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Human Rights round-up - February 2008

A brief look book at some of the issues that made the news in February

The beginning of the second month of our 'sixtieth year of Human Rights' comes with a stern example of the wastefulness of life. It seems that British soldiers that were thrown into the political grinder, return home only to find that they have no use when they have been 'damaged' and consequently receive no extra-ordinary treatment form the state that sent them to their fate. Still, it doesn't seem to matter what nationality you are nowadays, as Ama Sumani, the Ghanaian woman who was deported whilst suffering terminal cancer sees her condition deteriorate. The returning Guantanamo prisoners are to be guaranteed a fair trial, they may well be worthy of sentence but we must remember the words front he Magna Carta that inspired Article 10 of the UDHR, 'No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, or in any other way destroyed, except by the lawful judgment of his peers.' Whilst on the subject of terror, 5 young muslim men were released after the court found no evidence that they presented a terrorist threat, proof of the necessity of a fair trial, whilst the UK offered apologies over rendition flights, those handy services to unlawful detention. Calls were made to ban a device which produces a low frequency noise heard only by teenagers, this quite disturbing device works on the same principle as dispersing pests, well, we cant adjudge them to have rights if we don't treat them as human. If only they studied and went to university, they could lead a decent life and joined the 50% increase in students using prostitution as a means to fund their studies. For those inbound, new British citizenship tests are on their way, which include an oath of allegiance, however if you are form outside the EU you get to skip the test in a similar fashion to if those already here. Outer EU migrants will also get to play a fun game whereby if they score enough points they get to come. Don't worry long-term British denizens, you don't get to miss out on all this, if your planning to travel anywhere you now get a handy profile to plot all of your actions that you can read like a travel journal after thirteen years. All this talk of migration and work makes it seem like its a utopian life once you make it past the borders, as Chelsea Manager Avram Grant found out when he received lots of 'fan mail'. As if being the manager of a rival team wasn't enough, he had to go and be Jewish didn't he.

Swiftly leaving British shores, we follow all the noise coming from Siberia way as the OSCE declares it will boycott the Russian elections in March as apparently Mr Putin's party has something of a rig up its sleeve, and I don't think its the oil kind. Thankfully there is a decent enough distraction close by, as Sunday 17th February 2008 sets to be a key date in the boundary merry-go-round that is the Balkans. First Serbia refused to accept Kosovo's secession, then it called to the UN to stop it, before finally taking matters into its own hands and forcing NATO to close the Kosovo border. Unperturbed the Serbian government resorted to condoning terrorism. It remains to be seen whether this could play into a crisis on the scale of that of the East Mediterranean shoreline.

Speaking of which, we can't talk about human rights without talking about Israel-Palestine. In a similar fashion to Kosovo, Palestine has hinted it may have a declaration of independence of its own as thousands of Palestinian citizens formed a human chain in the Gaza Strip in protest to the Israeli blockade. Never ones to wait around, the Israeli response was a well rehearsed one, as sixteen Palestinians were killed include four children out playing a football game. The attack was a response to a rocket attack originating from the Gaze Strip the previous day which claimed one Israeli civilian. The hints are not just there, but the plain intent that a full-scale Israeli invasion of Gaza is immanent. All this talk about declared states warrants a mention of the possibility of an internationally recognised Kurdistan which would border NE Iraq, SE Turkey and Western Iran. Meanwhile inside Iraq, people still claim its terrible to live there, as five Britons are held hostage. The infamous cousin of Saddam, 'Chemical Ali' received his notification of hanging, no doubt he'll be comparing with the ol' Hussein as to who was considered the biggest Martyr in the name of terrorism. A hop across the border delivers a trio of Iranian Human Rights offences, the first, which has a handy petition from the Independent on this sites homepage, is for Sayed Pervesh Kambaksh who should learn that women need not be emancipated if one wants to be free from execution. Five websites were banned for 'disturbing public opinion' and finally Amnesty International made a call for the Iranian government to stop targeting women activists. Finally there was trouble at the long-delayed Pakistani elections as eighteen people were killed by a bomb blast. An almost comical but ultimately disturbing note to end from the region, as a woman in Saudi Arabia is condemned to death for 'witchcraft'.

Back in Africa the trouble persists for Kenya, as following the laying out of a peace plan, violence continued with more than twenty dead. Kenyan Policemen were charged for murder following their 'policing' in January, as protests threatened to spark anew. However there was some hope, as Kenya's political rivals agreed to share power. Political turmoil also finds itself on Zimbabwean soil with the elections due at the end of March, with prison staff allegedly being ordered to vote Mugabe, and the colorful dictator dubbing his rivals at the polls 'witches'. The Darfur crisis worsens as estimates of 12,000 refugees flee into Chad, were fierce fighting between government and rebel forces has been taking place, a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. China's role in the Sudan became the new target of highlighting the crisis as a letter from the Nobel Laureates urged China to take action, and Steven Spielberg quit as Artistic Advisor to Beijing. Ironically, the US President came out to defined the US's policy towards Darfur, Rwanda anyone? Speaking of US policy in Africa, in Somalia, problems seem to be increasing as Medecins Sans Frontieres withdraws following a bomb attack. Meanwhile, the Human Traders responsible for the up to 1,400 missing have been ordered to death. Trouble still brews in Cameroon as the death toll from violent protests rose to seventeen .

In Burma/Myanmar a constitutional referendum and general elections have been set for May 2010, which marks considerable progress following the international demonstrations in September/October time, of course Burma could well simply be breaking into the cycle we are seeing across Africa. Although violence persists as the leader of a rebel group is shot dead. Up in Nepal, a strike ended as much of the countries ethnic groups are still fragmented following the uprising in 2006. There was a tale of two former humanitarian terrors, the first from the survivor of the Khmer Rouge leadership pleading for bail whilst the death of former Indonesian dictator General Suharto granted him a place on the mass-murders hall of fame. Fighting continued as ever in Sri Lanka only it made noteworthy international news as it was government troops killed this time rather than the unknown and unnamed Tamil Tiger rebels. Meanwhile in East-Timor as storm approaches as President Jose Ramos-Horta is shot dead by rebels. Things look like they might hot up for China as the Olympics approach, as Beijing made an early move by freeing a Hong-Kong journalist. However things soon hit the spotlight as the IOC jumped into defend its decision to award Beijing the games, meanwhile Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell supported increasing pressure on China over Darfur as it was confirmed that UK Olympians would be not be banned from speaking their minds at the games. However the shockwaves from Steven Spielberg's resignation as Artistic Advisor prompted an air of silent confusion in Beijing before it hit back by condemning the politicisation of the games. And in Australia, Australia ridded itself of all guilt for its practically genocidal treatment of its indigenous population when issued an apology to aboriginals. Nothing of course was made about amending the vicious poverty and lack of liberties suffered by the aboriginal population that survives today.

In the lands of Latin America a striking collusion between the cocaine industry that funds the Farc rebels in Colombia and the ease at which one of the most conflict-inspired drugs on the planet makes it out of the country was highlighted in a link with Venezuelan Leader Hugo Chavez. Of course firm evidence should be sort before jumping any conclusion and the more important link between Chavez and the Farc should be highlighted by the hostage negotiations to free three of the dozens of high-profile hostages held by the Farc But fears have grown for the health of another hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who is still in Farc captivity. In Cuba there was some very big news, as Fidel Castro stepped down as leader after 49 years, although the nature of the Cuban government looks set to be Castro-led for years to come yet. However things look bright for the human rights concerns in Cuba as it signed two legally binding pledges in New York.

In the lands of the US of A it emerged that 1% of the adult population, some 2.3 million people are in prison in the country, giving it the highest rate of incarceration in the world, more than double that of South Africa its nearest rival in the 'lock 'em-up' game. However President Bush was looking for new ways to fund the prison construction industry as he called of an immunity to law that would allow the government to listen in freely to peoples phone conversations.

As humanity seems to continue its merry dance along the precipice of chaos, there was one rewarding story, as the DRoC, Rwanda and Uganda dropped their rifts and came together to protect the rare mountain gorilla in Virunga National Park.