NEWS - Archive March 2008

ANTI MUSLIM FILM BY DUTCH FAR - RIGHT POLITICIAN

Headlines 28 March, 2008

Headlines 21 March, 2008

International Action Week Against Racism 2008

Headlines 14 March, 2008

INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY 2008

Headlines 7 March, 2008

ANTI MUSLIM FILM BY DUTCH FAR - RIGHT POLITICIAN

MUSLIM STATES SLAM DUTCH AT UN ON ISLAMOPHOBIA, FILM

15/4/2008- Muslim countries led by Iran and Pakistan called on the Netherlands on Tuesday to combat what they called rising Islamophobia and discrimination against immigrants in Dutch society. Condemning a film released by Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders that accuses the Koran of condoning violence, they also urged Dutch authorities to prosecute its author for inciting hatred against Muslims. The video "Fitna", launched last month on the Internet, urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" verses from the Koran and starts and ends with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, accompanied by a ticking sound. "Despite an impressive array of (Dutch) laws and an elaborate framework to combat racism and xenophobia, recent actions by individuals to incite racial hatred and religious intolerance have shocked Muslims around the world," Pakistan's ambassador Masood Khan told the U.N. Human Rights Council. "A defamatory documentary released by a Dutch parliamentarian intended to demonise Muslims and distort the message of the Koran has been widely condemned," he said, referring to the leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party. Khan called on the Dutch government to complete its investigation into the film's release and to prosecute the author for "inciting hatred against Muslims in the Netherlands and all around the world". Iran's ambassador Alireza Moaiyeri also denounced discrimination against minorities in the Netherlands. The most recent example was "attacking Islam through the making of a defamatory film against the holy Koran as a vivid example of Islamophobia and incitement to racial and religious hatred".

Nebahat Albayrak, Dutch state secretary for justice and one of two Muslims in the cabinet, told the Geneva forum her government had opposed the release of the film. Albayrak, who is Turkish-born, said her government was drawing up a plan to combat racial discrimination on the labour market, in law enforcement, criminal investigation and on the Internet. "Combating prejudice and respecting freedom of Muslims to practice their religion are key themes of our integration policies," she said. "The Dutch government strongly believes that fostering inter-action (between communities) will help us to combat discrimination and Islamophobia," she added. The Dutch public prosecutor was investigating a possible criminal offence in connection with the film, she added. Dutch Muslims have defended freedom of expression as a fundamental right of Dutch society, she said. (Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Ibon Villelabeitia)
© Reuters

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NATIONAL PARTY SCREENS ANTI-ISLAMIC FILM(Czech Rep.)

15/4/2008- The Czech extra-parliamentary extremist National Party (NS) presented the controversial anti-Islamic film Fitna of Dutch ultra-right MP Geert Wilders in Hradec Kralove Tuesday. Over 20 people attended the screening. On this occasion, Pavel Sedlacek from the NS pointed to the alleged danger of Islamisation and he mentioned demonstrations in the Czech Republic and abroad against it. Only several people took part in the debate. One of them said problems with the Islamisation of society should be solved on the official level. "You must call on politicians to start dealing with it," he said. Sedlacek objected that one cannot rely on politicians in this respect. The local branch of the NS, which was officially registered in 2002, also screened the film Ahmed - Dead Terrorist and offered T-shirts and papers to the audience tonight. The NS has released Wilders's film called Fitna, an Arabic word used to describe discord, on its website. "A total of 26,000 people have seen the film, a half of them from Germany and Austria. People from 71 countries have watched it on our website," Sedlacek said. The police organised crime squad (UOOZ) started investigating the film's release on the NS's Internet page to check whether the film's content is in compliance with Czech law. UOOZ spokesman Pavel Hantak told CTK that the investigation had not been completed yet. The film describes the Koran as a book that provokes intolerance, murders and violence, and it ends up with the slogan: "Stop Islamisation. Defend Our Freedom." The film, released in March, met with sharp criticism in the Muslim world. The Dutch TV channels refused to broadcast it. The authorities expressed fears that the film might stir up violent protests in Muslim countries similar to those that followed after the publication of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in Danish papers two years ago.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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PM ASTONISHED BY FITNA DEBATE REACTIONS(Netherlands)

4/4/2008- Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende said on Friday that he was astonished by the reactions to this week's parliamentary debate on Geert Wilders' anti-Koran film Fitna. During Tuesday's debate, ministers made public cabinet documents which proved that Wilders had been planning to show pages being torn from the Koran in his film. The notes were made after meetings between ministers and Wilders last year. But Wilders described the notes as rubbish and accused ministers of lying. Speaking on the fringes of the Nato summit in Bucharest, Balkenende said he had never come across such a reaction to official documents during his years as prime minister. It was not a question of differing interpretation of the facts, he said. The notes are 'as clear as day'. Justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin and home affairs minister Guusje ter Horst, who were also at the meeting, also denied Wilders' accusations. 'It is the facts that count,' said Hirsch Ballin. 'There is nothing untrue about my statement.' A number of online polls show that many people believe Wilders rather than the ministers is telling the truth. Furthermore, independent MP Rita Verdonk had got it 'quite wrong' when she accused him of weakening the right to freedom of expression in the Fitna affair, Balkenende said. The cabinet had put nothing in the way of the film's release, he argued. 'We are pleased that we were so well prepared, but that has nothing to do with freedom of expression,' news agency ANP reported the prime minister as saying.
© Dutch News

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FITNA DEBATE TURNS CONFRONTATIONAL(Netherlands)

Lower House debate on Tuesday night on the film turned into a huge confrontation between Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders and the government.

2/4/2008- The Lower House debate on Tuesday night on the anti-Qur'an film Fitna turned into a huge confrontation between Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders and the government. The debate was called to question why prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende felt it necessary to make a televised statement on the same evening the film went on line. During the debate confidential documents were released in which a meeting in early November between Wilders, the justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin and interior minister Guusje Ter Horst was recorded. The document clearly states that the government ministers were concerned about the end of the film in which Wilders planned to tear out verses or suras from the Qu'ran and throw them into a fireplace. The documents were released at the request of MPs after the Freedom Party leader disputed that he had told the government ministers anything about the content of the film. Wilders gave his permission. The documents threw a new light on why the government had called the situation a "crisis" and warned about possible "attacks". Wilders became furious, "I am being taken for a ride, taken for a ride by the minister. This is deception. Lies." Minister Hirsch Ballin suggested that the film had been adapted after their meeting, as the penultimate scene shows a hand grabbing a page in the Qur'an and as the screen goes blank the viewer sees the message that the tearing sounds they are hearing are pages from a phone book. Wilders came under fire during his five minutes speaking time in the emergency debate, which after interruptions lasted two hours. Almost all MPs accused him of lumping all Muslims together and not providing any solutions. There was broad support for the way in which the government had handled the whole affair. A motion of no-confidence submitted by Wilders was only supported by his own party. During the debate, Wilders demanded that the prime minister apologise for the alarmist reaction to the film before he or anyone else had seen any part of it. Prime minister Balkenende said it was Wilders that should apologise to all Muslims of good will, who reacted moderately to Fitna.
© Radio Netherlands

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MALAYSIAN-DUTCH FIRM SLAMS ANTI-ISLAM FILM, APPEALS TO MUSLIMS NOT TO BOYCOTT

2/4/2008- A Malaysian-Dutch dairy producer took out newspaper advertisements Wednesday to denounce an anti-Islam film by a Dutch lawmaker, an apparent appeal to Muslims to not boycott its products. Malaysia's religious council and several Muslim groups in the country have called on Muslims to boycott Dutch goods to protest the 15-minute movie by right-wing politician Geert Wilders, saying the film creates unnecessary tensions and misleads viewers to link Islam and violence. In full-page announcements in major newspapers, as well as on its Web site, Dutch Lady Milk Industries said it wanted to "strongly condemn this expression against Islam" by Wilders. Dutch multinational firm Royal Friesland Foods owns a 50 percent stake in Dutch Lady and the remainder of the dairy produce company is owned by Malaysians. The second largest shareholder is state investment agency Permodalan Nasional Berhad. The advertisements pointed out that Dutch Lady is 50 percent owned by Malaysians, employs 660 Malaysians and manufactures its dairy products locally. Its brands include Dutch Lady, Frisian Flag, Frisolac, Calcimex and Joy. "We are part of the Malaysian community and respect all its cultures as its own. We look forward to your continued support and will always cherish the values that we share," chairman Kamarul Ariffin Mohamad Yassin said in the advertisement. The Malaysian supermarket chain Mydin has marked Dutch products with red labels to give customers the option of boycotting them. Mydin buys 60 million ringgit (US$18.8 million; €12 million) worth of Dutch goods a year. Dutch Ambassador Lody Embrechts said Tuesday that the film's release was regrettable but has called on people to refrain from boycotting Dutch goods and engage in dialogue instead. Malaysia's Foreign Ministry has strongly condemned the film as disrespectful and insensitive. Some 60 percent of the country's 27 million people are Muslims. The film, titled "Fitna," or "ordeal" in Arabic, was posted online Thursday. Though it was removed from the site LiveLeak.com on Friday, it has since been available on other file-sharing sites.
© International Herald Tribune

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FAIR STRONGLY CONDEMNS GEERT WILDER’S FILM 'FITNA'(Press release)

31/3/2008- The moral simplicity and pure self-publicising opportunism of Geert Wilder's film is outrageous, and the mental gutter into which he has dragged intellectual discourse a sad reflection of the state into which Islamophobes have sunk. Projecting himself the upright, respectable citizen, Wilder sees his crusade as a noble cause, an important exposition of some high-minded “truths” regarding Islam, the Qur’an, and Muslims. In reality there is no shortage of fallacious comment, faulty logic, outright lies, and exaggerated distortion. Wilder’s film is little more than an attempt to divide communities through heavily playing on people’s deepest fears and emotions, generating anger, and inciting hatred. Like all racists and extremists, he seems oblivious to the fact that his film is also threatening the safety and security of vulnerable groups, damaging community cohesion and threatening national interests. FAIR is delighted that Muslims have upheld the true message and ethics of Islam by responding peacefully and with measured thought to the film. We strongly urge all right-minded and just people to do the same. FAIR also thanks all those people in the Netherlands and elsewhere who have rightly condemned the film, including those in the media who have refused to either air it or post it on websites. It seems that the quickest route to personal fame these days is to be a virulent Islamophobe.
© FAIR

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CARTOONIST RETALIATES(Denmark)

1/4/2008- Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist behind the infamous Mohammed prophet caricature with the bomb in his turban, has drawn a controversial Dutch politician with a bomb in his hair, reports Politiken newspaper. The caricature has come in the wake of Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician's release last week of a provocative anti-Islam film, 'Fitna', which featured Westergaard's illustration without the artist's consent. Aside from a bomb in his hair, Wilders is portrayed behind a yellow and white striped police line holding a sign saying: 'Danger! Freedom of expression'. The illustration was published on the Dutch news site nieuwnieuws.nl. After much pressure by the Danish Union of Journalist, Wilders agreed to remove the caricature from his film, but Westergaard has nevertheless decided to continue with a lawsuit.
© The Copenhagen Post

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AUSTRALIA SAYS DUTCH ANTI-ISLAM MOVIE SEEKS TO INCITE HATRED

30/3/2008- Australia condemned a Dutch lawmaker's anti-Quran film Sunday, with the foreign minister calling it "highly offensive." Foreign Minister Stephen Smith rejected the film's premise of equating Islam with acts of terror and violence. "It is an obvious attempt to generate discord between faith communities," Smith said. "I strongly reject the ideas contained in the film and deplore its release." Geert Wilders' 15-minute film, titled "Fitna," or "Ordeal" in Arabic, was posted online Thursday but removed from the site, LiveLeak.com, a day later. It has since been widely dispersed on other file-sharing sites. Muslim nations, the European Union and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have all expressed outrage over the film, which has sparked noisy street protests in many Islamic nations. "In Australia we believe in the right to freedom of expression but we don't believe in abusing that right to incite racial hatred," Smith said. Smith called for restraint in reactions.
© International Herald Tribune

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ANTI-ISLAM MOVIE PROVOKES DEMONSTRATIONS IN PAKISTAN

Others condemn Dutch legislator's provocative images 

29/3/2008- Hundreds of Muslims marched yesterday in Pakistan and denounced a Dutch legislator’s film that portrays Islam as a ticking time bomb aimed at the West. Dutch Muslims were more restrained, saying they had expected worse. The 15-minute film - titled Fitna, or Strife in Arabic - was made by anti-immigrant legislator Geert Wilders and was posted on a Web site Thursday. The host site, LiveLeak.com, removed the film last night, citing threats to its staff “of a very serious nature.” But the film already had been widely dispersed across the Internet on file-sharing sites. Employing elements and symbols calculated to offend Muslims, it draws on recycled footage of terrorist attacks and anti-Western, anti-Jewish rhetoric meant to alarm the native Dutch. The film begins with the Danish cartoon image of Muhammad with a fuse in his turban - an image that provoked violent protests in Islamic countries when it was published by European newspapers two years ago. The same image appears at the end of film, although the fuse is lit and a ticking clock counts down the seconds, then fades into blackness broken by flashes of lightning and thunder. In another provocative image, a hand turns a page of the Quran as the screen darkens and the sound of tearing paper is heard. A printed text says that it is a telephone book being torn, and adds: “It is not up to me, but to Muslims themselves to tear out the hateful verses from the Quran.” The film concludes with a scrolling text saying that the West had defeated the Nazis and communism, and now must defeat an Islam that “wants to dominate, subject and seeks to destroy our Western civilization.” Wilders told reporters that he made the film because “Islam and the Quran are dangers to the preservation of freedom in the Netherlands.” He says in the film that Islam’s objective is to rule the world and impose an Islamic order without Western freedoms, where gays would be persecuted and women discriminated against. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned the Dutch ambassador to deliver an official complaint. Small groups of demonstrators, mostly followers of hard-line religious groups, rallied in Pakistan’s major cities, demanding that Pakistan cut diplomatic relations with the Netherlands. A banner at one demonstration read: “We hate the uncivilized West.” Condemnations also came from the government of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Iran and Jordan. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the movie.
© Associated Press

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LOUISE ARBOUR CONDEMNS WILDERS' FILM AND CALLS FOR APPROPRIATE LEGAL RESPONSES

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour issued the following statement today:

28/3/2008- "I join in the condemnation, as expressed by the Secretary-General and the three UN Special Rapporteurs, of the tone and content of the film 'Fitna' by Geert Wilders, and I urge all those who understandably feel profoundly offended by its provocative message to restrict themselves to denouncing its hateful content by peaceful means. "There is a protective legal framework, and the resolution of the controversy that this film will generate should take place within it. "I therefore also urge lawmakers everywhere to discharge their responsibility under Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They should offer strong protective measures to all forms of freedom of expression, while at the same time enacting appropriate restrictions, as necessary, to protect the rights of others. Equally, they should prohibit any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence."

Human rights experts condemn distorted vision of Muslims in the film 'Fitna' and call for dialogue and vigilance

Three UN Special Rapporteurs today issued a joint statement criticizing the provocative nature of a film depicting an extremely distorted vision of Muslims, and urging a calm and measured response to its release. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diène; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir; and the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, issued the following statement:

"We condemn the tone and content of the online film by Dutch Member of Parliament, Mr. Geert Wilders, which was released on the Internet yesterday. The film 'Fitna' illustrates an increasing pattern that associates Muslims exclusively with violence and terrorism. It is crucial that efforts be made by Governments to stop this pattern and take urgent measures to prevent incitement to racial and religious hatred which is a major threat to peace and social cohesion. While on the one hand, freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that must be respected, it does not extend to include incitement to racial or religious hatred which is itself clearly a violation of human rights. Public expressions that paint adherents of a particular religion as a threat to peace or global stability are irresponsible."

"We would like to make a special call for vigilance and tolerance. Following the publication of the controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in September 2005, we urged all parties to refrain from any form of violence and to avoid fuelling hatred.* Furthermore, we encouraged States to promote the interrelated and indivisible nature of human rights and freedoms, and to advocate the use of legal remedies. We also called on them to pursue a peaceful dialogue on matters which go to the heart of all multicultural societies. We reiterate those calls now."

"We recognize the quick and balanced reaction of the Dutch Government to the release of this film in which it rejects the equation of Islam with violence and notes that the vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. As Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council, we call upon all national and international human rights bodies and mechanisms to urgently initiate a debate on the best way to ensure the complementarity and balance of the fundamental rights of freedom of religion or belief and
freedom of expression as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We believe that enhanced efforts to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue may help to restrain any possible violent reaction."
© UN News service

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UN CHIEF CONDEMNS ANTI-ISLAM FILM

28/3/2008- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned a controversial film on Islam made by a Dutch politician, calling it "offensively anti-Islamic". Several Muslim countries have also condemned the film, a 15-minute polemic by the far-right MP Geert Wilder, which was posted online on Thursday. Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran and Bangladesh were among those to protest. The film sets verses from the Koran against a background of violent images from terror attacks. "I condemn, in the strongest terms, the airing of Geert Wilders' offensively anti-Islamic film," Mr Ban said in a statement. "The right of free expression is not at stake here," he added. "Freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility." The EU's Slovenian presidency said the film served no purpose other than "inflaming hatred".

'Defamatory'
In Pakistan there were small protests in several places on Friday against the film, while the government summoned the Dutch ambassador in Islamabad to lodge a protest. The country's foreign ministry said the film was defamatory and "deeply offended" Muslim sentiments. Pakistan said it told the Dutch ambassador that it was incumbent on the Netherlands to prosecute Mr Wilders for defamation and deliberately hurting Muslim sentiments, the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported. The world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, also condemned the film, saying it was "misleading and full of racism". The foreign ministry in Bangladesh issued a statement calling the film "unwarranted" and "mindless". Iran said it was blasphemous, anti-Islamic and heinous - a sign it said of deep hatred felt by Westerners towards Muslims. In the Netherlands, Mr Wilders has said he is happy with what he sees as the relatively positive domestic reaction to his film. But the Dutch prime minister said the film wrongly equated Islam with violence. "We reject this interpretation," Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said shortly before its publication. "The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence and in fact the victims are often also Muslims."
© BBC News

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RELIEF OVER DUTCH MP'S ANTI-ISLAM FILM

28/3/2008- The initial reaction in the Netherlands following the long-awaited showing of right-wing politician Geert Wilders' anti-Islam film Fitna is one of relief. Commentators are almost unanimous in their assessment that the internet video is much less inflammatory than expected. Mr Wilders himself called the film "respectable" saying he wanted it to spark debate - others said it was "nothing new". Public opinion has been restrained, with no demonstrations or riots. Comments posted to popular websites like that of De Telegraaf - the Netherlands' best selling newspaper - are mixed. "It seems to me that this will not lead to problems for Mr Wilders or the Netherlands, it was a mess, just separate fragments linked together. It was nothing more than what Wilders always says, in fact it was toned down," writes Simon from Amsterdam.

Support
Frank in Utrecht had this to say: "I'm no fan of Wilders but when you see things as laid out in this film you get a clear picture. It will make a lot of people think, and luckily thinking has never done anyone any harm." There were also many messages of support for Mr Wilders with people saying they felt he was addressing issues other politicians are afraid to talk about - those being Islam and integration. In their reactions, different Dutch Muslim organisations expressed a similar sense of relief. "The worries that I and Dutch society had about riots and that sort of thing are now considerably reduced," said Brahim Bourzik from the National Moroccan Council. However, there was criticism from Muslim groups, which say that Mr Wilders is painting an image of all Muslims as extremists. "The film is not as shocking as we thought it was going to be. We haven't had phone calls from our community that people are offended by this. "But having said that, we think the images are repulsive, totally terrible. They are images that have already gone down in history as the deeds of criminals - they are responsible for these acts, not Islam," said Fouad Sidali from the Co-operation of Moroccans in the Netherlands.

Graphic images
The film, whose title Fitna means 'Ordeal' or 'Strife' in Arabic, shows verses of the Koran alternating with graphic scenes of recent atrocities: the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the charred bodies of train passengers bombed in Madrid and gruesome images from attacks in London and Somalia. The 15-minute production quotes the Koran - Surah Four, verse 56 - as saying: "Those who have disbelieved our signs, we shall roast them in Hell." Mr Wilders' message is clear: be warned because Islam's true purpose is to conquer the world and destroy our freedom and democratic systems. Towards the end, a hand is shown grabbing a page of the Koran. The image is accompanied by the sound of tearing paper. The screen then goes blank and subtitles explain that the sound was that of a page being torn from a telephone book. Mr Wilders then declares that it is not up to him to tear malicious verses out of the Koran, but that Muslims themselves must do that. In a press statement issued, unusually in English as well as Dutch, just a few hours after the film appeared on the internet, the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende criticised the showing of the film. "The film equates Islam with violence, we reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence and in fact the victims are often also Muslims. "We therefore regret that Mr Wilders has released this film, we believe it serves no other purpose than to cause offence."

Maurits Berger, an expert on Islam from Leiden University, shares the view that the film is milder than expected, but he says there could still be problems. "I'm worried about what I call the Salman Rushdie effect - then, having not read the book was no bar to protest and that could be the case here," he said. "It may be that people will protest against 'the anti-Muslim' film without ever having seen it - so there is still need for caution." Most experts believe that the film will not get Mr Wilders into legal problems, saying it is not discriminatory in the legal sense. But the government says it will look at this issue and a mistake in the film may well see the member of parliament in hot water. A photograph of the rapper Salah Edin was mistakenly used as the photo of Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh. The rapper is consulting his lawyers. And the Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, is suing Mr Wilders through the Danish Union of Journalists, alleging he infringed copyright by using a cartoon of his without permission. The cartoon depicts the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Despite the mild reactions to the film, the co-ordinator for terrorism prevention, Tjibbe Joustra, is keeping the level of terrorist threat at "substantial". This is the second-highest level in the Netherlands.
© BBC News

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'FITNA' PREMIER FAILS TO SHOCK(Netherlands)

28/3/2008- Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders' highly anticipated anti-Islam film "Fitna" was released last night. The 16-minute-30-second film, which sparked so much furor well ahead of its release, did not make the grand entry that many anticipated. It was released on the British Web site www.liveleak.com and more than 2 million viewers, who experienced long uploading times, watched the Dutch and English versions in the first few hours after its release. The film opens with one of the infamous prophet Muhammad cartoons, followed by footage of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the 2004 Madrid bombings. The footage is interspersed with purported translations from the Koran. The film relies on provocative anti-Western speeches by extremist imams. The entire film is underscored at times by the Arabian Dance from the Nutcracker ballet. One passage is laden with anti-Semitic quotes. Mr. Wilders has close ties to Israel, which he claims to have visited at least 40 times. Many of his political opponents have accused him of defending Israel's interests in the Dutch parliament, a claim he has always rebuffed. Yet the film, which contains more footage of terrorism, was not as shocking as expected. "It's a series of images and photos, headlines from recent years which we already know," Maurits Berger, a professor of Islam in the West at Leiden University told the Associated Press. The expected shot of a page being torn out of the Koran — a strictly forbidden act in the Muslim world — was omitted, though implied by a simulated ripping noise over a black screen followed by the text: "The sound you heard was a page being ripped from the phone book. For it is not up to me, but Muslims themselves to tear out the hateful pages from the Quran." The film was originally supposed to be released today on Mr. Wilders' Web site, www.fitnathemovie.com. But the release appeared to have been delayed after Network Solutions, the American host of the Web site, took it down Monday.

Mr. Wilders then said on his blog: "It will definitely be aired by April 1, and, no, it's not an April fool's joke." Network Solutions reportedly wanted to see the film before posting it. Mr. Wilders previously turned down a similar request from Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. Meanwhile, a right-wing party in the Czech Republic had offered to host the film on its Web site, a newspaper reported this week. The National Party said its National Guard subsidiary also would protect Mr. Wilders while in the Czech Republic, the Prague Daily Monitor reported. Following his inability to afford the $600,000 fee demanded by the Nieuwspoort press center in The Hague to screen his film to journalists, Mr. Wilders posted a message Wednesday on his personal Web site hinting that Fitna might have left him broke. "I'm battling the Islamization of the Netherlands and the mass-immigration. ... There is hope for the future," the appeal read. "But for the moment I'm facing enormous costs. The little film and its aftershocks are costing a lot of money. The Party for Freedom doesn't accept subsidy and is thus completely reliant on freedom-loving citizens such as yourself. "I need your help urgently. May I ask for your support?" it concluded. "Freedom isn't free," read a message in English appealing to "our international friends," adding that his party is the only one in the Netherlands that refuses government funding.
© The Washington Times

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WILDERS SPARKS POLITICAL PROTEST(Netherlands)

It is a pamphlet, a makeshift collage of horrific and distorted images of Islam. Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders has published his feared video critical of the Koran on the Internet. It has already been met with criticism, while a Danish cartoonist objects to the use of his now-famous cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

28/3/2008- Geert Wilders chose the time to publish his anti-Koran film carefully. He picked a Thursday evening, shortly before the Dutch evening news and before Muslims in East Asian countries like Indonesia converge on their mosques for Friday prayers. Until the very last minute, there was fierce speculation over whether and when the cinematic pamphlet would be broadcast. And until very recently, Wilders was offering only vague suggestions in response to these questions, especially after no television broadcaster was willing to show the film and even a US Internet provider had decided to take the Dutch right-wing populist's Web site offline. "Fitna," Arabic for "strife," is now available online at Liveleak, a video platform similar to YouTube. It was viewed well over a million times within only one hour. The film begins with an image that every Muslim in the world and many others are likely to recognize right away: the controversial caricature of Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban. The publication of this and similar drawings in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 triggered unrest in the Arab world. The cartoonist who drew the caricature, Kurt Westergaard, himself the target of planned attacks recently, promptly protested against their use in the Wilders video. "The drawing was created in a certain context," Westergaard said, adding that Wilders could "not simply use it. This is not a question of free speech, but of copyrights." Westergaard told the paper that he wants the Danish journalists' association to take action against the copyright violation. Wilders has animated the bomb fuse on Mohammad's head, allowing it to burn up. Then the image is faded out and followed by a sura from the Koran calling on Muslims to fight the infidels. The airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 appear through the lettering, followed by images of people jumping from the burning towers, screaming desperately.

The film continues in this suggestive mode: with images of the Madrid train bombings, of imams calling for global dominance, with a video showing the beheading of a Western hostage and with statistics on the rapidly growing numbers of Muslims living in the Netherlands. Wilders shows a postcard with the words "Greetings from the Netherlands" on it, but instead of pictures of windmills, we see mosques. "Is this the Netherlands of the future?" the film asks, as it shows an image of a girl being subjected to female circumcision. "I had to warn people," Wilders said. "This isn't a provocation, it's the 11th hour." Women being stoned, beheadings -- the makeshift collage of images of horror from Arab countries is meant to generate a sense of alarm among Wilders' fellow Dutchmen. He calls upon Muslims to tear what he considers to be hate-filled pages from the Koran -- to a soundtrack of pages being torn from a book. Does the film live up to all the excitement that dominated the Netherlands and the rest of Europe in the months preceding its airing? Dutch intelligence in The Hague raised the terror alert level weeks ago. Embassies in the Arab world have had evacuation plans in place, and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende had already asked his counterparts within the European Union to support him if his country became the target of protests and boycotts. Balkenende's cabinet convened on Thursday evening to watch the film, which is now available around the world in Dutch and English. Then, only three hours after "Fitna" went online, Balkenende, looking serious, went before the press and gave an address in Dutch and, for foreign viewers, again in English. In his speech, Balkenende castigated the film for equating the Koran with terrorist attacks, and he announced that the Dutch Justice Ministry is looking into legal issues related to the film. He also pointed out that suicide bombings have also claimed the lives of Muslims.

Balkenende criticized Wilders for seeking to invoke nothing but base emotions against Muslims. In replying to Wilders and his film, he said: "Let us build bridges and overcome prejudices." The film's final sequence is likely to give the government the greatest cause for concern. The Muhammad cartoon reappears, but now the fuse on his turban bomb is lit. Then there is the sound of an explosion. Is the Prophet exploding, like a suicide bomber? According to Wilders, the noise is the "roar of thunder and lightning." Wilders has apparently tried to avoid any legal repercussions by replacing the explosion with the sound of thunder. He also seeks to downplay the sound of pages being torn out of a book by adding that the pages are from a telephone book. "He apparently looks for boundaries, but he avoids crossing them," Yusuf Altuntas, the spokesman of a Muslim organization, said on Dutch television. Leo Kwarten, an Arabist, added: "However, these nuances will certainly be lost in the Arab world." Kwarten is critical of the film for several reasons. For one, Wilders shows the circumcision of young girls, even though the Koran contains nothing about female circumcision. "He throws Sunnis and Shiites into one pot and unabashedly creates a link between images of terror from around the world and Muslims in the Netherlands." When asked for his opinion of the film, Dutch Muslim spokesman Altuntas was clearly at a loss for words. Then he said: "I find that many of the images are not really original. They're simply clicked together from the Internet." But Dutch Muslims, Altuntas added, are thick-skinned, and he said that he doesn't believe that the film would provoke them. "I can't say the same for other countries," he added.

A similar reaction came from the spokesman of an organization of Moroccans in the Netherlands known as "Landelijk Beraad Marokkanen." He said that he was relieved that the film has finally been released. "The concerns I had had about unrest and the like have now been reduced considerably." Gijs van de Westelaken, producer of the film "Submission" by Theo van Gogh, expressed similar disappointed: "I don't see how any of it was a political attack -- quite unlike 'Submission.' Now that was a real statement." The government has not commented on the film yet. Clerics and Muslim officials are meeting in the mosques in Amsterdam's suburbs to discuss how they should respond to the Wilders film. They plan to issue a statement at a press conference on Friday. It's already almost certain that Wilders will face a legal challenge over his film. A photo in the video meant to be of van Gogh's radical Islamist murderer Mohammed Bouyeri actually shows Dutch-Moroccan rapper Salah Edin. He now wants to sue Wilders.
© Spiegel Online

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ONLINE, A VIOLENT VIEW OF ISLAM(Netherlands)

Anti-Immigration Dutch Lawmaker Characterizes His Film as 'Tough Reality'

27/3/2008- A Dutch lawmaker known for his outspoken opposition to immigration posted a graphic film depicting Islam as a religion of violence on a maverick video-sharing Web site Thursday night after government and religious officials spent weeks trying to prevent its release. The 15-minute film splices verses from the Koran with videos of mutilated bombing victims, the World Trade Center attack, the beheading of a man by masked gunmen and an Afghan woman draped in a pleated blue burqa being shot in the head. "It is not a provocation, it is tough reality -- a reality that some Muslims might not find comfortable," Geert Wilders, a member of the Netherlands' far-right Party for Freedom, told reporters after the Web site LiveLeak.com received so many hits within the first hour of posting the film that the video temporarily froze. "I think I have made a very decent film, within the boundaries of the law. This is a call for debate; that is how people should respond." Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende had warned Wilders that the film, called "Fitna," the Arabic word for chaos or strife, could imperil the country's national interests and endanger its soldiers and other citizens abroad. In recent weeks, news that the film would soon be released set off violent protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other predominantly Muslim countries. "We believe it serves no purpose other than to cause offense," Balkenende said at a news conference soon after the video was posted on the Internet. "But feeling offended should never be used as an excuse for aggression and threats."

European officials have expressed concern that the film could ignite the kind of worldwide demonstrations that followed the publication of cartoons in Danish newspapers in 2005 ridiculing the prophet Muhammad. In an audiotape released last week, Osama bin Laden warned Europeans that they faced "severe reckoning" if they continued to defame Islam's holy prophet. Mohamed Rabbae, chairman of the moderate National Moroccan Council in the Netherlands, appealed to Muslims to "react calmly and within law" after viewing the video. "The pictures are horrible and very bloody," Rabbae said in an interview. "It is a film according to the ideology of Mr. Wilders -- he always tries to make a link between violence and the Koran." Dutch television stations had refused to air the film, and Wilders was unable to find a venue to screen it in the Netherlands because of the prohibitively costly expense of security. The U.S. Internet provider that Wilders used to advertise the film suspended its Web site last week. The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution Thursday deploring the use of the media to "incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination towards Islam" or other religions. But early Thursday evening, LiveLeak.com, a site based in the United Kingdom that specializes in running raw videos from the battlefields of Afghanistan, as well as crime footage from around the world, posted "Fitna." "There was no legal reason to refuse Geert Wilders the right to post his film (Fitna) on LiveLeak.com and it is not our place to censor people based on an emotive response," the Web site said in a statement posted next to the video. "To many of us involved in LiveLeak.com some of the messages therein are personally offensive. Our being offended is no reason to deny Mr. Wilders the right to have his film seen."

Within minutes of its release on the Internet, Dutch television aired clips from "Fitna" and the film dominated the nightly news. Paul Scheffer, a professor of urban sociology at the University of Amsterdam, said that "in principle, criticism of the Koran or radical Islam is part of an open society. The problem with Wilders is he has linked that with limiting the freedom of Muslims in this country; he not only criticizes the Koran, he wants to ban the Koran." Wilders's personal Web site carries a banner that declares, "Stop the Islamization of the Netherlands." The government has assigned bodyguards to protect Wilders because of death threats against him. The Netherlands, like most other Western European nations, is in the midst of a divisive struggle over national identity in the face of large-scale immigration in recent decades. The debate has been particularly pronounced in the Netherlands, which has long enjoyed a reputation as a liberal, open society that allowed personal freedoms. In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam by an extremist after he released a short film criticizing Islam's treatment of women. On Friday, a Dutch court is scheduled to hear a petition by the Dutch Islamic Federation seeking a review of whether Wilders's film violates hate-speech laws. The case was filed before Wilders's film was released and was based on numerous public remarks the lawmaker has made describing the prophet Muhammad as "a barbarian" and comparing the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf."
© The Washington Post

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NATIONAL PARTY OFFERS TO RELEASE ANTI-ISLAMIC FILM ON ITS WEBSITE(Czech Rep.)

23/3/2008- The Czech extra-parliamentary nationalist National Party (NS) has offered its foreign server for the release of the controversial anti-Islamic film of Dutch ultra-right MP Geert Wilders, the NS announced on its website Sunday. The party thereby reacted to the U.S. Internet company's cancelling Wilders's website as he intended to release the film on its server. Wilders, head of the Dutch ultra-right Freedom Party (PVV), wanted to release its 15-minute film called Fitna, an Arabic word used to describe discord, on the Internet late March after the Dutch TV channels refused to broadcast it. The NS says the film must be broadcast all over Europe as "a response to the Islamist terrorists destroying European countries by extortion and attacks." This is why the party has offered help with the film's release to the Dutch politician "in reaction to the media's blatant concessions to Islamists." The Dutch authorities expressed fears that the film might stir up violent protests in Muslim countries similar to those that followed after the publication of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in Danish papers two years ago. However, the NS says it is convinced that the Dutch and EU politicians are simply cowardly, they spread panic and are not able to support Wilders "in his fight against Islamists."

The ANP Dutch agency reported that Wilders would like to distribute his film by any means. In the film he allegedly describes the Koran as a fascist book that provokes intolerance, murders and violence. The para-military National Guard, established by the NS last October, has also offered Wilders protection and asylum at an unspecified place in the Czech Republic, in reaction to the allegedly prepared assassination of him during the demonstration Stop Islamism in Amsterdam at the end of last year, in which the NS representatives took part. The NS was highlighted in the media in January, 2006, when it staged a meeting on the spot of a former wartime camp for Romanies in Lety, south Bohemia. The NS then claimed that the Lety camp was a mere labour camp where Romanies died of common diseases. However, according to historical sources, 326 people perished in the Lety camp and over 500 inmates ended up in the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz (Oswiecim). The NS has been officially registered since 2002. The Interior Ministry originally refused to register it, but the party turned to the Constitutional Court that cancelled the ministry's decision. The party stands up against the EU, foreign immigrants and Romanies.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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DUTCH ISLAM FILM WEBSITE 'SHUT'

23/3/2008- A website that a Dutch right-wing politician was planning to use to release a film expected to be fiercely critical of Islam has been suspended. The US hosting service, Network Solutions, said it was investigating complaints that it may have breached guidelines on hate language. Dutch politician Geert Wilders says the 15-minute film describes Islam as "the enemy of freedom". The planned release has sparked angry protests in many Muslim countries. The Dutch government has disassociated itself from Mr Wilders' views, but there are fears the film will spark protests similar to those that followed the publication in Denmark two years ago of cartoons seen as offensive to Muslims. The film has already been condemned by several Muslim countries, including Iran and Pakistan.

Hate messages
Mr Wilders' film is entitled Fitna, an Arabic word used to describe strife or discord, usually religious. Mr Wilders wrote a commentary in a Dutch newspaper on Saturday. "The film is not so much about Muslims as about the Koran and Islam. The Islamic ideology has as its utmost goal the destruction of what is most dear to us, our freedom," he wrote in De Volkskrant. "Fitna is the last warning for the West. The fight for freedom has only just begun," he said. He had been using Network Solutions to promote the film. But on Sunday, Network Solutions said it had received a number of complaints that were under investigation. It said the site was suspended until it was established whether the content of the site violated Network Solutions' terms of acceptable use. They include "material that is obscene, defamatory, libellous, unlawful, harassing, abusive... hate propaganda" and "profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable material of any kind or nature". Mr Wilders has had police protection since Dutch director Theo van Gogh was killed by a radical Islamist in 2004.
© BBC News

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SEVERAL THOUSAND DEMONSTRATE IN AMSTERDAM AGAINST RACISM AND WILDERS(Netherlands)

22/3/2008- Demonstrators of all races and colours crowded Amsterdam's central square Saturday, braving wind and sleet to show their opposition to anti-immigration legislator Geert Wilders. The protest, called "Netherlands Shows Its Colours," is primarily a reaction in advance to the short film Wilders says he will release later this month criticizing the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, as a "fascist" book. One protester carried a sign saying "standing together against the right wing populist witch-hunt." "I'm very much against Geert Wilders and racism in general, but I think it's really important to show not only Holland but the rest of the world that there's a lot of people who do not agree with his ideas," said Elisa Trepp. Wilders, who says he is not racist, heads a reactionary party with nine seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament, elected on an anti-immigration platform. While the exact contents of his 15-minute movie, due to be released by March 31, are unknown, Wilders has said it will underscore his view that Qur'an is fascist. Dutch officials fear the movie could spark violent protests in Muslim countries, similar to those two years ago after the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. But no prominent politicians were among the 2,000-3,000 people who police estimated turned up for the demonstration, to the frustration of some attendees. "The government could really do something. That's in the interest of the country - stop him, just stop him," said Hassan Iaeti, who travelled hours from the far south of the country to attend. He said he believed Wilders is abusing the right of freedom of speech, which he said has limits. "You can criticize Muslims themselves, but not their religion and not our prophet - that's our belief." Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said that while he rejects Wilders' views, he supports his freedom of speech - but warns him the film may put Dutch national interests at risk. Protesters in Afghanistan burnt Wilders in effigy Friday and demanded Dutch troops withdraw from the NATO mission there.

In November 2004, a Muslim radical killed Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for perceived insults to Islam. Wilders, under constant police protection, says it is his duty to speak out against what he sees as a threat to Dutch culture posed by Islam. Dutch anti-terrorism authorities have said the risk of an attack are "substantial" and requested all national politicians inform them of their upcoming travel plans due to security concerns. A Dutch court will hear a complaint lodged by Muslim groups seeking to bar Wilders from releasing the film and punish him for earlier anti-Islam remarks under hate crime laws. The case filed by the Dutch Islamic Federation will be heard March 28, but there is no legal barrier preventing Wilders from releasing his film before then. Wilders has said he will release his movie on the Internet after television stations refused to air it and plans for a press screening were cancelled due to high security costs.
© The Canadian Press

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WILDERS' ANTI-ISLAM AKIN TO ANTI-SEMITISM(Netherlands)

17/3/2008- Entertainment entrepreneur Harry de Winter has taken out a page-wide advert on the front page of Monday’s Volkskrant newspaper accusing MP Geert Wilders of racism. ‘If Wilders said the same about Jews and the Old Testament as he does about Muslims (and the Koran) he would have been long picked up and sentenced for anti-semitism,’ the advert reads. Wilders, founder of the anti-immigration PVV party, has said repeatedly that Muslims are backward and that the Koran is a fascist book which incites violence and murder. The advert is signed by the foundation ‘Another Jewish voice’, which De Winter helped found. In an interview with the paper, De Winter says that Wilders’ approach to Islam is like the build-up of anti-Jewish sentiment before World War II. ‘I see no difference between a skull-cap (worn by Jewish men) and a headscarf,’ De Winter said. ‘I hope we get support from across the Jewish community because they should recognise this like no-one else.’ According to a Maurice de Hond poll published at the weekend, 32% of the Dutch plan to watch Geert Wilders’ 10-minute anti-Koran film in its entirety when it is released on the internet, while 50% say they have no plans to watch any of it.
© Dutch News

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NO LEGAL GROUNDS TO BAN WILDERS' FILM(Netherlands)

26/3/2008- Dutch foreign affairs minister Maxime Verhagen says the cabinet has no plans to ask the courts to ban the controversial film due to be released this month by anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders, reports ANP news service on Wednesday. ‘We looked at the possibilities and there are none,’ Verhagen is quoted as saying. His comments follow a call by former Dutch foreign affairs minister Hans van den Broek, now a leading government advisor, who has called on the cabinet to take the issue to court. In an interview with Wednesday’s Volkskrant, Van den Broek says: ‘Let the judge decide what is the most important: freedom of expression or national interest’. Dutch people around the world could become the victim of violent actions by angry Muslims if the film is released, he says. ‘It is unsatisfactory to wait until people die before we decide whether there’s anything we can do. Violence must be prevented,’ Van den Broek tells the paper. The government’s press office declined to comment on Van den Broek’s comments, says the Volkskrant. In the past prime minister Jan Peter Balkendende has said that the possibility of legal action against the upcoming film have been investigated. Wilders has said that his film Fitna will be provocative but will remain within legal boundaries. It remains unclear exactly when the film will be released and where it will be screened but Wilders has recently repeated his intention to present it before the end of the month. Wilders is the leader of the anti-immigration PVV party which has nine seats in the Dutch parliament.
© Dutch News

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PUBLIC PROSECUTION DEPARTMENT WILL EXAMINE WILDERS' FILM(Netherlands)

7/3/2008- The public prosecution department will watch Freedom Party PVV leader Geert Wilder's anti-Koran film to investigate whether it contains any expressions that are punishable by law, the Volkskrant reports. The prosecution department will not wait for viewers to file complaints, a spokesperson for the Amsterdam department said Thursday. "Since the film has been announced in advance, we are able to prepare for it." The National Expertise Centre on Discrimination, affiliated with the prosecution department in Amsterdam, has worked out a number of scenarios establishing which expressions are punishable and which are not. "We will only decide whether to prosecute once we've seen the film." Wilders announced earlier that his film illustrates his conviction that the Koran is a fascist book. He said this week that his film remains within the bounds of the law. The spokesperson says it is not unusual for the discrimination centre to prepare a number of scenarios in anticipation of a film, but also that no decision has yet been made with regard to whether to prosecute Wilders on grounds of any of the at least 45 complaints that have been lodged against him. On Wednesday it was announced that this decision will take at least another six weeks, much to the incomprehension of the lobby organisations and individuals who have requested that he be prosecuted. Particularly his comparison of the Koran to Mein Kampf in August 2007 led to a deluge of complaints. "It is a sensitive and complex matter. It takes time. The same careful considerations will be made after the film."
© Expatica News

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PROFILE: GEERT WILDERS(Netherlands)

Geert Wilders has released a controversial film about Islam which no TV company would broadcast and some politicians in the Netherlands tried to ban.

27/3/2008- The Dutch MP has upset the Muslim world before, by calling for a ban on the Koran and likening it to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Nicknamed "Mozart" because of his mane of platinum blond hair, he was voted politician of the year in 2007 by the Dutch political press, partly because of his "well-timed one-liners". But his opponents see him as a provocateur and a disillusioned colleague describes him as "the most stubborn man I've ever met". His stance has created problems for the Dutch government, which fears a re-run of the cartoon furore in the Muslim world. Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has complained of the danger to Dutch companies, soldiers and residents abroad. When asked about the impact of his film, Mr Wilders told a TV interviewer: "It's not the aim of the movie but people might be offended, I know that. So, what the hell? It's their problem, not my problem".

Catholic upbringing
Born in the Limburg town of Venlo in 1963, Geert Wilders came from a Catholic background and went to a Catholic secondary school. He is no longer religious and once told a friend he knew little about Easter, despite regularly speaking out on the Netherlands' Judaeo-Christian heritage. The son of a printing company director, his own career began in social and health insurance. It was socio-economic policy that brought him into politics, as a speech-writer for the liberal VVD party. The VVD was also home to ethnic Somali politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose views on Islam have often been compared with those of Mr Wilders. He was elected as city councillor in Utrecht in 1997 and MP the following year. Because of his party's support for Turkish entry into the European Union, he left the liberals in 2002 and struck out on his own. He has prompted comparisons with Pim Fortuyn, the maverick political leader who famously described Islam as a backward religion. Fortuyn was murdered by an animal rights activist in 2002, shortly before an election. But it was in November 2004 that Mr Wilders' career dramatically changed with the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh by a radical Islamist, Mohammed Bouyeri. Together with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Van Gogh had produced the short film Submission, which featured an actress in see-through clothing with Koranic script on her body. Although he had no involvement in the film, Mr Wilders was now to have a permanent bodyguard, in common with Ms Hirsi Ali, because of their outspoken views on Islam. He set up his Freedom Party (PVV), later attracting widespread political support for his call for a ban on the burqa - which covers most of the body - even though the measure would have affected only around 50 women. Mr Wilders' greatest success was in picking up nine seats in the Dutch parliament in 2006 elections, and securing 20% of the vote in his home town of Venlo. But he has never achieved the same high ratings in the opinion polls as the late Pim Fortuyn. And lawyer Gerard Spong, a friend of Fortuyn's, argues Mr Wilders is very different. "Geert Wilders... incites hatred against Muslims, and Pim did not do that: he had sex with Moroccan boys in dark rooms," he told Dutch television. Mr Wilders is adamant that he is not a racist. "We have to learn and defend who were are," he says. He is married to a Hungarian woman he met at the Hungarian embassy in The Hague.

Media-savvy
Dutch conservative TV presenter Bart Jan Spruyt got to know him when he set up the Freedom Party, becoming his speech-writer and freelance adviser. "I have to admit it was the most naive thing I've ever done in my life," says Mr Spruyt of his brief period with the party. "Mr Wilders is a very gifted and talented politician. All TV programmes are about his movie: he knows how to play with the media, how to dominate the public debate. The problem was and is that he is a monomaniac, but not in a pejorative sense." In other words, he is a politician 24/7. Bart Jan Spruyt says you cannot talk to Geert Wilders about novels or music because politics is his life and he is also unwilling to co-operate with others. "It's He, Himself, Him," he says. And he can understand why. The presenter remembers walking with Mr Wilders surrounded by six bodyguards to the MP's room, which he likened to a furnished cell at a suburban bank. From that perspective, he could understand that the politician's mind was focused on the death threats against him. But Mr Wilders' politics were not always about Islam. In 2005, he was one of the leading campaigners for a Dutch No vote against the European Constitution, arguing that it limited national sovereignty. In March 2006, Mr Wilders told the BBC that he thought that 5-15% of Dutch Muslims were sympathetic to radical Islam. "I believe we have been too tolerant of the intolerant. We should learn to become intolerant of the intolerant," he said. "People like Mohammed Bouyeri who killed Theo van Gogh, they should be arrested under administrative detention for the safety of Dutch families." He has seen administrative detention without trial used in Israel, which he has visited on many occasions.

The Dutch Muslim community has reacted to Mr Wilders in different ways, according to National Moroccan Council Chairman Mohamed Rabbae. He says there are those who think he is a friend of Israel and the Israeli embassy. Some see him more as an opportunist promoting fear and hate, while a minority does not see him as an enemy at all. "He's a little bit crazy because he's giving the impression to some people that he's going to combat Islam," says Mr Rabbae. "He's a kind of Don Quixote, fighting against things and presenting goals which will never happen." Like Mr Spruyt, Mohamed Rabbae believes Mr Wilders may have become isolated by the limitations imposed by living with bodyguards. The controversy has parallels with the row over the Danish cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad. Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quick to criticise Mr Wilders when the Dutch MP went on Danish TV to praise the prime minister's stance on freedom of expression.
© BBC News

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Headlines 28 March, 2008

RACISM, ANTI-SEMITISM DECLINE IN FRANCE -- REPORT

28/3/2008- The number of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic incidents in France dropped by nearly a quarter last year, a report by a government human rights commission said Friday. France's north African immigrants are targeted more than other groups by hate violence, according to the national advisory commission for human rights. In 2007, 707 racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic attacks, threats and other incidents were registered, a 23.5 percent drop from the previous year. But the commission reacted cautiously to the decline, saying that the figures were still higher than those registered during the 1990-2000 period. There was notably a decline in anti-Semitism, with 386 incidents registered in 2007, almost a third fewer than the previous year. The commission had reported a 35 percent jump in the number of anti-Semitic attacks and other incidents between 2005 and 2006. The report noted that Middle East tensions had "almost no influence on violence and anti-Semitic threats in France in 2007", contrary to previous years.
© AFP

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RACIAL VIOLENCE IN IRELAND(Comment)

Despite a rise of serious racial attacks, authorities in Ireland are still in denial about racism.
By Katrina Goldstone

27/3/2008- The events of the last month have been sobering for anti racism and social justice in Ireland. On 22 February two young Polish workers Marius Szwajkos and Pawel Kalite, who had been in Ireland for just a year, were savagely attacked by a group of youths in the Dublin suburb of Drimnagh and both died from their horrific wounds. All reports have described the men as 'quiet and hard-working'. The attack happened on a Saturday evening at around six o'clock when the men were going to buy food. Accounts are still hazy but it appears they were asked to buy alcohol by a group of teenagers and when they refused an altercation took place.[1] Most chillingly one of the group seems to have gone to deliberately fetch a weapon - a screwdriver - and subsequently stabbed the men, one in the head and one in the neck. The family of one of the victims has said they will never be sure if the fatal attack was racially motivated.[2] Several youths have been questioned by police about the murder, but, so far, only one has been charged. In the days after the death of the two men a fund was set up for their families by concerned local people and a vigil was also held. In the anguished debates that have followed, the problems of youth crime, 'hooliganism', underage drinking and the soul of the Irish people have been discussed, but racism, as a motive, was quickly dismissed. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern, who was on a state visit to Poland at the time, vociferously condemned the murders which, he said, 'had nothing to do with the fact that they were Poles'. Given that Polish workers are one of the biggest groups of migrant workers in Ireland, numbering up to 200,000, it must have been important to settle any disquiet. Equally the Polish ambassador has been anxious not to impute a racist motive to the attacks.[3]

However Cida Jeangros, a Brazilian woman, who was assaulted on 14 March, is doubtful. She was attacked, knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked by a group of teenagers at 11.30 pm as she was walking home in the Summerhill area of Dublin. The fate of the two Poles was very much in her mind as she was attacked. She doesn't want to walkalone on the streets anymore and a number of her friends and colleagues have been verbally abusedand another Brazilian friend also attacked.[4] Ali Bracken wrote in the Sunday Tribune, 'The recent murder of two young Polish men in Dublin brought back painful memories for fellow Pole Kazik Anhalt, who was seriously injured when he was stabbed in the back several times with a screwdriver four years ago.' His problem was that when he spoke English, his accent got him head-butted in the face. He got stabbed in the back with a screwdriver, spent three days recovering in Tallaght Hospital, was interviewed by gardai but nothing ever happened beyond a few cursory interviews. 'That kind of follow-up by authorities encourages foreign nationals to keep their head down and not make trouble.'[5]

Lack of political will
Yet the official statistics still paint a picture of Ireland as a place with low levels of racist crime. However whilst there is an acknowledgement that the legislative framework is inadequate, the political will to instigate meaningful change has been woefully lacking. Some impetus has been given by the fact that these inadequacies were highlighted bythe response of the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Committee also highlighted concerns about policing in general. In its summary it referred to the Ionann report by a group of consultants: 'The Committee invites the State party to include in its next periodic report data on the number of complaints against members of the police concerning discriminatory treatment as well as on the decisions adopted. It further recommends that the State party intensify its sensitisation efforts among law enforcement officials, including the setting up of an effective monitoring mechanism to carry out investigations into allegations of racially motivated police conduct.'[6] In the 2005 research report on institutional racism, Amnesty Irish section and the Irish Human Rights Centre called for action on effective sanctions for hate crimes: 'Take immediate action to review the effectiveness of sanctions for perpetrators and redress for victims in cases of racial discrimination. This should include measures to strengthen legislation and improve access to remedies, judicial or otherwise, in addition to measures taken at institutional level. The lack of effective accountability for racial discrimination may actually lead to an increase in human rights abuses of minority ethnic communities. The State must have effective sanctions against hate crimes, including hate speech and breaches of equality law in order to ensure respect for the law.'[7]

In the course of the ten key years, 1997 to 2007, Ireland has gone from beginning a debate on racism to practically erasing the word from its collective vocabulary. There was first a recognition and acknowledgement of racism in Irish society through the media public debate and the European Year against Racism and a high profile campaign by Amnesty International Irish section in 2001. However it is extraordinary how even the word racism has disappeared from the public debate, now superseded by supposedly more innocuous buzzwords like interculturalism' and 'integration'. The government's national Action Plan Against Racism, which ends its current phase in 2008, carries the strapline 'planning for diversity'.

Under-reporting of attacks
Amnesty Irish section produced the first ever report on the experience of Black and other minorities in Ireland highlighting the fact that 79 per cent had experienced racist abuse.[8] (There had been multiple studies of Irish attitudes towards others but, tellingly, little data on the actual experience of minorities.) The survey interrogated the relatively low figures for racist offences and consequently Amnesty mounted a campaign calling for leadership against racism and for the repeal of the inadequate Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989; better reporting mechanisms and training for garda .The Act is still in place and has been under review for the last seven years. As part of the Irish government's National Action Plan Against Racism (NPAR), a new research study is being undertaken by Professor Dermot Walsh and Jennifer Schweppe, both of the Centre for Criminal Justice, University of Limerick, to ascertain whether Irish criminal law is sufficient to deal with racist crime in Ireland. The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism has also called for a more comprehensive report on racially motivated crime to be published each year that provides some analysis arising out of statistics. There have been some improvements in the way the police deal with racist crime including the setting up of the Garda Racial and Intercultural Unit but the experience of NGOs working on the ground indicates that the discrepancy between low crime figures and convictions is a story complicated by lack of trust and a under-reporting of racist crimes and attacks. It seems that some convictions have been successful under public order legislation but then are not recorded as racially aggravated, thus contributing to the under-reporting phenomenon. It is not just a question of lack of adequate legislative redress. It is the ambivalent attitude to racism displayed by Irish politicians and figures of influence. Judges and local councillors can get away with overtly racist comments and there is very little protest, never mind demands for their resignation.

Institutionalising racism through citizenship
In the broader political context, the introduction of changes to citizenship and immigration status have sent out negative messages and introduced punitive measures.The Irish Government hastily organised a referendum on 11 June 2004 to radically change the basis of citizenship from jus solis to jus sanguinis (citizenship by birth in a country to citizenship by descent) with the inclusion of a new Article 9. Under that Article, only those born in Ireland to at least one Irish national parent, will acquire citizenship. Approximately 80 per cent of the electorate voted in support of the government's proposals and Irish citizenship was changed through the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004. The proposed Immigration and Residence Bill that is currently being debated also contains drastic measures and curtailment of rights for migrants. With a silence that is shameful, the majority ofIrish political leaders have reverted to a state of denial about the pernicious effects of racism and hate crimes, allowing a vacuum to develop where alienated young people can vent their rage on minorities who have come to stand as the symbols and scapegoats for everything those left behind by the 'Celtic Tiger' have not achieved during Ireland's boom years.

Katrina Goldstone was Anti Racism Policy Officer for Amnesty Irish section 2002-2004.

Footnotes:
[1] Reports on deaths RTE news 28 and 29 February; Irish Times 29 February; Irish Independent 29 February 2008.
[2] Gosia Szwajkos's sister said: 'We want to believe deep down that my brother was not killed because he was Polish. But... we probably won't ever know.' London Independent 1 March 2008.
[3] 'The Polish Ambassador Dr Tadeusz Szumowski described the killings of two Polish men who were attacked in Dublin last Saturday as hooliganism which could happen anywhere.' RTE news 1 March 2008.
[4] Irish Times 17 March 2008; For view on attack as racist see Ronit Lentin Metro Eireann 6-13 March 2008.
[5] Sunday Tribune 9 March 2008.
[6] NGO Alliance One Year On: Comments on the Implementation by the Irish Government of the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination Of Racial Discrimination June 2006 p.22.
[7] Breaking Down Barriers: Tackling Racism in Ireland at the Level of the State and its Institution (Irish Centre for Human Rights and Amnesty Irish section, Vinodh Jaichand and Louise Beirne 2005).
[8] Racism in Ireland: The Views of Black and Ethnic Minorities (Amnesty Irish section 2001).
© Institute of Race Relations

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REMOVAL OF CHILDREN PREVALENT IN ETHNIC MINORITIES(Denmark)

An overwhelming majority of children removed from their homes are from ethnic minorities

27/3/2008- Nine out of ten children who are removed from their families in the city of Copenhagen are from ethnic minorities, reports Politiken newspaper. Statistics from the city council's Children and Youth Committee showed that 90 percent of children removed from their families were from ethnic minorities and that 'poor' care was the reason, according to Jette Bergenholz Bautrup, chairperson of the committee. Most of the reasons cited were of a psychological nature, including mental illnesses, trauma and other reasons affecting the ability of parents to care for their children. 'Some parents think that they must hit their children or bring them up in a harsh manner,' Bautrup said. Mikkel Warming, deputy mayor of social affairs, said poverty among ethnic minorities was part of the reason. A recent city council study showed that families from ethnic minorities were poorer than ethnic Danish families. He emphasised that forcible removal of a child was always a last resort after all other possible solutions had been explored. According to Warming, some of the removals could be avoided if more resources were allocated for preventative measures. Peter Albæk, chairperson of Børns Vilkår, a non-governmental organisation dealing with children's issues, was not in doubt that removals were the last resort. However, he said that the council should act before matters got out of hand and avoid too much intervention and disruption to the family.
© The Copenhagen Post

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ANTI-FASCISTS CHASED BY POLICE(Russia)

28/3/2008- A large group of anti-Nazi youth activists walked down Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street, in an unsanctioned march protesting neo-Nazi violence in memory of a murdered activist this week. Twenty six were detained by the police soon afterwards. More than 150 young men and women belonging to unaffiliated the Antifa (militant “anti-fascism”) movement, most with faces covered with scarves and carrying flares and banners, marched 1.5 kilometers from Alexander Nevsky Ploshchad to Ploshchad Vosstaniya during a heavy snowstorm at around 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The protesters carried two large red banners reading “Make Nazism History” and “Trash Nationalism” and chanted slogans, such as “Antifa,” “Go into the Street and Take the City Back,” “The World is Multi-Colored, Not Brown” and “No to Nazis of Any Kind — from the Street to the Authorities.” The march was held to mark nine days since the death of Alexei Krylov, a 21-year-old anti-Nazi activist who was stabbed to death by an estimated 15 neo-Nazis on March 16 as he was heading to a punk concert near the club Art Garbage in Moscow. It was reported that the attack was planned using a website for fans of the Moscow Premier League soccer team Spartak. Three days later an anti-Nazi march that reportedly drew 300 activists was held in the center of Moscow. Anti-Nazi activist and punk musician Timur Kacharava, 20, was killed in a similar attack in St. Petersburg in November 2005. In St. Petersburg, the marchers distributed leaflets about Krylov’s murder and asking for financial help for his mother and two younger sisters. Another leaflet described the ideology of “Autonomous Antifascism” and called for street-level resistance against neo-Nazism. “Antifascists went down to the demonstration to state that they are not going to tolerate neo-Nazi violence, which has become an acute problem in Russia. Reports about attacks on foreign students and killings of migrants have ceased to shock anyone. They have become routine,” said the Antifa group in a statement on website www.piter.indymedia.ru.

“Attacks are also committed on representatives of countercultural youths who try to resist neo-Nazis. Over the past 2 1/2 years, five anti-fascists from different cities were killed for their convictions, St. Petersburg musician Timur Kacharava among them. “The whole history of the anti-fascist movement shows that it can only be a success if it uses all available tactics of resistance (not excluding direct physical counteraction).” The police, which has disrupted most demonstrations with no official permission issued by the authorities in recent years — even though the Russian Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly — were not aware of the march, which had been organized in secret, and only reacted when the march was almost finished, as protesters reached Ploshchad Vosstaniya. Apparently taken by surprise, several policemen tried to stop the marchers from crossing Ligovsky Prospekt, and when they failed, blocked the entrance to Ploshchad Vosstaniya metro, so the group went down Ulitsa Vosstaniya and then turned in the direction of Ulitsa Mayakovskogo. Arrests started near the Novotel hotel where a policeman attacked a straggler, pushing him to the ground. The protesters’ leader, who gave commands through a megaphone during the march, was detained soon after, along with other activists who tried to run away through courtyards but found themselves trapped. After reaching Ulitsa Zhukovskogo, the main group ran away in an organized fashion. The police failed to catch them. “Twenty six citizens were detained, but five of them turned out to be minors and were immediately released and turned over to their parents,” said Vyacheslav Stepchenko, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry in St. Petersburg, by phone on Thursday. According to Antifa’s statement, the minors were only released after 11 p.m.

According to Stepchenko, the activists were detained according to two clauses of the Administrative Code, Article 19.3 Part I (“Failure to Follow a Policeman’s Lawful Orders”) and Article 20.2 (“Violation of the Regulations of Conducting Meetings, Marches, Demonstrations and Pickets”). The rest of the detained activists were released on Wednesday afternoon, when the court ruled to send their cases to their local courts. Failure to follow a policeman’s lawful orders is the gravest offence of the two and can lead to up to 15 days in custody. “We didn’t inform the authorities about the march because they wouldn’t have permitted it anyway,” said a participant, who asked that his name be withheld, by phone on Thursday. “We also didn’t need to advertize it because we can gather that many people without any publicity.” This year has seen a rise in racially-motivated violence in Russia, with St. Petersburg following Moscow in the rate of incidents reported. An Uzbek man and a woman either from Yakutia or Buryatiya, were reported to have been stabbed to death in St. Petersburg this week, in addition to three other racially-motivated killings and a number of beatings this month.
© The St. Petersburg Times

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TRACKING HATE CRIMES A TRICKY BUSINESS(Russia)

27/3/2008- After the 17th body was discovered in mid-February, alarm bells began to sound. Hate-crime monitors announced a significant spike in xenophobic attacks nationwide, warning that if the trend continued through the end of the year there would be a 200 percent rise in the number of violent racist crimes compared with 2007. The trend does not appear to be fading. As of Wednesday, 38 people had been murdered in racially motivated attacks, according to the Sova Center, one of the country's two main NGOs tracking hate crimes. But exactly what conclusions can be drawn from these figures is difficult to gauge given the inexact science of tracking such crimes. Sova and the other leading NGO in the field, the EU-funded Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, are responsible for nearly all working information on hate crimes in Russia. But their figures tend to leap wildly from year to year and from region to region. And while they describe their data as invaluable, they concede that they face considerable barriers in compiling an accurate portrait of the problem. "I don't honestly think that anyone has exact statistics," said Alexander Brod, a Public Chamber member and head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. While there is no single methodological standard used worldwide to collect data on hate crimes, many governments track figures culled from local police and NGOs. In Russia's vast regions, many of which lack civic institutions and police trained in identifying racist attacks, experts say this has proven a nearly impossible task.

In many remote regions, for example, Sova relies on a primitive combination of word of mouth and Internet monitoring to gather information, Sova head Alexander Verkhovsky said. Often the organizations can merely scan neo-Nazi chat rooms, follow local media reports and wait for the next blip to appear on the radar. In areas lacking Internet access, collecting any data at all can be nearly impossible, Verkhovsky said. "In some cases, like Volgograd, we are sure there are more incidents than we know of because there is a very active nationalist movement there," he said. "But we have practically no information from the region." Sova, which is funded by the Soros Foundation and National Endowment for Democracy, works with local NGOs where they are available. But such organizations are sparse, and where they do exist, they rarely coordinate with law enforcement authorities, said Paul Legendre, acting head of the Fighting Discrimination Program with the New York-based NGO Human Rights First. "I think we're still a long way away from that in a country like Russia, where there's not the type of cooperation between government authorities and NGOs that we'd like to see," Legendre said. Human Rights First publishes an annual Hate Crimes Report Card, ranking all 56 OSCE member states on their efforts in tracking and combating racist crimes. Russia, which maintains no official data differentiating hate crimes from other "extremist" crimes, received one of the lowest grades in the 2007 report, ranking at the bottom alongside Belarus and Turkmenistan. There were 650 racist attacks in Russia last year, up from 564 from 2006, according to Sova figures.

There were notable spikes in such attacks in various regions, including Voronezh and St. Petersburg, both of which saw a 50 percent jump in the number of hate crimes last year compared with 2006, according to Sova. Establishing trends in other regions, however, is not so clear-cut, Verkhovsky said. In the Irkutsk region, for example, Sova recorded 54 hate crimes last year, up from only eight hate crimes in 2006. The dramatic increase there, he said, was not due to increased ultranationalist activity but rather two large-scale attacks. Sova has not recorded any hate crimes there this year, Verkhovsky said. In the Belgorod region, there were four hate crimes recorded in 2005, 18 in 2006 and only one last year, according to Sova. Gloomy forecasts and jagged trends aside, experts were quick to point out that Russia is hardly alone in failing to thoroughly track the issue. The Human Rights First report chastised EU members Italy, Estonia and Spain for failing to provide sufficient information on hate crimes. Jo-Anne Bishop, head of the Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Program at the OSCE, which monitors hate crimes and offers training and recommendations to member governments, noted that fewer than 10 member countries provide what they consider adequate data. This "tremendous data deficit" across OSCE member states is due in part to a lack of a unifying methodology, Bishop said. "It's very difficult to impose or suggest or recommend a uniform model, because for every country it's different," she said. Bishop and others said, however, that Russia had shown a greater willingness to tackle the issue of hate crimes. In 2006, the government sent two experts to an OSCE hate-crimes training seminar in Paris. In December, the Moscow Interior Ministry University invited a group of OSCE trainers to Moscow to conduct a seminar for senior law enforcement officials on recognizing and tracking such crimes. Russia has also expressed interest in joining the OSCE's Regional Network on Hate Crime Prevention and Investigation, Bishop said.

President-elect Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday told Public Chamber members that law enforcement authorities and judges should take a "harsh position" and not "hide their heads in the sand" when it comes to hate crimes, Itar-Tass reported. While questions remain about the accuracy of the existing data for Russia, experts and government officials both say the number of hate crimes continues to rise dramatically. Then First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin told a security conference in January that the number of extremist crimes has risen steadily in recent years, from 130 in 2004 to 356 last year. A majority of these crimes were "ethnically or religiously motivated," Chekalin said, RIA-Novosti reported. It was unclear whether Chekalin, who was relieved of his duties by executive order, the Kremlin announced Wednesday, was referring primarily to crimes against foreigners and dark-skinned people in Russia, the type of crimes most often recorded by Sova and the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. Chekalin did tell the conference that up to 15 percent of young people "hold nationalist ideas," though it was unclear exactly what criteria the Interior Ministry used to determine that figure. The ministry referred all inquiries this month to the Prosecutor General's Office, which did not respond to a written request for comment. Legendre of Human Rights First said the increase in such crimes could merely be a result of closer attention to the issue by authorities and NGOs alike. "In any country, the more you start monitoring, the more you're going to find that the numbers go up simply because you're taking note of a problem you hadn't taken note of before," he said. Still, some officials deny any spike in hate crimes. City Prosecutor Yury Syomin told government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta in a March 19 interview that the number of "crimes motivated by religious and ethnic hatred" in Moscow is actually falling "year by year." "I am sure there is no growing wave of extremism," Syomin said.
© The Moscow Times

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CRITICS: CHARGES JUSTIFY BAN ON GERMAN FAR-RIGHT PARTY

26/3/2008- Critics of Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) say charges against its leader for inciting racial hatred will strengthen their bid to ban the party which backs some of Hitler's policies. State prosecutors said on Tuesday they had formally charged NPD boss Udo Voigt for comments about a dark-skinned German soccer player before the 2006 World Cup. The case could boost efforts to outlaw the NPD after a previous attempt failed in 2003, said Sebastian Edathy, a Social Democrat who heads the home affairs parliamentary committee. He told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper the charges proved the "inhuman attitudes and policies of the NPD" and could be an important part of the jigsaw in seeking a ban. In comments widely reported in other German media, he also said interior ministers of Germany's 16 states were set to discuss the matter at their next meeting in April. Last December, state ministers agreed to look at ways of cutting off funds to far-right organisations. Represented in two state assemblies, the NPD gets state funding and its membership has grown in the last few years. Calls for a new attempt to ban the party, especially among senior Social Democrats who share power with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, have increased after a recent rise in racially motivated crime from far-right radicals. The NPD campaigns on euphemisms such as defending German cultural heritage and its followers say they support Iran's president who has said Israel should be wiped of the map. Some politicians oppose a ban, however, arguing it would not eliminate the underlying problem and could even backfire. The 2003 attempt failed as several prosecution witnesses had worked as informants for German intelligence services.

The charges came after Voigt, with two other senior party members, distributed brochures and Internet messages before the World Cup showing a German number 25 shirt -- worn by player Patrick Owomoyela who has a Nigerian father and German mother. The headline said: "White. Not just a football shirt colour. For a real NATIONAL team." The NPD called the charges absurd. "Any criticism of the foreign infiltration of Germany or of multi-cultural society is being turned into a crime. The case will have major political significance," said NPD legal expert Frank Schwerdt in a statement on the party's Internet site.
© Reuters

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GERMAN FAR-RIGHT PARTY LEADER CHARGED

25/3/2008- Prosecutors accused the head of Germany's top far-right party Tuesday of publishing a pamphlet before the 2006 World Cup that questioned whether nonwhite players should be on the national soccer team. Prosecutor Simone Herbeth said in a statement that Udo Voigt, head of the National Democratic Party, or NPD, was charged with incitement and defamation over the pamphlets. NPD spokesman Klaus Beier and Frank Schwerdt, a leading member, also were charged, Herbeth said. The flyers showed the traditional white German jersey with the No. 25 — worn at the time by black defender Patrick Owomoyela. They read: "White, not just a jersey color! For a real NATIONAL team!" Herbeth said the picture "called into question whether this player, as well as other nonwhite skinned players, were worthy of representing Germany as national players." Prosecutors charge the party later printed another series of pamphlets showing 10 white and one black player in German national jerseys under the question "German National Team 2010?" Owomoyela, who has a German mother and a Nigerian father, plays for Werder Bremen but is no longer a member of the German national squad. The NPD called the charges "absurd" and "political" in a statement released on its Web site. "The German justice authorities are ever more zealous when it comes to pursuing and persecuting the national opposition," the statement read. Beier insisted the use of Owomoyela's No. 25 was "pure chance." The quality of the printing was unclear, and the number could be read as a 26 or even a 23, he said. "Everyone can see their own favorite number in it," Beier said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. But Owomoyela said in a statement he believed the flyer was directed against him and expressed satisfaction that prosecutors had pressed charges. "For me, it is confirmation that it was right to have taken such resolute action against it at the time," Owomoyela said. "It hurts to be so clearly used for a far-right campaign like that." Backed by the German soccer federation, Owomoyela filed a lawsuit against the NPD in 2006 over the original pamphlets, some 70,000 of which were confiscated by authorities during a search at the party's national headquarters.
© Associated Press

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RIGHT-WING MYTHS: HOW HUNTING AND MIGRATION FLOPPED AT POLLS(Malta)

23/3/2008- The March 8 general election has finally exploded the myth that the hunters’ lobby is influential in Maltese politics, as the Federazzjoni Kaccarturi Nassaba u Konservazzjonsti (FKNK) has been indirectly claiming for years. Speaking during a rally at Zebbug a week before on 2 March, FKNK President Joe Buttigieg said the Malta Labour Party (MLP) had given hunters written declarations, promising to safeguard their hobby. He called on hunters to vote for those candidates in favour of hunting and trapping, and whose party was prepared to help them. “We have been asked why we are not holding protests. Our biggest protest will take place on March 8,” he said to the cheering crowd. Before March 8, the FKNK had also signed an agreement with far-right party Azzjoni Nazzjonali (AN) in which it was promised that spring hunting would be retained. The spring hunting season was one of the issues discussed during this electoral campaign, after the European Commission filed a case against Malta with the European Court of Justice, calling for urgent interim measures to stop hunting during the breeding season, which is prohibited by European law. The temperature was raised even further after cars belonging to BirdLife activists were set on fire at Buskett. A week later, BirdLife billboards promoting the abolition of spring hunting were vandalised. So if all the 17,000 hunters and their families (totalling 68,000, assuming each hunter to have an average of four people in his family) were really as keen on their pastime as the FKNK claimed, then AN would have at least a seat in Parliament and the MLP would have won by a landslide over the PN. However, AN only obtained 1,461 first count votes – half the votes obtained by anti-hunting AD – and the MLP gained only 7,000 votes from the PN when compared to the 2003 general election: not enough to give Labour an electoral victory. In fact, the PN, which was set to lose thousands of votes after the FKNK accused it of betraying its 1998 and 2003 electoral promise that spring hunting would be retained – lost only 2,000 votes when compared to the 2003 general election. When the FKNK contested the 2004 European Parliament elections with its own candidate, federation secretary Lino Farrugia obtained 3,119 first-count votes – which means that only 4.59% of registered hunters and their families voted for the FKNK candidate. This time it seems that not even those few voters who voted for the hunters’ lobby four years ago followed suit in the 2008 general elections, leaving the hunters’ claims to electoral influence looking somewhat like a lame duck.

The far-right flop
Another casualty claimed by the March 8 general elections is the so-called immigration factor. When far-right party Azzjoni Nazzjonali (AN) was founded in June last year by former Nationalist MP Josie Muscat, all hell broke loose at the PN. The new party was seen to be catering to the far-right fringe in the PN, which had been rattling its sabres against the centrist policies of the Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi governments. In fact, AN was the crystallisation of the far right movement which had been manifesting itself in Malta in the past few years, as the number of asylum seekers landing in this country seemed to increase exponentially. The party’s campaign was well-funded and extremely well-organised, with costly backdrops, glossy manifestos and daily press events. Its manifesto appealed in particular to the self-employed and entrepreneurs, promising a 18% flat tax on earnings both for individuals as well as companies.
However, AN polled a dismal 1,461 first-count votes when the party was aiming for much more, at least with top-notch candidates like party leader Josie Muscat (who obtained 115 first count votes on the second district and 159 first count votes on the third) and deputy leader Angelo Xuereb (who obtained 118 first count votes on the eleventh district and 108 first count votes on the twelfth district).
Likewise, Imperium Europa leader Norman Lowell failed to repeat the relatively promising showing he had during the European Parliament elections in 2004, when he obtained 1,603 first-count votes. This time, Lowell obtained 48 first-count votes on the eleventh district and 36 first-count votes on the twelfth, polling a measly total of 84 votes. Another far-right candidate, James Shaun Cauchi, obtained 15 votes on the ninth district and seven votes on the tenth district, polling an even more measly total of 22 votes.
© Malta Today

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ASYLUM: THE PEERS' REVOLT(uk)

Their Lordships speak out: deportations to Iran must end 

28/3/2008- Britain must radically change its immigration policy and end immediately the deportation of failed asylum-seekers who fear persecution in Iran, a group of leading peers will tell the Government today. The call for a moratorium on asylum removals is a direct response to the plight of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian teenager facing execution if he returns to Iran, whose case has been taken up by The Independent. In a letter written to this newspaper, 17 members of the House of Lords say the case of Mr Kazemi demonstrates a change of policy is now the "only moral course" for the Government to follow. And in a stark warning on capital punishment in Iran, the Lords report that, in January alone, more than 30 prisoners were executed for a range of offences deemed criminal by the Middle East state. The campaign for a more compassionate asylum policy has also been taken up in the House of Commons, where 46 MPs have signed an early day motion demanding that the Government "asserts its position as a supporter of human rights" by granting Mr Kazemi sanctuary. The peers' letter, signed by – among others – the film director David Puttnam, the former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd, and the human rights barrister Helena Kennedy QC, comes the day after a damning report into Britain's immigration system which described the treatment of refugees in this country as "shameful." That report, published by the Independent Asylum Commission, led by a former senior judge, said the immigration policy denied sanctuary to some refugees who were in genuine need of help.

Human rights groups believe the Lords' letter and yesterday's report mark a key moment in government thinking on asylum which they hope will lead to a radical overhaul of the list of countries considered too dangerous for asylum-seekers to be deported to. Asylum rights campaigners also hope such a significant intervention will lead to a broader moratorium on deportations to all countries with poor or questionable human rights records, not just Iran. But the Lords believe Mr Kazemi's case is of such grave concern they must act to change British asylum policy on Iran first. "The case of Mehdi Kazemi demonstrates that a moratorium on the removal of those who could face persecution, torture or execution in Iran is the only moral course of action," the peers write in their letter. Mr Kazemi is still being held in an immigration detention centre in the Netherlands from where he is expected to be transferred to the UK in the next few days. He moved to Britain in 2005 to study English in London and Brighton. But, while he was here, he discovered that his former boyfriend had been executed for sodomy and his own life was in danger because he had been named as the man's lover. Mr Kazemi's family, some of whom have lived in the United Kingdom for more than 30 years, urged him to claim asylum. But, last year, the Home Office rejected his application forcing him to flee to the Netherlands. His case provoked a public outcry and, this month, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, agreed to reconsider his claim. Speaking from an immigration detention centre in Rotterdam last week, Mr Kazemi said he still feared for his future. "I know what Jacqui Smith has said about my case and that, of course, is a good thing. But I know what this Government can do to me. They tried to take me at Christmas two years ago when everyone was away, even my lawyer." It was only the intervention of his MP, the Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes, that prevented his deportation. In an 11th-hour appeal, Mr Hughes persuaded the Home Office to halt the deportation so he could look into the case.

Announcing the decision to rehear Mr Kazemi's case, Ms Smith said: "I have decided Mr Kazemi's case should be reconsidered on his return to the UK." In their letter the Lords say: "We welcome the decision of the Home Secretary to look again at Mr Kazemi's case and to reconsider the original decision to refuse him asylum in the United Kingdom. The Home Office have acted appropriately in this, as indeed they have acted within the law throughout this case. "However, this is not simply a legal matter but a moral one too... when we are making decisions of life or death, we must be aware of the human consequences of the cold letter of the law." In response to an earlier plea by 70 peers to grant Mr Kazemi asylum, Ms Smith defended the Home Office record. She said in a letter seen by The Independent: "I can assure you the Government is committed to providing protection for those individuals found to be genuinely in need in accordance with our commitments under international law. "The Home Office Country of Origin Information Service closely monitors the human rights situation in all the countries that generate asylum-seekers to the UK, including Iran. It provides accurate, objective, sourced and up-to-date information." She added "The published Country Reports are updated on a rolling basis and are compiled from a wide range of external information sources including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees World Health Organisation, human rights organisations, news media and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "The current Home Office Iran Country Report was published on 31 January 2008 and includes a specific section on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons."

The case of Mehdi Kazemi
Mehdi Kazemi came to Britain in 2005 to study English at a college in Brighton. But although the young Iranian had settled well into British life he always intended returning home to Tehran. In April 2006 he received a telephone call from his father who told him Medhi's former boyfriend had been executed. He had been interrogated by the state police authorities and named Medhi as his partner. Fearing for his life if he returned to Iran, Mehdi claimed asylum in Britain. But last year his case was refused. He fled to the Netherlands where he was detained in an immigration centre. A Dutch court ordered him to be returned to the UK, where the Home Secretary agreed to reconsider his case. In an open letter to Jacqui Smith, Mehdi said: "I cannot stop my attraction towards men. This is something that I will have to live with the rest of my life. If I return to Iran I will be arrested and executed."
© Independent Digital

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RACISM IN SUFFOLK SCHOOLS SOARS(uk)

22/3/2008- Anti-racism campaigners say they are deeply concerned after the number of racist incidents reported in Suffolk schools increased 40% in a year. A Suffolk County Council report shows the complaints rose from 433 in 2005/06 to 606 in 2006/07 - and some believe that may only be the tip of the iceberg. In addition, the number of schools recording racist incidents rose from 125 to 152 in the same period. The council put the rise down to a more “rigorous” approach to reporting racism, saying more victims now felt prepared to come forward. But the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE), say there is no evidence to suggest the rise was due to increased confidence in reporting - and said a huge number of incidents remain unreported. Jane Basham, director of ISCRE, said: “The significant increase in racist incidents in schools is of very real concern and it has such a negative impact on young children, their friends, families and communities. “ISCRE recognises that good work is going on in some schools but much more needs to be done. The work in schools also needs to be done much more closely with the individuals and communities most affected and at risk. “There are other challenges and responsibilities for schools, authorities, all parents and communities too. “Only this week we have seen the children's character Basil Brush reinforcing negative stereotypes about gypsies and travellers. Children learn prejudices from a range of places - they are not born with them.” She added: “ISCRE does not believe that there is evidence to support the claim by agencies that any increase in racist incidents is as a result of increased confidence in reporting. “We believe a huge number of incidents still go unreported and we know too that over half the schools in Suffolk report having no racist incidents - which we find difficult to believe.” The figures, contained in a report due to be discussed at a meeting on Thursday, show the number of black and minority ethnic pupils on roll increased from 7.4% of the school population in January 2006 to 8.4% in January 2007, which the council says may have had an impact on the rise.

Patricia O'Brien, Portfolio Holder for Children, Schools and Young People's Services, will tell next week's meeting a more rigorous approached to racism is proving effective. “Schools have reported staff being more sensitive to racism, while pupils who are victims of racial abuse are more willing to report incidents. “Suffolk insists that every school returns its racist incident records on an annual basis, although this process can take a long time, as there are more than 350 schools.” She added: “Suffolk and other local authorities in the region have suspected for some time that racist incidents in schools have been under-reported. “Greater awareness and sensitivity is beginning to reverse the trend of under-reporting.” Martin Goold, county secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said: “It is disappointing to see an increase, although hopefully this is due to better reporting and that means hopefully it is being dealt with. There are new pressures with an influx of people from Eastern Europe coming to live and work here, and that may well introduce outsiders, immigration into new areas that has not seen it in quite the same way before. “This is a very serious issue and schools are amongst the first places to counter any racism that we find, either among adults or children.”
© East Anglian Daily Times

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POLL: CZECHS SAY ROMA UNLIKELY TO INTEGRATE SOON

27/3/2008- Most Czechs believe that Romanies living in ghettoes will not be integrated into Czech majority society soon, according to a GAC agency's survey conducted for the Open Society and released Wednesday. One of five Czechs said they believe the integration may last up to 25 years. One-fourth believed it would take 25 to 75 years and the same portion believed it would take centuries or that it could never be achieved. The poll was conducted last autumn among 2616 Czechs most of whom lived in regions where Romany ghettoes were more frequent. The estimated number of people, mostly Romanies, living in some 300 ghettoes in the Czech Republic is up to 80,000. The adults are often unemployed and families live on welfare benefits. Children end up in special schools for pupils with learning difficulties, which makes it fairly impossible for them to continue studying at secondary schools. Nine out of ten Czechs believe the problem of Romany ghettoes needs to be dealt with. The same number also believes that Romanies are to blame for their situation. Some 80 percent say the bad situation is also the fault of Romany organisations and two-thirds said the government and local authorities are to blame, too. The respondents generally believe the situation may markedly improve after three generations pass, Ivan Gabal from GAC told CTK. Czech mostly believe that the situation may be improved through education. A majority of them support the idea of preparatory schools and systemic tutoring of Romany children so that they can keep up the pace, according to the poll. Part of the population supports affirmative action. A new Czech agency social inclusion in Romany localities started functioning in March. It is to focus especially on employment, education and accommodation of Romanies. More than three-fourths of Czechs believe that the agency will bring positive change, the poll showed.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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PRAGUE CITY HALL DISSOLVES EXTREMIST RALLY(Czech Rep.)

22/3/2008- The Prague City Hall Saturday ordered to dissolve a demonstration of the nationalist National Party (NS) in Prague centre outside the House of Ethnic Minorities as its participants violated the conditions of the previously announced event, the City Hall has said. About 20 people met at the NS event at 11:00 this morning to protest against alleged positive discrimination of minorities. Some 10 representatives of the association of minorities met at the same place and blocked the entry to the House of Ethnic Minorities. The police had therefore to clear the place. The demonstrators also pasted up a poster on the door. One of the NS members then started to explain the reasons for Saturday's event. Immediately afterwards a City Hall clerk dissolved the meeting, saying it "deviated from the originally announced purpose." Consequently, the demonstrators decided to move to Palacke Square, The Prague "Speakers' Corner," where meetings can be held without being officially announced and permitted. One of the organisers, Radim Panenka, read his speech on the square at the banner reading "Anti-discrimination Law - Discrimination against Majority - the [ senior ruling Civic Democrats] ODS Betrayed Right-wing Voters." Panenka said the demonstrators did not want to attack the Romany minority, but they would like to point to the connection between migration and the rising crime rate. The meeting was monitored by some 20 policemen. The National Party followers say they wanted to set up a tradition of the fight against positive discrimination Saturday. The party also criticises the Education Ministry's programme in support of Romany secondary school students.

The NS members say their meeting was dissolved at variance with law. "The purpose of the meeting was aimed at hatred and intolerance towards citizens, respectively minorities," the City Hall clerk told reporters. He also raises objections to the poster, showing white sheep standing on the Czech Republic's flag and kicking off a black sheep. The demonstration was condemned by the minorities' representatives present. "This is a demonstrated effort to criminalise ethnic minorities. We have been traditionally part of Czech society for long," said Igor Zolotarev from the Russian minority in Prague. The extra-parliamentary NS says on its website it wants to recall "discrimination against the white majority by pseudo-humanist associations and activists," and that the meeting should also commemorate "the Czechs who suffered or were killed by members of ethnic minorities." The association of ten minorities condemned the meeting previously, saying it considers the event a mere provocation that is to stir up intolerance and hatred towards minorities in society. Representatives of the Bulgarian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Romany, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak and Ukrainian minorities say they believe that most Czechs will side with them and help prevent similar events from happening in the Czech Republic. The NS has been officially registered since 2002. The Interior Ministry originally refused to register it, but the party turned to the Constitutional Court that cancelled the ministry's decision. The party stands up against the EU, foreign immigrants and Romanies.

March 21 has been declared the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in memory of the 1960 events when the police in South Africa killed 69 people at a demonstration against apartheid. Six years later, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that has been ratified by 128 countries. Municipal clerks and the police in the past terminated some meetings over the violation of their conditions as well as brawls among demonstrators. Last May the police dispersed a May Day neo-Nazi meeting in Brno, south Moravia, since its participants chanted slogans and had Nazi symbols on their outfits and flags. In January 2003 the Prague City Hall also dissolved the extremist march with torches that the Jewish Liberal Union, along with anarchists and anti-fascists, tried to prevent.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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Headlines 21 March, 2008

IMMIGRANTS SUBJECT TO DISCRIMINATION IN NORWAY

21/3/2008- Immigrants, especially those from Africa and Asia, must routinely tackle discrimination in Norway, both on the job and on the street. Some notice that no one sits next to them on the bus, and in some cases ethnic Norwegians hurl insults at them. A new study conducted by research firm MMI for the government agency in charge of integration (IMDi) indicates that a considerable portion of non-western immigrants have experienced discrimination based on their ethnic background. MMI's survey, reports newspaper Aften, showed that six of 10 African immigrants questioned said they've experienced discrimination. Most try to just brush it off. "When I don't get enough help at the doctor's office, or when folks are unpleasant on the bus, I have to wonder whether it's because of my background," Catalina Tetlie, originally from the Dominican Republic, told Aften. "Or maybe it happens to everyone. I try to just block it out." Williams Tamba from Liberia said he encounters discrimination most often when trying to enter nightclubs or popular bars. Doormen often keep him out, he claims. "They always find a reason not to let me in," Tamba said. He's also experienced discrimination on the job. "When I was working for a building firm, a Norwegian was hired after me," Tamba told Aften. "He had less experience than I did, and I trained him, but he was paid more than I was." Such discrimination is illegal in Norway, but difficult for officials to crack down on. "Nightclubs or discos risk losing their liquor licenses if they discriminate," Osmund Kaldheim of IMDi. "It's surprising that we're still hearing about so many incidents." All told, nearly 19 percent of immigrants questioned said they'd faced job discrimination and discriminatory behaviour on public transport. More than 15 percent had experienced discrimination at bars or restaurants. Many, though, say they've never suffered discrimination. Omar Ibrahim Hasji, age 51 from Somalia, has lived in Oslo since 1986 and claims he's never encountered such trouble. "I have children in school, and it's never been a problem for them, either," he said.
© Aftenpost

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MPS PASS ANTI-DISCRIMINATION BILL(Czech Rep.)

19/3/2008- The Czech Chamber of Deputies Wednesday passed the anti-discrimination bill that secures an equal access to education, labour, health care and social benefits irrespective of age, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion and world outlook. The legislation is yet to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Vaclav Klaus into law. The Czech Republic pledged to pass the bill in connection with its EU entry in May 2004, and it faced EU sanctions for the delay. The Czech Republic is the last of the 27 EU member states to pass the legislation. However, some right-wing deputies point out that such a law is unnecessary if not even harmful and they say it is "an evil forced on the Czech Republic by the EU." In spite of it, a majority of the senior ruling right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) deputies voted for the bill Wednesday with regard to the EU demands. On the contrary, a number of the senior opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) did not support it. The left opposition says the law is important, but that the government has submitted a "toothless" bill that only provides insufficient protection against discrimination. Most opposition Communists (KSCM) voted against the bill as they failed to push through, as part of the anti-discrimination legislation, the abolition of the lustration laws, which bans former top Communists functionaries and former secret police (StB) agents and collaborators from high posts in state administration. Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil (ODS) said previously many rules contained in the bill are already embedded in the Czech legal order. Under the bill, a person who would feel discriminated against on various grounds has the right to claim a proportional compensation in court. The Social Democrats proposed several changes to extend the government anti-discrimination bill, but the lower house rejected most of them. Deputies did not support proposals submitted by ODS MP Boris Stastny either. He proposed that the Chamber of Deputies approve simultaneously with the bill a resolution saying no law can artificially remove the natural differences between people. Stastny also wanted the deputies to state that they passed the bill as something that ensued from the country's commitments towards the EU and that they did not identify themselves with its ideological meaning.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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PROPHET MUHAMMAD CARTOON SHOWS UP IN CZECH CITY

19/3/2008- Several dozen posters containing a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban turned up on the streets of the Czech Republic's second largest city, and the government condemned them on Wednesday. "Prophet Muhammad did not know any bombs during his time," Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said. "This is sheer mockery. Such posters are for me ... a sign of the intolerance and aggressiveness of those who devised them." In a statement, the ministry condemned all actions aimed at inciting religious, racial or ethnic hatred. The drawing is one of 12 cartoons published in a Danish newspaper that enraged many Muslims in early 2006, sparking deadly riots around the world. Still, leading Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoon showing Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban on Feb. 13 to show their commitment to freedom of speech, one a day after police uncovered a plot to kill the artist who drew it. The reprint in the papers sparked smaller protests in several predominantly Muslim countries. In downtown Brno, 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Prague, the Prophet Muhammad posters turned up early Wednesday, and apparently had been hung up the night before. They reportedly were signed by an unknown group named Friends of Freedom of Speech.

Brno's Islamic community did not plan protests, said Muneeb Hassan Alrawi, head of the Islamic Foundation, which is in charge of the local mosque. Alrawi called the posters "deplorable" and said they were meant "to provoke Muslims." "We don't plan to make them happy by protesting," Alrawi said of the people behind the posters. He said local Muslims may react by launching a campaign to explain Islam. Some 150 Muslims regularly worship at the mosque, which was opened 10 years ago as the first in the Czech Republic, Alrawi said in a telephone interview. Authorities removed the posters Wednesday, the CTK news agency reported from Brno. It was not clear who put them up, and local police were investigating if that violated the law, police spokeswoman Andrea Prochazkova said. "This has nothing to do with freedom of speech," Schwarzenberg said.
© International Herald Tribune

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ASYLUM APPLICANT NUMBERS DROP, UNLIKE IN THE WEST(Czech Rep.)

18/3/2008- The number of asylum applicants in the Czech Republic decreased from 3016 in 2006 to 1878 last year, an opposite trend to the situation in advanced countries in which the number of asylum applicants doubled to 45,200 last year against 2006, according to U.N. figures. The U.N. High Commissioner's Office for Refugees (UNHCR)' statistical yearbook, released in Geneva Tuesday, says the internationally higher number is mainly due to the influx of Iraqi refugees. The number of asylum applicants from Iraq decreased in the Czech Republic from 80 in 2006 to 49 last year, according to Interior Ministry data. The highest number of Iraqi refugees - 346 - applied for asylum in 1999. From 1990 to last January, Czech authorities registered 2171 Iraqi asylum applicants. The overall number of asylum applicants has been decreasing in the Czech Republic since 2003 when there were 11,400 of them. The highest number of foreigners, or 18,100, applied for asylum in the country in 2001. Experts say the lower number of applicants may be due to a united European procedure. Under the Dublin Regulation, the asylum applicants are proceeded by only one EU member state. This measure was taken in reaction to the fact that many refugees gradually filed the application in several countries.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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CZECH ASYLUM BIDS WATCHED IN OTTAWA(Canada)

Spike in applications, mostly by Roma, since visa requirement ended

19/3/2008- Canada has seen a rising number of Roma asylum seekers since lifting its visa requirement for Czech Republic visitors five months ago – and more are expected now that four other eastern European countries have been given the same exemption. This month, Canada extended visa exemptions to Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania. All but the latter are populated by ethnic Roma, known colloquially as gypsies, who continue to face discrimination and social isolation in eastern Europe. The European Union has been pressuring Canada to open its border to all 27 member states, eliminating barriers that especially involve eastern Europe. Immigration Minister Diane Finley dropped the visa requirement for the Czech Republic as of Nov. 1. Since then, claims for asylum by Czech visitors, in most cases Roma, shot up to 83 by the end of December, from zero the previous year. This past January, 45 more claims were entered. There are concerns this could lead to a repeat of the 1996 influx of an estimated 4,000 Czech Roma into Canada after travel restrictions were eliminated. The majority were granted refugee status, but not before Canada reinstated a visa requirement. This time, the Canadian government has made it known unofficially that should the number of Czech refugee claimants leap to 580 this year (or 2 per cent of all such claims Canada expects to process), it will restore the visa requirement. At the Toronto Roma Community Centre on Springhurst Ave., executive director Paul St. Clair said he has been fielding calls from eastern Europeans wanting to learn more about coming to Canada."If we open the border, we open the border. We shouldn't limit how many refugees can apply from a country," said St. Clair, whose centre has files on about 40 Roma families seeking asylum since November.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada said the status quo between the two countries is based only on diplomatic assurances. "There is no 2 per cent (sanction) but it is important to remember that visa requirements are regularly reviewed," said spokesperson Danielle Norris. Eliminating visas is a win-win for both countries in terms of trade and tourism, Czech Republic ambassador Pavel Vosalik told the Star, adding that using the 2 per cent yardstick to determine entry conditions for Czechs isn't fair. He questioned the legitimacy of asylum applications, saying Czech natives are now free to travel in Europe if they decide their homeland lacks adequate security. Canada now requires visas of only two EU members, Romania and Bulgaria. Norris said the eventual goal is to end those barriers as well.
© The Toronto Star

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ANTI-RACISTS CLASH WITH ARYAN GUARD(Canada)

21/3/2008- White supremacists and anti-racist protesters clashed in a head-on screaming match that wound its way through downtown Calgary on Friday. A strong police presence stayed close on the heels of the protesters, breaking up several angry confrontations and leading at least two people away in handcuffs. It's the latest in a string of events that some activists fear signals a rising tide of racism in Calgary. "It's sad, this is a sad sight, an unsettling sight," said anti-racism advocate Bonnie Collins as a group of demonstrators stood waving white supremacist flags on the steps of the Calgary municipal building. "We'll always meet them head-on every time. I'm scared, but I'm not going to stand down, ever." Friday's incident began in front of a seniors' home as both sides shouted slogans at each other. A line of police officers formed a wall between the groups. Waving white pride worldwide flags, about 30 members of the neo-Nazi group, which calls itself the Aryan Guard, began marching. Nearly 150 anti-racist protesters dogged them at every step. The march paused several times as police forcibly held the two groups apart. Stunned tourists and downtown shoppers watched open-mouthed as the shouting crowd marched down the popular Stephen Avenue. "I think it's horrible," said Cindy Fredricks, wiping away tears after she found herself in the thick of the protesters while out for a walk. "You realize what this is about, it's pretty scary. Everybody should feel safe here," she said. The white supremacists refused interview requests. "We're just proud to be white, that's all. Why can't we be proud to be white?" said one protester, who refused to give his name. Earlier in the day, the anti-racist protesters gathered at the municipal building in a pre-emptive counter-protest. Several covered their faces in masks, saying they were fearful to make their identities known to the Aryan Guard members. "We have to stand together and fight their horrible ideas and ideology," said Collins. "The message is, there's strength in numbers," said one of the rally's organizers, Jason Devine. "We don't have to be afraid of people that march around with swastikas." "We're here to oppose it."
© Canada.com

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NEW YORK MAN FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST POLISH PRESIDENT FOR ANTI-GAY MARRIAGE SPEECH

19/3/2008- A gay New York man said Wednesday he has filed a complaint against the Polish president for using images of him and his partner in a national speech to warn against homosexual marriage. A brief video clip of Brendan Fay's wedding with his partner Tom Moulton was woven into President Lech Kaczynski's televised address to the nation Monday night. The video, along with a photo of the couple's marriage certificate, was shown as the president warned against the dangers of adopting the EU's new treaty and its Charter of Fundamental Rights, which Kaczynski says could open the door to same-sex marriage in Poland. "An article of the charter, due to no clear definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, may go against the universally accepted moral order in Poland and force our country to introduce an institution in conflict with the moral convictions of the decided majority of our country," Kaczynski said as the images flashed across the screen. It was not immediately clear how the images were obtained. Fay said that Polish immigrants and reporters began calling him Tuesday, asking how he felt about having his image used in the address. "My initial reaction was one of surprise and shock really," said Fay, a longtime gay activist who is a co-founder of the All Inclusive St. Patrick's Day Parade in Queens, New York. "I started getting translations of the phrase the president used as the image appeared... My reaction was just really... I thought, 'oh my God, what an insult' ... Tom and I are just a couple, like any other couple around the world."

Fay, a documentary filmmaker who was born in Ireland but is now a New York resident, said he submitted his complaint to the Polish Consulate in New York on Tuesday. "Our images clearly were being used in a campaign by the president of Poland against lesbian and gay persons, and fostering intolerance and fear among the people of Poland," he said on Wednesday. Moulton, who is a pediatric oncologist and met Fay at Sunday Mass, said EU countries that permit same-sex marriage have not suffered from it. "It has not brought down their economy, it hasn't destroyed any of the heterosexual marriages... it hasn't brought down the families. If anything, it has strengthened the families," Moulton said. There is little support for same-sex marriage in Poland, a deeply Catholic country which joined the European Union in 2004. The Polish constitution states that marriage is only between a man and a woman. As mayor of Warsaw, Kaczynski refused to grant parade permits for gay rights marches, while his twin brother, former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has said "it's not in the interest of any society to increase the number of homosexuals."
© International Herald Tribune

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KACZYNSKI TWINS THREATEN POLISH RATIFICATION OF LISBON TREATY

17/3/2008- The Polish opposition, led by former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has threatened not to approve the EU's Lisbon Treaty in the country's parliament unless the ratification bill contains legal guarantees respecting Poland's sovereignty and its constitution as the highest law in the country, out of worries about gay marriage "being imposed" on the country. According to Mr Kaczynski, who earned himself the reputation of a trouble-maker on European issues in the past, the bill should reaffirm a mechanism allowing countries to block some EU decisions as well as opt-outs secured by Poland, namely an exemption from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The citizens' rights document, legally binding by the treaty, is seen in Poland's conservative circles as a back door to allowing abortions, euthanasia and gay marriages. The special addendum to the ratification bill was needed so that "homosexual marriages cannot be imposed on us" and that Polish property rights were secure on territory taken from Germany after World War II, Mr Kaczynski said, according to the Financial Times. His party, Law and Justice (PiS), negotiated the document last year, but some suggest that the opposition leader is currently under pressure from eurosceptic nationalists and the religious right. Mr Kaczynski's twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, has already thrown his weight behind his brother's warning. He needs to give the final approval to the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which is set to finally close the chapter on the union's institutional reform after years of negotiations. "In my opinion, the new ratification law ... should ensure the farthest-reaching security. Simply speaking, it should be as hard as possible to change whatever has been signed," the country's president was cited as saying by AP.

The threat to block treaty ratification is a blow to the the country's current leadership, who vowed after elections last November to be the first to ratify the EU's Lisbon Treaty. The ruling Civic Platform, led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, wanted to draw a clear line between the 16-month era of his predecessor and putting Poland back on the European stage. The Polish parliament is set to debate the issue on Tuesday (18 March), with the government hoping to find a compromise. The government needs at least 14 opposition votes to secure the two-thirds majority necessary for parliamentary ratification of the document. Some domestic media outlets are reporting that Prime Minister Tusk would consider a referendum on the treaty, should the parliament fail to ratify it. So far, Ireland is the only EU member state planning to hold a public ballot.
© EUobserver

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SPAIN POLICE PROBED AFTER AFRICAN MIGRANT DROWNS

17/3/2008- Three Spanish police officers are under investigation for murder after a Senegalese man reportedly drowned after they punctured the inflatable mattress with which he was trying to reach the Spanish coast. Laucling Sonko, together with three other Africans, was intercepted by a Civil Guard boat near a beach in Spain's North African enclave Ceuta one day before dawn in September, El Mundo newspaper reported on Monday. The police towed them back a short distance and slashed the mattress when they were about 100 metres from the Moroccan shore, despite Sonko's pleas that he could not swim, according to the Commission to Help Refugees (CEAR), an NGO which El Mundo said has lodged a criminal complaint. Spokesmen for the Civil Guard and the Interior Ministry confirmed a homicide investigation was under way in connection with the incident but did not give any further details. The police officers in question have not been suspended from service, the Civil Guard said. The Moroccan authorities are supposed to accept failed migrants, under a treaty, but in practice they often refuse to do so, leading the Civil Guard to puncture flotation aids in order to stop people re-attempting the trip to Spain, El Mundo said. Spain has taken a tougher line with illegal immigration from Africa since 30,000 migrants managed to reach the Canary Islands by boat in 2006. Legal immigration into Spain, mainly from Latin America and Eastern Europe, has been running at several hundred thousand a year, but the government has promised to deport illegals and signed repatriation agreements with African governments.
© Reuters

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DANISH PRIME MINISTER CONDEMNS WILDERS' REMARKS ON ISLAM(Netherlands)

Rasmussen calls Wilders' remarks about Muslims "sickening."

20/3/2008- Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen rejected praise from controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders and condemned Wilders' "sickening" and "coarse" remarks about Muslims. In an interview published Wednesday in the Danish daily Jyllands Posten, Rasmussen was responding to remarks by Wilders during a visit to Copenhagen earlier in the week praising the Danish leader for his "courageous defence" of freedom of expression. Rasmussen said he strongly distanced himself "from Wilders' debasing remarks about Muslims," and called Wilders' views "incredibly sickening." Wilders, the Dutch politician controversial for his anti-Islam views and plans to release a film about the Koran, had called Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende a "coward" for his critical stance against the film project. Wilders wants to ban the Koran, comparing it with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf." "Wilders' comments about Muslims are so coarse, that I would not want to see any group in Danish society attacked in such a way," the Copenhagen leader told Jyllands Posten.
© Expatica News

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'POLICE HAVE LOST TOUCH WITH MINORITIES' (Netherlands)

If police officers cannot learn to deal with people of ethnic background better then there is danger of social disruption.

21/3/2008– If police officers cannot learn to deal with people of ethnic background better then there is danger of social disruption. The Board of Police Commissioners has written this in a memo entitled 'Politie voor een ieder' (Police for everyone), that the GPD newspapers have had access to. Officers should take into account the sensitivities of the various population groups more. Police forces that do not invest in that will be faced with "unpleasant surprises." "Developments are moving quickly, 'thanks' to sms text messages, internet and the mass media. And problems quickly spread," the document reads. In at least three police forces officers are receiving training to better deal with people of ethnic background. Bert Poelert, director of the police's national expertise centre on diversity, expects that more forces will follow this example. He is urging that the police hire more officers who are of ethnic background themselves. Only 6.5 percent of the police workforce is of ethnic background. The Board of Commissioners expects a maximum increase of up to 10 percent, despite intensive recruitment campaigns. The board stressed that officers should give as neutral an impression as possible, by not wearing headscarves or other religious symbols.
© Expatica News

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JUSTICE INITIATIVE FINDS RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN DUTCH DATABASE

21/3/2008- The Open Society Justice Initiative this week urged the Dutch government to end its discriminatory gathering and processing of sensitive racial and ethnic data. The government-compiled database, known as the "Reference Index of Antilleans," violates both European and international legal norms, according to the Justice Initiative. The index, which gathers and maintains data on the basis of individuals' membership in an ethnic group, infringes the right to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and the right to privacy, according to a legal submission by the Justice Initiative in a case challenging the Reference Index. The case is being heard by the Dutch Council of State; the Justice Initiative's brief is available here. "This is an important opportunity for the highest administrative court in the Netherlands to put a stop to this discriminatory practice, which exclusively targets Antillean and Aruban youth," said Robert O. Varenik, acting executive director of the Justice Initiative. "The use of this type of database is a clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and basic norms of international human rights law." In late 2005, the Dutch Government introduced the database to identify Antillean and Aruban youths deemed "at-risk" of committing crimes or experiencing various social problems. Individuals registered in the database are placed under enhanced scrutiny, including personal surveillance and other preventive law enforcement interventions.

In July 2007, The Hague Regional Court ruled that the database "is not an appropriate method to reach the intended purpose." But the Dutch government, together with 21 municipalities that intend to use the database, appealed the decision to the Council of State. The Justice Initiative's brief argues that the use of ethnic or racial data linked to a risk profile is a form of unlawful ethnic profiling amounting to racial discrimination. "This form of discrimination has a stigmatizing effect on the Antillean community at large, and adversely affects far more people than those subjected to registration in the database" said Varenik. The Justice Initiative's project on contemporary forms of discrimination in Europe promotes litigation to combat racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination in European Union states. It seeks to empower victims of discrimination to use advanced antidiscrimination legal protections before national, regional, and international tribunals. The project pursues cases that address systemic problems and can generate significant public impact beyond the courtroom.
© The Open Society Justice Initiative

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MOSCOW'S CHIEF PROSECUTOR PLAYS DOWN EXTREMISM THREAT (Russia)

21/3/2008- A month after Moscow's police chief issued a jaw-dropping denial that neo-Nazi gangs exist in the city, Moscow's chief prosecutor argued in an interview that the number of extremist crimes recorded in the city is falling, contrary to press and NGO reports that show a record number of hate crimes. In a March 19, 2008 interview with the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta Yuri Semin was asked about a series of recent murders committed by neo-Nazi gangs in his city. "I am sure that there is no growing wave of extremism," he said. "Yes, there have been crimes motivated by religious and ethnic hatred... But statistics show that year by year the number of such crimes is falling." He went on to report the detention of suspects in the murder of a chess master from the Sakha Republic, and described recently filed charges against the "Ryno gang" which is thought responsible for dozens of killings. Both government and NGO statistics show that, contrary to Mr. Semin's optimistic spin, the number of hate crimes in Russia has increased year by year. According to Russian law enforcement figures, the number of crimes committed by extremist groups tripled from 2004-2007. The Sova Center, a Russian NGO, announced that 17 people were killed and more than 50 injured as of February 15, a pace that, if maintained, would result in a doubling of the 2007 numbers. While these are statistics collected across the country as a whole, the vast majority have occurred in Moscow.
© FSU Monitor

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5 SUSPECTED SKINHEADS HELD IN RAIDS(Russia)

20/3/2008- Five members of a neo-Nazi youth group connected to at least three murders have been arrested in southeast Moscow, police said Wednesday. The suspects were arrested on Tuesday in police raids of the apartments where they lived in the district, city police spokeswoman Tatyana Korolyova said. She declined to give the names or the ages of the suspects, describing them only as "juveniles operating out of their homes." "We can only confirm their connection with three murders, although they have severely beaten two other people, who may die," Korolyova said. The police spokeswoman declined to give details of the murders in which the suspects are believed to have been involved. The arrests came just two days after Alexei Krylov, 16, a member of an anti-fascist group, was stabbed to death by a mob of young men after attending a punk concert with his friends at the Art Garbage club. The attackers have been linked to skinhead groups. There have been 33 racist murders and another 101 people severely injured in hate crimes across Russia so far this year, the Sova Center, which tracks hate crimes, said Wednesday. "In the whole of last year, 72 people died as a result of attacks by skinheads, and in the less than three full months of 2008 we've already had 33," Sova Center head Galina Kozhevnikova said, Interfax reported. "The level of violence in rising," she said.
© The Moscow Times

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YOUNG MAN MURDERED ON HIS WAY TO AN ANTIFASCIST CONCERT(Russia)

16/3/2008- about 15 neo-nazis attacked a group of 7 people who were on their way to an antifascist concert in Moscow. 20 year old Alexey Krylov from Noginsk (Moscow region) was stabbed to death. The attack had been discussed on a “Spartak” football team fansite forum. The attack took place at 18.40 near “Kitai gorod” metro station (in a walk distance from the Kremlin). The antifascists believe it to be a planned action, because the “Spartak” fansite contained an instruction on how to conduct reconnaissance in the area of the “Art Garbage” club, where the concert was to take place. Reportedly, there were several minor fights with the neo-nazis, and somebody sprayed pepper gas in the club. The concert didn’t take place. The police questioned the witnesses. It is not the first incident of this sort in Moscow. In April 2006, Alexander Ryukhin was stabbed to death on his way to a punk concert. Three neo-nazis were charged in connection with this attack and sentenced up to 6 years of imprisonment.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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CANCER-TREATMENT MOTHER DIES AFTER DEPORTATION(uk)

20/3/2008- A terminally ill woman who was deported from Britain while undergoing treatment for cancer has died, it was reported today. Mother-of-two Ama Sumani, 39, suffers from malignant myeloma and was receiving dialysis at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, when she was deported to Ghana last month because her UK visa had expired. Friends campaigned for her to be allowed back to Wales to continue dialysis because she was unable to afford treatment in Ghana. After news of the woman's plight spread, an anonymous donation came in which allowed Ms Sumani to receive limited treatment in her home country. The BBC reports she passed away in Accra, Ghana, just hours after being told that friends and family had found doctors in the UK and South Africa to treat her. The broadcaster said she died at around 4pm GMT yesterday in Korle-Bu hospital in Accra. She had been receiving kidney dialysis and treatment there after immigration officials removed her from the University Hospital of Wales in January. The treatment in Ghana enabled her to have dialysis for her kidneys, which have been damaged by cancer. But the drug she needed to prolong her life, Thalidomide, is not available in her home country. Her friend Janet Simmons, from Cardiff, told the BBC: "She said she was too tired to fight." Mrs Simmons, who returned from spending a month in Ghana on Sunday, said they had just found a doctor in South Africa and another in the UK who would treat Ms Sumani with the drugs. "We told her this morning but this afternoon she gave up," she told the broadcaster. "The British people kept her alive all this time and we would like to thank them for their donations, "I last saw her on Saturday morning before I left Ghana. She was not 100 per cent. She asked me 'are you taking me with you?' and I had to say no." Tens of thousands of pounds were raised for her in the UK, with actress Trudie Styler, wife of rock star Sting, reportedly donating. The decision to deport Ms Sumani was described as "atrocious barbarism" by leading British medical journal The Lancet.
© Independent Digital

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DEATH SENTENCE: GAY SYRIAN TEENAGER FACING DEPORTATION(uk)

16/3/2008- His only crime was to be gay. For that he was half-drowned, brutally beaten and then fell into a coma. He survived, escaped from jail, fled his country and eventually arrived, exhausted and bedraggled, here in Scotland. And now the Government wants to send him back. Syrian Jojo Jako Yakob last night pleaded with the Home Office to reverse a deportation order and spare him the certain death he believes he will face if he returns to his country. "I wish to claim asylum and I wish to stay here in Scotland," he said. Gay rights activists demanded that homosexuals, such as Yakob, who were facing clear persecution in their homeland, should be granted asylum. But a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy responded by describing homosexuality as a "disease", which the country sought to "treat". The 19-year-old is now to embark on a landmark legal challenge in order to reverse the deportation order so he can spend the rest of his life in Scotland. Yakob fled his homeland two years ago after managing to survive a harrowing ordeal at the hands of Syrian police and prison guards, when he was arrested for distributing anti-government leaflets. Following his transfer from police interrogation, prison guards soon discovered that Yakob, a member of the repressed Kurdish minority in the Arab state, was homosexual. He then suffered horrific beatings and was assaulted so badly that he fell into a coma. After being transferred to hospital, he managed to flee to Lebanon making for London, holed up in a lorry. He applied for asylum and was granted extended leave by the Home Office, but was then arrested in Aberdeen last April after being found in possession of a fake Belgian passport. He was handed a 12-month sentence and sent to Polmont Young Offenders Unit in Falkirk.

His lawyers say his asylum application was then mistakenly withdrawn and, as a result, he has been served with a deportation order, pending a final hearing this May. If unsuccessful, he will be sent back to Syria. He has been kept at Polmont as a remand prisoner until that date. His case mirrors that of gay Iranian teenager Mehdi Kazemi, 19, who was this week allowed to stay in Britain after claims that he would be executed if returned to his homeland. Now, while detained at Polmont, Yakob has appealed against a Home Office deportation order and has instructed top Scottish QC, Mungo Bovey, to fight his case. Yakob is terrified of being returned to Syria, where homosexuality is illegal, and believes that if he returns, he faces certain death. Speaking from Polmont last night, Yakob explained why he fears a return to his homeland. "I wish to seek asylum in the UK for a number of reasons," he said. "My father is a politician with the Yakiti Party – pro-Kurdish and anti-government. I was arrested when I was 15 years of age for possession of anti-government material. These were basic leaflets for my father's political party. "My father was imprisoned before I left Syria for 13 years for anti-government activity." Of his arrest, he added: "I was then tortured. I was beaten. At one point I was put up against a wall and a handgun pointed at me. I was told that if I did not tell the authorities what they wanted to know they would shoot me dead. I did not tell them anything, I did not think they would shoot me. "The police officer then shot me in my upper left arm. At that point, I told them what they wanted to know as I believed that they would shoot me dead." Yakob says he was held in police cells for 20 days without charge and subjected to daily electric shock torture and beatings before being transferred to Ahdas Prison, by the Turkish border.

In prison, he formed a relationship with a gay prisoner named Hassain. Yakob explained: "Hassain was serving a sentence, he told me, for 25 years. He told me that the sentence was only because he was gay. "The Syrian government claim that they do not imprison people any longer for being gay and that in any event the maximum sentence is three years. This is not true. The Syrian authorities will always find other charges to bring against a person." After the pair were seen sleeping together in jail, Yakob said he was subjected to systematic beatings, which "went on for days into weeks". He added: "This was all because I was gay. No questions were asked of me about my father's political party or any other political activity. All the questions related to me being gay. "I was also subjected to cold-water torture, where I was put in a room and buckets of cold water were constantly thrown over me. I could not remember what day it was or how long I had been in prison. "One day I woke up in hospital in a nearby town of Kamishli. The doctor who was treating me told me that I had been in a coma for 20 days. He said to the authorities that I could not return to prison as I was not fit and I could not stand trial until I had had a rest. He suggested that I be sent home for recuperation."

Yakob then decided to flee to the UK. "I went home and after two weeks or so I was feeling better. By that time I had decided that the only option I had was to leave Syria. I left Syria and in 20 days or so arrived in the UK by lorry at Dover. I wish to claim asylum and I wish to stay here in Scotland." News of Yakob's case last night sparked outrage among Scotland's gay rights and equality groups. Stonewall director Calum Irving said: "We have serious concerns about the UK's immigration policy, especially since it appears that people are being sent back to countries where their safety is not guaranteed and where they could be persecuted just for being gay."
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh-based Equality Network added: "I feel that we shouldn't be sending people back to countries where they will be persecuted, even if they entered the country illegally." But a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London denied last night that torture of gay people took place. He said: "Homosexuality is illegal in Syria, but there are no special units to deal with this problem. "People are not prosecuted – society looks at this as a disease for which they can be treated – it is a similar position to that taken by the Vatican. I cannot give a clearer answer." Yakob will appear before a full immigration hearing in Glasgow on May 7 to determine his fate. Yakob claims that he wants to start a new life in Scotland. He said: "If I was to return to Syria, I would either be returned to jail for my political activities, for having left the country and being gay, or alternatively I would be put into the army for the three-year period. "It is likely that they would put me into the army on the basis that the army would kill me one way or the other."

Reprieve for gay Iranian
A gay teenager from Iran remains on temporary reprieve after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith vowed to reconsider his deportation to the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, human rights activists have vowed to take Mehdi Kazemi's case to the EU courts, which on Friday issued a resolution asking the Netherlands and the UK to "find a common solution to ensure that he is granted asylum or protection on EU soil". The youth arrived in England in 2005 to learn English and applied for asylum so on after learning of the execution of his same-sex partner under Iran's sodomy laws. After the refusal of his request for asylum, Kazemi fled to Holland to avoid deportation from the UK. However, a request from British authorities to return the 19-year-old in order to complete the deportation process was upheld last week by the Dutch Supreme Court. After an outcry from gay rights campaigners, who claim that the youngster faces execution, the Home Secretary has stepped in to review the decision.
© The Scotsman

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ON GUARD(Hungary)

A Hungarian far-right party spins off a contingent of uniformed marchers and takes aim at “Gypsy criminality.”
By Michael J. Jordan

21/3/2008- Tamas Gyimesi has a style all his own, like a cross between a nightclub bouncer and Hungarian folkloric dancer. Below his shaved head and gold loops that dangle from both ears, he’s wearing a striking floral, hand-woven vest over a billowing white shirt. On marching days, though, Gyimesi breaks out a more ominous look. He and fellow members of the new, far-right Hungarian Guard don black boots, black caps and black vests stamped with ancient Hungarian stripes last embraced by the Nazi-allied Arrow Cross – a regime that killed tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, dumping many of them in the icy Danube. Members of the Guard, which claims at least 650 adherents, say their mission is to protect Hungarians, their culture, their traditions. “Here, all the minorities have rights, but unfortunately, I don’t have rights,” Gyimesi explains from the outset. “We’re becoming a minority in our own country.” Railing against “Gypsy criminality,” vowing to defend rural Hungarians who say they are often victims of theft and violence, the “Magyar Garda” has become the talk of the country. Every week, it seems, they march lock-step – unarmed but menacingly – in a provincial town. The Guard’s website proudly lists the group’s recent and upcoming events nationwide. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has called them “Hungary’s shame.” President Laszlo Solyom described their activities as “immensely damaging” to the national image. And the Budapest chief prosecutor’s office deems them “incompatible with a democratic state.”

Populist target
Yet the Guard, unveiled last August, is also the latest, and seemingly the most sophisticated, of the far-right groups to sprout in Central and Eastern Europe in recent years. Observers say the Guard exploits a political environment grown inured to harsh rhetoric over the past decade, while seizing upon popular fury at a Socialist-led government caught lying about the country’s deteriorating economic condition. However, rather than focus on traditional “enemies,” like neighboring countries or the Jews, the Guard has a softer, more populist target in its crosshairs: the Roma, who number more than 500,000 among Hungary’s 10 million. And despite calls from human-rights, Romani and Jewish groups for the state to ban the Guard, some now warn that the Roma themselves may organize in self-defense. On 29 February, for example, a Hungarian daily quoted the head of the national Romani self-government council, Orban Kolompar, as warning that it would be difficult for him to “hold back” fellow Roma when the Guard marches. “It creates a natural reaction within the community, that if one group should come against us, we should create a group to protect ourselves,” says Viktoria Mohacsi, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament and herself a Roma. Branding the Guard “Nazi-like,” she adds, “Of course, [violence] is not acceptable, but nor is it acceptable from the other side to create such fear. If there is this potential for violence, then everyone – including politicians, police, judges – should work to prevent this.” The rise of groups far to the right on the political spectrum is not unique to Hungary. Across the region, the revolutions of 1989-90 that launched the post-communist transition to democracy also opened political space for extremist groups.

In Hungary, they more or less remained on the fringe until 1998, when Viktor Orban, who in the late 1980s was a blue-jean-and-earring-wearing young dissident, swung his party to the right, espousing nationalist, Christian values. His party, Fidesz, then formed a de facto alliance with a small ultra-nationalist party whose playwright leader, Istvan Csurka, often indulged in Jewish conspiracies. As prime minister, Orban himself was never accused of anti-Semitism. But he was criticized domestically and overseas for not denouncing Fidesz members who sometimes appealed to supporters with coded phrases viewed as anti-Semitic – attacking rivals as “cosmopolitans,” “Communist Jews” or possessing “foreign hearts.” Many Hungarians rejected this rhetoric, yet the proverbial genie escaped the bottle. Even as Hungary glimmered as a freshly minted member of first the NATO military alliance, then the European Union, mainstream public discourse became rife with distinctions between “Hungarians” and “non-Hungarians” in their midst – with both Jews and Roma on the outside, looking in. One local Holocaust-education advocate says she is troubled to see this attitude bloom among high school and university students, for it revives a historic question for Hungarian Jews who were traditionally more assimilated – or at least believed they were. “Even young people who are not racist or anti-Semitic use the same terminology, that you can’t be both Hungarian and a Jew,” says Andrea Szonyi, who co-founded the Zachor Foundation for Social Remembrance. “It leads us back to the Holocaust, when people who defined themselves as Hungarian were taken to the gas chambers as Jews.” In September 2006, the atmosphere grew even more toxic. Gyurcsany – whose Socialist Party is direct heir to the old Communist Party – was caught on tape admitting that he lied to voters “morning, evening and night” about the nation’s economic health to win re-election earlier that year. Orban and Fidesz, now leading the opposition, assailed the Gyurcsany government as illegitimate. As political battle lines firmed up, a series of fierce riots broke out in the streets of the capital.

One new feature of the demonstrations in the autumn of 2006 was re-emergence of the “Arpad stripes,” the red-and-white flag derived from a medieval, royal coat-of-arms. It would later be adopted by the wartime Hungarian Arrow Cross. Today’s incarnation of the Arpad flag, though, lacks the black Arrow Cross symbol, which – like the Nazi swastika and Soviet hammer-and-sickle – is illegal to display in Hungary. Liberal society says there’s little difference. But the counter-argument of the striped flag’s lofty historic status has held water. The banner now regularly waves at anti-government demonstrations, especially events of the Magyar Garda.

Hungary's 'radical edge'
Meanwhile, tensions with the Roma have festered. Studies indicate that many Roma are mired in poverty, joblessness and social segregation, which helps explain why a significant number reportedly turn to petty crime. This also helps fuel public rage, fear and a sweeping stereotype of “Gypsy criminals,” as if all Roma prey on innocent citizens. Enter Jobbik, a far-right political party that emerged in 2003, led by Gabor Vona, a former psychology student. Known more formally as “Movement for a Better Hungary,” Jobbik describes itself as “a Christian-national conservative party with a radical edge.” In 2006, Jobbik launched a website on “Gypsy criminality.” Then last August, it introduced its uniformed wing, the Hungarian Guard. Vona, 30, also leads the Guard. Under the umbrella of a legally registered party, the Guard appears to choose its words and actions carefully while pushing the envelope. Some observers claim that crowds at Guard events are prone to shout anti-Semitic slogans, but officially the organization avoids any talk of Hungary’s roughly 100,000 Jews – by far the largest Jewish community in Central Europe – as this tactic has gained little traction over the years and only tarnished Hungary’s reputation. “The Magyar Garda is about enemies: ‘Who are the enemies of the Magyars? – The Jews and the neighbors who took away our territories,’ ” says Janos Gado, editor of the monthly Hungarian Jewish magazine, Szombat. “But within Hungarian society, the tensions are greatest with the Roma, because this is a living issue and [the Guard] can win more sympathy.”

A tipping point came in October 2006 in the village of Olaszliszka. A motorist who hit and injured a Romani girl with his car was then beaten to death by an enraged mob as his two daughters watched. Several weeks ago non-Romani residents of the village asked the justice minister to protect them from what they say has been a rash of increasingly violent crimes committed by Roma. A Jobbik spokesman, Zoltan Fuzessy, denies that either his party or the Guard is “anti-Roma,” but rather “bringing attention to something that had been swept under the carpet” – criminality among Roma. “If there’s a problem that needs to be solved, the first step is to recognize and admit there’s a problem, then do something about it,” Fuzessy says. “Even if there’s a storm now, we’re trying to at least have a discussion about it.” Indeed, the question has roiled the media. For example, the leading left-liberal daily, Nepszabadsag, is publishing reams of opinion about “the Roma question.” The argument is not left versus right, but among left-leaning commentators: Is crime committed by Roma due to racism and discrimination? Do Roma traditions at the margins of society play a role? Is the phrase “Romani criminality” itself racist? Among ordinary Hungarians, though, the Guard has breached the floodgates of this hatred, says Gyorgy Ligeti, a sociologist and president of the Kurt Lewin Association, which promotes inter-ethnic tolerance. “The Guard says we’re not against the Roma community, only Roma criminality, but now everyone has a question in their mind: ‘Is there a Roma criminality? Is there something unique about the Roma?’” Ligeti says. “It’s urban legend, of course, but the Guard has made it easier for people to ask these questions.” European parliamentarian Mohacsi, for example, says she was recently in a restaurant near her Budapest office, in the city’s heavily Roma-populated Eighth District, when the restaurant owner approached her table. She says he first berated her about representing Romani, not “Hungarian” interests in Brussels; he then turned to the Romani “genetic” predisposition to criminality. “That had never happened to me before,” she says.

Members wanted
Meanwhile, the Guard continues to seek out new members. At a February recruiting event promoted on its website, a handful of members have gathered on a frigid Sunday morning in their third-floor office in a non-descript apartment building across the Danube from the majestic Hungarian Parliament. At the office door, a uniformed Guardsman with a shaved head and a 5-centimeter scar on his left cheek greets the trickle of visitors. Inside, Arpad flags festoon the walls, one with the mythical Hungarian falcon – the turul – stitched in the middle. Only two potential recruits are spotted during the event’s first two hours, but there’s no confirmation: a visiting journalist, after a few minutes of chilly conversation with the Guards, is turned away. He’s given a telephone number and told to call the district “captain”; calls to the captain will be unsuccessful. Although Fuzessy says the Guard will soon induct its next batch of followers, on the national political scene Jobbik is maneuvering to hoist its support well above the 2 percent it garnered running in partnership with another far-right party in the 2006 elections to parliament. Already, it shares seats with Fidesz on several local councils, but 5 percent is the threshold to enter parliament. The next elections are slated for 2010. Toward that end, Jobbik plans to soon broach another hot-button issue that will surely rattle Hungary, if not the region. In June, Fuzessy says, the party will launch a campaign to publicize the fate of the estimated 3 million to 4 million ethnic Hungarians who live in countries surrounding Hungary. Two-thirds of Hungarian territory was severed from the motherland by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, as punishment for waging war on the Western powers in World War I.

Hungarian revanchism is exactly the reason the countries with the largest Hungarian minorities, Romania and Slovakia, offer for not supporting Kosovo’s independence, as they say European recognition of the Serbian province’s sovereignty would set a dangerous precedent. “We have to talk about Trianon,” says Fuzessy, “because of course it’s an open question and still has to be resolved in the way of autonomy – both cultural and territorial.” Words are one thing, say observers; threatening marches are another. Guard founders told the Associated Press last summer that they planned shooting exercises for its members, and there have been reported sightings of members conducting military-like training in the Buda Hills. Foes, then, are pressing to undermine the movement before it goes any farther. “The Guard may be one or two thousand crazy people who like to play soldier games, but on the other hand, this party has a relationship with normal political life,” says Peter Feldmajer, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities. Beyond the calls from Jewish and Romani activists for the Guard’s outright ban, the Hungarian parliament on 18 February passed a law against hate speech – apparently with the Guard in mind. Although two previous attempts to regulate offensive speech have been contested before Hungary’s Constitutional Court, one advocate says such legislation is necessary. “There used to be coded language, but there’s not anymore; it’s a shift of what is acceptable,” says Andras Kadar, co-chairman of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. “This is an apt moment for state organs to deal with the issue of freedom of expression, freedom of association, and make clear that ‘democracy’ cannot serve to justify all sorts of racist acts.”

The state’s case against the Guard for allegedly engaging in racist, unconstitutional activities opened on 12 March in a packed, tense Budapest courtroom, days after Romani leaders presented a petition to parliament with 70,000 signatures calling for the group to be disbanded. The case was adjourned until 19 May. Earlier, representatives of minority groups such as Feldmajer and civil-rights lawyer Erzsebet Mohacsi said they were lobbying local mayors to ban the Guard from marching in their towns, while also organizing anti-racism protests. “The Roma are not fighters; we never had this idea of community-based aggression against other communities,” says Mohacsi, who is the parliamentarian’s sister. “So we must use those ways of action that are provided by the country where we live, using the majority’s system to get our rights.” As for Tamas Gyimesi, the Hungarian Guard member talks like he’s now found his raison d’etre. “Maybe one day, the Garda can become a power in the hands of somebody who can create a real homeland for Hungarians,” he says. Asked why he thinks minorities are reacting with trepidation, Gyimesi offers a sly smile: “Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown.”
© Transitions Online

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HUNGARIAN FAR-RIGHT, POLICE CLASH IN BUDAPEST(Hungary)

15/3/2008- Hundreds of far-right protesters and Hungarian police clashed in Budapest on Saturday in anti-government protests on the country's national holiday. A crowd of several hundred people threw stones at police wearing riot gear in the centre of the city and police responded with tear gas rounds. News portal Origo (www.origo.hu) said a petrol bomb was thrown at a police car and state news agency MTI said protesters injured a photographer from a news organisation. A police spokesman said that 21 people were arrested in minor clashes throughout the day and that three police had been lightly injured. Two protesters were accidentally set on fire by petrol bombs thrown by fellow demonstrators, state news agency MTI reported, but they were not badly hurt. No other injuries were reported amongst the demonstrators. Earlier in the day a rally by the main opposition Fidesz party which attracted around 20,000 people passed off peacefully. Fidesz scored a major victory against the Socialist-led government last Sunday when it won a referendum to strike down fees for health and education, a part of the government's effort to reform Hungary's ailing economy. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has seen his party's popularity plunge to around 15 percent since he broke election promises and hiked taxes and slashed energy and drug subsidies to rein in the budget deficit, which hit 9.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2006. His admission on a leaked tape that he had lied about the poor state of the country's finances to win re-election in 2006 triggered weeks of riots in which hundreds of people, mostly police, were injured.
© Reuters

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ATTACS ON ROMA INCREASE IN RIGA(Latvia)

15/3/2008- Neo-Nazis in Riga, Latvia are attacking Roma (also known as Gypsies) with increasing regularity, according to the local Russian language newspaper "Telegraf" of March 4. Though one neo-Nazi was arrested earlier this month and charged with attacking two Roma girls last fall, the majority of anti-Roma crimes remain uninvestigated because most Roma fear contact with the police. The attack last October took place in the girl's apartment building. Skinheads followed the 13 year old girls from a nearby store and beat them with chains. One of the victims is so traumatized that she refuses to go out of her home six months after the attack. Police have additional suspects involved in the attack as well as in a subsequent assault on two Armenians during which the suspects allegedly screamed racist abuse. Anatoly Berezovsky, a local Roma leader, was quoted in the "Telegraf" as saying that his community is now suffering regular attacks from neo-Nazis and that neo-Nazi violence was not a problem earlier. The press spokeswoman for the Security Police, Kristine Apse-Kruminja, confirmed the newspaper account and characterized the skinheads' motive as "both hooliganism and xenophobia." The neo-Nazis include both Russians and Latvians, she added, united in their hatred for Roma, whom they consider defenseless because of their fear of the police. The newspaper added that neo-Nazis also conducted a raid against Roma homes in the same area where the two girls live.
© Romano vodi

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OBAMA SAYS USA CANNOT IGNORE RACE

18/3/2008- US presidential hopeful Barack Obama has sought to tackle the issue of race and defuse a controversy over comments made by his former pastor. Mr Obama said he understood the history of anger between black and white Americans but that the US could not afford to ignore race issues. He referred to the uproar over what he called the Rev Jeremiah Wright's "profoundly distorted view" of the US. Mr Wright said the 9/11 attacks were like "chickens coming home to roost". After the remarks resurfaced, Mr Obama denounced them as "incendiary" and "completely inexcusable" and said he had not been present when they were made. Mr Obama is locked in a close race with New York Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, with the significant Pennsylvania primary vote due on 22 April. The BBC's Jamie Coomarasamy in Philadelphia says this was a bold speech with considerable risks, but one which Barack Obama clearly felt he had little choice but to make to defuse the race issue.

'Racial stalemate'
Speaking in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania city seen as the cradle of US democracy, Mr Obama drew on America's long history of racial inequality - and called on the US to move beyond it. "The anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races," he said. As the child of a black father and white mother, he said he understood the passions of both sides in what he called "a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years" - and said he was not so naive as to believe it could be overcome in one election cycle. However, Mr Obama said, he believed the nation could - if it worked together - move towards healing some of the wounds caused by racial injustice. And while he condemned many of Mr Wright's political views as "not only wrong but divisive", he said it was important to remember that he had grown up at a time of racial segregation. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother," he said. He recalled that his grandmother had raised him and loved him - but that at times she had used racially-tinged language or stereotypes that made him "cringe".

'Don't walk away'
Mr Obama also said that it should not be news to Americans that anger over racial injustice still finds voice in many black churches. "The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning," he said. He challenged the nation not to ignore the issue of race "this time" - while acknowledging that white Americans, especially the working class, also had their problems. "If we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American." Race has emerged as an issue on several occasions in the battle between Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, but at no time before has Mr Obama addressed it so directly. Former President Bill Clinton was accused of stirring up racial politics over remarks he made after Mr Obama's victory in South Carolina's primary in January, in which he seemed to try to marginalise Mr Obama as a black candidate winning a state with a heavily black electorate. In an interview with US network ABC broadcast on Monday, Mr Clinton rejected that criticism, saying the story had been spun out of nothing and that it was a "myth" that the Clinton campaign had engaged in racial politics in the state. Last week, former vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro resigned from her unpaid advisory post to the Clinton campaign after a row over remarks appearing to suggest Mr Obama had only got where he was because of his race.

'Tragic history'
Mr Wright has resigned from an honorary position on the campaign's African-American Religious Leadership Committee, aides to Mr Obama said. Before his retirement from Trinity United Church of Christ, in Chicago, the pastor helped Mr Obama affirm his Christian faith, officiated at his wedding and baptised his daughters. Mr Obama said he had looked to Mr Wright for spiritual, not political, guidance. In a sermon on the Sunday after the attacks of 11 September 2001, Mr Wright suggested that the US had brought the terror attacks on itself through its own foreign policy. And in a 2003 sermon, he said blacks should condemn the US because of continuing racial injustice, saying: "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human." Trinity church said the recent attacks on Mr Wright had been made by "external forces" that want to "vilify us".

Obama speech in full (PDF)
© BBC News

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International Action Week Against Racism 2008

SEVERAL THOUSAND DEMONSTRATE IN AMSTERDAM AGAINST RACISM AND WILDERS(Netherlands)

22/3/2008- Demonstrators of all races and colours crowded Amsterdam's central square Saturday, braving wind and sleet to show their opposition to anti-immigration legislator Geert Wilders. The protest, called "Netherlands Shows Its Colours," is primarily a reaction in advance to the short film Wilders says he will release later this month criticizing the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, as a "fascist" book. One protester carried a sign saying "standing together against the right wing populist witch-hunt." "I'm very much against Geert Wilders and racism in general, but I think it's really important to show not only Holland but the rest of the world that there's a lot of people who do not agree with his ideas," said Elisa Trepp. Wilders, who says he is not racist, heads a reactionary party with nine seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament, elected on an anti-immigration platform. While the exact contents of his 15-minute movie, due to be released by March 31, are unknown, Wilders has said it will underscore his view that Qur'an is fascist. Dutch officials fear the movie could spark violent protests in Muslim countries, similar to those two years ago after the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. But no prominent politicians were among the 2,000-3,000 people who police estimated turned up for the demonstration, to the frustration of some attendees. "The government could really do something. That's in the interest of the country - stop him, just stop him," said Hassan Iaeti, who travelled hours from the far south of the country to attend. He said he believed Wilders is abusing the right of freedom of speech, which he said has limits. "You can criticize Muslims themselves, but not their religion and not our prophet - that's our belief." Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said that while he rejects Wilders' views, he supports his freedom of speech - but warns him the film may put Dutch national interests at risk. Protesters in Afghanistan burnt Wilders in effigy Friday and demanded Dutch troops withdraw from the NATO mission there.

In November 2004, a Muslim radical killed Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for perceived insults to Islam. Wilders, under constant police protection, says it is his duty to speak out against what he sees as a threat to Dutch culture posed by Islam. Dutch anti-terrorism authorities have said the risk of an attack are "substantial" and requested all national politicians inform them of their upcoming travel plans due to security concerns. A Dutch court will hear a complaint lodged by Muslim groups seeking to bar Wilders from releasing the film and punish him for earlier anti-Islam remarks under hate crime laws. The case filed by the Dutch Islamic Federation will be heard March 28, but there is no legal barrier preventing Wilders from releasing his film before then. Wilders has said he will release his movie on the Internet after television stations refused to air it and plans for a press screening were cancelled due to high security costs.
© The Canadian Press

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MINORITIES PROTEST NATIONAL PARTY EVENT IN PRAGUE(Czech Rep.)

20/3/2008- Representatives of some ten minorities have condemned the plan of the far-right National Party (NS) to hold "a commemorative event against positive discrimination" outside the House of Ethnic Minorites in Prague, they said in a statement sent to CTK Thursday. The minorities say they consider the NS event a mere provocation that is to stir up intolerance and hatred towards minorities in society. The NS members intend to meet at the House of Ethnic Minorities at 10:00 on March 22. The meeting is to last some 30 minutes. The extra-parliamentary NS says on its website it wants to recall "discrimination against the white majority by pseudo-humanist associations and activists." Representatives of the Bulgarian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Romany, Ruthenian, Slovak and Ukrainian minorities say they believe thar most Czechs will side with them and help prevent similar events from happening in the Czech Republic. "This is an attempt to provoke hatred and intolerance towards ethnic minorities in the Czech Republic that have been living on Czech territory since the period of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, since the 20th century-wars or Czechoslovakia's split. They organically form the civic society, along with Czech inhabitants," the minorities' representatives said in their statement. They stress that the NS plan is at variance with the Czech Republic's democratic principles. The House of Ethnic Minorities will be closed on the day of the NS meeting, Prague councillor Jiri Janecek told CTK, adding that the city fears a possible conflict between demonstrators and minorities' representatives. March 21 has been declared International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in memory of the 1960 events when the police in South Africa killed 69 people at a demonstration against apartheid. Six years later, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that has been ratified by 128 countries. The NS has been officially registered since 2002. The Interior Ministry originally refused to register it, but the party turned to the Constitutional Court that cancelled the ministry's decision. The party stands up against the EU, foreign immigrants and Romanies.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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DEALING WITH RACISM(Ireland)

21/3/2008- Where dealing with racism is concerned, this country is not short of grand aspirations and even grander titles. But are we achieving anything? We have a National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturism. How many people are aware that this is the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, launched in Dublin by the President We have a National Action Plan Against Racism which is supposed to involve all Government departments. We also have a Minister for Integration. Recently he launched a postal stamp which, he said, would recognise and celebrate the valuable resource that diversity brings to our society. Today is International Day Against Racism and April 7 will see the start of Intercultural and Anti-Racism Week. It all sounds very impressive. However, the NCCRI reports that incidents which could be described as racist increased by 50pc last year, half of them in the Dublin urban area, and gardai report a substantial increase in racially motivated crimes. The numbers and percentages which are detailed by the racism committee and by the Garda Siochana are not mere statistics to be stored away and compared in a few months time with the figures for 2008. They represent vicious, calculated attacks motivated by the same bigotry and hatred that drove the Ku Klux Klan and which thrive among the neo-Nazi gangs in many European cities. A young man contacted this newspaper last week detailing a vicious attack on his young Brazilian student wife by a gang of five as she walked home from her part-time job in Dublin city centre. In Cork, a 20-year-old Burundian required nine stitches to his face after being beaten up by a gang shouting racist insults. Lucy Gaffney, of the National Action Plan Against Racism, warned yesterday that too little of a practical nature is actually being done. She singled out the Department of Education for special criticism. Ireland will be a lucky exception to the international experience if a slowing economy does not lead to increased racist activity, principally by ignorant young men. If the good people of the NPAR are right, and the Government is doing little or nothing more than printing postal stamps, there is bound to be more trouble ahead.
© The Irish Independent

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EYES WIDE OPEN(Russia)

‘Open Your Eyes’ is a film festival organized by young people for young people to promote tolerance and fight xenophobia.

21/3/2008- Amid a wave of hate crimes that has tarnished Russia’s cultural capital, a youth organization has taken up the challenge to retrieve St. Petersburg’s reputation by organizing a movie festival on tolerance in the week following the UN’s World Day Against Racism. The St. Petersburg Social Democratic Youth Organization (SDYO) has taken over the task of organizing the third annual five-day “Open Your Eyes” International Film Festival against Racism and Xenophobia, to be held at Dom Kino, from the St Petersburg-based Russian-German Exchange (RGE), which was the organizer last year. Tickets to see the film program are free and public discussions with experts will be held after each show in Dom Kino’s conference hall, according to SDYO’s co-leader Marie-Angel Toure. “We thought it would be wise to help RGE by taking over the task at a time when they are preparing for bigger international festivals that need serious commitment, more resources and organizational skills... [but] we are still working in collaboration with them,” said Toure. RGE will organize the four-month young filmmakers and environmental activists Moving Baltic Sea Festival on a ship set to sail from Germany, via Poland, Kaliningrad, Latvia and Estonia to St. Petersburg in June, according to Ludmila Lisichkina, RGE’s Public Relations Manager and the program coordinator. The “Open Your Eyes” festival, which is also a part the European Action Week Against Racism, starts on Wednesday with a screening of British director Shane Meadows’ “This is England” (2006). Set in 1983, the film tells the story of an orphaned 12-year-old boy who discovers a new world of parties, fashion and sex by joining a skinhead gang. Under the gang-leadership of Combo, the group carries out a series of racial assaults on the local ethnic minority members a few days prior to the boy’s rite of passage into the gang, marked with rituals symbolizing a farewell bid to innocence and purity of childhood.

The program also includes a screening on Thursday of Andrei Panin’s and Tamara Vladimirtseva’s “Gagarin’s Grandson” Russia (2007), which depicts the fate of Gena, an African-Russian boy who is rejected by the community to which he belongs because of his dark skin. Fyodor, Gena’s white half-brother is shocked to discover that his brother in the orphanage is black. On taking Gena home, Fyodor encounters hostile receptions from both the general public and his close acquaintances who are not prepared to accept the “alien.” Josef Fares’ “Zozo” (2005), showing on Friday, is a Swedish production depicting an Arabic boy moving from Lebanon to Sweden to escape the Lebanese Civil War of the 1980s. A Golden Lion award nominee, Winfrid Bonengel’s “Nazi,” (2002), playing on March 29, is a thrilling drama of horror based on the memoir of a German neo-Nazi ringleader. The film reflects the emergence of neo-fascism, the state of racial prejudice and violence in the early 1990s not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The festival ends Sunday, March 30 with a display of Gavin Hood’s “Tsotsi” (2005), which probes the legacy of Apartheid. Tsotsi kills a woman to steal her car, only to find a toddler in the back seat. Regretting his life of crimes, he sets out to raise the child, but finds himself facing social barriers in the new South Africa. The UN’s Security Council declared the International World Day Against Racism and Xenophobia to comemorate March 21, 1960, the day of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa when police shot at a crowd of black protesters, killing around 70 people. The event became synonymous with racist brutality.
© The St. Petersburg Times

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INTERIOR MINISTER DECLARES ZERO TOLERANCE ON RACISM (Cyprus)

21/3/2008- Interior Minister Neoklis Silikiotis yesterday stressed the need for a comprehensive migration policy and condemned the plague of racism in Cypriot society. He was speaking after Migrant support group KISA and ENAR-Cyprus (European Network Against Racism) yesterday formally presented the ENAR Shadow Report. “As a written, registered member of KISA, I considered myself an activist against racism not just because of my political rank but because of my conscience as a human being. “There should be a no-tolerance policy. Racism needs to be tackled before it spreads. “Cyprus was and always will be multicultural because of its geographical position. Greek Cypriots have to change their perception of diversity; they should understand that ‘different’ people enrich a society. “Having studied in Germany and living there I witnessed discrimination and xenophobia at first hand,” the minister added. “We are talking about human beings, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, colour, community, religion, legal status or any other ‘different’ characteristic; they should be treated with equality, solidarity and cohesion. We should try to learn more about them and respect them. It is unacceptable that we don’t know of the culture of the minorities in Cyprus such as the Maronites, Latins, and Armenians. This has to be taught in schools.” Silikiotis said the state had a responsibility for action. “Steps have been taken in Cyprus but more is needed institutionally. We are in need of a comprehensive migration policy… Although this falls under my wing it is not easy to implement with the use of a magic wand” KISA and ENAR underlined that combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination against vulnerable groups such as migrants and refugees, as well as other cultural or religious groups must become a top priority for state authorities and society in general, in order to turn round the climate of racism and xenophobia in Cyprus.

ENAR called for the immediate implementation of a modern legal framework on migration and a complete migration and asylum policy in agreement with international and community law standards. It also recommended that an action plan against discrimination and racism be immediately adopted that should include at least monitoring mechanisms and structures to expose discrimination, help awareness in Cypriot society especially in people with ranks in the government, offer information to vulnerable groups, recognise and support the role of NGOs, undertake research on attitudes in society, collect data on victims of discrimination and racist crime or racial profiling and endorse measures to fight institutional racism and discrimination.
© Cyprus Mail

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URGENT NEED TO BATTLE RACISM (Cyprus)

19/3/2008- The International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on Friday, March 21, is seeking to raise awareness in society and state authorities about racism and discrimination that leads to the marginalisation, exclusion and violation of the rights of people who are ‘different’ from the majority Greek Cypriot community. This year, the International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination falls on the same day as the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue. Migrant support group KISA and ENAR-Cyprus (European Network Against Racism) yesterday called on the government and public to take this opportunity and enter into a substantial, public and open dialogue between all people living in Cyprus, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, colour, community, religion, legal status or any other ‘different’ characteristic. The two groups underlined that combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination against vulnerable groups such as migrants and refugees, as well as other cultural or religious groups must become a top priority for state authorities and society in general, in order to turn round the climate of racism and xenophobia “that is unfortunately evident in Cypriot society”. ENAR called for the immediate implementation of a modern legal framework on migration and a complete migration and asylum policy in agreement with international and community law standards. It also recommended that an action plan against discrimination and racism be immediately adopted that should include at least monitoring mechanisms and structures to expose discrimination, help awareness in Cypriot society, offer information to vulnerable groups, undertake research on attitudes in society, collect data ion on victims of discrimination and racist crime or racial profiling and endorse measures to fight institutional racism and discrimination. The groups said fighting racism and prejudice could be achieved through the execution of policies and measures incorporated into other policies, directed towards the establishment of a modern legal framework in line with international human rights law and standards, aiming to sensitise society, tackle institutional racism and discrimination and to integrate people who are most vulnerable to racism and discrimination, providing equal rights and opportunities.
© Cyprus Mail

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LAWS ALONE WILL NOT ELIMINATE RACISM(Malta)

60 years after the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of human rights, in 2008 millions of people around the world still face racism as part of their everyday life, and Malta is no exception.

20/3/2008- On 21 March, the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) takes the opportunity to mark efforts done over the years in the fight against racism. Indeed, a lot has been done on a legislative and practical level to combat racism and discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin. Malta is no exception to this progress, and whilst racism still exists in Malta, as groups vulnerable to racism face frequent hurdles a lot has been done in terms of legal provisions to combat racism. This is not to say that racism has been eliminated, or that enough has been done. Laws alone will not eliminate racism and more effort needs to be made for their effective implementation. Racism has a distinctly European dynamic. Despite the fact that the European Union has for many years focused on preventing discrimination on the grounds of nationality and sex, it only began to take the fight against racism seriously relatively recently. Europe has a responsibility both to the people living within its borders, as well as internationally to take a leading role in promoting fundamental rights and a Europe free from racism. The Race Equality Directive gives protection against discrimination in employment and access to a range of goods and services, including social protection, health, social security and education. It puts forward a number of important definitions including direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Other significant aspects of the Directive are that it allows for positive action measures, the shift of the burden of proof and the establishment of equality bodies. It also obliges member states to encourage dialogue with civil society organizations which have a legitimate interest in contributing to the fight against discrimination on grounds of racial and ethnic origin. Article 29 of the Treaty on the European Union also includes a reference to preventing and combating racism in the field of security and justice. On 20 April 2007, the Council of EU Justice Ministers reached a political agreement on a Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia. In addition, the European Union has competence in other policy areas that either directly or indirectly impact on the fight against racism, including social inclusion, migration and asylum, and education.

Adopted in 2000, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights essentially summarises rights previously recognised in a range of sources into one comprehensive document, increasing their visibility and accessibility. In its treatment of the right to non-discrimination, the Charter is progressive in its scope and language, as it prohibits ‘any discrimination on any grounds such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation’ (Article 21). Although the Charter is not yet legally binding, it has had a significant influence on policy development and judicial decisions at the European level. In 1997 the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) was established. It was replaced by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in March 2007. The latter agency is built on the EUMC. The objective of the Agency is to provide the EU institutions and member states with assistance and expertise relating to fundamental rights in order to support them when they take measures to fully respect fundamental rights. FRA’s founding Regulation establishes that the Agency’s Multi-annual Framework must always include the fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. The European Union has played a key role in the development of a common anti-discrimination agenda and has put in place sophisticated anti-discrimination and social inclusion policies. The EU Equality Directives have greatly advanced the fight against discrimination in Europe. However racism and discrimination continue to be persistently experienced by ethnic and religious minorities across the European Union; in employment, education, health, housing, access to goods and services, as well as participation in cultural and civic life. It is also essential that the Equality Directives are properly transposed and implemented in all EU member states.

Another major challenge is the social and economic inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities. These minorities are amongst the groups most vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion. Exclusion from employment, health, housing and education continue to undermine the everyday experiences of millions of ethnic minority people across Europe. Europe continues to experience problems of hate crimes and violence perpetrated against religious and ethnic minorities. The manifestations of racial violence are difficult to quantify as official data collection on racist violence in many EU countries is non-existent or requires further development. Migration and integration of third country nationals is now the subject of an important debate across the European Union. Most EU member states are experiencing migratory phenomena and are confronted with integration challenges. Across Europe many migrants are socially excluded and subject to various forms of discrimination with regard to access to rights, employment, education, and social services. Many of the policy approaches to date have recognized that anti-racism and the fight against discrimination are important elements of an integration strategy, but it is now essential to recognize that anti-discrimination is both a modus operandi of, and a pre-requisite for, successful integration. Besides being a signatory to the European Charter of fundamental rights, and the European Convention of human rights, Malta has also listed anti-discrimination in its constitution. It has also transposed the Race Equality directive and set up a Race Equality Body when the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality was granted competence on issues of race in 2007. Moreover, amendments to the criminal code in 2007 made racial motivation an aggravating circumstance to a number of crimes against the person.
Combating racism however, entails more than merely paying lip service to directives. It requires a strategic and coherent approach based on a commitment to inclusion by design, not as an add-on or afterthought and based on policies that promote interaction, equality of opportunity, understanding and respect. Anyone requiring any further information should visit our website or e-mail
© The Malta Star

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REFUGEES: 'WE WANT MALTESE TO UNDERSTAND US'

15/3/2008- “We left our countries because the situation there was very difficult. Many still have their families, their wives and their children there. It is not easy to be separated from the persons you love and from your country. So what we ask Maltese people is for more understanding of our situation. We do not want to be a burden on anyone.” This is the message of Adam, a refugee from Somalia, who arrived in Malta a few years ago, and who on Saturday morning joined other asylum seekers currently on the island to appeal to the Maltese public not to be overwhelmed by racism. “What we want is to have a normal life,” Adam said, but people have to know us and have to get the right information about us, because racism and discrimination are the result of a lack of information about who we are, and why we found ourselves here.” These immigrants got their chance to speak out thanks to the youths at Moviment Graffitti, who organised a press conference in Valletta to give these foreigners living in Malta a chance to get their message through to the Maltese people. The event is one of the organisation’s activities for the European Action Week Against Racism.

“The aim of this activity is not to accuse anyone of being racist,” said Andre Callus, a spokesperson for Graffitti. “We acknowledge that racism is increasingly becoming a problem in our country, but we think that what we really need is to find the causes that lead to racism. We are convinced that a political discourse which makes migration seem a national emergency, or a national threat, together with a detention system which criminalises the migrants in the eyes of the Maltese, contributes in creating an atmosphere of tension, and therefore a fertile breeding ground for racism,” Siem, explained that he left his home in Eritrea in 2004, and entered Sudan. In Eritria, where he worked for a private newspaper, he was imprisoned for participating in a protest against forced labour. This is why he had to leave the country. “In Sudan it is very difficult to get protection, so I decided to continue my way to Europe by crossing the Sahara desert in very difficult conditions. Then I entered Libya.The situation here is terrible for us. We face the continuous risk of imprisonment. We also suffer heavy discrimination because of our religion and colour. Prisons in Libya are like concentration camps. I was imprisoned for one month. Of course in Libya there is no chance to seek protection. So the only way to get meaning in my life was to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe. When we arrived in Malta what we faced was detention. Life in detention is very hard. For example some live in tents, with few blankets, and when winter comes it becomes incredibly hard. Although many of us got protection in Malta, to build a life here is not easy. I also have my wife in Sudan and my child in Eritrea. With no idea of where and when you will see your family again, everything becomes harder.”

Another immigrant, Hafiz, from Sudan, told journalists that not all Maltese treat them badly. Yet, others are afraid of black people, “and this leads to discrimination and racism, which we have to face everyday; when we take the bus, when we search for an apartment to rent, or when we seek employment.” He urged Maltese to stop being unfair with them. “The fact that many of us are black, or that we come from other countries, does not make us dangerous. In Malta there are many other type of migrants living here who, for example, come from other European countries. But I do not think that they experience the same situation as we do, just because their skin colour is not black. We came here because in our countries there are problems on which we have no control. We did not come here with any bad intentions. We were forced to leave our country.” Moviment Graffitti is therefore concerned about the ongoing building of a “Fortress Europe”, where the entry of immigrants is stopped at all costs. It is important to keep in mind that it was this same system that created illegal migration, because as European countries began to close their borders the legal channels for migration became very limited. The Dublin Convention, which says that asylum-seekers have to stay in the first European country that they reach, is also part of this “Fortress Europe”, as it aims to keep immigrants at the periphery of Europe. “Frontex is the most recent step in the strengthening of the “Fortress Europe”. It is clear that the aim of this mission is to send migrants back to Libya, irrelevant of the fact that here they cannot apply for protection and that they can therefore be sent back to countries where they will face persecution. Europe also seems to turn a blind eye to the continuous harassment, even by the Libyan institutions, of migrants in this country.”

Therefore Moviment Graffitti insisted on the need of a Europe of solidarity, and not a Europe which blames its problems on the immigrants; a Europe which respects human rights and not a Europe which is ready to sacrifice the life of migrants for political opportunism. “Only then we can say that there is a Europe which is truly committed against any form of racism and discrimination.”
© The Malta Star

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INCIDENTS OF XENOPHOBIA IN EUOROPE PROVE NOT MUCH PROGRESS MADE IN STRUGGLE WITH RACISM (Turkey)

20/3/2008- Zafer Uskul, a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party and chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Monitoring Commission, said incidents of xenophobia seen in Europe showed that not much progress had been made in struggle against racism and segregation. Issuing a written statement on the occasion of the March 21st, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Uskul said people in various spots in the world were still humiliated, despised, and deprived off their rights because of their religion, colour or ethnicity. "The recent attacks on Turks in Germany and the policies pursued against them worry the Turkish society. The recent fire in Ludwigshafen which claimed the lives of 9 Turkish citizens, and the series of fires that followed it unfortunately brought back the painful memories of the racist attacks of the past and created fear and worry among the Turkish Community," said Uskul. Uskul said the procedures introduced with the new German immigration law were perceived as an assimilation policy segregating the Turkish community (in Germany) and it emboldened the racist attacks against Turks. "However, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination dictates countries to both monitor their political, national, and local policies that create segregation and take the necessary measures to cancel, change or remove those laws," said Uskul.
© Turkish Press

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WORLD DAY AGAINST RACISM(Greece)

21/3/2008- Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos issued a message on Friday on the occasion of World Day against Racism, saying that Greece "tolerates racial, national, cultural, linguistic and other differences and particularities and provides for their creative and fertile promotion and utilisation, by giving substantial chances and by promoting social cohesion." "The recent, full and comprehensive incorporation into national law of a series of Directives regarding equal treatment, regardless of racial or national origin, religious or other convictions, disability, age or sexual orientation, constitutes important progress towards eradicating phenomena of racism and xenophobia, with emphasis on access to employment," the minister added. In a symbolic gesture, meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Athanasios Nakos visited the Athens-area 5th high school, where 70 per cent of pupils are foreign nationals.
© ANA - MPA

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FINLAND OBSERVES ANTI-RACISM WEEK

17/3/2008- Finland observes the Week of Solidarity with Peoples Struggling against Racism and Racial Discrimination beginning next week Monday. The week of awareness activities is based on the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held Friday, March 21st. That day will be observed among all UN member states. Several events will be held during the week throughout Finland. The aim is to raise awareness and prevent both racism and racial discrimination.
© YLE News

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BANGLADESH CONDEMNS INEQUALITY TO MARK ANTI-RACISM DAY

21/3/2008- Bangladesh pronounced a firm commitment to eradicate all forms of racial discrimination from society Thursday, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In a message to mark the occasion, chief adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed said Bangladesh remained resolute towards elimination of all forms of discrimination since its emergence as an independent state. "We firmly believe in equality of all human beings," he said. "We join the international community in condemning discrimination on grounds of race, case, sex, religion and place of birth," the chief adviser said in his message.
© Bangladesh News

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PRESIDENT BARROSO, TIME TO SHOW LEADERSHIP ON EQUALITY!(opinion)

By Mohammed Aziz, ENAR President, Pascale Charhon, ENAR Director and Georgina Siklossy, ENAR Communication Officer

At a moment when the world is celebrating International Day Against Racism on 21st March, commemorating the killing of 69 Black demonstrators at a peaceful protest against apartheid laws in Sharpeville, South Africa, in 1960, the time is certainly opportune to reflect on how the European Union is taking forward its commitment to combat all forms of discrimination.

In 2004, the President of the European Commission Mr. Barroso publicly announced that he would initiate work in view of a framework directive that would cover “all forms of discrimination”.(1) It seems right to further reflect on the potential of that promise. The European Commission engaged last year in a comprehensive review with the aim of proposing further legislation on anti-discrimination to achieve full equality in law, regardless of race, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability or gender. But as the time has come to make real the EU’s fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination, the voice of the EU seems to become increasingly blurred. Mixed messages have been coming out of the European Commission on who exactly will be covered. Will there be four discrimination grounds included, five, or only one? Sometimes it is religion that will be excluded, other times sexual orientation, most recently it is rumoured that it will be all except disability.

Has Mr. Barroso forgotten his earlier commitments? The EU has already achieved much in the field of non-discrimination, but not all discrimination grounds are legally protected in the same way at European or national level and significant gaps in protection remain. If you are Muslim, disabled, old, or lesbian, you can still be discriminated against in education or refused access to healthcare or housing. For people with multilayered identities such as a gay Christian wanting a good education or a disabled Black woman, the gaps are even wider.

The EU Council has called for Member States and the European Commission to not only ensure existing anti-discrimination laws are effective, but also to strengthen efforts to prevent and combat discrimination based on sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, inside and outside the labour market and to take full account of multiple discrimination when designing laws.(2) The European Parliament itself has repeatedly called for legislation to ‘level up’ protection across all grounds of discrimination. (3)These political commitments and demands have contributed to the stated aim of the European Commission to bring forward legislation which will ensure that discrimination is prohibited on all grounds in access to goods and services, such as education, housing and health, so as to achieve this necessary harmonisation and ‘levelling up’ of protection. Such a proposal should not result in trading off one ground, say sexual orientation or religion, against another, in this case disability, but should cover all discrimination grounds. Leaving some of them aside goes against the very essence of Mr. Barroso’s and Member States’ commitment.

Why does ENAR advocate for protection against religious discrimination? Discrimination against religious minorities throughout the EU has been steadily increasing, including extremely worrying trends in relation to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. These manifestations reflect an increasing overlap between racial and religious discrimination. Racism is not limited to discrimination based on the ethnic or racial origin of a person but also on the basis of all aspects of an individual’s or community’s culture or identity, including religion or belief. Discrimination on the grounds of convictions or belief is often inextricably linked to racism and racial prejudice; frequently it is not possible to distinguish between these forms of oppression.

Thus the lack of comprehensive protection against religious discrimination leads to a lack of protection against racial discrimination as convictions are often used to justify racial discrimination or to obscure racist motivations.

Protection against religious discrimination is all the more important in a post 9/11 context, where the heightened security concerns have led to a ‘racialisation’ of the security agenda. Terminology such as ‘Islamic terrorism’ has led to a growing perception that there is somehow an inherent link between Islam and terrorism - leading to a disproportionate impact of counter-terror measures on Muslim communities and individuals, or perceived as Muslims. In this context, anti-racism strategies can serve to support the fight against terrorism by preventing with effective legal measures discrimination potentially leading to violent radicalisation.

21st of March is an opportunity to recall the need to provide protection against all types of discrimination. It is only by fighting for comprehensive protection against all grounds of discrimination that we will achieve equal opportunities for all in jobs, accommodation, schools, etc. The proposal which is currently in the pipeline cannot result in yet another missed opportunity for protecting Europe’s numerous and multi-faceted victims of discrimination. The commitment to legislation that can seize this opportunity is there, it is in these victims’ name that we now need the political leadership and clarity of intentions to see it happen.



  1. President Barroso speech to the European Parliament at the beginning of his mandate in 2004: “initiate work in view of a framework-directive on the basis of Article 13 of the EC Treaty, which will replace the directives adopted in 2000 and enlarge them to all forms of discrimination. (…) Let me be very clear: I will personally ensure full control of our action in the fight against discrimination and the promotion of fundamental rights.”


  2. EU Council Resolution on the Follow-up of the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All (2007), Brussels, 26 November 2007


  3. European Parliament Resolution on the Framework Directive on Equality in employment, October 2000



© EUropean Network Against Racism
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JOINT STATEMENT ON THE OCCASION OF THE INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

18/3/2008- On 21 March we commemorate the tragic events of 1960 in Sharpeville, which led to the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. On this symbolic day, we - the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) – stand united in calling on political parties to combat racism. In the words of Nelson Mandela, we call on political leaders to build “a society of which all humanity will be proud”. Our organisations jointly condemn all discourse that spreads ideas of superiority on grounds of race, colour, language, religion, nationality, or national or ethnic origin. Racist discourse is opposed to the basic equality of all people. Public perception of different minorities, cultures and religions as well as attitudes towards issues such as immigration, integration and the fight against racism are to a great extent influenced by political discourse. By speaking out against racist acts and incidents, political representatives can play a positive role in the promotion of mutual respect and understanding in society, and can have a significant impact in defusing tensions. Racist political discourse contributes to dehumanising individuals, denigrating certain ethnic, religious or cultural groups, perpetuating stereotypes, and creating a climate in which racist violence may flourish. Racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic political discourse is no longer the sole preserve of extremist political parties, but is to be found in the overall political environment in many states. Such developments may lead to the legitimisation and trivialisation of this type of language. Concern over the increasing use of racist discourse in politics has been expressed in numerous reports, statements and documents adopted by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.Based on the existing standards and commitments of our organisations and, in light of the Charter of European Political Parties for a Non-Racist Society, which could serve as a blueprint for other similar initiatives, we call upon all political leaders for continued leadership in the fight against intolerance and discrimination. We:

o Call on political leaders to defend basic human rights and democratic principles and to reject all forms of racist violence, incitement to racial hatred and harassment and any form of racial discrimination;
o Call on political parties to deal responsibly with sensitive issues related to race, ethnic and national origin and religion;
o Encourage political parties to adopt concrete policies against all forms of racism and xenophobia in their party programmes;
o Encourage political parties to strive for the fair representation of racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities within and at all levels of their party system;
o Urge political representatives to act responsibly and refrain from providing simplistic explanations with racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic connotations to complex social, political and economic problems or phenomena;
o Recommend political parties to work closer with civil society to combat racism and xenophobia and form partnerships in order to reach this goal.
© email source

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ARBOUR URGES STATES TO SIGN ON TO ANTI-RACIAL DISCRIMINATION TREATY(Press release)

18/3/2008- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called on Tuesday for all states to sign up to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and said that "as a matter of urgency" they should also "strengthen law enforcement to ensure justice for victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." "Racism lies at the roots of many conflicts," she said; "it poses risks to international peace and security. Racism is the springboard for extremism and all types of intolerance." Arbour, who was addressing a High Level Panel in Geneva prior to the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March, noted that there had been substantial progress in combating racism since the UN General Assembly inaugurated the International Day six years after the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa on 21 March 1960. However, she added, "48 years after the Sharpeville shootings, no country can claim to be free of racism's destructive influence." So far, 173 out of 192 UN member states have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which was the first human rights treaty to be adopted by the General Assembly and came into force in 1969. However, of those states that have ratified the Convention, many have done so with reservations. "I reiterate my call on all states that have not yet done so to become party to this important human rights instrument," Arbour said, "to accept the complaints jurisdiction of its supervisory committee and to withdraw reservations to the treaty."

She also called on all stakeholders "to engage constructively" in the follow-up process of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban (also known as the Durban Review Process). This year's theme for the International Day – the key roles 'Dignity and Justice' play in combating racial discrimination – "reminds us that equality under the law and equal protection of the law are central pillars of the fight against racial discrimination," Arbour said. She also reminded her audience that "Equality and non-discrimination are fundamental principles of international human rights law." Arbour pointed out that some vulnerable or marginalized groups suffer double stigma "due not only to their race or ethnicity, but also to their belonging to an unpopular or neglected minority. Migrants, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, for example, will easily fall victim of such invidious forms of double discrimination," she said, adding that women also often suffer the "combined effects of racial and gender discrimination." The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that, when dealing with these issues, the stakes are exceptionally high: "In combating racism and racial discrimination," Arbour said, "all of us are responsible for guarding against a repeat of the horrors rooted in racism – from slavery to the Holocaust, from apartheid to ethnic cleansing and genocide."
© UN office of High Commissioner for Human Rights

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BAN KI-MOON: WORLD HAS COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TO ELIMINATE RACISM

21/3/2008- Racism still hurts too many individuals and communities around the world, Secretary-Ban Ki-moon said today, calling on all countries and civil society groups to play their part in the fight to stamp out both racism and racial discrimination. In a message to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is celebrated today, Mr. Ban said next year's formal review of actions taken since the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance adopted its Declaration and Programme of Action offered an opportunity to make important progress. “Racial discrimination is a concern to all peoples and countries,” he said. “This review process is an opportunity to engage in an inclusive and transparent manner on an issue that demands our urgent and close attention. “I call on all countries and civil society to make constructive use of the time between now and the formal review process to work out their differences so that we can seize this opening to boost our collective efforts to stamp out racism. This issue is too important; we cannot fail.” The Secretary-General noted that the General Assembly proclaimed 21 March as the International Day to honour the memory of the scores of peaceful protesters who were massacred on this day in 1960 in the South African township of Sharpeville as they demonstrated against the racist apartheid-era 'pass laws.' “There has been significant progress since then, not least through the dismantling of the apartheid system. But racism continues to plague too many individuals, communities and societies the world over.”
© UN News Centre

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Headlines 14 March, 2008

MORE THAN 900 AFRICANS DIED IN 2007 ON WAY TO SPAIN

At least 921 would-be immigrants died in 2007 in attempts to cross over clandestinely from Africa to Spain

14/3/2008- - At least 921 would-be immigrants died in 2007 in attempts to cross over clandestinely from Africa to Spain, a Spanish human rights group said in a report made public on Thursday. The figure only reflected officially confirmed deaths, the Asociacion Pro Derechos Humanos Andalusia (APDH-A) said, estimating the real death toll at a minimum of 3,500. The victims usually drowned or died of thirst, hunger and exposure on board their vessels. The APDH-A said 189 of the victims died off the Spanish mainland or the Canary Islands, and 732 off the West African coast. Among the victims, 287 came from Maghreb countries such as Morocco or Algeria, 629 from other African countries and five from Asia. It was not clear how many additional people died while trying to cross the Sahel zone to northern Africa in order to travel on to Spain, the report observed. Spain and the European Union continued ignoring the root causes of emigration and adopting extremely repressive frontier policies, the APDH-A said.
© DPA

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NICOLAS SARKOZY REVERTS TO WOOING FAR-RIGHT(France)

13/3/2008- Nicolas Sarkozy of France has reverted to wooing the far-Right ahead of Sunday's final round of local elections, in which the traditional Front National electorate could tip the balance in the key city of Marseille and elsewhere. After winning re-election in France's third city of Lyon in the first round of municipal elections, the opposition Socialists are set for a sweeping victory in Paris and are well-placed in the eastern city of Strasbourg. A poll suggests they will also claim Toulouse, southwestern France, which has been run by a Right-wing mayor for the past 37 years. However, there is wide agreement that the most serious symbolic blow to the Right would be to lose Marseille, France's second city, which it has been run since 1995. "We must focus everything on Marseille. If we can keep Marseille, we're in the game", Mr Sarkozy is quoted as saying by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine after the first round. Last Sunday, the city's mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, who belongs to Mr Sarkozy's UMP party, scored 41 percent, the Socialists 39 and the centrist Modem 6 percent. However, Mr Gaudin's two main rival groups have merged — leaving him in dire need of support from hard-Right voters who abstained in round one. Some 33 per cent of the French electorate stayed away from the polls last Sunday. A large chunk were former Front National supporters who voted for Mr Sarkozy in last year's presidential elections, but are apparently disillusioned with his style of leadership.

On Tuesday the President travelled to Toulon, a Front National bastion only a few miles from Marseille, to deliver an ode to "national identity" and the merits of immigration quotas — two key topics for the far-Right. He described identity as "the most important subject for French society". Government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez said the President should be congratulated for having weakened the Front National by addressing the concerns of its historic electorate. The Socialists, meanwhile, hope to increase their gains by joining forces in several towns with the centrist Modem party, which won less than four percent of the overall vote in the first round last weekend but could determine the final result in dozens of towns and cities. However, Modem insists it will make deals with the Right and Left on a town by town basis. Mr Sarkozy has promised to take into account the results of the elections while insisting they do not constitute a referendum on his presidency. He has promised to push on with his reform agenda, buoyed by the fact that 14 of 23 government ministers running in the municipal elections won seats in the first round.
© The Telegraph

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MINORITY COMMUNITY LEADERS EXPRESS DESPAIR, ANGER AS RACIST MURDERS RISE (Russia)

12/3/2008- A meeting in Moscow at the end of last month between local police officials and minority community leaders broke down in acrimony, with several community leaders criticizing government policies towards extremist groups, according to a March 3, 2008 article in the independent national daily "Novaya Gazeta." There have already been 27 murders motivated by ethnic hatred in Russia since the beginning of the year, a pace that, if maintained, would result in a doubling of the 2007 numbers. As Moscow's police chief, who recently stated that there are no organized neo-Nazi groups in his city, gave what the newspaper described as a standard speech promising action, he was interrupted by an Azeri diaspora leader who shouted, "Last year we sent 50 coffins back to the our motherland! How many more can we expect this year?!" Evgeny Kryshtalev, a member of the Union of All-Russia Azerbaijani Congress, was quoted in the article saying that: "Ever day in Moscow there is another attack. Every month, more and more deaths... We cannot remain silent about this any more." He complained that Moscow police were refusing to investigate an attack that neo-Nazis from the Moscow region committed within city limits, claiming that it is up to the Moscow region's police to do that. "What, do they live in another country?!" he asked. He added that Moscow's police chief stated that every year migrants commit 14,000 crimes in Moscow, but what the officer didn't say is that the vast majority of these crimes are non-violent immigration offenses, hardly comparable to the wave of violent crimes that migrants face.

Gegam Khalatyan, an Armenian diaspora leader, added that the number of attacks on Armenians, whose homeland is a reliable ally of Russia, could drive Armenia into the arms of NATO. "A day doesn't go by in Moscow without an attack on an Armenian," he said. "Armenians and Russians have always been friends, but nowadays it is a kind of one-sided friendship. Why do we need to put up with this, how much longer can we tolerate the inaction of the authorities?... Russia does not value its friends." Abdulla Dovlatov, head of the Tajik diaspora, told a story that had nothing to do with neo-Nazis in order to demonstrate the extent to which xenophobia has penetrated Russian society. A week before, police in Tver allegedly beat up two Tajik construction workers. They stabbed them and then threw them out into the snow. The men hid in the forest and somehow found their way to Moscow, where a doctor allegedly refused medical treatment, saying: "We are sick of you and you dare to want a medical report in order to bring charges against our people?" "The police refuse to record hate crimes against foreigners... So officially, nobody is being harmed and there is no xenophobia in Russia," he added. Alidzhan Khaydarov, president of Uzbek diaspora in St. Petersburg, offered a dissenting view, claiming that nobody from his community complains of racist attacks, despite reports of anti-Uzbek violence to the contrary.
© FSU Monitor

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MINORITY LANGUAGES STILL UNDER THREAT(Switzerland)

13/3/2008- The Council of Europe says despite some progress Switzerland must do more to strengthen minority languages spoken in the country. The human rights watchdog issued a series of recommendations, mainly to promote Romansh as a living language and protect Yenish, spoken by a few thousand gypsies. The Council of Europe applauded moves by the federal government to extend the broadcasting time of public radio and television programmes in Romansh. It also welcomed the decision by the authorities in the eastern canton of Graubünden, where Switzerland's approximately 35,000 Romansh speakers live, to translate its statutes into the Latin language. But it said other obstacles remained to the use of the language in Graubünden, where German speakers are in the majority. It urged significant measures to ensure the use of Romansh in courts, in dealings with the cantonal administration and in parliamentary debates. The Council also called on Graubünden to improve the introduction of the standardised version of Romansh in schools "in a way that has a positive impact on its protection and promotion as a living language". In response to the Council's recommendations on Romansh, Constantin Pitsch of the Swiss Culture Office warned that support for additional moves to promote Romansh was lukewarm. "If canton Graubünden proceeds in this manner [the Council] must be aware that the population is not completely favourable."

Travellers
Regarding Yenish, the Council's Committee of Experts regretted that Switzerland, which signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 1993, had still not recognised Yenish as such. The Swiss authorities have said they are not prepared to extend "official recognition" to Yenish. However, Pitsch emphasized that Switzerland was making efforts to help the so-called travellers maintain their language. "We are in contact with travellers and are putting together a project that aims to reinforce the language of Yenish," he said. Although the Strasbourg-based watchdog focused its recommendations on Switzerland's Yenish and Romansh populations, it also investigated cases where French, German and Italian are in a minority language situation. The survival of a German dialect spoken in a village in Italian-speaking Ticino was one cause for concern.

German minority
The Council was informed by the local authorities that they might discontinue the teaching of German in schools altogether instead of implementing the recommendation to increase it beyond two hours per week. This would occur as part of a merger of the German-speaking village of Bosco-Gurin with Italian-speaking municipalities. "The Committee of Experts encourages the competent Swiss authorities to ensure that new administrative divisions do not constitute an obstacle to the promotion of German in Bosco-Gurin, in particular in education," the report said. It noted that awareness of the existence of Italian-speaking communities in Graubünden was low even if the overall situation of the language in the canton remained good. Speaking to swissinfo, a professor at Geneva University specialising in language policy evaluation, François Grin, welcomed the report's focus on concrete measures to promote minority languages. "The very fact that those recommendations are not couched in terms of rights or in terms of legal standards, but are formulated in terms of actual impacts of policies is evidence of the forward-looking character of the Charter and of the fact that the whole discourse about minority protection and promotion has made progress in recent years," he said.
© Swissinfo

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'ISLAMOPHOBIA' A THREAT TO WORLD SECURITY, SAY MUSLIM STATES

12/3/2008- The world's Muslim countries warned Wednesday that an "alarming" rise in anti-Islamic insults and attacks in the West has become a threat to international security. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) called on Europe and America to take stronger measures against 'Islamophobia' in a report prepared for a summit of the group's 57 members in Dakar on Thursday and Friday. The report by a special OIC monitoring group said the organisation was struggling to get the West to understand that Islamophobia "has dangerous implications on global peace and security" and to convince western powers to do more. Islamic leaders have long warned that perceptions linking Muslims to terrorism, especially since the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, would make Muslims more radical. The West must understand that "the war against terror cannot be successful without the support of Muslim countries," said the report. OIC leaders have expressed renewed concern following events such as the publication in Denmark of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed and a plan by the Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders to release a film calling the Koran "fascist". The OIC said Islam had faced constant attacks since it was created "but in recent years the phenomenon has assumed alarming proportions and has become a major cause of concern for the Muslim world."

The monitoring group called on Europe and North America to do more, through laws and social action, to protect Muslims from threats and discrimination and prevent insults against Islam's religious symbols. "Many Muslim countries are themselves victims of terror and active partners of the international community in combating terror and extremism." The report added that Muslims in many parts of the world, in the West in particular, are being stereotyped, profiled and subjected to various forms of discriminatory treatment. "The most sacred symbols of Islam, in particular the sacred image of of the Prophet Mohammed is being defiled and denigrated in the most insulting, offensive and contemptuous manner to incite hatred and unrest in society." In a veiled reference to the Danish cartoons and Wilders' film, the OIC said: "The Islamophobes remain free to carry on their assaults due to the absence of legal measures necessary against the misusing or abusing (of) the right to freedom of expression." It called on OIC member states to "step up their counter-measures by keeping the pressure on the international community at multilateral and bilateral forums." The OIC said the Muslim world must launch a campaign to show that it is a "moderate, peaceful and tolerant" religion, closely monitor and the raise the alert over anti-Islamic incidents and organise more inter-faith initiatives. "Victims of Islamophobia must be encouraged and given necessary help to file complaints," said the report.
© AFP

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THE INVISIBLES(uk)

Each year, it is believed, thousands of young British Asian women are forced into marriages against their will. Those who resist face ostracism - or far worse. So why, asks Emine Saner, do we hear so little about them?

14/3/2008- The All Women's Centre in Luton is a small brick building set back from the main road. They like it like this, say the women who work there, because it's hidden away. Although they offer advice on everything from welfare and childcare to exercise classes and language lessons, almost all the women who use the centre have been affected by forced marriage. There is a poster about forced marriage on the wall, and security locks on the door. They hear all sorts of stories here, from women who have been sent abroad to marry a cousin, been raped and realised the only way to get home to the UK is to get pregnant, to grandmothers who have brought up five children and quietly admit at a coffee morning that they were forced into marriage when they were 16. When the All Women's Centre tried to set up a support group for domestic abuse, it immediately encountered difficulties. "When you have a tight-knit community like the Asian community here, people don't come forward," says Sarita Jain, who helps to run the centre. "Bring them to a coffee morning, and the same issues we wanted to explore in a support group would come out there."

Luton was once voted the UK's "crappest town", which seems a little unfair. Its latest distinction is that this week its Asian community was thrust into the spotlight over the issue of forced marriage, until now as hidden from national attention as it was in the groups in which it occurs. A study by Dr Nazia Khanum, who chairs several community groups in Luton, showed that the number of forced marriages had been greatly underestimated. Each year, the Forced Marriage Unit, set up by the government in 2005, helps around 300 British people (85% of them women) taken abroad for marriage, but Khanum believes the true figure may be 4,000. "There could be more," she says. "The data collection is appalling and we're never going to see the whole picture until it is improved. Maybe we will never know how prevalent it is, but at least we can get some idea if we monitor it properly." What is known is that the majority of women forced into marriage have roots in South Asia, although it also happens in Somali, Turkish, Kurdish, Nigerian and Chinese communities. With victims among Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, as well as Muslims, it is not an issue of religion but of tradition, and the idea that a family's "honour" rests on the shoulders of the women. Forced marriage was once taken quite seriously by Luton's authorities - the Bengali Women's Project, a community group, had a dedicated adviser on forced marriage, paid for by the council, but the post was abolished a few years ago in funding cuts. Naseem Khan, who works at the All Women's Centre, has her salary guaranteed only until next year, even though she has a wealth of experience of dealing with women who have been through or are threatened with forced marriages. "We are living hand to mouth," she says.

"It's all very well having the Forced Marriage Unit and lots of legislation and guidelines, but hardly anybody knew about these things," says Margaret Moran, MP for Luton South, who commissioned Khanum's report after seeing 100 young women a year (and some men) who were victims of forced marriage. "And what's the use anyway if there isn't community-based support for people when they need it? We're going backwards on that rather than forwards. I'm trying to persuade the government to spend much less time and money [on legislation]. They need to put their money where their mouth is now." Almost 20% of Luton's population is of Asian origin, mosly from Pakistan. "Some families here are stuck in a time trap," says a shopkeeper in the largely Asian district of Bury Park. "The parents want to practise the customs of the south Asia they left in the 60s. They don't realise that India and Pakistan have moved on since then." There are signs, says Khan, that second-generation British Asians are more prepared to stand up to their parents, but this is where conflict arises; before, women would quietly go along with the marriage.

Forced marriage is often used to "correct" some kind of behaviour that a family is not happy about, including drug and alcohol use, promiscuity, having a boyfriend from another ethnic background, or the fear that a teenage daughter has become too "westernised". It is inextricably linked to bullying, suicide (rates among young British Asian women are three times the national average) and "honour" violence, including murder. There have been a number of horrific cases in recent years. Banaz Mahmod, a 19-year-old Kurdish-born woman from south London, had been forced into marriage when she was 16, but left her husband and started a relationship with another man. She told police that her father had threatened to kill her and gave them a list of names of local men she feared he would hire to do the job, but they didn't listen. Her body was found buried in a garden in Birmingham; she had been strangled with a shoelace and packed into a suitcase. In January, a coroner ruled that Shafilea Ahmed, 17, from Warrington, had been murdered - she was found next to a river in 2004 - but nobody has been charged. The inquest was told that she had tried to run away before, telling a local youth support service that she feared her parents would force her into a marriage (they have denied this) and, on a trip to Pakistan, drank bleach in an apparent suicide attempt.

Shazia Qayum, 28, who grew up in Birmingham, knows some of what they have been through: she was forced to marry her cousin when she was 17. "It started when I was 15. I came back from school one day and my mother showed me a picture of my cousin in Pakistan and said I was going to marry him. I was told that saying no wasn't an option and that if I did, I wouldn't be allowed to finish my education." She was taken out of school anyway, and her parents kept her imprisoned at home. "I didn't think they would be able to get away with it. I thought the school authorities or social services would come looking for me, but nobody did. I remember once a friend came round, asking where I was, and I heard my father tell her that I was in Pakistan, but I was in a back room." Qayum was kept at home for a year, then her parents stopped talking about the marriage and she thought perhaps they had changed their minds. She was allowed to get a job in a factory, and when she was 17, she was told the family was going on a holiday to Pakistan. "I was born and raised in Britain," she says. "I had never even been abroad, so I was quite excited. We got there, and a wedding was being planned. I asked who was getting married and my parents said: 'You.' " They told her she would be disowned and left in Pakistan if she refused, and that her grandfather was ill and it would be her fault if he died.

"I went ahead with the marriage," she says, "but I told my now ex-husband that my parents had forced me to marry him. He said he didn't care, that he just wanted to come to the UK. My parents left me in Pakistan and said the only way I could come home was if I sponsored my husband's visa." She was allowed to return to the UK before him, and started working, saving money in a secret bank account. She wrote to immigration officials saying she didn't want her husband to be given a visa and that she had been forced into the marriage, but her letters were never acknowleged. "When he came over, I realised I had two choices: to live a lie to keep my parents happy, or to leave and live my life." She called the police, who escorted her out of her home, but their support ended there. "They told me to make my own way; I had no idea where to go." For five years, Qayum lived in refuges, moving because her father was following her. She now runs the young persons' team at Karma Nirvana, a support service for victims of forced marriage and "honour" violence, and her family have disowned her. "I'm dead to my family," she says. In Luton, as elsewhere, there is a shocking lack of support for women who find themselves in Qayum's situation. A few get places at a specialist refuge for Asian women run by Luton Women's Aid, but last year this was able to accommodate only 34 women. What happens to the rest? Sometimes they are forced to go back home, or are helped by friends. "Sometimes we never know," says Jenny Moody, who set up the refuge 12 years ago. "We thought it would take a while to fill up, but within a week we were full," she says. "And we've been full ever since. I've seen so many women frightened of what would happen to them if they were made to go home. And it is real fear." She has seen cars full of men - husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, in-laws - driving around trying to find the refuge. Last year, Luton Women's Aid helped 179 women in connection with forced marriage. Often, these women will not go to the police or social services because they don't trust them or they are too frightened. "We have very strict laws on confidentiality; they don't have to tell us their name or address," says Moody. "We will attempt to encourage them to go to the police, but not all do."

Some police officers are not as understanding as they could be, she says. She remembers one instance when a woman's passport had been taken and locked away by her family. This was reported as a theft, and the woman even told the police which cupboard it was locked in. When the police went round, however, the woman's father said she was lying and the complaint wasn't taken any further.One of the problems Moody has come across is that some women from repressive backgrounds are kept in the dark about the realities of the rest of the world. "You can explain English laws to them, and how they can achieve freedom, but this is meaningless unless they actually know what freedom means," she says. "I remember asking one woman what she thought love meant, and she said, 'It means doing what your family and husband tell you to do.' " Jasvinder Sanghera, who escaped a forced marriage herself, runs Karma Nirvana, which is based in Derby but gets calls from all over the UK. The organisation takes 15 new cases a week relating to forced marriage and "honour" violence. "It's not an exaggeration to say there are thousands of victims and thousands of potential victims of forced marriages," she says.

Last week, the home affairs select committee into forced marriage and "honour" violence was told that 33 children in Bradford alone could not be traced after disappearing from school records. The fear is that at least some of these have been victims of forced marriage. "I'm sure that hundreds of girls have been removed from school. This time of year is particularly dangerous, with parents preparing to take girls overseas during the summer holidays," says Diana Nammi, director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation. "We work with schools and provide teachers with training and information." She says she is aware of girls going missing from schools she has worked with, but "The government and education authorities are not following these cases up." It is obviously a sensitive subject, and none of the schools I contacted would talk to me. "If an Asian child goes missing, I do not believe that their case would be investigated as fully as if a non-Asian child fell off the school roll," says Sanghera. "I've heard teachers say they think it is part of the child's culture to be taken abroad for an extended length of time; they think they are being culturally sensitive. But I had this girl who was 12 when she was taken out of school, taken to Pakistan when she was 14, forced to marry, and raped. She came back to the UK and gave birth to a child in this country, as a minor. Nobody ever asked her any questions about her situation. I believe that of these unaccounted-for children, there will be victims of forced marriages. There's no doubt in my mind about that." There are some signs that the government is taking forced marriage seriously. This autumn, the Forced Marriage Act will allow courts to intervene if someone makes a complaint that they are being forced into a marriage. The select committee on forced marriage and honour violence is also expected to report its findings soon. But whatever new legislation is passed, campaigners repeatedly say that it is no good if the women it is intended to help have no idea that it is there.

Khanum made a wide range of recommendations in her report. "Many schools and colleges," she says, "have to really pull their socks up and detect signs that a young woman is being forced into a marriage - such as depression, truancy, a downturn in her grades - and find out why. GPs don't ask why a woman might be depressed and just prescribe antidepressants." There also needs to be more funding for dedicated workers and counsellors. "You have to educate parents, because so much of this goes on behind closed doors," says Khanum. "If a neighbour is bullying his daughter, how would I know if all I see is him being very polite and considerate outside the home? Educating parents is vital, and especially men, because it is predominantly men who are the perpetrators - they have to be influenced. They may not even know that they are breaching the laws of this country." Raising the age of compulsory education to 18 could help, as it would buy young women time and help them to become more self-confident, but this would only work if schools and colleges followed up absences. Agencies need to be trained to have a greater understanding of the issues: Khanum says some have sought help from community or religious leaders, believing this to be the culturally sensitive thing to do, whereas it often placed the women in more danger.

Sanghera, meanwhile, believes there needs to be a distinct criminal offence of forced marriage. The government did consider this, but decided not to legislate; one of the reasons given was that women wouldn't want to criminalise their parents and it would force the practice underground. The fact is, forced marriage is already largely underground. Sanghera sees the criminalisation of forced marriage as parallel to the introduction of domestic violence legislation. "We had the same debate with that: people were saying, 'It won't work, women won't want to get their partners into trouble.' But we created legislation, empowered victims, raised awareness, put in special measures. The same would apply to forced marriage. It would create the recognition that this is a crime; I have never met a victim who believed that what was happening to them was against the law. You are groomed into understanding that your life is mapped out for you. You're not thinking, 'It is against the law for you to do this to me.' Making forced marriage a crime in itself would send out a strong message of unacceptability." It is time, she says, to put aside what some people believe is cultural sensitivity and start seeing forced marriage and "honour" violence as the crimes that they are. "I've met well-intentioned police officers, teachers and GPs who have a fear of getting it wrong and a fear of being called racist. There is so much denial. I can cope with denial in the community - they can get on with it - but I can't cope with denial from those statutory agencies that have a responsibility to treat these women the same way they would treat any other".
© The Guardian

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FOOTBALL 'MUST ACT' TO AVOID RACISM CHARGE(uk)

12/3/2008- The chairmen and owners of English football clubs have been warned that they risk being branded "a bunch of racists" if they do not take immediate action to address the startling lack of black managers in the national game. Paul Ince, at MK Dons, and Macclesfield's Keith Alexander are the only black managers of the 92 Premier and Football League clubs. In contrast, the ratio of players is 15 times higher, with about 33 per cent coming from black or ethnic minority backgrounds. "It's embarrassing and something is drastically wrong - the statistics don't lie," said Brendon Batson, the FA's consultant on equality and diversity. "I'm an optimistic person but there will come a time when we'll have to be more radical. "If it carries on much longer, there will be a clamour to say, 'You're just a bunch of racists'." Most worrying is the lack of any obvious progress over the past decade." A Daily Telegraph survey has revealed that the number of black managers - two - is the same as in the 1995-96 season, yet there has been a drop from the high point of five in 2001-02. At the same time, the number of black players who have taken coaching qualifications has risen.

Leading figures in the game fear that another generation of distinguished black players will miss out. "The evidence is overwhelming. In the past the industry has been appalling at encouraging black players to make the transition into coaching and management," said Garth Crooks, an FA Cup winner with Tottenham and advisor to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. "Everybody in football is trying very hard to address the perception from grassroots that the industry might be perceived as institutionally racist." The Government is now involved and plans to hold talks with the League Managers' Association to identify ways of giving black managers an equal chance. "These statistics are very concerning and show that there's still a long way to go before equality on the pitch translates into equality off it," said sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe. "Clearly more needs to be done to ensure black managers are given an equal chance. I'd also like to see more ethnic minority representation in the boardroom." There is just one non-white chairman and one non-white chief executive among the 92 clubs and no black or ethnic minority representation on the boards of the FA, Premier League or Football League.
© The Telegraph

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VICTORY FOR KAZEMI AS HOME SECRETARY HALTS DEPORTATION TO IRAN(uk)

14/3/2008- A gay teenager who faces the death penalty if he is forced to return to Iran has won a temporary reprieve after the Home Secretary halted his planned deportation and agreed to reconsider his case. The Government's surprise intervention yesterday follows an international outcry over the plight of Mehdi Kazemi, 19, who lost his asylum claim in Britain even though his former boyfriend had been arrested by the Iranian state police and executed for sodomy. Mr Kazemi later fled to the Netherlands from Britain, but this week lost his final legal battle to force the Dutch government to allow him to seek refugee status there. He is being held in a Rotterdam immigration detention centre, awaiting transfer to Britain in the next few days. Announcing the decision to rehear Mr Kazemi's case, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said yesterday: "Following representations made on behalf of Mehdi Kazemi, and in the light of new circumstances since the original decision was made, I have decided that Mr Kazemi's case should be reconsidered on his return to the UK from the Netherlands." The political breakthrough was welcomed by his family and supporters, who said they now hoped Ms Smith would grant him permanent asylum in Britain.

Emma Ginn, of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, who met Mr Kazemi when he was detained in Britain in 2006, said: "This is, finally, a good decision. There are many flaws in the UK's so-called 'fair and efficient' asylum determination process that others, not so fortunate to attract such global news coverage, are subjected to. The whole thing seems like not much more than a lottery." Mr Kazemi's MP, Simon Hughes, said last night: "This public confirmation of the Government's position is very welcome. I hope Mr Kazemi will now come back to Britain, where arrangements are already in place for an urgent meeting with him, his family, specialist lawyers and myself to prepare a new application to the Home Office. It is becoming more and more clear that sending gay people back to Iran under the present regime is completely unacceptable." The chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, said: "We are obviously delighted that the Home Secretary has listened to the representations that were made in this case. There are overwhelming reasons why people should not be deported to Iran in the current circumstances, and it is important that Britain is seen as a safe haven." The Liberal Democrat European justice spokeswoman, the MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford, said: "This is a welcome move, even if it should have come voluntarily and without the need for so much pressure. But we must not forget other gay Iranians fearing for not only their liberty but their lives, such as Pegah Emambakhsh [an Iranian lesbian who is seeking asylum in Britain]. They deserve justice, too."

Mr Kazemi came to London to study in 2005, but in April 2006 discovered that his gay partner had been arrested by the Iranian authorities and named him as his boyfriend before his execution. Fearing he might suffer the same fate if he returned home after his studies, Mr Kazemi decided to seek asylum in Britain. In an open letter to the British Government, Mr Kazemi told the Home Secretary: "I wish to inform the Secretary of State that I did not come to the UK to claim asylum. I came here to study and return to my country. But in the past few months my situation back home has changed. The Iranian authorities have found out that I am a homosexual and they are looking for me." He added: "I cannot stop my attraction towards men. This is something that I will have to live with the rest of my life. I was born with the feeling and cannot change this fact but it is unfortunate that I cannot express my feeling in Iran. If I return to Iran I will be arrested and executed like my former boyfriend."
© Independent Digital

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DUTCH COURT NIXES GAY ASYLUM SEEKER BID

12/3/2008- The Netherlands' highest court on Tuesday rejected a gay Iranian's last-ditch appeal to avoid deportation to Britain, where he fears authorities will send him back to Tehran and possible execution. Mehdi Kazemi, 19, traveled to Britain to study in 2005 and applied there for asylum after learning that his male lover in Iran had been executed for sodomy. After British authorities rejected Kazemi's application, he fled and applied for asylum in the Netherlands. Upholding a ruling by the Dutch government, the Council of State said Britain is responsible for Kazemi's case because he applied for asylum there first. European Union rules say the member state where an asylum seeker first enters the bloc is responsible for processing that person's claim. Kazemi's case has generated attention for the plight of homosexuals in Iran, but also for differences in the way EU countries deal with asylum seekers. Gay rights campaigner Rene van Soeren said Kazemi's lawyer was considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The lawyer, Borg Palm, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Boris van der Ham, a lawmaker who has taken up Kazemi's cause, has appealed to the government to lobby British authorities on Kazemi's behalf. "There should be some political leadership," he said in a telephone interview. "I hope in Britain they will do it, and otherwise we should take the boy."

Because of Iran's persecution of homosexuals, the Netherlands typically relaxes its tough asylum rules when considering applications by gay Iranians — virtually guaranteeing asylum to any who apply here. However, because Kazemi had already applied for asylum in Britain and been rejected, the Dutch government refused to consider his case, insisting he return to Britain. Britain's Home Office has declined comment, saying it does not discuss individual asylum applications. However, Britain's Border and Immigration Agency has issued a statement that could give Kazemi hope: "We examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return." Matteo Pegoraro, president of the Italian-based gay rights group EveryOne, which is lobbying on behalf of Kazemi, has said he knows of 10 gay people executed in Iran since 2005, based on reports from nongovernment groups and activists.
© Associated Press

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GAYS TO WIN MARRIAGE RIGHTS(Norway)

14/3/2008- The Norwegian government put forth a long-expected gay marriage bill on Friday, clearing the way for homosexual couples to secure the same marriage rights as heterosexuals. Norway already has a so-called "partnership law" that has allowed homosexuals to form legal domestic partnerships. Now they likely will be able to marry, with all the rights that entails, since the government has a majority in parliament and the law is expected to win approval. The bill, called "felles ekteskapslov" in Norwegian, will also ensure that children of lesbian couples will have two legal parents from the beginning of life, and that married homosexuals will be evaluated as adoptive parents along the same lines as heterosexual couples. The new government minister in charge of children's and family issues, Anniken Huitfeldt of the Labour Party, called the proposed law "an historic step towards equality." She said the goal of the law is to demonstrate that homosexual and heterosexual couples are equal under the law. "The new law won't weaken marriage as an institution," Huitfeldt claimed. "Rather, it will strengthen it. Marriage won't be worth less because more can take part in it."

Dissension
Two of her colleagues in Norway's left-centre government coalition, however, exercised their right to dissent, and refused to endorse all portions of the controversial measure. Transport Minister Liv Signe Navarsete and the minister in charge of local government, Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa, wouldn't support the measure's proposal to also allow gay couples access to state-funded programs that help couples conceive children. They also refused to support proposed changes in biotechnology laws.
© Aftenpost

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COURT CASE ON BANNING FAR RIGHT HUNGARIAN GUARD ADJOURNED - SUMMARY

12/3/2008- A court case aimed at deciding the fate of the extreme-right Hungarian Guard was on Wednesday adjourned until May 19 after opening statements by defence and prosecution lawyers. The formation of the guard by extreme-right party Jobbik in August prompted outrage from Jewish groups, politicians and other civil society bodies. Jewish organizations say that its black uniforms resemble those worn by Second World War fascists. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and others have called for the group to be banned. The court case, requested by the chief prosecutor and brought forward at the demands of the justice minister, is aimed at deciding whether the group is breaking the rules set out for such organizations, which are not supposed to infringe others' rights or freedoms. If the court finds against the group, then it could be disbanded. Much of the controversy centres on the guard's campaign against what it calls "gypsy crime." Some 260 members of the guard marched through a Roma majority village in uniform in December. The organization has also held candle-lit vigils for "the victims of gypsy crime." Chief Prosecutor Tamas Kovacs in December said that the march showed the guard had reached a point that was "incompatible with a democratic state." The prosecutor's office said that the Hungarian Guard was guilty of racial discrimination and had created a climate of fear among Hungary's Roma community. However, Tamas Gaudi-Nagy, representing the guard, told Budapest Municipal Court that the march was not an official guard event, but was organized and announced by a private citizen.

The guard claims it is simply a cultural organization concerned with maintaining Hungary's traditions and safeguarding its future. Uniformed members of the group gathered outside the court before proceedings began, and Orban Kolompar, the head of the Roma National Council, was involved in angry exchanges with guard members as he entered the court building. Kolompar last week handed in a petition with over 70,000 signatures to parliament calling for the guard to be abolished. The guard, which now has over 600 members, has chosen as its coat of arms a variation on the red-and-white Arpad Stripes, a medieval flag that became associated with Hungary's Nazi-aligned Arrow Cross party which was in power for a brief period during WWII. The far right has been far more active since anti-government riots that followed the leaking of a tape in September 2006 on which Prime Minister Gyurcsany admitted he had lied about the economy.
© DPA

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FOUNDERS QUIT FAR-RIGHT PARTY JOBBIK OVER HUNGARIAN GUARD

11/3/2008- Three founding members of the radical right-wing Jobbik party, including former chairman Dávid Kovács, have left the party, declaring that it has become too radical. They particularly cited the creation of the quasi-military Magyar Gárda. Joining Kovács are Márton Fári, a former chairman of the party's ethics committee, and Ervin Nagy, a former president of Jobbik's national council. They said in a jointly worded statement that Magyar Gárda is the cause of their decision, rather than "the socialist-liberal power and its army of spies." The biggest problem, they argued, is that Jobbik leaders have no effective way of vetting those who join the Magyar Gárda. Népszabadság quotes a report by weekly HVG that some members and leaders of the group have criminal records. Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik and the Magyar Gárda, said the announcement took him absolutely unawares. Considering their former posts, the loss is sensitive, but they have been inactive since late 2006, he added. He insisted that the Gárda is an independent civilian movement.
© Politics Hungary

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ROW OVER 'FASCIST' CANDIDATE IN BERLUSCONI'S PARTY(Italy)

10/3/2008- The decision by Silvio Berlusconi's party to field a self-confessed "proud lifelong Fascist" in Italy's April elections drew widespread condemnation Monday. Centre-left politicians said the inclusion of publisher Giuseppe Ciarrapico in the People of Freedom party's list presented Monday - the deadline for the submission of candidates for the April 13-14 poll - was proof of the party's "slide to the far-right". "Berlusconi has filled his list with just about everything," said Dario Franceschini, deputy leader of the Democratic Party. He said was not only referring to Ciarrapico, but also Gianfranco Fini - whose right-wing National Alliance merged with Berlusconi's Forza Italia to form the People of Freedom - and candidates belonging to a movement led by Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of dictator Benito Mussolini, who has also joined forces with People of Freedom. Some members of Berlusconi's party which is currently leading in opinion polls also expressed dismay. "I am incompatible with Fascism. Anyone who has read my articles or books knows I'm against all sorts of totalitarianism and anti- Semitism," said Fiamma Nirenstein, a journalist who is also running for People of Freedom. Asked at a news conference what her thoughts on sharing a ticket with Ciarrapico were, Nirenstein who is Jewish said: "I will tell him what I have always believed in". Fini, a former leader of the Social Movement, a party formed from the ashes of Mussolini's Fascist Party, but who has since distanced himself from his past - a process which culminated in a 2003 visit to Israel where he described Fascism as "absolute evil" - said he played no part in selecting Ciarrapico. Ciarrapico who publishes several newspapers in the Lazio region near Rome described Berlusconi as a "dear old friend," suggesting that the billionaire-turned-politician had personally invited him to stand in the election. Commenting on the row, Berlusconi's spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti on Monday said it was "high-time the Left stops with its presumed moral superiority." "We are all tired of them, of a Left that passes judgement on others," Bonaiuti said.
© DPA

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GERMAN MINISTER SAYS SCHOOLS SHOULD TEACH ISLAM

13/3/2008- Schools in Germany should offer Islam - along with Christianity and Judaism - as a required religion class in the future, the interior minister said Thursday, but he insisted that the courses be taught in German. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that it would take a while before Muslim community leaders worked out a legally binding agreement with the state, but that an agreement on the issue had been reached. "It will take some time, but we are moving ahead," Schäuble said after a third conference with representatives of Germany's estimated three million Muslims. Other participants said it would take several years before the classes became available. Both sides have wrangled for years over the teaching Islam in state-run schools, where religion classes are required by law. Pupils now only have the choice of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism or Judaism. Many schools also offer ethics classes as an alternative. Offering Islam in schools will be "a very, very considerable contribution to integration and peaceful coexistence," said Bekir Alboga, a spokesman for the Muslim participants. The Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches in Germany, as well as the Jewish community, already have established legal partnerships with the state.

Participants in the conference, set up in 2006 in an attempt to improve often strained relations between Germans and the nation's Muslim community - dominated by roughly 2.2 million Turks - also agreed to support construction of more mosques in Germany and fight against Islamic radicalism. Treatment of Germany's large ethnic Turkish population is another major issue at the conference, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey urged Germany to take measures to counter discrimination, saying his own relatives in the country feared for their safety. In an interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Erdogan also criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel for not joining him for an event in Cologne last month attended by thousands of German Turks. "The German government must take severe measures," Erdogan told the newspaper. "I have relatives in Germany and they tell me: We are scared." Erdogan was responding to a question about a house fire in Ludwigshafen last month in which nine people of Turkish origin died. The Turkish media have speculated that the fire was a racially motivated attack, but German prosecutors have virtually ruled out arson as the cause of the blaze, which killed five children and a pregnant woman. Erdogan, who visited the site of the fire last month, said he had seen Nazi symbols on the door of the house. During the trip, Erdogan spoke to a crowd of around 16,000 people of mainly Turkish origin in Cologne and urged them to resist assimilation, sparking criticism from Merkel and other members of her government. In the newspaper interview, Erdogan criticized the chancellor for not participating in the event.

A senior German official who requested anonymity denied that Merkel had ever agreed to attend the Cologne event, saying it had been arranged by Erdogan's people without consulting Berlin. Schäuble acknowledged that more needed to be done to make Muslims feel at home in Germany but hit out at Erdogan for telling Turks to resist becoming part of German society. "I'm not insisting that all Turks become Germans - but when they want to become German citizens they cannot remain Turkish," Schäuble told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
© International Herald Tribune

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GERMAN POLICE SEARCH YOUTH HEADQUARTERS OF FAR-RIGHT GROUP

10/3/2008- Police searched the headquarters of a far right group's youth wing Monday as part of an investigation into members allegedly circulating banned material, officials said. The federal and state office of the Young National Democrats _ the youth wing of the National Democratic Party known by its German initials NPD _ were searched in a morning raid in the eastern city of Bernburg, in Saxony Anhalt, police said in a statement. At the same time, police also searched an apartment in the city that was shared by the three suspects in the case. Two of the suspects _ identified only as a 26- and 31-year-old _ are being investigated on suspicion they posted the lyrics of a banned song on the group's Internet site, police said. The third suspect, a 29-year-old, is alleged to have run a mail-order business selling items with banned symbols on them, as well as CDs with banned songs. In Germany it is illegal to display Nazi symbols like the swastika, or to distribute songs praising the era or inciting racial hatred. The police statement, however, gave no indication what the songs or items linked to the case were, and nobody was available for clarification at the police office involved. The statement also did not mention whether any of the suspects were arrested. In 2003, Germany's highest court blocked an attempt to ban the NPD by the government, which argued that the party incited hate crimes against foreigners and Jews. The court refused to hear the case because the government cited statements by party members who turned out to be paid informers for state authorities.
© Associated Press

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FAR-RIGHT ATTACKS REACHED NEW RECORD IN GERMANY IN 2007

Last year a record number of attacks were carried out by right-wing extremists in Germany, a prominent anti-racism campaigner said. The problem is especially bad in eastern Germany.

10/3/2008- A record number of far-right attacks were perpetrated in Germany last year, according to a former government spokesman turned campaigner. Uwe-Karsten Heye, the founder of pressure group Gesicht Zeigen! (Show your Faces), said about 600 people were attacked by neo-Nazis last year. Speaking in Berlin Monday, Heye warned about a rise in right-wing extremism, particularly in eastern Germany. According to Heye, there were 11 attacks on businesses run by immigrants in the eastern state of Brandenburg in 2007. "Behind the attacks is a strategy by neo-Nazis to destroy livelihoods and drive out immigrants," he said. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, 130 asylum seekers, immigrants and homeless people have been killed by right-wing extremists, Heye told reporters. During Monday's press conference, he criticized government cuts between 1998 to 2002 to help vicitims of neo-Nazi violence. It was imcomprehensible, he said, that the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for example, cut the number of specialist pyschologists who help victims of neo-Nazis from six to three. Heye, who was the spokesman of Germany's Social Democratic-Green coalition government between 1998 to 2002, is the founder and chairman of Gesicht Zeigen!, which was set up to fight xenophobia. He caused an uproar in the German media in the run-up to the World Cup in 2006 when he suggested parts of Germany were no-go areas for foreigners.
© Spiegel Online

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POLICE UNCOVER NEO-NAZI ARMS CACHE, SWEDISH SOLDIER TIED TO NEO-NAZI GROUPS

11/3/2008- Police in Stockholm have confiscated a large number of weapons and explosives following a raid on a neo-Nazi organization. "There was so much that we had to evacuate a building in the western suburbs," police spokesman Ulf Göranzon told Metro. Three members of Svenska Motståndsrörelsen ('Swedish Resistance Movement' - SMR), men aged 18, 21 and 28, have been detained pending custody proceedings. Police made six arrests in total following coordinated raids on the homes of SMR members and their parents. The Nova Group, a police unit focused on counteracting the growth of organized crime, was involved in the swoop, which was carried out on Thursday. Police have launched an investigation to ascertain whether the group intended putting the weapons to use.

Swedish soldier tied to neo-Nazi groups
13/3/2008- A soldier in the Nordic Battle Group is a well known Nazi sympathizer from western Sweden. The man has been photographed adorned in Nazi regalia, and was listed on a website for people expressing hostility to foreigners, reports the Borås Tidning (BT) newpaper. On the site he described himself as a rebel who wears military-style clothes and listens to resistance-rock. His interests included “race biology”. “There is no doubt about the sort of circles in which this person runs,” said Mikael Ekman from the anti-racism organization Expo told BT. When confronted with the information, the man first denied any association with neo-Nazi groups. “What makes you think I’m a Nazi,” he asked. Soon thereafter, the pictures and descriptions of the man disappeared from the anti-foreigner website. Later the man admitted to having ties with the pro-Nazi groups in the past. “This stuff with NSF (National Socialist Front) was from several years ago. I had some friends who belonged but I’m not involved with any of that shit any more. I had ties to them in another life,” the man told BT. After learning of the man’s ties to the Nazi movement, Sweden’s Armed Forces planned to investigate the matter further. “We can’t accept such things,” said Armed Forces spokesperson Eva Nilsson to BT. Nilsson explained that the man would now go through additional security interviews in order to give his version of events. Swedish security service Säpo and military intelligence will likely also be called in to review the man’s records.
© The Local

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FITTING IN: SWEDISH PARTIES THINK ANEW ON INTEGRATION

David Landes looks at press reaction to the proposals for citizenship classes and an asylum policy which decides where refugees get to live.

14/3/2008- Integration and asylum policy came into focus again this week on the editorial pages of Sweden’s major papers following two different proposals from two different political parties. On Tuesday, Minister of Integration Nyamko Sabuni of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) presented her party’s plans to provide classes for immigrants wishing to become Swedish citizens. On the same day, Social Democratic Party Leader Mona Sahlin suggested that the state, rather than incoming refugees, ought to decide where in Sweden they ought to live. Sahlin said her proposal was meant to ease pressure on communities currently flooded with refugees and to help place refugees in areas with ample housing and job opportunities. Sabuni hoped that citizenship classes, as well as a formal citizenship ceremony, would emphasize the idea of citizenship as a contract between the state and the individual, as well as ensure that naturalized Swedes have a full understanding of the basic values that inform Swedish society. Åsa Peterson of Aftonbladet criticized Sabuni’s proposal harshly, calling it discriminatory. In particular, she takes issue with the Liberal Party’s notion of citizenship as a social contract which would take the form of an actual document. Peterson first quotes from some additional language in the Liberal Party’s report on the issue which says that a social contract “should be made clear through a document where a new citizen can confirm that he or she understands how society functions…and that the new citizen intends to participate in society and obey the applicable laws and rules.” She continues to outline her disapproval of the plan on the grounds that such a contract puts demands on naturalized Swedish citizens that don’t apply to citizens by birth. “I wonder, when in life would citizens who are Swedish by birth be asked to certify that they ‘participate in society and obey the rules’? Isn’t that an obvious part of citizenship? When the Liberal Party says that new citizens should certify their honesty, are they suggesting that immigrants and refugees can’t be trusted in the same way as ‘regular people’?” she asks.

According to Peterson, forcing citizens to sign a piece of paper to demonstrate their understanding of democracy is discriminatory and points out “the other” as the problem, rather than getting Swedes to examine their own stance on the matter. The Liberal Party’s suggestion also raises concerns for Henrik Bredberg from the Sydsvenskan newspaper, but less because of its specifics, and more because he feel it runs counter to the kind of policies a “liberal” party ought to espouse. “What is wrong with the Liberal Party?” he asks, citing a number of recent suggestions from the party which Bredberg sees as putting more demands on immigrants. “The impression one gets is that the Liberal Party employs a great deal of imagination and creativity when it comes to finding new ways to toughen the demands on immigrants,” he writes. “More than demands ought to be demanded of a party that calls itself liberal.” Sahlin’s proposal was also picked apart by Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) for being unrealistic on two accounts. First of all, the paper sees the proposal as part of a strategy by the Social Democrat party leader to wrest control of the issue from the current government with an eye toward the 2010 parliamentary elections. The idea is basically a non starter, according to SvD, because any government led by Sahlin would never get support for the policy from the Left Party or the Greens, which would presumably join the Social Democrats in a centre-left ruling coalition. The paper reminds readers that the Green Party’s Peter Eriksson believes that an important aspect of asylum policy is to allow people to decide for themselves where they live, and that Kalle Larsson of the Left Party referred to the suggestion as “economic municipal arrest.” “It’s hard to imagine an asylum policy that would satisfy Mona Sahlin and [popular Social Democratic mayor of Gothenburg] Göran Johansson as well as Peter Eriksson and [Left Party leader] Lars Ohly,” writes SvD.

The paper’s other problem with Sahlin’s proposal is that it’s unlikely to keep people from moving if they don’t like the community in which they are placed. In SvD’s estimation, the benefits currently allotted to refugees are so low that the threat of having those benefits reduced as a penalty for moving isn’t going to deter anyone. More than likely, refugees will move to areas with large concentrations of people from their home country, even if it means a slight reduction in benefits. “There is a great risk that we will end up with a growing group of people who are not only living in crowded conditions and out of work, but are also more inclined to work under the table to get a little extra cash,” the paper writes. The paper is slightly more optimistic about the current government’s plans to make it harder for newly arrived immigrants to be joined by their relatives, but still sees changes to employment policy as the key to integration. “The best medicine against joblessness is a policy that makes it more attractive to create jobs and hire people. It is in the right to work, salary structure, and business regulations where the largest obstacles to integration can be found,” writes SvD.
© The Local

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EDITOR THREATENED OVER JESUS DEFECATION POSTER(Sweden)

8/3/2008- The editor of a Swedish newspaper has received death threats for publishing a picture of Jesus being defecated on by the devil. Östgöta Correspondenten editor Ola Sigvardsson has received several death threats since the publication of the picture, which featured on posters for a punk festival. The poster depicted a Satan figure defecating on Jesus. Linköping city council had previously censured the festival poster. The newspaper published the picture last Saturday and it sparked a vigorous debate on its homepage. On Thursday however the discussions became more threatening and Sigvardsson received the first of several telephone calls involving death threats. Sigvardsson has, among other things, been threatened with having his throat cut. "I was mostly confounded," Sigvardsson said. Sigvardsson admitted that he realized that publishing the picture would be controversial, but he underlined that the censured picture addresses the issue of freedom of speech and it was therefore important to run the story.
© The Local

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HOLOCAUST-DENIER IRVING DODGES LATE LATE PROTEST(Ireland)

8/3/2008- Convicted Holocaust-denier David Irving dodged a small but noisy protest outside RTÉ studios in Dublin ahead of his Late Late Show appearance last night. A group of about 20 protesters with placards and a loud-hailer gathered outside RTÉ headquarters in Montrose, Dublin, chanting: “Holocaust never again.” Irving managed to slip into RTÉ via a side entrance for his appearance on the Late Late Show. His appearance comes just days he was due to appear at a University College Cork debate on Monday night in favour of the motion “That this house believes free speech should be free from restraint”. Irving's participation in that debate has since been cancelled, due to security concerns. Security at RTÉ was tight and gardaí were also on patrol to keep the peace ahead of Irving’s television appearance. An onlooker said: “There was a bit of shouting but no trouble.” In 2006 Irving, 69, was found guilty by an Austrian court of denying the Holocaust and sentenced to three years in prison. He had pleaded guilty to the charge, based on a speech and interview he gave in Austria in 1989. He served a prison sentence from February to December 2006. Six million Jewish men, women and children died during the Nazi Holocaust. Irving appeared alongside comic Des Bishop, RTÉ presenter Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, veteran singer Sonny Knowles, and four times heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield.
© The Irish Examiner

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REPORT: HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN CR UNCHANGED IN 2007

12/3/2008- The protection and observance of human rights in the Czech Republic has not much improved compared to last year, according to a Czech Helsinki Committee (CHV) report on the state of human rights in the Czech Republic in 2007 CTK received Wednesday. The situation in 2007 did not change considerably compared to the previous year. For instance, the number of children in children's homes did not decrease, people at work were protected against discrimination even less than in the past, and the elderly were often exposed to tyranny, the report says. In its annual report the CHV focuses on the rights of women, children and the elderly as well as on the position of foreigners, prisoners, the approach of police and justice and the expressions of intolerance and extremism. The U.S. Department of State has also published its regular report assessing the state of human rights across the world on its website. According to it, the Czech government protects the rights of citizens, but law enforcement is a problem. The report says that corruption and the possibility of politicians' interference persist in the Czech Republic and that the investigation of some cases either ended prematurely or the cases were transferred to different courts due to this. The report mentions, for instance, the case of former Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) minister Jiri Cunek or former Social Democrat (CSSD) prime minister Stanislav Gross.

According to the report, political pressure and ineffective police work contribute to the country's corrupt environment. In some cases police did not allow detained persons to meet their lawyers. The report also says that discrimination against Romanies persists in the Czech Republic and that there are cases of children's abuse and trafficking. The CHV points out in its report that many Czech children end up in institutions due to the poverty of their parents and the loss of housing. "The fundamental principle that help to children means help to their family is not implemented in practice, for rare exceptions," Anna Sabatova from the CHV who previously worked as Czech ombudsman deputy said. The children's interests are not taken into consideration, she said. According to the CHV report, the number of children in institutions is not decreasing. "I am afraid that it is rather growing," Sabatova said, adding that the reason was that the topic "had been ignored" by the politicians for many years. Institutions are unable to create a coherent system of children's protection. The CHV proposes that one body should deal with children's problems. The Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Necas (senior ruling Civic Democrats, ODS) is considering the establishment of such a body.

According to the CHV, the position of people on the labour market worsened last year. The New Labour Code that took effect in January 2007 does no longer contain the ban on discrimination. It refers to the anti-discrimination law but the law has not yet taken effect. The report says that the situation of women did not improve either compared to the previous years. Apart from work, women have to do all work in their household. Women are more threatened with unemployment. Especially women over 40 years old have problems with finding a job. In addition, employers ask them inadmissible personal questions within admission interviews. According to the CHV, the situation of the elderly did not improve last year either. As of last year, the elderly are entitled to social service allowance. The committee points out that authorities did not recognise allowances to some helpless people and the procession of their applications takes a very long time. "Not all requests filed in 2007 have been processed. In practice, there are cases in which the applicants die before receiving an allowance," the report says. The law should support services for the elderly at home and thus encourage the elderly to leave institutions but many services have been abolished for the lack of money. Often only elderly people who receive higher allowances have an opportunity to be admitted to elderly people's homes and in addition, the personnel often treats them unscrupulously. "In some cases, this behaviour can be easily described as tyranny, both physical and psychological," the report says.

According to the CHV, the rights of patients were not strengthened last year and the situation of asylum seekers and migrants did not improve. The CHV believes that the decrease in the number of asylum applications was caused by stricter legislation. Many foreigners thus prefer to stay in the Czech Republic illegally. The report mentions the foreigner police's "discriminatory approach" to foreigners and it describes the Czech migration policy as a "legal roulette." The authors also point out that extremist ultra-right movements in the Czech Republic are becoming professional. They have their own lawyers and spokespersons.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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FOREIGNER INTEGRATION IN CR BELOW EU AVERAGE

11/3/2008- Opportunities for migrants to get integrated into society in the Czech Republic are below the average level in the EU countries, Switzerland, Norway and Canada, according to the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) officially presented in Prague Tuesday. The index is compiled by the British Council and Migration Policy Group. The Czech Republic was only ranked among the first ten out of 28 assessed states in terms of conditions of granting citizenship, but it ended up last but one in protection against discrimination. The survey was carried out in March last year. It focused on the legal framework of access to the labour market, family reunification, acquiring citizenship and protection against discrimination. The authors assessed 142 criteria. The survey showed that the Czech Republic is above the average of the ten countries that entered the EU in 2004, but below the average of the former 15 EU countries. The number of foreigners living in the Czech Republic has been gradually increasing and the Czech Republic is no longer a transit country, but it is a target country. A total of 396,843 foreigners lived in the country in end-January and 159,828 of them had permanent residence in the country. The Czech Republic received 50 out of a total of 100 points in the assessment of access to the labour market. The survey found out that foreigners have difficulties finding a job in the Czech Republic mainly because the Czech Republic does not recognise the immigrants' education and qualification. Foreigners acquire an equal position on the labour market usually when they are granted a permanent residence permit.

On the other hand, the Czech Republic was positively assessed for not forcing foreigners to leave the country immediately when they lose work and for giving them a certain time to seek a new job. Foreigners could acquire a permanent residence in the Czech Republic only after ten years spent in the country, but the period has been halved a few years ago. In this respect, the Czech Republic ended up above EU average. A weak point is, however, that foreigners have an equal access to health care only if they have a permanent residence in the country. The Czech Republic ended up in the first ten thanks to the conditions for acquiring citizenship and the possibility to keep original citizenship. In terms of foreigners' opportunities to participate in public and political life has, however, sent the Czech Republic below the EU average. In protection against discrimination, however, the Czech Republic came last but one. The country does not yet have an anti-discrimination law even four years after it entered the EU and it faces a complaint with the European Court of Justice and sanctions.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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SLUM-LIKE CONDITIONS FOR EVICTED ROMA FAMILIES(Czech Rep.)

10/3/2008- Roma families evicted from Vsetín two years ago are living in tumble-down and damp houses that nobody comes to repair. So they decided not to pay rent anymore. "I won't be paying for this shanty anymore," claimed Eva Žigová in a room that has been flooded in January. "Nobody came to repair it, I have stopped sending my rent in November. Let a distrainer come here, I don't care; let Čunek inhabit the house," she said. Jiří Čunek was a mayor of Vsetín who decided to have local Roma families evicted. He became the Minister of Regional Development, but he quit after numerous scandals. Currently, his re-appointment to the post is being discussed.
Threatened with distraint
The families Čunek has evicted now face a real threat of distraint. According to the agreement they have signed with the authorities of Vsetín, in case they fail to pay rent once, they would need to pay off the whole sum they owe, therefore ten thousands of euro. Since they cannot pay such a sum, they would inevitably find themselves homeless. A door in the only heated room in the house opens as a small boy with a schoolbag bursts in. After sharpening his pencil with a knife, he begins to write his homework. Since he enjoys attending school, he is done quickly. Adrian has grown up in Vsetín, however now he is living in Vlčice, a small village in Jesenice, because his family was evicted from their home in Vsetín two years ago. No member of the household sees the place as home, though. On top of that, the family is now broken since all men have left it. "Our daddy is not living with us anymore," explained one of the daughters as she is putting fuel into a stove. "My husband became sick of this all," said Eva Žigová. "Together with his relatives, he moved to Slovakia. He tried to make us go with him, but my family is in Vsetín."

No electricity, no hot water, no toilet
Eva Žigová is living in an unmaintained house with five children all alone. The toilet in the house is out of order, so is the sewage system. There is no hot water, electricity is cut off. In winter, there was no water for two months. The family spent their Christmas in Vsetín. After they come back, they have found one room filled with water from a creek that flows through their garden. Now, they use musty clothes as fuel for the oven. As they have no toilets, they have to go outside. Moreover, the mayor threatened the mother to take her children away because of terrible conditions they are forced to live in. "It was Čunek who got me into this situation. I am paying for this 2,500 CZK (100 euro) to Vsetín every month," complained Žigová. "They cannot ask me to pay this much money for a house in this state, and let them take away my children? I have not been paying them anything since November." "I don't know what to do" Last year, the family was being visited by a social worker. However, this year the municipality hasn't received a grant to pay her. So, Eva Žigová is on her own now. "We have been living in a house of our relatives in Stará Červená Voda," she said. "But there were just too many people living in the house, so we went back. I don't know what to do." After her maternity leave has ended, she could not find work. The region of Jeseník they have been evicted to struggles with high rates of unemployment.

Trying their luck in Britain
Even other Roma family that has been evicted from Vsetín is unable to settle down in their new place. Their new house in Stará Červená Voda is unoccupied for the most part. Some members of the Kandráč family left for Great Britain, the rest live back in Vsetín," explained Josef Podlaha, the mayor of Stará Červená Voda. "I haven't seen them since mid-January," said Podlaha. A Roma family from Vidnava found a refuge in Britain too. "They left after the police said Čunek didn't commit any crime (by evicting them)," explained an activist that deals with Roma-related issues Václav Zástěra. "There is one more lawsuit against Čunek to be discussed by the court. They can return after that." Other tenants are now living in the house they have left. However, these new inhabitants decided to stop paying back their loan to Vsetín. "We have been paying 1,800 CZK (72 euro) monthly for the Kandráč family," explained Eva Horvátová who is now occupying the flat with her husband and six children. "However, my social benefits are reduced since the beginning of the year so I cannot afford to pay the rent anymore." Their house is far from ideal place to live - they have no hot water and the electricity is only provisional.

"Evictions? A mere populist act"
According to Renata Köttnerová, a coordinator for Roma-issues in Olomouc Region, it is apparent that the situation of the families has worsened after their eviction. "Definitely, it hasn't contributed to their stabilization," said Köttnerová. "They are still being attracted by Vsetín, they will never feel home outside the city. One of the reasons why they fell alienated is they have moved here involuntarily." The mayor of Stará Červená Voda, a place one of the families has been moved to, is equally skeptical. "They have been used to living in the city for decades, they are not able to live in the countryside," said mayor Podlaha. "They are visiting their relatives in Vsetín frequently as they struggle or maintain their family ties." According to the mayor, the eviction was nothing else than an act of mere populism that hasn't brought any effect. "I understand such a hardline attitude as a warning for the rest of their community," said Podlaha. "According to me, Vsetín above all wanted to tell them they are going to meet the same end as these families if they won't behave."

Requests for payments
However, the town hall of Vsetín is satisfied with the result and doesn't see any failure on their side. "These families should have been living on the street for a long time," said a spokeswoman Eva Stejskalová. "We have accommodated their needs." Now, Vsetín is preparing its next step. The town hall has sent requests for payments to all families that are not paying rent anymore. "If they don't pay, we will be assertive," said Stejskalová. "We will claim our money by law, or possibly we would pursue a distraint. We would repudiate agreements rigorously and sell the houses."
© Aktualne Cz

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OSCE'S ANDREZEJ MIRGA: EDUCATION OF ROMA KEY TO EVERYTHING (Finland)

Senior advisor for Roma Issues visits Helsinki

9/3/2008- "Education of the Roma is the key to everything", said Andrezej Mirga, Senior Advisor for Roma Issues for the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe during a visit to Helsinki on Thursday. Mirga is in Finland to learn about the situation of the Roma in Finland, as well as that of Roma who have come to Finland from different East European countries. He hopes to learn from the experiences of Finnish policy, and to pass those experiences on to other countries. Mirga, a Polish Roma himself, says that it is important to go to the roots of the problem. For instance, in Romania and Bulgaria, the Roma suffer from discrimination and a lack of education", Mirga said. "The European Union should invest in educational opportunities where the Roma live. It takes money, but will pay for itself once the Roma get jobs and start to pay taxes", Mirga says. "The education should extend to the Roma already at the preschool level, because Roma children are behind those of the population at large already when they come to school." Mirga has visited the Transylvania region of Romania where the Roma who have been seen begging on the Helsinki streets come from. He describes their living conditions in the Cluj Napoca area as "substandard". Mirga sees that officials of different countries have tried to deal with the problem of poverty among European Roma by pushing it out of sight. However, this does not work. "If we push the problem away here, it will raise its head elsewhere." He points out that the EU has a principle of free movement, which means that as EU citizens, the Roma cannot be tied down to one location against their will. In the coming days Mirga, and Nina Suomalainen, advisor to the Minority Ombudsman of the OSCE, are examining the plight of the Roma who have arrived in Finland from other parts of the European Union. They will also meet with some of the beggars who have come to Helsinki. Earlier this week, an unofficial discussion among various ministries was held at the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health. At the discussion, a representative of the Ministry of the Interior noted that the presence of Roma beggars from Eastern Europe is not a very big problem from the point of view of the Finnish police. The situation is considerably worse in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Britain. Next week a delegation of officials from Helsinki will travel to Romania to learn about that country's policies and strategies toward their Roma population.
© Helsingin Sanomat

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CALGARY ANTI-RACISTS CHALLENGE NEO-NAZI THREATS(Canada)

14/3/2008- An upsurge in neo-nazi activity in Alberta is meeting increased resistance from community groups. On March 21, members of the fascist Aryan Guard are organizing a white supremacist "Pride" march from Millennium Park to Calgary City Hall, but members of Anti-Racist Action and community groups are mobilizing to challenge this provocation, set on the International Day for the Elimination of Racism. This development comes after a frightening escalation of neo-nazi threats: two attempted Molotov cocktail firebombings of Calgary homes on the evening of February 12. The second attack targeted the home of anti-racism activists Bonnie Collins and Jason Devine and their children. That firebomb burned a fence and patio furniture, but luckily there were no injuries in either case. Collins and Devine are also well-known in the labour movement, and Bonnie was the Communist Party-Alberta candidate in Calgary East for the March 3 provincial election; Jason has run in federal elections for the Communist Party. Bonnie Collins told the media that her work in standing up to local white supremacists was behind the attack. "They're getting stronger, they're showing their flags," she told the Calgary Sun, promising to help build the rally against the March 21 fascist provocation. Speaking to People's Voice, Jason Devine talked about the increase in far right activity. A previous attempt to build the neo-nazi movement in Alberta sputtered out a few years ago, he says, when the so-called "Western Canada For Us" was exposed by Anti-Racist Action and other groups. One leader of that white supremacist formation was fired from his job and later convicted for hate crimes.

The latest neo-nazi group to emerge is the Aryan Guard, which Devine says was initiated by five or six people who moved to Calgary after meeting vocal opposition from anti-racists in Toronto. This core group has linked up with some young people around the punk scene in Calgary, and with older Albertans long involved in the white nationalist movement. Devine estimates that the Aryan Guard has about 40 members paying dues of $10 a month, and says that the group has been visible through postering hate material as well as a website. Then last fall, wearing ski masks and acting in a provocative manner, the group organized a protest at City Hall against allowing veiled Muslim women the right to vote. Anti-racist activists succeeded in chasing them away, but the incident showed a disturbing rise in hate-mongering. Following that event, Collins and Devine began receiving frequent phone call threats at home. Most neo-nazi groups eventually split, says Devine, often over leadership differences: "only one person can be the Fuhrer," as he notes. But so far, the Aryan Guard has remained united. Devine says that the violent neo-nazi nature of the Aryan Guard is perfectly apparent from its website. The group should be considered armed and dangerous, he points out, since the site shows them with bats, axes and shotguns, and even celebrating Hitler's birthday with a cake. Yet even in the wake of the threats and firebombings, no charges have been laid against anyone, either for promoting hatred or for criminal acts. One Aryan Guard leader went so far as to state that "it's a shame they had kids in the house, but I wouldn't cry if a couple of commies burned." But the police seem unwilling to do anything, says Devine, preferring to ignore the attacks as a "left vs. right" dispute.

This police inaction is part of a historic pattern. Over the past several decades, Communists in Canada have been the target of a wide range of attacks from far-right forces, but charges have never been laid. The list of incidents ranges from a 1970s firebomb at the home of Communist leader Liz Rowley, to the arson attack which burned down the Party's headquarters on Cecil Street in Toronto (the building was under reconstruction at the time), and the 1996 death threat at the Party's Vancouver office. In the latter case, a detailed letter promising to kill anyone entering the building was dropped through the mail slot on Hitler's birthday - April 20 - along with a symbolic twenty rifle bullets. The police response was limited to telling the Party to close its offices. Following the Feb. 12 firebombing, the Central Executive Committee of the CPC issued a letter expressing "full solidarity with the Devine/Collins family and with our comrades in Club Red in Calgary in the face of this violent assault. Such crude acts of intimidation will not silence our comrades in their important work to combat racism, fascism and imperialist war, to defend democratic rights and social justice, and to advance the struggle for socialism." The Communist Party of Canada is demanding a full and complete investigation into this incident, and that the perpetrators of the crime be brought to justice.
© Political Affairs

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THE YEAR IN HATE(usa)

Active U.S. Hate Groups Rise to 888 in 2007
By David Holthouse and Mark Potok


8/3/2008- Sheriff's deputies gunned down by "Aryan" gangsters in Bastrop, La. Tax protesters with bombs arrested in New Hampshire. Gun-toting white supremacists marching in Jena, La. A police officer murdered in Salt Lake City. Nativist leaders demanding sniper teams and mines along the Mexican border. Calls for assassinating politicians, immigrants and Jews. Rapidly spreading racist conspiracy theories. The end of 2007 brought to a close another year marked by staggering levels of racist hate in America. Even as several major hate groups struggled to survive, other new groups appeared, and the radical right as a whole appeared to grow.

The latest annual count by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found that the number of hate groups operating in America rose to 888 last year, up 5% from 844 groups in 2006. That capped an increase of 48% since 2000 — a hike from 602 groups attributable to the exploitation by hate groups of the continuing debate about immigration. And it comes on top of some 300 other anti-immigration groups, about half listed by SPLC as "nativist extremist," formed in the last three years. At the same time, FBI statistics suggested that there was a 35% rise in hate crimes against Latinos between 2003 and 2006. Experts believe that such crimes are typically carried out by people who think they are attacking immigrants. Although there were some signs that nativist hatred may be starting to abate, you wouldn't know that by listening to the furious rants of many groups. "America is being destroyed from within by a modern version of Genghis Khan's army," the Emigration Party of Nevada, listed by the SPLC as a hate group, said. The group's leader, Don Pauly, wants to send government "sniper teams" to the border and forcibly sterilize Mexican women after a first child. "If the Jew government waits, and hell breaks out here in the USA, our citizens will not be asking to see any documentation," added Michael Blevins, the Florida state leader of the neo-Nazi American National Socialist Workers Party. "They will go after anyone they think an illegal alien based on race first."

The growth of these groups is being helped by conspiracy theories and other racist propaganda about immigrants that is being spread by mainstream politicians and pundits. While theories about a secret plan to merge Mexico, Canada and United States into a single country began in radical groups, for instance, many key figures have endorsed them. Indeed, 18 states' houses of representatives have now passed resolutions opposing the "North American Union" — an entity that does not exist and has never been planned, but nonetheless inhabits nativists' nightmares. Promoting such theories, coupled with a history of ties to white supremacist groups and ideology, is what caused the Southern Poverty Law Center to add a major anti-immigration group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), to its list of hate groups last year. FAIR has also promulgated the theory that Mexico is involved in a secret plot to "reconquer" the American Southwest. "You need to understand that WE ARE AT WAR RIGHT HERE IN AMERICA," is the way another nativist group, the Nebraska-based United Citizens of America, put it. "We are being invaded by a foreign country and we are being betrayed from within. Our government, from top to bottom, is being controlled by global elites. They have infiltrated our government at ALL levels."

Here's a more detailed look at several sectors of the radical right:
NEO-NAZIS
Neo-Nazi groups
While the number of neo-Nazi group chapters increased over the course of 2007 from 191 to 207, this rise was largely due to a shake-up within the National Socialist Movement (NSM). Although the NSM remains the largest neo-Nazi organization in the country, with 73 chapters in 34 states (down from 81 chapters in 36 states in late 2006), it suffered a mass exodus of high-profile members last year, most of whom quickly either founded new chapters of rival neo-Nazi groups or established their own new spin-offs. The NSM's troubles in 2007 began last February, when it was accidentally revealed during a public court hearing that Florida state leader David Gletty was a paid FBI informant. Discontent over the group's finances, tactics and internal security began to swell among rank-and-file members as well as officers. Last October, several NSM heavy-hitters abruptly quit. These included Ohio division commander Mark Martin, Storm Troop leader Tim Bishop, Washington state leader Justin Boyer, NSM presidential candidate John Taylor Bowles and computer expert and business manager Jim Ramm, all highly visible and active NSM members. Bowles, along with another disgruntled NSM officer, Nick Chappell, formed a new group, the National Socialist Order of America, based out of The Redneck Shop, a hate memorabilia store in Laurens, S.C., that is owned by Chappell and had been the site of many NSM gatherings.

Ramm launched a website, "NSM Watch," where he posted a list of 111 ex-NSM members who, according to Ramm, had either resigned or been kicked out. NSM "commander" Jeff Schoep countered that he was merely pruning "troublemakers and drama queens." Then, last November, Schoep issued an open letter to NSM members in which he branded Ramm and other defectors "oath breakers and race traitors" and accused them of "working for the enemy." The following month, Schoep announced that he was leaving his common-law wife and six children in Minneapolis to move in with a new girlfriend in Detroit, where he was relocating NSM's national headquarters. Rumors abound in the neo-Nazi movement that Schoep's new flame is non-white, and that he's using NSM money to support her in a supposedly extravagant lifestyle. "In 2006 NSM did over $110,000 in sales, and … current projections for [2007] are around $180,000," Ramm claimed on his website late last year. "NSM Records [the group's hate rock music company] is a business that doesn't report total profits to the members, who are expected to just smile and hope the Commander is spending the money wisely."

The greatest beneficiary of the NSM's internal strife was the American National Socialist Workers Party (ANSWP), a neo-Nazi group led by another former NSM stalwart, neo-Nazi gadfly Bill White. White boasted that he's accepting "the best of the best" NSM castaways and, indeed, ANSWP chapters more than doubled from 13 to 30 last year. Two former powerhouses of the neo-Nazi scene, Aryan Nations and the National Alliance, were in states of more or less suspended animation last year. Aryan Nations still exists but is barely active. In early 2007, two of the group's leaders, Clark Patterson and Jonathan Williams, quit to form a new Christian Identity group called the United Church of YHVH after complaining that Aryan Nations had forgotten its roots in Identity, a theology that says people of color are soulless non-humans and Jews are biologically descended from Satan.

The National Alliance, a West Virginia-based group that has declined precipitously since the death of its founder in 2002, showed signs of life last May when it held a Holocaust denial conference that drew 75 attendees, nearly three times as many people as have attended Alliance "leadership conferences" in recent years. But in August, the Alliance suffered a major setback when Chairman Shaun Walker and two other Alliance members were convicted of federal civil rights violations in a string of three racially motivated assaults in Salt Lake City in 2002 and 2003. Walker was sentenced to 87 months in federal prison, while his underlings received shorter sentences. Former Chairman Eric Gliebe, who had stepped down amid much criticism earlier, re-assumed leadership of the troubled group amid swirling rumors of drug use and a pending divorce and custody battle with his estranged wife, former stripper Erica Gliebe — a woman who now calls herself "Hollycast," an apparent sarcastic reference to the Holocaust. Finally, the National Vanguard looks to be all but finished. Its leader, Kevin Alfred Strom, pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and is facing up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced in April.

RACIST SKINHEADS
Racist Skinhead groups
Racist skinhead gangs, or "crews," are unstable and often transient by nature, making them difficult to track. However, over the course of 2007, it was possible to identify 90 racist skinhead outfits operating in the United States, up from 78 in 2006. Five of the new chapters are reactivated or recently established divisions of Hammerskin Nation (HSN), a once-mighty coalition of skinhead crews whose power waned earlier in this decade but is now clearly resurging. In addition to the five new domestic chapters, HSN also now claims active crews in at least 10 foreign countries, including Australia, Hungary and Switzerland. Last September, the leaders of HSN and the Vinlander Social Club, a rival skinhead coalition in the Midwest, unexpectedly announced they had reached a peace agreement, ending a blood feud of nearly 10 years. The following month, Hammerskin Nation celebrated its 20th anniversary at Hammerfest 2007, a hate rock festival held near Portland, Ore., and hosted by the Northwest Hammerskins, a regional affiliate of HSN. The Portland-based, neo-Nazi skinhead gang Volksfront provided security. Members of the neo-Nazi group White Revolution and the white nationalist organization Women for Aryan Unity were in attendance. One of the speakers was Michael Lawrence, a prominent member of the Confederate Hammerskins, another HSN affiliate, and the founder of the Christian Guard, a major Christian Identity organization.

KU KLUX KLAN
Ku Klux Klan groups
Although most Ku Klux Klan factions continued to exploit the roiling national immigration debate in 2007 by holding anti-"illegal alien" rallies (rather than their more typical "anti-black crime" fare), last year was a relatively quiet one for the KKK. The number of Klan chapters dropped to 155 last year from 165 in 2006, marking the second straight year of decline after five years of rapid growth. One important development in this sector came in August, when the National Aryan Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, LLC, merged with the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. National Aryan Knights chapters in Louisiana resisted the merger by forming a new splinter group under the banner of the National Aryan Knights. The Imperial Klans of America (IKA), meanwhile, declined from 23 chapters in 2006 to just 16 last year as a case filed last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center against IKA chief Ron Edwards, five followers and the group itself neared trial. The lawsuit seeks damages for a boy who was attacked and severely beaten during an IKA recruiting drive at a Kentucky county fair.

BLACK SEPARATISTS
Black Separatist groups
The death last May of black separatist cult leader Yahweh ben Yahweh (born Hulon Mitchell) coincided with the ongoing rebirth of his Nation of Yahweh, a notorious religious sect that has preached violence against "white devils." Nearly 500 Nation of Yahweh members, many of them conspicuously flaunting material wealth in the form of expensive cars and jewelry, attended the funeral of Yahweh ben Yahweh, who shortly before his death was released from parole after serving 11 years of an 18-year sentence on federal conspiracy charges related to 14 murders committed in South Florida in the 1980s. Formerly moribund Yahweh websites flared with activity following the funeral. In Rochester, N.Y., a white man who started a nonprofit food pantry for the homeless said that a Yahweh member who joined the nonprofit's board in 2004 orchestrated a campaign to push him out of the organization shortly after she returned from the funeral. The man says that he now fears for his life and that the Nation of Yahweh has taken over the building housing the organization. The New Black Panther Party, a racist group unrelated to the original Black Panthers, was also highly active in 2007. Although Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz was barred from entering Canada last May because of his radical ideology, Shabazz did successfully organize a major rally for a black hate crime victim in West Virginia, made a public show of force in Jena, La., and held an Atlanta "Black Power Summit" last October that was attended by about 100 party members from across the country.

GENERAL HATE
General Hate groups
Anti-Gay groups
Anti-Immigrant groups
Racist Music groups
Other events of importance on the radical right included the emergence of Watchmen on the Walls, an international and incredibly virulent anti-gay organization with strong ties to Latvia. The organization has gained a foothold in the United States among Russian-speaking Slavic immigrants on the West Coast, holding a major conference in Lynnwood, Wash., in October. Also last year, the hate group list's only campus outfit, the Michigan State University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, which was added in 2006 after the group sponsored a "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" contest and put out a manifesto calling for white, male control of the MSU student government, continued to promote hate by hosting a series of lectures by extremists such as Nick Griffin. Griffin is a Holocaust denier and the head of the whites-only British National Party, that drew skinheads and other white supremacists to the MSU campus.

Angela Freeman, Anthony Griggs, Janet Smith and Laurie Wood contributed to this report.
© Southern Poverty Law Center

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INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY 2008

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY CELEBRATED ALL OVER THE WORLD

International Women's Day is a global celebration of women's economic, social and political achievements and contributions.

8/3/2008- International Women's Day is celebrated with rallies and public ceremonies all over the world on Saturday. In Russia, women celebrate their growing success in the workplace. It seems they've never had it so good. During the Soviet era, women were promised equality by Joseph Stalin, but for most this was never a reality. But now it seems, since the break-up of communism, women are achieving more success in the workplace. In Italy, in the heart of the ancient district of Trastevere, activists at the International Women's House (Casa Internazionale delle Donne) were putting the finishing touches to a photo exhibition documenting the history of women's rights in Italy between the 50s and the 80s. The exhibition, called "Bread and Roses", will be open to visitors from March 8 to April 8. Black and white photographs tell stories of women fighting for better rights in the workplace and at home. In Dhaka, rallies are held appealing to the government for greater rights for women migrant workers. Migrant workers are one of the most exploited class in Bangladesh, with a low literacy level and no recognition or safeguards from the government for protecting them. In Afghanistan, International Women's Day is celebrated in Kabul. Hundreds of women and Afghan officials attended the ceremony which was presided by the President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai. Karzai called on religious leaders in the country to help stop violence against women. International Women's Day is a global celebration of women's economic, social and political achievements and contributions.
© eitb24

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WOMEN ARE STILL DISCRIMINATED AGAINST IN ALL COUNTRIES, SAYS UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF

On the occasion of International Women's Day (8 March), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, issued the following statement:

GENEVA (OHCHR) – Laws that discriminate against women are still to be found on the statute books of virtually every country in the world, and repeated promises by states to revise or repeal them are not being honoured, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said Friday. Arbour, who was speaking on the eve of International Women's Day, said a newly released report commissioned by OHCHR shows that "the effects of this failure to create true legal parity between men and women in all sorts of social, economic and political arenas is having a detrimental effect on women in many countries – sometimes to a devastating degree."

Perhaps the most pernicious and dangerous discrimination involves sexual abuse that is not recognized as such under a country's laws, or is in effect tolerated by legislation that is either vague or not enforced. "Rape is recognized as a crime in most legal systems," said Arbour. "But, even when it is, inadequate legislation or local traditions often mean laws are not properly enforced. In addition, at least 53 states still do not outlaw rape within marriage, and men frequently enjoy total impunity for physical as well as sexual violence against their wives." "Efforts to combat violence against women will be severely hampered so long as the legal frameworks to protect them, ensure their rights, and grant them the possibility of economic and social independence, are inadequate," Arbour said. "In some countries the legal disparities are blatant, in others they are much more subtle. What is clear, is that many states are failing to live up to their promises to review their laws and root out institutional discrimination, and millions of women continue to suffer grave injustices as a result."

Discriminatory laws exist in an extraordinary range of situations and activities, some relatively minor, others extremely serious. In some countries, for example, married women are forbidden to keep their own names, whereas in others they have no right to own land or inherit property. In some countries, women do not have freedom of movement, unless they are accompanied by male guardians, and in other countries their educational and employment prospects are heavily circumscribed, and they cannot hold public office. Some citizenship laws prevent women from passing on their nationality to their children. If the father's nationality is also unavailable for some reason, this can result in both male and female children being condemned to statelessness. Children also suffer in other ways because of the lack of rights afforded to their mothers: in many cases, men – however abusive, violent or irresponsible they may be – retain total control over their children's lives, and their mothers are marginalized.

The world's governments have made extensive commitments to remove and revise discriminatory laws in the context of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and its follow-up. Similar commitments have been made by the 185 ratifying states to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other fundamental human rights treaties. "Many states appear to have simply ignored the commitments they have made," Arbour said. "It is shameful that, in the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, fundamental rights are still not enjoyed by many women around the world. In some cases, they suffer from multiple forms of discrimination, such as race, age or disabilities as well as their gender. Unless states take their commitments seriously, investing in women and girls will remain a matter of rhetoric."
© UN office of High Commissioner for Human Rights

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UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS CALL TO INVEST IN WOMEN AND GIRLS TO ENSURE GENDER EQUALITY AND PREVENT VIOLENCE

On the occasion of International Women's Day (8 March), the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, and the Independent Expert on the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, Bernards A.N. Mudho, issued the following statement:

On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and 15 years after the Vienna Human Rights Conference, the reality of women around the world is still far from the ideal of rights. Furthermore, civil and political rights are still perceived to be the foundation of rights without due consideration of the equal importance of economic, social and cultural rights. In this respect, the theme of this year's International Women's Day, "Investing in Women and Girls" is a timely reminder that women's access to sources of finance, participation in decision making processes on macro economic and fiscal policies, and entitlements for sustainable livelihoods are paramount towards bridging the gap between universal human rights standards and the realities of the majority of the world's women.

Economic policy and management continues to be seen as a neutral and technical process, insulated from the prevailing power dynamics, including gender relations, on which societies are based. The neo-liberal economic approach, which has become a strong policy framework applied in the context of globalization, has favoured the primacy of markets over human development concerns. Current economic conditions bear upon women's welfare directly, by transforming their family and community on the one hand, and often prodding them to become providers of cheap and flexible labour for the globalizing markets on the other. In the past two decades the participation of women in the labour force has experienced considerable growth. In some cases, this has resulted in greater autonomy for women; however, the process has also in many cases increased the vulnerability of women and girls to unchecked exploitation, abuse and violence.

Trade and fiscal policies largely privileging property rights and investors' interests over human rights, privatisation, and the exploitation of natural resources by businesses, without appropriate regulatory and monitoring mechanisms by Governments, have in many cases resulted in loss of livelihood, dispossession from homes and lands, impoverishment and a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor and women and men. Despite the growing commitment on the part of States and other actors to combat violence against women, increased poverty and marginalisation and lack of protective mechanisms fuel violence, make women and girls easy targets for abuses such as trafficking and erode women's enjoyment of their rights. In this regard, the announcement by the Secretary General on 25 February 2008 of a United Nations campaign to end violence against women is a most welcome initiative. While such a campaign promoted by the highest authority of the United Nations demonstrates the much needed leadership that will give momentum to the anti-violence efforts of the past decades, its success will ultimately be determined by the allocation of sufficient funds for its implementation.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, we call on States, bilateral and multilateral donor agencies and business enterprises to step up efforts to respect, protect and fulfill women's civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and allocate adequate resources towards addressing discrimination and violence against women. It must also be borne in mind that investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth. Women must be empowered to claim the full range of their human rights, and cannot do so until they are liberated from charitable dispensations and the vagaries of the market.
© UN office of High Commissioner for Human Rights

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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY HAS SPECIAL MEANING FOR THE OSCE, SAYS SECRETARY GENERAL

7/3/2008- International Women's Day provides a good opportunity to redouble efforts to achieve genuine equality between men and women, the OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, said today. "For the OSCE, this struggle has a special meaning, as the 56 participating States understand that sustainable progress toward security, economic prosperity, fundamental freedoms and human rights requires the full participation and empowerment of women," the Secretary General said. Gender equality is a priority of Finland's year-long Chairmanship of the OSCE. Across all OSCE institutions, field operations and participating States, this day brings to mind milestones such as the adoption, four years ago, of the OSCE's Action Plan for Gender Equality. The OSCE works actively in practical ways in the field to develop gender equality. Just today, as part of the OSCE Gender Programme, the OSCE Centre in Dushanbe has supported the opening of a computer centre in a student dormitory for orphan girls. In several participating States, for example in Albania, the Organization helps governments to draft legislation on Gender Equality. "Yet, we still have much to do to achieve genuine equality between men and women," de Brichambaut added. "Women still suffer from social inequalities and economic discrepancies, from violence and discrimination in families, schools, workplaces and the political arena. Human trafficking and violence affect primarily women and girls. To fight gender inequality is also to fight violence and human trafficking."
© OSCE

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COUNCIL OF EUROPE LEADERS CALL FOR PRACTICAL STEPS TO FIGHT GENDER VIOLENCE

7/3/2008- Council of Europe leaders today called on European states and citizens to continue to fight violence against women, one of the most common human rights violations, on the occasion of International Women’s Day. Ján Kubiš, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Lluís Maria de Puig, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Terry Davis, Secretary General, and Halvdan Skard, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, declared:
“We are determined to end the silence and indifference which keeps so many women across Europe imprisoned in the horror of daily violence, isolation and despair. Our two-year campaign is succeeding in changing some laws and regulations, but this is not enough. We need to provide practical, effective, immediate and comprehensive assistance to the victims of violence, wherever they are and whenever they need it. This is why we call on all Council of Europe member states and their local and regional authorities to step up implementation of the standards to fight violence against women agreed by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in November 2007 and the measures called for by the Parliamentary Assembly in its 2004 and 2007 resolutions. These steps can make a real, positive and immediate difference to the lives of victims. This is also the objective of the Council campaign ‘Stop Violence against Women’, which will continue until June.“

Violence against women takes place in every country in various forms and is one of the most serious violations of human rights of women. The aim of the Council of Europe Stop Violence against Women campaign is to make Europeans aware of gender violence and to encourage new laws and practices to stop it. National studies show that 20% to 25% of all women have experienced physical violence at least once during their lives, and more than 10% have suffered sexual violence. Reports show that also most violent acts against women are carried out by men in the immediate social environment, most often partners and ex-partners, and that 12% to 15% of all women have been in a relationship of domestic abuse after the age of 16. In November 2007 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a Recommendation to member states on gender equality standards and mechanisms, which calls for specific standards on action against violence against women, such as :

· Legislation to prevent violence against women, protect victims and punish perpetrators, and protection against retaliation if they denounce their aggressors
·  Preventive measures aimed at potential victims and potential perpetrators
· National action plans and information awareness-raising campaigns
· Services to support victims, such as women’s shelters, and programmes for perpetrators
·  Educational programmes and training for all professionals involved with victims

Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)17 of the Committee of Ministers
Assembly Resolution 1582 (2007)
Assembly Recommendation 1681(2004)
Campaign site
© Council of Europe

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'DUTCH NEWS MAINLY ABOUT MEN'

Four out of five newspaper reports in the Netherlands are about men.

10/3/2008– Four out of five newspaper reports in the Netherlands are about men. The free newspaper DAG concluded this from its own survey of the Dutch daily newspapers. In the run-up to International Women's Day last Saturday DAG checked newspaper reports each day for a week to see how often women are mentioned in the Dutch papers. 20 percent of the people mentioned in newspapers are women, according to DAG. The woman most often mentioned by far was Home Affairs Minister Guusje ter Horst (Labour PvdA), because of the negotiations with the police unions. On Wednesday the difference between the various papers was most severe, according to the survey. Nrc.next only reported on one Dutch woman, while Spits wrote about 15 – one third of all the articles it published that day. The free morning newspaper reported on women with important positions in society, like professors, ministers, state secretaries and business women.
© Expatica News

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GROUP CALLS FOR ACTION OVER FEMALE TRAFFICKING(Switzerland)

A campaign has been launched on International Women's Day aimed at highlighting the plight of trafficked women in Switzerland.

8/3/2008- Supporters want to use the Euro 08 football championships, being co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria this summer, to draw attention to the issue - with male fans being a target. "Euro 08 against Trafficking in Women", a coalition of around 23 non-governmental organisations, has been holding demonstrations in four Swiss cities on Saturday and has also started a petition for the better protection of victims. "Trafficked women are unfortunately also exploited in Switzerland," said former parliamentarian and human rights campaigner Ruth-Gaby Vermot. "Women are forced to work as prostitutes in brothels, as dancers in clubs or as household slaves," she said at a media conference ahead of the International Day. The Federal Police Office estimates that up to 3,000 people are smuggled into Switzerland every year, although the coalition says there could be far more unrecorded cases. The group believes that affected women could be helped if the public, especially male clients, were better informed about the issue of trafficking.

More protection
It is also calling for victims to be given uniform rights and protection. Under Switzerland's federal system, the country's 26 cantons are in charge of the issue, resulting differing policies across the country. For many cantons, the coalition says, the first priority is immigration. "In this way the victims are criminalised as illegal immigrants and deported instead of being recognised as victims," Doro Winkler, of women's organisation FIZ, told swissinfo. The International Labour Organization (ILO) believes that each year around 2.5 million people are trafficked worldwide, with around 80 per cent being women. Tens of thousands end up in western Europe. Some Swiss NGOs are trying to combat the problem at the source. World Vision Switzerland coordinates economic and social projects in Romania and Georgia – trafficking from eastern Europe is a major problem - which are financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). "World Vision enjoys the confidence of the local population. Our work is well anchored," said Stefanie Jud, World Vision's programme manager for Eastern Europe. Experts say that in virtually all cases of trafficking around the world, criminal syndicates play a dominant role.

Big problem, big money
According to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the practice is worth around $35 billion (SFr36 billion) per annum - making it as lucrative as the drugs and arms trades. Groups such as the Geneva-based organisation Defence for Children International (DCI) are warning that events such as the Euro 08 could also be affected. "When you know that there are international events such as the European championships or any other major events, then you know that these people, who want to make money out of human misery, will find any way," Altin Haziza, director of the DCI Albanian office, told swissinfo. Haziza believes that the Swiss need to understand that poverty drives many women in the Balkan countries to put themselves at risk. Most are drawn from relatively poor areas in countries with already low standards of living with assurances of a better life, he said. For the human rights specialist, the only durable solution to female trafficking is to raise these standards of living.
© Swissinfo

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SOMALI ACTIVISTS: 'GET MORE GIRLS IN SCHOOL'

Somalia has one of the worst school-attendance rates in the world and, to mark International Women's Day on 8 March, activists are drawing attention to the fact that only one in four girls gets a primary education, despite an increase in total numbers in school.

8/3/2008- “This is a situation that must change rapidly because the education of girls will shape the progress we want to see for Somalia in terms of peace and development," Christian Balslev-Olesen, the representative for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Somalia, said on 7 March. For the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of gender parity and 100 percent enrolment of girls in primary school, he said, "much more must be done - and faster". Asha Shaur, a women's activist in Somalia, said girls' education was not only important to the girls, but to the entire society. "They are future mothers who will shape what sort of society we will have," she said. "When they get an education they will teach their children right from wrong. If our women had been educated we would not be in the current mess." Shaur said that everything must be done to make sure that Somali girls get "as good a chance at education as boys. They truly are the future of this country." In a statement to mark International Women's Day, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) called on Somali stakeholders and actors to invest in women and girls. "Investing in women and girls means putting resources in families and communities, and the returns are high for women themselves, their children and the society at large," the agency stated. A recent survey conducted by UNICEF on the country's primary education put girls’ gross enrolment at 25 percent while boys’ was 37 percent. The agency said 121,000 Somali girls were currently attending primary school. UNICEF wants to see this figure increase by at least 50,000 by 2009.

“The education of girls is paramount in the fight against poverty; against infant, child and maternal mortality and national under-development,” Balslev-Olesen said. “However, if widespread, large-scale resources are allocated to girls’ education it would make a tremendous difference to the progress that Somalia can make in terms of recovery and reconciliation.” Shaur said for many families, "girls have proved to be the difference between life and death" during the country's 16-year civil war. "They take far more responsibility for their families than boys," she said. "Investing in them means investing in our future."
© Africa News

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CELEBRATING INT'L WOMEN'S DAY, MINISTER ANNOUNCES SET UP OF TASK FORCE ON RAPE, SEXUAL VIOLENCE(Antigua)

Address by Dr. Jacqui Quinn Leandro, minister of labour, public administration and empowerment, in observance of International’s Women’s Day, 8 March 2008.

Today, we join women around the world in celebrating International Women’s Day. The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on 28 Feb., 1909. The observance of such a day was born out of the combined voices of women for change against oppression and inequality. Since then, through the struggle for women’s rights, women have overcome much and have achieved much; but sadly, almost 100 years later some of the struggles remain the same.

Violence against women is an international battle that crosses all borders the world over and translates in every language, knocks on the door of any religion and makes itself at home with all classes, and races. In essence it is a human problem and it takes all of us to fix it. I travelled back from New York one week ago where I attended and presented at a Conference on the Status of Women at the United Nations. There, the Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon launched a campaign to unite to eliminate violence against women; and all member states present, almost 200 in number, committed to join the campaign. Secretary-General Ki Moon, with his focus on the Millennium Development Goals, highlighted that gender inequality is hampering the progress to build a better world in the 21st century. He spoke about the cost that violence against women inflicts on all humankind and the enormous social and economic toll on families and nations. As a representative of a member state of the UN, I stood and pledged to join this campaign which will continue until 2015 to coincide with the target date for the Millennium Development Goals. Today it gives me great pleasure to launch our own local initiative as part of the UN effort. In Antigua and Barbuda we are faced with the escalation of crime in this nation of ours. We read and hear of such crimes in other parts of the world where they seem almost common place but in our own Antigua and Barbuda we are unaccustomed to this. As a member of government I feel the need to say that governments are responsible for seeking to arrest crime and we are doing so in a bold way.

Today, I wish to announce that the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda has approved the setting up of a high level National Task Force on Rape and Sexual Violence. The high level task force will comprise 10 members from a wide cross section of the community. The task force will be chaired by Evelyn Davis Sheppard, educator; and will include Rev. Selina Joseph; Rev. Lester Bowers; E. Ann Henry, attorney; Sir Dr. Prince Ramsey, medical practitioner; Monique Francis-Gordon, attorney and Haynesworth Buckley, retired deputy police commissioner. There will also be representation from the Ministry of Health, the DPP’s Office, Community Development Office and other members of civic groups yet to be named. The task force will have as its first task the conduct of an evaluation and investigation into the current situation of rapes and the sexual violence in Antigua and Barbuda. On the basis of this review the task force will be charged with making recommendations on an effective, consistent and collaborative approach to the reduction of sexual assault in Antigua and Barbuda. The task force will work in close collaboration with Commissioner of Police Gary Nelson and the Directorate of Gender Affairs.

Our new Commissioner of Police Gary Nelson has promised to find the offenders who have been plaguing our women and our society. He has pledged to flush them out of their hiding places and unmask their evil faces. You have offended more than those you have defiled. You have offended all women; you have offended decent men, because you dare call yourselves men; you have offended an entire nation. Woe be unto you when your judgment comes. I ask this of you, criminals; why are women your target? Why are we your enemy? Today, as women we challenge you to come out of your hiding places. I have a strong message for you on this International Women’s Day: you can’t hide forever; your days are numbered.

As citizens we are all responsible for shaping the world. We are responsible for discouraging behaviour that is disrespectful. We are responsible for being our neighbour’s keepers. As a society we are obligated to speak up and out about the ills that we see and know and if we don’t then we are enablers of crime and are just as guilty. Crime can be arrested. The rapists can be stopped. The fact is no detective, no investigator, no task force in any country solves any crime without the involvement and cooperation of it citizens. Police work on tips and information from the public. So the buck stops with us. We have the power to end criminal activity and the violent abuse of women and girls.

Countries all around the world today are observing International Women’s Day as we are doing now. Let us take back our nights from the pestilence and warped minds that seem to claim them. Let’s take back our lives from those who mistakenly think they own it. Let us make a pledge here, today, that one year from now this day will be celebrated and not merely observed. We encourage all women and men to join us in our march today starting at the West Bus Station and ending at the YMCA. The UN secretary-general has asked that women’s groups worldwide join hands as the standard bearers uniting to stop violence against women. Today I call on all women’s groups and men’s groups to join hands and hearts in stopping violence in Antigua and Barbuda.

Have a great day.
© Antigua Sun

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WOMEN'S DAY PROTEST MARCHERS DEMAND PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION

8/3/2008- Hundreds of female left-wing activists celebrated International Women's Day with a march to the presidential palace Saturday to demand the resignation of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for alleged corruption. Using steel fences wrapped with barbed-wire, police blocked the protesters on a bridge close to the Malacanang palace in central Manila. The marchers carried red and purple banners saying "Oust Gloria" and chanted "Gloria, out now" as they tried to cross the historic bridge, scene of many violent confrontations between police and protesters since the martial law regime of the late Ferdinand Marcos. The festive rally, punctuated by protest songs and anti-Arroyo slogans, ended with the burning of an effigy of the president, who was depicted as a thief carrying a bag full of money. "We are calling on President Arroyo to resign and we are also calling on the people, especially the women, to unite and join this movement for change in our leadership," said Rep. Liza Maza of the left-wing women's party, Gabriela. Saturday's march was the latest in a series of protests triggered by allegations of bribery in a US$330 million government broadband contract with China's telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. Former consultants have testified in Senate hearings that Arroyo, her husband and the country's elections chief, who has since quit, benefited from huge kickbacks linked to the broadband project. The scandal forced Arroyo to cancel the contract last year, but the opposition-dominated Senate is continuing an investigation into the deal. Arroyo's husband and the resigned elections chief have denied any wrongdoing, while presidential spokesmen have dismissed the charges as hearsay. In her seven years in power, Arroyo has survived four attempted power grabs and three opposition impeachment bids over alleged corruption and vote-rigging. Analysts have attributed her staying power to the refusal of the powerful military and the Catholic church to join calls for her ouster. Those institutions played key roles in the revolts that ousted Marcos in 1986 and Arroyo's predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in 2001.
© International Herald Tribune

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'SEXIST' LEFT PARTY POLITICIAN IN WOMEN'S DAY ROW(Sweden)

7/3/2008- The Left Party in Gävle was forced to make a last minute change to its International Women’s Day programme when complaints surfaced that one of the scheduled speakers had sent threatening messages to a female colleague in the party. Left Party member Ahmed Bouirda was scheduled to give a speech about the struggle of women in the Arab world at a rally to be held on Saturday in the central Swedish town nestled on the eastern coast. But he was removed from the speaker’s list after one of his female colleagues reminded fellow party members that Bouirda had sent her several harassing emails last year. “Leave Sweden immediately. Disappear. You smell like shit, you’ve left your country; you are a cowardly human being. If you want to earn money, go sell your ass in a Copenhagen brothel,” read one of the messages, according to the Gefle Dagblad newspaper. The first anonymous emails arrived shortly after the victim had been given a new set of political responsibilities within the party. At first, the writer claimed to be a member of the Left Party, but in the final note the sender said he belonged to the far-right Sweden Democrats. Shortly before his Left Party colleagues were set to report the matter to police, Bouirda came forward and admitted he sent the messages. “I don’t have any explanation as to why I sent the messages. It was stupid. I’ve apologized and I thought the matter was behind me,” Bouirda told The Local. Bouirda was forced to give up his seat on the party chapter’s managing board, as well as his other political responsibilities following the incident.

The victim of the threats was therefore stunned to learn that Bouirda was still scheduled to speak at the International Women’s Day gathering as of Friday morning. “I think it’s a serious problem to have a man with these values lecturing about women in the Arab world,” the victim told Gefle Dagblad. “I joined the Left Party because I thought the party stood for fairness, that it was democratic, feminist, and immigrant friendly, and stood up for those whose rights had been violated. But I’ve been treated in a manner completely opposite from these principles,” the victim continued. By late afternoon on Friday, however, Left Party leaders had removed Bouirda from the programme. “It was a bit naïve and premature of us to believe that all of this would have blown over by now, even if it’s been almost a year,” said Björn Öberg, head of the Left Party in Gävle, to Gefle Dagblad. Bouirda regrets losing the opportunity to speak, but understands the decision. “I was prepared to speak on what I thought would be an interesting topic for people. It’s regrettable that people are instead focusing attention on this incident,” he told The Local.
© The Local

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WOMEN REPRESENTATION IN CZECH POLITICS STAGNATES

7/3/2008- Despite constituting more than half of the population, Czech women remain still poorly represented at the political scene. In regional administrations, there are only 15 per cent of females. According to Forum 50%, an organization that promotes gender-equal representation in politics, the forthcoming regional elections to be held later this year are not going to improve the situation. "The 15 per cent representation of women in regions is very insufficient. According to our information, the forthcoming regional elections will have even fewer women listed in the ballots, which would give them a real chance to be elected unlike in previous elections," stated Jana Smiggels-Kavková from Forum 50%. Women have reached their largest share in the Plzeň region where they constitute 20 per cent of all representatives. The south Moravian region has 19 per cent of women in regional administration, on the third place are South Bohemian and Liberec region. The fewest female representatives are in Hradec Králové, Zlín and Pardubice regions. No region has a woman as the regional head, but five of them have managed to become deputies.

Most pro-women? Christian Democrats
From all parties, female politicians for Christian Democratic Party (KDU-ČSL) have the biggest chance to get a post in regional administrations. Currently, 17.8 per cent of mandates of the party belong to them. Female politicians of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), winner of the last parliamentary elections, have 15.8 per cent of mandates. "However, it needs to be reminded that this result is due to the party having a large lead in the elections that enabled even female candidates on lower positions on the ballots to be elected," explained Smiggels-Kavková.

Czechs want more female politicians
Three fifths of Czech males and almost four fifths of Czech females think there are not enough women in Czech politics. This is the result of a research commissioned by Forum 50% and conducted by the Public Opinion Research Centre. The poll took place last year in November when 1,050 adults were questioned. The poll showed that number of those who see the presence of women in politics as positive grows. On average, 88 per cent of citizens agree that women should be more involved in politics. Two thirds of males and as much as 8 out of 10 females believe that it is easier for men to get a political position. But how to make women more involved in politics? More than one third of the population believes that it would be useful to introduce election quotas that set a minimal proportion of women on elections tickets. These are already used in France and Belgium, in addition there are internal party quotas voluntarily introduced by political movements in Netherlands, Germany, or Great Britain.

Greens leading in nomination of women
The proportion of women listed on ballots of individual political parties is traditionally poor. In regional elections that took place in 2004, there were only 26 per cent of women represented on the ballots. The Civic Democrats nominated the lowest number of women - 17 per cent. What made it even worse, was the fact that they were largely listed at lower positions of the ballots. The second lowest number was on the Social Democrat (ČSSD) ticket. On the contrary, the largest number of women was nominated by the Green Party - more than one third of all nominees. As for the representation of women in parliament, the Czech Republic is at the 76th position out of 190 states according to the statistics compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. "Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe and Turkmenistan have a slightly better score while Burkina Faso, Zambia and Angola are currently ranked below us," noted Lenka Benner, a chairwoman of Forum 50%.
© Aktualne Cz

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EUROSTAT: WOMEN HOLD LESS THAN 30% OF MANAGERIAL POSTS(Czech Rep.)

6/3/2008- Czech women hold 29.2 percent of all managerial posts compared with the all-European average of 32.6 percent, according to an Eurostat survey released Thursday. Women in Slovakia only hold 27.2 percent of these posts, the survey showed. The data from 2005 show that women predominate among teachers at elementary and secondary schools while more men than women teach at universities. The Czech Republic has 71.3 percent of female teachers at elementary and secondary schools, compared with the all-European average of 69.2 percent, and in Slovakia the share is even higher - 76.6 percent. Representation of men at Czech as well as Slovak universities is below the European average of 61.8 percent. It stands at 59.9 and 58.1 percent, respectively. As many as 57.3 percent of Czech women aged 15-64 and 52.7 percent of Slovak women were employed in the last quarter of last year, which compares with the European average of 58.8 percent.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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WAGE GAP WIDENING, SAYS REPORT(Canada)

The wage gap between men and women in Canada is widening, according to a new report released Friday on the eve of International Women's Day.

7/3/2008- Women in Canada who worked full-time, full-year jobs in 2005 earned just 701/2 cents for every dollar earned by men in full-time, full-year jobs, stated the report commissioned by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). That's less than what women earned 10 years ago, when women working in similar jobs earned 72 per cent of what men got paid. "I would think it is a national embarrassment,'' Shelley Johnson, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour's (SFL) women's committee chairwoman, told reporters in Regina. Working full-time, full-year in 2005, women earned on average $39,200 compared to men who earned $55,700 -- a wage gap of $16,500, said SFL spokeswoman Cara Banks, who added the situation is much worse for women of colour and aboriginal women. "According to the facts it just doesn't pay to be a woman in Canada. It doesn't matter where we live, it doesn't matter what we do, or how much we or our parents have invested in a good education. At the end of the day when women go to work they get paid less than men,'' Banks said. "In fact, in the last 10 years the women that have done everything right -- the ones who put off starting a family so they could earn a post-secondary degree and build a career -- are actually worse off. "The wage gap between them and their male counterparts has actually grown. Shocking isn't it? After more than a generation of equal participation in the workforce, and at a point when younger women make up the majority of students at so many of our colleges and universities today, we are still not equal when it comes to the value that is placed on the work that we do in Canada.''

The Working Women: Still a Long Way from Equality report noted that women with post-secondary degrees have lost the most ground. Their earnings have slipped to just 68 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. As of 2005, Banks said, 74.5 per cent of Canadian women worked outside the home and that same year 86 per cent of women aged 25 to 44 were in the workforce. A lot of those women were raising children and working, she said. She added women make up the majority of part-time workers and the bulk of the employees earning minimum wage in service sector jobs. In 2007 the hourly rate women in Regina were paid was only 86.7 per cent of what men were receiving, although that was slightly higher than the national average of 83 per cent, Banks said. Barb Byers, the CLC executive vice-president who released the report in Ottawa, said in a prepared statement that the deck is stacked against women largely because workplace, social and labour market policies have failed to reflect the realities of women's lives. To push for change, the CLC is launching a year-long campaign telling Canadians how they can close the wage gap by pushing for a national childcare program and lobbying for a $10-an-hour minimum wage and for reforms to the Employment Insurance program and public pension plans to reflect the realities of women in the workplace. The CLC is also calling for changes to labour laws to make it easier to unionize workplaces. "Choosing to launch the campaign on International Women's Day is symbolic. On a day that we are supposed to be celebrating, we are finding things are getting worse,'' Banks said.

In 1975 the United Nations declared March 8 as International Women's Day in recognition of the economic, social and political advances women have made since 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter work days, better pay and voting rights.
© The Regina Leader-Post

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WOMEN IN BULGARIA PAID 25% LESS THAN MEN

Women's salaries in Bulgaria are average 25-30% lower than those of the men.

7/3/2008- That was announced by doc. Lily Dimova, chairman of Agency for Social Analyses. In European states this distance is 15%. Discrimination towards women is often met and obvious phenomenon in the sphere of labour market approach. Women became victims of unemployment more often and have to try harder that men to combine personal life with professional, doc. Dimova commented. In this reason the European deputies appeal the countries - members to accept national measures for supporting women during their entering on the labour market with even payment for equal work and for encouraging women enterprises.
© Bulgaria News

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AFGHAN WOMEN NEED MORE EDUCATION, FEWER FORCED MARRIAGES, KARZAI SAYS

8/3/2008- Afghan women need the freedom to pursue more education and should not be forced into marriage, President Hamid Karzai told an audience of women during an International Women's Day ceremony Saturday. Karzai called on Afghan men and religious leaders to promote education for females, saying the country needed more female nurses and doctors. He also called for fewer childhood marriages, a common practice in Afghanistan's countryside. "I call on all religious leaders to advise all the people to stop violence against women, to stop child marriages and forced marriages as well," Karzai told several hundred women gathered in a high school auditorium in Kabul. Karzai also urged Afghan families to stop using young women as currency. Family disputes in Afghanistan particularly in the more conservative countryside are sometimes solved by one family giving a daughter to another family. He also called for an end to child marriages, another common practice in some conservative provinces. "How can a father accept with his heart to marry his 15-year-old child with a 60 year-old-man?" Karzai said. "Again, I call on the people, they shouldn't give their daughters for money, they shouldn't give them to old men, and they shouldn't give them in forced marriages." In the southern city of Kandahar, several hundred women, most wearing the all-encompassing burqa that most women in Afghanistan wear, met at the Kandahar Women's Association headquarters. Rona Tarin, the organization's director, noted the hardships that Afghan women face — little education, forced marriages and childhood weddings. "We want to give our message to all the Western women," she said. "Afghan women are facing a lot of problems. Women should have a right to education. We want to work shoulder to shoulder with men."

Under the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule, Afghan women could not leave the house without a male relative and were banned from going to school. Although millions of Afghan girls are now in class and women can again walk the streets by themselves, most women still wear a burqa and most do not enjoy the same rights as males. Rovina Jan, a 35-year-old woman who participated in another Women's Day event in Kandahar, said she had to sneak out of the house to attend the program. "A lot of women came down here without permission from their husbands, because we knew if we told the men why we wanted to leave the house, they wouldn't let us," she said.
© Associated Press

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AFGHAN WOMEN UNITE FOR PEACE

On March 8th, International Women's Day, at 10 AM, Afghan Women Unite for Peace

29/2/2008- In Kandahar, the most violent province in Afghanistan, women are gathering for peace because they are tired of watching their family and friends killed in senseless acts of violence. Women in Kabul and every otherprovince of Afghanistan will express their solidarity with the Kandahar women by reading a message of peace at their International Women's Day gatherings on March 8th.
Elsewhere in the world, Bpeace (The Business Council for Peace) is mobilizing international support for the Afghan women by circulating an on-line petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/afghanpeace
The petition will be presented as a display of international support to the brave women of Kandahar and to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and the United Nations. The Afghan women have taken their cue from two ordinary women in Ireland who, in the 1970's, grew angry because Irish were killing Irish. These women went door to door and convinced women to march for peace. They later won the Nobel Peace Prize. "Today we drove by the site of the third suicide bomber in three days,” says Rangina Hamidi, one of the organizers of the Kandahar gathering. “We are ready to follow in the footsteps of our Irish sisters. For the past seven years Afghans have celebrated March 8th with cheap gifts given to women to honor them. This year, the women in Kandahar loudly say the best gift for us is peace in our country."
© Afghan women Unite for Peace

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Headlines 7 March, 2008

FRENCH ARREST 6 IN ANTI-SEMITISM ATTACK ON TEEN

5/3/2008- Six people kidnapped and tortured a Jewish teenager by punching and kicking him and writing "dirty Jew" on his forehead, judicial officials said Wednesday. The 19-year-old victim met with his six alleged attackers, who ranged in age from 17 to 28, in the Paris suburb of Bagneux to try to settle an argument about a missing cell phone and camcorder, officials from the prosecutor's office in Nanterre said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. They said the six held the victim for about nine hours, taunted him for being Jewish, and said he was gay. They allegedly forced him to eat cigarette butts and scrawled anti-Semitic and anti-homosexual insults on his forehead. The victim, whose identity has not been released, suffered slight injuries. The alleged attackers have been detained and investigators filed preliminary charges against them. The preliminary charges include committing "acts of torture or barbarism" and "kidnapping by a gang," the judicial officials said. The Bagneux City Hall said in a statement that officials were "shocked and outraged" by the attack. The suburb was the site of a 2006 attack against another young French Jew, Ilan Halimi, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed by a gang. The president one of France's leading Jewish organizations, the Representative Council of Jewish Organizations in France, said anti-Semitic attacks in the nation were down 30 percent last year. But Richard Prasquier said the new attack suggests that "anti-Semitic prejudice is still very present." The head of an organization that tallies anti-Semitic crimes in France, the BNVCA, said many recent victims, including the 19-year-old in last month's attack, were not religious Jews and had little connection with the Jewish community. "The fact of having a Jewish name was enough for these aggressors to identify him as one, and to harass him," Sammy Ghozlan said. France has western Europe's largest population of Jews and Muslims. The nation faced a surge in anti-Semitic crime starting in 2000 after tensions between Israelis and Palestinians flared up in the Middle East.
© Associated Press

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FAR RIGHT GOES OUT OF FASHION(Bulgaria)

The national rally of extreme-right party Ataka, taking place Mar. 3 in Sofia, illustrated the dwindling support for this group among Bulgarians.

6/3/2008- On Mar. 3, Bulgarians celebrate their liberation from the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-1878, after five centuries of foreign rule. Extreme-right party Ataka, infamous for its anti-Turkish and anti-Roma rhetoric, organises its annual national rallies on this date. This year, the slogan was 'No to the New Turkish Yoke'. "Almost 10,000 activists and sympathisers" gathered in front of Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, representatives of Ataka proudly announced. But local observers placed the figure lower. Most of the "activists and sympathisers" were pensioners, many of them representatives of local branches of the party, brought by 30 buses from all over Bulgaria. A few "neo-Nazi" youngsters were also present, mostly enjoying the sun on a day when classes were suspended on account of the national holiday. According to a poll conducted by Alpha Research in December 2007, support for Ataka now stands at 5.7 percent. The party, established in April 2005, reached its peak of popularity during the 2006 presidential elections, when the leader of the party, TV host Volen Siderov, won 21.5 percent of the vote, and faced current president Georgi Parvanov in a run-off. The party mostly plays on Bulgarians' fears that they will be "marginalised in their own country."

Turks represent about 9.5 percent of the 7.8 million population of Bulgaria, mostly located in the south-east and north-east of the country. Census authorities noted that this estimation may be imprecise, as oftentimes Roma, Tatars and Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims) identify themselves as Turks. The Roma minority, another target of Ataka, accounts for 7 percent of the population (or 5 percent, if those declaring themselves Turks or Bulgarians are discounted). The anti-Turkish message of the extreme-right reached even educated audiences in big cities. "If you look at the scale on which the Turks are sending money into these (Eastern) regions, and how mosques grow like mushrooms after rain, it is not far-fetched to think that they would like to increase their territory...by half of today's Bulgaria," says Dani Dimitrova, a business and economics graduate from Sofia. Anti-Turkish sentiment has been further fuelled by corruption allegations against members of the current government alliance, which includes the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, representatives of the Turkish minority. Paradoxically, while anti-Turkish and anti-corruption messages such as the ones promoted by Ataka became increasingly attractive, support for the party dropped. "The appeal of Ataka is exhausted," says political scientist Ivan Krastev, chair of board of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. "Some of its messages have already entered the mainstream, and this has been done through different parties." Much of the strength of populists derives from the novelty of their message. And the freshest populist voice on the Bulgarian political scene is Boyko Borisov, the mayor of Sofia, who proposes a much more cosmopolitan message than Ataka.

Borisov depicts himself as a strong man, who talks straight and gets things done. A former bodyguard of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, he went on to become a secretary general in the Ministry of Interior in the 2001-2005 centrist government of ex-king Simeon de Saxa-Coburg. In 2005, he became the mayor of Sofia. In December 2006, Borisov founded a party, Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), which went on to win the largest number of seats (five out of 18) in the European Parliament (EP) May 2007 elections. GERB currently enjoys the support of 27.6 percent of potential voters, more than any other party (Alpha Research).
Borisov is trying to define his party as belonging to the centre-right, and GERB even joined the European People's Party, the group in the EP representing centre-right, conservative, and Christian Democrat forces. But his political positions remain ambiguous. Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev accused Borisov of "playing left to the left parties and right to the right parties." Borisov even expressed admiration for Ataka, a position he later took back. Nominally, GERB stands for combating crime and corruption and constructing a European future for Bulgaria. But critics argue that the party has done little to explain how it could reach such goals. The main strength of Borisov is that he manages to place himself above politics. Speaking to Bulgarian media about irregularities in the Sofia municipality, the mayor stated: "The current disturbances show that the political parties have no right to even comment on my actions. Only the people have this right, but not the parties, because it's them to be blamed for this situation. The parties should remain silent and let me do my job." "GERB's populism is opportunistic. It's not anti-minority, but anti-elite, plus it is strongly pro-European", Ivan Krastev told IPS. "Borisov's strategy is to push for a coalition between Brussels and the majority of Bulgarian citizens who are mistrustful of the elites and institutions." General elections will take place in 2009. "It is too early to say whether Borisov will be the next prime minister," said Krastev, "but he can mobilise the protest vote, and many people see GERB as the party of change."
© Inter Press Service News Agency

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CHANGES TO SKILLED MIGRATION PROGRAMME CHALLENGED IN HIGH COURT(uk)

5/3/2008- A migrants' group today challenged the government in the high court over immigration rules a QC condemned as "conspicuously unfair". The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) forum is contesting retrospective changes to criteria in the government's immigration scheme that could see thousands of skilled migrants forced to leave Britain. The Home Office defended the changes, saying analysis had showed the previous test to be "not sufficiently rigorous to select those migrants who were making the greatest economic contribution to the UK" and that some who had qualified for the HSMP "were simply not doing highly skilled work". However, critics have warned that up to 90% of the 49,000 migrants and their families who have come to work in the UK under the scheme face deportation from Britain because they must reapply under the stricter, points-based system. Michael Fordham QC, acting for the forum, accused the government of "moving the goalposts", saying the changes had been made without warning and describing them as "unlawful, unreasonable and unfair by a considerable margin". "The conspicuous unfairness leaps from the page," he told the judge, Sir George Newman.

The HSMP was introduced in 2002 to attract highly skilled persons to the UK and to encourage them to settle here with their families. Skilled migrants would originally be given entry for a year, then be able to apply for a two-year extension and then a further three years before seeking final settlement. Various revisions were made to the programme in subsequent years, including allowing entry if coming to the UK with a skilled partner. But in November 2006 the home secretary introduced restrictive changes. The new criteria were based only on qualifications and past earnings and people already on the programme faced an English language precondition to extend their stay. Earning levels in the UK were also taken into account when applying for an extension. Workers on the programme who fall short of the latest criteria will have to leave the UK, which Fordham called "a grossly unfair, massive change to the nature of the programme". He said families would be uprooted simply because they were not earning enough money. The changes were also contrary to the home secretary's guidance that altering the criteria "would not prejudice any individual already admitted to the programme," Fordham said. Robert Jay QC, appearing for the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, argued that the government had acted within its powers and was not open to judicial review. Reserving judgment, the judge said he would give his decision at a future date.
© The Guardian

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FRENCH FAR-RIGHT FIREBRAND CANCELS IRELAND TRIP

5/3/2008- Veteran French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen said on Wednesday he had called off a trip to Ireland to join the debate on the EU's new reform treaty, after his planned visit sparked angry reactions. Le Pen, who fiercely contested the Lisbon treaty's adoption by the French parliament last month, was invited to speak at a public event in Dublin as part of the campaign for a "No" vote in a planned Irish referendum on the charter. But the National Front leader said in a statement he feared his visit, along with his deputy Bruno Gollnisch, would have the opposite effect. "Highly precise information, from quite reliable sources, has convinced us that our presence would be exploited as outside interference in a national debate, by provocateurs who favour the treaty," Le Pen said. Irish MPs and lobbyists had criticised the decision to invite Le Pen, who was handed a three-month suspended jail sentence last month for condoning Nazi war crimes by describing the occupation of France as "not especially inhumane". Critics of the Lisbon Treaty, signed by the 27-nation bloc's leaders in December, have charged that it is broadly similar to the EU Constitution, which was left dead in the water when Dutch and French voters rejected it in 2005. Ireland is the only EU country to hold a referendum on the adoption of the treaty, which must be ratified by all member states to come into force. According to a poll published at the weekend, less than half of the Irish people would vote for the new text. In 2001, Ireland sent shockwaves through the bloc when it voted down the Nice Treaty on institutional reform and enlargement, although that decision was reversed in another referendum in 2003.
© AFP

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ANTI-SEMITISM IN FRANCE / CALM INTERRUPTED

6/3/2008- The year 2007 was the quietest year the French Jewish community has known since 2000. In October 2000, after the second intifada broke out, French Jews were hit by a wave of anti-Semitic attacks the likes of which had not been seen since World War II. In 2007, fewer than 200 anti-Jewish incidents were recorded, a scale akin to the number of attacks recorded in just one month in 2001. There was a drop across the board in attacks, curses, threats, bullying and harassment. At the annual conference of Jewish organizations last month in Paris, attended by President Nicolas Sarkozy, the latter exulted that he could not remember a similarly calm time in the Jewish community's life. It is doubtful the latest incident will spoil the picture and overshadow Sarkozy's honeymoon with the Jewish community. Had it ended differently, there would be no doubt that the president himself would have been the first to condemn it and lead a mass protest march. The affair began in a manner almost exactly reminiscent of the Ilan Halimi case. Like Halimi, Mathieu Roumi was abducted in his own neighborhood in the same quarter. Like Halimi, Roumi was held in a dark cellar. Like Halimi, Roumi was subjected to physical and emotional abuse. Like Halimi, Roumi was blamed for being a Jew. Like Halimi, Roumi's kidnappers intended to demand ransom for his release. Here ends the similarity between the cases. Halimi was brutally murdered; Roumi went home. A Jewish community leader told Haaretz yesterday that even though this is an anti-Semitic incident par excellence, the way it ended brought a general sigh of relief.
© Haaretz

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NEW PARTY CHAIR FOR VLAAMS BELANG(Belgium)

4/3/2008- Bruno Valkeniers was chosen Sunday by 94.6% of the vote to become the new party chairman of the extreme rightwing Vlaams Belang party. Mr Valkeniers succeeds Frank Vanhecke, who was no longer a candidate after being head of Vlaams Belang for twelve years. Bruno Valkeniers was the only candidate for party chair. The mandate is for a period of four years. The new chairman of Vlaams Belang is 52 years old. He was commercial director of a shipping company. In 2006 he went into politics, and has made a fast career in Vlaams Belang. Currently he is in the Antwerp city council and in the Federal Chamber of Deputies. In recent interviews, Mr Valkeniers stressed that he would continue the current party line of the extreme rightwing party.
© Expatica News

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RACIAL ATTACK IN BERLIN: MAN PUSHED IN FRONT OF A TRAIN(Germany)

The victim scrambled out of its path just in time.

3/3/2008- A 20-year-old woman yelled racial slurs and pushed a dark-skinned man into the path of an oncoming train in Berlin on Sunday, German police said. The victim, 19, was able to jump up from the tracks in time, helped by two people waiting in the capital's Frankfurterstrasse mass transit train station. The train braked, but its driver said the man would have been run over if he had not scrambled to safety. The woman was arrested. A hate-crimes unit of the city police was preparing attempted murder charges against her. The attack came only hours after a man became violent when he was told to stop molesting girls in a mass transit train. The assailant swung himself up by a hand rail and kicked a 44-year-old male passenger at head height. The Berlin murder squad was hunting the suspect, described as of Mediterranean appearance and filmed Saturday on security cameras. The victim was in hospital with serious but not critical head injuries.
© Expatica News

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CZECH FAR-RIGHT GROUP TO DEMONSTRATE NEAR MINORITIES' HOUSE

7/3/2008- The Czech far-right National Party (NS) announced that it would organise a protest against affirmative action near the House of Ethnic Minorities on March 22, Prague councillor Jiri Janecek told CTK today. The minorities' house will be closed during the demonstration and nobody will be present in it in order to prevent possible conflict, Janecek said. The National Party is against the EU and foreign immigrants, it criticises wasteful provision of welfare benefits and demands the ban on all drugs and restoration of capital punishment. In the 2006 general elections, the extra-parliamentary NS obtained 0.17 percent of votes. The NS is a nationalist party that was registered in autumn 2002. At first, the Interior Ministry refused to register it, but the party turned to the Supreme Court that cancelled the decision. The NS has recently established the paramilitary National Guard. Janecek said not more than 50 people are to participate in the protest on March 22, which is the Holy Saturday, an Easter holiday. The date of the protest may be chosen in connection with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, celebrated on the previous day, March 21.
© CTK

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POLICE JOINING EXTREMIST NATIONAL GUARD(Czech Rep.)

1/3/2008- The paramilitary National Guard (NG), established by the extreme rightist National Party last year, has attracted some 2000 people, including many former career soldiers and police, the Czech daily Pravo wrote Saturday, referring to NG Commander Michal Kubik. The first members are to serve as commanders. The training is to start later this year, Pravo says. The NG is planning the public oath-taking ceremony for this October, on the 90th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's establishment, it ads. Kubik told Pravo that out of the 2000 candidates for the NG membership, only a faction would undergo an entry interview. Pravo says the data given by the NG cannot be checked. The first 90-day preliminary training started in January. This year, there will be four of them, Pravo writes. "As it is mostly attended by former career soldiers, senior officers from international missions, professional rescuers and senior police officers, this part will be rather easy," Kubik said. Interior and Defence Ministry representatives have no information that former career soldiers and police officers are joining the NG, Pravo writes, adding that they do not consider Kubik's claim trustworthy. The NG leadership said in January it would legally exist as a civic association within a year. Its activists say the NG will focus on "help and service to the nation." "It is a paramilitary organised group that will be used not only for our meetings, but also if there is a need during a disaster," National Party chairwoman Petra Edelmannova said last year, adding that NG members may help during future floods. The NS is a nationalist party registered since autumn 2002. At first, the Interior Ministry refused to register it, but the party turned to the Supreme Court that cancelled the decision. The NS is against the EU and foreign immigrants, criticises wasteful provision of welfare benefits and demands the ban on all drugs and restoration of capital punishment. In the 2006 general elections, the NS obtained 0.17 percent of votes.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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JEWS FILE COMPLAINT OVER NEO-NAZI MARCH IN PLZEN (Czech Rep.)

4/3/2008- The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic has filed a legal complaint over Saturday's march of neo-Nazis in Plzen, Nova commercial TV reported Tuesday. The federation says the participants made Nazi salutes outside a local Jewish synagogue and chanted anti-Semitic slogans. Passers-by allegedly reported this behaviour to the police, but policemen did not interfere and the march was not dispersed, Nova said. The police action commander dismissed having received any reports about the chanting of anti-Jewish slogans during the march. The municipal clerks who permitted the march and supervised it said they had not noticed any such behaviour during the event either. However, the video-recorded shots that Nova released Tuesday show that the extremists were shouting "Jews to gas." The Jewish Liberal Union intends to complain against the police steps during the neo-Nazi event, saying that the march should have been dispersed and that it must be investigated why the police did not do so. The Interior Minister's Inspection will probably investigate the case, Nova reported.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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NEO-NAZIS ENJOY AN ESCORTED STROLL THROUGH PLZEN(Czech Rep, opinion)

Subdued protesters get lost, have dinner and take a nap
By Ondřej Bouda, Staff Writer, The Prague Post

7/3/2008- Last Saturday, I set out for Plzeň, west Bohemia, to cover the long anticipated neo-Nazi march. I was quite apprehensive, because Mayor Pavel Rödl — who unsuccessfully attempted to ban the event — had announced beforehand, “Anyone who wants to should come and protest against the neo-Nazis. Just leave your kids at home.” He stopped just short of suggesting torches and pitchforks. The train from Prague looked like the remains of a catastrophic crash; obviously Czech Railways was not going to waste good new cars and provided pre-trashed ones. Two policemen were onboard but couldn’t keep an eye on the whole train at once. As local neo-Nazis boarded at every stop, they greeted the train with a Nazi salute while their comrades responded from the inside.
At one stop, three anarchists entered the car, looking around with unfocused eyes that suggested recent marijuana consumption. With suicidal stupidity, they sat down next to the neo-Nazis — who were drinking — and tried to start up a conversation. The neo-Nazis responded by attacking the anarchists with punches. A shout went up: “Sieg Heil!” and the neo-Nazis chased after the anarchists, who locked themselves in a restroom. Upon arrival in Plzeň, we were met by a large group of policemen, who checked the identity of each extremist and arrested the perpetrators of the fight. The neo-Nazis then set off for the bus station at Emil Škoda Square where the event was to convene. They were escorted by several policemen, but got lost and had to call the organizers for directions, since none of the policemen would help.

I arrived at the square just as the 2 p.m. demonstration was scheduled to start. Of the expected 400 participants, only about 100 were present and they were easily outnumbered by journalists. Others had not made it due to train delays, so the organizers decided to postpone the event by an hour. Neo-Nazis, policemen and journalists alike waited out the rainy weather inside the bus terminal, where everything was closed and the only comfort was a lone coffee machine. At 3 p.m., the demonstration finally started with comments from organizer Václav Bureš of the Worker’s Party: “We are here to fight for our freedom of speech.” Then hooded speakers took turns addressing the crowd of about 280 of their comrades, on topics ranging from communism to anti-Semitism. “Some are more equal than others,” said one. “Their rich bank accounts provide for a lavish lifestyle while the working man suffers.” “What makes Jews so special?” thundered another. “I fear they’re planning to build another Israel on our soil and we’ll be reduced to the fate of the Palestinians.”

On the move
The march, which set off at 3:30, was anti-climactic. The extremists were insulated by 1,000 policemen on foot, on horseback, with dogs and in armored vehicles. The neo-Nazis couldn’t even start a proper chant (their repeated lone attempts failed to catch on), and for a long time they walked through a deserted town. They eventually reached the local synagogue, where Jewish activists, anarchists and citizens shouted them down. I was glad to see that many more anti-Nazi activists showed up than neo-Nazis. The police did a sterling job of keeping the two sides apart and the demonstration quickly passed through and ended in the main square at 4:30. The police then escorted half of the neo-Nazis back to the bus station while others were taken by bus to the train. I was not so lucky and had to find my way back on foot. When I got to the station, the neo-Nazis were peacefully eating in local pubs. As soon as they got on the train for Prague, they fell asleep, tired by the day’s proceedings. The trip was thus uneventful and I had time to wonder what makes so many young kids continue to embrace an almost exact copy of Goebbels’ propaganda. I realized that one of the hooded speakers gave a clue by hooking his convictions on recent events. “By decorating the Mašín brothers, the state has shown us that armed resistance is right,” he said. “As long as current political parties offer us only a corrupt version of government, we will grow ever stronger.”
© The Prague Post Online

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NEO-NAZIS MARCH THROUGH PLZEN(Czech Rep.)

1/3/2008- No incident occurred during the march of neo-Nazis through the West Bohemian town of Plzen Saturday in which the participation was smaller than expected by the police. The rightist extremists walked with black flags from the namesti Emila Skody square near the bus station to the namesti Republiky square and some of them have returned to the station. There were also rallies by anti-fascists along the route of the march. The police separated both groups. "There was no incident," local police commander Jaromir Knize said. About 150-200 Czech neo-Nazis reached the namesti Republiky square where the rally ended after a 60-minute march, the police CTK. No incident has occurred during their march, although the neo-Nazis walked passed a rally of about 500 anti-fascists. Anarchists pelted the neo-Nazis with empty bottles and apples. The neo-Nazis' march was preceded by speeches attacking the current regime. Neo-Nazi activists accused the police and political establishment of harassing and terrorising them. "This is no democracy, but a totalitarian rule," one of them said. The marchers were wearing black flags and some of them covered their faces with masks. Extremism experts say the march is organised by the neo-Nazi National Resistance.

A National Resistance activist sharply attacked what he called Jews' power activities in the Czech Republic. He spoke about thousands of victims caused by the "artificially established Jewish state in Palestine." Neo-Nazis opponents were reading the names of Holocaust victims and unfolded banners saying "Laws and Institutions Siding with neo-Nazis" outside the synagogue. The anti-Nazi rally was attended by representatives of the League against Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Liberal Unions, senior local politicians, Bishop Frantisek Radkovsky, former political prisoner General Antonin Husnik and director of the Prague Jewish Museum Leo Pavlat. The police measures are still valid as the police will watch the extremists' movement in the town during the night. The march was originally scheduled for January 19, one day after the 66th anniversary of the first transport of Jews from Plzen to concentration camps. The Plzen Town Hall banned the march, but a court later ruled that the ban was not invalid and that the organiser had the right to stage a new march.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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POLL: MOST CZECHS FIND IT HARD TO LIVE WITH ROMA

5/3/2008- Most Czechs, or two thirds of them, view coexistence with Romanies as a problem and a half of Czechs resent the existence of Romany ghettoes in their area, according to a poll representatives of the Open Group society of sociologist Ivan Gabal presented to journalists Wednesday. The poll showed that two fifths of respondents are displeased with Romany ghettos being located directly in their municipalities and nine in ten consider their existence a problem that should be resolved. The poll was conducted by the Median agency last autumn on 2616 respondents over 18, most whom lived in regions in which there are many Romany ghettos. "Many politicians rightly fear the public opinion. They are reluctant to get involved in the problem. It is necessary to highlight this dark spot," Gabal said. He said the question of Romany ghettos would probably become a topic in the campaigns before the autumn regional and Senate elections in some regions. Before the Senate elections in 2006, senior government Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) chairman and Senator Jiri Cunek found himself in the media limelight due to his radical position on the problem. Cunek, former mayor of the north Moravian town of Vsetin, had Romany families evicted from a dilapidated house in the centre of the town and moved them to the town's outskirts and to other areas in Moravia. Like in 1996, 66 percent of adult Czechs considered coexistence with Romanies a problem. In 1994 it was 73 percent of people. While the position on Romanies has not changed, people's approach to foreigners has improved. While 66 percent of Czechs resented an influx of foreigners to the Czech Republic 14 years ago, it is 49 percent at present.

However, Czechs do not consider coexistence with Romanies a priority problem. Most of them are mainly concerned about the economic and social situation, the state of health care and corruption, the poll showed. Only 4 percent named the question as a priority problem. Karel Cada, one of the authors of the poll, said, however, that though the percentage of people who consider coexistence with Romanies the main problem is marginal, it is still some 412,000 people who think so. The figures are higher in regions with a greater concentration of Romany ghettos. For instance, more than a quarter of residents of the Usti nad Labem region, north Bohemia, and one fifth of people from the Moravian and Silesian region consider it a major problem. According to nine in ten of respondents, Romanies themselves are to blame for the existence of ghettos. The same number of people said Romanies do not want to work, abuse social benefits and that their values are incompatible with the life of the majority society. About 29 percent of respondents said the Romany ghettos were the consequence of a long-term unemployment, poverty, a shortage of opportunities and insufficient education. Two thirds of people blame the regional authorities, the government and local authorities for the appearance of the ghettos, according to the poll. Most respondents, or 92 percent, think that Romanies themselves should start solving the situation and more than 80 percent think that municipalities, regions and the government should bear responsibility. Two thirds of people say Romany children's education may change the situation. Most of the respondents said, however, that the integration of Romanies with the majority society would take several generations. Less than one third of respondents said they could imagine a Romany minister in the Czech government within ten years.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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ROMA INCLUSION: STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE

Governments and many Roma alike are reluctant to gather accurate information on Europe’s largest minority, but activists say a lack of data blocks progress.
by Michael J. Jordan, Bratislava-based journalist who covers the newest EU countries. 

5/3/2008-  Andrey Ivanov knows all about the Roma plight, as a former activist who ran a micro-lending program for Bulgarian Roma in the 1990s. He saw then how difficult it was for both government agencies and non-governmental organizations to create truly effective policies and programs without official and reliable data on the scope of Romani poverty. Today, as the human-development adviser to the U.N. Development Program regional office in Bratislava, Ivanov watches the curtain close on the third year of the vaunted Decade of Roma Inclusion. Questions loom about its prospects for success. If Europe hopes to see the Decade make real progress in Roma health, housing, employment and education, Ivanov says, it should clear one key hurdle: clarify to the nine Central and East European signatory countries that the EU data-protection law permits them to collect detailed statistics on ethnic communities – if they do so anonymously.

Collective aversion
Accurate data is essential to establish benchmarks for measuring all efforts regarding Europe’s Roma, who number anywhere from 8 million to 15 million. This, observers say, also helps explain why most governments dodge the data: they shun the accountability. “My favorite excuse from governments is, ‘I’m sorry, but the EU doesn’t allow us to collect data by ethnicity,’ ” says Ivanov, whose office shelves hold several files with precious ethnic data that UNDP itself has collected. “That’s not the point. The EU doesn’t forbid the collecting of data; it forbids abuse of that data – the tracking of individuals.” As momentum builds to remove this obstacle, the European Commission is expected to act on the issue for the first time. Though it won’t go as far as some watchdogs would like, the Commission in June will likely embrace a recommendation late last year by a high-level expert group to “encourage” all 27 EU members to produce ethnic data on a voluntary, anonymous basis. The opinion would be non-binding, yet may mark the first position the Commission has ever taken on specifically “ethnic” data, says Joachim Ott, an administrator in the Commission’s Non-Discrimination Policy Unit.

Nevertheless, the issue will likely continue to face resistance from states that don’t want a yardstick to measure failure, and even from the potential beneficiaries themselves – the Roma, aware that data collection was a tool of persecution during the Holocaust. “We know it’s more effective to create policies if we know exactly about the group to target,” Ott says. “The moment you have more ethnic data, it’s easier to evaluate the situation and the effectiveness of policies, programs, spending and outcomes. On the other hand, we know there’s a lot of sensitivity regarding the collection of this data.” Indeed, the Roma have learned from their elders what happened to their families during World War II, when the Nazis and their local collaborators seized upon such data to identify and hunt down Jews, Roma and others deemed undesirable. As many as 500,000 Roma are thought to have died in German concentration camps during the war. More recently, ethnic data was reportedly used during the intercommunal fighting in Bosnia and the genocide in Rwanda. “Many Roma still have relatives who were put into concentration camps and persecuted, so the fear persists,” says Beata Olahova, a Slovak Roma who is a program officer with the Budapest-based Roma Education Fund. “This is something like a warning: see what happened to us in the past, try to avoid this in the future. “Of course, it shouldn’t happen again, because there are all kinds of principles and regulations today. But who knows what happens in 100 years?”

Questions of identity
Illustrating the dangers, in October a Romanian Roma was accused of the murder of a woman in Italy, sparking violence against fellow migrant Roma. Parts of the Italian and Romanian media then called for concrete data that would link Romani migrants with criminality, a step that the Romani Criss organization in Romania denounced. “Identifying a person as belonging to the Roma ethnicity in the case of people investigated/accused of committing crimes is, unfortunately, very frequently seen in Romanian mass media and adds one more brick in creating and strengthening the widespread anti-Gypsyism within the Romanian society,” Romani Criss wrote. Even if activists and ordinary Roma can be convinced to share details of their living conditions – and some say it may require a public-awareness campaign – it raises another vexing question: “Who is Romani?” There are those who self-identify as Roma, and those who don’t – but society does. National censuses also don’t typically allow for dual identity: to identify yourself as, say, both Romanian and Roma. Under communism, ethnic differences were ironed out under the principle of class solidarity, and states aimed to improve the living standards of those like Roma ticketed as members of the proletariat. During the post-Communist transition, states aspiring to join the EU had to adopt its strict privacy laws and implement the landmark EU data-protection directive adopted in 1995. The legislation outlines “the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.”

What’s left is the national census as the only “official” bit of ethnic data. EU members vary widely in their census-taking methods, yet most ask for ethnic labels. Or the census may ask more benignly for “mother tongue.” However, nearly everyone agrees that this approach can drastically under-represent ethnic populations. Ivanov cites the Czech example: the 1991 census counted 32,903 Roma, the 2001 census identified 11,746. The 1980 census, based on local officials’ estimates rather than citizens’ self-reporting, put the Romani population at 88,500. This statistical decline occurred as “real” Romani population numbers were climbing to the present level of around 200,000 or more, according to estimates by the U.S. government and the Open Society Institute. Studies suggest the Roma prefer to identify with the ethnic majority, whether out of assimilationist impulse, or if they feel under threat, or fear future repercussions.

Prove it
A government official in Hungary concedes that some of his colleagues at home and across the region prefer ignorance about ethnic data. “It would be extreme to say they’re happy not to know the data, but sometimes they neglect to be aware of these things because this becomes a kind of pressure: it makes your job a little more difficult, since you should be more sensitive to the problem and more complex with your solution,” says Andor Urmos, head of the department for Romani integration at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. “Of course that’s bad, because among people in extreme poverty, if there’s a very high rate of Roma, it’s a question of how you are able to specify your policies and programs.” On the ground, the issue becomes tricky. “In one labor office,” says Urmos, “if there are 100 unemployed, and we know about 60 percent of Roma are unemployed but only 20 percent identify themselves as Roma, should the labor office calculate its problem based on the 20 percent? Of course not, because we know we have more. But we can’t say who is Roma, who is not Roma.” Ivanov recalls one Bulgarian government housing project earlier this decade. Construction workers were set to build a new apartment block meant specifically for Roma in a Plovdiv settlement, but had no idea exactly how many people were in need of new housing. Still, they forged ahead and installed water, sewage and electricity supplies without knowing if capacity would be adequate to handle the actual needs. This gap in the data grants the governments virtual carte-blanche to claim victories, critics say.

“It’s political gamesmanship: they can deploy figures in any way they want to always present a positive outcome, because there’s no basis for comparison,” says Larry Olomoofe, a human-rights trainer with the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest. “When we show them independent research that shows Roma suffer disproportionately in education, for instance, they say, ‘If you have no ethnic data, how can you prove this?’ It can always be argued that we can’t prove a certain phenomenon categorically.” Some activists, however, suggest these countries – or at least, the local authorities – actually do have a fairly precise picture of their Romani demographics. Especially when they apply for foreign grants that require estimates. “When it comes to governments, they can come out with numbers – if they want,” Olahova of the Roma Education Fund says. “If you go to a village of 2,000, the mayor can tell you that 700 are Roma. They distinguish, and tell you exactly how many they have, but they keep it to themselves because they like to know and want to control the information. But they don’t use it officially, because it’s illegal” to identify individuals. Roma rights advocates may have found a way around the data trap by working through the Council of Europe and its European Court of Human Rights. All EU members and some 20 other countries belong to the Council and are legally bound by its human-rights convention. Last November the court, reversing its earlier opinion, ruled that Czech authorities had violated the rights of children from 18 families in the city of Ostrava by assigning them to “special schools” for the learning impaired. The court based its ruling partly on research carried out by the European Roma Rights Center on behalf of the applicants. The court noted that 56 percent of all pupils in Ostrava special schools were Roma although this ethnic group made up only 2.26 percent of the city’s primary-school pupils, and that only 1.8 percent of non-Roma pupils were assigned to special schools. The court wrote that “statistics which appear on critical examination to be reliable and significant” can be considered as evidence of discrimination.

Brussels bureaucratese = Progress?
Another model for skirting the entire ethnic question, Urmos says, is a new Hungarian program that targets 33 “depressed regions” with EU-funded labor-policy assistance. It’s generally aimed at the Roma, but should assist anyone in need. “We know there’s a great problem in these micro-regions, and – not accidentally – we find many Roma living there, in the poorest conditions,” he says. Meanwhile, the drive to clarify EU law gathers strength, as the Italian murder and other stories have hit the mainstream media, Ott says. In December the EU’s top decision-making body, the European Council, saying it was “conscious of the very specific situation faced by the Roma across the Union,” urged members, once again, to use all means to improve their inclusion. For the Council, “It became clear that it’s more detrimental to not do anything, than to do something,” Ott says. “So at that point, it jumped also in political importance.” He also says his policy unit will follow up on the expert group’s recommendation on better ethnic-data collection with further proposals for how the European Commission can encourage states to gather more information while protecting individuals. And Hungary, which occupies the rotating, one-year Roma Decade presidency, has created a working group that Urmos says may pinpoint “suitable indicators” to measure both segregation and progress on Romani employment, education, housing and health. Ultimately, say observers, the ethnic-data issue must budge, with the governments, Romani activists and international watchdogs finding common ground. “Without data, the Decade will pass and the countries will declare victory; but then you ask, ‘Based on what do you declare victory?’ And they can’t really say, except that they designed all these great programs,” says Christian Bodewig, an economist with the World Bank who is also the bank’s liaison to the Roma Decade. “My view is simply that if you have an issue deserving of attention, you need to collect some data to show not only your society, but also to yourselves that you’re actually making progress. It’s a question of responsible public policy.”
© Transitions Online

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HÍRTV'S ROMA VOTE SALE INVESTIGATION(Hungary)

1/3/2008- A journalist of right-leaning commercial news channel HírTV was found making phone calls in which he claimed he was Viktor Tóth, campaign chief of finance minister János Veres, and called Roma leaders of Szabolcs Szatmár Bereg county to inquire whether they were ready to sell their "no" votes. In one of the phone calls, aired by HírTV, a journalist posing as Tóth talks to an unknown Roma leader, and asks whether they are ready to sell their votes. ‘support’ The man sounds uncertain, but shows no immediate opposition against the offer. In another phone call, a Roma leader of uncertain identity (the channel says it was Lajos Balogh, the Roma leader of Nyírlugos, but others say the voice belongs to László Tejfel, a representative of the Fidesz-friendly Roma organization, Lungo Drom) calls the real Tóth, and asks about “the support.” Tóth said they should talk later. Tóth says he reported the case to the police after he received a fourth phone call about “an offer” made in his name. János Veres dubbed the case as provocation, while Fidesz officials demanded an explanation as to why Tóth hasn’t immediately rejected any kind of “offer” he was asked about. The police have launched an investigation against an unknown suspect in the case.
© The Budapest Sun

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NEO-NAZIS ARRESTED NEAR KOSOVO DEMONSTRATION(Sweden)

2/3/2008- A group of 20 neo-Nazis were detained by police in Stockholm on Saturday. The neo-Nazis were on their way to disrupt a demonstration by 400 Serbs protesting Kosovo's independence. The neo-Nazis, members of the Swedish Resistance Movement (SMR), were stopped by police on their way to Myntorget in the Gamla Stan area of Stockholm on Saturday afternoon. "They were stopped near Riksbron. They were behaving badly and were armed with golf-clubs and stones," said police spokesperson Ann-Charlotte Wejnäs to TT. A demonstration arranged by the Serbian youth organization in Sweden was being held at the time on the nearby square. 400 Serbs had gathered to demonstrate against Kosovo's declaration of independence. Police arrested two of the neo-Nazis, one for violent resistance and the other for intent to commit assault. The remainder were dispersed. A further group of 20 people was broken up by police in the city centre after having having thrown Bengal flame fireworks at cars on Kunsgsgatan. "They were driven to various locations on the outskirts of the city," said Wejnäs. Demonstrations protesting the declaration of independence in Kosovo were held in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö on Saturday. Nato and the USA were the target of much of the anger expressed by the Serb demonstrators and speakers. Demonstrators signed petitions challenging the the Swedish government to refrain from recognizing Kosovo's independence. The petitions will be sent to the foreign minister, Carl Bildt.
© The Local

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A HUMAN RIGHTS FRAMEWORK AND THE FIGHT FOR RACE EQUALITY(uk, comment)

After a Human Rights Awareness event which included discussion with the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) the director of Oldham Race Equality Partnership was provoked into making observations about the implications of a human rights framework in the fight for race equality.
By John Tummon

5/3/2008- There is an enormous momentum at the moment towards submerging local race equality work within new local structures which mirror the broader responsibilities of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The new twist to this is the call coming from the EHRC and BIHR, apparently with government backing, to make a human rights approach the centrepiece of this 'Single Equality' strategy. My question is whether such an approach can deliver on the race agenda, not just at the national but also at the local level. In particular, can it deliver on the major, unresolved aspects of racial inequality which remain after thirty years of the Commission for Racial Equality - differential educational attainment, racial harassment, the relative absence of some, mainly Muslim, ethnic groups from employment in the mainstream economy and from affluent suburbs.

Initially, it seems to me, a human rights approach has a great deal to offer local work on disability and age inequality, which is important because these two areas of work are in need of something which can drive public awareness and campaigning work and enable challenges to be made to provider agencies, both morally and legally, at the local level. The treatment of many vulnerable elderly and disabled people is a scandal and a culture of human rights and support resources to meet the consequent demands would be a great step forward. The move from talking about 'needs' to advocating 'rights' would give an impetus to tackling the issues around service provision and how people are treated by agencies. However, it is not yet clear to me that a human rights approach to equality could deliver the same genuine impetus to the other equality strands, in which service provision and treatment by state agencies are not the areas in which the major aspects of oppression, disadvantage and inequality arise. Equal Pay, Homophobic, Racial and Religious Hate Crime, the fact that many women still have two jobs, massively high rates of economic inactivity among Muslim women, a clear pattern of marginalised employment among Muslim men, differential educational attainment, Islamaphobia, etc will, it seems to me, all be largely unaffected by a strategy which focuses on human rights.

A human rights approach could provide a new impetus for tackling the treatment of BME groups (particularly Black men) within the mental health system, which is a long-standing, unresolved, issue, as the Rocky Bennett report showed a couple of years ago. And the treatment of elderly BME-heritage people by care and health services is an issue which is going to become more important in the near future as the BME population ages and the first generation reaches retirement. Some BME communities have high rates of disability and health problems, including learning disabilities, and would potentially be helped by the kind of work around provision that a human rights approach to disability would encourage. The treatment of BME-heritage people by the police (stop and search, etc), in prisons, the immigration service, under counter-terrorism policies, the treatment of asylum seekers and of vulnerable migrant workers in agency-based employment have clear human rights dimensions. But political implications would make them so contentious and therefore difficult for the EHRC to support, and even more difficult for local organisations to take on, except as legal casework. For this reason, I cannot see this developing into a viable area of work for either locally based Race Equality Councils (RECs) or single equality organisations. For years, the CRE steered RECs clear of immigration work because of its political implications and I expect more of the same from the EHRC.

BIHR has not yet tested the commitment of the public sector, especially local authorities and primary care trusts (PCTs), to working within a human rights framework which would call their service provision to account in ways which could really rattle their cages and cause embarrassment. Ex-CRE employees will recall how the public sector consultation took the teeth out of the first draft of the Race Relations Amendment Act (RRAA), because they could not countenance the degree and extent of formal and legal challenge, which this would have involved them in. Seventy-five per cent of local authorities have not put any Equality Impact Assessments up on their websites. As a means of delivering real change, the RRAA has been a disappointment and the public sector has learned how to ride it by treating it as a paper-based compliance exercise and incorporating it into internal bureaucratic procedures. I cannot see local authorities opting voluntarily for a more challenging environment - the PCTs, in particular, have by and large escaped effective accountability on race and the other equalities to date and are likely to be even more concerned about being challenged on human rights grounds than are local authorities.

There is a creeping tendency within these debates to label RECs as 'dinosaurs', clinging to a failed past and to familiar silos, rather than looking forward to a new, more successful future based upon what unites rather than what divides us. This is usually no more than easy rhetoric coming from those who tend towards wanting to be seen as 'moving with the times' rather than actually trying to influence how the times move. Self-evidently discrimination casework across the board will be self-evidently enhanced by placing it within a human rights approach. But, as far as race work is concerned, legal work is quite possibly the main way in which the human rights approach has clear benefits. However, rather more than this is being claimed for the human rights approach and I am not sure that it sticks. I suspect that, for the reasons given above, most human rights challenges to public sector provision will be referred straight to legal departments rather than to policy departments. The ECHR will no doubt follow its legacy commissions and, over the next few years, produce an ever-growing set of good practice guidance toolkits, checklists and so on, but ex-CRE employees will recall the alarmingly poor take-up of the equivalent documents produced in the 1990s for the public and private sector. This - creating of compliance frameworks - seems to be one of the main default activities of national equality commissions, but it leaves very little for locally-based organisations to do by way of follow-up, because of the scale of the paper-monitoring which results. I foresee human rights work being taken forward by the EHRC in this way, with no role for either RECs or local Single Equality organisations, which will never have the resources to hold major agencies effectively accountable at local level for compliance with detailed frameworks on equalities and human rights.

Local race work in the UK was, in most places, hobbling along before the Macpherson report and the first draft RRAA based on it (there was never a more hopeful time in race work). That momentum disappeared very quickly with the pulling of the RRAA's teeth and the advent of the era of community cohesion, which came to supply a comfort zone for all those who felt uncomfortable with the 'R' word. Community Cohesion is now just about all played out as a main focus agenda outside of the youth service and schools, although it does have the unfortunate legacy of associating BME communities unfairly with 'self-segregation' and is in many cases a means of punishing them for this assumed separatism. The climate of the war on terror has placed us even more on the back foot, with new immigration controls in the offing (and, ironically, breach the human right to family life which is unlikely to be challenged or open to effective challenge, except through international courts).

The Human Rights Act has lain there in the background - I think it was in 2001 that I was first trained in its provisions - apparently as dead from disuse as the RRAA. Now, at the formation of the EHRC, it has been dusted down and re-branded as the upcoming thing which can inject some vitality into multi-strand equality work which might otherwise just look like a cobbling together of existing, tired and largely failed areas of equality work. My fear is that if the human rights approach comes to be accepted and promoted by the EHRC as the golden key to the Single Equality strategy, it will achieve precisely what people in RECs and in BME communities have been worrying about for some time - that race will be relegated in importance. The CRE's parting report showed that there is much still to be done if we are to deal finally with racial inequality in the UK. It is not the fault of tiny, poorly-resourced outfits called RECs that we are still so far short of our strategic objectives and it is disingenuous for others to call us to account for this while pointing to the illusion of a better resourced and 'less divisive' home for our concerns within the broader agenda of Equality and Human Rights.
© Institute of Race Relations

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BOOKSELLER SENTENCED FOR 'JUSTIFYING GENOCIDE'(Spain)

6/3/2008- A Barcelona bookshop owner who stocked thousands of anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi and racist works received a reduced sentence Wednesday, a decade after he was first accused of denying the Holocaust and inciting racial hatred. Pedro Varela, a Nazi apologist and owner of the infamous Librería Europa bookstore, was handed a suspended seven-month sentence for justifying genocide, but was acquitted of inciting hatred, culminating a legal battle that went as far as the Constitutional Court and led to a revision of Spain's Holocaust-denial law. The ruling rejects most, though not all, of the reasons Barcelona's Criminal Court judges had used to sentence Varela to a total of five years in prison in 1998. Varela was arrested in December 1996 when police officers raided the Librería Europa and his home. The raid uncovered more than 20,000 books, pamphlets and other publications that prosecutors claimed constituted racist propaganda and incitement to commit genocide. Among the works were books that paid homage to the Nazi regime, ones that denied the Holocaust had occurred and others that urged violence against Jews. More than a year later, the third section of the Barcelona Criminal Court sentenced Varela to three years for inciting racial hatred and a further two years for denying the Holocaust under Spanish legislation that makes justifying, denying or inciting genocide a crime. Though Varela portrayed himself throughout the trial as a humble bookseller, prosecutors noted that he had been the leader of the Spanish Circle of Friends of Europe (Cedade), a neo-Nazi group that had used his bookstore as its headquarters.

Even throughout the lengthy case, Varela continued to run the Librería Europa, frequently inviting right-wing, racist and anti-Semitic speakers from around the world. David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Clan, spoke at the bookstore in November last year, while British revisionist historian David Irving gave a speech there a month later under the watchful gaze of police officers ordered to arrest him should he make any comments that could constitute a crime of opinion. At that time, Varela claimed that the "Jewish lobby uses the [...] Holocaust to make people forgive the sins of the Zionist regime." "That is not an anti-Jewish statement," he added. Varela claims he has been persecuted for exercising his right to freedom of speech - a position partially upheld by the Constitutional Court last year. In a landmark ruling triggered by Varela's appeal, Spain's most senior judges ruled that it is unconstitutional for someone to be prosecuted for denying the Holocaust because to do so would violate their right to freedom of speech. However, justifying genocide and inciting it remain a crime and it was on those grounds that the judges yesterday handed Varela the seven-month sentence. "It is constitutionally legitimate to punish someone for behaviour that constitutes an indirect incitement to commit genocide," the judges ruled. Though freedom of speech advocates welcomed the Constitutional Court's decision last year, Spain's Jewish community and anti-racism activists yesterday expressed anger at Varela being let off "lightly," saying the ruling "undermines democracy."
© Expatica News

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ANTI-FASCISTS RAMPAGE THROUGH LAVAPIÉS, CLASHING WITH POLICE(Spain)

A street battle between police and so-called anti-fascist youths wrought destruction across the Madrid district of Lavapiés on Friday night, leaving residents of the neighbourhood shocked and bewildered.

3/3/2008- A street battle between police and so-called anti-fascist youths wrought destruction across the Madrid district of Lavapiés on Friday night, leaving residents of the neighbourhood shocked and bewildered. Triggered by an earlier protest in the area by right-wing extremists, young radicals took to the streets, burning garbage containers, setting fire to cars and breaking windows of area locales. "All I know is that they destroyed my car," lamented Chakib, a 38-year-old Moroccan resident, who says his insurance will not cover the cost of a new vehicle. A neighbour, 26-year-old Carlos, awoke Saturday to find his vehicle damaged. The back window appeared to have been shattered by a tear gas canister fired by police, the windscreen had a hole in it from a rock thrown by protestors and a passenger window appeared to have been smashed by fire fighters who then soaked the interior with water. Other residents, uninvolved in the violence, suffered similar losses. Some, like Carlos, blame the authorities for having let the demonstration of right wingers go ahead in the first place. "It was a provocation. I'm planning to sue the state (for compensation)," he said. One young man who admitted to being involved in Friday's violence said the anti-fascists had wanted to "stop the fascists from protesting." He claimed that they reacted when police began firing rubber bullets and tear gas at them.
© Expatica News

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AT LEAST TWO ARRESTED AFTER FAR-RIGHT WING RALLY IN SAN SEBASTIAN(Spain)

Clashes broke out after the Falange party, linked to former dictator Gen. Francisco Franco, gathered Saturday at the central Pio XII plaza for a political rally.

1/3/2008- Dozens of protesters clashed with police guarding a far-right wing rally in the northern seaside resort of Donostia-San Sebastian in the Basque Country Saturday. Clashes broke out after the Falange party, linked to former dictator Gen. Francisco Franco, gathered Saturday at the central Pio XII plaza to hear leaders Ricardo Saenz de Ynestrillas and Manuel Andrino speak under heavy police protection. Participants sang anthems associated with Franco's regime and waved flags and banners with right-wing symbols. "This is not a provocation, we have come to celebrate our Spanishness," said Ynestrillas. As anti-demonstrators began to crowd around the rally-goers, shouting, "You, fascists, are the terrorists,'' police charged, using rubber bullets to scatter them. Passers by in cars honked horns in disapproval at the rally and local residents also hurled derision. As demonstrators shouted abuse at rally goers, police fired rubber bullets and charged protesters, detaining several.
© eitb24

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ITALY'S YOUNG LOVERS MOCK RACIST AGENDA

Amid the anti-immigrant electoral rhetoric, a film on mixed marriages and sex is a surprise success

2/3/2008- When legal immigration quadruples over 15 years and reaches 3.7 million, as it has in Italy, people from indigenous and immigrant families are likely to start falling in love with one another. And in Italy, when right-wing parties shout that for every regolare immigrant there is a clandestino, they are probably right, which makes the chances for romance, as well as tension, even greater. This is the theme, poking fun at the wider nightmare of racism, of a film that has found a sudden and unexpected success in Italy in stark contrast to the anti-immigration rhetoric already howling through the general election campaign.

Bianco e Nero (White and Black), directed by Cristina Comencini, is about a liberal couple, Carlo and Elena. Elena, the daughter of a rabid racist, works for a Rome-based charity. Among her colleagues is Bertrand from Cameroon whose wife, Nadine, works for the Senegalese embassy. Nadine and Carlo meet and fall in love and leave their respective spouses, to a backdrop of family and friends all counselling against 'mixed marriage'. Elena is left with shattered values as she discovers her own racism - that of the white European do-gooder - as well as that around her. It should be a fairly inconsequential film, mocking not only racism but also what the Italians call buonismo - the political correctness of people like Elena. But it has been anything but inconsequential. Bianco e Nero has grossed £3m in six weeks - a hefty return for an Italian film. It has generated debate well beyond its remit, academics using the opportunity to point out the lack of black faces on Italian TV or in Italian films.

Political columnists, however, say there are not enough black victims in the film, assailing it for treating the curse of racism with lightness of touch. The critics are left as amused as they are bemused, La Repubblica finding it 'difficult to reconcile the film's light tone with its didactic purpose', but in another article noting how Carlo was unable to resist a 'bit of exotic beauty'. A bold article in Corriere della Sera broaches an issue it calls 'the desire for the other skin'. 'It was not an easy script', says Comencini. 'Everywhere there was the likelihood of touching some prejudice or other. Paradoxically the Italians seem less guilty and angst-ridden, whereas in other cultures it might have been more difficult for a white director to make a film about blacks.' The fact is that the entwinement between sex and race, and the racism of that 'exotic beauty', is overt in Italy, whereas in other countries it is more subtle. While prostitution of trafficked African women is hidden elsewhere, arteries into big Italian cities can be lined with black women selling themselves. On Friday, at the English pub next to Turin station, troupes of punky Italian white girls demonstrated their rebelliousness by passing the afternoon draped over a crew of young men from Egypt and Cameroon.

Racism and organised fascism is endemic in Italy, with immigration a perennial theme in politics. But equally it boasts a vigorous anti-fascist movement. There are support centres for immigrants in Turin and in Brescia, where the left-wing mayor, Paolo Corsini, refuses to talk about multiculturalism but discusses 'conviviality' between peoples. It was in Brescia that a Pakistani, Sali Saleem, on finding out that his daughter Hina was dating a carpenter called Beppe Tampini, slit her throat, yet was cleared of murder by the highest court in Italy because, the judges ruled, he was obeying an ethno-religious custom. The last count of marriages by ethnicity showed about 30,000 weddings in 2004 involved a bride and groom of different races, nearly one in 10 of all marriages in supposedly racist Italy and triple the figure for 1992. There were no couples of different colour watching Bianco e Nero at a Turin cinema on Friday, but in the Bar Max on Via Saluzzo the chatter is Arabic and there are the money transfer booths and long-distance phone cards for sale.

Farida Tazi from Tunisia and Stefano Sandri from Turin are having a beer and he strokes her cuff with one hand while filling in football pools with the other. 'I can't say most of my friends are with Italian boys,' says Farida, 'but more of them like to drink or dance and, even if their parents don't like it, it will happen'. 'It's nothing.' says Stefano. 'She's my beauty. My father employs her in his hair salon, and who cares what colour she is'. Neither had heard of the film. At the next table Francesca Parente sits with her boyfriend Cheik Kone from Mali, a laundry worker. 'There's racism, but it doesn't affect me - as you can see!' jokes Cheik, while Francesca says: 'The only problem is that he supports Inter Milan.' Both were dressed for the evening - her in high-heeled boots and him in a shiny jacket - to go to see Sweeney Todd, because Francesca fancies Johnny Depp and she's paying.
© The Observer

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EUROPE GRAPPLES WITH HOW TO LIMIT NEO-NAZI EXPRESSION

As expressions of neo-Nazism rise across Europe, authorities are grappling with how to curtail racist and anti-Semitic demonstrations while preserving the right to free expression and assembly.

5/3/2008- As some 200 neo-Nazis marched past the second-largest synagogue in Europe last Saturday afternoon, many of the skinheads and hooded youths looked into the faces of Jews that had gathered on the synagogue’s steps and laughed at them. The 50 counter-protesters looked helpless and angry, having failed to stop the neo-Nazi march down the main street in Pilsen, 56 miles southwest of Prague. “I would call this march a complete disaster,” said Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities. “It never should have been allowed to happen.” With extremist demonstrations rising across Europe, Jewish groups, lawmakers and municipalities are struggling to find ways of limiting public displays of racism and anti-Semitism in countries where Jews nearly were eliminated by the Holocaust. The challenge for authorities is how to curtail demonstrations of neo-Nazism without impinging on the right to free assembly. There have been five public neo-Nazi gatherings since last November just in the Czech Republic -- a country with a reputation for religious and ethnic tolerance that is comparatively less xenophobic than many other post-Communist states. None of the marches have been larger than 200 participants, who usually are loosely identified with international neo-Nazi movements like Blood and Honour or local groups like National Resistance. They are careful not to show any outward signs of racism that would violate Czech law, instead expressing solidarity with those they see as their allies. In Pilsen, the marchers paid tribute to the Palestinians.

Experts say the problem of neo-Nazi marches is fastest growing in Eastern Europe, where authorities are least experienced at coping with the neo-Nazi gatherings. In the former Eastern bloc, racist groups often are comprised of frustrated youth reacting against globalization and struggling with the loss of powerful national identities that characterized their parents' lives, according to Michael Whine, a security expert for the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a consultant for the European Jewish Congress. For their part, these emerging democracies find it difficult to curtail free-speech rights, even when that speech is hateful, Whine said. ''States that were occupied by Nazis and Russians had 70 years of banning free speech. It is understandable that they are libertarian in their outlook,” he said. “Their courts are very reluctant to ban anything.'' By contrast, he points out, British police recently banned neo-Nazi groups from marching through a London neighborhood with high a concentration of Caribbeans and Asians. “The police said no, it would cause violence, and that was that,” Whine said. In the United States, neo-Nazi expressions, including the distribution of racist and anti-Semitic materials and public display of the swastika, are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. In most of Europe, such activity is criminal. However, U.S. authorities know from decades of experience that the timing and place of provocative marches can be regulated. Europe is experimenting with different types of regulation. Recent actions in Germany demonstrate how regulation can limit the level of public neo-Nazi activity. In 2006, the eastern German state of Brandenburg prohibited marches near cemeteries, as neo-Nazis often gather there to glorify former Nazi officers. After neo-Nazis began shifting their activities to the neighboring state of Saxony, that state passed a law last month to ban neo-Nazi marches on specific dates, such as key Jewish or Nazi anniversaries. The law also banned marches at certain sites, including the old town of Dresden, former concentration camps and synagogues.

Paul Goldenberg, who steers a European program to combat hate crime, said when it comes to evaluating requests for permits, towns always should check if a key anniversary date is involved, such as a Nazi leader's birthday or death. “Town officials should also speak to their minority groups and see if they feel their safety is threatened by the marchers,” he said. “They should also reach out to law enforcement agencies to see if a group applying for a permit has any history of violence.” Goldenberg, who is a former chief of the New Jersey attorney general's hate-crime unit, is the lead expert for a program run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that trains police to combat hate crime. He said officials and police in Eastern Europe need to get used to checking internet blogs to see if groups planning marches might provoke violence. “I can rattle off 30 incidents where people have been beaten to death,” Goldenberg said. “Sometimes banning is the only way.” In the case of last Saturday’s march in Pilsen, organizers called the march to protest an incident last November, when authorities in Prague banned a neo-Nazi march through the city’s storied Jewish Quarter on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Police nipped that demonstration in the bud when some 400 marchers tried to assemble. This time, Pilsen’s mayor tried to ban the march, but a regional court struck down the ban because a lower-level city administrator had already permitted the march. The administrator did not check on the background of the march leader, who according to Czech media is affiliated with several hate groups. “The marchers should not have been allowed near a synagogue,” Kraus, the Jewish official, said.

Aside from banning marches and limiting when and where they can take place, experts say governments need to improve monitoring of neo-Nazi activity and bolster tolerance education to deter rising neo-Nazi sentiment across Europe. ''There is an increase according to anti-fascist journals and reports by European security services," Whine said. No single European agency keeps track of the total number of neo-Nazi events or groups, despite repeated European Union pledges to step up monitoring of anti-Semitic incidents. “That data deficit in itself is a hindrance to local authorities,” Whine said. Among the high-profile neo-Nazi and ultranationalist demonstrations within the last year were:
* May 1, 2007: marches of up to 5,000 neo-Nazis in several towns in eastern Germany;
* October 2007: the arrest of 30 neo-Nazis in Novi Sad, Serbia, for attacking anti-fascists. Those arrested, including Slovaks and Bulgarians, were defying a ban on a march coinciding with the birthday of Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler;
* December 2007: a march of 900 people in Salem, Sweden, commemorating neo-Nazi activist Daniel Wrestrom.
There also were small events in Holland and Belgium.

Outside the European Union, in Russia and Ukraine, neo-Nazi demonstrations are more frequent and larger than in Western Europe. More law-enforcement training, judicial expertise and societal change is needed in both Russia and Ukraine to make a dent in neo-Nazi movements, anti-racism organizations say. Within the European Union, Whine and other experts interviewed by JTA said the actual number of neo-Nazis is not necessarily on the rise. “The numbers are down for Austria and Germany, for instance,” Whine said. “But small groups are more active now. They focus their hostility against immigrants and minorities, but obviously they are also anti-Semitic.”
© JTA News

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POPE APPROVES PERMANENT CATHOLIC-MUSLIM FORUM

6/3/2008- In a ground breaking move Pope Benedict XVI has approved the setting up of a permanent Catholic-Muslim Forum - the first of its kind - which is to hold its inaugural summit meeting in the Vatican in November. The historic move follows three days of talks in Rome between Vatican officials and a Muslim delegation representing 138 Muslim scholars who last year wrote an open letter to the Pope and other Christian leaders calling for dialogue, a move inspired by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammed bin Talal of Jordan. The Muslim initiative was a reponse to the Pope's controversial speech at Regensburg University in his native Germany in 2006, where he appeared to describe Islam as inherently violent and irrational by quoting a Byzantine Emperor. He later said he had been misunderstood, and prayed alongside an imam at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul during a visit to Turkey. The first summit of the Catholic-Muslim Forum will take place on 4-6 November, the Vatican said, with nearly fifty delegates, and will be addressed by the pontiff. The chosen theme is "Love of God, Love of Neighbour." A follow up conference is to be held in a Muslim country yet to be decided, according to Ali Aref Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman. He said the response to the Group of 138's call for dialogue had been "incredibly positive". The aim was to "return to the roots of faith and what we have in common".

He said resentment over the Pope's Regensburg remarks was still "burning strongly in many parts of the Muslim world". The speech had been a mistake, "but everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to correct them. This whole initiative is about healing. It is about healing the wounds of a very pained and, in many ways, destroyed world". He said the Muslim majority was not represented by a "loud, violent and cruel minority". He appealed for the release of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was kidnapped last week in Iraq, declaring: "We take this opportunity to remind our fellow Muslims that it is against the Prophet's teaching to even touch religious leaders and monks and priests. Religious leaders and religious symbols must be respected." The first day of the November summit will focus on Christian and Muslim teachings on the obligation to love both God and one's neighbour, and the second on "human dignity and mutual respect". The third day will be a general discussion open to the public. Last week Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter Religious Dialogue, attended an inter-faithconference in Cairo sponsored by Al Azhar University, seen as the intellectual centre of Sunni Islam. In a gesture toward Muslim sensitivities he issued a joint statement with Sheikh Abdel Fattah Alaam, chairman of the Al-Azhar Dialogue Committee, "strongly condemning" the "re-publication of offensive cartoons and the rising number of attacks against Islam and its Prophet".

A number of Danish dailies last week reprinted a cartoon featuring the Prophet Mohammed's head with a turban in the form of a bomb with a lit fuse. The joint statement condemned "violence, extremism and terrorism" in general, and said freedom of expression should "not be used as a pretext for offending religions, convictions, religious symbols and everything that is considered sacred." Asked why the joint document had failed to call on Islamic rulers to make a reciprocal gesture by respecting the religious beliefs and rights of Christians in the Middle East, Father Andrea Pacini, a Vatican expert on Islam, said the issue was "delicate". He said the picture was "mixed", with some Arab countries restricting or forbidding Christian worship but others allowing the construction of new churches. Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, deputy head of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, who attended this week's talks in Rome, said he hoped Muslims would join the Pope in "deeper dialogue on doctrine, theology and the character of religions in today's world". All religious leaders must "isolate extremists and avoid the wrong use of religion", he said. Ali Aref Nayed said he realised that Pope Benedict was exercised about restrictions on religious freedom faced by Christians in Muslim countries, but said he hoped the Catholic-Muslim Forum would not turn into "an exchange of grievances". It should instead be a gathering in which both sides could support religious freedom "for all people".

In a written statement Abdal Hakim Murad Winter, director of Britain's Muslim Academic Trust, who took part in this week's preparatory talks, said those who believed in the one God had a responsibility to reach out to each other. There was a widespread sense in the West "that religion brings discord rather than healing to the world," he wrote, but "the reality of engagement between believers of different traditions is overwhelmingly one of conviviality". Extremists on all sides obscured this "by using language of exclusion and contempt". Other Muslim delegates to Rome this week were Ibrahim Kalin, director of the SETA Foundation in Ankara and Sohail Nakhooda, editor of Islamica Magazine in Jordan. The Vatican participants were Cardinal Tauran, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, secretary of the Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Monsignor Khaled Akasheh, head of the Council's section for relations with Muslims, Father Miguel Ayuso Guixot, President of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, and Father Christian Troll, an expert on Islam at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
© The Times Online

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AMERICA IS WALKING AWAY FROM FIGHTING HATE IN EUROPE(Op-Ed)

By Andrew Baker, AJC's director of international Jewish affairs

6/3/2008- A successful American initiative to train European police to respond to hate crimes is in danger — not from European nations, who have embraced the groundbreaking effort, but from the negligence of our own State Department. Five years ago, alarmed by a dramatic increase in violent antisemitic incidents, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe hosted the first international conference on antisemitism. The American delegation to the conference proposed that the OSCE develop tools to assist the organization's 55 member nations in training police to monitor and respond to hate crimes. American police had considerable experience in dealing with desecrations of cemeteries and houses of worship, attacks on persons because of racial and religious hatreds, and other bias crimes. They recognized the importance of distinguishing their special nature, and of working closely with victims' groups as part of community policing. They learned how to investigate such crimes, to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators. In contrast, most European police departments still made no distinctions for hate crimes and few had any contact with ethnic and religious minorities.

The OSCE appointed Paul Goldenberg, a law enforcement veteran, to establish its program. As chief of New Jersey's Office of Bias Crimes during the 1990s, Goldenberg was responsible for training police to respond to hate crimes. He later developed federal guidelines to be implemented countrywide. Goldenberg was joined by James Nolan, a former chief of the Uniform Crime Reporting Section of the FBI and a national expert in recording and analyzing hate crime data. Together with two senior officers from Canada and the United Kingdom, they established the OSCE's Law Enforcement Officers Program, or LEOP. Using an effective American curriculum, they produced a hard-nosed program of police training police. LEOP officers visited Paris after the murder of Ilan Halimi, a French Jew kidnapped and tortured in a Paris suburb in January 2006. They met with the Gendarmerie Directorate as well as with members of France's Jewish community, who were feeling distraught and vulnerable.

When skinheads and neo-Nazis threatened to converge on Novi Sad in Serbia last summer, a LEOP team came to guide their Serbian police colleagues. At the request of the Romanian government, they met with Roma communities and police departments in Bucharest, Transylvania and Moldavia, offering guidance in hate crime investigation and community partnerships. Little love is lost between Russia and the OSCE, whose election observers have been consistently unwelcome. But to combat the rising number of violent attacks on Jews and other minorities, OSCE police trainers were in Moscow in January to share their skills with Russian police officials. LEOP, in short, has had quite an impressive record over the last several years.

When the OSCE created this innovative police-training program, it enjoyed enthusiastic American support. A savvy American ambassador to the OSCE secured additional funds and exhorted his European colleagues to do the same. The experience has proven wrong the early skepticism that this American program would work in Europe. Despite national tensions, police commanders from Serbia and Croatia, and from Romania and Hungary — countries that have confronted ethnic tensions across uneasy borders — found a common language in the problems each faces. Today, there is an informal network that links hate crime monitors from police departments in 14 countries. Yet even as European nations have come to embrace LEOP, American financial support has dropped significantly, the result of budget cuts and the waning interest of an administration nearing the end of its term. Thanks to turnover on the OSCE desk at the State Department and at the American mission to the OSCE in Vienna, few people remain who remember how this program came to be.

At a recent Helsinki Commission hearing about support for this police-training program, New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith was told by the State Department's special envoy for combating antisemitism that "we are only one of 56 members" and suggested that the American contribution of $100,000 over the last three years was generous. The Dutch government, however, gave $375,000 to the program in the last year alone. But the issue is not just funding. Low-level diplomats at the American mission to the OSCE have apparently been given the freedom, or perhaps the instructions, to enforce a homophobic agenda. One FBI trainer who had come to share his experience on American data collection strategies was told to remove any material dealing with hate crimes based on "sexual orientation" Since collecting this information had long been standard practice back home, he asked the American diplomat why. "Because we will oppose it," he was told.

Since the 2003 OSCE meeting in Vienna at which the police-training was suggested, the organization has hosted several high-level conferences addressing antisemitism and other forms of intolerance. A common refrain heard in the corridors, even as foreign ministers were speaking in the plenary hall, was that speeches are all well and good but there must be tangible action on the ground. LEOP is that action on the ground. The United States was instrumental in creating it. Who would have imagined that it would also be instrumental in ending it?
© The Forward

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RACISM POISONING SOUTH AFRICA'S RAINBOW NATION

3/3/2008- As new racist cracks appear in the veneer of South Africa's Rainbow Nation, analysts say the country was feeling the effects of papering over its differences instead of tackling them head-on. Basking in the afterglow of a globally acclaimed transition from whites-only apartheid rule to democracy under black president Nelson Mandela, intolerant pockets continue to fester 14 years into democracy. This week, simmering tensions were thrust into the spotlight when a video made by four white university students, in which they lead five black workers through a series of degrading mock-initiation activities, was made public. The youths' work, condemned by parties across the political spectrum, was a protest against forced integration of black and white students in residences at the University of the Free State in what was once an independent Afrikaner republic. Jody Kollapen, chairman of the Human Rights Commission established by the constitution, said this week Mandela took reconciliation too far -- to the detriment of true transformation. "We have been living in a dream world ... believing we have overcome the most formidable of our obstacles ," Kollapen told AFP. "We hadn't dealt with our past. Broader society never participated in a discussion about what the past meant for blacks and what the past meant for whites." The video shows workers -- four women and a man -- downing beer, dancing and participating in mock rugby practice, after which they are made to kneel and eat meat on which one of the students was filmed urinating. The home-made film ends with the words: "That, at the end of the day, is what we think of integration."

Arts and Culture minister Pallo Jordan told public radio the recording was "reprehensible, disgraceful" and had happened "despite the fact that these young people didn't live under apartheid. But they are deeply infected with racism." In January, a 17-year-old white boy gunned down 10 black people at the Skielik informal settlement in the central North West province -- killing four including two children, in an apparent racist attack. Last week, white reporters were outraged when they were barred from a gathering of the Black Journalists Forum which was addressed by ruling African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma. On Wednesday, the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) research body said racial tensions appeared to have risen in the past month, threatening to undo years of progress. Recent events, "probably set us back a significant amount of time", said the institute's deputy head Frans Cronje. When the ANC unseated the racially oppressive apartheid state in 1994, Mandela and other leaders took hold of the phrase Rainbow Nation, coined by Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu to describe the country's multi-racial unity.

But fears are now being expressed that the racial harmony everyone had hoped would come with time is still far off. "We always worked on the premise that if the older generation carried baggage from apartheid, then the consolation for the future was that younger children would not carry that same baggage," said Kollapen. But as most blacks continue to be poor, many cast doubt on their white countrymen's commitment to real change. And many whites, the majority of whom supported the transition, now felt they were the victims of reverse racism through the government's affirmative action and land redistribution policies. "There are a very high percentage of whites who feel they are under siege," said Kollapen. SAIRR president Sipho Seepe said dealing with racism had required more than simply removing the oppressive legislation of the past. "We never addressed it. What is happening now was going to happen anywhere. It was going to boil over," he said. "We failed to appreciate that racism is a way of life, ingrained in systems and structures and institutions." Kollapen said what was lacking in South Africa was a heartfelt apology by whites, such as the one recently offered to Australian Aborigines by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. "For white people to understand the past requires them to apologise sincerely. "We need an acknowledgement that the past was as bad as it was."
© AFP

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