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Monday:  October 6, 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 human rights (13)

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

Thursday
Mar292012

Chinese leader asks Apple's Tim Cook to care for workers (REPORT) 

(Original Apple logo design/Apple Corporation)

By Michael Kan

Apple CEO Tim Cook met with a top Chinese official on Tuesday, who called on foreign companies to pay more attention to the care of their workers in the country, according to state-run media.

The maker of the iconic iPad and iPhone devices is already facing criticism for alleged poor working conditions at the Chinese factories of its supplier Foxconn.

Cook met with vice premier Li Keqiang, a day after he visited Beijing's mayor. Experts have said the meetings are meant to bolster ties with the Chinese government as the nation has become critical to Apple's manufacturing and product sales.

During his meeting with Cook, Li said he hoped Apple and foreign firms would increase cooperation with China, and push for industrial development in the country's central and western regions, according to a Wednesday report by the Xinhua News Agency.

Li, however, also hoped multinational companies would pay more concern to their Chinese workers.

In response to criticism of the working conditions at Foxconn's plants in China, Apple has defended its policies and opened up its Chinese supplier factories for an internal audit by a labor rights group.

(PHOTO: Tim Cook visits a Foxconn plant in China, 3.29/Apple Corporation)On Wednesday, Cook visited a Foxconn factory in China. Apple released photos showing Cook at an iPhone production line at a newly built Foxconn manufacturing plant, which employs 120,000 people.

This is Cook's first visit to China as Apple CEO. Before becoming company head, Cook visited the country in 2010 to investigate working conditions at Foxconn factories following a string of worker suicides.

In China, Apple also faces a heated legal battle over the ownership of the iPad trademark, which threatens to ban sales of the company's iconic tablet in the country. A little-known Chinese firm called Proview acquired the iPad trademarks for China in 2001, but claims it never sold the trademark rights to Apple in 2009. A Chinese court is preparing to pass a judgment on the case.

During Tuesday's meeting with China's vice premier, Li also called for fair competition and improved intellectual property protection among domestic and foreign businesses in the country. Cook said the company would deepen cooperation with China by running its business in a law-abiding manner.

On Tuesday, a Proview representative said in a microblog post the company would carry on its trademark lawsuits against Apple for five or ten years, despite Cook's attempts to build up Chinese government support.

"We firmly believe, that no matter what effect Cook's visit has on government relations, Apple's intellectual property infringement has already reached a final verdict, and that the company must receive the ultimate punishment according to Chinese law," wrote Li Su, the head of the consultancy group managing Proview, which is facing bankruptcy.

--This article originally appeared in CFOWorld, via IDG News Service.

Wednesday
Mar282012

In India, Empower the Health-Care Consumer with Knowledge (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: `The Prescription' - Health education must be expanded to create awareness of secondary prevention, the working of the health-care system & the importance of health insurance/K. Gopinathan)By Poongothai Aladi Aruna

To enjoy the fruits of economic reforms holistically, it is mandatory for India to focus on health education.

A couple of years ago, two incidents made me realize that the importance of health education - as an invaluable tool, key to preventive and diagnostic health care - is poorly understood. The first was when a group of women instigated by higher officials in their beedi company made a representation to me that they were against the government's idea of a logo with a skull stating “smoking is injurious to health” on the beedi packets they produce, as that would be detrimental to their livelihood.  The second was during the Assembly session when an elected member requested the then transport minister to go easy on government drivers reprimanded for drunken or rash driving.

These two case scenarios are not straightforward livelihood issues but are rather complex with a negative impact on the health, economic, and social well-being of our country. Health education is very often construed to be within the realms of sanitation, hygiene, maternal and childcare, yet even in these areas the impact of health education is incomplete and patchy. In developed countries, health education is a key component of the healthcare system and the budget.

Empowering the health-care consumer with the knowledge to understand the health-care system and to question health-care providers should be the goal of health literacy programs.

(PHOTO: Open sewage is often the main water supply in Africa/HUMNEWS)Inadequate sanitation, sub-optimal reproductive health and prevalence of life-threatening infectious diseases were all global phenomena a few hundred years ago. Industrialization and affluence alone did not contribute to optimal human development indicators in developed nations but intensive social engineering through vigorous health education programs contributed to these positive changes. India with its inherent diversity, paradoxes and its recently acquired economic prosperity, has to battle with communicable, non-communicable illnesses and psychosocial disorders.

A rise in road traffic accidents, illnesses related to alcohol, tobacco consumption and psychosocial disorders are increasingly affecting the most productive age group of our country. The long-term repercussions of these preventable deaths can become a huge burden to the nation's economy. Hence there is an urgent need not to restrict health education to primary prevention but expand it to create awareness of secondary prevention, the working of the health-care system, the importance of health insurance, etc.

For positive behavioral changes

To combat these public health problems with our limited health resources and to obtain maximum gain it is essential to create an innovative health education policy that would lead to intrinsic positive behavioral changes amid our general populace. Health education leads to empowerment and emancipation of health-care consumers resulting in a standardised quality health-care system.

Postgraduate, graduate and diploma courses on health education with adequate job opportunities should be created for health educators. Research suggests that an improvement in health literacy has a positive effect on the nation's economy.  A World Bank report indicates that the economic impact of inadequate sanitation in India in 2006 was Rs.1.7 trillion, and in 2010, Rs.2.4 trillion.

(PHOTO: Interestingemails.com) The Planning Commission of India states that India accounts for 9.5 per cent of the total 1.2 million deaths from road traffic accidents, incurring an annual loss of Rs.550 billion. If just these public health problems alone can result in a loss of several trillion rupees, the amount of both direct and indirect losses to the exchequer will be an unimaginable sum when the remaining diseases are calculated.

Undoubtedly the economic reforms have uplifted millions from poverty, but one major illness, an unexpected death or severe injury from a road traffic accident will push them back to their below the poverty (starting) line. Cost-benefit analysis, cost-effective analysis and cost utility analysis are useful and powerful tools for decision making.

To enjoy the fruits of economic reforms holistically, it is mandatory for India to focus on health education, as the huge savings will enable us to achieve the millennium development goals that would in turn lead to the creation of an effective social security system on a par or even superior to what is there in the developed nations. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “it is health that is real wealth, and not pieces of gold or silver.”

---This opinion editorial originally appeared in The Hindu. The author is a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in India; and a former Tamil Nadu Minister.

Wednesday
Feb012012

Femicide and The Drug War's Invisible Victims (PERSPECTIVE) 

(On The Edge, a documentary covering the brutal murders of hundreds of young women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico since 1993. {2006})

By Laura Carlsen

There are many kinds of war. The classic image of a uniformed soldier kissing mom good-bye to risk his life on the battlefield has changed dramatically. In today’s wars, it’s more likely that mom will be the one killed.

UNIFEM states that by the mid-1990s, 90% of war casualties were civilians-- mostly women and children.

Mexico’s drug war is a good example of the new wars on civilian populations that blur the lines between combatants and place entire societies in the line of fire. Of the more than 50,000 people killed in drug war-related violence, the vast majority are civilians. President Felipe Calderón claims that 90% of the victims were linked to drug cartels. But how does he know? In a country where only 2% of crimes are investigated, tried, and sentenced, the government pulled this figure out of its sleeve.

There is no official information on why these thousands were killed. When their bodies are found in unmarked mass graves, no one even knows who they were. With violence the norm, executions can—and do--target grassroots leaders, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, and rebellious youth under the cloak of the drug war.

(PHOTO: Victim's families hope for justice/FP) Not Just Homicide

There are also war tolls beyond the body counts. The homicide number misses the disappeared, the thousands whose bodies--dead or alive--are never found to be counted. And it hides the mutilation of lives caused by “collateral damage”: the loss of loved ones, families forced from their homes, permanent injury, orphans and widows, sexual abuse, lives lived in fear.

These costs fall primarily on the shoulders of women--the mothers, daughters, and sisters who are left with the nearly impossible task of seeking answers and redress in a justice system outpaced by the violence and overrun by the corruption. They are often re-victimized by government agencies that ignore, reject, or stifle their pleas for justice.

“Families that demand that our children be found face all kinds of threats… the loss of our property, isolation, rejection by our own families,” said Araceli Rodríguez, a mother whose son, a young policeman, was disappeared on the job. His police unit refuses to give information on his disappearance.  “I wake up and find that it’s not a nightmare, that his absence is real and the impunity is also real.”

It’s rare to hear the voices of the women who bear the brunt of the drug war. Their pain doesn’t make headlines. Some need anonymity to remain alive. Many have been granted protective measures by the government or international human rights organizations because of the extreme threats they face.

Telling Stories

Despite all these difficulties, some 70 women told their stories amid tears and despite fear for their lives in Mexico City on January 22. The meeting called by the Nobel Women’s Initiative brought an international delegation led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams together with Mexican women victims of the violence and women human rights defenders.

From the sketchy statistics available, women make up a relatively small proportion of the murdered in Mexico, but they are the majority of citizens who denounce disappearances, murders, and human rights violations in the drug war. They work on the front lines of defending communities and human rights. For their efforts, they become targets themselves. In Mexico, six prominent women human rights defenders have been murdered in the past two years.

(PHOTO: Nobel Women's Initiative delegation to Mexico/NWI)The last report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders recognized that threats and especially “explicit death threats against women human rights defenders are one of the main forms of violence in the region, with more than half coming from Latin America, most of those (27) from Mexico.”

Sometimes it’s the drug cartels that seek to silence women activists. But a recent survey of Mexican women human rights defenders revealed that they cite the government (national, state, and local) and its security forces as responsible in 55% of cases of violence and threats of violence to women defenders. Among government officials charged with public safety and justice, they encounter at best indifference and at worst death threats and attacks. A human rights defender from the state of Coahuila explained that searching for a disappeared loved one implies “always having to be in the hell of the institutions, which are often infiltrated by crime.”

Gender-based violence including femicide has skyrocketed in the context of the overall violence.

The number of femicides in Chihuahua since sending the army in has risen to 837 for the period 2008-2011 June - nearly double the total femicides in 1993-2007. Women rights defenders report that the vast majority of threats and acts of violence against them include gender-based violence.

Silent No More

Olga Esparza, whose daughter Monica disappeared in Ciudad Juarez in 2009, explains through her tears that the government simply doesn’t care. “We’re the ones who have to carry out the investigations, with our own resources.” She adds that government officials often add insult to injury, “They say she’s probably just gone off with her boyfriend or she’s a prostitute or drug addict.” In her case, as with so many others, there’s no investigation, no results, no justice.

(PHOTO: Keeping memories alive/Dominio Público)Another woman described how her work with indigenous communities led to her rape and torture by police agents. She continues to live in terror due to threats against her life and her family.

Alma Gomez of the Center for the Human Rights of Women in Chihuahua summed up what she sees in the center, “Women are the invisible victims, we are always at risk in this military and police occupation. We know of gang rapes by security forces that the women don’t even report; arbitrary arrests; women who make the rounds between army barracks and city morgues searching for their sons, fathers, or husbands… We are the spoils of war in a war we didn’t ask for and we don’t want.”

“Victim” is really the wrong word for these women. The mother whose son disappeared more than two years ago said, “In the struggle to find my son, I joined the peace movement. I learned that I can transform my pain into a collective force and together we can help more people to have a voice and to now be empowered to defend their rights.”

Valentina Rosendo, a Me’phaa indigenous woman from the State of Guerrero, was raped by soldiers and took her case all the way up to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. She sums up the reason for participating in the Nobel Women’s forum, “It’s really hard to speak out, but it’s more painful to keep quiet.” 

- Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. Originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Related click here 

Tuesday
Jan172012

Justice Chases a Human-Rights Judge (NEWS BRIEF) 

By Jonah Hull in Europe

Judge Balthasar Garzon PHOTO: WikipediaThose who have claimed Judge Balthasar Garzon is the victim of a judicial witch-hunt by colleagues jealous of his fame, might have been surprised to see the top investigative judge arrive at Madrid's Supreme Court flanked by six of his fellow judges showing their support.

The group walked towards the courthouse through a throng of demonstrators calling for justice in Garzon's name.

One told me, "This is a democracy and this judge is being judged by corrupt people. The hunter has become the hunted."

Inside, Garzon was met by applause from members of the legal fraternity. It's clear, Garzon has plenty of support, but plenty of enemies as well.

The darling of human-rights groups - and victims - in Spain and around the world, Balthasar Garzon stepped on many toes in his long career.

Arch-conservatives in Spain are angry at his attempts to dig up Spain's wartime past.

Plenty of enemies

Members of both the ruling Popular Party and the previous Socialist government resent indictments handed down implicating officials in corruption and state-sponsored death squads. 

He's no friend of extant elements of old regimes in Latin America, where amnesties for war crimes have successively been tested and repealed in Guatemala and Argentina after Garzon's indictment of Chile's General Augusto Pinochet in the late 1990s.

He's even viewed with suspicion in the US after WikiLeaks revealed cables describing Garzon as having an anti-American streak following his investigation into alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay.

But perhaps the most outspoken reaction has come from the New York-based Human Rights Watch who've called trials against Garzon an "outrage".

The cases, they say, have already dissuaded judges elsewhere from applying the principle of universal justice - cherished by Garzon - to determine which governments are obliged to investigate the worst international crimes, regardless of relevant amnesties.

It was that principle that Garzon used to indict Pinochet and which successively led to the overturning of amnesties in Latin America.

And it is also the principle he relied upon to open an investigation into wartime abuses by the forces of General Francisco Franco during Spain's civil war in the 1930s, despite a government amnesty passed in 1977 for "political acts" committed at that time. 

For this act he faces trial next week. Garzon's actions appear to be supported by international law - both the principle of universal justice and the notion that disappearances remain open cases until the fate of victims is known.

'Crime against humanity'

Garzon himself described the alleged Franco abuses as "a systematic drive to crush opponents and thus a crime against humanity".

His work on the investigation began and ended in 2008 after a dispute over jurisdiction. But the effect lingered until another case presented an opportunity. 

He had ordered the phone-tapping of conversations between the detained suspected ringleaders of a corruption ring involving officials from the now-ruling Popular Party and their lawyers.

He'd suspected they were discussing money laundering, and indeed, one lawyer was subsequently indicted. 

The state prosecutor opposed criminal charges, saying no crime had been committed. 

Private prosecutions brought by the lawyers and detainees in the first case, and pro-Franco groups in the second. And they were accepted for trial by the supreme court - the only court empowered to try a sitting judge, which is almost unprecedented in Spain.

Garzon doesn't face jail time but could be struck off for many years. Even if acquitted, the feeling is that the stain on Garzon's reputation could mean the end of the road in the long career of Spain's - and perhaps the world's - most famous investigative judge.

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License

Saturday
Dec032011

Child Labour Widespread in Ukrainian Mines (REPORT)

 

(HN, December 3, 2011) - Children in their early teens have been observed and filmed working in coal mines in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Government is ignoring the problem, activists say.

There are at least 800 illegal coal mines in Ukraine, where children work alongside adults, according to a video released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2005. However, sources say today the conditions are much worse, with the number of mines at well over 2,000.

The ILO has described the illegal coal mines, or kopankas (копанки), as "one of the most dangerous workplaces in the modern world." One American journalist called the conditions "medieval."

The front line of the situation appears to be in the eastern oblast of Donetsk (Донецьк) and the surrounding Donbas region. Ukraine's richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov (Рінат Ахметов), who owns the Ukrainian football club, Shakhtar Donetsk, comes from Donetsk.

The Donetsk region is also where the elected President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, spent his troubled childhood and where he started his political career.

Children working in the mines are reported to be as young as 12 and receive as little as $1-a-day. (The Ukrainian Labour Code sets a minimum working age of 16). Children as young as 12 are said to work in illegal Ukrainian coal mines. CREDIT: Дзеркало тижня

Many of the pits where children have been seen working are extremely rudimentary, with small entrance ways located under homes and fences, deep in wooded forests - even in vegetable gardens. In some villages in Donetsk Oblast, the holes are so numerous that it causes a risk to children, who could fall as deep as 50 meters.

A documentary produced by a Baltic company called "Pit Number Eight" shows teenage children collecting coal deep underground with the most minimal of safety equipment and no adult supervision

The ILO documentary (above) says working children have no fixed hours and work in unsafe working conditions using primitive, hand-made instruments. It says that even the simplest of safety measures - emergency exits, ventilation, gas detectors and ceiling reinforcements - are missing.

Rights activists say the industry is so lucrative that the oligarchs and senior politicians - right up to the President's Administration and his circle - profit handsomely from it and have little inclination to stop the use of child labour.

The previous administrations of Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko were successful in closing many of these illegal mining operations, but over 2000 kopanka’s reopened just as soon as Yanukowych and the Party of Regions came to power in March 2010, activists say.

In fact, earlier this year, a Ukrainian government working commission was set up in Donbas, to explore ways of legalizing kopanka’s instead of eliminating them.

Ukrainian activist Lyubov Maksymovich confirmed recently that Kopanka’s are an “open secret” in Ukraine. "Everyone knows about this abuse, but everyone including many journalists are too scared to talk about it publicly, fearing repercussions from the mafia and or the government."

Activists say there is a direct link from the kopankas to the top captains of industry.

Said one: "The business model that kopanka coal pits employ is simple. The illegally-produced coal using child labour. is delivered to the local trading site –or coal bazaar (usually by the truck loads), where it is bought, usually for cash, hand-to-hand by the representatives of conditioning and refinement factories. No paper trail. Afterwards, this illegal coal undergoes conditioning and refinement, where it becomes fully “legal” and a standardized product of these factories, which is then sold for metallurgy, power generation, or is exported."

The profitability of kopanka operations was estimated by the Segodnya newspaper at $125,000 per month per mine, a “backyard cottage” industry that produces 100 tons of coal per day.

Activists and volunteers in Canada and Ukraine say they have sifted through thousands of Russian documents, stories, videos  and TV news items looking for facts (the smoking gun) that could link illegal child labor practices in Kopanka’s directly to the Ukrainian State Coal Mining companies in Donbas. They allege that, through the transaction process, coal and money are laundered to create the appearance of legality.

One critical op-ed on the kopankas penned for the Kyiv Post was reportedly removed from the newspaper's website after it hit a nerve with Akhmetov. In an email dated November 1, 2011, and shared with HUMNEWS, Brian Bonner, a senior editor at the Kyiv Post, is quoted as saying to the writer: "Your opinion piece has created a stir with Rinat Akhmetov's people, so we have deactivated the article until we investigate."

In a July 2011 Kyiv Post article on illegal mines in Donetsk, the newspaper actually praised Akhmetov's mining companies - Pavlogradvuhilia mines, owned by Ukraine’s largest energy holding DTEK, a part of the oligarch's System Capital Management group. The Post reported: "It offers miners a salary of almost Hr 8,000 per month, stringent safety conditions and some social benefits, such as cheap holidays."

The problem of child labour in Ukraine is so widespread that a Ukrainian newspaper, Дзеркало Tижня, called it a "tradition" - estimating as many as 350,000 under-age workers in the country.

In a joint statement in 2009 with the Ombudsman of Ukraine, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said: "More often Ukrainian children become victims of worst forms of child labour, human trafficking, prostitution and pornography." It also called for more stringent enforcement and changes in legislation.

The ILO says  it is working together with trade unions and the government to put an end to child labour and create new jobs.

 - HUMNEWS staff

 

Saturday
Sep172011

Outsourcing to private security contractors threatens rights, UN panel warns (REPORT)

Faiza Patel, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries. CREDIT: UN(HN, September 17, 2011) A UN watchdog group is calling for greater regulation of mercenaries and private military and security companies by both host and contributor countries to ensure respect for human rights and accountability for any abuses committed.

“Outsourcing security creates risks for human rights,” panel Chair-Rapporteur and Pakistani lawyer Faiza Patel told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in presenting reports on Iraq, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.

The three countries present different aspects of the problem, with Iraq a major theatre of operations by private military and security companies; South Africa a major source of people with extensive military skills and experience unwilling or unable to find jobs since the end of apartheid in 1994; and Equatorial Guinea the scene of a 2004 coup attempt involving mercenaries.

Aside from Patel, the panel included experts from Chile, Spain, Poland and South Africa.

The panel noted in its report on Iraq that incidents involving private military and security companies there had dropped since the killing of 17 civilians and wounding of 20 others in Nissour Square in Baghdad by employees of the United States security company Blackwater in 2007.

But it added that Iraq continues to grapple with the grant of legal immunity extended to private security contractors by US authorities after the 2003 invasion, preventing prosecutions in Iraqi courts while the case against the alleged perpetrators is still pending in US courts.

“The Working Group is deeply concerned about the lack of accountability for violations committed between 2003 and 2009 and recalls that the victims of such violations and their families are still waiting for justice,” the report said, calling on Iraq to clarify urgently whether a provision it signed with the US in 2009 removing immunity of some private foreign security contractors covers all contractors employed by the US Government and is applied in Iraqi courts.

(Blackwater no longer works in Iraq, but other private contractors continue to protect the U.S. Defense Department and private companies).

On South Africa the panel noted that legislation passed in 1998 has not had a significant impact on the private military and security industry, and new laws adopted after the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, in which several South African mercenaries were involved are not yet in force.

“While such legislation seeks to address some of the problems encountered previously, it remains to be seen whether the new legislation will effectively regulate the provision of security services in areas of armed conflict,” it said, calling for accountability mechanisms for private military and security companies at the domestic level as well as effective remedies for potential victims of human rights violations involving such companies.

The report on Equatorial Guinea noted that the 2004 coup attempt was the most widely reported incident clearly involving mercenaries, some of them employees or former employees of private military and security companies from several countries, illustrating “possible close and disturbing links” between mercenaries and such companies.

The panel used harsh wording when referring to the administration of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who took power in 1979 by ousting a predecessor who had ruled for 11 years.

This makes the monitoring of such links all the more necessary, it said, calling on the Government to adopt laws to regulate the activities of such companies and their employees.

Turning to an armed attack on the presidential palace in Malabo, the capital, by alleged mercenaries in 2009, the panel regretted the authorities’ lack of transparency and lack of cooperation extended during its visit to the country.

“The Working Group urges the Government to provide explanations as to how the four men on trial for their alleged involvement in the attack were brought back from Benin to Equatorial Guinea,” it said, strongly condemning their execution after a summary trial “that severely lacked due process and was carried out so promptly as to deny the four men all possibility of appeal.”

It urged the Government to make available to the public full information on all judgments rendered in the criminal cases relating to the attack.

“Since all mercenaries should be held accountable for their actions, the Working Group recommends that anyone who is accused of involvement in a mercenary-related incident be tried by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and in compliance with international human rights standards,” the report concluded.

“The Working Group also recommends that anyone accused of involvement in a mercenary-related incident be treated in accordance with international human rights standards, in particular the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

- UN News Service, HUMNEWS staff

Saturday
Jul022011

Even With Mubarak Gone in Egypt, Cairo Remains a City of Protests (Report) 

Protesters carry Egypt flag on Friday in Tahrir Sq, Cairo, Egypt (CREDIT Alesha Porisky)(Cairo, Egypt. HN, July 2, 2011)  - On Saturday around 200 protestors were still in Cairo’s Tahrir Square following demonstrations on Friday in this city and others, such as Alexandria and Suez, which called for swift justice for the perpetrators of police brutality in clashes on June 28 and 29th.

More than 1,000 people were injured this week when police in and around Tahrir Square tangled with protestors from families of those killed in the January 25 Revolution, and the situation turned violent.  Many criticized the police for using “excessive force” in dealing with the activists.

According to official records forty-nine protesters were arrested on June 28-29 and were detained for 15 days pending investigations by Egypt’s military authority – now in charge of running the day to day operations of the country.  

Protesters called for reforming all state media outlets, the resignation of Egypt’s Minister of Interior Mansour El-Essawy and the reform of the Central Security Forces (CSF).

The military tried to quell opposition by saying it has every intention of following through on parliamentary elections scheduled for September.

Protest organizers speak in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt. 7.1.11 (CREDIT Nejeed Kassam)Egypt's former President, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted on February 11 by an 18-day popular uprising, has been hospitalized since April in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with heart troubles; and some reports say he is also suffering from stomach cancer.  He is scheduled to stand trial on August 3rd on charges of corruption and ordering the killing of citizens during February’s protests.  If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

In recent protests, citizens who first took to the streets to demand the overthrow of Mubarak have begun shifting their anger towards the ruling military council, accusing it of using violent tactics to stifle dissent.

Tents continue to be pitched in the middle of Tahrir Square – and a major mass protest planned more than a month ago, is called for July 8. 

"No to the return of police terror," read one sign left over from Friday's protest, when 5,000 converged on the square.

Protest barricades in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday 7.1.11 (CREDIT Nejeed Kassam)Among the key demands are the trial of officials and police officers in abuse cases before and after the January 25 revolt, an end to military trials of civilians, an inclusive political process and freedom of expression and media.

The biggest public debate in Egypt now, is whether to postpone September's elections, and a new constitution be drawn up first. A number of human rights groups, including the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services, recently put out a statement calling for Egypt to follow the example of Tunisia, and ‘put the horse before the cart’, creating a new constitution first.

---HUMNEWS staff

Tuesday
Mar152011

Abyei: A flashpoint in Sudan's north-south peace process 

Sudanese family fleeing Abyei, photo courtesyAfricasia(HN, March 15, 2011) --- In the aftermath of a wave of violence in the Abyei region of Sudan, that left over 100 dead and three villages burned to the ground, thousands of civilians have fled while residents still in town are angry and disillusioned.

“Abyei still remains a flashpoint which could potentially derail the entire peace process. I urge the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] parties to take immediate action to calm the tensions in the region and urgently reach an agreement on all outstanding issues,” said Mohamed Chande Othman, the UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan.

Othman warns that violence in this disputed territory could derail the implementation of the peace agreement that ended this country’s civil war, despite a successful referendum that endorsed the secession of the south.

Residents of Abyei were due to hold a separate referendum simultaneously with the rest of Southern Sudan in January to decide whether to become part of the North or South. Attempts to create a referendum commission, however, remain deadlocked, amid feuds between communities in the area over the right to vote.

The referendum was seen as the culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended two decades of civil war between the northern and southern Sudan. The CPA paved the way for the right to self-determination for Southern Sudan.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, voicing deep concern at the violence, called on both North and South to restrain the local communities and resume and conclude negotiations on Abyei as a matter of priority.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson he deplored the fact that the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which has intensified its patrolling activities on the ground and is on standby to reinforce its peacekeeping presence if the need arises, has been consistently refused access to areas of conflict and considerably restricted in its movement. He appealed to both parties to allow unhindered access to these areas to assess the situation and immediate needs on the ground.

In a statement issued at the end of his visit to Sudan, conducted from 6 to 13 March, Mr. Othman urged authorities to investigate all reports of killings and attacks on civilians in Abyei and bring those responsible to justice.

 “Since the referendum, there have been five major incidents of violent clashes in Abyei between the local police and armed Misseriya tribesmen which have resulted in the death of civilians and massive displacements,” Mr. Othman added.

Separately, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Haile Menkerios, last week participated in two meetings of the Abyei Standing Committee in Khartoum, during which representatives of the north and their counterparts from the south were unable to move beyond the issue of the deployment of Joint Integrated Units in Abyei.

UNMIS, meanwhile, verified that both sides have reinforced their positions within the Abyei area, including the confirmed presence of Sudanese Armed Forces and Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) troops not affiliated with the Abyei Joint Integrated Units.

Mr. Menkerios urged both sides to restrain their respective troops to minimize clashes while the political leadership discusses a final solution to the status of Abyei.

Mr. Othman also voiced concern over increasing loss of life and displacement of people as a result of criminal activity, cattle rustling and inter-communal violence in Southern Sudan, and urged the Government there to ensure the protection of civilians even as it seeks measures to address insecurity in the region.

On northern Sudan, Mr. Othman said that law enforcement authorities there continued to violate the people’s rights to fundamental rights and other freedoms, including the rights to the freedom of expression, assembly and association.

“The Government continues to hold a number of opposition political leaders, students and civil society actors in detention without charging them with an offence or affording them the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in a court of law,” said Mr. Othman.

He regretted Khartoum’s rejection of his request to meet with the Director General of the National Security Service (NSS) to discuss concerns over the detentions without trial.

“Once again, I wish to draw attention to the guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary arrests and detention enshrined in Sudan’s national constitution and in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Sudan has ratified,” said Mr. Othman.

On Darfur, Mr. Othman said the human rights situation for civilians, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), there remains dire.

‘Fighting between Government forces and the armed movements has intensified since December last year and the warring factions have failed to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” he said.

During a visit to Zam Zam IDP camp near El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, Mr. Othman said he had seen the plight of some of the people displaced by the fighting.

“Their situation is deplorable, to say the least. I am concerned that without immediate humanitarian assistance the situation of these people, many of whom have been displaced for a second or third time, could reach catastrophic levels,” he said.

Meanwhile, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Georg Charpentier, today voiced concern over deteriorating security in Jonglei and Upper Nile states in Southern Sudan, where the southern army is engaged in operations against renegade groups.

Humanitarian agencies have been unable to reach many people who fled areas affected by the fighting due to insecurity, Mr. Charpentier said in a press release.

The SPLA has declared some parts of Jonglei, including parts of Fangak, Pigi and Ayod counties, “no-go areas” during the military operations. UN humanitarian agencies and their NGO partners are unable to go to the those areas to assess the needs of affected civilians, according to Mr. Charpentier.

Humanitarian agencies are negotiating with the SPLA for access to people in need and asking for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to enable vulnerable populations to leave the areas of conflict.

-HUMNews Staff, UN News

Friday
Dec102010

International Human Rights Day Observed Around the World (News Brief)

(HN, December 10, 2010) -- Today is International Human Rights Day. The date was chosen to commemorate the adoption, by the UN General Assembly in 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the first global enunciation of the inalienable rights of mankind.  This year's observance highlights human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.

Here is a round-up of events, developments and comments from around the globe:

- At the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo today, Actress Liv Ullmann read out the final statement the winner - the jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo - made at his trial in December 2009 on charges of subversion against the state. "I have no enemies and no hatred," Ullmann read, as Norway's King Harald and Queen Sonja listened. "None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies."The Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma are seen on an empty chair representing Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo during a ceremony honouring Liu at city hall in Oslo today

- The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has asked China to release Liu, who is sentenced for 11 year prison for a political revolt against China - saying he is an example of a human rights defender who is paying a heavy price for his activism. Liu participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing and is one of China's most prominent activists fighting for greater political freedom and human rights. Pillay added that she will hold talks with Chinese officials for the release of Liu.

- The Nobel prize award ceremony will be held in Oslo today. The Nobel Committee will award the Peace prize to Liu Xiaobo in his absence. The Committee will leave an empty chair for Liu Xiaobo. Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said awarding the peace prize to Liu is not a protest against China. The United States also asked China to release Liu, but China retorted calling them "arrogant and rude."

 - The Britain-based business risk assessment firm Maplecroft released a report in connection with Human Rights Day. It ranks the Democratic Republic of Congo as the worst country for human rights, along with Somalia. Another three sub-Saharan African nations ranked among the worst 10: Sudan, Chad and Zimbabwe. In Asia, Pakistan, Myanmar [Burma], Afghanistan, North Korea and China get the lowest marks, with Russia the worst in Europe. 

(The drafting committee of the Universal Human Rights Declaration, Lake Success, NY, 1947) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday asked American embassies across the globe to open their doors to civil society activists and to listen to their concerns. "The US is committed to promoting and defending civil society around the world. And we will continue to remind leaders of their responsibilities to their citizens under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Clinton said in a statement issued on the occasion of Human Rights Day.

- Chaloka Beyani, an expert in international law at the London School of Economics, said many governments still refuse to face up to what the declaration means in practice. "Within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 21 says that the authority of the government is based on the rights of the people and yet we have seen many instances in Africa and elsewhere where election and their outcomes have been usually contested, from Zimbabwe, Kenya 2007, and now Cote d'Ivoire as we speak, where there was an election, a winner was announced, but the incumbent president refuses to leave office." 

- "An overlooked feature of the declaration is that it ends with duties and obligations upon an individual to their community. Sadly, we have become obsessed with rights, without any corresponding sense of duty, obligation or responsibility. I truly believe that with rights come responsibilities. There needs to be a balance, for our privileges can be no greater than our obligations." - Prashanth Shanmugan - a geopolitical strategist, writer and a United Nations Ambassador for the Global Atlas of Human Rights - writing in Australia's National Times.

- Said Michael C. Williamsis, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, in an op-ed to mark Human Rights Day: "This year’s global celebration of Human Rights Day is dedicated to 'human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.' I believe that human rights concern us all and that every Lebanese and every resident of this country can benefit from the initiatives mentioned above. Lebanon can do a great deal to further improve its human rights record and can count on the support of its friends and partners in the international community in this effort."

- HUMNEWS staff, agencies, UN, VOA

Saturday
Nov132010

(REPORT) Myanmar (aka Burma) opposition leader freed 

Aung San Suu Kyi outside her home moments after release (PHOTO: Mizzima)(HN, November 13, 2010) -- This morning the ruling military junta in Myanmar (aka, Burma) released opposition leader, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Elder member, Aung San Suu Kyi fifteen years after she was placed under house arrest when her party the National League for Democracy won 58 percent of the voting in parliamentary elections in 1990. The results were annulled by the government in power and Suu Kyi has been imprisoned where she’s been since.

Her house arrest was due to end in May 2009, but was extended for eighteen months after she was convicted for violating the terms of her house arrest and until the NLD showed to be strong in last Sunday's elections in Myanmar. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for more than 15 of the last 21 years.

The release comes less than a week after the ruling military government held parliamentary elections for the first time in two decades. The poll was seen as not free and fair by independent observers and harshly criticized by countries like the United States.

It is not clear what forced the government's hand to free Suu Kyi. It may be trying to project a more positive image to the outside world, or it may have been pressured into doing so by neighbouring China, Thailand or fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan said on Saturday he was "very, very relieved" and that he hoped she will not be detained again.

"I'm very, very relieved and hope that this will contribute to true national reconciliation in Myanmar and that Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to play a role in bringing national reconciliation," Surin told news agencies. "Let's hope that there will not be any relapse and that other political prisoners will also benefit from this gesture of national reconciliation."

A UN spokesman said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Suu Kyi "an inspiration" to the world. 

"The secretary general expects that no further restrictions will be placed on her, and he urges the Myanmar authorities to build on today's action by releasing all remaining political prisoners," said the spokesman.

The Philippines, the most outspoken ASEAN member in calling for Suu Kyi's release, also welcomed her freedom but said more needed to be done.

"This is a positive step toward the right path for Myanmar. But the question remains -- will all of her political rights be restored, will they take more substantive steps toward democratisation?" said Ricky Carandang, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino.

"We hope that this meaningful action will be followed by more substantive action. We welcome it, but more needs to be done," Carandang was quoted as saying.

Desmond Tutu, chair of the group of retired senior statesmen known as The Elders, called Suu Kyi "a global symbol of moral courage" and her release "offers hope to the people of Burma." 

The Elders said the government must respect her political rights and not place any conditions on her release. They also called for the freeing of all Myanmar's political prisoners. 

---HUMNEWS staff.

Thursday
Oct072010

(News Brief) UN gathering urges global cooperation to fight human trafficking

(HN, October 7, 2010) --- With human trafficking knowing no borders, anti-trafficking experts from regional and sub-regional organizations have met for the first time in a United Nations-backed forum to discuss how to join forces to counter the scourge.

“Effective coordination of the various anti-trafficking initiatives and enhanced cooperation among all actors involved in combating trafficking is essential to maximize available resources, minimize duplication and address States’ fatigue vis-à-vis the number of demands they are required to attend to,” said Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

She led the two-day gathering in Dakar, Senegal, which wrapped up on Tuesday and drew experts from around the world to confer on how to prevent trafficking, protect victims, and frameworks set up to address the problem in all regions.

“Assistance to and protection of victims must be non-conditional, responsive to the needs, and respectful of the human rights of trafficked victims,” the Rapporteur stressed, calling for regional and sub-regional groups to ensure that their policies are appropriate to victims’ ages and sensitive to gender aspects.

She highlighted the unique position that regional mechanisms are in to combat what she called a “modern day slavery, growing in scale and in terms of human rights repercussions” due to their expertise and knowledge of local realities.

Presenting her annual report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in June, Ms. Ezeilo characterized human trafficking as “one of the most appalling forms of human rights violations” and said that it remains one of the world’s fastest growing criminal activities in the world.

- UN News

Tuesday
Jun082010

World Cup a Chance to Tackle Exclusion - Navi Pillay

(HN, Opinion Piece, June 9, 2010) The Fifa Soccer World Cup kicks off on Friday. This is an opportune occasion to reflect on the fact that sport is meant to foster social cohesion, bring different cultures together in a celebration of healthy competition, and to overcome the diffidence and even contempt that all too often divide countries and communities in the political and social arenas.

The movie Invictus, about how former president Nelson Mandela used rugby to build a common national identity, was one such reflection. And the choice of SA, a country that renounced the institutionalised racism of apartheid, as the host of the World Cup, is a perfect opportunity and platform to renew our efforts to combat discrimination in all its forms.

As a victim of racism and a sports fan, I urge all who play or simply watch sport to use the World Cup as a catalyst to call for global action against intolerance and racism. These are scourges that affect countless women, men and children around the world and that must be challenged at every turn.

Indeed, fear, intolerance and xenophobia can all be combated with the diametrically opposed values of fair play and co-operation that are so central to team sports such as football. The World Cup is perhaps the highest expression of football’s ability to join millions of people from around the world in a common and joyous pursuit.

We all have our favourite team but let us not forget that the World Cup allows us to connect with others whose history, culture and traditions we may otherwise never have been exposed to. We are all enriched by this contact. Our common passion for football reinforces the bonds of community pride, makes explicit our shared aspiration for excellence, and channels and elevates our instinct of competition.

But let us also be vigilant about racism and other manifestations of intolerance that poison sport — particularly football — and that undermine its positive message and bring it into disrepute. This happens all too often when the supporters of competing teams use slurs and even violence to vilify and attack their opponents.

Regrettably, even the players have at times been prone to such despicable behaviour. Professional footballers are rightly obliged to uphold the highest standards of sportsmanship, both ethically and under Fifa’s code of conduct, which includes provisions on nondiscrimination. Yet, on occasion, rich clubs and rich national bodies have escaped more severe sanction by paying derisory fines after serious racist incidents during matches.

National football authorities everywhere must back their strong rhetoric with serious and consistent disincentives. Manifestations of racism or intolerance in or around the stadiums during the World Cup should be swiftly addressed and the perpetrators isolated. The clear message of the World Cup must be that there is no place for racism and intolerance in sport.

At the same time, the World Cup should maximise the potential of this sport to educate ever-expanding constituencies and attract talent irrespective of social status and position in life. For many poor athletes, soccer has offered a way out of exclusion. Their accomplishments have inspired others to follow suit. In every society, successful sportsmen and women are role models whose behaviour is closely scrutinised and even emulated. Young minds are especially influenced by both positive and negative messages received from those they respect, particularly their sports heroes.

Ultimately, the real winners of this year’s World Cup will be those who celebrate and uphold in words and in deeds its values of fair play, honest competition, respect and tolerance both on and off the field. Let’s kick discrimination off the field. Let’s tackle exclusion. Let’s put racism offside.

Pillay is United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. This first appeared in South Africa's Business Day Newspaper