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Russian warships refuel in Spanish ports, then head for Syria

Don’t be fooled: last week Spain may have signed an EU statement accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Syria.

But this week a Russian flotilla is due to refuel at the Spanish port. And it seems that only protests from other EU politicians and the head of NATO have forced Spain to reconsider.

The warships are assumed to be on their way to Syria, where Russia has been accused of carrying out airstrikes on civilians.

The warships are due to dock at Ceuta, on the northern tip of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco, which also lays claim to the territory.

But it is Spain that issues the docking permits, and since 2011 at least 60 Russian warships have docked in Ceuta.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said: „We are concerned and have expressed very clearly by the potential use of that battle group to increase airstrikes on civilians in Aleppo.”

While the Spanish foreign ministry says each permit is authorised on a case-by-case basis, considering the kind of ship, and impacts on the environment and local population, they did not say whether they take into account what that ship is on its way to do.

And herein lies the hypocrisy. It is far too easy for countries to sign one bit of paper and then allow actions on their territory that lead to the opposite. All while stoking their economies and and looking like they still believe in world peace.

Mother Mushroom

Ever heard about a blogger scene in Viet Nam? It is there and it is for sure under threat. „Mother Mushroom“ aka Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh is one of the best known female bloggers and human rights defenders in Viet Nam. 

Last week, Quỳnh was arrested in the central province of Khanh Hoa under Article 88 of the Penal Code, which prohibits “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.” The crime is deemed a national security offence and carries a sentence of up to 20 years in jail. Under the Vietnamese criminal procedural code dealing with the investigation of so-called national security offences, Quỳnh can be detained incommunicado for at least four months.

“Article 88 effectively makes it a crime for any Vietnamese citizen to enjoy the fundamental freedom to express an opinion, to discuss or to question the Government and its policies,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “The overly broad, ill-defined scope of this law makes it all too easy to quash any kind of dissenting views and to arbitrarily detain individuals who dare to criticize Government policies.”

Zeid said incommunicado detention for such an extended period of time – particularly without access to family members and to legal counsel – is conducive to torture and may amount to torture itself, in violation of the Convention against torture (CAT), which Viet Nam ratified in February 2015.

Other similar cases over the past year include the continued incommunicado detention of lawyer and human rights activist Mr. Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha, who were arrested in December 2015 under Article 88; the sentencing after almost two years of incommunicado detention of Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh, also known as Anh Ba Sam and his assistant Ms Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, in March 2016 to five years and three years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” under article 258 of the Penal Code,; and the sentencing of Mr. Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy and Nguyen Huu Thien An to three years and two years in prison respectively under Article 88 in August 2016.

So, government in Viet Nam – Look out! We are watching you! We spread the word and expext the immediate release of all individuals detained in connection with these provisions. 


Island of despair

As fairplanet reported in 2014, asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat are being processed offshore, even though refugees are entitled to protection in Australia under international law. 

According to Amnesty International, Australia’s current policy does exactly that: „No person who arrives in the country by boat seeking asylum can ever settle in Australia.“

Instead, anyone who arrives by boat is forcibly taken to offshore “Refugee Processing Centres”, one of which is on the remote Pacific island of Nauru – basically an open air prison for refugees. 

But, after being deported to this tiny island, the cruelty continues. Based on months of research, including interviews with more than 100 people in Nauru and Australia the human rights organization has released the report Island of Despair: Australia’s ‚processing of refugees‘. It exposes the government of Australia’s policy of “processing” refugees and asylum-seekers on Nauru for what it is: „a deliberate and systematic regime of neglect and cruelty.“

Anna Neistat, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research, one of the few people who managed to enter the remote and secretive island to investigate human rights abuses, describes the situation: 

“On Nauru, the Australian government runs an open-air prison designed to inflict as much suffering as necessary to stop some of the world’s most vulnerable people from trying to find safety in Australia.”

De facto, the Australian government has isolated refugees –  women, men and children, often in bad health, which is even worsened due to local circumstances on the island – in a remote place which they cannot leave. The sufferance of these vulnerable people is – if not intended – at least accepted by the government. 

It is a shame that a country like Australia that owes so much to refugees is blatantly violating international law.

As one of 144 states in total, Australia had signed the Refugee Convention in 1951. The convention defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.

The Refugee Convention is the legal basis of the UNHCR – Australia, a country of refugees and immigrants, should abide by this and refrain from encouraging other countries to do the same. 


Trafficking and exploitation on Mediterranean route

More than 70% of migrants travelling from North Africa to Europe via boat have been victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking or exploitation along the route.

This from a new survey of 9,000 migrants by the UN’s International Organisation for Migration.

The idea of people having to suffer so gravely for a chance at freedom is disturbing, to be sure, but the fact that migrants must somehow find the means to pay for the exorbitant prices charged by smugglers for a not-even-safe passage to Europe should come as no surprise.

Particularly for the European politicians who make it so.

As Fairplanet reported last year, it is the lawmakers who have made what could be a very safe journey so dangerous. Remember: tourist ferries pass freely between Tunisia every single day.

But where Tunisian fishermen who also operate in the area may have previously been able to offer safe passage to those seeking asylum (a legal right all humans share), today they refuse to do this, knowing their boats – and therefore livelihoods – will be seized if they are caught helping people make the journey to Europe.

Paying a smuggler remains the last viable option. But it’s hardly a safe one.

For many thousands getting on that boat means accepting exploitation as a means to affording the trip. Working without pay, sexual slavery, blood and organ donation all become means for buying that passage.

None of which would be necessary if migrants could make the journey they are legally entitled to without fishermen, ferry operators or such facing legal consequences.

There’s no point in blaming smugglers, who they themselves are victims of the same politics, poverty and desperation as the migrants they shuffle across the sea.

The buck stops with lawmakers, who have every power to make a difference here, and yet they still choose not to.

How to be a good sexist

I recently had a discussion with a friend, who, innocently, asked me: „So how do you deal with racism?“

Needless to say, my friend is white, and I am brown. I didn’t take her interest in racism to be destructive – her tone implied her sincerity – but I’ve grown accustomed to turning this around to others.

„Well, how do you deal with it?“ I asked gently, in response.

She looked momentarily shocked. It seemed that my friend had never really thought of it this way (something that it’s taken me years to realize): While people of colour may be the victims of racism, racism isn’t a brown or black issue – it’s a white issue, mainly. After all, imagine how it must be like to look back at your ancestral past and realize that your forebears were brutal and cruel to other human beings, or that they aided the growth of racist movements, or even to this day, you find it difficult to sleep with the window open because you’re frightened a big black robber will break in.

I wish I was joking about this, but as we’ve seen already this year, even, or especially in industrialized, multi-ethnic countries, like the UK, can still suffer from racism and xenophobia to such a degree, that the country will destroy itself over it.

Anyway, my friend and I discussed the other variants of this problem: Sexism is a man’s problem, Homophobia a heterosexual problem, and so on. The point of this isn’t to wrest victim narratives away from victims, nor is it to undermine the problem – it is to bring the possibility of speaking about these issues back into a domain for privileged people who may otherwise just ignore the issue, or feel unnecessarily guilty about it. The point is, basically, to talk about these issues in a normal, open way.

So here it is: I am a heterosexual man, and although I try to check my privilege, I’m certain I do and think dumb sexist, homophobic things, and even sometimes racialist ones. I’m human, and have taken on messages which say that I’m necessarily more entitled than some other humans.

It’s heartening therefore to be aided in this journey by works such as Priya’s Mirror, by Ram Devineni and Dan Goldman. It’s a comic book (sequel) about a superheroine, Priya, who helps rape and acid attack victims cope with their attacks, and empowers them to feel stronger about themselves, helping them work towards a place where they realize they are more than their ordeals. It’s set in India, and Priya is, significantly, a rural Indian woman.

The comic is targeted to young teenage boys. It is also written by two men – something that may indeed, perhaps rightly, provoke a strong reaction; The work could be seen to usurp space that should be reserved for women, and those who have been the victims of such attacks.

I understand the reaction. I think it is true and valid that voices, especially marginalized and oppressed ones should be heard. In addition to this, it should also be possible that those people in positions of relative power should be able to speak about and think about these problems – so so-called ‚women’s issues‘ don’t become entrenched as ‚women’s issues‘. Indeed, in my opinion, this need not be a zero-sum game: People should be able to speak about these problems, whoever they are – with the victim (for want of a better word) given the foremost priority.

The point is to be able to think about these things without the all-too-common need to make it about yourself. Paradoxically, the more you’re able to frame racism as a white problem, sexism as a man’s problem etc. the more empowering the issue becomes for its victims: White people have been susceptible to seductive power narratives, men have exploited their positions of greater relative physical power, heterosexuals have ostracized non-heterosexual people for a million reasons. This actually puts the problem in the mind of the powerful – and steers away from the tendency to speak of women inviting sexual assault, or black people just had something coming to them etc. Finally, it doesn’t actually prioritize the powerful person – it helps them understand how they too may be part of a problem.

At least that’s how it seems to me. This might just be another dumb sexist thing I thought and wrote about, but as always I’m happy to learn more.

Forced into trade

It was a long fight of six African countries that were threatened with losing access to the European single market. Now they lost the battle. Last week, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa and Lesotho finally signed the controvers Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)

This agreement replaces the non-reciprocal trade agreements granted by the EU under the Cotonou agreement, signed in June 2000. The aim is to maintain the preferential access to the European market enjoyed by the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, in return for reduced customs duties for European exports.

The main critic by NGOs and African nations is that this agreement is weighted in favour of the EU. It won’t help fighting poverty in the poorest countries of the African continent, Additionally, it could come to a loss of customs revenue, coupled  with competition from European products arriving on less development markets.

Furthermore, EPA excludes North African states and potentially creates a split between North African and sub-Saharan African countries.

In times, when millions flee from wars and poverty, deals to the disadvantage of African ecomonies and the support of questionable African dictators won’t help to handle migration nor promote a sustainable and fair development in Africa.


Pro-democracy activists sworn in to Hong Kong parliament

Two years after the umbrella protests, activists against China’s authoritarian rule have been sworn in to Hong Kong’s parliament.

The movement, in which protestors brought the city to a halt, was criticised back in 2014 for failing to produce any tangible change for the city state.

But in fact it has produced six young pro-democracy politicians who were all sworn in to parliament today.

Eager to make their intentions clear, the pro-democracy lawmakers used the swearing-in as an opportunity to thumb their noses at China.

One quoted Mahatma Gandhi, another wore a banner that read „Hong Kong is not China“.

Others messed with the oath that pledges allegiance to uphold the Chinese laws but in place in 1997, crossing their fingers behind their backs, reading it in slow-motion, or referring to China with the derogatory „Shina“.

So what does this mean for Hong Kong?

It means that the popular protest’s interests are represented at lawmaking level. That there is now an alternate voice to China’s communist party backed by the support of voters.

It means that the ‚one party – two systems‘ framework that has given greater freedoms to Hong Kong than the mainland is likely to collapse. But whether that means stricter controls from China or rebellion led by these newly-elected officials remains to be seen.

What is the point of commemorating invasion, slavery and exploitation?

The „Columbus Day“ which was first celebrated in the year 1792 on Oct 12 to honor the Italian-American heritage and the so-called discovery of America is due. Once again many schools will pause to commemorate Christopher Columbus, after learning from school books false facts. 

Given everything we know through historical research about who Columbus was, what he did and introduced in the Americas, this needs to stop.

Throughout his years, after his famous first voyage in 1492, when Columbus landed on an unknown Caribbean island in the New World, he enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits.

Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino “Indians” from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route. Those left behind were forced to search for gold in mines and on plantations. 

In an era in which the international slave trade was starting to grow, Columbus and his men enslaved thousands of native inhabitants of the West Indies and subjected them to extreme violence and brutality. 

Within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island. Further, the Spanish who remained on the islands used the Taino people as forced labor, punishing them with torture and death if they resisted. 

Honoring Christopher Columbus means to overlook a painful history of colonialism, enslavement, discrimination and land grabs that followed his arrival in the Americas. 

Following the State of Vermont’s proclamation to rename the day, it’s time to abolish „Columbus Day“ everywhere.

It’s time to rethink our history, it’s time to recognize the suffering of Native American people endured during American colonization. The least we can do is to call that day „Indigenous People’s Day“.

Image: Students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison protesting 

Last one, promise

There’s a hurricane which has recently killed over 800 people; There’s violence in Kashmir. There are malevolent police killings of children in Kenya. There are messes all over the place in South America. 

And yet I want to talk about Trump. It’s the last time, I promise. Maybe. 

It’s not out of an aimless content creation purpose, nor is it to say ‚for sure, isn’t it stupid, this stuff he’s saying‘ – that’s been done a lot, and there’s no need to add to that chorus. 

No, I want to just add a note to something I’ve thought for a while – but never really had the time nor opportunity to express: Donald Trump enables ecstatic celebration. 

This isn’t just because he ’sticks a finger in the eye‘ of the establishment – something many millions of people would like to do. It’s because he is the projected will of a slice of the American populace, gratifying itself. 

What do I mean? Well, if a politician is in a sense who we make them to be, who we want them to be, then it’s clear that we project certain things onto them: Thatcher the milk snatcher, De Gaulle the great…the idea’s pretty basic, really – people are who you perceive them to be, and you perceive them to be the things you turn them into. These projections come from one’s own deep desires – and in the case of Trump, the deep desire is to not only defeat Clinton or build a wall, it’s to kill beauty itself. 

Americans, at least a part of them, are sick of beauty. They are sick of Barack Obama’s beautiful (black) face, they are sick of his beautiful words, they are sick of beautiful ideas. They want big, meaty ugliness, big meaty white ugliness to beat senseless the delicate bitches and fags and blacks who’ve turned their country into something they don’t recognise. This is what they want – to assert their own ugly feelings onto the rest of America, and by extension, the world. Whatever desperation in their lives, whether of their own making or Life’s, is being transformed into a destructive, outward power which looks to erase all forms of beauty and grace and light which aspires to better things for all – think I’m exaggerating? Just check this out.

This is nothing new, of course. Every now and then there’s an ugly person who draws onto them the ugly feelings of others. What’s new about this is just how out of hand this is getting. No one thought Donald Trump was a feminist, but it was indeed surprising to hear him talk about grabbing women ‚by the pussy‘. And what’s more, when he doesn’t pay tax and claims to be of the people (not surprising) – it is surprising to hear people celebrate him nonetheless. After all, who cares about his affairs – he’s doing everything people have wanted to do for the past 8 years – as though his big flabby body were a proxy for a voter’s very own – get out in front of the world, and rage, fume and stalk about – strip down whatever is beautiful about an imperfect system, and replace it with its own raging, pointless self. Trump probably did grab women by the pussy once – it’s just such a shame that so many people want him to grab America by the balls, and replace them with his own.