Human Rights round-up

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

October 2010

We kick things off for October with some fantastic news. If you want to get your children a free education and pick up some life skills whilst bringing money home you can employ them at a farm in Worcester! Children as young as nine are able to apply for a life of fresh air and exercise, in fact they can begin working at half seven and they'll be home sometime after dusk. At least that's what Romanian parents must have read down the local jobby. The reality here is that children really are working in conditions of slave labour right here in Britain, as seven Romanian children were discovered working at a farm in Worcester. The independent is pushing for the government to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking. Hang on isn't that interfering with the market.... Meanwhile a very necessary reflection around article 14, regarding seeking Asylum against persecution. Not necessarily in the typical rage sense of Asylum Seekers versus soap boxers but rather the tensions between housing on the local scale and the difficulties in housing Asylum Seekers. The context is Birmingham City Council's decision to end an agreement with the UK Border Protection Agency to focus on an increase in homelessness in the city. This tension is one of the very real challenges government must face when dealing with those fleeing persecution and is food for thought when considering the tensions that appear at the lower end of the social spectrum in economic terms.

Over in Europe the World Economic Forum's annual gender equality report placed Iceland as the world number one in terms of gender equality. European states dominate the higher ranks but the UK finds itself trailing at 15th place behind Lesotho (8th) and the Philippines (9th). South Korea falls behind the UAE in 104th despite holding the G20 Summit talks in November. However if your choice of partner is of the same gender then Serbia is not the place to be as riots broke out in Belgrade following the nation's first Gay Pride march since 2001.Things are even more stringent in the Italian seaside town of Castellammare di Stabia. Plans are in place to introduce a fine of up to 500 euros for wearing a mini-skirt. Maybe it is some sort of response to sexual harassment? Italy came a lowly 74th in that WEF report after all. Peter Bossman became Slovenia's first black mayor, another landmark in what has been a remarkable story of economic and civil growth in the country since its independence in 1991.

Moving swiftly to Central Asia and the Middle East, or the Near East up to India or however you wish to term it, and heads are turning to Burma. The country is holding its first election since 1990, when the National League for Democracy won a land-slide vote. At that the military junta decided that this just wasn't cricket and decided to keep power anyway. The NLD leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest for much of the last 20 years declared that she will not vote in the coming elections, which are instead seen as a way of the junta creating international legitimacy to its control of the country. It is feared that if voters elect the junta to power with the old bayonet in the back election campaign, then the junta will have legitimate and recognized control of the nation, thus removing the possibilities of international action through sanctions and what not. The Burma elections will be held on November 7th, expect them to get a mention in next months round-up. Now you cannot have a general overview of human rights in Asia without some mention of Palestine or Israel, however that may change when Richard Falk of the UN stated that Israeli-presence on Palestinian territory was irreversible. It is a long held view that eventually Palestinian territory would shrink to the size of a pea. Of course then we wouldn't have to hear about human rights violations on Palestinian people any more, problem solved? *ahem* Maybe the Palestinians should follow the example of Bandar Abdulaziz, a servant of the Saudi Arabian prince Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud, who let his master beat him to death. Still at least he died in one piece, a man who robbed a chocolate store in Iran is having his hand lopped off.

In the Far East, Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Chinese government are not too happy though, calling him a criminal and having something of a barney rubble with the Norwegian ambassador. However citizens in Hong Kong marched to call for Liu's release (turns out he is in prison...I thought you had to just had to crack a smile and give a good speech to win the prize these days?). China's protests have not been received well in the international community however, and even in China, 23 communist party elders wrote a letter calling for an end to restrictions on the freedom of speech. His wife did get to pay him a visit though, so 11 years in prison for speaking your mind is not all bad. Earlier we noted that South Korea came a paltry 104th in the rankings for gender equality according to the WEF, well, the National Human Rights Commission in Korea (part of the government!) advised the education ministry that the very textbooks that students learn from create gender bias.

Before we get to far from China, in terms of words, UN diplomats revealed that China is trying to block the publication of a report on Darfur. Beijing claims the reports is full of flaws, but critics draw attention to Chinese manufactured bullet casings found in Darfur at sits were UN soldiers have been attacked. While analysts continue to stutter over the use of the term 'genocide' in Darfur, the label has been brought to the killing of Hutu civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s. Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian troops stand accused and the DRC gives its backing to the report which it describes as heartbreaking. A UN report which has been condemned by the RUB countries, has been praised by the DRC and is causing a ruckus in Central Africa, especially as Paul Kagame is the 'man who ended genocide' in Rwanda but now faces the possibility of being labeled an architect. However a separate UN report accuses DRC troops of rape and murder in July and August. Whether recently or decades ago, the region makes for sobering reading of human rights abuses. The Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance stated that whilst economic advances are being made on the continent, democratic advances are being reversed. The report ranks Mauritius at the top and nearby and perhaps predictably, Somalia at the bottom. And to return to an older issue, letters from Mandela's 27 years in prison have been released which promise a heart rending read. And a sign of progress on the African continent.... Egypt has barred police from universities. So no chance of the rozzers clamping down on wild student behavior in the land formally known as that of the pharaohs.

Now, usually the US is generally free from anything too controversial, safe for its traditions of state murder, which was highlighted by the October 10th World Day Against the Death Penalty. Actually the dominant issue in the US this month has been the suspension of a ban on openly gay men serving the US military. Defence Secretary Robert Gates was not too happy about it, and California District Judge Virginia Phillips was asked to delay the ruling, however the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy looks to be a thing of the past as the US military has now begun recruiting openly gay males. It was a progressive distraction to the furor caused around a Wikileaks release that detailed US abuses and torture in Iraq.To put it bluntly, the leak covers torture, the shooting of children and most disturbingly, US knowledge of it all. Its founder Julian Assange, has found himself under threat from prosecution from the US Defense and Security departments and on the receiving end of an alleged smear campaign. In other US media news, National Public Radio fired presenter Juan Williams for comments that he gets nervous when on a plan with muslims. An example of prejudice or opinion? Where dow e draw the line? Probably through the name of Jeffrey Landrigan, who was executed apparently with drugs from a UK supplier. In UK terms that means the company was an accessory to a murder in Arizona, whereas in Arizonan terms it means that the drugs came from a "reputable supplier". See, there has to be death penalty news from the US, but this time there is blame on the UK too. Actually, we haven't heard about Guantanamo Bay for a while, well Omar Khadr is now an adult so after 9 years at the bay, the Canadian citizen can be sentenced just like an adult! He received 40 years for the murder of a US soldier and conspiring to commit terrorist acts. The sentence may be indisputable but does this set a precedent to hold minors in detention until they can be tried when they are older? We may hear more on this complicated case in the future. Anyway, at least the US can say "sorry". Sorry that is for deliberately infecting hundreds of Guatemalan people with syphilis and gonnoreah as part of a medical experiment over 60 years ago.

We'll round-off this round-up with the pleasing thought that Big Brother is no longer just watching us, he is also listening to us! A UK company has developed CCTV technology that can use sound to detect aggression. In public.....CCTV can hear you scream!

Mike Brandon 2008-10 | better in