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Human Rights round-up - March 2008

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

March heralded a new era of discipline for Britain's youth, as the government outlined citizenship plans to resided not in the ideas of liberty, but authority. Citizenship cero monies with an oath of allegiance have been planned , along with a 'National Day' to celebrate - well I'm not sure but the BNP will love it. There will also be tax breaks for volunteers, which seems somewhat countenance to the ethic of civil society, by adding a monetary value to participatory work surely this will dilute the quality and philosophical aspect of the emerging NGO sector. It seems to fit in snugly with what teachers are calling the 'marketisation' of armed conflict, as army propaganda videos appeal desperately to those who can be molded more easily. The trouble is we don't teach core thinking on what a society could be, and so we have a desperation to create some sort of national identity on one end, and a lack of desire to defend it ont he other. Also ont he school scene, homophobic abuse is apparently rife , as it is claimed a 'conspiracy of silence' is making homophobia seem normal. There is an issue I have been thinking on here and that is the reference to the right of a sexuality is covered by Article 16 of the UDHR, however the wording states that 'men and women' perhaps applying that the defence of the rights of the gay community is open to misinterpretation or outright exploitation. This issue has also not been explicitly addressed in any of the international covenants or committees since 1948. Perhaps it is self evident but I'm throwing that into the ball court of 'just how self-explanatory is it'? Away from the class-room and 17 members of the House of Lords told the government 'Britain must radically change its immigration policy and end immediately the deportation of failed asylum-seekers who fear persecution in Iran' - a slice of common sense that the Murdoch media must be fuming about. This also links back to earlier, and if we are aiming to be a nation of responsible citizens then it must extend beyond our borders and into the international scene.

In Eastern Europe, Kosovo's independence (17th February) has continued to be met with Serbian hostility, as UN & Nato forces clashed with Serbs within Kosovo, which led to the death of one UN officer sparking a potential pull-out that may prove devastating to peace and security in the new sovereignty. In Africa, things have little improved for the plight of Darfur, with a clash between the EU force in Chad and the Sudanese army , clear evidence of the hostility of the Sudan government. And a US report stated that the genocide in Darfur was the worst human rights abuse of 2006. However the international response remains appalling, and one alarming report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare pointed out that African 'Warlords' were using the ivory trade to fund arms deals. The Janjaweed in particular slaughtered at least one hundred elephants in a single afternoon across the border in Chad. The Darfur conflict has turned into an ecological as well as human disaster. Elsewhere in Africa, the Chinese owners of a Zambian Copper mine site were assaulted by workers who were protesting against the abuse of Zambian labour laws. It seems China's Human Rights record is not exclusive to its own borders. There was some good news following the turmoil that came with the end of year elections in Kenya as Kofi Annan brokered a power sharing deal between President Kibaki and his rival Odinga, the coalition intends to return some normalcy to Kenyan life. Desmond Tutu has also called for close scrutiny of a 1999 arms deal in South Africa, as Jacob Zuma of the ANC party faces a $4.8 billion corruption charge. If acquitted however, Zuma looks set to take over the South African Presidency. Meanwhile Mugabe has been warned of huge protests if he rigs the end of March elections in Zimbabwe, by the opposition.

The ever eventful Arab-Israeli conflict faced one week of terror at the beginning of March as a full-scale Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip left at least 52 Palestinians and 2 Israeli soldiers dead. Several human rights groups highlighted that the conditions in Gaza are at their worst since Israeli occupation in 1967. Eight students were killed by a gunman from East Jerusalem before being put down by a soldier which may add pressure to end the peace talks between the Israeli Government and Palestine. However the week came to end with Israel scaling back its operations in Gaza which came after a drop in rocket attacks, and maybe just maybe there is a chance for at least a few days without any bloodshed.

Aid agencies in Afghanistan have said they are still waiting on $10 billion of promised aid money since the Talebans collapse with the US the main culprit being the US, although the US leads the tables on actual aid donated still. In India a man war released after a 35 year stint in a Pakistani jail, awaiting a death sentence. Kashmir Singh was sentenced to death for spying in 1973. Pakistan looked to have been given a boost when Yusuf Raza Gillani was sworn in as Prime Minister, a potential end to the chaos that followed Bhutto's assassination in December and the control of government by Musharraf. In Sri Lanka, twenty migrants from Bangladesh and Burma were found dead on a boat. Meanwhile, an al ledged Russian Arms Dealer, caught in Thailand was deemed unlawful as US agents led a sting operation posing as Colombian rebels. The defence for Mr Bout, labeled the 'merchant of death' by a UK correspondent, claim he runs a legitimate airline business.

As the Olympics approach, the International spotlight intensifies on China. Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian was given a firm warning that not-pleasant things awaited him if he continued to move Taiwan towards independence. However China was given a 'boost' when a US report did not list it as a systematic human rights violator, instead stating that China is an authoritarian regime that denies its people basic human rights and freedoms, tortures prisoners and restricts the media. Of course when that is an improvement, things aren't too pleasant. As criticism grows China has hit out at the politicisation of the olympics as being the work of 'anti-China' forces, as China is still reeling from the resignation of Spielberg from the Olympic team and heavy criticism from a group of Nobel Laureates last month. However, perhaps China's worst nightmare, trouble in Tibet, took centre stage for the world scrutiny. India expressed its concern over violence in Tibet, as the in exile Dalai Lama called China's Tibetan policy 'cultural; genocide. As Tibetan youth becomes increasingly frustrated, it was revealed that Chinese forces shot at protestors, and further alarmed the international eye as it published a wanted list of dissidents in Tibet, prompting a call for the International Condemnation of China by US politician Nancy Pelosi. And the lighting of the Olympic torch, an international relay around the world became the international focus of protest against Chinese actions in Tibet, with demonstrations in every city bar Beijing. The Chinese government hit out against these actions.

Issues in Latin America focused on the FARC, the Colombian Para-military, as the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe called for the International Criminal Court to bring genocide charges against Hugo Chavez for the supposed funding of the FARC rebels. However a summit between Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela looked to diffuse the situation. Colombia forged a deal with the FARC to release hostages including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, in exchange for FARC rebels held by the Colombian government.

Finally, 25th March 2008 could prove to be a key date as China unblocked the BBC website, after years of tight control. An alternative news source from the state media and the bizarrely titled Chinese TV channel, 'CCTV'.