Tag Archives: human rights

Shameless self-promotion: ‘Indefinite Detention shouldn’t be Definitive’

23 May

Shameless self-promotion: ‘Indefinite Detention Shouldn’t be Definitive’

I done wrote something. Then someone done published it.

It was Australia’s treatment of refugees that first got me interested in/concerned about Guantánamo. Now it’s going back the other way: the more I learn about Guantánamo, the more I’m concerned that Australia is borrowing its methods.

Hindsight being 20/20…

3 May

After reading a great piece in The Guardian a few weeks back, I felt inspired to cut back a bit on my consumption of news media (yes, I recognize the irony of reading an article that inspired me to read fewer articles). This week I am trying to get back into the world, and the first piece of news I came across was on the massive failure of the international community in responding to one of the worst crises of this century, the Somalia famine.  The 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa left 4.6% of Somalia’s population (and one out of 10 children under the age of five) dead. For two years, drastic food shortages wreaked havoc on the population and affected some 13 million people throughout the region as a whole. Much of this damage, however, could have been avoided.

As Aljazeera reports, “The famine was manmade…there was donor fatigue, there was a lack of political will, and the people of Somalia suffered because of the political failure to help the people of Somalia.” While the crisis was exacerbated by militia groups in control of famine-affected areas refusing to let most foreign agencies operate within their territories, the international response was incredibly slow, and for a full year leading up to the crisis, research and forecasts were ultimately ignored worldwide. Peter Greste begs the question, “why for example did it take those dyer images of dying children before significant amounts of aid started flowing in…and what will it take to make donors respond to warnings ahead of the next crisis?”

Well, the next crises are here: from a looming humanitarian disaster in South Sudan already ushering in ‘near famine conditions’, to extreme humanitarian needs compounded by the recent coup in Central African Republic, to the staggering humanitarian disaster in Syria spilling over into surrounding regions. These crises are here, and they are real, and they are not showing any signs of improvement. Thinking about this international neglect conjures images of the international community and the Clinton administration’s failure to act on warning signs, eye-witness testimony and video documentation of the genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, for which Bill Clinton later apologized.

Is it acceptable practice in modern times to simply turn away while a crisis unfolds in some remote region of the world, and then apologize for our negligence after it has taken its toll on hundreds of thousands of lives? Are these crises really that easy to ignore? Without sufficient geopolitical interest in a given region, will the international community continue to turn a blind eye to these events, only to rise to a podium down the road and say “Ooops, our bad. We should have acted on the plethora of facts and evidence we had a little earlier. Sorry!”

What’s further disheartening about this pattern is the fact that as emerging researchers and practitioners, we at HREC like to believe that the information we reveal to the world will be used to abate violations of human rights and alleviate human suffering. How does research and the collection of data transcend obscurity and make its way into the international psyche to the extent that concerted action is taken to prevent these stains on our collective human experience? How do we learn from our mistakes and transform hindsight into foresight?

From Camels to Cavemen: Picks of the Week

14 Apr

Hollande Finds His Gift Camel Was Consumed

I gave a presentation on the Mali Conflict at an NYU conference on Friday, and would have dearly loved to include something about Hollande’s camel. Fifteen minutes just wasn’t long enough, however, to do justice to a topic of such import.

Something tells me Hollande wanted that camel out of his hair and into the tagine all along. An express-posted replacement camel probably wasn’t what he had in mind.

Narco War on TV Screens

I just read Ioan Grillo’s El Narco, a great insight into the rise of the Mexico’s militant drug cartels. In this piece for The Dissident Blog – an interesting project in its own right, and published by Swedish PEN – Grillo highlights the difficulties faced by Mexican journalists, pressured by both the government and the cartels (who are themselves in conflict and not a united entity) to pursue certain editorial lines. The piece is also a testament to the importance of critical, ethical journalism, which is never so obvious as when such journalism and journalists are under threat.

Red Cross chief blasts US for force-feeding Gitmo inmates

The detainee hunger strike at Guantánamo drags on: this article does a good job of highlighting not just the immediate cause of the huger strike, but also the sinister and completely misdirected approach by the US administration to breaking the strike.

Reckoning with Genocide

Yes I’m giving biased attention to Latin America. Expect this to continue indefinitely.

Interesting piece by the New York Review of Books on the slow road to accountability and justice in the aftermath of the mass killings – including a brief account of why these constitute a genocide – in Guatemala in the 80s.

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

NYU’s very own caveman, Slavoj Zizek, on the ethics of charitable giving. Zizek is far easier to understand in animated form.

HREC Panel @ NYU International Ed. Conference

10 Apr

This Friday a group of HREC contributors will be coming together to present a panel at NYU’s annual International Education Conference. The topic for the conference is ‘International Education in Emergency Response and Crisis Management‘, and the keynote speaker will be Zama Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch.

Our panel is entitled ‘Human Rights Emergencies, International Interventions.’ Stephanie and Devin will be presenting research which they’ve previously discussed at the Human Rights and Education Colloquium (and which Steph presented at CIES). Philip’s presentation is an elaboration on some earlier blog posts about the crisis in Mali.

The panel will take place at 1:30pm on Friday, April 12. It will be held in Room 907 of NYU’s Kimmel Center (this floor has great views of Washington Square). We’re looking forward to sharing our work again, and hope to see a few familiar faces in the audience.



Indonesia’s mentally ill and its “banned ‘pasung’ practice”

14 Feb

In Ghana’s rural communities they have rituals to kill the “spirit child” while in Indonesia they shackle them and confine them to small places to prevent them from attacking other-  like a wild animal. IRIN (humanitarian news and analysis) published an article today called Tackling shackling of the mentally ill in Indonesia.

The Indonesia Health Ministry estimates 19 million people nationwide have various mental health disorders, of which18 million live in rural areas. Currently, Indonesia counts with 33 specialized mental health hospitals and 600 psychiatrists to attend 19 million people.

The ‘pasung’ practice (shackling) was banned since 1977 and in 2011 the Health Ministry launched the campaign “Menuju Indonesia Bebas Pasung” or in English “Towards a Shackle-free Indonesia”, but hasn’t made much progress due to the lack of trained health professionals and the lack of funding. Despite those efforts by the government people are still embracing the pasung practice it in both rural and urban communities. People with mental disorders are being shackled behind their homes and/or inside their homes in small rooms to avoid stigma.

Mental health institutions (long-term) have become the solution to mental health prevalence among many developing countries. Such institutions are understaffed, under resourced, and highly costly to sustain for the kind of services they inevitably fail to provide. What is considered a “severe” disability justifying institutionalization in these countries may be a minor disability in other countries that would require limited family and professionals support to integrate disabled people back into society. In countries such Indonesia, where their health care system is decentralized, is very easy to ‘allocate’ or not allocate funds to some regions and the federal government does not have a final registry on how many adults, youth and children are placed in public mental health institutions throughout the country. Needless to say, reports on abuses and maltreatment are nonexistent. Placement of children with disabilities these institutions increases their vulnerability to violence making children easy prey. By funding long- term mental care institutions, instead of funding people, governments are hampering the social, economic, and educational development of the country

While people all over the world try to escape stigma and prejudice by others, they much rather kill, ignore, maltreat, and fear their own family members. Why are we so scared of disabilities? I insist the more we don’t talk about it, the more we contribute to the stigma.

We can’t change what others will say, think or feel towards people with disabilities, but we sure can change the way we make feel our loved ones suffering from a mental health disorder.

Spirit Child: A ritual of killing disabled children in Ghana

25 Jan

The other day Devin sent me this Spirit Child (click on the link for media) video from Aljazeera of an investigation about a practice of a ritual of killing disabled children that are thought to be possessed by evil spirits in Ghana. The first half of the film is interesting and very informative. The second half “catch the predator” set up is a little bit too much, but I guess that’s just a journalism style. The content is what matters.

Our friend and fellow classmate Mike Moran described the video better in his own words “[the video] is mostly disturbing but somehow more terrifying because those concoction men seem so excited to kill children. The whole setup and raid thing was a bit much but definitely good that something is being done. I hope that woman at the end was serious about taking action to stop it. It’s one thing to pass legislation and “enforce” it in the capital, while allowing not addressing the real base of the issues in village society. Hopefully there’s some local education/advocacy going along with it”.

Disability is defined differently by every person, family, community and country. Societal norms, stigmas, cultural beliefs, the educational and health care systems, transportation availability and inconsistency in defining disabilities impacts the inclusive practices put in place by governments. In traditionalist countries disability is a stigma and a burden to families; therefore, disability awareness is minimal and inclusive education practices are practically non-existent.

There are children born with disabilities that are being kept in the dark. Women are blamed for having a disabled child, and as a result, the child is hidden, denied critical care, ignored, and neglected by their families. In traditional societies disabilities are considered a taboo and are seen as a curse against communities. Society’s values are one of the barriers impeding to treat these children as human beings; thus, every day they are being deprived of their human rights.  The result of this stigmatization and exclusion of children with disabilities leads to a profitable business between families and militia/rebels or in this case concoction men. Families frequently either volunteer their child with disabilities or they receive money to send their children to fight in the frontlines or they hire concoction men to kill their children ‘possessed by evil spirits’. What about that for a human rights violation that hasn’t been widely addressed by INGOs, academia or the media. The indifference and neglect towards children with disabilities and the cultural prejudices are conveying a message of acceptance for the unscrupulous acts committed against these children.

Societal values in these communities allow these atrocities to happen without even questioning the moral and ethical values of the crime. But then again, I don’t know if we will get to see a generational shift of values in our lifetime and like Mike said “It’s one thing to pass legislation and “enforce” it in the capital city, while allowing not addressing the real base of the issues in village society”. How can a situation like this be approached and addressed at a local and international level?  Is education the key solution to a generational shift of values? What’s next on the INGOs agenda on disabilities awareness and program implementation?

On the use of child soldiers in Mali

23 Jan

Always rearing its ugly head through one news source or another, it seems that every single day I stumble across some report detailing the use of children in armed conflict in some region of the world. More often than not, these children are typically wrapped up in conflicts alongside rebel groups or the government forces trying to hold them back in some country in Africa. While the usual suspects tend to be clustered around the Great Lakes region or the Horn of Africa, this week we see continued child soldiering in Mali, home of the world’s newest international military intervention campaign.

This time, while rebel groups are guilty of incorporating youth as young as 10 into their ranks (for the attractive price of $700 for their families), this week’s reports highlight children who are fighting alongside Malian troops to hold off the rebel advance. The recent French pledge for military assistance, providing 2500 troops to add to an expected influx of 2000 African troops from neighboring countries, that sent the intervention in motion has ushered in the involvement of a growing international community. The United States has been hesitant to increase its footprint on the ground, but pledged its support through helping to fly in French troops to Mali. This brings to light yet another instance in which taking a firm stance on the use of child soldiers must be ignored in order for the West to protect its own security interests.

With rebel groups comprised in part of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb terrorist group, France, the United States and their allies would be keen to see the end of the rebel advance southward through Mali. This will effectively trump any considerations for ceasing to support governments who incorporate children into their military ranks.

It could be argued that it is these children’s right to join in the fight. After all, this is not a situation like that of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda and surrounding regions, which has relied almost solely on kidnapping and abducting youth into their ranks for their continued armed operations. There is no report of Malian troops forcibly recruiting these youth. So let’s assume for the sake of the thought I will end with in this post that these children, as young as 11 years old, find it to be their God-given duty to defend Mali and its people from the Islamist advance. In more ancient times, this commitment to armed defense would have been considered an act of heroism and even a right of passage in societies all over the world. Though today, we have frameworks like the Convention for the Rights of the Child and the Child Soldier Prevention Act (which is rarely enforced), which dictate that the use of children in armed conflict is not only illegal according to international law, but is a morally bankrupt practice.

Now, I whole-heartedly agree. I personally believe that children have no place in modern war. The Spartan-esque traditions we see glorified in films and television is a relic of the past which has since been replaced and made obsolete by the (albeit arguably fundamentally flawed) invention of universal access to education and respect for the rights of the child to which the international community is supposed to adhere. According to emerging, if not established international norms, the place for children is in schools – not on the battlefield, not in the labor force, but in school. Now, as an ‘international educator’ I recognize that this is VERY FAR from the reality around the world. Children are needed at home, children are needed for family income, and these are sacrifices that families choose to make for their survival. That is a whole other can of worms. But using children on the battlefield, putting a gun in their hands, making them take the lives of another human being, another child, their own family members (again, I recognize this is likely not the case with the children in Mali at the center of this discussion), is fundamentally wrong. I have heard people attempting to argue against this, and I invite their comments on this blog post.

HOWEVER! (where would critical thought be without this wonderful, wonderful word)…as a citizen of the United States, I recognize and believe that the interests and security of all people must be defended. Ensuring the security of citizens is a state’s primary responsibility, so it makes perfect sense why this intervention is paying absolutely no attention to the issue of children on the battlefield. Even if attention was paid, how far could it go? Recent attempts to address the issue of child soldiering were most famously made in the brief life of the Kony 2012 movement, which at the turn of the new year, has ultimately failed. Here was a case of a public outcry for military intervention to bring child soldiering to a halt in Northern Uganda (more accurately, in the surrounding Great Lakes region where Joseph Kony’s LRA actually still exists). This attempt was mostly brushed over and forgotten by the international community. The roots and causes for the LRA conflict were of course oversimplified by the Kony 2012 campaign, but for a brief moment, the world cared about preventing children from taking up arms in battle. However, despite the LRA being labelled as a terrorist group, they pose no immediate threat to Western security, certainly not to the degree that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could be argued to pose…

So as I follow the rebel advance and the Malian-French defense in the news, I am left plagued with a moral dilemma for all involved and all invested: is ignoring the use and abuse of children in war worth defending national and international interests? Is there any way to reconcile the two? A recent discussion at our Human Rights & Education Colloquium this past Fall semester left many of us asking similar questions, and left me expressing my growing pessimism for this phenomenon. With rehabilitation centers for former LRA combatants being closed in Uganda and more children taking up arms in Mali, are we likely to see the end of the use of child soldiers in our lifetime?

Unscratchable Itches

26 Sep

When I moved into the apartment in Madrid the only investment I made was in a map of the world for my wall (even bedding had to wait a few weeks and pay cheques). I’d fallen by total chance into the city, apartment and a low-hours teaching job, and was living in a bubble of blissful flanerie, and yet I lost hours in front of that map, my mind far from the convoluted streets of the city. My wanderings through those streets almost inevitably brought me to various bookstores, and within these to the shelves of travel guides. I was tempted by North Africa (still am); I longed to return to Latin America (did, and still do). Travel had become an unscratchable itch.

Sitting in a row of colourless office cubes, working on an article about the global arms trade for a human rights organisation, I found that news was being produced faster than I could write. I was trying to draw connections between the violence in Syria and the international weapons trade, but in the time it took to craft a paragraph about a siege in one city, there had been a massacre in another. Spiralling internal memos about the situation ‘on the ground’ contradicted one other. I drew an arbitrary end to the article, and by the time it went to press the whole arms trade case was dead, and Syria was mired deeper in bloodshed than ever. Human rights, and the insatiable quest for justice, is an unscratchable itch.

After a year teaching in rural Korea, I moved back home to Sydney to spend a few months writing. A manuscript was clamouring for my attention. I wanted to start a new blog. I’d started writing travel articles for a English-language magazine in Korea, and was eager to finish off some more before the next move.

A few years later and I’ve traded one manuscript for another, churned out better and worse blog posts for multiple blogs and better and worse travel articles for multiple travel sites, and I still feel like I have a lot left to write. Like I’m just getting started. Writing is a very, very unscratchable itch.

I’ve spent years scratching away at these various itches. The more I scratch, the more they itch, but I think it’s still eminently worthwhile to do so.

My contributions to this blog will be yet another attempt to scratch a little deeper.