Thursday, June 30, 2011

Flagrant Human Rights Violations on U.S. Soil

When most people think of the U.S.-Mexico border, they rarely think about a zone where U.S. policy and U.S. agents violate human rights on a daily basis.

In the border region it is common practice. I know it doesn’t sound possible or true, but it is real and happens regularly. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The term “no one” means without exception, without conditions, without justification — no one.

Over a year ago, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas was being deported to Tijuana, Mexico. U.S. official reports stated he was resisting and became combative. Officers used a tazer to subdue him. Anastasio was brain dead by the following day and the San Diego coroner ruled the death a homicide. Eyewitness accounts and video contradict the official report. According to many who saw the gruesome scene, Anastasio was held down by four officers, face down, while handcuffed behind his back. He was repeatedly shot with a tazer, kicked in the ribs and head and eventually fell unconscious. He left behind five U.S. citizen children. To date, no officers involved have been prosecuted and all details of the case remain confidential. Anastasio was unarmed.

Some may say Anastasio was in the country illegally and got what he deserved. That argument suggests we throw away the entire Declaration of Human Rights signed and co-authored by the United States over 60 years ago. The document was modeled after the U.S. Declaration of Independence where it is recognized, “all men are created equal.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and implemented by the United States and many other countries as a result of the atrocities of World War II so they would never be repeated under any circumstances or justification. Human rights protect all in all circumstances. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Britain to deport Israeli Islamic leader Sheikh Raed Salah

NAZARETH // Efforts were under way by the British government yesterday to deport the leader of Israel's largest Islamic group after he was arrested on charges of entering the country illegally.

Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement and a vocal critic of Israeli policies, was detained at his London hotel on Tuesday.

His arrest came as he was preparing to address a meeting yesterday in the British parliament attended by several MPs.

Sheikh Salah arrived in Britain on Saturday, clearing border checks, despite a reported exclusion order issued by the British home secretary, Theresa May, last week.

Yesterday, Mrs May said steps were being taken to remove Sheikh Salah from Britain. "A full investigation is now taking place into how he was able to enter," she said.

The Home Office said his presence was "not conducive to the public good".The government's hard line against Sheikh Salah follows a campaign by pro-Israel groups in Britain, backed by right-wing newspapers, alleging he had a history of making anti-Semitic statements. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Extrajudicial Killings and the Rule of Law

Ismail Jan, Intercontinental Hotel Attack Suspect, Killed By NATO Airstrike

KABUL, Afghanistan — A NATO airstrike has killed a militant with the al-Qaida-affiliated Haqqani network who is suspected of having aided the gunmen who attacked a hotel in Kabul earlier this week.

The U.S.-led coalition said Thursday that Ismail Jan and several Haqqani fighters were killed Wednesday in a precision airstrike in Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia province.

The coalition says the Haqqani network, in conjunction with Taliban operatives, conducted the late-night attack on the Inter-Continental hotel that killed at least 11 civilians. Nine suicide attackers also died in the siege.
Full Article >>>

How can Western nations lecture other countries over their human rights records if they carry out extrajudicial killings? Whether it is drone strikes in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or remote killings in Gaza by remote controlled machine guns without due process of law it is murder. State sanctioned murder is unfortunately leading supposedly civilized nations back into the dark ages. No one can justify terrorism and suicide bombings, however, if Western nations were not invading countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan the incidents of terrorism may be much lower.

Location:Cayman Islands

Chinese human rights row: both sides are right

Whenever a clash occurs between a British prime minister and a Chinese dignitary over human rights, I flinch on behalf of the offended dignitary and then remember the conversation I had with an anti-American Brit at a party.

The process kicked in again yesterday when Wen Jiabao, China's premier, ticked off David Cameron for insisting on publicly airing concerns about the treatment of Chinese dissidents such as the newly-released (again) artist Ai Weiwei.

I have a lot of sympathy for the Chinese, who resent being lectured by the west on human rights, because the indignity heaped on China during the 100 years or so of western expansionism in their part of the world is still a very vivid humiliation, taught in all schools.

If we taught the history of the British-manipulated opium wars of the mid-19th century in a more than cursory way, it would be difficult to avoid concluding that – in the always mixed legacy of empire – this was a pretty shaming policy: imposing Indian opium exports on China to restore the trade balance. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Burma warns Aung San Suu Kyi not to meet supporters

Burma's government has warned Aung San Suu Kyi that her plans to meet supporters on a tour around the country could trigger violence in an apparent attempt to intimidate the pro-democracy leader against renewed political activity.

A day after the Nobel peace laureate's Reith lecture was broadcast by the BBC, the ruling junta also cautioned her National League for Democracy (NLD) against campaigning, writing to remind the party that it remains banned and must not commit "acts that can harm peace and stability".

The dual warning, carried in the country's state media, appears to be a direct attempt to coerce Aung San Suu Kyi into keeping a low profile following her release from seven years of house arrest at the end of last year.

Since her release Aung San Suu Kyi has not left the capital, Rangoon. In 2003, during an earlier brief period of liberty she drew vast crowds while travelling the countryside, something which appeared to enrage the military rulers. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Prestigious Author Alice Walker to Confront Israeli Naval Blockade of Gaza on U.S. Aid Ship

Israel continues to threaten a group of international activists planning to sail to Gaza this week with humanitarian aid. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said participants in the 10-boat flotilla are seeking "confrontation and blood."

Last year, Israeli forces killed nine people aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara.

Meanwhile, activists say one of the 10 boats scheduled to sail to Gaza has been sabotaged in a Greek port. Saboteurs reportedly cut off the propeller shaft of a ship shared by Swedish, Norwegian and Greek activists. Organizers say the boat will be repaired in time to sail to Gaza. One of the other ships that will try to reach Gaza from Greece is the "Audacity of Hope." It’s set to carry up to 50 U.S. citizens carrying letters to Gaza residents.
One of the ship’s passengers is the acclaimed author, poet and activist Alice Walker.

She has written many books, including “The Color Purple,” for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. On Monday, Alice Walker spoke at a Freedom Flotilla news conference in the Greek capital of Athens. “I am going to Gaza because my government has failed, it has failed us, it has failed to understand or to care about the Gazan people. But worse than that, our government is ignorant of our own history in the United States,” Walker said. “For instance, when black people were enslaved for 300 years, it took a lot of people in the outside of our communities to help free us.” Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Monday, June 27, 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi's idea of freedom offers a radical message for the west

The Burmese heroine's Reith lectures expose our patronising attitudes to Buddhism, and injects fresh meaning into a concept we have abused

On the wall by my desk, there's a spread of photos of Aung San Suu Kyi

which appeared in the Guardian a year ago. It's a kind of family photo album with snaps of engagement, babies, university, chilly British family picnics and travels. It's a strikingly poignant illustration of everything Aung San Suu Kyi has sacrificed over 15 years of imprisonment in her struggle for Burmese democracy. Every time it catches my eye, it is both humbling and gives me hope: a reminder of what the human spirit is capable of.

Much has been made of her remarkable biography – catapulted by circumstance from family life in Oxford into the violent repressive politics of Burma in 1988; missing the illness and death of her husband and the raising of her children to pursue the cause. What makes her Reith lectures so fascinating is they represent a statement of the ideals and mindset which have steeled her resolve and inspired her courage. The first lecture addresses the universal human desire for freedom, the second considers her fight in Burma to achieve it. She is taking her stand on an ideal to which the west has a tendency to claim copyright in the Enlightenment. What's more, freedom is an ideal which has been bastardised in recent years by the rhetoric of two disastrous American wars. Deftly, she lays out an understanding of freedom which owes more to Buddhism than western philosophy and, in so doing, injects a radical new meaning into an abused ideal. She is simultaneously quietly challenging western hubris and offering her global audience a new interpretation. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Back In Gaza And Little Has Changed

I am back in the Strip. I left Gaza via the border at Rafah in June 2010, after an 18 month stay.

My exit through the Eygpt frontier crossing was a result of pressure put on authorities there to open its border to Gaza. Hosni Mubarak’s regime apparently felt the need to play down the siege a bit as Israeli commandos had just massacred nine Turkish civilians on the Mavi Marmara solidarity flotilla.

The border opened, yet life in Gaza went on as it always has done under siege: functioning, but only just. Visa-holders and medical patients crossed through into Egypt but to the vast majority of other Palestinians in Gaza with dreams of breathing different air, even if just for a week, it remained closed.

In late May this year, post-Mubarak Egypt declared Gaza’s border permanently open, but shortly after closed it again. Now it’s open once more but the Rafah crossing still limits men between the ages of 18-40 from crossing unless they hold special permits.

But dreams of travel, study, medical care aside, the status of the Rafah border crossing means next to nothing in terms of the siege effects: Israel still controls what enters and exits Gaza, the power still cuts out every day, and the medical crisis is worse than ever. Much of Gaza is still in ruins after Israel’s deadly 22-day assault, which ended in January 2009, leaving 1,400 Palestinian dead.

A year on, in this enclosed 40-something km strip of land flanked by the Mediterranean sea, I notice some things have changed, but the big picture hasn’t. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Diamond Industry’s Double-Standard On Israel

All too aware of how bad association with war crimes is for business, the diamond industry has taken pains to evade questions about its connections with Israel’s human rights abuses — and so far has escaped scrutiny from watchdog organizations.

Representatives for 75 countries affiliated to the United Nations-based Kimberley Process Certification Scheme meeting in Kinshasa this week failed to reach agreement on the export of blood-stained diamonds from Zimbabwe. The elephant in the room was Israel’s burgeoning diamond exports which evade the human rights strictures imposed on Zimbabwe’s diamond exports.

A “letter of the month” that I authored and which was published in the April edition of Retail Jeweller magazine exposes these double standards in the Kimberley Process regulations that facilitate the trade in blood-stained diamonds from Israel and Zimbabwe (Letters, Retail Jeweller Magazine, April 2011).

The letter caused “consternation” to some in the diamond industry and resulted in the withdrawal of the magazine from a major jewellery trade fair in Switzerland (“Gems editor sorry for ‘blood diamond’ boycott letter,” The Jewish Chronicle, 7 April 2011).

The letter drew the wrath of vested interests and leaders of the Israeli diamond industry. Their response via the Letters page in the May edition of the magazine demonstrated the sensitivity of the global diamond industry to any exposure of the links between Israeli diamonds and Israeli war crimes.
More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

The Reith Lectures 2011: Securing Freedom

The 2011 Reith Lectures, entitled Securing Freedom, will be given by two speakers, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former MI5 director-general Baroness Manningham-Buller. The lectures will all be available as podcasts.

Saturday 2 July and Sunday 3 July: Lecture 1: Liberty. See the BBC website here for times.

The Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's lectures were secretly filmed in Burma, and the material smuggled out of the country.

In her first lecture, reflecting on her own experience under house arrest in Burma, she explores the universal human aspiration to be free and the spirit which drives people to dissent.

She also comments on the Arab Spring, comparing the event that triggered last December's revolution in Tunisia with the death of a student during a protest in Burma in 1988. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

US will support UN-backed Myanmar rights probe

The United States said on Saturday it is prepared to support a UN-backed human rights probe in Myanmar, after opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi urged such an investigation.

The United States ‘is committed to seeking accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred in Burma by working to establish an international commission of inquiry,’ said the State Department, using the older term for the South-east Asian country.

‘We are consulting closely with our friends, allies, and other partners at the United Nations,’ US officials said in the statement.

Ms Suu Kyi, who was released in November after spending most of the past two decades under house arrest, spoke by video on Wednesday in a first-ever message to the US Congress, a stronghold of support for the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

She asked lawmakers to do ‘whatever you can’ to support the work of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar and assured that a so-called commission of inquiry would not be a tribunal.

The United States has publicly supported a UN-led probe - a longstanding demand of activists. But it has done little to make it a reality, worrying its efforts would be futile so long as Asian countries - particularly China - are opposed. — More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Violating Palestinian Rights

Besides its Knesset, security forces and intelligence services, Israel's High Court and Civil Administration ravage Palestinian civil society repressively. Two examples illustrate the problem.

On June 22, a B'Tselem press release headlined, "Sharp increase in West Bank home demolitions," saying:

Through late June, Israel's Civil Administration, its Judea/Samaria (West Bank) governing body, illegally "demolished more Palestinians homes....than in all of last year." Most often, soldiers and Border Police accompany them, forcefully evicting longtime residents.

Over the most recent seven day period, 33 residential buildings were demolished in Jordan Valley Fasayil, al-Hadidiyeh, and Yarza communities, as well as southern Hebron Hills Khirbet Bir al-'Id. As a result, 238 Palestinians, including 129 minors, lost homes. More >>>