Europe

This Week in European Conflict… March 3rd-10th, 2012.

  • The European Union pulled a TV ad from circulation and apologized after many considered it racist. The ad featured several non-Western martial artists who confront a white brunette (symbolizing Europe) with weaponry and ends with her surrounding them.
  • President Lukashenka of Belarus lashed out at the European Union for expanding sanctions against his country last week, specifically at the openly homosexual German Foreign Minister, reportedly saying it is “better to be a dictator than to be gay”. Prison authorities reportedly prevented a pastor from visiting jailed opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka in a bid to persuade him to end his hunger strike on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition United Civic Party was reportedly blocked by officials from coring into neighbouring Lithuania.
  • Sweden has reportedly been secretly helping Saudi Arabia plan the construction of an arms factory to produce anti-tank missiles since 2005.
  • President Sarkozy said on Tuesday that there are too many immigrants in France, defending his re-election campaign promise to cut the number of new arrivals by half. On Thursday, Sarkozy promised Armenians he will eventually secure the adoption of a law that would make it a crime to deny the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. On Friday, authorities said they wanted the Basque separatist group ETA to completely disarm and would continue to work with the Spanish government to end the last major guerrilla conflict on the continent.
  • The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England tried to ambush the PM’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriage when he launched his “no” campaign from the pulpit on the weekend. The British government is planning to launch a formal consultation document on allowing homosexual couples to marry. Some disturbing statistics were revealed on Friday, citing that more than half of young black men available for work in the country are now unemployed and that women are being disproportionately affected by government funding cuts.
  • The President of Armenia accused leaders in neighbouring Azerbaijan of seeking to block progress on resolving the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. Armenia is set to engage in its first ever joint military exercises with the United States.
  • Three police officers and one gunman were killed in Dagestan on Sunday as unknown gunmen reportedly attacked them near a polling station for the Russian Presidential elections. On Tuesday, a female suicide bomber killed five police officers during an attack on a police station. On Friday, Russian forces reportedly used helicopters and artillery fire to pursue a group of 15 suspected terrorists in the Dagestan region.
  • Around 3,000 coal miners blocked a major road in southwestern Romania on Thursday, demanding a pay raise that was promised to them by the previous government.
  • Slovakia held its Parliamentary elections amid widespread public anger over a major corruption scandal on Saturday.  Exit polls suggested that a leftist opposition party appeared to be winning.
  • Voters in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia held their Parliamentary elections on Sunday, despite Georgia not recognizing them as valid.
  • The Parliament of Moldova voted to legalize chemical castration for convicted pedophiles and some rapists on Tuesday. The law will also apply to foreign nationals. On Wednesday, the acting President set the Presidential elections for March 16th, as the Parliament had failed to agree on a candidate amid prolonged disagreements between political factions.
  • Vladimir Putin won a third term as President in Russia, amid reports of voting irregularities and fraud during Sunday’s vote, though the ruling United Russia party said the elections should serve as “a model for other countries” in terms of transparency. On Monday, the United States urged the Russian government to conduct “an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations” from the Presidential vote, after international elections monitors say the election was clearly skewed in favour of Putin; riot police detained opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny during an anti-government rally; while thousands of Russians joined a mass protest against Putin’s return to the Kremlin, resulting in the detention of hundreds. Two of the members of the feminist band “Pussy Riot” who were arrested on the weekend started a hunger strike in protest. On Tuesday, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he was troubled by Putin’s claiming victory and called for a discussion on whether to hold a new election. On Wednesday, authorities granted permission to opposition activists to gather up to 50,000 people on the weekend to protest Putin’s win; while the Russian League of Voters condemned the Presidential election as an “insult to civil society”. On Thursday, wives of retired military officers marked International Women’s Day by staging a protest and a hunger strike outside the defense ministry to demand better housing for their families; Putin announced plans to start consultations immediately on the composition of a new government; while NATO’s Secretary-General phoned Putin to congratulate him on his victory and agreed to meet in the “not-too-distant future”. On Friday, police in Moscow announced they will take any necessary measures in the instance of violations at a critical opposition rally on Saturday; the Kremlin said they had dismissed Russia’s ambassador to Qatar in the wake of an altercation between the ambassador and airport authorities; a group of major Russian human rights organizations criticised US Secretary of State Clinton over her response calling Putin the “clear winner” in the Presidential election;  while American President Obama called Putin, in the first conversation between the two men since Putin won his controversial third term. On Saturday, about a dozen protesters were arrested by police as several thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators rallied to denounce the elections.
  • A bomb exploded near the Prime Ministry building in Ankara, Turkey, lightly injuring one person on Monday; while the Turkish authorities were reportedly exploring paths to end the Kurdish conflict. On Friday, authorities expelled members of a Ukrainian feminist group from the country after they staged a topless protest to mark International Women’s Day; while state prosecutors sought permission from the PM to question spy chiefs over their secret contacts with Kurdish militants, challenging the government’s move to cub the investigation.
  • The interior minister of Macedonia condemned a recent wave of ethnically motivated violence, including a series of attacks over the week that left nearly a dozen people injured.
  • Prosecutors at the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court asked for a 28-year sentence for Vojislave Seselj of Serbia on Wednesday, accusing him of incitement to commit atrocities in the 1990s Balkan wars; while mayors of ethnic Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo said they had received assurances from the Serbian Parliament speaker that local and Parliamentary elections will be held in Kosovo as well. Former Bosnia politician and warlord Fikret Abdic was released from prison after serving two-thirds of his sentence for crimes against Muslims during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday and was met by some 3,000 supporters.
  • The Parliament of Croatia unanimously ratified a treaty on the country’s entry into the European Union on Friday.
  • The European Union announced that Hungary had not answered all the questions raised by the bloc about its respect for democratic rights and freedoms, with the EU threatening legal actions on Wednesday.
  • The President of the Ukraine ordered the government to work on a series of new reforms that he says are aimed at improving social welfare and public trust in the government on Wednesday during a televised cabinet meeting.

This Week in European Conflict… February 18th-25th, 2012.

  • The former foreign secretary of the EU Jack Straw announced that the European Parliament should be abolished after failing to achieve its purpose of bridging the divide between the European people and EU. Straw argued that the body has a “major democratic deficit”  as a poll shows 78% believe their voice doesn’t count in the EU.
  • Tens of thousands reportedly rallied across Russia on Saturday in support of Vladimir Putin. Hundreds of cars circled central Moscow on Sunday to demand PM Putin allows free elections in the country; President Medvedev announced his intention to meet with some of the heads of the opposition protest movement; while PM Putin outlined plans for military reform and rearmament that would see the government spending 23 trillion rubles (around $770 billion) over a ten year period.  On Monday, a rare meeting between the President and opposition leaders produced talk of political reform but no sign of concessions strong enough to halt protests posing a challenge to Putin; a new poll predicts that Putin will be elected President in the first round of March’s election; while PM Putin announced that the country needs a stronger military to protect it against foreign attempts to stoke conflict around its borders. On Tuesday, Putin allegedly sought to bolster his authority ahead of the Presidential election by promising police in Moscow to pay hefty pay raises; the President of the southern republic of Tatarstan endorsed Putin, claiming Russia needs a “tsar” rather than a manager as head of state; while early voting began in remote areas ahead of the March 4th Presidential election. On Thursday, tens of thousands gathered in a central Moscow stadium to hear Putin, as he spouted nationalistic rhetoric and warned of the dangers of foreign influence, reportedly reminiscent of Soviet times. On Friday, Radio Free Europe ran an article detailing how a new protest movement, organized largely through social media, is rolling through the country; while Putin announced that he sees no new chill in ties with the Americans, but warned that he would not let the US gain nuclear supremacy and had no intention of playing “yes man” to the West on global issues.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus was sentenced to 10 days in jail on Wednesday for holding an unsanctioned “toy protest” in Minsk, and announced he will go on a hunger strike in protest. On Thursday, another toy protest activist was reportedly jailed, while both men announced the start of a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment.
  • A wave of execution-style shootings and a police station bombing have rocked Sweden’s third largest city, sparking fears of gangster violence taking hold of the country, once seen as the world’s safest places.
  • Police announced on Saturday that at least seventeen police and seven insurgents were reportedly killed in four days of fighting on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Another 24 police and security troops were also wounded in the fighting.
  • EU officials announced that a new round of talks in Brussels between Serbia and Kosovo was to be postponed to February 22nd after Pristina representatives failed to show up on time because their flight had been cancelled.  On Wednesday, Serbia announced its plans to open its first shelter for gays and lesbians in a southern city. On Thursday, the German Foreign Minister announced that Germany firmly supports Serbia’s bid to join the EU and would like to see it given candidate status at the upcoming week’s EU summit; while former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic slammed the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as a puppet of NATO, calling it biased against him and other Serbs. On Friday, the EU Enlargement Commissioner announced that Serbia and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership reached a deal on border issues and Kosovo’s participation in Balkan regional meetings; while the Bosnian Education Minister has reportedly resigned and fled the country after receiving death threats for his decision to remove mandated religious classes from primary school.
  • Macedonia reportedly urged NATO to accept it as a member when the alliance holds a summit in May, despite Greek opposition due to a long-running dispute over its name.
  • The government of Germany and two main opposition parties agreed to jointly nominate a former East German human rights activist as the next President, following the resignation of the former President on Friday.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against reforms to the labour market, in fears it will destroy workers’ rights and the welfare state. The protests took place in some 57 towns and cities across the country. Thousands of students took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against alleged police violence, a day after security forces arrested 25 protesters and injured 4 at a demonstration against spending cuts in education.
  • Nearly 75 percent of voters in Latvia rejected the plan to change the constitution and introduce Russian as an official second language in the country on Saturday, a move praised by neighbouring Lithuania. Russia however, criticized the country for rejecting their language, calling the vote biased because it excluded so many Russian-speaking “non-citizens” from voting.
  • The Guardian ran an article outlining the six key elements of the deal for the bailout of Greece by the eurozone finance ministers. On Wednesday, trade unions promised a popular revolt over the bailout.
  • Emergency services in London, England began practising their response in the event of an attack during the summer Olympic Games, set to be staged in the capital this year.
  •  The European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to pay thousands of dollars to 24 Somali and Eritrean migrants who fled Libya in 2009, but were subsequently returned. The court ruled that the migrants risked ill-treatment in Libya where such migrants were systematically detained.
  • President Saakashvili of Georgia challenged his political opponents to disclose their views on relations with Russia, while also underlining his commitment to strengthening the country’s ties with NATO and the EU.

This Week in European Conflict… February 11th-18th, 2012.

  • On Friday, France and Britain agreed to jointly work to develop next-generation unmanned drones as part of their military cooperation.
  • The Guardian ran a set of interesting articles detailing Scotland Yard’s investigation into Britain’s MI5 instances of torture, murder and rendition.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy formally declared that he will be running for a second term as President of France this spring.
  • The chief editor of the leading liberal radio station in Russia announced that a surprise management reshuffle at the station is aimed at dictating the station’s coverage ahead of the March 4th Presidential elections on Tuesday; while it was released that the country came close to a nuclear disaster last December when a blaze engulfed a nuclear-powered submarine carrying atomic weapons. On Wednesday, a fake video showing Vladimir Putin in a courtroom cage in what seemed to be a real trial for terrorism went viral on the internet; while the white ribbon protest gained steam, especially among those fashion-conscious Russians. On Thursday, the European Parliament expressed concern over the disputed Russian State Duma elections in December, but stopped short of called for their annulment; while an official responsible for foreign arms sales says the country set a weapons export record in 2011, selling $13.2 billion in arms to foreign clients, with India, Algeria and Vietnam accounting for half of all exports.
  • Serbs in northern Kosovo began voting on Monday in a referendum asking whether or not they accept the authority of ethnic Albanian rulers. The referendum has no legal weight, but is likely to further complicate the EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and Serbia’s efforts to eventually join the EU. By Thursday, 99.74% of Serbs who voted rejected Albanian rule; and European Union-brokered talks were set to resume between Serbia and Kosovo.
  • At least three Russian police officers were reportedly killed and six others injured on Monday in a gun battle with suspected militants along the Chechen-Dagestan border.  On Tuesday, Russian security forces allegedly killed the leader of a rebel group, Ibragimkhalil Daudov in Dagestan.
  • Veterans of the Afghan-Soviet war in the Ukraine snubbed the President by turning their backs on him at a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The daughter of former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko said that her mother has been subjected to poor medical care and abusive conditions in prison during an interview.
  • On Saturday, the people of Latvia voted in a referendum on whether or not to make Russian the second official language of the country.
  • On Sunday night, tens of thousands of people in Greece reportedly tried to demonstrate peacefully in front of the parliament building, but were almost immediately met with teargas, and then took to rioting—setting fire to banks, stores and cafes. On Monday, the country announced it will hold general elections in April, only hours after Parliament voted through tough new austerity measures aimed at saving the country from bankruptcy.
  • The European Parliament President announced he is “appalled” by the deteriorating situation in Belarus regarding human rights and political freedoms on Tuesday and called upon authorities to release opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka and all other political prisoners. On Friday, another prominent Belarusian human rights activist who was sentenced to 4 ½ years in jail for tax evasion was transferred from a detention centre in Minsk to a labour camp in Babruysk.
  • Two international watchdogs condemned recent attacks on a Turkish newspaper office in Germany and France allegedly carried out by Kurdish activists. On Friday, the German President was forced into a humiliating resignation, after being caught up in an alleged corruption scandal and misguided attempt to muzzle the press.

This Week in European Conflict… February 4th-11th, 2012.

  • Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies across Europe on Saturday to protest against an international anti-piracy agreement they fear will curb their freedom to download movies and music for free and encourage internet surveillance.
  • Pro-Europe politician Sauli Niinisto won the Presidency in Finland on Sunday to keep the country in the euro zone with a 63 percent majority.
  • The PM and his cabinet in Romania resigned on Monday after weeks of protests over widespread corruption and austerity measures, naming the foreign intelligence chief Mihai Razvan Ungureanu as the new PM-designate. Emil Boc said he was quitting to “release the tension in the country’s political and social situation”. On Thursday, the Parliament approved the new government headed by designated new PM Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.
  • A group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous reportedly hacked private emails that show that a pro-Kremlin group in Russia allegedly runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of PM Putin and is set to hatch plans to discredit opposition activists and media. PM Putin said on Wednesday that the world faced a growing “cult of violence” and warned of outside interference from the West; while officials announced that nearly 40 soldiers in one unit were hospitalized and one died from pneumonia in Siberia that critics charge is due to insufficient uniforms for the extremely cold temperature. On Thursday, the Defense Ministry said that two of their strategic bombers returned to their base in Siberia following a 16-hour training patrol over international waters north of Japan, a move that prompted the air forces of Japan and South Korea to send F-15 and F-16 fighters to monitor the mission; Eurasianet ran an article suggesting that Putin’s nationalist philosophy may lead to a redrawing of Russian borders; a federal judge in New York upheld the conviction of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout after rejecting his motion to have his conviction dismissed; while former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev again said that Vladimir Putin has exhausted himself as Russia’s leader. On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters again gathered in the capital to challenge PM Putin’s grip on power. On Tuesday, President Medvedev ordered the top security service to “detect and curb provocations” by extremists ahead of elections. On Friday, authorities in the Serbian city of Barnaul declared it now illegal to organize antigovernment demonstrations by using toy collections, unless advance permissions are granted; Defense Minister Serdyukov announced that the Navy will get two new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines this summer; the Federal Security Service (FSB) said that a military officer was jailed for 13 years for passing missile secrets to the American CIA; and President Medvedev dismissed the police chief of St. Petersburg after a 15-year-old boy died after allegedly being beaten in police custody. On Saturday, a group of European vote monitors say they have been denied a meeting with Putin because of his busy schedule; while pro-democracy protests continued despite the freezing temperatures. The Atlantic ran an article about the viral music video that is become a sensation in Russia that suggests Putin was sent to the country by God, and at just the right time.
  • A 24-hour general strike took place on Tuesday this week in Greece, as workers protested austerity measures from being imposed to prevent the country from going bankrupt. On Friday, at least four members of the coalition government are reported to have resigned over austerity cuts. On Sunday, Parliament approved a deeply unpopular austerity bill to secure a second bailout from the EU and IMF and avoid a messy default; while thousands protested against the bailout, pushing the country on to edge of a precipice.
  • Serbia and Kosovo reportedly resumed dialogue after a three-month break, helping to ease some of the tensions between the two. Serbian authorities reported two high-profile, convicted professional killers attempted to escape from a high-security prison in Belgrade on Tuesday.
  • The Parliament in Bosnia voted in a new central government, formally ending a 16-month political crisis that followed the October 2010 elections. The nine portfolios in the new government will be divided among six parties—two Bosnian Serb, two Bosnian Croat, the main Muslim SDA party and the multi-ethnic Social Democrats.
  • The Supreme Court in Spain disbarred Judge Baltasar Garzon for 11 years on Thursday for illegally recording defence lawyers’ conversations with clients, without any chance of appeal. Garzon is also charged in two other cases, one for allegedly abusing his authority by ordering an inquiry into the murder and forced disappearance of more than 100,000 people by forces loyal to late dictator Franco and violating the 1977 amnesty law.
  • A former senior official in Croatia has plead not guilty to charges that he ordered torture and killing of Serbian civilians during the 1991-5 war. Former Deputy Interior Minister Tomislav Mercep has begun his war crimes trial for allegedly ordering the killing, illegal detention, inhuman treatment and looting of property of 52 ethnic Serbs.
  • A former opposition candidate for the de facto Presidency of South Ossetia is reportedly in “serious but stable” condition after being taken to the hospital for a hypertensive crisis. She allegedly suffered the attack while being questioned during a police raid of her headquarters.
  • Some 13 militants and one soldier were reportedly killed in a series of operations in southeastern Turkey on Thursday between security forces and Kurdish PKK fighters; while the national intelligence agency rebuffed a demand from state prosecutors that it answer questions about secret talks it allegedly held with Kurdish rebels.
  • The radical feminist group FEMEN in the Ukraine hosted a topless protest to draw attention to the poor human rights record in Belarus that was recently chosen as the host of the 2014 Hockey World Cup. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Parliament rejected to bills that would have freed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to prison in a process that rights groups and foreign governments have condemned; while President Yankovych fired the Defense Minister without citing a reason for the dismissal.
  • The Interior Minister of France, who is also in charge of immigration, said he is standing by his remarks that not all civilizations are equal, even as critics denounced his comments as dangerous and xenophobic.

This Week in European Conflict… January 25th-February 4th, 2012.

  • The Council of Europe Commission for Human Rights warned this week of rising racism and xenophobia in Europe amid the current economic crisis, with austerity budgets undermining social rights and putting vulnerable groups at greater risk.  On Wednesday, British PM Cameron accused the European court of human rights of having a “corrosive effect” on people’s support for civil liberties; highlighting controversial rulings undermine the public confidence in the rights court.
  • A group known as the Global Zero NATO-Russia Commission urged the US and Russia to start preparatory talks immediately to remove tactical nuclear weapons from combat bases in Europe as a step towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament. The group stated that nuclear weaponry has “virtually no military utility, incur significant financial costs and security risks, including terrorist capture, and create political friction between NATO and Russia”.
  • On Monday, twenty-five of the EU’s twenty-seven member states agreed to join into a fiscal treaty to help overcome the financial crisis and enforce budget discipline. The Czech Republic and the UK refused to sign, citing “constitutional reasons” and “legal concerns” about the use of the EU institutions in enforcement as reasons.
  • Nearly two dozen aligned opposition groups in Armenia decided to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections jointly, angry at the system of proportional representation.  The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) re-stated its intention to bring down the current President.
  • On Sunday, Greece dismissed a German plan to install an EU budget commissioner with oversight of its economy and veto powers as “laughable”. Under the plan, European institutions would have direct control over Greece’s budget decisions in what would amount to an extraordinary depletion of a member state’s independence in conducting its own affairs.
  • On Sunday, thousands took to the streets in Spain to protest the charges against “superjudge” Baltasar Garzon, who controversially investigated the mass killings by the Francoist dictatorship and corruption in the ruling People’s Party in violation of a 1977 amnesty law.
  • Five centre-right parties in Slovenia formally named conservative Janez Jansa as PM-designate on Wednesday; almost two months after a snap election ousted the Social Democrats from power but produced no outright winner. Jansa was confirmed as PM on Saturday.
  • The government in the Netherlands announced plans to ban Muslim face veils such as burqas and other forms of clothing that cover the face starting next year. A government coalition has agreed to submit a new law to parliament next week that would charge offenders fines of up to 390 Euros ($510 USD).
  • Around sixty-seven percent voted to join the European Union in a referendum vote on Sunday afternoon in Croatia. Less than half the voting population was said to have turned out for the vote, prompting an anti-EU group to say the vote was invalidated.
  • The PM in Turkey was angered over the possible passing of the Armenian genocide denial bill in France, saying that they “murdered freedom of thought” and warned the French President of retaliatory measures if it is implemented. The bill was passed late last Monday, with Armenian blessing. On Friday, security forces reportedly killed five Kurdish insurgents after discovering them hiding in a cave in the southeastern province of Batman; while prominent journalists charged with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government were denied released from custody in a controversial trial on media freedom.
  • The President of Georgia denied opposition claims on Tuesday that he wants to stay in power as the PM when his term expires next year, saying his country “can have no Putin”.
  • The UN refugee agency voiced their concern this week over the plight of asylum-seekers, including some minors, held in two detention centres in Ukraine. More than 100 people are reportedly challenging their detention or have complained that they were denied the right to apply for asylum.
  • The PM of Romania fired his foreign minister last Monday allegedly for calling anti-government protesters “inept violent slum-dwellers” after more than a week of sometimes violent demonstrations. On Tuesday, a new foreign minister was sworn in amid continued protests; while the PM called for unity on that the country’s national Day of Unity. On Wednesday, the constitutional court overturned a government plan to hold local and parliamentary elections on the same day, further unsettling the current centrist government. On Saturday, hundreds protested against a plan to set up Europe’s biggest open-cast gold mine, saying it would destroy ancient Roman gold mines and villages and be environmentally damaging. On Monday, the Supreme Court sentenced former PM Adrian Nastase to two years in prison for corruption, though Nastase denies any wrongdoing; while the main opposition group were winning in opinion polls around the country, as protests continued to rock the ruling PDL party.
  • Thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets of Bratislava and several other towns in Slovakia on Friday in protest at a major corruption scandal ahead of the March elections. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
  • On Friday, Norway apologized for the arrest and deportation of Jews during the Second World War on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some 772 Norwegian Jews and refugees were deported to Germany during the war with only around 34 survivors.
  • Four former Yugoslav soldiers were sentenced to up to four years in Montenegro for war crimes committed against ethnic Croatian prisoners of war during the 1991-5 Croatian conflict. The four were charged with torturing prisoners in a makeshift prisoner camp. Meanwhile Bosnia-Herzegovina’s war crimes court upheld a 31-year prison sentence against Radomir Vukovic, a former Bosnian Serb police officer convicted on genocide charges in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
  • Occupy London protesters in the United Kingdom marked 100 days since beginning last Monday, but were forced into retreat in a new office building. On Friday, Occupy activists attempted to disrupt a debate in Davos for the World Economic Forum, calling on delegates to leave the stage and join them in protest; while Occupy protesters in London were evicted by police from the vacant property they had occupied earlier in the week.
  • PM Putin of Russia warned last Monday of the damage of ethnic tensions in the country and vowed he would toughen migration rules and keep a tight rein on Russia’s regions. On Tuesday, the government purchased 60 Iveco armored vehicles from Italy, with plans to spend some $30 billion on new military equipment, including 120 helicopters. On Wednesday, the Central Election Commission registered Mikhail Prokhorov as a Presidential candidate; while current President Medvedev announced he might run for President again following Putin’s anticipated return to the Presidency. On Friday, election authorities formally disqualified the founder of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, from running in the March 4th Presidential election. On Saturday, some 15,000 people reportedly attended a rally in the Russian Urals in support of PM Putin’s bid for the Presidency. On Sunday, the Yabloko opposition party said that the office of a regional newspaper that it publishes have been destroyed in an attack with a Molotov cocktail; while “For Fair Elections” demonstrators displaying a white ribbon or other symbols on their vehicles circled around the Garden Ring in Moscow in protest of the flawed parliamentary vote. On Tuesday, the opposition drafted their protest demands, including the annulment of the December 2011 parliamentary elections and the dismissal of the chief election official. On Thursday, activists say they have come under pressure and scare tactics from police and security services ahead of their next big protest against Putin’s likely return to the presidency; the Russian state-run arms exported Rosoboronesksport reported $11 billion in sales from the 2011 year, despite billions in lost sales from the UN embargo on Libya; and the Deputy PM expressed his wish to see the country’s children play with toy guns and tanks made in Russia rather than the West, giving a “command” for manufacturers to create toy versions of Russian weapons and military equipment. On Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Moscow shouting “Russia without Putin” and calling for a rerun of disputed parliamentary elections; while an international commission has developed a new proposal that would allow NATO and Russia to share data from radars and satellites about missile attacks to try and allay fears of the planned US missile shield in Europe neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
  • At least 8 alleged Islamist militants, four Russian servicemen and possibly a civilian were killed in three separate incidents in the North Caucasus region on Tuesday; while five suspected Islamist rebels and four Russian servicemen were killed in a clash in the Republic of Dagestan. On Friday, Russian security forces allegedly killed three militants, including the regional leader of an insurgent group, in a shootout in a private home in the village of Ekazhevo; while other reports claimed that Russian security forces and militants killed some 12 people.
  • Police in Belarus have reportedly arrested well-known human rights activist Aleh Vouchak and charged him with hooliganism on Tuesday.

This Week in European Conflict… December 11th-17th, 2011.

  • The EU is set to restrict the sale of the main active substances needed for lethal injections to the United States. By Friday, the export of sodium thiopental will only be possible with special permission.
  • French President Sarkozy said that there are now clearly “two Europes” following a summit last week where the UK vetoed EU treaty changes, while former Belgian PM Verhofstadt called upon a boycott of the English language within the EU. European leaders agreed in Brussels to plans for deeper economic integration among the countries that use the euro currency and to impose sanctions on states that go over an agreed budget deficit limit.
  • On Monday, a package bomb thought to have been sent from Italy was sent to the Greek Embassy in Paris, France, but was disabled before it could cause any injuries or damage. Former PM Dominique de Villepin announced he is running for President as an independent candidate on French television. On Thursday, former President Jacques Chirac was convicted by a French court of embezzling public funds and gave him a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges.
  • Rumours that the Swedish-owned Swedbank was facing liquidity and legal problems prompted more than 10,000 Latvians to withdraw their deposits on Sunday. The police have launched an investigation into the source of the rumours, as spreading false rumours that threaten the stability of the banking system is a criminal offence in the country.
  • On Thursday, a gang of seven people were arrested in Slovakia on suspicion of trying to smuggle radioactive material to sell in the Czech Republic. The material was set to arrive from the former Soviet Union and be worth an estimated 500,000 Euros.
  • The President of the breakaway region of Transdniester called upon the election to be scrapped because of numerous violations in voting, after he failed to even qualify for an expected runoff. The Electoral Commission received many complaints from voters and candidates alike. On Friday, the election commission announced it will hold a Presidential runoff on December 25th, after throwing out incumbent Smirnov’s complaints of election irregularities.
  • A Deputy Interior Minister in Belarus was arrested on Monday for possible abuses of office. The man is best known for his leading role in dispersing opposition gatherings and protests and arresting activists. On Friday, two leading activists were charged with verbally insulting police, in an action seen to be taken to prevent their participation in an upcoming party congress; authorities in the eastern city of Vitseksk warned activists of possible consequences should they hold an unsanctioned mass gathering; while the EU imposed sanctions on two officials involved in the trial of human rights activists Ales Byalyatski who was sentenced to prison for tax evasion in November.
  • The Parliament of Moldova has failed to select a new President this week, after he failed to receive the required two-thirds of the vote because of a Communist party boycott. The only Presidential candidate Marian Lupu, alleged that three Communist deputies who recently defected and might have helped him get elected were locked away somewhere by the Communist party. A new ballot will be held in January, and if undecided, will result in the dissolution of Parliament.
  • The founder of a newspaper critical of the authorities of Dagestan died after being gunned down outside his office on Friday. Staff at the newspaper said he was deliberately killed in front of the newspaper office to scare the staff, while other rights activists have stated that his death is payback for his work in the North Caucasus.
  • The mayor of a village in Armenia has resigned in protest at a government decision to transfer large patches of communal land to a German-owned mining company, claiming it would result in an ecological disaster that would lead to a mass exodus of the population, effectively destroying his village. The company plans to extend its open-pit mining operations in the area.
  • After 18 years of negotiations, the World Trade Organization has decided to accept Russia as a member, after the last country to block its bid– Georgia– lifted its objections.  Over the weekend, President Medvedev issued instructions for the government to investigate allegations of electoral fraud during the December 4th parliamentary vote, though claimed he disagreed with demands for a re-vote; while tens of thousands rallied in the streets in the largest anti-government protests in the country’s post-Soviet history. On Monday, one of the richest men in Russia, Mikhail Prokhorov announced that he will run in next year’s Presidential election against PM Putin. On Tuesday, two senior managers of the respected Kommersant publishing group were fired over their coverage of alleged violations during the elections process; while the Director General submitted his resignation in protest; and President Medvedev announced that the first session of the newly elected Parliament would be held on December 21st.  On Wednesday, a Putin loyalist who served as the speaker of Parliament resigned from his position in a move that appeared to be a governmental effort to stem public anger. On Thursday, PM Putin dismissed and mocked the anti-government protesters and claimed that they were “paid agents of the West” on a television program, though he also claimed that they have the right to protest, as long as it is within the law; while DOS attacks on liberal websites and blacklisting of “undesirables” from state television continued.
  • Five people were killed and three wounded in the North Caucasus region in two separate incidences on Wednesday, including four suspected rebel fighters shot dead by Russian soldiers and a senior police investigator who was caught in a road ambush. Three army engineers were injured by a remote-controlled bomb in Ingushetia.
  • On Wednesday, the UN Security Council decided to extend the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus until July 2012 and called upon the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to accelerate reunification talks. The force has been in place since 1964.
  • On Tuesday, a man killed four people and wounded another 122 in Belgium after he lobbed three hand grenades and opened fire at a crowded bus stop before killing himself. The following day, police found the body of another woman, suspected of being Nordine Amrani’s cleaner, while searching the attacker’s garage. Amrani’s lawyer said that he was afraid of being questioned regarding sexual crimes and going back to jail.
  • A lone gunman went on a shooting spree in Florence, Italy on Tuesday, killing two Senegalese street vendors and wounding three others before he turned the gun on himself. The man was described as a far-right personality with a strong anti-immigration stance. Around 300 Africans marched in protest, demanding to see the gunman’s corpse.
  • Security forces in Turkey reportedly killed eight Kurdish militants in fighting in the east on Thursday after helicopter gunships were dispatched to a camp thought to be a winter compound for the PKK. Five of the militants killed were women. The Turkish government has also reportedly threatened to recall its French ambassador and freeze all ties with France if the French parliament passes a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide, considering it a “dishonor” to their country.
  • On Tuesday, demonstrators supporting former PM Tymoshenko of the Ukraine battled police outside a court hearing her appeal against a seven-year prison sentence; while the offices of the opposition Ukraine’s Future party were vandalized and robbed in what party officials claim to be a politically motivated attack.
  • On Tuesday, international envoys in Bosnia extended their mandate to oversee the strategic district of Brcko in between two feuding regions, contrary to the advice of the International Crisis Group who claimed that ongoing supervision only encourages local leaders to shirk responsibility. The envoys were to end their mandate two years ago, but stayed in place due to the threats of seccession.
  • On Tuesday, some 25 Russian trucks were refused entry by the EU mission in Kosovo (Eulex), with Eulex saying the convoy must accept its escort or enter through a crossing run by Pristina authorities, which Russia does not recognize as a legitimate body, since Russia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration. The Russian ambassador to Serbia accused Eulex of blocking aid, which Eulex claims is not destined for the general Serbian population but for those manning roadblocks in resistance to the government in Pristina.

This Week in European Conflict… December 4th-10th, 2011.

  • The top military commander in the US announced that he believes the eurozone is at great risk and warned that any breakup of the bloc could have serious consequences for the Pentagon. He warned of the potential for civil unrest after 26 of the 27 EU countries agreed to forge a tighter fiscal union.
  • On Sunday, opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov was arrested by plainclothes police in Russia on his way to a protest calling on Russians to boycott the day’s problematic elections processes. The ruling United Russia party garnered just fewer than 50% of the votes, amid allegations of people being bused from polling station to polling station, vote rigging, fraud and other problems, including  the shutdown of several websites that provide independent election data by suspected hackers intent on silencing allegations of violations in the vote. Hundreds were arrested in a protest in central Moscow on Tuesday, including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, journalists, several other human rights leaders, bloggers and opposition activists; while an election observer in the republic of Tatarstan says she witnessed several cases of vote rigging in the elections and several other international election observers complained of violations tilted in favour of the ruling United Russia party. PM Putin responded to the allegations and protests by promising to reshuffle the government next year, amid warnings from his spokesman that any unsanctioned rallies would be stopped. On Wednesday, ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged authorities to annul the parliamentary vote results and hold a new election as protests and instability increased while police blocked any new protest attempts. Though as many as 800 protesters were arrested in less than 24 hours, opposition groups began calling upon daily protests. President Medvedev posted an insulting post on his Twitter feed against the opposition that was later blamed upon an unidentified official who interfered with the feed. On Thursday, Putin accused US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton of encouraging the Russian protests and giving “the signal” to opposition leaders to protest; while more than 35,000 demonstrators took to the streets with Russians flooding Facebook and Twitter to organize. On Friday, the founder and director general of a Russian online social network was summoned to the prosecutor’s office in Saint Petersburg after he announced they would not comply with an order from the Federal Security Service to block seven groups calling for demonstrations.
  • On Tuesday, three people were charged with a plot to murder a cartoonist in Sweden who depicted the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in a newspaper in 2005.
  • Serbs in Kosovo started to dismantle roadblocks on Monday that had caused clashes with NATO peacekeepers. A local Serb leader said the removal was part of an agreement with the peacekeeping mission (KFOR).  On Tuesday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resumption of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to adopt border controls.
  • Croatia went to the polling stations in its general elections on Sunday, electing a new centre-left government. On Friday, the country was embraced as the 28th member of the European Union, formally joining on July 1, 2013.
  • A letter bomb addressed to Deutsche Bank Chief Josef Ackermann was intercepted in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday. No group has yet claimed responsibility.
  • A letter bomb exploded at a tax collection agency office in Italy on Friday, wounding the organization’s director. The Italian group, Informal Anarchist Federation, claimed responsibility.
  • Several Greenpeace activists stormed into the grounds of a nuclear power plant in France trying to show the vulnerability of atomic sites in the country. Seven of the nine intruders were detained.
  • On Monday, politicians in Belgium finally agreed to form a government after almost 18 months after the last elections. The government will be headed by Elio Di Rupo, an openly gay francophone from the Wallonia region.
  • On Wednesday, the coalition government in Greece passed an austerity budget aimed at shrinking its debt amid clashes between police and protesters outside of Parliament. Police fired teargas at protesters, who reportedly hurled petrol bombs; broken pavement slabs, and sticks at them, causing over two dozen injuries and 38 arrests.
  • Hundreds of farmers protested in Sofia, Bulgaria on Tuesday against subsidy cuts due next year, calling upon the finance and agricultural ministers to resign.
  • The opposition leader in South Ossetia announced that a deal with former de facto President Eduard Kokoity to end protests had been violated, calling upon her supporters to demonstrate in the capital.  Dzhioyeva said that just prior to quitting his post as President, Kokoity created a Constitutional Court and made dozens of appointments.
  • On Saturday, at least 15,000 supporters of the Communist Party in Moldova demonstrated to demand the resignation of the government, which they say is run from Brussels, the US and Bucharest. Presidential elections are set to be held on December 16th.
  • The European commissioner for human rights warned that any attempt by the government to overhaul human rights laws in the UK would have a damaging effect on global democracy, after the PM expressed his desire to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights. The convention was drawn up after the Second World War and ratified in 1950.
  • Twelve of the some 30 hunger strikers in Kyiv, Ukraine protesting social benefits cuts for Chernobyl cleanup veterans have switched to a so-called dry hunger strike in an attempt to intensify the protest.
  • On Sunday, Parliamentary elections in Slovenia saw a narrow victory for the centre-left mayor of the capital, Ljubljana. The Positive Slovenia party won some 28.5% of the votes (or 28 seats), the Slovenian Democratic Party garnered 26.3% and the Social Democrats got 10.5%.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus reportedly disappeared after reporting to police for questioning in the eastern part of the country. Dzmitry Toustsik has been missing since December 6th.

 

This Week in European Conflict… November 25th- December 3rd, 2011.

  • A court in Belarus handed down a four-and-a-half year prison sentence to prominent human rights activist Ales Byalyatiski for tax evasion on Thursday in a move that was seen as politically motivated. The UN human rights panel criticized the country on Friday for what it called “numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment of detainees”, also expressing concern over reports that the government only informs families of persons sentenced to death weeks after the punishment has been carried out. On Monday, another opposition activist was charged with insulting police in a dispute about his parole restrictions for “the illegal display of the banned Belarusian national flag” in a public place.
  • Some 21 KFOR solders were injured in a clash with protesters in northern Kosovo on Wednesday-Thursday, as they attempted to dismantle a roadblock put up by local Serbs to prevent ethnic Albanian authorities from establishing control in the north. On Monday, two more soldiers were wounded by gunfire in clashes with the Serb demonstrators. On Friday, Serbia and Kosovo struck a deal on border management after three days of negotiations in Brussels.
  • Authorities in France ordered a train carrying reprocessed nuclear waste to Germany to stop near the border for 24 hours on Thursday to avoid more mass protests, after riot police clashed with anti-nuclear protesters on Wednesday. On Saturday, German police reported that 20 policemen were injured in clashes with protesters after some 300 protesters allegedly threw stones and fireworks. German police reportedly detained some 1,300 people during an eviction from the rail lines.
  • President Medvedev of Russia warned on Wednesday that it will deploy its own missiles and possibly withdraw from the New Start nuclear arms reduction treaty if the US moves forward with its plans for a missile-defence system in Europe. The missile-defence system, with current agreements to place 24 interceptor missiles in Romania and a sophisticated radar system in Turkey, is being developed to defend against a potential missile attack by Iran. On Wednesday, PM Putin said that Russia could not afford to let political opposition or disagreement jeopardize stability during the upcoming parliamentary elections set for December 4th and insisted that in the face of opposition the governing party would tighten its grip.  On Sunday, PM Putin accepted the nomination for the United Russia Party as a candidate for the Presidency in the March 2012 elections. On Monday, the Kremlin launched a campaign to crack down on Russians’ access to western media that is critical of the PM and his United Russia party ahead of the March 4 elections. On Tuesday, Russia turned on a new incoming missile early warning system in its westernmost region in response to the US plans for a European missile shield. On Friday, the country’s only independent election monitoring group was found guilty of breaking Russian electoral law, under the claim they are part of a US-funded plot to disrupt Sunday’s vote. The group claims they have been harassed and intimidated by state security officials in the runup to the parliamentary elections after they recorded more than 4,700 complaints, most involving the ruling United Russia party. On Saturday, the head of Golos, the election monitoring group was held for several hours by customs officials and her laptop taken on the pretext that it had illegal software, while parliamentary voting began in the Far East regions.
  • Election officials in South Ossetia  declared the second round of the Presidential election valid after more than the required 30% of eligible voters cast ballots. Former Education Minister Alla Dzhioyeva appeared to be leading the runoff, amid allegations of bribing and intimidating voters, though the Central Election Commission was ordered to refrain from releasing official results until complaints about violations were heard. The Supreme Court then voided the second round on Tuesday citing significant electoral violations. On Wednesday, soldiers fired warning shots into the air during a rally to support Dzhioyeva, who denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling and said she was forming a new government.
  • A 24-hour general strike against austerity measures on Thursday in Portugal was one of the biggest in the country’s history. Portugal is locked into a three-year programme of debt-reduction measures in return for the financial rescue package from European partners and the IMF.
  • Riot police clashed with protesting workers at Greece’s biggest power producer on Thursday over a new property tax imposed as part of the country’s latest austerity measures. The police detained some 15 people. Meanwhile, thousands of workers took to the streets in a 24 hour general strike.
  • Kurdish militants reportedly killed three people in an attack at an oil field in southeast Turkey on Wednesday night; meanwhile a man armed with a shotgun opened fire in a tourist area of Istanbul, wounding two people. The gunman was a Libyan national who had entered the country only days before.
  • Some 200 pensioners, many armed with pitchforks attacked and attempted to occupy the office of the regional governor in Donetsk, Ukraine on Monday, but were stopped by the police. The protesters are demanding that the Ukrainian government resign. On Tuesday, some 3,000 veterans of the Chernobyl cleanup picketed the government building in Kyiv, protesting planned cuts in social allowances.
  • Confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik of Norway has been declared legally insane by prosecutors on Tuesday after a mental evaluation. Breivik, who killed 77 people during a bombing and shooting attack in July, was reported to be a paranoid schizophrenic.
  • The Parliament of Moldova has set December 16th as the date for its second attempt to pick a President in less than a month, ending more than two years of leadership crisis. The head of state is elected by Parliament, not by direct popular vote and political stalemate has derailed previous attempts.
  • On Thursday, six party talks in Belgium resulted in the formation of a new government, 18 months after a parliamentary election and after 535 days without a government. Tens of thousands marched in Brussels on Friday, protesting against austerity measures flagged by the incoming government.
  • Up to 2 million public sector workers in Britain went on a 24-hour strike to protest plans to reform the country’s pension system on Wednesday. PM Cameron described the strikes as “futile”.

Semantic shifts in “terrorism”: the demonization of Muslims in the mainstream media.

The recent terrorist tragedy in Norway has garnered major attention in the news as of late, and also sparked much outrage at the instant accusations launched against Muslims for the attack. The media ran purely on speculation that the attacks were linked to an Islamist group based on incomplete and unverified information, and although the real culprit, a blonde and blue eyed Norwegian, has now been caught, the vast majority of the media has shown that so-called “Islamic” terrorists and terrorists of European descent are treated very differently within their pages. By following the media’s tone and usage of language, one can easily see that the word “terrorist” is now a label that is primarily reserved for Muslims.

On July 22nd, reporters were quick to speculate that Islamists, notably an al-Qaeda linked faction, were likely responsible for the attacks on Oslo that killed some 76 people; that the attack was to “punish Norway for deploying troops in Afghanistan” or Libya and for “unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad” (PBUH), including the reprinted series of offensive Danish cartoons in a Norwegian newspaper. Some reporters even went so far as to use the opportunity to defend Defense Spending against jihadists, make outrageous accusations that the “presence of so many Muslims in… Europe… is (in fact) leading to ‘cultural annihilation’”; that those attacked essentially deserved to be targeted because they “sided with Islamic terrorists”, and other strong and rather ridiculous anti-Muslim propaganda.

After it was learned that the terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, was actually Norwegian, wide speculation began that he was in fact a convert to Islam, a radical Islamist, influenced by Islam, or learned the techniques from Islamic terrorists, as if Islamists were the only ones capable of terrorism. Islam was still seen as somehow to blame for this horrendous terrorist action, ignoring Breivik’s claims that he was influenced by a small group of American bloggers and had clearly copied multiple passages of his Manifesto from Ted Kaczynski, the American Unabomber. Former UN ambassador John Bolton even noted how “(t)his kind of behavior is very un-Norwegian” and that it was classic “Islamist terrorism”. As could be expected, the commentary and public reaction was quick to turn this assumed blame into bigoted ramblings about “rag heads“, “Muzzie scum”; calling for borders to be shut against all Muslims, lumping all Muslims together and labeling Islam as a violent hypocritical religion. A few commenters realized the dangers of the impulse to place blame without full knowledge, and spoke out against the biased attacks and rush to judgment, but the vast majority across the media seemed to be intent on anti-Islamic hatred.

A UN human rights expert was quick to condemn the unverified reports, calling them “revealing” and “embarrassing” examples of “the powerful impact of prejudices and their capacity to enshrine stereotypes”, while reiterating that “proper respect for the victims… should have precluded the drawing of conclusions based on pure conjecture”. Despite printing incorrect information, many of the papers issued no public retractions or apologies for their mistake, and some even went so far as to defend the error by suggesting that it was “not unreasonable to suspect the atrocities in Norway were committed by Islamists” under the assumption that Muslims are “predominant” in committing “mass-atrocity”. Many left their publicized mistakes as is, while others quickly changed their previous content without offering apologies, retractions, or even noting the changes publicly, contrary to good journalistic practices.

Besides the initial reaction to blame Muslims, the language used by the vast majority of the media in describing the attacks and the attacker shows how the words “terrorist” or “terrorism” seem now almost exclusively reserved for describing attacks committed by Muslims. A survey of the evolution of articles following the attacks clearly demonstrates this.

For example, Reuters, an incredibly popular and reputable news site that is widely known as a first line of reporting, who describes itself as “the world’s leading source of intelligent information”, fell into the trap of relaying incorrect information and has yet to apologize or retract their mistake. Since the identity of the accused has been released, they have also, subconsciously or not, used language that avoids the “terrorist” or “terrorism” label when describing the Norwegian events.  On July 22nd, Reuters issued an article with the headline “Islamist militant attacks in Europe”, that described all the recent Islamist terrorist attacks in Europe and painted the Norwegian event by clearly framing it as a “terrorist” attack. There were six stories filed about Norway that day by Reuters, five of them extensive in their language suggesting Islamist terrorists, and describing terrorism in general. Only one, with the headline “Man arrested after shootings is Norwegian”, which came out much later in the evening, had no mention of the words “terrorist” or “terrorism”, and instead described the accused as “a gunman” and was now labelling the terrorist attack “shootings”, and “a bombing”.

The next day, on July 23rd, after it was clear that the terrorist attack had been committed by a Norwegian and not an Islamist group, Reuters ran twenty-two articles about the event, of which only two even mentioned the word “terrorism”. In the first case, “terrorism” was only mentioned when describing that Breivik could be convicted of terrorism charges; and in the second case, terrorism was only mentioned to say that the terrorism threat level was not going to be raised, despite a lack of clarity of the attack. Instead of labeling the attack as “terrorist”, it was continually described as “a shooting spree and bomb attack” and the terrorist who committed the attack was constantly referred to as “a gunman”, “an assailant” or “the killer”.

On July 24th, Reuters printed eighteen articles on the Norway terrorist attack, and of those eighteen, only two had mention of “terrorism” or “terrorist” within them. In the first case, the word “terrorist” was only present from an excerpt of the attacker’s diary, where he ironically wrote, “(t)hey would probably get the wrong idea and think I was a terrorist, lol”. In the second case, the word “terrorism” only appeared when talking about the special anti-terrorism unit of the police that responded to the crisis.

On July 25th, Reuters ran an article about the news media’s quick blaming of Muslims, describing the numerous faults other media committed, without one mention that they themselves did the exact same thing, and without apology or retraction of their previous errors. They also ran eighteen other articles about the terrorist attack, of which, only two had mention of the words “terrorism” or “terror attack”. In the first case, the words “terror attack” appear only in a quote from a Norwegian who said “Ninety-nine percent of Norwegians immediately believed this was a Muslim terror attack. When it turned out not to be, that was the second shock”. In the second case, the word “terrorism” only appeared as a description for a “terrorism expert” who was quoted within the article. The attacks were repeatedly described in the articles as a “bombing and mass shooting”, a “shooting spree and bomb attack” or the “massacre”; and the suspect as a “lone wolf”, “the killer”, “mass killer” or “the gunman”.

On July 26th, Reuters filed ten articles, of which, only two had any mention of “terrorism”. In the first instance, which had the headline “Norwegian killer is probably insane, his lawyer says”, “terrorism” was only mentioned to describe that the threat level for terrorism was not being raised. In the second instance, “terrorism” was only used within the context of a quote by a woman of Arab nationality, that said “(i)t turns out that terrorism doesn’t have a nationality or a religion—they’re people who are sick inside”. Again, the articles described the attack as a “bombing and shooting massacre”, a “shooting rampage”, a “bomb attack”, and the suspect as a “killer” or a “gunman”. It was around this time that articles began questioning the sanity of the attacker, with six out of the ten articles mentioning that the accused was likely mentally unstable.

On July 27th, Reuters again filed ten articles about the Norway attack, of which, only two mentioned “terrorism”. The first only mentioned that Breivik would be charged under the terrorism act, while referring to the terrorist attack as the “killings”, and the “bombing and shooting attacks”. In the second, the word “terrorism” is only used to describe a professor who teaches at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence and the word “terrorists” shows up in a quote only after a discussion of al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists. Again, the mentions of insanity showed up in three out of ten of the articles.

On July 28th, Reuters filed two articles on Norway, neither which mentioned terrorism nor called Breivik a “terrorist”. In one of the articles, the charge of terrorism was now referred to as “terror counts”.

On July 29th, Reuters filed six articles, this time four of the six mentioned “terrorist” or “terrorism”. In the first instance, the word “terrorist” was found in a quote by police that called the attacks “terrorist actions”, the first and only time that they were called as such in a Reuters article after Breivik had been identified by the media. In the second, the word “terrorist” shows up when describing efforts by the police to stop “terrorist networks” following 9/11; but that was careful to group Breivik into the less dangerous “lone wolves” category. The word “terrorism” was also used in that article but only to describe the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. In the third and fourth instances, the word “terrorist” is only used in the context of a quote that again reiterated that the terrorist threat has not been elevated.

On July 30th, Reuters issued three articles, two of which carried mention of “terrorists” or “terrorism”. In the first instance, the word “terrorist” was used only within a quote from a police attorney who suggested that the target locations were of “natural interest to a terrorist” without linking Breivik to the word in the slightest. In the second instance, the word “terrorism” occurs three times within the article, once within a quote and with all three cases talking about the threat of global terrorism and immigration.

Between August 1st and 3rd, there were four articles on the situation, only one of which mentions “terrorism” and only in the context of Breivik facing possible charges of terrorism. The other three articles again discuss Breivik’s possible insanity.

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the terrorist attack in Sweden on December 11th, 2010 that injured two people, and killed the attacker, and how that attack was framed by Reuters. On December 11th, before the suspect was known, Reuters ran six articles, two of which talked of “terrorism” or “terrorists”, and another three that were only short headline clips with updates and not full articles. On December 12th, of the five articles Reuters ran, all five talked of “terrorism” or “terrorists”, while four described the attacker as a “militant” or referred to “militant Islamists”. Three of those articles also had a variation of “terror” within the headline. On December 13th, seven of the ten articles spoke of “terrorism” or “terrorists” and six spoke of the attacker being a “militant” or an “Islamist militant”. On December 14th, one of three articles posted spoke of “terrorism”, while painting the attacker as an “Islamist militant”. From December 15th to 17th, three out of four articles referred to “terrorism” or “terrorists”, while three spoke of “Islamist militancy” or “militants”. Not one of the articles discussed the sanity of the attacker. Reuters was not alone in this type of semantic slanting as many other reputable news sites discussed the situation in a similar context.

So what is “terrorism” exactly, and why has the media been avoiding using this term when describing Breivik’s actions?

The US Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological”. Breivik’s actions were an unlawful use of violence to inculcate fear, with the intention of coercing or intimidating the society to pursue political and ideological goals, clearly falling within the definition of terrorism. So why are his attacks not being labelled as such? Why are they frequently referred to only under other terms and without the qualifier “terrorist”? Why does the media seem to preserve this term for only those of purported Islamic faith? Why does the media not look into the possible mental instability of Islamic terrorists after their attacks, but automatically assumes that a white European must be insane to carry out such an attack? Why are the terms “gunman”, “killer” or “attacker” used when discussing Breivik and not “militant”?  As Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations noted “(u)nless it has been committed by a Muslim, it’s not terrorism. If a non-Muslim commits an act of terrorism, they don’t call him a terrorist. They say he was ‘a madman’”.

So what? What difference does it make if the situation is framed in these terms? What danger did this speculation do?

Besides spreading fear and loathing for Muslims in general, which can clearly be seen by the ignorant commentary that follows most of the initial news stories, this type of language essentially assigns collective guilt to an entire group of people. Following 9/11 or the Stockholm, Sweden attack in 2010, racial profiling became more prevalent, as did violence against those of Islamic faith. Following the Norway attacks, Muslims faced increased harassment, or outright attacks on their person, even though, those who commit such terrorism in the name of Islam are a fringe, and mostly disrespected, teeny-tiny percentage of global Muslims. In fact, anyone who has actually read the Qur’an or studied it in any great depth can tell you that it clearly states that it is wrong to kill innocents and also wrong to kill oneself. Yet, the actions of a small few is manipulated and misunderstood by the general Western public, who prefers to frame all Muslims as their enemy and Islam as a religion of violence, without actually researching enough to dispel themselves of their own ignorance.

What about that common axiom that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”, there must be something to that that leads to the necessity of profiling against Muslims in the Western world, right?

Despite data to the contrary, many are still under the impression that Muslims are responsible for the bulk of terrorist activity in Europe and North America. The FBI Terrorism Report that covered acts of terrorism in the United States from 2001-2005, reported that twenty-three of the twenty-four recorded terrorist incidents were perpetrated by domestic terrorists. Eight of the fourteen recorded terrorist preventions (when a terrorist activity is successfully interdicted by investigative activity) stemmed from “right-wing extremism”; while of the remaining six preventions only  three stemmed from foreign terrorist organizations and only one from a “Muslim” group.  In both their 2006 and 2007 reports, not one US fatality was reported as the result of a terrorist attack on American soil. According to Europol reports on European terrorism, in the years 2007, 2008 and 2009, there were only three recorded acts of terrorism by “Islamist” terrorists out of a total of 1,316 terrorist attacks, while domestic “separatist” movements were responsible for some nearly 90% of attacks.“Islamist” suspects were only arrested in 110 of the total 587 arrests for suspicion of terrorism, while 413 suspects were considered domestic “separatists”. In fact, their report showed that “leftist” groups accounted for over sixteen times as many terrorist attacks as radical “Islamic” groups during this time on European soil. A recent study has also suggested that the actual  terrorist threat posed by radicalized Muslim-Americans has been severely exaggerated and that only approximately 17 Muslim-American individuals could be classified as becoming radicalized per year. Despite this information and  threat assessment reports that had warned that “right-wing extremism” was on the rise in Europe and that there was some in Norway, the Norwegian PST police security service concluded that “far right groups pose(d) no ‘serious threat’ to Norway”, instead claiming that their number one priority was with “Islamic extremism”.

So why are those in the Western world so willing to place the blame squarely at Muslims? Clearly, if it was ok to profile against Muslims following previous attacks, we can now ““start racially profiling blond, blue-eyed white guys… Fair is fair.” Right?

Europol's 2006 Terrorist Attack by Type of Terrorist

Europol's 2006 Terrorist Attack by Type of Terrorist

Europol's 2007 Terrorist Attacks by Type of Terrorist

Europol's 2007 Terrorist Attacks by Type of Terrorist

Europol's 2008 Terrorist Attacks by Type of Terrorist

Europol's 2008 Terrorist Attacks by Type of Terrorist

Europol's 2009 Terrorist Attacks by Type of Terrorist

Europol's 2009 Terrorist Attacks by Type of Terrorist

Islamophobia seems to be rising with the decline in domestic economic conditions. It’s a typical scape-goat senario—things aren’t going well at home—someone is responsible, and it can’t be us. Germany, France and Britain have all recently declared multiculturalism in their respective countries as a failure. In all three cases, these leaders cited a lack of a strong nationalist identity as fostering “Islamist extremism”. This trend also seems to be happening in Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, the US, Australia and all across Europe, with anti-immigrant political parties gaining steam in elections and intolerance for immigrants or Muslims moving more into the mainstream. Obviously, the military and political interference throughout the Middle East has very little to do with fostering Islamist extremism; multiculturalism, the acceptance and tolerance of other cultures and diversity, is clearly at fault here. Sadly, a political editor for a Norwegian newspaper points out that, “It’s impossible to discover a person like Breivik. If you see his blogs, he sounds quite normal. He’s anti-multi-culturalism, anti-Islam, but strange to say it, … I’ve seen much crueler words and slogans on the Internet than his blogs”. It’s unsurprising that this type of hatred and scapegoating can lead to violence.  Constantly being told that a certain group is going to attack  and that your very way of life is threatened can tend to have this effect. Norway, was no exception and there were a number of warning signs that these hateful sentiments were beginning to escalate into physical violence.

In June 2007, Pamela Geller, posted an “email from Norway” that talked of a Norwegian anti-immigration extremist who was “stockpiling and caching weapons, ammunition and equipment” to ward off the Islamist “threat”. In March of 2011, the Norwegian Police Security Service published in its annual threat assessment that “a higher degree of activism in groups hostile to Islam may lead to an increased use of violence”, though was still viewing Islamist extremism as a larger threat to society. In May of 2011, a junior high school in Bergen, west Norway, received a threat that a student, claiming to have a weapon, had the intention of shooting others, “especially Muslims”. Luckily, the incident did not escalate past the initial threat, but it clearly showed that anti-Muslim sentiment was becoming more violent. Weeks before the Oslo attack, in late June, Pat Condell made a public claim that “all the rapes in (Oslo) over the past three years—all of them—were committed by Muslim immigrants using rape as a weapon of cultural terrorism”, after a news report on Norwegian TV station NRK reported that all rapes were committed by men of “foreign origin”. The police report that they cited shows that their information was in fact, faulty, as more than 50% of all rapes were committed by those of Norwegian, other European or American origin, but the damage had already been done. Just as it is hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube once it has been squeezed out, it is hard to dispel the stereotypical myths of evil and perceived threats once claims have been made, no matter if they are untrue.

While humans are certainly fallible and capable of making mistakes, the lack of apology  for or retractions of those mistakes, especially in a profession like journalism that supposedly seeks “the truth” of a situation, is unforgivable. Journalistic standards call for the verification of sources, not that personal or cultural biases can’t slip in, but that a consistent method be used to test information to ensure it is as accurate as possible. Journalists also have the responsibility, as much as possible, to avoid misrepresenting a situation or using stereotypes. In this case, the media ran with a single source of information that was based upon a single, unverified posting on a closed forum by an unknown author that even the expert who discovered it cautioned against trusting.

Language is everything in the media, and semantics and word choice makes a huge difference to the quality of the story that is being told. The media was blamed for its quick accusation of Muslims in the Oslo terrorist attack, but what has been largely ignored is the continual semantic culpability that is lumped on Muslims and the long-term effects that this can have in demonizing the Muslim population. If the media continually frames Muslims as the only ones capable of committing terrorism, it can be no surprise if public opinion is also swayed in this way.

UPDATE: “The National Secular Society” has been replaced by “Pat Condell” as the source of a quote after a reader corrected this error.

 

See Stephen Colbert and his incredibly appropriate “Norwegian Muslish Gunman’s Islam-Esque Atrocity” video:

This Week in European Conflict… June 25th-July 1st, 2011.

  • EU leaders agreed on Friday to tighten migration safeguards, in a controversial response to an influx of migrants fleeing North Africa’s upheaval. The refugee crisis sparked a debate over the extent that EU governments should share the responsibility for immigrants arriving elsewhere in the bloc.
  • Poland celebrates as it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union for the first time since joining the bloc in 2004. Their priorities for the six month term include building relations with the eastern and southern neighbours, encouraging economic growth and promoting enlargement of the bloc.
  • EU leaders gave the go-ahead for Croatia to join the EU in July 2013 on Friday, though reform slip-ups could result in delayed ratifying of the accession treaty by several EU governments who insisted that the completion of talks remain open-ended. This opened the possibility of other Balkan governments to join, should they go forward with proper reform efforts.
  • On Sunday, the deputy PM in Greece warned that austerity measures may not be passed by parliament though lawmakers approved the package aimed at avoiding a national default amid angry protests outside the parliament on Wednesday. The plan involves 28 billion euros of spending cuts and increased taxes, along with sell-offs of state property. On Tuesday, police fired tear gas to disperse a small group of youths throwing sticks and bottles during an otherwise peaceful protest in Athens. On Wednesday, protesters and police continued to clash , amid allegations of police brutality.
  • One of the two opposition parties in Armenia announced that it will continue to boycott the National Assembly sessions to protest against the President’s tightening grip on power. Five deputies walked out February 28th following an agreement that committed to a new power sharing agreement with the President’s junior coalition partners.
  • On Saturday, former PM Tymoshenko of Ukraine refused to stand to address the court and asserted that the charges that she is working against the country’s interests are part of a wider political plot. On Sunday, a judge ruled that the case would continue on Wednesday.
  • Police in Russia arrested over a dozen gay rights activists taking part in a Gay Pride rally over the weekend. On Wednesday, President Medvedev ordered his cabinet to prepare a schedule to sell its controlling stakes in some key state companies, expecting to yield some $30 billion over the next three years. A court house in Ingushetia was attacked with a grenade launcher and an explosive device on Friday, though the incident resulted in no causalties.
  • On Tuesday, Russia announced it would restore power supplies to Belarus by July 1st after receivign a late payment from the government. The Belorussian government is facing a mounting economic crisis and currently owes some $42 million for electricity supplied for the last three months. More than 150 people were detained following demonstrations on Wednesday where some 1,000 people walked slowly through the city and signaled their discontent by clapping their hands. It is the fifth straight week of Wednesday evening demonstrations against the authoritarian government.
  • On Thursday, Germany‘s lower house of parliament approved the government’s plan to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022.

This Week in European Conflict… June 18th-24th, 2011

  • The meeting of religious leaders from Armenia and Georgia did not result in any concrete agreements on disputes between the quasi-official churches after nearly one week of talks.
  • Thousands of people marched on Parliament in Athens, Greece on Saturday, angry at a push for austerity measures following a poll that showed half the country opposed them. Many are sceptical that Greece can ever repay its debt pile that is expected to rise to 170% of the country’s annual economic output by 2013. EU finance ministers delayed sending 12 billion Euros until next month, while the IMF warned European leaders that their hesitant response to the Greek debt crisis risks triggering the world’s second global financial meltdown in three years. The crisis is already affecting many young Greeks, who are taking up farming or exiting the cities, in hopes of finding a more manageable existence.
  • Tens of thousands marched against the so-called “Euro Pact” and the handling of the economic crisis in Spain. There were no reports of violence. Unemployment has soared to a 14 year high and almost half of under 25 year olds are out of work, banks have cut off credit lines, consumer prices are rising faster than the regional average, investment has been slashed and house prices have plummeted; while government has kept wage rises to a minimum, lengthened working lives, abolished welfare payments and increased taxes.
  • The Parliament in Bulgaria rejected a second no-confidence motion against the centre-right government on Friday over the economy, which is struggling to recover from recession. The ruling GERB party came to power two years ago with promises to battle the economic crisis and improve living standards, but was forced to freeze pensions and public sector salaries to rein in its fiscal deficit.
  • Three people, including a former police official, were arrested on Monday on suspicion of committing war crimes against Serbian civilians during the 1990s war in Croatia. The former head of a police department and his deputy were arrested for command responsibility, while a third person was charged with personally committing crimes.
  • A leader of a pro-Palestinian group in Paris, France is being sued for racial hatred after she called for a boycott of Israeli products. The plaintiffs claim that calling for an Israeli boycott is a provocative act that incites discrimination, hatred and violence, however, the defendant believes that she is exercising her right to freedom of speech. Around 80 are now facing trial for calling for boycotts. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; there is a difference between an action against a State (which is not above criticism) and an action against a group of people based solely on their ethnicity, heritage or religion.
  • Homes in east Belfast, Ireland were attacked by a large group of masked men on Tuesday in what the press is calling the latest sectarian violence. The homes were hit with paint bombs, pipe bombs and petrol bombs, causing several injuries, and several hundred people were said to have been involved in “hand-to-hand fighting”. Two men were shot and up to 500 involved in the violence.
  • President Medvedev of Russia says he wants a second term in office, but that he won’t stand against Vladmir Putin because their rivalry would hurt the country. Putin is widely expected to reclaim the job.
  • A police officer in Britain has appeared in a London court on a manslaughter charge in the death of a newspaper vendor during the 2009 G20 demonstrations. The case has become a cause celebre against police brutality.
  • PM Berlusconi of Italy faced parliamentary votes this week that tested the strength of his coalition. The PM won a confidence vote over measures to help growth on Tuesday and another on Wednesday to see if the government still enjoys a majority.

Outdated democracy.

The concept of democracy has been around since at least the 4th or 5th century BC. It has flourished in the past couple decades and has become the main hope for all fledgling nations by the international community.

Yet, is our concept of democracy in the West outdated? Does it need to be changed and altered to be more inclusive, and more representative of the People it supposedly represents? Rule of the people hardly seems to be reality in Canada, the US or Europe. We elect representatives, who rarely actually represent the average person, let alone even listen to us or address our needs in government. Many politicians come from privileged backgrounds or enormous wealth, which aids in their campaigning ability– especially at higher levels of office. How often do our letters or calls go unheard by our MPs or other representatives? How often does the average representative even spend time in their constituency, and how much of that time is spent at fancy galas or openings or campaigning with public pat-on-the-back photo-ops for themselves instead of actually talking to those in their region about what THEY would like to see happen in government? How much of their policy is based upon their own personal belief system and not the wishes of their constituency? How much research and polling do they do of their constituency prior to voting on a subject in governmental forums? Considering I lived in Canada the vast majority of my life and have yet to actually be polled or asked about my opinion on an issue by my MP, let alone received an adequate response back to my written or verbal inquiries or concerns, I’d say, not much.

The average US House member represents more than 640,000 citizens, and this number is rising with the population. When the first census was taken, this ratio of citizens per district was closer to only 30,000 for each representative, a much more manageable number for them to actually “represent”. An older research study found that most representatives spent an average of only 101 working days actually in their districts in a year, or just under 28% of their time and I’d argue that lobbyists are much more likely to get the ear of a Representative than their constituents are.

Considering we now live in the electronic age of computers, cellphones, blackberries and the internet, I am always amazed at how little our “representatives” use these technologies to actually consult with those they profess to represent. In 2004, it is said there were more than 762,000 computers for every million people in the US (and similar statistics for most of the western world), and that nearly 75% of Americans spend more than 3 hours a day online (Stone, 2005:62). For those between the ages of 12 and 18, computer and internet usage actually approaches 100% (Levy, 2004; 14). When one includes those with wireless capability on blackberries, cellphones, iphones and other such devices, the vast majority of the population is wired and using Internet capabilities on a daily (if not hourly) basis. For those who don’t have personal access at home, nearly 95% of public schools have computers with internet access; and nearly 99% of public libraries have public access to the Internet with most offering formal or informal technology training to those looking to enhance their tech skills. Not only do I think that our so-called representatives should be using this access to technology to actually engage with their constituencies on the issues, I think that the time has come for a complete overhaul of democracy itself so that it can truly be “representative” of the population.

A survey of US Representatives and Senators showed that 38% of House Members and 39% of Senators were registered with Twitter, and although these Members sent an average of  one “tweet” every other day– those “tweets” were mostly spent on securing their own “brand” and image. What were these Representatives using this communications for? Well, certainly not polling their constituencies, as this was not even mentioned as a possible category of types of “tweets” sent by Representatives. No, instead, the Reps were talking about their position on a policy (18% of the time); reciting information about a public policy; talking about their own media or public relations campaign (34% of the time); talking about their own trips, visits or events in a home district; talking about what official congressional actions they did (14% of the time); or talking about their own personal life or campaign (5% of the time). Only 3.7% of the tweets were direct replies to others. These “representatives” are so concerned with securing the next election or sticking to the party-line– that actual consultation of those who are to be represented is barely even considered. Why are we not being polled on what we, the People, want? Why are we not being consulted and truly “represented”?

Electronic surveys are not without their flaws; however I believe even despite the flaws, regular public polling via technology would give a more accurate opinion of the People than what is currently being done. Some would argue that access to technology is more prevalent among the rich and educated, with the poorer, less educated folks less likely to be online and therefore less likely to participate in surveys or polls. I don’t argue that fact, however, I’d be remiss to say that traditional polling most likely excludes many of these folks as well. How often do the representatives send their lackeys to take polls on public issues in the slums right now? How many of the current written surveys on policy issues exclude those who are functionally illiterate? None of the current polling methods are without their flaws and exclusions, but online polling and consultation could demonstrate a more accurate picture of what the People want.

Some would also argue that the over 65 years of age population is less likely to be online or have computer access or skills. Again, true. However, are these also not currently the most politically active participants in our democracies and most likely to be letter writers or callers to their representatives? Also, considering that the baby boomer population IS highly versed in technology, this statistic is likely to dramatically change over the coming years, as the boomers move into this age bracket.

How can we also ensure that a non-voter (ie. too young) isn’t voting; or that a person isn’t voting at multiple computers. Simple. Have everyone vote using their public IDs such as Social Insurance or give them a public voting ID on their voter registration card and cut them off after one vote for each topic. There is also the possibly of hacking, which is a legitimate problem if polling is online. Not being a computer expert, and seeing how many national systems have been broken into, I have no solution for this. But is it not better to have a general idea of what the People want, as opposed to just ignoring them?

I think our democracy has become outdated, flawed and unrepresentative, which is incredibly problematic if we are to spread this type of “freedom” across the globe. There’s got to be a better way.

Some sources mentioned in the above article:

Brad Stone, “Hi-Tech’s New Day”, Newsweek, April 11, 2005, p. 62.

Steven Levy, “No Net? We’d Rather Go Without Food.”, Newsweek, October 11, 2004, p. 14.

Part I: Summary of Human Rights Watch- World Report 2010

Human Rights Watch recently released their latest Human Rights Watch Report  for 2010.

As I read through the list of countries profiled in the report, I found myself disappointed that Canada, the UK, Australia or any Western European countries had not made the list. I have read reports of almost all of these governments committing human rights violations  or allowing their companies to do so and the populations of these nations do still experience routine violations against human rights. In fact, considering these countries have signed numerous conventions and incorporated human rights laws more thoroughly into domestic laws than most of the rest of the world, their breach of them is all the more abhorrent and worthy of reporting. I thoroughly respect the work that organizations like Human Rights Watch do and I understand that Human Rights Watch is limited in their scope and resources as indicated in the end of the first report; so in no way do I mean to undermine the work that has been done to compile this report. I simply wish that it would cover the entire world and not just pieces of it.

The main violations of concern in the report this year are described in four sections followed by individual country reports. These sections are as follows:

1) The Abusers’ Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions

2) Civilian Protection and Middle East Armed Groups: In Search of Authoritative Local Voices

3) Abusing Patients: Health Providers’ Complicity in Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

4) In the Migration Trap: Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Europe.

I will cover the details of the report over the next little while in a series of posts. The first post will address the first section of the report.

Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions.

Putting a spotlight on human rights violations can be risky, and often those who defend human rights face extreme abuse, imprisonment, harassment, intense intimidation and even death. Organizations fighting this fight have been suppressed, denied funding, shut down and worse. Russia received a great deal of attention for its attacks on human rights defenders. Many victims reported cases of arson, arbitrary detention, disappearances of loved ones, torture, and brutal executions in Chechnya and other parts of the country. Also specifically mentioned in this section was Kenya, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia, India, and Uzbekistan. Several states were also listed as completely closed or restricted for activism. At the top of this list are Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. Burma and Iran bar international human rights groups completely. Saudi Arabia will not acknowledge NGO supporting human rights promotion and clamps down tightly on any who speak out. Danger in Somalia makes human rights monitoring essentially impossible. Libya allows international visits but completely suppresses any independent civil society. Syria will not license any human rights groups and prosecutes those who push for registration. Indonesia prohibits international human rights groups to visit to certain areas of the country, as has Israel into the Gaza strip. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam all refuse to allow access to UN special procedures, including on torture and human rights defenders. As does Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Zimbabwe and Russia have also prevented the special rapporteur on torture from entering their respective countries. Sudan has shut down human rights organizations and expelled several international humanitarian NGOs working in Darfur. China closed the Open Constitution Initiative (a legal aid organization) because of controversy over Tibetan protests and melamine-poisoned milk that sickened hundreds of thousands of children.

Other governments have been accused of openly harassing, detaining or attacking human rights defenders including Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Syria, and Yemen. The governments of Columbia, DR Congo, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua have been accused of using threats of violence to deter or punish human rights defenders. Russia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Uganda, Turkmenistan, Libya, Venezuela, Peru, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Egypt have all been accused of creating restrictive laws on NGOs and associations in an attempt to restrict the monitoring of human rights. China, Iran and Syria have all disbarred lawyers, refusing to renew their professional licenses to prevent them from representing victims of human rights abuses. China, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Iran, Morocco, Serbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been accused of trumping up criminal charges to silence human rights defenders.

The report then details the efforts made by some leaders to silence or curtail the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the African Union (AU) adopted a resolution urging African states to not cooperate with the arrest proceedings. The AU accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans, even though no objections were raised when the court indicted several warlords and the African governments themselves had requested the court to open the investigations. The ICC has also been hampered by the lack of ratification in the areas it is most needed, namely Sri Lanka, Iraq, Gaza, and Chechnya and a seeming double-standard that allows major Western powers and their allies to escape impunity.

The UN Human Rights Council is also described as problematic. The report demonstrates the bias and subjective nature of inquiries into human rights violations. Regional solidarity reigns in voting procedures over human rights principles, with members convinced to ignore their domestic principles for their allegiances to repressive neighbouring governments. Repressive leaders at the Council seemed determined to silence voices of dissent whenever possible. Similar problems have occurred within the UN NGO Committee, who has the power to decide which NGOs are able to gain “consultative status” and the right to speak before UN bodies. Several governments who are extremely restrictive towards NGOs seem to actively seek membership within the Committee to ensure that certain voices are silenced. For example, a Christian group from China was rejected for refusing to provide a list of its Chinese members, an action that would have severely endangered the lives of those involved. Another group, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, was denied the right to speak because it had not complied with Ethiopia’s new stringent civil society laws.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeated issued rulings against Russia (more than 100) for the abduction, torture, and execution of the people in Chechnya, and failing to properly investigate the crimes. Russia has refused to implement structural reforms ordered by the Court, as well as share relevant documents with the court in over 40 cases. The Russian government continually postpones visits by the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on human rights situations in the North Caucasus and has so far faced little consequence.

The ASEAN Commission on Human Rights was highlighted as a potentially positive new institutional development in the eastern world. Launched in late 2009, the 10-member Association vowed to adopt a “constructive”, “non-confrontational” and “evolutionary” approach to human rights, however, its non-interference policy ensures that member states cannot be monitored and investigated properly, giving each state the right of veto. Engagement with civil society remained repressive as each state was allowed to chose the civil society organization it wished to be part of an “interface meeting” on human rights.

More vigorous governmental defense of human rights activists and institutions is necessary, even in the face of abuse by allies. The attack on those who would defend human rights is an attempt to silence. The world cannot sit silent in the face of abuse. Voices must be heard. Human rights is a relatively new concept on the earth, but is one that must be vehemently defended if our rights and freedoms are to be respected.

Please read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is there anything written there that you wouldn’t want for you and your family?

Bookmark       and Share

20 Years After the Fall

On November 9, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated around the world.  Many world leaders including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were present at Brandenburg Gate, the former site of the “Iron Curtain” that separated West Germany from East Germany.

Supported by Communist Soviet Union, East Germany began building the Berlin Wall without warning, in August of 1961 to stop the hoards of East Germans who were fleeing to West Berlin.  What began as a makeshift barbed wire fence soon became a 156 kilometre long concrete wall that surrounded West Berlin and was guarded heavily against attempted escapes from East Germans.  In its twenty-eight year existence, more than 130 people are said to have been killed at the “Iron Curtain”.

On November 9, 1989, after weeks of civil unrest amongst Eastern Germans, it was announced on late night news (in a moment of confusion by a spokesperson of the government) that effective immediately, the Eastern German border was open to everyone.  Residents quickly lined up at the Brandenburg Gate, and the overwhelmed guards simply let them through without using lethal force.  East met West on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and citizens from both sides of the concrete barrier began to celebrate their freedom.

While the celebration that took place this year to commemorate this great event in history was a spectacle with all the bells and whistles, including giant coloured dominoes set up in queue along a 1.5 kilometre stretch where the Berlin Wall used to stand, it did little to take away from the reality that those living in Eastern Germany still suffer poverty and unemployment at much higher levels than their Western counterparts, and that basic freedoms and rights still escape millions of citizens of the world.

We should take the time to look at an event like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the great impact that the citizens of Eastern Germany had on putting into motion a stream of events that led to the reunification of Germany.  What a great example of how individuals can rise together to make a difference, and how easily governing bodies can turn these moments of freedom and celebration into legacies of poverty.  Perhaps the money that went into the lavish celebration of the 20th anniversary could have been better spent in rebuilding the Eastern states that are still struggling two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall?  Just one girl’s thought…

by Heather Wilhelm