Fair Trade

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

by Crystal Huskey

Globalization has had a profound effect on the world over the course of the past three decades. We are in a very interesting, exciting time.  We are experiencing a technological revolution; it's far from over.  Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina began saying in 2004 that we were "at the end of the beginning" of the information age and that the last 25 years were just "the warm up act".  Technology isn't done with us yet.  We are now living in the formative years of Globalization 3.0 (Friedman, It's a Flat World After All).

We have seen the ugly side of globalization, the economic kick-in-the-butt of out-sourcing and off-shoring.  We have also seen foreign investors, at the advice of the World Bank, buy up businesses in Africa, strip their assets and abandon them.  With the advent of social media and instant access to world events, we know that this system is failing.  Exploiting the developing world is not a nice way to do business.

Ten Thousand Villages employs craftsmen is
isolated areas and provides a sustainable
Enter 3.0.  The next wave will not be large corporations that are only concerned with the bottom line.  It will be social entrepreneurs, intelligent business men and women who want to combine global enterprise with a genuine desire to change the world.

All that to say this: fair trade will be a big part of this movement.  Fair trade has been around a while, but is now becoming more mainstream.  Walmart now carries fair trade coffee, which in essence means, "we pay the laborers in the coffee fields a fair wage and do not exploit them. We create jobs and want to make the world a more fair, equal place for everyone."  Other businesses employ people in isolated areas as craftsmen and sell the wares for a profit in the States, while giving the workers good pay so that they don't have to travel to the cities.  Now wouldn't that be an exciting field to be a part of?

The information age makes us aware of what's happening and lays a responsibility on the consumer that has never been felt before.  Look for Fair Trade labeling on your products.  You will have a more unique product and know that you are helping to change the world.



World Peace?

Friday, December 17, 2010

War as we know it has never made sense to me.  Please don’t misunderstand; I greatly admire the men and women in the military.  I had a dozen friends join the military after 9/11 with the motivation of defending the Americans citizens.  They want to serve and protect.  They choose to be in the line of fire and have good reason to do so.

Image originally from
I have a problem with civilian deaths.  Women and children routinely flee mortar bombs in the Gaza Strip, Iraqi families lose loved ones who play no part in the war on terror, and in the more distant past, thousands of Japanese- half the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - lost, quite literally, everything to two nuclear bombings. And now, with the war on terror, the line between good guys and bad guys is so thin and transparent.  Is that man behind the rubble of a house wrapped in explosives?  Or is he simply anxious because he’s walking past a caravan of soldiers?  Who is the enemy?  Since the beginning of the Second Gulf War there have been over 10,000 civilian deaths.  There have been a little less than 5,000 military casualties.  Most people’s response to this is that civilian deaths are simply a part of war.  It’s the price you have to pay.  It’s just what happens.

Our government knows the price of war.  No one wants civilian deaths.  This is why we impose sanctions and do everything in our power to prevent war in the first place.  And, of course, it’s not just the United States that perpetrates war.  How do you stop the genocides in Sudan and the mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?  Some, like the U.S., aim to promote democracy, get rid of human rights violations and bring freedom to the people.  Some critics accuse the U.S. of having a messiah complex, but doing something is better than doing nothing.  I don’t think anyone would disagree, however, that things have not worked out in Iraq the way the U.S. wanted it to.  

That’s because you can't physically fight an idea, philosophy, religion, or deeply rooted cultural beliefs.
There has to be a different way of doing this.  Not just in Iraq, but anywhere.  We have imposed sanctions on North Korea and Iran.  Still, they threaten.  Still, they actively pursue war.  It’s like they want us to attack them so they can retaliate.  And when I say “they”, I mean Mhamoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il personally, not the people. 

Richard Holbrooke
I don’t know the answer.  I do know that diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who past away this past week, brokered a peace deal to end the war in Bosnia in the late 1990s.  He most recently served under President Obama in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  His last words: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” 

Let’s start with that. 

For more information on the attacks in Gaza, visit this video published by Human Rights Watch:

For information on rockets launched from Gaza, see this:


World Peace for Christmas

Monday, December 13, 2010

Okay, maybe not world peace, but at least a gift to promote peace and goodwill toward men!  As I scour the shops and warehouses for unique Christmas gifts for my kids, family and friends, I have an underlying sense of guilt and waste.  Of course it isn't wrong to give and receive gifts at Christmastime, but I know I personally don't need anything new.  I could probably do with less, actually.  (Except for those really cute rain boots, ahem...)  There are a number of places to shop, virtually and physically, that "give back" as you buy.

Ten Thousand Villages in Atlanta, GA, is a huge fair trade marketplace for handmade crafts and unique gifts from all over the world. You won't walk away with a McGift here!  The name was inspired by a quote by Mahatma Ghandi when he said, "India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages.  We have hardly ever paused to inquire if these folks get sufficient to eat and clothes themselves with."  The Fair Trade Online Store has similar gifts.

Somaly Mam with child trafficking survivors

The Somaly Mam Foundation is an organization founded by a survivor of child trafficking, Somaly Mam.  She has devoted her life to restoring the girls caught in the web of trafficking and bringing an end to this modern day slavery.  Read through the website.  You will be astounded at the things taking place today.  Shop at her Survivor Empowerment Store for gifts created by other survivors, beautiful items like scarves and jewelry.

The International Rescue Committee sells gifts of a different type.  You can purchase mosquito nets, cholera treatment, or carpentry kits for families in need in developing and underdeveloped countries.  MercyCorps offers gift options like this as well.
These are just some of my favorites.

Happy shopping!


BP & Bhopal

Monday, October 25, 2010

BP & Bhopal
By. Parth Chauhan

The headlines on BBC News’ website on September 19th, 2010, read “Gulf oil spill ‘finally sealed,’” putting an end to a five month ordeal for the citizens near the Gulf of Mexico. On April 20th, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by British Petroleum, exploded, leaving eleven workers dead and an uncontrollable fountain of oil gushing into the Gulf. Over the next few months, efforts to cap the leak saw their effectiveness ebb and flow like the tides of the Gulf; the blowout preventer remained unresponsive, the static kill took months, and a “junk shot” failed. It was only until the relief well was completed in September that the leak stopped spewing oil. All in all, the explosion led to 4.9 million barrels being spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The livelihoods of thousands of fishermen, crabbers, tourism-service providers, and other Gulf-residents were threatened, as millions of fish and sea creatures died on the polluted beaches of Louisiana and Alabama. And yet, as the final feet of the relief well was bored, and as the pressure on the well abated, the end of the crisis was realized. The objective had been reached, and the Deepwater Horizon spill was over, never to spew black liquid death again.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an unheard of ecological catastrophe, a disaster whose magnitude is still being grasped. Despite this, all signs point to the Gulf essentially making as full of a recovery as possible. The oil-eating bacteria that helped eat up the crude did not create the dreaded “dead-zone” of oxygen-deprived ocean water; the massive cleanup crews assembled by BP and the US government were able to contain much of the oil before it reached too many beaches; the deaths of the eleven men, while undeniably tragic, was not a calamitous number. Despite all of this, British Petroleum was forced by the US Department of Justice to set aside 20 billion USD for victims, after already spending over 8 billion USD in cleanup and recovery efforts. Pressure from the American public and President Barack Obama led to BP’s announcing of the creation of the fund within two months of the explosion, and within weeks, 319 million USD had already been issued out. Though the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, did step down, further punishments in terms of fines and finding those responsible for the spill are still ongoing processes.
Thus, a British company who victimized the American people came under scrutiny and pressure from the US legal and political system to right its wrongs. This was not the case in Bhopal, India, where an American company was responsible for devastating the region, and yet remained relatively untouched in terms of punishment.
On December 3rd, 1984, a gas cylinder in the Union Carbide pesticide plant reacted with water and exploded, spewing forty tones of poisonous gas over Bhopal, a town of one million people. By the 6th, 8,000 people were killed, and tens of thousands of deaths followed in the next months. The poison’s effects remained in the area, affecting 600,000 people at the time. Even today, the groundwater in Bhopal is likely still contaminated, and the children of the region are known to have disproportionally high rates of many genetic diseases. The exact number of those who became ill, passed away, and were adversely affected by the Union Carbide explosion will never be known, but the area will never be the same again.
Though it occurred over two decades ago, the people of Bhopal are still waiting for justice. In 1989, Union Carbide paid 470 million USD, which amounted to around 783.33 USD per person affected. [In contrast, if the BP fund for the Gulf disaster was allocated equally to all 31 million people living (regardless or not if they were affected by the spill) in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida would receive around 651.70 USD in compensation.] $783.33 was all the money that the victims got to fight off kidney, liver, skin, and brain disease; for those families that lost males, the main breadwinner was replaced by this paltry sum. The Indian government has been slow in dealing with the victims, and legally, India was unable to leverage the US into allowing for Bhopal to file charges in American courts.
When BP’s negligence in the US came to light, the latter immediately forced the gas giant to make amends. However, in a case where an American company neglected to ensure the safety of a foreign nation’s citizenry, the United States refused to force just compensation. Union Carbide’s CEO, Warren Anderson, was not punished by the company or the US; in fact, he was allowed to retire in 1986. His outstanding warrants to be brought in on homicide charges in India have been ignored, as Union Carbide claimed that it does not fall under Indian jurisdiction. The American legal system backed this when, in separate Superior and Supreme Court cases in 2006 and 1993, attempts by Bhopal victims to sue in US courts were dismissed. Thus, the United States government did little to compensate India for the gross negligence of its company’s actions abroad.
The discrepancy and hypocrisy of the United States legal actions towards both incidents are glaring. In one situation, a major environmental disaster became a PR nightmare for the offending, non-American company, with billions of USD being issued in compensation. On the other hand, one of the worst industrial disasters in history, which led to the deaths of thousands, was perpetrated by a US subsidiary that was forced to pay under one thousand dollars per victim. It was a cold welcome to American capitalism.


Connecting Violence with the Illegal Mineral Trade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is violence in Eastern Congo, particularly gender-based violence, directly linked to the illegal trade of minerals? According to in-depth research conducted by the UN and others, in a word, yes. But how? And what can be done about it?

In a past blog, I wrote about the horrible mass rapes that occurred in Eastern Congo. I know, it's not a pleasant topic, and not one most people want to keep close tabs on. It's uncomfortable to read, painful to think about, and disturbing to even begin to try to empathize with. It has been in the news so much lately, however, that pressure is finally coming down on the Congolese government to stop this type of crime.

Eastern Congo is rich in minerals like cassiterite (tin ore), diamonds, gold and coltan, which is used in things from laptop computers to cell phones. The majority of these mines are controlled by rebel groups, foreign and national. To simplify this complicated situation, the rebels and militias are on a mission to control and conquer the villages that exist around the mines so that they have complete control over the minerals themselves. They use rape as a way to subjugate the people. Most families outcast the women once they have been raped and see them as unclean. Many women are unable to have children after the brutal attacks.

Before 1996, much of the DR Congo's resources were in the hands of civilians for trade. In order to fund their war effort, former president Mobutu militarized the mines and other industries, and ever since then more and more have fallen into the hands of rebel militias and the national military. According to a report released by the UN, “Civilians who attempted to resist the theft of their natural resources, or who did not collaborate with those in power, were subjected to attacks. Entire villages were displaced to make way for mineral or timber exploitation and armed groups engaged in massacres, sexual violence and cruel and inhuman treatment in the process. They also attacked and burned villages in order to seize coltan that had been mined artisanally by the residents.” This is apparently what happened in the Northern Kivu province a couple of months ago.

Actress Ashley Judd has taken trips to the Congo and raised awareness about the rape of women and the connection to the illegal mineral trade. She and others have said that we as consumers should stop buying the electronics that use coltan and make our point known to the industries that rely on them. The same UN report mentioned previously agrees with this:

The illicit exploitation of natural resources in the DRC and the accompanying serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law could not have taken place on such a large scale had there not been customers willing to trade in these resources. Indeed, there was never any shortage of foreign buyers willing to handle these goods, despite the existence of reports denouncing the serious violations of international law committed by their trading and financial partners. Buyers included not only traders in the DRC and neighboring countries but also private companies registered in other countries, including multinationals.”

But to say that all that needs to be done is avoid purchasing products with these materials is short-sighted. To make the change final the government has to step up to the plate. Many militias and foreign armies in neighboring countries get their primary income from the resources in the Congo. In 2008 the government lost $450 million to foreign army and militia groups illegally trading resources. In 2009, experts working on the human rights violations from the UN sent 14 letters to the Congolese government with urgent appeals and letters of allegations. The Congolese government is hostile towards human rights workers and their message, labeling them “humanitarian terrorists”. Some of the groups they have labeled include Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Human Rights League, and Global Witness. Multiple journalists and human rights defenders have been murdered in the nation because of their reports of human rights violations, including Bruno Koko Chirambiza, journalist at Radio Star on August 23rd, 2009, Didace Namujimbo (murdered on 21 November 2008) and Serge Maheshe (murdered on 13 June 2007) . There is little cooperation between the government and any human rights work being done, and there will be no progress until the government makes changes. And in order to make changes, they must have money, money they could be getting from regulating the mineral trade.

In 2001, Joseph Kabila became president of the DRC. His father had been president before him by overthrowing former president Mutombo with the aid of Rwanda and other foreign armies. When Joseph Kabila became president, he called for peace between the countries. This is when the UN peacekeepers arrived. By 2003 all foreign forces had been pulled out of the DRC except for those from Rwanda. While the Second Congo War officially ended in 2003, there are still hostilities. It is a war that has had 5.4 million fatalities, more than any other since World War II. It does not all revolve around the illegal mineral trade, but huge changes could begin to be made if the Congolese government began there.

Most information in this blog is pulled from two UN reports. The first is titled “TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND CAPACITY-BUILDING : Second joint report of seven United Nations experts on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ”. It can be found at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/RDCProjetMapping.aspx. The second is titled “Violence linked to natural resource exploitation ” and can be found on the same site under note 5.


President Carter to Travel to Middle East for Peace Negotiations

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Former President Jimmy Carter will be in the Middle East over the next week discussing methods to promote peace, particularly among the Israelis and Palestinians.  He will be joined by his fellow Elders (of the Global Elders, a group of former world leaders) Lakhdar Brahimi, Ela Bhatt, and Mary Robinson. They will be traveling and speaking with key leaders in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

To follow their travels and conversations, follow their blog at:

What an exciting time!  This extraordinary group may be one of the most influential in terms of negotiating peace in the world.  


A Conversation with Susan Johnson, Executive Director of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation

Monday, October 4, 2010

This past Friday, October 1st, I had the privilege of speaking with Susan Johnson, Executive Director of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation based out of Atlanta, GA. The foundation is a major relief effort set up by NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo of the Houston Rockets. Mutombo is a Democratic Republic of Congo native and has been recognized as the “Most Caring Athlete” by USA Today. He founded his organization in 1997, and the foundation's list of accomplishments is vast.

The most significant accomplishment to date is their remarkable Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center, which opened it's doors on December 4th, 2007. Friday morning, Mutombo attended a symposium in the Congo celebrating the opening of a Radiology and Imaging Center, a huge step forward in the way patients will be treated. It is the first of its kind in the Congo and only the fifth in Africa. Many patients come to the hospital with acute strokes, but the hospital was, up until Friday, unable to treat them.

Dikembe Mutombo and his wife
Rose holding the thriving triplets
The hospital, located in the capital city of Kinshasa, has 170 beds, and generally admits between 100-150 people a day. It employs over 400 people. One employee is the father of triplets who were brought to the hospital on the brink of death. Before the existence of the Mutombo hospital, most Congolese felt that if you went to the hospital there would be little chance of coming out alive. 

 The parents of the triplets believed this, and abandoned the newborns. They were treated and restored to 100% health, but the parents were still nowhere to be found. Employees of the hospital were able to track them down and tell them the amazing news that their children were healthy and would survive and thrive, but the father was still distressed. He had no job and no way to pay for the care they received. On the spot, Dikembe Mutombo offered him a job as a janitor at the hospital, complete with medical benefits that would cover the babies' treatment. The parents were so grateful, they named the triplets Biamba, Dikembe, and Mutombo.

A young boy that was
 burned badly, but
was healed at the hospital
The hospital particularly excels in the areas of maternity, orthopedics and pediatrics. They are in a pre-planning stage to build a Center of Excellence on Women's and Children's Health. Saving women and children is a high priority, says Johnson. Last year alone they were able to vaccinate 500 infants and toddlers and provide them with mosquito nets to help prevent malaria. The mosquito nets alone are not enough, she explains. They are in dire need of a vaccine for malaria, a disease that was once eradicated but is now the top health concern in the nation. There is hope for a vaccine by 2015, with trials as early as 2012, according to Joe Cohen, a GlaxoSmithKline researcher.1

Needed interventions for mental health and gender-based violence are under discussion. The hospital will soon be able to perform fistula repair surgery, funded by a recent donation by the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Dr. Leon Mubikayi is an OB/GYN recently brought on to the hospital who specializes in this type of surgery. There will be a group of doctors traveling from Atlanta to begin work in this area.

Discussing this type of surgery with Johnson led to the topic of the mass rapes in Eastern Congo, an area that is almost a three hour flight away from the hospital. Despite a commonly held belief that the Congo is the worst place in the world for a woman to live, Johnson feels that is an accurate portrayal for Eastern Congo, but not necessarily the rest. An entire book by Laura Shannon entitled “A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman” is devoted to that subject.

Eastern Congo is rich in natural resources, and as such is a magnet for greed, corruption, and violence. A UN report released this week confirms the link between the violence, particularly gender-based violence, and conflict minerals. The report is well timed. I have read a number of comments on news sites that argue vehemently that there is no connection the two. I mentioned this to Johnson. Her response was succinct: what else could it be? When the majority of the violence occurs along the trade route used to export illegal minerals, what else could the reason for the violence be? In fact, with a little bit of research it becomes very clear how the two are connected and why, but I will discuss that in my next post.

A village that received solar lights and shoes.
The village renamed itself Mutombo Village

Johnson accompanied a group of high school students in 2008 to the Congo with the mission of bringing solar powered lights to the City of Hope, a place of refuge for IDPs (internally displaced peoples). The lights were battery powered, and it was clear that the Congolese would have difficulty operating the batteries, having never been exposed to them before. The group of 6-8 students, Susan Johnson, and Mr. Mutombo spent the entire night in a cramped hotel room, eating pizza and assembling 2500 lights. The next day, they drove to the village and presented the lights. Their cars got stuck in a quicksand type of terrain, stranding the group in the village until night. Johnson says you have never experienced something so dark as the dark of the Congo. Because of their delay, they were able to witness the lights turn on for the very first, along with the reaction of the village. Upon seeing the lights, Johnson felt that “now we understand the darkness”. The group also distributed shoes from a company called Shoes from the Soul, a Florida charity organization.

The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation is one of a number of humanitarian relief efforts working in the Congo. Sometimes, when there does not seem to be a solution to the conflict in a region, the best a person or organization can do is heal its' victims. The hospital is a true light of hope in a country where darkness dwells and hope can be hard to find.

Female patients and staff


The Congo and Voices of Refugees

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I want to post a quick update on some ongoing research concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well our feature on Voices of Refugees. This coming Monday I will post a fascinating interview featuring the Executive Director of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, Susan Johnson. We will explore the issues the Congo is facing, such as the extreme violence against women and current health issues, along with what the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation is doing to alleviate some of the suffering.

Recently, I have had the privilege of meeting a number of female refugees from the Congo. I have quickly realized that they are in no state to make any type of comments on their experience in their beautiful, yet tragic, home country. One social worker close to the ladies informed me that they have just recently arrived, and are just now at the point where they have stopped simply sitting on the floor and staring at the wall. They have lived a life of terror. It will take much more than a sympathetic ear to begin to heal their wounds. The children adjust quicker than the adults, but the struggles they face upon entering a Western school and lifestyle is overwhelming. It is humbling to witness their quiet strength. I look forward to getting to know these families more and witnessing their metamorphosis as they heal and grow in Peace.  


The edge of the marginalized

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The edge of the marginalized

When a conflict or natural disaster creates refugees or IDP’s there is usually an outpouring of support from people, governments and NGO’s. What happens to the people when support for their displacement has dried up but the problem that caused them to be displaced persists? With limited resources, governments, NGO’s and individuals cannot maintain support for everyone who is displaced for the duration of some conflicts or natural disasters.

Haiti is a situation that garnered the attention and outpouring of support from around the world. But recently more and more reports are coming out that show the aid and support for Haiti’s IDP population has been ineffective and many IDPs are beginning to feel despondent.[i]

Haiti has had a long and violent past[ii], which lead to a very unstable country, prior to the earthquake on January 12 2010. A large group of desperate IDP in Haiti could create conflicts both internally and across their border with the Dominican Republic.

In the past Haitians crossing the border to work in the Dominican Republic have frequently faced a denial of human rights.[iii] With a large number of Haitians living in IDP camps looking for jobs many could cross the border in to the Dominican Republic, straining the local economies. This strain could cause a violent backlash against the Haitian people and create an internal conflict in the Dominican Republic and a border conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

This impending conflict can be avoided if all sides put forth an effort to resettle or alleviate the great deal of stress and want that the IDP in Haiti face.

[i] This blog is too short to include all the insightful reports and articles on this issue, below are the links to the reports.





[ii] http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/haiti.htm

[iii] http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/haitian-migrants-denied-basic-rights-dominican-republic-20070321


Refugees and IDP voices

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Refugee and IDP Voices:
Conflicts create refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) and these are some of the least listen to voices in a clash. True conflict resolution must take in to account the voices and opinions of the people it has misplaced.
Facts and Figures
A Refugee is:
"A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” [i]
In 2009 there were roughly 15.4 million refugees in the world. 45% of the refugee population is believed to be under the age of 18. Afghanistan, Iraq, Somali and Sudan are the largest refugee producing countries.[ii] [iii]
An Internally Displaced Person is:
“Internally displaced persons are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.” [iv]
There are between 26 and 27 million IDP in 55 countries in the world. Colombia, Iraq, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have the largest concentration of IDP populations. Colombia and Sudan both contain roughly 5 million IDP the largest two concentrations of IDP on the planet.[v]

[iii] http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c206.html
[iv] http://www.undp.org/cpr/documents/recovery/DefinitionIDPs.pdf


Update on Gang-Rapes in the Congo

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Update on Gang-Rapes in the Congo
by Crystal
September 8th, 2010
The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is worse than previously suspected, although it is hard to fathom anything much worse. The numbers of women systematically gang-raped has increased from an estimate of around 240 to now closer to 500, all during the same two week time period of July 30th through somewhere around August 14th. The growing number represents small villages in the North and South Kivu provinces that were attacked during the same period of time.
Numerous complaints have been made in online forums concerning the idea that the world does not care what happens in the Congo because there is nothing to gain materially from them. This assumption is wrong. In terms of natural resources, out of all the African countries, the Congo has the most to offer. Interestingly, many of the villages targeted were along the route that is used to traffic illegally extracted minerals. Margot Wallstrom, a UN special envoy on sexual violence in armed conflict, cited horrific accounts from women attacked around Kibua, a village in North Kivu. She reported that “militiamen shoved their hands inside women’s sexual organs to look for hidden gold and that the village was surrounded so that no one could run away.”[1]
Much has been done in the Congo and other African nations to bring the illegal trade of so-called blood diamonds, also called conflict diamonds (diamond that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments[2]) under control and stop the violence, but not enough[3].
All crime has its motivation. The issue of illegal trade serves to understand the motivation behind these heinous acts a little bit more, at least, more so than rape and torture for the sake of rape and torture. There must have been a unifying goal to get so many different militia groups working as one, over such a broad sweep of land, and such a short period of time. Four years ago I worked in a refugee camp in Europe. I recall meeting a group of young girls with beautiful eyes and energetic spirits. When I asked them where they were from, they replied in unison and with great pride, “The Congo!” They were there alone, having escaped to Angola on the back of a pick-up truck with a group of orphans. The war in the Congo has been going on since it first became independent, over forty years ago now. My hope is that as time goes on, the motivation will become known, and a solution found.


Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

September 7, 2010

by Crystal Huskey

Although Sakineh Ashtiani's case is being widely reported this week, I wanted to analyze the situation myself, even if for no other reason than to understand it more personally.

From the news reports, her story is summed up in a few facts:
Sakineh was sentenced to death for the crime of adultery and murder. The files containing the evidence on her husband's murder are missing. She was originally accused of an "illicit relationship" with two men (which occurred after her husband's death) and sentenced to 99 lashes. It wasn't until one of the men previously mentioned was linked to her husband's murder that she was accused of adultery while married and involvement in the murder. Her two children successfully voiced her story to the world and are lobbying to have her released, or at least not stoned.

None of the details of the murder case are available. She confessed under extreme duress and torture. It is not the crimes themselves (or lack thereof) that are at the center of the controversy, but the method of execution. According to www.apostatesofislam.com:
"In stoning to death, the victims's hands are tied behind their backs and their bodies are put in a cloth sack. Then, this human "package" is buried in a hole, with only the victims heads showing above the ground. If its a woman, she is buried upto her shoulders. This is to give her an seemingly equal (but nonetheless impossible) chance to escape recognizing her lesser physical strength. After the hapless individual has been secured in the hole, people start chanting "Allah hu Akbar" (meaning, God is great), and throw palm sized stones at the head of the victim from a certain distance (a circle is drawn). The stones are thrown until the person dies or until he/she escapes out of the hole and crosses the circle. Escaping is impossible, given that the individual's hands are tied behind their backs and they are buried in a hole upto their necks or shoulders (in the case of males and females respectively). Naturally, the procedure is extremely barbaric and bloody."

The events that have taken place this week have particularly astounded me. The Times of London published a picture of what was presumably Ashtiani without the traditional head dress. The Iranian regime declared that it was indecent for her to expose herself in that way, and subjected her to another 99 lashes. The Times claimed that they received the picture from her former lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, who in turn claimed to have received it from Ashtiani's son. There are many questions unanswered here, but I'm sure there is a lot going on behind the scenes that the public does not know about. Mostafaei was reunited with his family in Norway this past Thursday, after being separated from them since fleeing the country. They were previously held as political prisoners in order to place pressure on Mostafaei www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/iran-must-end-harassment-stoning-case-lawyer-2010-07-28).
Many countries and groups have loudly declared their opposition to what is happening to Sakineh, including France, Brazil, and the Vatican. It is not simply a cry against one woman’s inhumane treatment, involving torture, threats, and ultimately a slow and painful death, but the lack of basic human rights being given to prisoners, whether political or criminal. Hopefully this can become a rallying point that will change the ways of the Iranian government and the future of its citizens.

For more information and ways to help Sakineh, visit www.freesakineh.org or http://www.facebook.com/savesakineh
For Amnesty International’s view on stoning in Iran, visit http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/campaigning-end-stoning-iran-20080115


Nearly 200 Women Gang-Raped Near UN Congo Base

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nearly 200 Women Gang-Raped Near UN Congo Base
August 24, 2010 Crystal Huskey

On July 30, 2010, a series of breathtakingly atrocious crimes were committed against 200 women and four baby boys, ages one month, 6 months, one year and 18 month. Rwandan and Congelese rebels raped, pillaged, and plundered their way through a number of villages only a few miles away from a U.N. peacekeeping base. Now, more than three weeks later, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo has no statement to issue about the events.
The rebels blockaded the roads, keeping the victims in and the peacekeepers out. On top of that, there were only 25 peacekeepers stationed there. They were no match against the 200 to 400 rebels occupying the towns.
Many of the rebels were from the FDLR, the group that committed the mass genocide in 1994 in Rwanda. They fled to the Congo, and have been terrorizing the population there ever since. According to the survivors, they were accompanied by the Mai-Mai rebels. Mai-Mai is a term referring to basically any militia based group active in the Second Congo War (1998-2003) and its aftermath. Most were formed to resist the invasion of Rwandan forces and their affiliated Congolese rebel groups.
Last year, 8,300 rapes were reported in Eastern Congo, and many more cases are believed to be unreported. Using rape as a weapon has become shockingly commonplace in Africa. According to the International Rescue Committee, one of the primary aid organizations for survivors of rape in the Congo, “rape is used as a weapon of war in Congo. Armed groups rape to terrorize and control women and communities and to humiliate families. It’s calculated and it’s brutal. The International Rescue Committee is focusing on emergency care, counseling, prevention, advocacy and other support for survivors.
A 2007 report in the New York Times describes the scene in Congo well by interviewing a gynecologist in a Congo hospital. "We don't know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear," says Dr Mukwege who works in south Kivu province, the epicenter of Congo's rape epidemic. "They are doing this to destroy women." According to John Holmes, the United Nations Undersecretary of Humanitarian Affairs, the sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world. That seems to be an understatement. The escalation of rape in the Congo took off in the 1990s, a direct correlation to the waves of Hutu militiamen who escaped into the Congo forest after the genocide in Rwanda.
The problem is much bigger than the resources devoted to it and is escalating every day. The following aid groups are doing work in the region to support the victims of rape.
International Rescue Committee – www.theirc.org
Eastern Congo Initiative – www.easterncongo.org


Saudi Arabia and Women’s Rights

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The women’s Rights issue in the Saudi Kingdom has always been a sensitive and much deliberated one both within the watchful eyes of the International community and amongst feminist groups. It always brings to fore the moot question of sharia laws and fundamental questions of Human Rights.
In January 2010, Sawsan Salim was sentenced to 300 lashes and one and half year imprisonment by a Saudi Court on charges of making “spurious complaints” against government officials and for “appearing without a male guardian in court”.

The verdict reflects the discriminatory system of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia, in which women are prohibited from many acts without the presence of a male guardian.[1]
Cases likes Salim’ s is not uncommon in the Kingdom. There have been numerous cases some which have been brought to light under the watchful eyes of the International Human Rights groups.

One of the high profile cases involves Fatima Azzaz who had to fight to live with her legal husband and her children after her family tried to force them to divorce. Eventually the Saudi Human rights commission and the Supreme judicial council had to intervene.[2]

Human Rights in Saudi Arabia like many Islamic Nations are based on sharia laws. Most often than not the laws transcends many forms of Human rights including those related to women. The kingdom itself ratified the International convention against Torture in October 1997 according to the office of the UN high commissioner for Human rights but the courts here continued to mete out corporal punishments including amputations and floggings.

These actions have been repeatedly condemned by the United Nation’s committee against Torture. Saudi Arabia also engages in capital punishments including public executions by beheading. Beheading is the punishment for murderers, rapists, drug traffickers and armed robbers, according to strict interpretation of Islamic Law.In 2005 there were 191 executions, in 2006 there were 38, in 2007 there were 153, and in 2008 there were 102.[3] .

The government has not set a minimum age for a girls marriage nor has it any ways undertaken measures to put limits to forces and early child marriages. Marriages of Saudi girls as young as 10 to much older men were reported in 2008, although the Human Rights Commission intervened in one such case to delay the marriage for five years.[4]

In a country where female students outnumber men at Universities, It is indeed ironic that the same does not apply to them in the mainstream workforce. They are not allowed to work or study at places which does not have separate female sections.The ministry of justice also denies women the right to become judges or prosecutors.

In contrast the situation is definitely better in terms of political participation and civil liberties in other Gulf countries .In Kuwait for example women gained the right to vote and stand for election in 2005 and last year in a historic electorate elected four female parliamentarians. Oman became the first Gulf country to give its women the right to vote in 1994. Bahrain and Qatar also have some minimal representation of women to public offices. Barring some insignificant transitions to political representation of Women in these countries it still remains an upheaval task for the Human Right and the feminist groups to progress on much of the aforesaid issues.

It’s not uncommon otherwise to come across a Salim or Fatima’s Story somewhere maybe provoking a thought or two in the minds of all those who read it but for the millions of women who continue to bear the brunt of it everyday it’s the life they live everyday……….

[1] Human Rights Watch” Saudi Arabia, Free Woman who sought court Aid “March 2 2010.
[2] ["http://thereport.amnesty.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/saudi-arabia#death-penalty" "Amnesty International Report 2009, Saudi Arabia"]. Amnesty International. "http://thereport.amnesty.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/saudi-arabia#death-penalty". Retrieved 2009-08-17.
[3] Human Rights Watch, report, 2008.


Potential Prisoner Swap with Iran

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Three American freelance journalists, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, are being held in Iran for illegally crossing the border and for allegedly being spies. They have been in detention since July 31, 2009 and on February 2nd, 2010 Iranian president Ahmadinejad proposed a prisoner exchange.

The three entered Iraq on July 28th, 2009 and travelled to an Iraqi tourist resort, Ahmad Awa, that is on the border with Iran. While they were hiking near Halabja, part of Iraqi Kurdistan, they crossed the border into Iran. The border between Kurdish Iraq and Iran is said to be unclear. (1)

They said they made “a simple and regrettable mistake” when they crossed the border, according to their friend Shon Meckfessel who spoke with Bauer that morning. They also did not know they were that near the border, stated Meckfessel. (2)

The Iranian government, however, accuses them of disregarding warnings from guards and originally held them for illegally crossing the border. (3)

In November 2009, three months after their detention, it was publicly announced by Tehran's prosecutor general, Abbas Ja'afari Dolatabadi, that they would be charged with espionage. "We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever," stated U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. (4)

Since the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, Swiss diplomats served as a mediator and met with the Americans to call for their release. The three were last seen by Swiss diplomats on October 29th, 2009. They seemed to be nervous and scared, but otherwise were in good physical and psychological health, a senior State Department official told CNN. (5)

They still have not been tried in court. Iran's foreign minister never stated when a trial would begin and never stated exactly what they would be charged with other than that their intentions were “suspicious.” In January, their families hired an Iranian attorney to rush the case because they feel that the alleged charges are “ludicrous.” (6)

On February 2nd, Ahmadinejad stated in an interview with state TV that there were negotiations about exchanging the hikers for 11 Iranians being held in the United States. "I had said I would help in releasing them, but the attitude of some of U.S. officials damages the job," said Ahmadinejad. "There are a large number of Iranians in prison in the U.S. They have abducted some of our citizens in other countries." (7)

The negotiations did not start and it is not guaranteed that the prisoner exchange will go through.

"There are no negotiations taking place between the United States and Iran. We believe they should unilaterally release our detained citizens," said Clinton after meeting with Bahrain's foreign minister. (8)

A reason against the swap, according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, is that there is not an “equivalence between the hikers and Iranians that had left Iran.” (9)

The three Americans crossed an unspecified border while the Iranian citizens that are in the held in the U.S. “have been indicted and/or convicted of arms trafficking in violation of international law,” said Crowley. (10)

Going through with a prisoner swap would release three Americans, but the flipside of the coin is that it would also release 11 Iranians who are suspected of or have been found to play a role in assisting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Only three of the eleven have been tried. (11)

For those who want to press the release of the three Americans, with or without a prisoner swap, there is a petition they can sign. Freethehikers.org has more information about the Americans and the petition.

1 BBC News Online, “US concern as Iran holds Tourists.” 1 August 2009: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8180081.stm
2 CNN Online, “Iran to charge 3 American hikers with espionage, says prosecutor.” 9 November 2009: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/11/09/iran.hikers/index.html
3 US concern as Iran holds Tourists.”
4 “Iran to charge 3 American hikers with espionage, says prosecutor”
5 “Iran to charge 3 American hikers with espionage, says prosecutor”
6 Karimi, Nasser. “Ahmadinejad proposes prisoner swap for US hikers.” Yahoo! News, 2 February 2010: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100202/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iran_us_hikers
7 Karimi
8 BBC News Online, “Hilary Clinton rejects US-Iran prisoner swap proposal.” 3 February 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8497363.stm
9 Karimi
10 “Hilary Clinton rejects US-Iran prisoner swap proposal”
11 Karimi


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