DR Congo

This week in conflict… August 14th-20th, 2010

World

  • The New Economics Foundation found that the earth is using up resources faster than ever. The study monitors nature’s capital and concluded that this year the earth was using up its own natural resources to support itself a full month earlier than in the previous year.
  • August 19th was World Humanitarian Day. The once respected profession that aids those affected by war, natural disasters, sickness and malnutrition, is now facing increasing attacks in the field. The world thanks you for your tireless sacrifices!
  • A cheap and effective filtering device developed in South Africa could provide safe drinking water for millions of people around the world. Commercial production of the tea bag like device could begin as early as this year.
  • A Thai court has ordered the extradition of Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout, the “Merchant of Death”, to America to face charges of supplying weapons to terrorist groups. Viktor Bout, who was the inspiration for the movie “Lord of War”, is said to have fueled civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa.

Africa

  • Clashes between Somalia’s Puntland forces and militants led to the death of 9 people and a Somali journalist received a six year jail sentence for interviewing warlords there. South Africa is looking into the possibility of deploying troops to the war torn country following an African Union request. Another 9 people were killed and at least 53 others were wounded following renewed fighting in the capital on Monday. Most of the dead and injured came from a nearby displacement camp. Kenya has also complained of increased cross-border raids of hardline Somalian Islamists in the northern part of their country.
  • Jailed Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has called on the international community to reject the recent Rwandan election, saying that “endorsing the results of this masquerade would be to reward violence as a means to access and maintain power in Rwanda”.  Graphic pictures of a beheaded opposition leader have been released. The US, a long-time supporter of Kagame, expressed concern over the “disturbing events” which surrounded the election but neglected to take any further actions. In good news, many FDLR militia members have volunteered to put down their arms and return home in a repatriation program.
  • UN humanitarian chief John Holmes urged Sudanese authorities to allow humanitarian aid workers into the Kalma camp in Darfur, home to approximately 50,000 refugees, only to instead have five UN and ICRC workers expelled from the country days later for failing to respect Sudan’s authority and two more abducted by armed men and later set free. Aid agencies have been bared from the camp since August 2nd in a stand-off between international peacekeepers and the Sudanese government. Sudan’s electoral body has announced that the independence referendum vote for next January might be delayed. Voter registration problems and escalating tensions are cited as the reasons for the stall.
  • Ethiopian troops clashed with Somalis on Tuesday morning in an Ethiopian controlled area of Somalia. The Ethiopian troops are said to have opened fire on Somali civilians, resulting in the deaths of at least 10 people.
  • Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina signed a deal with dozens of minor parties in Madagascar aimed at ending political crisis, however the main opposition leaders rejected the deal. Rajoelina took the country through coup nineteen months ago.
  • A new wave of violence erupted in Chimanimani in Zimbabwe on Sunday after ZANU PF militias attacked MDC activists.
  • Ugandan President Museveni’s son along with the commander of the elite Special Forces Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba have been accused of leading the Ugandan army to a massacre of approximately a dozen people in Karamoja, while many more were branded, abused or tortured.
  • The Shell Petroleum Development Company in Nigeria has claimed 3  sabotage attacks on its pipelines so far in August, causing increasing spills in the region. The company has less than an attractive environmental record in the region with oil spill quantities that exceed that of the Exxon Valdez disaster on a yearly basis for the past 40 years. Shell is currently facing charges at court in the Hague over spills in Nigeria.
  • Six children under the age of two have recently been reported raped or sexually molested in the Lubumbashi region of the DR Congo as part of black magic rituals aimed at increasing fortune. Many believe that fetishists (witch doctors) in the region have been encouraging this practice for some time, but that it is only now emerging because authorities are stepping up their efforts to protect women from sexual violence. Three Indian UN peacekeepers were killed in a surprise attack at their base in the DRC by 50 fighters armed with machetes, spears and traditional weapons on Wednesday. Three people were killed on Tuesday night after clashes between Rwandan FDLR, Mai Mai Cheka and some Mubi persons and at least 150 women are believed to have been targeted for mass sexual violence in a remote village in the east.
  • The youth leader of the Union for Peace and Development was arrested and tortured by Burundi intelligence after being accused of being a security threat to the state in the run-up to the recent election. At least 200 member of opposition parties have been arrested, tortured or threatened in the country according to human rights organizations. There have also been several recorded political murders and disappearances of opposition members, and many are simply in hiding or exile.  The legislature is now dominated 95% by the presidential party, the CNDD-FDD. The last areas suspected to be contaminated by landmines or unexploded ordnance in north-west Burundi will be surveyed thanks to funding from the Swiss government.
  • Insecurity in the Niger regions led to the evacuation of Western staff of several aid groups. This evacuation comes days after the World Food Programme had launched its operations to feed nearly a quarter million children.
  • The Central African Republic pledged that it would arrest Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA. Kony has been charged with war crimes but has evaded prosecution and capture since 2008.
  • More than a million South African state workers have gone on an indefinite strike. Police responded to the protesters by firing rubber bullets and water canons in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Asia

  • NATO has claimed that more than 20 Islamic militants were killed their fire this week, as they ramp up operations in southeastern Afghanistan.  They have also claimed to find and release 27 men from a Taliban prison in Helmand province.  Security concerns have caused the Afghan government to decide not to open more than 900 polling stations during next month’s parliamentary elections, affecting nearly 15% of the country’s polling stations. The Taliban fighters are said to be “spreading like brush fire” into the remote and defenseless northern parts of Afghanistan, but an air strike led by NATO forces has slowed that spread slightly by killing one al Qaeda leader there on Monday. The spread of the Taliban in the north may have been eased by their apparently more just court systems. NATO will have to continue their operations without the help of private security firms, as Hamid Karzai ordered all such firms dissolved over the next four months. On Monday, a insurgent IED strike killed a child and wounded 3 others in Kunduz province. On Wednesday, hundreds of villagers blocked an eastern highway to protest a night raid by NATO and Afghan soldiers that left 2 people dead. More than 2,000 foreign troops have died since the start of the war in 2001, but alas, new found oil deposits totaling 1.8 billion barrels on top of the $1 trillion dollars of newly discovered resources should give them the incentive to continue fighting.
  • The US is concerned over China’s extending military reach. The Chinese are said to have increased their military spending by roughly 7.5% from the previous year. A electric three-wheeled vehicle exploded in the Xinjiang region on Thursday killing 7 people.
  • Gunmen have shot dead at least 10 people in southwest Pakistan after an attack on a passenger bus. The Pakistani president is concerned that recent flooding in the region could encourage armed groups to gain new recruits by taking advantage of the chaos and misery.
  • Kashmiri residents have been again subject to curfew imposed by the Indian government and thousands of police officers, only 3 days after the original curfew was lifted. At least two people were killed on Friday after police opened fire again into protesters. At least 61people have been killed in protests in the past two months.
  • Three people were killed in south Thailand in attacks blamed on Muslim separatists. More than 4,000 people have been killed in the last six years in the border region.
  • Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey announced that it would begin a ceasefire against Turkish forces on September 20th conditional on Turkey stopping its military operations, releasing 1,700 political detainees and starting a peace process. Turkey has rejected the PKK’s previous unilateral ceasefire declarations.
  • The US warned Turkey that it has little chance of obtaining the weapons it wants without major policy changes, although this was later denied by US officials. This comes after Turkey voted against fresh UN sanctions on Iran and concerns that weapons could wind up in Iranian hands.
  • Human Rights Watch has concluded that the government of Kyrgyzstan played a role in facilitating the violent attacks against ethnic Uzbeks this past June, after a lengthy investigation. At least 400 people were killed as attacks against Uzbeks left several neighbourhoods burned to the ground.
  • Cambodia’s PM has decided that multinational corporations and other local enterprises will now be able to hire out the country’s royal armed forces, in a “sponsorship” program in return for guarding of “large-scale private land concessions” or to “evict the rural poor for business developments”.
  • The US and South Korea began their war drills amid North Korean threats of counter measures on Monday. The drills will last 11 days and are the largest joint exercise between the Americans and South Koreans.
  • Indonesia’s president has spoken out for religious tolerance amid calls for him to act against extremists regularly attacking minorities in the country. Violence has been rising in the country between the 80% Muslim population and a minority Christian population.
  • At least 2 people were killed in northern India on Saturday after clashes over poor government compensation for land erupted between police and farmers. Police are said to have opened fire on the protesters after they were attacked with stones.
  • Azerbaijan refused to allow a NATO plane carrying Armenian soldiers from Afghanistan to fly over its territory. This is the second time the country has refused such an action.
  • Eleven police officers in the Philippines have been relieved of duty after the release of video footage showing the apparent torture of a naked detainee, said to have later died in the hands of the police.
  • Five countries, including the US, are now backing a Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.

Middle East

  • A Yemeni intelligence officer was gunned down by two men suspected to be linked to al Qaeda late Friday evening. Another five policemen were seriously injured when an attacker on a motorbike threw a grenade at them. Al Qaeda appears to now be targeting government forces instead of high-impact strikes against Western and Saudi targets.
  • Al Qadea is warning its supporters and sympathizers to prepare for a new war which it says it will pit Israel against Iran.
  • A tv mini-series was canceled from Lebanese television stations this week for fear of stirring up sectarian violence. The program described Jesus from an Islamic point of view, upsetting Christians. They also announced that they had set up a special account to receive donations towards supplying their country’s ill-equipped army with new weapons for defense against Israeli attack and began the process to approve the ratification of the cluster munitions treaty. Following the violence earlier this month, Israel and Lebanon have voiced interest in accelerating the process of marking the Blue Line between their two countries.
  • Two mortal bombs sent from the Gaza Strip into Israel injured two soldiers. Hamas claims that they bombed after six Israeli tanks crossed into the territory with one firing a shell at a home. In retaliation, Israel carried out air strikes against the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Israel has approved the purchase of 20 US built radar-evading stealth fighters in a deal worth $2.75 billion dollars which are expected to be delivered between 2015-2017.
  • Gunmen in Baghdad killed 4 policemen in shootings, burning two of the bodies in public. Attacks have escalated during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with 19 deaths from Saturday to Sunday alone, five deaths from a car bomb on Monday and another 57 or so on Tuesday after a bomber blew himself up at an army recruitment centre. The latest death tolls for Iraq are as follows: United States 4,415; Britain 179; Other nations 139; Iraqis military between 4,900 and 6,375; Iraqis civilians between 97,106 and 106,071. Sadly, it appears civilians have taken the brunt of the military intervention in the country. Hopefully, that will change as the last US combat brigade has now left Iraq as part of President Obama’s pledge to end combat operations in the country. Sadly, it appears that the withdrawal of troops will only double the number of private security contractors.
  • Clashes between Shi’ite villages and government forces in Bahrain resulted in several arrests on Saturday and Sunday. Shi’ites are protesting for a larger role in governing the Sunni Muslim-led state.

Europe

  • A bomb threat saw thousands of people evacuated from the shrine at Lourdes in southern France on Sunday. The threat was later determined “unfounded”. French authorities began deporting hundreds of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria in a move that many feel could spark further racism and discrimination against a vulnerable communty.
  • A suicide bomber in North Ossetia killed one police officer and injured three others on Tuesday.
  • Russia reportedly plans to sell two of its S-300 Favorit air-defense systems in Azerbaijan to be used to protect energy extraction projects and pipeline networks. The Russian government has also agreed to extend their lease of a military base in the South Caucasus to Armenia and assist them in updating their military hardware.
  • Belarusian media has experienced increasing harassment in the lead-up to the upcoming spring presidential election. One media outlet may be shut for suggesting that the President was involved in the disappearances of several political opponents.
  • Serbia is looking to renew negotiations over the future of Kosovo with the UN, after last month’s decision that the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo was within international law.
  • Israel and Greece are seeking to expand their military ties including sharing military know-how and holding joint war games.
  • A well-known activist journalist in the Ukraine has disappeared. Vasyl Klymentyyev frequently spoke out in criticism against the authorities, who critics claim have been increasingly oppressive of the media.

North and Central Americas

South America

  • Indigenous inhabitants in Rapa Nui (otherwise known as Easter Island) are protesting the Chilean government, who claimed the island as their own province in 1888, over suspected land deals that are using ancestral land to build state buildings. Police have been sent with authorization of force against the peaceful, unarmed protesters, but have so far remained as observers.
  • Colombia’s air force bombed a rebel camp on Wednesday that killed seven guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN).
  • Luiz Antonio de Mendonca, a top election official survived an assassination attempt on Wednesday. Violence is relatively rare in Brazillian elections.
South Africa is looking to deploy troops to Somalia under the African Union request.
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Peaceful hope: The story of SHONA cooperative

Hope can make all the difference in a person’s life. One small light of hope can lead people to peace, even in the massive shadow of war. SHONA, which means “sew” in Swahili, started with a simple idea; to give dignity and hope to a handful of handicapped persons living in Goma, in the DR Congo who are normally expected to beg for their subsistence. 85% of these craftspeople have never attended school; not even for a day. 60% of them are refugees. Now, instead of being dependent and a burden on their families or charity, they are providing for their families. They are making on average $250 per month in a country where the average income for an able bodied person is only about $15 a month. They are educating themselves, taking courses in French, math and basic accounting, and are using this knowledge to budget their money for future healthcare and emergencies. They are bringing together different minds, from different tribes in peace.

SHONA is a grassroots cooperative. There is no outside funding or support. There are no overhead costs, because there are no paid staff, no offices and no middle men to pay for. Each craftsperson essentially operates their own business—and receives 100% of the profit from their own labour. It is about empowerment, sustainability and independence in a region where war has claimed many victims. The craftspeople of SHONA refuse to be victims. They will create their own futures with their own hands, and they will pass on their skills by teaching others as they can.

The story of Argentine, a young craftswoman at SHONA speaks volumes of how a little bit of hope can change a person and bring them inner peace. Argentine grew up unable to walk in the heart of war in Eastern Congo. When the fighting began, Argentine’s mother used to carry her on her back into the woods and hide her in a hole until the fighting subsided, sometimes for months at a time. Today, Argentine supports herself and helps to support her family with her own hands. She said of her time at SHONA, “before I never used to dream. Other people would dream of having a house, or land, but not me. I just hoped that someday something would be better. But now it is different. Now I dream.”

Their motto stands tall:

Each item we sew is our claim to a better world.

A world where we are seen

Not only for the challenges we face

But for the beauty we create.

Think Big

Buy Small

Support a Better World

This week in conflict…

This week in conflict…

World

Africa

  • Rwanda’s election process saw President Paul Kagame win again by a landslide amid a climate of repression. Opposition candidates were arrested and media silenced in advance of the elections. Kagame is said to have won 93% of the votes, and even as much as 100% of the votes in some districts. His team began celebrating the victory before the polls had even closed. Two days later Kigali was struck by a grenade attack that injured at least 20 people.
  • The Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has warned the UN mission and aid missions in Darfur that they will face expulsion if they do not support his government authorities. On Wednesday, gunmen killed 23 people, including police officers in an ambush on a truck in the south. On Wednesday, an exchange of gunfire at a refugee camp in western Darfur was reported, though it was not clear who fired the shots.
  • Government forces in Puntland, Somalia have made two military offensives against allies of the Shabab militant group killing at least 21. The UN warns that the long-running conflict in Somalia is spreading beyond its borders and becoming increasingly concerning.
  • 2,000 illegal miners stormed a mining site in the DR Congo burning trucks and stealing copper from Tenke Fungurume mine. 32 have been arrested.
  • The Central African Republic pleaded for the UN Security Council for help just as the mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission MINURCAT is coming to an end. Concerns of rebellion, banditry and inter-ethnic conflict still loom.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted at least 697 people, nearly one third of who are children, in central Africa in the last 18 months according to a human rights group investigation despite previous assurance from the government of the DRC that the LRA has been decreasing its violence. At least 255 of those abducted were killed, often by crushing their skulls with clubs. Up to 74,000 people have been forced to flee the situation in the CAR and Congo.

Asia

Middle East

North America

  • More than 1,000 Mexican journalists marched through the capital to protest the killing and disappearance of their colleagues in the escalating drug violence that is increasingly targeting reporters.
  • The confessions of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen charged with terrorism, can be used as evidence at his trial even though they may have been obtained through torture. Khadr stands to be the first child soldier to be prosecuted for war crimes in modern history, as under international law, children captured in war are to be treated as victims and not perpetrators. His trial, which was to start this week, was delayed for the next 30 days after his lawyer collapsed from illness in the courtroom and had to be medevaced out of Guantanamo Bay.
  • The US appeals court has upheld a ruling that blocks Massachusetts schools from using literature that denies the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 was a genocide.

South America

  • Colombia has sworn in a new president who has vowed that he is willing to hold talks with leaders of Farc, the country’s rebel group and reconstruct relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.
  • A suspected car bomb exploded in Bogota injuring four people on Thursday.
  • Suriname swore in its “new” president Desi Bouterse on Thursday. Bouterse, who was previously in power following a 1980 coup, ruled the country from 1980-7 and 1990-1. He was accused of violating fundamental human rights and the murders of 5 journalists during his time as dictator.
  • Peru’s indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who the government accuses of starting an Amazonian uprising that killed 33 people, is considering running for president next year.
  • The families of 32 Mapuche prisoners have been on a month-long hunger strike in southern Chile over trial irregularities for the twenty self-declared political prisoners imprisoned over land conflicts.

Europe

  • All of the major European countries are planning mass expulsions of Roma populations and demolitions of Roma settlements. Even though they are European citizens, the Roma are now threatened with expulsion, in breach of the EU basic right to free movement. Some rights group worry that such an action is tantamount to the criminalization of an entire ethnic group.
  • Three Turkish soldiers were killed in an explosion in southeastern Turkey on Sunday. On Monday Turkish soldiers killed 5 Kurdish militants in a firefight after discovering guerrillas laying mines and on Tuesday another 2 people were killed after a pipeline was blown up by Kurdish militants.
  • Russia has deployed an S-300 air defense missile system over the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia complained of the strengthening military control over these territories that it insists are still an integral part of Georgian territory.
  • North Caucasus rebel groups have begun to split ranks after the contradictory statements of resignation of leader Doku Umarov last week. Chechen field commanders have announced that they are rescinding their oath of loyalty.
  • Four former Bosnian Serb army soldiers have been charged with genocide for crimes committed during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. The four are said to have assisted in the deaths of at least 800 people.

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?

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Blood-free tin.

The ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi) is making an effort to try and eradicate conflict metals from the tin industry. The extraction of raw materials in many parts of the world funds extreme acts of violence; war crimes, crimes against humanity, mass murder, rape, torture, enslavement, the recruitment of child soldiers, mass abuse and displacement of people.  The complexity of manufacturing modern products means that each item has most likely traveled around the globe making many stops along the way.  This makes it harder for companies to know exactly what happened at each stop and the effect their product has had on human beings along the way.

ITRI is a non-profit organization that represents tin miners and smelters, created to promote a positive image of the tin industry and ensure its best interests are represented. The ITSCi was designed to investigate the performance of the tin industry and ensure a higher standard of care that would trace the tin from the mine to the smelter, much like the Kimberly Process does for diamonds.

July 2009 saw the implementation of ITSCi Phase 1, a comprehensive due diligence plan for tin extracted in the DR Congo. Phase 2 which just began to begin to track and provide more precise sourcing locations for tin mined in eastern DRC. Pilot mines sites in North and South Kivu have been chosen to integrate into the trading scheme, with expectations of expansion after the first six months across 4 provinces of the DRC (North and South Kivu, Maniema, and Katanga). It’s a start, but nearly not enough to ensure the eradication of conflict tin in the marketplace.

This pilot supply chain project is being eyed by both the Tantalum and Niobuim Information Center (TIC) who eventually intend to include coltan in the study. Hopefully other extractive industries will soon follow and begin take their own initiatives to stop funding violence. The vagueness within the corporate policies and laws and lack of investigation and enforcement capabilities to regulate the laws, leave the extractive industries seemingly decades away from evoking true change in practices. Long-term secure funding and precise laws is necessary to ensure this project goes from pilot to change in real practice. Currently several major corporations are contributing the $600K necessary to run the ITSCi pilot. Considering the profit made from products using tin in the past year, this $600K is merely a drop in the bucket. More money is immediately needed from these companies to hire enough investigators, regulators and enforcers to stop funding violence.

You can help stop the violence. Speak out. The next time you buy a product, think about where it has come from. Write, phone, email and ask the company if they have a truly ethical purchasing policy that includes safeguards against incorporating conflict resources into their product line. Ask your government to enact laws that would enforce its companies to maintain higher human rights standards, even when operating overseas. The market creates the demand, so let’s demand that they provide us with a truly ethical choice.

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Who cries for the three-year old rape victim?

A three year old girl died this week after being brutally gang-raped by rebel fighters in the DR Congo. Somehow, the last 7 words in that sentence seem to make the rest disappear. A three-year old rape victim dying in North America would be the cover of every news story in the country. A massive campaign would be launched to prevent it from happening in the future and a thorough investigation into how it happened in the first place would be ordered. The public would have no less. They would take every effort to ensure this type of crime never occurred again.

Why is it any different when it happens in the Congo? Why do we suddenly feel it is ok to ignore this problem? Is it because it is happening in a place that is already so violent? Does that somehow make it ok? The child would have probably faced violence her entire life anyway, right?

Is it because we feel disconnected from the violence there? This is interesting, since, as electronics loving Canadians, we are probably more connected to this crime than we might think. We could do something about it. We could protest. We could stop buying things that could help contribute to the crimes (and that list includes most of the electronics and metal products that we use every single day). We could write our government. But most of us never will. We won’t do this because it isn’t easy. Because it would involve some sort of sacrifice on our part.

Ask yourself this: If this rape victim were in North America, and the crime was partially committed by some company whose product you used every day– would you stop using it? Would you write the company a letter to express your outrage? Or would you sit there and do nothing? Why does this victim deserve any less?

Lately, violence in this region seems to be on the rise again. And we are still oblivious. Human rights campaigners and journalists trying to get the truth out are being silenced. Rape is again on the rise. The metal industries (and many many others) are making profit from these crimes. They are supplying massively violent warlords with weapons and money, and sometimes even logistical supplies to commit massacres. When will we stand up against them and say, no more?


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