A Christmas gift for Tanzanian Girls

While most people today are thrilled (or not so thrilled) about the gifts they received under the Christmas tree this year, a group of young girls in Tanzania are fortunate this year to be given the gift of life.

From Christian Aid:

This Christmas, 500 girls have been saved from the shocking practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Nyamongo community, Tanzania. Village elders and circumcisers were arrested, as anti-FGM campaigners joined forces across the country.

Female genital mutilation is a cultural tradition practised on young girls in countries in Africa such as Tanzania and Somaliland. Known as ‘infibulation’, the clitoris and labia minora are removed and sewn up, leaving a small hole to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass through. It is often carried out as an initiation into adulthood, and is thought to make women clean, feminine and virginal.

Made illegal in Tanzania in 1998, under the Sexual Offence Special Provisions Act, FGM can cause severe bleeding and even death, as well as long-term complications to women’s reproductive health. It also adds to the spread of HIV and AIDS if instruments are not properly sterilised.

The arrests came after villagers ignored widespread pressure to change their ways. FGM campaigners had worked tirelessly with circumcisers and elders from Nyamongo, to highlight their concerns, and illustrate the damage FGM can cause young girls. But at the beginning of December campaigners, including Christian Aid partners Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) and Tanzanian Women Media Association (TAMWA), discovered that the elders were planning to circumcise 500 girls during the Christmas period, despite having agreed to end this harmful tradition.

TAMWA instigated an article on the front page of The African, one of Tanzania’s leading newspapers, appealing to clan elders to abandon their intention of carrying out FGM. Women’s groups, including CCT, joined forces in Nyamongo to urge the elders, once again, not to go ahead.

But, according to anti-FGM campaigner, Jennifer Chiwute, when CCT arrived in the community, the circumcisers were nowhere to be found. The campaigners then took their fight to the police, who later arrested the circumcisers and the village elders for intent to carry out harm to children.

‘We had many girls coming to us crying for help,’ said Mrs Chiwute. ‘People in the community gave us the names of the girls being put forward for FGM, so we were able to go to the police and stop it. After our workshops with the elders of Nyamongo, we thought they were committed to stopping FGM, but we’ve found we need to continue with education for the whole community.’

The debate is still going on in Nyamongo. Campaigners continue to run workshops and use TV adverts and press campaigns to raise awareness of FGM. Yet there is still a long way to go in the fight to end this shocking tradition.


Post Colonial Moment of the Year:The Neo-Colonial and (Colonial) quest for Africa

2005 will go down as the year that brought more attention to the continent of Africa than any other year. In February Nelson Mandela said this is the year that 'poverty would be made history.'

Live 8 was a series of concerts that occurred simultaneously around the world for music lovers and development advocates alike and convince leaders meeting at the G8 summit to reevaluate its policies towards the continent. While the concerts brought attention to the plight of Africa, they also showed what was wrong with doing such concerts in the first place. When Bob Geldof officially announced the concerts, he was immediately criticized for the lack of non-white, especially African performers, on the concert bills. In a recent BBC interview Blur frontman Damon Albarn said, "If you are holding a party on behalf of people, then surely you don't shut the door on them. It's insensitive and it also perpetuates this idea that Africa is separated in some way...This country [the UK] is incredibly diverse. More than ever, black culture is an integral part of society. So why is the bill so damn Anglo-Saxon?"

London-based group Black Information Link described the list of performers at the Hyde Park event as "hideously white."

From 7/1/05 Global Wire Post:
Geldof argues that the concerts aim to get the biggest-selling most well-known artists to guarantee a large television audience. However, many critics have noted that some of the white performers are less known than some major African artists, thus making the same mistake he made at the 1985 Live AID concerts.

In a badly patronizing act Geldof later announced that an all-African line up, Africa Calling, will be held on the same day as the main Live 8 concerts. Some critics have already described this as reminicent of apartheid in South Africa by putting African artists away from the main concerts. So now there is a second concert in Johannesburg with an all African line up, which is considered a main concert hosted by Nelson Mandela.

Youssou N’Dour was furious at the virtually all-white line-up in London. He flied to Britain immediately after singing in Paris. His manager Michelle Lahana told the press: "Not involving African people is like neo-colonialism: ‘Let us handle this.’

The New Internationalist didn't hold back on their feelings about the concerts:

The Hyde Park venue had a large ‘golden circle’ of exclusive access to the front area of the stage where the corporate bourgeoisie paid upwards of $1,000 for the privilege of drinking champagne and Pimms, while the huddled masses of the pop proletariat in the background were forbidden from drinking alcohol at all.

Pop megastar and multimillionaire Madonna opened her set with a rendition of her hit song ‘Music’ which fittingly includes the lyric: ‘Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel.’ The combined net worth of the pop stars and invited speakers such as Bill Gates is estimated to far exceed the GNP of most African countries.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, while musicians ‘donated their services’, many performers received lavish ‘gift bags’ of branded designer goods such as Gibson guitars, Hugo Boss suits and exclusive fashion accessories, some worth as much as $10,000. None of the items appear to have been fairly traded, sweatshop-free or environmentally friendly.

US artist 50 Cent cancelled his appearance at Live8 because it clashed with his acting commitment for the upcoming film Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.

The Independent reports that Kadaria Ahmed of the Abuja Enquirer, one of Nigeria’s biggest weekly papers, was barred from reporting on the event after being told ‘papers from G8 nations get priority’.

Gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg was a last minute addition to the London Live8 concert after much criticism over the almost all-white lineup. He kept the spirit of the event alive by singing about ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ and donning a necklace sporting a golden handgun.

African musicians, many of whom dwarf the popularity of some of the minor acts given prominence in the main Live8 events, were controversially relegated to a venue in Cornwall which received almost no mainstream media coverage.

Responding to the criticism, Bob Geldof argued: ‘This is cool in terms of pop culture, universal culture. In terms of actual specific cultures, we’re not going to have Appalachian music in America; we’re not going to have fucking Morris dancing in Britain. The truth is that African kids are listening to 50 [cent] and Eminem and the same as everybody else listens to.’

However, when a group of young Africans were asked by the Christian Science Monitor about the concerts, they didn't even know they were happening, let alone who the latest hip hop stars were. In this same article a group of young Americans said that 'aid' was needed to save the continent, while the Africans said 'investment.' Are they focusing on the wrong things or are they both right? While aid and investment are desperately needed, what is really needed is the commitment of other Africans to take care of themselves, starting first with riding the continent of its corrupt political leaders.

Robert Mugabe blames the problems in his native Zimbabwe on British colonialists, but the land distributions occurred under his watch. Thabo Mbeki was supposed to be a continued shining light after Nelson Mandela's departure, but who can really take seriously someone who believes HIV doesn't caused AIDS.

In the end everyone has fail Africa - politicians, rock stars and ordinary people alike.


Asian Tsunami: One Year On

Commemorations were held all over South Asia today to remember the thousands of lives lost a year ago in one nature's nastiest disasters.

A minute's silence was held in the provincial capital Banda Aceh to mark the exact moment the first waves came ashore, and a siren then sounded, part of Indonesia's new tsunami warning system.

Speaking in Banda Aceh, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono paid tribute to those who had tried to rebuild their lives over the past year. "You have reminded us that life is worth struggling for," he said.

In Sri Lanka, small private ceremonies were held to mark the moment the waves struck. Thousands of people lit coconut oil lamps on beaches on the southern coast after dark.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra attended the ceremony, laying a foundation stone for a memorial.

"I think you need to come back," Swedish survivor Pigge Werkelin, who lost his two young sons and his wife in the disaster, told Reuters news agency.

"You need to go to the beach, you have to see children on the beach, you have to see everything... I must do it and then afterward I can put it behind me."

According to Oxfam, one year after the south Asian tsunami, more than half of the people in affected areas are back to work and economies are quickly returning to normal, according to a new report by Oxfam International.

In their new report, “Back to Work,” it estimates that as many as 60% of the people who lost their jobs are earning a living again, and predicts that 85% of jobs will have been restored by the end of 2006.

“A year after the tsunami, more than half of the people who lost their jobs are back at work, most fishing boats have been replaced, and thousands of acres of farmland have been replanted,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Some problems remain, of course, and we continue to focus on solving them. But the public’s generous response and the resilience of the tsunami survivors have made the rebuilding of livelihoods one of the principal achievements of the entire aid operation.”

According to community surveys, those affected by the tsunami placed the restoration of livelihoods at the top of their list of priorities, even above shelter.
“A year after the tsunami we are seeing an impressive recovery,” Offenheiser said. “Getting people back to work, in addition to giving them an income and some control over their future, has been critical in helping them deal with the trauma. We are well on the road to recovery.”


Inuit petitions US Government

By Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the elected Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), an organization dedicated to Arctic indigenous rights, submitted a petition on December 7 to the Washington DC-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking relief from violations of the human rights of Inuit resulting from global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

The 163-page petition draws upon the traditional knowledge of hunters and elders and wide-ranging peer reviewed science. It is supported by testimony from 63 named Inuit from northern Canada and Alaska. It also documents existing, ongoing, and projected destruction of the Arctic environment and the culture and hunting-based economy of Inuit caused by global warming.

Watt-Cloutier spoke at a side event at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which closed on December 10 in Montreal.

“Inuit are an ancient people,” she said. “Our way of life is dependent on the natural environment and animals. Climate change is destroying our environment and eroding our culture. But we refuse to disappear. We will not become a footnote to globalization.”

The petition focuses on the US because it is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and it refuses to join the international effort to reduce emissions. The petition seeks the Commission to hold hearings in northern Canada and Alaska to investigate the harm caused to Inuit by global warming. Particularly, the petition asks the Commission to declare the United States in violation of rights affirmed in the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other instruments of international law.

The petition wants the Commission to urge the US to adopt mandatory limits to its emissions of greenhouse gases and cooperate with the international community to “prevent dangerous anthoropogenic interference with the climate system,” the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The petition also requests that the US take accountability for the damage already done to the Inuit way of life.

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has previously addressed human rights cases submitted by Indigenous peoples seeking to protect their environment and ways of life,” said Dr James Anaya, an aboriginal human rights lawyer at the University of Arizona, at the side event. “The Inuit petition is an opportunity for the Commission to make a significant contribution to the further evolution of international human rights law.”

US politicians are beginning to take a lead in global warming discussion. Last week 24 US senators, including Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain, sent a letter to the White House seeking a renewed discussion on global warming. On the last day of the climate change conference former president Bill Clinton criticized the Bush Administration’s climate policy, citing that the claim that the Kyoto treaty would damage the US economy as "flat wrong.”

"I liked the Kyoto Protocol,” he said. “I helped to write it. And I signed it. With the new technology, there was no telling how many jobs could be created in the US.”

The United Nations Climate Change Conference closed with the adoption of more than forty decisions that will strengthen global efforts to fight climate change. Reflecting on the success of Montreal 2005, the Conference President, Canadian Environment Minister Stéphane Dion said: “Key decisions have been made in several areas. The Kyoto Protocol has been switched on, a dialogue about the future action has begun, parties have moved forward work on adaptation and advanced the implementation of the regular work programme of the Convention and of the Protocol.”

A last-minute change-of-heart by the U.S. to participate in future climate change discussions on a non-Kyoto track led to the final agreement.

"This has been one of the most productive U.N. climate change conferences ever," said Richard Kinley, acting head of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat.

"This plan sets the course for future action on climate change," he said in a statement.

With all these encouragement the Inuit Circumpolar Conference hopes more will be gained by the petition.

“This petition is not about money, it is about encouraging the United States of America to join the world community to agree to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to protect the Arctic environment and Inuit culture and, ultimately, the world,” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier. “We submit this petition not in a spirit of confrontation—that is not the Inuit way—but as a means of inviting and promoting dialogue with the United States of America within the context of the climate change convention. Our purpose is to educate not criticize, and to inform not condemn. I invite the United States of America to respond positively to our petition. As well, I invite governments and non-governmental organizations worldwide to support our petition and to never forget that, ultimately, climate change is a matter of human rights.”


Time's Persons of the Year

Time Magazine has named rock star Bono and philantrophists Bill and Melinda Gates as Persons of the Year for their humanitarian work for the world's poor. This culminates in a year of charity for victims of poverty, disease and natural disaster.

From CNN.com:

At Friday's photo shoot for Time, Bono said, "I'm experiencing an unusual feeling. I think it's called being humbled.

"The work that I do with DATA and the One Campaign has been helped by what Bill and Melinda do," he said. "This can be a generation in which we eradicate extreme poverty."

Bono is a co-founder of the DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) organization, which fights poverty and HIV in the developing world. From that organization was spawned the ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History.

"It has been a great year for global health to get more visibility," Bill Gates said Friday. "The more people know about it, the more they want to act."

The magazine said that while sudden disasters grab the headlines, other tragedies unfold daily.

"And who is proving most effective in figuring out how to eradicate those calamities? In different ways, it is Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of the world's wealthiest charitable foundation, and Bono, the Irish rocker who has made debt reduction sexy," Time's managing editor Jim Kelly writes.

The Gateses, the magazine notes, "spent the year giving more money away faster than anyone ever has."

In January, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed $750 million to improving access to child immunizations, accelerating introduction of new vaccines and strengthening vaccine delivery systems.

The foundation focuses on education, global health, improving public libraries and supporting at-risk families, according to its Web site. The Gateses awarded grants to schools in Texas, Colorado and Massachusetts, as well as the Lutheran World Relief program, which received $640,000 to help nomadic communities in Niger avert food crises.

Bono was one of the organizers behind this year's Live 8 concerts in nine cities worldwide. The concerts were aimed at getting the leaders of the world's developed nations to come to the aid of impoverished Africa. They did so at the G8 summit, agreeing to double aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010 and cancel the debts of the poorest nations.

"Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest," the magazine said.

However, not everyone is feeling joyful this honor. Travel writer Paul Theroux bashed the Gates and Bono in a recent New York Times opinion piece. "It seems to have been Africa's fate to become a theater of empty talk and public gestures," said Theroux. "But the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help - not to mention celebrities and charity concerts - is a destructive and misleading conceit."

Mr. Gates has said candidly that he wants to rid himself of his burden of billions. Bono is one of his trusted advisers. Mr. Gates wants to send computers to Africa - an unproductive not to say insane idea. I would offer pencils and paper, mops and brooms: the schools I have seen in Malawi need them badly. I would not send more teachers. I would expect Malawians themselves to stay and teach. There ought to be an insistence in the form of a bond, or a solemn promise, for Africans trained in medicine and education at the state's expense to work in their own countries...

...Bono, in his role as Mrs. Jellyby in a 10-gallon hat, not only believes that he has the solution to Africa's ills, he is also shouting so loud that other people seem to trust his answers. He traveled in 2002 to Africa with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, urging debt forgiveness. He recently had lunch at the White House, where he expounded upon the "more money" platform and how African countries are uniquely futile.

Maybe celebrities might not know everything and have a solution to all the world's problems, but their celebrity brings attention to issues that would other wise get ignored. It is up to the people, not just billionaires and celebrities, to create solutions.


Indigenous Uprising in Bolivia

All eyes are on Bolivia today as the country elected its first indigenous president, Evo Morales. Morales seems to be an unlikely candidate. He is a former llama herder and cocoa farmer with only an eighth grade education.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

One of seven children born to a poor family in a tin-mining town in the district of Oruro, high in the Bolivian altiplano, Morales was one of only three who made it past infancy. He grew up herding the family IIamas and never finished high school. When the mines closed in the late 1970s, his parents migrated to the Bolivian lowlands of Chapare to become coca farmers.

Morales's start in politics came in 1993 when he was elected president of a local coca farmers federation, and later he helped found MAS and was elected to congress in 1997. In 2002 he narrowly lost the presidential race to Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who was soon forced to resign amidst massive street protests largely by MAS supporters.

The leftist has promised to decriminalize coca and renegotiate longstanding natural-gas deals with foreign companies working in Bolivia. Although Washington has not made an official statement about Morales' election, insiders are worried about the 'left turn' Latin America is making.

During the last presidential election in 2002, then US Ambassador Manuel Rocha criticized Morales, only to see his support triple. "My campaign manager," Morales often refers, jokingly, to the diplomat.

Also from the Christian Science Monitor:
Asked if he is considering traveling to the US for an official visit if elected president, he admits that he has not been invited.

His first trip if he is elected, he says, will be to visit former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. Next on his agenda: China and Spain. "Harvard University has invited me to speak," he notes, "... but no one in Washington has expressed any interest yet."

Asked if he had immediate plans to visit his friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he says no, but makes it clear he admires the man. "You can't compare me to [Cuban revolutionary] Che or Chavez," he says, "... because I am not on their level. I am just beginning the struggle ... but I admire and aspire to learn from them."

But Morales has a warning for Bush: "That Chavez!" he chuckles, "... giving out cheap fuel in the Massachusetts! Watch, he will be more popular than Bush in the US soon!" he says, and raises the final glass of the evening. "Of that, I am sure."

Seated at a long table heaped high with coca leaves and surrounded by locals chewing the stimulant, Morales gave his last press conference Sunday, stressing that the US needs to work with whatever government is elected here.

"If the US wants diplomatic relations, they have to be on an equal basis. The relationship cannot be one of subservience," said Morales before he left the Chapare region to fly back to La Paz Sunday.


Film Review: Memoir of a Geisha

Despite most of the bad reviews by most critics, Memoirs of a Geisha is worth watching. Based on Arther Golden's novel, Geisha is truly a 'chick flick' in its own right. Colorful costumes and dramatic acting makes this film a shoe in for the Oscars next year. There was controversy surrounding this film because non Japanese actors played the roles and the dialogue is in English. Ziyi Zhang is extradinary as the legendary Sayuri. The rest of the cast also does an excellent. A must see movie.


Post Colonial Moment: Of Race and Colonialism in Hollywood

From the Drudge Report:

Is KING KONG racist? asks Jim Pinkerton in his Thursday NEWSDAY column.

"Lots of people say it is. And, if it is, why does the film keep getting remade? What does it say about us if the new KONG is a huge hit?"

Pinkerton writes: Any movie that features white people sailing off to the Third World to capture a giant ape and carry it back to the West for exploitation is going to be seen as a metaphor for colonialism and racism. That was true for the original in 1933 and for the two remakes: the campy one in 1976, and the latest, directed by Peter Jackson. (In addition, a KONG wannabe, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, has been made twice.)

Movie reviewer David Edelstein, writing in SLATE, notes the "implicit racism of KING KONG - the implication that Kong stands for the black man brought in chains from a dark island (full of murderous primitive pagans) and with a penchant for skinny white blondes." Indeed, a GOOGLE search using the words "King Kong racism" yielded 490,000 hits.

Comparing the new film with the original, the WASHINGTON POST's Stephen Hunter observed, "It remains a parable of exploitation, cultural self-importance, the arrogance of the West, all issues that were obvious in the original but unexamined; they remain unexamined here, if more vivid."

And by more vivid, Hunter might be referring to the natives of mythical Skull Island, where Kong is discovered. Director Jackson took people of Melanesian stock - the dark-skinned peoples who are indigenous to much of the South Pacific, including Jackson's own country of New Zealand - and made them up to look and act like monsters, more zombie-ish than human. Indeed, one is moved to compare these human devils to the ogre-ish Orcs from Jackson's mega-Oscar LORD OF THE RINGS films. The bad guys are dark, hideous and undifferentiatedly evil.

King Kong is not the only film this year to be accused of racism. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's third reincarnation has been met with critcism over Oompa Loompas.

From Jonathan McIntosh:

In 1964, Roald Dahl published his original book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In it he describes the Oompa-Loompas as dark-skinned “pygmies” from the heart of Africa. These indigenous people are brought back to the Western world from the jungles by the European chocolatier, Willy Wonka, with the intention of making them slaves in his factory, being paid only in cacao beans.

Dahl’s portrait of the Oompa-Loompas, includes the centuries old Western notion of indigenous populations as being exotic, simple and miserable. They are portrayed as unable to survive without the white Western world’s helping hand. Willy Wonka lulls his audience into quietly accepting this familiar and violent idea. In the process, Wonka becomes exalted as a white messiah to be revered and worshiped by the (literally) lesser brown people for having lead them out of darkness and into enlightenment and happiness. Throughout history, this false sense of altruism has closely accompanied racism.

In 1971 Paramount Pictures released a feature film, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, staring Gene Wilder. The film’s creators felt it socially and culturally inappropriate to portray the Oompa-Loompas as originally described in Dahl's book. Instead, the characters appearance was changed, making them little people, with bright orange skin and green hair from the fictional "Loopmaland". Their native land was never displayed on screen and is only mentioned in passing...

Now, in 2005, Warner Brothers has released another version of the feature film, this time directed by Tim Burton and starring famed actor Johnny Depp. The new adaptation brings back the racism and colonialism that the 1971 film and the 1973 revised book attempted to downplay. In this most recent incarnation we follow Willy Wonka, sporting the classic attire of the colonial explorer complete with safari hat, as he travels on screen to a distant tropical jungle called "Loompaland". He is, we are told, in search of "exotic" flavors for a new line of sweets. While depicted as silly and adventurous, the right of the Western entrepreneur to take whatever “flavor” plant or animal he desires from developing countries is never questioned. It is just the kind of theft western pharmaceuticals and agro-corporations have been engaged in throughout the developing world over the centuries.

Interestingly, the film does not mention whether Wonka claims intellectual property rights over the ”flavors” he finds there, as is the case with his modern contemporaries. However, one assumes that the entire race of Oompa-Loompas falls under the umbrella of a fully owned copyright.

During this colonial montage, Wonka encounters a jungle village built in the trees that the Oompa-Loompas inhabit. This time, however, they are portrayed as a primitive miniature brown-colored indigenous people of non-specific ethnic origin. They sport feather headdresses, tribal style jewelry and grass skirts while dining on visibly "disgusting" green caterpillars and worshiping the rare coca bean. They are depicted as simple, whimsical, and of course, miserable in their native home. Wonka "generously" rescues the Oompa-Loompas by offering them the opportunity to work and live in his Western factory. Later they are shown "happily" imprisoned inside Wonka's factory, which they conveniently cannot leave or they will be subject to chilly weather and die. The Oompa-Loompas also "willingly" allow themselves to be experimented on, much like laboratory animals, by Wonka as he tests his new, and sometimes dangerous, candy concoctions. Clearly, Wonka has not taken the time to explain the ins-and-outs of unionizing or worker health compensation to his imprisoned work force.

The Oompa-Loompas have no spoken language of their own and must resort to mime and jester to communicate. However, they have learned to sing in English while they dance for the entertainment of Wonka and his all white and full-sized guests. This also happened in the 1971 film version, although in the 2005 version, the songs are accompanied by the laughable sexual gyrations of Oompa-Loompas, encouraging the audience to laugh along at the supposed sexuality of the mini-male of color. This unfortunately follows along and sad historical tradition of emasculating men of color for the enjoyment of white audiences.

Moreover, the Oompa-Loompas all look exactly alike, as they are played by one actor using composite visual effects. This is a new invention by the current film's creators. The visual effect is ironic as it displays the problems at the very core of global labor issues: white populations perceive individuals of non-white populations as identical and all looking alike, lacking individual dignity. In this view, factory and sweatshop workers are ascribed no individual worth outside of the product they produce for consumers at low pay and in poor working conditions, unable to organize, form unions and improve condition.


Louise Arbour Speaks About International Justice

By Talia Whyte
Special To Global Wire

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, spoke to Boston
students at the JFK Library last week in a special event commemorating
International Human Rights Day. Arbour’s address reflected on the 60th
anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials and discussed what needs to be done
in today’s world to help end human suffering.

“Our efforts to protect life will forever fall short until we develop
that fuller understanding,” Arbour said, “an understanding which
requires us to acknowledge, and act on, the realization that
intervening to halt mass killings will never be as effective as our
aspirations demand without a more nuanced, more holistic understanding
of the ingredients of that right.

Arbour further stated that society needed to have a holistic view of
a ‘right to life.’ She was quick to state that her meaning of the
right to life was not the same as Christian conservatives on such
issues as abortion and euthanasia, but rather an understanding of
humanity’s basic needs. Many of these needs include providing access
to one billion people to safe water, another 2.6 billion to improved
sanitation and medication for 25 million people living with HIV, most
of whom living in the developing world.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent to many that in today’s world it
is not war or arbitrary killing that constitutes the greatest threat to
the right to life,” she said. “Each year, about 53,000 women die in
pregnancy or in childbirth, and more than 10 million children die
before their fifth birthday. The UN Development Programme suggests
that this alarming trend is ‘fast approaching the point that merits
declaration of an international health emergency…Even in the United
States, infant mortality rates are on the rise. These indicators
reveal inequalities linked to access to health care, as well as income,
race and ethnicity.”

Arbour got into trouble recently with the White House when she said to
a group of reporters that reports the US was using secret overseas
sites to interrogate suspects harmed its moral authority and she wanted
to inspect any allegations. "Two phenomena today are having an acutely
corrosive effect on the global ban on torture and cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment,” she said. “There are lots of human rights that
can be set aside temporarily in cases of emergencies, lots of them, but
not the right to life and not the protection against torture.”

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said that it is "inappropriate and
illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the
conduct that we're engaged [in] the war on terror, with nothing more as
evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."

She stated at the event that she stands by her statement. “I encourage
Americans to get involved in the political process and hold their
government officials accountable and ask questions. In a democracy you
should be allowed to do that.” she said.

Following Arbour’s remarks a panel including survivors from every major
genocide in the last century – Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and
Sudan - address the many issues surrounding accountability and justice
for genocide survivors and victims.

“I am a Muslim and no one from the Muslim community came to save us,”
said Mohamed Yahya, a Darfur survivor. “We received so much help from
the Jewish people and Christians. It was so painful to see most of
your family die and people who share your religion don’t stop the

Mardi Seng survived the Khmer Rouge killings and lost most of his
family. He left Cambodia for America in 1980. “When I came to America
I saw this movie from the 1950s about the Holocaust,” he said. “The
movie said that this wouldn’t happen again. If that was true my mother
would be here today.”

Sonia Weitz, a Holocaust survivor, said the same thing after the
Nuremberg Trials. “There was a time I said never again,” she said. “
But I should have known better. I look at this panel and say we should
have done better.”


Children Worldwide Have Become Invisible

Hundreds of millions of children are suffering from severe exploitation and discrimination and have become virtually invisible to the world, according to a major report released by UNICEF yesterday that explores the causes of exclusion and the abuses children experience.

The State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible is a sweeping assessment of the world’s most vulnerable children, says that millions of children disappear from view when trafficked or forced to work in domestic servitude. Other children, such as street children, live in plain sight but are excluded from fundamental services and protections. Not only do these children endure abuse, most are shut out from school, healthcare and other vital services they need to grow and thrive.

Without focused attention, millions of children will remain trapped and forgotten in childhoods of neglect and abuse, with devastating consequences for their long-term well-being and the development of nations. The report argues that any society with an interest in the welfare of its children and its own future must not allow this to happen.

“Meeting the Millennium Development Goals depends on reaching vulnerable children throughout the developing world,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, launching the report in London. “There cannot be lasting progress if we continue to overlook the children most in need – the poorest and most vulnerable, the exploited and the abused.”

Statistics show that:

*An estimated 143 million children in the developing world – 1 in every 13 children – have suffered the death of at least one parent. For children in deep poverty the loss of even one parent, especially a mother, can take a lasting toll on their health, and education.

*Globally, tens of millions of children spend a large portion of their lives on the streets, where they are exposed to all forms of abuse and exploitation.

*More than 1 million children live in detention, the vast majority awaiting trial for minor offenses. Many of these children suffer gross neglect, violence, and trauma.

*Hundreds of thousands of children are caught up in armed conflict as combatants, messengers, porters, cooks, and sex slaves for armed groups. In many cases they have been forcibly abducted.

*In spite of laws against early marriage in many countries, over 80 million girls across the developing world will be married before they turn 18 – many far younger.

*An estimated 171 million children are working in hazardous conditions and with dangerous machinery, including in factories, mines and agriculture.

*Some 8.4 million children work in the worst forms of child labour, including prostitution and debt bondage, where children are exploited in slave-like conditions to pay off a debt.

*Nearly 2 million children are used in the commercial sex trade, where they routinely face sexual and physical violence.

*Every year, it is estimated that millions of children are trafficked into underground and illegal worlds where they are forced into dangerous and degrading forms of work, including prostitution.

*A vast but unknown number of children are exploited as domestic servants in private homes. Many are banned entirely from going to school, suffer physical abuse and are underfed or overworked.

What Needs To Be Done:

*Research, monitoring and reporting: Systems to record and report on the nature and extent of abuses against children are essential to reaching excluded and invisible children.

*Legislation: National laws must match international commitments to children, and legislation that fosters discrimination must be changed or abolished. Laws to prosecute those who harm children must be consistently enforced. For example, weak law enforcement perpetuates the climate of impunity that surrounds the rape of children.

*Financing and capacity-building: Child-focused budgets and the strengthening of institutions that serve children must complement laws and research.

*Programmes: Reform is urgently required in many countries and communities to remove entry barriers for children who are excluded from essential services, for example, eliminating the requirement of a birth certificate to attend school.

“Those who harm children rob them of opportunities to grow up safe, healthy and with dignity,” Veneman said. “To ensure that children are protected, the abuse and exploitation of children must be brought to light and those who violate children brought to justice.”


Protests at WTO Meetings

Violent Protests marred the first day of the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong today. As World Trade Organization (WTO) members held their opening ceremony, two policemen were slightly injured along with seven protesters. Disagreement over agriculture remains the main stumbling block, with most sides blaming the European Union (EU). The EU is accused of not doing enough to cut farm subsidies and tariffs. Developing countries want richer nations such as the EU and US to lower both subsidies for their own farmers and tariffs on imported foods.
While the EU has been singled out for refusing to make sufficient concessions, it has said it can go no further.

Critics of the event feel that nothing constructive will come out of it. While some protesters managed to break into the main conference centre, others - mainly South Korean farmers - tried to swim across Hong Kong harbour to the event.

According to www.gatt.org, Six developing nations have lodged a complaint against the US, calling the Iraq War "history's biggest illegal trade subsidy" and "market distortion on a gargantuan scale." "In a free market, companies like Halliburton and Exxon should be funding their own market expansion projects instead of depending on their government for help," said a spokesperson for the consortium.

The US requested renewal of the so-called peace clause, which gives countries immunity from challenge at the WTO, in October this year. The EU said in a press briefing today – the opening day of the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong – that the peace clause was a ‘key principle of the trade round’ but Oxfam said that its renewal would allow rich countries to continue paying illegal and harmful subsidies.

Phil Bloomer, Head of Oxfam International’s Make Trade Fair campaign said: “It would be outrageous if the peace clause were renewed. The EU and US say their subsidies are not illegal and do not distort trade, but if they are not doing anything wrong then why do they need to seek immunity from challenge? The message this sends to the world is ‘Let’s agree new trade rules, and then just keep on breaking them’.”

Last month Oxfam released a report showing that the EU and US could face challenges from developing countries on $13 billion of illegal agricultural subsidies, including rice, corn and tomatoes. Since the peace clause expired in January 2005, Brazil has won cases against the EU and US on sugar and cotton respectively. Despite the EU’s claims to the contrary, Oxfam said that recent Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms would not end the damage being done by dumping to developing countries.

Also discussed today at the WTO meeting were possible increases of targeted aid to help developing countries trade. Following an announcement of an extra 2bn euros from European Finance Ministers in Brussels last night, negotiators at the WTO meeting discussed how the aid could be delivered and the US indicated that it would be announcing further aid for trade package later in the week.

“No development package would be good enough to guarantee developing countries gain from these talks," said Bloomer. "Unless rich countries radically shift their approach, agree to further cut their harmful subsidies and tariffs, and afford developing countries protection from forced liberalization, there can be no pro-development outcome.”


Racial Violence continues in Australia

Racial riots continued today in Australia a day after thousands of drunken white youths attacked people they believed were of Arab descent at a beach in the same area in one of Australia's worst outbursts of racial violence.

From the Associated Press:
Sunday's attack -- apparently prompted by reports that Lebanese youths had assaulted two lifeguards -- sparked retaliation by young men of Arab descent in several Sydney suburbs, fighting with police and smashing 40 cars with sticks and bats, police said. Thirty-one people were injured and 16 were arrested in hours of violence.

The riots began Sunday after rumors circulated that youths of Lebanese descent were responsible for an attack last weekend on two lifeguards at Cronulla Beach. Police said the assault was not believed to be racially motivated.

Police, meanwhile, formed a strike force to track down the instigators of the attack, some of whom were believed to be from white supremacist groups. Police said they were also seeking an Arab man who allegedly stabbed a white man in the back.

Morris Iemma, the premier of New South Wales state, said police would use video images and photographs to track down the instigators. ''Let's be very clear, the police will be unrelenting in their fight against these thugs and hooligans,'' he said.

Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence, but said he did not believe racism was widespread in Australia.

''Attacking people on the basis of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity, is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians irrespective of their own background and their politics,'' Howard said.

But he added: ''I'm not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community.''

Australia has long prided itself on accepting immigrants -- from Italians and Greeks after World War II to families fleeing political strife in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In the last census in 2001, nearly a quarter of Australia's 20 million people said they were born overseas.

However, tensions between youths of Arabic descent and white Australians have been rising in recent years, largely because of anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States and deadly bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, in October 2002.

About 300,000 Muslims live in Australia, the majority in large cities.

''Arab Australians have had to cope with vilification, racism, abuse and fear of a racial backlash for a number of years, but these riots will take that fear to a new level,'' said Roland Jabbour, chairman of the Australian Arabic Council.


Women in Singapore under siege

Women migrant domestic workers in Singapore suffer grave abuses including physical and sexual violence, food deprivation, and confinement in the workplace.

At least 147 migrant domestic workers have died from workplace
accidents or suicide since 1999, most by jumping or falling from
residential buildings. Migrant domestic workers earn half the wages of
Singaporean workers in similar occupations, such as cleaners or
gardeners. Unpaid wages is a growing complaint.

"Many domestic workers labor without pay for months to settle debts
to employment agencies, work long hours seven days a week, or are
confined to their workplace," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of
Human Rights Watch. "Singapore’s refusal to extend ordinary labor
protections to domestic workers is leaving them open to abuse."

The 124-page report, "Maid to Order: Ending Abuses against Migrant
Domestic Workers in Singapore," is based on more than one hundred
in-depth interviews with domestic workers, government officials, and
employment agents. It details a range of abuses endured by domestic
workers in Singapore and the response of the Singaporean

Families in Singapore employ approximately 150,000 women,
primarily from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, as domestic
workers. Human Rights Watch said the Singaporean government has
instituted some encouraging reforms in the past two years. These
include creating mandatory orientation programs for employers and
domestic workers, prosecuting cases of unpaid wages and physical
abuse, and introducing an accreditation program for employment

But key labor conditions, such as wages, hours of work, and salary
deductions are left to employers and agencies, while domestic workers
have little or no bargaining power. Human Rights Watch said that
authorities have excluded domestic workers from the country's main
labor laws. Starting in January, domestic workers signing new
contracts will be entitled to a single day off a month.

But key labor conditions, such as wages, hours of work, and salary
deductions are left to employers and agencies, while domestic workers
have little or no bargaining power. Human Rights Watch said that
authorities have excluded domestic workers from the country's main
labor laws. Starting in January, domestic workers signing new
contracts will be entitled to a single day off a month.

"One day off a month is a poor solution," said Roth. "Domestic
workers deserve a weekly rest day and protection under Singapore’s
Employment Act like other workers."

Singapore imposes a monthly levy on employers of migrant domestic
workers to regulate demand. Employers pay S$200-295 [U.S.$118-
174] to a central government fund each month, more than the wages of
many domestic workers themselves. None of these funds, roughly
S$360-531 million (U.S.$212-313 million), are earmarked for services
geared toward migrant domestic workers.

Intense competition among the more than six hundred employment
agencies has led them to shift the cost of recruitment, transportation,
training, and placement from employers to domestic workers. To pay
for these charges, many domestic workers labor for 4-10 months with
little or no pay. Some employment agencies fail to provide assistance
in cases of employer abuse, sink domestic workers deeper into debt by
overcharging those who transfer employers, and confiscate religious
items such as prayer garments and holy books.

To control illegal immigration, the Singapore government imposes a
security bond on each employer, who forfeits S$5,000 [U.S.$2,950] if
their domestic worker runs away. Immigration regulations prohibit
domestic workers from becoming pregnant. Human Rights Watch said
that these policies become incentives for employers to tightly restrict
domestic workers' movements to prevent them from running away or
having boyfriends. For example, some employers prevent domestic
workers from having weekly rest days, forbid them from talking to
neighbors, and sometimes lock them in the workplace. Heavy debts
and confinement at home mean that some domestic workers cannot
escape serious workplace abuses.

"I was not allowed to go outside. I never went outside, not even to
dump the garbage…," said Sri Mulyani (not her real name), a domestic
worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch. "I felt like I was in jail.
It was truly imprisonment…. I could only see the outside world when I
hung clothes to dry."

Roth said, "In the same way that the government has pursued
employers who beat their domestic workers, officials must tackle
agencies that charge workers ten months of their salaries and
employers who confine domestic workers to the workplace."

Given their isolation in private homes, it is difficult to ascertain the
exact proportion of migrant domestic workers who face abuse. The
Indonesian embassy estimates that it receives fifty complaints per day,
mostly from domestic workers. The Philippines embassy and the Sri
Lanka High Commission estimate receiving forty to eighty complaints
from domestic workers per month. Human Rights Watch said that
many abuses are likely never reported, especially if an employer
repatriates a domestic worker before she has a chance to seek help.

Singapore's laws and regulations offer stronger protection than do
those of neighboring countries such as Malaysia. Singapore is still far
behind Hong Kong, which includes domestic workers in its main labor
laws, protecting their rights to a weekly rest day, a minimum wage,
maternity leave, public holidays, and paid annual leave.

Human Rights Watch urged the Singapore government to provide
comprehensive protections to migrant domestic workers by amending
the Employment Act and regulating charges imposed by agencies so
that migrant domestic workers do not spend 4-10 months working off
their debts. Singapore should consider adjusting the monthly levy to
offset the cost to employers.

"In a country well-known for strictly enforcing laws to promote order
and efficiency, the failure to provide adequate and equal protection to
an entire class of workers is an anomaly," said Roth. "By
implementing comprehensive reforms, Singapore could become a
standard-setter in the region for migrant domestic workers."


Out South: Fear, Loathing and Marriage in Africa

South Africa will be the fifth country, and the first in Africa, to allow marriages for homosexual couples, following a judgment by the Constitutional Court yesterday.

Belgium, Spain, Holland and Canada allow same-sex marriages.

From AllAfrica:

The ruling follows a progression of court battles on gay rights after the new constitution outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In 1998 the Constitutional Court struck down the offence of sodomy in the Sexual Offences Act and the Criminal Procedure Act.

The following year, the court allowed foreign partners of homosexual citizens to become permanent residents.

In 2002, the Constitutional Court ruled that homosexual partners in a committed relationship should have the same financial status as married heterosexual couples.

This followed Judge Kathy Satchwell's application in the Pretoria High Court for her same-sex partner to receive the same financial benefits as if she were a partner in a heterosexual relationship.

During the same year, the court also ruled that same-sex couples had the right to adopt children. In 2003, the court ruled that children born to same-sex couples by artificial insemination were legitimate.

The latest decision, following an application by Marié Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys to be allowed to marry, is a progression in the court's stance on the rights of gay couples.

While this decision might be seen as progress for worldwide GLBT rights, the decision also stands out like a sore thumb on a continet where homosexuality is very much a taboo.

Human rights organizations delivered a letter on Thursday to the Minister of Justice of Cameroon urging him to release 11 men detained for the last seven months on suspicion of “sodomy” and to prevent a government-ordered “medical examination” to whether the men have engaged in homosexual conduct.

These examinations have no investigative value, are abusive, intrusive, and when conducted non-consensually and under incarcerated conditions, amount to cruel and inhuman treatment; as such, they constitute a serious violation of the human rights of the detainees. In countries where they have been administered, these examinations have caused grave physical and psychological suffering to their victims.

“The Cameroon government is about to engage in degrading and inhuman treatment of these men in clear violation of their human rights and we are all asking the Minister of Justice to intervene,” stated Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC's Senior Specialist for Africa.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in the 1994 case of Toonen v Australia held that the existence of sodomy laws violates protections of privacy and non-discrimination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Cameroon's accession to the ICCPR in 1984 means that it must adhere to this standard.

On 21 May 2005, gendarmes from the Nlongka Brigade arrested 17 men at a nightclub believed to frequented by gays and lesbians. These arrests were first reported by the local newspaper, Mutations, and were confirmed by the United States Embassy in Cameroon. National television in Cameroon and local Channel 2 broadcasted images of the young men after their arrest. The 11 men who remain in detention are those too poor to find a means to be released or to hire a lawyer. Many have been abandoned by their families due to publicity related to the case.

“The pain, humiliation and invasiveness involved in these forced examinations makes them a direct violation of human rights norms,” stated Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC's Executive Director. “Cameroon is a signatory to regional and international agreements that prohibit such treatment, and we ask the government to respect its international obligations.”


Unshackling the mind of a slave owner

By Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

Many international human rights organizations in recent years have made efforts to bring light to the problem of global modern-day slavery.

It is estimated that there are 27 million slaves worldwide. Every once in a while one hears or reads about the plight of a former slave who lived to tell their story. But rarely do ever hear the point of view of a former slave owner.

Students at Boston University Medical School in the South End were able to talk to Abdul Nasser Ould Yessa, a former slave owner-turned-activist, at a forum hosted by the American Anti-Slavery Group on Nov. 17. This was part of Yessa’s week-long tour of the United States sponsored by the organization.

Yessa grew up in a privileged Berber family in the small West African nation of Mauritania. Mauritania is located at the fault line of the Berber-dominated Magrehb and black Sub Saharan Africa. Like the white population in South Africa at one time, Berbers are a minority in Mauritania but dominated the political and economic landscape. The vast majority of blacks in the country are either slaves or free persons who are heavily discriminated against by the Berbers. Mauritania was a French colony up until 1960. Yessa’s father, Ethman Sid Admed Yessa, was the country’s first post-colonial attorney general. The family grew up with a large number of slaves who would do duties many consider degrading. Mauritania is one of the few countries in the world where chattel slavery is still practiced.

“Slavery is a domestic institution in Mauritania,” Yessa said. “The slave’s job is to get water and watch the flocks. When it is hot it is their job to entertain the master. The slaves not only massage feet, they would search their master’s hair for lice. Their lives were conditioned to serve their master.”

There have been slave revolts in the past against poor treatment by slave owners. Many slaves have tried to run away from their situation, but end up coming back because they don’t know how to take care of themselves on their own. Vice versa, the slave master also cannot live without their slaves. Yessa says that the slave/master relationship is almost a ‘psychological malady’ because one doesn’t know how to live without the other. He also says that there is a ‘key nexus between Islam and slavery’ because slaves are convinced that if they don’t stay in their position, they will not be rewarded in heaven.

Yessa’s world view changed at the age of sixteen when he was exposed to Rousseau’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, a product of the French Revolution. “All my beliefs fell apart,” he said. “I began to see that what was happening in my country was not normal.”

Yessa admits that at first he noticed a lot of hypocrisy with his newly-found beliefs and his living situation. He remembers a time when he was reading The Diary of Anne Frank and discussing revolution and freedom in his living room with his friends while a slave was serving them tea. But when Yessa moved to Paris to study at university, he was put into a real situation where he had to overcome his own psychological malady.

“When I arrived at the Paris airport I had to carry my own luggage,” he said. “I was expecting a slave to pick them up for me. I had to call home to tell my family about it. I didn’t know how to wash my socks. I would throw them out when they got dirty and buy new ones. I would cook omelets with both the egg and its shells. I didn’t even know how to pick up girls for dates because slaves were supposed to do that for me. The first obstacle I faced was to overcome that mentality.”

Today Yessa is proud to say that he is a better cook, he cleans and picks up his own women. He now lives in exile in Paris where he heads the international efforts of SOS Slaves, an organization he founded in 1995 that advocates freedom for all Mauritanians. The group has been banned by the Mauritanian government and group members are constantly followed by the secret police. During his U.S. tour he has met with Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas as well as several think tanks and anti-trafficking groups to discuss the possibility of change through implementations in policy worldwide, but especially in Mauritania.

Yessa is particularly speaking at universities to address young people about current public health concerns among slaves in his country. The HIV rate is growing rapidly in the slave community because a slave producing as many children as possible is seen at a ‘gift’ to the slave owner. When a slave gets sick, the slave owner doesn’t provide treatment either because of the high cost of medications or simply lack of interest. There is also a high rate of blindness due to slaves not being allowed to wear facial shields during sandstorms.

“I think young activists can understand my journey, maybe even better than adults,” he said. “They can understand how I came to realize that there was something wrong that needed to be changed. And the main force that can change and move society is youth.”

As for Yessa’s relationship with his family, he says that he keeps his distance from them. His family still owns slaves. He says that they can’t understand why he would think slavery is wrong. But he hopes they will change their minds one day.

“It is very difficult for parents to admit that their children are right,” he said.


AIDS Activist killed on eve of World AIDS Day

Human Rights Watch is reporting that Steve Harvey, a leading Jamaica HIV activist (on the left in the photo), was found shot dead on November 30. He is noted by supporters as working to defend the health and human rights of people living with and at high-risk of HIV/AIDS.

According to Jamaican police, at least four assailants forced their way into Harvey’s home when he returned from work around 1 a.m. They tied up Harvey and two people staying with him, stole a number of their possessions, and abducted Harvey in the company car. One of the gun men was reported to have said to Mr Harvey and his two house-mates: ‘We hear that you are gay’. Two of the men denied it.Harvey was found with gunshot wounds in his back and head in a rural area miles from his home.

For more than a decade, Harvey was a leader in the struggle to defend the health and human rights of people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS. He worked with Jamaica AIDS Support since 1997, and represented the interests of marginalized people and people living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica and throughout the region.

Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world. With a population of only 2.7 million people, the country has seen 1,383 murders in 2005 alone. Gun violence is common and homophobia rife.

Last year, the founder of Jamaica’s gay rights movement, Brian Williamson, was murdered. Investigators claimed the motive for murder was robbery, since a safe was missing and the apartment ransacked. However, many believe the killing was a hate crime.

On Sunday, Harvey led an annual candle-lit vigil in memory of those killed by HIV. Supporters are now mourning the death of one of their strongest defendants of people living with HIV/AIDS.

“Steve Harvey was a person of extraordinary bravery and integrity, who worked tirelessly to ensure that some of Jamaica’s most marginalized people had the tools and information to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS,” said Rebecca Schleifer, researcher with the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch and author of a recent report on anti-gay violence and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. “I have seen the impact of Steve’s work firsthand, and been inspired by his courage and capacity to reach out to and make a profound difference in the lives of Jamaicans affected by HIV/AIDS. His death on the eve of World AIDS Day gives us one more reason to pause and reflect on the significance of activists’ work in the fight against AIDS.”

“Steve Harvey’s death is an enormous loss,” Schleifer said. “But it is essential that his murder does not succeed in intimidating other human rights workers. It is vital that the Jamaican government condemns this brutal crime, and brings the perpetrators to justice.”


World AIDS Day 2005

Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released their annual report about the AIDS pandemic. An estimated 40.3 million people worldwide are living with HIV. Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed 3.1 million [2.8–3.6 million] lives in 2005; more than half a million (570 000) were children. Close to 5 million people were newly infected with the virus in 2005.

Sustained efforts in diverse settings have helped bring about decreases in HIV incidence among men who have sex with men in many Western countries, among young people in Uganda, among sex workers and their clients in Thailand and Cambodia, and among injecting drug users in Spain and Brazil. Now there is new evidence that prevention programmes initiated some time ago are finally helping to bring down HIV prevalence in Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as in urban Haiti.

Despite decreases in the rate of infection in certain countries, the overall number of people living with HIV has continued to increase in all regions of the world except the Caribbean. According to the report, the steepest increases in HIV infections have occurred in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (25% increase to 1.6 million) and East Asia. But sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the most affected globally– with 64% of new infections occurring here (over three million people).

“We are encouraged by the gains that have been made in some countries and by the factthat sustained HIV prevention programmes have played a key part in bringing downinfections. But the reality is that the AIDS epidemic continues to outstrip global and national efforts to contain it,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot.

One of the striking facets of the epidemic in the United States is the concentration of HIV infections among African Americans. Despite constituting only 12.5% of the country’s population, African Americans accounted for 48% of new HIV cases in 2003 (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004a). While men comprise the majority of African Americans living with HIV, African American women, too, are disproportionately affected. By some estimates, African American women are more than a dozen times as likely to be infected with HIV than are their white counterparts. Among young men (aged 23–29 years) who have sex with men, HIV prevalence among African Americans (at 32%) is more than four times that among white counterparts (7%) and more than twice that among Latino counterparts (14%). One half of the people who died of AIDS in 2003 were African Americans (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004a).

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of AIDSactivists and non-governmental organizations being harassed,intimidated, or jailed for their work. In China, government officialshave jailed activists seeking to expose government complicity in atainted blood scandal that infected millions of impoverished peoplewith HIV in the 1990s. In India and Bangladesh, outreach workersdelivering services to sex workers, to men who have sex with men, andto other hidden populations, have faced widespread police harassmentand violence.

Overall, HIV stigma and the resulting actual or feared discrimination have proven to be perhaps the most difficult obstacles to effective HIV prevention. Stigma and discrimination simultaneously reduce the effectiveness of efforts to control the global epidemic and create an ideal climate for its further growth.