Johnson-Sirleaf:Send Taylor Back to Liberia

From Human Rights Watch:

(Lagos, March 23, 2006) – Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo should promptly comply with Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf’s request for former Liberian President Charles Taylor to face trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Campaign Against Impunity said today.

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the devastating armed conflict in Sierra Leone, which began on March 23, 1991, when rebel groups launched a cross-border attack from Liberia on a small village in the Kailahun district. Members of the Campaign Against Impunity are holding news conferences today in Monrovia, Freetown, and Lagos to press for Taylor’s surrender to the Special Court.

“President Johnson-Sirleaf has taken a crucial stand against impunity in Africa by requesting Taylor’s surrender,” said Ezekiel Pajibo, director of the Center for Democratic Empowerment in Liberia, a group that is part of the Campaign Against Impunity.

“Now President Obasanjo must demonstrate that he too cares about justice on the continent by handing Taylor over to the Special Court,” said Shina Loremikan, director of programmes for the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, a Nigerian organization that is also part of the Campaign.

Charles Taylor has been indicted on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the armed conflict that lasted from 1991 to 2002. The crimes include killings, mutilations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, abduction, and the use of forced labor by armed opposition groups.

In 2003 Charles Taylor left Liberia for Nigeria where he remains. Nigeria acted with the support of the United States, the African Union and other actors in the international community in taking Taylor in as a temporary measure to secure a peaceful transition in Liberia.

President Obasanjo has resisted surrendering Charles Taylor to the Special Court. He has indicated, however, that he would consider returning Charles Taylor to Liberia upon a request from a duly-elected Liberian government. Accordingly reported, Johnson-Sirleaf made a request to Obasanjo, a move publicized on March 17.

“How many years must the victims keep waiting to see justice done?” said Sulaiman Jabati, the executive secretary of the Sierra Leonean Coalition for Justice and Accountability, also part of the Campaign Against Impunity. “It is time for Taylor to face trial for his alleged crimes.”

In a statement issued by the Nigerian government last Friday, Obasanjo said he would consult with the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the request. Johnson-Sirleaf has also indicated that she wants consultation between Obasanjo and regional leaders on this issue. Nevertheless, Johnson-Sirleaf is equally clear that following such consultation, Taylor should face trial.

“It is a fundamental principle of criminal justice that justice delayed is justice denied,” said Kolawole Olaniyan, Africa Programme director at Amnesty International.

“As President Johnson-Sirleaf has said, time is of the essence,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “Consultation must not delay justice.”

In January 2006 the African Union reiterated its commitment to fight impunity consistent with the provisions of its Constitutive Act. The Campaign Against Impunity urges African leaders to give this commitment meaning by expressing support for Taylor’s surrender to the Special Court.

The Campaign Against Impunity is a coalition made up of some 300 African and international civil society groups formed to ensure the surrender of Charles Taylor to the Special Court. It was set up in 2002 to try “those most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the Sierra Leone conflict.


Violence against Indigenous Women Examined at UN Conference

By Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

The plight of indigenous women was a critical topic of discussion at the fiftieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW50), which took place at United Nations headquarters in New York from February 27 to March 10. The conference marked 60 years of UN officials and NGO representatives working together on issues of gender equality, development, and peace.

Indigenous rights, particularly indigenous women’s rights, historically have not been discussed to a large extent within the international human rights community. The CSW is working to change this.

"[Indigenous women] face the worst of discrimination for both their gender and ethnic background," said Mirian Masaquiza, the associate social affairs officer for the secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Discrimination is even more common when violence is involved. Indigenous women face discrimination when they attempt to report crimes, as frequently the crimes are committed by police or other authorities who are not sympathetic to indigenous rights.

"Violence against indigenous women continues to be higher than violence against other groups of women," explained Christine Brautigam, Chief of the Women’s Rights Section of the UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), which is part of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. "We want to identify ways states can prevent violence against women."

Brautigam said that the UN is preparing a study to examine rates of violence against all women, but special attention will be given to indigenous women. The UN estimates that one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, forced into sex, or abused in some form in her lifetime, usually by someone she knows.

"The issue of gender and indigenous violence has been coming up for a long time," said Elsa Stamatopoulou, Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. "It is a close issue to the Secretariat."

Violence against indigenous women is a product of systematic exploitation and expropriation of their ancestral homelands, which are a source of their cultural identity and wealth. Gender-based violence traditionally has been used as a weapon in colonial conquests throughout the world.

In Kenya, the legacy of British colonialism continues to be seen throughout the country. At least 1,400 indigenous Samburu women were raped by British soldiers stationed in their lands during the 1980s and 1990s.

"It is a common practice of men committing violence against women in the villages," said Ruth Emanikor of the Indigenous Information Network in Kenya. "Women are afraid to go to human rights training. Most women are not given permission by their husbands to go to training. If they do go, they are beaten. Women also don’t have rights to property when their husbands die."

Today the Samburu women have declared their village a Violence-Against-Women-Free Zone. The group was formed in the early 1990s by 15 women who became homeless because they were abandoned by their husbands after being raped. Last year the group, which is known as Umoja, brought a case against the British military for the rapes.

Umoja also provides physical protection and safe housing to female survivors of violence. The women regularly band together to confront and chase away their former abusers.

The group is demanding an anti-violence unit in the local police station and training for women police officers to address gender-based violence. Umoja is also demanding proper medical treatment for survivors of violence.

"Violence against women is a form of terrorism, and we should be discussing how this affects women’s lives," said Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. "Respecting human rights is an obligation of the state. We want justice for all women."


Raid on Nairobi Media Group Causes Backlash

By Otula Owuor
Special to Global Wire

Last week’s raid by Kenyan police that dismantled the Nairobi-based Standard Group’s printing press and halted business at its television station, KTN, was the result of controversy about a story in The Standard newspaper on Feb. 26. The story reported that President Mwai Kibaki had met in secret with an opposition leader. Members of the government say the story was inaccurate.

It now appears that the raid was a major blunder by the minister in charge of internal security. The chief of police, who was out of the country during the raid, has confirmed that he was not aware of plans to assault the media house.

The assault could backfire. To most Kenyans, the raid was an extreme overreaction. Kenyan laws could easily deal with accusations of inaccurate reporting, and most citizens feel that the government should not be taking those laws into its own hands.

Things could get worse, however. The government has several choices. It might apologize and fire those responsible. Or it could choose to act tough and come up with all manner of charges against the Standard Group in the name of national security.

The Standard Group and Nation Group, leading Kenyan media houses participating with the International Women’s Media Foundation in the Maisha Yetu project to improve reporting on health issues, continue to expose massive corruption among the ruling elites of Kenya, a tradition begun during the regime of former president Daniel Arap Moi. The difference now is President Kibaki was elected to office with the promise of eliminating inefficiency and corruption.

If the raid was intended to teach the media a lesson, it has backfired. Widespread demonstrations were expected in major cities on March 7, and most citizens are in sympathy with The Standard. Many Kenyans are calling the illegal raid a conspiracy between the minister for internal security -- known for his “no nonsense” approach --and some police officers. The public tends to interpret such acts as efforts to divert their attention -- in this case away from massive corruption scandals nicknamed “Anglo-leasing” and “Goldernberg” which have cost the nation more than $2 billion.

Kenyans value a free press. A day after the raid, The Standard was back in the streets with more investigative stories and people are buying up issues. KTN, the Standard Group’s pioneering private TV station, is also back on the air. Still, the media house fears authorities may manipulate information taken from computers they confiscated from its newsroom to manufacture "proof" that the newspaper is endangering national security.

The usually competitive Kenyan media have steadfastly condemned the raid. Others in government, however, seem to support it. Minister for Justice and Constitution Martha Karua said that media are not above the law and should be investigated.

The issue is not over and may only cool only when the courts get involved. For now, Kenyans are suddenly realizing that they are just too close to nations run as dictatorships or police states.

Otula Owuor is a Kenyan journalist who is the local trainer for the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Maisha Yetu project to improve the quality and consistency of reporting on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa.


Women of the World United for Change

By Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

Hundreds of passionate, dynamic women-and a few men-from around the world gathered at UN headquarters on February 27 for the start of the 50th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The event marks 60 years of working for gender equality, peace and development.

There are two themes to this year's two-week conference, which runs through March 10: women in development and women in the decision-making process. While some countries have adopted policy reforms and achieved legislative gender equality in many ways, the Secretary-General's recent report, "Enhanced Participation of Women in Development," shows a large gap between practice and policy. In a panel discussion on the subject, it was concluded that women's full enjoyment of the right to education, as well as good health and work outside of the home, are necessary for their full participation in development.

"Education is also found to positively influence an individual's attitude, which has social benefits in the longer term," said Dr. Bernadette Lahai, chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Food Security in Sierra Leone. "For women, particularly, it widens their social networks, creates new reference groups and more role models, and fosters innovation, all of which improves on women's well being and those of their families." She went on to say that "education improves on women's self-perception, increases their confidence level, as well as independence of thought and judgment, social mobility and a broader outlook on life."

The Jamaica delegation dissented, stating that education alone will not improve women's lives, especially those women who live in patriarchal societies. Lahai and other panelists responded by saying that education is only a stepping stone.

"We need to move beyond being involved in development," said Akanksha Marphatia of Action/AID International. "But we also need to be involved in empowerment."

The second panel discussion on the commission's opening day, which was on women in the decision-making process, focused on progress made over the last several years. Today, there are 11 women heads of state or government in countries on every continent, including Liberia's new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-the first female to be elected head of state in all of Africa. In addition, Chile, Sweden and Spain have now achieved gender parity in their respective governments. Despite this, another report from the Secretary-General, "Equal Participation of Women and Men in Decision-Making Processes at All Levels," shows that women are still lagging behind. The reasons given: women's continued exclusion from male-dominated policy domains; the absence of enabling environments in political institutions; persisting stereotypical attitudes; and the unequal distribution of family responsibilities between men and women. While the issue of quotas as a means of women's empowerment was debated during the conferences, it was generally agreed that women bring a certain understanding of policy to the table, especially on social issues.

"No government can be democratic without the participation of both men and women," said Nesreen Barwari, minister of municipalities and public works in Iraq. "The reason women should be in government is not to be on the same level as men, but to bring in a different perspective. If women are to be fully integrated into society, more work needs to be done. Women are excluded in most countries, but it's time to readdress this."

For the duration of the session's first week, delegates from nongovernmental organizations attended dozens of panel discussions, workshops and film viewings and held open discussions on topics relating to the conference's two themes. From media images of South African women to foreign brides in Taiwan to lesbian rights in the Muslim world, the state of women in the world in 2006 is diverse and dynamic.

One of the biggest topics among delegates was the critical issue of human trafficking. With the end of the Cold War and the advent of globalization and the Internet, trafficking affects every aspect of the global economy today, even women in the United States.

"There is a perception in the US that trafficking only happens over there in Thailand, Cambodia and other underdeveloped countries," said CNN investigative reporter Christine Dolan during a panel discussion on the topic. "But that is not true. It is really underrepresented in our media. There is a level of education that is needed in the US. The US is not above trafficking."

Another topic of interest was the plight of indigenous women. "[They] face the worst of discrimination for both their gender and ethnic background," said Mirian Masaquiza, social affairs associate for indigenous affairs in Ecuador. "It is important to adopt multicultural services to overcome this."

Discrimination is even more common place when violence is involved. For indigenous women, violence occurs in a context of ongoing rights violations against communities as a whole.

"Violence against indigenous women continues to be higher than violence against other groups of women," explained Christine Brautigam of the Division for the Advancement of Women, part of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. "We want to identify ways states can prevent violence against women."

As the conference continues through March 10, delegates also will be reviewing the situation of Afghan and Palestinian girls and women, women in the labor market, women and children taken hostage, and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women. There is a satisfaction by attendees that it is bringing women and their issues to the table. For many of them, this is a sign of good things to come.

"An active women's movement should be recognized," said Toral Begim, an NGO representative from Lebanon. "The UN must stay in the forefront to make progress happen. Women make a difference."


Jamaica to have first woman prime minister

From Reuters:

Cabinet minister Portia Simpson Miller is set to become Jamaica's first woman prime minister after being elected president of the nation's ruling political party.

Simpson Miller, 60, beat a field of three others to become leader of the 68-year-old People's National Party in an emotionally charged election among 3,808 party delegates on Saturday evening.

Simpson Miller, the minister of local government, community development and sport, will be appointed prime minister when incumbent P.J. Patterson retires. Patterson, 70, who is midway though his third five-year term, said last year he would step down before the start of the next legislative year on April 1.

"Tonight I give the glory to God almighty and a big thank you to the delegates of the PNP and the Jamaican people," Simpson Miller said in her acceptance speech.

"I accept your mandate to serve as president of the PNP. I pledge to honor my commitment to serve as leader for all Jamaica."

Simpson Miller won 1,775 votes, to beat National Security Minister Peter Phillips, who had 1,538 votes, Finance and Planning Minister Omar Davies with 283 votes and former water and housing minister Karl Blythe with 204 votes.

There were eight rejected votes.

Simpson Miller becomes the fourth president of the party, which was founded by former premier Norman Manley.

Patterson took over as party leader from Michael Manley in 1992 and was named prime minister on March 30 that year.

The PNP won an unprecedented fourth consecutive five-year term in October 2002, dealing a humiliating blow to the opposition Jamaican Labor Party.

When Patterson was sworn in to his third term that year, he became the first Jamaican leader to pledge allegiance to the constitution and people of Jamaica, instead of the British monarch as had been the custom in the past.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth remains head of state of the former British colony of nearly 3 million people.