Human Rights round-up

A monthly round-up of Human Rights issues around the world

November 2010

November began with the build-up to the first elections in Burma (renamed Myanmar by the junta in 1989) since 1990. Last time out the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory, before the ruling military junta decided it didn't really want to relinquish power and dismissed the elections. So, twenty years on and the elections take place with a ban of foreign observers and journalists, two thirds of the candidates having links to the ruling junta and the main opposition leader, Aun San Suu Kyi under house arrest . It seems little wonder that nobody really seemed to care, and inevitably the UN condemnation of the elections as being unfair was issued despite Russian and Chinese objections. In the queue of inevitabilities was the declaration of victory for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the biggest military backed party in the elections. The main opposition, the NLD, refused to take part in the elections and thus lost its legal status as a party, leaving Burma's most prominent pro-democracy figure, Ms Suu Kyi without any political standing. Seemingly this gave the ruling junta the confidence to release Suu Kyi from house arrest, a condition in which she has spent 16 of the past 21 years. Her release was met with jubilation on the streets of Rangoon, with Ms Suu Kyi coolly stating that the people 'will decide' Burma's future in a first face to face interview for seven years. Suu Kyi also condemned that seeming consent for the junta by the Indian and Chinese governments. However, despite her release, the government is acting tough, with the residents and staff of a HIV/AIDS clinic being told to leave after a visit from Ms Suu Kyi. So what happens next in Burma? If reports are true of low ranking soldiers supporting Ms Suu Kyi she may well find a strong enough platform to challenge the regime. The future is not so certain in the country, and feeling that will surely be celebrated if it can carry into another election.

Back in the UK, and one court case presented a grim reflection of the justice systems inability to deal with the complexities of rape cases as a woman was sentenced to eight-months in prison for falsely dropping the charges against her husband (despite police believing that the rapes were true). Whilst the sentence was later overturned when it was revealed the extent of which the husband had been abusive, the sentence was nevertheless condemned as revealing the Criminal Justice System as being hopelessly 'dark age' in its approach to dealing with rape. If we are to tackle Violence Against Women, then surely more effective measures regarding the care of the victim with regards to the trauma and the establishment of the facts must prevail, lest we prevent a legal 'loop-hole' for domestic violence and rape. Elsewhere, Guantanamo reared its head again, as the government defended pay-outs to sixteen former Guantanamo detainees. The government claimed that it wanted to avoid a legal battle potentially costing up to £50 million and to prevent the opening of secret files from MI5 and MI6, with the heads of the two organisations being sued in the case. The government pay-out allows them the avoid liability in the case, although the claimants have not withdrawn their allegations. In relation, a man convicted of coordinating terrorism has claimed that the UK was 'complicit' in his torture in Pakistan. The call has been for the case to be quashed, given the illegality of evidence gained from torture. It presents the moral quandary of justice once more about how far once could go to obtain information to save others, and the implication of those methods for society. Meanwhile 'Ed Balls' called the 90-day pre-charge detention law proposal "a step too far" and called the current 28 day limit for review. Civil liberties aside, student protests to the tuition fee hikes led the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson to paraphrase Tony Blair, claiming that the "game had changed". Police came under fire for the use of 'kettling', whereby protesters where kept trapped by police cordons for hours. Tougher police measures on protesters are expected after a minority stormed the Conservative Party headquarters during a mass demonstration in London.

In Europe, Swiss voters backed (53% in favour) to deport foreigners convicted of crime in the country. Swiss political analyst Georg Lutz called the referendum a chance for Swiss voters 'to make a statement against foreigners', a sentiment being capitalised on and exploited by the ruling Swiss People's Party. In Eastern Europe, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that a future arms could be sparked by the failure of talks to agree on joint missile defence shield between Russia and NATO. Meanwhile in a match between Italy and Romania, footballer Mario Balotelli found himself on the receiving end of racist abuse from extremist Italian fans, highlighting the small but nevertheless existence of extreme racist groups in Italy.

Last month we noted the beating to death of a servant by a Saudi prince, this month an Indonesian maid had her lips hacked off! Now people are urging Saudi President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to act but little is expected to be done. Meanwhile Afghan's paid lip service (sorry) to their anger over an alleged 'rigged' parliamentary vote. Protesters claimed that the Independent Election Commission delayed announcing the election results in order to fix them. So much for the democratic confidence that NATO has been fighting for. Meanwhile, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, based in the UK, urged christians in Iraq to leave the country, claiming that they are unprotected and exposed to violence and attack, highlighted during an attack by gunmen during a mass service at a Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad which left 52 people dead. His fears were credited just days after his words as Christian areas came under bomb and mortar attacks killing five people in Baghdad. Meanwhile the un piloted drones continue to glide over Pakistan with 13 more militants killed. We say militants, but its not like Wall-e follows up to check the bodies. The future of impersonal warfare is frightening. Never mind, at least we can visit the ever present in Human Rights reports.... the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Its good news all round, as Israel has begun 'easing' its blockade, although the UN has reported no change in everyday Palestinian lives. A report several weeks after the UN one declared the blockade as 'crippling'. And the soldiers convicted of using a child as a human shield during a raid on Gaza in 2009 have been demotion! A fair price for an armour upgrade... oh wait the issue is the use of a child as a human shield? Its difficult to know where the ethics lie in such a ruling. Meanwhile the US issued a package of incentives in an attempt to freeze Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Agreement to the US proposals would see settlement construction frozen for 90 days. To move away, Sri Lanka blocked the BBC from traveling to the north of the country to report on a commission looking into the country's civil war. The commission apparently has no mandate to investigate war crimes and the panel is accused of being pro-government and eager to focus only on condemning the defeated Tamil Tigers, rather than looking at abuses committed on both sides.

Down under, Australia is to hold a referendum recognising Aborigines. The aborigine population stands at 550,000, 2.7% of the overall population. The referendum refers to recognising the aborigine population in an attempt to give them greater rights and protections in the country, where Aboriginal communities are often mired by unemployment and crime.

In Africa there were clashes as a protest camp containing 12,000 people were dispersed in the early morning. The camp arose out of a dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front which demands independence for Western Sahara. The UN security council received a report that the Darfur weapons embargo had been violated, and that Chinese bullets had been found in the area. China stated its anger over the report which suggests that the Chinese are not doing enough to prevent arms sales to Khartoum ending up in Darfur. And the issue comes amidst a violence alert, with a referendum on possible independent for Southern Sudan coming in January. Meanwhile, journalists have come under pressure ahead of the 28th November polls in Egypt, and opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood has reported that 1,000 of its members have been arrested ahead of the elections.

Latin America gives us a historical passing, as the Argentinean Military dictator, Emilio Eduardo Massera died age 83. He controlled the country between 1976 and '83 and is accused of widespread torture and human rights abuses during Argentina's 'Dirty War' (a 7 year period of state sponsored violence).

The US was a hotbed of human rights issues this month. None more prominent that the move to repeal the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy in the US military. The US supreme court upheld the ban on openly gay troops serving in the military but the issue looks set to continue with many calling for the ban to be repealed. Meanwhile, Claude Howard Jones, who was killed by lethal injection in 2000, was found to be potentially innocent as the evidence used to convict him, a single strand of hair found at the crime scene, did not actually belong to him. He should have instead been sentenced to life imprisonment for the off-license hold-up, ah well two wrongs make a right or something. Meanwhile a 15 year-old student armed with a pair of handguns held 23 students hostage at a school in Wisconsin before shooting himself. Must be all the video cannot possibly be anything to do with the guns he was holding. Erm... I guess its better behaviour than ordering 'The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct' from Amazon USA. The book was listed on the site by an independent author, and has since been removed. Elsewhere, at Silsbee school in Los Angeles, a girl on the cheerleading squad was ordered to applaud a player who sexually assaulted her. She was subsequently dismissed from the squad. The lesson.... well you decide. Never mind, Obama gave his support to India having a permanent seat on the UN Security Council potentially changing the geopolitics directed from the UN's seemingly dictatorial chamber. While the state department announced that the plan by Wikileaks to publish leaked diplomatic cables could risk lives and US security in an issue that promises to bring government accountability and the freedom of journalists under serious scrutiny.

To end on a light note as always, China and Britain have made an agreement to take stronger action on sex trafficking. 2,600 prostitutes are smuggled into Britain each year and half of them come from China, and typically face conditions of extreme abuse. The issue also related to illegal economic migrants, also forced to work under horrendous conditions, exposed with the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers at Morcambe Bay in 2004. Human trafficking remains one of the most consistent and disgusting of crimes in the world, and any gains by this agreement can only be seen as positive progress.



Read the October round-up
Mike Brandon 2008-10 | better in