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Read, Debate: Engage.

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


Meanwhile in Darfur: Chemical weapons against civilians

According to Amnesty International’s investigation at least 30 suspected chemical attacks by Sudanese government forces have taken place in Jebel Marra – one the most remote parts of Darfur this year. 

The human rights organization has gathered shattering evidence strongly suggesting the repeated use of chemical weapons against civilians, including very young children. 

As known from many incidents targeting civilians in war zones, the effects of these chemicals on the human body are gruesome and frequently fatal.

Based on testimony from caregivers and survivors, Amnesty International estimates that between 200 and 250 people may have died as a result of exposure to chemical weapons agents. Many – or most – are children.

In the shadow of the ongoing attacks on civilians in the Syrian civil war these harrowing human rights violations taking place in Jebel Marra are being widely ignored. 

Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Research, said “It is hard to exaggerate just how cruel the effects of these chemicals are when they come into contact with the human body.“

Chemical weapons have been banned for decades in recognition of the fact that the level of suffering they cause can never be justified.

The fact that Sudan’s government is now repeatedly using them against their own people simply cannot be ignored and demands action.

Note: The video contains disturbing images

Peace deal not the end for Colombia

The armed conflict in Colombia that saw 7.9 million deaths and forced the displacement of another 6.9 7 million people has an end in sight via a peace deal reached this week.

The historic agreement between the Colombian government and the largest guerilla group, was signed on Monday. It still waits to be ratified on October 2.

As Amnesty International argues:

„The transitional justice model agreed last year by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will go some way to ensure a degree of truth, justice and reparation for some of the victims of the conflict.

„However, many of its provisions appear to fall short of international law and standards on victims’ rights. For example, the punishments for those who admit responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity do not reflect the gravity of such crimes. Likewise, the definition of command responsibility could allow many guerrilla and security force commanders to evade justice for human rights abuses and violations committed by their subordinates.

„Colombia has come a long way since its most violent years. However, human rights abuses and violations against marginalized communities, particularly Indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities, as well as against human rights defenders, including community leaders, trade unionists and land rights activists, continue unabated.“

The pen might be mightier than the sword, but real action to prevent violence and corruption will be necessary after the ink has dried.

Racist of the Year

There are award nominations that may bring glamour – sometimes nice. And there are nominations that bring awareness – always necessary. The Survival International “Racist of the Year” is among the latter. Every year, the global movement for tribal peoples‘ rights nominees persons displaying the greatest prejudice against tribal peoples.

To the this years‘ nominees belong: Australian cartoonist Bill Leak, the organizers of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Botswana’s President, General Ian Khama and the Indian film-maker of „MSG-2 the Messenger“, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. All nominees have one thing in common: They use their power and position to mainstreaming and displaying racist prejudice. 

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “The sort of views on display among this year’s nominees would not have been out of place in the colonial era. The idea that entire peoples are “backwards,” “miserable” or “morally degenerate” has always been used as an excuse for stealing their land and forcing them into the mainstream against their will.”

What crime and injustice racism was and still is doing around the world can be read in the news – unfortunately daily. (See also fairplanet’s special dossier on racism.) The more it is important to stand up against it. 



A little less conversation, a little more action

The superbowl of politics will kick off today, with the first of three debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, expected to generate as many as 100 million viewers in the US alone. No doubt, globally, a significant portion of the world’s population will also tune in or stream to find out whether it will be a woman’s hands, or a man’s tiny hands on the nuclear button. 

It’s a big deal. For sure it’s a big deal. But it also demonstrates the wastefulness of our modern political climate – where talk fills the vacuum where action could be. Instead of a legitimate, thoroughly well-thought through plan in response to the refugee crisis, we have Francois Hollande calling for the Calais camps‘ full demolition. Instead of a public discussion about what role the Spanish people can have in shaping their own destiny, we have yet another roadblock. In Syria – well, Syria…

I can’t remember a year that was more full of hot air than this one. Probably because this year has been more full of consequential events than recent ones, but also because this year has been an Olympic year for elections. We’re either getting over one here, in the throes of one there, or preparing for them next year. Politicians often sound feeble and not up to the monumental tasks before them (I have sympathy for the latter), but I think there is something deeply troubling about a world that goes on babbling but does little to help those in need. I’m of course including myself as one of the babblers. Talking online is just talking too. 

We can hope that the do-ers get more space in time, and the talkers less. Maybe Donald Trump will finally get off the scene tonight, the sound of America talking itself into oblivion. 

War, Freedom of speech, Women’s rights, Plight of Migrants

The world’s most pressing global issues – war, freedom of speech, women’s rights and the plight of migrants – have been driving the Right Livelihood Foundation’s jury in 2016. 

This year, among 125 nominations from 50 countries, the jury has decided to honor and support four laureates for their endeavor to make a difference: 

Syria Civil Defence (The White Helmets), ‘for their outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians from the destruction of the Syrian civil war’. It is the first time that a Right Livelihood Award goes to a Laureate from Syria.

Egypt’s Mozn Hassan and Nazra for Feminist Studies, ‘for asserting the equality and rights of women in circumstances where they are subject to ongoing violence, abuse and discrimination’.

Russia’s Svetlana Gannushkina,‘for her decades-long commitment to promoting human rights and justice for refugees and forced migrants, and tolerance among different ethnic groups’.

Cumhuriyet, a leading independent newspaper in Turkey,‘for their fearless investigative journalism and commitment to freedom of expression in the face of oppression, censorship, imprisonment and death threats’.

Ole von Uexkull commented: “This year’s Right Livelihood Award Laureates confront some of the most pressing global issues head-on — be it war, freedom of speech, women’s rights or the plight of migrants. With the 2016 award, we do not only celebrate their courage, compassion and commitment; we also celebrate the success of their work, against all odds, and the real difference they are making in the world today.”

The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 by German-Swedish philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, who provided its initial funding of one million US dollars after selling his company. 

The international award, often considered as the alternative Noble Prize, is being bestowed „honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today“ in such fields as environmental protection, human rights, sustainable development, health, education, and peace.

Vietnam imprisons prominent bloggers

This week the Higher People’s Court of Hanoi will hear the appeal of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his colleague Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy who ran a website critical of the Vietnamese government.

The pair were arrested in May 2014 for “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interest of the state.” In March 2016, the People’s Court of Hanoi sentenced Nguyen Huu Vinh to five years in prison and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to three years. Nguyen Huu Vinh’s wife, Le Thi Minh Ha, said that his family has not been allowed to see him for more than 11 months, despite multiple requests.

Nguyen Huu Vinh, 60, is a former police officer and a Communist Party member from a prominent communist family. In September 2007, he founded the blog Ba Sam (Talking Nonsense). Using the motto “Pha vong no le” (“breaking the slavery ring”), the stated goal of Ba Sam was to bring news from various perspectives to its readers. Ba Sam provided links to “hot news” – sometimes accompanied by short comments from the blog’s administrators – about politics, economics, culture, society, the environment, and world events from a variety of sources, including state-controlled media and individual blogs. It also published critical commentary and Vietnamese translations of overseas articles related to Vietnam’s social and political situation. Over the six years it was published up until the arrests of Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, Ba Sam had attracted several million readers in Vietnam and abroad.

During the bloggers’ trial in March, police put many people under house arrest so they could not go to the court to show solidarity. Nevertheless, dozens of bloggers and rights activists managed to stage a protest calling for their release on the sidewalk across from the court. The police briefly detained several people, including prominent rights activist Nguyen Quang A.

In 2016, repression of Internet writers has accelerated. During the first nine months of the year, Vietnamese courts have convicted and sentenced to prison terms at least 18 bloggers and activists for violating a series of articles in the penal code that criminalize freedom of speech and religion.

The world can do better than this

The doubts are high and the faith is low when it comes to the public belief that the governments of this world can handle migration. More factual is the report given at the important UN summit on migration, which was held in New York yesterday. 

The OECD’s latest Migration Outlook shows that the number of migrants entering the 35-member-bloc increased for the second year in a row. An increase of 10%, totalling some 4.8 million people in 2015 was recorded. But other than often used by populist parties and politicians, in this growing number refugees only make up a smaller part of total migration. 

According to the report- here is „The real McCoy“: In the OECD’s member states, 120 million people were born in a different country to where they live. One in five people is a migrant or immigrant. Even more, the medium and long-term impact of migration on public finances, economic growth and the labour market are generally positive.

Especially, the EU came in for criticism from the report. The state members have not uniquely established the Right of free movement, have a decrease of working permits and an inadequate autocratic register system.  The report also proposes alternatives to existing migration opportunities, such as labour migration, student programmes and humanitarian visas, which could replace or supplement the current asylum process.

Photo: CDC Global

War on Drugs continues

Phillipine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked for an extension on his war on drugs, as he has said he ‚cannot kill them all‘.  

His war has already claimed the lives of some 3,000 people since May – two thirds of that number being outside the realm of police killings but part of unofficial militia and vigilante hits. 

It’s a repeat of the methods seen the world over since the late 19th century – purging the cities of people, rather than deal with the complex nature of addiction, legal status of drugs and the advanced militarisation of police forces. Public favour often turns to sweeping, vivid actions against drug users rather than dealing with structural problems which lead to drug addictions – normally poverty, and normally cheap availability of drugs. There can also be ethnic dimensions – with minorities typically more prone to addictions in cities in the West, because minorities typically live in more deprived areas. 

But Duterte has rejected any criticism coming his way, calling US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a “fool”, and vowing to continue his campaign – which is proving hugely popular domestically and boosting his poll ratings.

The planned six month extension looks set to needlessly extinguish the lives of people who are probably most in need of help. Duterte is a certainly a political player to watch in a country growing more and more unstable in an unstable region.