Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Democracy or police state?

Video footage of police using pepper spray on peacefully protesting students at the University of California, Davis, on Nov. 18 has sparked national outrage. But the use of such brutal force against passive protesters isn’t as uncommon as you’d think.

Pepper spray and other severe tactics have recently been used with disturbing frequency by police against Occupy protesters — young or old or pregnant — around the nation (see this Atlantic roundup). But the agent’s misuse goes back much further: in the mid-1990s, the U.S. Department of Justice cited nearly 70 fatalities linked to pepper-spray use, according to an excellent poston the dangers of pepper spray by science writer Deborah Blum on Speakeasy Science.

MORE: Pepper Spray Outrage at UC Davis: When Do Police Have the Right to Use ‘Less-Lethal Force’?

Blum notes that in a 1995 report [PDF], the American Civil Liberties Union of California cited 26 deaths between 1993 and 1995 possibly linked to pepper-spray use by police (that’s 1 death for every 600 uses); most deaths involved people who had underlying health problems like asthma. And in 1999, following an incident in which California police officers dipped cotton swabs into pepper spray and then forced them into the eyes of anti-logging protesters, the ACLU asked an appeals court to declare the use of pepper spray to bedangerous and cruel

PHOTOS: The Prevalence of Pepper Spray

How painful is getting pepper-sprayed? For starters, as Blum points out, police-grade pepper spray gets 5,300,000 Scoville heat units on the Scoville scale of pepper hotness. Compare that to 350,000 Scoville units for the habanero. (Pepper spray — or OC spray, as it’s also known — contains the same compound that makes peppers hot, capsaicin, in a super-concentrated extract called oleoresin capsicum.) More

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brazil indigenous leader killed

An indigenous leader in southern Brazil has been shot dead in front of his community, officials say.

Nisio Gomes, 59, was part of a Guarani Kaiowa group that returned to their ancestral land at the start of this month after being evicted by ranchers. He was killed by a group of around 40 masked gunmen who burst into the camp.

Brazil's Human Rights Secretary condemned the murder as "part of systematic violence against indigenous people in the region". In a statement, Human Rights Minister Maria do Rosario Nunes said the region in Mato Grosso do Sul state was "one of the worst scenes of conflict between indigenous people and ranchers in the country".

She said those responsible must not be allowed to escape with impunity. Mr Gomes was shot in the head, chest, arms and legs and his body was then driven away by the gunmen, community members said. His son was reportedly beaten and shot with a rubber bullet when he tried to intervene.

Unconfirmed reports say two other Guaranis were abducted by the gunmen and may also have been killed. More

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The real cost of Israel's occupation of the Palestinians

Palestinians are losing out on some $6.9 billion a year, a study shows, as restrictions on water use, resources and imports exact their toll.

The Israeli occupation is exacting a high price on the Palestinian economy, according to a report by the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy and the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem - which puts the damage at $6.9 billion a year - what it calls a conservative estimate. The figure is about 85% of the Palestinian GDP for 2010, $8.124 billion.

The calculation includes the suspension of economic activity in the Gaza Strip because of Israel's blockade, the prevention of income from the natural resources Israel is exploiting because of its direct control over most of the territory and the additional costs for the Palestinian expenses due to restrictions on movement, use of land and production imposed by Israel. The introduction to the report states that the blocking of Palestinian economic development derives from the colonialist tendency of the Israeli occupation ever since 1967: exploitation of natural resources coupled with a desire to keep the Palestinian economy from competing with the Israeli one. More

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Indonesia, Anger Against Mining Giant Grows

A foreign mining company, protected by hundreds of soldiers, extracts precious resources from a remote tropical forest. The mining enrages indigenous tribes, who resist.

It may sound like a movie script, but it is in fact the story of the world's largest gold mine, located high in the mountains of Indonesia's Papua province and owned by Freeport-McMoRan, an American mining conglomerate.

The Grasberg mine's open pit yawns near equatorial glaciers in the shadow of Mount Puncak Jaya in Papua. In recent weeks, thousands of miners there have gone on strike for higher pay; several have been killed. On Oct. 10, miners tried to block replacement workers from boarding buses to the mine. Some strikers threw rocks at police, who answered with gunfire, killing miner Petrus Ayamiseba and wounding six others.

Then on Oct. 15 and again on Oct. 21, unidentified gunmen struck, killing four Freeport-McMoRan workers and two locals. Meanwhile, unidentified saboteurs cut the pipeline that carries minerals from the mine down the mountain and to a local port. More

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Palestinian 'freedom riders' board settlers' bus

Israeli police have detained six Palestinians dubbed West Bank Freedom Riders who boarded a Jerusalem-bound bus used by Jewish settlers.

The activists say they drew inspiration from 1960s US civil rights demonstrators who campaigned under the same name against segregated buses. Palestinians from the West Bank are not allowed to cross into Jerusalem without Israeli permission. Israel says such restrictions are for security reasons.

The group of six protesters gathered at a West Bank bus stop and waited for an Israeli bus to pick them up, then tried to enter Jerusalem, in what appears to be a first. After being allowed to travel to an Israeli checkpoint at the edge of Jerusalem, the activists were eventually arrested when they refused to leave the bus.
The protesters say that by only serving Jewish settlements and not Palestinian areas in the West Bank, Israeli bus companies discriminate against them.

“These buses and this whole system is discriminatory to Palestinians,” said activist Fadi Quran, as he waited at the bus stop.

The West Bank Freedom Riders punched above their weight, drawing a lot of publicity for what was a relatively small event, reports the BBC’s Jon Donnison in the West Bank. The comparison to the Freedom Riders of 1960s America seemed to capture the imagination as dozens of journalists gathered to see the small group board the bus, our correspondent says. In actual fact, this was less a protest about segregation and more about freedom of movement, he adds.

There are around 500,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nuclear Guinea Pigs

On the eve of APEC, the US continues to ignore the reparations claims of Marshall Islanders

In the old-timey section of Kalihi, tucked between auto repair shops and boarded-up storefronts, Maza Attari, a Marshall Islander, lived with four family members in a one-bedroom apartment barely bigger than a ping-pong table. When visited by this reporter last summer, Attari had been unable to find steady work since being flown to Honolulu 12 years ago for back surgery that had left him with a severe limp and weakened muscles.

Attari’s circumstances exemplify the far-reaching impacts of nuclear testing upon irradiated, exiled or dislocated Marshall Islanders. From 1946 to 1962, their home atolls served as experimental grounds where the US detonated nuclear weapons and tested delivery systems in the transition from conventional to intercontinental bombers. In all, the US exploded 86 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands, which are situated 3,000 miles west of Honolulu. Those 86 bombs equated to 8,580 Hiroshima-size bombs–or 1.4 weapons per day for 16 years.

A one-time magistrate and mayor on Utrik, Attari said last summer that he doubted he would be able to return there, prophesying instead, “I’m going to stay here until I die.” He died in September of this year, without ever receiving the reparations that he and other nuclear victims have claimed.

The debt

It is a debt that is not only owed them, but that has compounded over time. Because these nuclear weapons experiments were too dangerous and unpredictable to be conducted on the US mainland, Attari and other Marshallese are part of the reason for America’s superpower status today. A half-century later, the Marshall Islands continue to serve as a crucial part of an outer defense periphery for the US heartland–6,000 miles away. That periphery includes the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, where for more than three decades missiles fired from 4,000 miles away (at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California) have crashed near Kwajalein Atoll, horribly frightening the indigenous inhabitants and leaving them unsure of where the debris will fall. More

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Goldstone walks alone on a bridge to nowhere

Surely the New York Times would not dare turn down a piece from the new Richard Goldstone. He had already recast himself as the self-appointed guardian of Israel’s world reputation. This, despite the fact that he had earlier been anointed as the distinguished jurist who admirably put aside his ethnic identity and personal affiliations when it came to carrying out his professional work as a specialist in international criminal law.

Goldstone was even seemingly willing to confront the Zionist furies of Israel when criticised by one of their own adherents in chairing the UN panel appointed to consider allegations of Israeli war crimes during the Gaza War of 2008-09. A few months ago Goldstone took the unseemly step of unilaterally retracting a central conclusion of the "Goldstone Report" during those attacks on Gaza.

The former judge wrote in a column in the Washington Post that the Goldstone Report would have been different if he had known then what he came to know now, an arrogant assertion considering that he was but one of four panel members designated by the UN Human Rights Council, and considering that the other three publicly reaffirmed their confidence in the original conclusion as presented in the report, which was written and released months earlier.

This failure to consult with other members of the team before rushing his seemingly opportunistic change of heart into print with should have discredited this earlier Goldstone effort to restore his tarnished Zionist credentials. It is also of interest that he chooses to exhibit this new role on the pages of the newspapers of record in the United States. Goldstone reportedly escalated the tone and substance of his retraction after the Times rejected the original version of the piece - supposedly because it was too bland. To get into print with this wobbly change of position, Goldstone went to these extraordinary lengths.

Now, on the eve of the third session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, scheduled to be held in Cape Town between November 4-6, Goldstone has again come to the defence of Israel in a highly partisan manner. His stance abandons any pretense of judicious respect for either the legal duties of those with power or the legal rights of those in vulnerable circumstances. More

Saturday, November 5, 2011

UN human rights body invites businesses to collaborate in creating its agenda

4 November 2011 – A new United Nations expert body that promotes respect for human rights among businesses is inviting governments, companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to submit ideas and proposals to help establish its work programme next year.
The UN Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises will take businesses’ submissions into account during its first session in January, when the Group’s priorities and activities will be determined.

According to a news release issued by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) on Wednesday, the group already started working by focusing on a set of internationally accepted guidelines and principles to prevent and address the risk of adverse human rights impacts linked to business activity.

The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, endorsed in June by the UN Human Rights Council, outline what businesses need to do to ensure human rights are respected in their enterprises, and give access to effective remedies when those rights have been negatively affected.

The principles are the product of six years of research and consultations and involved governments, companies, business associations, civil society, affected individuals and groups, and others around the world.

The group will monitor the following of these principles by conducting country visits, promoting good practices, and organizing an international forum on businesses and human rights to discuss the challenges enterprises face when implementing the guidelines. More

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ai Weiwei vows to continue to speak out

Ai Weiwei, the internationally renowned Chinese artist, has told Al Jazeera that a $2.3m tax bill and investigations into his financial affairs are part of a politically motivated campaign against him, and pledged to continue to speak out.

Ai, who has become one of the most prominent critics of China's ruling Communist Party and part of a growing dissent movement , said that speaking out had become "some kind of responsibility".

Despite his own personal fears, Ai said in a telephone interview that "the only thing that can help me is to let the truth out".

Ai, who spent 81 days in detention earlier this year, said it was especially important for him to speak out because he was only one out of "so many [other] people who are scared and ... will never be heard", referring to others who have criticised China's policies in the past.

"They also clearly told me that the tax charge was to have people think that I'm a bad man."

- Ai Weiwei

Ai said the allegations against him were not about money, but the current state of the Chinese justice system.

"It's the issue of how a state can survive when they are not respectful of the law, when they're clearly don't have a clear procedure, transparency, or public discussion."

Describing his interrogation while in detention, Ai said that the details of the allegations against him were not discussed, instead "they questioned me about subversion of state power".

Ai said he had been given no account statements to corroborate the allegations against him. He maintains he was not a manager at the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, the company under investigation which handles Ai's financial affairs.

Ai said his interrogators had "clearly told me that the tax charge was to have people think that I'm a bad man - that if you criticise the government, then we have to teach a lesson". More

Mercenaries pose threat to human rights: UN study

The use of mercenaries in armed conflict has increased, particularly this year in Africa, where governments used paid foreign soldiers to fight their own people, a United Nations study said Tuesday.

The study by a panel of experts said the growing activities of private security companies were challenging the respect for human rights in countries where they were hired.

A lack of international regulation of mercenaries has aggravated human rights issues.
The study said the regime of slain Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi earlier this year hired mercenaries from Eastern Europe and Africa to crack down on pro-democracy protests.
It said it had "considerable evidence" that in Ivory Coast earlier this year, the government of President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to relinquish power after losing elections in November 2010, used 4,500 mercenaries to keep him in power. Gbagbo surrendered in May to the winner of the elections, Alassane Ouattara, after a brutal civil war.

"Mercenaries pose a threat not only to security, but also to human rights and potentially to the right of peoples to self-determination," said Faiza Patel, who chaired the study.
The study said mercenaries were used in the past to fight in wars between countries but recently they have been used in internal conflict.
It said private military and security companies receive between $20 billion and $100 billion per year.

But in Iraq and Afghanistan, contracts and grants provided by Washington to private security firms exceeded $206 billion in 2011, the study said, citing a report of the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting in August.
Private firms are contracted to provide security and are not necessarily involved in conflict. More

Israel orders new building in East Jerusalem

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has ordered the building of 2,000 new housing units for Israelis, mainly in illegally occupied East Jerusalem, an area Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.

Netanyahu said in a statement on Tuesday that the new construction would include settlements that he believed would be part of Israel in a future peace accord. Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law.

Israel also decided on Tuesday to freeze the transfer of tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority, as a punitive measure after Palestine was granted full membership of UNESCO, the United Nations' culture and heritage agency, media reports said.

Saeb Erakat, the former Palestinian chief negotiator, said construction of more housing units was "politically motivated".

"The land they are going to build settlements on is supposed to be the land of the Palestinian state," he told Al Jazeera.

"The money they will withhold is Palestinian money. So this is a policy of intimidation and blackmail and we'll not budge ... we'll continue pursuing our rights."

Erakat added: "The mere fact that Israel defies the international community, by having more settlements instead of cessation of settlement activities and withholding Palestinian money, which is theft in my opinion, just reflects the nature of the Israeli government attempts to continue undermining the two-state solution. What harm does it bring to Israel when Palestinians join UNESCO?"

The decision to build more housing units was taken at a meeting of senior ministers, chaired by Netanyahu, Israel's public radio said.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the accelerated construction was an answer to the moves being made by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation at the UN in pursuit of statehood recognition.

"You can't demand from the Israeli public to continue to show restraint when the Palestinian leadership continues to slam the door in their face," said the official.

He said 1,650 of the new tenders are for units in East Jerusalem, while the rest are for Efrat and Maale Adumim, two illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians object to Israeli housing in East Jerusalem and demand an end to all construction in the settlements before direct talks can resume. Israel rejects that as a precondition. More

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Palestine, The United States and The UNESCO mess

It was bound to happen sooner or later. At some point, both the president and Congress would be faced with a clear choice between US national interests and the demands made by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his powerful Washington lobby.

In the larger sense, it happens all the time. US policy toward the Palestinians endangers our interests throughout the Muslim world, including - first and foremost - our civilian and military personnel in the Middle East, as well as our strategic and economic interests.

But usually, as is the case with some Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights like the Gaza blockade, the situation is not completely clear-cut. The Palestinians charge illegality under international law; the Israelis cite a different law.

And the US can (and invariably does) say nothing, or it takes the side of the Israelis. The entire world expects that from the United States by now and understands precisely why we operate that way. It understands that Israel is an important friend whose security we would never jeopardise.

They understand quite clearly that it is our absurd system of campaign funding that dictates that we follow Israel's lead on defending the occupation and preventing Palestinians from achieving any kind of recognition or sovereignty. The US always chooses Netanyahu's interests over the rights of the Palestinians.

Watershed vote

However, Monday's United Nations vote to admit Palestine into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) presented US policymakers with a watershed choice. US interests and the Israeli government's desires are directly pitted against each other. More