forced out of their homes by a government bent on crude accumulation by forced dispossession.

Over 70,000 families – more than 50% of central Colombo’s population – are to be removed and their homes demolished by the Sri Lankan government.

The mass evictions are part of plans by President Mahinda Rajapakse to free-up nearly 390 hectares of inner city land and transform the country’s capital into what his government calls “a South Asian financial hub” (the city of Mumbai, on India’s west coast, is doing just that already).

Via the World Socialist Web Site, which has been following the struggles of the residents, this photo essay provides a glimpse into the harsh living conditions of shanty-dwellers in central Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The pictures were taken by Sri Lankan photojournalist Shantan Kumarasamy.

The government has placed the Urban Development Authority and the Land Reclamation and Development Board — two civilian bodies — under the authority of the defence ministry, which has already deployed soldiers and police to forcibly carry out evictions.

A number of shanty dwellers, with the assistance of the Sri Lankan Socialist Equality Party, have formed an Action Committee to Defend the Right to Housing (ACDRH) and issued an appeal to all workers and youth to support their struggle to protect their homes.

The World Socialist Web Site has more on the struggle here. Shantan Kumarasamy’s portraits of the people of Wanathamulla and Maligawatta, and their living conditions is here.

Statement of Binayak Sen

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Dr Binayak Sen, and the co-accused Pijush Guha and Narayan Sanyal, have been sentenced to life imprisonment, under Sec. 124(A) of CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) and Sec 39 of UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act). Sanhati has carried Dr Sen’s statement at the conclusion of the trial.

“I am a trained medical doctor with a specialization in child health. I completed my MBBS from the Christian Medical College, Vellore in 1972, and completed studies leading to the award of the degree of MD (Paediatrics) of the Madras University, from the same institution in 1976. After this, I joined the faculty of the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and worked there for two years, before leaving to join a field based health programme at the Friends Rural Centre, Rasulia in Hoshangabad, MP.”

“During the two years I worked there, I worked intensively in the diagnosis and treatment of Tuberculosis and understood many of the social and economic causes of disease. I was also strongly influenced by the work of Marjorie Sykes, the biographer of Mahatma Gandhi, who lived at the Rasulia centre at that time. I came to Chhattisgarh in 1981 and worked upto 1987 at Dalli Rajhara (district Durg), where, along with the late Shri Shankar Guha Niyogi and the workers of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh, I helped to establish the Shaheed Hospital, that continues to practice low cost and rational medicine for the adivasis and working people of the surrounding areas upto the present.”

“After leaving Dalli Rajhara, I worked to develop a health programme among the Adivasi population in and around village Bagrumnala, which today is in Dhamtari district. This work depended on a large group of village based health workers who were trained and guided by me. When the new state of Chhattisgarh was formed, I was appointed a member of the advisory group on Health Care Sector reforms, and helped to develop the Mitanin programme, which in turn, became the role model for the ASHA of the National Rural Health Mission.”

More here.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties statement on Binayak Sen judgement

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This via Countercurrents.

24th December, 2010

Dr Binayak Sen

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties is deeply disappointed at the miscarriage of justice reflected in the judgement of Raipur Additional District and Sessions Judge B. P Verma sentencing our National Vice President Dr. Binayak Sen to life imprisonment under charges of sedition 124 (A) of the IPC read with conspiracy (120-B IPC) along with convicting him concurrently u/s 8-(1), (2), (3) and (5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam,2005 (Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005) and u/sec 39 (2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004 (amended). It is a sad day for the PUCL and all human rights defenders in the country and a black day for the Indian Judiciary.

Dr. Binayak Sen was charged with being a courier of letters from co-accused Narayan Sanyal to Piyush Guha. All through the trial not a single Jail authority appearing as prosecution witness confirmed this. In fact, there was no substantive evidence to confirm any of the allegations of the prosecution.

The PUCL holds that Dr Binayak Sen is a victim of the vendetta of the Chhattisgarh government for his bold and principled opposition to state sponsored vigilante operation Salwa Judum, which has been held unacceptable even by the Supreme Court. His conviction is one more example of the state succeeding in securing the conviction of an innocent person on the basis of false evidence. It is an occasion for the nation to demand drastic reform of the criminal justice system to ensure that it is not manipulated by the state to persecute, prosecute and victimize innocent persons.

The PUCL will continue to work towards Dr. Binayak Sen release and take all legal measures in this regard. It will also work towards building public opinion against the ongoing persecution of activists and Human Rights Defenders in the country.

Prabhakar Sinha ( President), Pushkar Raj ( General Secretary), Mahipal Singh ( National Secretary), Kavita Srivastava ( National Secretary), Kavita Srivastava (General Secretary) PUCL Rajasthan

Address for correspondence: 76, Shanti Niketan Colony, Kisan Marg, Barkat Nagar, Jaipur-302015 Tel. 0141-2594131 mobile: 9351562965

Images of Niyamgiri

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Members of the Dongria Kondh tribe gather on top of the Niyamgiri mountain, which they worship as their living god, to protest against plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from that mountain.

Members of the Dongria Kondh tribe gather on top of the Niyamgiri mountain, which they worship as their living god, to protest against plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from that mountain.

The news agency Reuters has posted a superb picture slideshow on Niyamgiri and the Dongria Kondh, with reference to their struggle against the mining conglomerate Vedanta Resources (please see my earlier post on the subject, ‘The last stand of the Dongria Kondh’). The pressure on the mining conglomerate is growing, for one of Britain’s biggest charitable trusts has dumped its holdings of Vedanta stock. Here is its statement:

“The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has sold its £1.9 million stake in UK-listed mining company, Vedanta, due to serious concerns about its approach to human rights and the environment, particularly in the Indian state of Orissa. Other investors which follow the Trust’s ethical policy, including the Marlborough Ethical Fund and Millfield House Foundation, have also sold their shares, taking the total divested to £2.2M. The 77,600 Rowntree shares were sold following nine months’ engagement over the company’s actions.”

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust“Vedanta plans to mine bauxite from a mountain in Lanjigarh and the Niyamgiri Hills, in the state of Orissa, which are sacred to the Kondh tribal people who live in the area. The company has already built a refinery at the foot of the mountain and the bauxite project is reported to be causing severe environmental damage at the expense of the local people.”

A woman from the Dongria Kondh tribe attends a gathering on top of the Niyamgiri mountain, which they worship as their living god, to protest against plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from that mountain.

A woman from the Dongria Kondh tribe attends a gathering on top of the Niyamgiri mountain, which they worship as their living god, to protest against plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from that mountain.

Susan Seymour, Chair of the Investment Committee at the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, said: “As a responsible shareholder we have serious concerns about Vedanta. We have heard first-hand about Vedanta’s environmental and human rights abuses in Orissa and believe Vedanta is pushing industrialisation to the detriment of the lives and lands of local people and at great risk to its own reputation. This behaviour may be legal but it is morally indefensible. We have therefore decided to sell our entire stock in Vedanta.”

“Although the company defends itself as an Indian company and talks of the importance of development in India, with which we would not disagree, it has chosen to raise capital in the UK and this implies being expected to meet the standards applied to all companies listed in the London market. We were not convinced Vedanta was addressing shareholder concerns quickly enough to avoid destroying people’s lives and creating irreversible damage to the environment. The company must realise that unless it makes significant changes soon, shareholders will continue to lose confidence in the company.”

Written by makanaka

February 23, 2010 at 11:55

The last stand of the Dongria Kondh

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Dongria Kondh youth at a protest meeting. Picture courtesy Amnesty International

Dongria Kondh youth at a protest meeting. Picture courtesy Amnesty International report, 'Don't Mine Us Out Of Existence: Bauxite Mine And Refinery Devastate Lives In India' .

It’s a measure of the desperation of people that they must be compared to a fictional community in a film – no matter how good the film – in an attempt to be heard. The Dongria Kondh have been represented by Survival International as the real-world analogy of the Na’vi, the blue-skinned indigenous folk of the box office hit film Avatar.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry says, “Just as the Na’vi describe the forest of Pandora as ‘their everything’, for the Dongria Kondh, life and land have always been deeply connected. The fundamental story of Avatar – if you take away the multi-coloured lemurs, the long-trunked horses and warring androids – is being played out today in the hills of Niyamgiri in Orissa, India.”

And so Survival International, an international organisation supporting tribal peoples worldwide, set up inspired piece of campaigning. The organisation has filmed and produced a short and stirring video on the lives of the Dongria Kondh, who with other local Kondh people are resisting Vedanta Resources, a Britain-registered company determined to mine their sacred mountain’s rich seam of bauxite (aluminium ore). The Dongria Kondh, an 8,000-strong adivasi (indigenous) community spread over 90 villages in and around the hills, are determined to save Niyamgiri from becoming an industrial wasteland.

Other Kondh groups are already suffering from a bauxite refinery, built and operated by Vedanta, at the base of the Niyamgiri Hills. These hills are home to the Dongria Kondh, who consider the Niyamgiri Hills as sacred and do not cut trees or practice cultivation on top of the Hill as they worship Niyam Raja Penu, who they believe lives on top of the Niyamgiri Hills. Their identity is closely tied to the Niyamgiri Hills, which they believe are essential to their culture, traditions, and physical and economic survival.

“The Dongria Kondh are at risk, as their lands are set to be mined by Vedanta Resources who will stop at nothing to achieve their aims,” said Corry. “The mine will destroy the forests on which the Dongria Kondh depend and wreck the lives of thousands of other Kondh tribal people living in the area. I do hope that (Avatar director) James Cameron will join the Dongria’s struggle to save their sacred mountain and secure their future.”

The outcry over mining and mineral ore extraction in Orissa has been growing steadily for over four years, with Indian and transnational mineral resources companies getting permissions to mine and build refineries. The victims have been small farming hosueholds and indigenous communities like the Dongria Kondh, who have lived on and around the hills for centuries. The Dongria Kondh depend entirely on the hills for their food, water, livelihoods and cultural identity.

Late in 2009, Amnesty International placed the matter squarely on top of its global agenda with a first report. “The proposed mine could have grave repercussions for their human rights to water, food, health, work and other rights as an indigenous community in respect of their traditional lands,” said the Amnesty International report. “International law requires that governments seek their free, prior informed consent before beginning such projects. Vedanta Resources and its subsidiaries have failed to take action to adequately remedy the problems identified above. The companies involved have also failed to abide by internationally-accepted standards in relation to the impact of business on human rights – to provide information, consult with people and refine plans to ensure rights are not harmed.”

Video on the Dongria Kondh by Survival International

Video on the Dongria Kondh by Survival International

Alarmed by the scale of the outcry – and possibly by the growing evidence of the mercenary destruction of land and peoples being carried out jointly by the Indian state and mining companies – the Church of England decided to take some action. It has decided to sell the shares it held (as the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board) in Vedanta Resources on the advice of the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG). “We are not satisfied that Vedanta has shown, or is likely in future to show, the level of respect for human rights and local communities that we expect of companies in whom the Church investing bodies hold shares,” was part of the Church’s reason for dropping its Vedanta investment.

For its miserable part, Vedanta Resources has no qualms about using the typical corporate ‘responsibility’ jargon in vogue today in a sickening effort to explain how it works: “We believe that businesses will increasingly play a significant role in tackling and driving the sustainability challenge. Our focus on sustainability drives our conviction to pursue value creating projects and at the same time achieve positive environmental, social and health and safety outcomes.”

Its bauxite mining project will cover 700 hectares of land on top of the north-western part of the Niyamgiri Hills and involve excavation of a large section of the hill to a depth of about 30 metres. In May 2009, some members of these communities submitted an appeal to the National Environmental Appellate Authority within India’s central Ministry of Environment and Forests, to challenge the environmental clearance granted by the ministry for the proposed mining project. This appeal is now pending.

“Communities living in south-west Orissa in eastern India – already one of the poorest areas of the country – are at threat from the expansion of an alumina refinery and plans for a new bauxite mining project,” says Amnesty International’s hard-hitting report on the matter, ‘Don’t Mine Us Out Of Existence: Bauxite Mine And Refinery Devastate Lives In India’ (Amnesty International, 2010). “They have been effectively excluded from the decision-making process, and the land these people live on is or will soon be used to make profit for others.”

“The people living next to the refinery have already suffered violations of their human rights to water and health, including a healthy environment, because of pollution and poor management of waste produced by the refinery. The mining project will be located on the traditional lands of the Dongria Kondh, an indigenous community, which is considered endangered. They now live under the fear of losing their way of life and their sacred hills, as well as having their rights to water, food, livelihoods and cultural identity undermined.”