PSA: Free Omar Khadr

by matttbastard

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Canada: Intervene on Behalf ofCanadian Citizen at Guantanamo:

(New York, February 1, 2008) – Canada should formally request that the United States transfer a Canadian citizen at Guantanamo, who was arrested when he was 15, to a court that meets juvenile justice and fair trial standards or repatriate him to Canada for rehabilitation, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, and Human Rights First said today in a joint letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

On February 4, a military commission at Guantanamo Bay will consider whether the United States may proceed in prosecuting Omar Khadr for war crimes and other offenses in Afghanistan in 2002. If the proceedings go forward, Khadr, now 21, will become the first person in recent years to be tried by a western nation for alleged war crimes committed as a child.

“Canada has turned a blind eye to the United States’ mistreatment of its citizen,” said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch. “Canada’s inaction on Khadr’s case stands in stark contrast to its past leadership on behalf of children affected by armed conflict.”

US forces captured Khadr after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. He has been charged with murder for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier, as well as attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. Khadr has been detained at Guantanamo Bay since November 2002, where he has alleged that he was subjected to abusive interrogations and prolonged solitary confinement. He said he was shackled in painful positions, threatened with rape, and used as a “human mop” after he urinated on the floor during an interrogation session.

International juvenile justice standards allow for juveniles to be detained only as a last resort and require prompt determination of juvenile cases. In addition, treaties binding on the United States oblige governments to provide for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers within their jurisdiction.

Khadr, however, was detained for more than two years before he was provided access to an attorney, and for more than three years before he was charged before the initial military commissions at Guantanamo established in 2001. While other children detained at Guantanamo were given special housing and education, and eventually released to rehabilitation programs in Afghanistan, Khadr has been housed with adult detainees and denied access to education or other rehabilitation assistance.

“Throughout his detention, the US has refused to acknowledge Khadr’s special status as a juvenile,” said Daskal. “Before the US compounds these violations by prosecuting Khadr before an unfair military tribunal, Canada should intervene.”

The organizations note that Canada is the only Western nation that has not called for all of its citizens held in Guantanamo to be returned home.

Canada has long been in the forefront of international efforts to end the use of child soldiers. It was the first country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and in 2000 hosted an international conference on war-affected children.

“At this point, Khadr has spent more than a quarter of his life at Guantanamo,” said Daskal. “What is Canada waiting for?”

Letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Omar Khadr:

February 1, 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Canada K1A 0A2

Via Facsimile

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

We write regarding Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen whom the United States government has detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than five years, since he was 15 years old. On February 4, 2008, a military commission in Guantanamo Bay will consider whether the United States may proceed in prosecuting Khadr for war crimes and other offenses before the commission. If the proceedings go forward, Khadr will become the first person in recent years to be tried by a western nation for alleged war crimes committed as a child.

Throughout Khadr’s lengthy detention, the United States has flouted international juvenile justice standards that provide for children to be treated consistent with their unique vulnerability, capacity for rehabilitation, and lower degree of culpability. The United States now seeks to compound these violations by prosecuting Khadr before a military tribunal that is not equipped to address juvenile justice standards as well as other fair trial requirements, and in a manner inconsistent with its legal obligations to assist in the rehabilitation of former child soldiers within its jurisdiction.

Consistent with its global leadership regarding children and armed conflict and to prevent the continued mistreatment of its own citizen and former child soldier, Canada should formally request that, if the United States is not prepared to prosecute Khadr in a judicial system that incorporates fundamental standards of juvenile justice and other fair trial rights, it should promptly release Khadr and repatriate him to Canada for appropriate rehabilitation.

Background

According to allegations made by the United States, Omar Khadr’s father introduced him to al-Qaeda leaders when Khadr was just 10 years old, then sent him to receive military training from al-Qaeda members at age 15 and out to the battlefield shortly afterwards.

On July 27, 2002, Khadr was captured by US forces after a firefight in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of US Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, as well as injuries to other soldiers. Khadr, who was seriously wounded, was initially detained at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and transferred to Guantanamo Bay in November 2002, where he remains today.

Khadr was not provided an attorney until he had been detained for over two years. In the third year of his detention, Khadr was charged with crimes under the initial military commissions authorized by President George W. Bush. Those charges were dismissed when the Supreme Court ruled the commissions unlawful in the 2006 case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. In 2007 the United States charged him under the commissions authorized by the Military Commissions Act with murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.

Khadr has reported to his lawyers that he has been subjected to abusive interrogations, as well as prolonged periods in solitary confinement while incarcerated at Guantanamo.

Failure to Comply with International Standards for Juvenile Detention

First detained at age 15, Khadr now has been held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay for more than a quarter of his life. The US government’s failure to properly treat Khadr as a child in detention violated US legal obligations under the laws of war, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and international juvenile justice standards. International standards allow for detention of juveniles only as a last resort and require prompt determination of juvenile cases; however, Khadr was detained for more than two years before being provided access to an attorney, and for more than three years before being charged before the first military commission.

Further, despite international legal requirements that juveniles in custody be treated in accordance with their age and that juveniles and adults be segregated from each other, Khadr has been incarcerated with adult detainees, even when other child detainees his age were being housed together in Guantanamo’s Camp Iguana.

In Guantanamo, Khadr has been held in prolonged detention in solitary confinement. He has told his lawyers that he was also subjected to abusive interrogation. He said his interrogators shackled him in painful positions, threatened him with rape, and used him as a “human mop” after he urinated on the floor during one interrogation session. Such treatment of a detainee, particularly one who was a child, violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and analogous provisions of other treaties to which the United States is a party. These abuses during detention, coupled with the lack of fundamental safeguards required for the treatment of juveniles in custody, raise serious concerns about the voluntariness of any statements that Khadr may have made and which may be used against him at his trial.

Failure to Comply with the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict

International law recognizes the special situation of children who have been recruited or used in armed conflict. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (“Optional Protocol”), which Canada ratified in 2000 and the United States ratified in 2002, requires that all states parties provide for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers within their jurisdiction, including “all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.”

In its 2007 Initial Report to the United Nations pursuant to the Optional Protocol, the United States declared that it is “committed to continue to develop rehabilitation approaches that are effective in addressing” the problem of child soldiers and that it “espouses the principle that family reunification and community reintegration are both goals and processes of recovery for former child combatants.”

During the time that Khadr was detained at Guantanamo without charges and otherwise in violation of basic juvenile justice protections, the United States funded millions of dollars to programs dedicated to the rehabilitation of child soldiers, including $4.5 million to a major initiative launched by UNICEF in 2003 to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers in Afghanistan.

Yet in its handling of Khadr, an alleged child combatant in its custody, the United States has ignored its professed commitments and its legal obligations under the Optional Protocol. It has failed to provide him with access to education, vocational training, counseling, a family or community environment, or other assistance that is essential to successful rehabilitation and social reintegration.

Failure to Incorporate Juvenile Justice Standards in Military Commission Proceedings

The military commissions created by the United States to try unlawful enemy combatants for war crimes and related offenses do not meet international standards for fair trials. Of particular concern, the commissions allow the use of evidence obtained through abusive interrogations so long as a judge finds the evidence “reliable.” Moreover, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) permits prosecutors to shield interrogation methods from the defendant and his lawyer, making it virtually impossible for a defendant to demonstrate that testimony was obtained through such abusive techniques. This lack of adequate due process safeguards is particularly harmful to child offenders, given the increased risk that they will be unduly influenced by coercive methods.

The MCA lacks any explicit juvenile justice safeguards. It has no provisions requiring that judges have expertise in juvenile justice to preside over the trials of children. This is particularly important given the likelihood that the judge will be asked to decide the reliability of statements Khadr gave while he was still just a child. Similarly, there is no indication that the military commissions will appropriately consider Khadr’s age at the time of the alleged offenses in making its sentencing determination. The United States’ failure to comply with international juvenile justice standards or provide any rehabilitation assistance to Khadr throughout his detention provides little assurance that his special circumstances will be taken into account in the future.

In short, because the military commissions fail to provide key due process protections and are not equipped to take into account Khadr’s juvenile status, they are not an appropriate forum for proceedings against Khadr.

Canada Should Intervene and Repatriate Khadr

Canada has long been at the forefront of international efforts to end the use of child soldiers. It was the first country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2000 and took a leading role during negotiations of the treaty. At the United Nations, the government of Canada chairs a “friends” group of nations that actively support the implementation of Security Council resolutions related to children and armed conflict. Canada also has hosted a number of workshops and conferences that have focused international attention on children and armed conflict, including the International Conference on War-Affected Children in 2000.

Canada is the only western nation that has not insisted all of its citizens held at Guantanamo be returned home. Consistent with its commitment to the rule of law, international juvenile justice standards, and the rehabilitation of former child soldiers, Canada should formally request that unless the US government will prosecute Khadr in accordance with international juvenile justice and fair trial standards, the United States should promptly release Khadr and repatriate him to Canada for rehabilitation. Canada has been a global leader in addressing children and armed conflict, and the need for rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers. It cannot credibly maintain its leadership position and continue to turn a blind eye to the continued violations by the United States of the rights of a Canadian citizen, particularly given his special status as a former child soldier. It is time for Canada to intercede.

Sincerely,

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights First
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
Amnesty International

United Church Appeals to Prime Minister on behalf of Omar Khadr:

TORONTO, Jan. 31 /CNW/ – In a letter sent this week to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, The United Church of Canada has asked that he formally intervene with the Government of the United States on behalf of Omar Khadr.

Khadr, whom the U.S. has classified as an enemy combatant, has been held in custody at a naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since his capture in Afghanistan in July 2002.

“The United Church acknowledges the complexity of the situation but believes that the overriding issue is his age at the time of capture. We do not believe that Canada should remain silent in a precedent-setting prosecution of a child soldier for war crimes, least of all when that child is a Canadian citizen,” writes Nora Sanders, the General Secretary of the General Council.

In the letter, Sanders draws particular attention to fact that Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. She notes that Article Two says that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family
members.”

In addition to asking Mr. Harper to intervene on behalf of Khadr, the United Church’s letter also requests

– that the Prime Minister insist that Khadr be returned to Canada
– that when Khadr is returned to Canada, he either be released or charged with a recognizable criminal offence and prosecuted through a process where he will be afforded all the protection available under the criminal justice system
– that no evidence obtained under torture will be used in any
proceedings
– that while these actions are in progress, the Prime Minister ensure
that Khadr is afforded adequate contact with his familySanders says the church also believes that it is important that the role of the Canadian government in the interrogations of Khadr, including the positions taken formally or informally by the government in respect to the rights of Khadr to appropriate counsel and legal advice, be examined.

“We are therefore requesting that an independent review of the Canadian government’s involvement in Khadr’s detention be implemented,” says Sanders.

She ends the letter by saying she hopes the Prime Minister receives the church’s requests “as an indication of our desire that Canada continue to be recognized throughout the world as a just and civil society, and as a leader in the protection of children affected by war.”

For further information: Mary-Frances Denis, Communications Officer, The
United Church of Canada, (416) 231-7680 ext. 2016 (office), (416) 885-7478
(cell), (416) 766-0057 (home)

Statement by UNICEF concerning the case of Omar Khadr:

NEW YORK, 2 February 2008 – On 4 February 2008, a military commission at Guantanamo Bay will review the case of Omar Khadr and decide whether his prosecution for war crimes should proceed. Omar Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 for crimes he allegedly committed when he was 15 years old.UNICEF believes that children alleged to have committed crimes while they were child soldiers should be considered primarily as victims of adults who have broken international law by recruiting and using children in the first place, and that these individuals must be provided with assistance for their social reintegration.

If in contact with a justice system, persons under 18 at the time of the alleged offense must be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards which provide them with special protection.

As an organization that works actively to prevent unlawful recruitment, to facilitate reintegration of child soldiers, and to promote due process, UNICEF is concerned that such a prosecution, in particular in front of a military commission not equipped to meet the required standards, would set a dangerous precedent for the protection of hundreds of thousands of children who find themselves unwittingly involved in conflict around the world.

[…]

For further information please contact:
Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF New York, Tel + 212-326-7583, Email; gkeele@unicef.org

Montreal Simon nailed it this past August:

Britain and other countries have demanded the release of their Guantanamo detainees.

But still we do NOTHING because we don’t want to upset the lawless and criminal Bush administration.

Even though Omar Khadr is a CANADIAN KID.

What stinking hypocrites it makes us look like. We make such a fuss about the plight of child soldiers in Africa and elsewhere. But we forgot about our own. We forgot about Omar.

Even though when he killed that American soldier HE was just a child, with crazy parents who led him to where a Canadian teenager never should have been, instead of protecting him.

So why aren’t more Canadians outraged? Why aren’t more Canadians demanding that their government stand up to the Bush war criminals ?

I mean really….what kind of country of yankee flunkies are we becoming? Is a country that can’t even protect its young people even a real country?

How HOLLOWED OUT are we?

Sometimes I really wonder….

Related: AP has more on Monday’s hearing; TorStar editorial on how “Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s refusal to take up Khadr’s case is rapidly turning him into a martyr”; Michelle Shepard reports that some believe the Khadr case has eroded Canada’s international reputation (h/t April Reign) and how “Fifty-five law professors and 22 members of Parliament, including Canada’s former attorney general, Irwin Cotler” support the motion to recognize Khadr as a child soldier; joint letter to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates from Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and Amnesty International, asking that Khadr be tried “in a court that meets juvenile justice and fair trial standards or repatriate him to Canada for rehabilitation“.

Background: 2006 Rolling Stone profile of Omar Khadr, who has been in Gitmo limbo since 2002 after being captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15; Human Rights Watch: The Omar Khadr Case: A Teenager Imprisoned at Guantanamo.

Also see: Quote of the Day: “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”

Update: must-read backgrounder on the Khadr case from Impolitical.

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PSA: Release Iranian Women’s Rights Activists Immediately

by matttbastard

Human Rights Watch:

Iran: Release Women’s Rights Activists Immediately
Government Should Drop All Charges, End Harassment
(New York, December 17, 2007) – Iran should drop politically motivated charges against two women’s rights activists facing trial this week because of their participation in a peaceful protest, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should release Jelveh Javahari and Maryam Hosseinkhah without delay.

Human Rights Watch learned that court officials have set court dates of December 18 and 19 to try Javaheri and Hosseinkhah on charges stemming from their involvement in a March 4 peaceful gathering to protest the prosecution of other women’s rights activists.They were among 26 women arrested at that time and released from detention over the following weeks.

However, authorities have been holding Hosseinkhah and Javeheri in Unit 3 of the general women’s ward of Evin prison since November 17 and December 1, respectively, on separate charges relating to their peaceful activities on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign to End Discrimination Against Women.

“There seems to be no end in sight to the Iranian government’s persecution of women’s rights activists,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “They are bringing new charges against women faster than they can try them.”

On November 17, Hosseinkhah responded to a written order to appear before a branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran in connection with her advocacy for the One Million Signatures Campaign. Officials charged her with “disturbing the public opinion” and “publishing lies” and set a heavy bail of 100 million tomans (approximately US$100,000) for her release. As a result of her inability to provide bail, authorities transferred her to Evin prison.

On December 1, Javahari responded to a written order to appear before a branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, also stemming from her involvement with the One Million Signatures Campaign. The court charged her with “disturbing the public opinion,” “propaganda against the order,” and “publishing lies via the publication of false news,” and then transferred her to Evin prison. According to interviews with Javahari’s mother, which are available on the website of the One Million Signatures Campaign to End Discrimination Against Women, the court initially set a bail of 50 million tomans (approximately US$50,000) but withdrew it on grounds that investigations into the case would first have to be completed.

It is not clear if the trials on December 18 and 19 will also address the new charges against them.

Two other women’s rights activists with the One Million Signatures Campaign to End Discrimination Against Women, Ronak Safazadeh, 21, and Hana Abdi, 21, remain in detention on charges of “endangering national security.” Authorities arrested and detained Safazadeh on September 25 and Abdi on October 23 in Sanandaj, a city in the Kurdish region of northwestern Iran.

“The government has not provided a shred of evidence to suggest that Ronak Safazadeh and Hana Abdi have done anything except campaign peacefully for the rights of Iranian women,” Whitson said.

Take action now. Further background here and here. Once again, more on the still-ongoing One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality from Change For Equality (more here) and Ms. Magazine.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to add your name.

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PSA: Free Delaram Ali

by matttbastard
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Human Rights Watch:

The head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahrudi, should suspend a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence upheld this week against women’s rights activist Delaram Ali, Human Rights Watch said today. Such a step is permitted under Iranian law. The government should also release at least 10 other students and activists it has detained for their participation in peaceful demonstrations and campaigns. On July 2, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Ali, a 24-year-old sociology student and women’s rights activist who works with the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality, to two years and 10 months in prison and 10 lashes for participating in a peaceful demonstration on June 12, 2006, which police and security forces had violently disrupted. On November 4, Branch 36 of the Appeals Court in Tehran upheld her conviction on charges of “acting against national security” and “advertising against the system,” but reduced her sentence to two and a half years. It is not clear whether her sentence still includes lashing. Human Rights Watch opposes lashing in all circumstances as a cruel and inhuman punishment, illegal under international human rights law. Court authorities have informed Ali that she is to begin serving her prison sentence on November 10.

“Instead of punishing a young woman for peacefully protesting, the Iranian government should hold security forces accountable for violently disrupting a demonstration of women activists,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Ali’s sentence suggests a new intensity in the government’s crackdown on campaigners for the equal rights of women, in contrast to prior periods when the authorities have handed down only suspended sentences. Women’s rights activists in Iran who spoke to Human Rights Watch have expressed concern that they may face even further governmental persecution.

In the past month, the authorities have arrested at least three other women’s rights campaigners. On September 25, eight security officers in the northwestern city of Sanandaj arrested women’s rights activist Ronak Safazadeh, 21, as she was leaving her house to go to work. Eighteen days after her arrest, court authorities informed her family that they had extended a temporary detention order against Safazadeh for an additional month. Safazadeh’s family has not been able to meet with her, and the court has not allowed lawyers who have volunteered to represent her to examine her case files.

On October 23, seven security officers arrested Hana Abdi, 21, another women’s rights campaigner in the city of Sanandaj, as she left her grandfather’s home.

Both Abdi and Safazadeh are members of the Azarmehr Association of Women of Kurdistan, a group that organizes capacity-building workshops and sports activities for women in the city of Sanandaj and elsewhere in the Iranian province of Kurdistan. Abdi and Safazadeh are also active with the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality.

In the last month, the authorities also have arrested a number of other activists. On November 4, security forces arrested student activist Ali Azizi at his home in Tehran. On November 8, security forces searched the home of student activist Ali Nikonesbati and arrested him. Both students are members of the Office of the Consolidation of Unity, a prominent reformist student organization with branches in universities throughout Iran. Nikonesbati and Azizi have been vocal critics of the government’s crackdown on peaceful student activists. The authorities have not announced any charges against them.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the cases of five students in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. On October 16, security forces in the city of Ahvaz arrested five student journalists and activists on the campus of Chamran University – Roozbeh Karimi, Javad Tavalli, Javad Alikhan, Mehdi Mansouri, and Raee Nikzad. In statements to the press, Farzad Farhadirad, the deputy of the Prosecutor’s Office of the General and Revolutionary Courts in the city of Ahvaz, claimed that the government carried out the arrests to preempt the students from distributing fliers that “insulted Islamic sanctities.” Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Codes of Iran criminalizes “insults” to any of the “Islamic sanctities.”

“Women’s rights activists, student activists – no one who criticizes the government is safe in Iran,” said Whitson. “These arrests should be seen as a sign of the Ahmadinejad administration’s utter desperation and insecurity about the basis of its own popular support in the country.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to amend or abolish provisions that impose criminal penalties for the free expression of ideas, such as Article 513 and 514 of the Islamic Penal Codes, as well as vague “security” laws that unduly restrict the right to peaceful association and assembly, such as Articles 500, 610 and 618.

More on Ali’s pending dentention from BBC News:

Delaram Ali has been free while awaiting the result of an appeal.

But she has now been told to give herself up by Saturday so the sentence can be implemented.

She says she has not been allowed to file a complaint against the police.

Instead an internal inquiry recently exonerated the police even though foreign journalists witnessed them beating the women who were singing feminist songs while sitting peacefully on the grass in a public square.

HRW describes the brutal 2006 assault in further detail:

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Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that police and intelligence agents lined Haft Tir Square in downtown Tehran hours before the start of the planned demonstration on June 12. As the demonstrators assembled, the security forces immediately started to beat them with batons, sprayed them with pepper gas, marked the demonstrators with color spray, and took scores into custody.

[…]

An eyewitness told Human Rights Watch that, for what is thought to be the first time, the government transported policewomen to the demonstration to arrest female demonstrators while policemen dealt with male protestors.

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“Female police officers ruthlessly beat demonstrators with their batons and took many into police vans for detention,” this witness said. “Bystanders were shocked at how harshly the police reacted to demonstrators.”

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(images copyright 2006 Arash Ashoorinias)

Via iranian.com, Zahra, a law student who participated in the protest, provides an eyewitness report on the events (translated from Farsi):

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When we got there it was really scary. Several police buses and cars covering the whole area. Cell phones were obviously monitored because we were receiving suspicious text messages from an unknown number…We got to the meeting point in the Hafte-Tir Square and saw the police forces already being “busy” in three other spots. We sat down and started chanting slogans..After about 5 minutes of confused stares from the pedestrians at us we received the first surprise: the women police force which are scarier than men for two reasons…First they are “mahram” to women so they can kick and punch women without violating any religious code and second they are strangely way more aggressive than men! First they tried to force us by hand to get up and leave…When we resisted they started using their nightsticks, after not very long the kicks and punches and the nightstick beatings got very harsh…Right in front of my eyes one of them beat Mana right in her head so badly that I don’t think I will ever forget the sound of it…All of sudden everywhere is red…The second surprise: they are using a paint spray on us. We didn’t realize first but they were marking us so that they know later in the crowd who was sitting and resisting…Smart!

They finally forced us to get up and pushed us to the center of the square while we were still chanting the anthem for Iran’s women movement. At least people are seeing us and you can see the objection and sympathy in their eyes…The other side of the square is so crowded I can’t really see anything but I hear that they are arresting people…We are scattered…This is partly bad because we are so scattered that we can not even say why we are here so that they won’t call all this “a police encounter with women with bad Islamic Hijab”.

On March 4, 2007, 33 women’s rights activists were detainedfor protesting against government pressure being put on women’s rights activists” in the wake of the June 12, 2006 crackdown. More from The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders:

[The women were arrested while] peacefully gathering in front of the Tehran Revolutionary Court to mark International Women’s Day, which [was to] be celebrated on March 8, 2007. They were also protesting against the trials of six women human rights defenders [Nahid Jafari; Sousan Tahmasebi; Parvin Ardalan; Noushin Ahmadi-Khorasani; Shahla Entesari. and Fariba Davoudi-Mohajer] who [were] prosecuted in connection with their participation in the peaceful assembly of June 2006, and with their involvement in the “One million signatures” campaign.

[Update: more from BBC Newsnight, including a brief interview with Delaram Ali:

]

The Observatory requests that the following actions be taken in solidarity with Ali and other detained activists:

Please write to the authorities in Iran urging them to:

  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Delaram Ali as well as all activists engaged in the “One million signatures” campaign;
  2. Suspend the implementation of Ms. Delaram Ali’s sentence, at least until a decision is issued by the Court of Cassation;
  3. Ensure that Ms. Delaram Ali be granted a fair and impartial trial when appealing her sentencing, so that the charges against her be dropped as they seem to merely sanction her human rights activities and as such are arbitrary;
  4. Drop all arbitrary charges against all women’s rights defenders involved in the “One million signatures” campaign;
  5. Put an end to all acts of harassment against all Iranian human rights defenders;
  6. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 5(a), which states that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels, to meet peacefully” and Article 8(2), which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organisations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms”;
  7. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Iran.

Addresses:

  • Leader of the Islamic Republic, His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, The Office of the Supreme Leader, Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran, Faxes: + 98.21.649.5880 / 21.774.2228, Email: info@leader.ir / istiftaa@wilayah.org / webmaster@wilayah.org;
  • President, His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: + 98.21.649.5880, E-mail: dr-ahmadinejad@president.ir;
  • Head of the Judiciary, His Excellency Mr. Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: +98.21.879.6671 / +98 21 3 311 6567, Email: Irjpr@iranjudiciary.com;
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Mr. Manuchehr Motaki, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdolmajid Keshk-e Mesri Av, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: + 98.21.390.1999, Email: matbuat@mfa.gov;
  • Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chemin du Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 7330203, Email: mission.iran@ties.itu.int;
  • Ambassador Mr. Ahani, Embassy of Iran in Brussels, avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 15 A. 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 39 15. Email: iran-embassy@yahoo.com.

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Iran in your respective country.

Contact The Observatory noting any action undertaken, quoting appeal code IRN 004 / 0707 / OBS 073.1 in your reply.

Related: more on the still-ongoing One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality from Change For Equality and Ms. Magazine. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to add your name.

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Equal Opportunity In Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai-Lead Opposition Dissolves Women’s Assembly

by matttbastard

Gender equality is critical to our national development. The MDC, which evolved out of civil society organisations, including women’s groups, is committed to making gender equality a reality. We will eliminate all barriers that prevent women from playing an equal role in society and enjoying equal rights.

The empowerment of women is fundamental to the MDC’s vision of creating a new Zimbabwe in which there is equal opportunity for all.

– Lucia Matibenga, Without gender equality, Zimbabwe on road to nowhere

The Morgan Tsvangirai-lead MDC leadership has recently forsaken this fundamental component of its equal opportunity vision, as eloquently outlined by Matibenga. Lance Guma reports that “[t]he MDC…has dissolved the 24 member Women’s Assembly executive led by trade unionist Lucia Matibenga.” The suprise move may have come as a result of more internal power struggles within the MDC:

Those displeased with the decision say it’s an over-reaction to minor disagreements that are being fanned by people plotting to overthrow Matibenga. It has already been suggested that Theresa Makone, the wife of Ian Makone, is being lined up to replace Matibenga. Her husband Ian recently spent over 4 months in remand prison over cooked up terror charges before a judge freed him accusing the police of manufacturing evidence. Another point raised is that the standing committee has no power to dissolve the women’s assembly executive and was only supposed to make recommendations to the National or Executive Council.

More from Zim Daily:

Impeccable sources say the dissolution of the women’s assembly was preceded by a vote of no confidence passed by provincial chairpersons of the women’s assemblies of the MDC’s 12 provinces at a meeting held at the MDC headquarters at No. 44 Nelson Mandela Avenue in Harare two weeks ago.

Women’s assembly chairperson for Chitungwiza Province Lilian Chinyerere-Mashumba confirmed that provincial chairladies had passed a vote of no confidence in the national assembly led by Matibenga in a move likely to fuel factionalism and worsen emerging divisions in the party.

“We passed a vote of no confidence in the national executive because as provinces we are not happy with way things are going on between the chairperson and the secretary.

“We are convinced now that their personal differences will take us backwards instead of taking the struggle forward”, said Chinyerere-Mashumba who added that 8 out of 12 provinces had voted for the dissolution of the national assembly.

Harare Province women’s assembly chairperson Rorina Dandajena said the Matibenga led assembly was being accused of non-performance, factionalism, and abuse of party funds among other allegations.

[…]

A veteran trade unionist who fought in from the same corner with Tsvangirai during the ugly row and final split of the MDC in 2005 Matibenga said provincial chairpersons had no power to pass a vote of no confidence in the national assembly on their own as they did not constitute the required quorum.

[…]

Those sympathetic to Mativenga suggest that the fact that members of the dissolved executive will be allowed to contest for re-election means the move is not meant to deal with the differences between Mativenga and Masaiti or their non-performance.

They claim it a strategic ploy by a powerful clique in the MDC to reshuffle the women’s assembly and replace Matibenga at the helm with Makone or [women’s assembly secretary general Evelyn] Masaiti who are closer to the top leadership.

A modest politician Matibenga who is popular with the grassroots structures is not known to have powerful allies in the top leadership of the MDC.

As intimated by Zim Daily, the MDC has a contentious history, most famously evidenced by a 2005 post-election schism that split the party into two independent factions–a move that, at the time, some said “undermined its challenge to President Robert Mugabe’s 26-year rule” and has since made Mugabe “stronger than ever.” Earlier this year, both factions (represented by Tsvangirai, who founded the MDC, and Arthur Mutambara respectively)established an uneasy working relationship with the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, voting together to pass a constitutional amendment over strident objections from civil society and co-drafting a new constitution.” (More on Constitutional Amendment 18 from Zimbabwe Journalists.)

Perhaps to mitigate what could further dilute the Zimbabwean opposition, the Tsvangirai faction is convening “a special congress of the women’s assembly on October 28.”

Via LabourStart, in preparation for the October 28th congress, a solidarity campaign in support of Matibenga has been undertaken:

Dear Friends of Lucia,
An injustice to one is an injustice to all of us.
You strike a woman. You strike a rock.

‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is, I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.’ Rebecca West, Suffragist, 1913.

What has Lucia not been through? She has survived several March 11ths. She has survived the horrors of Zanu PF’s tyranny and brutality. She has been a source of our inspiration our leader, the voice of reason that has refused to be cowed out of the peoples struggle. She has remained consistent and steadfast that people and especially marginalised women are who this struggle is all about and for. Lucia is also the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU, first Vice President and the regional President of the Southern African Trade Union Council.

As part of the ongoing campaign by many of us who understand the unfortunate removal of Lucia Matibenga from the national chairpersonship of the MDC Women’s Assembly, we have formed the ‘Friends of Lucia Campaign.’ If you believe in fairness and justice you can be one of us.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has set the date for the illegal women’s congress to be held on the 28th of October. While Mai Mati or Lucy has received nominations and overwhelming support from the grassroots in the party, going into that election without her support base firstly knowing how flawed the process of removing her was, and secondly why she is constantly attacked by MDC patriarchs, would be a gross omission on our part.

Why are they so frightened of Lucia?

Lucia will not benefit from silent support, those who claim to be her friends have to say, enough is enough. Democracy in the MDC will not benefit from silent solidarity. The assault on the Women’s Assembly chair should be viewed within the broader context of women’s liberation and emancipation.

Comrades in South Africa have started to write in support of the MDC women’s struggle, well done to Philile the South African daughter of the slain anti-apartheid activist Siphethelo Mbokazi. Others have sent in heart warming e-mails and text messages. We know we are not alone.

How can you help?

We believe if everyone is encouraged to use the tools and resources within their means, we can run a very effective campaign. To demand the respect for women like Mai Mati. Your solidarity costs nothing just be principled.
What are the objectives of this campaign:

  • Put the women’s agenda back on the agenda.
  • Link up, nationally, regionally and internationally, with other activists, feminists, politicians who share the same aspirations as the female politicians in Zimbabwe.
  • Campaign that women in politics be recognised as grown adults.
    Demand their rightful place in leadership not as a favour but a right.
    Invigorate activists who have endured the backlash from both the patriarchy in their midst and the Robert Mugabe dictatorship.
  • Campaign for an end to all forms of violence against women in politics and Zimbabwe at large. Especially the attack on female politician’s sexuality.
  • Build solidarity with like minded men who are not threatened by what Zimbabwean female politicians stand for.

Grace Kwinjeh, deputy secretary for international relations in the MDC, puts the controversy–and the role of women in the struggle against Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF government–in perspective:

Even before the MDC was formed eight years ago, Zimbabwean women made great strides in fighting for their emancipation. We took on Mugabe before the boys even woke up to their own oppression.

The women’s struggle was led by women like Everjoice Win, Shereen Essof, Priscilla Misihairabwi, Nancy Kachingwe, Yvonne Mahlunge, Isabella Matambanadzo, Thoko Matshe, Janah Ncube, Lydia Zigomo, Rudo Kwaramba, and Sekai Holland, fellow torture survivor and head of the Association of Women’s Clubs. Our first fight was for recognition as equal human beings to our male counterparts.

The Legal Age of Majority Act now recognises us as adults, we can vote, open bank accounts and even marry should we choose to – none of which were possible without the consent of a male connection, be it brother father or uncle. We were perpetual minors.

The Matrimonial Causes Act now recognises our right to own property, independent of our husbands or fathers. After we challenged physical abuse, Parliament passed the Domestic Violence Act. This background made some of us suitable candidates for leadership in the MDC.

At what point, then, did we women become minors once again, answerable to male authority, becoming subjects of agendas that have nothing to do with our empowerment or liberation for that matter?

With the MDC’s attack on its Women’s League, we are relegated once again to second class citizen position. The first contact women like Lucia Matibenga (former head of the MDC women’s league), Sekai Holland and myself have with our bodies each morning after we wake up and take a bath, is the scarring inflicted by Mugabe’s police.

These scars are deep, physical and psychological, but their political significance is that they can be the source of our liberation. They are our badges of honour, marking us as comrades who have been on the frontline facing the enemy head on.

To quote Brownfemipower, “Follow the women. They know the way.”

Flashback: the Mail & Guardian and the AFL-CIO with background on the brutal September 2006 assault on and torture of peaceful ZCTU demonstrators (including Lucia Matibenga) by Zimbabwe security officials; more on the immediate aftermath of the March 11th police crackdown from the NY Times and Human Rights Watch.

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Quote of the Day: “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”

by matttbastard

x-posted @ Comments From Left Field

“The Defence Department is so desperate to validate this broken process that they will disregard just about any concern of judicial economy or fairness to the accused… .

“They write a rule giving Omar a right to appeal, they tell Omar he has a right to appeal, and when he appeals, they claim he doesn’t have a right to appeal — Alice in Wonderland really is the only way to describe it.”

– Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, lead military lawyer for Omar Khadr, commenting on U.S. military judge Peter Brownback’s order that Khadr’s trial “proceed in a “judicious manner,” in spite of a court appeal from Khadr’s lawyers questioning whether the young Canadian can legally be tried at all.”

CP further quotes Kuebler:

The U.S. would never tolerate this kind of treatment for an American, yet the Canadian government continues to agree with the U.S. view that it’s good enough for a Canadian.

In an op-ed published this past June, Maude Barlow, Alex Neve and Roch Tasse noted that:

Despite the controversy surrounding Mr. Khadr and his family, who are well-known for terrorist connections and anti-western rhetoric, there is no justification for the Canadian government’s failure to demand forcefully and publicly, as other U.S. allies have, that his human rights be fully protected, including the right to a fair trial. Our government’s failure to make this public request, and its failure to demand that Guantanamo Bay be shut down immediately, sends a very worrying message to the rest of world about where Canada stands on human rights and international law. And it speaks volumes about the Canadian government’s tendency over these past five years to fail to put human rights at the centre of its relationship with the United States. [emph and link mine]

More from CanWest News on how “Canada is the only western country that has given the U.S. the benefit of the doubt in its treatment of “enemy combatants” being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba… .”

Background: 2006 Rolling Stone profile of Omar Khadr, who has been in Gitmo limbo since 2002 after being captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15; Human Rights Watch: The Omar Khadr Case: A Teenager Imprisoned at Guantanamo.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers