Human Rights

Category Archives: Human Rights

Human Rights

Protests continue at Chechnya Homophobia, Gay-Bisexual Torture & Killing

Chechen Gay ‘Concentration Camps’

The Chechen Republic is a Russian autonomous region that is around 95% Muslim. Reports over the last week or so have continued to come in that around 100 men suspected of homosexuality have been sent to a detention facility in Argun, and that allegedly 3 have been killed. Calling them ‘concentration camps‘ may be a reach, but as we don’t know what is going on there it may be appropriate.

Clive Lewis MP speaking at Norwich LGBT Chechnya protest
Clive Lewis MP speaking at Norwich LGBT Chechnya protest

The last few nights have seen protests in London at the Russian Embassy and around the country because of the 100 detainees. Norwich held its protest with around 50-60 attendees last night on the City Hall steps. The supporters were addressed by Norwich Pride’s Nick O’Brien, Labour MP Clive Lewis, Green’s Lesley Grahame, Katy Jon Went, Julie Bremner, Andy Futter, and Di Cunningham. (Gallery here)

Decriminalisation of homosexuality

Norwich City Hall LGBT Chechnya protest
Norwich City Hall LGBT Chechnya protest

We can keep the victims in the media eye, gain diplomatic and human rights traction by our voices, standing up for those who’ve lost their liberty because of their sexuality. This is poignant coming, as it does, on the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

Sadly, over 70 nations worldwide still criminalise homosexuality and male on male sex which includes bisexuality, so let’s not forget that those imprisoned and beaten, even killed, may include gay and bi men, and trans – anyone who is an affront to the macho traditional image of Mother Russia and the two major religions in its regions, the Russian Orthodox Church and Islam.

What is happening in Chechnya?

One victim described how Interior Ministry SOBR police officers:

“stripped me naked. One filmed me on his telephone. Three of them beat me. They kicked me, broke my jaw. They said that this is a gay and that there shouldn’t be defects like this in Chechnya.” 

Rounding up the “defects”, the “abnormal”, speaks of sexuality eugenics and group genocide.

These are not just rumours, the Guardian spoke to two victims who were “subjected to torture on a daily basis” and activists report this is happening in multiple towns across the region. Helplines have been set up to help LGBT people leave the country and journalists who have reported on it are also fearing for their lives after threats and considering that the rare independent voice of Novaya Gazeta has had several of its staff murdered.

We have no Gays!

Denial that is happening is part and parcel of how this kind of abuse works. Spokesman, Alvi Karimov, for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov described the Novaya Gazeta report as “absolute lies and disinformation”, saying also that there were no gay people in Chechnya:

“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic. If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

According to the Guardian, Chechen television is reporting that thousands gathered at Grozny’s central mosque to pass a resolution against the “lies and libel” in the Novaya Gazeta stories – “chiefly for suggesting there are gay men in Chechnya”!

“The centuries-old traditions of Chechen society, the dignity of Chechen men, and our faith have all been insulted, and we promise that those behind it will face reprisals, whoever they are and wherever they are.” – Chechen Resolution

This is similar to during the Sochi Winter Olympics, when “The mayor of Sochi, said there are no gay people in the city.” 

Why ban what allegedly doesn’t exist?

Famous Gay or Bi Russians

Why forget and erase the history of your own great LGBT+ persons?

From Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, probably Stravinsky, the son of Rimsky Korsakov, Gogol, numerous artists, dancers like Nijinsky and Nureyev, to Ivan the Terrible with 7 straight marriages but a preference for cross-dressed men. Not to mention dozens of counts and princes of Russia’s past who were bisexual, open or closeted gay Russians.

Legal Prohibition of Homosexuality

Apart from religious condemnation of homosexuality in orthodox Christianity and Islam, I’ve encountered a secular Russian traditionalism that also condemns being LGBT on the basis that it destroys the family, the national image, and is just plain “abnormal”. 

In June 2013, Russia brought in a law banning the “propaganda of homosexuality among minors”, not unlike the UK’s Section 28, but given the street-based homophobia much more dangerous. Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act stated that councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.

Homosexuality “in private” was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, but plenty of discrimination and prejudice remains. Actually, it was decriminalised in 1917 but re-criminalised in 1933. That’s a stark reminder that equality rights won can be lost again, just look at India and Uganda too. Russia is at least 25 years behind the UK on LGBT rights.

The law banning spreading “non-traditional” sexual propaganda to minors is so loosely worded that almost anything could be seen as illegal. Locals say they fear even holding hands or kissing in public for the risk of attracting a £100 fine or worse. Prides in Moscow (2006-2011) have been beset by homophobic violence and since 2012 banned for 100 years by Moscow courts.

Russia’s second-largest and hitherto most open city, St Petersburg, has seen a deterioration with city council members since 2012 pushing Putin to harder lines on LGBT freedoms. Marked homophobia and transphobia worsened in 2016 with LGBT persons and their supporters being hounded out of their jobs, attacked in the street, and denied civil freedoms. 

Vladimir Putin, himself, has linked homosexuality to paedophilia and stated strongly that Russia needs to “cleanse” itself of gays if it wants to increase its birth rate.  The tagging of population growth on the end of that statement in no way minimises the echoes of a homosexual holocaust that was part of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ in “cleansing” 1930s Nazi Germany of Jews, homosexuals, the disabled, and non-conformists, alike.

Chechen Laws and Attitudes

Chechen Republic, Chechnya FlagChechnya, in 1997, implemented Article 148 of the Criminal Code punishing “anal sexual intercourse between a man and a woman or a man and a man”. The punishment was caning but upon a third conviction, the death penalty by shooting, stoning or beheading. Since 1996 and repeatedly reaffirmed, Russia under pressure from the Council of Europe has had a moratorium on the death penalty despite a persistent majority of the population wanting its reinstatement. The death penalty thus remains on the books but not enacted since 1996.

In 2011, the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, is quoted as saying: 

“I have the right to criticise my wife. She doesn’t. With us [in Chechen society], a wife is a housewife. A woman should know her place. A woman should give her love to us [men]… She would be [man’s] property. And the man is the owner. Here, if a woman does not behave properly, her husband, father, and brother are responsible. According to our tradition, if a woman fools around, her family members kill her… That’s how it happens, a brother kills his sister or a husband kills his wife… As a president, I cannot allow for them to kill. So, let women not wear shorts…”

With these kinds of archaic gender stereotype attitudes is it any wonder that LGBT people are ostracised, given up, locked up, with little internal national complaint?

Freedom House included Chechnya in the “Worst of the Worst” list (2009) of most repressive societies in the world, together with Burma, North Korea, Tibet.

Toxic intolerance of Homosexuality

From the Russian Orthodox Church to Conservative Islam and extremist Islamism, religion, tradition and ideology are involved in the toxic intolerance of homosexuality in Russia and Chechnya.

We must support open-minded inclusive faith and practice, but not the closed-minded homophobia of secular and religious pronouncements and laws.

Keep Chechnya in the public eye, and don’t forget everywhere else we turn a blind eye to, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Uganda and the other 70+ nations that deny human rights to LGBTI people.

LGBT Concentration Camps Chechnya protest
LGBT Concentration Camps Chechnya protes
Human Rights

Norwich protests Donald Trump selective Muslim Ban, welcomes Refugees

Donald Trump Muslim Ban Protest in Norwich

Hundreds of people in Norwich turned out to protest President Donald Trump‘s temporary immoral executive order banning Muslims from 7 countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) entering the USA. One arrest was made, and the demonstration was otherwise peaceful with a diverse range of speakers and banners from the humorous to the very serious.

Judge me by what's in my head not on my head
Judge me by what’s in my head not on my head

Perhaps, the best said it simplest, a woman in a headscarf whose placard read “judge me by what is in my head not what is on my head”.

Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion and race.

Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, based upon nationality and religion alone, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion.

Norwich Donald Trump anti-racist Muslim ban protest
Norwich Donald Trump anti-racist Muslim ban protest

Two protests came together for this event, one organised by UEA student Lotty Clare of Movement for Justice, and the other by Julie Bremner of Stand Up To Racism. Other groups including Norwich Stop The War Coalition joined in and over 1,100 people signed to attend on a dark drizzly night in February.

The mood was far from damp, with resounding cries of:

“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”

If anything, it was the hundreds of comments on the EDP online and Mustard TV posts that made me realise why we do this. The spewing of hate and Britain first, echoing Donald Trump’s election manifesto of America first. I talked afterwards to two Donald Trump and Brexit supporters, teenage girls from City College, they had no problem with elitist, nationalist, selfish, protectionist policies, though our debate soon turned to mental health and we had a good conversation. 

Norfolk Welcomes All Folk
Norfolk Welcomes All Folk

I was interviewed by Robbie West of BBC Look East, Emma Knights of the EDP, and ended up on a Mustard TV live stream. ITV Anglia also reported on the event. Good coverage and continuing to remind me of how great Norwich is, in the main, and after so many political protests and pro-migrant rallies over the last year it shows the strength of feeling in communities, both pro and anti. 

Katy Jon Went speech text

The 7 nation Muslim visa and refugee ban was signed on Holocaust Memorial Day, a day when the Whitehouse chose to #alllivesmatter the victim list by not mentioning Jews and homosexuals at all.

The fear that LGBT people may have their Obama-won state protections removed has also been concerning people, even if that comes to nothing, people are living in fear and anxious times. America’s biggest terror massacre since 9/11 was by an American, albeit the son of an Afghan immigrant – but not on Trump’s ban list, who traveled back and forth to Saudi Arabia – also not on the list, before killing 49 people, mainly Latinos, in the Orlando Pulse club shooting. No connection to the seven nation ban list.

Despite the so-called British exemption, Iranian-born but raised in Italy and doing post-grad veterinary studies at the University of Glasgow, Dr Hamaseh Tayari was denied US-leg travel by the presidential executive order, the extra flights avoiding America cost £2600 however, public response raised more than double that via crowdfunding with the excess going to the Scottish Refugee Council. That is one way we can help. Similar to the folk providing food and funds, and many lawyers offering pro-bono free advice at airports across America. Lawyers are saying that “It’s not lawful to ban immigrants on the basis of nationality” but judges and others unwilling to enforce it are being replaced.

Speaking about the ‘Muslim’ travel block and its effect on the vet student, the University of Glasgow’s principal said:

“The free movement of people, of ideas, of intellect is surely the very hallmark of civilized society.– Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal of the University of Glasgow

Introvert's Love greater than Hate, Truck Fump!
Introvert’s Love greater than Hate, Truck Fump!

Indeed, America and its innovations and inventions are built on immigrants, not just the last century or so, but even those that first came to America, those pilgrim fathers and conquering Catholic explorers of different faiths to the established indigenous inhabitants. Indeed 7 nations of foreign religious immigrants from the early Norse to the British, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Irish and even Russians (Kodiak Island) came to America and populated it, and far from peacefully. 

Blocking immigrants now is hypocrisy and against its founding principles. Take the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; … Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

The Quebec mosque attack last weekend that left 6 dead and 8 injured was not by Muslims, but of Muslims. First reports drew attention to the fact that one of those arrested was from Morocco, another fake news story from a pro-Trump reddit said they were Syrian refugees, but not the truth that the sole perpetrator, killer, terrorist, turned out to be a far right, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant and Trump supporting white supremacist inspired by Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen of Front Nacionale of France:

“Friends and those who knew him online said he had extreme political beliefs, but was not known to be violent. Eric Debroise said he called police after the shooting and told them Alexandre Bissonnette is “very right and (an) ultra nationalist white supremacist,” the French-language newspaper Le Journal de Quebec reports. “He really liked Trump and had a permanent discontent with the left.”” 

Will Donald Trump now block Canadians visiting the US, or won’t it matter if the victims are other Muslims and the aggressors other American continent citizens?

11,000 are killed on US soil each year at the hands of US citizens, black and white, Christian and Muslim. More toddlers than terrorists kill Americans. Ban guns not Muslims.

ISIS kills more Muslims than Christians and more people from the seven barred nations than American citizens. How many Americans you ask?

The number of Americans killed by terrorists who’ve entered the US as Refugees? ZERO. No person accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980. Prior to that only Cuban non-Muslims had.

Even if we include attacks and plots with no fatalities, then just 20 refugees out of 3 and a quarter million have been convicted over 40 years, that’s just 0.0006%, which is statistically zero anyway. An American is 250 times more likely to be killed or murdered by other means than by a foreign-born terrorist.

In a study of country origins of terroristsSaudia Arabia, UAE and Egypt topped the list. Trump’s nations only enter the list at places 25 and lower! 

Pennsylvania Republican representative Charlie Dent said,

“the order appears to have been rushed through without full consideration. You know, there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world.”

Even Donald Trump admitted it was a “ban”, announced in his best official and professional sounding statesman-like way on Twitter:

Another US Republican senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain said:

“Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.” 

Even Mike Pence the Republican VP denounced it in 2015 when Obama was advised to do something similar but less extreme:

Yes we need to be careful calling this an “all Muslim” ban or saying it came only from Donald Trump, as Obama’s advisors first drew up the list but as amendmends to the pre-existing Visa Waiver Program. The new ban cancels the visa themselves, rather than requiring them.

Theresa the Appeaser
Theresa the Appeaser

Wherever it started, it’s where it ends that worries me. “Theresa The Appeaser” came back from America and Foreign Secretary Boris ‘the joke’ Johnson announced British exceptions to the rules – just like Chamberlain’s futile appeasement attempts in 1938.

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” – Winston Churchill

We won't let history repeat itself
We won’t let history repeat itself

I can appreciate the irony of standing under Hitler’s favourite balcony, Norwich City Hall, protesting. We do need to attack the policies not the person, appreciate the complexities of their origins, and not demonise the man, reference mental health and little hands, that plays into the insecure dictator psyche and adds fuel to Trump supporters that we don’t hear their concerns.

Just as with Brexit true communal change can only come about with all parties engaged, remainers and leavers, Democrats and Republicans, Labour, Tory and the rest. We underestimated the fears of leavers and Trump supporters that led to them winning society changing votes that will affect the next 4-5 years or more.

I would commend peaceful and polite protest, therefore, but without passive appeasement. The women’s march saw millions gather because it was peaceful. Better to let Trump visit the UK and then have a protest he can witness the size of feeling at. Unrest and civil disobedience are always a later option.

Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim
Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim

If anything similar were to ever happen here as some Brexit supporters and Nigel Farage have called for, then I’m with Madeleine Albright (a Czech immigrant to the US and former Secretary of State) and would register as a Muslim to demonstrate solidarity, before they list any other categories of people that need rounding up or banning.

Resist the ban, welcome refugees, and provide practical and legal support where you can, illegal support if it ever comes to it! It’s open mosque day this Sunday – go to one.

I am reminded of another of Churchill’s statements that diplomacy does not mean friendship with another state acting immorally towards its people and demonising groups within it. It reinforces the dangerous moral path Theresa May treads in appearing as Donald Trump’s greatest foreign ally.

“You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.”

View more photos from the protest here.

Fuck Trump anti-Fascist protestor
Fuck Trump anti-Fascist protestor

 

Human Rights

International Migrants Day 2016, Syria & the World’s Refugee Crisis

International Migrants Day 2016

December 18 is International Migrants Day, falling in the middle of yet another broken ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria. The combination of 4.5 million refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced people means that half of Syria‘s 22m population are technically migrants, making it the biggest humanitarian refugee crisis and migration exodus since the Nazi era. Half-a-million have been killed in the civil war/uprising and there are few signs of an end in sight.

Dignity for all migrants

Two years ago, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said in hope:

“On International Migrants Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to shape diverse and open societies that provide opportunities and lives of dignity for all migrants.” – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 2014

Two years later and the outgoing Secretary General, at his last press conference, sounded a depressing note, describing:

“the carnage in Syria” as “a gaping hole in the global conscience” and Aleppo as “a synonym for hell”. “We have collectively failed the people of Syria. Peace will only prevail when it is accompanied by compassion, justice and accountability for the abominable crimes we have seen.” – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 2016

Crisis, Displacement, Migration…Relief, Asylum, Refuge

Over a quarter-of-a-billion of the world’s population are migrants – people who have changed country because of war, disaster or famine, and the poverty or threat to life brought on by them. Globalisation and the resultant increased geographical mobility, not to mention trafficking and exploitation mean that some nations have seen 8-fold increases in net migration since the 1990s. If we recognise our international origins many more of us, if not all of us, are migrants too. 

If we recognise our international origins many more of us, if not all of us, are migrants too. Who is truly British or English when we are part Roman, part Saxon, part Viking, part Norman, part Dutch and many more besides.

Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies.

Around 53,000 migrants have died since 2000 just attempting to reach the shores of more free, safe, developed nations, over half trying to get to Europe – some 6,000+ each year, most recently. Hundreds die every year attempting to enter America, similarly with Australia. Even if they make it, hundreds of thousands end up detained (350,000pa in the US) and returned, or imprisoned. 

Sadly, the escalation of migrant deaths means that on average 20 die each day, with 2016 the worst on record at 7,200 deaths with 2 weeks left to run. It represents a 50% increase since 2014 which itself was double the figure for 2013. Some 4,800 deaths in the Meditteranean also represent a 33% increase over 2015, despite a 60% reduction in arrivals to Europe’s southern coasts. 

Migrant Arrivals and Deaths Mediterranean 2016
Migrant Arrivals and Deaths Mediterranean 2016

Back in 1990, on 18 December, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In 1997, some Asian migrant organisations began to commemorate 18 December as the International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. In 2000, the UN proclaimed that date, henceforward, to be International Migrants Day.

In remarks to the UN, in October 2013, Ban Ki-moon said:

“Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family.” 

Resolutions but no Resolution

At a high-level meeting on migration at the United Nations in New York, 3-4 October 2014, Member States unanimously adopted a Declaration calling for “respect of human rights and international labour standards”, “commitment to fight human trafficking” and strongly condemning “manifestations of racism and intolerance.” 

The declaration set out to “Strongly condemn the acts, manifestations and expressions of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against migrants and the stereotypes often applied to them, including on the basis of religion or belief.”

The need to “improve public perceptions of migrants and migration” was also stressed.

It further recognised, in the same declaration document, that “human mobility is a key factor for sustainable development”, something which many immigration reactive nations are seeking to restrict. 

In 2016, September 19, the UN General Assembly held its first ever summit on large movements of refugees and migrants to enhance their protections. The resultant commitments, known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (NY Declaration), reaffirm present international protections and pave the way for forthcoming new global compacts in 2018.

Political Breaking Point

Breaking Point World Refugee Day Refugees Are Welcome
Breaking Point – World Refugee Day – Refugees Are Welcome

In the UK, all the main parties bar the Greens at the last election in 2015 were in a race to the bottom to prevent economic migration, restrict benefits for 2-4 years, and tighten borders – despite the economic case for immigration. The EU Referendum in June 2016 saw migrant peoples both demonised and topping some people’s fears and reasons for voting. In the US, the Republicans and Donald Trump have lionised migrants and Muslims especially. Meanwhile, the city of New York, with its large immigrant communities has vowed to oppose any anti-migrant or Muslim registers or laws.

An issue for the world

It is not just Europe and America that are primary destinations, though. For instance, in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates is made up of about 84% immigrants – millions from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, among others. The population has grown by some 500% since 1990. Some of the UAE migrant workers end up being “beaten, exploited and trapped into forced labour, according to an October 2014 report by Human Rights Watch.” 

Migrant workers have also suffered greatly in Qatar during the building work of the 2022 World Cup football stadium with the tacit sanction of UEFA whilst it turns a blind eye to the poor human rights record on its immigrant workforce.

Amnesty International‘s Head of Refugee and Migrants Rights says:

“Political decision-makers need to show leadership by ensuring the human rights of migrants are protected, instead of taking cheap shots through scaremongering tactics. Poor migrants are the perfect political scapegoats – they have no money, no influence and they can’t vote. So if you’re a government whose policies are letting people down, you can blame it all on immigration.” – Amnesty International

Allowing and welcoming immigration is part of international development, yet we prefer to give aid and then say, “stay away”, cementing our “me first” attitudes and protectionist economic policies that are counter free market and prevent natural third world development. The longer we artificially maintain the global haves vs have-nots the more we encourage “desperation migration”. We need generous global action on poverty and economic opportunity, not selfish states. Anyone willing to risk life and limb to reach your borders is probably the kind of driven committed person who would be an asset to your country, community, and workforce.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

 

Human Rights

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women #IDEVAW

End Violence Against Women & Girls

White Ribbon Day (#WhiteRibbonDay) and #OrangeTheWorld are both campaigns today, 25 November, marking the start of 16 days of activism against gender abuse on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).  Whilst people are more real than statistics, nonetheless, the stats are representations of the reality of some people’s lives, they make sobering reading. Sixteen days won’t end violence against women and girls, but it might be the beginning of the end, if we start to say ‘no’ every day and give women back control, power and agency over their bodies and lives. The 16-day-long campaign ends on Human Rights Day, 10 December, but shouldn’t stop there.

12 Facts about Violence towards Women

  • Violence against Women infographic2 women each week are killed by an ex or current partner (UK), 40-50% of all murders of women worldwide are by family or partners, but just 4-5% of men
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 transwomen experience domestic abuse, in some countries those figures are 2 in 3, up to 71% (Ethiopia)
  • Even Universities are not safe where 1 in 7 young women experience abuse or violence
  • Up to 30% (eg Bangladesh) of women experience their first sexual act as forced
  • Forced marriage and sex tourism often go hand-in-hand with low ages of consent e.g., 9 (Afghanistan), 12 (Philippines), 13 (Japan), regularly 14-15 in other Asian countries. Rural areas may allow marriage even younger with sex at puberty (age 9 or earlier). Among Sri Lanka’s Moor and Malay minorities under 12 is permitted with the permission of male leaders or relatives!
  • Over the last year 295 trans people were killed, mostly transwomen
  • Over 200 million girls alive worldwide now have undergone forced female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • 2-3,000 Honour Based Violence (HBV) reported incidences/year, with 1 person a month being killed (UK), 2000/year (Pakistan)
  • Girls are lured by ISIS (50+ last year from the UK alone) or abducted by Boko Haram & others as war brides and sex slaves
  • Sex slavery and forced prostitution accounts for over 20% of all forced labour of women (4.5m people)
  • In 32 countries men cannot be accused of raping their wives
  • Girls are aborted more than boys as part of sex selection abortion, not only in India, China and elsewhere but also in the UK, as many as 5000 girls are missing from census data.

More facts about violence against women from WHO, UN Women.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced - Nujood Ali“I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no…I want a divorce!…You’ve sullied the reputation of our family! You have stained our honor!” Nujood Ali, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Change Men* and Society to Eliminate Causes of Violence

Violence and abuse are possible because of physical, social, religious and economic power imbalances. Men should not have power and control over women’s fortunes, choices, and bodies. This is manifested in legal, religious, cultural and political ways including victim shaming, reduced legal rights, and religious traditions. Women need human rights and agency over their bodies and lives, freedom to safely and economically exit abusive relationships, and for authorities to take seriously the claims of sexual and physical violence.
(*Men in the main, as they have the power, and are the main perpetrators, but this does not exlude women on women and girls violence)
 
Human Rights

Is Utopian PostCapitalism post-NATO post-Brexit Society Possible?

Economics & Society – the next big ‘ism

I hate ‘isms, whether capitalism or communism, neoliberalism or even postcapitalism. I also dislike ‘ities, whether cities or christianities – for there are thousands of incarnations of both. I prefer the land and environment of the countryside, not high-rise development living on top of each other, aspiring to the penthouse apartment, swarming like bees to a square mile of golden honey, gold handshake, gilded lifestyle of the 1 per cent. History has led us ever closer to each other in terms of where we live, with population expansion and the pressure to move towards the capitalist and industrialist means of production. Will the age of the Internet allow us to live out self-employment part-time creative dreams?

Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket, 30 May 2015
‘Inequality’ – Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket, May 2015

The EU – Peace & Prosperity in our time?

Will modernity bring or sustain peace? The European project, the EU, has been an ever expanding union in terms of peace, even prosperity perhaps, until the crash of 2008/9 affected us all as we shored up banks and capital but not people and livelihoods. Whilst the UK marginally voted to leave the European Union, assuming “Brexit means Brexit” as Theresa May so simply and yet evasively said, it is undeniable that however lumbering a bureaucratic behemoth ‘Brussels’ is, it has been on balance a force for good. The UK, well England in the main, recoiled nonetheless against ever increasing fiscal and foreign policy union.

NATO – “One for all and all for One”?

As with a nuclear “deterrent”, have defence pacts really saved us from wars? Arguably, NATO‘s 28 nations are neither at war with each other and would, in theory, defend each other against external aggression. In principle, at least, for Jeremy Corbyn has expressed his doubts and previously said that NATO only furthers capitalist self-interest and has had its time.

“I don’t wish to go to war. What I want to do is achieve a world where we don’t need to go to war, where there is no need for it. That can be done.” – Jeremy Corbyn

Who can disagree with that? Yet, the media focus is on the possible breaking of NATO Article 5 pledges instead. His words are idealistic rather than realistic but where would we be without ideals?

Capitalism and PostCapitalism?

In his 2015 book, Postcapitalism, Paul Mason argues, along with the OECD, that “the best of capitalism is behind us” and that with decreasing returns for the many inequality will rise 40%, as the few batten down the hatches. What lies beyond a breaking capitalism, not neoliberalism, for sure.

“Is it utopian to believe we’re on the verge of an evolution beyond capitalism? We live in a world in which gay men and women can marry, and in which contraception has, within the space of 50 years, made the average working-class woman freer than the craziest libertine of the Bloomsbury era. Why do we, then, find it so hard to imagine economic freedom?

Postcapitalism - Paul Mason, Penguin 2015
Postcapitalism – Paul Mason, Penguin (2015)

… All readings of human history have to allow for the possibility of a negative outcome… But why should we not form a picture of the ideal life, built out of abundant information, non-hierarchical work and the dissociation of work from wages?

Millions of people are beginning to realise they have been sold a dream at odds with what reality can deliver. Their response is anger – and retreat towards national forms of capitalism that can only tear the world apart. Watching these emerge, from the pro-Grexit left factions in Syriza to the Front National and the isolationism of the American right has been like watching the nightmares we had during the Lehman Brothers crisis come true.

We need more than just a bunch of utopian dreams and small-scale horizontal projects. We need a project based on reason, evidence and testable designs, that cuts with the grain of history and is sustainable by the planet. And we need to get on with it.” Paul Mason

Putting the Human where Capital once was

Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket, 30 May 2015
‘No Cuts’ – Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket, 30 May 2015

Humanism begins well, with human, but ends in another ism. An upside down society, as suggested by Jesus, where the last are first, the migrants welcomed, the poor ‘last hour workers’ paid well, the sick, disabled or mentally unwell treated with care, dignity, and respect, is possible. If, we choose to create it.

But it takes an ‘us’ not a ‘me’. So many recoil at immigration because of a perceived threat to self, status, employment, a drain on health or schooling. Yet migration is what history and evolution are all about, the development and expansion of humanity. Again, like humanism, humanity puts human beings first and then ends with an ‘ity’, another intangible unified concept, a utopian ideal that lumps us all as one, without recognising our differences, diversity and distinction – the very things that when accentuated create mistrust and tribal misanthropy.

I prefer the word humankind, for it is only in being kind, being kindred, perpetuating random acts of kindness towards our fellow human beings – recognising their ‘being’ and right to ‘be’ that we can coexist, cooperate and create a humane society together.

Human Rights

Highest Numbers Ever on World Refugee Day as Humanitarian Crisis Escalates

World Refugee Day, Record Numbers

Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies. So far, this year, over 3,500 have died on their migrant journeys to apparent safety. World Refugee Day highlights the plight and peril of people seeking safety amidst an escalating humanitarian crisis.

“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.” – Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Refugees & Migrants are People Too!

But numbers, percentages, records, are not facts or statistics, they are people too. They are not just migrants, often prefixed with the dehumanising word “illegal”, or trafficked by exploiters and transporters of vulnerable people with nothing left to risk except their life itself. They are desperate migrant peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, human beings, not cattle or ballast to be bounced around from port to port, dragged back out to sea, or denied entry based upon the decision that they may harbour an ISIL terrorist.

It’s a humanitarian crisis because they share a common humanity with the 99% of people that have settled homes and domestic security. Whilst 1% of the world control half its wealth, another 1% don’t even have a dollar a day because they are stateless, which in some countries means they officially don’t exist, being without permanent address or social security numbers. 50% of the world has access to just 1% of the world’s wealth. Global economic disparity and inequality are an injustice demanding those that have, to aid those that don’t. It’s a moral crisis as well as a humanitarian one.

Definition of a Refugee

Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” 1951 UN Refugee Convention

Will you stand #WithRefugees?

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

A Global Community & Worldwide Village

The benefits of global bodies like the United Nations and regional socio-economic communities like the African Union or European Union are that they can act as greater than the sum of their nation parts when they pull disparate national interests into international focus on issues facing the world as a whole, for which we a have a common responsibility.

Immigration and the EU Referendum

Whilst the United Kingdom votes this week to Leave or Remain in the EU, thinking little England rather than Great Britain, the world has bigger issues than one nation’s sovereignty or solvency. Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in the EU Referendum campaign and the responses have turned ugly. Campaign posters have been called racist, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has admitted that we cannot control EU migrant numbers, however, nor would we be able to if we adopted a Norwegian or Swiss-style model of European Economic Area affiliation rather than full EU membership.

“Immigration has overtaken the economy as the most important issue to how the public will vote…[it] is now the most critical issue, cited as very important to their vote by 33%, up five points in a month, including just over half (52%) of leave supporters…which coincides with the official Vote Leave campaign focusing more strongly on immigration.” – Evening Standard

Opinion polls consistently show that immigration is one of the key Referendum issues, but one that is closely aligned with geography, age and gender. The majority of men and people over 65 would vote to Leave and the majority of women and people under 35 would vote to Remain. It’s often the areas with the least impact of immigration that would vote most against it. Those, such as London, with the greatest cultural diversity, are more likely to vote Remain. Integration and acceptance take time but then do bring community benefits and positivity.

It’s about perception, integration, insecurity and fear. A Guardian piece included the words of Chantelle, a young mother from Leigh, near Manchester, who despite 96.% of local residents being British thought that “80%, maybe 90%” of locals were immigrant foreigners!

Controls on Immigration or Contributions from Immigration?

At the last UK election, most major political parties except the Green Party were calling for controls on immigration despite its long term benefits.

“Immigration to the UK since 2000 has been of substantial net fiscal benefit, with immigrants contributing more than they have received in benefits and transfers. This is true for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the rest of the EU.” – The Economic Journal

A CEBR report on world economic ranking data said of the UK’s growth and dynamism:

“The United Kingdom is forecast to be the best performing economy in Western Europe … likely to overtake Germany and Japan during the 2030s … becoming the world’s 4th largest economy for a short time … The UK’s strength (though mainly in London) is its cultural diversity and its strong position in software and IT applications. Its weakness is its bad export position and unbalanced economy … It also runs the risk of breakup, with Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland seceding and will have a referendum on its continuing membership of the EU in 2016 which might prove at best disruptive and at worst lead to a more insular and less diverse culture which in turn would generate slower growth.” – CEBR

Surely, then, the UK – currently the world’s fifth largest economy, should accept a substantial share of supporting the world’s refugees rather than turning a blind eye and walking on by as the selfish ‘neighbours’ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The country taking by far the largest number of migrants is Germany, down to Angela Merkel’s so-called “open door policy”. Germany is currently the fourth largest powerhouse economy in the world, aided rather than restrained by its immigration policy:

“Germany’s influx of Syrian immigrants is expected to keep the country ahead of the UK for a few further years as skill shortages are alleviated, wage growth restrained and profits boosted.” – City A.M.

EU Migrants a drain on Benefits?

EU benefits claimants are the smallest group receiving either working age benefits or tax credits, according to economic and statistical data. Some 92.5% of benefit claimants are British, 5% are non-EU immigrants, and just 2.5% are EU migrants. Whilst those from outside the EU are more likely to be on benefits than EU migrants, we have a degree of control over non-EU immigrants, albeit an international responsibility to refugees and asylum seekers. Even the Daily Telegraph which is essentially pro-Brexit said this:

“…whatever the arguments for and against reducing the number of EU migrants receiving British benefits, delivering such a reduction wouldn’t make a significant difference to the overall welfare bill…and seeing as the take-up of benefits among migrants is so small, it’s also worth asking how big of a draw Britain’s welfare system really is.”

Migration Breaking Point?

Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Vote Leave, EU Referendum
Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Leave.EU, EU Referendum

UKIP’s ‘breaking point’ immigration poster calling for a Leave vote and taking back of border controls has been compared to 1930s Nazi propaganda by George Osborne and even criticised by other Brexiters, not to mention being reported to the Police for inciting racial hatred. Nigel Farage has defended the poster even saying he is the victim of hate!

Even Michael Gove “shuddered” after seeing the UKIP migrants poster based upon a photo taken of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015, apparently of refugees arriving from Syria – a route now all but shut. Boris Johnson, who heads the official Vote Leave campaign also distanced himself from the poster and announced he was in favour of an “illegal immigrants” amnesty for those that had been here 12 years.

Far from immigration being the ‘breaking point’ for the UK, we are cruising it compared to many other austerity-hit nations, growing off the back of net contributions to the treasury from migrants of the past and present. Migrants are far more likely to start businesses than British nationals, nearly half as likely to be on benefits, pay more in taxes than they take out, and more likely to take the jobs others don’t want to do that keep the economy growing – over three-quarters are in employment, more than their British counterparts. They are not “taking our jobs” just more willing to do them.

Human Rights

No AdBlock isn’t broken it’s Amnesty’s World Day Against Cyber Censorship

World Day Against Cyber Censorship

12 March is World Day Against Cyber Censorship, first designated in 2008 at the request of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières/RSF) and Amnesty International. Like World Press Freedom Day (3 May) it concentrates on restriction of Internet access issues and online freedom of expression. It’s purpose is to:

RSF Stop Cyber Censorship - World Day Against Cyber Censorship
RSF Stop Cyber Censorship

“rally everyone in support of a single Internet that is unrestricted and accessible to all. It is also meant to draw attention to the fact that, by creating new spaces for exchanging ideas and information, the Internet is a force for freedom. However, more and more governments have realised this and are reacting by trying to control the Internet.” – Reporters Without Borders

The event logo, designed by Reporters Without Borders is a computer mouse freeing itself from its chains, symbolising the defence of free expression online.

Freedom of Expression Index 2015-2016

Last year say saw 64 journalists killed carrying out their jobs, along with 6 media assistants. A further 19 netizens and citizen journalists were killed.  In the first 10 weeks of 2016 another 11 journalists have been killed and over 300 journalists and citizen campaigners have been imprisoned for defending freedom of speech.

Freedom of the Press around the World 2015 RSF
Freedom of the Press around the World 2015, RSF

The United Kingdom has fallen from 19th to 34th on the RSF press freedom index since 2010.

Turkey’s censorship & state media interference

RSF World Press Freedom Index 2015 Turkey
RSF World Press Freedom Index 2015 Turkey

EU member hopeful, Turkey, ranks in the 150s out of 180 nations, and on 4 March the state forcibly took over the critical newspaper, Zaman. A decade ago it ranked at #98. “Turkey’s “underlying situation” score – covering such areas as cyber-censorship, lawsuits, dismissals of critical journalists and gag orders – actually worsened, showing that freedom of information continues to decline.”[UPDATE – the day after

“Turkey’s “underlying situation” score – covering such areas as cyber-censorship, lawsuits, dismissals of critical journalists and gag orders – actually worsened, showing that freedom of information continues to decline.” – RSF World Press Freedom Index

[UPDATE – the day after World Day Against Cyber Censorship a bomb exploded in the capital city Ankara killing at least 37 and injuring over a 100. Turkey’s state response included a broadcast ban by its broadcasting agency, RTÜK and then a court banned Twitter and Facebook after blast scene images were shared online. This despite Facebook instituting its “marked safe” check-in procedure for its users there.]

AdBlock call for the Internet to be Unblocked

Computer Privacy Quote, Amnesty
Computer Privacy Quote, Amnesty International

Only for today, AdBlock is “un-blocking” some ad banners – just those from Amnesty about online censorship and freedom of speech. AdBlock’s CEO points to RSF’s “Enemies of the Internet” list as justification for this wake-up call:

“On their current list of ‘Enemies of the Internet’, Reporters Without Borders include China, the United States, North Korea, the United Kingdom, and many others.” – Gabriel CubbageAdBlock CEO

“Blocking ads is both easy and ethical”, says Gubbage, but blocking the Internet is not.

Saudi Arabia Internet Content Blocking

Freedom of Speech Quote, Ai Wei Wei, Amnesty
Freedom of Speech Quote, Ai Wei Wei, Amnesty

Raif Badawi is one of many in Saudi Arabia, e.g., Waleed Abu Al-Khair and Tariq al-Mubarak, to have fallen foul of one of the world’s leaders in Internet content blocking. Strict web filtering is in place to block content deemed pornographic, or “morally reprehensible” – the latter has come to include religious apostasy, state criticism, or discussion of human rights issues and abuses.

United Kingdom Surveillance

Being Watched Quote, Edward Snowden, Amnesty
Edward Snowden on “being watched”, Amnesty International

Even the United Kingdom is a current “enemy of the Internet”. Why the UK? For our unprecedented CCTV, cyber and telecommunications surveillance, in some areas second only to China and in others worse than the US, according to Edward Snowden. This stems from a confusion that journalism equates with terrorism, or its risk, as the Guardian knows only too well.

“GCHQ thus gathers an unprecedented quantity of information”. – RSF

Meantime, in the USA, the FBI have ordered Apple to create unblocking software to release the contents of a killer’s iPhone to them, a move resisted by Apple with the backing of Facebook, GoogleMicrosoft and the United Nations!

RSF Cyber-Freedom/Netizen Prize

Since 1992, Reporters Without Borders, along with more recently TV5 Monde have offered a journalistic freedom Prize to reporters and online activists around the world. 2003 saw RSF give a first cyber freedom award to imprisoned Tunisian cyber-dissident Zouhair Yahyaoui. Since 2010, RSF has been awarding a Netizen Prize to the cybercitizen online activist, blogger, or journalist, who has most fought for freedom of expression and reporing on the Internet.

2010 – Awarded to the Iranian women’s rights activists, including co-founder Parvin Ardalan, of the Change for Equality website, www.we-change.org
2011 -Awarded to the founders of a Tunisian blogging group named Nawaat.org.
2012 -Awarded to Syrian citizen journalists and activists of the Media center of the Local Coordination Committees.
2013 – Awarded to Vietnamese blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh.
2014 – Awarded to Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi.

Countless other thousands of journalists and activists, and millions of netizens, deserve a free and unfettered Internet. We must learn to police ourselves, rather than be censored by others. For who decides when a state is right or wrong if the freedom to even discuss or criticise that state is removed from us?

RSF World Press Freedom Index 2015 Worst placed countries
RSF World Press Freedom Index 2015 Worst placed countries
Human Rights

International Women’s Day 2016, another 100 years wait for gender equality?

International Women’s Day 2016 Theme

United States Woman Suffrage
United States: Calls for Women’s Suffrage

The theme for the still necessary International Women’s Day (IWD) this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality“, or more simply, gender parity. An IWD was called for as long ago as 1910 by Clara Zetkin and 100 women from 17 countries at a conference in Denmark. It was celebrated for the first time in 1911 and by 1913 it was recognised in many places, including Russia, the same year it moved to its current date of 8 March. In 1908, 15,000 women demonstrated in New York for equal rights, and in 1909 held the first National Woman’s Day. Yet after more than a century, by some accounts, we are still at least a 100 years away from equality:

“The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.” – International Women’s Day

8 March 2005 International Womens Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra - Photo by Soman, Wiki
8 March 2005 International Womens Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra – Photo by Soman, Wiki

Recalling last year’s theme of “Make it Happen” and this year’s “Pledge for Parity” it seems we are still struggling to accelerate progress and in some instances we are slowing down.

Meanwhile UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon argued in a statement on IWD for positivity because of past change:

“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Great, but progress is still slow, hardly “sweeping away”, and those campaigning for change don’t want to wait another 100 years for parity in education, employment, democracy, legal rights, sport, representation in the media etc.

Women in Education

A timeline of women’s history – or rather some choice and interesting examples, as it does little justice to many forgotten women – includes Mexico’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz who in 1691 fought for women’s education, saying:

“one can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”

Malala Yousafzai Bring Back Our Girls
Malala Yousafzai #BringBackOurGirls

We wouldn’t even accept that comment now, 400 years later, regarding it as sexist to assume that she should be the one to be cooking the supper. Yet education parity hasn’t arrived either with 50% more boys than girls in school in sub-Saharan Africa and the well-publicised situation in NW Pakistan brought to the fore by the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in 2012. Men are twice as likely to be literate as women in Pakistan and there are three times as many schools for boys as those for girls with twice as many male places.

Money Talks

Frida Kahlo and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz on Mexican currency notes
Frida Kahlo and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz on Mexican currency notes

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz ended up on Mexico’s currency, as does Frida Kahlo on another peso note, and we all know that money talks, yet barely a dozen nations have historical female figures on their national printed currency.

Even Syria, much in the news, has third century Queen Zenobia on a high value note. The Ukrainian 200 Hryvnia note features women’s rights activist Larysa Petrivna Kosach-Kvitka (Lesya Ukrainka), a writer and poet who died in 1913. Israel and Turkey also have female figures on current or planned notes, whilst Argentina has Eva Perón.

The UK has its female head of state on the front of every note and on the reverse of others Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, and soon, Jane Austen will be added to their number. The United States will only have a woman on its banknotes in 2020.

Unpaid and Low Paid Working Women

The UN 2015 Human Development Report which monitors the gender-related aspects of empowerment (GEM) and development (GDI) says that whilst 47% of women are in paid employment and 72% of men, they nonetheless contribute 52% of global hours worked to men’s 42%, indicating high rates of unpaid labour. Socio-cultural reasons for this and expectation within marriage and motherhood, explain some of this, but women are still often expected to do more for less.

UNDP Infographic Progress in gender equality
UNDP Infographic Progress in gender equality

A UNDP infographic shows how we are approaching parity in education, but that workforce equality and executive jobs are lagging behind, and whilst female representation in parliaments is growing, ministerial positions for women are still rare. The blue polygon represents the aims of parity on 5 axes. The green is where we are at, and the orange where we were two decades ago in 1995. Even in the UK there are more male MPs now than the total number of female MPs ever.

Sexual Violence

Far from ending sexual violence after more than a century of IWD activism, in some places it seems to be on the rise. In areas controlled by Islamic State (ISIL) and similar groups like Boko Haram or Al Shabaab, sex-based violence is used as part of military control and conquest. Forced marriage, gang rape, mutilations and punishments are all carried out in the name of jihadist terror.

No such thing as a Safe Space for Women?

A far cry from Africa and the Middle East lie the streets of Britain on an average Friday night or even the office workplace, on any given day. Sexism at work, inappropriate banter or touching, still occur – 30% of British men admit to being sexist. The risk of being groped by a stranger in public for a young woman is nearly 1-in-2 with a majority wishing members of the public had intervened to stop it happening. The End Violence Against Women campaign report that 85% of women-under-25 had received unwanted sexualised attention and 45% sexual touching, in public. Nine times out of ten, nobody helps.

Woman in Sport

A Women in Football survey of women working in the sport reported that 2-in-3 women were the butt of sexist jokes and comments, 1-in-4 were bullied and 1-in-6 experienced actual sexual harassment. These figures are a rise on the last survey, 2 years ago. Perhaps, this could be accounted for by improved reporting and confidence to complain, or it could actually be getting worse.

Feminism is for all Women

Women attacking women is not unknown either, whether workplace bullying, school gangs, or policing each other’s feminism. Feminisms, rather, for a great range of feminist labels and ideologies now exist and needlessly attack each other rather than the societal systems that oppress them. Some avoid the term feminist altogether in protest, but when asked what they believe in, the basic principles of feminism are still held up. Namely, equal economic, personal, political, and social rights for women.

Feminism is for Men too

Whether you’re a feminist or an egalitarian, equality is what matters. Indeed, there is also an International Men’s Day, on 19 November during ‘Movember’ month. Joining in bringing disadvantaged women up to the opportunities, levels and ceilings, currently experienced by most men, brings equality and benefit for all. That is why we need International Women’s Day and campaigns against gender disparity in places where the scales of power are tipped in favour of patriarchal and often religious, political and economic establishment privilege. Men’s Day is a time to focus on their health and other disadvantages, but today in Women’s History Month is a day to focus on girls and women.

Human Rights

Gandhi, Rustin, Tolstoy, Civil Rights & MLK, Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day, celebrated on the third Monday in January since 1986 (Reagan agreed it in 1983), his birthday was on the 15th. Born in 1929 to a pastor and a schoolteacher, he himself became a Baptist minister and advocate for African American equality and social justice from the 1950s through to his 1968 assassination. He was instrumental in the bringing in of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Mahatma Gandhi & Non-Violence

King was inspired by the Hindu lawyer and campaigner for rights in South Africa and India, Mahatma Gandhi, and his principles of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience over and against armed uprising. Gandhi was also an advocate of religious tolerance but was in the end also assassinated, in 1948, by a Hindu nationalist. King managed to visit India in 1959.

Gandhi had succeeded in the 1920s in uniting Muslims and Hindus against the common enemy of the British empire. Yet by the 1940s an independent Muslim nationalism led to the eventual division of India and creation of a separate Pakistan.

Some of Gandhi’s more extreme pacifist views included recommending that Britain openly yield to Hitler rather than defend itself, and that the Jews should have willingly surrendered to the Holocaust as an act of collective suicide. He did not support the idea of the state of Israel gained through violence or Zionism, but only as something within the gift of the Arabs to bring about peacefully.

Gandhi’s principles meshed with King’s own Christian principles, as he said, “Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Another early source that energized King was the Christian anarchist and novelist Leo Tolstoy, who was also an influence on Gandhi.

Bayard Rustin, Gay Communist

Bayard Rustin was a sometime adviser to Martin Luther King and had also visited India, in 1948, not long after Gandhi’s assassination. He shared both Gandhi and King’s principles of non-violence. King’s involvement with him was discouraged by others due to Rustin’s former membership of the Communist Party and his homosexuality, which King had little problem with.

Rustin later became a gay rights activist, in addition to his earlier civil rights campaigning. In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rustin.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The journey towards civil rights was more of a bus route, with lots of stops and delays. Rustin had been beaten and arrested back in 1942 for sitting in the second row of a segregated bus.

Thirteen years later, in March 1955, 15 year-old school girl, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on a in Montgomery bus. Due to Colvin’s unmarried and pregnant status the civil rights activists waited for a better test case and were rewarded with the defiance of the now famous Rosa Parks who was arrested later that year, in December, for also refusing to give up her seat.

The 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott ensued, which whilst planned by others was publicly led by King, and resulted in his house being firebombed.

“All men are created equal”

The path to equality culminated in the quarter-million strong 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, predominantly organised by Rustin. Despite its being unprecedented in size and diversity, it was boycotted itself by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam for being too soft and sanitised, promoting peaceful harmony and integration rather than strength and independent identity.

The iconic “I have a dream” speech, much of which may have been improvised on the spot, includes the famous and inspirational line:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'”

Whilst King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and indeed the Nation of Islam, fought for black equal rights, the case for full civil equal rights for “all men” continues. LGBTI equality, for example, has been the focus of the last decade of legal progress in the USA, something that Rustin fought for until his death in 1987.

King’s Assassination and Death

King was ever the optimist, preaching love over hate, peace over war, forgiveness over resentment.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

It was a belief that may have cost him his life, and not a little opposition from other members of the civil rights movement. After President John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, King said to his wife, Coretta: “This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.” Five years later, he did indeed suffer the same fate.

Black Lives Matter

Despite all the progress, the reality on the ground, is that black lives are still not considered equal. The last year or two has seen so many cases of unarmed black men being shot dead by American police officers that it is clear that stereotypes persist in the minds of many. 980 US citizens were shot dead in 2015 by police, 91 were unarmed and a disproportionate 37 of them were black.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

The laws may have changed half a century ago, but it is hearts and minds that still need to be won, in this generation and in every one that succeeds it. King may have been a pacifist, but he was not passive about change, and how it was to be accomplished:

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”

Human Rights

Saudi Arabia mass executions & death sentences a Human Rights travesty

Saudi Arabia State Executions Escalate

2015 saw a rise in Saudi Arabia‘s public executions, some 157 people according to Amnesty International – there were 90 in 2014, 192 in 1995, the previous peak. Even more shocking was that 2016 began with 47 in a single day, on New Year’s Day, allegedly all ‘terrorists’ including prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Iran has threatened reprisals with molotov cocktails already thrown at the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Meanwhile even mainstream media commentary is now comparing the House of Saud to ISIS whilst Bahrain and United Arab Emirates (UAE) praised the message it sent to terrorists. Saudia Arabia has now ordered Iranian diplomats out and Bahrain followed suit, severing diplomatic ties, a day later, along with UAE and Sudan creating a new Middle East crisis.

ISIS Saudi Arabia Executions Any Difference via Khamenei
ISIS v Saudi Arabia Executions “Any Difference” asks Iran’s Khamenei

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Iran too, despite its own record executions, has compared Saudi Arabia to ISIS. Ayatollah Khamenei the self-titled “Leader of the Islamic Revolution” calling it a “White ISIS” and asking whether there are “any differences” between them.

Other atrocities apart, and excepting the variant methods of execution (Saudi still has stoning and flogging punishments, though often commuted to jail time, not to mention posthumous crucifixion), what is the difference between the continued practice of state executions by America, China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the so-called Islamic State, all of which have executed dozens of people a year. Iran has executed hundreds – perhaps a 1000 making its condemnation of Saudi Arabia somewhat hyprocritical. Pakistan has 6-8,000 people on its death row and in 2015 carried out 316+ executions a massive increase on the handful of 2014. Egypt (500+) and Nigeria (650+) have also been resorting to issuing death sentences (2014 figures).

Saudi Arabia's human rights record on executions 2014, 2015, 2016
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record on executions 2014, 2015, 2016

Ironically, the Saudi Arabian national flag features a sword – the very means of public execution, before each of which verses from the Koran are read justifying the sentence. Offences can include atheism, drugs crimes, homosexuality, insulting Islam, and sorcery!

The Death Penalty

Whilst just over a dozen countries had abolished the death penalty 30 years ago, today over a 100 have ended the practice. Some among those that have kept it, though, have increased its use in recent years in the name of countering ‘terrorism’.

Death Penalty around the world, 2014, Amnesty International
Death Penalty around the world, 2014, Amnesty International

Thousands a year are sentenced to death worldwide but fewer are carried out, some 20,000 people are incarcerated under a death sentence, yet to be carried out. In 2014 over a 110 people in 9 countries had their death sentence reversed, leaving them exonerated as innocent. This is the biggest reason to end the practice. Three times as many countries commuted death sentences to other forms of punishment.

“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it.” – Amnesty International

Twelve countries still use hanging and ten use shooting, only Saudi Arabia and Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) behead people, swift but brutal. US executions peaked at 98 in 1999 and have steadily fallen since to 28 in 2015, but over 3,000 remain on death row.

A Foreign Office spokesperson has commented, saying that:

“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country. The death penalty undermines human dignity and there is no evidence that it works as a deterrent.”

Perhaps the UK should criticise America, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China’s position on capital punishment, alongside Islamic State? As David Cameron was challenged to do and amongst excuses for close ties with Saudi responded with:

“We oppose the death penalty anywhere and everywhere” – David Cameron, October 2015

Executed Shia Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

Arrested in 2012 and sentenced to death in 2014, Sheikh Nimr had opposed violence calling instead for peaceful protesters to resist the Saudi state and police bullets using “the roar of the word” and non-violent agitation, though he was not opposed to celebrating the deaths of tyrants. Mohammad al-Nimr, his brother, was arrested for merely tweeting about the death sentence but has since called for calm despite his own son on death row. Al-Nimr was pro-democracy and against “murder in the name of God”.

“The [Saudi] authorities depend on bullets … and killing and imprisonment. We must depend on the roar of the word, on the words of justice”…We do not accept [force of firearms]. This is not our practice…We welcome those who follow such attitude…Nonetheless, we cannot enforce our methodology on those who want to pursue different approaches…The weapon of the word is stronger than the power of bullets.” – Sheikh al-Nimr

“The oppressed should unite together against the oppressors, instead of becoming tools in the hands of the oppressors. The Khalifa family [in Bahrain] are oppressors, and Sunnis are not responsible for their actions. These are not Sunnis, they are tyrants. The Assad family in Syria are oppressors, and Shiism is not responsible for their actions. Never defend an oppressor. It is never justified for someone who is oppressed to defend [another’s] oppressor.” – Sheik al-Nimr, 2012

Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr Crufixion

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr via Facebook
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr via Facebook

Ali al-Nimr, nephew of executed Nimr al-Nimr, was arrested when just 17 for participating in Arab Spring pro-democracy demonstrations against the Saudi Arabian government. He was subsequently convicted by confession under torture. He is now 21 but in 2015 he was sentenced to death by beheading and then posthumous public crucifixion. As of today over 1.5 million people have signed just one of the several petitions to commute or cancel his sentence.

The UK Government believes that it can “achieve most by speaking privately and regularly to our Saudi interlocutors” rather than publicly confronting its ‘ally’. The Foreign Secretary recently said that he did not expect Ali al-Nimr to be executed and Shadow Minister Hilary Benn  has called on him “to seek fresh assurances that he will be reprieved.”

However, by threatening death to so many, and carrying out more than previous years, it is easy for Saudi Arabia to mollify the West with a couple of concessions and reprieves without denting its religious and political ethnic cleansing of opposition.

Political Prisoners in Saudi Arabia

Islamic Human Rights Commission IHRCSaudi Arabia denies it has any political prisoners but unofficial estimates from human rights bodies including the UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) suggest that up to 30,000 are imprisoned for political crimes against the Saudi state.

Back in November 2011, after the fatal shooting of four Shias, Sheikh al-Nimr had called for:

“[the] release of all those detained in the [Arab Spring] protests, and all prisoners of conscience – Sunnis and Shias.”

Raif Badawi Flogging

Saudi Arabian political blogger and recent recipient of the EU’s Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought, Raif Badawi, is serving a lengthy prison sentence for “insulting Islam” and also received the first tranche of 50 or a 1,000 lashed whipping sentence. Subsequent installments have been suspended based upon his poor health, exacerbated by his latest hunger strike, these last three weeks which has led to a deteriorating medical condition.

Raif Badawi, 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought
Raif Badawi, 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

Wahhabism and Saudi Arabian History

Saudi Arabia has a wealth of cultural and religious history, is the birthplace of Islam, home to Mecca, Medina and Mohammed. It is rich in oil and other resources but beyond poor when it comes to human rights, democracy, and accountability. It offers the West tokenistic concessions in exchange for continuing its own ruthless totalitarianism.

Its brand of Islamic belief is Sunni as opposed to Shia, and an extreme version of that called Wahhabism or Salafism. They are stricter forms of Sharia Law based Islam, literalist, anti-Western and puritanical. Jihad, whether missionary or military, can be seen as a legitimate expression as well as expansion of Islam against its detractors.

Saudi Arabia, Extremism and Terrorism

Dr Yousaf Butt, senior advisor to the British American Security Information Council and director at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, says of Saudi Arabia:

“…one thing is clear: the fountainhead of Islamic extremism that promotes and legitimizes such violence lies with the fanatical ‘Wahhabi’ strain of Islam centered in Saudi Arabia. And if the world wants to stamp down and eliminate such violent extremism, it must confront this primary host and facilitator.”

He goes on to quote Wikileaks and other sources that purport to show Saudi’s financing of terror groups, several thousand Saudis are alleged to be in ISIL’s ranks. More easily verified is the funding of extremist Wahhabism via mosques and madrassas worldwide.

Saudi Arabia’s Hypocrisy on Human Rights

This same country was recently chosen to head a United Nations human rights selection panel. If it weren’t so serious and concerning, this would be satire. What’s worse is that apparently the UK supported their appointment.

Whilst Saudi Arabia has appeared to give women token political rights in recent municipal elections, they still can’t drive. Restrictions on political dissent and freedom of speech continue unabated and punishments for religious disagreement, in particular Saudi’s Wahabi version of Sunni Islam. As a result Freedom House’s freedom index ranks Saudi Arabia bottom on all counts.

Saudi Arabia is also the largest market for the British arms industry along with billions of other business deal tie-ups. As a result Britain is unlikely to publicly condemn Saudi too often, human rights will remain compromised by commercial interest. Indeed, a senior Government minister today defended close links with Saudi Arabia arguing that they enabled us to “tell them what we think”. True and unhypocritical condemnation of executions can only come when America and other countries also end the death penalty. Equally, rightful opposition to Islamic State (ISIL) should be accompanied by calling state-sanctioned extremism by Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and others to account too.