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Editors ́ Picks

The dead are gone to nowness

Earlier, on September 30th we reported on „Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost During Migration“ – a comprehensive research compiled by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM): it indicates that Europe is the world’s most dangerous destination for “irregular” migration. 

According to IOM more than 22,000 migrants died while trying to cross European borders since the year 2000. IOM Director General William Lacy Swing called this walling-off an „epidemic crime and victimisation“ and demanded: “It is time to do more than count the number of victims. It is time to engage the world to stop this violence against desperate migrants.”

In the run-up of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall the art group „Zentrum für politische Schönheit“ (Centre for Political Beauty) initiated a performance that is replacing sheer remembrance through nowness, and thoughtlessness through active solidarity with the next potential victims of another wall – a much bigger one, surrounding Europe like a dystopian fortress. 

In this dystopian present 14 white crosses – once marking the lost lives while trying to cross from Berlin’s east to west – have fled from Berlin’s government district. According to the Centre for Political Beauty the dead victims of the Berlin Wall „fled to their brothers and sisters across the European borders to stand by them in an act of solidarity.“

The performance is accompanied by a civil action campaign whereby people can go by busses to Mediterranean borders and “tear down the European wall”. The campaign’s crowdfunding page contains instructions on how to dismantle a wire fence with tools like a bolt-cutter.

While donations are welcome to fund this campaign – each bus carrying 55 people will cost 5,900 € – Berlin will have its own performance sonorously called „Lichtgrenze“ (Border of Light): according to Der Spiegel thousands of light bowls for the cost of more than one million Euro to provide its citizens the experience how it was to be surrounded by a wall. The bowls will be filled with helium and shall be released up to the sky. 

Will migrants on the other side of the European wall see them?

Photo: Patryk Witt, Courtesy: Centre for Political Beauty

 

After Spain, anti-eviction activism flares up in Ireland

Eight years after the financial crisis rocked Europe, a major anti-eviction movement has finally erupted in Ireland, where housing activists are following the example seen in Spain by carrying out a series of actions aimed to prevent banks and vulture funds from continuing to evict tenants.

Inspired by the success of the Spanish Anti-Eviction Platform (PAH), an active movement which has successfully raised awareness of this issue in Spain, a group of Irish housing activists occupied an abandoned ten-storey building in December in the centre of Dublin giving shelter to 40 of the city’s homeless. However, the occupation of Dublin’s Apollo House, a former home to the civil service, didn’t manage to last more than a month. A court ruling approved demolition and residents were forcibly evicted from the historic building. This consequently sparked a protest movement across Ireland over the right to adequate housing.

According to official figures, there are currently 7,000 homeless people in Ireland and among them 2,500 are children. These shocking statistics are decried by activists, when accompanied by the fact that 20,000 buildings stand empty in Dublin alone. 

Apollo House has become a perfect example of the Irish authorities mismanaging the crisis. The building is owned by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), created in 2009 by the Government to administer toxic assets from bank bailouts. However, rather than using its assets to alleviate the national housing crisis, NAMA (which is known as a bad bank) has sold off more than 200,000 million euros worth of property holdings to North American vulture funds.

 

After the headline-grabbing occupation, now some activists are trying to go one step further and tackle home evictions through a new bill put forward by the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit party. Due for debate today in the Irish parliament, the bill aims to end legal loopholes used to evict tenants and to guarantee access to housing.

 

Cyprus shows reconciliation is not always impossible

Cyprus may well unite in 2017. After 43 years of ethnic division, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have dared to dream and think about the possibility of reuniting a country which has been distressed by political division, foreign-policy games, and international fears. For many years, Cyprus‘ uneasy balance between division and co-existence that at times threatened to spark an enormous international conflict.

However, that could change this year: Last week, Nicos Anastasiades, who heads the island’s internationally recognised Greek-run south, and Mustafa Akinci, who leads its Turkish-run north, met in Geneva to concretely discuss possible reunification. Indeed, they discussed territorial alignment, as well as property rights and even troop presence. 

Although still far from a deal, this has given Nicosians unprecedented hope: No talks have ever proceeded to such detail, with such strong political will. The Guardian reports: “This time people aren’t afraid to be optimistic,” said Andreas Mesarites, a Greek Cypriot brand strategist. “This time it feels different.”

While it’s too early to say whether the minefields will really be cleared, and something of a regular life will spring up in Cyprus, the fact that any momentum has been built with this problem feels like an enormous deal. With the changing politics of Western liberal democracies, and more autocratic states hardening their defences, it seemed the world was reverting to a kind of status quo, if not regressing exactly. The Cyprus negotiations demonstrate that progress is possible when there is will behind it – something the world needed to be reminded. 

Although the issues are completely different, we wait to see whether the Israel-Palestine conflict finds renewed vigour for the two-state solution, or more likely, whether backed by Trump and an aggressively right-wing Israeli executive, settlements continue to be built, lives continue to be destroyed and the world regresses just that little bit more into the dark ages. 

Image: Cyprus in 2003, BBC

 

 

The Taliban crossing all limits

In a string of brutal moves this week, the Taliban issued a video of two American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) professors who were abducted from Kabul last year.

In this video, American Kevin King and Australian Tim Weeks can be seen appealing to the U.S. government to release Taliban fighters in exchange for their liberty. With this blatant approach, the militants have once again proved they have literally no respect for civilians, let alone foreign teachers who risked their lives to come from other parts of the world to share knowledge and wisdom with the Afghan nation that has been deprived by the rages of war for the past many decades.  

“We have been here for five months, the people who promised to take care of us have forsaken their promise, we are here with no help or hope, The American University of Afghanistan and the U.S. government have sent representatives to talk to the Taliban, but they could not reach an agreement”, Tim Weeks says while literally crying in the video.

“I ask you please to raise your voice for me when I have no voice to help me”, he pleads.

Kevin King can be seen in similar appalling state while requesting the U.S. government to ensure release of the Taliban fighters from the Bagram Base and the Pul-e-Charki prison in Kabul. The two specifically beg the U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to ensure their safe release.

Ensuring safe release of Tim and Kevin is absolutely crucial, but the civilized world needs not to fall in the Taliban’s trap. It should be made absolutely clear to the Taliban that such war tactics that deliberately put the lives of such innocent people at risk for some sort of bargain is absolutely not acceptable.

Those countries with some sorts of ties/ contacts with the Taliban like Pakistan, and now Iran and Russia should take the lead in convincing the militants that if they want to reach an ultimate peace deal to bring an end to the Afghan conflict, and become part of the future set-up they should not drag civilians and not to mention the academic and other institution of public welfare into the conflict.

Four human rights bloggers abducted in Pakistan

Four campaigners for human rights and religious freedom have gone missing in Pakistan.

The four men, Salman Haider, a well-known poet and academic, and bloggers Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, and Ahmad Raza Naseer, went missing or were taken away from different cities between January 4 and January 7.

All four were critical of militant religious groups and Pakistan’s military establishment, and used the internet to share their views.

As Human Rights Watch says, „their near simultaneous disappearance and the government’s shutting down of their websites and blogs raises grave concerns of government involvement. While the Pakistani interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, directed the police on January 7 to speed up efforts to locate Haider, whom the government says it is not holding, a broader effort is needed to uncover the whereabouts and well-being of all four men.“

The government’s refusal to provide information on the whereabouts of a person taken into custody amounts to an enforced disappearance, says Human Rights Watch, which is a serious violation of international human rights law.

„‚Disappearances‘ place individuals outside the protection of the law and make them more vulnerable to torture and other abuses.“

Pakistan has a long history of intimidating or gagging dissenting voices.

Pakistani and international human rights groups have reported on the intimidation, torture, enforced disappearances, and killings of activists and journalists.

Lisboetas priced out by tourism surge

Lisbon is the latest destination discovered by mass tourism. Although recent, the phenomena is already drastically changing the dynamics of the Portuguese capital, especially in the historic quarter.

In the past three years, residents have observed hotels, short stay apartments and souvenir shops taking over the city´s traditional neighbourhoods, such as Alfama, Baixa and Bairro Alto. Consequently, locals have been priced out by the hike in house prices, often forced to relocate in the less-desirable outskirts, a process typical in gentrification.

Some argue that the rise in tourism in Lisbon has led to economic recovery and job creation. Areas of historical heritage which for many years have been left abandoned are now being regenerated and rejuvenated, witnessing an influx of more affluent people reusing buildings for bars and restaurants, offices and living spaces.

Nevertheless such redevelopment shouldn´t come at the expense of existing residents. Complaints are now commonly heard over landlords evicting people in order to earn more lucratively from incoming tourists. Whilst, entire blocks of flats have been converted into flats for short-term renting, fuelled by the success of companies like Airbnb, finding houses for long-term renting in the centre has become almost an impossibility.

The phenomena is not new, which people from cities such as London, Venice, Amsterdam, Berlin or Barcelona know all so well. The Catalan capital, home to 2 million people, receives 7.5 million tourists each year. To prevent the city from becoming a “souvenir shop for tourists”, mayor Ada Colau, a former housing activist, has implemented measures that include the freezing of new licences for hotels and private apartments. In Berlin, new rent-control legislation is also trying to halt uncontrollably rising prices.

Now these same worries have landed in the Portuguese capital. It’s hoped that Lisbon city councillors can learn from other European cities so that they can manage regeneration in a sustainable way, avoiding an irreversible process of gentrification while maintaining Lisbon’s identity and culture.  

Anarchy in the UK

It’s not often you hear of a humanitarian crisis in the UK, but that’s precisely how the Red Cross is describing the country’s crisis with its National Health Service (NHS). For many around the world, the NHS stands as a model of state-funded healthcare, that provides whatever service a patient may need, without the requirement for additional costs.

However, the ideology which began with the coalition government in 2010, and continued under David Cameron’s ill-fated administration, and now Theresa May’s, can be described in one word: Austerity. 

Austerity is not in itself a terrible idea. It simply means trimming away at public services which are inefficiently run, to be replaced by better and more practical services. For example, the government eliminated funding for many quasi-autonomous-non-governmental-organizations under the terms of austerity: Things like the Audit Commission spending wildly on office furniture were curtailed. That’s probably a good thing. However, austerity as an ideology can be disastrous, as it eliminates the idea of the state as protector of citizens. Instead, austerity becomes, quite plainly, the political voice of business. 

The Conservative government of the UK has cut investment into the NHS, in particular, with regard to junior doctors. The government sees an opportunity to save on providing full-time contracts for its employees: Instead, junior doctors are being offered less lucrative, but equally demanding work contracts. These contracts, while providing little job security, also stretch the employee to work throughout the week with little rest. In short, these contracts are exploitative. 

With the perfect storm of an ageing population, an increased demand on the health service, austerity, and an exploited generation of doctors, patients, as well as junior doctors, become the victims. 

Al-Jazeera reports: Speaking to the BBC, Professor Keith Willett, director of acute care for NHS England, disputed the Red Cross description of the situation as a humanitarian crisis. 

„On the international scale of a humanitarian crisis, I do not think the NHS is at that point,“ he said. „Clearly, demand is at the highest level ever. But also our planning is probably more comprehensive than it has ever been.

With the country likely to face a prolonged period of economic and political uncertainty in the next few years, this perfect storm might just become your everyday kind of weather. 

Kept in the Stone Age

Before raiding to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the then U.S. President George W. Bush reportedly threatened to bomb Pakistan „back to the stone age“ after the September 11 attacks if the country did not cooperate with America’s war on Afghanistan.

Back then, very few people in the world knew about a patch of land between Pakistan and Afghanistan called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which was previously treated by the British colonial rulers in India as a buffer state.

Still, many news followers just know that militants associated with global terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and Daesh are hiding here, but not all are aware that the law with which the government of Pakistan has ruled millions of people here is no less cruel than that of the Stone Age.

For start, just note that unlike rest of the country, the Constitution of Pakistan does not apply here!

The law of the land here is the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) that categorically states that three basic rights namely the right to request a change to a conviction in any court, the right to legal representation and the right to present reasoned evidence are not applicable to the residents of FATA. It permits collective punishment of family or tribe members for crimes of individuals, and denies the locals many basic rights provided to the rest of Pakistanis elsewhere in the country.

Recently, the younger generation of Pashtuns from FATA have mobilized themselves to push the Islamabad government to repeal this law. The Fata Siyasi Ittehad; an alliance of Wazir, Afridi, Momand, Orakzai, Bajur and other tribes, and the Fata Student Organisation (FSO) are at the forefront of this campaign.

Young men and women from this part of the world have every right to live in a civilized environment. Justice, transparency and fair play on the part of the government in FATA, which has been deprived of many other basic rights and developments as well, will also help curtail the growth of extremist ideologies and deny

Rohingya villagers beaten by Myanmar police as thousands flee to Bangladesh

A video published by the Guardian shows four policemen in Myanmar beating Rohingya villagers.

Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said the four officers have been detained and the incident will be investigated.

According to the Guardian the government had organised a trip for ambassadors in Myanmar to visit the area after embassies requested access. Rohingya rights activists say residents were ordered not to complain.

After years of persecution against the Muslim minority in Buddhist Myanmar this is hardly an adequate response.

Perhaps the Nobel Peace Laureate is finally trying to face up to international pressure. Suu Kyi has long been considered a human rights icon herself, living under house arrest for 15 years after giving up life with her husband and children in the UK in order to not abandon her own people.

But last week more than a dozen fellow Nobel laureates publicly condemned her government’s current crackdown on ethnic Rohingya, warning of the possibility of committing ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Thousands of Rohingya continue to flee to Bangladesh. During bloody clashes in 2012 more than 100,000 ended up in squalid camps. More than 50,000 others have fled since October last year.