Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Does Citizenship Mean in England?

Secret war on enemy within - British terror suspects quietly stripped of citizenship… then killed by drones. The Government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – with two of the men subsequently killed by American drone attacks

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.

Critics of the programme warn that it allows ministers to “wash their hands” of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or “rendered” without any onus on the British Government to intervene.

At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years. Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision. Last night the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to Ms May to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.

The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation “smacked of mediaeval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary”.

Ian Macdonald QC, the president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as “sinister”.

“They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,” he said. “It’s not open government; it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed.”

Laws were passed in 2002 enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who had done something “seriously prejudicial” to the UK, but the power had rarely been used before the current government took office.

The Bureau’s investigation has established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.

In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action. The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday – before cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.

Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend the British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.

Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.

Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al-Shabaab, the Islamist militant group with links to al-Qa’ida. Mr Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Mr Sakr his “right-hand man”.

In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.

In June 2011 Mr Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.

His family have claimed that US forces were able to pinpoint his location by monitoring the call he made to his wife in the UK. Mr Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.

Mr Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships and subsequent US actions.

“It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Mr Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,” Saghir Hussain said.

Mr Macdonald added that depriving people of their citizenship “means that the British government can completely wash their hands if the security services give information to the Americans who use their drones to track someone and kill them.”

The campaign group CagePrisoners is in touch with many families of those affected. Its executive director Asim Qureshi said the Bureau’s findings were deeply troubling for Britons from an ethnic minority background.

“We all feel just as British as everybody else, and yet just because our parents came from another country, we can be subjected to an arbitrary process where we are no longer members of this country any more,” he said.

“I think that’s extremely dangerous because it will speak to people’s fears about how they’re viewed by their own government, especially when they come from certain areas of the world.”

The Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes said that, while he accepted there were often real security concerns, he was worried that those who were innocent of Home Office charges against them and were trying to appeal risked finding themselves in a “political and constitutional limbo”.

“There was clearly always a risk when the law was changed seven years ago that the executive could act to take citizenship away in circumstances that were more frequent or more extensive than those envisaged by ministers at the time,” he said.

“I’m concerned at the growing number of people who appear to have lost their right to citizenship. I plan to write to the Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Select Committee to ask for their assessment of the situation, and for a review of whether the act is working as intended.”

Ms Peirce, a leading immigration defence lawyer, said, “British citizens are being banished from their own country, being stripped of a core part of their identity yet without a single word of explanation of why they have been singled out and dubbed a risk,” she said.

Families are sometimes affected by the Home Secretary’s decisions. Parents may have to choose whether their British children remain in the UK, or join their father in exile abroad.

In a case known only as L1, a Sudanese-British man took his four British children on holiday to Sudan, along with his wife, who had limited leave to remain in the UK. Four days after his departure, Theresa May decided to strip him of his citizenship.

With their father excluded from the UK and their mother’s lack of permanent right to remain, the order effectively blocks the children from growing up in Britain. At the time of the order the children were aged between eight and 13 months.

The judge, despite recognising their right to be brought up in Britain, ruled that the grounds on which their father’s citizenship was revoked “outweighed” the rights of the children.

Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), said: “We accept it is unlikely to be in the best interests of the appellant’s children that he should be deprived of his British citizenship...

“They are British citizens, with a right of abode in the UK.

“They are of an age when that right cannot, in practice, be enjoyed if both of their parents cannot return to the United Kingdom.”

Yet he added that Theresa May was “unlikely to have made that decision without substantial and plausible grounds”.

In another case, a man born in Newcastle in 1963 and three of his London-born sons all lost their citizenship two years ago while in Pakistan. More



Giant Food Corporations Work Hand-In-Glove With Corrupt Government Agencies To Dish Up Cheap, Unhealthy Food

Big Food Is Making Us Sick

The Independent reports that small farmers are being challenged by food companies are becoming insanely concentrated:

Increasingly, a handful of multinationals are tightening their grip on the commodity markets, with potentially dramatic effects for consumers and food producers alike.


Three companies now account for more than 40 per cent of global coffee sales, eight companies control the supply of cocoa and chocolate, seven control 85 per cent of tea production, five account for 75 per cent of the world banana trade, and the largest six sugar traders account for about two-thirds of world trade, according to the new publication from the Fairtrade Foundation.


This is the year “to put the politics of food on the public agenda and find better solutions to the insanity of our broken food system”.

More people may be shopping ethically – sales of Fairtrade cocoa grew by more than 20 per cent last year to £153m – but, according to the report, the world’s food system is “dangerously out of control”.

How is that effecting the safety of our food supply? Reuters notes:

Multinational food, drink and alcohol companies are using strategies similar to those employed by the tobacco industry to undermine public health policies, health experts said on Tuesday.

In an international analysis of involvement by so-called “unhealthy commodity” companies in health policy-making, researchers from Australia, Britain, Brazil and elsewhere said … that through the aggressive marketing of ultra-processed food and drink, multinational companies were now major drivers of the world’s growing epidemic of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Writing in The Lancet medical journal, the researchers cited industry documents they said revealed how companies seek to shape health legislation and avoid regulation.

This is done by “building financial and institutional relations” with health professionals, non-governmental organizations and health agencies, distorting research findings, and lobbying politicians to oppose health reforms, they said.

They cited analysis of published research which found systematic bias from industry funding: articles sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies were between four and eight times more likely to have conclusions that favored the companies than those not sponsored by them.

How are giant food manufacturers trying to influence legislation?

As Waking Times reports, they’re trying to gag all reporting:

States are adopting laws meant to keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from.

Do you have a right to know where that steak on your plate came from?

Should it be legal to photograph chicken farms and dairy cows?

Big Agriculture says you don’t and it shouldn’t. Armies of Big Ag lobbyists are pushing for new state-level laws across the country to keep us all in the dark. Less restrictive versions have been law in some states since the 1980s, but the meat industry has ratcheted up a radical new campaign.

This wave of “ag-gag” bills would criminalize whistleblowers, investigators, and journalists who expose animal welfare abuses at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Ten states considered “ag-gag” bills last year, and Iowa, Missouri, and Utah approved them. Even more are soon to follow.

Had these laws been in force, the Humane Society might have been prosecuted for documenting repeated animal welfare and food safety violations at Hallmark/Westland, formerly the second-largest supplier of beef to the National School Lunch Program. Cows too sick to walk were being slaughtered and that meat was shipped to our schools, endangering our kids. The investigation led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.


Big Ag wants to silence whistleblowers rather than clean up its act. Ag-gag bills are now pending in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and New Hampshire. Similar legislation may crop up in North Carolina and Minnesota.

The bills aren’t identical, but they share common language — sometimes even word-for-word. Some criminalize anyone who even “records an image or sound” from a factory farm. Others mandate that witnesses report abuses within a few hours, which would make it impossible for whistleblowers to secure advice and protection, or for them to document a pattern of abuses.

Indiana’s version of this cookie-cutter legislation ominously begins with the statement that farmers have the right to “engage in agricultural operations free from the threat of terrorism and interference from unauthorized third persons.” [The Feds are treating people who expose abuse in factory farms as potential terrorists … and the states want the same power.]

Yet these bills aren’t about violence or terrorism. They’re about truth-telling that’s bad for branding. For these corporations, a “terrorist” is anyone who threatens their profits by exposing inhumane practices that jeopardize consumer health.


Ag-gag bills aren’t about silencing journalists and whistleblowers. They’re about curbing consumer access to information at a time when more and more Americans want to know where our food comes from and how it’s produced. More


Judge acquits Arab protesters, slams Israel Police for trumped-up charges

The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court acquitted Tuesday morning three young Arab women and a young Arab man of the offenses of participating in an illegal assembly, causing a disturbance and assaulting police officers, during a demonstration against Operation Cast Lead in 2008.

In his verdict, Judge Ido Druyan strongly criticized the police and prosecution, saying there was no fear of a disturbance during the gathering and "certainly there was no justification for the hasty and sloppy submission of this failed indictment."

Orna Cohen, a lawyer from the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, who represented the defendants, said that "the court's decision today proves what we have been saying for a long time – that the police treats Arab demonstrators in an illegal manner, disperses demonstrations illegally and files indictments that have no legal or factual basis."

According to the indictment, in December 2008 the accused gathered alongside others in Basel Street in Tel Aviv, near the Egyptian embassy. They participated in a demonstration of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, against the war in Gaza. According to the charges, the accused shouted, swore and held Palestine Liberation Organization flags in their hands.

After several skirmishes developed with protesters from another camp, the police asked the demonstrators to leave the area. The defendants allegedly refused to leave and started to cause a disturbance, run riot and to attack police officers, using the sticks of their flags among other things, according to the indictment.

The judge ruled the police's assessment that the demonstration the accused had participated in "damaged the nation's morale" was a strange and unacceptable assertion.

As part of the prosecution's evidence, the police submitted a CD-ROM that included a film shot by a police photographer during the event. The judge's ruling stated that the video footage completely contradicted the testimony of one of the officers, who said that the demonstration was violent. With regards to the circumstances surrounding the arrest of one of the defendants, the judge ruled that there was a huge gap between the police reports and the footage, which completely refuted the officer's version of events, and had served as the basis for the charges against her.

"The prosecution does not have one shred of evidence that could – even at the most basic theoretical level – point to the accused as guilty of participating in an illegal assembly. I also rule that there were not even the most basic grounds for the fear of breaching public peace or security, which is the only thing that could justify the conviction of the accused for this behavior." In summary, Judge Druyan said, "The phenomenon of indictments against demonstrators is repeated again and again, while the factual claims are refuted by footage from the police or other sources."

Druyan ordered the verdict be passed on to senior officers in the Tel Aviv district and countrywide in order for them to learn a lesson from the affair. More



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Notes from an illegal military court in Israel

Standing at well over six feet tall and hunching as he enters the military court room at Kishon prison in Israel, Hassan Karajah’s hands and legs are bound with chains.

The fifth Palestinian detainee brought before us on this day, his very presence as a prisoner within the borders of Israel is a war crime, violating the Fourth Geneva conventions’ provision that you may not bring occupied prisoners into your own territory.

Yet compliance with international law and human rights on the part of Israel has never been a part of Hassan’s story. A well-respected and admired Youth Organiser for the Stop the Wall campaign, Hassan is a human rights defender who works to resist Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land through a ‘security barrier’ ruled to be illegal by the International Court of Justice eight years ago.

Hassan’s case has received much international attention, with appeals from Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth demanding his immediate release and respect for his human rights. In South America, Brazil’s largest trade union, the CUT, have called on their government to intervene in Hassan’s case, whilst vigils have been held in front of the Israeli consulate in Argentina. Despite this, mainstream media outlets in the UK and US continue to maintain their silence.

Arrested on the 22nd of January, Hassan’s house was raided in the middle of the night, while soldiers wrecked his home and took his family’s possessions. Taken to the Israeli prison Kishon, near Haifa, Hassan was denied access to a lawyer for over two weeks. Despite his arrest being almost a month ago, Hassan is yet to be charged with any criminal offence. Even if he is, human rights monitor Addameer have stressed that since every political party in Palestine is classed as illegal by Israel, even President Mahmoud Abbas of the PA could be ‘lawfully’ detained at any point and held indefinitely. Additionally, a gathering of ten or more persons is also criminalized by Military Order 101, so the scope of committing a ‘crime’ is great. Such is the rule of law under Israeli occupation.

The court I entered on Thursday, February 14th differs from those in the US and UK in every respect. There is no jury, only military-appointed judges, who like the prosecutor, doubles as an officer for the Israeli occupying forces. We know we are under the auspices of Israel here, with a Star of David flag on the wall and all proceedings in Hebrew, evidence and questions must be translated to Hassan by a third military officer. Soldiers make up the rest of the courtroom, glaring at the defendant as they stroll up and down the lawyers’ desks, picking up papers and reading them as they please.

This court, to be blunt, is not a real court. The prosecutor has few notes with him, and just makes vague obfuscations about ‘security’ as a pretext for denying a man’s liberty for another two weeks, while the activist is investigated for a crime he is yet to be charged with. This has happened several times, each hearing an evitable extension of his interrogation. During the hearing, the prosecutor claims he has ‘secret evidence’ which only he and the military judge can see, where he almost comically whispers into his superior’s ear, the rest of the court left in the dark. The soldiers continue to walk and talk throughout proceedings, making calls on their phones then smoking outside, while we the observers look on with interest.

Speaking with Hassan’s defense team, I am disturbed to hear of his conditions. Although the entrance to the prison facility boasts the sign ‘Kishon Detention Home’ this Israeli facility is more akin to a torture chamber than anything else, with reports of systematic abuse at the prison, including that of children. The prison was equipped, I hasten to add, by British security firm G4S, who have faced trenchant criticism for their involvement with Israel’s occupation, including from some British MPs. Hassan has been held in a windowless cell, two metres by two metres, with just a dirty mattress for sleeping and a hole in the floor as a toilet, which often overflows frequently, dirtying the cell. Hassan is interrogated for up to fourteen hours a day, all of which he spends shackled and cuffed to a chair, causing pain. He has been beaten and threatened, and after appealing his arrest he was dragged in for further interrogations at 3am and told it was a punishment. He has been denied access to a Koran, which is his right, and the prison officials have refused to supply him with an adequate dosage of the medicine he desperately needs to tend to the nerve damage he has in his leg. This is clearly designed to pressure Hassan, and to weaken his resolve both mentally and physically.

Though Israel has formally signed and ratified the UN Convention against Torture they show clear disregard for Article 1:

‘the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession’

Shocked and appalled though I am, it is only a sign of my own naivete in the circumstances. Hassan is one of 4,743 prisoners held by Israel, who have detained40% of Palestinian men since their occupation, the longest in modern history, began in 1967. Currently, 178 of these are languishing in administrative detention, Israeli-speak for imprisonment without trial. A previous youth coordinator with Stop the Wall, Mohammed Othman, was also arrested in 2009 and held for 113 days without charge or trial.

While Hassan’s hearing and detention is a deplorable scene to bear witness to, the man himself fills us observers with a hope and an inspiration uncommon and unnatural to such grim settings. Time and again Hassan and I shared a thoughtful nod and a half-smile, while friends read messages to him and passed notes from his family, attracting the opprobrium of the prison guards. Hassan’s family were unable to attend the hearing due to it taking place within Israel, where they are banned from travelling. The extraction of prisoners into Israel is not only illegal but creates stress for families who are denied access to their loved ones. Hassan’s indomitable spirit was never more prominent than after the hearing was read out. As he was led out of the court room he made the universal symbol of peace, the two raised fingers, at least to let the world know he would continue his struggle for human rights.

Hassan’s story, as I have said, is one of many, in fact one of thousands. Israel’s violation of Hassan Karajah’s fundamental human rights in its system of unjustifiable military courts is one of the many ways the Israeli occupation attempts to break the will of the Palestinian people. The continuing of this despicable occupation only requires our silence; Hassan’s freedom only requires our action. More

Please sign this petition calling for the respecting of Hassan Karajah’s human rights, and his immediate release:


Monday, February 25, 2013

How Israel legitimises torturing Palestinians to death

Six days after Arafat Jaradat was arrested by the Israeli army and the Shin Bet, he was dead. Between the date of his arrest - February 18 - and the day of his death - February 23 - his lawyer Kamil Sabbagh met with Arafat only once: in front of a military judge at the Shin Bet's Kishon interrogation facility.

Sabbagh reported that when he saw Jaradat, the man was terrified. Arafat told his lawyer that he was in acute pain from being beaten and forced to sit in stress positions with his hands bound behind his back.

When it announced his death, Israeli Prison Service claimed Arafat - who leaves a pregnant widow and two children - died from cardiac arrest. However, the subsequent autopsy found no blood clot in his heart. In fact, the autopsy concluded that Arafat, who turned 30 this year, was in fine cardiovascular health.

What the final autopsy did find, however, was that Jaradat had been pummelled by repeated blows to his chest and body and had sustained a total of six broken bones in his spine, arms and legs; his lips lacerated; his face badly bruised.

The ordeal that Arafat suffered before he died at the hands of Israel's Shin Bet is common to many Palestinians that pass through Israel's prisons. According to the prisoners' rights organisation Addameer, since 1967, a total of 72 Palestinians have been killed as a result of torture and 53 due to medical neglect. Less than a month before Jaradat was killed, Ashraf Abu Dhra died while in Israeli custody in a case that Addameer argues was a direct result of medical neglect.

The legal impunity of the Shin Bet, commonly referred to as the GSS, and its torture techniques has been well established. Between 2001 and 2011, 700 Palestinianslodged complaints with the State Attorney's Office but not a single one has been criminally investigated.

Writing in Adalah's 2012 publication, On Torture [PDF], Bana Shoughry-Badarne, an attorney and the Legal Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, wrote, "The GSS's impunity is absolute."

Israel's High Court has been extravagantly helpful in securing the Shin Bet with its imperviousness to accountability to international law, and thus enabling widespread and lethal torture.

In August of 2012, Israel's High Court rejected petitions submitted by Israeli human rights organisations Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and PCATI to demand that Israeli attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, carry out criminal investigations into each allegation of torture by the Shin Bet.

And in the first week of February, two weeks before Arafat was killed, the High Court of Justice threw out Adalah's petition that demanded the GSS videotape and audio record all of its interrogations in order to comply with requirements of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) to which Israel is a signatory.

In May 2009, UNCAT condemned [PDF] Israel for exempting the Shin Bet's interrogations from audio and video recording, noting that such oversight is an essential preventative measure to curtail torture. Yet despite this admonition, in 2012 the Knesset extended the exemption for another three years.

Rationalising its failure to comply with this most basic requirement of recording interrogations, the State maintains that it is in the interests of "national security" that its interrogation techniques not be made public. More



Sunday, February 24, 2013

Killer robots a danger to mankind, warns human rights group

A HUMAN rights group is launching a global campaign to warn of the imminent danger of "killer robots".

They say the machines -- like Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in Terminator - "would be able to select and engage targets without human intervention".

Now Human Rights Watch wants to highlight the danger of killing machines and wants a ban before they become a reality.

The group says robot warfare is the next step up from unmanned drones, and will be available within the decade.

But HRW, a New York based NGO which spends millions each year raising awareness of human rights, says that the public at large are not aware of the danger.

To this end, it is launching the "Stop The Killer Robot" campaign at the House of Commons. Supporters include academics and Nobel peace prize laureates.

It says: “Fully autonomous weapons do not exist yet, but they are being developed by several countries and precursors to fully autonomous weapons have already been deployed by high-tech militaries.

“Killer robots are weapons with full autonomy would be able to choose and fire on targets without any human intervention.

“The aims of the conference are: 1) To increase civil society awareness and understanding of the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons (killer robots); and 2) To encourage action by civil society to campaign for a ban on their development, production, and use.”

Dr Noel Sharkey, a robotics expert at Sheffield University, warns that automated weapons are unregulated and pay little heed to moral implications or international law.

He said: “These things are not science fiction; they are well into development.” More



Saturday, February 23, 2013

Disgusting Flood of Fracking Water Devastates Egyptian Village

Port Said and Cairo have been dominating Egyptian headlines of late, while Fares, a small agricultural community 75 km north of Aswan, has gone completely unnoticed despite enduring a humanitarian tragedy of epic proportions.

Since 2009, after DanaGas began to drill pilot hydraulic fracturing wells in order to evacuate fossil fuels, a process commonly called fracking, poisonous water has been spewing from the holes, inundating farm lands and homes.

Egypt Independent’s Steven Viney wrote a brave expose of the story, which stars a shady cast of corporate and government characters who have bypassed all environmental and social due process standards in order to test their controversial technology. Scores of local residents have evacuated the area in search of higher, cleaner ground, but the paper reports that government officials are prohibiting them from settling on “private land.”

Fracking involves drilling deep vertical tunnels down to rock that is saturated with natural gas or oil. Vertical tunnels are then built through the rock and water and highly corrosive chemicals are pumped through those at high pressure in order to force expel the embedded fossil fuels.

Elsewhere in the world fracking has either been banned altogether or activists are working on making them so and for good reason. Not only has fracking been associated with groundwater contamination, but there is some evidence that fracking can cause earthquake disturbances in areas that are normally fairly stable.

But in Egypt, DanaGas proceeded to test its technology without suffering any repercussions for its apparent failure. Yet the firm flat out denies that the floodwaters which have destroyed crops and homes in Fares have anything to do with their fracking holes.

What’s more, the government agency responsible for monitoring environmental issues in the country, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), has passed the buck to Ganope – the umbrella organization responsible for DanaGas’ projects that has a Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) with the Ministry of Petroleum.

“Mahmoud Shawki, the EEAA official responsible for overlooking oil and gas drilling environmental impact reports, stated that Fares was the sole responsibility of Ganope,” EI reported.

Ganope, however, claims that the EEAA should be accountable.

Meanwhile, poisonous streams of water up to five foot high are flooding Fares and residents are pleading for help.

“Please help us,” Sheikh Ahmed Abdel Hameed, both a resident of Fares and one of its leading activists, begged Egypt Independent correspondents.

“We have tried all in our power and knocked on every door possible. Nothing is working and no one cares because we are a small village and far away, but we are Egyptians too, and we have nowhere to safely live and no land to farm to survive.” More

Please head over to Egypt Independent for the full report.


Trillions for Wars, None For Cancer Stricken Children

Land of the free - Home of the brave? Team cures cancer with innovative treatment, child-patients stuck with staggering bills.

February 11, 2013 (LocalOrg) - In "On the Cusp of Ending Big Pharma," a coming revolution in biology and medicine made possible by a better understanding of genetics and gene therapy was described in detail. Almost as if to validate the premise of having the public begin getting directly involved in not only understanding genetics and gene therapy, but begin building the infrastructure at a local level to pursue research and development, as well as implement eventual techniques and treatments, has just recently published a follow up to an incredible story.

Titled, "Girl's gene-therapy estimate gives Children's Hospital a shiner," the article describes a clinical trial in which gene therapy was used to treat 10 adults and 2 children suffering from cancer, most of whom have had their cancer go into remission, and the staggering bills the treatment incurred. Charities and insurance assisted at least one patient, while another, a 5 year old Croatian girl, was left with a $837,000 bill.

Medical care is expensive. It requires the absolute cutting edge in technology, skilled doctors and technicians to utilize it in the care of patients, all within an economic paradigm where demand vastly outnumbers supply. What could be done to reduce the disparity between supply and demand? And what can be done until then to ensure people get the absolute best treatment possible? Or should a 5 year old girl perish because she can't afford experimental treatment when all other options were sure to fail?
Trillions for War

Soldiers fighting the fruitless decade long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't need to buy their own weapons, procure their own transportation to the warzone, buy their own meals, and when they were injured, pay for their own medical treatment. Indeed, these fruitless wars built openly on categorically false premises, were subsidized by trillions of dollars from American tax payers despite the wars having no public support. Since these two fruitless wars sold upon a pack of lies, the United States has conducted combat operations in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Uganda, inside Pakistan, Mali, and covertly in Iran. Again, subsidized by trillions of tax payer dollars.

For unpopular wars fought upon false premises, sold by practiced liars across the corporate media, there seems to be an endless torrent of cash. In turn, this money doesn't simply go into a fiscal blackhole. Instead, it ends up in the profit margins of Fortune 500 corporations, from the big-defense contractors arming and supplying military operations, to big-oil and construction contractors building in the wake of these operations. It is a well understood racket that casts a dark shadow on Western society and has very real implications for modern human civilization.

Imagine if these trillions instead went somewhere else. Imagine if cancer research and treatment was subsidized with the same impetus as wars of profit. Imagine if improving education, infrastructure, and the means by which we could accelerate medical research and development and thereby reduce the disparity between supply and demand was done with the same fervor we pursue wars abroad. More





Friday, February 22, 2013

India opens the floodgates for extinguishment of Indigenous Rights

India's central government has walked away from its position on the need to obtain consent from Indigenous peoples and forest dwellers before handing their lands over to industry.

On February 15, the central government announced that major "linear projects" such as roads, railways, transmission lines, canal systems and pipelines do not need to obtain consent from affected forest populations before clearing their lands. The announcement, which stands in sharp contrast to provisions in the Forest Rights Act, could now make way for hundreds of new industrial projects that would have never otherwise seen the light of day.

"This is serious breach of trust and a huge step back in ensuring the dignity and survival of traditional forest-dwelling people across the country", said Dr. Swati Shresth, from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. "Forests are going to be cleared to make way for a particular kind of economic development; it will adversely impact communities and the environment."

Just four years ago, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) made the matter of consent of affected communities mandatory for all projects that would destroy forests. The landmark decision came in direct response to the attempt by UK-based mining company Vedanta Resources Inc. to clear the Dongria Kondh's lands. Last week's announcement effectly revokes that mandatory rule.

On the same day of the announcement, the MoEF took another troubling step away from Indigenous Rights, while reiterating the inviolable nature of those rights.

In an affidavit that was filed in the Supreme Court in the ongoing case with Vedanta, the MoEF reiterated that mining in Niyamgiri hills cannot be permitted, stating that:

"The diversion of forest land on the proposed mining site of the Lanjigarh bauxite mining lease is violative of the fundamental rights of the Dongria Kondh tribals as well as the spirit of Forest Rights Act especially for the vulnerable tribal groups such as the Dongria Kondh and thus cannot be allowed for this reason alone.

"More than 7 sq. km. of the sacred undisturbed forests on top of the mountain, where the proposed mining lease area of the Lanjigarh bauxite mining lease is located has been protected for centuries by the Dongria Kondh, a primitive tribal group [now termed as particularly vulnerable tribe] as sacred to their deity. Diversion of these sacred areas for mining will undermine the customary rights of the Dongria Kondhs to protect their sacred places of worship and thereby amount to a violation of their fundamental right to manage their own affairs in the matter of religion and fundamental right to conserve the culture of their own. It was also in direct violation further of the specific provisions of the Forest Rights Act."

This is, of course, great news for the Dongia Kondh who continue to stand in steadfast opposition to Vedanta's mining interests on their sacred land.

Speaking on the broader issue of consent, the MoEF went on to say that "No eviction of eligible forest dwellers can take place till the process of recognition and vesting of individual and community forest right under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act is complete."

However, the MoEF then did an about face. As reported by Down to Earth, the Ministry stated that such consent is only required in cases where "displacement of large number of people" is involved and which "affect the quality of life of the people".

In cases where the diversion of such forest land is "unavoidable" where rights of the forest dwellers are recognized, their rights may be "circumscribed or extinguished using the eminent domain of the state". More


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley

Consider the following quotation, taking into account its moral, political and legal implications:

Map: ARIJ) Click to enlarge

‘You don’t simply bundle people onto trucks and drive them away ... I prefer to advocate a more positive policy, to create, in effect, a condition that in a positive way will induce people to leave’ (PDF)

This is Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel, speaking about the Palestinians who inhabit Israel’s most prized territory after Jerusalem -- the Jordan Valley. Just over a quarter of the West Bank and stretching 70km along the River Jordan from the Dead Sea in the south to Israel’s border in the north, the Jordan Valley is now home to some 50,000 Palestinians and over 9,000 Israeli-Jewish settlers, who live in what one Palestinian NGO described as ‘Parallel Realities’.

Israel has long-coveted the Jordan Valley. Shortly after the Knesset approved Oslo II, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared, “the security border to protect the State of Israel will be set in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of this term.” The view of this supposedly ‘liberal Zionist’ PM is mirrored by that of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who declared that the army “must remain along the Jordan River in any future agreement.” Reflecting the prioritisation of the Jordan Valley even over other settlement areas in the West Bank, settlers receive exorbitant incentives to move there Israel has declared the entire West Bank, or Judea and Samaria as it stubbornly refers to it, as a ‘National Priority Area’ bringing subsidies for housing, free education and tax cuts, whilst settlers told Ma’an Development Center that the Jordan Valley remains the cheapest to move to through incentives.

The dichotomy in living standards between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank has drawn a series of analogies between the Jewish state and the apartheid state of South Africa. John Dugard, who hails from the latter and was UN special rapporteur to the Palestinian territories, has called for the International Court of Justice to rule on whether apartheid is practised there or not, and his views have been echoed by Richard A. Falk, his successor in the UN role. Yet in the Jordan Valley, elements of Israel’s policy clearly go far beyond the legal definition of apartheid. The annexation of territory and imposition of impossible living standards on the Palestinians forcing them to move most closely resembles ethnic cleansing. Or as Ariel Sharon euphemistically puts it in the earlier quotation, Israel is "inducing people to leave".

Accusations of ethnic cleansing have also been levelled against Israel, albeit with less coverage than the apartheid analogy. Richard Falk has asked that the ICJ investigate Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, whilst Israeli historian and political activist Ilan Pappe, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, has persuasively argued that actions by Jewish paramilitaries to forcibly transfer 700,000 Palestinians during 1947-49 merit the label of ‘ethnic cleansing’. The term is gaining ground. Given there are several reports of forced displacement and transfer of Palestinians from the Jordan Valley into other areas of Palestine, it would appear that ethnic cleansing may be taking place in that region through the slow and silent destruction of the means of life for Palestinians.

The legal definition of ethnic cleansing is somewhat vague. Unlike the crime of apartheid, which is mentioned in several conventions of international law and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, there is no widely acknowledged prohibition on ethnic cleansing. Palestinian legal monitor Al Haq has argued, ‘It seems that “ethnic cleansing” is a composite term that covers various violations of IHL (International Humanitarian Law), such as the grave breach of “unlawful deportation or transfer” of a civilian (Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).’ As previously mentioned, UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk has used the term to describe Israel’s policy of creating an ethnically-pure or Jewish-dominated East Jerusalem, whilst the UN Security Council has passed resolutions condemning ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. Additionally, the International Criminal Court regards ‘forcible transfer of population’ as a crime against humanity. When this transfer is based on ethnic criteria as in East Jerusalem, it could be argued ethnic cleansing has occurred. In the former Yugoslavia the ethnic cleansing was not just confined to massacres but as the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia stated, “Serb municipal authorities and Serb forces created severe living conditions for Muslims and Croats which aimed, and succeeded, in making it practically impossible for most of them to remain.” This is Israel’s policy in the Jordan Valley.

A series of policies combine to make life as difficult as possible in the Eastern portion of the West Bank along the Jordan, including restricting movement, healthcare, water resources and stifling economic development. The combination of policies has been described by the UN’s Human Rights Council as having a devastating effect. With reference to Area C, which comprises 95% of the Jordan Valley, ‘79% of the communities surveyed recently do not have enough nutritious food; this is a rate higher than in blockaded Gaza, where it is 61%.’ Ma’an Development have carried out numerous highly informative reports on the Jordan Valley region, where they have described a contrast between Israeli settlers and Palestinians that is even more acute than the rest of the West Bank. More