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Thursday:  July 31, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Amnesty International (4)

Wednesday
Apr042012

Suriname's Slippery Slope (REPORT) 

(MAP: World Maps) (HN, 4/4/12) - Up until 3 weeks ago, President Desi Bouterse was Suriname’s most popular politician according to an opinion poll - despite his suspected murderous past.  

Throughout his life, he has been closely tied to the military regime that controlled the country and he was a leader in the 1980 Surinamese coup d'état which forced  President Johan Ferrier from power, declaring the country a Socialist Republic in August of that year.

The coup, transferred most of the political authority to the military leadership - making Bouterse the Chairman of the National Military Council until the beginning of the 1990s.

From 1980 until 1988, the country's Presidents, Ronald Venetiaan, Jules Wijdenbosch, and Venetiaan again - were essentially army-installed by Bouterse, who ruled as a de facto leader while trying on his own to return to power through elections.

In the 2010 Surinamese legislative election, Bouterse and his coalition, the Mega Combination (De Mega Combinatie) were voted to become the biggest party in Suriname though the coalition failed to gain an absolute majority in parliament by three seats, requiring 51.

Finally on July 19, 2010, Bouterse was elected as President of Suriname; and took office on August 12.

THE DECEMBER MURDERS - 1982

On December 8, 1982, 15 prominent political opponents of the military regime - thirteen civilians and two military officials - were taken from their homes to Fort Zeelandia and executed under the political eye of the then coup leader & army commander Desi Bouterse. 

After his 2010 inauguration, Bouterse immediately honored all nine still living conspirators, who together with him had been leaders of the 1980 coup, with the country's highest honor - the Grand Cordon of the Honorary Order of the Yellow Star.

(PHOTO: Desi Bouterse/Wikipedia) This led to great controversy internationally, since all nine are accused of involvement in the December murders.

The killings have cast a long shadow over Suriname for the last 30 years and it was only in 2007, 20 years after democracy had returned to the country, that a court case against the suspects began - with Bouterse thought to be the main perpetrator

Bouterse has denied any involvement in the killings, saying that the decision was made by the commander of the battalion, Paul Bhagwandas, who died in 1996, although he does take `political responsibility' for the event. 

INTERNATIONAL OUTLAW

Since his rule began in 2010, Bouterse has been accused on various occasions of involvement in illegal drug trafficking and in July 1999, he was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands (Suriname's former colonial parent, along with Britain) to nine years in prison for cocaine trafficking.  In 2011, Wikileaks published a cable in which the American embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname's capital, confirmed Bouterse's involvement in drug trafficking, together with Shaheed Roger Khan from Guyana.

From that point  there has been an international warrant for his arrest ordered by Europol, the European Union's criminal intelligence agency. 

But, according to the United Nations Convention against illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (UNODC), since he was convicted before his election as Head of State in 2010 he has no immunity from the prosecution.  

Even though he was found guilty in the Netherlands, he has remained free in Suriname. Though the Surinamese government said that it is preparing `a' case against the perpetrators of the December murders to be brought before a judge this Spring - as the statue of limitations on prosecution runs out.  

BOUTERSE AS PRESIDENT

None of this prevented Bouterse from being elected president in 2010 and becoming a well-liked politician among young voters in particular, who have been supportive of his election.

Within a year and a half, he has put the country back on the map in the region and attracted investors; while both friends and frenemies, including the United States and France, have praised his progress.  

Even the Caribbean leadership community CARICOM has honored Suriname by holding its  annual `Heads of Government' meeting in the country, March of this year.  

Representatives of the Surinamese parliament say that President Bouterse should give an explanation for the Wikileaks cable; but officials from Bouterse's office discard this as not being their problem.

(PHOTO: Desi Bouterse as military leader, 1985/Wikipedia) AMNESTY OUTRAGE

Now, the Surinamese parliament is debating a 1989 amnesty law - which would include a new amendment - granting President Desi Bouterse immunity from prosecution for his part in the 1982 killings.  Put forward by fellow party members of the former army commander, it is likely to be supported by almost all the coalition parties in parliament.

In an unusual move for the Surinamese law-making body which often takes years to vote on laws, the amnesty bill was announced two weeks ago, and started going through the assembly immediately. During last weekend's debate some parliamentarians asked not to even discuss the ‘December murders’, saying the bill has nothing to do it.

And its timing is no coincidence either - as the court martial period for the December murders is drawing to an end on April 13, when the public prosecutor will also sum up his case, a judge will hand down a sentence sometime in May.

Meanwhile, the issue has become an international outrage among governments and human rights groups.

The Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Uri Rosenthal issued a statement this week saying Suriname should `abide by its international obligations'; and a spokesperson for the European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the so-called December murders must be `cleared up, as reconciliation will only be possible then'.  

Yesterday in London, Amnesty International’s Secretariat started a worldwide ‘Urgent Action’ campaign against passage of Suriname's Amnesty Act, calling on its networks to send e-mails to Suriname’s Parliament protesting against the bills passage over the next 6 weeks.  

WHAT DOES SURINAME WANT TO DO?

“We are young and we want stability in the country,” says Melvin Bouva, a member of Bouterse’s party and one of the authors of the amnesty bill. "Amnesty is the best solution for the country.”  

A sentiment which relates what politicians say is 'Suriname’s ever-present political pragmatism'.

Local rights organizations, relatives of those executed in 1982, and former President Venetiaan sent a letter to the National Assembly asking for the amnesty law to be rejected saying, "People have committed acts, let them bear the consequences now."

The bill needs a simple majority and the support of at least one of the government's coalition partners from either the Pertjajah Luhur (PL) party or the Interior Party ABOP to pass - and who also want to stay in power as part of Bourtese's coalition too.

But, Suriname is party to international treaties that consider crimes against humanity punishable under all circumstances and it remains to be seen if the country wants to face its past as a new regional leader, or move on, leaving ghosts in its closets.

The National Assembly is expected to finish its debate on the Amnesty law later this week. 

---HUMNEWS

Wednesday
Oct052011

Rights Group: Syrian Expats Bullied by Mukhabarat (NEWS BRIEF) 

By D. Parvaz in the Middle East 

Amnesty International has just released a report on how Syrian security forces are targeting expat Syrians who have spoken out against the Syrian government, in hopes of silencing them.

The report, titled "Mukhabaraat: Violence and harassment against Syrians abroad and their relatives back home" details just how far reaching the tentacles of the regime are.

Even the parents of expat activists aren't spared. The report details how the parents of one activist [his father is 73 years old, his mother 66] were beaten, left bloody and bruised in Homs because he attended a pro-reform demonstration in front of the White House.

The rights group details the Mukhabarat's activities in North America, Europe and Latin America, documenting over 30 cases of expats being targeted by Syrian security forces, who employ surveillance and open threats in an effort to maintain control over anti-government activists living overseas:

Many have been filmed and orally intimidated while taking part in protests outside Syrian embassies, while some have been threatened, including with death threats, or physically attacked by individuals believed to be connected with the Syrian regime.

The report includes a couple of cases from Canada, where Syrian expats have been quite active in trying to mobilise n their own community as well as spurring the Canadian government into taking diplomatic action against Syria.

reported on their activities in August, when several activists told me of being threatened, filmed, photographed and intimidated by the Syrian government.  In fact, the Syrian government even sought informants before the uprising. One expat, who went by Saleem, told me:

Two years ago, before the revolution, his friend was contacted by someone from the Syrian embassy in Canada, who, he said, approached 'as a friend.' But it was immediately clear that the embassy representative wanted to pressure his friend to inform on other Syrian nationals.

'It's the way they do it. They Syrian embassy gets every one of us to spy on each other. This way, we don't trust each other and we live in fear,' he said.

One activists even told me that there were Lebanese nationals in Canada co-operating with the Syrian government in collecting information on activists in Syria, and that the expat community there was creating a "shame list" of these informants.

You can read Amnesty International's full report here.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing  

Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @DParvaz

Saturday
Jun042011

Sex, The Migrant Laborer and the City (NEWS BRIEF/BLOG) 

Migrant Laborer's PHOTO CREDIT: AlJazeeraby Imran Garda

“Today is my girlfriend's birthday sir...”

I wince, eyes reflexively open and shut again at the “sir”, but try instead to focus on the content of the statement.

“Really? Great. Which one?”

He blends a Cheshire cat smile meets the Keralite it’s-unclear-whether-my-head-bobbing-means-yes-or-no into a cheeky boyish smirk. A Casanova symphony. Let’s call him the “Keralite Cat”, for future reference.

“Sir, the Filippina. The hot one, old one, but hot one. The maid.”

“The prettiest, sexiest one?” I asked, already possessing the knowledge that she was one of three in a collection of girlfriends, that included an Indonesian and Nepali too. 

South East Asian unity that would make the UN proud, if it weren't for the fact they were each oblivious to the existence of the others. Smooth. 

“No sir, hot, hot, hawwwt. You understand? She like to do hawwwt things sir...crazy things sir...maybe I’m not enough for her!”, the giggle and resurfacing of the bobbing head-smile symphony. 

And then he made a gesture to me, one that this innocent writer, mind hitherto undefiled, just can’t quite blog about. I could sketch a picture maybe. Or maybe not. But let’s concede that I would never again look at his car’s hand-break, or any car’s hand-break in the same way. Then he showed me a picture of her on his mobile, she looked 15 years his senior. Hello Mrs Filipina Robinson...

“Where do you guys do this, erm, stuff?” I blushingly asked.

“In my accommodation. In the car sometimes, but we must be very very careful. If police catch us...”, his hand assumed a Karate chop shape at his neck, and he swiped across. Then laughter.

Another cabbie story

Yes, I’ve got another cabbie story, so my fellow AJE blogger Evan Hill can look away, spit three times to his left and maybe say, “astaghfirullah” - I’ve heard he finds my taxi driver stories problematic. Sorry Evan. 

Plus, after Michael Paterniti’s GQ feature about Al Jazeera had quoted me giving an analogy about politicians and the men who drive them, I think I’m developing a bit of a reputation as the “man-who-talks-a lot-of-BS-about-men-behind-the-wheel”.

So, pardon my insatiable obsession. I’ll try my best to show how this story has relevance to setting the global news agenda. Evan, if you’re still reading, I’m trying.

This time, I wasn’t in Washington DC talking to immigrant cabbies about Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad lair, and this time I promise my subeditor won’t place a picture of a street scene from a completely different city to the one I’m writing about (a picture of New York City in the winter accompanied my article set in Washington DC in the spring). 

It might be simpler this time, they could just step outside of our air-conditioned hub and into the heat (a different heat/hot/hawwwt to the previously referenced of course) with a camera and click. I’m talking about Doha. 

My driver friend officially works on call 24/7, for a far-eastern businessman, running the Middle Eastern operation of some far-eastern company, whose penchant for herculean spells of imbibing the stuff you can only get at 5-star hotels in Qatar (so I’ve heard) after work, tends to give the Keralite Cat some free time to do some “illegal” driving on the side. He earns QR900 (roughly $250) a month, so I’m happy to  contribute to some of the illegality.

Hence, when providence doth bless this humble writer to embark on another spell of work in the Doha desert, devoid of my 4X4 in days of old when I actually lived here, he’s the first person I call. We talk a lot. We talk about work, sometimes politics, sometimes cricket, sometimes football. We talk a lot about inequality too.

Would you believe it?

But this is not the platform for another “the horrors of the Gulf” splash.

Johann Hari and Nesrine Malik have written about Dubai in particular, the latter calling it a “place where the worst of western capitalism and Gulf Arab racism meet in a horrible vortex”

I could tell you about the labour camps I visited where 10 men sleep in a cramped room that they cook in too; of the many I spoke to over the years whose employers choose (on a whim, not for want of money) not to pay them their salaries, or ever return their passports to them; of the hundreds of thousands of these migrants from overpopulated nations further east - those who build this modern day materialist paradise, where once only the folk-songs of bedouins and malnourished pearl-divers echoed through the whirling grains of sand - and little else existed, until oil and gas reared their controversial, sticky, bubbly heads from the sleepy infertile surface.

I could tell you of “Family Day” signs at the entrances to the malls across the country on the weekends, designed to keep the wretched of the earth out so Arabs and Westerners can savour their Krispy Kreme Donuts and carry their oversized shopping bags from Armani Exchange without the experience being soiled by those smelly Indians, or Nepalis.

While Qatar considers reforming labour laws and scrapping it’s “sponsorship” system that even the prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor al-Thani once called “unacceptable and close to slavery”; while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch play catchup and get some amnesty themselves from reporting about Darfur or Libya or Syria or China or North Korea and one day hope to raise the issue of workers’ rights in the Gulf; while those of us who earned our tax-free salaries cried crocodile tears for the workers that by default allowed us to assume our roles as lords and “madams” and “sirs”, and while we drove our 4X4s past the little men in one size-fits-all blue jumpsuits bought in bulk from Carrefour, drilling a foundation for a new phallic tower in the blazing 49 degree celsius midday heat, we forgot something. We forgot something important. 

The Keralite Cat's tales, in all its frivolity, made a profound point about the drivers, construction workers, the maids and cleaners:

Can you believe that these people make love?

Can you believe they even cheat on each other? 

Can you believe that they buy each other birthday presents too?

And one day, just one day, these subhumans, like the Keralite Cat and Mrs Filipina Robinson, might even take the “hawwwt” stuff to a new level, might even have the audacity to pull up the hand-break on their own destiny, despite the macro constraints of an unequal “globalised economy” that makes them travel to dusty places far away, where the rule is simple - they must work so we can eat.

Originally published by Al Jazeera on June 3, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 

Tuesday
Jan252011

Protests Erupt Throughout Egypt: "Twitterized Revolution" (UPDATED 1540GMT)

(HN, January 26, 2010) - In what is being described as an extraordinary moment for Egypt, thousands of protestors from all walks of life hit the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities Tuesday to vent their outrage at the 30-year rule of the Hosni Mubarak regime. 

Smaller protests were reported today (Wednesday) in central Cairo and other cities amid signs the government was drawing a new line in the sand: as many as 800 people have been reportedly arrested.

As dusk fell yesterday, reports began to emerge of teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets used by police against protestors. Indeed by 1am local time, riot police moved in with force to clear Cairo's central Tahrir Square of people. Some estimates put the number of people in the square at 20,000.

News agencies report that at least four people have now died from protests.

A HUMNEWS source in central Cairo said it appeared that mobile phone networks were being constrained or shut down for a second day today. Activists on social networking sites said authorities have been blocking popular social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. (For its part, Twitter has confirmed its services are being blocked in Egypt).

Thousands of protesters, some throwing rocks and climbing on top of an armoured police truck, clashed with riot police in the centre of Cairo. Police responded with water cannon, batons and tear gas. Demonstrators were shouting "Down with Mubarak," and "demanding an end to Egypt's grinding poverty, corruption, unemployment and police abuses."

Also today, Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to refrain from using excessive force against demonstrators. “We witnessed reckless policing yesterday with the security forces relying on tear gas and using rubber bullet as a first resort” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry was quoted as saying that public gatherings, protests and marches will no longer be tolerated. The authorities have vowed to arrest and prosecute anyone found to be taking to the streets against the government.

(In Rome today, Egypt's trade and industry minister, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, told a news conference  there is no risk of destabilization. "I think the discontent can be managed," he said).

Nonetheless, Twitter feeds were full of notices about another mass protest on Friday. There are reports that officials will cut power to areas of Cairo if protests continue.

One tweet that has been widely circulated says: "A call for a one million protester march this Friday after prayers at around 1pm - this is for everyone Christians and Muslims."

One of the photos of protests in Cairo that went viral over the InternetAs with the historic protests in Tunisia earlier this month, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook appeared to have played a major role in mobilzing people. One Twitter post called the events in Egypt a "Twitterzied Revolution."

Social networking sites are not only being used to mobilize people. One tweet being circulated pleaded for owners of wireless networks to remove passwords so that people on the ground could continue reporting on developments to the outside world. Others were being advised to send mobile phone credit to anyone who needed a top-up.

"Anyone with wireless connection at home near to Tahrir Square, remove the password so ppl can access the Net to keep in touch," said one tweet that quickly went viral.

As the sun set, one Tweet said a huge neon portrait of Mubarak near the Raml Station in Alexandria had been shattered.

It is impossible to predict where the protests will go and for how long. The Egyptian security apparatus is known for maintaining a tight grip on the country, which has been under emergency rule for years.

Nonetheless, security forces were clearly caught off guard by the widespread protests. One observer said that, unlike the Tunisian protests, the gatherings in Egypt today were small and numerous - difficult for a security apparatus to control.

Western news agencies too - spread out thinly with breaking news in Lebanon, Tunisia, Albania and the World Economic Forum in Davos - seemed to have few resources on the ground in Egypt.

Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the widespread internet censorship and attacks on journalists by police. It added that access to several local online publications were blocked - including Al-Badil, Al-Dustour and Al-Masry.

Some analysts say Egypt - with its large numbers of unemployed, disenfranchise youth and yawning disparities between rich and poor - is a "Tunisia" waiting to happen.

Poverty and joblessness are widespread in Egypt, where the population may exceed 100 million by 2020. The UNDP Human Development Index (2006) ranks Egypt 111 out of 177 countries. Recent estimates from the World Bank show that 23% of the population live below the national poverty line with more than 12% of children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition.

- HUMNEWS staff, agencies