Jamaican Police Officer Convicted...Finally

From Amnesty International:

Amnesty International today welcomed the conviction of a police officer from the Jamaican Constabulary Force of the murder of a 25 year-old man in November 2000 -- the first conviction of a Jamaican police officer for murder committed while on duty since October 1999. The organization, however, expressed concern that there continues to be insufficient will on the part of the security and justice systems in Jamaica to effectively tackle impunity for police killings.

"While this is a positive development in the fight against impunity for police killings, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and is not enough to restore the public’s faith in the Jamaican judicial system," said Susan Lee, Director of Amnesty International's America Programme.

Constable Glenroy McDermoth was sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment for the killing of Michael Dorsett, who he shot in the back on 9 November 2000 while on patrol with other police officers. Constable McDermoth had stated that the victim and another man had opened fire on the police patrol and he had returned fire to protect himself and his colleagues. Scientific evidence presented by the prosecution, however, showed that no gunpowder residue was found on the deceased's hands.

Since October 1999 there have been more than 800 police killings in Jamaica, many of which have been blatantly unlawful killings. With the exception of Michael Dorsett, none of these cases has led to a conviction or has even been the subject of an independent and impartial investigation. Amnesty International has acknowledged and welcomed the recent greater willingness by the Jamaican authorities to charge officers accused of murder. However, the failure to secure convictions in cases of unlawful killings is a serious stumbling block to achieving real justice.

"Not only does the continuing lack of convictions send a message that the police force can act with impunity, it hinders the families of the victims in their attempts to come to terms with their bereavement," she added.

Amnesty International has for many years campaigned alongside Jamaican human rights organizations to call for an end to police impunity and the overwhelming lack of accountability in the Jamaican security and justice systems, asking the Jamaican authorities to show the necessary political will to ensure that all police killings are thoroughly and independently investigated to international standards.

Background Information
The level of police killings in Jamaica is amongst one of the highest per capita in the world. In 2005 there were reportedly 168 fatal shootings by police, the highest in 14 years. The last conviction of a police officer known to Amnesty International was in October 1999, when three officers were convicted of the murder of David Black, who was beaten to death in Trelawny police station in September 1995. Six police officers were acquitted in December 2005 of the murders of two women and two men in Crawle in May 2003, despite strong evidence that police officers had attempted to alter the crime scene to make it appear that the victims had fired at the police.

In recent years Amnesty International has documented numerous failings of the investigative system for police killings, including the lack of investigating officers, the authorities failure to protect the scene of killings, inadequate autopsies on the bodies and failure to take statements from the officers concerned in a timely manner.


The Third World in America

By Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

Boston area hotel workers came out strong at the Ritz Carlton Hotel to hear Senator John Edwards, actor/activist Danny Glover and other union leaders speak on workers’ rights last Saturday. The speakers were part of the “Hotel Workers Rising,” one of several nation-wide events to support increased benefits for hotel workers, part of the nation’s fastest growing labor industry.

In 11 US cities, union contracts for many of these workers will expire this year. The hotel industry has witness immense consolidation and expansion over the past few decades and now employs 1.3 million workers. While sales in the hotel industry are reaching back to pre 9/11 numbers, hotel workers are not reaping the benefits.

There are over 5,800 hotel workers who are members of Local 26 who work for 17 different hotels in the Boston area. The average pay of these workers is $13.50/hr and many of them receive no benefits, pensions or retirement plans. The average hotel worker is responsible for cleaning 16 rooms a day, spending only twenty minutes per room. Union activists say that this is too much work for so little money. Activists are particularly concerned about the so-called ‘heavenly beds,’ which are larger, heavier beds that can be found in higher end hotels. Because of the size and number of sheets for these beds, unions say that more time is needed to clean than the allotted twenty minutes.

The vast majority of hotel workers are women, immigrants and people of color, like Rahel Adugna. Adugna, an Ethiopian immigrant, got a union job at the Sheraton Hotel. However, she was laid off after three months. She felt that she was unjustly let go and spoke up and got her job back.

“I learned that even if you are in a union, you can still lose your rights,” she said at the rally. “I believe in the American dream…I want to take care of my family. I want to fight for our rights and dignity.”

Dina Dickinson is also a worker who has stood up for herself on the front lines. An immigrant from Italy, Dickinson has worked as a room attendant at the Logan Airport Hilton for 17 years. She is a single mother of five children, whom she is proud to say she put all through college. She is an executive board member and a shop steward at her hotel. As shop steward, Dickinson led a successful campaign to reduce the room quotas for room attendants from 16 to 15 rooms at the Hilton.

“I would like to retire, but there is no retirement plan,” she said. ‘We should be able to retire after years of service…We can’t have a society where people work hard and don’t make progress.”

The ongoing theme at the rally was the take over of corporations in the global economy. Up until twenty years ago small companies owned most hotels. Today most hotels are run by the so-called “Big 3” – Hilton, Starwood and Marriott – which employ thousands of non-union workers. Critics say that because the three corporates exhort so much power in the industry, they are taking advantage of hotel workers and thus contributing to the growing number of Americans living below the poverty line. Today eighty percent of jobs in the US and Canada are in the service sector. Fifty percent of those low-paying jobs are in hotels and restaurants.

Senator John Edwards ran his 2004 presidential campaign on the message of “Two Americas,” one for the rich and the other for the working poor. Edwards said that the national minimum wage should be raised so it would be easier for the working poor to cross into the middle class.

“Over the next decade there will be more jobs created,” he said. Will these jobs have benefits? Will we strengthen the middle class? Or will more people join the 37 million living in poverty. We will give these hotels the opportunity to do what’s right. If they don’t do it, we will make them do it.”


Podcasting for all in Peru

From Science and Development Network:

In Peru's remote Andean mountains, villages like Chanta Alta only have electricity for two hours a day.
Despite this, a new pilot project is using podcasting to get important agricultural information to farmers.

The farmers do not yet have the means to listen on portable MP3 players.

But UK charity Practical Action has married old and new technology to podcast twice-monthly updates to eight information centres in the Cajamarca region.

Expansion hopes

These telecentres, many of which are run on solar power, automatically download the programmes onto CDs to rebroadcast them on local radio stations.

The charity has found it effective to distribute audio material to local people, who prefer listening in their own dialect to being sent the written word.

Each area within Cajamarca is sent information relevant to them.

In Chanta Alta, the podcasts concentrate on cattle-raising husbandry and on dairy production.
In nearby Chilete, podcasts are being used to give tips to farmers who have no experience of growing grapes.

Practical Action's team leader in Peru, Cecilia Fernandez Morales, told the BBC's Go Digital programme that managers are now training local people to make their own podcasts.

"They have been very popular with local people and now we are receiving more questions from local farmers which we are trying to answer.

"We are also hoping that the database of podcasts on the internet will be used not just by Peruvian farmers but other farmers in Latin America."

The Peru project is currently running on a trial basis, and will be evaluated at the end of March.

If the Peruvian podcasts are successful, Practical Action has plans to roll out similar schemes in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

"Our plans are to test out some of the technologies that would enable people to listen to the podcasts on a mobile phone or a PDA, in fact on any device that can play an MP3 file," said Dr David Grimshaw, international team leader on the project.


Have A Socially Conscious Valentine's Day

Before you buy those gold necklaces and rings for your significant other, do you know where they came from?

From Oxfam America:

New York City—For the first time ever, eight of the world’s top jewelry retailers have pledged to move away from “dirty” gold sales and are calling on mining corporations to ensure that gold is produced in more socially and environmentally responsible ways. The retailers, which are the Zale Corp., the Signet Group (the parent firm of Sterling and Kay Jewelers), Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff, Cartier, Piaget, and Van Cleef & Arpels, are being praised by the No Dirty Gold campaign today in a full-page ad in The New York Times, timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day, one of the biggest jewelry-buying holidays in the United States.

“Because jewelry retailers buy the majority of gold produced worldwide, they have the power to help clean up the mining industry,” said Payal Sampat, co-director of the No Dirty Gold campaign and international campaign director for EARTHWORKS. “We applaud the leadership of these companies. It’s an important first step.”

More than 80 percent of the gold produced worldwide is used to make jewelry. Retail sales of jewelry in the U.S. alone surpassed $45 billion in 2004, of which gold jewelry accounted for $17 billion. The eight companies identified as “leaders” together represent $6.3 billion in retail jewelry sales, or 14 percent of sales in the United States, which is second only to India in annual gold consumption. Four of the top 10 U.S. jewelry firms – Zales, Kay Jewelers (Sterling/Signet), Tiffany & Co., and Helzberg Diamonds – are among the firms identified as “leaders.”

The New York Times ad (available at www.nodirtygold.org) features a heart-shaped locket with images depicting the environmental and human toll of gold mining, and the headline “There’s nothing romantic about a toxic gold mine.” The ad then names both the retail jewelry “leaders,” that have made in-principle commitments to sourcing more responsibly produced gold and those “laggard” companies that have not yet done so. The “laggard” retailers identified by the campaign are Rolex, JCPenney, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer Jewelers, Whitehall Jewellers, Jostens, QVC, and Sears/Kmart.

“Despite growing demand from concerned consumers, mining corporations have yet to significantly reduce the harm their operations are inflicting on communities in many parts of the world,” said Keith Slack, co-director of the No Dirty Gold campaign and senior policy advisor for Oxfam America. “When major jewelry retailers demand ethically produced gold for their products, it’s time for the mining industry to take note and make changes in their practices.”

Growing controversy over new mine proposals and news stories detailing environmental and human rights abuses and corruption within the gold mining industry have prompted retailers to worry about their brand reputations and have spurred consumers to question the source of their gold purchases. Since the No Dirty Gold campaign was launched two years ago, more than 30,000 consumers have signed a petition urging mining corporations to clean up their act and produce gold more responsibly.

The jewelry industry “leaders” named by the No Dirty Gold campaign have endorsed human rights, environmental, and social justice principles that call for responsible practices in producing gold and precious metals. These include:

Respect for basic human rights outlined in international conventions and law;

Free, prior, and informed consent from affected communities;

Respect for workers' rights and labor standards;

Protecting parks and natural reserves from mining; and,

Protecting oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams from mining wastes.
The production of a single gold ring generates, on average, 20 tons of waste. Gold mining has caused massive environmental destruction, contaminated fisheries and fresh water used for drinking and irrigation, and displaced tens of thousands of rural farming, fishing, and ranching communities.

“For too long, the people who are buying and selling gold have been blind to mining's impacts on the water, the air, the land, and communities like the Western Shoshone. What we're talking about is the life of future generations – and not just Indian children, but all children,” said Carrie Dann of the Western Shoshone Defense Project. “But today, some of the leading jewelry retailers are recognizing that they have a responsibility not only to their customers but also to communities affected by gold mining.” Approximately half the gold produced worldwide between 1995 and 2015 has or will come from indigenous peoples' lands.

The No Dirty Gold campaign is not a boycott on gold, but is working to end destructive mining practices, educate consumers about gold mining’s impacts and build consumer support for industry reform.


Jamaica, Jamaica! Comes to New England

By Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

Although this has been a mild New England winter, some still want to
fantasize about being in a warmer climate. Art lovers can get a brush
of the tropics with the “Jamaica, Jamaica” exhibit now showing at
L'Essence Art Gallery in Boston through February 26. The
featured artists, Lucilda Dassardo-Cooper and Ekua Holmes of Boston and
Dipanwita Donde of New Delhi, India, were inspired to do the show after
a painting expedition the trio made to Jamaica in 2004. They visited
Dassardo-Cooper's family home in Portmore, a suburb of Kingston, and
also Treasure Beach, a quiet, artsy resort and fishing village on
Jamaica's South Coast.

“Lucilda and I met in India a few years ago,” said Dipanwita Donde at
the opening reception for the exhibit. “She told me that I should come
to her studio in Jamaica many times. Finally I gave in a couple of
years ago.”

Donde was born in Calcutta and graduated from the College of Art in
Delhi. She is primarily a watercolorist who has begun to dabble in
oils. The government of India has purchased four of her watercolor
paintings and placed the images on postage stamps. Donde has also
participated in exhibitions in Europe. She currently lives with her
son in a suburb of New Delhi.

The paintings and collages depict the people of Jamaica leading their
lives, not necessarily in the postcard settings that are often all
tourists see of the island. Dassardo-Cooper takes the point of view of
a Jamaican living in America who makes regular trips back to the
island, while Donde uses the perspective of a first time visitor.
Holmes is an African-American who was seeing the island country for the
second time.

“The Jamaican people inspired me,” said Holmes. “It inspired me how
they related to nature. Painting is like meditation to me.”

Holmes, a Boston native and Mass Art graduate, has participated in
Boston's artistic scene for three decades. As an independent curator
and owner of Renaissance Art & Design Gallery, she has worked to
increase exposure for women artists of color throughout the
commonwealth. Recently she has concentrated on her own work, mainly
collages, but also paintings. She maintains a studio in the Piano
Factory and is currently splitting her time between Boston and
Baltimore, where she is pursuing a masters of fine art at the Maryland
Institute of Art.

“Since I was a little girl I was drawing stick people with crayons,”
Holmes said. “It’s funny today there are people in Soho who are
getting paid big bucks for doing that same kind of work with crayons!”

“I also started painting at a young age,” said Dassardo-Cooper. “I
came to Boston in 1971 and went to art school.”

Dassardo-Cooper has over 30 years of oil painting experience. In 1997,
she represented the United States in India's Triennale, an
international exhibit that has in the past featured the works of
American artists Sam Gillian and Louise Nevelson. She lives in
Dorchester and maintains studios in suburban Rockland.

The exhibit draws its name from an exclamation in a popular reggae
tune, "Welcome to Jamrock," by Damian Marley, son of the late Bob
Marley. One of the oil paintings in the exhibit is "Chant Down
Babylon," by Dassardo-Cooper.

“The image is drawn from one of [Bob] Marley’s last concerts,” she said. “The
concert was from the concert at Harvard stadium in 1978. I wanted to
capture the image because he was such a great performer and a great
symbol of Jamaica. I wanted people to see what I saw in him.”


Muslim press debates cartoon row


The issue of insulting and ridiculing the [Prophet Muhammad] is larger than can be confronted by the refusal of a citizen to buy a kilogram of cheese, a tin of butter or a tin of milk from a supermarket because it is manufactured in the country of the newspaper publishing the pictures.


The extent of the repeated offence against Islam and against the person of [Prophet Muhammad] by the scum of the Danish press is a matter which calls for provocation and disgust for that bad group of people who chose journalism as a profession.


European leaders should change their attitudes and remember that Islam has become the second religion in a number of European countries.


There is nothing to prevent the governments of Denmark, Norway, France and others from adopting a responsible position towards the campaign to insult the noble messenger [Prophet Muhammad] and harm the Islamic nation at the heart of its belief.


Despite the great insult, uncalculated responses - especially attacks on European nationals in the Muslim world - do not go hand in hand with the morals of Islam and its Prophet because they are the Muslims' guests, and protecting them is a sacred obligation.


The Danish caricatures insulting Prophet Muhammad and Islam are a snowball rolling down the hill and getting bigger and bigger... Thus an insulting pincer movement closed down on us from two directions: the slander against our faith and our presentation as tyrants who do not recognise freedom of expression.


All of these religiously offensive actions have been carried out in the name of freedom of speech. Has the West lost its sensitivity to respect for religious rights? ... It is right for Muslims to protest, but it needs to be done wisely and proportionally for the sake of maintaining the image of Islam.


The hypocrisy and falsehoods surrounding [Europe's] claim to "freedom of expression" is what needs to be exposed. Legal and political challenges are far more effective than simply burning flags or death threats which only undermine the strong case that Muslims have against these forces of hate in Europe.


Marley's Home to be a National Monument

From Reuters:

KINGSTON, Jamaica (Feb. 7) - The Jamaican government will declare Bob Marley's Kingston home a national monument, 25 years after the reggae legend's death, an official said on Tuesday.

Minister of Education and Culture Maxine Henry Wilson said the tribute was in recognition of all Marley had done to promote his Caribbean homeland overseas.

Marley, who died of cancer in the United States in 1981, would have turned 61 this week.

Known as Tuff Gong International, Marley's home is now a music studio as well as a leading tourist attraction.

Marley, who remains one of the most recognizable stars of pop music, was given Jamaica's third-highest national honor, the Order of Merit, shortly before his death. But government officials have repeatedly shied away from calls to name him a national hero.

As a devout Rastafarian, and someone who used marijuana as part of his religious beliefs, Marley ran a long-running crusade for the legalization of the herb known locally as ganja.

No official date has been set yet for the ceremony in which Tuff Gong, which translates loosely from Jamaican slang to tough sound, will be designated a national monument.


Zimbabwe Watch: HIV rates drops

From AllAfrica:

There has been an almost 50 percent decline in HIV prevalence in some groups in Zimbabwe as people delay when they first have sex and cut down on casual partners, according to research published in the magazine Science (3 February).

HIV prevalence has dropped by 49 percent in women aged between 15 and 24, while there has been a 23 percent drop in men aged 17 to 29, according to researchers from Imperial College London and the Biomedical Research and Training Institute, Zimbabwe.

They found that overall HIV prevalence declined from 23 percent to 20.5 percent.

In 2003 Zimbabwe was estimated to have 1.8 million people infected with HIV/AIDS out of a population of 12 million.

"Although we can't say for certain, fear of HIV and AIDS may have influenced this change in behaviour, with Zimbabwe's well educated population, good communications, and health service infrastructure, all combining to create this effect," said research leader Dr Simon Gregson.

The researchers studied 9 454 people recruited from two household censuses, the first conducted between 1998 and 2000, and the second between 2001 and 2003.

In the second census, slightly more than a quarter (27%) of young men aged 17 to 19 had started having sex, whereas that figure was closer to half (45%) in the earlier census.

For women aged 15 to 17, the percentage reporting sexual experience was slashed by more than half, dropping from 21% to 9%. At the same time, the proportions of men and women reporting a recent casual sexual partner fell by 49 and 22 percent respectively.

Professor Geoffrey Garnett, from Imperial College London, and one of the researchers, said: "A key reason for this decline appears to be the reduction in the number of casual sexual relationships, although there was also a delay in the onset of sexual activity and increases in condom use prior to the time of the study may also have contributed".


US Congress Relieves Cotton Subsidies

From the BBC:

The US Congress has approved the scrapping of major subsidies to the cotton industry, in a move that could help producers in the developing world.
The administration agreed in December to implement a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling against the subsidies, but it needed congressional authorisation.

Brazil, which brought the case, said government help for American cotton farmers distorted the global market.

The subsidies included incentives to buy cotton from domestic farmers.

Aid agencies said the system was particularly damaging to cotton-producing nations in West Africa which, they say, did not get a fair price for their crops.

Powerful lobby

The House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday, following approval by the Senate late last year.

The congressional vote, which came with protests from the agricultural lobby, means that US exporters and manufacturers will no longer receive an incentive for buying their cotton from domestic farmers.

The Bush administration has already scrapped two credit programmes for the farmers, to comply with the WTO decision.

BBC Americas editor Simon Watts says US cotton subsidies have been at the centre of a global trade battle for years, with successive administrations paying billions of dollars annually to farmers in the American South, who have a powerful lobby in Washington.

US trade officials believed the subsidies were legal, but in a landmark ruling in 2004 the WTO decided that much of the assistance broke its rules.

In Brazil, the resolution will be seen as vindication of the government's strategy of tough diplomacy at the WTO, in coordination with other developing nations, our correspondent says.

At one stage, Brazil even threatened trade sanctions if the US did not implement the ruling.